In the previous post I commented on a section of Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular in which Rust Hills differentiated between slick fiction and quality fiction. While I think Hills is unnecessarily dismissive of entertainment for entertainment’s sake, just as he is clearly invested in art for art’s sake, I think his condemnation of slick fiction is valid because slick fiction is bad craft.
Craft and Effectiveness
The problem with my own condemnation is that it’s no different from Hills’: it expresses a personal preference. Like Hills I can make a compelling case for craft (doing so is one of the missions of Ditchwalk) but at the end of the day I’m still advocating for the kind of storytelling I care about.
Despite his personal preference for literary fiction, however, Hills bases his advocacy on proven craft, not bias. By the same token, while I’m open to a wider spectrum of storytelling, I believe that craft knowledge allows authors to make conscious, informed choices about the stories they intend to write, which in turn increases the likelihood that those stories will impact readers in the intended way. To the extent that learning craft requires more effort — at least at the apprentice stage — the return on investment is an increase in the likelihood of narrative success. Whether you use craft to create better entertainment or better literature (if we really need to bifurcate), the Ditchwalk definition of better — like Hills’ definition of better — is that more readers will be pleased with, or appropriately affected by, the end result.
Still, it’s inarguable that there are plenty of readers who are perfectly happy with the effects of demonstrably bad craft. If stories premised on a character shift or deus ex machina plotting thrill you, I can’t claim you shouldn’t be thrilled. I can point out how the authors of those stories jerked you around or cheated you or gave you less than they might have, but I can’t tell you that you didn’t feel the enjoyment you felt.
So the very charge I respectfully level at Hills — that he’s unnecessarily elitist — is one that can be leveled at me. Yet even as I freely acknowledge that taste and sensibility play a part in the appreciation of storytelling, I refuse to budge from my position — which is also Hills’ position — that more knowledge of craft necessarily improves your chance of successfully telling a particular story. [ Read more ]