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PSA: Choose Your Words Carefully

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mindfire, Jul 7, 2015.

  1. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    “Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are.”
    -Rod Serling (creator of The Twilight Zone)
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    My favorite anecdote about some bit of trivia taking people out of a story concerns movies rather than books, but it's a good one. I stumbled across a web site years ago that was run by a typographer. He freely admitted up front that his pet peeve was a rare breed, but he proceeded to cultivate it with care. His complaint, not surprisingly, concerned typography. In movies.

    Not in the credits, but in the scenes. Street signs, movie marquees, billboards, that sort of thing. Some ignorant fool designer for a movie set in the 1930s would have a sign displayed in Helvetica. Boom! Moment ruined. Helvetica, you see, wasn't invented until later. 1950s, I think.

    He said that for him, it was as if a Ford Mustang had driven through the scene.

    I have always remembered that site, though I've not found it again, in part for the self-deprecating good humor with which he wrote, but also because it reminds me forcibly how there will always be *something* I've missed. That doesn't excuse me from trying my best, and it sure doesn't excuse either laziness or sloppiness, but it does mean there is just plain going to be something I miss, and that some reader will catch and wince at.

    Like prepositions.
     
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  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Wowzers! I was out at the mention of zombies. and the redundancy of the first paragraph. I mean, if you can't get the blurb right, how good is the book going to be? I actually liked the cover art, though, because I didn't think romance so much as I thought of a hint of romance--a guy who has to save a girl and all the protective nature and harmless attraction that might entail. I'd be very disappointed if it was actual romance though. In fact, romance is one of the reasons I'll put a book down. I hate it when a sword and sorcery makes a terrible romance bloom where it shouldn't, or where a romance becomes too much the point of the story (which I'm guilty of as a writer, hence all my time editing).

    Yeah, I was out at the blurb. Too bad. I've opened a fair number of books with high ratings and good reviews, because the writing on page one or two was too lame to stomach, but I've rarely dropped a book I think I'd like after a blurb. Lesson: A weak blurb is book suicide. Do your homework and get a dozen writer friends to read your blurb before you publish!
     
  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    I'm honestly not sure how that redundancy in the blurb got missed. You'd think an editor would have caught it.
     
  5. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    To be fair, I'm not sure if that's on the book or just on Amazon. If it's just Amazon it could be a typo, or laziness by whoever typed in the description. I'd have to find a copy of the book to be sure. But even if it is only on Amazon, lots of books get sold through Amazon. So it's still not helping.
     
  6. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    Unfortunately for anyone who takes the time to deconstruct what's good or bad about a book, there are plenty more who will just read it and not realize the quality of what they read. Otherwise the quality of most mainstream contemporary literature wouldn't be so lacking.
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I'm not sure it's good to care about people who deconstruct books. Stories are meant to be felt and enjoyed and sure to make us think, but not about the inner workings of the book. If the book is making you turn inward to the mechanics of the book, that's a failed book, imo. Books should be making you look outward from the story toward yourself or the world around you. I don't think it's good to care about critics and judges of books. I think it's better to value the people who just want to read and enjoy a story and let it become part of them without needing to tear it apart to see how it works.

    “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

    And when it comes to fiction "quality" is really a meaningless word. Maybe one person picks up the book and sees the word "Murai" and thinks "ugh, seriously?" and maybe the next person picks it up and sees the word "Murai" and thinks "cool!" Which one of them is right? Neither, because there is no real standard of quality for fiction. There's only personal enjoyment. No matter how many people dislike a book for whatever reason, if it reaches an audience of people read it and enjoy it, then it works.
     
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I think it is different strokes for different folks. Some people are happy to just and experience the work and that is all they want. They are perfectly entitled to that experience and I don't think should be criticized for it.

    Some people want to look at a book as a work of art and judge it as such, same for them, if that makes them happy let them do it, and debate it all day long.

    Other folks might want to think about craft and structure, plot, pacing, characterization etc for any number of reasons, and I think those are all valid topics.

    It is kind of like cars. Someone might buy one because they like the colour, someone else fuel economy, someone else interior space, someone else, safety, someone else acceleration or displacement, someone else the estetics. It is just as valid for someone to say "I love my car because it is yellow and cute" as for someone to say "I love my care because I can can 315 bhp out of my 20 value engine and it only weighs 2600 lbs!"

    BUT and this is a big but, if we want to have a conversation about something between individuals that has any meaningful exchange, we need to rise above a conversation of "I like this book, it moved me", or "I didn't like this book, it didn't impact me at all."

    To get beyond that really simple and almost meaningless level of discussion, we need to start thinking about why we like things and why they work, and develop a common language, and common ideas of what makes for effective writing and what does not. That is how communications and analysis of any depth happen.

    Nobody can define a reading experience for you, but we sure can learn from each other's experiences if we find ways to articulate them properly.

    I try not to break things, but I sure like taking them apart to see the genius of how they were assembed, and most of the time I can put them back together again.
     
