sartorias: (desk)
The other day I posted Jane Austen's writing advice clipped from her letters to a writing niece. Afterwards, I got three different people writing me privately to ask, basically, what is so bad about figurative language?

I thought, if three ask me, others might wonder, or at least want to discuss it. So, with the caveat that "bad" is relative (in other words, if the prose works for you, it's not bad) I went on to dig out the notes I took a billion years ago [note the figurative language there, har har] from a discussion on this topic. This was at an eighties con. Being new at the con circuit after a hiatus of over ten years, I didn't know any of the writers, so I didn't note down their names--it was faster to write A, B, C, and D.

A: Bad writers use figurative language that might sound pretty but the words don't mean anything.

B. I think of those as empty calories.

C. I have my own list, but what do you mean by not meaning anything?

A. Okay, here's the example I always give in workshops. "A touch of anger colored his voice." We all know what touch is--something we can do with our fingers, or our tongue, or whatever. But one thing we can't touch is voices. So the word becomes meaningless.

B. (breaking in) Empty calories.

A. If you leave it out, the meaning is basically unchanged: Anger colored his voice.

C. I like that. We all think of anger as 'red.'

D. If I can put a word in here, I don't agree. We're told that everyone sees anger as red, but I don't. If anything I see it as white, like lightning. I think 'colored' here is lazy writing, a cliche: we all know what it means, but the word 'colored' does no actual work in the sentence.

C. Okay, so what would you put?

D. I'd use a verb suggesting something you can actually hear, since this is about a voice. Anger sharpened his voice, sharpened his consonants, anger tightened his voice, anger roughened his voice, anger thinned his voice. Depends on how you hear this particular character expressing anger. And if you have that character with the roughness of anger in his voice, and the next character express anger with a shrill voice, then you have differentiated those two characters with precise verbs. Whereas 'colored' is so generic it doesn't differentiate any characters.

B. That's what I mean by empty calories. When I do workshops, I pick out words that don't actually do anything for characterization. If you cut them out, nothing changes. So back to touch. If you mean a tiny bit, I had a professor once who dinged me for using "soupçon"--said that that had become a cliche when he was young. Why use a French word when we have gazillion good word in English?

A. Right. Instead of the generic 'touch' you could have a dash, if you're talking about cooking, a hint, a suggestion, intimation. A suspicion if you're not quite sure, a gleam if it's visual, a scintilla if you want to make the character sound pompous,a spark if sparks actually work there.

B. Other empty calorie words I see too often are 'tinge' when there isn't any painting around, though tinge is about color. And so is nuance.

C. I really hate that word. Too many people use it incorrectly. Why not subtlety?

A. Because most of us can't spell it.

(audience loved that.)

B. I totally agree. The word 'fine' used to be generic for niceties, subtleties, delicacy.

C. Hairline. Distinction.

B. Another is 'very' used as an adjective. Okay, this happened. There was this sentence totally empty of calories, "His very heart was touched." I opened one of my girlfriend's romance novels, and that was the first sentence I saw. When I pointed out that only surgeons can touch your heart, and it's not a romantic sight, she threw the book at me, saying, "We know what it means." And I said, "Then why didn't the writer take the time to craft a sentence with real punch? This is forgettable. And 'very heart'? Please.

D. I agree, but my objection first of all would be to the verb. You can line up the most elegant subject, object, modifiers, but if it's hooked together with 'was' the effect is flat. English is jam-packed with terrific verbs. Falling back on 'was' is lazy writing--especially if you want the moment to be emotionally powerful, why are you using a passive construction?

There was more (including a lot about inexact terms in SF), but this is probably long enough to get the idea across.
sartorias: (Default)
Today's riff is about Storytellers vs Writers within the context of popularity.

I'm wondering if there would be any utility in discussing our ideas of what makes pedestrian prose (gets the job done, then we move on, the story pretty much passing out of mind), effective prose (pulls the reader in hard, lingers afterward, invites rereads) and lapidary prose (so poetic and rich with image and symbol, cadence and complexity one stops to parse, or read, sentences, which do pay off).

"Which do pay off" is important, at least to me. The difficult--if there is one--is that different styles are going to be successful or not, depending on the reader. For example, Greer Gilman is my idea of a lapidary prose artist. She's sometimes been teamed back east with another writer who is hailed as a lapidary prose writer whose prose doesn't strike me as lapidary so much as uncontrolled spew. Then there is the writer who comes to English from another language, who is sometimes lapidary, but those gems are embedded between the purplest of overused expressions and unnecessary scaffolding. Yet reviews go on about 'lyrical' writing.

So I don't know if there can be a conclusion reached.
sartorias: (Default)
Today's riff is about Storytellers vs Writers within the context of popularity.

