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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » going crotchety?

   
Author Topic: going crotchety?
TaoArtGuy
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Okay, I am more of a lurker here than a contributor, but I was going to comment on a short work today. However, I found myself hitting on four or five grammatical and/or word usage errors in the piece and just got fed up. I'm not sure if explaining to someone how they used an adjective when they should have been using a noun is within the scope of desired critiques.

I realize I have more of an eye for proofing than most people, but words are our tools. We need to know how to use those tools to get the most out of them. It rubs me the wrong way when I see people not even taking the time to master the basics. Yet I don't want to be the curmedgeon shaking my metaphorical fist and shouting "learn the language."

Ah well, deep breath and back to working on my own stuff.


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TrishaH24
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I know how you feel! I personally want people to let me know if my finger slipped on the letter "l" while I'm speed typing, or if I overload my sentence with more commas than is strictly good for me. But I think it's how you deliver the news. Saying "Hey, you with the preposition at the end of that sentence, go back to school!" is probably not the best way to handle it. A brief comment like "I think you meant courtesy, not curtsy," or "You're not supposed to capitalize this," works pretty well. People will either thank you for taking the time to bring it to their attention or ignore you. Either way, what they do is out of your hands.

Yes, it is frustrating, but we are all guilty of blatant errors at one time or another. Otherwise we'd all be published and famous and this would be a topic on what it's like to live the good life, right?


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satate
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I always appreciate it when people point out my grammar mistakes. Sometimes no matter how many times I read over a piece I miss some blatant error. When someone points it out I wonder how I missed it.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I think a lesson in English would be appropriate, if that's what that particular person needs.
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axeminister
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In my most recent story - which I sent to people to critique, I had a sentence with the words "he was standing..."

I found it viable that "he" would not be alone, so I changed the word to "they"

But never changed was - to were and ended up with "They was standing..."

That was embarrassing...

It happens.

But numerous mistakes are likely the sign of a beginner or a youngster. What I do is crit the idea and mention the grammar, instead of pointing out each individual mistake.

Axe


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Robert Nowall
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I wouldn't pretend the posts I make here are grammatically perfect...it's more of a casual-conversation thing, where you run over what you're saying and run into other stuff...

In a story, I try to get it right, and spend a good deal of revision time trying to get it right...but I've grown weary of endless nitpicking revisions and want to spend less time on some of the things I've worked on.

(I've only occasionally posted any story beginnigs, mostly because I don't have that much on hand these latter days. But I'd try to make it as good as possible before putting it up...or at least I think I would...)


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genevive42
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I don't find most of the grammatical errors to be that egregious. I think many of them are typing errors or small things like axe mentiones, a slip up in a rewrite. We all have them and I think we should all tolerate them.

When I crit I try to help people catch them because I see that as part of the task of critiquing; but I don't usually need to spend an entire crit correcting grammar.


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shimiqua
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I think grammar is something that can be taught. Creativity, storytelling, and shear stubbornness can't, and I think those three things are the most important in the pursuit of publication.

We are all on our own path, and if we don't quit, and we keep learning and forgetting the bad habits picked up from public school, then I think we could all be published.

I don't have the best grammar. I can't describe things nearly as well as the rest of you, but I would bet that I could win the award for most stubborn. I will not quit.

Ten years from now, those people who you roll your eyes at for being so illiterate of writing, will be doing one of two things. One, they will have given it up because they realize they won't ever be a writer, in which case they deserve your compassion. Or two, they will have learned and grown, and they may just be the best connection you have into the literary world.

Most likely it will be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.

But either way, niceness counts.
~Sheena


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micmcd
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I'm inclined to say that storytelling can be taught. I'm immensely better at it after years of practice than I was when I first started writing. Creativity can't, but the proper channeling of your creativity can - for instance: don't forget to think about the world you're creating; you shouldn't have knights in shining armor when there are wizards capable of casting fire spells all over the place... how does space travel affect government?... How did they run all over center city Philadelphia chasing a stone golem without attracting the police?

Practice, teaching, and criticism help a lot. I've done some crits here of works that were extremely good, but also ones that looked really, really weak for various reasons, grammar among them. When I get the extremely good ones I tend to just make a little mark if I see what looks like an obvious typo. When I run into the grammar train wrecks, I usually mention in my nicest voice that they should run through the story and read it out loud as they do so to help cut down on some of the issues, and after that I stop marking them all up and try to see if there's a good story underneath it all.

