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Author Topic: Standing Out
Denevius
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Of course, an exceptionally difficult job is just to get published (traditional publishing, if that's your goal). And many of our conversations revolve around that. But I wonder if you were to imagine this happening, what do you think about your novel will make it stand out amongst all of the other fiction published that year?

Even if it's self-published, the question applies. I was just reading a self-published work that's part of a series. It's mostly an action scene where the first person narrator is attempting to leave a hotel with his protector, and there's a hitman on his tail. Very clean writing, some nice, tense moments. But I kept thinking to myself that, particularly for self-published works, word of mouth is extremely important. Traditional publishing, too, but then you have an industry behind you, of various sizes, that wants your book to sell.

But let's take word of mouth. If your book published, what aspects of it do you think would inspire some type of conversation? After someone read it, what about it do you think they would find memorable enough to mention to a friend in conversation? And what about that mention would motivate that friend to look it up online to potentially buy?

My earliest development as a writer was around authors who took a lot of big risks in their fiction. When I was 19, I attended a writing camp where Dorothy Allison gave a brilliant workshop. For those who don't know, she wrote "Bastard Out of Carolina", and I always remember her saying (and this is paraphrased, this was almost 20 years ago), 'If your writing doesn't embarrass you, or give you a sense of unease that others are reading it, your writing won't be memorable.' (and of course, this isn't just the usual jitters at having your writing looked at and judged by others).

I don't take Allison's advice to mean that you write all of your neurotic thoughts (though Woody Allen has built quite the career on his neurotic personality), but it does mean you infuse your writing with something that doesn't make "polite conversation". It's a fine line between being a troll, and being a writer who needs to instigate a dialog, first within the reader, then among the circle of people of that reader.

So anyway, I wonder if you all honestly look at your work in progress, what do you think would be talked about by a reader? Most readers will say, 'Yeah, it was well written', but that's usually about as far as that line of conversation goes. I don't think most readers are having lively debates on how good their favorite writer's prose is crafted. But at the same time, they'll talk animately about character actions as if these characters are actually real, living people. They'll talk about a surprising twist in the plot, they'll be moved by paradigm shifts. 'The Usual Suspects' is a decent caper movie, but it's the paradigm shift at the end that had people rushing out of the theatre to insist that their friends also watch the movie. Otherwise you're just left with a bunch of criminals robbing people. Yeah, the acting is good throughout the movie,and the acton scenes are tense, but it's the reveal of Keyser Soze that makes this just not another crime mystery narrative.

In your fiction, do you write towards that Keyser Soze moment, in whatever form it takes? That moment that makes your well-crafted prose stand out from all of the other well-crafted prose that may be published in a particular year?

[ July 22, 2014, 06:01 PM: Message edited by: Denevius ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Great topic, Denevius.

It might be useful to share some of the things that have been discussed about books with our reader friends.

One thing I remember hearing rather often goes along the lines of

Reader one: I just couldn't get into it--it started so slow.

Reader two: You should have kept reading--it gets really good after the first couple of chapters (50 pages/whatever).

For my part, if I can't care after 20 or 30 pages, I have to have a very good "other" reason to keep reading (it's the pick of the month for my reading group, perhaps--and they are certainly going to hear about my not caring).

Just did a writing workshop at Westercon 67, and all of the submissions were written well enough. Most of them went on for the 20 pages we limited their submissions to without "getting to the good part" and I told them so.

So, to go along with your question, Denevius, what will readers say about how long you are taking to "get to the good part"?

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extrinsic
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I strive for that crystalizing quality of meaning that readers delight in and I believe makes a narrative stand out from the fray. I don't get there easily or often though I know it when I see it in what I read. I sometimes see it in narratives in process by others who've not realized it. For my writing it's the greatest struggle I have currently. However, I've got a few narratives on the drafting board that hold promise for topping out what I want from them.

Beyond surprise pivots, turns, twists--revelation and reversal or anagnorisis and peripeteia in the ancients' vernacular--other similar appeals come from our shared human needs and desires that we will not or cannot satisfy, for example, wanting to have the right words on the tongue to put a hassler in his or her place. Never works in real life, even being right raises resistance, refusal, escalates contention and confrontation, because the other party never will admit to wrong, no matter what. But naturally browbeating a deserving target into submission is appealing. Donald Maass, discusses this appeal in Writing the Breakout Novel.

Other appeals are exotic events, settings, and characters that pique readers' curiosity and, consequentially, emotional responses.

