Sunday, August 12, 2007

Soap vs. Pulp

I like Harry Potter. I don't love Harry Potter. I don't memorize the trivia of the milieu. I wasn't waiting breathlessly for the new book. But I liked all the books, and read them quickly. They were engaging reads for a lot of really different people. They are a soap opera, and it surprised me that I enjoyed them so much. For a time, I thought that she had updated the fantasy genre with elements of the soap opera. But the more I read of them, I realized she had simply imported elements of fantasy into a soap opera.

I think maybe there are three viable "modern" methods of story telling: the soap (driven by the interaction of diverse characters), the pulp (driven by violence), and the internal-interrogative, or navel contemplation, novel (driven by talking about how miserable your life is, often in the face of a complete lack of actual physical discomfort).

The old distinction of tragedy and comedy doesn't seem to fit much anymore. Maybe I'm not reading widely enough, but comedy seems to describe nearly all the reviews I see buying fiction for the library.

Anyways. I was chagrined at the idea that I was reading soap opera. I mostly like pulp, in the science fiction and fantasy genres. But I've noticed lately that a lot of the media I enjoy is of the soap opera mold:

Harry Potter, Soap with trappings of pulp.

52, a DC comic which has an ensemble cast of minor super heroes making due in a world without Superman, Batman, and the Flash. More pulp, but still largely soap. The personalities of the characters really shine, I think.

Heroes, the TV show about normal people who start exhibiting classically super heroish abilities. Mostly soap, with a little pulp thrown in.

I picked up one of CJ Cherryh's Atevi books, which are these great SF novels about humans stranded on an alien planet and trying to live with the dominant culture there. I'd forgotten how much I loved reading them, and they're very soapy, with just a dash of pulp thrown in.

Maybe all literature uses both methods of forwarding the plot. It would be interesting for the purposes of reader's advisory to suggest a tool: say Harry Potter is 80% Soap (although the rating for the series as individual titles would be lower in later books). Star Wars is 30% Soap. The Time Traveler's Wife is 98% Soap. I imagine that you could write a program to process the number of dialogs versus the number of actions. What an exercise!

All of them rely to a certain extent on a pulpy method of carrying the story forward. But their primary was of moving the story is soapy. So, after years of being firmly in the pulp camp, I find myself dallying in the soap camp regularly.

Go figure.

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