Now that I think about it, I haven't done a crit here in a while... perhaps later this week I'll do a few to get back in the habit.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I'm inclined to say that storytelling can be taught. I'm immensely better at it after years of practice than I was when I first started writing. Creativity can't, but the proper channeling of your creativity can


I disagree, to an extent. The reason being that the "proper channeling" for a given author is a choice that that author makes and cannot be made for them. What we as fellow writers can do when critiquing is try to learn what that is for the author in question and offer whatever help and advice we can in that context.

In critting of non-technical aspects of writing, if your goal is to really help the author, its important we try to understand their goals, not project our own onto them.


Getting back to the main topic...it seems pretty easy to me. If you crit something with a lot of grammar errors either 1) politely correct each error or 2) politely correct one or two errors and say "There are a few other such minor mistakes here and there that you should check for during editing" or something.

In other words, I agree with genevive. I also, on general principles, agree with Sheena.


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tchernabyelo
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Is it possible that by "proper channeling", all that micmcd meant was the ability for an author to express their creativity effectively on their own terms, rather than implying there is only "one true way" to express creativity?
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Merlion-Emrys
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Yep, but you gotta find out what their terms are before you can advise on them. I don't think storytelling can be taught...I think we can help each other get better at achieving our storytelling goals but, I believe, that takes a lot of communication between critter and crittee (or the luck to bump into someone whose mindset and way of expressing themselves naturally meshes very well with your own.) I guess when I think of teaching, I think of either imparting specific facts, or training someone in a particular skill. I don't think storytelling, creativity, or even the channeling of said creativty is concrete enough to be taught...assisted and advised yes, but not taught.
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tchernabyelo
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I think perhaps there are differences here both in terms of what "teaching" means and in what "storytelling" means. For me, "storytelling" is a specific component of writing and very definitely one that can be "taught". The classic "three act structure", for example, or somehitng like Nancy Kress's "Beginnings, Middles and Ends" are explicitly and precisely about the craft of telling a story effectively - pacing, structure, etc. There are many other aspects of writing and I will tend to concede that, for example, the actual "idea" part of writing may not be teachable.

To analogise: In music, you may not be able to teach someone how to actually compose (i.e. write) a piece of music, but you can certainly teach them about the structure of compositions, types of composition, etc. Some who are taught to do this will go on to break out of those structures and invent something new; some will create brilliance within existing structures. I think it's rarer to see someone untaught going on to create either brilliant traditional or new work -though it can happen (and in te latter example would probably end up being considered "outsider art").


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shimiqua
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Tchern is right.
In my ever so humble opinion.

~Sheena

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genevive42
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I'm not disagreeing, but since you brought up music, I believe that Stevie Ray Vaughan was self taught and didn't ever learn to read music. And he could make that guitar speak like no other.
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Merlion-Emrys
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The same is true of Paul McCartney. The vast majority of popular modern muscians have little or no formal musical education or training. Usually if they do its basic piano or guitar lessons or whatever, not composition and theory.


That being said, a lot of it is semantical. To me, "writing" is the act of putting letters on a page to form words and sentences in accordance with the spelling and grammar rules of a language and "storytelling" is all the rest of it. You can teach someone your experiences. You can share tips and advice. But art is a very personal thing...so you can't really teach it beyond mechanical/technical basics (such as the structures you mention) and passing on your own experiences.

That is, insofar as to me teaching implies instruction...the imparting of specific facts (such as, say, the speed of light) or skills (such as, say, changing a tire.) To me, the critter/crittee relationship should be less a teacher/student one and more a...I don't wanna say collaborator as that also has specific connotations...but more of a peer sharing thing I guess.


I'm not sure I really understand the concepts of "outsider art" and "iconoclasts" and "apostates" you often mention. To me, art is art. I've gone on a little reading binge this week and about half the stories I've read...on Abyss and Apex, Chizine, Ideomancer, others...lack any sort of resolution...many lack what I'd call a plot...and most leave a great deal of the story ambigious and up to the reader to determine, so I think those lines are just getting blurrier and blurrier all the time..


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MAP
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I agree with everyone who says storytelling can be taught. All skills are learned, and storytelling is most definitely a skill.

No one picks up a guitar and can instantly play, or swings a golf club and get a hole in one. It doesn't matter if that person had formal lessons or taught themselves, the skills were still learned.

A musician learns from listening to music; a writer learns from reading and even watching movies, so essentially we are taught the craft of storytelling from other authors whether we realize it or not.

