Friday, June 4, 2010

Meaningful Contexts

Free-form Friday

As a variation on the philosophical conundrum about noisy trees falling in forests, I've wondered: if a capricious deity were to pluck Mozart out of Vienna and deposit him in the middle of darkest Africa, would he still be a genius?

The question about falling trees is tricky because it raises the spectre of absolutism vs. relativism. The question about genius is purely relative: genius is only meaningful in comparison to something else-- a context in which the distinction is meaningful.

Much of the art and craft of constructing a novel revolves around ways of creating meaningful contexts for readers. It's what gives them reasons to care about the characters. For example, with Savvy I was drawn in and wound up caring what happened to the whole crazy cast (to the point of feeling a bit disappointed that the crew from the bus didn't get to help wake her father). In contrast, with War of the Worlds I found myself feeling quite detached from the cataclysmic tragedies.

There's an analogous context for the place the book achieves in society. Marketing and promotion are obvious and explicit ways to create a meaningful context for a book.

But the contexts don't end there. The decision to acquire a book is made in the context of the publisher's concerns (and has very little reference to the author's concerns).

Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net