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extrinsic
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A double bind is signaling a conflicted message that causes the signal recipient a cognitive dissonance from two or more opposing and seemingly irreconcilable meanings or intents. For example, Mom at the dinner table says, using a histrionic verbal intonation, "You know your father doesn't like any of your elbows on the table." Mom castigates with a litotes overstatement that says she doesn't care about elbows on the table or disagrees with father or intends another meaning entirely.

A writing double bind is a cognitive dissonance caused by expression's conflicted demands handicapping a writer. For example, perhaps the strongest confliction, artful expression contradicting use of everyday conversational language yet needing to read as meaningfully and clearly appealingly as everyday conversation between narrator or character and reader. Overly formal diction and syntax can be inaccesible. Likewise, overly casual idiomatic dialect can be inaccessible. Ict lack dint gonna bouggie da hood's 'irons: Its like didn't going to class up the neighborhood's environs.

Creative writing expression demands a glitchless reading experience, at least one where intent and meaning are clear, accessible in the moment of reading, and appealing from both a complete and logical and an artistic expression meaningful to readers. Yet overly artistic expression might and probably will clutter prose. No easy middle ground between glitchless reading and artistic appeals suitable for every writer or reader exists. Singular voices stand out as appealing, lackluster, or alienating, depending on audience, occasion, and subject matter.

Finding an appealing voice aesthetic for any given writer, let alone any given narrative, among the myriad of language's potentials, is a double bind. Reconciling the double bind is both an intuitive and deliberative process. Rather than no errorless answer, rather than the least of possible errors, an at once intuitive and deliberative answer is to reforge a shortcoming into a strength. For example, if the occasion calls for a formal voice, give the voice a touch of irony. If the occasion calls for purple prose, likewise, give the voice a touch of irony.

So Mom expresses irreconcilable mixed signals. Any choice will be met with dire consequences. What choice is best for a concerned individual?

Elbows on the table are okay when only Mom moderates the dinner table. Elbows aren't okay when Dad or Mom and Dad does. Woe the child who mistakes the difference. But there is a deeper intent and meaning. Mom subversively disagrees at times with Dad's tyranny though Mom sides with Dad when Dad takes charge. Mom's more casual approach to dining reflects her less strict disciplinary philosophy, perhaps from an idea toward nurturing family bonds at the expense of social graces. Eventually, don't both values stick? And eventually, the decision become's the individual's, based upon the intent, the occasion, and the audience's sensibilities.

[ October 23, 2013, 02:22 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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As always, you've given us plenty to chew on.

It strikes me that one of the ironies of fiction-writing is that in order to sound credible, you've got to be unrealistic.

Dialog is a great example. When a fictional character speaks with purpose, he sounds believable. Strong dialog is largely a matter of ensuring that characters speak in pursuit of some agenda, and if the reader discerns *two* agendas per speaker so much the better. This is one of the things that makes George R.R. Martin's dialog so often good, and frequently funny. The world of Song of Ice and Fire is full of schemers and back-stabbers, and the purposefulness of their speech makes them seem more vivid than they otherwise would.

That's good writing, but *real* people seldom talk this way. Most of what comes out of people's mouths are status messages ("They say it's going to rain all week.") or messages which tell the other person who the speaker is and where he stands in the world ("I used to own a Camaro; burned a quart of oil a week but I loved that car. Had to get rid of it when the twins came.") In other words "blah blah". This is why so many readers are turned off by the dialog between Bela and Edward in *Twilight*; it's so *pointless* from the reader's point of view. But that's not necessarily unrealistic when we're talking about how somebody with a romantic crush speaks and acts. It just strikes people who aren't drawn in as phony.

As for eye-dialect ("Ict lack dint gonna bouggie da hood's 'irons"), the main problem is that people who read for pleasure are like well-oiled word consumption machines. They've spent years honing their standard dialect reading skills to a fine edge, and then suddenly find themselves back in first grade trying to sound out the words.

Compared to the reading comprehension problem eye-dialect presents, the fact that it is usually outrageously inaccurate hardly matters. In fact, I think that stuff connects with certain audiences, as in "Gone with the Wind" where the black characters speak in eye-dialect but the white characters speak standard English. That wouldn't be credible to a linguist, but it agrees with the expectations of many readers.

