Sunday, December 28, 2008

Art Imitating Art?

I've been toying with this concept a while and it seems to follow logically from the cliché discussion so I figured I'd give it a spin. I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been in a tribute kind of mood with my writing lately and I'm currently working on a piece that pays homage to a classic sci-fi/horror story. Hopefully some of you will give me some feedback on it when I get it posted. But when Ms. Kitty mentioned ERB's Martian stories, I began thinking more about this whole concept of art imitating art, specifically with reference to a particular story—but I'll get to that in a moment.
I want to put two examples out there of stories 'paying homage' to other stories and get your reactions and opinions. The subject of the discussion is, when does 'paying homage' cross the line from tasteful and fresh to downright copycatting? Orson Scott Card mentioned on his writing website that in his Alvin Maker novel he included a dream sequence that basically was a scene out of LOTR, and he goes on to explain how this should and shouldn't be done. As I've said, I like the concept of bringing a fresh spin to classic stories, but where exactly is that line between the right and wrong way to do that? Here are two examples that are, in my opinion, the opposite extremes of this concept:
I don't know if the similarities were intentional in this case—it's hard to imagine that they weren't but the Wiki article doesn't specifically mention it—but for me Independence Day the film, is a modern retelling of War of the Worlds. Alien invasion with an end-of-the-world scope. Seemingly invincible aliens who are eventually destroyed by a virus, in the modern version's case, a computer virus. Whether the similarities where consciously or subconsciously created, I think it's a cool and fresh take on a classic story.
The other example is a story by Lin Carter. Now, this isn't a Lin Carter bash—I wouldn't want to offend any Lin Cater fans, but my limited experience with his work is his (mis?)treatment of Conan after Robert E. Howard's death and this one other story, Lankar of Callisto. Lankar of Callisto is a shameless derivation on ERB's Princess of Mars that simultaneously fascinated and appalled me when I read it years ago. Not only is it blatant in its annexation of ERB's concepts but he makes himself, Lankar=Lin Carter, the main character. Evidently this was common for Carter and he didn't shy away from this particular philosophy in his writing.
So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you believe that all writing should be completely original? Difficult, in my opinion—see previous post on clichés. Or, is it OK to 'pay homage' to past classics? And if so, when does writing cross the line between cool and fresh to fanfic?


Kevin P. Kilburn said...

I agree - Independence Day does seem to be a retelling of War of the Worlds, at least that's what I thought when I first saw it.

I'm not familiar with the other, so I can't comment on it.

That's a tough question and I guess my initial reaction is "it depends on the intent."

I think "intent" plays such a big factor in what we do, yet it is next to impossible to prove intent (except perhaps in a murder case).

I think if the author has a great respect for the original author of the work, then the derivative work takes on the form of an "homage".

Otherwise, if someone's out to make a quick buck or gain fame, then the derivative work is simply copying.

I know I'm using some gross generalizations, but that's about as close as I can get for now.

To a degree it's similar to remakes of songs. You hear some that are clearly copying because the artist had no/little talent (Vanilla Ice and Under Pressure for example). Others are tributes or recognition to the original artist (at least that's what the new artist claims).

Anyone else?

Ink said...

I'm with KP here, in that this is always a grey and slippery slope. What's the difference between homage and theft? What's the difference between fan fiction and literary influence? I sort of see it on a sliding scale... with poorly defined boundaries.

Intent is important... and yet hard to measure. I do find the topic interesting, as I've dabbled in homage, in working from direct inspiration and story "models" (for lack of a better term). I did a whole grad course doing that with postmodern short story writers. Teacher seemed to like the idea, since I got an A+ :) But really, I found the experience fascinating. Breaking down a writer's style that carefully can be a great learning process. You have to really delve into diction, syntax and rhythm to understand how to recreate a feeling without recreating actual words and ideas.