Edgy, sketchy events, settings, and characters also appeal, for their forbidden fruit nature: kids smoking, substance abuse, other amoral behaviors, other abuses, and self-involved self-gratifications. The delights of the film Usual Suspects are because secretly we all want to get away with our self-involved trespasses and fool corrupt authorities, though many of us know we cannot nor dare not take the risks.

The good part of any narrative for me is when the agonist's struggle begins to unfold and unravel, when routine is interrupted, and wants and problems compel an agonist to struggle, actively, emotionally, problematically, antagonizingly.

Too much bland routine beforehand, even if the routine is a highly dramatic everyday struggle, say another corpse to find justice for, and I'm lost as a reader, though I will read through regardless most narratives I pick up, looking for shortcomings, faults, failings, craft misapprehensions, so that I don't do that, whatever "that" happens to be.

[ July 23, 2014, 01:37 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Personally, I think introducing good characters and characterisation as early as possible is essential. I have trouble with defining just what "the good bits" are. Of course they're going to be different for each and every reader. But I think great characters who grab the readers imagination, even when they're apparently doing nothing, are a sure winner and it can take only a line or two to introduce an engaging or enigmatic character.

Phil.

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Denevius
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When I think about my last three projects, the magic realist collection, the urban fantasy novel, and this speculative fiction/urban horror novel, I think it's the magic realist novel that would be most memorable and inspire the most conversation. Which is ironic, as I wrote that between 18 and 22 years old.

Perhaps it's a bit of self-delusion, but I still think there's a chance that that collection will one day go viral. It was full of Keyser Soze moments, paradigm shifts that refocused everything the reader thought they knew about the narrative in unexpected and surprising ways. And the collection inspires conversation because it *is* basically a conversation. A dialog in the mode of Robert Anton Wilson's "The Illuminatus! Trilogy", or Herman Hesse's "SteppenWolfe", "Siddharta", and "Narcissus and Goldman". The collection was as depressing as it was uplifting, as violent as it could be serene.

The urban fantasy novel which I wrote throughout most of my 20s, I hate to admit, just doesn't really have much memorable going for it. Plus, it suffers from what Kathleen noted, but instead of 20 to 50 pages, more like a 100 pages before it really gets going. The novel has its surprises, it has its paradigm shift, and it does have a very poignant scene towards the end. But overall, if it were to, say, publish 2015, I think it would fade into the pack. If you get past the first 100 pages, the other 170 or so pages are a nice read, but not much more.

The fusion of asian culture/locale with western mythology I think makes this current novel memorable. There is a Keyser Soze moment at the end, and the narrative does contrast the collective of asian society to the individuality of western society from the very fact that it's a foreigner's POV that wrote the narrative. That has potential to inspire a dialog on both sides of the globe.

If you've published traditionally, you've done something that probably 99% of people who've tried haven't, and that's *definitely* something. I guess the point of this thread is that, afterwards, when your book is in a higher level slushpile, what do you think would make it memorable, or inspire conversation?

Or do you all not worry about that? I can see the sense of perhaps not since for so many of us it seems like a very slim chance anyway of any route besides self-publishing. Though the question, as I said, is probably even more relevant if you self-publish and become one of an seemingly infinite amount of content in that digital realm devoid of any gatekeepers.

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extrinsic
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Several of the literature classes I took while in undergraduate and graduate study focused on popular works, bestsellers, their prize awards for distinction, and literary award culture. One feature runs through them all; that is, strong social commentary on the human condition without overt preaching.

Award culture anymore is as diverse as it is subjective, from the Nobel literature prize to a regional fellowship prize, not to mention WotF and MacArthur; however, that one quality of social commentary stands out in each's unstated criteria, evident from the creams of the crops.

I conclude as well that readers want strong social commentary, attitude toward topics that brighten readers' lives and give them a strong sense of participation and belonging to something larger and more mystical than the everyday-routine self. This is the human condition of consequence: we are social beings, meaningful fellowship is our greatest want, needing each other synergistically in order to vigorously thrive.

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Robert Nowall
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Had to look up (Google and Wikipedia) "Keyser Soze" since I've never seen "The Usual Suspects" and don't get the reference.

Usually when I've bought the book, I figure I'm committed by hard cash, enough to blow past even a dull opening chapter, and usually I wind up hooked into the story somewhere in Chapter Two or Three.

Also, I suppose selling something would be nice, but at this point in my lengthy career at writing, it seems I'm just writing for myself. The hypothetical reader has remained completely hypothetical these past several years. I try to amuse myself---and, really, if I'm not amused or grabbed by what I've written, how can I possibly expect anybody else to be?

