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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » The nature of learning at Hatrack

   
Author Topic: The nature of learning at Hatrack
Brendan
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I am creating a new topic for this, as I donít want to short-circuit the topic where the quote below came from. (If that topic gets caught up in a war on what is really this topic, then people wonít contribute to that topic as I hope they will.) Below is the statement that led to this topic.

quote:
Merlion-Emrys said

For my part, one of the things I've found most perplexing in my years here on Hatrack is all the comments people make to the effect of "you haven't given me a reason to care about the character." On a personal level, this is nearly incomprehensible to me...I more or less automatically care, to some degree, about any person fictional or otherwise and must be given a reason not to care. I also don't identify with the opinion or tendency many have wherein for them the character(s) is the most important part of a story or the need to experience the narrative through a character.

So to me on the most basic level of my own feelings, my reaction is make your characters however they are to you in your mind or whatever way best fulfills the needs of your story. In the end, as MAP says and as I've been saying about this and everything else for years, at the end of the day each individual reader is going to like your character or not, identify with your character or not etc based on their own personal views feelings and opinions (this goes for "hooks", plotlines, writing styles and basically everything else as well.)

When I write while I do take into account some of the "common wisdom" things we learn here and the opinions and tendencies I hear from people, I'm not honestly thinking much about how I'm going to go about creating an emotional connection between this character and anyone who reads the story both because in my own heart I assume that there will be a connection simply because it is a person (regardless of species) and also because I know anything I do, any technique I use to that end will work for some, have little effects for others and probably have the opposite effect on at least a few. So instead of worrying about things over which I have no control, I figure out who and what the character is and endeavor to make them the best-communicated most realized version of them they can be.

Firstly, Merlion-Emrys, I have appreciated your contribution here, including the above. And I hope you donít mind me separating this out for discussion. It was not that the above was off topic that I felt I needed to create a new line of discussion - it wasnít. Rather it was the fact that the subsequent discussion was likely to stray (including mine below). Besides, I suspect that you really enjoy discussing the above topic ( [Smile] ).

Now for my comments on this topic:

My intent for putting up the original topic ("How to create emotional connections...") was to hear what others have learned. Not all of it is useful. Some of it was useful at an earlier stage of learning about story writing, but I am at the stage now that I am applying that but am still missing something. Some I learned (or perhaps should have learned) at an earlier stage, but need the reminding again. And some of what has been said made me say ďOh, yeah, I never saw it like that before. Iíll give that a try.Ē It is those points, those moments of inspiration and learning, that make me put up such topics for discussion. But equally, the points that I have learned, or those that I donít agree with, may help others, who are at different stages of experience in their writing. It can even be a point that I roll my eyes about (because I have heard so many times before) that creates an epiphany moment for an experienced professional writer.

However, I donít agree with the general message that seems to come through in the quoted points above, that I should simply write and forget about learning methods/tips that help make the audience care for what I write. I suspect that whoever agrees with the above quote would also agree with the statement ďJust write what comes naturally to you.Ē That is an understandable position.

However, what comes naturally to me is a product of my learning and is practiced in to the point of being natural. And I find that learning from others, learning from analysis, learning even from statements that may seem harsh about my work, can speed up my growth as a writer towards writing stories that I am satisfied with. Learning specific points, even ones that have been railed against by the odd professional writer, have helped me make quantum leaps in the past because, no matter how much I wrote, certain elements didnít come naturally, werenít intuitive to me, until they were pointed out. And once pointed out, or more correctly, once a solution to the problem (or range of solutions) started to click within me, usually after some often awkward attempts to incorporate it into my story writing, it then started to become a natural part of my writing, and people no longer pointed towards such issues as flaws.

While everyone does have different tastes, and you will never please everybody, knowing this does not mean I can't, or shouldnít, learn to understand how to broaden my natural audience. Importantly, the tardiness to learn certain points has led to frustration at times. There are stories I have written in the past that I now know broke certain ďrulesĒ, but still think are satisfying stories. There are other stories that I now look back and realise not only why they didnít work, but how to fix them. The point is, at the time I thought that they did work, but it took others to point out that they didnít. In recent months, there was one story that I had critiqued that got good comments all round, except for one person who tore into it (thanks Snapper!). But that one person was right, and I didnít know it until it was pointed out, and then I understood why it wasnít working. That story will be much stronger for it. My real intent in learning is to become a consistent writer, not just fluke the occasional story coming out well, but know why.