I think one of the problems with working with the whole "homage" idea is that it can be limiting, as writers sometimes get caught up in that fanfiction thing at the expense of other writing options. Writing Harry Potter fanfic is fine... but it can never be completely yours, and trying to be JK Rowling every time you sit down at the keyboard may not be helpful in the end (at least if you ever want something more than Harry Potter fanfic). I think homage writing, or outright fanfic, is best if it's diverse. Copying Rowling, and only Rowling, is probably a dead end. Because only Rowling is Rowling. But writing homage to Rowling one day, and Steven Erikson the next, and Cormac McCarthy the day after, and then a bit of Joan Didion on the weekend... I think this can create interesting results.

And let's face it, I don't think anyone can completely escape literary influences. Our writing will always partially be a product of what we have read, though some writers may push further away from these original narrative maps, heading out into those unknown areas marked "Here Be Monsters". But really, the stories we've read are a part of us, and thus a necessary part of our writing voices (even if, perhaps, a small part) and the way we express our own stories.

I may be completely wrong, but I think that's one of the benefits I've found in reading a diversity of stories. Influences are broad and varied, like a thousand different tributaries draining into a huge river. The stories on that river are mine because they're fed from a thousand different sources and not one or two. They're crafted from the hidden shapes of the myriad stories that have made me as a a person and writer. If someone reads only Rowling, over and over again... they're like a stream fed by nothing. The stories will have nowhere to go and will slowly drain away, the stream drying up or damming itself. Anything written will just be a mere reflection of that single flow of water bubbling up out of the rocks.

Well, you know, that image simplifies a more complex process... but at its heart I think it's fairly true. You ever meet someone who says "Oh, I'm gonna write a book some day." And you ask "Hey, what kind of stuff do you read?" And they say "Oh, I don't read..."

I'm always left thinking Pardon...?

Because I can guarantee that person is never going to write anything (or at least anything good). They're just an empty riverbed in a long season of drought. It's like someone saying they're going to write great formulas in String Theory some day... without knowing or liking any math.

As for Lin Carter... I'm sure I've probably read some of his stuff, as I had a Conan phase. But I was young, and as long as there were a few heads being lopped off I was probably okay. My only real division was probably a basic "liking" of one author over another. Howard was the best, L. Sprague de Camp was pretty good, and Lin Carter was down the line somewhere. Didn't Robert Jordan write some? Makes me curious to reread them now...

Ms Kitty said...

I've always heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I remember Lin Carter. (Opinions deleted.)

I think it would be accurate (and hopefully unoffensive) to say that Lin Carter is the most widely published Fan Fiction writer, ever.

All writers have to start somewhere. And call it imitation or Fan Fiction, it is a way to get started. Hopefully the writer develops something of their own on the journey, and is more successful than Carter. It looks like the man died broke. Not a good thing.

As long as due credit is given, I don't see anything wrong with writing it. Selling it might be an issue, but again, giving credit where it is due is not plagiarism.

I think it is all about learning to write. Finding a voice, seeking to develop a style all takes a tremendous amount of practice.

I went through a Hunter S. Thompson phase that had nothing to do with sports. ;-) The man had a brilliant style, Gonzo journalism is widely imitated to this day.

There is still a faint element of Gonzo in my writing. It really shows up in my first drafts on the blogs. It can be uber embarrassing when I mean it as humor and it comes off all wrong.

I think that stylistically we have to make choices because it's all been done before.

So if I do POV as per Barbara Michaels and characterization like Nora Roberts and plot like Gonzo for one story. Next time, I'm plotting like Poe, the characters are out of Gonzo and my POV flips like Nora Roberts.

Book, my blogging buddy, write it with pride. As long as you are doing your best effort: "it is a good thing."

(With apologies to Martha Stewart.)

Wanu said...

I agree with all the comments so far: KPK, yes, I think intent is important in this realm; Ink, yep, totally see the tributaries (and I have a good example I'll mention in a mo'); and MsKitty, for sure, writing is never wasted, and if a person wants to, then they should...

I'd only add that imitation can be spectacular if done right.

I never realised how similar War of the Worlds and Independence Day were before. I had ID (didn't they call it ID4 on the trailers?) pegged as a disaster movie, and bunched up in the same group as other movies where the Earth gets a bit of a kicking, or something else on a more localised scale gets a bit of a kicking. There are, though, great similarities, and it's difficult to say from the outside whether WotW was consciously ripped off, or if the inspiration process which went into the production of Independence Day was a more tributary thing...

