Why is there so much Gray Goo?

It’s pretty much a given that we Human Wavers (Waving Humans? Only if the human in question doesn’t mind being waved around like a really ratty flag) don’t like Gray Goo. For that matter, declining sales from the mainstream suggest pretty strongly that not many other people like the stuff either. It’s gray, it’s gooey, and it’s bleak, and it’s… well, you get the idea.

So why is there so much of it?

Even allowing for the current fad, why is there so much of the stuff?

Seriously, the last time I dipped a toe into a slush pile, the majority fell into the Gray Goo bucket. A rather substantial majority, at that.

Okay, I admit I’m a substantial minority all by myself, but that’s my issue not yours, and you can have my chocolate when you pry it from my cold dead hands. Or more likely, my dead stomach, since chocolate doesn’t stay in my hands very long.

Anyway. Gray Goo and why it’s everywhere.

No, there has not been an explosion in a goop factory, and no, the coloring agents didn’t go missing (actually, everyone knows where they are. They’re in the Crayola factory, playing with the coloring books. No-one wants to disturb them because they get… upset).

Gray Goo is easier to write.

Seriously. When you’re still a bit unsteady on your writer-feet, and you want to leave some kind of emotional impact, the easiest one to get is despair. It’s much easier to flatten everything in your path and leave everything hopeless and miserable.

Inspirational tends to fall into glurge or the kind of meaningless goodwill that you don’t want to examine too closely because it hides a really nasty sting. Think about 90% of the feel-good posts you see on Facebook, and you get the idea.

Straight-up happy with all-things-go-well-for-the-hero suffers from a tendency to get so corny you could make relish out of it (this is why the dialog in so many movie romantic scenes is so cringe-worthy. It’s bloody hard to write good romantic dialog. Come to think of it, that’s probably also why the move towards sex scenes instead. You don’t need dialog in that, especially if you’re writing for Hollywood. Emphasis on the wood).

Something mixed where there’s good and bad, it’s ridiculously difficult to come up with anything that manages to encapsulate what you’re trying to convey without veering into Everything Is Horrible Gray Goo or sending your readers into diabetic shock from the excessive sweetness.

Then you have the difficulty of conveying characters who need to be a bit larger than life, better than real, and flawed in a way that makes them endearing. Even those of us who get character free can commit Mary Sue/Marty Stu just because that’s easier. And trust me, Mary Sue/Marty Stu in Gray Goo is something no-one needs to see (yes, I have committed this. I’ve committed practically every evil in the writing book, and no, no-one gets to see those. They’ve been consigned to a merciful death. Most of them never got onto a computer. Which is just as well or I’d be exorcising the hard drive).

On top of that, it seems to be built-in that bleak, horrible, dark and so forth is in some way more profound than happy, or uplifting, or… And heaven forbid you should try to convince the average Literature graduate that comedy can be profound (Sarah, be quiet. You’re so far from the average you’re in a class all by yourself. It’s the one with the extra writing implements and the padded walls). It took Terry Pratchett something like twenty (ridiculously best-selling) books before the establishment started getting embarrassed by the man’s incredible sales record and started nominating him for awards. Which of course he won, because the man actually is as brilliant as all that.

Hell, even the Bible says it: “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3, King James Version). In plain language, if you’re laughing you don’t care enough about the proper things. It’s that kind of thinking that leads to the idea that anything enjoyable must be sinful, and from there to the idiocy of banning anything remotely enjoyable.

The currently fading Powers That Be haven’t gone quite that far yet, but they’re trying, by Dog (you can’t call what they’re trying by “God” because they mostly don’t believe in one even when they think they do. You can tell by how they act – people who actually do believe in the Judeo-Christian iteration of God tend to be rather more inclined to leaving judgment to Him – but the moral scolds do believe that Fun Is Bad) they’re trying.

And yes, before the nitpick wagon dumps its load, I am bloody generalizing. If I stopped to qualify every trend statement I made, you’d never see me get to a point. I have enough trouble with that at the best of times without making it worse for myself. So the exceptions really don’t need to point out that they’re exceptions. I know, okay? So should intelligent readers (Sadly, so much intelligence has been beaten out by the school system I no longer feel confident that even the smartest people can figure out that something’s a deliberate generalization even if I put big flashing neon signs in front of it. You would not believe… well, maybe you would).

In view of this, here is the Gospel According To Kate (bear in mind that “Gospel” actually means/meant “good news”). Funny can too be profound, but for $DEITY$’s(*) sake don’t force it. If you force it, it just clunks. Let things happen and funny tends to follow if you’re working in that general vicinity. Even if you think it’s painfully, embarrassingly corny, let someone you trust to give an honest opinion read it. Chances are you’re like 100% of authors (yes, this is a scientific percentage, and I’m not disclosing sample size, so THP!) and can’t judge your own work. If they think it’s too much, they probably have some ideas to tone down the excess sugar and make it work. Don’t fear glurge: again, good beta readers can help clean up the worst messes and help sort the good from the omigodmyEYES.

Above all, don’t be scared to write what you want to see. There are a lot of people out there who can read. No matter how outré your tastes, there will be people who want to read it. If you have any doubts about this, consider that I’m acquiring fans via Overlord fanfiction, and tell your doubting side to just butt out and shut up.

(* $SOMETHING$ is old-school programmer for indicating a variable, so $DEITY$ translates to “insert deity of choice here”)

9 comments

  1. Gray goo is *serious* and serious stuff is important. Or, as PJ O’Rourke put it, “Seriousness is stupidity sent to college”.

    It’s a quote that got me through many a parent-teacher conference.

    1. Oh, yes.
      You can do a lot more with not-serious, and get it past more people, than if you stay serious. Of course, serious is easier.

  2. Romance is the best selling genre. One of the absolute requirements is for a “Happily Ever After” ending.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I just wish I could write it.

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