sartorias: (desk)
Pretty much what it says up there.

What are the elements of a good resolution for you? Does it depend on genre, or are there some expectations beyond genre, that you expect of any novel?
sartorias: (reading chair)
Besides talking about books and reading and why people read, I love talking about how people read. Two people can read the same book and not only have widely diverging opinions about it, but will describe it in such a way that you're not sure that they are describing the same book.

[livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks posted about perceived structure in such a way that I, with my illogical, wayward moth of a brain could perceive what the poster was talking about.

For those not into GRR Martin's epic fantasy, the post turns out to be only marginally about Martin. I'd love to discuss the ideas.
sartorias: (Default)
I hope everybody is having a great weekend (especially those of us who couldn't make it to Chicago for Worldcon!) It's been too hot for brain, so I've been reading a lot. Also thinking about reading--Part two of Writer/Reader Contract, what are we looking for?

As always with these things, I throw out ideas hoping for discussion. I learn so much by seeing where people don't think the way I do.
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)
Are you a weenie-reader, too?

Looking at different kinds of readers, and a little bit at why we read.
sartorias: (Default)
Are you a weenie-reader, too?

Looking at different kinds of readers, and a little bit at why we read.
sartorias: (Default)
This Sunday's BVC blog takes some thoughts I had last year, and carries them on a step.
sartorias: (Default)
This Sunday's BVC blog takes some thoughts I had last year, and carries them on a step.
sartorias: (Default)
The vexing dilemma of defining a good book is the topic today over at BVC. I keep those short, so I don't go too much into the interlocking demilitarized zones of conflicting definitions caused by what others expect in a good book, though I hope anyone inclined will respond. I just stick to my own general perception of how a good book works on most readers.

Part of the problem is not only the conundrum of reader experience (we read what we love, then become pickier about that subject the more we read) but why we come to books. The reader who prefers an intellectual puzzle, preferably cast in a postmodern voice, is not going to choose the same books as someone who wants to laugh, and evoke warm emotions; they get each other's book, and proclaim it bad.
sartorias: (Default)
The vexing dilemma of defining a good book is the topic today over at BVC. I keep those short, so I don't go too much into the interlocking demilitarized zones of conflicting definitions caused by what others expect in a good book, though I hope anyone inclined will respond. I just stick to my own general perception of how a good book works on most readers.

Part of the problem is not only the conundrum of reader experience (we read what we love, then become pickier about that subject the more we read) but why we come to books. The reader who prefers an intellectual puzzle, preferably cast in a postmodern voice, is not going to choose the same books as someone who wants to laugh, and evoke warm emotions; they get each other's book, and proclaim it bad.
sartorias: (Fan)
This came to mind recently when some people were talking about the Percy Jackson books. (I haven't seen the movie.) When the first one came out I read it. I thought, this writer knows junior high. Turned out I was right--the author has been a sixth grade teacher for a long time, what's more, he'd aimed the story to engage his own kid, who has some of the issues that can vex kids that age. He'd obviously listened to what his students liked about reading, because he reshaped Greek mythology for the sixth grade reader. In fact, that guy had distilled sixth grade interests.

I didn't find the story memorable in any sense, though I smiled at some of the jokes--the characterizations were adequate--but I knew that if I'd read it at the age it was aimed at, I would have loved it. I might even have sparked to Greek mythology, which bored me silly--the stories never made sense, mostly because so much of the motivation and a lot of action had been whitewashed out. Or there were those small print Victorian versions that were like trying to make sense of what people are doing while watching them through the wrong end of a telescope.
sartorias: (Default)
Today's BVC riff is nothing anyone reading this blog here hasn't seen before, about young adult books--the question of what to write and how to write it.

This came to mind recently when some people were talking about the Percy Jackson books. (I haven't seen the movie.) When the first one came out I read it. I thought, this writer knows junior high. Turned out I was right--the author has been a sixth grade teacher for a long time, what's more, he'd aimed the story to engage his own kid, who has some of the issues that can vex kids that age. He'd obviously listened to what his students liked about reading, because he reshaped Greek mythology for the sixth grade reader. In fact, that guy had distilled sixth grade interests.

