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Author Topic: How to, or not. One writer's opinion.
Grumpy old guy
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Originally, this was going to be a reply in another thread, however, upon reflection I've come to the conclusion the subject matter will probably prove to be contentious; hence this separate thread. But where to start? How to start? Let me go back a step or two. What makes a writer?

In this Age of the Internet, if you want to learn how to do something it's just a few mouse-clicks away, so why not writing? With only a couple of clicks I can download, completely free, Aristotle's Poetics and Gustav Freytag's Techniques of the Drama, two of the most respected treatises on dramatic writing available. Easy-peasy, right?

Well, that depends on why you want to write, I guess.

In this Age of the Internet anyone can publish anything. Mass access and mass desire has turned the concept of Vanity Press into the mainstream. The lines between mainstream publishing quality control and the usually rejected hack-work, free-for-all rubbish thrown up by the masses are blurred; heck, the line has been erased. We live in a narcissist's paradise. And yet, some few hardy souls still try to learn the art and craft of storytelling. Why? To grossly oversimplify the incredibly complex, in my mind there are three basic reasons why someone wants to write.

The first one, and the one that is most likely to succeed in my opinion, is the writer who has something to say. This is a writer who will study the art and craft of writing so that their message will be heard. Not like some strident evangelist pounding the pulpit and admonishing the faithful. Such 'preaching' never earns anything more noble than derision. No, the writer with something to say is searching for the tools that turn subtle observation, metaphor, and irony into a powerful argument that gnaws at the subconscious mind and subverts the status quo. These types of writers dream of nothing less than making all of humanity weep or laugh over its failures, foibles, and fallacies.

Second, there is the writer who simply writes for the sheer joy of it; for their own amusement, entertainment, and, perhaps, education. Are they interested in artful narrative, metaphor, and foreshadowing? Flip a coin. Some will be; pride in their own effort will demand they do the best they can, others are not so driven by a search for perfection. Another flip of the coin. Some of these 'Joyous Writers' will at some point find that they do indeed have something to say and will attempt to get published. Good luck to them.

Last, we come to the narcissists. Enough said.

Now that I've successfully segregated a universe of diverse, individual writers into three little boxes, all made of ticky-tacky, let's see how they relate to the three most common classes of information writers seek out to improve their writing skills: Treatise, the 'How To' book, and the 'Ten Greatest Tips' lists on the Internet. The following is my subjective assessment of these three methods of learning how to write well, including some observations on their strengths and shortfalls. Also, while I find argument by analogy fraught with danger, in this instance it seems a cup of soup will serve me well. Otherwise, I'll be submitting a tome twenty times longer than this massive post.

Let's start with my favourite, the Internet. A lot of people consider the Internet an academic wasteland free of all critical thought and home to outright misrepresentation rather than fact backed evidence. And while this holds true for the most part, in my opinion, occasionally you'll find a diamond amongst the spoil. Not often, but sometimes.

'Writing Lists' posted on the Internet are, again in my opinion, the equivalent of a cup of instant soup--You'll get what you want, sort of, almost instantly. It probably won't taste the best and you won't be too certain of what's in it or how it was made, but it satisfies an immediate need. For the aspiring writer, this is really all they want at that moment--a quick dump of information about something they don't know much about and need answers to so they can move on with their story.

That's the problem inherent in Internet 'Lists', they are prescriptive and lecturing without imparting any basic knowledge of concepts and principles to the supplicant. Btw: I was a heavy user of such lists as these when I first started writing--until I discovered I wasn't actually learning anything. It didn't take long to notice that tiny flaw.

Next comes the 'How To' books which are the inevitable next-step along an aspiring writer's journey after searching the Internet. Or, perhaps it is the reverse for you--it was for me. I started with the 'How To' books, three actually, recognised the flaws in their approach and so tried the Internet. As a tool for the aspiring writer, 'How To' books have a limited use although they cover much broader ground, generally, than Internet lists. They do have one major flaw in their conception however--they are one writer's (usually a published, second-tier writer) idea of how a problem should be addressed. This has its uses in the aspiring writer's journey towards becoming a student writer where you start to think for yourself, but in the general scheme of things these types of books are of limited value. Now, while I personally think he goes too far, in the Introduction to his book Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Rust Hills says:

quote:
I've got a shelf of how-to-write books, and they all seem to me pretty much dreadful, especially the ones about the short story. They all seem to be written by old magazine hacks about a kind of “Popular” formula fiction no one wants anymore (sic) anyway--Story Plotting Simplified, that kind of thing, complete with simple-minded examples from slick fiction.

He goes on to add:

. . . the first self (referring to how-to-books) is trying to teach you how to write lousy stories, and the second shelf (referring to college textbooks and critical analysis of short story anthologies) is trying to teach you how to read literature.

As I said, I think he's being a bit harsh. If I were to use my cup of soup analogy, I would liken 'How To' books to cooking your soup following someone else's recipe. You end up with that person's soup, not your own. It is more satisfying than instant Internet soup, but it isn't freshly original.

Last we come to the Treatise. The treatise doesn't tell you how to do anything. There are no lists, no recipes for success, no shortcuts, and no easy solutions. The treatise simply uses philosophy and rhetoric to explore the principles behind dramatic writing. To use my soup analogy again, soup is made by the long simmering of vegetables, meat, or fish in water--or any combination of the three. However, in order to make an exceptional soup there are some principles of soup making you should be aware of: the base of all soups is the mirepoix, a mix of carrot, onion, and celery, and, instead of long simmering in water, the most flavourful and sumptuous soups are made with a bouillon. But these are not the principles of cooking, just soup making--which is a branch of cooking. It is the principles of how the mirepoix and a proper bouillon are made and how that bouillon may be clarified that allow the cook to cook any soup from any ingredients at hand. But it isn't limited to just soups.

It's the same thing with a treatise. The writers of such works set out to examine and explore the principles that underpin dramatic writing so that regardless of the situation the writer finds themselves in, they have guiding principles that will allow them to see a way out of their difficulties.

An example. The first two stories I ever wrote are unpublished because I could never find the right place to start them. That was six years ago and, from time to time I have revisited them trying to find that elusive start. Then I read Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction. After reading that book I thought that there were eight hours of my life I would never get back. Twelve months later I realised I was wrong.

The problem with the start of one of my stories was that I felt it was extremely important for my readers to immediately understand that the gods in this universe were real and interacted with humans, but I could never find a satisfactory way to do it that wasn't cliché. Then, one night as I was standing in front of my whiteboard with wineglass in hand something I thought I had read in Percy Lubbock's book knocked on the door: If you can find the one character who is the only one who can tell the whole story then you'll have found your viewpoint character. Suddenly it all became so clear! For so long I had been focusing on the wrong viewpoint character to tell the story, all I had to do was change viewpoint character and the whole opening chapter fell into place in an eye blink. This only happened because I had finally assimilated the principles behind choosing the best viewpoint character to tell a story.

But applying 'principles' in writing doesn't just apply to one thing. By slightly modifying that principle to once you find the only place the story can start then you have found your beginning, I found the proper stating place for my second novel.

The problem for you, if you're suddenly interested in these two insights, is that the principles I wrote above are meaningless, incomplete, and trite unless you come to your own conclusions from studying Lubbock's treatise. And I can't guarantee you'll see the same things I saw in that work. The same goes for the treatises of Aristotle, Freytag, and Egri to name the others in my small current collection.

It's just one writer's opinion so feel free to disagree, vehemently but politely, if you desire.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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The cup of soup allusion is inspired method. Although food preparation allusions are the more common composition trope, those are apt due to food, like creative expression, is at once physical and emotional nutrition and sustains and delights if aptly prepared.

However, as above, such allusions function if they are broadly accessible, apt, and open to an intended interpretation. Food allusions are broadly accessible, probably most accessible though risk triteness from their convenient resort.

