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  1. #61
    I thought Dawn's point was just a sarcastic jibe? (With the ameliorating wink-smilie, of course. I often wonder whether a court of law would reduce the sentence for a variety of crimes if it could be shown that the perpetrator left a winking smilie at the scene. So, like, he didn't really mean it nastily or anything.)

    Anyway. The point about Dubliners is that it showed that Joyce could write in a straightforward style before he branched out. It's nothing to do with show/tell, and I was using it in support of Holbrook's point about general rule-following. For the record though, many of the stories where Joyce predominantly tells are first person narratives, or directed third person narratives, where we're seeing the action through one character's eyes and telling is not only permissible but more or less essential. In true omniscient narratives, such as Two Gallants, A Little Cloud or his most celebrated story The Dead, there is a good deal of showing through dialogue and activity.

  2. #62
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by proudfoot
    I thought Dawn's point was just a sarcastic jibe? (With the ameliorating wink-smilie, of course. I often wonder whether a court of law would reduce the sentence for a variety of crimes if it could be shown that the perpetrator left a winking smilie at the scene. So, like, he didn't really mean it nastily or anything.)
    Correct. I was just being lazy, here.

    It's just that Gary knows my attitude towards rules well enough to agree with what I haven't actually said.

    Anyway. The point about Dubliners is that it showed that Joyce could write in a straightforward style before he branched out. It's nothing to do with show/tell, and I was using it in support of Holbrook's point about general rule-following.
    Well, what about William Burrows and Naked Lunch, then?

    The problem I have with "general rule-following" is that, as far as "creative writing" is concerned, there are no rules. There's a tool-set, and you'll have to figure out what to use and what not to use. The "so called" rules of writing are ex-post rationalisations of what writers have done so far, but often they're treated as if they were actual "rules".

    I'd argue it's not a learn-rules-first-then-break-them situation. It's a symbiotic relationship from the get-go. Joyce's stories in Dubliners seem a lot more "straightforward" today than they did in 1914.

    I don't like rule-mongering, because I've often seen it used to exorcise what's interesting from a text. The text, from a rule centred point of view, does improve; but it gets dull to read. Instead of pointing out abstract rules people should look at the things they're doing and figure out why they're doing that. I, at least, prefer a flawed but interesting text to a flawlessly dull one.

    Many of the problems that fledgling writers face come from the desire to conform to writing rules. For example, a lot of new writers use too many adjectives. They do so, because they think that's what "artistic language" is all about. They want to sound "literary", so add the adjectives, in the hope to achieve that. If they wrote the way they always write, they'd feel like they're writing trite stuff (because it's the voice they're used to).

    That's when they get caught in the rule mill. "What should I do to write an interesting text?" Instead of telling them to stop looking for rules, to start modestly with their own voice and go from there, they usually face "counter rules": don't use so many adjectives. This abstracts the writer from the writing, which is totally besides the point.

    Buy a good grammar (either a structuralist one, or a transformative one; probably go with a structuralist one), a good dictionary and lots of fiction. That's all you need. So-called rules only start being useful once you're quite confident in what you're doing. Rules do help once you know how to relativise them.

    For the record though, many of the stories where Joyce predominantly tells are first person narratives, or directed third person narratives, where we're seeing the action through one character's eyes and telling is not only permissible but more or less essential. In true omniscient narratives, such as Two Gallants, A Little Cloud or his most celebrated story The Dead, there is a good deal of showing through dialogue and activity.
    We could have endless discussions about showing and telling in Dubliners I bet. As it is, I've just deleted some paragraphs about "A Little Cloud", a story I've actually re-read at the beginning of the week. That's to keep myself from rambling.

    I tried to stay out of this thread this time round, but then you had to bring up Dubliners. Ooh, the temptation. Must resist...

  3. #63
    On reflection I don't really disagree with anything you say here, Dawnstorm.