  9. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I don't think I agree. The only value to be gained from a conversation with another person about a piece of art is in keeping it subjective and keeping it on a personal level. That's the only way you'll be able to learn about the other person through their experience of the art. Trying to make an objective assessment will only work if both of you already agree in your judgements, which would ultimately make the conversation pointless. But you can learn about other people by accepting their personal experience of a piece of art as a real thing.
     
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    But one cannot communicate an experience without a language to do so. You don't need to agree on anything, but you need a way to communicate your experience so it can be discussed. Thus we need words like plot, setting, pacing, dialogue etc. which will each have meaning. It can also help you understand why the experience is different.

    To have the most basic conversation we need an agreed upon language so if I say to someone "What did you like about the book", they can say "the characters were lively, the pacing perfect and the setting breathtaking." It doesn't mean I will agree, but to have the discussion you need the language. Without language or a Vulcan mind meld the experience simply remains trapped within us. Which is also cool, unless you want to talk about it.

    If say person A reads a slow paced book and loves it, and person B reads it and doesn't like it. The only way they can come to understand the work better and understand themselves and their differences better is by having an agreed upon language that lets them agree what "pacing" is and some concensus on what slow or fast is. Without that it really just falls apart into self-worshipping nihilism.

    It doesn't mean either person is right or wrong, their is no inherent good or ill in slow or fast pacing, it just allows for understanding and conversation of experience.

    This allows you to take the next step, if you choose to as a writer or person who works in the industry and say, for example, "we find that more people like fast pacing than slow pacing" which can lead to certain choices. Which can lead to commercial analysis (much like taste testing for food products).

    These, are by their very nature, higher level and more complex analysis steps, but they can be done, and should be done depending on one's goals.
     
  11. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I disagree here, because "Murai" is objectively lazy and stupid.
     
  12. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Mytho,

    I think I'm going to have to disagree in turn. Talking about books and movies etc after is great. It helps with the understanding. Often in seeing a work through other people's eyes we gain a different appreciation / understanding of it. And that in turn can increase our enjoyment of it. It also helps to bond people together as they discover similarities and differences between themselves in the way they see the world.

    Hi Mind,

    Objectively? No you mean subjectively I'm afraid. That's opinion you stated - there's no actual hard fact in it. Which is actually good because if their were and you came up with a statistic about how much a word needs to be changed before it becomes hard working and clever, you'd find yourself in more problems.

    I'm minded of an old story about a panel beater. Man goes to him with a dent in a car and says can you fix it. He says yes, goes to the car, pushes his hands against the inside of the bump and bangs it so that the dent suddenly pops out. "That'll be a hundred bucks please." (I said this was an old story!)

    The other guys gets indignant and protests that a hundred bucks for five seconds work is outragious.

    "But," says the panel beater, "you couldn't do it. That's ten bucks for the work, and ninety bucks for knowing how to do it."

    The point being that changing only two letters in a word may be lazy and stupid, but it may also be the product of countless hours of thought and utter genius. And it's pure opinion as to which it is.

    Take the current trend of sticking an "I" in front of things. The first guy to do it was obviously a genius (well maybe) or had tapped into something because it took off. But really he only changed one letter so according to any actual measure of his work he was lazy and stupid.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2015
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  13. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Nope. It's still lazy and stupid.
     
  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    No, just no. If you really think that then I don't think you really understand the nature of stories and storytelling.
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I'm not saying talking about stories is bad. I'm saying that treating stories as if they have an objective standard of quality is not necessary and I believe actually harmful if one wants to communicate with others about them.
     
  16. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Theoretically, I agree that writing quality is inherently subjective. Pragmatically, viscerally...I think that 'Murai is hella lazy.

    I mean, come on.
     
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  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    It's fine for you to feel that it's lazy and stupid. I think that too. But you need to recognize that it's just your opinion. Just how you personally react to it. And people who react differently are not wrong.
     
  18. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Does there not come a point when some things are so self-evident or well accepted that we can accept them as a good norm?

    Is every opinion valuable or useful? Are some worthy of criticism and disdain?
     
  19. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Of course, but someone reacting negatively to something is also a valid opinion.

    "Objectively", like "literally", is often used in a figurative or nonserious way. Interrupting with "Nothing is objective!" every time someone complains about something being bad is kind of pedantic. Everybody knows there isn't an absolutely, universally good or bad book, but everybody also knows that opinions can give you useful information.

    I dunno if we really need to preface every single thing we say with "This is my opinion, but..." Of course it's my opinion, where would I be pulling universal facts from?
     
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  20. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Wait a minute, I've just thought of a situation where I wouldn't mind 'murai running around. Post-apocalyptic near future where linguistic drift has resulted in the names of cultural touchstones being misspelled and abbreviated. Could actually result in some fun moments when you realize that the horse-riding, gun-slinging Murai Boys on the tidewater-emabattled Old Nehon archipelago had actually, at some point, styled themselves after Beforetimes samurai.

    That is the only premise under which I could embrace that.
     
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