The Emperor Has No Clothes! - When you just don't get the hype

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Thor, Oct 19, 2008.

  1. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    I'll remind all to try and keep it easy with words like arrogant, ridiculous and absurd. This is a very old disagreement -- the objective versus the subjective -- and so lets not get incredulous about the other's position as if it were something new. I am, as is probably clear, in the totally subjective camp.

    But on the hype and the Wolheim front, I can say that I knew her slightly and Wolheim is part of the old guard of SFF editors. DAW is an old-fashioned house. And so I can say with absolute certainty that Wolheim was not at all lying when she said she found Name of the Wind the best debut fantasy she's read in 30 years. So it is hype in the sense that it is promotion, but it is not hype in the sense of being hyperbole.

    This is a quite unusual declaration for Wolheim to make. It was not made, for instance, of DAW author Tad Williams, whom Rothfuss resembles. And so they did decide to put it out there to the booksellers, to let them know how seriously DAW intended to support the book, and to dedicated fans who search the Internet for such information -- a very small percentage of the people who bought Rothfuss' novel. To say that this statement was a major factor in Rothfuss' success is just not accurate. It certainly wasn't a factor in the reviewers who designated it their best book of 2007, as such a statement was more likely seen as a challenge to them to prove her wrong.
     
  2. Bear

    Bear I eat fish.

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    Every example provided is still just your opinion, including whether Wolheim lied (that last bit is fairly presumptuous, don't you think?). Feeling strongly about it, or even finding many who agree to back you up, doesn't make it any less subjective.
     
  3. Dirvani

    Dirvani Registered User

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    This discussion has sparked something in my mind that has always intrigued and baffled me, especially since Erfael brought up music as a comparison. I am, by no means, an expert on music, writing, painting, film, etc., so I've often speculated as to why certain outputs (typically musical) are considered so much better than others by those well-versed in that particular art form.

    Music, in particular, fascinates me. I've dabbled in various genres and sub-genres of music, and what is often referred to as "elitism" can be spotted everywhere. The reason I find it interesting is because there always seems to be multiple "tiers" of elitism. One person, who seems to be very knowledgeable about the genre, and music in general, has their own list of good bands/musicians. Then along comes someone else that seems just as knowledgeable, if not more so, who casts aside a number of the previous persons choices with maybe a few additions of their own. Then, another person shows up who's even "worse." Finally, just to put the icing on the cake, someone rejects the entire genre in question, claiming it's worthless.

    All of the above people have seemingly excellent knowledge of song structure and technical ability. The first three even share a common genre interest, yet they still can't come to a full agreement on what is good and what isn't. It often makes me wonder how much my opinions would change if I had their level of expertise, and I often look to these supposed experts for recommendations. But it still often ends up just as confusing to look to them for advice when they can't seem to agree on anything, so I find myself back where I started - liking what I like simply because it appeals to me.

    So there's always a level of subjectivity present no matter what. Yet, there do seem to be certain identifiable qualities within each particular art form. In music there's song structure, technical prowess, vocal capabilities, harmony rhythm, and so on. In writing there's plot development, character development, pacing, and so on. Personally, I admittedly only have a basic ability to identify the good and the bad of these qualities - the bad often being more easily identifiable - and, especially with music, many people have no clue about any of the details, they only care about what they find appealing (yet so many people think their musical tastes are superior :p). So sometimes, in the case of certain art forms, classics are created purely by popularity amongst the "uneducated" fans.

    I've always wondered if it was reasonable to believe that the creation of those aforementioned identifiable qualities was a subjective process in and of itself. Whoever decided that certain song structures were ideal, or that songs even needed structure in the first place? Who's to say that random noises can't be audibly pleasing to someone, and who's to truly judge that person's opinion? Why is plot development and pacing important to a novel? Do characters really need to develop throughout a story? Obviously these qualities were formed based on a natural, general, consensus that they made the subject matter more appealing.