One of my pet-peeves in post-9/11 manuscripts is what I call "Dog-of-an-infidel Arabic". That dialect doesn't come from listening to actual native Arabic speakers attempting English. It comes from bad action movies. And I suppose if you traced it all the way back it comes from the Arab villains in Victorian English penny-dreadfuls. But the phoniness of it grates on my ear, like the "You likey my sister chop chop?" dialog of yellow-face characters.

Usually when I encounter dog-of-an-infidel, the MS is riddled with laughably wrong cultural mistakes. If it's sci-fi it'll usually have bad science too, but that's really too much to ask.

When I point out the inaccurate dialog and cultural mistakes, the authors often (1) accuse me of political correctness, and (2) say it doesn't matter. My response is (1)"No, it's *factual* correctness, which is different." and (2) "You're probably right, unfortunately."

There's a certain readership for which dog-of-an-infidel is the only credible way for an Arab or Muslim (these readers won't distinguish between them) to speak. Never mind that in the YouTube era it's not hard to find a model for your Arab character's speech. In fiction it's more important to be credible than realistic.

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extrinsic
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In terms of "status messages" for prose, life, or film, Seymour Chatman in Story and Discourse distinguishes narrative elements recounted (told) or lived in the now moment (shown) as process or stasis statements. A process statement is one that expresses what someone does or what happens to someone; in other words, an event. Edward kissed Bella shows both, what Edward does and happens to Bella. Process statements move dramatic action forward. Those of the do-action type, where a central character is proactive, no matter how successfully, moves plot most through antagonism, causation, and tension features.

Stasis statement are in the form of to be statements. Bella is a mortal. Edward is a revenant. "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." (Hemingway The old Man and the Sea). Stasis statments express an ongoing state of being and, being degrees of stasis, are static to varying degrees. In other words, stasis statements don't move plot as much as process statements, though they may and should develop narrative existents like character and setting for empathy and suspense features (tension) and authenticating a narrative.

On balance, a mixture of process do and happen and stasis statements artfully develops a narrative, not one in isolation, but judicious variety.

Status messages are akin to stasis statements. Everyday life in general doesn't follow a plot, though, at least not the way many people generally experience life. I see plots everywhere. There's a plot and a mixture of do and happen process and stasis statments in "I used to own a Camaro; burned a quart of oil a week but I loved that car. Had to get rid of it when the twins came."

[ October 21, 2013, 05:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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As a sidebar thought, I'm moved to say, "This is the most dense and confusing piece of writing advice I've seen on this site."
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Robert, your comment reminds me of people who say "I just don't 'get' math."

Since I do 'get' math, I find myself wondering if they have really tried hard enough, or if they see numbers and symbols and let their eyes glaze over out of habit.

This kind of discussion could be very glazed-eyes generating, but if people put in the effort to concentrate on it and figure out what is being said, they may be surprised to find that there is something they can use to rethink and even improve their writing.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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That said, I realize that maybe some people just don't have the brain connections to "get" math. I know there are those who "get" it far better than I do, so surely there will be those in the other direction.

Knowing that, I try to cut them slack. We all have different skill sets and different potentials. And I'm grateful for that. Making us all exactly the same would be a true science fiction horror story.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Status messages are akin to stasis statements. Everyday life in general doesn't follow a plot, though, at least not the way many people generally experience life. I see plots everywhere. There's a plot and a mixture of do and happen process and stasis statments in "I used to own a Camaro; burned a quart of oil a week but I loved that car. Had to get rid of it when the twins came."

Of course you do. A writer can take almost any mundane statement and construe it as pregnant. Drop that statement into a story a writer is working on and it will immediately begin to warp the plot and characterization around itself, if the writer's any good. But in real life off-hand statements don't have that kind of power. In real life it wouldn't be the germ ofa story, it'd be just another infinitesimal atom in your somewhat fuzzy picture of Vern, the guy behind the counter at the tire shop.

This business of static vs. process touches on a question that interests me, which is the kind of thing a reader's imagination infers from what's on the page, particularly at the opening of a story where he's starting from nothing.

It seems to me that really good writing isn't about getting what's in our heads onto the page; it's about putting the reader's powers of imagination and inference to work. When I look at what I just said now, then look at my own stories, it makes me feel like an ass. But I still believe it's true.