Some writers benefit from a formal education (I am sure many of the Boot Camp alumni agree with this); others learn from trial and error, but we do learn the skills of storytelling one way or the other. All authors do.

I dislike the idea that storytelling can't be learned. That is an elitist attitude that you are either born with an innate ability to tell a compelling story or you aren't. Pure BS IMO.


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Robert Nowall
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On the subject of being self-taught in the craft of writing...When I was younger I thought the best way to write was just to sit down and do it. I didn't seek out much in the way of help---I took no courses that could be considered how-tos in writing---though a certain amount of help came my way, you could say I'm self-taught. I didn't think I needed help.

Now, all these years later, you can move me into the undecided column. I might've done better at writing, and maybe selling, if I'd'a taken what I could'a gotten...


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I dislike the idea that storytelling can't be learned.


Nobody said anything about it not being able to be learned. I reacted to what somebody said about being able to teach it because, although I may have been misinterpreting or my definition of teaching may be to narrow, to me teaching someone something is teaching them the whole thing. Like how you teach someone how to drive. I don't believe storytelling is like that, beacuse its a creative pursuit. You have to teach yourself how to tell your stories. The coming-up-with-them part especially (everyone agrees on that it seems.) Some stuff, like the three act structure tchern mentioned, can I suppose be taught...or someone can make you aware of it. But that, to me, is a storytelling tool. I believe the tools can be "taught" but I'm not so sure anyone can teach you how to use those tools to tell your stories.

Thats where my deal is. It just seems to me that very often when people critique things, its based on their goals and/or their tastes. That is teaching, I suppose, but its often not helpful teaching. It may be a semantic distinction, but, I think we can learn from each other, but I'm not so sure about one person teaching another how to tell their own stories.


quote:
A musician learns from listening to music; a writer learns from reading and even watching movies, so essentially we are taught the craft of storytelling from other authors whether we realize it or not.


Yeah see...from my perspective, we learn the basics of writing...how to physically write and basic spelling and grammar, automatically. And then we are exposed to stories in various media throughout our lives. Most writers, and most artists in general in my experience, draw mainly from this and then learn, through experience and perhaps the advice of peers how to create their own art of whatever medium.

quote:
That is an elitist attitude that you are either born with an innate ability to tell a compelling story or you aren't. Pure BS IMO


This is the exact oposite of what I believe. I believe every thinking thing is born with creativity. The medium varies and how its used varies. But because those things are choices, I dont feel they can be taught by another. All another person can do is 1) try to teach you how to do it their way or 2) impart what they know, which you then incorporate into your creativity in whatver way you choose.

Its not that I believe it can't be taught because only some can do it. I believe it doesnt need to be taught, because everyone can.


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philocinemas
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I have mixed feelings about whether writing, as in "story-telling", can or cannot be taught. It is an art form, and as in all art forms there is a dichotomy of individualism and group consensus.

I definitely believe the mechanics (spelling, grammar, and punctuation) can be taught. However, some individuals are more adept at learning these skills than others. Many times this does not even seem to be a matter of intelligence. I have met people who are very gifted in music or mathematics, but struggle with learning the aforementioned mechanics of writing. They are legible, but they seem to have difficulty with the fine details - what to capitalize, spelling, sentence structure, or even where to place a comma or a dash.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. The mechanics always came easily to me, and that was without me being a very dilligent reader. The rules (the mechanics) just made sense to me. The jury is still out regarding my actual story-telling skills. Likewise, I excelled at art at a fairly young age before I ever had any formal training (elementary school); I just drew what I saw or thought and could reproduce it fairly easily onto paper. However, I come from a family of musicians and love music, but I cannot keep a beat. Also, no matter how hard I tried, I always had difficulty converting notes into finger movements and I was never able to learn to play a musical instrument.

My point is that some people are more natually predisposed to be good at something, such as writing, art or music, than others. Most people can learn a skill with the proper instruction and enough practice. However, most of them will not become the next Tolkien, Asimov, Mozart, Williams, Dali, or Licktenstein.

What determines this? Largely it is group consensus. Most people can learn to write a story that other people (non-relatives) will enjoy. But whether it is considered a "good" story or not, often depends on the group. When a wider body of individuals deem something as good, then the artist is considered successful. I do not believe everyone has the capability to do this.

I promise if I was to ever learn a musical instrument, that no matter how hard I practiced, I could never play one professionally. There is a similar correlation with athletics. I contend that the same holds true for many people in regards to writing and every other art or skill.


