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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » leveling the playing field

   
Author Topic: leveling the playing field
Denevius
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i've been encouraging everyone i know to read paolo bacigalupi's "Windup Girl". i actually read this book almost two years ago because a poet friend of mine living in thailand enthusiastically recommended it to me. and at first i was skeptical. two or so years prior to that, i'd read haruki murakami's "Windup Bird", and because of the similarity in the titles, i thought the former book would be a silly ripoff of the latter book. plus, there was something in the title, "Windup Girl", that made me think there'd be gratuitous sex. if you've read it, you know there is plenty of sex, but definitely not gratuitous.

anyway, previously i'd been been recommending people to read "Windup Girl", and i've started doing it again because i'm currently reading bacigalupi's "Pump Six And Other Stories", which is quite good, but in a way feels like a writer's warmup writing for the upcoming greater novel. it's more than obvious that bacigalupi was fleshing out ideas, and world building, in these ten short stories.

but even as i'm raving to people about this novel, i'm also giving them a slight warning. a good friend of mine who tried to read it several months ago told me that she couldn't get into it, the beginning was too slow. and the beginning is *definitely* slow. in all honesty, there's a good chance i wouldn't have finished the novel, but my current job allows me with a lot of time on my hands, so i sloughed through the somewhat tedious beginning filled not only with eco-science terms i didn't understand, but scifi words the author had made up, and actual thai words and culture that went way over my head at first.

sometimes, when thinking about novels like this that are herald as greats, but that had really difficult beginnings to get into, i often think of some of my own writing. a criticism one often gets, particularly for longer fictons like novella and novels, is that the beginning wasn't engaging enough. people want to be sucked in immediately, but a lot of the novels i enjoyed the most didn't suck me in in the beginning. what comes to mind, for me at least, besides "Windup Girl", is philip pullman's "The Golden Compass", the first pages of which i totally zoned through. "Windup Bird" is another example, but murakami is an extremely dense writer, and navigating his novels is like a second job. in all honesty, it took me until my last years in high school until i finally picked up and finished tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" because of the slow pace of the first chapter (the massive length of all three novels wasn't encouraging, either) was always discouraging.

i've noticed that this series of thoughts i engaged in is quite common with writers. when someone levels a criticism at you, you point to another piece of writing that you feel did something similar in order to justify it in your own story. you're basically leveling out the playing field. i've come to think this is why many writers fall into the habit of seeing all writing in a subjective light. if nothing is *objectively* good and nothing is *objectively* bad, then that allows you to rationalize away all criticism to your own writing. if someone tells you your dialogue is flat, you can point to another writer who published with flat dialogue to show why it's not important. if someone says they can't connect with your characters, well, mrs. published so-and-so also has characters that aren't easy to connect to, and they're on best selling lists. then there's this writer who has anti-climatic endings; that writer who seems too derivative of another writer, and yet they all published. so why do i have to change what i did if they were able to make it work?

i've seen this type of arguing a lot over the years, and i admit, i fall into it sometimes. i think a lot of it is just laziness. fiction is extremely difficult, and people are looking for ways to make it easier. some of it is just that there are many who write who simply don't have the talent for it, so leveling the field by making talent seem like it's merely a matter of opinion excuses them.

i'm increasingly convinced that all this is really doing is slowing down, or making impossible, what it takes to make the story in as best a form and shape as it could become. yeah, maybe bacigalupi's "Windup Girl" did have a slow beginning, but i'm not bacigalupi, and my book isn't "Windup Girl", so it's probably best not to use it as a cover to avoid revising my own fiction. and yeah, maybe some people like this type of technique, and some people don't, and there are those who appreciate this prose over that prose, and others who appreciate that narrative over this narrative; but unless you're where you want to be in your career as a writer, it's probably best to ignore the subjectivity of it all and simply keep working to do the best job you can do.

because ultimately, you can rationalize away criticisms, and publishers, and the publishing market, but unless you're achieving with your fiction at the level you're happy with, it's probably best to not attempt to level. and it's difficult to avoid engaging in this. we see so much crap out there and wonder, "well, why not my crap?" you pick up magazines and journals and see a lot of the uninspired stories they decided to publish, and you almost feel that this makes your job easier. but you shouldn't, and it definitely doesn't.

ultimately, i think it boils down to a bad habit born from defensiveness. if you ever get a criticism, and one of your first thoughts is to think of a published writer who did something similar, it's probably best to stop and think, "well, that doesn't matter because i'm not that writer, and that story isn't my story."

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babooher
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I wish you had posted this in the section about the nature of learning on Hatrack. There are some good observations that people need to note here.
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Crystal Stevens
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Don't get me wrong. I understand exactly where you're coming from about using other authors works to support your own. But just because it works for someone else doesn't means it will work for you. Just like anyone can throw a football. Some can throw it right into the arms of the receiver while someone else won't even come close. You better know how to handle that style of writing and do it well or not do it at all.

And remember the old addage that if someone jumps off a cliff doesn't mean you should too. Just because someone does something wrong--and gets away with it--doesn't make it right.