When I read "He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish," this is what I picture. A small rowboat with cracked white paint on the outside and wood weathered to silver on the inside. The cracked gray oars are shipped. A coarse sissal rope painter is coiled in the bow, a scratched green metal tackle box lay in the bilge, and a gaff hooked stick is propped against the seat next to the old man. The man himself has a full white beard and his grizzled hair still has a few reddish-blond streaks. He is holding a long rod and bait-casting rig in his large, coarse, bony brown hands; his stringy forearms are tanned and peeling, with curling red hairs bleached white and luminous orange. He wears a denim peaked cap, a navy polo shirt, white duck cloth trousers and canvass shoes, but no socks.

I could go on for pages, but you get the point; as a reader I can construct a complex picture from a simple prompt. I can infer static information from action too, and vice versa. Some authors use this to create a kind of layered effect. I've gone back many times to study the opening of Madeleine L'Engle's *A Wrinkle in Time*. It famously starts with "It was a dark and stormy night," technically a statis statement I suppose, but functionally more like "Hwæt!" at the start of Beowulf. It's telling us to pay attention, because this narrator has a self-aware sense of humor. The humor lightens what follows (ask yourself how the opening would feel different without the first paragraph).

Then L'Engle gets us into Meg's skin, sitting in her attic room while a thunderstorm shakes the house. Meg then takes us back to her school day, her conflict with her teachers and brothers, and with herself. Then we're back in the narrative present with the storm shaking the house. Meg goes downstairs to make herself a cup of cocoa, pausing to worry about the tramp that had been stealing things from the neighbors' clotheslines.

L'Engle is interleaving sensory description, current action, past action, and inner monologue. Some of it is static and some of it is process, I suppose, but it all adds up to a vivid *static* picture of Meg's character and situation *before* the inciting incident.

[ October 21, 2013, 02:40 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
MattLeo:
It seems to me that really good writing isn't about getting what's in our heads onto the page; it's about putting the reader's powers of imagination and inference to work.

That! That's the It I've struggled with, that Damon Knight distinguishes as a first principle separating his four types of writers from publication: The writer who writes for the writer's sake, mostly daydreams, though daydreams can be publication-worthy. The writer who writes to communicate, has an understanding of craft under development but has shortcomings to overcome. The writer who has craft in hand but minor lacks in appeal and communication departments. The writer who's grasped that writing is a two-way conversation, that appeal, voice, and craft matter, and has accommodated audience sensibilities and sentiments and is publication-worthy.

Inference's opposite is implication, or implicature as H.P. Grice names the principle of implying meaning without directly stating meaning, which engages readers' want to decode meaning. Seymour Chatman also discusses the matters of implication and inference for creative writing.

Readers decode implied meaning based on cultural codes developed over their lifetimes, however many years any given reader has lived. If one writes that A red, white, and blue play ball rolled downhill and into traffic, a nearly global implication that a child is at play, dangerous play is clear and strong. Following up with a perspective reaction signals a satisfaction of the inference readers take from the implications: The Higgins boy got loose on the cul-de-sac again. Not much setting, character, event, or dramatic complication development there yet, but readers will imagine and infer the boy might run into traffic after the ball and be curious how the happening turns out and what the happening means to the observing persona.

Readers would be disturbed if the observer persona took no action to save the boy. That's a strong cultural code imperative. Readers would hope the happening turns out okay, though. Artful writing would also imply another, larger parallel happening in progress related to the observer's dramatic complication that sets up a stronger enticement.

Implication and inference, these are powerful principles that engage readers' imaginations.

MattLeo, your use of implication in your thirteen lines Setting challenge entry "Right [sic] of Passage," the last line particularly, is potent in ways that I find inspired. That line timely answers what happening is in progress thus far that has been artfully delayed, and evokes a stronger dramatic complication that implies it is the core meaning and the beginning dramatic action of the whole. It sets up the action to come judiciously without giving away or telegraphing the ending. Exquisite.

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Denevius
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To be honest, there's been times I wanted to pull a Nowall, too, but I've withheld simply because I didn't want to create friction.

Here's the thing. I believe Extrinsic is sincere in his efforts, and I think, more than anything, that's why I'm willing to just look the other way. At the same time (and please, imagine me saying this in the most uncombative way possible. I'm really just sitting here at work killing time until I can go home at 5:00), I have noticed, Kathleen, that you're a bit protective of Extrinsic's view.

Not too long ago you and I had a bit of a discussion of sorts about the way to phrase a certain piece of writing advice because I didn't say it as Extrinsic instructed. And that was a time when I came a bit closer to being caustic (if not outright combative), but this isn't my site, I like coming here, so I swallowed by words.