    Already, at this very broad perspective of the matter, without even examining any particular piece of artwork, it's easy to see why subjectivity plays a major role in determining quality, because there was only a general consensus achieved in the first place. Some people may think certain facets of a novel or piece of music aren't important or are much less important than others. So despite many supposed "flaws" in a novel, a particular individual may feel that one specific characteristic of the novel is extremely strong and that that characteristic is the most important one, completely overshadowing the others. Finally, as Erfael pointed out, there's yet another completely unquantifiable, and perhaps uneasily identifiable, quality that a piece of art can contain - soul or passion. And there are other attributes as well, such as originality, inspiration, and influence.

    That's about enough rambling for me. I hope that all made sense despite the fact that it really doesn't make anything clearer. I'm unbelievably tired right now, but chances are nobody will read all of this anyways. :p Needless to say, I can agree with Ranke to an extent, but only a very limited extent. It's simply too hard to quantify strengths and weaknesses and there are other things to consider that are even harder to account for. And it can all be casually brushed aside by someone that has a very bizarre outlook on the matter.

    EDIT: And Joe already said it all better than me. :p
     
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2008
  4. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    Exactly! My post was indeed flawed. This is something one can identify. Now, that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy my post. It doesn't mean that you can't recommend my post to your friends. But my post certainly is no classic as you can see. And when my editor proclaims it "the best fantasy post she's read in 30 years", well.... I can understand your skepticism.

    Thank you for helping me prove my point.

    You're a good man.
     
  5. Starfish Prime

    Starfish Prime New Member

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    Hold on, enough of this almost straw-man like arguing! It's the best debut fantasy she has seen in 30 years. You can't simply take out the DEBUT to serve purposes of argument, or you arent really proving your point, but another.

    Doesn't seem so unrealistic to me that TNotW was the best debut she has had across her desk in 30 years, or even that she has seen from other authors under other publishers. I don't think anyone was claiming it was the best fantasy novel written in 30 years, except misquoters and paraphrasers.
     
  6. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    Considering that most of the best fantasy novels introduced ARE debuts, then I reserve the right to hold onto my skepticism.
     
  7. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    You're confusing story elements (tools) with qualities, Dirvani. A plot structure is not a quality. It does not have a value. There are innumerable types of plot structures. There are not one or two "right" plot structures. There are thousands of different ways to do character development. Pacing is a description of a subjective measurement -- it is how the novel feels and flows in being read, which will vary according to the reader.

    Plot, character, theme, setting, language etc. are tools. The choices authors make on how to use these narrative tools are also tools. They create different effects. These effects are not set patterns (unlike musical notes) since they are the result of how the author combines many different factors into his own voice and since language is infinitely mutable (although frankly patterns of musical notes are pretty mathematically infinite as well.) The effect that an author creates may not be the effect a specific reader experiences. One effect or technique is not objectively better than another, one choice for plot structure, character, etc., is not objectively better than another, one story strategy is not objectively better than another. And stylistic preferences are obviously not objective.

    What we are left with is the subjective and unequal. When we talk about literature, we are not talking about the good, but a good, and there is not a batch of "a good's" that are universally better than other "a good's". But we can talk about our different "a good's" or "a bad's" and what we see in a story, its meaning to us, what we personally consider to be strengths of narrative or flaws. Sometimes what we talk about may specifically be plot structure or characterization issues -- the elements and framework of the story, and sometimes it will be more nebulous.

    What this thread is about is when a publisher feels that a book is "a good" and so publishes and promotes it more than the usual, and/or when people talk about the book as "a good" for them, usually for different reasons and to different degrees. And you read the book and it's not "a good" for you at all. Which happens all the time. Happened to me the other day on a SF novel.

    There are people who disagree with this view. They believe in a "the good," feel they know what it is, that it is an objective standard, and that on that basis all works can be properly judged and sentenced. Like I said, this is an old argument and it's not going to be resolved here. So I'd suggest respectfully that people go back to describing books they didn't find good, but know many others did.
     
  8. Alex

    Alex Registered User

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    I was going to make a post about how common it is for people to present their opinions as facts and then I read Joe's post which sums up my thoughts quite nicely.

    It's interesting that many feel that they are objective when reading a book and yet they criticise the plot for being unimaginative, the prose despicable, characters flat and the ending predictable. How does this add up? Well in my book it doesn't. You can have all the literary knowledge in the world and you still can't state that the book you just read is the best fantasy novell to come out in 30 years. You can only state that it is the best fantasy novell YOU have read.