Deliberate imitation, or sourcing of material, can be done incredibly well. Moulin Rouge is one of my favourite films. Yet, when I tried to watch the monochromatic, rather dull, original, I couldn't sit through it.

I watched a two-part animated (I think, could've been CG) film once, about elves and fairies. They were at war. All the fairies lived in a big city in the sky, all the elves lived below ground. One of the elves and a few of his mates attended a big fairy party, where the elf fell in love with a fairy. The fairy's cousin went mental about the presence of elves, but the fairy king stopped him from causing trouble. Well, the elf and fairy lovers got married in secret. Shortly after that, the fairy's cousin started a fight with the elf, during which the elf's mate was accidentally killed by the furious fairy.

It was round about this point that I started thinking 'I recognise this story - isn't it time for that dying mate to shout 'A plague on both your houses!!' ?

True to form, the story continued in exactly the same fashion, but took a turn away from Romeo & Juliet toward the end and went into something else (which I also recognised but can't remember what it was now).

There was no acknowledgement, neither in the title, nor credits, that this was based on Shakespeare's work.

Deliberate? Or just an innocently placed bunch of cool ideas which all happened to come from the same place?

Romeo and Juliet is a classic example to use when looking at homage. Not just because I think I've seen the most bizarre version of it ever, but also because I can bring Baz Luhrmann back into this - his version of Romeo and Juliet is, officially, a remake of the classic play. But done brilliantly. Just incredible, and I think he saw a lot 'between the lines' of the original dialogue which made more sense presented the way he did it. Brilliant stuff. Top homage, deliberately so. I can't fault either the idea or the execution.

On a more subtle level, scenes and snippets can eek into your own work without you even realising. The first novel length story I ever wrote was a fantasy, which featured a witch and a traveller. The witch sent some guys to enlist the traveller's help in a long and treacherous journey through magical lands so that the witch could apply to serve the royal family.

When the traveller expressed his utter disinterest in becoming embroiled in such affairs, one of the guys sent to fetch him said, 'Not even the princess could produce enough reward for this wretch'. And then the traveller is all like, 'Princess?' and he becomes very interested.

One day, while watching Star Wars, I was horrified to witness the exact same scene take place between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. I thought, 'Nooooooo! I've stolen it!'

I actually changed the dialogue because of that. Just shows, though, that sometimes when you think, 'this is a good piece of dialogue,' it could be the case that you think the scene is cool because you've seen it being cool somewhere before!

There's not much you can do about that. Unless you're lucky enough to catch yourself, or someone else does (hopefully before publication!). I don't think this can be guarded against. Too many tributaries, not worth posting guards along each one.

There's a kind of middle ground, too, I think. Someone made previous mention of Chris Paolini and his hideous Eragon. Muchly stolen stuff, many borrowed concepts, dodgy writing... and yet there is a following. His fairly brazen rehashing of familiar stuff, while perhaps not garnering any artistic acclaim, certainly brought about a readership. The readers, it seems, can be pretty forgiving. (or oblivious?)

It might be worth taking note of this. Sensibilities about what constitutes stealing, as opposed to homage, might be more to do with artistic integrity than entertaining people. Comes down to what you really want to do, I suppose. Intuitively, I'd say 'be original'. If my first story was any good, though, these days, I'd put the Han Solo dialogue back in.

Maybe... if it doesn't bother the readers, it shouldn't bother us so much.

Then at the oppoosite extreme of this: deliberate homage can be awesome, and I think that's all about presentation. If you make something shine, then no one can deny that... well, that what you've made is shiny!

Bookworm1605 said...

Ha! Wanu, that's funny to hear about your experience with the Star Wars scene. I had exactly the same moment when you and Ink were critting Mind Over Matter and you guys pointed out the 'resemblence' between my bullet scene and the one from The Matrix. I sat back and put my hand over my mouth and said, "Nooooo!" But it was true. So unintentional, though.

Just goes to show you how those images can be burned into our cerebrums and reemerge unexpectedly.