But look, some of what Extrinsic writes here does come off as pretentious, or pompous. He's lecturing us, and the question is, "Well, who is he to do so? Exactly what are his qualifications?"

I remember someone else, perhaps Dr. Bob, posing a fairly simple query. I can't find it now, but I wonder this too. As long as I've been here, I don't think I've ever seen Extrinsic post any of his fiction. Which is his right, but for someone who's so effusive in his criticism of what he sees here, it is noteworthy that he doesn't allow himself to receive scrutiny from his peers.

Unless he figures himself above us and not actually his peers, which, again to be honest, creeps into what's basically lectures he gives us.

Now, here's my issue with the math analogy you gave. For the most part, math is relatively pure. I've heard that higher levels of math can do strange things to calculations, but still, most of what the average person is dealing with is more or less leading to a single, objective answer.

1+1=2
2*2=4
And 189,874,9674*98,567,000÷21= whatever the hell that equals.

Extrinsic's posts are extremely dense, but my concern is that even if I try and figure them out, I might come to the conclusion that, "Well, that was a lot of effort for little to no gain". I mean, in the end am I just getting his opinion which I strongly suspect can be relayed to us significantly simpler? And, if I saw a simpler version of what he posts, would I just be like, "Meh"?

The more complicated people make what they say, the more I fear they actually don't have anything to say and are obfuscating the fact that they don't.

Of course, I could be wrong, and Extrinsic may be a major author in disguise, and if he uncloaked himself, I'd realize that he has more than enough credentials to be teaching the ends and outs of literature and craft. But until that moment comes, I'd like to stick up for Robert Nowall on this one.

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Denevius
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At the same time, Extrinsic, I don't want you to feel bad about this. I suppose this is as far of a critique of your writing that I can give since, as I noted, you don't tend to put fictional posts on Hatrack. I feel that what Robert offered was a critique as well. Not meant to sting, just meant to offer his opinion on your writing style, which can be stinging.
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Robert Nowall
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It's a matter of word choice mostly. Unfamiliar and specialized terminology. The dictionary definition of "litotes" appears to be the exact opposite of its Greek root, among other things.
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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Overly formal diction and syntax can be inaccesible.

I find myself wanting to read extrinsic's posts, but I end up skimming or just skipping them.

FWIW, I used to love math. But they beat that love out of me in college in Differential Equations. I "got it." But that didn't mean I wanted spend hours every night decoding complex equations, and for what? I bet 99% of the people who took Diff EQ when I did never worked a single differential equation by hand after they left school.

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extrinsic
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Another example of a double bind in that objections to my writing-on-writing posts say one meaning on the surface and another contrary one in implication. One of the ugliest implications I hear in my day-to-day routine is "You think you're better than me." I don't think that at all. I despise any comment in any way construed that way. I believe each according to their own. Period.

No one here has a taskmaster holding a whip over anyone. No one here has a looming term or work paper assignment deadline related to content offered here. No one here has a financial or academic investment depending on reading, understanding, or demonstrating learning any writing-related principle espoused here. No one here has a stake at risk in this workshop contents' veracity or sensibility. No one here is mandated to read every last word, except perhaps moderator Ms. Dalton Woodbury for the sake of moderating content and conduct.

I follow one of the most important conduct rules for writing workshops: Address the writing, not the writer. Or in this workshop's rules, do not address contributors, address their writing, with one very narrow exception: make any flattering personal comment about the writer's writing. Comments that claim anyone's posts about writing are above or beneath an arbitrary personality expectation standard overlook that rule.

"Please Read Here First: If you're registered, you agreed to this."

I abide that rule. I don't comment about any given Hatrack member's personality, or writing disussions' caliber, no matter whether at or about a consensus average expectation or above or beneath any metric, except about what works for me or doesn't when a thirteen lines excerpt is offered for that estimation, according to this writing workshop's rules of conduct. Even then, I take great pains to express that I've given my opinion, or paraphrased a theory by another writer, never insisting that any writer must read, let alone conform to my or anyone's position.

[ October 22, 2013, 11:10 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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I avoid ad hominem like missionaries, for me a religious and courtesy thing. [Wink]
The subject not the author should be the topic of discussion.
Since I've been mentioned, however, I need clarify a bit.

I think extrinsic is a genius.
(Matt Leo, too, for that matter).