    On a sidenote:

    I for one would never (EVER!) want a reviewer to be "objective" (not that I think it's possible).
     
  9. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    Ah, so there are no definitively bad (or good) novels. Interesting. It's all just subjective and there are no metrics involved. Well, then people need to fire every editor working today--it's a waste of money. And stick with your first draft; you can't, after all, "improve" your story because--other than grammar--there is no way to enhance the plot or prose of one's novel because these elements don't even exist per Joe and others.

    I mentioned the stoned "dragons" in NotW. I think that's an undeniable point. The book lacks stakes and the supposed climax is a puzzling, episodic, lacklustre sequence (admitted by a detractor's response with the weak excuse that it didn't "ruin" the book for them--did it make it better?). Had Rothfuss rewritten that portion and made it more pertinent to Kvothe's development (and his relationship with D), then the novel would be better for it. I think--with objective distance--most readers would agree. I also feel the story would benefit from removal of all third person sections and "present" day elements that lacked the spark of the first person sections--and suffered from pacing and redundancy (and the fact that nothing really happened to advance the plot--other than the bard's attack/appearance). In other words, the linear approach.

    And Joe misses my point altogether with his response. Yes, one's enjoyment of certain themes or tropes (forms) can be enhanced through emotional resonance, perspective, and sympathetic experience (making a novel better for some than others), but that in no way divorces a novel's attachment to the real world of fictional craft. Craft is separate from story. There are ways to improve BOTH. The main thing is making every word count--more than once. Great scenes have stimulus/internalization/response, scene/sequel, characterization, advancement of plot. Advancing more than one of these elements at a time strengthens a story.

    So, go out and send off those first, meandering drafts, folks. Because you can't truly "criticize" or "improve" your masterpieces. Keep those dangling adjectives and adverbs. Repeat yourselves--often! It's all just a matter of opinion, after all.
     
  10. Dirvani

    Dirvani Registered User

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    Yeah, quality really wasn't the word I was looking for when I was writing that, but that just goes to show my inexperience. :p I typed up a lengthy response to this, but it didn't really seem necessary when I got done. I agree that when it comes down to it, judgment of art is completely subjective. The standards people set are what sparks my curiosity I suppose. With how passionately people guard their opinions and the arguments they use to back them up - strong or weak - makes it feel like their is something objective to be judged.

    I don't know, I suppose I'm just over-analyzing everything.
     
  11. Alex

    Alex Registered User

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    Aint that the truth!

    Some peoples opinions matter more than others (obviously) but you seem to confuse facts and opinions.

    I are agreeing not wit you. That sentence is clearly flawed and that is fact.

    I really think Terry Goodkind is a superb author and Tolkien is a bad author. That is my opinion and do not try to present it as fact.
     
  12. Joe Abercrombie

    Joe Abercrombie Registered User

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    There may be massively widespread agreement on what is good or bad, but ultimately, yes, it is subjective and there are no metrics. Glad I've finally got through. Subjectivity in no way removes the possibility for improvement, it's just that improvement will be relative rather than absolute. How's that for a pretentious sentence? But in any case, that has nothing to do with whether an editor is important. What an editor does is to present their opinions to an author - opinions carrying the weight of their perceptive observations and long experience - the author then considers the arguments and frequently comes round to their way of thinking, sees that there are ways to improve a scene, sentence, or element that they themselves agree with. It's you who'd be firing the editors, because in your world all we have to do is learn the simple tenets of the writerly craft and everyone can produce the perfect book every time. If only it were that simple.

    That's ignoring, of course, the fact that an editor has a much more important role in representing a book commercially even than the key one they have in improving it creatively. So no, I think we can keep them in work for now.

    You may be right that most readers would agree, but that's a very long way from it being an objective fact about the book, isn't it? And the extent to which it would damage any one reader's overall experience of reading the book would vary, some might not particularly care. They might even still think it's the best debut fantasy of the last 30 years.

    Now you feel the story would benefit, rather than presenting it as a factual flaw. It's nice that we're making progress.