I didn't find the story memorable in any sense, though I smiled at some of the jokes--the characterizations were adequate--but I knew that if I'd read it at the age it was aimed at, I would have loved it. I might even have sparked to Greek mythology, which bored me silly--the stories never made sense, mostly because so much of the motivation and a lot of action had been whitewashed out. Or there were those small print Victorian versions that were like trying to make sense of what people are doing while watching them through the wrong end of a telescope.

Story

Feb. 11th, 2010 07:16 am
sartorias: (Default)
My one brief appearance in Nebula waters was with this story, which went on to be anthologized a few times.

Not everyone liked it (surprise!) and one friend took me to task for its YAish sensibilities, which caused me to think about what draws us to literature. Of course it's young adultish, I argued (in my head): if I wrote an adult version of that story, it would be horror. For parents, what is more wrenching than to have your kids vanish?

Another version might be about the parents knowing that the kids were going to a magic world, and the tight, anxious compromises and negotiations and worries . . . but in that case, why the magic world? Why not just write a realistic story, zeroing in on the anxious losing-control-inch-by-inch feelings that can plague parents, often in the middle of the night, when their kids have that first sleepover, when they begin to drive, when they move out?

I did touch on that in my story, but for me, that was enough, because I'm just not interested in focusing exclusively on that aspect of parenthood.

I guess it all comes back to what people want from their reading. I do not want to put down a story or book and feel worse than I did when I picked it up. Every so often I read a dystopian downer (I tried The Wind-up Girl at WFC) but so far, I haven't found any better insight in dystopias, any profound wisdom. Just a lot of bitterness, anxiety, fear, despair, sometimes grim courage aware of the pointlessness of effort, the powerlessness of the individual against entropy. I can get that from listening to ten minutes of the news. Or my own nightmares.

I guess there must be a thrill of some kind in plunging into the grim downer. Or maybe a sense of virtue. There's definitely in some critics a strong sense of moral superiority--which is kind of funny in a tweaky way.

Story

Feb. 11th, 2010 07:16 am
sartorias: (Default)
My one brief appearance in Nebula waters was with this story, which went on to be anthologized a few times.

Not everyone liked it (surprise!) and one friend took me to task for its YAish sensibilities, which caused me to think about what draws us to literature. Of course it's young adultish, I argued (in my head): if I wrote an adult version of that story, it would be horror. For parents, what is more wrenching than to have your kids vanish?

Another version might be about the parents knowing that the kids were going to a magic world, and the tight, anxious compromises and negotiations and worries . . . but in that case, why the magic world? Why not just write a realistic story, zeroing in on the anxious losing-control-inch-by-inch feelings that can plague parents, often in the middle of the night, when their kids have that first sleepover, when they begin to drive, when they move out?

I did touch on that in my story, but for me, that was enough, because I'm just not interested in focusing exclusively on that aspect of parenthood.

I guess it all comes back to what people want from their reading. I do not want to put down a story or book and feel worse than I did when I picked it up. Every so often I read a dystopian downer (I tried The Wind-up Girl at WFC) but so far, I haven't found any better insight in dystopias, any profound wisdom. Just a lot of bitterness, anxiety, fear, despair, sometimes grim courage aware of the pointlessness of effort, the powerlessness of the individual against entropy. I can get that from listening to ten minutes of the news. Or my own nightmares.

I guess there must be a thrill of some kind in plunging into the grim downer. Or maybe a sense of virtue. There's definitely in some critics a strong sense of moral superiority--which is kind of funny in a tweaky way.
sartorias: (Default)
A writer friend over at SFF.NET linked to this crack-up of a bogus book report on a much-assigned book now lauded as a classic.

While I was watching and laughing, I was also thinking about questions like, what makes a book become a "classic"? When I was a kid in the sixties, To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't a classic yet--in fact, the librarian looked askance when I checked it out at age twelve, but permitted me take it. A whole lot of it whizzed over my head--I saw the world of it exactly the way Scout did, as I was her age. When I read it again some years later, it was almost a different book, the focus had shifted so dramatically.

But back to the age twelve. I had picked the book, I wanted to read it, I got utterly swept away by it, and kept thinking about it on and off afterward. But at no time did I then, or later, identify the rising action, or examples of dramatic irony, or any of the other stuff that so many book reports demand, and that I've had to struggle through with my own kids.

