Monday, January 07, 2013

Mr. Know-It-All Owns Up

If you don't get this reference
Mr. Know-It-All is very disappointed.
Every once in a while I'm reminded that I don't know everything.

Yes, yes, it's true and I accept it. If I knew everything I probably wouldn't be here trying to engage in a conversation with people who don't really know me.

A while back I pointed to this article as a reminder of things one should watch out for when editing a draft. Then I saw this article saying the first article is nice but writing is more than that and writers should be aware of these things, too.

Point taken.

Here's the summary for those of you who didn't click through on either article (and shame on you - you should read their stuff, I do):

Ask the big questions, show your characters' character, make the reader care, and then offer a big payoff. If you do this cleanly without annoyingly obvious grammar mistakes, you'll have a nice book in the end.

Sounds simple, dunnit?

In the grand discussion of writers' capabilities, it should be. The writer should have been taught (either formally or informally) that a clean manuscript is a must so that when one is being critiqued it can be read for structural problems. Again, that sounds easy and it should be.

But often it isn't. I think it has more to do with how people interact every day and tell stories to one another on the phone or via email than anything else. There's little respect for individuals in every day life and that's translating into some prose. There's a paradigm shift coming and it is slow moving, like beach erosion, rather than tsunami-like, washing away all the old stuff that "doesn't matter any more".

Formality is dying.

It's going away in schools and in job interviews and I see it and you see it in the deaths of little things every day. People don't use turn signals when they drive. After all, I know where I'm going why do you need to? People use the speakers on their phones to chat with their doctors in a crowded coffee shop. After all, I'm not ashamed of what's wrong with me, why should you be? The last seat on the bus is taken up by a backpack and an angry-looking person who doesn't want you to sit next to her. After all, it's her personal space, isn't it?

Why do we think that a space where the general public is allowed to occupy (like say a restaurant dining room) is the same thing as a public space? Parks are not the same as a business. Why do we behave as though we're entitled to be impolite to anyone we want?

There are levels of privacy that we are willing to give away with our rights as American citizens and it doesn't bother the vast majority. In fact, that vast majority tends to think of anyone who bristles at giving up something that "doesn't matter any more" as a trouble-maker or perhaps just an unhappy person who needs to get laid.

We tear one another down because we can, because it makes us feel better. Why don't we help each other more? Put on that turn signal. Take that conversation somewhere else. Let someone who's been on her feet all day sit down for the bus ride home. It's not that much to ask or even to give.

Both articles are helpful and insightful and neither is absolute. I link to them so that you can go read them and learn something I didn't know at some point and needed to learn again. I write this blog in the hopes that I'm reaching some form of intelligent life that wants to engage in a conversation. This isn't a marketing platform, folks. Well, it is, but that's not the point. It's as much me wanting to open a dialogue with other like-minds and maybe even some who aren't alike so that I can learn things.

It's a little more formal than me just setting up on a street corner and evangelizing away, but not by much. Here are my thoughts. What are yours?

Because I don't know it all. Not by a long shot. But I do want to learn as much as I can.


Holly said...

I'm honored. :-)

Tho I take your point about the lack of civility in the world, (and the larger implication about the decline of educational quality) I don't think it's really affecting the level of worthwhile art/craft out there.

In fact I don't think that popular art or music or literature is any worse than it's ever been. It may be that more low-to-mid level art reaches the public view, because of more leisure time and greater ease of distribution.

However, the simple reason that not many people master storycraft is because it's freakin' hard. It takes time, and study, just like mastering an instrument or a martial art.

Unfortunately, writing is a solo activity, so very few writers get any feedback at the nascent stage, and by the time they've written an entire manuscript, they are too married to it to hear any constructive criticism. Furthermore, there are very few people who can give them useful criticism, because their peers probably never had any instruction beyond Freshman Comp 101.

For the record, I do have a BA in English writing, so I'm not *completely* talking out my ass. :-)

Mike Sullivan said...

I'm not really certain I can add much here, Jason. I agree with what you've said and both of the linked-articles have their advice on good writing/getting your book read.

As for formality itself, I feel that has been in entropy years since before both our ages combined, but it seems to be spiraling out of control at a more than alarming speed recently.

Courtesy, many times, seems to be a thing of the past in favor of the needs of the self. "I NEED to be heard, regardless of your feelings, wants, needs."

I'm a signal-turner. I've stood on a bus to allow an older person (much much older, by the way, belying the gray in my hair) to be seated.

As I don't have children, I really can't pass on my values to the future generations as readily. I can only show others that are willing to take my advice. I suppose it's best to focus attention to those young minds and not try to force my ideas and ideals on deaf, and these days,
vehemently antagonistic ears.

In the world of writing, that's a HUGE pot to boil. I guess, each of us has to decide what is most important for our work.

Jason Arnett said...

I'm a bad blogger for not getting to comments the day they went up. Sorry, guys.

@Holly - I'm honored you came over to comment. Thanks! You're right that the level of pop music and literature are probably the same they've always been. I've always believed that there's a lot of junk out there so the ease with which it can gain notoriety is what's increased. Maybe it's time to muse on the Just-Because-You-Can-Doesn't-Mean-You-Should argument.

And one of the things I'm always afraid of is that since I don't have a formal education in writing I've been learning on the fly. However I do seek out ways to improve that writing, it's just taking forever. Finding people who ARE educated and getting their feedback has been very important and resulted in a quantum leap over the last 18 months or so.

@Mike - There's probably a lot of people who felt the same way about our generation, too. I'm certainly less formal than my grandparents were. But I always felt like taking that formality away allowed us to confront things that needed to be confronted (war, hurtful business practices, etc...). I think the difference is that people equate being informal and aggressive with 'fairness'. As if they're owed something by the general populace. No one owes me anything.

Of course I may just be getting cranky as the gray gets more and more noticeable.