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LDWriter2
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I can't speak for Merlon obviously but personally I think there is an in-between. Or maybe I should say there's a third point that takes points from both views. In other words You should write what you feel, what you know, what you comes from within you not something that is forced, that you feel like you have to write unless of course you have a contract or for a contest.

On the other hand I think you, Brendan, are correct that what is in us changes. We learn, we change for other reasons, or as in my case, we read a new genre and get inspired. We still write what is inside us though. And that is usually better than forcing something to fit a certain mold. Of course at the beginning we may have to do a little bit of that as we learn what makes up good writing but as we learn we incorporate that into ourselves.

I think that is the process of finding our own voices. It takes some of us longer than others.


Even though I haven't thought it in these words I've wondered if that is what happened to me a few years ago. I lost my voice. To a certain degree I believe that did happen when I tried to force my writing into the shape I thought editors wanted but at the same time I have learned a few things since then so my voice may not be quite what it once was. I see the idea that there are no rules but that you have to learn as an almost contradiction but I might be beginning to understand it.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thank you, Brendan. Because I have seen this kind of learning happen here on the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum, and because I continue to see such learning, I am happy to keep running this workshop forum.

If people didn't learn anything here, what would be the point of doing all this?

There is no guarantee that anyone will learn anything, and no guarantee that what anyone learns will be everything anyone needs to know about writing. But my hope is that something will be learned (notice the passive voice here?) and that what is learned will be useful and helpful to those who desire to improve their writing.

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MAP
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I think that writing is both intuitive and analytical at the same time. Some writers are more on the intuitive side and some are more on the analytical side and some are pretty much 50/50.

Neither approach is right or wrong or better than the other. They are just different and can both lead to amazing stories.

IMO, the real strength of Hatrack and other writing forums is that it brings a lot of different people together with different opinions, learning styles, and experiences.

I like the wide range of answers that these topics bring up. There are always answers that are like gold to me and others that are not applicable, but I'm sure are gold to others. Really it is just a matter of sifting through the answers and finding what works for you.

For me personally, writing is both analytical and intuitive. There are some things I do intuitively like characterization and some things I have analyzed to death, like plot and prose.

It is hard for me to understand an analytical approach to characterization although I'm sure some writers create awesome characters that way.

But I think it is worth cautioning beginning writers that trying to make the reader sympathetic to a character can come across as manipulative and contrived. I'm not saying that it will, but it could and is something to consider when taking an analytical approach to something that is emotional.

Real people aren't lists of characteristics, but dymanic and contradictory and complex. There is a depth that needs to be achieved to make characters feel real, and if readers aren't connecting to your characters, it very well may be that they are not coming across as realistic.

I think I'm off topic and going back to the origninal thread, sorry about that. But the point I'm trying to make is that when I reply to a thread, I'm not necessarily addressing the person who posted the topic (mostly because I don't know you well enough to know what works for you) but anyone who learns and thinks about writing similar to me.

We are all so different, and there is no right or wrong answers to any of the questions posted here. I just hope that I can help those who were struggling like I was, and still am really. I try to give the advice that younger, less-experienced me needed to hear, and hopefully it is also helpful to someone else.

I'm sure Merlion is the same, and IMO, he is more on the intuitive side, and his advice is more applicable to those who are also intuitive.

The only real problem I've seen on Hatrack is when someone starts insisting that his/her way is the only way. Excluding KDW of course, she must be obeyed. [Smile]

[ January 05, 2012, 10:23 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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Robert Nowall
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I'd like to think I've learned a few things...or, at least, figured out why I do what I do and the way I do it. Also to defend what I do the way I do. (There's learning, and there's teaching, and sometimes you can combine both.)
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Crystal Stevens
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Then there's some of us who come from the rough side of the tracks like me. I never studied writing past high school and am a blue collar worker. I'm just an average person who has always had a talent for telling stories and an over-active imagination. I've learned more than I can ever repay here on Hatrack and hope to continue this learning trends for a very long time.

