The Writer’s Corner: We Really are Paid Entertainers… Unfortunately
Over the years, I’ve often heard professional stage actors sigh heavily and say, “If I have to do one more performance of Arsenic and Old Lace or A Christmas Carol, my head will explode. I’m dying to do something artistic!”
I sympathize, but anyone who chooses acting as a profession is a paid entertainer. If they wish to get their rent paid and buy groceries, they have to reconcile themselves to more productions of plays like Arsenic and Old Lace, because entertaining plays like this sell lots and lots of tickets. So does A Christmas Carol. When people spend $60 on a ticket to see a play, especially in today’s economy, they want to know going in that they will be entertained.
JC and I are fantasy fiction writers, and occasionally, we have to remind ourselves — and each other — that we are paid entertainers.
When hard working people pay money for fiction, they plan to slip in a few moments of reading with their morning coffee, on their lunch hour at work, or maybe a little before bedtime, if they can fit it in. They have spent money on something to take them away from their day-to-day world, and they wish to get lost in the story and the lives of interesting or exciting people… and just be entertained.
When JC and I sit down to watch a movie or a TV show at night, we just want to be entertained. Our days are long, and if we spend money (and time) on entertainment, we prefer that it be, well, entertaining.
He and I have had surprising success with “The Tales from the world of the Noble Dead,” and in the past few weeks, it might have gone to our heads a bit. Last week, JC was describing a planned story, and after listening, I said, “That sounds hard to follow and depressing.”
He nodded and answered, “Yes, it’s very depressing. But it’s in my head, and I want it out.”
Later that night, we had a more in-depth talk, and the result was that I took a look at my upcoming stories file. I saw several things on the “list” that were there for no other reason than because I wanted to write them. I’m not sure anyone besides me would find them interesting — or entertaining. I deleted those ideas and expanded on the ones that other people would find engaging. This was a bit of a wake up call. I’m a professional who’s been a full time writer since 2005.
Now, am I saying that to “entertain” readers, we must write only happy, fluffy fiction where the hero and heroine ride off into the sunset? Or perhaps to write only books staring spunky, wise-cracking, well-endowed women who end up having a lot of sex with vampires? Good God, no.
Of course, the lighter and easier-to-read stuff does sell well, but one has to look no further than Gene Wolfe and Tanith Lee (two of J.C’s old favorites) or Stephen R Donaldson and Anne Rice to see that writers can publish some very dark stuff, still have a readership, and make their house payments. But all four of those writers are able to entertain while telling a dark tale.
Granted, you don’t often see someone in the lunch room at H&R Block eating with one hand and holding In the Shadow of the Torturer with the other. All right, so J.C. might have done so at one time or another, but not in an H&R Block, and still, you see my point. Dark, even depressing, fiction can entertain if you do it right.
JC and I have known too many writers of dense fiction who say things like, “My work is excellent; it’s the general masses who are the idiots for not recognizing this.” Seriously, I’ve heard that a lot all the way back into our university days. Blaming other people for not being interested in your work isn’t going to cover your rent. Instead, think about what other people might enjoy reading—and be willing to pay for.
You can’t ever — ever — forget that your job is to entertain. You can write in a broad spectrum of tone, mood, and theme so long as you’re writing fiction that other people (you’ve never met and never will) are going to pay money to read. Recently, for about five minutes, I forget this.
And just like an actor — if I want to make my house payments —occasionally, I’ll have to do a production of Arsenic and Old Lace.
—Barb (and laced with illustration chosen by J.C.)