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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » quote about the "good parts"

   
Author Topic: quote about the "good parts"
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Here's a quote from Tobias Buckell that has apparently been quoted and requoted online for a while. This is how I saw it (lacking the apostrophes and other punctuation that I'm sure Tobias would have included).

quote:
At a workshop not too many years ago a newer writer began to condemn a best selling novel, pointing out all its flaws and jagged edges. I listened for a long time, nodding.

All those things are true, I said. And gave him the C. C. Finlay quote. But until you learn what the good parts were that excited the reader, youre always going to be bitterly upset about what is wrong with that bestseller. Learn to spot what worked in that book, and youll be able to move forward. And youll be a lot less upset all the time as well.

The C.C. Finlay quote:
quote:
A novel doesnít excite readers because you took all the bad stuff out of it, it excites them because of all the good stuff thatís in it, regardless of the bad.
Figuring out what works in published stories is one of the reasons we have the Discussing Published Hooks & Books area here on the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum.
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extrinsic
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Masthead from C.C. Finlay's Web site home page.

"'Be steady and well-ordered in your website, so that you can be fierce and original in your work.' ~ Gustave Flaubert"

Substituting "website" for Flaubert's original "life" expreses more meaning than an otherwise acute anachrony. Does it work? Uh-huh, for me, more so than the cutesy-clever simple substitution. It persuasively encites thought, after a duh-huh moment of Flaubert passed on before the Internet or even any kind of analog or suggestion of a twinkling eye presaging the Web's invention.

While I concur with Finlay's sentiments about what works and what doesn't, their influences on readers, I'd respect him more if he left off the either/or binary "good" and "bad" commentary and instead used terms like strengths and shortcomings, since what works and what doesn't are subjective to any given reader.

A folklore theory I'm exploring asserts that unpolished prose may positively influence reader appeal, particularly personal experience narratives, such that the impromptu retelling of the experience lends an air of immediacy to the narrative's feeling of authenticity; in other words, close narrative distance.

[ May 06, 2013, 01:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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I think there is something to extrinsic's theory of the appeal of less-than-perfectly polished prose. I think the same thing applies to J.J. Abram's use of lens flare in completely digitally created film scenes. But I think the futility of seeking flawlessness goes deeper than that. It boils down to this principle: everything you do costs something.

As you deal with tradeoffs, say between pacing, characterization, and scene detail, you become more efficient. You try to a better job integrating setting with action; or characterization with plot. But there's a limit. No story can be all things to all people. Eventually you have to decide to let go of some piece of worldbuilding in order to pick up the pace, or to moderate the pace in order to do a bit of character development.

And readers' tastes differ, their impatience thresholds for different story elements varies. Some readers have an endless appetite for world-building. Others can barely tolerate it at all. If you stay under a particular reader's impatience thresholds for various story elements and deliver enough of the story elements he craves, congratulations: you've just connected with that reader. But you aren't going to connect with every reader because what is necessary, sufficient, and excessive varies by story element and reader.

The literary judgement of unsophisticated readers suffers from a halo effect. If the book on the whole pleased, the reader's perception is that it did no wrong. If the book on the whole *failed* to please, the reader's perception is that it did no right. But I think that gulf between pleasing and failing to please is often narrower than readers imagine it to be. Bridging that gulf is often just a matter of a little judicious editing.

A hundred thousand words is a tremendous imposition on a reader who is not enjoying himself, and so he naturally focuses exclusively on the *costs*. But if you're interested in how close a book is to being artistically successful you can't do that. If you strip the pleasures out of *any* book it will look like a failure.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
I think the futility of seeking flawlessness goes deeper than that. It boils down to this principle: everything you do costs something.

I spent a few years working in a reconstructed anachronism production setting. The powers that be went to great lengths and costs reimagining and reinventing period settings. Like window pane glass. Standard replacement window panes are of high optical quality and an anachronism that calls undue attention to the antichrony.