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Grumpy old guy
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No doubt, extrinsic, the human condition factor is the major 'draw-card', however I doubt you can introduce that within the first page or two. An engaging character who is the vehicle for such exploration can be introduced in a sentence, if you're good; if you're like me, a chapter.

Edited to add:

Having had an hour to think about it, I thought an example might be a better entree into character as the hook. And, btw, Kathleen I hope I don't exceed 13 lines. So, here it is, first draft, cold start.

He was introduced to me as 'Grumpy', although the raffish grin and the twinkle in his eye belied the nickname. And then, in an instant grin and twinkle vanished to be replaced by an ice-pick stare that penetrated skin, bone and marrow then pierced the heart.

"Don't believe everything you see," he said. "Or anything you're told around here either."

Do you want to know more?

Phil.

[ July 23, 2014, 08:48 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Reziac
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This argument just came up in Another Forum[tm] so out of laziness I'll just quote what I said there, to someone who was using a very mundane scene to attempt to initiate "character investment" (and at least for me, it wasn't working at all):

=======
I'm not sure "investment in the character" actually happens from mundane acquaintance, tho... I wonder how many readers you lose who are reading because they're bored with everyday life and want to read something different, and SF Mundania is still primarily Mundania. I know that's my case -- I'm a lot more interested now that you mention these [upcoming plot point redacted], whereas this kid with parent, that I couldn't care less about. It could be any parent and offspring arguing in a 1960s novel, substitute "the mall" for "the [goal redacted]".

I suspect the recommendation to "start with character investment" comes from seeing too many pieces that start with generic action but no discernible characters. But I think this fad for "a day in the life" as introduction is headed the wrong way, writing-wise... it's the inverse of the same flaw, the notion that you only need character, or you only need action. Whereas I contend that to invest the reader (as distinct from interesting the reader, which any element might accomplish), you need a balance (character, action, setting), even if one or another is so low-key that it's out of immediate focus, or trundles late into the scene unannounced and unnoticed.

A good example of how the action invests us in the character is The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. It starts off with what boils down to an Oh S#!+ moment of action, where we're treated to Miles' personality in the form of fatalism mixed with gung-ho. There's no prior introduction, no slice of Miles' everyday life. Action and character are tangled together here; we learn the character and become involved with him from how he reacts to the action that affects him (that Oh S#!+ moment that culminates this scene).
=====

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extrinsic
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The human condition relevant to a narrative only needs an introduction development in an opening and can be accomplished in a sentence or two or less, using events most of all, such that readers begin to be curious at least, if not care what will happen to whom. And time later, soon and ongoing, for further developments.

Character development is most about how a character responds to contentious events, least about superficial appearances. Current gatekeeper chatter about first-person narratives is that they're generally shy of a minimum mark of character development: trending. This is a result of ambitious writers ineffectually emulating Stephenie Meyer's Twilght saga and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games saga, both narrated first person. Hunger Games characterization is more subtle and effective than Twilight's, though both use events to develop characters.

To stand out, hit the human condition mark, character development, for introduction development--and ongoing--antagonizing, contentious events have the maximum potential influence. Neither Aristotle nor Freytag directly espouse event's significance, they do imply between the lines, Aristotle's emphasis on causation and Freytag's on tension though revisiting causation.

Events come in an infinite variety, like most anything in narrative principles. A visual sensory stimulus is an event, for example, when connected to the observer, be that observer a narrator reflecting an account of a viewpoint agonist, or the direct report of a viewpoint agonist. However, the stimulus is a cause, maybe preceded by a cause and thus the visual sensation is an effect. In either case, such a report is a nonstarter when it lacks a charged reaction to the stimulus. Charged as in atomic, positive or negative, and emotionally charged, again, positive or negative. Neutral at times, though a neutral charge is also a nonstarter.

An emotionally charged event is a starter. The subtlety of well-crafted prose when describing an event is often cause and effect combined. Say a character views a setting detail, close up or panoramic or between, dynamic, robust, emotionally charged verbs, or emotionally charged adjectives or adverbs or noun phrases which serve similar functions serve to express attitude reaction to the visual sensation event, and develop characterization.

The example above exemplifies this principle: adjective "raffish," noun phrase "twinkle in his eye," verb "belied."

