The sixth in a series of posts on what elevates a story to greatness.
If it’s commercial, can it still be art?
And if it’s art, are there really rules and standards in play? And whose are they?
Or are we free to create anything we desire outside of and separate from those expectations?
The answer to the first question – an unqualified yes. But it is more likely to be artful than art.
Or at least, perhaps it should be.
Understanding the difference is critical.
It may be art, but that intention doesn’t remotely make it commercial. At the heart of the definition of commercial is the ability to mass produce and sell it, and that original Monet hanging in the gallery downtown isn’t for sale.
The prints are… but then, when that’s the case, suddenly it’s commercial.
On one level that’s just semantics… on another, not so much. Especially with writing. Because there are no galleries for a wildly artsy-fartsy manuscript that nobody wants to duplicate and sell.
Which means if you’re writing with the pure and exclusive intention to create art, with nothing that smacks of a commercial agenda – nothing wrong with that, by the way – then it’s not semantics after all. It’s just a choice you’ve made, bringing consequences you must accept.
Artful is always good, regardless of the level of your commercial intentions. And of course, art is always worthwhile.
Question is… which is the means, and which is the desired outcome?
The Underpinnings of Art
Even in venues that unquestionably reside in the realm of art – painting, sculpture, music – there are indeed structures and principles to consider, even rules and expectations to observe. The further you depart from them – paintings that appear, say, on the cadavers of dead farm animals – the less commercial you become.
So think long and hard about your ultimate objective. Then maybe rethink your strategy.
Are you creating art, or are you writing commercially, albiet with an artful sensibility? What and where is the difference?
If you’re a writer, save the pure art for your term paper. At least there’s someone on the other end who will read that.
Effective fiction has rules.
It has standards and expectations.
Period. Non-negotiable. At least if you want anyone to read it. Especially if you want anybody to pay you for it. Which is the very definition of commercial.
As writers, we are compelled to answer yet another question, one that comes in various forms: do you want to publish your novel or sell your script?
Are you willing to be commercial to do so? Do you even know what that means?
If your answer to the first is yes – you really do want to sell your work – then you’d better also have answered yes to the second, else there’s a disconnect. You need to strive to understand what being commercial means, and then put that goal at the top of your list of priorities.
Because outside of self-publishing and a wee corner of the small independent press niche – in other words, if you want your book on a shelf at Barnes & Noble – being commercial is required.
Not being commercial is a violation of those expectations and rules.
And the only people who stand a remote chance of getting away with that are established, name-brand authors who have earned their keep and are allowed a flyer or two from their publisher, who wants to keep them happy.
The rest of us can’t get away with violating the fundamental principles of storytelling. Even if you call it art.
And if that’s a box, so be it. But it’s a box that is vast and limitless in its options.
So what are the rules?
And with that question we circle back to the beginning. There are 172 posts and three ebooks available on this site to help you answer that question.
And we’re just getting started.
For now, rethink your story by asking yourself if you are being commercial. If you are being commercial enough.
Remember, those rules and principles don’t tell you what to write – that remains the art of it – just how to tell a great story, in a generally accepted and expected and commercially-viable way… they show us how a story should unfold on the page when you do.
Dream. Wonder. Think.
Check out the recent posts by my friend Kelly Diels at Cleavage, part of a series on getting a book deal.
Next post (the seventh in this series): The Rationalization of Mediocrity