I'm wondering if there would be any utility in discussing our ideas of what makes pedestrian prose (gets the job done, then we move on, the story pretty much passing out of mind), effective prose (pulls the reader in hard, lingers afterward, invites rereads) and lapidary prose (so poetic and rich with image and symbol, cadence and complexity one stops to parse, or read, sentences, which do pay off).

"Which do pay off" is important, at least to me. The difficult--if there is one--is that different styles are going to be successful or not, depending on the reader. For example, Greer Gilman is my idea of a lapidary prose artist. She's sometimes been teamed back east with another writer who is hailed as a lapidary prose writer whose prose doesn't strike me as lapidary so much as uncontrolled spew. Then there is the writer who comes to English from another language, who is sometimes lapidary, but those gems are embedded between the purplest of overused expressions and unnecessary scaffolding. Yet reviews go on about 'lyrical' writing.

So I don't know if there can be a conclusion reached.
sartorias: (Default)
At WFC last weekend, on Thursday night, someone made a reference to purple prose. Context made it clear that everybody understood what was meant. An hour later, in another conversation altogether, someone made a slighting reference to lyrical writing, making air quotes around the word lyrical. When I asked what was meant, I got an interesting volley of answers, too fast to write down.

First, everyone agreed that though purple prose generally is trying to be lyrical, not all lyrical prose is purple. So what makes it purple?

Sentimentality--overly ornate--Did you know that the original meaning of lyrical prose meant bad prose?

"Not bad in the sense of bad grammar or spelling," someone else said. "Bathos."

I pointed out that ‘ornate’ can be in the eye of the reader. There are some literary traditions, especially non-English speaking, that delight in figurative language, especially complex metaphor.

Half agreed, then someone said that she didn’t know if it was translators’ problems, or writers for whom English is a second language, but too often the ‘ornate’ turned out to be ornamental adjective and adverb built around clichés. But the ESL writer might not recognize that a phrase so rare it becomes poetic in Estonian, or Thai, has been overused to deadness in English. And the other way around (after which that conversation dwindled into attempts to write in other languages, and how tough it is.)

I was sufficiently intrigued to ask different groups of people through the weekend what they understood the term "purple prose" to mean. After all, it was a con full of writers. And not one of them was confused by the term. They all knew what it meant. What I found interesting was the variety of definitions.

The most frequent definition had to do with overloading adjectives into sentences. I believe it was Ellen Kushner who pointed out that purple prose could also be the loading of adverbs into a sentence to bolster an ineffective verb.

Other definitions included overelaborate--pretentious--an effort to sound poetic but failing --and mawkish. There was a lot of agreement about sentimentality instead of real emotion.

The two times I tried asking for examples of specific works broke up the discussion, because so often such questions come down to taste.

But people did offer concrete examples to which others would agree. I will get to those in a moment. The first subject I wanted to dig into was sentimentality. Most agreed that this was excessive or affected attempts at Big Emotion, often without it being earned. Of course, how you earn emotion wasn't so easy to pin down. But there was more agreement about cheats, such as introducing characters who are too good to be true that experienced readers know are redshirts--to be offed in the next chapter in order to make the reader feel sorry for the hero.

As usual, examples weren’t so easy to agree on. One person said she was totally disgusted by the introduction of Kvothe’s parents in The Name of the Wind. They were so perfect that they simply had to be killed ten pages later. But someone else mourned, "Nooo! You cannot touch that awesome book!"

So we went back to discussing specifics in prose without mentioning books, short stories, or authors. One person said that poetic oxymorons drove him nuts, but it seemed to him that writers who employed a lot of that trick were praised for it. Overused metaphors--overused superlatives piled on--trite expressions masquerading as new expressions, but not really. Like "A shiver trickled down her spine."

Another person pointed out that such clichés, whether sentimental or not, were not always recognized by readers as such. This is how a lyrical writer for one person is syrupy for a writer, who (supposedly) has a keener ear for trite and overused expressions. Uncritical readers will accept the author’s claim to poesy without recognizing whether poetry actually happened.

Commenting on that, somebody pointed out that such expressions serve to remind the reader "Important Emotional Moment Here!" So the reader might acknowledge that the characters are feeling it, without actually feeling the emotion themselves. And many readers don’t actually want to feel emotions such as gnawing fear or heart-breaking grief. Clichés are safety valves. But they can also keep the book from being memorable.

I wondered if this might explain why a given ‘lyrical’ book, though popular now, is forgotten two years down the road. It's like the author told us what to feel all the way through but we didn't actually feel it, there was no genuine emotion on the part of the reader, and so the story is easy to forget. In contrast, the book with genuine emotion, or complex emotion that rings true to experience, draws us back to reread. It doesn't have to be bad emotion--it can be good, too.