Though an event scene, and a contrast showing change, from mischievous to serious, the contentious nature of the meeting between the two is on the bland and under-realized side. Some character development of the observed is in there, none of the observer, the observer's attitude other than noticing the mischief and seriousness, none of what they mean to the observer. In terms of the human condition, that would be the mercurial shift of mood from lighthearted to menacing seriousness.

A suitable response to such an event might show the observer's reaction to the mercurial shift, as fear, as anger, as amusement, as scorn, as contempt, some emotional response, as challenged and demanding satisfaction at the moment: fight or flight, escalate, ignore, or defuse. Before "Grumpy" speaks, a first impression of the observer's is warranted. That way the event is fully realized, develops both characters, and cues up the human condition of the moment; that is, the understated status challenge of "Grumpy's," "Don't mess with me, boy," implied.

The human condition, two males meet for the first time, figuratively thump their chests in a dominance display, and size up each other's strengths, weaknesses, and status in relation to one another, a human condition, an antagonizing, contentious event that develops character through the event.

If this narrative were about that human competition condition and expressed social commentary about that, all the while the power dynamic shifting, until an outcome decided who was king stag, wow, I might be curious and read on. And it would stand out in most any genre, though, depending on the valence charge, positive or negative, of the social commentary attitude position, appeal more to either women or men.

[ July 23, 2014, 03:40 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
This argument just came up in Another Forum[tm] so out of laziness I'll just quote what I said there, to someone who was using a very mundane scene to attempt to initiate "character investment" (and at least for me, it wasn't working at all):

Please elaborate on what is meant by "mundane." The context implies dull but also suggests worldly, which is the original meaning of the term: mundus, world. Mundane, wordly, as contrasted by metaphysical--spiritual or paranormal--or mundane, commonplace, as contrasted with stimulating? Or both?

[ July 23, 2014, 03:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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Mundane as in Not SF/F. Mundania, where Mundanes live.

http://www.answers.com/topic/mundania

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Denevius
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quote:
He was introduced to me as 'Grumpy', although the raffish grin and the twinkle in his eye belied the nickname. And then, in an instant grin and twinkle vanished to be replaced by an ice-pick stare that penetrated skin, bone and marrow then pierced the heart.

"Don't believe everything you see," he said. "Or anything you're told around here either."

Do you want to know more?

More the question I was going for is, "Why would someone tell their friends about your character?"

A very small percentage of writers who try to traditionally publish a novel succeed. If you're one of that small percentage, kudos! The question I'm getting at is what aspects of your novel do you think people will find worthy of discussion? Because it's the generation of discussion that drives sells or wins notable awards.

Readers who enjoy "Game of Thrones" will say it's a well written story, but I haven't heard many discussions that continue along that vein. Usually, a reader will mention that as a prelude to what they really want to talk about: how awful Joffrey is, how surprising it was that this character died, or that character killed someone, or how bada** Arya is becoming.

So how do you feel your narrative will work for you in the public sphere? What's the bits that you think are memorable, that you hope will inspire conversation?

At the end of my second year as a MFA student, I was listening to one of my classmates read an excerpt from her short story, and I thought to myself, "Wow, she improved. Her writing is crisp, her characters are clearly motivated, her dialog has improved dramatically."

And then I listened to the next, and I thought the same thing. Then the next, and the next, and it dawned on me that all of this is probably publication worthy. But if it was published, how would it fare? Would it simply end up in one of the many literary journals that collect dust on bookshelves?

You could hear how the craft of the pieces being read had been worked on and polished over the two years of the program, but what you didn't really hear was how the work would ever stand out from all of the other polished narratives out there if it were published.

Social commentary is a good answer. My urban fantasy novel was a critical analysis of the superhero, but that's been done like, a lot now. Another reason why it wouldn't really stand out.Which brings up another question. Why do you think your previous novel failed? If you perceive it as having failed.

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MAP
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There is no simple answer here because different readers want different things. Some readers just want interesting characters, some readers want complex plots with lots of twists, some readers want some sort of emotional response. If you give the reader the type of experience they want, then they will talk about it.

Denevius, your classmate's short story may not have appealed to you, but it may appeal to other readers because different aspects of the story stand out for different readers.

But I do have an answer for what I think makes a book stand out, authenticity.

I like Allison's quote in the OP. I'm not sure if this is exactly what she meant, but I think it is about bearing your soul in your writing. Pealing back those masks that we put on for the world, those masks that hide our flaws and insecurities, our weaknesses and fears, and truly writing from the heart with unflinching honesty. It is about being who you really are.