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babooher
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Crystal, I believe you have summarized one of Denevius's major points nicely.
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redux
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It might be a defensive knee jerk reaction to point to a published author's work and say "see, so-and-so did this too." It can also be taken as a reminder that there are really no hard-and-fast rules to writing. The only real rule is to tell a good story.
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Nick T
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Excellent observations.
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Denevius
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that there are no hard-and-fast rules to writing can be the subject of a great, very intellectual conversation about fiction. my point, though, is that when anyone gets a critique that stings, or that they don't like, or that they don't agree with, and then they reach for the "Well, there are no hard-and-fast rules to writing", they're being a bit disingenuous to themselves, or with themselves. they aren't trying to enter into a credible, worthwhile debate; they're rationalizing away criticisms, usually to get away with not making potential essential changes to the piece.
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Merlion-Emrys
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For something to be objective, it must be demonstrable, provable and the same for everyone. For instance, if everyone on Hatrack put their hand in a bucket of water. The water would be wet for everyone, and everyone would agree that it is wet, because the wetness of water is objective and definite.

Likewise, a boat that's improperly sealed will fill with water and sink no matter who is in it. It will fail in its purpose...and it has only a single purpose which is the same for anyone who climbs into it.

On the other hand, if everyone on Hatrack read the same book or short story, each person, despite reading the same work, would have a different experience. Some would enjoy it. Others not. Others would consider it well crafted, others would not. Some would interpret it one way and some another. And that story may have the purpose of entertainment, or of conveying some particular message or of simply being beautiful. Like as not, it'll have more than one purpose and will succeed in some or all of them for some people and fail for others in some or all of them...and sometimes it will succeed with some for the same reasons it failed with others and vice versa, unlike the improperly built boat which sinks for everyone.

This is because stories, like all art, are subjective. They aren't the same for everyone...they aren't definitively this way or that. Their effects and effectiveness are matters of perception and opinion, not objective consensus reality.


The only other way to look at it, if art such as writing/storytelling is objective, is that some people's opinions are inherently better than others. That all art is either definitely good or definitely bad, that each work has a set purpose or purposes and either absolutely succeeds or absolutely fails in it. In this view, anyone who enjoys a "bad" piece of art and thinks its great is simply, objectively wrong...their opinion doesn't count. The same is true for those who fail to enjoy a "good" work of art and consider it poor...their boat is sinking, they are just too stupid to realize it.

This view, at least to me is incorrect...it is also elitist, snobbish and inherently lacks respect for other peoples views, opinions and experiences.


quote:
It might be a defensive knee jerk reaction to point to a published author's work and say "see, so-and-so did this too." It can also be taken as a reminder that there are really no hard-and-fast rules to writing. The only real rule is to tell a good story.
And in my experience, it is usually a response to someone who, as a knee-jerk reaction to seeing that a "rule" has been broken or a trend bucked, has told the author that they can't do that...or at least that they shouldn't or that doing so renders their story "bad" and/or unpublishable. Rarely, in my experiences with such happenings, is their even any indication that whatever it is is being done poorly (or Wonder forbid, a suggestion about a "better" way to do the same thing)...the person is just told that they cannot/must not do it AT ALL to which a seemingly quite reasonable reaction is to point out the numerous successful occasions when the thing HAS been done.

In my experience this, or the latter way you describe, redux, is how such a reference is met, not some sort of cop-out or attempt to avoid making "essential" (according to who, exactly?) changes.

[ January 16, 2012, 08:36 PM: Message edited by: Merlion-Emrys ]

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extrinsic
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The publication playing field has one important level: Audience. Fulfilling audience expectations levels the playing field. To a degree subjective, to a degree objective, the weighted measure of fulfilling audience appeal has a near infinite potentiality, any given measure resulting in how large an audience a writer or any artist appeals to.

Frankly put, if a writer, or a critiquer for that matter, doesn't care about his or her audience, why should the audience reciprocate?

One of the most problematic concerns I have with critiques is a lack of open-mindedness. How can a critiquer condemn a creative tactic, method, or whatever he or she doesn't understand? Okay, it doesn't work for her or him. Sensible comment. Sufficient. What will make it work? If a critiquer can answer the latter question, marvelous. . . .

Regardless, all negative criticism, no matter how conscientiously couched, stings, sometimes as deeply as an arrow piercing the heart, sometimes as glancing as a whisper of a breeze, sometimes as buffeting as a sandblaster, sometimes as persistently as a babbling brook erodes a stream bed, sometimes as gently as a kind mother's caretaking.

There are no absolute writing rules, only principles derived from life precedents that appeal to audiences because the principles involved provide for accessibility, facilitate reading ease, if not strongly, dramatically encourage reading.