An allusion of specificity to the extent of mirepoix defuses triteness from its at once both everyday familiarity and fresh, vivid, lively exoticness. Yeah, chicken soup prepared without mirepoix and bouillon is mere water-poached chicken -- as bland as shell sand, visually, olfactorily, tactilely, gustatorily, and emotionally, and nutritionally nada but protein and fat.

Mirepoix is unnecessary for basic nutrition, per se, essential for emotional nutrition, though. Its value is aromatic appeal contributions, olfactory most. Gustation is a complex interaction of visual, olfactory, tactile, gustatory itself, and emotional appeals. Water-poached chicken is visually bland, olfactorily too. It does retain some tactile and gustatory appeals, little if any emotional appeals.

That's mirepoix's contribution and function. Many are the chefs who use mirepoix because that's how its done -- the solely mechanical process. Nextmost and more uncommon is the knowledge that mirepoix is an aromatic appeal preparation. Okay enough for a reason why. Nextmost, rarest, and the pinnacle of culinary arts is the how of mirepoix's function and contribution. Not how-to prepare, rather how mirepoix affects and effects consumer appeals: mostly, if not entirely through the nose. Led first by the nose.

Mirepoix can be overprepared and underprepared, minced too small, diced too large, jullienned instead, or used whole, scorched, burnt, not caramelized when indicated or at all, or disproportionate amounts, too much onion, celery, or carrots, or particular herbs, or not enough or too much mirepoix altogether. The nose knows.

A subliminal restaurant appeal practice is to prepare aromatics such that those suffuse into the ambiance of the dining area, even outside and far away. The Chinese spiced cooking oil preparation that stir fries onions, garlic, ginger, and carrots, the solids discarded at the end, the oil used for dish preparation, suffuses whole neighborhoods with aromatic appeals. Bouillon stock preparation, too, chicken and lobster in particular. On the other hand, scorched deep fryer fats alienate the nose. Aromatic appeals: such is mirepoix; such are the emotional sensory stimuli of narrative arts.

Top-ten lists and how-tos appeal to tradition, an informal fallacy of that's the way it is done, has always been done, and will always be done. Top-tens are at their greatest appeal value when they are ironic, at least ironically self-efface tradition and therefrom intellectually, imaginatively, and emotionally appeal. Yet that irony facet is all too often overlooked, missed altogether. How-tos appeal greatest from the same aspect. Irony "shows" how it is done, doesn't "tell" how-to summary and explanation as dictated directions or imperative conduct.

Such irony showing, though, is sublime, doesn't call undue attention to itself, and is, therefore, less visible if at all, difficult for an itinerant writer to notice and process. Like mirepoix disappears in a stock or dish though the preparation retains its aromatic appeals, a poetics treatise shows that the greater reader effects come from the fewer writer created causes, irony foremost. Poetics texts reveal those aesthetics causes and effects through example illustration analyses.

Now, a read and study, for example, of Percy Lubbock's The Craft of Fiction entails a companion read and study of the example narratives the text cites and analyzes. Numerous texts and writers thereof to study as companions to the central text. And a number of similar poetics treatises likewise as further companions of one another with their, as well, numerous cited and analyzed texts. Oh bother, what a chore. It too is a marathon and then some, like writing effectively, not a fifty-meter dash of a one-two-three . . . -ten top priority list or hundred-meter recipe how-to sprint. Top-tens and how-tos are naive shortcuts that prolong more so than shorten the Poets' Journey. The easy way is the hard way.

Yet learning the top priorities and directions are the step-stone to beyond "rules" and tradition-based instruction to why? satisfaction, to how? satisfaction's pinnacles: the texture aspects of what, why, and how aesthetics emotionally appeal, not mere because that's the way it is done and ought should be.

A recent essay published to the culture about the proverb "Show, don't tell" misses the essential pieces of the discussion; that is, what, why, and how show and tell appeal, that show and tell work in tandem and are distinguishable yet indivisible. "And," not "don't," and what, why, and how work or won't work for reader effect.

The essay outright dismisses such "don't tell" guidance as unnecessary distraction. Nothing new therein, only an opinion editorial piece. If only the essay composer had appreciated the pinnacle sensory nuances of show and tell appeals, instead of bogging down under the tradition mechanics fallacies and refutation repudiation of them, that it's just done because it is so and so said.

The publication also contains other misguided essays, one that dismisses punctuation's functions, of reading and comprehension ease enhancement and due emphasis signals; and one essay that misrepresents setting's functions, spectacle backdrops, the essay claims, are fundamental traditions for setting, instead of as fallible and contributory dramatic agencies. The rest (three) of the publication issue's essays are promotional, self-absorbed, or both.

By the way, canned mirepoix can be bought in bulk for the food service trade. Number ten cans in six-pack cartons, four cartons to a gaylord package. Hah! Yuck! It is as aroma-less as water-poached chicken packed in cardboard, as appeal-less as melodramatic commercial prose's direct, too-pat drama mediocrity. Institutional cafeterias and bulk food factories use it. Vapid top-tens and how-tos come in such bulk quantities and result in such institutional uses and outcomes. Their perhaps strength, though, is their composers gain insight from reducing their revelations to written word.

[ November 13, 2016, 03:58 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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”Show, don't tell.” This is probably the greatest fraud perpetrated against literature since the Ern Malley Hoax . Coming in second, by a half-head, is the declaration that ”There are no rules in writing.”

The first Rule is so obviously false it's a wonder that anyone falls for it, but they do. I did--for about a year. It took me that long to realise all of my favourite stories started with some form of tell and exposition and there were rarely any instances of any scenes which were pure show. Show has its place, as does tell, however they cannot exist in isolation; they are symbiotic, each supporting and enhancing the effects of the other.

The second Rule is, on the face of it, essentially correct. Experienced, innovative, and experimental writers fool around with the 'accepted' rules of writing all the time. So, while there might not be any rules in writing, there are however some principles of storytelling that have been universally accepted over a couple of thousand years:

The story must have significance. It other words it must be capable of moving the human heart and tapping into human emotions.

The plot, being an imitation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.”--Aristotle's Poetics VIII (350BC)

The story must have a distinct beginning, middle, and end that is unique to itself.

That's just to name a few.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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A robust, contentious discussion about Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going, where have you been" in a writing class asked, by facilitator prompt, when its plot movement begins. Responses ranged from immediately to never. Neither of those extremes could be supported by their claimants.

The first quarter is back story, was my response -- the traditional method of so-labeled exposition. And back story fits the present common definition of exposition: expository summary and explanation expression. The story's back story also fits the traditional definition of exposition; that is, the introduction setup and outset of the main complication theme. However, emotional movement starts from the first sentence onward. The plot begins movement when Connie first acts upon the revealed complication at the quarter mark, when Connie first commits a tangible and proactive self-error.

Oh was that ever a contentious point, like an outrageous assertion Connie asked for the predator to attack her. Not my point at all, instead that she was naive of and vulnerable to an immoral social belief in a presupposed propriety notion.

Such clinical analysis didn't go over well in the discussion, nor its like before or after in any of my creative writing or literature courses -- well, classroom discussions anyway; response papers, all but two of my professors found my New Criticism approach fresh, daring, refreshing, and informative. My approach is how formula and aesthetics synergistically co-enhance appeals. Though a portion of each class complement acquiesced to the validity of my structure observations, those were deprecated or rejected outright because they entail disciplined formula criteria and disfavor free-range creativity, an erroneous interpretation. Later, after, apparently, further meditations, they were allowed as valid though problematic if formulas result in formulaic products -- analytical responses or creative compositions.

I took from Aristotle formula guidance for composition and for analysis, having studied the Poetics before my first writing course. Even naming Aristotle raised contention, let alone any principle therefrom. The more common objection was "But that's about drama," which, of course, is valid though presumed meant and intended to apply solely to stage and screenplays, not prose. Freytag received similar treatment.