Anyway, I asked if anyone else had automatic sentimentality triggers. Like mine is ‘achingly vulnerable.’ "Throes used seriously." "Abound." "Utterly, especially when no one is uttering anything--utter darkness, utter despair, utter nutter." *snickers*

"Myriad." "No, I like that word!" "But it’s practically lost its meaning, it means thousands, ‘myriad emotions’ how can anyone have thousands of emotions?"

While that jetted off into another subject, I recalled a word from a couple centuries ago--‘poetaster’. That was someone who wanted to be seen as a poet, and who might put together strings of popular ideas, clothed in threadbare classical metaphor, but who didn’t (or couldn’t) do the work of real poetry.

I mentioned that to a couple people while conversing in a corner of a noisy room. We talked it over. Would the modern poetaster be the person whose prose throws out breathless metaphor and superlatives that are commonly employed ("gazed into the very depths of despair") without actually furnishing any real insight? All the trappings are there--usually restated in increasingly bombastic words, as if the writer senses that it’s not quite working.

Bombastic: "Eyes that project emotions, especially from behind.'Behind her eyes he saw the depths of the abyss. . ."

"Redundancies for emphasis, like ‘Fundamental bedrock, or blackest midnight.’"

"’Very’ as an adjective," someone said, to a hail of agreement, and "Behind her eyes he saw the very depths of despair."

Another commented that ‘very’ as an adjective almost always modifies clichés, as if to give them more heft. I thought of several, like ‘the core of one’s being’ modified by ‘very core of one’s being.’ Doesn’t help. That one is a definite sign of sentimentality--an overused signal for deep emotion without actually having to do the work to make that emotion personal or insightful.

The examples came fast, ‘very abyss’ instead of ‘abyss, ‘the very idea’ instead of ‘the idea’ but it can cheapen any ordinary noun: ‘very heartbeat’ ‘very joy’ ‘the very thought.’

Someone pointed out that very, like any other intensifier, can be effective once in a while, but like semi-colons, once you find a sprinkling on every page, the effect lessens correspondingly.
sartorias: (Default)
At WFC last weekend, on Thursday night, someone made a reference to purple prose. Context made it clear that everybody understood what was meant. An hour later, in another conversation altogether, someone made a slighting reference to lyrical writing, making air quotes around the word lyrical. When I asked what was meant, I got an interesting volley of answers, too fast to write down.

First, everyone agreed that though purple prose generally is trying to be lyrical, not all lyrical prose is purple. So what makes it purple?

Sentimentality--overly ornate--Did you know that the original meaning of lyrical prose meant bad prose?

"Not bad in the sense of bad grammar or spelling," someone else said. "Bathos."

I pointed out that ‘ornate’ can be in the eye of the reader. There are some literary traditions, especially non-English speaking, that delight in figurative language, especially complex metaphor.

Half agreed, then someone said that she didn’t know if it was translators’ problems, or writers for whom English is a second language, but too often the ‘ornate’ turned out to be ornamental adjective and adverb built around clichés. But the ESL writer might not recognize that a phrase so rare it becomes poetic in Estonian, or Thai, has been overused to deadness in English. And the other way around (after which that conversation dwindled into attempts to write in other languages, and how tough it is.)

I was sufficiently intrigued to ask different groups of people through the weekend what they understood the term "purple prose" to mean. After all, it was a con full of writers. And not one of them was confused by the term. They all knew what it meant. What I found interesting was the variety of definitions.

The most frequent definition had to do with overloading adjectives into sentences. I believe it was Ellen Kushner who pointed out that purple prose could also be the loading of adverbs into a sentence to bolster an ineffective verb.

Other definitions included overelaborate--pretentious--an effort to sound poetic but failing --and mawkish. There was a lot of agreement about sentimentality instead of real emotion.

The two times I tried asking for examples of specific works broke up the discussion, because so often such questions come down to taste.

But people did offer concrete examples to which others would agree. I will get to those in a moment. The first subject I wanted to dig into was sentimentality. Most agreed that this was excessive or affected attempts at Big Emotion, often without it being earned. Of course, how you earn emotion wasn't so easy to pin down. But there was more agreement about cheats, such as introducing characters who are too good to be true that experienced readers know are redshirts--to be offed in the next chapter in order to make the reader feel sorry for the hero.

As usual, examples weren’t so easy to agree on. One person said she was totally disgusted by the introduction of Kvothe’s parents in The Name of the Wind. They were so perfect that they simply had to be killed ten pages later. But someone else mourned, "Nooo! You cannot touch that awesome book!"

So we went back to discussing specifics in prose without mentioning books, short stories, or authors. One person said that poetic oxymorons drove him nuts, but it seemed to him that writers who employed a lot of that trick were praised for it. Overused metaphors--overused superlatives piled on--trite expressions masquerading as new expressions, but not really. Like "A shiver trickled down her spine."

