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Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008, 07:27 am
The old "Game Fiction Sucks!" debate

This here is your classic fiction stereotype. It's just as harsh and unfair as "genre fiction sucks," or "fantasy is strictly escapist (therefore sucking)," but thankfully just as untrue.

Bob Salvatore has this story he tells, whereby he points out that for every critic or reader who blasts his novels as derivative, empty drivel, he receives two or three emails from readers talking about how his stories got them through a very rough time, or how they read his novels on the hospital bed, or how his work inspired them to write stuff of their own.

Now, I don't know how prevalent that is for most game-related fiction writers. I will say that based on the number of people who come up to me (and I'm one of the small guys--I'm not talking about Ed or RAS or PSK or RLB), not everyone ascribes to this tired old stereotype.

(And I acknowledge that if you go to the novels with this stereotype in mind, it's hard to see the art that's written there. That's how stereotypes work, as we all know.)

Now--what do I think?

Let's get past this "shared world/game-related fiction sucks" attitude.

Yeah, a lot of game-related fiction sucks. But then, a lot of NON-game-related fiction sucks. So really, it's just par for the course.

Only game-related fiction has an extra burden to carry, in that it is more often than not classed with other fiction in the same shared world--fiction written by totally different authors with totally different attitudes and totally different aims.

It's like PSK's apples and oranges discussion. Just because game-fiction is wrapped up in a convenient package to dismiss all at once (i.e., I didn't like this Realms novel, so all the Realms novels must suck) doesn't mean you should, any more than you should write off an entire genre based on one book you didn't like.

Realms authors are no more alike than authors in the greater fantasy genre, and often times the only similarity between their books is the setting itself (and the Realms provides so much variety that this is rarely an issue). You can't really draw quality conclusions about, say, Paul Kemp's writing from Richard Lee Byer's writing. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. They write differently and are after different things. You may extremely dislike one author's book but totally love another.

There are, for instance, Realms writers who ascribe to the "rough-and-tumble he-man-like hero rescues the eye-candy/weepy girl and saves the day." And that's fine, if that's what you want--that's how Robert Howard wrote Conan, after all. Meanwhile, there are some Realms writers (like me) who eschew that classic fantasy sensibility and write fiction that at least attempts to deal directly with real-world gender issues in the Realms. There are Realms writers who love writing about quirky relationships and split-your-sides humor (Rosemary Jones), some who do high-octane action (Bob Salvatore), and some who write about the dilemma of the human soul (Paul Kemp).

Now. Go back over that paragraph and replace all instances of the word "Realms" or "the Realms" with the word "fantasy" (or any other genre you care to name). Or just take out the word entirely, and let it apply to all authors in all genres of all time. The Realms has the full range of stuff, just like fantasy, just like all fiction in general.

How can one possibly--at least honestly--express the view that shared-world/game fiction is any less worthy than non-shared-world/game fiction?

It has all the same range and suffers all the same faults--it can address the same issues and is free to suck just like any other fiction out there.

The only real difference is that instead of expending the creative juice to *make our own world,* we spend it on *integrating our stories into an existing world* that is steeped in a hundred game supplements, three hundred novels, and forty years of tradition. If anything, that is *harder* than creating your own world, where you can just make up the solution to any problem. In the Realms (or any shared world), it's research, research, research. Because if you don't do that, your novel is going to crash and burn.

Ok. I've made the point that you can't dismiss all the Realms novels (300ish novels) on the basis of a small handful (5-10). Let's go the other way: Maybe you've read all the Realms novels and found them all wanting. Maybe you're a big-time literary critic and you know your stuff and you know when you're not getting it.

But even in that situation, there's no guarantee that the novels will mean the same thing to someone else. A book you may think is absolute drivel might get smothered by the love of hundreds of other readers (it's happened to me!). You may be sitting back in your chair wondering why a particular fantasy book (be it game-related or not) on the NY Times Bestseller List sells more than a dozen copies. But it can--and it will--and it'll be because no one can choose fiction for everyone.

When it really comes down to it, fiction is a hugely relative thing. Everyone's got different tastes, and you should read what you like. And--by extension--don't read what you DON'T like. Just as we should all leave everyone to choose what to read and what not to read.


