There’s a discussion happening at Smart Bitches right now about the writer-as-god, with the corrollary that it is tantamount to sacrilege to question or critique the way a writer decides to take a story, or the arc of particular characters. This is in response to writers like Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton, Robin Hobb, and other authors (most recently, Charlaine Harris, apparently) who have taken flack for a variety of reasons over their authorial choices. Rather than go into the whole thing, you can read it here if you’re really interested:
Since I have an interest in folklore, fairy tale retellings, and fanfic, I find these kinds of conversations very interesting and sometimes a little frustrating. In this case, I responded most strongly to the following quote, pulled out of Harris’ blog entry:
“The writer is determiner of fate for his or her characters. Writing is a lone pastime, not a group endeavor. It doesn’t take a village to write a book. It takes one person, shut up in a room for hours on end.”
I vehemently disagree with this (as do the Smart Bitches, although we disagree for different reasons). A writer is constantly drawing from the public domain of collective stories, imagery, assumptions and archetypes. The writer’s contribution to this is to spin all these ingredients in new, interesting and engaging ways. There are more great writerly quotes about writing taking the familiar and making it unfamiliar (or vice-versa) than I could list here. The imaginary of writing as some noble, solitary endeavor divorced from the world or lived interactions is a very popular one that some writers like to trot out, but I think that “bullshit” can be called through the pairing of these two quotes. They come in sequence on my favorite quote site, and the gender-theorist in me loves the irony of it:
What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window. ~Burton Rascoe
The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ~Agatha Christie
Who the fuck is Burton Rascoe? (answer: a little known turn-of-the-century literary critic and journalist who is best known for writing about other writers). I’d much rather be like Agatha Christie. Writing is no more a solitary process than living is. If I had to acknowledge everyone who contributed to even my smallest piece of writing, I’d go mad.
But that is only one end of the process. There is also the entire aspect of reception and reading of a text. As much as the process of writing is a conversation between the author and the world she inhabits, the process of reading is a conversation between the reader and the text the author has produced. The idea of claiming that I (or any writer) should have some control over that conversation, that process of interpretation, seems to be laden with hubris.
I feel some proprietary interest in the particular ways I construct a story. I don’t think it is right that other people should economically profit from the products of my labor, but I think it is hypocritical to try to shut down all dissent, alternate readings, or reinterpretations (whether that be in the form of literary critique, audience disappointment, or fan reimaginings). This comes from the way I understand the text. I see it as a conversation between the people who inspired the story, and the people who read the story, with myself not as a God/Creator, but as a mediator, a translator, a worldwalker.