Advertisement

Buried Treasure

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the work authors do in service of their readers, recently, so I was interested to read this short essay in Uncanny Valley about engineering fun for readers in fiction along a model of gaming. I agree, to a certain extent, that writers are under obligation to their readers if they expect to find an audience, in particular, a substantial one, for their fiction. But I think they need to take an even more expansive view of reward than this piece expects.I worry about the development of a prevalent model of fiction that’s based on requiring the reader to hunt for small details about plot and character in order to reap rewards, though. I hardly think the Lost model is going to become predominant, either in television because it’s expensive to produce or in fiction in general because the ending wasn’t ultimately satisfying and completist for a significant majority of critics and the audience. But I do think it’s going to continue to exert an influence, if only because networks and publishers like the idea of capturing a small but fiercely committed audience if they can’t be Harry Potter and capture absolutely everybody.But I do think that informational rewards, whether they elicit laughter or make a plot point click into place, aren’t the only kinds of rewards. China Mieville may have a bit too much description for my taste, but that’s in part because I think he drowns the reader in adjectives rather than providing a coherent landscape about half the time — when he stays concrete, his geography is often quite fascinating. I love reading Hilary Mantel because she pushes my understanding of what I can do in a short sentence, Michael Chabon for the way he makes the metaphysics of love physical realities, A.S. Byatt for showing off what she can do across forms and getting away with it because she’s so ludicrously talented. And I don’t know that I like those things simply because I’m a writer. The pleasure of words, and of art, is considerable. I’d be equally worried if we tipped over into a world full of miserable writers who are good at dropping drug-like plot pleasures, libraries full of Stephenie Meyers.

Advertisement