prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
[personal profile] prusik
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?

Date: 2007-07-14 02:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
>> Is writing a good story supposed to be an act of contradiction?

I misread this as "an act of contrition." If that were your question, my answer would be "sometimes." But that's another post altogether.

If you're having trouble simultaneously thinking and not thinking, remember that time is what keeps everything from happening all at once. You already know how to practice in the rehearsal room and perform in the concert hall. Which are you doing when you write, and which are you doing when you revise?

>> They don't do anything wrong, but they don't do anything right either.

I was taught that there is one rule for writing fiction, and only one. Here is the rule: be interesting.

Are they obeying this rule?

Date: 2007-07-14 03:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*Warning: what follows is the opinion of only one writer and her opinion of a "good story" may be entirely at odds with many others' opinions.*

Is writing a good story supposed to be an act of contradiction?

Oh HELL yeah. For me, writing is always balancing contradictions: the fire of the first inspiration and the unfocused this-is-cool stuff that makes it into the first draft, versus actually hammering that into a coherent narrative. If my muse wrote all my stories, they'd all be along the lines of Mary Sue Goes To The Munitions Factory; if my inner editor wrote them, they'd be encyclopedia entries. I have to balance both, and it's a fascinating and infuriating process.

Date: 2007-07-16 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you so much for saying this. It makes what I'm going through with my stories make much more sense.

By the way, your icon the most sophisticated example of LOLspeak I've seen. (Well, as much as puns can be sophisticated.) Urtext? LOL!

Date: 2007-07-16 12:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think this is one of the reasons I've been slipping away from OWW (though I recently had a crit that made me rethink the story in a good way), that I find myself getting sullen and defensive beforehand, thinking o crap, if I use that word / phrase someone's going to complain about my vocabulary or whatever. I still use that word / phrase, but I don't like feeling so self-conscious about it.
You can end up homogenizing the story, following all the rules, or maybe I should call them superstitions, like the story must be from the viewpoint of the character who has most at stake, even if you think a secondary character's take would be more interesting. Or making a character more 'likeable' because the reader must identify with the character or s/he won't read on.
Maybe it's the possibility of everything going terribly wrong that makes the story more interesting when the writer takes chances. Maybe the fear and excitement of walking on the high-wire instead of the curb comes through in the writing, the way it does in performance. So those writers are still learning the routines and practicing on the ground, not ready to walk the wire yet, perhaps.

Date: 2007-07-16 02:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I decided that I'd try OWW for a year to see what happens. It's not doing a lot for me right now. (Of course, I'm not doing a lot for it right now either. This is mostly because if I crit now, I'll get lots of return crits on a story that I don't particularly want a return crit on. Hmm... I should withdraw that story.)

One especially memorable crit pretty much boiled down to "I want all the characters in all the stories I read to be sympathetic and not only do I want the happy ending, but I want it spelled out unequivocally." So the entire crit was a break down of how sympathetic each character was, how I could make each one more sympathetic, and how I should spell things out to get his desired ending. All in all, exactly the type of crit that Barry Longyear warns you away from. (As you said, this isn't to say that you don't also get terrific crits some times.)

Unfortunately, something about critting seems to encourage what I call the "checklist critique." If you do something on the prohibited checklist, you get dinged even if it doesn't make the story worse. If you do something on the approved checklist, you get praised even if it was a choice which made your story as dull, flaccid, soggy mess.

[People have dinged me saying that my opening was slow because I used the "passive" voice. I re-read my opening. Whether it's slow is open for debate, but not whether or not I used the passive voice. The crit apparently came from someone who thought "He was too weak." is a sentence in passive voice. I don't think so...]

I think part of the contract is having the wisdom and self-confidence to say, "That crit was useless. I'm going to ignore it" while still being open to crits which point out genuine problems or missed opportunities.
[Like my opening probably really was slow, just not for any of the reasons he could articulate.]


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