As a teacher, I resisted those types of book reports. I tended to frame questions based on types of books, like, if the kids were reading something set in history (or written long ago), I'd have them compare how the kids in the book look at the world to how kids today look at the world, and then ask them to tell me which world they'd rather live in and why. I tried to make questions that they could think about and address after they'd read the book, not the sorts of questions you have to be on the watch for, and take notes for, which (it seems to me, anyway) to guarantee a crappy reading experience. A crappy writing experience, if the kids were forced to rewrite over and over in order to come to the conclusions that the teacher wanted them to come to.

Who (except for teachers, and maybe some writers?) pulls out the rising action from any book? I never have, except when I had to help my own kids struggle through book report assignments. But maybe everybody else does, and I'm the only one on the clueless bus. Ditto the falling action, examples of dramatic irony, etc etc.

So while I was watching that vid, I was thinking about how the nature of an assigned book means that the reader does not approach the book with the investment one does when one has chosen it. And this can also be true of critics . . . and editors, who once loved books so much they chose to work with them for a living. But much as one adores creme brulee, a steady diet of it over years might make even the most passionate devotee dread the next bowl brought out. Or if not dread it, get extra picky about the texture, the sprinkling of cinnamon on top, the color of the bowl, the exact temperature of the custard, and how well it was flamed. The joy of eating it is gone.

Back to school. Say the book looks okay . . . but it could be that the two page xerox of book report questions sitting by the book pretty much kills any possible investment because the reader dares not sink in, but has to stay outside, aware of the story as a story, in order to get notes down to fill the assignment.

Yet . . . yet. This is actually the sort of reading that Nabokov said that grownups do, referencing an earlier discussion. You're supposed to approach the book as an intellectual puzzle of a special kind, you are not suppose to fall in and perch on the shoulder of a character, experiencing the story as they do. My problem is, I never grew up. That's exactly the reading experience I wanted at age eight when I was first let into the school library, and it's the reading experience I like best at age 58, when I pick up a work of fiction.

So anyway, I was remembering back to my teaching days when kids used to try to skive book reports the way that this one begins to. I couldn't get mad--I found them funny. Most of the time I could tell where the kid fell out of the story (as opposed to who never cracked page one, but tried to suss out the questions from the blurb on the back, this being before kids had instant internet access) and some of these got really creative.
sartorias: (Default)
A writer friend over at SFF.NET linked to this crack-up of a bogus book report on a much-assigned book now lauded as a classic.

While I was watching and laughing, I was also thinking about questions like, what makes a book become a "classic"? When I was a kid in the sixties, To Kill a Mockingbird wasn't a classic yet--in fact, the librarian looked askance when I checked it out at age twelve, but permitted me take it. A whole lot of it whizzed over my head--I saw the world of it exactly the way Scout did, as I was her age. When I read it again some years later, it was almost a different book, the focus had shifted so dramatically.

But back to the age twelve. I had picked the book, I wanted to read it, I got utterly swept away by it, and kept thinking about it on and off afterward. But at no time did I then, or later, identify the rising action, or examples of dramatic irony, or any of the other stuff that so many book reports demand, and that I've had to struggle through with my own kids.

As a teacher, I resisted those types of book reports. I tended to frame questions based on types of books, like, if the kids were reading something set in history (or written long ago), I'd have them compare how the kids in the book look at the world to how kids today look at the world, and then ask them to tell me which world they'd rather live in and why. I tried to make questions that they could think about and address after they'd read the book, not the sorts of questions you have to be on the watch for, and take notes for, which (it seems to me, anyway) to guarantee a crappy reading experience. A crappy writing experience, if the kids were forced to rewrite over and over in order to come to the conclusions that the teacher wanted them to come to.

Who (except for teachers, and maybe some writers?) pulls out the rising action from any book? I never have, except when I had to help my own kids struggle through book report assignments. But maybe everybody else does, and I'm the only one on the clueless bus. Ditto the falling action, examples of dramatic irony, etc etc.

So while I was watching that vid, I was thinking about how the nature of an assigned book means that the reader does not approach the book with the investment one does when one has chosen it. And this can also be true of critics . . . and editors, who once loved books so much they chose to work with them for a living. But much as one adores creme brulee, a steady diet of it over years might make even the most passionate devotee dread the next bowl brought out. Or if not dread it, get extra picky about the texture, the sprinkling of cinnamon on top, the color of the bowl, the exact temperature of the custard, and how well it was flamed. The joy of eating it is gone.