    The only Burroughs I've read is The Soft Machine (well, the first couple of dozen pages), which was a sorry victim of his 'cut-up' technique of writing and which I thought was rubbish, so I can't comment on Naked Lunch or his writing generally.

    Yes I agree that 'rules' (shall we call them 'guidelines' instead?) of writing are just evidence of what's worked in the past. And literature, like any art, must be constantly renewed and refreshed. However as I touched on above, most writers don't have the exceptional ability which I think is needed to forge new literary paths. If anyone but the most gifted genius just types out the first thing that comes into their head, it will almost certainly be drivel. So guidelines, learned from experience by reading other writers, are helpful to ensure that mediocre writers (and I use that term not insultingly but just to describe the vast majority of us with a middling level of talent) produce a more competent and readable work than they would without any such knowledge.

    It's attractive to think that creative writing operates in a vacuum without borders or rules, but I think it's fanciful, or at least optimistic. A story or book has to appeal to readers, and before that an agent or publisher. And although I certainly think all writers should be writing to please themselves first and foremost, presumably if they've been reading and enjoying previously published books, then their tastes must have some acceptance of the established forms of writing built in.

    For example, a lot of new writers use too many adjectives. They do so, because they think that's what "artistic language" is all about. They want to sound "literary", so add the adjectives, in the hope to achieve that
    That's right. And if, as you say later, they read more good fiction to begin with, they would know that it's not the case. Artistic language is as individual as the artist.

    I don't like rule-mongering, because I've often seen it used to exorcise what's interesting from a text. The text, from a rule centred point of view, does improve; but it gets dull to read. Instead of pointing out abstract rules people should look at the things they're doing and figure out why they're doing that. I, at least, prefer a flawed but interesting text to a flawlessly dull one.
    Well I would argue that a dull text can't be flawless! And applying some rules/guidelines/benefit of experience to a text can't remove what's interesting if the writer has an interesting voice to begin with.

  4. #64
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Each different editor I work with brings a different perspective to the table. But they all seem to prefer the less is more POV today. Less is more if more is boring. Less is more if more doesn't work. Less is more if the sentences are bogged down and slow. But less is not ALWAYS more. Language itself has rules. Words have meanings. I would never claim that rules are unimportant. Mastering any technique requires an understanding of the rules as well as the possibilities. When you put yellow and blue together on a canvas, you get green. But the rules don't make the game. They only help to structure it.

    Rule-breakers don't create great literature simply by breaking the rules. There's so much more involved obviously. Have you ever read Ernest Buckler? I use him as an example in these types of discussions often. His books are full of descriptors. Full to overflowing. But I adore them. I crave them. He creates such images that I find myself mystified by how he sees things and I can't believe how creative his mind was. It's truly beautiful to read, and I see everything as I read, like a surrealistic film playing out in the background of a very centered and human book. Most editors today would slash and burn that text - redline half the sentences. They would have destroyed it and destroyed his voice.

  5. #65
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by proudfoot
    The only Burroughs I've read is The Soft Machine (well, the first couple of dozen pages), which was a sorry victim of his 'cut-up' technique of writing and which I thought was rubbish, so I can't comment on Naked Lunch or his writing generally.
    Naked Lunch is all I've ever read of Burrows (though I am interested in reading The Soft Machine and Nova Express and other stuff by him.) To my (limited) knowledge Burrows has never demonstrated a knack for conventional story telling (perhaps he learned, later, I don't know that); he certainly hasn't before Naked Lunch, which was his debut. It doesn't make much sense, certainly not as a story, but it does present a strange mix that's fascinating enough to pull you through the book (well, me, at any rate... ). The question is, is you don't have a story tellers mind, but a drug addict's coming clean (Naked Lunch), or a stylists, etc. why should you bother with stuff that lies outside your realm of interest?

    Concerning Joyce, there is a clear progression from Dubliners over Portrait over Ulysses to Finnegan's Wake. But then, from what I've read about Joyce, he had quite a methodical mind. I'm not sure that such a progression is a necessary prerequisite.