I don't know if ID4 was really a retelling of War of the Worlds but the ending with the computer virus seemed a little too pat. I'm not exactly a computer guru but I know how hard it is to get my desktop to talk to our printer at work, so I figured the idea of uploading a terrestrial computer virus to an alien ship was a nod and a wink at the ending of War of the Worlds.

Hey, just for fun, here are two more movies that are 'retellings' of classics. Can you guess what the original stories are?

Forbidden Planet

Oh Brother Where Art Thou

Ink said...

I haven't seen Forbidden Planet, but Oh Brother Where Art Thou? is one of my favourite movies, and it's a retelling of Homer's The Odyssey. Great flick...

And, funny enough, Wanu's two Luhrman films are a couple of my favourites too... though I've never seen the original Moulin Rouge. I thought his Romeo and Juliet version was pretty brilliant, too. Remakes is another aspect of this whole topic. What makes a good remake? What makes a bad remake? I always had this idea that it would be great to remake Clash of the Titans. Cool movie... with utterly outdated special effects. With today's techniques... Wow. Could be a pretty stunning movie. Who's with me?

Actually, when I was younger I often wanted to remake a couple of classics into modern novels. Modern sort of lit crime novels... one was Heart of Darkness, transplanted to an urban scene. And the other was Hamlet, with a sort of gang thing going on, set in a hood called (of course) Denmark. Maybe it's good I never did those... especially since my young self probably wasn't going to do anything better than Coppola's Apocalypse Now.

Wanu said...

I'd love to write a version of Pride and Prejudice, as close to the original sequencing as possible, but with a couple of desperados as the main characters, kinda like Pride and Prejudice meets Boyz in the Hood.

It is a widely acknowledged fact that a new dealer in the neighborhood must be in need of some bitches and 'ho's...

With regard to modern film remakes, there's a newer version of Jason and the Argonauts. I saw it, or part of it, not so long ago. Get this, though: it's Jason and the Argonauts... without any monsters!! What!? Apparently, throwing a huge budget at fights with beasties and skeletons wasn't on the cards - instead, this remake presents a rather cerebral, and oddly emotional journey, with lots of formulaic tension enhancers, and really nothing of the charm of the original.

Unbelievable. And it's got Dennis Hopper in it - he steals the golden fleece, but can't figure out how to work it. If it's got at least one decent actor, there can be no budgetary excuses!

Should be careful what you wish for, Ink. In the wrong hands, Clash of the Titans could become 'a few heated conversations with the girlfriend's ex.'

Mind you, in the right hands, it would be frikkin' awesome.

Kevin P. Kilburn said...


For you...


Ink said...


You the man. That's actually sort of funny that I mentioned being fascinated by the remake potential of Clash of the Titans only to find that it's now starting into pre-production... and I liked what that director did with The Incredible Hulk, so I have some high hopes for this. Now I'm giddy... well, pretty darn pleased, at least. I'll save up all the goody giddyness for actually seeing the movie. :)

Ms Kitty said...

I guess there is a big difference in which version of War of the Worlds you are talking about. The book, the radio show, the first black & white movie, Justin Hayward's musical adaptation or the movie with Tom Cruise. (Is that all of them?)

Independence day verses War of the Worlds - The way I remember War is a story of a man fighting to survive while he looks for his family.

The remake by Justin Hayward has the most beautiful sound track. "Forever Autumn" brings tears to my eyes. Wish I could find a copy! But I digress.

Ind-Day is a man who fights back when the world is invaded. The War character is running and hiding. This to me is a big difference.

Ind-day is about fighting the aliens. In War the viri are doing the fighting. This may be splitting hairs, but the active role of the hero in Ind-Day is completely different from the passive role of the hero in War.

BTW about fan fiction, how many of you know that Holly Lisle wrote fan fiction for Marion Zimmer-Bradley? Cool huh?

Kevin P. Kilburn said...


You said...

I may be completely wrong, but I think that's one of the benefits I've found in reading a diversity of stories. Influences are broad and varied, like a thousand different tributaries draining into a huge river.

I never really thought about it that way until recently. I was once of the mindset that "I won't read other works because I may unintentionally copy them." Big mistake.