[ January 16, 2012, 01:49 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Denevius
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this is why i wrote that if you're getting what you want from your fiction, then go for it. you use the example of fulfilling audience expectations. i do think that if your writing is getting the reaction from your audience that you're satisfied with, then you have done your job perfectly.

this reminds me of a kid i took a workshop class with several years ago. he was the youngest person in the room,and he wrote a piece about a disaffected youth who didn't have direction in life. when we, in the room, pointed out that the piece itself didn't seem to have direction (as well as the youth's life), the kid said that that's what he was going for.

and fair enough, if and only if his main goal with that piece is having us and only us read it in order to realize that the piece, as well as the youth, have no direction. but if he has any other goals, besides having a classroom of people who are basically forced to read the story anyway, and if any of his other goals that reach beyond us aren't being meant, then maybe the piece should have greater direction, even if the youth didn't, and even if the kid in my class is under the impression that the reaction we gave him is exactly the one he was writing for.

if you're getting the responses from your audience that you say you want, and your audience is the size that's comfortable for you (as in the case of that class, all ten or eleven of us), then keep going for it. however, it's if you have other goals that keep not getting met, and then you use any number of rationalizations to justify continuing doing the same thing, is when i think we're short changing ourselves and our writing.

this also applies to the perception of a lack of open-mindedness. if enough people, to the degree and quality you're satisfied with, are getting your work, then you're doing your job. but if you have other goals, like a greater audience or publishing more, then should it matter that people aren't getting what you're trying to do? shouldn't it matter more that you *aren't* getting across in an effective way whatever it is you're trying to do in order to attain this greater audience or more publications?

because the former puts the onus on the reader to come down to the level of your expectations, whereas the latter forces you to raise your writing up to higher expectations. and of course, forcing people to come down to you is easier than taking the effort to go up to them.

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extrinsic
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A directionless, disaffected youth writing narratives about directionless, disaffected youths strikes me as having a potentially large audience. However, like joke ending narratives where the joke's on readers, at readers' expense, one is enough for a lifetime.

Without a transformation and an unequivocal, irrevocable final outcome a narrative of the drama types is usually incomplete. A directionless, disaffected youth is ripe for both, coming of age initiation at least.

Not absolutes though. I recently read J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians. No transformation, no final outcome, but a plot nonetheless, a revelation type outcome as much for readers as the viewpoint character. The plot opens with a disequilbrium event, disequilibrium escalates through the middle, and the novel ends with equilibrium restored.

A visionary novel about the other and how good and evil, right and wrong though unequivocally clear make no meaningful difference in the near or long term. A touch of modernism's realism though an exemplar of an emerging literary movement, multiculturalism. And an internationally celebrated, popularly and critically acclaimed author.

[ January 16, 2012, 11:38 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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enigmaticuser
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I think the root of what Denevius is saying is when the cause of the reaction is defensive. If you are defensive, then probably any response you give is a deflection. Whether its "Oh, you don't like my whiny youth? Well George Lucas did it!" or "Well, I was going for the a directionless youth and you [the reader] simply didn't get it."

Either way the problem is the same, the writer's unwillingness to examine the truth of the criticism.

Which isn't to say the truth is the writer is wrong, the truth could be this person is not your audience.

A "correct" undefensive response (dare I say it) would be for the reader to consider the remark, and decide does it represent a failure at their intent or if they like it and simply say "well, I like it that way. It's the story I wanted to write."

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Which is to say, a "debate" in which they are wrong, and you are right.
Merlion-Emrys, that sounds a little too close to an attack to me.
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Denevius
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like i said, i'm guilty of it too. but i kinda see the rationalizations as a deck of cards we keep up our sleeves which slip out even when we don't mean them to. yes, it's true that a directionless, disaffected youth writing narratives about directionless, disaffected youths could have a potentially large audience. it's equally true that any story could have a potentially large audience.

this makes me think of reality t.v., which i admit i refuse to watch. however, these are basically narratives (edited and manipulated, yet narratives all the same) of regular people's lives, that have large audiences. and hey, i have a life, with a narrative, so i could potentially have a large audience. but ultimately, what does stating this really amount to when it comes to the given critique? yes, the afore-mentioned writer kid could have a large audience, but at the moment, he didn't. and the larger question becomes how long will he let that moment go on? because the rationalizations could easily become the proverbial carrot before the mule essentially leading it nowhere except forward.

and though i think you've captured what i'm getting at, enigmaticuser, i feel that you've also let a card slip by adding the, "Which isn't to say the truth is the writer is wrong, the truth could be this person is not your audience." again, this could very well be the case.

when i start to do something like this with my own writing, though, i can't help but think to myself, "Well, how much time am I going to allow to pass before I start to re-examine the idea that maybe people reading my fiction simply aren't the right audience." when you start writing, and a month passes, and it seems like the people reading your writing just aren't the right audience, well, a month isn't so long. but a year, five years, ten years. with the rationalizations we've created after so many criticisms, one can't help but wonder how much time we've given ourselves before either we're proved right in whatever defenses we've crafted over our work, or until we accept the hard truth that the rationalizations have, over time, morphed into excuses.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Merlion-Emrys, that sounds a little too close to an attack to me.
And so I removed it. My blood thanks you for the large dose of irony.
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MAP
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I agree with much of what is being said. Being defensive about critiques is never helpful.

