Anyone who doubts that fiction has largely become subsidiary to film, even for writers, should look at Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories for the Screen, an "anthology" recently published by St. Martin's. It is, literally, American Idol brought into print. From the introduction by editor Steve Cohen:
. . .The voice of the marketplace--indeed the wisdom of crowds--is far more powerful than the taste of any one studio executive. True, the studio executive can "green-light" a project. But they can't ignite a trend, build word of mouth, or get people to watch films they don't want to.
We believe there is a fundamental transformation taking place in the entertainment business. It is a shift in power from a few "experts" to the consumer--and Next Stop Hollywood is part of it.
That is why we are asking you--the readers, the moviegoers, the trendsetters--to tell us what you like and what you don't. Tell us, via our Web site. . ., which stories should be made into movies and who should star in them. We are also conducting competitions for the best move poster and trailer based on these stories. . . .
The stories were not chosen by Mr. Cohen. He sent submitted stories around "to lots of readers," who were asked:
[D]id a particular story work for you as a potential film? Were there characters--either heroes or villains--that you cared about? Was there a plot with a beginning, a middle, and an end? Would this be an easy or hard story to adapt to the screen? And lastly, would this story have a narrow or wide appeal?
In addition to revealing what Steve Cohen (a self-described "entrepreneur") thinks are the characteristics of a good movie--characters we "care about," linear plots, and a "wide appeal"--his project also reveals what, apparently, large numbers of people think fiction is worth: not much, unless it can be seen as a "potential film."
The stories in the anthology range from the professionally competent (Perry Glasser's "An Age of Marvels and Wonders" is probably the most proficient story, although it also contains the requisite degree of pathos to make it potentially appealing to Hollywood) to the utterly atrocious. Most of them lean to the latter. Very few of them are genre pieces. It would seem from the selections chosen for this book that appropriate movie narratives (which are, after all, what these stories ultimately aspire to be) are essentially realistic, with suitably dramatic plot twists and turns, and involve characters not so far removed from the ordinary that we can't identify with them.
To the extent that writers of "literary fiction" (here defined as the sort of thing encouraged by most creative writing programs and the editors of most literary journals) are also usually enjoined to think of fiction in this way (absent the more melodramatic flourishes of plot and executed more adroitly and in more polished prose), I find it hard to consider most of what gets published with that tag attached as any less designed to attract the attention of those holding the "green light" than what has been gathered in Next Stop Hollywood.