I later realized that it was necessary to read, read, and read some more (partly from the preachings in how-to-write books) in order to absorb the different styles and learn.

This is why my first attempt at writing read like a technical or instruction manual - that was my background of reading and writing. Very precise in grammar, but boring as hell to read.

I've never read fan-fic (that I recall). There's just something about it that doesn't set well with me. I don't think it necessarily wrong or right, but it's not my preference. Given limited time, I want to read something "unique".

Perhaps some fac-fic writers are hoping they can break into the market and become "authorized" writers -- Star Wars comes to mind. There are dozens of not hundreds of different authors licensed by Lucas to write Star Wars stories.

I've read numerous articles on Star Wars (Episode IV for the younger crowd) and how much Lucas took from various sources to piece it together.

To me, Star Wars was completely original and unlike anything ever made before -- that of course is my biased 4th Grade memories talking.

Is Lucas at "fault" for deliberately using these elements? At what point does someone call him on it and say "you copied that"?

Some articles are critical of Lucas and say exactly that - that he didn't really come up with anything original and just strung a bunch of stuff together. I think that's on the far end of one extreme.

I think to a large degree Lucas was in the tributary on that one.

Remember the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy crawls under the moving truck? This is somewhat similar to a scene in Stagecoach. If I recall correctly, there was also a similar scene in one of the old Zorro serials.

Way off topic here, so I'll close...

Ink said...

One of my favourtite movies, The Fugitive, has a scene where Harrison Ford escapes by running into a parade and pretending to be part of it. And yet there's an almost identical scene in the old Hitchcock classic The Thirty Nine Steps (based on the John Buchan novel). Bits and pieces are constantly reused. Actually, I've seen a bunch of scenes from that Hitchcock movie used in more modern films. And, of course, there's always the simple fact that the same good ideas may occur independently in different people.

Wanu said...

Cinematographically, there are conventions which you'll see over and over again. One of the best examples I can think of was highlighted to me by a student of film - she pointed out to me that until the last couple of decades it was virtually a given that any female lead character would first appear by virtue of a 'feet to head' shot, that slow rove up the legs, then body to take in her beauty...

It still features a lot, but perhaps more so for specific situations (in most High School 'loser becomes winner' movies, a made over girl will receive this shot, usually in a 'walking down some stairs' moment).

This is kinda like a tried and tested craft method. There are plenty of such devices for novelists to use, perhaps on a more important scale, the 'chapter ending cliffhanger' or tension enhancer of another sort, and the 'intrigue up front' opening sentences. Devices like this can't really be considered cliche, but anything more specific, and you might be using 'tried and tested' which is more easily recognised, and therefore perhaps less entertaining than it could be.

I'm thinking things like the 'loadsa weapons' gag in film, or 'teracotta pots' and 'camomile lawns' in literature. Some things carry a purity of their own, and it can be tempting to put them in, just because they're so darned effective everywhere else they appear.

How many times have we seen: cut-scene humor - "Hell, no, I'll never do that!" and then in the very next shot, the poor sap is doing exactly what he said he wouldn't; round-house kicks! Are they cliche? Or just flashy and useful? I noted that while Morpheus and Trinity each had signature moves (M: the high-jump, knee-pound move; T: floating high kick), Neo was made more creative - he could adapt to any situation and therefore lacked the need for any particularly favoured offensive move; Dragons! How many of those are knocking about? The most original dragon I've seen was the Ice Dragon in one of the Dungeons n Dragons movies - a lovely and impressive beast that breathed ice vapor; Demons come in all shapes and sizes, the basic idea is what gets used over and over, whereas vampires don't generally get made over, they come with the exact same conventions and mythology as laid out in Bram Stoker's - garlic, stakes, daylight... From Underworld, through Blade, and even Buffy, we see the vampire as a specific entity, completely hijacked from elsewhere. Even Anne Rice uses a fairly pure form of mythology, with the only real differences being that her vampires grow stronger over time, and cannot make love (I think that would upset Angel and Spike no end!)

Are vampires cliche? Not really. Super-sexy and allruing and down right fascinating is what they are, and as a consequence of those things, we see them time and time again.