Another person pointed out that such clichés, whether sentimental or not, were not always recognized by readers as such. This is how a lyrical writer for one person is syrupy for a writer, who (supposedly) has a keener ear for trite and overused expressions. Uncritical readers will accept the author’s claim to poesy without recognizing whether poetry actually happened.

Commenting on that, somebody pointed out that such expressions serve to remind the reader "Important Emotional Moment Here!" So the reader might acknowledge that the characters are feeling it, without actually feeling the emotion themselves. And many readers don’t actually want to feel emotions such as gnawing fear or heart-breaking grief. Clichés are safety valves. But they can also keep the book from being memorable.

I wondered if this might explain why a given ‘lyrical’ book, though popular now, is forgotten two years down the road. It's like the author told us what to feel all the way through but we didn't actually feel it, there was no genuine emotion on the part of the reader, and so the story is easy to forget. In contrast, the book with genuine emotion, or complex emotion that rings true to experience, draws us back to reread. It doesn't have to be bad emotion--it can be good, too.

Anyway, I asked if anyone else had automatic sentimentality triggers. Like mine is ‘achingly vulnerable.’ "Throes used seriously." "Abound." "Utterly, especially when no one is uttering anything--utter darkness, utter despair, utter nutter." *snickers*

"Myriad." "No, I like that word!" "But it’s practically lost its meaning, it means thousands, ‘myriad emotions’ how can anyone have thousands of emotions?"

While that jetted off into another subject, I recalled a word from a couple centuries ago--‘poetaster’. That was someone who wanted to be seen as a poet, and who might put together strings of popular ideas, clothed in threadbare classical metaphor, but who didn’t (or couldn’t) do the work of real poetry.

I mentioned that to a couple people while conversing in a corner of a noisy room. We talked it over. Would the modern poetaster be the person whose prose throws out breathless metaphor and superlatives that are commonly employed ("gazed into the very depths of despair") without actually furnishing any real insight? All the trappings are there--usually restated in increasingly bombastic words, as if the writer senses that it’s not quite working.

Bombastic: "Eyes that project emotions, especially from behind.'Behind her eyes he saw the depths of the abyss. . ."

"Redundancies for emphasis, like ‘Fundamental bedrock, or blackest midnight.’"

"’Very’ as an adjective," someone said, to a hail of agreement, and "Behind her eyes he saw the very depths of despair."

Another commented that ‘very’ as an adjective almost always modifies clichés, as if to give them more heft. I thought of several, like ‘the core of one’s being’ modified by ‘very core of one’s being.’ Doesn’t help. That one is a definite sign of sentimentality--an overused signal for deep emotion without actually having to do the work to make that emotion personal or insightful.

The examples came fast, ‘very abyss’ instead of ‘abyss, ‘the very idea’ instead of ‘the idea’ but it can cheapen any ordinary noun: ‘very heartbeat’ ‘very joy’ ‘the very thought.’

Someone pointed out that very, like any other intensifier, can be effective once in a while, but like semi-colons, once you find a sprinkling on every page, the effect lessens correspondingly.

Prose

Feb. 28th, 2010 08:57 am
sartorias: (Default)
Today's BVC riff is on grammatical oopsies.

While I was writing that up, I was thinking about transparent prose. Over at [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving they've been talking about these matters.

It doesn't surprise me that writers (poets, really) like [livejournal.com profile] sovay and [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving find references to transparent prose objectionable. I don't know if anyone else's brain works this way, but for purposes of discussion, here's how I see the distinction between transparent prose and what I call high style (which could be lapidary prose, or poetic . . . I resist 'lyrical' because I grew up with that phrase meaning something like 'self-consciously emulating sentimental poetry'):

Transparent prose moves me smoothly through the sensurround and movie of the story. When I read transparent prose I am not aware of being a reader sitting with book in hand. I'm inside the story world, and the text is the medium to experience the story in a kind of dreamtime. Transparent prose falters when there's a grammar oopsie that blurs meaning, or maybe a series of repeated words that causes me to falter, or maybe some term is used that throws me right out of the world, for example, the characters in an epic fantasy saying "Okay" to one another.

Not every reader is going to be bothered by that okay--we all have different baggage clustered around words. For an extreme example, when I was around fourteen, I read Lord of the Rings for the first time . . . but for a few weeks beforehand, I did not want to read it. I was with a junior high friend in her attic, I was writing while she was deeply absorbed in that book, sometimes exclaiming. She went downstairs for a moment, and I glanced at the book, and to my horror saw the word "eleven" used as an adjective. No! Someone stole my "eleven!" The word had profound meaning for me . . . later, when she finished the book and insisted I read it, I asked if the writer had stolen my elevens (remember, I'm fourteen) and she said, "No, that word was elven." WHEW! Nobody else would have been jolted by that!

