Jul. 13th, 2007

prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
I went to Barry Longyear's "How to Write Good" lecture/workshop. For the most part, it didn't do much for me. I'm already doing, or have tried everything that anyone mentioned. Like I said, what I really need to do is to put into play everything that I've learned. For me, this is much harder than it sounds. However, Barry did say something which has really hit home now that I'm going through this week's Critters stories looking for something to critique. Again, I don't think it's anything that I haven't heard before, but hearing it again, I think it's starting to sink in.

He warned us of the danger of workshops. Basically, we should be careful not to end up writing to the order of the workshop. Your story is ultimately your story. Your judgement should prevail. Again, I don't think this is something I didn't know. (Note that knowing has never stopped me from walking straight into any pitfall before.) He went on the say that a good story is not one which does nothing wrong. A good story is one which does some things right. It may, in fact, do some things wrong. But what's right about it outweighs all of its flaws.

This is really hitting home with me right now looking at this week's Critters stories. There are a bunch where the authors don't do anything wrong. The spelling and grammar are fine. The writing is the clean and neat. The author has clearly paid attention to all the rules for clear writing. The story dutifully clues us into the world. It builds up the characters. It reveals the plot. The main character makes some sort of crucial character changing choice that somehow resolves the dilemma revealed by the plot.

But you know what? They're all really boring. They don't do anything wrong, but they don't do anything right either. They read as if they're so concerned with adhering to the proscriptions against bad writing, that they've forgotten to be interesting. I lose interest in every one of them about 4 paragraphs in. Now, I know no one sets out to write a boring story and to be interesting is difficult. But I'm desperately searching for a sign of life and I'm not finding one.

[BTW, this is not to say anything bad about Critters or anyone who submits to Critters. I think you can see this in any random pile of slush or stories submitted for an amateur workshop.]

So my lesson here is that I have to keep everything I've learned in mind, while I simultaneously let go off everything I've learned so I don't train all of my energy on not getting it wrong, as opposed to getting it right.

Hmm... I'm clearly missing something here. Is writing a good story supposed to be an act of contradiction?

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prusik

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