Edited to clarify a thought and correct two typing errors.

[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited June 13, 2010).]


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macmicool
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I have found in myself that sometimes I am so far ahead in my thoughts vs my typing that what actually comes out is a far cry from...well, anything really.
I.E. "For eggsample if I not ploying for attention it's all messed up." What?!

Sometimes I'll read over what I just wrote five time and know something isn't right, but can see it. My background in writing is technical scrip via my education in EE, but that still doesn't help me avoid my dyslexia, or just plain bad typing.

Personally, I think true story telling cannot be taught. It is something that can be learned and one can learn about, but not taught. It is something felt, then shared. When one learns to describe the feelings of the story, then share them in a clear concise manor, magic is had and the story comes to life. Till then it is a bunch of muddled words that tell a story.

I hope that I have that ability or can gain it in telling my story. I wish luck and prosperity for everyone here.
Mike

(soon to become MikeL)


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Personally, I think true story telling cannot be taught. It is something that can be learned and one can learn about, but not taught. It is something felt, then shared. When one learns to describe the feelings of the story, then share them in a clear concise manor, magic is had and the story comes to life.


This is basically what I'm getting at. Someone can help you to learn that last bit, but, they are at the most helpful when they are trying to understand what your trying to do and help you do it, instead of trying to "teach" you something.


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tchernabyelo
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Merlion, if you don't understand what "outsider art" is, perhap you should go and read up on it. Some of it is extraordinary and I think you might find you like it.


I find it interesting when someone says that something "cannot be taught" and, as here, it often comes down to differences in definitions of what "taught" means. Clearly there are people who feel that they can be taught (and there are certainly many people who feel that they can teach), and some of these people seem to manage just fine. Likewise other people appear to feel that they cannot be taught. That's fine, too; indeed, it is probably very true that some people cannot be taught a given skill no matter who might try and teach them.

"To me, the critter/crittee relationship should be less a teacher/student one and more a...I don't wanna say collaborator as that also has specific connotations...but more of a peer sharing thing I guess."

How odd. I thought that's exactly what critting was all about - both the critter and the crittee learn from the process (I have learnt a lot about writing by OFFERING critiques - probably as much or more than from RECEIVING them). Critiques are always optional for the crittee to consider and act on. Some may couch them in different ways (doubtless people have noticed I have started tacking a virtual sig on to mine, just in case people think I am trying to do anything more than offer my personal opinion) and perhaps it's easy for some crittees to think that, just becase someone does not like what they've done, they are being "told" they are doing it "wrong". But just because I don't like the way someone writes their first 13 doesn't mean it's "wrong" - like you, Merlion, I read a lot of stuff that's published that I don't especially care for. I can, however, usually see why an editor has chosen it (though there are exceptions).

And I don't see where my previous comments - in entirely different contexts - about apostasy and iconoclasm have any relevance to the lack of resolution or plot in currently published fiction, or what "lines" you are referring to.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Merlion, if you don't understand what "outsider art" is, perhap you should go and read up on it. Some of it is extraordinary and I think you might find you like it. And I don't see where my previous comments - in entirely different contexts - about apostasy and iconoclasm have any relevance to the lack of resolution or plot in currently published fiction, or what "lines" you are referring to.


All of these things, in my personal perception seem to relate to dividing or seperating things. If there is "outsider art" then there must be "insider art" and the two must be seperate or at least thats what I percieve. Likewise if you have iconoclasm then you have to have some sort of mainstream or whatever that it breaks out of, and again, they must be seperate. Those lines are what I, personally, don't see or choose to ignore. Its also why I have very mixed feelings about genre labels and especially sub-genre catagories and all that. I see art as art, and when I do use things like genre terms, its simply as a shorthand to save more extensive explanations.

The lack of resolution or plot is, in my experience, counter to a lot of what we as writers hear is the "mainstream" or the "trend" or the currently accepted thing or whatever. Which I bring up because that, to me, is why those distinctions don't have much meaning. Each story is each story.


quote:
I find it interesting when someone says that something "cannot be taught" and, as here, it often comes down to differences in definitions of what "taught" means. Clearly there are people who feel that they can be taught (and there are certainly many people who feel that they can teach), and some of these people seem to manage just fine. Likewise other people appear to feel that they cannot be taught. That's fine, too; indeed, it is probably very true that some people cannot be taught a given skill no matter who might try and teach them.