    However as I touched on above, most writers don't have the exceptional ability which I think is needed to forge new literary paths. If anyone but the most gifted genius just types out the first thing that comes into their head, it will almost certainly be drivel. So guidelines, learned from experience by reading other writers, are helpful to ensure that mediocre writers (and I use that term not insultingly but just to describe the vast majority of us with a middling level of talent) produce a more competent and readable work than they would without any such knowledge.
    I do agree with that. I don't actually want discourage diving into what others have done. I'm just worried that deviding writers into geniuses and the rest and encourages mediocre writers to over-estimate themselves, and discourages the better writers from pursuing their own paths; making the decicive trait of writers obstinacy as opposed to talent.

    In short, my experience is that rule-mongering discourages interesting writing by rewarding the dull. Of course, that's based on my taste (what's dull to me may not be dull to others; and probably isn't).

    It's attractive to think that creative writing operates in a vacuum without borders or rules, but I think it's fanciful, or at least optimistic.
    I agree. I never meant to convey that.

    A story or book has to appeal to readers, and before that an agent or publisher. And although I certainly think all writers should be writing to please themselves first and foremost, presumably if they've been reading and enjoying previously published books, then their tastes must have some acceptance of the established forms of writing built in.
    Well put. That's the unacknowledged basis of all my arguments, actually.

    And if, as you say later, they read more good fiction to begin with, they would know that it's not the case. Artistic language is as individual as the artist.
    It should work like that but doesn't. Writing and reading are two different mindsets.

    Well I would argue that a dull text can't be flawless! And applying some rules/guidelines/benefit of experience to a text can't remove what's interesting if the writer has an interesting voice to begin with.
    Then perhaps I should have used different words. I'm describing experiences here. It's quite complicated. If interested I'll try to dig up some examples (from memory) later, and explaim myself. I don't have the time right now, though.
    Last edited by Dawnstorm; June 30th, 2006 at 09:28 AM.

  6. #66
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Okay, if I'm suppose to follow the rules, what are they? I mean, I hear of a few rules, but they seem to change over time, several of them contradict each other, and I'm sure I haven't heard them all. Is there some sort of rules committee to which one can apply for a definitive set of rules? Or do you have to enroll in various school/cults of rules, and if they don't agree, do you have rumbles between the cults? Are there different rules for UK writers as opposed to U.S. writers, and do you have to follow only the rules of your home country?

    If we go with the caste system theory, in which there are mediocre writers and brilliant writers and whichever one you are, you are forever, why would I need to learn any rules? I have only my innate ability and am unable to learn and develop any writing skills other than the ones I instinctually have. Therefore, I can't learn or effectively use rules, whatever my designated caste.

    If we go with the painters theory, in which writers must learn the rules as basic techniques in order then to successfully break them later on, we are again faced with the what are the rules that I have to learn in order to then break them issue. Painters agree on the physical specifics of perspective, but writers don't agree about pov. How do I know when I am ready and can break the rules? Do I have to have a writing instructor's permission? Do I have to get an MFA degree? What about first-time writers who have had little training, never follow the rules, and are published? Should they be fined? If one editor likes how I do pov and characterization, and another editor doesn't like how I do pov and characterization (which happens to authors frequently,) who is right?

    Rules simply do not seem to me to be very practical.

  7. #67
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Wise comments. Particularly coming from an editor! It just has to work. If it doesn't work, then change it. rewrite it. edit it. But if it works and it breaks all the rules - it's full of descriptors, it's overly adjectivized, it has an abundance of dialogue, lots of history, tons of metaphors and poetic allusions - then it's fine. It's better than fine.

    What bores one, inspires another. What I skim in Martin's books, others read avidly. What fascinates me in Bakker's trilogy puts some to sleep. Are we searching for the common denominator, the mediocre, or are we trying to reach as high as we can?

    If it works, it works. It's as simple as that.

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