November 19, 2013

Why Trash Sells

Just reached an interesting passage in The Career Novelist that discusses why Mr. Maass believes trash books sell so much better than their "exquisite stylist" counterparts.  I know this is slightly belated (over a year or so), but I feel it to be a great response to critics of the Twilight series, or even Fifty Shades of Grey (though I haven't read the latter, and I do believe 50 Shades' success may have had more to do with the hype around its kink appeal).

His answer is simple, really.  "What most people want from a novel is not fine writing but a good story."  Though people may interpret "good" differently, but in these so-called "trash" novels, the authors have managed to "create characters to whom anyone c[an] relate, and g[iven] them problems that we all understand."

Mr. Maass doesn't just stop there, however.  He goes on to state that the more cultivated people feel such familiar subjects/characters/etc. are cliche and overused.  Yet the popularity of such novels may prove Mr. Maass's second thesis true:  "Trash sells because readers want their values and beliefs affirmed in their fiction."  In other words, "readers want a mirror in which to see themselves as they would like to be; not as they are, but as they hope to become." (I mean, why else would Photoshop be so popular?)  And the messages that these books provide "reflect profound truths," even if they sound simplistic and trite.

Mr. Maass concludes the passage with a lesson for novelists:  don't "dish tired plots on overcooked themes, but think about what you want to say:  your meaning, point, or moral. If it's something new, fine. If the message is familiar, then by all means put it across to readers in a fresh and exciting way."

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