It is all in the definition. For me, teaching implies someone training someone else in a skill that they do not possess. I dont believe that person A can teach person B how to tell person B's own stories. They can advise. They can impart whatever information, experiences, tricks and tips about storytelling they have learned in their own experiences. And of course, that is teaching by many definitions of the word.

The best way of explaining what I mean is the tools thing. To me, many of the things you call storytelling, I call storytelling tools (ingredients would also work.) Those can be taught, or imparted, just like a painter can learn about different brushes or a cook can learn the flavors of different seasonings. But what the content (the idea) of the story will be cannot be taught, nor can how to use those tools/combine those ingredients to reach that goal. Thats my view anyway, and certainly it is a subtle, partly semantic distinction. And it stems in part from my view that a lot more of what goes into writing is a lot more subjective than I realize a lot of people feel.


quote:
How odd. I thought that's exactly what critting was all about - both the critter and the crittee learn from the process (I have learnt a lot about writing by OFFERING critiques - probably as much or more than from RECEIVING them). Critiques are always optional for the crittee to consider and act on. Some may couch them in different ways (doubtless people have noticed I have started tacking a virtual sig on to mine, just in case people think I am trying to do anything more than offer my personal opinion) and perhaps it's easy for some crittees to think that, just becase someone does not like what they've done, they are being "told" they are doing it "wrong


Well...sometimes people DO in fact tell other being they are doing it wrong. Not often, but it happens. What does happen very often and what my primary issue is with, as far as critting, is that many, many people crit primarily based on their own goals and their personal taste. They criticise works for being what they are. Its usually totally well intentioned. And, I know its what some people want in a crit...they want a totally unformed "fresh" opinion and thats great if that works for them. But I just feel like in many cases its far more helpful for a critter, if their point in critting is to help the author, to determine what the authors goals are for the story and crit based on that instead. Of course, some people cant or dont wish to dedicate that much time and energy which is fine. Its also made more difficult because authors are discouraged from explaining their work and its intentions...something I feel is extremely counterproductive (unless you dont mind/want to reshape your work to fit other peoples goals and tastes.)


quote:
like you, Merlion, I read a lot of stuff that's published that I don't especially care for. I can, however, usually see why an editor has chosen it (though there are exceptions).


When I read a published story that I dont really like and/or simply doesn't make sense to me I assume, simply, that the editor has different taste than I do. I believe that that, in the end, is the primary thing that decides what does or doesn't get published. Editors published what they like the best, for any of a infinity of more or less totally subjective reasons of taste (I'm not even counting all the stuff that gets rejected because its formatted incorrectly or so rife with proof-errors it cant be read.) Heck I got a rejection just a few days ago where the editor said he liked the story and found the writing strong in his opinion, but there were other submissions he liked better.


I believe more and more each day that the "business" end of writing (and just about all entertainment/artistic type fields and forms) hinges largely on luck. Its not like building a boat where if you build it right it floats and if you build it wrong it sinks. being "successful" or not in such fields is determined by the tastes and opinions of other people. No matter how much you try to "master the craft" whether you have or not is going to depend on who you ask.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited June 13, 2010).]


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micmcd
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quote:
Is it possible that by "proper channeling", all that micmcd meant was the ability for an author to express their creativity effectively on their own terms, rather than implying there is only "one true way" to express creativity?

Yes.


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Merlion-Emrys
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I'm reading the wikipedia entry for "outsider art" right now...anybody recomend any websites or anything with info? I know some folks don't "trust" wikipedia.
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dee_boncci
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Someone mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan. While true he had very little if any formal musical training, he did begin as a musician learning and performing the works of other muscians in established styles. As a matter of fact, he never really strayed far from those roots even in his own original compositions. He just executed the music as well or better than anyone. Other outstanding guitarists, for example Joe Satriani an Pat Metheney, studied music formally, and didn't seem to have any problems being creative or innovative because of it. Either way these muscians started by mastering traditional music forms and armed with that mastery pushed the boundaries of the craft.

Since the art of storytelling can definitely be learned I would argue that it can be taught. In the end, though, the burden is on the student to learn and apply the lessons. Brilliant success can be had either sticking within conventional frameworks or striking out into the experimental, as a function of the inclination and ambition of the writer in question. My personal opinion is that it is wise to master the traditional before striking out to reinvent it.