My response to which is, regardless, that prose's four story forms of drama, anecdote, vignette, and sketch nonetheless entail drama's essential antagonism, causation, and tension. Aristotle contributed causation analytics to drama theory; tension analytics, Freytag contributed; both scratch at the edges of complication's motivational antagonism aspect.

After all the noisier authorities rejected my claim Oates' story's plot starts movement at the quarter mark, majority consensus agreed it is so. That could not stand with approval-envious classmates, though, the minority consensus opinion position's real motivation.

That minority consensus remained silent when the discussion then prompted what is the story about. My response, after others proposed their opinions, mostly superficial edge scratches, was, the perilous character of human sexuality. I supported that assertion by a brief review of the plot pivot points, in particular, the denouement.

That was a duh-uh, of course moment for the class. The jealous naysayers nonetheless opposed that interpretation, with no basis for support, more of an appeal to tradition fallacy and defensive dismissal fallacy that predatory sexuality is natural, the way it is, was, will be, must of necessity be.

The Oates' story no less shows and tells from the start. The tell abstracted from its contemporaneous show no less summarizes, less so explains, and is defused, though, by the robust emotional charge movement from start to end, which is show's strength. Other movement aspects co-occur throughout, aesthetic movement overall.

The story is a model for study of show and tell -- not show, don't tell -- and of the equivalent matters of so-called rules and how rules by default dare contravention of them.

Redemptions for the "show, don't tell" proverb are that it's a catchy phrase, memorable for its catchiness -- proverb's persuasion effect from a Big Lie fallacy of ad nauseam repetition, more catchy than "show and tell," and that it intends some kind of maturation of the kindergarten class activity show and tell. This is my puppy Spot. See Spot sit. . . . Besides which, those who invoke the proverb mean something else harder to qualify; that is, emotional charge and its attendant moral charge. And balk at reading and distinguishing artless craft out of a habit of convenience: inopportune (anti-kairos) and lackluster summary and explanation (diegesis and exegesis, respectively).

Furthermore, the proverb asserts a dubious moral law, a craft law, that is itself a hypocrisy. The proverb tells -- orders imperative compliance -- in all its eminent worst-case abuses. Hah, a situational irony observed as self-contradictory. Missourians say show me -- prove it to me. Seeing is believing and, with other senses, especially emotional, is making believe. Show me. Don't tell me: I won't and cannot believe you.

[ November 14, 2016, 03:54 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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An interesting story, the workshop one. A one-against-many plot scenario ripe with drama's rising tension to a climax and confrontation. Then, tragedy's twist; our hero finds himself shunned, persecuted, and pilloried--not for being wrong but for being right.

But it's not enough to stand out as potential story material. While it satisfies all the requirements of items two and three in my little list above, it falls flat on the first one--there is nothing there to move the human heart. But there could be, oh, yes, there could so easily be.

Back in the real world, what you describe is the classic confrontation between the free thinker and the masses indoctrinated with dogma. The first requirement for the free thinker is the ability to engage in critical thought. That is, nothing is taken at face value and all assumptions and motives are suspect--”The proof of the pudding is in the making, and then the eating.” The development of the capacity for critical evaluation and thought is essential if you want to be a writer. For instance, I would guarantee that extrinsic finds different things of value in Aristotle's Poetics than I do because, most likely, we have different critical outlooks, and yet we probably assign a similar value to its usefulness.

Once you are comfortable questioning everything critically, you are then ready to start thinking originally. That's when you've learnt to fly!

But dogma is so much easier. And the vast majority of people are comfortable living surrounded by it. It's like pulling up a warm quilt full of cosy absolutes that simply require acquiescence instead of actual thinking.

The clincher in the whole notion that you were dealing with thoughtless automatons is their inability to understand the similarities between the stage play and the novel. I hope you didn't try and explain Greek epic or tragic drama to them--their little brains would have melted tying to reconcile a cross between opera, pantomime (including audience participation), and oratory on the one hand with a book on the other.

Phil.

[ November 15, 2016, 06:21 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
The development of the capacity for critical evaluation and thought is essential if you want to be a writer. For instance, I would guarantee that extrinsic finds different things of value in Aristotle's Poetics than I do because, most likely, we have different critical outlooks, and yet we probably assign a similar value to its usefulness.

Once you are comfortable questioning everything critically, you are then ready to start thinking originally. That's when you've learnt to fly!

See, this is why I'm actually very fond of how-to books and lists: when they are treated as guidelines and suggestions rather than absolutes, there are a lot of things that can be learned from them.

I am largely a self-taught writer--I was home-schooled from kindergarten on until I got my GED at age sixteen. I took two years' worth of community college classes and got an Associate of Arts in Psychology (which isn't all that useful for job qualifications, but did teach me a lot that I appreciated as a writer). While I took a fair amount of English classes, I only took one Creative Writing class in that time. To be honest, I didn't learn overmuch from it because of personal studies I'd already been undertaking throughout my high school years. It was, however, a decently useful experience in that I finished my first (terrible) short story that wasn't fan fiction and got my first (well-deserved) rejection out of sending said story into IGMS. I also learned the basics of writing memoirs, although my teacher insisted my attempt was far too linear.

In any case, the point I'm trying to make here is that I like learning new things and I never know where I'm going to find them. Even instant soup has its uses--it may not be gourmet fare, but it fills the stomach and can be decently tasty if you buy the right brand. Both metaphorically and literally, I've found instant soup to be satisfying when I'm sufficiently starved.

How-To books have their uses because looking at someone else's recipe is a great way to figure out new ideas for making your own. That's essentially what I'm trying to do as a writer, at the moment: I'm making my own soup by taste-testing the recipes of others to find out what I like. I don't assume that any one book is the be-all and end-all, that any one list describes how stories must be written. However, as a self-taught writer, I've learned that useful information, techniques and inspiration can crop up in unusual places. As such, I try to expose myself to new and different stimuli in the hopes of experiencing something that will make my own recipes richer in the long run.

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extrinsic
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A critical observation that memoir entails nonlinear timelines is about as helpful as "Show, don't tell." Although nonlinear content organization is a prose option, it is optional. A nonlinear timeline is more artful and appealing when it serves another, or more, rhetorical function, and the temporal organization is secondary, or tertiary, to that function or functions.

Regardless of linear or nonlinear chronology, the foremost function of which is aesthetic movement. In simpler terms, follows an emotionally charged plot structure: from a first cause antagonism and subsequent or congruent effect that incite proactive efforts to satisfy a main complication, to those pushmi-pulya satisfaction efforts, to a conclusive satisfaction, even if that satisfaction outcome is open-ended, unrequited "closure."

A study of such published narratives' nonlinear methods locates an essay collection of same and analyzes their similarities and distinctions. Transition methods are especially worth notice, and how story and narrative time management influence the drama. Some are like picaresque: nonlinear episodic adventures of a dramatically complicated and conflicted persona's emotionally charged encounters with human social vice and folly.

Medical memoir, for example, is less about the actual medical pathology and really about the social implications. The moment that a medical-physical, or mental health, impact influences personal social transformation and self-awareness thereof is a strategic place to start, even if a nonlinear chronology, perhaps more artfully so due to posing the drama for universal and timely audience relevance and appeal.

An illustration from personal experience: I am a diabetic and have been for decades. My initial onset reaction cycle followed the classic Kübler-Ross five stages of grief sequence: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance; and still I cycle through the phases. So what, who cares, right? A lot of people routinely suffer from diabetes and they mostly get along okay. Somewhat mildly empathy worthy, though the anger episodes tend to alienate my social cohorts also. That grief progression, too, comes across as whiny, self-absorbed ennui and angst -- stuck in the bathtub.

Such a well-crafted narrative demands a different social action, not the unfolding of personal diabetes onset discovery and reversal, and learning coping strategies. Instead, commentary about social awareness of attendant dramatic complications is foreground relevant.

The more subtle and insidious social effects of diabetes entail vice and folly perceptions. Social events invariably offer carbohydrate bribes, high-carbohydrate beverage and food enticements to come and be social, to overcome inertia resistance and attend, alcohol and food comforts.

