June 21st, 2011
Popular mainstream writing has happy endings. Literary writing does not. It has satisfying endings. Hopefully.
When I starting writing literature after half a lifetime of merely reading it, I discovered, no, I was shocked, to find out that protagonists had to be “Likable.” What!
A literary agent wrote to me, “I don’t like this character.” I asked myself, must the reader “like” the character? Since when?
When a girlfriend who is an avid reader of all kinds of novels said one day, “I have to care about the character.” Care? What does she mean?
I began to test movies along these lines. Immediately, I saw it: the conscientiousness of screenwriters to make the protagonists likeable. Sympathetic. I cared about them.
Angry? Let me tell you! After being in the English Honors program, then after college all those succeeding years of taking literature classes, I was so angry that not one of my literature professors had ever mentioned the little fact of likability. Maybe they didn’t know it themselves. They taught literature, not the craft of writing.
The ultimate question was, Why didn’t I know it myself? Answer: Because I read primarily for gorgeous language and for interesting concepts.
When a writing instructor said to the class, “You have to learn your chops,” I didn’t know what chops were.
Does this all sound familiar? Or am I the ultimate late bloomer?