Extrinsic's knowledge of what I consider the "science and history" of writing is a Smaug's trove of riches, too innumerable to count. And unlike that foul worm, he is willing to share it. Admittedly, I find it often is above me (as yet). I do not have the vocabulary and literary writing educational foundation to fully comprehend and absorb his posts. However, the onus is on me, if it is my desire, to raise my knowledge base to do so.

This is especially true since I am guilty of this in my own writing in the use of Jewish or, rarely, medical terms, with which the average reader may be unfamiliar; or my use of an expanded English vocabulary. I love words! I read, and enjoy discovering, new ones and how the writer uses them and, thereby, expand my own vocabulary; although perhaps extrinsic would chide me, as have some of my critiquers, for making my stories too inaccessible to casual readers. It may be one thing to do so in scholarly posts like his and another completely in entertainment fiction. This is a point on which I'm likely to remain unconvinced (and unpublished, sadly). I do not like to consider any adult audience I may potentially have as unintelligent or unwilling to learn. But, if I ever wish to write for third-graders, I promise to change my diction and vocabulary.

Anyway, it was my admiration of extrinsic's erudition that evoked my intense desire to read his fiction. For I best learn by example. Or, to use a modern pop culture phrase, "Show me the money!" For truly, the literary structural gems and chalices in extrinsic's dissertations could possibly raise my own humble efforts from the slushpile to published stories. I will share he acknowledged my honest desire and courteously, and confidentially, gave me a tiny forschbise (Yiddish "appetizer") to nibble. I appreciate it is frustrating not to see examples of his fiction on the forum, but that is his choice and it need be respected. Frustration is our problem, a personal foible. If it becomes too great, the choice remains not to read his posts--and sometimes, when I am too tired, I admittedly do not.

I do not take extrinsic's posts personally. One should not equate professorial level scholarship necessarily with pomposity. Those for whom I have given story critiques could share how intrusive and critical I can be; yet I always end with "Keep what you like, ignore the rest." I view extrinsic's posts and posted opening line critiques similarly.

That's my two shekels, for what it is worth.

Keep posting, extrinsic. I hope to better understand what you share about writing someday.*

*(But if you do publish a novel or short story collection , please let me know. I'll keep it quiet. [Wink] ).

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. FYI, Matt Leo has a perspicacious insight into the heart of story. His critiques, such as the cherished one he did for my tale Erev Tov succinctly revealed what I, as author, could only nod amazingly and think: "Is that what I...? Ahem! I mean, that's exactly what I intended." [Wink]
(Let me know whenever you wish to trade critiques again, Matt).

P.S.S. We now return you to your original program discussion.

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MattLeo
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My advice is to learn what you can from whomever you can, and if you don't understand what someone has said,ask them what they mean. Or just leave them be. There's no point in taking things personally or making them personal in a forum like this. It's hard enough to change people you know intimately and face to face.

I think extrinsic may have miscalculated in his original post by explaining an unfamiliar concept in terms of what may be yet another unfamiliar concept for many here. That's not his fault; sometimes you just expect people to be familiar with topics like psychology or nuclear engineering and it turns out they're not. Maybe your local writer's circle is full of physics buffs and his is full of psychology buffs, which means from time to time you'll miscommunicate. But even so, it's not really that difficult to figure out what he's saying. As often with math, it's easier than it looks, you just have to be methodical rather than give up. Here's my take on his post, with the analogy to the apparently unfamiliar "double bind" removed.
quote:
Solid creative writing is clear, even at first glance. It is logically consistent and artistically appealing. But all these demands conflict with each other. If you try too hard to be artistic, you end up with something cluttered and hard to read.

So you have to compromise. But no matter what compromise you choose, you'll leave some readers behind. Sometimes its because the style of writing doesn't match the subject matter or occasion. Sometimes you just catch a particular reader on a bad day.

A writer who wants to find an appealing voice needs both intuition and conscious craftsmanship to address the conflicts he faces. He must do more than avoid mistakes; he must find creative ways to turn the conflicting demands he faces to his advantage. Sometimes your voice has to be stiff and formally correct; other occasions call for purple prose. Either way, when you're stuck, irony is your friend.

Irony works because people in real life communicate on more than one level. Suppose Mom wants mealtimes to be warm and informal but Dad's a stickler for correct and formal manners. When Dad's watching she tells you to take your elbows off the table, but maybe she does it in a way that implies she's just humoring Dad. She sending mixed messages; an explicit message to act formally corect, and an implicit one that formality is not as important as warmth. But in the end, don't you receive *both* messages clearly? Isn't it possible that you learn that good manners and warmth are both important?

