There’s a reason that we watch shows and movies over and over again, why we read good books over and over again. With each viewing or reading, we have the opportunity to see something we didn’t before, to make a connection that we missed the first time around. It is part of the experience and one I wholly enjoy with my favorite TV shows and movies.
So, this past Wednesday night, I was in the middle of the third season of Orange is the New Black, working my way through in preparation for the fourth season’s release at the end of June. As I was watching however, I realized something. Now, there’s been a lot of praise for how this show has handled uncomfortable topics in a way that showed the issue at hand without being too graphic or violent or even stereotyping. It’s a wonderful show for that reason alone, but it also, in a roundabout way, explains the phenomenon behind books like Twilight and the Fifty Shades trilogy. Now, these books have faced a lot of criticism for their quality, for the storytelling choices, how women are represented, and the message they send to women and younger readers about what is acceptable in terms of stalking and abusive relationships. That being said, many, many people, mostly writers, have questioned how the hell these books have become so popular.
Your answer is in Crazy Eyes.
Crazy Eyes is a character whose real name is Suzanne, but everyone in the prison calls her Crazy Eyes. As part of a writing exercise for a new counselor, she writes what I can only think to describe as space smut. From the details you gather as a viewer, it’s a graphic story and weird and in no way physically possible, for many reasons. The counselor quickly dismisses it, she cannot condone such writing from a position of authority. That, and she realized how out there it was. But as the story is passed around Crazy Eye’s fellow inmates, it gains a following. The loyal readership suddenly sees Crazy Eyes, Suzanne, in a new light and even says she has “a beautiful mind.” Why? Why was this story so popular?
In a prison situation, it should be obvious. The story takes these inmates out of themselves for a while, with smut added in as a bonus. It’s a simple answer, but it’s the right one. Twilight and Fifty Shades were so popular because, right or wrong, quality or poop, they meant something to their readers. These readers didn’t see the faults, they only saw a good story that took them out of their day to day lives for a while, they connected with the story.
So what does that mean for us writers trying to create a quality story? It means we should keep plugging away at it, keep working on it. Somewhere out there is a reader that your story will mean something to, if it can take them outside themselves for a while. Really, I think that’s all anyone wants when they open a book. George R. R. Martin said a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, and that is the truth. Some lives are better than others, but they’re all special because they mean something to us as readers, for better or worse.
So keep writing your crazy story, just like Crazy Eyes. It means something to someone else, you just haven’t met them yet.