Peer-pressure asks why I don't partake, why I am aloof and stoic, socially reserved; diabetes invariably raises its hand. Elsewise, evading why not raises further moral suspicions, judgements, and condemnations. Sly and coy vice accusations and snap judgments follow in quick succession.

Diabetes is accorded moral diseases of gluttony and sloth, and diabetes the divine punishment therefor -- a circular logic fallacy. You are born naturally wicked, you are therefore predetermined as evil; therefore, you are condemned to an eternity of gluttonous craving and slothful activity for what you must have to live and is toxic in any quantity.

Of a sudden, friends and acquaintances drop you like a hot iron and avoid you for your rude pathological and moral diseases: somewhat because your anger outbursts, wrath, and self-pity alienate them, somewhat because they irrationally fear you're medically and emotionally contagious, somewhat because they have of a sudden less in common with you anymore.

More anger arises from increased isolation, and again, cycles again and again through the grief sequence. In the end, you are utterly alone and driven to madness by imposed isolation, to which the path branches into final acceptance of solitude, antisocial abreaction, or transformative social reintegration. The reality is a social mix of the above, though meantime, an eternal struggle with grief cycling, diet and exercise compromises, moral judgments, self-guilt, abrupt mood swings, and spotty medical co-management. Medical caregivers are as often, if not more insidiously, vice accusers as are others. Though they intend otherwise, they know it not.

A memoir of such experiences probably best practice begins other than the linear chronology of diabetes onset events. Probably could start from a self-belief the self is, indeed, guilty of gluttony and sloth vice; that's what is externally imposed anyway.

You go along to get along. The food bribe offered at the social event is partaken of to evade the diabetes revelation and the downer pall that it casts on festive occasion, no matter how toxic the bribe is: folly. You promise you will exercise it off later and don't: sloth. Nor are those consequents best practice the tangible action, backdrop thoughts at most. The overt action instead pivots upon a congruent personal complication, a private want-problem of another relatable design.

You go to the event to meet a particular individual worth admiration and who could answer a pressing question. Problems galore: the event is a mob scene of like-minded attendants, the celebrity is isolated from the audience, a lot of uncomfortable flesh-pressing on all sides, agoraphobic confines, the receiving line is next to the food spread, and the only way to have a productive moment with the celebrity is to bribe the person's attention, like the carb bribe, retaliate with a bribe. What, she or he has a related passion-problem?

You bring and take out an appealing carbohydrate-free snack variant and use one of the plates from the buffet line. That draws the celebrity's attention and curiosity. An intimate conversation transpires, that, after brief cordial pleasantries, timely turns to the question at hand.

Partial satisfaction and partial frustration are indicated, and natural and necessary. The start and middle acts are complete. Because the action has thus far been personally proactive, the outcome best practice is too. From insight garnered by the question and answer, a path forward to full satisfaction presents.

The question I asked of the celebrity at a recent social event was, For your passion exhibited hereabout, wood arts and crafts, how did you transition from practical utility functions to coequal decorative arts appeals of the wares?

Well, the celebrity said, they just happen due to revealed interesting features exposed by available material, design, tools, and construction of a utilitarian object. A credenza, for example -- the art show exhibited furniture mostly. The one item that was more decorative art than utilitarian was also the more refined ware, least of found art. The celebrity partially qualified and quantified process, frustratingly, more intuitive and discovered than by design.

I already understood how found art influences shape from utilitarian function and through intuition and discovery. A follow-up question asked what are aesthetic appeals of found art redesigned for function. The celebrity deflected that question. By the way, the rapport encomium introduction was that the found art aspect appealed to me and is inspired.

I left unsatisfied and mildly annoyed, concluded the artist was a leaf blown on the breeze and, even if a process intuitively applied, the deflection was likely both a reluctance to share private proprietorship and a reluctance to interfere with a happenstance process that already worked to some degree. Plus, that the artist didn't consciously understand the process involved, though to me was apparent. That is, first a desire for a useful item, then casting about for convenient materials and tools. Then happenstance decorative design around the figures, flaws, and functionalities of the found art materials.

I didn't say though observed design flaws that compromised several wares, matters of strength, stability, and material behavior oversights. Some pieces would not hold up to climatic ambiance changes, intended uses, or common exhibition setup and transport handling. Shortfalls, in my estimation.

In short, the artist was more hobbyist than passionate, not especially hungry for whatever an artist desires: income, prestige, or successful appeal to an audience, etc. Income-wise, nada; prestige-wise, moderate local recognition; successful appeal-wise, likewise moderate local appreciation. The artist has a mild-mannered day job that fulfills lifestyle expectations and art hobbies serve a smaller though no less influential personal security purpose.

In conclusion, I concluded the answer to my question of how to transcend utilitarian function and reach decorative appeal territory is; one, the answer is self-evident from the question's argument (whether manufactured ware, crafted, artisinal, or decorative art ware), besides the platitude each to the self's own abilities and intents and receivers' perspectives; two, to arrange a ware in both familiar utility function and exotic, accessible, emotional decorative expression.

The diabetes hand raised when I avoided the buffet and beverage bar's carbohydrates. What, you rudely refuse our host's hospitality? I'm on a restricted diet. What for? Diabetes. Like I'm on a restricted quest for utility function transcendence, I am as well on a diabetes transcendence quest. Transcendence therapy supersedes mere grief coping strategies. Art transcends utilitarian function, instead is emotional and social nutrition functions for artist and audience alike.

If I were more emotionally secure, due to stronger social integration, say, from artistic prestige, my diabetes would be more manageable; carbohydrates' emotional comfort temptations would be more easily and healthily managed. And the inverse, from healthier lifestyle and stronger social integration comes stronger emotional security.

For such a medical memoir, though, a passionate complication of the heart is nonetheless essential. An urgent complication that would shake the world and the self could entail a high stakes conflict, a contest, that is, between acceptance and rejection that impacts lives, or life and death, etc. The above scenario could entail a blood sugar crisis at the climax tragedy moment, a diabetic near-coma collapse into utter helplessness complicated by bystander mistaken concerns and indifference.

Foreshadowing would pre-position the crisis, blood sugar tested before travel to the event, safe at the moment, concern about activity and fuel expenditure exerted walking from a remote parking area to the event, early caution signs ignored, a heady giddiness, muscle stiffness and numbness, eyesight flushes and cold and hot flashes, temper flares, and stubborn carb refusal. Internal complication also shown by wary thoughts about moral disease observations, yeah, satire. Not told the agonist is on a self-caused diabetes crisis quest, shown diabetic and misdirected action from the overt action of a personal want-problem quest that compromises health, a personal-error contest with high-stakes consequences.

[ November 15, 2016, 06:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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I too am a recently self-taught writer. Right at the beginning I started with a couple of 'How To' books simply because I had no idea of how or or where to start; not even what questions to ask. Read book one (James Scott Bell's, Plot and Structure)in a day, wrote my first novel in eight: 85,000 words long and not quite finished. But I was beginning to realise what I didn't know. Read my second 'How To' (Raymond Obstfeld's, Crafting Scenes) in another day, wrote my second novel in ten: 90,000 words. Now I was beginning to understand what I wanted to know and what questions I wanted answered.

Having the ability to use critical thought is one thing, but it is useless unless you know what questions you are looking for answers to. That's the one and only really useful bit of information I got from 'How To' books; what questions to seek answers to. By the time I read my third 'How To' book they had all taken on a sameness that was depressing and not at all helpful. If I were to endorse one 'How To' book, it would be James N. Frey's, How to Write a Damn Good Novel. Not because of any particular advice he has to give, it's all pretty generic, but simply because he covers the widest range of skill-sets a writer should learn. He got me to Aristotle, Freytag, and Egri, Hatrack got me to Lubbock, plus a few others who are not so good in my opinion.

Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
See, this is why I'm actually very fond of how-to books and lists: when they are treated as guidelines and suggestions rather than absolutes, there are a lot of things that can be learned from them.
If that's what you find in them, who am I to say that's not a good thing? We all find the tools that are best suited to our hands.

Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
Even instant soup has its uses--it may not be gourmet fare, but it fills the stomach and can be decently tasty if you buy the right brand. Both metaphorically and literally, I've found instant soup to be satisfying when I'm sufficiently starved.
That's because the manufacturers add extra salt, sugar, and fat as flavour enhancers. In the right combination, these additives make foods not just more-ish, but irresistible; and of minimal nutritional value.

Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
How-To books have their uses because looking at someone else's recipe is a great way to figure out new ideas for making your own.
And if they're all recipes for tomato soup? [Smile] Just kidding, in a semi-serious sort of way.

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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The way I see it, how to guides teach the basic techniques that a majority of people use to write fiction. Some people talk about what's specifically made them successful; some people talk about what can make stories in general successful. The thing of it is, in the end, those are just tools and guidelines. Every writer has access to them, if they so choose. The key is in learning how to use them artfully to make something of your own design, based upon your own knowledge, experiences, fantasies, and fears. That's something the books can't teach, because that experience is unique to each writer.

I don't just learn to write from how-to books. Far from it. I learn from psychology and history texts, from the way the world unfolds around me every day, and from a host of other things too numerous to quantify.

I will grant you that a lot of how-to books cover the same basic information over and over again, but they often do so in different ways because of authors' specific viewpoints. There are a million how-to books out there, and I certainly don't plan on reading them all. But sometimes, when I've strayed from the path (for example, when I recently stopped writing for four to five months straight because I couldn't figure out how to fit it into my newly lowered amount of free time), a piece of information might find my ear that gives me that jolt I need to start writing again. It may be something new to me; it may be something I've heard before phrased in a different way. But if I don't pay attention, if I don't explore new things, I might miss it.

For example, in the context of what's come up in this thread, I understand why you disapproved of that blog I linked to a month or two ago. The thing is, you and I got very different things out of it.

First, I was incredibly excited to find out that particular author was published and doing well for himself, because he edited some of my favorite tabletop gaming books (Hunter: the Vigil, for one).

Second, the biggest message I got from that article was that I should continue writing a story I've started even when I think it's crap because I can go back and edit it later. I am notorious for abandoning stories midstream because I feel like they are crap, and I found that message uplifting. I've heard it many times before, but that was the time it truly resonated with me.

Third, he phrased a lot of things in a way I hadn't heard them phrased before, and that got me to think things through in a different light. The style of that article reminded me of the way a lot of the way my friends talk with each other (which probably says a lot about my friends, but oh well). The tone of the article struck me as brusque but humorous, and spoke to me in language I could understand and had not really heard from anyone in the writing community before. (There's probably a reason for that. The tone was not even remotely academic. It was, for lack of a better term, very working class. That's part of why it felt so real to me.)

I'm not trying to stir up old discussions or start a fight or anything. I'm just trying to explain why my perspective on this differs.

I'm not trying to write great literature. I admit that freely. I do want to write stories that inspire people, that resonate with the soul, that might hopefully change a few lives for the better. But the best way to do that is to write the kinds of stories I'd want to read, and the stories I enjoy best aren't great literature. Trying to become the fictional equivalent of a gourmet cook would drive me insane. I just want to learn how to write stories that are entertaining and emotionally moving.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
I'm not trying to write great literature. I admit that freely. I do want to write stories that inspire people, that resonate with the soul, that might hopefully change a few lives for the better. But the best way to do that is to write the kinds of stories I'd want to read, and the stories I enjoy best aren't great literature. Trying to become the fictional equivalent of a gourmet cook would drive me insane. I just want to learn how to write stories that are entertaining and emotionally moving.

A criteria for great literature is that it soulfully inspire life change and -- well, social-moral reform, even if plebeian, probably greater worth and persuasion if plebeian. A real-world writer equivalent to a short order cook who follows an established corporate process at an assembly line fast food emporium is that such individuals are stuck in a bathtub at work, though what about elsewhere and the social paradigm of the job?

Is hamburger flipper-fry cook automaton the sum of their self-identity matrices? The job does consume a majority of identity aspect resources, for many. What about family and other social cohort identity groups? Next, and to me, most, relevant is matters of unique and private-personal identity apart from by default given and taken for granted cohorts, say, the plebeian intellectual whose secret treasured identity is an online neolithic history buff chatterer. The rest are routines; the latter is sublime.

A narrative about such a plebeian could show that identity is what you strive to make of it, not what comes by default. An outcome therefor might be a new revelation and self-identity enhancement derived from a hobbyist survey of extant anthropology data and, due to the online discussions, an idea is developed into a publishable and peer reviewed proof. "Idea," by the way, the "I" of our host Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E quotient. Of course, resistance will be stiff, novel ideas are always refused at first.

Two parallel opposite fallacies are a core of such a drama's contest action, appeals to tradition; that's the way it was, is, will, and must be; and appeals to novelty; it's new (therefore better) and improved. The online correspondence feature could be a futuristic motif, discussion by a device across vast time-space.

Now horror, something of a visceral and psychological terror nature, say a wayward Internet application that glimpses the past and communicates between a neolith and a future-present day plebeian about a revenant species, draculous, lychanic, zonbi boucan, or alchemicus sophier, etc., which secretly shapes human destiny into the future, and designs a horrific episode to occur at times, soon for both neolith and plebeian's times.

Now non-one-to-one correspondence, impish chuckles, so to speak -- any of the revenant species could represent present day social-political circumstances; the cyclical aspect could represent how social-political circumstances oscillate like a pendulum; the psychological horror could be how human extinction events happen by design or natural happenstance, or both -- how the world turns and these are the days of our lives.

[ November 17, 2016, 03:36 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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On asking professionals how they do their thing:

As you discovered, extrinsic, just because someone can "do" does not mean they can share what or how they do what they "do."

They may not be aware of their processes, they may be afraid understanding their processes will stop them from being automatic (more or less), they may not want to share them, period.

Also, the skill set required in order to be able to "do" is not the same skill set required in order to be able to "teach." (I really hate that aphorism about "those who can, do, and those who can't, teach" because all too often, those who can "do" are unable to "teach" what they "do.")

I personally believe that the more you understand about your process, the better you are able to control it and obtain the results you want. A process shouldn't be a crap shoot.

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Grumpy old guy
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A nail cries out, "Ouch! My head."

Well said Kathleen.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Art shows and writer conferences hereabouts I have a notoriety for asking artists probative questions. Naysayers often comment the questions are unfair gotcha ambushes, rhetorical, self-absorbed, and injudicious and untimely. Valid all, though proponents also observe the questions deserve asking for all and sundry's affirmation sakes.

Another recent art show I asked the artist about the meaning intent of a memoriam to her mom; the question, why the vanity dresser was the setting for display of Mom's altruistic if not virtuous possessions and the vanity dresser was the only subtle signal of vices, albeit generally inaccessible. That question went over well with bystanders, yeah. The artist later cornered me privately and asked for elaboration, that the insight -- how did I interpret it if it was inaccessible. The furniture item's name and associations with vanity, of course.

The next question was how could the exhibit's appeals be enhanced by stronger and clearer signals of that vanity aspect. Not much, I said, a few pieces that compliment the exaltations of sacred motherhood yet show a mother as human. A sudden eye shine and smile showed the lightbulb over the head flared. Not how to, nor a prescription, a critical thought derived from a nonconscious Freudian slip that the ware already expressed only was underrealized. Not me usurping creative vision ownership, merely an observation of an interpretable, underrealized, personal creative vision intent.