And yeah, it is scary to let those little bits and pieces of your true self be read by others. But I think readers can feel when your writing is authentic, and even though not all of them will like it, those who do will really connect with you. And that will make your story stand out to them.

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic, when I wrote that teeny bit of characterisation I did it so that it is intentionally ambiguous. You chose one path the story could devolve into, alpha male asserting dominance but there are at least three others. The point is to maintain the ambiguity surrounding both the characters for as long as possible.

Choice 1: I looked into eyes the colour of the storm-tossed seas off the coast of Maine and remembered where I'd seen its like before.

Choice 2: I looked into dark grey eyes then quickly took in the rest of his face in a single glance. I tilted my head a smidgeon to the left and then stuck out my hand, a smile on my face, "Glad to meet you. That's a neat trick." I'd been warned.

Take your pick.

On another note, The Old Man and the Sea IS a perfect example of introducing a fundamental element of the human condition in a single sentence but I'm not that good; that's why I resort to characters to hook the reader.

And, as for developing the character of the narrator in a first person POV, most people fail miserably because they're trying to describe the character to the reader instead of letting them learn about the character through their actions. A classic example of tell instead of show. Don't tell me she never gets involved, write a scene that shows me how she avoids getting involved. But it's not just that, the style of the writing IS the character's voice. The narrative tone and content is the window into the soul of the narrator.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, when I and my small circle of friends discuss books, none of us ever have favourite bits. We generally recommend books to each other because of the story and not individual elements.

But, that's just us. I know of other people who say, "You've just got to read this, there're these scenes between . . ." Well, you get the drift.

It's all horses for courses. And, I guess, that's why writers have followers. Something they're saying, and how they say it, resonates with a particular group of readers. And, as for a book failing? Well, the only time one of my books fails is when I give up writing it, sales aren't how I value success. If I write a story that I think is my best work and then only sell zero copies, I haven't failed and the book hasn't failed. Readers just aren't interested in that particular story.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
extrinsic, when I wrote that teeny bit of characterisation I did it so that it is intentionally ambiguous. You chose one path the story could devolve into, alpha male asserting dominance but there are at least three others. The point is to maintain the ambiguity surrounding both the characters for as long as possible.

. . .

Phil.

I can appreciate character ambiguity. Event vagueness is for me misspent word count. Artful event ambiguity, on the other hand, could be a viewpoint agonist's misapprehensions, though reader misapprehensions are problematic when the dramatic irony allows them little access to a reasonable determination of what's actually going on.

If readers have few clues what's going on, why not skip reading or pay little attention to misdirection and confusing parts. Readers have an inherent want to make sense of events, a natural survival instinct potentially turned to a writer's advantage--an opposite of willing suspension of disbelief, the belief process already established--and through the events settle in and determine for themselves what the events mean. However, a degree of meaning accessibilty is crucial. That's related, one method, by a viewpoint agonist's attitude toward events, be that attitude an appreciation of a mercurial co-agonist's shifted mood or other motifs.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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A writer friend of mine once said that good ambiguity = "what does this mean?" and bad ambiguity = "what is going on?"
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Denevius
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quote:
Denevius, your classmate's short story may not have appealed to you, but it may appeal to other readers because different aspects of the story stand out for different readers.

It would still be a question though of what *she* thinks appeals to readers about the story. Why she thinks this story is doing something that will engage readers and get them talking about the narrative.

The synopsis process is interesting in that many writers have problems articulating exactly what *is* good about their novel. People will say that their synopsis sounds boring, or when they describe the story out loud, it doesn't sound as exciting as it does when they're just thinking about it.

In a way, I guess my question is getting at that. When you attempt to articulate your story, what phrasing are you using? As Kathleen noted, many times you do hear it said, by readers and by writers of their own fiction, that the narrative picks up later on. Well, where do you think it picks up, and why is that? If you think it picks up later on, obviously you also feel that the beginning isn't the memorable part. So, what is, and why?

If your novel stood alongside ten other novels, what do you hope about it is going to distinguish itself? If your answer is, "Well, the writing's really good." But then, those other nine books are, theoretically, published because the writing is really good in them also. If you say, "Yeah well, the characters in my book are really interesting." Again, theoretically, that should be the same about the other nine books also.

So, what's good about the writing? What's good about the characters?

I don't know, I actually think being able to articulate this might come in handy if you get a publisher's attention with your submission. How do you feel your writing stands out among the crowd?