I must admit that some of the more "technical" terminology sometimes--oh let's get real--most of the time goes right over my head. I get lost on terms and phrases that are common language to most of you here mainly because of my limited education. When I run into these very in-depth writing discussions, I have a tendency to skip them because I don't understand and my eyes glaze over reading material that's meaningless to me. I also feel because of this that I'm missing out on something.

But I'm deeply indepted to those who have been thoughtful enough to explain things in simpler language and point me in the right direction. Every story I've written so far I've drastically changed due to the excellent advice I've received here and all for the better. I'm still waiting for that day where I'll get the story down right the first time without having to do major rewrites. Or is this more common than I think?

Regardless, Hatrack has been a blessing for me and taken me that much closer to publication in a way I could never have done on my own.

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Merlion-Emrys
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I don't mind you quoting me at all. My response to your response to what I said is in two parts, one having to do with those comments themselves and the subject of your original thread and the other about the overall subject of learning.


Your original thread was, from my perspective, relatively broad and vague and so my answer was in kind (and it was also one possible truthful explanation of my approach to the subject as a writer.) The trouble I encounter in trying to respond to things such as your initial post for that thread does have partially to do with concepts of analytic approaches versus intuitive ones (MAP is correct that I am, especially in some areas more on the intuitive side if/when one wishes to bring in that dichotomy, although I can be quite analytical of some things) but it also has to do with something else, which for me is related to specificity both of stories and of readers. You speak of "characters" and of "the audience." These are very broad and non-specific. But to me, to a large extent, there is no "audience" as a whole, their are individual people who are all going to react to things differently. The same is true of characters and the stories of which they are a part. Also, you spoke of "an emotional connection" but not what kind (now yes it can easily be assumed that, usually at least when it comes to our protagonists we're going to want folks to like/care about/sympathize with them, but this isn't the case in every story or all of the time in every story.)
For this sort of thing, I prefer to work in specifics, rather than generalities because I don't feel that general rules of thumb are always so fantastic to go by and especially, for instance, what your trying to achieve and how to do it is going to vary a lot depending on your stories genre, theme and purpose.
Therefore my general advice was to be guided by your story and your characters...because the alternatives would be either for me to create what would be quite a large list of all the possible ways of creating the emotional bonds you speak of, or for you to provide info about specific characters in a specific story in order to know better what applies.


quote:
However, I donít agree with the general message that seems to come through in the quoted points above, that I should simply write and forget about learning methods/tips that help make the audience care for what I write.
That wasn't the intended message, or at least not to that degree. My point, or at least my belief, has more to do with that these methods, techniques, whatever one wants to call them, should serve you and your story, rather than the other way around. And though it may be flawed perception on my part, your post...and many such requests I see...often give me the impression (in part due to their generality...the person seems to be seeking advice that can be applied, generally, to all stories/characters/plots/situations/whatever) that the person is taking the other way around approach...trying to figure out how it should be done, from outside, and then shaping their writing/story/characters/whatever to fit that.


I think another thing that comes into play is that often, for me, when the idea for a story or a character comes to me, it tends to come pretty full formed and doesn't give me a lot of room, as I feel it, to do it in any way but the way it wants to be done. This isn't always the case...sometimes I get a concept or plotline that can be embodied or used in many ways, but especially characters...I know how the character is and my main concern is staying true to that. If that means that I can't use a given method that often seems to have a general usefulness in creating emotional connections, well so be it.


quote:
However, what comes naturally to me is a product of my learning and is practiced in to the point of being natural. And I find that learning from others, learning from analysis, learning even from statements that may seem harsh about my work, can speed up my growth as a writer towards writing stories that I am satisfied with.
This is all very true. My thing is just making sure one doesn't loose sight of that last part...writing stories that YOU are satisfied with because at the end of the day, you are the only audience that you can be sure you know how to please.

I would also say, however, that some of what comes naturally to you (or anyone) is not specifically a product of learning as such and even less so a result of being practiced ...some of it is simply part of who you are, of what comes without artifice or craft. And in some cases, that's the part that makes a difference and I think usually the greatest joys and personal successes for all of us come when those two aspects are working together harmoniously.


quote:
While everyone does have different tastes, and you will never please everybody, knowing this does not mean I can't, or shouldnít, learn to understand how to broaden my natural audience.
I guess this is another one of the troubles I have. I don't really believe in "the audience" thing. To me, there are simply people and they will like or dislike my creations probably in some cases for reasons that I'd not be able to guess or even understand anyway. I'm not really sure how one goes about broadening ones audience, accept by way of looking to various demographics...and I find the idea of demographics, at least ones based on the things they usually are based upon to be rather asinine.