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tchernabyelo
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Outsider art - for painting, I'd suggest Richard Dadd (although he is not archetypal - he did have exposure to the art norms of the time), and arguably Heironymous Bosch, who in my opinion would class as someone who stepped way outside the artistic norms of his day. In writing (though he also crosses over to visual media), Henry Darger is probably the archetype.

Outsider art generally tends to be widly creative but often lacks any sort of "control". Texts tend to be incredibly wordy and dense, for example, and not far from being unreadable as a result, though they can be incredibly creative.

I've actually been given a "novel manuscript" to read that I would consider borderline outsider art. It was pretty clear that the mental processes of the author were, shall we say... non-standard. The non-sequiturs were continuous, obviously the author had connections in his mind that I simply couldn't fathom. In that, I sometimes think there is an overlap between some outsider art and some of the wackier conspiracy theorists - they make connections between events in ways that most people can't comprehend. In some cases the result is incomprehensible gibberish, but in some it's a kind of bizarre lucidity that is fascinating.


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tchernabyelo
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Meanwhile on critiquing - yes, some critiquers do "tell" the author that they are "wrong". I've certainly done it with regard to grammar or spelling issues, because those have absolute rules (although said rules can be ignored for purpose, cf Russell Hoban's "Riddley Walker" - therefore yes, it does help immensely for a critiquer to know the author's intentions with a piece: however unless an author expresses those explicitly, then I and most others here are probably going to assume that the author's intentions are to get the piece published, and I don't think it's unreasonable in this forum to make such an assumption). To say something is "wrong" where there are no hard and fast rules is probably unwise. There may be critiquers out there who genuinely believe there are "right" and "wrong" ways per se. There certainly are those who believe there are "right" ways to get your work published (note the plural of ways there: I very much doubt there are critiquers who believe there is only one possible way to write any given piece - "There are nine and sixty ways / Of constructing tribal lays / And every single one of thm is right!", as Kipling once wrote).

My comments in the past re iconoclasm and apostasy have been in response to my perception of your attitudes compared/contrasted with the prevailing attitudes of people in this forum. They still hold because, as some of this thread seems to indicate, you tend to use different definitions/shades of meaning from those of the people you are debating with, and I think a lot of the debate hinges on that, which is why I've been trying to uncover what definitions people are using to show that they are not necessarily disagreeing about concepts, merely about the word usage. In order to communicate, we need to use a common language, and despite the fact that we are all (would-be) writers, sometimes I have the feeling that we are lacking that, and many of the disagreements on this forum are rooted simply in people assuming that when someone else uses a word, they mean it in one sense, when in fact they might not have meant that at all.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Ok I’ve been thinking about the whole teaching thing and I think I’ve got a clearer picture and better way of putting what it is I’m getting at.
When someone talks about something being taught, I think of instructional teaching. The kind where one person who knows how to do something or has knowledge of a particular fact trains another person in or imparts that fact too them. Like how children are taught in most standard schools. This type of teaching is something that is done too the learner, more than something the learner does. I do not feel storytelling can be taught in this manner or at least I don’t believe it should be taught in this manner.

However there is another manner of teaching that doesn’t really occur to me when that word is used. Something along the lines of Montessori school teaching or “child directed” learning, where “teachers” are more like facilitators than instructors. In these types of systems, the learner is mostly doing the learning, in their own way with assistance and guidance from others…more of a collaborative effort. I think storytelling can, partially be learned in this way…is learned this way, to some extent, just from our exposure to existing storytelling. I also feel that critiquing is, or should be, more in this vein than in the vein of instruction.

Does any of that make sense?


quote:
however unless an author expresses those explicitly, then I and most others here are probably going to assume that the author's intentions are to get the piece published, and I don't think it's unreasonable in this forum to make such an assumption


I agree that that is a reasonable assumption. The majority of folks on here do seek publication in at least some fashion and to at least some extent. There are one or two exceptions but they are an extreme minority. However, the to publish or not to publish question wasn’t as much what I meant as far as goals…I was referring more to storytelling goals specific to each piece. That leads us to this…

quote:
To say something is "wrong" where there are no hard and fast rules is probably unwise. There may be critiquers out there who genuinely believe there are "right" and "wrong" ways per se. There certainly are those who believe there are "right" ways to get your work published