Using published examples to defend breaking the "rules" is thinking about it all wrong. Yes professionals break the "rules" all of the time. That is nothing new. Everything has been done and done well, but how did they do it and why?

What you should be asking is how did they manage to get away with it?

Sometimes the answer is they didn't. At least not for me. Sometimes I think that the published work would be stronger if they adhered to the "rules." This is not always the case, but sometimes it is.

My point is that no book no matter how popular or critically aclaimed is perfect. It is impossible to write a perfect book that will be perfect for every reader, BUT everything you write whether you self-publish or traditionally publish should be as perfect as you can make it because there will always be other flaws you don't see.

Don't shrug off issues that you see or are pointed out to you because other writers have gotten away with them. Make the story the best you can.

At least that is how I see it.

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babooher
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I hate runny egg yolks. According to most chefs, the eggs I like are overcooked, but I don't care who a chef is, if a yolk isn't solid and opaque I don't want it.

I would never compete in an egg cooking contest. I would never try to sell my eggs. I know that there are expectations for a "properly" cooked egg, and I'm not into that. It's okay, I've made my peace with it.

If I ever wanted to be a chef, I'm pretty sure my cooking style is going to have to change. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to cut it by sticking to how I want my eggs. When you start serving your stuff up for others to consume, you're probably going to need to listen to the opinions of others and conventional wisdom.

Or eat your eggs alone. Neither path is better than the other, but it is something to think about.

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enigmaticuser
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I'll accept a solid egg yolk so long as every last square milimeter of egg white is cooked. Though, I have become less strict about the requirement since bootcamp. Bootcamp cures a lot of finikiness.

If I don't know when the next meal is, I will suck a MRE's spaghetti entree down like draining a toothpaste tube rather than waste the time with a spoon and the heater.

But maybe that was off topic =)

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Or eat your eggs alone. Neither path is better than the other, but it is something to think about.
It isn't an either/or situation. There are plenty of other options. Why else do you think we have umpteen different short fiction venues, each one publishing different types of stories...and many of them simultaneously publishing many different types of stories. Why do you think we have novels running the gamut from space opera to bodice ripper and back? What do you think OSC's whole "MICE" thing is about?


In most restaurant's I've been in, you can get your eggs cooked however you want.


This is one of the issues I've had with Hatrack since I joined...though until recently it seemed to have gotten a good deal better. The idea that the market is so narrow that you must choose between writing things you yourself actually like and never getting published, or abandoning your own ideas in order to get published. It simply isn't true.


As far as people being "defensive" well...when someone is attacked, there are usually three modes of reaction. Attacking back. Fleeing. Or defending. And intentionally or not, I've seen plenty of critiques that are, or are given in a way that makes them seem an awful lot like attacks rather than constructive criticism. And that includes comments and criticisms presented with an imperative voice...we don't come here to be told what to do, we come here for (and mostly get) constructive criticism. I don't see these problems as much lately, but it does happen. Likewise the so-called "defensive" reactions are at least as rare.


The same is true of the whole issue of "well this famous author did that." In my experience that is usually a reaction to someone being told that they CANNOT do that, or alternatively words to the effect of "well of course it's your story, you can do whatever you want. Just don't expect to get published." I think pointing out that a given thing, such as the waking-up opening can be done "well", and get published, is a perfectly valid response to such statements (it'd be different if it was "Oh, that's tough to pull off...I think maybe it would work better like this" or something similarly helpful.)


Likewise, the idea that subjectivity of art or the fact that some people will like a thing and some people hate it, and the other several things mentioned in this discussion are used as "excuses", commonly, by writers here or anywhere else to cover up their being too lazy to put all the time and effort in to learn to write "properly", which seems to be the overall point of this thread (please correct me if I am wrong, that is my perception though at this point) is very very strange, as is the idea that those same writers commonly dismiss criticisms or have some overinflated opinion of their own work.

My experience is quite the opposite. Every other thread in the Introduction forum has someone talking about how scared they were to even get started, how worried they were about whether anyone would ever want to read their work, that it couldn't possibly be "good enough." I've known more than one person who despite writing and using this forum for months, a year, even years had/have yet to even submit anything due to fear of not being "good enough." Overconfidence is a problem I rarely see among aspiring writers.


And as far as the pursuit of perfection...that's great and all, but it has it's pitfalls. One, is that it can trap you in a cycle of endless revision and paralyzing fear. No matter how "good" you are, if you never put anything out for publication, that's the one inaction that leads, beyond any doubt, to not getting published. The other problem is...what measure do you use to determine perfection? Your own? The other overall point of this thread seems to be that a writers opinion of their work means nothing. That of critters? Well, what do you do when they disagree? What if two love your characterization, but another two think its crap?


Certainly we as writers can fall into a trap of overconfidence that could lead to stagnation. But in my experience, most writers are their own worst critics and their own worst enemies, much more likely to fall into the trap of self-doubt and give up entirely than anything else.