For me, this is basically what role, if any, that the concept of "genre" serves. I realize, for example that there are a good few people who dislike "horror" of any kind and most especially the more extreme forms and so I realize that the darker subset of my work is likely to have a smaller "audience" (although how I think of it in my own mind is more akin to that meaning that out of the entire human race, which is to me my potential audience, a smaller number of them will like those particular stories, again for reasons that I, personally, don't understand.)
For me I suppose the whole issue of audience is tied up with the issue of story...the audience for me for each piece I write is all the people who like those kinds of stories. Most of what I write is fantasy, so the audience is "people who like fantasy." Since I am one of those people myself, I feel quite comfortable using myself as a primary yardstick for that.


quote:
My real intent in learning is to become a consistent writer, not just fluke the occasional story coming out well, but know why.
This sentence is very interesting to me. I can interpret it two ways. If you mean "well" in a subjective sense, then I don't understand the last part, because at the least you would know why it came out well to yourself. If it's an objective "well" then you need other people both to tell you if it did come out well, and why.

I think for most of us, the truth of it lies somewhere between...we all want to like our own work, but we also all want as many other people as possible to like it as well. But we all vary along that spectrum. For me, if I am more or less fully happy with a story (which usually involves having it best embody the ideas and feelings it came out of) then I'm mostly quite content with that and the knowledge that at least some others...possibly including editorial types...will feel the same way. But I get the opinions of others and I can and do make whatever changes I can without interfering with my own enjoyment of the piece to increase it's appeal to others.


Hatrack is a great resource and I, and almost everyone I think who come here have/has learned a great deal from it and the people here. However I think there can be a risk of loosing ourselves and our own creative desires and integrity in those of others and in the desire for publication.
I think we should see the things we learn here as tools to achieve our own goals, rather than making our goal the effort to make our writing fit with the things that we learn here.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Oh and Crystal...you aren't alone. By most people's standards, I have literally no formal education whatsoever (I was "homeschooled" a term I'm not very fond of for various reasons but anyway...and my family was not super big on academics.) My knowledge of various things is acquired directly through other people, through listening, and via my own efforts.
Occupationally I'm also what would be called "blue collar."

I'm not sure which sets of terminology you mean. Most of us are only able to follow maybe half of what extrinsic says (no insult meant to you extrinsic, I'm just saying how it is) and I myself have learned, not as much new words but a good few new terms and concepts from being here (for example, about all I knew about things like tense and person and POV when I first started was 1st person and 3rd person...I had almost no concept of POV...although now I know more about it I still don't know why people make such a big deal about it but I digress.)
My point being, you shouldn't feel like a fish out of water or anything like that.

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LDWriter2
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I will add as some here have done that I have learned a lot on hatrack. I think more than any other forum I've been on. Not that I've been on a lot, with the possible exception of Dean Wesley Smith's original web site. I found him on the AOL boards and at one time he had his own forum but for a couple of reasons decided to cut back to just the blog.

Sometimes I wonder how much I have actually learned but I think the problem is incorporating what I have learned into my writing. Or perhaps as I have stated above mixing what I learned into my voice and not forcing it.

All writers still need to learn and those who do get even better. I've noticed that with some of the newer pros I follow. But Pro or not I think the idea is to let the changes and improvement come naturally, study until it comes a part of you. And always Practice.

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Pyre Dynasty
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One of the joys of my life is seeing a young writer grow up on Hatrack.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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AMEN!
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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However, since I believe that you CAN teach anyone who wants to learn, including old dogs who want to learn new tricks, I would apply what Pyre Dynasty said to any writer, not just the young ones.
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
However, since I believe that you CAN teach anyone who wants to learn, including old dogs who want to learn new tricks, I would apply what Pyre Dynasty said to any writer, not just the young ones.