Just as someone whose grammar is shaky might not notice the consistent spelling of all right as alright, or misuse of "whom"--and some readers will read right past tons of sentence scaffolding while others will notice it and grimace, or else sort-of notice it and wonder why the pace is so slow even though this is an action sequence.

I think the high style is a different reading experience, in which the sound of the words runs parallel to the story movie. For example, when I read [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving's books, I hear the narrative read aloud, an invisible narrator speaking the prose. (On two of her works, the voice is even identifiable: Dame Maggie Smith.) The story itself is one step distant from me. I read very slowly, because my brain can only do one thing at a time, and sometimes it wants to savor the words, the way I like to savor the poetry of people like [livejournal.com profile] ericmarin or [livejournal.com profile] seajules or [livejournal.com profile] shweta_narayan just to name a few. Then, when I've processed the words, I might go back and read it again, this time focusing on the story. Or somethings I shift between the two, but I never sink right down, myself becoming the invisible watcher as the movie happens around me.

As in what makes transparent prose, these things can differ. Not all those celebrated for high style appeal--Writer X's 'high style' seems forced, at times awkward, juttering me to a stop as I try to figure out what the heck that sentence means. The signals are a jumble, like stepping out of a quiet elevator into a mall full of chaotic noises and flashing lights and weird smells. When I read past for story, I find thin characters, no insight--trickery and kewl set decoration, rather than wisdom. Certainly no grace. Yet the reader next to me is just loving every syllable.

So I do think the two things exist--and there are combinations, that is, poetic writing that is so subtle it immerses one in story, and becomes transparent--Kipling operates that way on me. Passages of Patrick O'Brian at his best. Nabokov. Sayers at her best. But someone else's combination will be other writers.

This is why I enjoy reading critical reviews, or analysis--finding out how others read a text I've been through. What they saw and how they saw it. (But I resist critical analysis that tells me what to think.)

Prose

Feb. 28th, 2010 08:57 am
sartorias: (Default)
Today's BVC riff is on grammatical oopsies.

While I was writing that up, I was thinking about transparent prose. Over at [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving they've been talking about these matters.

It doesn't surprise me that writers (poets, really) like [livejournal.com profile] sovay and [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving find references to transparent prose objectionable. I don't know if anyone else's brain works this way, but for purposes of discussion, here's how I see the distinction between transparent prose and what I call high style (which could be lapidary prose, or poetic . . . I resist 'lyrical' because I grew up with that phrase meaning something like 'self-consciously emulating sentimental poetry'):

Transparent prose moves me smoothly through the sensurround and movie of the story. When I read transparent prose I am not aware of being a reader sitting with book in hand. I'm inside the story world, and the text is the medium to experience the story in a kind of dreamtime. Transparent prose falters when there's a grammar oopsie that blurs meaning, or maybe a series of repeated words that causes me to falter, or maybe some term is used that throws me right out of the world, for example, the characters in an epic fantasy saying "Okay" to one another.

Not every reader is going to be bothered by that okay--we all have different baggage clustered around words. For an extreme example, when I was around fourteen, I read Lord of the Rings for the first time . . . but for a few weeks beforehand, I did not want to read it. I was with a junior high friend in her attic, I was writing while she was deeply absorbed in that book, sometimes exclaiming. She went downstairs for a moment, and I glanced at the book, and to my horror saw the word "eleven" used as an adjective. No! Someone stole my "eleven!" The word had profound meaning for me . . . later, when she finished the book and insisted I read it, I asked if the writer had stolen my elevens (remember, I'm fourteen) and she said, "No, that word was elven." WHEW! Nobody else would have been jolted by that!

Just as someone whose grammar is shaky might not notice the consistent spelling of all right as alright, or misuse of "whom"--and some readers will read right past tons of sentence scaffolding while others will notice it and grimace, or else sort-of notice it and wonder why the pace is so slow even though this is an action sequence.

I think the high style is a different reading experience, in which the sound of the words runs parallel to the story movie. For example, when I read [livejournal.com profile] nineweaving's books, I hear the narrative read aloud, an invisible narrator speaking the prose. (On two of her works, the voice is even identifiable: Dame Maggie Smith.) The story itself is one step distant from me. I read very slowly, because my brain can only do one thing at a time, and sometimes it wants to savor the words, the way I like to savor the poetry of people like [livejournal.com profile] ericmarin or [livejournal.com profile] seajules or [livejournal.com profile] shweta_narayan just to name a few. Then, when I've processed the words, I might go back and read it again, this time focusing on the story. Or somethings I shift between the two, but I never sink right down, myself becoming the invisible watcher as the movie happens around me.