    Of course you can find myriad ways to improve a story in the eyes of the vast majority of readers, you can find ways as a writer to improve it in your own eyes, many of which will involve seeking the opinions of others, such as editors. As a writer you should, of course, endlessly be seeking to improve. But you present fictional craft as though it's a universal set of principles that everyone agrees to, and as though the adherence to that set of principles is the key thing that makes a book good or not.

    I've yet to hear a principle of writing from you that isn't ultimately an opinion. Sensible ones, that could often be very useful to writers, maybe, but a long way from facts. And even when you're presenting a very sensible general principle such as, "make every word count", exactly how or when one should apply that principle is still utterly subjective. No two writers, no two editors, no two readers, will ever have exactly the same opinion about what constitutes a wasted word or not. But that's a good thing. Celebrate it. It would be a dull world if we just had a set of rules to follow.

    Anyway, pleasure tussling with ya, I applaud your passion in the cause of better writing, but damned if I haven't spent the best part of an hour chewing the fat, and I'm supposed to be editing my own book, so, with the greatest of respect I will retire, the field is yours.

    Now where did I put my much thumbed-through copy of Lidyek's Incontrovertible Principles of the Writerly Craft? I've an ending I need to bring within acceptible parameters...
     
  13. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Ranke, I'm on your side, though it's not always possible to objectify the subjective, and find those elements common to many positive reactions and negative reactions. The problem is not that there is no way to objectify them, it's just that we don't know what they are clearly enough to do it. How do you spell out in words an emotional response to a book? And that emotional response is the result of both physical reactions (chemical, brain reactions) and personal history, expectations and so much more. KatG and I have arugued this point many times in that past. It's absurd to say that there are no differences in quality from one book to another, and that it's all a matter of taste. We are the ones who define quality and we are the ones who define taste. So on one level, everythings objective, based upon our assumptions, assumptions we all generally agree upon apriori in order to even have the discussion. On another level, everything's subjective, yes, but that's mostly irrelevant. And our assumptions, when we come here to talk about literature, are clear before the conversation begins: We can speak about things and we can understand each other because there are objective standards against which we measure what we say. As I said earlier, we may not be able to quantify them all and give them names and make them clear. But you know what I mean when I say a book was profound or trite or well written or mesmerizing. If you didn't, then we couldn't communicate at all.

    KatG, I'm sorry. But as I've said to you many times before, we need to be able to operate on more than one level. The macro level tells us that nothing is certain, everything is subjective, our knowledge is all conjecture, free will is an illusion and so on. But on the micro level, we still need to function, and we can find common ground in order to discuss books, and we do understand what we're saying to one another when we have those discussions. To insist that all literary criticism is purely subjective and to thereby reduce the entire field to 'taste' is not productive. I can hate a book and admire it's appeal, it's style, it's technical proficiency etc. It's kind of like love. Tell me what it means? We use the word all the time. Can you define it so that we all agree on its meaning? And if you can't, does that mean it has no meaning for us in the context everyday discussion? Maybe it is just a word, but we use it and we make sense out of our use of it.

    We're not perfect, and language is by no means the only way we communicate. But let's not get silly about it. We know we can talk about books and we know we can evaluate our reactions personally as well as weigh our observations against the history of similar observations regarding literature. And we don't need to believe in Platonic forms in order to converse and have valid opinions.
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2008
  14. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Ranke, save the meandering ms. stuff for the Writing Forum. These are readers here. And you can kind of understand that they resent being told that their views of works they read don't count and yours do.

    As for the stoned dragon in Name of the Wind -- there are two reasons that Rothfuss appears to use this. (Possible spoilers if you don't want to read.) Okay, three, because having a drug-crazed dragon is just really cool to some of us. But the main reasons are first of all so that Kvothe is able to kill it, because it can't be helped and it's an extreme danger. Otherwise, if it was just a creature of magic flushed out into the world, Kvothe, as Rothfuss has created him, would not have been able to do it. Second, is to play with the idea of heroes and legends and how legends get built, which is a major principle of the story. Instead of a fierce, deadly dragon that must be outwitted and out-fought, the dragon is a damaged, confused, drug-crazed animal who has been used. Instead of a fearless hero who tackles the dragon with sword or massive spell, Kvothe is a panicked young man who desperately
    knocks the dragon dead by dropping a large wagon wheel on its head.
    Not terribly poetic, and that's the point.