I don't feel "young" writer refers to a young person, Kathleen. Anyway that's the way I see it. "New" writer would probably express it better I think than "young".
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Crystal Stevens
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quote:
Originally posted by Merlion-Emrys:
My point being, you shouldn't feel like a fish out of water or anything like that.

Oh I don't near as much as I did when I first joined Hatrack. At that time I was half afraid to post for fear of sounding like a total idiot. Now I know I have nothing to fear and many on Hatrack (Like you) have become my friends.

Here's to more exchanges of knowledge and growth for all of us to become successful writers.

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enigmaticuser
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Good topic.

For me, I find a lot of learning is observation of anatomy and the rules are just naming the parts. We intuitively know a good story, but we don't intuitively know why we connect with it. We need someone else to give an example, who understands what it is that produces the desired effect in a scene.

What is the detail about Return of the Jedi's final fight that makes it better than the technically superior Darth Maul fight? What makes the nearly bloodless, subtle Brahm's Stroker's Dracula so creepy? Would Children of Men's world feel so real without women pushing kittens around pretending they were children?

Learning for me is often just those epiphanies when someone connects what I understand intuitively with the mechanic that accomplished it. The expression to the intent.

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InarticulateBabbler
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I've learned as much from observing as critiquing, and as much from critiquing as having a good debate. I've learned from having my sensitive parts prodded, and from finding out what prods others' parts.

This is a sort of crucible, if you will, where like minds on a similar journey come to become an alloy they were not. What makes Hatrack work, aside from our esteemed KDW, is the general good will toward other writers. For every stinging critique, there is a writer who has learned from such, and a reader who has taken the time to really read what someone has written.

Some people don't like terms such as "rules," or structures such as "outlines," and some could not work a moment without them. Some people like more poetry in their prose, while others like the fat trimmed to infinitesimal. To each their own. But here, you'll hear the voice of honesty in the opinions of the critiquers and know that their intent is always good.

I can say, without a doubt, that I would never have been published without Hatrack. I've learned from alumni who no longer frequent here, and been--hopefully--a helpful alumn in my own right. I've seen people come in here unsure, and leave WotF winners. Hatrack alumni have published novels, short stories and poetry, some are even editors and publishers. Our common denominator is that we write, and we're always looking to do so better than we have.

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TaleSpinner
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I'm autodidactic (I love that word!). I taught myself computer programming, jazz guitar and writing by reading books, by studying other people's work, and by doing.

When I get to the "doing" bit I need feedback. With programming that's easy: the program either works or it doesn't; customers either pay or complain.

With music it's harder. Sometimes it sounds great to me but people leave the pub for a smoke. Binary feedback, it works or it doesn't, only goes so far. I'm lucky: in jazz there's usually someone in the audience who plays, who can give you guidance on what in their experience works, and what doesn't. There are "rules", a vocabulary of concepts, but like all the best art, jazz is about kicking them over sometimes - but for that to work, you have to understand them. Sometimes the better musicians let me sit in with them; I thrash around trying various ideas - and sometimes I earn a smile: so that worked then! One thing I learned, that keeps them in the pub listening, is to let my passion for the music, for this tune, this guitar, shine - hard for an introvert like me, but magic when it works.

It's the same in writing. Passion sells, because it engages readers. But it needs technique in order to be expressed; if I don't know the chords for the tune, passion will get me nowhere. For me, like Rich and others, Hatrack was vital in getting published because where else can you develop technique? Get feedback that's more than accept/reject? For that to work there has to be a common vocabulary, "hook", "plot", "character", "POV" and so forth, else the feedback would be little more than "para 1 worked, para 2 didn't" - better than nothing, but barely.

I tried other online forums before eventually settling at Hatrack, where I found the atmosphere inclusive and mutually supportive. In large part I think that's thanks to Kathleen's profound understanding of the craft and how to learn, which informs her open-minded, even-handed moderation ... and, thanks too, of course, to all those Hatrackers with a common interest in developing their writing skills, a culture that seems remarkably stable even though the names may come and go.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Thanks, guys.

All I can say is that I love doing what I do here, and I love that my efforts help this forum to continue to do what it does.

I really appreciate the efforts of everyone here who helps this place stay as helpful and as useful as it is, even if it can't be that way all the time and for all writers. It's good to know it has been worthwhile to some.

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