Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get Thee Behind Me, Oh Gimmicks!

I was at a piano teachers' workshop many years ago, eagerly absorbing the wisdom and advice from a master piano teacher I admired greatly. My notebook was filling fast, my mind was challenged, and my coffee was ignored and cooling in the flask.

Teaching piano, like writing, can be a solitary occupation, despite the fact that the job itself requires at least two people to be present. It's solitary in that a teacher has very few opportunities to discuss and argue and share their aha moments.

I felt that aloneness most acutely when I started my own piano studio after spending three years teaching and apprenticing at a community music school. I missed the camaraderie I'd had with my colleagues who were always ready to talk music or teaching or music and teaching and life. I learned as much from our discussions in the kitchen over ramen noodles (kitchen pedagogy sessions as we affectionately call those times) as I did in formal classes.

Back to this particular workshop. The last event on the program was this teacher- extraordinaire teaching a group of children from the piano preparatory department of the music school that hosted the workshop. He engaged the students on stage and the piano teachers in the audience the entire time, and helped the performers make changes to their pieces that immediately made the music better and the children more confident. I was spellbound and so blown away that I was almost in tears.

"Do you have any questions?" He asked as the students left the stage. Hands shot up. He nodded at one person.

"I was wondering about the cardboard boxes that these students had?" Many other teachers nodded enthusiastically. More questions and comments arose about those boxes, about how they would motivate students to practice (huh?) and where they could be ordered.

Anyone who could read my mind at the time would decide I was a total snob. But I was dismayed and almost crushed by what I was hearing. Here was a brilliant person offering us thoughts that he had distilled over years of teaching, and they were interested in the cardboard box? Sure, the boxes were nifty but how, how, how could anyone possibly be more interested in a gimmick than the real thing? *

That was probably the beginning of my intolerance for gimmicks. And now that radar is being trained on fiction.

It's inevitable, I supposed, that any time a lot of people clamor for attention, somebody will resort to gimmicks. And of course, what qualifies as a gimmick is up for interpretation and depends on execution. I wouldn't be surprised if someone calls my work gimmicky (and stabs me in the gushy bit within my chest in the process.) In other words, I am totally aware of the subjectivity of it all.

Even so, I'd like to know: what do you consider the most intolerable gimmick in fiction?

*The more mellow (and hopefully more humble) me now realize that just because most of the comments were on the box didn't mean that it was the thing that made the most impact on the teachers in attendance. Getting older does have its benefits.


tanita davis said...

Right now, to my mind, it would be gimmicky to write fiction which included any of the above: a.) vampires, b.) werewolves, c.) zombies, d.) fairies e.) elves, f.) unicorns...

Okay, there are *maybe* some good novels out there which contain these contested fairytale creatures, but it's the bandwagon-du-jour in SFF at the moment, and that bothers me that so many publishers are actively SEEKING Twi-alikes instead of a good story. I've been reading for my Cybils category, and -- wow. Wow.

I am uncomfortable when people ask me EXACTLY. HOW. I write, as if if they get up when I do, and sit at their desk when I do that they, too, will finish their novel and find and agent and their first publisher. I wish things were that easy, but they're not, and I don't know what to say when people come at me, wanting access to my specifics.

Hm. Gimmicks. Can't say I'm fond of them, either.

C. N. Nevets said...

I would have had the exact same reaction as you did to the gimmicks and their interest in them. In fact, I'm grumbling and whining and kicking my desk just reading about it.

I guess my humble and mellow patience and understanding need a few more years to get here. lol

For me, a gimmick is any device that's used for a quick splash or cheap heat independent of its connection with or contribution to its context.

It can be a slogan, a wink to the camera, a call-out, a gratuitous nip-slip, an outlandish costume that has no bearing on what you're doing, whatever.

Most things that are gimmicks can actually serve a purpose in other hands, though, and that's why I'm reluctant to specify any. But when you do something just for its own sake to make its own waves, with no regard to what else you're doing, that's a gimmick.

lotusgirl said...

I hate the unresolved ending of books in series. I can see leaving some loose ends to tie up in subsequent books, but I think each book in a series should have a satisfying conclusion.