As in what makes transparent prose, these things can differ. Not all those celebrated for high style appeal--Writer X's 'high style' seems forced, at times awkward, juttering me to a stop as I try to figure out what the heck that sentence means. The signals are a jumble, like stepping out of a quiet elevator into a mall full of chaotic noises and flashing lights and weird smells. When I read past for story, I find thin characters, no insight--trickery and kewl set decoration, rather than wisdom. Certainly no grace. Yet the reader next to me is just loving every syllable.

So I do think the two things exist--and there are combinations, that is, poetic writing that is so subtle it immerses one in story, and becomes transparent--Kipling operates that way on me. Passages of Patrick O'Brian at his best. Nabokov. Sayers at her best. But someone else's combination will be other writers.

This is why I enjoy reading critical reviews, or analysis--finding out how others read a text I've been through. What they saw and how they saw it. (But I resist critical analysis that tells me what to think.)
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] metteharrison talks here about what she sees as good and bad writing, and asks for opinions.

Being braindead from the smoke and smog as well as protracted hours of work, and also being reluctant to carry on at length in other people's space, I thought I'd bring the question here.

We all know what good writing is: we can point at it. We also know that what we consider good writing too often is someone else's definition of bad writing. Freenbean's example of good writing is torturous, wearying and confusing prose to Snacklebag, whose good writing is facile genre cliche to Freenbean.

There are so many different styles, from Joycean hypertext to Crusie's tight, comedic insight, that at least for me good writing is so difficult to pin down beyond "I like that." But one of the things I've been thinking lately is that good writing resonates with experience to the extent that I can believe in its extrapolations--I can accept its depiction of experience that I will never have as true. Further, it offers those Ah moments of insight. It plays with expectations, but honestly.

Bad writing (for me) flings out the candy of easy sentiment. Bad writing is predictable--its pandemonium always reigns, its storms always rage. Characters with hooked noses or eyes close together will always be buffoons or villains. Powerful conflicts are neatly resolved with a Yoda-like aphorism; the heroine wins because suffering makes wishes come true. Crackfic is bad writing with so much energy that coincidences ricochet the plot with accelerating speed between Grand Guignol emotions and razzle-dazzle action. You don't care that the architecture of the story has the grit and glue of a house of cards; when you close the book the wind you make blows it into 52 pickup, but it was fun while it lasted. It won't linger, and draw you back inside, like the good ones do.
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] metteharrison talks here about what she sees as good and bad writing, and asks for opinions.

Being braindead from the smoke and smog as well as protracted hours of work, and also being reluctant to carry on at length in other people's space, I thought I'd bring the question here.

We all know what good writing is: we can point at it. We also know that what we consider good writing too often is someone else's definition of bad writing. Freenbean's example of good writing is torturous, wearying and confusing prose to Snacklebag, whose good writing is facile genre cliche to Freenbean.

There are so many different styles, from Joycean hypertext to Crusie's tight, comedic insight, that at least for me good writing is so difficult to pin down beyond "I like that." But one of the things I've been thinking lately is that good writing resonates with experience to the extent that I can believe in its extrapolations--I can accept its depiction of experience that I will never have as true. Further, it offers those Ah moments of insight. It plays with expectations, but honestly.

Bad writing (for me) flings out the candy of easy sentiment. Bad writing is predictable--its pandemonium always reigns, its storms always rage. Characters with hooked noses or eyes close together will always be buffoons or villains. Powerful conflicts are neatly resolved with a Yoda-like aphorism; the heroine wins because suffering makes wishes come true. Crackfic is bad writing with so much energy that coincidences ricochet the plot with accelerating speed between Grand Guignol emotions and razzle-dazzle action. You don't care that the architecture of the story has the grit and glue of a house of cards; when you close the book the wind you make blows it into 52 pickup, but it was fun while it lasted. It won't linger, and draw you back inside, like the good ones do.
sartorias: (Default)
No names or titles here; I decided to make it a study.
Read more... )
sartorias: (Default)
No names or titles here; I decided to make it a study.
Read more... )

Rewrites

Sep. 24th, 2008 06:54 am
sartorias: (desk)
I'm a visual writer, so my battle is never about seeing the story. I don't just see it, I live it--and the act of writing makes time move in the storyverse. After 49 years of doing this (I started at 8) that part is pretty much habit. It goes fast, once I see the shape of things. But after I discovered that my drafts functioned as code words* for the visions--a threadbare phrase sufficed to evoke a riot of color woven in complicated patterns--I never felt there was any use in bragging about how much wordage I did every day. Why, when most of it is a swarm of half-watted lightning bugs all struggling to be lightning? And failing?

So I had to learn to rewrite. I began another habit: let things sit for a year or two, or more, long enough to tamp down the images, but when a writer is on contract, there isn't that luxury. And as I get older, and peers begin dropping around me, and the generation before me is steadily vanishing--I won't mention how many memorials I've been to, or sent cards for, just in the past four months--one begins to realize that one doesn't have that nice long road ahead in which to attain mastery. I'm stuck with what I've got--not that I won't keep trying.