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MAP
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Merlion,

I don't know where you got the idea that anyone is saying you have to write a certain type of story to get published.

I for one think you should write the story that is in your heart, but use your brain to do it.

There are things to learn. There are mistakes that writers make that keep them from effectively telling their stories, and there are techniques to learn that help evoke the right emotion and draw the reader in.

It is all about communicating ideas, and there are ways to become better at it.

I have said many times in other places that critiques are only opinions and the writer should trust his/her instincts.

There is a balance here of not being so over-confident that you are unwilling to learn and not being so doubting that you don't trust yourself. I think all writers need a healthy combination of confidence and humility.

But I don't think that becoming defensive in a crit is ever helpful. Critiques aren't attacks no matter how scathing or authoritative. The critisism are on the story not the author, and they are only opinions.

And I don't think the critiquers are always right over the author. But if your story isn't coming across the way you intended it (to the majority), then you need to fix it.

As for persuing perfection, I always do the best I can at whatever I do. It has never kept me from achieving my goals. I honestly don't understand why you would send a story out on submission if you knew you could make it better.

[ January 20, 2012, 03:26 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
As for persuing perfection, I always do the best I can at whatever I do. It has never kept me from achieving my goals. I honestly don't understand why you would send a story out on submission if you knew you could make it better.
For a very simple reason. Because you can ALWAYS make it better...and therefore, it would never get sent out. Painters have a saying, that a painting is never finished, only abandoned. That's what I meant about the endless cycle of revision. And also, about the whole concept put forth by some (not necessarily you, MAP) about trying to, essentially, appeal to everyone. You can always make it better in somebody's eyes...so you must decide when it's "perfect" for you...but that's if you can ever come to that point (and if your worrying too much about any potential person that may read it, it makes it harder...if you have 5 crits on a piece your going to get many conflicting ideas of what it needs to be "perfect.") and if you can't come to that point you must either send it anyway...or abandon it entirely.

Edit: I was going to address these things in email, but your address isn't listed. Much of my previous post was not aimed at you.


quote:
I don't know where you got the idea that anyone is saying you have to write a certain type of story to get published.
That was, as near as I could tell, the whole message of babooher's eggs post (please correct me if I'm wrong.) And it's a sentiment I've seen expressed here, with varying degrees of absolutism and clarity, for years though as I said I've seen less of it lately.
Or if not a certain type of story, then a certain style or manner or writing, or whatever.


quote:
There is a balance here of not being so over-confident that you are unwilling to learn and not being so doubting that you don't trust yourself.
Sure. That's totally true. My point was however that in my personal experience, I've known WAY more writers who were WAY further toward the self-doubt end of the spectrum.


quote:
Critiques aren't attacks no matter how scathing or authoritative.
This is a complicated issue but I believe in most areas of life, whether something is an attack lies in the judgement of the attacked. Feelings are feelings and I've seen plenty of crits presented in ways that would I think express hostility, disdain, or condescension to most people. My main point however was that perhaps some of the responses to things that Denevius seems to think are excuses for laziness are actually just the reactions of a person who FEELS attacked.


quote:
And I don't think the critiquers are always right over the author.
I know you don't. However, that seems to be the overall tone and intention of this thread and especially its original posts especially when examined to their final conclusions. That's my perception at least, but particularly when mixed with prior experiences, I don't think it's far off. I don't really want to go into anymore here but I'd be more than happy to discuss the thoughts behind my posts in this thread with you privately.

[ January 20, 2012, 12:55 AM: Message edited by: Merlion-Emrys ]

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redux
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Famous rejections:
http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/2011/07/famous-author-rejection-letters/

I don't post this for use as ammunition against critiques. I post it because it's important to keep things in perspective. Unless your editor is the Queen of Hearts, there is no right way when it comes to writing stories. There are just accepted ways and conventions.

There's a Latin saying - "de gustibus non disputandum est" - there's no disputing about tastes. The effects and perceptions of a written story are subjective. Readers cannot divorce themselves from what they like. Some will never read a romance novel no matter how expertly told.

I don't perceive pointing to the work of another author in order to show what is acceptable writing as a way of leveling the playing field. This seems to assume that writing is a zero-sum game.

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babooher
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No, Merlion-Emrys, that was not my point.
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Merlion-Emrys
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I'd be sincerely interested to know what was, if for no other reason than so I can figure out how I managed to misinterpret that as despite the metaphor it seemed rather clear..or if not story type, then style or whatever...but I am very curious what else, exactly, it would mean.
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babooher
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My point was that if a writer can't take any criticism and wants to justify instead of thinking about accommodating what buyers tend to want, then said writer should get used to having a very limited audience.

e.e. cummings ignored the basics of what audiences said they wanted and he's much more famous than I'll probably ever be. I figure it's hard enough to sell a story; I don't want to contemplate trying to be the next e.e. cummings. The odds are too low. Can it be done? Sure.

