“Who sets these rules anyway?” On the Merits of Innovation

Here’s an interesting piece about Chet Baker (a favorite of mine), who, according to his critics, may have been talented, but wasn’t really an innovator. Chet was a pretty boy, playing smooth, listenable, not-particularly intellectual West Coast Jazz while his East Coast counterparts where actually honest-to-god changing music forever.

Frankly, the word “innovative,” when applied to fiction, makes me flinch. It’s my wariness of writers who break the rules before they know how to follow them (or indeed what the rules are). Appearing experimental can be a short-cut to being taken seriously. It’s the emperor’s-new-clothes problem. True innovation make look like crazy crap when it first arrives on the scene, but so does crazy crap. It can be difficult to distinguish brilliance from b.s.

I often gravitate toward more formal pieces of writing– traditional story structures– when I look for new clients or pieces for Armchair/Shotgun (and let it be said there seems to be less room, market-wise, for experimental stuff in children’s literature, though this is changing, I think). It’s so very difficult to tell a compelling story that makes your reader *feel* something– to be able to do that and *also* change the medium? Forget about it.

But amazing, totally new, experimental and innovative stuff *is* out there, recognized or not, and for our medium to thrive and grow, we need it. When I first read Dolan Morgan‘s short piece Infestation (A/S No.1), I was turned off by its odd structure– but the fault was mine for being a poor reader. Morgan truly was innovating. Upon rereading, and deeper reading, I saw he’d found a new way to talk about loss, and the result was strange and beautiful.

So whaddya think, gang? How important is it to innovate, as an artist? Do you try to innovate with your own work, push the boundaries of the medium, or no? Must all artists be innovators, or at least try to be? And what is our responsibility as readers? How far do we allow an author to draw us into uncharted waters?

Advertisements

One comment

  1. As an unpublished writer, it’s my job to create within an accepted structure. Once I’ve earned the right to be published, then I can consider pushing boundaries.

    As a reader, I devoured E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. Her five act structure was written more like a play than a YA. Only a strong writer can innovate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s