The endless repeats of films in which Santa loses his power, or falls in love, or passes on the Father Christmas legacy to someone else is coming to a close after this year's festive season (and my God, if I ever hear Steve Guttenberg go 'Ho-ho-ho' again, I'll smash the telly!). Stolen mythology with a new twist, every one of them.

This is really more about supply and demand than it is about what constitutes homage. If there's something which piques the creative drive in you, then the chances are it'll pique the desire to indulge (i.e. read/watch) in others.

I think it is really okay to hijack a cool idea, or scene, or snippet, as long as you do it justice, make a proper effort and produce something interesting, make it seem fresh, even if the concepts in your hands are arguably trite (and stolen!)

Ink said...

I'd steal more ideas myself, but I'm worried about the repercussions. Now, if I had some sort of leather armour and a bulletproof scooter or something...

Wanu said...

*snikkers* I've probably pushed it too far in BPS, but my defence is always 'parody!' Whether that's a stalwart enough shield to use against massive lawsuits tho...

Ink said...

I think that's the whole point of parody, though, so I think you're probably safe on that front. It's not really any different than all those spoof movies they make. And If I'm wrong, well, I hope they don't sue the blog...


Ms Kitty said...

I'm going to disagree with this quote:

Are vampires cliche? Not really. Super-sexy and alluring and down right fascinating is what they are, and as a consequence of those things, we see them time and time again.

Sorry, you hit a nerve with that one. I write romance, so I've been reading it, and trust me, they have drained the last drop of blood from vampires and werewolves.

For the genre "Urban Fantasy" vampires are all vamped out. They are not only passe cliche, they are a scrubbed clean cliche. Read "Twilight" or see the movie, you will be appalled.

Vampires have babies, sire babies, fall in love, get married, have copious sex, have souls, got out into the daylight, go to High school, graduate from high schools and have jobs. They also sparkle in the sunlight.

Stoker would have a stroke.

I think that "urban fantasy" is the perfect example of why art should NOT imitate art. Like an over-copied mimeograph, the monster loses all impact as it is watered down until the vampire is as bloodless as a slab of beef in a butcher shop.

Werewolves have received the same treatment. Poor buggers.

Wanu said...

Aye, MsKitty, no doubt there is a lot of dross and some areas where the general idea cannot be done a new way.

I still think there's potential though, and Buffy is the main reason why I think so.

There are a couple of things about Buffy that I'm not keen on: all the characters share the same sense of humor, which strikes me simply as 'wrong' in terms of decent character creation; some of the episodes wrap up too quickly and neatly; she dies and gets resurrected at the end of every series; and the vampires are a bit poofy.

But, there is much, much, more that I think is totally right with Buffy. The writers/producers branch out, into demons and such (and the Buffy werewolves are awesome!). I've been watching the series where Buffy and Co are pretty much at war with a bunch of geeky guys. Pretty good stuff, and I loved it when Willow went crazy and killed one of the lads. That was brilliant, I really thought that the PC makers of Buffy would put in a last minute 'do the right thing' plot line, but they didn't, and I totally respected that. The episodes sometimes go truly dark, and there's a bit of a wave effect between the humor, heroics, and darkness, and it slowly oscillates over the course of weeks. Nice, I like that.

The main problem, I think, with vampires, is that there is a powerful mystique attached to them. But, once you get to know a vampire intimately, all that mystique is gone. I think everyone - film, TV, and novel writers - suffer with the same dichotomy. I thought Queen of the Damned was brilliant (both the novel and the movie), but the same thing happened there - vastly powerful and impressive, well groomed, serene, passionate, those vampires were the bomb. But then the reader got to know them, and they were just another bunch of characters, only with super human abilities. There is a *yawn* factor once that happens - we see the weaknesses, the cracks, and vampires, for all their abilities and allure, become very human, which kinda defeats the point.

So I think something like Buffy, where vampires are allowed to be cool, but bad, and good, and have problems, and tackle them in their own way (Spike and his behaviour chip spring to mind), then new possibilities open up: vampires Vs geeks, vampires Vs demons, vampires Vs witches, witches Vs demons, the slayer, slayer Vs demon... etc... etc... I think this allows mystique to come back in, and for the unknown to seep into and dilute to some extent the central problem of over-familiarity.