This is usually more the trouble, in my experience. Rarely does someone say its “wrong” to write this or that. But I have heard, more than once, and directed at me and at others, words to the effect of (or even basically these words themselves): “Of course you can write whatever you want. Just don’t expect to get published.”
There are some folks…everywhere, not just here…that come into a crit with several assumptions. One, that your goal is to be published (this one is perfectly reasonable as we discussed.) But the trouble starts when there are a lot of assumptions about what is or isn’t “publishable.” About “trends” and “what editors want.” Not everything that gets published is on trend. And further, my reading has led me to feel that much of what we hear around here about the “trends” in the market is quite frankly not terribly accurate. Much…very very much…of what I see getting published flies in the face of a huge amount of what I’ve heard people say is “the trend” or “what editors want” from the time I started workshopping. This leads to a lot of crits wherein stories are getting critted for being what they are, because the critter thinks a particular story type or technique is to far “off trend” to be publishable. But, from what I can tell, there is market…good, well paying market…for just about any kind of story you can think of.

This is why I say crits work best when the critter tries to learn the goals of the writer…what kind of story do they want to tell, what feelings do they want to evoke, what message are they sending…and also, what sort of market are you shooting for etc…instead of critting it as if it was your story with your artistic and career-related goals. And its why I think open discussion including explanations and clarification between critter and crittee is usually more effective than the “you can’t explain it to an editor, so why explain it to a critter” approach. To me that’s the POINT of critters.


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tchernabyelo
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Unfortunately it's impossible for anyone to get into the mindset of anyone else fully, and so to critique a piece of work from, if you like, the perspective of the author rather than the reader is extremely difficult and time-consuming. Also, ultimately the story is going to be read by editors and (perhaps) readers, NOT by the author, and thus it's arguably hepful to have those perspectives.

I'm afraid that I simply don't have time to try and analyse the creative mindset and subtle aims of any other author (I don't have time to analyse my own) and thus I'm afraid I will stick with the critiquing approach I have developed; always with the caveat that I've started to add to every one of my crits:

Just my opinion. Feel free to reject it.


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MAP
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quote:
This is why I say crits work best when the critter tries to learn the goals of the writer…what kind of story do they want to tell, what feelings do they want to evoke, what message are they sending…

Why is this necessary? A good critique should indicate what the reader got from the story and what feelings were invoked. From this the writer can determine if his/her goals were achieved.

I think if the writer tells the critiquer what his goals were before hand, this could taint the critique. The writer wouldn't be getting an honest reaction from the piece because the reader already knows what to expect.

It's like telling the reader the plot of the story then having him read the piece and asking if the plot makes sense. Of course the plot makes sense; it made sense before the reader read the story.


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Elan
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I now work at a newspaper, and part of my job is proof-reading. I warned the editor that because of my experience HERE, that now I also proof for content (does it make sense?) as well as grammar and punctuation. I can't NOT proofread. I find myself occasionally sending strangers emails telling them of typos on websites, etc.

To me, a written piece rife with errors is a sign of ignorance, and sends a message that says "I'm uneducated and/or I just don't care." So I jumped into a discussion on the other SIDE of this website (you did know there's another public forum on this site, didn't you?) when a kid posted there that he didn't think spelling mattered. I told him "It may not matter here, but when you get out into the work world, you will be judged on how well you communicate." It was the only time Orson Scott Card has replied directly to a comment I've made. He blasted my opinion, and said something to the effect that people should be allowed to spell however they like.

Well! I guess there are two sides to that discussion.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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As I see it, there may be almost as many Right ways to critique as there are to write. If not, there are at least three approaches to critiquing:

1--reading the piece cold, as a reader would, and then responding as a reader,

2--trying to guess what the author is trying to accomplish and responding, in terms of such guesses, as another writer,

3--knowing what the author is trying to accomplish, then reading to see whether and how the author is doing that, and then responding more as an editor.

It is possible for one critiquer to do the first two before responding to the author, and then the third one after the first two responses are given and after discussing the work with the author. But that is up to the critiquer.

While it certainly isn't required, when a critiquer offers to give a critique, to do more than one of the above, it helps if the author indicates which kind of critique would be most helpful. That way, those critiquers who feel comfortable giving the needed kind of critique can volunteer, and others who prefer to give other kinds of critiques can wait until they are needed.


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tchernabyelo
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All I'd add to that is that if someone is submitting a story for publication, to pretty much any market, then the slush reader, editor, or whoever else gets to see it can only react to what is on the page, and can only guess at authorial intent.

I therefore critique in style 1 but I do so putting myself in the position of being an (imaginary) editor - would I continue reading this piece with a view to buying it, or would I not go beyond the first 13?