The next time that ware was exhibited, the next year's Mother's Day month, a gilt-framed photo of camera-shy Mom of her youth in a bathing suit at the beach, a small Whitman's sampler chocolates box, pressed, dried red, white, and yellow roses contained therein, a silver hand mirror, and a crumpled magazine cutout of Diego Velazquez' "Venus at Her Mirror" (Wikimedia commons jpg), were added. A few items had been omitted, too. Overall, the exhibit was less busy and much more strong and clear exaltation of sacred motherhood. Full realization, exquisite.

A question I asked at a writers lecture to a writer of war poetry and prose went over as well, yeah: how do you transcend the contentious politics of war? The answer was thoughtful and pointed, for a change, obviously, previously considered. In short, accentuate the subjective, personal specifics. That question sparked a robust hour's discussion that engaged genuinely interested participants. The more obvious objectors to the question were students required to attend the event and who hoped no one would prolong the misery. Hah!

One student accompanied by a professor pulled me aside afterward and commented the question was astute and spoke to personal concerns about opinions pulling and pushing in many directions and no way forward clear. Pluralism navigates the rapids between polar opposite absolutes, I said. Formulate a supportable, personal position and stand behind it. An ah-hah! moment, we shared.

Additions to the tired aphorism, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach": Those who can't do either, critique; those who can do none of the former, consume or refuse. For me, an observable situational irony of the aphorism is it's a litotes, an affirmation of the positive opposite of the plain-stated negation context. Those who want to, do; those who want to, teach; those who want to, critique; those who want to, consume; those who want to, do nothing. Through trial and error, and some of each -- Art, and life, is a conversation between do, teach, critique, consume, refuse -- positive growth accumulates.

[ November 17, 2016, 03:52 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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So decide what you want to do and build the correct skillset (and develop the correct mindset).

On the other note: learning how to ask useful, helpful, insightful questions is a skill of its own, one I have attempted to build in my personal studies.

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extrinsic
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What I want to do creative composition-wise isn't provided by any how-to or process list, is somewhat explicated in some remotely related poetics texts, two or three closer-focus texts. Part of the purpose realization delay also is due to a vague-held notion of what I want to do. Narrowing that down to a manageable idea preoccupied much of the journey to date, and was first complicated by too wide-broadened horizons that warranted limitation, then identification of the skillsets and mindsets suited to the focus, then work on development and mastery of those skillsets. Intuition and discovery processes preceded and accompanied intent realization, study, and application practice, too.

One of the more frustrating and yet obvious realizations, encountered repeatedly along the journey, is define the audience for the design intent, a function of demographics. One particular reading study encountered another multifaceted approach to that audience appeal paradigm, demonstrated, not prescribed: write for the self's satisfaction, write for an audience's satisfaction, write for boths' satisfactions; write for as broad a satisfaction scope as a suitable, focused topic will bear.

And identification and mastery of my shortfalls matters as much as my strengths' identifications and masteries. One shortfall in particular continues unsatisfied. Grumpy old guy names it above in the list that's not a list of essential writing "rules:" "The story must have significance. In other words, it must be capable of moving the human heart and tapping into human emotions."

From the same Aristotlean poetics source is a satisfaction forward on the journey (Chapter XIII):

"It follows plainly, in the first place, that the change of fortune presented must not be the spectacle of a virtuous [individual] brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. Nor, again, that of a bad [individual] passing from adversity to prosperity: for nothing can be more alien to the spirit of Tragedy; it possesses no single tragic quality; it neither satisfies the moral sense nor calls forth pity or fear. Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of [an individual] like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes,—that of [an individual] who is not eminently good and just,—yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty."

"[S]ome error or frailty," "of [an individual] like ourselves," "of an unmerited misfortune," of an emotional-moral sense, and those former of a self-error at the outset, most of the self's problematic wanting and doing, is criteria for a significant complication of the heart, for tragedy or comedy, or both congruent in one composition, the more common and appealing of drama types for this age. This former self-error feature came into full focus while researching what is literature's social function; long story short -- moral commentary, that is, moral irony, sarcasm, and satire. Entertainment functions notwithstood, which is the bribe to partake of moral commentary, is as like and opposite the sweep of advertisement's amoral purpose and function packaged alongside entertainment consumption.

[ November 20, 2016, 11:35 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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walexander
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OGO,

I managed to make it through your beginning idea and it had merit, then I got lost in the endless documentary proposals that followed all down the thread.

Sometimes I don't understand this site. We are limited to first thirteen to sharpen our skills as writers and engage the reader within a brief duration, yet the practice never seems to carry over to other aspects of writing here.

Imagine this thread for a second as each of us around a coffee table discussing this subject.

Now imagine this thread as if each of us were going to lecture at a writing conference.

All I"m saying is this thread now represents a fundamental flaw in the internet writing age. People just throw everything out that they can afraid they won't be heard, instead of a condensed, well-thought out, talking point.

Isn't that the fundamental point of keeping a reader reading and fully engaged in the dialog, whether active or passive?

If someone else already brought this up, sorry, I just couldn't make it through this massive info dump.

But OGO, I did like your opening thought and your thought on what each writer takes from their reading.

No disrespect meant. It's just an opinion.

W.

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extrinsic
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Several valid points (ones that I consider, too) yet miss altogether the several signals this thread addresses related to how-tos compared with and contrasted to narrative theory texts.

One, how-tos are prone to telling simplistic methods though their underlaid intents include methods for their composers' topic masteries. Practice and refinement for a writing skill topic's grasp.

Two, regardless of whether a how-to or a focal topic study, like Aristotle's causation theory, regardless of whether a dashed off top-ten list or lengthy analytical study, regardless of whether an ongoing long time span or an instant, once-and-done sound bite, regardless of whether a casual coffee table conversation or a writing seminar presentation, regardless of whether as like an oral expression or a dusty tome, that it all is a conversation, a social activity and one that is at least thousands of years old.

Three, that any writing topic is accessible at different complexity tiers, from the simplest to, at some point outright inaccessible from sheer weight, the most complex.

Four, that learning as much develops from trial and error as reducing intuitions and analyses to writing that are then shared for and enhanced from peer review conversation functions.

Five, that all the above aid writer growth from the processes of the conversation, both presenter and receiver, and both contemporaneously as the other role and other roles as well.

Six, that the discussion overall illustrates we writers all struggle to satisfy our writing designs and nonetheless strive for guidance, formulas, and methods to ease our struggles. We are as frail as any other writer and equals on that at least.

The discussion above concludes that how-tos serve a function, are useful though limited; that analytical texts contain a single focal topic explored in depth, like Gustav Freytag's tension theory, serve a function, and are limited, too, from focus and, naturally, due to spatial and attention span limitations; and that, as in all things discretionary, to each an individual's means, needs, wants, contributions, and denials' satisfactions.

The discussion also presents the conclusion that complicated and conflicted and emotional matters dear to readers' hearts are a paramount consideration, and that how-tos' limitations are ill-equipped to show how to satisfy those goals. Tell, yes, not show. Teachable, learnable complication, conflict, and tone skills derive from shown and analyzed examples that are then ripe for individual artistic expression development and implementation. Such illustrations consume more word count and reading time, if not study efforts, than told guidelines.

Complication: want-problem motivations, say, want for social inclusion problematized by being outsided other and socially awkward (external and internal complication), a self-error folly.
Conflict: stakes forces in polar opposition, like social acceptance and rejection.
Tone: emotional attitude toward a topic or subject, for instance, antisocial negativity reacting to perceived social exclusion.

[ December 05, 2016, 05:04 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Honestly, I see where walexander is coming from. It's certainly important for us to express ourselves as writers, but it's also important for us to leave room for group participation. This thread does read a lot more like lecture than it does a discussion, and lectures are rarely interactive affairs. I can definitely see how that would be offputting.
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Grumpy old guy
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Originally posted by walexander:
quote:
I managed to make it through your beginning idea and it had merit, . . .
That's what I'd hoped for, that the idea had merit. Not that I was right or wrong, but that as one person's observations on the subject they are accessible to others and that they will then make their own decisions. For or against.