Merlion-Emrys wrote, "In most restaurant's I've been in, you can get your eggs cooked however you want." To continue the metaphor, in that situation you're the person shelling out the cash, in other words--the editor. The restaurant would be where I sell my writing. I don't need everyone to come into my restaurant, but if I want to stay open, I have to get enough. When I get your order for eggs (my writing) I'd better prepare it the way you like or I doubt I'm getting paid, and I sincerely doubt I'm getting your repeat business. If I do that to too many people, my restaurant closes and I'm back to cooking eggs for myself (because even my children apparently want runny eggs. blech!)

If I'm a big name chef (writer), I can dictate the terms a bit better, but if I get too stuck on myself, I'll be a has-been chef.

If I'm a small time cook, I'm generally going to have to be innovative while offering something recognizable to what the customer wants.

Nowhere in my original metaphor or the extended version is there anything about there being only one way. In fact, I directly stated two. Perhaps I over simplified. I figure if I'm going to sin, I'm going to sin boldly.


"Why else do you think we have umpteen different short fiction venues, each one publishing different types of stories...and many of them simultaneously publishing many different types of stories." Exactly what did I tell people to write?I didn't write that everyone must eat eggs and only eggs. I chose a food that has many conventional preparations. The metaphor is that the eggs, like writing, have certain conventions that are generally expected to be followed.

I chose the egg because I know I can't stand the conventional way of cooking it. Egg-snot is not appealing to me. That is why I chose a convention that I despise, so you would know that I, too, believe that sometimes the conventional way isn't the right way or at least the way for me.

As for all those venues, which ones say they want cliched openings? Most of the writers here want to write genre fiction. So which genre publications want cardboard characters, no plot, stilted prose, hackneyed endings, trite dialogue, etc? That waking up in a blank room Merlion-Emrys mentioned, what venue says they want it? Where are the submission guidelines that say, "We're looking for stories that begin with a weather report,"? Because maybe I could sell more if I knew where the right markets were.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
My point was that if a writer can't take any criticism and wants to justify instead of thinking about accommodating what buyers tend to want, then said writer should get used to having a very limited audience.
First, I don't entirely buy this. I believe...it is, in fact my experience from perusing bookshelves and such...that there are significant audiences for just about everything. Are some audiences larger than others? Sure. But I think there are precious few things that lack a meaningful "professional" size potential market.


Second, I just don't really see where the type of attitude you and this thread describe is really much of an issue here. I've been on Hatrack for years and seen very little of the sort of thing being spoken of here...and a very large amount of its opposite. It's my experience that many, especially among folks who start out here, have a lack of confidence in their own work and skills and are eager to accept and incorporate any and all feedback. So I'm just not sure where the issue is.


quote:
Nowhere in my original metaphor or the extended version is there anything about there being only one way. In fact, I directly stated two. Perhaps I over simplified. I figure if I'm going to sin, I'm going to sin boldly.
Yes, you did state two. However the implication, at least as near as I can tell...and it seemed pretty clear...was that one of those ways leads to publication or at least the chance of it and the other leads to being alone with your stories.

What you seem to think (again my perception based on what you've said here and elsewhere) that in order to have any chance at publication, one must try to figure out what the largest possible number of people want to the greatest possible degree and write that...throwing aside, if necessary, your own taste, style and any sort of artistic vision or intent you may have. And that is a path that certainly can work.

Another paradigm is the idea that you can write the things you choose to and that you yourself enjoy and explore your own style, and then find the appropriate audience (which in the case of short fiction, often means the right specific editor for a specific story) for it. Based on what I've seen and read it seems a great many famous authors have taken this path...or a permutation of it, as the two are not mutually exclusive and one can respect convention, trend and "common wisdom" while not always necessarily following them...and still find an audience. However, based on your comments it seems that you feel this is extremely unlikely and that there is little or no readership or editorial interest in or for things that deviate much at all from those things...and often when people bring up famous published works or authors, it is as a response to that sort of attitude, real or perceived, simply to give concrete truth to the fact that it can be done. However, there also seems to be a belief that there is some sort of special genetic trait or something that grants only a select few the ability to "get away" with things that most of us would be best not to ever even think about.


quote:
I chose a food that has many conventional preparations. The metaphor is that the eggs, like writing, have certain conventions that are generally expected to be followed.
Ok. And I said that in most places, you can get your eggs however you want them. The metaphor is that most venues of just about anything cater to a wide variety of tastes, not just the most commonly accepted.


quote:
That is why I chose a convention that I despise, so you would know that I, too, believe that sometimes the conventional way isn't the right way or at least the way for me.
I accepted that, but even if true, almost everything I've ever seen you say on this forum apart from this sentence indicates, at least to me, that you feel any much deviation from "convention", at least as you define it, is unlikely to be the right way to publication.


quote:
Most of the writers here want to write genre fiction. So which genre publications want cardboard characters, no plot, stilted prose, hackneyed endings, trite dialogue, etc?
First, most of the things you mention are not, in my experience, the type of thing that receive the (in my experience rare anyway) type of responses that this thread refers to. Usually such responses are engendered when someone is told that they either CANNOT or MUST NOT do some particular structural or stylistic thing, such as the "waking up" opening, the use of 3rd person omni POV and things of that nature. Although I myself, while never in response to a criticism of my work, have sometimes brought up the fact that I've read quite a bit of stuff, in professional publications, that at least in my understanding of the concept, has little or no plot.