It's OK to send mixed messages in your writing, to send the explicit message demanded by the story, while the same time undermining it with a conflicting message. Readers can take both messages away.

I added a concluding paragraph to make the result more like an essay; but it's not an essay, it's a forum post. It's up to you to ask for the nutshell explanation or make one for yourself.

In any case, the post is mainly motherhood and apple pie stuff; but I think it bears on some important practical issues.

When I began studying how authors accomplish what they do, I became fascinated with how much they depend on stuff that's not actually there on the page; on the reader's imagination and intuition. And sometimes, when they get it right, the story *rings*, (warning: physics analogy) like they've found the reader's resonant frequency.

The 13 line exercise is helpful, even if you wouldn't actually choose to start a story that way, because it's practice in paring away weight until you can get the excerpt to ring. It's a lot easier to do in 13 lines than it is over 50,000 words.

[ October 22, 2013, 12:10 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Jeff Ambrose
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Really? This how we're spending our time on Hatrack?

If I wasn't so lazy, I'd figure out how to get the eye-rolling icon going.

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telflonmail
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[Roll Eyes] [Eek!]

Overthinking a character and attempting to get every idiosyncratic nuance across becomes tiring to a reader. The nuance can be used as an initial impediment to the character in accomplishing the change and growth of the character. Dialog needs to allow characters to interact, but not be wooden to the point of being the only plot driver. It should also not be banal.

[ October 22, 2013, 05:35 PM: Message edited by: telflonmail ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Jeff Ambrose:
If I wasn't so lazy, I'd figure out how to get the eye-rolling icon going.

Or you could use that time and effort to add something constructive to the conversation instead.

You might use your own post as a starting point; one of the topics on the table was irony, if I'm not mistaken.

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MAP
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If you don't think a conversation is useful, you don't have to read or participate in it. It is that simple.
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Robert Nowall
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What it amounts to is that any discussion of writing---or anything---if it's not in language that can be understood.
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Reziac
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quote:
Elbows on the table are okay when only Mom moderates the dinner table. Elbows aren't okay when Dad or Mom and Dad does.
Or maybe Mom doesn't like elbows on the table either, but hereby puts the blame for this rule on Dad.

Likewise, over-analysing can exclude the point, which in fiction, is most often enjoyment.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Okay, maybe math wasn't the best analogy. I am getting the impression that it's more like a "why do we have to analyze this piece of writing to death?" complaint from English Lit.

And why do I seem "defensive" of extrinsic at the expense (according to some) of other participants?

First, as has been pointed out, extrinsic comments on the writing, not on the writer.

Second, extrinsic, as I perceive it, is sharing things learned and understood that may be of use to others here on the forum (as has also been pointed out).

Third, extrinsic does not get snarky, so far as I have been able to discern, though there have been times when extrinsic has responded to attacks with such heat as such attacks may warrant.

As has also been pointed out, and as far as I can determine, what extrinsic posts is not written to be taken personally (except, perhaps, the appreciation above for MattLeo's 13-line post), and that's still about the writing, and not about the writer.

I am sorry that my "defense" of certain Hatrack participants may seem biased. I am human, too, after all. But I am trying to encourage sharing and learning and understanding.

And I, personally, always enjoyed "analyzing written works 'to death' in English Lit" because such analysis gave me a greater appreciation for the work. If a work can't bear such analysis, it can still be enjoyable, but it won't provide the deep learning experience other works may offer.

And closely examining what we are doing in our writing, instead of just reeling out words as we feel inclined to do, can help us create work that offers deepness as well as enjoyment.

Sorry if this is too long. I felt I needed to let it be so.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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And, RyanB, I can totally relate on Differential Equations. ACK!!
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Robert Nowall
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I'm going to point out, too, that my last post is completely unintelligible, too---matter of dashing off something quick and not noticing I hadn't completed the sentence.
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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by telflonmail:
[Roll Eyes] [Eek!]

Overthinking a character and attempting to get every idiosyncratic nuance across becomes tiring to a reader. The nuance can be used as an initial impediment to the character in accomplishing the change and growth of the character. Dialog needs to allow characters to interact, but not be wooden to the point of being the only plot driver. It should also not be banal.