That's a form of familiarity that can breed contempt. I liked Underworld: Evolution, I thought there was plenty of good stuff in there.

This is pretty much hitting the whole debate square on the head: if you use a vampire to heighten your romance novel, then you're using a cool idea, simply because it is a cool idea, rather than having soemthing spectacular lined up for it, but if you use vampires to add romance to your vampire-slaying TV series, then you've got something new, and it's worth the rehash to come up with that.

I think the dross is, like, a bit of a lag, the writer is perhaps behind the times and thinkingk, 'cool, a vampire, wouldn't it be neat to have a vampire embroiled in a love affair with a human woman?'

Well, no, it wouldn't, because we've seen it a hundred times before. But what if you've got a traumatised human, and a vampire takes advantage, and tries to bring out the nasty in her, and he's so wily and convincing that she goes into a personal nightmare, becomes isolated from her friends, and spins into chaos. Now that's cool!

Ms Kitty said...

I see where you are coming from, though I don't agree. I will admit that I don't watch tv, I've never been interested in Buffy, or Angel. So we are talking books.

What I see, post Buffy, are cartoon character vampires, the "Count Chocula" type. Utterly washed of all the things that made them scary. Not the dark and soul-less monster, but a wimpy "Joe Average."

These 'urban fantasy' stories are ghastly, precisely because there are so many of them. Like a bad mimeographed copy, they are increasingly indistinct every time another one is churned out.

Take the "Hottest" vampire out there to date: He's ninety years old, doesn't ever drink human blood, he goes to high school (yes, during the day), and sparkles in the sun.

Or the female vampire "slayer" who has an unending string of "vampire" or "were" something, lovers, all of whom take a little bite. She gets it on with 2 or 3 at a time four or more times a day. Then gets pregnant and acts completely shocked that such a terrible thing would happen to her.

The capper: A hard-boiled Chicago journalist/Private Investigator vampire who never once bites a human, and runs around solving gang crime in the 30's speakeasy era. He drinks from cattle at the Chicago stockyards. (The filthiest place on Earth.) I think the only reason he's a vampire is that vampires are "In" and "detective" novels are "Out."

I was in Walmart today, and there were five or six of these - ghastly novels. Barnes and Nobel has a dozen or more authors who seem to do nothing else.

And granted, the average male writer would never be exposed to one of these books. However, editors and agents see them by the thousands.

The tiny pond of publishing has been poisoned, so if Joe Author wrote a 'good' vampire/were book, it will be automatically rejected because of the dross. Not just in the high-output world of women's fiction, but in horror, sci-fi, mainstream and literary genre's as well.

I think this is also a prime example of a niche market driving all the other markets. Why else would they have made a tv "Buffy" if there wasn't a market raging somewhere?

My point is that while fan fiction isn't "bad" as a learning tool, the vampire/werewolf themes have been done to death and beyond: they have become not just cliche, but bad cliches.

Art can imitate art, but at some point it becomes cliche imitating cliche ad infinitum - et nauseum. (Both badly misspelled.)

Ink said...

I think the disconnect with vampires (and werewolves, to a lesser extent) occurs because there's been a change in the nature and function of the idea. Vampires and werewolves come out of very old myths, symbols of the mystery and darkness of the world - and the darkness of human transformation, the release of inhibited impulses. They represented otherness... and maybe the otherness within us, too.

Why were vampires repelled by the cross? Because this darkness, both external and internal, is combatted with faith, with a belief in the divine that will allow people to follow a good (and safe) path.

That was the mythological vampire (and werewolf), the traditional form. Mysterious foes, things to be feared... this is the Dracula that Stoker wrote about, I think.

The modern vampire (and modern werewolf) has been changed, though. Opened, yes, to characterization, to being seen from the inside instead of from the the outside. Pulled from the shadows, both literally and figuratively. And in so doing they've been co-opted into an entirely different role, with a different function.

They've become the embodiment of the mysterious stranger. Alluring, romantic, outside the normal bounds of things. They've become Clint Eastwood walking into a western town.

