Thursday, October 25, 2007

It’s Just Your 19th Literary Conundrum

When I first heard about Dumbledore being gay, I thought, well, you know, that explains some things. So much like it usually happens in real life. But I didn't think it was anything that was going to bear on my life.

Then I started trying to smooth out the tangles in that novel I've been working on, and had a realization about why so much writing is so "on the nose." It's because the author is in a can't-win situation when it comes to character revelation and development. Well, some people can win, in my opinion, but I bet everybody has their detractors. If you tell too much, then it's bad writing. If you don't tell enough, then it's not there.

What I mean is: my favorite Dumbledore articles here are the ones that talk about authorial intentionality. A clear example is at "Rowling would not appear to have any authority to declare the print version of Dumbledore gay, straight or bi. Her views on such matters are naturally of interest to fans of her books, but the work must stand on its own."

Now, I studied literary criticism. I know all about the intentional fallacy, and how you have to use the text as evidence. (Which prevents people from just making up other stories, like Jane Eyre was really a man. Hey, maybe she was!) Read up on New Criticism, at, if you want more info on how college utterly warped my mind. No, I'm kidding. Some of these ideas are actually useful. But everything can be taken too far. And because of my background, I know that they can.

Talk about inhibiting!

As the author, I can make up anything about the character I want, and it'll be "real." But the intentional fallacy hardcores seem to imply that it's only if I do it explicitly. Which would lead to the kind of writing snubbed by the kind of people who know terms like "intentional fallacy."

In a Harlequin romance, they'll come right out and tell you what they mean. "He made her feel so vulnerable. It was important to her to be in control, and she was afraid of letting go. If she fell in love, she'd risk getting hurt."

I'm making that up, but I'm pretty sure I read that plot in several romances when I was in junior high. When I flip through more "mainstream" fiction, I see loads of this: spelling out the character. Obviously, I'm hoity-toitier than that. I want to write well. To do that, I'm supposed to infer. Let the story get those ideas across without just saying "Plunk! Here's the character."

In a bad novel, the author would have no compunction about saying, "Albus was gay, but he could barely acknowledge it even to himself. Not after the disaster that had been his first love..."

So, yes, when it comes down to it, it's all ME, ME, ME! How do I do this in my writing? How do I get across those things that are important to me to get across, without saying them? When I know that some readers will say that if I don't say them, they don't exist? (Whoa, that's pretzelly, even for me. Hey, I'm on one cup of coffee here).

I guess I escape all my conundrums in the traditional Anarchivist way: aw, screw what other people think!

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