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)

This is a very good post, thank you! I linked back to you today, since I've been trying to sort out my own tie-in prejudices.

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:55 pm (UTC)

Very good post on your blog, too. Everyone should check it out!



Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)

Ah, a fellow traveller! Welcome, my brother. :-)

Put another way -- good post.

Edited at 2008-08-22 03:51 pm (UTC)

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)


(It should be noted as well, dear readers and fans, that Paul's Erevis Cale stuff is near the top of the list of game-related fiction to try out. If you haven't read it already, you should get on that.)


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)

Very well said, Erik. Most of what you write here is common sense. Most of what you write here can pertain to real world situations outside of writing. For example, politics. Step outside your comfort zone of what you will absolutely like and absolutely dislike and take risks. You just might change your mind.

Absolutes are the enemy of the human condition. If you think about it, what is the only absolute guarantee any human being will ever have, that he or she can share with every other single human being?

All other conditions are malleable, if WE SO CHOOSE. It takes courage to take risk and there are simply those who refuse to take risk, for whatever reasons they have (and they may be very good reasons to them, don't get me wrong).

What you are asking people to do is to take a risk. It comes down to that, doesn't it? Risk reading something you known nothing about on the chance that the writing will grab you (and in most cases, with most Realms and Eberron authors, the writing WILL grab you).

I heartily endorse this tract! Taking risks reminds us that we have choices in our lives. The points you bring up are all quite valid and, as I said, I endorse them. The question is, how do we convince the fence-riders to do the same? Do we even TRY to convince the hard-core antagonists? I submit that we must try...just as you are doing here.

Thank you (and you are one of the authors I do intend to follow in terms of my Realms buying...I have decided to stop purchasing FR books, save for a few select author's works, for reasons having nothing to do with aesthetics) and continued success in ALL your writing endeavors!

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)

Now why do you and Jim Hines have to go and ruin a perfectly good and productive writing day for me by throwing out these topics? Grrr.

I'm ignoring you guys and will put this discussion in my back brain; hopefully I'll be back tomorrow to add some real comments. ;)

Now back to the Write-Cave! :D


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)

If you don't write, then that's one less author we're competing with for shelf space! It's all part of the Big Diabolical Plan (TM).

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)

And what are *you* doing surfing the web, Mr. Productive? :P

I look forward to your comments, but for now, you just get back to writing!


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)

I think you put forth a very convincing argument - I hadn't thought about it that way before. I tend to gravitate, in my fantasy-genre tastes, to a single writer within a world, i.e. David Eddings, and his 12-book series for the Belgariad/Mallorean. It's much easier, for me at least, and more consistent to follow that singular "train of thought."

I think that was why I had a hard time getting into the Dragonlance series a friend introduced me to in high school - trying to figure out where and when things were happening. It's a totally different way to read a story, and I don't think I'd realized it until just now. :) Maybe I'll give it another shot...

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC)

Hmm . . . Dragonlance. Yeah, give it a shot. You might like it, you might not. Margaret Weis is doing a lot with some very powerful female leads these days, and she's good. Tracy Hickman's always a classic, too.

Check out Chris Pierson too, speaking of the newer authors. I know him personally and he seems pretty solid.

I myself read the Chronicles trilogy and Legends series but haven't done much else. I like Raistlin, but that's typical of me (go Team Evil!!!).


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:58 pm (UTC)

I actually own a couple of DragonLance books, and I remember reading a bunch of Ryan's way-back-when, especially the short stories (another genre, if it's considered a genre, that I sometimes have difficulty switching gears in between). His favorite was Raistlin, too. I loved the dragons, good or evil. I always thought they were so cool!

I really SHOULD go back and re-read. I remember starting with Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and the next couple in that immediate series (although I don't think I ever read the last one, there was something that I missed). And it was after THAT point that I started getting confused, trying to place the book that I was reading against the backdrop of the books I'd already read, and apparently one didn't necessarily have anything to do with another, just being in the same world.

Funny that I can read a historical fiction book set at any point in OUR world, no problem, but in a fictional world I have problems, haha.

