Of course I am not suggesting that Rand was a hack or used the methods of hacks to tell hack stories. I stated she used typical elements of entertainment as her situations.
Let's look at that story, "The Simplest Thing in the World," (which is in The Romantic Manifesto
). The problem was with the message, not with the actual situation. Here are the 3 situations Henry Dorn imagines, starting with a cliche.
1. (From the story):
... a middle-aged millionaire who tries to seduce a poor young working girl...
Rand exchanges the young girl for a young man to remove the seduction, adds motivations and alters the cliche.
2. (From the story):
... a young girl who lives on a rooftop, in one of those storerooms above a loft-building, and she's sitting there on the roof, all alone, it's a beautiful summer evening, and suddenly there's a shot and a window in the next building cracks open, glass flying all over the place, and a man jumps out of the window onto her roof.
Rand gives motivations to the characters and makes the man her dreamed-about love instead of a menacing presence.
3. The murder mystery. (Notice here she even cites the cliche as a cliche. She says "always done.")
There must be two villains in a mystery story: the victim and the murderer—so nobody would feel too sorry for either of them. That's the way it's always done. Well, you can have some leeway on the victim, but the murderer's got to be a villain . . .
In adding motives to the characters, she turns the villain into the hero. She inverts or alters the cliche.
In all 3 cases, she more or less developed her idea from a cliche, but she did not take the story in the direction that a hack would. Does this mean she was unaware that she was using a cliche? I don't think so. I think she was illustrating a writing technique.
Here is an interesting comment about love triangles from her notes to The Fountainhead
where she inverts the cliche (Journals
, p. 233):
Roark's attitude toward Wynand is a deep understanding; in a way—respect; and the only pity he has ever felt for any human being. As to Dominique, she sees the situation, resents it and is frightened by it. To her, there is no other reality and no other concern but Roark. She is jealous of Wynand, of any feeling Roark might have in response to Wynand's adoration of him. It is a triangle—in which the husband and wife are both in love with the same man.
Dominique finds herself suffering in a strange triangle—jealous of her husband's devotion to the man she loves.
From what I read in her comments about the love triangle, she did this on purpose. She didn't merely create the characters and their motivations and it simply popped out that way because it best represented her message. She did the love triangle and inverted the cliche at the same time she was making character notes and theme notes.
Rand wrote a letter to Kenneth MacGowan (film producer and director) dated May 18, 1934 where she gave a general outline of her approach, and I believe she stuck to that method in all her fiction. At least, I see the elements present. Here are some of her comments (the letter is too long to reproduce and be fair use). Notice that she is very much aware of audience appeal right from the beginning:
In brief, my theory relates to making motion pictures appeal to all types of audiences. I know that it has been tried. I know also that it has not been tried successfully.
. . .
There is only one common denominator which can be understood and enjoyed by all men, from the dullest to the most intelligent, and that is plot.
Everybody goes into a theatre to enjoy primarily what they are going to see and not how it is going to be presented to them. If they are not interested in what they see, they do not care how it is shown. The best manner of presenting nothing still makes it remain nothing.
That much is not new. The novelty of what I propose to do—and I believe it is a novelty, for I have never seen it done deliberately—consists in the following: in building the plot of a story in such a manner that it possesses tiers or layers of depth, so that each type of audience can understand and enjoy only as much of it as it wants to understand and enjoy, in other words so that each man can get out of it only as much as he can put into it. This must be done in such a manner that one and the same story can stand as a story without any of its deeper implications, so that those who do not care to be, will not be burdened with any intellectual or artistic angles, and yet those who do care for them will get those angles looking at exactly the same material.
If the plot of a story is simple and understandable enough to be interesting, alone, by itself, to even the lowest type of mentality, if it has the plain elements that can appeal to all, and if, at the same time, that plot carries a deeper meaning, a significance which can be reached only by the highest, then the problem is solved. I must emphasize once more that it is not merely a matter of a plain story—for the sake of the "lowbrow"—artistically presented for the sake of the "highbrow." It is a matter of the plot, the story, the very meat of the film arranged ingeniously enough to satisfy both. Is there any reason why a story cannot be built in such a way that it is convincing and interesting to those who cannot analyze it and yet just as convincing to those who can?
. . .