Back to school. Say the book looks okay . . . but it could be that the two page xerox of book report questions sitting by the book pretty much kills any possible investment because the reader dares not sink in, but has to stay outside, aware of the story as a story, in order to get notes down to fill the assignment.

Yet . . . yet. This is actually the sort of reading that Nabokov said that grownups do, referencing an earlier discussion. You're supposed to approach the book as an intellectual puzzle of a special kind, you are not suppose to fall in and perch on the shoulder of a character, experiencing the story as they do. My problem is, I never grew up. That's exactly the reading experience I wanted at age eight when I was first let into the school library, and it's the reading experience I like best at age 58, when I pick up a work of fiction.

So anyway, I was remembering back to my teaching days when kids used to try to skive book reports the way that this one begins to. I couldn't get mad--I found them funny. Most of the time I could tell where the kid fell out of the story (as opposed to who never cracked page one, but tried to suss out the questions from the blurb on the back, this being before kids had instant internet access) and some of these got really creative.
sartorias: (Fan)
I’m beginning with the assumption that before print, when few in Western Europe were literate, and most texts copied laboriously, there was a sense that texts were authoritative, or truth.

I’m also assuming that the access to cheap print helped erode that, especially with the Reformation coming hot on the heels of print books, and a brisk trade in forbidden books keeping printers afloat. I also wonder if the flood of translated texts inspired by Dante and the Reformation also helped erode that.
But I’m going to assume that enough of a sense of textual authority persisted that propagated the scholarly position, taught when I was in high school and college, that the text existed in isolation. That what the author said about the text might be interesting, sometimes was laughable, occasionally insightful, but always it was irrelevant: the text must stand alone. Its meaning existed outside of the authorial existence, surrounded by an intellectual cordon sanitaire.
We already know that publishing history has largely been in the hands of men, and quite naturally (believing themselves to be the sex designed for authority) they published authoritative texts about texts for one another.
Two hundred years ago, literary salons gave insiders access. The elite, socially involved on a daily basis with authors as well as the publishing process, gained authority. Social groups who met to discuss books were another way for readers to engage in discussion of text, and then along came the Net.
Now we have the interconnectedness of artist and viewer, writer and reader, maker and consumer. So actually, encountering a text in isolation can become a challenge, as everywhere people cry, “No spoilers!” in an effort to choke off the tumble of discussion until everyone has had a chance to read. As for textual authority . . . who has it now?

Writers and Readers

Watching authors and readers interact over a text in Netspace has been fascinating and occasionally unnerving, even disturbing. I think that the lack of physical space—the author on a podium, the readers below in chairs facing the podium—has reinforced the sense of equality, and also of anonymity. It’s so much easier to deliver drive-by criticism from behind a user nym.

Things I’ve seen recently:

*People angry with an author who talked about why she was making world-building choices for a book some time before it was published, carry their impressions of the discussion to the book, or decide that the book will not be read because of that discussion.

*Writers with sufficient personal charisma become Personalities on the Net, which creates a receptive audience for their texts . . . the text is popular before it even appears.

*A writer of a piece tells her fans what the text means (that it is great literature), though there is no sign of any of that meaning, power, or glory when I actually read the text. Should I lay the explained meaning over the piece in a mental palimpsest because I read the explanations? Is that what those adoring readers are doing, or do they really see something there that I do not see? How do you pin down meaning, when readers are going to bring emotion and experience to a text, however they came by it?

If the answer is no, I should separate the author’s pronouncements on her text from what I actually saw in the text, then I shouldn't bring to a book the knowledge that this other writer over here is steeped in a certain type of history? Though my sense that some of the incidents in the book might be based on real experience added to my sense of enjoyment?

Our Affair with Text

Fanfiction exists beside its (canon? Interconnected? Utterly separate?) text, it engages with it, it flirts and teases and marries and has children.

The artistic conversation intrinsic to fanfiction has been talked about before. It’s been going on for centuries, for example the thousand year love affair that Western Europe has carried on with the Arthurian saga. Over those centuries, writers have enjoyed that story in every possible combination, permutation, degree. Like fanfiction writers now, those ancient writers usually didn’t make a cent off it, but the stories had to be told anyway.