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
ext_118844: Some fiction should suck - but only in a good way

If you're writing about vampires, sucking can be quite necessary for example :)

Writers do best if they forget about the "limitations" of the genre and just write what they enjoy. As long as you, as a writer, are having a good time, whether it is creating quirky relationships or driving your characters to dark ends (hiya, Erik!), then that comes through and makes the fiction enjoyable for the reader.

That's my 2 cents worth of musing. And looking at my shelves, I find the "genre" writing of the last 100 years is what dominates. Maybe because genre seems to be written by people who just want to share a good story with their friends and fellow readers.

Rosemary Jones

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
eriksdb: Re: Some fiction should suck - but only in a good way

Indeed. Sometimes it should suck. :)

(Not that I've read that book--I just find it very funny.)

driving your characters to dark ends (hiya, Erik!)

Mmm, that's not a bad way to sum up what I do. Too many Ravenloft games, really.


Sat, Aug. 23rd, 2008 01:13 pm (UTC)
brainstormfront: Re: Some fiction should suck - but only in a good way

Hi Rosemary! Strange to encounter each other away from Goodreads. ;)

Re: the limitations of the genre(s)---
That is exactly why I love reading the old pulp authors. They were all writing in days before people decided and established what were the genre's limitations and boundaries. That's why John Carter of Mars had explosive radium bullets, swords, crazy aliens, superhuman jumping, AND flying cars. Imagine trying to get away with that today with all the folks more interested in what something "shouldn't be" as opposed to what makes a story fun.

I think I'll go write about six-armed insectoid apes against an army of spear-wielders with shoes that fly....just because I can. :)

Mon, Aug. 25th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
ext_118844: Re: Some fiction should suck - but only in a good way

And what's wrong with six-armed green men? I have an action figure of Tars Tarkas on my desk.

If you ever want to how far ERB could push his own boundaries, I highly recommend THE MUCKER and THE RETURN OF THE MUCKER because it swings from zombie jungle adventure to revolutions in Mexico.

OK, now I've got to go find my copy.

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
zornhau: Have friended you for the obvious reasons...

Please don't feel obliged to friend back, unless my LJ actually interests you.

Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
eriksdb: Re: Have friended you for the obvious reasons...

Thank you sir! I'm quite pleased to meet you (virtually, that is).

I try to keep my friends list manageable for those folks who use it to check on people (like myself). So if I don't put you up there, it isn't anything personal. You should consider yourself a mutual friend regardless. :)


Fri, Aug. 22nd, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
zornhau: Re: Have friended you for the obvious reasons...

Of course. I shall read your writing posts with interests.

Sat, Aug. 23rd, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)

So can I try and be the Realms writer who does rough-and-tumble gender quirks in epic fantasy, just to massage them all into one? ;)

I've given up trying to make sure a book "means something" to someone and I just write the story that's in my head (and which fits the contract). The readers bring their own meaning to the material and there's no way to predict reactions accurately; I once had someone tell me something I wrote had as much impact as a far better (and more famous) writer's work, even though it was only an adventure module.

We write what we write, and the readers bring half the unknowables into the equation after we're done with our work.

And (my personal peeve) anyone who describes himself as a "critic" very much tells you up front what to expect from them--negative thinking as opposed to true criticism that's constructive and fair.

You're right in that everything's relative; while I'll never understand how or why Terry Goodkind or Robert Jordan grab readers (since their stuff doesn't grab me as a reader), I'll still wish I had their publishing clout and shelf space. ;)

Sat, Aug. 23rd, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC)
vespican: It's all good!

Good writing is good writing, regardless of whether is mainstream, genre, or specific sub-genre. And what I see as good writing, those stories I enjoy and excitedly tell my friends (both real world and on line) about, may not be what you (or others) consider to be good. I hope I would never rate a book purely upon the niche it fills on the bookstore shelf.

As a reader, I try to read a variety of works; things from the classics to historical fiction, historical fantasy, and each and everything in between. I do tend to favor Naval Adventure, but even there I've found some that I'm not that fond of. And I've read stories in other genres, genres that I don't often read, that have really moved me.

As a writer, my work (so far un-published) is primarily in the arena of Naval Adventure, although it dips a little into a fantasy/alternate history mode. Reading a variety of works causes me to think more, and doing so in turn allows me to create those things essential to my own work.