Friday, January 22, 2010

Drawing distinctions ...

... The social concerns of the thriller.

Generally speaking ... the distinction between crime and thrillers on the one hand and "literary" fiction on the other lies in their attitude to language. Many crime novelists seem indifferent or unaware that it might be a good idea to have a view of the matter at all, and the result is work that suggests that the writer believes he or she can operate in some medium which exists prior to, or instead of, language.

1 comment:

  1. My view of the social concerns of the thriller takes a different tact. We glean much of our worldview from stories rather than news. I think there's been a tendency in the past 30 years or so for readers to place fiction on the same level as good factual reporting, not just for big themes - where fiction can provide some perspective - but for the minutiae and day-to-day reality as well. Both sides of this concept are discussed in the article that prompted this post. First, it is noted that an author discussed the details of police diving work - and there seems to be some assumption this description is accurate. But the writer of the piece quickly follows up with recognition that expertise must be in service of the plot, which may mean spicing things up a little.

    So does the world of the crime thriller match up well with standard police and detective work? Beats me (I'm not in that line of work) but I suspect if I want to understand crime and legal issues I'd better read a lot of non-fiction on top of a pile of novels. But I'm concerned that this recognition of the limits of fiction may be lost on many. And in a democracy, where each citizen's voice can matter, the difference between a perception drawn from fiction (okay, mostly TV and movies) and one based on fact can influence public policy. In my own field of nuclear energy, we still see "The China Syndrome" referenced in the middle of factual debates. Great movie, not so close to reality. But it still has a sizeable impact on the public's view, and therefore on policy decisions. (As another example, apparently there are a lot of scientists in a number of fields who aren't big fans of Michael Crichton's novels, which seem often to be treated in the press like good reporting.)

    So does the writer of fiction have the responsibility to get it right or make sure the reader understands where they've juiced things up a bit, or simplified, or compressed, or chosen information that supports their own world view? Not in the text, in my opinion. Yikes, that would be tedious. But some discussion in a foreward or afterwords fmight be appropriate, as well as in author interviews. Does the publisher / producer / network have a bit of an obligation not to over-hype the expertise of the author or versimillitude of the work? Maybe a bit, just to be good citizens. Should the reader try to remember they are experiencing fiction, which isn't reality? Sure, but that seems to be tough sometimes. (Even for me, I admit.)

    So there....... three long paragraphs and nothing solved. No wonder I don't write crime fiction.