However as far as the things your talking about, of course no one asks for those things...however, what does or doesn't constitute the things you mention is almost entirely a matter of opinion. While of course pretty much nobody is going to like glaring plot holes, what constitutes "stilted prose" or "trite dialogue" is going to vary quite a lot from person to person and especially matters of characterization are very individual and subjective in nature. And this is also where references to big-name authors come in, as evidence for the subjectivity, as even the biggest of names have people...including professional critics and such...who consider their work crap. Likewise, much material that I know many who subscribe to the notion of absolute "good" and "bad" in art consider bad, such as the Inheritance books, are wildly successful...leading again to the fact that one must either accept that "good" and "bad" are a matter of opinion, or accept the elitist, dehumanizing notion that some people's opinions just don't count.

I'd also like to point out that many editors have as much as said that large percentages of the rejections they send out have little or nothing to do with the "quality" of the work. Often is has to do, in the case of short fiction in magazines, with the balance of a particular issue, or with that editors vision for the nature or theme of the publication. I personally believe, based on my experience, editorial interviews and what interactions I've had with editors, that most decisions about what editors buy are made not by picking only the ones that are "good enough", but rather are usually based on a combination of which ones are the editors absolute favorites that also fit together well in an issue and work with that editors vision of their publication.

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Merlion-Emrys
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Oh and realizing that the likely response to what I said about subjectivity will be, "well why ever bother to get crits then?" or something to that effect, is that while the opinions given in a crit are subjective we do all, of course, want our work to be perceived a certain way. For me, and I think for most of us, we want those who read it to see what we see and feel what we feel and receiving multiple opinions can help us determine to what extent we are, subjectively, achieving that and how we may go about achieving it in a broader range and to a greater extent. How far we are willing to go away from our own visions to achieve that...and how much we believe we can achieve it...is individual to each writer.
Along with that, enigmaticusder posted, on the learning thread, almost exactly what I would say about the other purpose behind crits, even from a "subjective" perspective (if you mind me quoting you emu, please just say so and I'll edit.)


quote:
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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babooher
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"I believe...it is, in fact my experience from perusing bookshelves and such...that there are significant audiences for just about everything." Yeah, mine too. I never said anything to the contrary. Although apparently, Merlion-Emrys keeps implying I did. So where did I?

"So I'm just not sure where the issue is." I'd say it is where authors on here ask for justification for negative critiques or when authors want to argue with a critique.

"What you seem to think (again my perception based on what you've said here and elsewhere) that in order to have any chance at publication, one must try to figure out what the largest possible number of people want to the greatest possible degree and write that...throwing aside, if necessary, your own taste, style and any sort of artistic vision or intent you may have. And that is a path that certainly can work."

Again, I never wrote that. Please note my line "I don't need everyone to come into my restaurant, but if I want to stay open, I have to get enough." Merlion-Emrys, I don't get where you think I'm saying you must appeal to the largest number of people. I think a writer has to appeal to enough people if he wants to sell. That's not even an original thought. That's basic, evil capitalism.

Merlion-Emrys, I also don't get where you feel the need to question my artistic integrity. The quote above from you is, in my perception, nothing but artistic mudslinging. I don't advocate throwing out artistic design, intent, voice, etc. I never have. I am sorry if advising someone on what I think would make something more marketable offends you. I didn't realize that was the wrong kind of advice to give. I want to sell my work. I know that the critiques I give are the kind I want. Getting rid of all my artistic intent would mean selling someone else's work. I'm not into that. I think that what you wrote was a low blow and one without merit.

"Usually such responses are engendered when someone is told that they either CANNOT or MUST NOT do some particular structural or stylistic thing, such as the "waking up" opening, the use of 3rd person omni POV and things of that nature." In all my time here, I can't recall ever seeing someone say you CANNOT or MUST NOT do something, not even in lower case. Please, where are some instances of that happening here on Hatrack? Other than when Merlion-Emrys wrote that a person "must either accept that "good" and "bad" are a matter of opinion, or accept the elitist, dehumanizing notion that some people's opinions just don't count," when have people even said that something must(or MUST) be done?


"...leading again to the fact that one must either accept that "good" and "bad" are a matter of opinion, or accept the elitist, dehumanizing notion that some people's opinions just don't count." While I recognize that what is "good" or "bad" is a matter of opinion, I don't let that stop me from making judgments. It is not elitist to judge someone's opinion. To modify a crude expression, opinions are like butts, everyone has one but I like some more than others.

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Denevius
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hm. sometimes i can't help but wonder if these types of online discussions would be better if everyone got a maximum of two replies: one to state your point, the other to respond to any counter argument. because by the third and fourth reply, i'm not sure if anything new is actually being said, plus people start getting a bit more emotionally overwrought in their comments.

though of course i can't make you stop, are you guys sure you're really accomplishing anything at this point?