Style 3 is the manner of an editor working with a writer, but that's a luxury that I myself have only ever experienced on a sale or rewrite request, so has only happened when the editor has already read the entire piece. I do think that's a valid critique method for people who are reading the entire story, and there's something to be said for including explanatory notes with (probably at the end of) the story if an author is sending it out to critiquers.


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Why is this necessary? A good critique should indicate what the reader got from the story and what feelings were invoked. From this the writer can determine if his/her goals were achieved.


Well...maybe. Unless the critiquer is someone who either dislikes the particular story type or style, or is someone who feels that story type or style is to far outside the trends to be marketable. In this case, unless they are aware of your intentions or are able and willing to step outside their own viewpoint to crit what you get is likely to be less useful to you.

To me, a good crit...not just a like/dislike opinion but a good, real crit IS one based on what your trying to do whether thats achieved by you telling them or the critter just automatically stepping out of themselves, if needed, and critting something as what it is, instead of for being what it is.

quote:
I think if the writer tells the critiquer what his goals were before hand, this could taint the critique


I can't tell you how many crits I have recieved that are "tainted" by the critters preconceptions, personal tastes and personal writing goals. With some stories, the intentions are pretty straightforward and obvious to get, but sometimes not so much...and even then...I had a critique of an action-oriented high fantasy piece that consisted almost entirely of the critter saying that the action needed to be done away with to focus on other things...basically, because he personally found those other things more interesting.

It wasn't particularly helpful. Yes, when we ask for critiques we are putting ourselves out there for criticism and opinions. But we're also asking for help. Tell me to turn my action fantasy into a character study isnt helpful.

quote:
The writer wouldn't be getting an honest reaction from the piece because the reader already knows what to expect.

It's like telling the reader the plot of the story then having him read the piece and asking if the plot makes sense. Of course the plot makes sense; it made sense before the reader read the story.



To some extent, this, to me, is what opinions from friends and family, causual readers, are for. I understand the whole initial reaction thing...and sometimes even look for it. But then, I may want to say to the critter, well I can see where you might think that...here is what I intended...do you have anything further to add?

But we're discouraged from doing that.

No matter what you do, some people are going to dislike or "not get" anything you write. So if I have something specific in mind, I'm more interested in getting help achieving that, for those who will get it or like it instead of trying to worry about the initial reactions of those that wont.

I just think its not a bad idea for us to put a little info with a story when we send it out...how much depends n the situation. And I think its even better that when we crit, we try to look at a story from more than just the perspective of our personal tastes as readers or what we would want to write as writers...that is, if we want to actually help the author.


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TamesonYip
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I think if you want to know if you succeed at something (like say portraying a subtle emotion), you need to ask after you read. If you ask, did you pick up that Jo-Bob was actually furious and plotting to murder everyone else in the story, I will now be watching for clues about that. If I say, oh yeah, I totally saw that, you still don't know if you succeeded in your subtle portrayal- because I knew to look for those clues and other readers won't. After the person has critted though, I think you can ask that question.

In the chapter exchange I am doing, I had a specific purpose for doing something one way. The reviewer commented on this as a weakness and not knowing why X had to happen that way, I agreed with her, but couldn't change it. I replied, well, here's why I did that and she came back with a great suggestion. If I had discussed the problem before, she might not have tagged it as a problem and then come up with that suggestion. I thought this was a great way to combine multiple ways of critting, get the best of all worlds.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Someone just showed me this article that basically enumerates exactly what I'm talking about


http://community.wizards.com/bookclub/blog/2010/06/21/how_to_critique_manuscripts__still_stay_friends


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MAP
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I understand the need to find the right audience to critique your piece. If someone hates romance novels, they probably won't give a good critique on one, and they are not your intended audience anyway.

I think it is a good idea to specify what kind of story your telling when asking for crits to make sure that the people who agree to critique know what they are getting. You can't always tell from the first 13.

I like Tameson's idea of posting questions at the end of the story to determine if the reader got what you wanted them to get from the story. That way you can get the answers you want without the taint.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Yeah I think before or after depends a lot on the type of story and what you want to do with it. The after is especially good if you have specific concerns, but first want a "cold" impression on them, followed by the informed one.

Either way I think very open communication is important and I think going into doing a critique with an awareness that there are many valid types of stories and that your trying to help someone else with their work is also important (unless you are critiqueing just for the benefits you get from it, but I think most people do it for both.)


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