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  1. #76
    Registered User Joe Abercrombie's Avatar
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    If I've learned one thing in the last five years it's that the way in which different people read, the things they value or enjoy or consider 'good writing', vary to a degree you wouldn't think possible. Truly, one man's meat is another man's poison.

    Ranke,
    It just isn't true to say that there's such a thing as objectively good writing. Or that there are some kind of hard and fast rules which define what is good writing or bad. There are guidelines at best. Even the word you yourself pick, 'tenets' is usually defined as a belief generally held to be true (and that by a specific group, often a religion), not a universal fact at all. Of course you can read a book, analyse it, hold strong opinions about it. You can support those opinions with perceptive observations to the point that they become highly compelling, maybe make others question their own opinions. Sources that you regard as authoritative can all hold the same opinion about a certain piece of writing to the point that it becomes extremely hard to convincingly disagree. But they remain opinions.

    Everything you've presented about The Name of the Wind is an opinion. To look at one of your assertions specifically - that nothing interesting happens until about page 200 - that is self-evidently an opinion. There is no objective measure of what is interesting or not. Likewise your assertion that great writing must always 'make every word count'. I absolutely agree with the principle, but again to somehow say that there is an objective measure about whether a given word counts or not is absurd. Some degree of repetition can be hugely valuable and hugely effective, under the right circumstances, though when exactly it is or is not justified is ... a matter of opinion. I'm not necessarily disputing any of your assertions about the book, but you ARE, in effect, saying that you are the ultimate arbiter of taste, because you are explicitly presenting your opinions as fact. You are saying that there are incontrovertible rules about what is good or not, and you know what they are.

    But even if one accepts that all your opinions are definite flaws, how significant they are, and whether one considers them to disbar the book from consideration as a good book, a great book, or the best book of all time, is ... totally a matter of opinion. Ultimately whether a book follows any kind of 'tenets of writing' is utterly secondary in deciding whether it is a good book to entirely indefinable factors like whether we relate to the characters, enjoy the voice of the author, find the dialogue convincing, the setting compelling, and so on. I believe what Betsy Wolheim said (and I'm not totally sure) is that she thought Name of the Wind was the best DEBUT fantasy across her desk in the last 30 years. But whatever she said, I don't see how the fact you disagree comes anywhere near to making her a liar.
    Last edited by Joe Abercrombie; October 29th, 2008 at 10:39 AM. Reason: incontrovertible is, like, WELL hard to spell in a rush.

  2. #77
    Omnibus Prime Moderator PeterWilliam's Avatar
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    Having followed the thread thus far, and re-reading it a couple of times, I would have to agree with Ranke Lidyek. He's clearly stated that he finds the book in question to be good, enjoyable and a strong recommendation to others. The statement that this particular work is a "classic novel or the best fantasy I've read in 30 years," is a rather bold testimonial that Ranke, not only, disagreed with, but also clarified with legitimate analysis and reasons. The particular items he elaborated upon (i.e. dialogue, characterization, et al) hardly seem to be as vague and nebulous as some seem to be stating.

    It isn't all just a matter of taste or opinion, it can't be. One cannot take a project graded poorly upon such characteristics back to the professor to argue matters of taste and opinion. How could these forums be so full of detractors of Goodkind, Eddings, Feist, Lackey, et al, if it were only matters of taste and opinion? I suppose it could just be, in generous terms, consensus opinion. It not so generous terms it's usually called 'group-think.'

    Ultimately, yes, people are capable of deciding what they like and want to read. This has little, if anything, to do with the particular discipline of writing, as one of Ranke's detractors already noted with a cheap shot regarding the absence of a comma. In every human endeavor, there are varying degrees of skill displayed, but I remain convinced that an honest evaluation can discern the greater from the lesser, despite concerns of taste and/or opinion.

    I will purchase and read Rothfuss, with/sans hype. I, as I've already posted, have no concerns about any 'hype.' After all, 'there's no such thing as bad press.'

  3. #78
    Quote Originally Posted by PeterWilliam View Post
    This has little, if anything, to do with the particular discipline of writing, as one of Ranke's detractors already noted with a cheap shot regarding the absence of a comma.
    If this was directed at my post, I'd like to point out that it was meant in jest, as indicated by the lovely winking and smiling fellow at the end. Other than that, I actually agree with most of what you said, so I don't know that it's fair to call me one of the detractors. Also, it was an apostrophe used in changing could to couldn't, not a comma.

