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Storytelling is crucial... DomA Send a noteboard - 20/02/2012 05:59:57 AM
... at least to anyone who aims to be a popular writer, read and enjoyed by masses of people even while still alive.

If you're not a great storyteller, you cannot be Alexandre Dumas, or Stephen King, or Brandon Sanderson (or even Dickens and Twain, and yes Robert Jordan too. It's not because his later books fail to entertain some that they don't still please tons of people.).

Popular literature is nearly all about storytelling. It's an art/craft in itself, and a respectable one. As many philosophers point out nowadays, the concept of "culture" has been way too elitist through the last centuries, and you can't really understand a civilization or period without being familiar with its popular culture as well. Sciences are another aspect way too evacuated from the notion of being "cultured" in modern times - it's nearly all about humanities nowadays.

BUT

Tom's points and what he's tried to convey still stand, and strongly so. There's more to literature than merely telling stories and doing it well and in an entertaining manner. Some of the greatest and most important and enduring works of literature are not even fiction (and even less are novels, which is a genre but a few hundred years old). There's aesthetic value in literature and the importance of what you have to say, most often the combination of the two.

The vast majority of folks could care less about those novels because frankly, many are boring as sin, regardless of the scope and meaning.


That's because you're trying to narrow down the purpose of literature to entertainment. That's the main purpose of storytelling for sure, but that's not the sole or very often among the most important purposes of literature. It's often far more profound than this. It's perfectly possible to develop a taste for literature and derive much fun and entertainment from "serious" (I hate that word applied to literature, but can't really think of an alternative) writers, but for most people it's supposed to involve an intellectual effort from the reader, either to appreciate the aesthetics and more importantly to derive something meaningful from the content. If it entertains you as well, it's a bonus (but a bonus more and more frequent the more you've done the effort of acquiring a taste for literature...). Some great writers (Dickens, for example) managed to combine great storytelling and popularity with great literary value and much value as a social commentary and on the experience of being human in his days, but if you look at the sum of the great literature since the dawn of civilization, this combination of the two is close to being the exception rather than the norm.

As for the comment on Dickens being over descriptive, that's a good example of the effort involved to appreciate literature. The truly popular works don't endure very long (not in their original form, anyway. In modern times, new storytelling medium like cinema has prolonged the life of many popular classics). Popular literature is very much inscribed in time, sooner or later time creates barriers between the work and the masses. Dickens or Austen are still widely read, but already writers like Defoe, or Rabelais are destined to a much smaller readership. You need to get passed the barrier time created to appreciate writers like Dickens or Flaubert who wrote in the days before mass media and mass transportation. People didn't leave their village very often if at all to go see the slums in the City. They couldn't open magazines to see how people dressed. The mounting curiosity for the world outside their village was an important factor in the rise and popularity of novels. People expected the writer to make them see things, in great details. It's technological advances that "freed" popular writers from this expectations. Nowadays many people lose patience with the old novelists because they've seen it on TV or the movies. To appreciate literature is often very much to derive interest for older form of communications, older cultures. Those who can't do that, or read only to be entertained, are pretty much condemned to reading only contemporary works, tailored for contemporary tastes. There's nothing wrong with reading solely for entertainment, certainly, but the same way there's no reason for those who don't to dismiss mass culture as unimportant, there's no reason for those who do to spit on literature or, for that matter, those you call "the elites" just because they enjoy or make the intellectual efforts to appreciate other, more demanding, forms of writing.

This message last edited by DomA on 20/02/2012 at 06:01:33 AM
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