A way with worlds: 11 – Attitude by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum

Attitude. Its a simple word, but to me, it heralds so many possible problems in writing.

Attitude. What do people mean by it? In many cases, a variety of different things that are pretty confusing to a writer.

Ever been told your fic lacks attitude? Ever been told its the wrong attitude? Ever felt an attitude was off? Ever been sick of hearing about attitude, especially in a column? Then read on as we get an attitude about attitude, because when it comes to continuities, worries about attitude can produce a lot of problems . . .

. . . that can give you a bad attitude.

(And yes, the bad jokes end here, thank you for tolerating them, I couldn’t resist, though maybe I should have.)

So, I’m going to explore the concept of attitude in fiction, especially how it affects critique and concepts. For this column, when I refer to attitude, I mean “a general emotional and intellectual tone of a piece” – is it happy or sad or diverse, deep and analytical or poetic, etc.

ATTITUDE INCIDENT TYPE 1: “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG ATTITUDE FOR THIS FANFIC”
Beg pardon? Excuse me, but who’s writing this?

One of the things that annoys me is people assume a fanfic, one using an existing continuity, must have a certain attitude. Yes, a dark pokemon fic may seem weird (well, unless you’ve seen anything with Mewtwo), or a funny Gabriel Knight story may not be what you expect. However, attitude is what comes from continuity, not what continuity is – and in fanfiction, continuity is more than it seems.

Fanfiction, as mentioned last column is metaconcepting (building on and filling in concepts), and to some extent may involve exploring radically different ideas, even to the point of confronting flaws or percieved flaws in the original continuity. The exact same attitude of a show or book is not something to expect in a fanfic – if it achieved, fine, but funny ideas have a way of leaking in, and in some cases they should.

Fanfiction is exploration, and new ideas may mean new attitudes.

ATTITUDE INCIDENT TYPE 2: “I DON’T LIKE YOUR ORIGINAL STORY’S ATTITUDE”
Excuse me? OK, if #1 was annoying this is infuriating.

Yes, have seen people criticize attitude in an original story. The assumption usually seemed to be a certain attitude was “right” for most any fiction, or that the attitude was somehow wrong for the genre.

Any good writer’s stories come from a solid continuity, and the attitude of their stories from that continuity and their focus in the series. Their attitude is the result of writing what they’ve carefully designed and how they’ve chosen to look at it.

If the attitude fits the characters, the setting, the method, etc. stop worrying. As long as the author didn’t force an attitude (and if you harp on attitude you may tempt them to do so), deal with it. The continuity is where attitude comes from – live with it.

ATTITUDE INCIDENT TYPE 3: “I’LL JUST USE THIS ATTITUDE”
Oh, gods, no . . .

Do not under any circumstances whatsoever assume that you must give a certain attitude to your fiction, especially if it’s an original world you’ve created. OK, maybe your fun Ranma fic isn’t quite what you wanted, maybe you did miss something, but don’t force an attitude on your world whatever you do.

Attitude arises out of continuity, as mentioned. Trying to “top-down” the attitude of your story is only going to mess your world up as you attempt to make it fit a mold. It’ll make it shallow and unbelievable and very, very frustrating as you go on.

ATTITUDE INCIDENT TYPE 4: “THIS ATTITUDE DICTATES EXACTLY WHAT I MUST DO”
Assuming a certain general feel dictates your plot is another way to mess up your writing. You get such thoughts as:

“Well, in a story with this attitude it’s OK to do XXXX.” – a sure way to discover XXXX can break your continuity when you least expect it.

“I’m doing XXXX, other stories with this attitude do XXXX, so I don’t need to worry about it.” – another way not to think about what you’re doing.

“XXXX is required in this genre” – I doubt any one thing is required in any “attitude,” and placing requirements on yourself that don’t fit good continuity will only cause problems.

Attitude, genre – they’re general terms. Don’t let them dictate what you do specifically – or you’ll break your continuity and make it stereotypical. If something has been done before – deliberately doing it again is not the best idea.

ATTITUDE INCIDENT TYPE 5: “I’D LIKE TO EXPLORE THIS ATTITUDE IN THIS SETTING”
This is one I actually understand, and it can be useful: taking a setting and seeing what happens when you write with a certain attitude.

However, as mentioned, don’t force it. What I recommend if you’re in the mood to write a certain attitude, look at a setting and find what tales and characters would naturally have that attitude – if you want to write sad, find an unwritten sad incident in a characters life, for instance. Don’t force the continuity, work with it.

Just be ready to be surprised by what happens when you start writing, and don’t force things.

IN RETROSPECT:
Attitude is useful for three things:

Classifying a story.
Seeing if you’ve radically departed from your continuity (if an attitude feels wrong, see if you tried enforcing it without considering continuity).
Getting an idea of how to focus.
Otherwise, Attitude is what happens, not what you enforce. Don’t get hung up on it.

And see? No more attitude jokes!

Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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