Now *this* is a really interesting point. I have a slightly different take on it. I don't think the problem is nuance; nuance by its very nature is easy to ignore. I think the problem is that it becomes tiresome when an author tries too hard and too crudely to force you to some conclusion, whether that conclusion is what to think about the character, or what to think about some political question. Call it "persuasive overkill" if you like.

I think persuasive overkill is a natural part of the writing process, particularly the early stages of a first draft when you yourself are struggling with who a character is or what a story is about. I'm looking at the first draft of two chapters of a new novel, and I'm pretty sure I'm seeing evidence of persuasive overkill. That's why drafts need critique.

As for dialog, it's like a magic trick. The characters work for *us*, but we have to misdirect the reader into believing the characters are working for themselves. This gets to extrinsic's points about writing on more than one level.

Oh, and as for DiffEq, the Lotka–Volterra equations are cool! But I linear algebra is cooler. Finding a closed solution for values in the Fibonacci sequence using eigenvectors rocks.

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legolasgalactica
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
What it amounts to is that any discussion of writing---or anything---if it's not in language that can be understood.

Robert, now that's a fitting post on topic with the irony, etc. Made me laugh.

I'm proud to say I've successfully freed up the space in my memory once overcrowded by higher-level math to make room for more important things like LOTR and Star Wars history and trivia.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The cool thing about "artful" (to borrow a term) nuances in fiction is that they can be ignored without hurting the surface enjoyment of the story.

Those who do catch a nuance get an extra "kick" out of the story, and may even decide that this is a "fun" author they want to read more from.

[ October 24, 2013, 09:20 PM: Message edited by: Kathleen Dalton Woodbury ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
The cool think about "artful" (to borrow a term) nuances in fiction is that they can be ignored without hurting the surface enjoyment of the story.

Those who do catch a nuance get an extra "kick" out of the story, and may even decide that this is a "fun" author they want to read more from.

That is the kicker though, sometimes a writer gets so caught up in the "art" that they don't put enough work into the surface. Without the first level you can't go any further.

I think this double bind is more of an issue the more you pay attention to it. In the search for perfection you lose productivity. A line I'm fond of using is marketing comes after drafting. Write the story and then worry about what audience it's right for. Nothing is glitchless, and when you are weeding out glitches it is a good idea to keep an eye on the threshold of diminishing returns.

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extrinsic
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My editing clients focus on productivity over quality when they've burned out writing. Those jobs take me twice as long as the ones my clients write rested and fresh. They, however, are mostly not creative writers.

A witty piece of writing guidance I ran across in an MFA low residency writing program lecture catalog by Maud Casey: "It’s a Wooden Leg First: Paying Narrative Attention to the Literal Level of the Story in Order to Achieve the Figurative." Then Ahab's plain wooden peg leg can become a scrimshawed whale's tooth.

I don't see a double bind between quantity and quality. I see a decision to reach a working compromise.

Glitches in my vernacular are mechanical style speed bumps readers hiccup over. Not just spelling, punctuation, and sentence-level grammar, diction, and syntax but paragraph, page, scene, chapter, and parcel levels.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:
That is the kicker though, sometimes a writer gets so caught up in the "art" that they don't put enough work into the surface. Without the first level you can't go any further.

I won't disagree that a story has to work on the obvious level; of course it does. But I'd go so far as saying a story has to have at least *some* subtext, even if subtext is not an important part of the story. When subtlety is completely missing from a story, it just feels wrong.

Real people are complicated; they have hidden agendas; self-defeating behaviors; internal conflicts; images of themselves they're trying to promote. This is not some kind of literary convention, this is the actual world we humans spend our lives in. 99% of what's going on is beneath the surface, but guess what? Most of that stuff will never surface; it will never matter to us. But we're aware its there. A story doesn't have to be about what's under the surface, but if there's nothing there it feels phony.

So I'd characterize what your criticizing not as "too much art", but as "clumsy writing". I think the problem is the writer boxing the reader's imagination in, rather than guiding it on a long tether.

quote:
Originally posted by Pyre Dynasty:

In the search for perfection you lose productivity.

That's a personal issue; it depends on what you're aiming for. Jack Woodford, writing mentor to many a successful genre novelist, famously advised not to revise at all. Just keep writing new stories. Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, famously revised everything he wrote countless times, in search of perfection.

Now it has to be admitted that Jack Woodford certainly completed and sold many, many more novels than Ernest Hemingway (over 30 vs. Hemingway's 7). But Hemingway certainly sold more copies in total. These are both different kinds of success; some of us may aim for a Woodford career, others a Hemingway career, and still others something in between.

