I was trying to summarize what I like about the television series Lost, and in particular why I enjoy the writing.  Here are some terms that didn’t work: wacky, smart, uncommercial, ambitious, challenging, literate.  What I meant was: unapologetic.

I like me some snark as much as the next writer:  nothing like a little clever, culturally-aware, self-referential, postmodern pastiche to clear the palette after a long evening’s work wading through bleak news reports and bleaker reality shows.  It’s a mode in which the writers make themselves and their work obvious, get in your face instead of lurking in the wings, not just expose the mirrors and wires, but flaunt them.

And it can be inclusive, a companionable wink to the audience, an acknowledgment that they are all in on the joke, that they know the references, that everyone is in the game together.

This is particularly effective in genre writing, like Science Fiction and Fantasy.  The audience is usually well-educated in the genre, and there’s a long history of overly earnest, hyper-analyzed, self-important writing, and to be honest, a cultural tradition of acknowledging, or even mocking, the same.

But sometimes the self-consciousness can feel more awkward than assured.  It’s a way of saying “Hey, let’s not take this too seriously here.  We’re just making this stuff up; heck, it’s just SF; it’s just writing.”  It becomes apologetic.

The writers of Lost have drifted  through genres and styles, from monster movie to time-travel puzzle, from action to drama to comedy, from surrealism to theology.  But (for the most point, and when it counts) they don’t wink, or flaunt, or snark.  They don’t apologize.

Mind you, I don’t think that there is anything innately awkward or apologetic about a modernist or postmodern style.  Some truly extraordinary writers, e.g. Vonnegut, have written brilliant SF along those lines.  It’s just a mode that calls attention to itself, and thus to any uncertainty.  If you’re going to flaunt it, and put yourself and your writing directly in front of the audience, don’t shuffle your feet, or mug for the camera, or doubt yourself.  The rule for jazz improv applies: “loud, confident, and wrong”.

Or, in a word: unapologetic.

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