Okay, so what have I got? I pondered this in the middle of the night, while I lay there with the fan blowing on me, waiting to cool down enough to sleep. I am nearing the end of a long story that has been cut into four parts, and the first three have been published. So I can't go back and do a Prufrock, "No that is not what I meant at all." It's there, with all the confusions that were clear in my head, and the dramatic tensions in small things that were just boring to some readers.

Instead of getting it all down complete, I've been rewriting and rewriting furiously on this last segment, trying all kinds of tricks to 'see' the words I'm putting down. So anyway, I'm lying in bed, thinking of writing as buying a house. I can see the shape of the house, but nothing of what's in it. The writing is akin to getting inside and scrubbing and polishing and taking saw, hammer, and nails to the wooden beams, the stairs, the rooms, the furnishings until I look about me and think, hey, lookin' good.

But then I invite someone else in. This would be my trusty beta, who just began, blessings be upon the person's head. And those first five chapters come back....and I look about the house again, let's say that the first five chaps are the kitchen, and through these other eyes I discover that what I thought was a smooth wall actually hides a door, so I have to peel back the paneling I worked so hard on, and yep, there's this door to another room. Do I need the room, or should I rebuild the wall to be flat? I look over yonder, and ugh, how could I have forgotten to scrape the fly specks off that window? And wow, I didn't see all the cobwebs right overhead, I was so busy cleaning the grouting between the tiles. So I go right back at it, because no matter how much I liked what I saw, someone else's eyes see differently.

Now, sometimes a beta wants a crimson couch instead of a black velvet divan in the living room, or thinks that changing the curtains for blinds will fix the entire house. That kind of thing, you just have to try to see it that way, and may decide that the velvet divan does look better, but curtains are there for a purpose, blinds would only catch dust, and you hate those bars of light on the floor when the sun is low. But for those cobby corners, the flyspecks you got so used to you don't seen, and especially for the hidden rooms and the trapdoors, oh, it's so good to have those other eyes.

*a very, very painful discovery

Rewrites

Sep. 24th, 2008 06:54 am
sartorias: (desk)
I'm a visual writer, so my battle is never about seeing the story. I don't just see it, I live it--and the act of writing makes time move in the storyverse. After 49 years of doing this (I started at 8) that part is pretty much habit. It goes fast, once I see the shape of things. But after I discovered that my drafts functioned as code words* for the visions--a threadbare phrase sufficed to evoke a riot of color woven in complicated patterns--I never felt there was any use in bragging about how much wordage I did every day. Why, when most of it is a swarm of half-watted lightning bugs all struggling to be lightning? And failing?

So I had to learn to rewrite. I began another habit: let things sit for a year or two, or more, long enough to tamp down the images, but when a writer is on contract, there isn't that luxury. And as I get older, and peers begin dropping around me, and the generation before me is steadily vanishing--I won't mention how many memorials I've been to, or sent cards for, just in the past four months--one begins to realize that one doesn't have that nice long road ahead in which to attain mastery. I'm stuck with what I've got--not that I won't keep trying.

Okay, so what have I got? I pondered this in the middle of the night, while I lay there with the fan blowing on me, waiting to cool down enough to sleep. I am nearing the end of a long story that has been cut into four parts, and the first three have been published. So I can't go back and do a Prufrock, "No that is not what I meant at all." It's there, with all the confusions that were clear in my head, and the dramatic tensions in small things that were just boring to some readers.

Instead of getting it all down complete, I've been rewriting and rewriting furiously on this last segment, trying all kinds of tricks to 'see' the words I'm putting down. So anyway, I'm lying in bed, thinking of writing as buying a house. I can see the shape of the house, but nothing of what's in it. The writing is akin to getting inside and scrubbing and polishing and taking saw, hammer, and nails to the wooden beams, the stairs, the rooms, the furnishings until I look about me and think, hey, lookin' good.

But then I invite someone else in. This would be my trusty beta, who just began, blessings be upon the person's head. And those first five chapters come back....and I look about the house again, let's say that the first five chaps are the kitchen, and through these other eyes I discover that what I thought was a smooth wall actually hides a door, so I have to peel back the paneling I worked so hard on, and yep, there's this door to another room. Do I need the room, or should I rebuild the wall to be flat? I look over yonder, and ugh, how could I have forgotten to scrape the fly specks off that window? And wow, I didn't see all the cobwebs right overhead, I was so busy cleaning the grouting between the tiles. So I go right back at it, because no matter how much I liked what I saw, someone else's eyes see differently.