    Now, you may think that Rothfuss was ill-advised to do this or didn't do it very well. But it certainly wasn't one of the problems I had with the story as it fit quite neatly into all the things Rothfuss was trying to do with the story -- it was the end of Kvothe's childhood, the creation of the first, big, iconic legend about him that wasn't true, the acceptance that magic couldn't solve everything, the knowledge that there were even more mysteries to deal with coming up.

    We can go round and round about this and have an interesting discussion about it, though it should probably be in the Rothfuss thread or in the Writing Forum. I can also talk to you about the mixed viewpoint format structure versus a purely first person one and why Rothfuss did it that way and why I think it works for the story from a craft standpoint, in my opinion.

    But the topic of this thread is for people to mention their experiences with books that they did not enjoy or did not enjoy totally that other people did. And if we're going to get upset that people have different experiences, we're going to be here all year. So again, I think we can stop the objective-subjective discussion -- move it to another thread if you like -- and go back to the topic proposed for the thread.
     
  15. Ranke Lidyek

    Ranke Lidyek Guest

    I agree with Gary.

    Sorry, Joe.

    And I can't agree with you, Kat concerning the "dragon". The "unreliable" narrator excuse only goes so far. And it doesn't go any further, in my opinion, than the heroic deconstructionist angle so many people use to explain away poor structure or execution...

    That said, you're right in that we can move on from this. I will say no more about NotW.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 30, 2008
  16. PeterWilliam

    PeterWilliam Omnibus Prime

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    Ah, that's what I get for skimming through. My apologies.
    Pete
     
  17. Fruitonica

    Fruitonica Registered User

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    Perhaps I misconstrued your post, but I don't think so. If you were, as I felt, offering your criticism of NotW as in any way objective then my post still stands. And if you were being objective, then you are declaring yourself as a person who can decide what is right or wrong with a novel, and this strays quite close to declaring yourself as the 'arbiter of good taste.' Because ultimately, if two people disagree over an objective fact, then one of them must be wrong.

    Writing, as an artform is something that is meant to be judged on its qualities by an audience, it holds no value inherent value on its own. So you are right, ultimately there is no difference between good and bad writing. However, I can differentiate between what I consider good and bad writing, and I'm sure you can too, we as an audience are assigning a value to it, and this is completely subjective.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2008
  18. molybdenum

    molybdenum Analyze That

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    Finally, something you've said that I agree with.

    Throughout the rest of your post you continued to mention the majority of readers. That is the point of drafting. While there really isn't an objective good or bad, there is some things readers like in a book and some things readers don't like in a book. There could be readers who would prefer an authors first draft to the actual book, but to the majority of readers, they like the final book better. This doesn't make the final draft objectively better than the first draft, it simply makes it more popular among the audience.

    *Quick topic switch*

    In a sense to argue among yourselves which book is better for the purpose of discussion is pointless. A person usually doesn't change their opinion of a book because someone else thought differently of it. You can state your opinion, and state why, but you can't always expect others to agree with you.

    And I think the objective-subjective discussion is extremely important to this thread, because books living up to hype and deserving hype is purely subjective in the first place.
     
  19. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Ranke -- I didn't say anything about structure; I just explained what seemed to be the reason Rothfuss had a stoned dragon as his dragon. :)

    For the record, Ranke and I have had several perfectly profitable discussions about various titles on which we disagree or partially disagree. He's not advocating that all stories be written to a formula or that everyone should agree about stories.

    No one here in this thread has to justify their opinion of a title in this thread, or prove that they came by that opinion one way or another. This is not a prove your life view thread. The thread has drifted away from books and into a debate about how authors write, for the most part, and people are getting very personal. Further, I think we've pretty much exhausted the subject and people are starting to just repeat themselves.

    If you really want to continue this particular topic, I again suggest starting another thread.
     
  20. Irrelevant

    Irrelevant Registered User

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    Wow. One moment I leave a post on my thoughts of why books get hype, and the next time I return to this thread, it's no longer about over-hyped books.

    What's all this objective view, subjective view stuff about? This is supposed to be about books you didn't like that everyone else does.