I read a novel and I didn't care for it. And I'm going to name the novel, because its author has won two Booker Prizes and he doesn't need my approval to feel good about himself. :-) I'm going to use this example to tell you about tin man novels, but I want to make this caveat beforehand. Taste in novels is highly subjective. Some of you may read a novel I call a tin man novel and think it's the best thing you've ever read. And it well may be. My tin man novel is another reader's work of genius.
But for the sake of this discussion, my tin man novel is Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. And as you might expect from my comparison, my problem with this novel is that it's all head and sheen, but it has no heart. At least, according to my taste.
I most often encounter tin man novels in literary fiction. They are written in beautiful, stylish prose, and filled with interesting ideas or allusions. Their characters are offbeat.
But tin man novels are too clever and too conscious of their own artistic merit. They're written from the head, and it shows. The elemental moral passion of the artist does not drive these novels. Tin man novels impress me very much with the talent and intellect of their authors. But in the end, they seem to proclaim "I am a good writer" more than anything about the human condition, God, or the world we live in. Tin man novels overwhelm their own stories with their heavy themes and their painstakingly-constructed designs. They can't come to life without heart. They can't feel real. They will never make me cry.
And then there are the scarecrow novels. Scarecrow novels are full of feeling, and easy to get to know. But they don't have any "brain," so they're often poorly-written and may include stereotypes. Still, a scarecrow novel is more likely to be commercially-successful than a tin man novel, because its passion can overcome its flaws, for readers who don't care too much about prose style. As a result, we find more scarecrow novels on bestseller lists, and more tin man novels on short lists for literary prizes.
And you and I may completely disagree as to which novels might earn these descriptions. I love those friendly, private book debates with my best friends in which we laugh a lot as we defend the merits of our chosen authors.
It's possible that I may someday write a tin man novel or a scarecrow novel. I hope not! I hope that by using these two extremes as a reminder, I can steer between their dangers and remember to temper passion with mind, and to infuse design with feeling.
How does the balance between heart and head work in your own writing?