Originally posted by walexander:
quote:
Sometimes I don't understand this site. We are limited to first thirteen to sharpen our skills as writers and engage the reader within a brief duration, yet the practice never seems to carry over to other aspects of writing here.
As I see it, this Hatrack River Writers Workshop contains a number of forums, each with a specific purpose. The Fragments and Feedback forums are expressly for the posting and peer review of submission fragments. On the other hand, the Open Discussions About Writing forum is a place where everyone, and anyone, can explore any aspect of the art and craft of writing from the most basic to the arcane and esoteric. As such, this forum may from time to time become extremely verbose and rambling until everyone gives up and goes home.

Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
It's certainly important for us to express ourselves as writers, but it's also important for us to leave room for group participation.
No, it isn't. That isn't a criteria for posting or starting a thread. Discussion occurs only when one or more people want to indulge in it, otherwise, I'm perfectly happy to post an opinion in this particular forum and receive no feedback at all. My only hope, desire even, is that anyone who reads my opinion will take some small amount of time to consider it. [Smile]

Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
This thread does read a lot more like lecture than it does a discussion, and lectures are rarely interactive affairs.
In what way?

Phil.

[ December 07, 2016, 07:29 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Okay, maybe I'm wrong, but I thought workshops were supposed to be interactive affairs where writers helped each other improve their craft. That, to me, suggests a high level of interactivity and participation.

I'm not sure if you're asking why I thought this feels like a series of lectures or why I think lectures are rarely interactive affairs. The former is due to the amount of lengthy posts and comments. The latter is simply an observation based on my experiences in college.

Honestly, I'm just worried about the health of the forum. Participation has lessened dramatically over the course of the last year, compared to where it was for the first six months or so after I joined. The forum has been around a lot longer than I have, and it's possible this is just a cyclical thing. I don't know. I just miss the more active discussions.

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extrinsic
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Lecture is by definition oral speech though written word's connections are close. Lectures are also by definition informational and often considered one-directional. Live and in-person lectures, and written word lectures, though are a conversation -- the in-person interaction is social by responses like applause, laughter, and other vocal or aural responses, not per se interactive verbal expression, verbal hecklers maybe. For written word lecture conversations, they may span numerous contributors and millennia and the entire globe. The conversation of this thread is one of those lectures.

The teaching lecture type follows an informal parliamentary practice known as holding the floor; the lecturer holds the floor during the lecture period protected by tacit or implicit social contract from undue interruption, and often follows up with a formal question and answer session in which the lecturer poses questions to receivers. In turn or second after a lecture session that formal session is followed by an informal question and answer session in which receivers ask questions directed to the lecturer and informally discuss topics covered by the seminar.

Lecture as folk practice is mostly an informal affair, at times with formal intent, and ranges from informational to instructional, directional, social adjustment, correction, and castigation, the latter five intended for social behavior control in ascending degrees.

Likewise, written word's close connections to lecture follow similar social functions. The four composition metagenre: performance (creative composition), research, analysis, and argumentation, span similar functions. This conversation thread melds the four with greater emphasis on argumentation.

Active discussion, whether lecture or another mode, entails attendance, participation, and contribution. Hatrack does not require any of those. Nor are members assigned formal exercises or assignments. Hatrack attendance, participation, and contribution are voluntary. I suspect, though, some members have signed up and posted a contribution or two because of a writing class assignment.

Yes, Hatrack does experience cyclical attendance, etc., and is somewhat seasonal in character. Member activity waxes and wanes like the tides. The late year holiday season is prone to Hatrack inactivity.

Robust Hatrack activity transpires when new members come on and ask questions, ask for elaboration, ask about writing and publication culture. Or post fragments for commentary and comment about fragments, publications, markets, etc. Tragically, the stronger Hatrack activity transpires when emotional charge ramps up due to contentions that become confrontational or even conflagrational. That's part of the human condition; scandal, controversy, and havoc attract attention and the paths split into wants for more aggravation and wants for more civility.

The early years of Hatrack were more robust due in part to novelty and a limited number of open membership online writing workshops, plus, the members were more or less cordially driven by mutual wants for a stronger grasp of creative writing in general and fantastic fiction writing in particular.

Expanded channel access diminished Hatrack activity, like more online outlets and, oh the bane of mediocrity, advancing technology's immediate, effortless self-gratification appeals -- self-publication, competing channels of smart phones, e-readers, online and digital role play games, online motion picture access, and so on, seemingly interactive though actually passive activity appeal technologies that compete for discretionary time budgets. Effortlessly entertain me technologies . . .

So how to civilly enhance Hatrack activity? Attend, participate, contribute, post inquiries, fragments, comments, and, as this thread does, opinion expressions and learning process histories. Nor would more coordinate, at least reciprocal if not shared or mutual, approbation and less denial contention, or worse, hurt cordial activity.

[ December 07, 2016, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm worried about the health as well, Disgruntled Peony. I would not say that participation is cyclic, rather that it has evolved. And I suspect that writers are finding what they want with respect to their writing in other venues.

Could be that some of them don't want (or understand the value of) a give-and-take forum and so decide not to participate.

Could be that some even think they don't need help, feedback, or improvement (or figure that they'll get what they need or want by just putting their work out there through self-publishing without much in the way of self-editing).

Could be that some of those who have offered their work for feedback have been disappointed in finding that their work was not as wonderful as their friends had told them it was, and they decided to go back to the praise of their friends.

I think what we offer here is of value, but I know there are those who do not. It may be, however, that the Hatrack River Writers Workshop forum has out-lived its usefulness. A forum like this may be too old-fashioned for writers, though I am not sure how other online venues (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc) can be of use.

Anyway, within the confines and restrictions of this kind of online arrangement, I am open to suggestions.

OSC built it, but maybe they will no longer come. (Points to all who "get" the allusion.)

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Well, there is some cyclic aspects of participation here. It tends to drop a little during the holidays as extrinsic has pointed out, and registrations often increase right after the holidays (at one time that was likely due in part to people getting new computers for Christmas) - now could it be because of New Year's resolutions to get down to business with writing, perhaps?

It can also go up or down depending on whether or not participants are in school, though summer can be a busy time as well.

So there is some seasonal variation, but overall, registrations are down, and those who do register don't always get involved. Maybe more of them understand that you can "lurk" without registering? Or they don't have anything to say to the rest of us?

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Could be that some of those who have offered their work for feedback have been disappointed in finding that their work was not as wonderful as their friends had told them it was, and they decided to go back to the praise of their friends.
. . .
OSC built it, but maybe they will no longer come. (Points to all who "get" the allusion.)

The friendship group scenario is safe; writer peer group scenarios risk much and reward. "If you build it," The Field of Dreams, are they daydreams or night dreams? Is not the consumption of creative writing products often compared to a dream state? This writing thing is a field of dreams, of make believe. Yeah, I get the allusion and some.
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extrinsic
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A suggestion for how Hatrack activity might be prompted and increased is through the role of discussion facilitator. State a focal topic, provide context and texture and access to the topic's conventions, and informally moderate the discussion.

Less than adequate facilitation only posts a topic and lets discussion then unfold willy-nilly. Stronger facilitation prompts a balanced discussion and expresses the few or several seemingly different yet congruent positions expressed about a topic. The "show and, or don't, tell" topic, for example, both pros and cons and as well syntheses of both and other positions.

Such balance takes a neutral position apropos of facilitation, contribution that does not influence consensus agreement, instead is a springboard for all position expressions. That's what and how, now the matter of why; that is, why motivation and appeal: A balanced approach suits all and allows for agreement and inclusion and, most important, allows for approbation, commendation, and sincere praise. Those and similar aspects appeal to the human need for social inclusion, the sense of belonging to a community greater than the self, greater than an insular community, or a community of one stuck individual.

This facilitation skill is hard mastery to come by. The single aspect most relevant is that of a balanced, neutral facilitation and is accomplished by a concise summary and explanation of a focal topic's conventional wisdom range.