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Grumpy old guy
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Denevius, are you writing for an audience or because you need to write? But, putting that aside, just what do I think about my own writing? Well, I'm told I create great characters, characters that my readers, and I do have some, really want to know more about. More than what I include in my stories. I am also told that, while at times my language feels archaic, the turns of phrase resonate on some subliminal level; the poetry and phrasing sings to them. But do I think that?

No. In fact I don't think about my writing at all. I consider craft and voice, plot and premise, but actual words on the page? They simply tumble forth as is their want and I simply filter them as appropriate. I don't consciously attempt to stand out from the pack, I have a story that demands that I tell it and I meekly comply. If, in the editing process I can elevate mere story into literary masterpiece I would be a fool not to; but I doubt that will ever happen.

Phil.
No Booker Prize for me, I think

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extrinsic
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The ideology behind any given writer's work, peculiarly, rarely reflects the writers' overt intent. Read a handful or more of writer interviews by lifestyle columnists. The writers' perspectives and goals of their own writing are different from readers'. Artists generally differ from their appreciators on what stands out. Also peculiarly, detractors' perspectives are often closer to the artists' perspectives.

Authors' prefatory notes and introductions contain material that also expresses writers' perspectives. An argument could be construed that writers do not understand how readers recieve their writing. More often, the phenomena is that readers receive a written work from a consumer perspective than a creator perpsective.

Do the contents and ingredients, proportions and methods, ingredient origins and item handling of a gourmet restaurant meal matter to tastes and sensibilities and satisfactions? Generally not, beyond individual preferences and food safety concerns, the latter taken for granted more often than challenged, since food safety inspectors are presumed to do their duty.

This diner doesn't care for onions; that diner is alergic to peanut products. That diner is on a low sodium diet, this diner avoids peppery foods, including paprika. This diner favors broiled, that one poached, this other fried, roasted, braised, steamed, sautéed, stir fried, boiled, baked, raw, cold, hot, tepid, ad infinitum. Many menus, chefs, etc., state unequivocally, No Substitutions, no changes, the food is the way it comes from the kitchen. Take it or leave it; though, of course, the food is prepared with the maximum appeal and suitability potentials. Although, low food safety grades are the death of a restaurant, food poisoning the worst reputation a restaurant may earn.

Ask a gourmet chef, What is the inspiration behind this unique, delicious sauce? The answer will usually be uninterpretable. A touch of Vedic merged with Southern comfort influence and pre-Rockefeller consistency and contrast aesthetics with a smoke character and malt finish. An ingredients bill may be as uninterpretable as well. Arugula and endive garni with a raspberry, orange, and balsamic confit.

When I cook for others, a touch of artistry no diners can generally understand prevents them from making the recipe to suit their tastes. I make a Vedic pumpkin casserole after Halloween, with leftover pumpkin, of course. Diners love the dish but cannot duplicate the dish. No one, not even fellow chefs, save the one from whom I drew inspiration, have duplicated the dish. Emulators otherwise accuse me of withholding key ingredients and misstating proportions and preparation methods!? I don't have secrets. I don't need to. That so-called Tender Loving Care is the difference, a subtle eye for preparation step completion: the exact moment when onions are carmelized to the degree best for the prepartion, the order of ingredient assembly.

For example, the above pumpkin casserole, the raw pumpkin is dry roasted in a medium temperature oven, 375 degrees Farenheit, done when the edges of the wedges start to scorch, about one hour. The temperature and time needed are critical. Food starches and sugars light carmelize at that temperature in a predictable amount of time. The Maillard reaction, as its known, browns foods and gives them their unique flavors.

The critical temperature varies from circumstance to circumstance, depending on ingredient and starch and sugar type--carbohydate--ambient pressure, humidity, and accompanying enzymes and catalysts. Yet how many home chefs know enough about the Maillard reaction to achieve desirable and consistent results? Caramels, candies generally, frostings, any item that depends on sugars' unique chemistries rely on the Maillard reaction. Diners generally neither know nor care to know about the Maillard reaction, though that and knowledge like it makes all the difference between a short order cook and a gourmet chef.

The best order of ingredients, their sizes, and proportions also matters. The pumpkin casserole starts with one-inch roasted, peeled pumpkin cubes on the first layer of a lightly oiled deep casserole dish. Raw quarter-inch red onion slice rings next. Must be red onions, not white, yellow, sweet, or Vidalia onions or scallions, leeks, or shallots.

Next, apple cider vinegar a quarter-inch deep in the casserole dish, then tepid ghee--cooled clarified butter--teaspoon drop-sized pieces on top spaced on one-inch centers.

