Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The Second Law

   
Author Topic: The Second Law
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
After the first principle of writing, not a law though it may as well be; that is, facilitate reading and comprehension ease, the second principle is equally obvious upon reflection: a writer should write the story not readers.

I have an active imagination. I project meaning where meaning is not as fully accessible and comprehensible as might be desired. This is both potentially persuasive and problematic. Persuasive if a writer's direction leads me where intended; problematic when a writer doesn't direct me where intended.

A writing mentor clarified this conundrum of how much hand holding is insufficient, enough, or too much--though any given audience requires differing degrees of hand holding. The mentor used the St. Louis Gateway arch as a graphic model. Each respective leg represents either the writer's creative vision that made it onto the page, or a reader's creative vision that interprets the writer's creative vision.

Ideally, the legs meet at the arch's apex. This is merely an ideal, like a regular pyramid is an ideal polygon but rarely if ever in the physical world replicates the ideal. The mentor gave an example, citing Ernest Hemingway's and William Faulkner's writing. Hemingway's creative vision is minimalist, stops well before the apex, but his readers are able to understand his intent and meaning by projecting their creative vision as Hemingway directs, very little hand holding. However, Faulkner reaches far into the readers' leg, ample hand holding.

Again, a writing law that's really a principle: a writer should write the story, not readers. I owe this one to another writing mentor frustrated by my projecting meaning during workshops this mentor didn't see. Okay. My active imagination might work overtime. C'est la vie d'escritur. ☾☪☽

[ November 15, 2012, 12:35 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 3416 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Some readers like to have their hands held, and some prefer that the author leave things to the readers' imagination, as you have said.

Thank goodness there are stories out there for both kinds of readers--and every kind on the spectrum in between (and beyond both ends, for that matter).

Among those who like the author to leave things to their imaginations are the ones who like puzzles, allusions, clues, and hints. They also like to feel smart, and an author who can facilitate that will appeal to such readers.

By the way, an example of a story in which the author actually doesn't write the story at all, but allows readers to "write" the actual story (or, as Paul Harvey used to put it, "the rest of the story") in their imaginations is "Man from the South" by Roald Dahl. I recommend it.

Posts: 7999 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Owasm
Member
Member # 8501

 - posted      Profile for Owasm   Email Owasm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I agree with Kathleen. You write the way you want and there will be readers drawn to your individual style. That's one of the reasons that readers are drawn to different authors.

There is another layer on top of this that one might call accessibility. If you write in such a way that your hints, concepts or characters are drawn too obscurely for your readers, you will have few readers.

Posts: 1582 | Registered: Feb 2009  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think it's often the case that readers construct an semi-arch that goes in a completely different direction than what the author expected. And in writing at least that's not always a bad thing.

Compare a novel to a set of instructions for assembling a bookcase. The only correct interpretation of the instructions are those that produce precisely the bookcase structure the author envisioned. Things aren't so simple with novels. To create meaning, novels draw upon life experiences and cultural preconceptions that vary from reader to reader. Therefore no two readers will ever extract exactly the same reading from a novel, and no reader will ever extract *exactly* the meaning the author intended.

That's why we have clubs where people share their view of books, but not clubs where people share their reactions to instruction booklets. That's why literary criticism has value that can't be replaced simply by interviewing the author.

There isn't "a reader" who has to be guided through a story to its one true meaning. There is an *audience* with many different kinds of readers in it. You can't expect or impose a uniform experience on that audience. So trying to lead readers to the "right" interpretation of a story is an exercise in futility.

But of course readers *do* need to feel they've got hold of the "right" interpretation, even if there is no such thing. That's why I think it is more important to produce the *illusion* of comprehension than it is to produce actual comprehension. You can have lots going on at different levels in the story, but the story absolutely has to make sense at face value.

I should mention that my views are shaped by my being a satirist. Since I can't persuade anyone to my view of things simply by handing it to them on a platter, I don't write stories that make it too easy to discern my position. I want most readers to come away from from a story reasonably amused, but a few to come away inordinately pleased with themselves. And since I try not to take myself seriously, I often leave thematic Easter eggs for both sides of a question.

Posts: 1301 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
By the way, an example of a story in which the author actually doesn't write the story at all, but allows readers to "write" the actual story (or, as Paul Harvey used to put it, "the rest of the story") in their imaginations is "Man from the South" by Roald Dahl. I recommend it.

Roald Dahl's "Man from the South" is one of my model stories. I've reread it countless times and forensically vivisected it for what I can glean. Damon Knight also names the story one of his models for a story of revelation. The story has a complex plot from the artful misdirection of what at first glance seems a conflict resolution story. The final turn illustrates a peripetia and an anagnorisis deftly deployed, both conventions of complex plots and revelation stories.

Also on my model story list are O Henry's "Gift of the Magi," Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Algis Budry's "The Stoker and the Stars," Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall," Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains," and several dozen others spanning best of short stories' lists. My own list, not anyone else's. Joyce Carol Oates' "Where Are You Going" and Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," for example, are on lists that exclude Budry's, Bradbury's, Asimov's, and Vonnegut's stories, and vice versa.

[ November 15, 2012, 12:53 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

Posts: 3416 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
I think it's often the case that readers construct an semi-arch that goes in a completely different direction than what the author expected. And in writing at least that's not always a bad thing.

