The real problem that results is the conception that good fiction is its own reward. Never mind that no other form of entertainment works that way.
book on "fun" theory--how to, err, engineer fun, basically. I would like writers, especially writers of fiction, to talk about this notion more. The prevailing idea, I think, is that fiction isn't entertainment--it's art, and art is not meant to be constrained by the same commitments to providing (shameless) entertainment that TV and movies and video games do. But creating fun, imagining an experience for the end user (reader), shouldn't be considered a constraint. Making meaning in absence of fun is, in my opinion, the greater constraint--because making fun is just another way of creating interaction, of giving the reader somewhere to go other than where we lead, which in turn makes meaning. Meaning doesn't exist in a vacuum; it requires readers to build using our materials. In other words, if the reader is having fun, it's because they're interacting with what they read, learning, making decisions. They're playing. When this happens, fun creates art.
If we really need to, we can replace "fun" with "rewards."
This list of reward types in game design is perhaps a little glancing; I'm not sure. But it offers some good examples, some good points for comparison. Here's my list, recast for fiction:
- Knowledge Rewards: The acquisition of facts, systems, clues that can be used to game out characters or intuit future events. Writing to encourage guessing, forecasting, puzzle-solving. Setting up expectations to be thwarted or met.
- Physical Rewards: Rewards that cause readers' bodies to react: laughter, tears, goosebumps, chills, illness, arousal, dizziness, a sense of stopped time or altered place.
- Narrative Rewards: Anything that occasions the perception that something has moved or is about to move in the overall narrative, from basic exposition to moments of crisis and climax. Learning more about a character, uncovering a new piece of the plot. Seeing the character take the next step in a known or intuited course of action, make a change, make a mistake. Seeing the author pick up where we last left off, return to the scene of the crime. Revelations. Epiphanies. Cliffhanger endings.
- Emotional Rewards: Rewards that bring satisfaction or disappointment: joy, sadness, anger, fear, hope, doubt. Feeling sorry, feeling upset. Feeling personally tied to the characters--a wish to help, a wish to hurt. Wanting things on behalf of the characters--peace, vengeance. Wanting things on one's own behalf.
- Novelty: Anything that is unfamiliar to the status quo of the fiction, something that can be experimented with rationally (based on old knowledge) or freely (in absence of new knowledge). New characters, new places, new points of view, new information, new ideas, new forms.
- Rank Rewards (think leveling up--how to level up in fiction?)
- Completeness (think collecting, discovering, defeating--everything, 100%)
- Victory (winning! conquering!)
I guess what I'm arguing is--if there's no real structural difference in creating art versus creating entertainment, isn't it all just a game of reoutfitting the language? Can we talk about fun without cringing?