Riverdale Falls Short of My Expectations

I’ve been watching Riverdale lately and I’m struck by how so many parts of the show appear to be written by adults engaging in wish fulfillment. What if Archie, a character from a silly comic book your grandparents read, was a hot football player and song writer having an affair with his attractive music teacher? What if Betty was the unrequited girl-next-door who also had a dark, sexy side, and she handcuffs a football player to a hot tub in a fit of pique?

Yup.

This kind of sensationalism might be something teen dramas can fall into (I’m thinking Gossip Girl, etc.). My problem with it is the lack of verisimilitude. We might all wish we could be this version of Archie or Betty. But a good story resolves those tensions by showing the push and pull between dreams and reality. Failing to do so reduces the medium to maudlin nonsense or pedantry. Without contraries, no progression.

Let’s look at another category of teen dramas: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Breakfast Club. These stories resonate more because they tap into something real about the teenage experience. They treat the liminal stage between childhood and adulthood as something worth respect: there’s witty dialogue, heavy problems, the desire to guide oneself yet be guided. They make you laugh and then cry.

I have high expectations for teen characters, and as a lifelong reader of Archie Comics, Riverdale is falling short.

RIP Gwen Ifill

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Gwen Ifill- PBS Newshour (Creative Commons Share Alike)

 

I didn’t know Gwen personally, but I admired her greatly. She was, I think, what journalism should be: aloof but incisive, direct yet polite, always inviting yet uncompromising.

David Brooks has a moving eulogy in The Times about her. He, like me, senses a change in the air. And we needed Gwen to address this change. We needed her presence.

May her memory be eternal.

Self Publishing is up but E-Book Sales Down

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Self publishing! You do it right or spectacularly wrong- your buyers could be your mom and a few coworkers who feel badly for you, or it could take off, sell millions, and land you a movie deal with Ridley Scott.

Bowker updated their stats for the year 2015: 727,000 self-published books up from 2014’s 600,000.

Bowker only counts books with ISBNs, so they could be off. But they can confirm a surge as writers abandon traditional publishing routes.

How in the world does a reader adapt to this? Well, if a book is available for electronic format only, those sales are down. The Association of American Publishers  saw a 14% drop in e-book sales in 2015 (compared to the year before). Codex did their own survey and confirmed those findings, reporting e-book sales dropped in 2015. Peter Hicklet-Smith (president of Codex) described this as “digital fatigue.”

This basically means that readers are inundated with options, so they are less likely to read on their devices. I have an old iPad, for instance, that is connected to a Kindle account I share with my husband. I use the iPad for reading some of the time (when travelling) but I prefer to have hard copies. I’d rather run back and forth to the library and have a physical book in my hand, for some reason.

I suppose for writers the lesson is this: have a presence in both physical print and electronic markets. If you’re self-publishing, however, that might be a challenge. Always keep up with the trends, I guess. And I say that without jumping from the self-publishing ledge.

Fiction Tropes!

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Ah, tropes: when you start reading through a submissions pile, you start to acquire pet peeves, and you start to notice overused tropes. Now, tropes become, well, tropes, because they’re useful. They get a job done. But if you’re a new writer, using one thoughtlessly is going to out you!

I’ve been reading the submissions pile at F&SF for about a year now, and here are the most common ones:

Character describes herself in a mirror

What does your character look like? Maybe she should take note of herself in the hallway mirror, or while brushing her teeth. Thing is, this is almost overdone. So be aware of that and try to do something fresh with it.

It Was All a Dream!

On it’s face, this is just lazy: get to a brick wall in the plot?  Instead of working it out, TWIST! The character was dreaming! If you want the reader to toss the book across the room or set it on fire, do this.

Women in Refrigerators, or “Fridging”

This one requires some explanation. Fridging is when a female character dies/ is treated brutally for the sole purpose of inspiring the male hero to action. It happens often. The death of Gwen Stacy in the original Spider Man is a good example. Gail Simone talked about this phenomenon in comic books:

An important point: This isn’t about assessing blame about an individual story or the treatment of an individual character and it’s certainly not about personal attacks on the creators who kindly shared their thoughts on this phenomenon. It’s about the trend, its meaning and relevance, if any. Plus, it’s just fun to talk about refrigerators with dead people in them. I don’t know why.

*As a subcategory to this, I’d add: violence towards women. I’m surprised by how many stories open with a violent rape. Female protagonists don’t need to have sexual violence in their past as a motivating factor, but it’s very common in fiction and kind of disturbing to me. Chances are you’re not writing the next Jessica Jones, so don’t shoehorn a past rape/ harassment incident if something else will do. Remember, you’re trying to make a whole, human character, not a bowl of soup.

Stories that start with characters waking up

Face it, you can’t top the master:

One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin.

Don’t try unless you’re a super hero.

(Original post Oct 2016, updated Feb 2018)

 

 

Seneca on the Friendship of Kindred Minds

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Seneca, British Museum – By Marie-Lan Ngyen (2011) Public domain

“When I urge you so strongly to your studies, it is my own interest which I am consulting; I want your friendship, and it cannot fall to my lot unless you proceed, as you have begun, with the task of developing yourself. For now, although you love me, you are not yet my friend. “But,” you reply, “are these words of different meaning?” Nay, more, they are totally unlike in meaning. A friend loves you of course; but one who loves you is not in every case your friend. Friendship, accordingly, is always helpful, but love sometimes even does harm. Try to perfect yourself, if for no other reason, in order that you learn how to love.”

 

-Epistle XXXV, Seneca

Mulling this over with my morning coffee. It packs a punch, as it makes me consider my parenting style (my kids are all under 5) and my relationship with them as they grow. It also makes me consider the difference between acquaintances and friends, and how we view family members.

 

I have Fun Crits This Morning…

Just had a story make the rounds through Critters, and boy are the reviews mixed. I’ve got people tripping over their tongues as though sozzled, the tintinnabulation of their praise ringing to the stars! Write more! Write often! You are a wizard with words!

And then there’s the Dark Side, the turgid fusillades at my disregard for SCIENCE! Don’t I know better? Don’t I know that people only bothered to read this story because they were dedicated to giving a crit? That if the readers were not dedicated, they’d print my story only to be able to set fire to it since my opening line was SO BAD? DON’T I KNOW I’M KILLING TREES?

And then, there were three people that struck the Golden Mean. The types that said, “this is good, here’s what I think about this since I’m a Scientist,” or the “This will be a harsh crit, but it’s better to hear this now, trust me.”

You guys. We’re cool.

stanley