Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Warm Bodies and World Views

I went to see Warm Bodies the other night, and while I liked it, I didn't love it.

I think this movie, for me anyway, suffered from a great trailer that increased my expectations far too high.  Or perhaps suffered from my seeing the movie after a long day of banging my fingers and head against my keyboard...

And after I got home, I started thinking about a lot of writerly things. Not so much about the nuts and bolts of storytelling but about themes and world views and the elements that underlie fiction.

One expects, in certain kinds of fiction, for there to be a message. Something deeper that makes you think; perhaps something that not every casual reader recognizes or understands without the help of academic analysis... (And often academics see things in fiction that the author never intended...)

But even in most genre fiction, (which most academics dismiss), a writer's world view comes through in his or her voice and storytelling choices. Again, often many/most readers "miss" the themes or deep questions the work raises. In fact, I would argue that these themes are missed by readers more often in genre fiction, because these books are such quick, fun reads that readers don't stop to reflect. And that's okay. I think all fiction needs to engage readers first and foremost. There is nothing wrong with reading for entertainment and a lot right about the value of reading as opposed to TV or movies or playing video games...

And I also don't mind (that much) when my books are accused of being shallow or fluff -- even though I think both words are highly derogatory terms to assign to something that an author has spent their time and effort on, and has shed blood or tears over. But whatever.

Regardless of how shallow some people might think my stories are, I do think about things like theme. A lot. In fact, I might think about them too much and let questions of what a reader might glean from my characters' actions sway how I choose to have them act or react. I want my books to reflect things I believe in, for the most part.

And in that, I'm starting to wonder if maybe I hold myself back at times. Maybe I interfere too much with my characters.... I mean... if I'd had a similar idea to Stephenie Meyers at the same time she did, and had written a teen vampire book--even with the same world building rules and basic story line--mine would have been different, because I would not have wanted to be promoting stalkerish, emotionally abusive boyfriends or abstinence-above-all-else or anti-abortion messages or teen marriage... And as a result, it's possible I wouldn't have written such an emotionally compelling trilogy that captured as many fans as she did. Who knows...

While writing Deviants, I worried--a lot--about how the Burn character comes off, and whether or not my heroine, Glory, might seem like a battered girlfriend who's forgives the violence of a boy who can't control his temper because she gives him the excuse of: it's not his fault.

Well, if you've read the book, you know it's not his fault. Not totally, anyway. And she's done things that are even harder to forgive. But, what if my book gives a subtle message to girls in abusive relationships that they should forgive their boyfriends? Hmmm... This upsets me.
Of course, in all my reviews so far, I don't think even one person has said this. Not in a review I've read the whole way through, anyway.

And Warm Bodies made me think of something else I've been struggling with as I finish The Dust Chronicles trilogy. Something I may have been thinking about/worrying about too much.


You see, in Warm Bodies, the zombies can recover. They can become alive again. They are sentient beings trapped in dead bodies. The science of this re-animation doesn't make any sense, but it is fiction after all.

But the deeper question it raises is: Is it ethically okay to kill a monster, when it's possible, just possible, that the monster might one day recover from being a monster?

The author of Warm Bodies (I assume in the book as well as the movie) solves this by basically having two levels of monsters... And that's something I've considered too, as I wrap up The Dust Chronicles. But I'm not sure. I actually think my "resolution" of this moral/ethical question might have more to do with self-defense as an excuse to kill, rather than "it's okay to kill a monster". We'll see. Revisions await, which is normally when I get all these things straight.

And perhaps only over-analytical nerds like me notice or worry about things like this. 

Most people don't watch Warm Bodies and think about issues like murder and euthanasia, or stealing someone's memories and emotions, or addiction and recovery and redemption.

Rather, they think: that dude is cute for a zombie and true love saved the world. Awe. How sweet.


Stephanie Doyle said...

That's why we rely on you Maureen... to give us that kind of analysis.

As for me... themes are always huge for me. It's how I focus myself on over all what is the book about... besides a romance.

Eileen said...

I think you're right. As you know, i was deeply disturbed by Twilight, especially since that abusive stalker behavior was being touted to young girls as what was really romantic. Interesting, is it not, that the fan fiction based on it is BDSM erotica, eh?

But you're right. Most people I know aren't bothered by that and tend to pat me on the head and tell me that I think too much.

Anonymous said...

The trailer for Warm Bodies is kind of awesome!

Themes are something I require you to think about for me... thanks for taking that on!

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, you and me both. And it makes me terrified that I've written a battered woman book... But I hope not.

Steph and Sinead. It's hilarious to me that you're giving me credit for thinking about this for you. Because I feel like you guys always tell me what my books are about.

I kind of got carried away/off track writing that post. I think I intended it to be more about underlying, messages than themes...

Eileen said...

I had to think about this a little bit. I don't feel like you did write a battered woman book. In Twilight, Edward tries to separate Bella from her family and friends. In your book, Burn tries to reunite Glory with hers.

I suppose there's something a little stalker-ish about Burn at first, but it's his mission and not just some weird-ass urge to sit in a tree and watch her sleep. Also, he doesn't (can't) subdue Glory physically. She is strong on her own, while Bella is always portrayed (at least in the first book) as clumsy and physically inept.

I could probably come up with more arguments, but it's been a little while since I read Twilight and I didn't read Deviants thinking about Twilight at all. Which I feel you should take as a compliment. :-)

Maureen McGowan said...

Thanks Eileen. And you've just reminded me why I stopped worrying about it at one point. Because she can also kill him...

And in fact, the way their relationship evenutally gets resolved... Zips lips.

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