Now, sometimes a beta wants a crimson couch instead of a black velvet divan in the living room, or thinks that changing the curtains for blinds will fix the entire house. That kind of thing, you just have to try to see it that way, and may decide that the velvet divan does look better, but curtains are there for a purpose, blinds would only catch dust, and you hate those bars of light on the floor when the sun is low. But for those cobby corners, the flyspecks you got so used to you don't seen, and especially for the hidden rooms and the trapdoors, oh, it's so good to have those other eyes.

*a very, very painful discovery
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] david_de_beer linked to this fascinating riff about so-called literary fiction vs. science fiction, which includes some definitions of what many mean by "literary" and examples of what might be considered "literary science fiction." If you read the article, do take in the comments, though there are over a hundred. Most are short, and you won't want to miss the wisecrack about how adding "a novel" after a title ([livejournal.com profile] frumiousb was talking about this very thing a week or two back) gains one five 'falutin' points. Then there is "teapunk"--which I would describe as "comedy of manners with the real emotions put in." Finally, you get the inevitable "X is literary, and Y is boring!" "No, Y is fabulous, and X is tedious!" duels, which are often really enlightening on people's viewpoints and tastes, even if they don't lead to any obvious conclusions.

What follows here are a few quick thoughts on what I identify as 'literary' (according to what I see as the generally accepted definition) as opposed to 'mainstream'--both of which are found in genre as well as outside.
Read more... )
sartorias: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] david_de_beer linked to this fascinating riff about so-called literary fiction vs. science fiction, which includes some definitions of what many mean by "literary" and examples of what might be considered "literary science fiction." If you read the article, do take in the comments, though there are over a hundred. Most are short, and you won't want to miss the wisecrack about how adding "a novel" after a title ([livejournal.com profile] frumiousb was talking about this very thing a week or two back) gains one five 'falutin' points. Then there is "teapunk"--which I would describe as "comedy of manners with the real emotions put in." Finally, you get the inevitable "X is literary, and Y is boring!" "No, Y is fabulous, and X is tedious!" duels, which are often really enlightening on people's viewpoints and tastes, even if they don't lead to any obvious conclusions.

What follows here are a few quick thoughts on what I identify as 'literary' (according to what I see as the generally accepted definition) as opposed to 'mainstream'--both of which are found in genre as well as outside.
Read more... )
sartorias: (Watcher at the Window)
...and about submissions, and grammar, and finishing.
Read more... )
sartorias: (Watcher at the Window)
...and about submissions, and grammar, and finishing.
Read more... )

Reading

Feb. 18th, 2007 05:02 am
sartorias: (Default)
Last night I finished a novel. It was a fantasy romance, enjoyable except for a few things that bothered me a bit. One aspect will mention here, to see if it bothers anyone else, or is this one of those visual-reader things that makes one sound nastily picky?

That is, in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with Earth as far as I could tell, the names are all fantasy names, etc, the characters say "Okay." The heroine "tunes out" noises: she replays memories and erases one. I didn't mind "wearing camo" and "covert ops" so much because I would assume there would be similar terms in their language. Maybe the dividing line comes between what one can accept as generic and what binds one to our culture. For me, "tuning in" is specific to radio and early TV. (A side-note here, almost nobody ever uses "tune" any more, as who plays an instrument, as people used to so frequently before our electronic home entertainment systems?) There were a lot more of these little jolts that brought images of modern life here.

Reading

Feb. 18th, 2007 05:02 am
sartorias: (Default)
Last night I finished a novel. It was a fantasy romance, enjoyable except for a few things that bothered me a bit. One aspect will mention here, to see if it bothers anyone else, or is this one of those visual-reader things that makes one sound nastily picky?

That is, in a fantasy world that has nothing to do with Earth as far as I could tell, the names are all fantasy names, etc, the characters say "Okay." The heroine "tunes out" noises: she replays memories and erases one. I didn't mind "wearing camo" and "covert ops" so much because I would assume there would be similar terms in their language. Maybe the dividing line comes between what one can accept as generic and what binds one to our culture. For me, "tuning in" is specific to radio and early TV. (A side-note here, almost nobody ever uses "tune" any more, as who plays an instrument, as people used to so frequently before our electronic home entertainment systems?) There were a lot more of these little jolts that brought images of modern life here.
sartorias: (Default)
In the recent final rewrite of a project, I was particularly dismayed to see that among my 456,948 bad writing habits I still haven't been able to get rid of, there was still far too much of what [livejournal.com profile] matociquala calls scaffolding, which I think the perfect image--the unsightly wickerwork of tubes or wooden supports put up when one is repainting or refinishing a building. I've usually thought of it as interlarding. Like those veins of fat you see in slabs of meat. They don't add anything but weight.
Read more... )

June 2017

S M T W T F S
    1 2 3
4 56 78 910
11 1213141516 17
1819202122 2324
2526 27282930 

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jun. 28th, 2017 07:16 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios