(Disclaimer: I do not hate Twilight–not really–nor do I despise the things I am going to talk about here. I am simply pointing out a potential problem that nobody has solutions for.)
There has been a resurgence of crap in the last few years. I don’t mean published crap, but crap in relation to writing in general. And I’m blaming Twilight, Harry Potter, and every other significant, top-selling literary franchise currently flooding the shelves. As the co-owner of an online writing workshop for young writers, I have seen first hand what the surge of sales and admiration of these books has done. The quality of written English, in general, has drastically de-evolved. That’s not to say that there aren’t good writers, just that the profusion of online writing forums (of all stripes) and the injection of relatively sub par storytelling into the mainstream landscape has created a new environment indubitably friendly to the prospect of universal value. It’s a nice thought, but a faulty one.
It is faulty because there is no such thing as universal value that actually places real value on something. The only universal value in writing is the one given to anyone who tries, but that ends, for anyone with the heart to tell someone about reality, where accomplishing the task turns into trying to do something more. The conditions have, I think, been set for this sort of presumed universal value, and for the infusion of poor knockoffs, poor storytelling (plotting, etc.), and other problematic relationships to the very idea of writing.
There are a few things that signal this to me:
It would be fair to say that this existed prior to Twilight and Harry Potter, but I have seen an enormous surge of text-speak as the dominant mode of communication despite its incoherence to most people and its improper placement in spaces particular to writing mentalities. There is also a correlation between Twilight and text-speak that is impossible to deny: often the first thing we see from someone incapable of speaking in normal English is something akin to “I luv twlght,” or whatever it is that makes that proper in text-speak.
- Disregard For Remotely Standard English
Apparently caps are unnecessary, along with apostrophes, periods, commas, proper ellipses, and a multitude of other illogical exclusions. Sadly, this is also, in my experience, tied to a love for Twilight. We’ll be talking about this in a minute.
The idea of writing logical sentences, or sentences that resemble actual sentences, seems to have been lost to a lot of folks. I’ve always believed that creative writing should be required in order to graduate high school primarily because I know for a fact that many people who write fiction also happen to be better writers in general. That’s not to say that they don’t have flaws with argument, just that they are able to construct sentences and use commas properly.
- Flagrant Disregard of Reality
I think in the last three months I have seen two dozen different versions of the exact same story, all of them also repetitions of Meyers’ story, which is a repetition of some other stories, and so on. This wouldn’t be a problem if these same people also acknowledged that their teen “romance” involving a vampire who glitters was a direct ripoff of a far more popular book series. But they won’t have any of it. They don’t understand what a cliche is, or what a recycled plot looks like. They’re oblivious because they want to be.
Where am I going with this? All of these problems have been rising dramatically in the last year, due almost entirely to the influx of popular titles into the public of would-be writers. More and more wannabe writers (young and old) are flooding my forum with the expectation that they will be the next Meyer or Rowling, but then they disappear moments later when they realize that a) you can’t be on a writing site and not conform to standard written English; and b) sometimes when you suck, you actually suck. A lot of them come in expecting to write in a way that not even an elementary school teacher would accept (not in fiction, but in communicating with others), and then are shocked to find that a site for writers might actually have standards. These folks want to be the next Meyer, and they’ll do everything they can to be it short of actually working on their craft; to tell them that they have a lot of work to do is to tell them that they will fail, always (some of them undoubtedly will, even if they try to work on their craft). But, they don’t disappear forever; they go to other places where they are not subject to such rules, where they can put out incomprehensible drivel and receive glowing comments instead of anything resembling a critique (there is, after all, absolutely nothing helpful about such things as “OMGZ dis r awzum!!!1!”).
And this worries me because it feels like the end of good writing. I get the impression that standards are being relaxed, not in publishing, but in the wider web, and the way the community functions is to provide places for people to get false hope, to dream of things that aren’t possible, and to continue to fulfill their fantasies without a dose of reality. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer, of any kind. Some people simply are better suited to other duties, but everyone can try. But the most basic thing we all need as potential writers is a modest ability to use the language we intend to write in and a healthy dose of the reality we all live in. We can’t pretend to be writers and conform to a non-standard method of communication that involves complete disregard for even the most basic of English rules–capitalizing letters is not that difficult.
Even worse is the fact that I don’t know how to to figure in the influence of popular titles like Twilight or Harry Potter. There is a correlation, but what kind? How do they mix? And do we just let this flooding of sub par occur? Do we address it? How? Is it bad or good? A logical consequence?
There are so many questions to ask, and so many concerns connected with them. But maybe this is an irreconcilable issue. Maybe.