There’s a lot of negativity – of destruction, to use the term I’ve put in this post’s title – in the world. Perhaps that goes without saying. On a smaller scale though, there’s also a lot of negativity in the publishing industry (and I’m not even talking about the whole ‘death of publishing’ cry that seems to whip round the internet every few months), and even just in the smaller-still world of SFF. This isn’t something that can be entirely avoided, of course, but perhaps there are things we can do to mitigate its effects.
If anything, there seems to be more negativity around at the moment than ever before. There are blogs that, although dealing with important issues – like race or gender in SFF – frequently do so in an acerbic, even vitriolic manner. Some are humourous – others seem to me to be simply destructive, adding little to important conversations about where the genre is heading. You can make all sorts of excuses, of course, such as these blogs are coming from a perfectly justifiable sense of anger, but that doesn’t mean they’re expressing that anger in the most useful or instructive way.
Then there are the perhaps more personal issues of authors imploding after bad reviews, and of scathing reviews left for all the wrong reasons (genuinely not liking a book is one thing – personally attacking the author because you don’t like the prices of their e-books is something else entirely). In the former, a brief flutter of ‘any publicity is good publicity’ can quickly turn into an author being black-listed for their unprofessional behaviour; in the latter, such reviews can be horribly upsetting for the targeted author, and quickly become nothing more than (pardon my French) shit-flinging, often using language that the reviewer would never dream of using to a person standing in front of them. There is a real person on the end of that email, or looking through their Google Alerts, though – too many people online seem to entirely forget that fact.
Then we have the separate issue (but one that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently) of grimdark fantasy, a sub-genre that seems to have dominated in recent years. I’m not saying all books should be sweetness and light – far from it, if they’re going to address important or difficult subjects – but many of these novels seem to feature violence and misogyny and general unpleasantness simply to seem more grown-up and ‘edgy’. In the end, all that grimness and darkness doesn’t mean anything, becoming nothing more than titillation.
So what’s the answer? For me, it comes back to that title – ‘always creation, never destruction’. When writing a bad review, or a difficult scene, that mantra becomes incredibly important. Does this review actually give constructive criticism, or illustrate a wider point – or am I just letting off steam? Is the darkness in this scene there for a reason and necessary to the plot – or am I just being mean to my characters because I’m having a bad day?
Negativity is, as I said before, a fact of life, and sometimes a very necessary one. However, sometimes it’s better to take a step back, look at that scathing or insulting or unpleasant thing you’re about to write, and really ask yourself whether it’s going to add something useful to the world – or if it’s just destruction for destruction’s sake.