The cost of period glass prohibited its use. So they arranged with manufacturers to make "perfectly flawed" window glass. A few air bubbles trapped in the glass and gentle ripples give an impression the panes are old and faithfully resemble their intent alongside period panes. The patterns are semi random but not as circularly ordered as those of period glass. They give a flavor of age. Just enough "flaw" to give a taste and not overwrought. Sadly, they couldn't efficiently recreate pontil points in the glass of adequate quality at an acceptable cost. They did, though, succeed in passing general scutiny and at the same time the effort and cost factors were appreciated by knowledgeable parties.

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MAP
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I love that quote. [Smile] Thanks for sharing.

So many people love to tear those best sellers apart, but there is no such thing as a perfect novel. Any story can be torn apart, but what makes certain stories resonate with so many people is the far more interesting thing to analyze.

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LDWriter2
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:

While I concur with Finlay's sentiments about what works and what doesn't, their influences on readers, I'd respect him more if he left off the either/or binary "good" and "bad" commentary and instead used terms like strengths and shortcomings, since what works and what doesn't are subjective to any given reader.

A folklore theory I'm exploring asserts that unpolished prose may positively influence reader appeal, particularly personal experience narratives, such that the impromptu retelling of the experience lends an air of immediacy to the narrative's feeling of authenticity; in other words, close narrative distance. [/QB]

I believe I know what Finlay is saying but I also wanted to say that I think this last bit by extrinsic is about the same thing as Dean Wesley Smith's statement about polishing too much and losing your voice. It can by the unpolished prose that is your voice.

Which doesn't mean we leave our work with confusing sentences and half details though.

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LDWriter2
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Here's a quote I found years ago that goes along with this one.


Elmore Leonard's maxim: leave out the parts people skip.


[Wink]

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RyanB
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quote:
Dean Wesley Smith's statement about polishing too much and losing your voice. It can by the unpolished prose that is your voice.
I've thought a lot about this and I've come to the conclusion it's a fallacy. Although it's mostly true for me, that's something I need to work on.

You see, I edit by wrote. Editing is a perfunctory process where I fix grammar, remove unnecessary words and fix things that don't make sense. Thus as I edit the work becomes more "polished" where polished means tighter, more clear, and more grammatically correct.

But that's not necessarily the desired result.

In other words, I need to change my editing process so it's less wrote and more thinking. Is this in the correct voice/style? Is it clear or ambiguous and which does it need to be?

Patrick Rothfuss edits like one of the gifted from the world of Path in Xenocide. He obsesses over the placement of a comma or whether to use this word or that one. The result is not something that becomes increasingly "polished" like the yield of my editing. Instead it becomes more authentic. His editing process is far superior to mine.

I think if your editing process tends to make your work inferior if you edit too long, then you need to fix your editing process.

OTOH, until I learn to edit better, maybe I should stick to not "over-editing."

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by LDWriter2:
I believe I know what Finlay is saying but I also wanted to say that I think this last bit by extrinsic is about the same thing as Dean Wesley Smith's statement about polishing too much and losing your voice. It can by the unpolished prose that is your voice.

Absolutely. Do I repeat myself? Very well, I repeat myself. [Smile]

http://web.archive.org/web/20110223170631/http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/006622.html

(The page seems to have escaped from the local version.)

See also http://www.cowboypoetry.com/finelines.htm (which doesn't seem to come up on the archive).

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extrinsic
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Though I prefer to edit by phases. I may edit by pass. This pass I focus on craft, that pass on voice, the next on audience appeal, mechanical style at an ending or as I go along. The writing process that works for me is to draft the structure and add and subtract content as I go along.

A literary criticism essay I read years ago by Maud Casey. "Itís a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Level of the Story in Order to Achieve the Figurative," alluding to Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Captain Ahab's peg leg, which is made from a whale jawbone actually. The bone peg leg symbolically signifies Ahab and Moby Dick's connected human artifice and Nature.

The point I got was draft write the story. Polish it until the figurative meaning, the larger-than-life underlying meaning becomes apparent, first to the writer, adding that accessible figurative depth, then polish for readers. This phase is reworking after polishing the story into a cohesively crafted and structured whole and for enhancing the story's unity, voice, and emotional appeal.

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