This isn't necessarily bad, in that there's an audience that wants this. Really, I think this has less to do with vampires than it does with the mysterious stranger typology... because the mysterious stranger characteristics have taken precedence over the vampire/werewolf characteristics. The mysterious stranger won that slugfest and took precedence. Really, I think the vampires and werewolves have simply been used as a way to invigorate the ol' mysterious stranger type, which was maybe getting rather stale. A vampire? How mysterious! A werewolf? How strange!

Except now it's everywhere, and the freshness offered by this mixing of tropes is now stale as well. It started with Anne Rice, I'm guessing. I mean, not so long ago Stephen King's Salem's Lot (a reworking of Dracula) still held to the old type. But I think Rice's popularity bred a lot of interest and started a change. Rice humanized her vamps. She uses the vampire stuff to basically complicate and invigorate human characters, to add an edge to her romantic stories. That otherness lingers around the edges at times... but the writers who have come after have seemingly discarded even that. Everything's been prettified. Making the character a vampire often seems to be doing little more than what writers did in the 50's by giving a male lead a black leather jacket. Whoa! Dangerous and alluring... But what happens when black leather jackets no longer do the trick? Well, you make 'em a bloodsucker. Not only do you get a troubled past (oooh!) but you have to fight off those terrible urges... Fatty burgers, no! Human blood...

Which is fine, I guess. There's a market for this. People like those mysterious strangers, and a bite on the neck is kinda erotic, eh? The problem, to me, is the loss of that old type of vampire/werewolf. The mystery and danger, the mythology of fear, of otherness within and without. The unknown.

People still try and draw on it to some degree. I think Kostova's The Historian tried to grab back a lot of this, the mystery and fear, the hidden danger... but it's probably harder to do with so many teenage pretty boy vampires prancing around. And if you lived a century or two, why would you want to date a sixteen year old? :)

I suppose I'm okay with the new form of stuff (though there's a lot of dross out there...). I mean, I enjoyed the first Underworld movie. If someone can tell a good story with this new formula, more power to them. I guess I just regret the loss of the old form. Stoker's book is bloody (ha ha) good, and when I look around I don't see much being written that's like it.

I've read that the Horror genre has become almost nonexistent these days. Outside Koontz and King not much is being sold. Change in culture? Maybe the co-opting of those forms has stripped something from the arsenal of horror writers. It's all about the kissing now... no time for things that go bump in the night.

Ms Kitty said...

Just so, Ink, just so.

I suppose that the urban fantasy dross will vanish, in 10 years the archetypes be usable again. As for horror books becoming rarer, I think there are so many splatter flicks out there, why bother writing a book? (Or reading one?)

Kevin P. Kilburn said...

I cut out a big chunk of my post that mentioned cinematography. Unfortunately, I didn't save it, but it was along the lines of what you said.

Cinematographically, there are conventions which you'll see over and over again.

I mentioned the "wandering camera" technique and how it's copied. I personally hate it (along with other techniques like cutting during an interview to show an out of focus or B&W side view).

I think the original inventor(s) had a reason they did it, but when someone copies it just for the sake of copying it, they don't do it justice.

It's like that strobe effect in Gladiator (the first one I saw anyway). You now see that technique used in many movies for no good reason. I can see some odd camera technique if it adds to the storytelling, but to use it indiscriminately just isn't right.

For example, the technique of fast zooms and focusing the camera to simulate a documentary feel is acceptable, but when someone copies that technique without understanding WHY, then it's simply distracting.

When I film things, I don't do fast zooms and I try to keep the camera as steady as possible. My videos still look like a documentary home movie, but I don't believe they're distracting (i.e., you notice the camera). So why mimic something just because someone else did it?

I think that's true in writing. At some point, there had to be a reason why someone did what they did. Using sentence fragments for example. Someone who has mastered grammatical rules can use them in the right way. Someone simply copying the technique (especially if they're not smart on rules of grammar) potentially does it incorrectly and ruins the effect.

Ink said...

I hear you on that, KP. I always liked the motto "Don't break a rule until you've mastered it."