The State of Pop-Fiction in 2012
Pop-fiction (“popular fiction”) consists of many things which literate people before the 21st century might find akin to magic. For centuries, pop-fiction (though not called that), was primarily books, short stories, poetry, and plays.
Then came movies, which initially were plays without the proscenium stage. They morphed gradually, over the span of 100+ years, into what we recognize today. Next came TV. Writing for TV was originally called “teleplay writing.”
Now we have tweets and blogging, podcasts, eBooks, video games, and, of recent invention, multi-media eBooks as apps. There is a huge spectrum of available fiction media to be had, far more than our grandfathers could have imagined.
With all that quantity, style has transcended writing form. Anyone can write an eBook these days. All you need is a computer and an active imagination. You don’t need grammar, punctuation, and even spelling seems to have gone by the wayside. How important are these things in reality? Isn’t the conveyance of ideas, dreams, emotion, the important part?
Grammar and spelling are constructs. Consider cuneiform. Early discoverers of that ancient writing couldn’t wrap their minds around it and interpret it because it had no rules. The same can be said for all the ancient languages. Rules in English were pretty haphazard, too, clear through the history of the language, until the rise of the large publishing houses around the middle of the nineteenth century. Once these publishing houses got going, and newspapers were accessible to the average guy, more standardization came about. It was a minor conspiracy, with major consequences.
In some ways, we’ve returned to the early nineteenth century, where the story was more important than the way you wrote it down. Any particular reader has his choice of writing styles to suit their budget and finickiness. Those who want a quick read with particular actions or emotions can get it for free or 99 cents from a variety of places. At that low price point, maybe the reader can overlook a misplaced homonym or inconsistent editing. As with any market, you get what you pay for. If what you want is pure sensation and you’re okay with potentially freewheeling style, a free book might do the trick for you. Some of those books can surprise, titillate, touch, even without all the foofoorah and etiquette of academic grammar, spelling and punctuation. People eat them up, and that says something about how we current English-readers look at our pop-fiction. Even some really expensive books with “egregious” errors are enormously popular. Look at the Fifty Shades trilogy. Those books are huge on the market right now despite their poor editing and dubious writing form. People love them for the story and overlook the problems because they are transported while reading.
Just like the market can support books that don’t follow the standard rules, it holds a place for those of us who find the rules important. I don’t like reading books that ignore the language and editing customs. Do I read them anyway? Sometimes–if I think my fascination with the story is going to allow me to ignore the errors and make mental fixes automatically without pulling me out of the book entirely. My preference, however, is for following the rules English has had for the last hundred years or so. I like the discipline it shows. I prefer the nuanced use of homonyms and spelling to make the ideas clearer and crisper. Punctuation, for me, has to follow guidelines in order for the sentences to reach their fullest potential. Editing, too, really counts. I’m willing to spend those extra dollars to get a product that makes me comfortable.
It is wonderful that we readers have so many choices. We can have tweeted fiction (Arjun Basu does some fabulous work in this area). Our fiction can be multi-media, as in World of Warcraft. We can read eBooks of every quality and price (peruse Amazon for five minutes and you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy). And the world of blogs offers the widest possible range of possibilities, from poetry to political thrillers, short, long, and everything in-between.
We all have personal preferences, but isn’t it nice to have a choice? We can be whimsical as readers and writers, not unlike people in centuries past. The world of ideas is transcendent.