Then the spices: salt, black pepper, ground cardamon, tumeric, ginger, brown mustard seed, celery seed, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne. The proportions are critical, twice as much salt as the others, except the last three, just a pinch. All the spices are combined dry in a separate bowl then sprinkled on top such that the spices lightly dust the surface.

No stirring. Covered then baked for an hour in a 350 degrees Farenheit oven. The casserole is done at the moment the onions wilt and a fork inserted into a center pumpkin piece meets soft resistance. No stirring prior to service.

Yet none of my diners who've attempted the recipe are satisfied with the results. They do, however, try, and no less request the dish as made by me.

The diners remark the textures appeal, the flavors, the spices, the dish overall. Number one, interpretable from their responses, though not noted directly, the way the dish compliments other entrée items. Mild sweet, tangy bitter, soft and crisp, bite sized, lively colors, warm, contrasts internally and with and compliments mild-flavored meats, turkey, chicken, pork, seafood, and bland starches like mashed potatoes and rices.

Diners do not need or want to know food chemisty and psychology to enjoy food. A chef does.

Likewise, a writer does need to know word chemisty and psychology (rhetoric) so that a narrative appeals to readers' palates. Standing out from the fray, though, comes from the iota of extra tender loving care that a knowledgeable writer brings to bear. Not that this ingredient or method of preparation, or taste or contrast or compliment is accomplished through a rarefied understanding of esoteric knowledge, only how the whole tastes.

Writers do need to know, though, and what diners-readers want though they know it not until it's on the palate. Then the conversation begins: the eyes' delights sparkle with pleasant surprise, the pleasure sighs, the yums, the immediate praise, the later chatter, the later yet requests for more, More, MORE, again, again. The later overheard water cooler and living room sofa talk about how great that was, the compliments, not its parts, but the whole.

[ July 27, 2014, 02:27 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Reziac
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I'm reminded of how wine is evaluated:

By connoisseurs: aroma, bouquet, texture, aftertaste; a hint of this flower, that fruit, some rare wood.

By drinkers: I like it, or I don't like it. It's too sweet, or too dry, or just right. I'll buy more of this, or I'll dump it down the sink.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
I'm reminded of how wine is evaluated:

By connoisseurs: aroma, bouquet, texture, aftertaste; a hint of this flower, that fruit, some rare wood.

By drinkers: I like it, or I don't like it. It's too sweet, or too dry, or just right. I'll buy more of this, or I'll dump it down the sink.

Wine, beer, spirits, coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco, illicit substances, etc. Some "connoisseurs" are critics, perceptive or not, some are expert tasters, some publish their findings, some hoard their finds. Most consumers only know what they like, not how to describe what they like.

Beer, for example. Ale or lager to start with. Most U.S. beers are lagers. Many imports and craft brews are ales. Malt character, hops character, yeast character, adjunct character--starch adjuncts like rice, wheat, oats, maybe pumpkin, other fruits like cranberry, raspberry.

A grain bill of assorted malts may flavor beer a chocolate or coffee or both. Carmel and citrus and tart fruits and butter and wood flavors too. Some beer flavors are enhanced or supplmented by hops character. No coffee or chocolate or fruit, butter, or wood added, no carmel either per se. Irish porter craft brews (dark ales) are most often flavored that way. The carmels of roasted germinated barley (malt) and across the range from unmalted barley to black malt (charred), maltase enzyme deactivated, has a rich palate of flavors. The Maillard reaction, among others like germination activation of maltase and other enzymes, in all its finesse. German beer purity laws require a beer to be made only from water, malt, hops, and yeast. U.S. beer making has no ingredient restrictions, except beverage sanitation and food safety laws.

In writing terms, crafting a standout narrative is akin to crafting a fine, standout brew. Yet most readers and drinkers couldn't care less how one is made or its ingredients, except the one for beer and such, the alcohol outcomes, so long as the beer is palatable and refreshing. For writing craft and appeals, substitute emotional stimulation for alcohol. Not to say write with or without alcohol consumption, only alcohol cannot be consumed from the page. Emotion can. That's also where social commentary enters into and flows from the narrative brew--as emotional stimulation.

[ July 27, 2014, 02:35 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The thing is, the more you learn about how a story is put together, the less able you are to read one as a pure reader.

The best thing I can say about any story I read now is that I became so involved in it that I stopped editing.

It's a loss of innocence, in a way, but it's also a gain, because you can really appreciate it when something is done well.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
The thing is, the more you learn about how a story is put together, the less able you are to read one as a pure reader.