For example, a facilitation post might link to a top-ten list, a how-to essay, or an analytical text, or cite an attributed excerpt or excerpts of one or more related articles of those. The link or cite by itself expresses nothing. An effective facilitation post concisely summarizes and explains the source material and summarizes and explains its context who, when, where, and texture what, why, how of current positions and takes no sides. That prompts and persuades participation. Then poses or implies questions.

These skills are not taught as much as they once were. Itinerant facilitators come by these skills anymore through happenstance trial and error, intuition, and osmosis or not at all. More often anymore, what with entertain-me technologies, shy-of-a-mark facilitation prompts contention rather than dynamic discussion. Such facilitations are self-surrogate promotions. These opposite yet congruent social actions are the bane of social media, that is. Attractive as contention may be, who wants the alienations of confrontational exclusion, huh? Everyday life is plagued by them. Proactive shunning, like, and, more formally, constructive dismissal.

Nor is an administrator or moderator the exclusive facilitator for a community; any member of a community may prompt discussion activity. Hatrack is a writing community. Let's facilitate! Mindful sincere and warranted praise appeals most.

Ms. Dalton Woodbury takes great efforts to facilitate discussion, though responses and comments about those prompts can be overly contentious, or fall on deaf keyboards.

[ December 07, 2016, 03:08 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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walexander
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Well, that took an odd turn.

I can't speak to the time limits of others or their lack of participation. Personally, I try and come back when I can, but a majority of my time is taken up writing my books, trying to get published, and writing for my local paper. Plus, a constant upgrade to my writing skills when I can. As listed many times above, there is a lot to read through out there.

The subject matter of this post was about writers in the internet age and a critique of styles and resources. When I criticized the post lengths I was merely drawing attention to a skill most of us more veteran here pickup, especially in dealing with our first thirteen: The ability to self-edit and question the necessities of sections of our writing. This was not to diminish the value of insights given but merely a pointing out the writing was hard to get through. Bad habits are bad habits.

This comes straight from a flaw in my own writing I have been trying to overcome.

As for this site -- I have always found it useful and insightful.

As for traffic -- this site is very difficult to find and never lists under "Writing forums" on search engines. Its primary name brings up a different site in which the forum is but a small link.

A few subdomain links directly to the site with targeted metadata should increase traffic

Overall, I like to believe things slow down due to getting down to business, and my hopes are always with both old and new members finally achieving that rarely fulfilled dream.

W.

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H Reinhold
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To continue the off-topic thread: I'm one of the newer members here, and while I probably don't participate as much as I should, I still find Hatrack a great resource. Sometimes the length of posts and deep level of the discussion leave me feeling I have nothing to contribute (as was the case with this thread until the shift of topic), and sometimes I talk myself out of posting (for example, I haven't yet posted any of my own work in the Fragments and Feedback forums). But I'm trying to take my writing seriously these days, and I visit the site very often, and end up using it more than any other similar sites I've tried.

Since I joined, the forum's always been rather quiet. There's some good stuff in some of the older threads, particularly on the F&F forums, which still have a lot to teach me, but I agree with Peony: I'd love to see more active discussions.

W is right--the site's difficult to find. I found it only this year when I stumbled across a copy of OSC's Lovelock in a charity shop and found on one of the back pages an ad for the site, when it was still on America Online (!?). I hope I'm an exception, and that most people find the forums in a more logical way, but in any case visibility is definitely something we could work on.

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extrinsic
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About a dozen or so online writing workshops of note were open at the time I registered for Hatrack. A quick keyword search then located many, many of which were not of note. Hatrack was at the time indexed near the top of a few million hits. Not anymore, many more millions of hits, and no Hatrack priority, nor any of the currently open online writing workshops of note, jumbled up by all sorts of costly and dubious writing courses, and many classes and workshops that are not worth note.

Hatrack's online visibility has indeed declined. One cause of which, aside from steep competition, could be due to the workshop pages are downstream from the Hatrack.com home page. Search engine index algorithms favor home, front, default, and index.html pages for listing and not, as Hatrack is, back pages. The home page itself has visibility considerations to consider; the keywords listed for indexing engines' purposes are -- well, limited. How peculiar that the main channel river is now a backwater. Oh the tides anymore do change fast in the digital world. On the other hand, perhaps our host wants for lowered visibility!?

[ December 08, 2016, 10:37 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by walexander:
Overall, I like to believe things slow down due to getting down to business, and my hopes are always with both old and new members finally achieving that rarely fulfilled dream.

I hope that's the main reason for the slow down, too. walexander.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hmm. One of the methods of Search Engine Optimization I've heard of is to go onto related websites, and comment with a link to the website you want to promote included in the comment.

If people were to do that, it might improve the forum's profile, but I would want you all to be very careful to make the link relevant to the website you are posting the link on. We don't want to look like spambots.

Maybe I should start a topic on websites that would be appropriate (and thereby promote those websites here, in potential reciprocation).

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extrinsic
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walexander noted an HTML source code matter that could contribute to search engine optimization. The site's front page keyword metadata: "Name="keywords" Content="Orson Scott Card, Ender, Ender's Game, Speaker, Alvin, Seventh Son, Homebody, Lost Boys, Enchantment, Fantasy, Abyss, Treasure Box, SF, Science, Fiction, LDS, Hatrack, Books, Reading, OSC, Author, Writer, Writers, Forum, Battle, School, Publishing, Research, SciFi, Movies, Fresco Pictures, Films". Nowhere the relevant keyword terms "online writing workshop" nor given in any subsequent pages' metadata.

Of course, such a suggested change entails an effort by the site designer and corresponding correspondence between several administrative tiers to suggest and takes time to institute that small change.

In the past, participants at other writing venues linked to and named Hatrack, those sites seem to have as well experienced diminished visibility and participation and less, too, cross linking between sites.

Of consideration for more dynamic references to Hatrack's workshop at other venues, perhaps a kind of ironic negativity would serve somewhat the intent and function, about how, say, rigorous workshopping and writing discussion are here? Brutal-blunt and all too uncomfortable, frank-cruel though oddly cordial and insightful Hatrack writing workshopping is, compared to the blasé attitudes of other writing venues across the digital cosmos. Nothing like controversy and, peculiarly, appeals to, what, self-driven antagonism, somewhat the masochist's taste of suffering for one's art's sake and -- well, true and warranted, though courteous artist contentions, for attracting attention, attendance, participation, and contribution? Such irony, though, best practice must ought clear and strong affirm the negativity's positive opposite: litotes. Sublime irony.

Other Hatrack workshop promotional campaign strategies, what? Ideally, none that invite the dreaded attentions of eristic contestants. Eris is the Greek goddess of discord, strife, chaos, disruption, etc. Eristic contestants argue to utterly win an argument at all costs through sown discord, etc., by any and all sorts of illogical informal fallacies and without the least consideration of truth or by the utter denial of truth altogether.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Hmm. One of the methods of Search Engine Optimization I've heard of is to go onto related websites, and comment with a link to the website you want to promote included in the comment.

This can also get a site banned from search engines, depending on the latest algorithm and how much recent blowback there's been about linkfarms.

I have to say I too began skimming over the lengthy expoundulations (new word). This forum is valuable because it is different from others in our field, but wall-of-information does tend to be offputting.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by Reziac:
This can also get a site banned from search engines, depending on the latest algorithm and how much recent blowback there's been about linkfarms.

You have to offer valid comments related to the topic you are commenting on, of course. Just randomly posting comments with links to (or even just mentions of) your site is no better than spamming.
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SilentOne
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What we need is for everybody here to become high-profile with a lot of legit sites linking to their sites to increase their own Page Ranking, then create a Helpful Sites page on their site with links back here.

A nice quick fix, that.

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Grumpy old guy
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One reason for a low page ranking for Hatrack may be the fact the site isn't encrypted. Not having a https address url means many web crawlers of the major search engines will bypass the site in these modern times.

Phil.

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