Thursday, September 07, 2006

Product Placement--A Question About Craft

Yesterday the folks at child-lit were discussing Cathy's Book and product placement. That's how I found out that an organization called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is urging "concerned parents and book-lovers to send letters to Running Press demanding that the product placement be removed before Cathy’s Book is published." According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood's press release, the Association of Booksellers for Children is making petitions available at its member bookstores requesting the same.

Now I have reservations about product placement in any kind of literature. But to ask a publisher to remove something from one of its books...isn't that censorship? Or something very close to it?

Oh, my. This is getting complicated.

I'm about to make it more complicated because I'm going to suggest that there's a craft issue involved with using product placement in novels as well as an ethical issue.

I've always understood that using products as description is poor writing because the author is merely telling the readers that a character is wearing a certain brand of clothing or a certain brand of make-up rather than showing them what the character looks like by describing their clothing or make-up. That's meaningless if the reader is unfamiliar with the brand. Okay, it may tell us that the character is wealthy or poor, but, again, only if the reader recognizes the brand name as being expensive or inexpensive. It's a lazy way of writing.

In addition, if authors accept product placement at some point in their writing process, isn't that, itself, going to have an impact on what they write? If I accept product placement from, say, a clothing company before I start the writing project, then I have to create a character who wears those clothes. That seems like a small thing but what I'd be doing is creating a character to support detail instead of using detail to support a character.

Even if they accept product placement after the book is written, as I believe was the case with Cathy's Book, authors are still having to tweak their work to support a detail when they ought to be tweaking details to support character, setting, plot, etc.

We're talking about reversing the traditional writing process. The world's not going to end if that happens, of course. But I do wonder if we won't see some impact on writing--or the teaching of writing--if this becomes common practice. Though I'm not going to try to guess what that impact will be.

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