    If you weren't referring to my post, nevermind.

  4. #79
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Buzz....Hype....Reviews?

    Interesting, isn't it, that frequently great reviews of literature are diametrically opposed to the arc of the books' long term sales. That tells us something, doesn't it? I wonder if that's true for both buzz and hype as well.

    Hype is promotional. Doesn't mean much, other than that the author has his publisher's support, fans or money.

    Buzz is unquantifiable. What makes Paris Hilton news worthy or not? And whatever that is, doesn't make her beautiful or interesting or special. Yet sometimes, buzz is directly related to the quality of it source material. But again, that's so very personal.

    There are elements that make something special, good, better and best. Mabye we don't always recognize the yardsticks we use to measure our likes and dislikes. That doesn't mean we don't use them subconsciously. Bad writing can be more easily characterized. But sometimes a great story overshadows even that. There are so many elements that go into making a book great. Have you read Hobb's Assassin series? Is the writing brilliant? Is the setting unique? Is the POV the best one to write from? Maybe the answers to the above questions are all 'no'. Yet, the books are compelling and interesting and memorable. And they struck chords with countless readers. So what yardsticks are Hobb's fans using? (I'm one of them, BTW)
    To answer my own question, I find them entertaining. And if I were to write a review of them, I'd emphasize that above all else. They're not profound. There's little depth of thought to them. In a way, they ring as YA more than adult, not for the lack of depth (lots of YA books are significantly deeper) but by virtue of the vocabularly and thought structure. Yet the characters leap off the pages and are memorable.

    My books get reviewed really well. Still, there's almost no buzz about what I write. Readers who do buy them seem to thoroughly enjoy them. I don't have a big publisher hypeing my work, and there's no advertising behind them, no promotion, no mainstream publications like PW touting them or even looking at them. My publisher doesn't submit them for review. So the hype isn't there prior to publication (or after for that matter). Without hype, it's often hard to get buzz. Well placed, effective hype should technically yield buzz. At least the P/R departments of TOR and Baen et al like to think. People need to know about a book to start talking about it. Can anyone really figure buzz out? Mieville was fantasy's darling for quite a while. Merited? If so, by what yardsticks? I would venture to guess that those who love China, don't generally love Goodkind and Jordan. Maybe Bakker and Erikson. Or Vandermeer?

    We have ways to evaluate literature, and we use them all the time. They're just not as clear as counting or measuring speed. And they're very emotional and subliminal in many cases. But when we express our opinion, something's at work in our brain helping us do that.

  5. #80
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    As a classically-trained musician, I find this whole discussion to be extremely bizarre. I can see no really reasonable way to distill any work of art, be it aural or visual or a combination of both, down into quantifiable bits in order to say Work A scores such-and-such on the scale and so is better than Work B that scores something else...

    I've performed in thousands of concerts and attended just as many. I've seen technically perfect performances that have completely lacked soul and left me cold. I've seen performances that were riddled with "problems" but which also had a fire or intensity to them that make them stick in my mind years and decades later.

    There's an aspect to any art that goes beyond the mere technical aspects of it. I agree with you that those technical aspects need to be up to a certain basic level of proficiency before an artist can effectively connect with his audience. That's why in early music lessons or writing classes or art classes there is much talk about the hows and the rights and wrongs of things. But few of these things, as one moves into higher levels of an art, are hard and fast rules. They're a starting point, but they're not the be all and end all of a form of expression.

    I found Rothfuss's book to be just fine on its technical merits. The writing did what it needed to do. And I, for one, found that the things Ranke listed as problems with the book, didn't bother me at all. I was completely engaged from page 1. The draccus encounter was a strange plot diversion, but I didn't find it to be a glaring writer's gaffe. Looking at discussions at non-SF centerd sites and looking at reviews at Amazon, it appears many people really liked the book. He must have done something right, and it must have had something to do with the non-technical aspects of the book.

    Reading Ranke's posts, it seems like if we were to follow these few simple rules every book would be a blockbuster. They would all be perfect examples of books. I wonder why it is publishers haven't figured this out yet. Seems like a cash cow.

    I don't know that I'd call it group-think here. Those of us who are here at SFFWorld are here because we have a certain level of interest in fantasy and because we find likeminded people here to discuss books with. We have disagreements and we have different tastes, but if you go to a different message board you'll find a different tenor to the conversation. Different books will be bashed, different books will be lauded. Honestly, if you were a diehard Goodkind fan and loved everything about his writing and weren't interested in any other fantasy (and there are plenty of these people), would you pick SFFWorld as your forum of choice? Probably not. Don't make the mistake of taking SFFWorld as a completely representative example of the fantasy-reading public.