Yes, but--so much more exquisitely and delightfully entertaining and inspiring when the conversation that is literature between writer and reader is a fertile meeting of creative minds.

On the one hand, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle aimed for readers' minds but sucker punched them viscerally in the stomach.

On the other hand, Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 unequivocally expresses the tragedy and consequences of quashing dissent.

On a third hand, C.J. Cherryh's Cukoo's Egg has many layers of meaning and appeal, a deeply meaningful one or two for readers who dare to delve into its depths. An alien orphan born into a hostile and alienating society that wants her destroyed before she contaminates their status quo, and deeper yet.

Posts: 3416 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
MattLeo
Member
Member # 9331

 - posted      Profile for MattLeo   Email MattLeo         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Well, I'll toss in a *fourth* hand. Shakespeare.

After three centuries actors and directors are still finding new ways to play Shakespeare. Shylock is character each generation puts its imprint on. In the late 20th C Shylock is often played as a heroic character, which is clearly not what Shakespeare intended, but even misguided readings of Shakespeare have their value. Shylock is a monstrous villain with elements of victim and hero in his character.

I'm not holding up ambiguity as an ideal, although it has its place and uses. There's a great difference between supporting multiple interpretations and being unclear because you failed to communicate effectively.

I guess I'd go with C.S. Lewis' test for literary value. If a reader can return to a work again and again and get something new every time he reads it, that work has literary value, over and above its mere entertainment value. I don't think that happens when an author has simply constructed a box to contain the reader's imagination; the DaVinci Code is a novel many have read but few have read twice. It has its place and its virtues but readers don't argue over it, except to condemn or defend it.

What is remarkable to me is the degree to which the reader's imagination is active in creating a scene. Evocative writing has telling details, but it's still highly condensed. You may think you have described a scene thoroughly, but would two painters paint it from imagination in exactly the same way? Would two architects classify the buildings in it the same way? Would a clever physician be able to tell you that one character in the crowd has Cushing's Syndrome and another suffers from pellagra? Of course not, not even the most obsessively perfectionist naturalist writer can achieve this if we take the exercise far enough. Lay readers will imagine buildings as blocks, trees as lollipops on sticks, the sickly crowd as gray and unkempt mannequins. There is an illusion of completeness created by bringing one or several of these details into focus, but I'd argue you're always aiming to get the reader to contribute more than he gets in filling in the picture.

Posts: 1301 | Registered: Dec 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
extrinsic
Member
Member # 8019

 - posted      Profile for extrinsic   Email extrinsic         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
I'd argue you're always aiming to get the reader to contribute more than he gets in filling in the picture.

This is where audience targeting comes into play. Personally, I'm more inclined toward Hemingway's minimalism than Faulkner's exuberant excess. One of my current writing mentors is a polar opposite.

Shakespeare's dramatic arts tend to be both handicapped and enhanced by the limitations of stageplays. His poetry is another matter yet nonetheless blessed and cursed with limitations and open bounds. Contemporary screenwriters have handicaps and enhancements stage playwrights don't. Written word publications have their own shortcomings and strengths. Individual writers regardless of form and genre follow suit. Readers and audiences, there's the rub; they do too.

The Paretto Principle, a business marketing concept originally, asserts that eighty percent of effects come from twenty percent of causes and, vice versa, twenty percent of effects come from eighty percent of causes. Twenty percent of advertisng efforts result in eighty percent of revenues, etc.

The Paretto Principle applied to writing: an artful scene detail may not be identically interpreted by every reader; however, the essence if adequately accessible may be universally shared and appealing. The more primal the circumstance, the more high-concept and concrete the premise, the more likely a reasonably detailed cause will elicit an intended reader response effect.

The more low-concept a premise, the more abstract the circumstance, the more likely readers will differently interpret the intent and meaning and differently respond. Applying the Paretto Principle to the latter, in order to
accomplish a desired effect, more scene development craft is indicated, up to four times as much for an abstract premise than a concrete one.

Posts: 3416 | Registered: Jun 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
walexander
Member
Member # 9151

 - posted      Profile for walexander   Email walexander         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Though not as learned as those here I would like to throw in two cents. I think an important note about Shakespeare is the variety of his works. There's something for everyone and yet read the wrong script at the wrong time and the result has tortured many a high school student into a coma. I think their is an important aspect to what becomes readable to each individual and that is a resonance within one's own need at the time. This need has often been realized as a need of the masses. Almost everyone can identify with small town nobody rises to become somebody, good defeats evil against the odds, bad guy turns good guy, or girl power overwhelms boy power, etc, etc. Then their are those stories that strike a chord in not as many but are still very worthy of attention. There is a murder can this detective who you usually have to identify with solve the crime? But more importantly can you solve it? It challenges a certain kind of person.

The point being that many a good story or painting is not recognized until outside circumstances dictate. Thus why editors hold back manuscripts until there is an overall feeling it is time to release it.

On my own personal note: I think the old myths tell it best - for thousands of years people have loved sex and violence with romantic interlude, betrayal, daring rescue, and ultimate sacrifice thrown in the mix. It cures the common cold as good as chicken soup. [Wink]

just my 2 cents,
W.

Posts: 331 | Registered: Jun 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2