Read a review of a thing I wrote, many years ago, where the reviewer said the ‘story wasn’t as clever as it thinks it is’. Now, I’m not going to disagree with the statement, arguing with bad reviews is like trying to persuade a girl to go out with you after she’s turned you down – pointless and counter-productive. But I found this statement intriguing, irrespective of the fact that it was about one of my things.
Firstly, how can a story ‘think’ itself to be anything? A story is a load of words relating a series of events, ideas, emotions or amusing misunderstandings with an Antique Cow-Creamer. It has no sentience. Yet it’s not uncommon for stories to also be described as smug, or patronising, or lazy.
Obviously what’s happening here is that the reader or viewer is compounding the motives they ascribe to the author to the piece of work itself. Which in one way is kind of daft, but in another way it’s interesting to consider ‘the mood’ of a piece. I’d say, for instance, that The Two Doctors feels like the work of somebody who’s having a really bad day. Robert Holmes may have actually been typing away full of the joys of spring, but that’s not what he put on paper.
The other confusion is the idea that a work – or an author – isn’t being as clever as they think they are. Now, I consider myself fairly intelligent, but also to be nowhere near as intelligent as I’d like myself to be. Being clever is, after all, having a highly-developed sense of your own ignorance (because stupid people think they know everything). I suppose it means there’s a feeling of ‘Do you see what I did there?’-ness... and in writing, there is no crime greater.