This is a principle which I have applied to every story I have written so far, but I have never developed it as plainly and obviously and, if I may say so, as skillfully, as in Red Pawn. Also, I've never had a chance to attempt to explain my theory to anyone, as I have done it here.
. . .
I have not the slightest doubt that this story will be made eventually, and that it will be one of the greatest hits ever made, and that it will give an entirely new field to motion pictures.
Here is a quote from The Art of Fiction
, p. 57:
At the start of my career, I had a valuable conversation with Cecil DeMille. It was my first year in Hollywood, I was twenty-two, and I had already developed a strong plot sense; but although I could recognize a good plot story, I had not consciously identified what characteristics made it good. DeMille told me something that clarified the issue for me.
He said that a good story depends on what he called "the situation,'' by which he meant a complicated conflict [a plot-theme], and that the best stories are those which can be told in one sentence. In other words, if the essential situation (not the whole story, of course) can be told in one sentence, this makes for a good plot story.
She went on to emphasize conflict (which was the point of this discussion), but look how much conflict is inherent in the standard entertainment cliches I mentioned. Even a simple car chase (which, thank goodness, never became a part of Rand's fiction, although a plane chase did) has an element of conflict built into it. Rand's technique was usually to invert it or alter it to put the conflict in an unexpected place.
But there is more. I just spent a great deal of time trying to find a quote on the Objectivism Research CDROM about the plane crash and could not. After I relaxed and mentally drifted a bit, I remembered it might have been by NB. Then I found it in "The Literary Method of Ayn Rand" in Who is Ayn Rand
? (p. 73-74 of the Paperback Library edition):
To those who subscribe to the soul-body dichotomy in literature, Atlas Shrugged is a mystifying anomaly that defies classification by conventional standards. It moves effortlessly and ingeniously from economics to epistemology to morality to metaphysics to psychology to the theory of sex, on the one hand—and, on the other, it has a chapter that a ends with the heroine hurtling toward the earth in an airplane with a dead motor, it has a playboy crusader who blows up a multi-billion-dollar industry, a philosopher-turned-pirate who attacks government relief ships, and a climax that involves the rescue of the hero from a torture-chamber.
For the life of me, I cannot imagine Rand conceiving of rescuing the hero from a torture-chamber as anything but a cliche, except she completely inverted it. She had her torture scene (which is interesting in itself, as is seen in countless stories). But she integrated it with all the other elements in the novel and she made the bad guys torture the good guy in order for him to lead them.
As a further use of the plane crash, Rand even added symbolism. Here is a quote from The Art of Fiction
, p. 173:
When, at the end of Part II of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny follows Galt into the sunrise, that is symbolism. It is even a trite symbol, but so appropriate that it was legitimate. Literally, she is following his plane late at night, and by the locale of the action he has to go east (which I carefully planned long in advance). Symbolically, she has been in the dark during all of the story, but now she is about to see the sunrise—and the first light comes from the wings of Galt's plane.
Using the sunrise, or any form of light, as a symbol of the good or the revelation is a bromide, but it is a bromide of the kind that love is: it is so wide and fundamental that you cannot avoid it. What will make your use of it a bromide or not is whether or not you bring any originality to the subject.
I learned a long time ago as a song lyric writer that a great source of inspiration was to invert cliches or put a new spin on them. I see this approach all over Rand's writing. She even put a new spin on Greek mythology.
To be clear, my point is that Rand did not avoid cliches. She embraced them, but turned them around to serve her message. She had other options in creating her stories, yet they are loaded with inverted or altered cliches.
I see nothing wrong or demeaning about this. I wonder if part of the reason so much that is stilted in writers trying to imitate Rand (or follow her school of writing) is due to their complete avoidance of cliches for fear that it smacks of second-handedness. They are literally left without too much action, so they imitate her in order to be safe.
As a complimentary comment, I read somewhere by NB that Rand liked to shock people. I tried to find this quote, but I couldn't, so I need to add it later. A good example, but not what NB wrote, is Rand's comment to a question asking what she thought of feminism and she responded that she was a male chauvinist. This is the entertainer in her. I see this coming through all over in her writing and I see nothing wrong or demeaning about this, either. To me, an artist who does not want to entertain is not much of an artist. There is nothing second-hand at all in thinking about the audience as one of the elements you consider. (But, of course, I believe there is plenty wrong if it is an imbalanced concern.)
I hope this makes what I have been trying to say a little clearer.