    All I have time for now, and no chance to go back and see if any of it is too rambly, so if something doesn't connect, forgive.

  6. #81
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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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.

  7. #82
    I eat fish. Bear's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ranke Lidyek View Post
    NotW is OBVIOUSLY flawed. Read it again and think on these things (grrr, I hate having to pound on one novel--a novel I enjoyed, actually).

    One: lack of stakes (stoned dragons as your climax?). Two: the third person was spotty and redundant (if I hear Bast try to fellate "poor" Kote one more time--we GET it already!--this served no purpose and diminished Kote's character). Nothing interesting happened until about page 200. The opening was amateurish. Three: the pace was too slow with too much repetition. Hit your mark and move on. It's a tenet of screenwriting that can and should be applied to prose. Yes, a PLOT is important, folks. Four: Kvothe is a "Mary Sue" (he does EVERYTHING better than everyone else and most of the other characters aren't even foils, but "furniture" for Kvothe to sit on). My main issue is that great writing consistently does one thing: make every word count. NotW failed in this regard.

    I'm not implying that classics are flawless (I think no work truly is), but they DO possess outstanding characteristics that make them rise above their flaws. However, most classics don't have quite so many flaws as NotW. Do I think Wolheim lied? Honestly, YES. No way in hell she hasn't read a better fantasy in 30 years. It's a ridiculous statement. I sure have.

    Do I think NotW is a bad book? Hell no. I enjoyed it, for the most part. And I'll buy the second novel. I do understand why people would recommend the book. I feel people should buy it myself. But I'm not going to say with a straight face that it's a "classic novel or the best fantasy I've read in 30 years" because it simply isn't. Instead, I'll enjoy it for what it is. A good, sometimes very good, novel. What's wrong with that?

    So there you go.
    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.

  8. #83
    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 ). 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. 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 by Dirvani; October 29th, 2008 at 07:47 PM. Reason: Just wanted to add something small and didn't want to double post.

  9. #84
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsw13 View Post
    I think you meant 'I couldn't care less.' Your post, my friend, is no classic.
    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.

  10. #85
    Quote Originally Posted by Ranke Lidyek View Post
    And when my editor proclaims it "the best fantasy post she's read in 30 years", well.... I can understand your skepticism.
    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.

  11. #86
    Ranke Lidyek
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    Considering that most of the best fantasy novels introduced ARE debuts, then I reserve the right to hold onto my skepticism.

  12. #87
    Fulgurous Moderator KatG's Avatar
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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.

  13. #88
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    Having followed the thread thus far, and re-reading it a couple of times, I would have to agree with Ranke Lidyek. He's clearly stated that he finds the book in question to be good, enjoyable and a strong recommendation to others. The statement that this particular work is a "classic novel or the best fantasy I've read in 30 years," is a rather bold testimonial that Ranke, not only, disagreed with, but also clarified with legitimate analysis and reasons. The particular items he elaborated upon (i.e. dialogue, characterization, et al) hardly seem to be as vague and nebulous as some seem to be stating.

    It isn't all just a matter of taste or opinion, it can't be. One cannot take a project graded poorly upon such characteristics back to the professor to argue matters of taste and opinion. How could these forums be so full of detractors of Goodkind, Eddings, Feist, Lackey, et al, if it were only matters of taste and opinion? I suppose it could just be, in generous terms, consensus opinion. It not so generous terms it's usually called 'group-think.'

    Ultimately, yes, people are capable of deciding what they like and want to read. This has little, if anything, to do with the particular discipline of writing, as one of Ranke's detractors already noted with a cheap shot regarding the absence of a comma. In every human endeavor, there are varying degrees of skill displayed, but I remain convinced that an honest evaluation can discern the greater from the lesser, despite concerns of taste and/or opinion.

    I will purchase and read Rothfuss, with/sans hype. I, as I've already posted, have no concerns about any 'hype.' After all, 'there's no such thing as bad press.'
    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).

  14. #89
    Ranke Lidyek
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    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.

  15. #90
    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.
    Yeah, quality really wasn't the word I was looking for when I was writing that, but that just goes to show my inexperience. 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.

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