The important point is that Hemingway, despite his perfectionism, didn't stop at one story. That's where a lot of people falter, they write themselves into a corner and never venture out of it. If you count Hemingway's short stories, poems, and non-fiction, his total output was considerably greater than Woodford's. His sales were greater than Woodfords. And his writing was simply *better* than Woodfords.

It's worth noting that both of these writers came to a bad end. Woodford was a penniless, washed-up hack at the end of his career. He died at a typewriter in a skid-row motel, trying to write himself out of the hole he'd drunk himself into. Hemingway bought a pleasant cabin up in Idaho fishing country. He bought himself a nice custom-made 12 gauge shotgun too. One day he sat on the porch of that pleasant cabin and in an alcohol soaked funk used that fancy shotgun to blow his own brains out.

I'd say the one lesson you can draw from these guys is this: be a slapdash writer if you wish, or be a perfectionist writer if you prefer that. Just don't be an alcoholic writer.

[ October 24, 2013, 12:30 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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Jeff Ambrose
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Hemingway revised countless times?

Hmm ... I wonder how true that is. There's something of a myth surrounding Hemingway's writing practices ... a myth he himself perpetuated. Like sharpening 30 pencils before writing. Or writing standing up. Or revising the end of A FAREWELL TO ARMS 39 times.

What does that mean, anyway, 39 times? How is he tabulating his revisions? Dean Koontz once said that when he finished WHISPERS his wife told him he went through 40-sheets of paper for every one he produced. Therefore (Koontz said) he revised each page 40 times.

That's just silly. And now Koontz is an excessive rewriter, and to me, his books are worse for it.

I'm old enough to remember composing on a typewriter when I was a kid. Make a few mistakes, you tear the sheet out and start over. That's not "revision" as most people think of it: that's just fixing mistakes.

Besides, Hemingway once confessed that he wrote "The Killers" -- perhaps his most famous short story, certainly his most anthologized story -- in one afternoon after writing a story that morning, and he didn't change a word.

But then, maybe he's lying about that.

I do believe you get better by writing something new than revising something old.

And so long as we're quoting old masters, consider something the great Russian short story writer, Anton Chekhov, said about his would-be writer brother: He burned out because he didn't write enough.

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RyanB
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
Jack Woodford, writing mentor to many a successful genre novelist, famously advised not to revise at all. Just keep writing new stories. Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, famously revised everything he wrote countless times, in search of perfection.

Now it has to be admitted that Jack Woodford certainly completed and sold many, many more novels than Ernest Hemingway (over 30 vs. Hemingway's 7). But Hemingway certainly sold more copies in total. These are both different kinds of success; some of us may aim for a Woodford career, others a Hemingway career, and still others something in between.

The important point is that Hemingway, despite his perfectionism, didn't stop at one story. That's where a lot of people falter, they write themselves into a corner and never venture out of it. If you count Hemingway's short stories, poems, and non-fiction, his total output was considerably greater than Woodford's. His sales were greater than Woodfords. And his writing was simply *better* than Woodfords.

It's worth noting that both of these writers came to a bad end. Woodford was a penniless, washed-up hack at the end of his career. He died at a typewriter in a skid-row motel, trying to write himself out of the hole he'd drunk himself into. Hemingway bought a pleasant cabin up in Idaho fishing country. He bought himself a nice custom-made 12 gauge shotgun too. One day he sat on the porch of that pleasant cabin and in an alcohol soaked funk used that fancy shotgun to blow his own brains out.

I'd say the one lesson you can draw from these guys is this: be a slapdash writer if you wish, or be a perfectionist writer if you prefer that. Just don't be an alcoholic writer.

Wow, somebody else actually brought up Woodford. I heard about him from Jerry Pournelle and read one of his writing books. He's a fascinating character. I've tried to start up conversations about Woodford but it seems no one has heard about him, or if they did they don't care about him.

Woodford's writing advice is crap. And if you intend to write genre fiction you should absolutely read one of his writing craft books. They're fascinating glimpses into U.S. history and the adventure genre's history.

Woodford boils down "what works" to its simplest form and throws it at you so directly you can't possibly misunderstand. And you can't argue that it "doesn't work." He proved it does. Or at least that it did.

I don't think Woodford's methods work anymore. But there's oh so much to learn from the guy.

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