Amanda Hocking is that girl you’ve heard about, that 26-year-old who’s made about $2 million selling her self-published books on Amazon. She also recently signed a four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press for another $2 million (reportedly), which is why she was interviewed in NYTimes Magazine last week. (I’m not going to bother with a link to that story because it’s behind the paywall — I read it in hardcopy.)
So the most interesting piece of the interview were her comments about literary versus pop writing. Hocking greatly respects literary writers and used to try to write in that genre (and yes, I’m calling it a genre), until her friend/assistant Eric told her “these books you’re writing aren’t you.”She then began writing the more light-hearted , action-packed, romance-laced novels that have been so popular. This is the interesting comment she makes about the difference between this (her) sort of writing and literary work:
Theirs [e.g., Vonnegut] are not actually character-driven, they’re not books about people. People are just used to explain an idea. And my books are about people — who might happen to have ideas.
How many times have you heard/read/said that the difference between literary and pop fiction is that the former are character-driven and the latter are plot-driven? And yet she’s absolutely right, isn’t she? You might disagree with me, arguing that theme/idea is secondary and character primary in so-called literature, but I think the best you’d be able to prove is equality.
Now, I don’t have a problem with this because I like to read fiction that presents complex ideas through the mouths of interesting characters living difficult lives. But I also enjoy fiction about interesting characters thrown into difficult situations requiring dramatic reaction without any greater theme presented than love conquers all or friends forever whatever. And okay, yes, those are themes/ideas, but you have to admit they’re general and common enough that they’re playing a flat third fiddle to character and plot.
What’s the point here? I have a strong tendency to think of an idea first, then the characters come to me with plot arriving late to the party like it’s some kind of diva. But I’m working on a book now where it’s very much the other way around — the main character and her voice came first, very strongly, with plot galloping in right behind her. But because I’m so used to working the first way, I’ve been slowing myself down, backstepping, trying to cram in some big ideas. Hocking’s comment made me realize that I need to go back to what I was doing initially; I need to let go of the big themes and let the story spool out. The big themes will show themselves. And if they don’t? That’s what revision’s for, right?