The best thing I can say about any story I read now is that I became so involved in it that I stopped editing.

It's a loss of innocence, in a way, but it's also a gain, because you can really appreciate it when something is done well.

All true, tho is being a writer worth the loss of my ability to enjoy reading pretty much anything with words? I'm not sure. I just went through about 20 recent books and could not find a single one that I was interested in reading past the first few pages -- either the writing offended my ear or the content was same-old same-old, if that fresh.

Then I looked at some older stuff (that I hadn't read before), and ... well, it's not all me. If the samples I've been looking at are any indication, the quality of writing today is just not what it was 20 or 30 or more years ago.

And by that I conclude that today's average reader is not as discerning as in the past. That's an ugly realization, but not unexpected given the state of education today. [Frown]

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extrinsic
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A proverb claims food always tastes better when another person prepares it. In my case, if I prepare my meals, they meet my expectations and dietary needs, not to mention satisfactions. Other chefs may meet my food needs and wants, though rarely, and not for a long time. This is more than simple hubris, I have special dietary needs and, again, have for a long time.

When I read anymore, I also edit, criticize, critique, proofread, screen, grade, etc. Eleven years ago, I lost all innocence about reading. Cold ashes and burnt, stale toast reading was for about four years. I joined Hatrack about then. I doubled down, the only strategy I had forward: closer reading, stronger grammar skills, more intensive writing craft study, and a broader perspective across the litrature opus. Huzzah! Reading became ever more satisfying. In part from active participation at Hatrack, and graduate study and independent study.

Along the way, I noted that fiction, prose generally, adapted and adopted to the times: content and organization, method and message, rhetoric, narrowness or broadness. Recent trends have been toward broadness. The Digital Age made crossover genre mixing a free-for-all paradigm. More than genre crossover, literary movement crossovers and loosened style expectations and parameters (grammar and rhetoric) and topics and subjects lost taboo limitations previously unthinkable. And every generation disparaged prior ones' writing and bad mouthed upcoming generations' writing. Call it artistic jealousy, at least from marketing one's own artistic expression as the latest, greatest innovations since upright ambulation.

I cannot read without noticing craft shortcomings, very rarely do I completely lose myself in reading anymore. I'm the same way with others' cooking. The last narrative I read that managed total immersion was several years back. Thomas Hariss's Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Rising, and Hannibal. Red Dragon for me is mediocre. Also Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons drew me deeply into that ever elusive reality imitation readers' spell. Few narratives are that compelling nor are many across the opus.

Another phenomena I've noticed that's a consequence of the Digital Age is a greater emphasis on slang dialects, mostly misuse of conjunctions and prepositions. I presume the intent is to connect unconnected actions and ideas, force sequentialness into contemporaneousness, a pressure of thought and speech, as though writers want to hold attention, create emphasis though unnatural, and by doing so achieve the opposite effect. Not to say prior era writers don't force context together, only different techniques, faulty no less grammar and rhetoric, mostly a stream of consciousness vice instead of a virtue in either case. Virtued stream of consciousness is sublime, though, and challenging. Of note, film must use cinematic overt narrator effects in order to achieve stream of consciousness expression.

This is written word's strength: stream of consciousness, not narrator thought, agonist thought regardless of grammatic person: first, third, or second, even fourth person. Fourth person was a common mode in neolithic eras' languages, lost from contemporary languages. Agonist thought stream of consciousness is not a matter of jumbling a chaotic thought process onto the page, rather, it is an agonist's natural Free Association process reflected by overt or covert narrator narration.

The years march past, the times change, literary aesthetics transform, though in many ways remain the same. Writers generally emulate what came before, starting with fundamental similarities. And each writer has only one lifetime to learn what she or he will of what came before. Experimental writers skip past a large part of learning what came before. Eager ambitious writers skip most of what came before and focus on one or another craft skill set, genre, style, and the rest can go dance with a hurricane like it's a love fight.

Our forebears cooked over open fires not long ago and still do for the occasional aesthetic satisfactions of smoke's flavors. Cooking tenderizes foods, makes them more satisfying and digestible and palatable. Cooking is akin to writing revision: not the way nature made it, though the natural properties cooking lends foods is itself natural. Fire makes smoke, for example, the Maillard reaction, etc., part of natural creation made human for human benefits. Cooking or writing for an audience, though the audience be for the self or others, revises a raw product to meet maximum needs, satisfactions, and nourish the human condition.

[ July 28, 2014, 12:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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