What about a text that is a cultural icon, and depends on that gravitas for the joke when it's changed? Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Which raises another question, in these days of zombies attacking the quiet English countryside of Jane Austen’s novels, or real historical (or fictional) figures suddenly revealing a secret career as detectives, is there an ethical obligation in fictionalizing real people? Or in borrowing famous figures from other books?
sartorias: (Default)
I’m beginning with the assumption that before print, when few in Western Europe were literate, and most texts copied laboriously, there was a sense that texts were authoritative, or truth.

I’m also assuming that the access to cheap print helped erode that, especially with the Reformation coming hot on the heels of print books, and a brisk trade in forbidden books keeping printers afloat. I also wonder if the flood of translated texts inspired by Dante and the Reformation also helped erode that.
But I’m going to assume that enough of a sense of textual authority persisted that propagated the scholarly position, taught when I was in high school and college, that the text existed in isolation. That what the author said about the text might be interesting, sometimes was laughable, occasionally insightful, but always it was irrelevant: the text must stand alone. Its meaning existed outside of the authorial existence, surrounded by an intellectual cordon sanitaire.
We already know that publishing history has largely been in the hands of men, and quite naturally (believing themselves to be the sex designed for authority) they published authoritative texts about texts for one another.
Two hundred years ago, literary salons gave insiders access. The elite, socially involved on a daily basis with authors as well as the publishing process, gained authority. Social groups who met to discuss books were another way for readers to engage in discussion of text, and then along came the Net.
Now we have the interconnectedness of artist and viewer, writer and reader, maker and consumer. So actually, encountering a text in isolation can become a challenge, as everywhere people cry, “No spoilers!” in an effort to choke off the tumble of discussion until everyone has had a chance to read. As for textual authority . . . who has it now?

Writers and Readers

Watching authors and readers interact over a text in Netspace has been fascinating and occasionally unnerving, even disturbing. I think that the lack of physical space—the author on a podium, the readers below in chairs facing the podium—has reinforced the sense of equality, and also of anonymity. It’s so much easier to deliver drive-by criticism from behind a user nym.

Things I’ve seen recently:

*People angry with an author who talked about why she was making world-building choices for a book some time before it was published, carry their impressions of the discussion to the book, or decide that the book will not be read because of that discussion.

*Writers with sufficient personal charisma become Personalities on the Net, which creates a receptive audience for their texts . . . the text is popular before it even appears.

*A writer of a piece tells her fans what the text means (that it is great literature), though there is no sign of any of that meaning, power, or glory when I actually read the text. Should I lay the explained meaning over the piece in a mental palimpsest because I read the explanations? Is that what those adoring readers are doing, or do they really see something there that I do not see? How do you pin down meaning, when readers are going to bring emotion and experience to a text, however they came by it?

If the answer is no, I should separate the author’s pronouncements on her text from what I actually saw in the text, then I shouldn't bring to a book the knowledge that this other writer over here is steeped in a certain type of history? Though my sense that some of the incidents in the book might be based on real experience added to my sense of enjoyment?

Our Affair with Text

Fanfiction exists beside its (canon? Interconnected? Utterly separate?) text, it engages with it, it flirts and teases and marries and has children.

The artistic conversation intrinsic to fanfiction has been talked about before. It’s been going on for centuries, for example the thousand year love affair that Western Europe has carried on with the Arthurian saga. Over those centuries, writers have enjoyed that story in every possible combination, permutation, degree. Like fanfiction writers now, those ancient writers usually didn’t make a cent off it, but the stories had to be told anyway.

What about a text that is a cultural icon, and depends on that gravitas for the joke when it's changed? Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Which raises another question, in these days of zombies attacking the quiet English countryside of Jane Austen’s novels, or real historical (or fictional) figures suddenly revealing a secret career as detectives, is there an ethical obligation in fictionalizing real people? Or in borrowing famous figures from other books?
sartorias: (Default)
The other day I made a post about story payoffs. [livejournal.com profile] burger_eater made a comment to the effect that he's disappointed when the character he's invested in doesn't gain respect from the story. I asked him to explain that, and he did.
Read more... )

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