Friday, June 24, 2011

Take that tongue out of your cheek...

Take that tongue out of your cheek until you learn how to keep from tripping over your own snark.

I had this whole plan to write a funny and thoughtful post about a not-so-funny-but-really-wanted-to-be article on Slate yesterday, but most of my points are in Malinda Lo's response. (I'm all out of sorts this week and have retreated to arguing with a plot outline in order to have something half-finished on my harddrive be all-finished so I can begin something else with a clear conscience.)

Timing. That's what I'm going to add. Timing. It means know when it's appropriate to make a joke and when it's just going to be hurtful. It means knowing your audience, and anyone with Twitter could tell you that it's still too soon to make jokes about how frivolous the YA genre is.

If we're being honest, someone is always going to find it too soon to joke about any genre being frivolous. No one likes being told what they do doesn't matter. It's hurtful and rude and it's not going to win you readers or friends. Well, ok, maybe it will but they aren't the type of people I want to be friends with.

There is great power in comedy. I remarked to a group of high school students that when the world looks at you and thinks you're irrelevant and dismissive, you'd be amazed what it allows you to say in return. The look of shock on someone's face when you prove that you have some thoughtful observations about the world is very satisfying.

But as Stan Lee taught us: With great power, comes great responsibility. I guess not everyone can be Spider-Man. Not everyone should even aspire to be Spider-Man. But at least learn how to time your jokes.

Also, Diana Wynne Jones was frequently told that her books were too complicated by adults and she wrote middle grade. This helped me develop my hypothesis that we get dumber as we get older and let's just say the internet often proves me right. (Except when I'm wrong and then it's more than happy to tell me so.)

You can use humor to be snarky and mean and put others down in order to make yourself seem oh-so-clever. Or you can use humor to make a point that raises others up. If you're really good, you can get away with doing both. (That article was not.)

That is, of course, my opinion based on my efforts to try and make a world that is less mean and more wonderful. Cuz like Spider-Man, I just keep suiting up despite the jerks who get paid to talk crap about what I love to do.


Rachel V. Olivier said...

First of all, really good point about using humor. I remember a professor in one of my Women's Lit courses pointing out that some of the greatest contributions to literature were written by people using humor to get those populations in power to see the point of view of those who were not in power. Castle Rackrent and Gulliver's Travels are two masterworks on that.

Now, maybe I'm too old, but I wasn't offended at all by the blog article on Slate. Some YA is derivative. Some adult contemporary lit is derivative. Some scifi/fantasy is. But, to go back to what you said about having a sense of humor, I know for me, as soon as I start taking myself too seriously, I'm in trouble. If I can't step away and see what others see, then that's when my own writing and editing skills will take a dive. How else can I write from diverse povs unless I can see both sides? So, I think YA writers and readers and Romance writers and readers and Scifi writers and readers, and everyone, needs to be able to laugh at themselves and at what they're writing and at what they're reading or what's the point?

Yes, you should be careful at where and when you aim the snark button, because you may be responsible for some of the stray mayhem that may be caused by the snark. But, on the other side, I also think we all need to learn how to shrug and laugh it off.

I hate this saying, but it's true. When you laugh, the world laughs with you. When you cry, you cry alone. And I've found if I'm able to laugh something off that's hurtful, it goes away much faster.

I don't know if any of that is really part of the discussion here, but what you wrote and what I read on Slate and on Lo just made me think.

Chandra Rooney said...

Hey, Rachel.

First of all: yes, you've made an excellent point about not taking ourselves too seriously. 100% agree.

Where the offensive happened--and I'm not nearly as offended as most people were--is the implication that YA books are simplistic or easier to write or require less effort and time and consideration than other genres.

That's what people are upset about it. It's one thing to flippant on a personal blog or cracking a joke on a panel... it's another to have an entire article saying some very demeaning things about a genre that one claims one enjoys writing.

If you love something you don't slam it in a public venue. That's biting the hands that feeds you, right?

Can people laugh about things absolutely. Should people always take themselves seriously? Oh hell no.

But should we respect other people and the community we're a part of? Um... yeah. I'd say so.

And of course, you aren't in any way suggesting we shouldn't. Just want to give a little more background on what the "issue" that had was.

Chandra Rooney said...

Also, if you can decode what I meant to write after I've had this much caffiene you are awesome deserve some kind of prize.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

LOL! I get it. Remember. You have special PoWrZ (sshhhhh) that I can interpret!

But yeah, good point. You really shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you, no matter how funny, or if you do, you should do it privately, in a journal or with some friends over dinner.

KT said...

The line in the Slate thing that stood out was them saying 'They just want you to tell the story'. And y'know what? Telling the story is the point in EVERY fiction book, ffs. Every little technical flourish in literary fiction is part of telling the damn story too, it's all the same thing. 'Popular' fiction is no less valid than 'Literary' fiction, they're a different arena in creating them but neither is no more valid than the other. (This was a debate that oh did I get tired of at uni)

What ticks me off there is implying it's all teenage wish fulfilment. Makes me feel like these people haven't read very much YA, or think that it's all Twilightalikes. Learn your genre, guys. It's not all paranormal romance.

I think having humour and humility about what you do is very important, no matter what it is we do, but yeah, some of this was off colour and I don't think every YA author things like them. I can see why it annoyed people.

Lesliejm said...

"The look of shock on someone's face when you prove that you have some thoughtful observations about the world is very satisfying."

So, so true, and well articulated. I wish I'd had the guts to do that when I was in high school (which really should be the only time you have to deal with hurtful immaturity).

Chandra Rooney said...

If by PoWrZ you mean the magical ability to leave out letters and entire words when I'm in a hurry, then yes I have those.

Leigh Purtill said...

Agree with KT - every reader wants you to tell them the story. If those writers think adult readers have longer attention spans than teens, they haven't met the people I know!

What bothered me about this article was the tone the authors took. "Yeah, we're writing this crappy stuff but, um, yeah, we're really thankful someone is paying us to write." I'm not worried these 2 will take over the YA shelf - they don't care enough.