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
I'd say it is where authors on here ask for justification for negative critiques or when authors want to argue with a critique.
Ok...but as I said, this is something I see very seldom. Although that also depends on your definition of "arguing"...and sometimes what may look to some like a request for justification is more one for clarification.


quote:
Merlion-Emrys, I don't get where you think I'm saying you must appeal to the largest number of people.
I've several times quoted the things where I had the impression you were saying that, but I think we communicate in radically different ways or something and are unlikely to ever do anything other than misperceive each other.


quote:
Merlion-Emrys, I also don't get where you feel the need to question my artistic integrity. The quote above from you is, in my perception, nothing but artistic mudslinging. I don't advocate throwing out artistic design, intent, voice, etc. I never have.
As I said, that's my perception...pretty much everything I've ever seen from you, TO ME seems to indicate that very strongly. You say that isn't your intent and I accept that, however perhaps you should take some of the advice of this thread here and consider that perhaps you aren't always coming across accurately.


quote:
In all my time here, I can't recall ever seeing someone say you CANNOT or MUST NOT do something, not even in lower case. Please, where are some instances of that happening here on Hatrack?
Sigh. As I said, it has become a less common occurrence. And as I have tried to indicate, it may not always be in those exact words, but the intention is often rather clear. I've been having this discussions for so long I've taken to employing a little dramatic exaggeration to get my point across and to save time.

But if you really want an example...from LDWriter's "Crawling her way home" thread...you wrote:
quote:
Unless the contest you're writing to wants you to use the cliched opening, I'd suggest changing this quickly. The waking-up-in-distress-not-knowing-anything intro is rarely a good sign.
Now, obviously, this is not as extreme as what I wrote...you don't tell him he can't or must not and you do say "suggest" which is great, but your still basically telling him "you shouldn't do this if you want to get published." So, this is a mild example of what I mean and although I'm not inclined to spend an hour searching back through the forums for them, much more extreme examples have occurred and especially during my first couple of years here were quite commonplace.

And of course, the writer in question responded to your comment and, somewhat "defended" his choice but I happen to agree...it can be done, and to me it would have been more helpful to try and help him make the opening a more effective version of what it was then say it needs to be abandoned and turned into something else. I don't think you give the writers here...or yourself, based on a couple of your comments on this thread...enough credit for what they/you can do.


quote:
While I recognize that what is "good" or "bad" is a matter of opinion, I don't let that stop me from making judgments. It is not elitist to judge someone's opinion. To modify a crude expression, opinions are like butts, everyone has one but I like some more than others.
This was aimed more at the subject of the thread and it's originator. It's one thing to disagree with or dislike someone's opinion. However, the belief expressed by the main posts of this thread, that art is either objectively good or objectively bad, leads to the conclusion that if this is the case, then some people's opinions are objectively wrong and invalid. Using one of my earlier examples...mixed a bit with the very first time, years ago, that I found myself discussing the subject of "bad" art...the novel Eragon and its sequels have been extremely successful, but a lot of people consider them to be objectively and absolutely "bad." When their financial success is mentioned, the usual response is something along the lines of "crap sells." And to me the intimation of this whole way of thinking is that people who enjoy something that is "bad" must be somehow mentally or aesthetically deficient as must anyone who fails to appreciate objectively "good" art.


Anyway, I apologize for my apparent mistaking and misinterpretation of your meanings. I have made all the points I've wished to make in this thread and so barring strange occurrence I am simply going to let them stand where they are.

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Foste
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Hmmm, I found this article interesting:

http://hollylisle.com/writing-integrity-why-everyone-shouldnt-like/

Sure made me think.

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Foste
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Oh and this one:

http://hollylisle.com/how-write-for-your-right-audience/

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
hm. sometimes i can't help but wonder if these types of online discussions would be better if everyone got a maximum of two replies: one to state your point, the other to respond to any counter argument. because by the third and fourth reply, i'm not sure if anything new is actually being said, plus people start getting a bit more emotionally overwrought in their comments.

though of course i can't make you stop, are you guys sure you're really accomplishing anything at this point?

Consider a review or survey of argumentation theory. I see in the arguments some sound argumentation, some logical fallacy, some digression. Toulmin Argumentation Theory holds a procedural promise for how to couch a persuasive critique or argument. Essentially, sound argumentation appeals from and to credibility and logic: ethos and logos.

1. State a claim
2. State a reason for the claim
3. Support the claim
4. Anticipate and rebutt objections to the claim
5. Draw conclusions from the above

Logical fallacies run a gamut of emotional appeals: pathos. Ad hominem, ad nauseam, and tu quoque. Then there's cum hoc; ergo, propter hoc and post hoc; ergo, propter hoc fallacies. Not to overlook Socratic irony's fallacious argument ambushes.

Really want to level the playing field, critique or response to critique? Formulate a cogent, persuasive argument. However, not argument in the sense of a conflagration, a clash, a confrontation, nor a contention, but a persuasive appeal from and to credibility and logic.

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