Friday, 30 March 2007

Where Was I?

Bugger, who invented the school-run?

I've had TWO interruptions this morning; the Mrs to the station at 7 AM then PJ to school just after 8. It's frustrating to have to break into a thought pattern or suspend a short story half-way through (I believe we should try to draft a short in one sitting.)

I know I had LOTS to say about "aesthetics" versus "instrumentalism" but let's put things into Boot Camp terms, let's get a bit of FIRE and BALLS,

There are stories that disappear up their own ass, they are languaged, highly-languaged, but LANGUAGED FOR THEIR OWN SAKE or languaged to show off the author. (In BC this is either "dick-waving" or "showing yer tits".)

Sadly we sometimes get critiquers falling for the surface bullshit (the pretty wordifying) and forgetting to notice that underneath there is no story, or a thin story, or (The horror! The horror!) a WOMAG story.

Some while back a very fine observation was made in BC, that many competitions are often won by "plain, womag plots, with womag emotions, womag characters, but all covered in 'pretty' language"

occasionally in Boot Camp there will be a huge split. Maybe 6-7-8 critters will score a story 115-120 THEN I COME IN.

I score it 90 and tell them they are a bunch of deaf, dumb and blind spectators watching the naked Emperor going by, but actually "seeing" clothes on his back. They've fallen for the language.

These threads are great because they force people to see THE STORY not the language.

What, I ask, would be the score for this story, if the language only scraped par or was under par?

What happens is the reader reads "good language" (so-called) presumes the author is " a good writer" and then sees everything though that filter. Tell me what the story is, i ask. Tell me why these characters deserve par, tell me EXACTLY why the dialogue is "good", what's the theme, is it strong or weak?

In Boot Camp "Theme" means Premise, the "point" of a story, its argument, its moral view, "what it says", "what it leaves us with", what it makes us consider (whether or not it has a definite view)

So many stories end up stamped "SFW" (So fucking what?). It does not matter how well something is written, it does not matter if it has a theme, and is polished to death, if the "statement" a story makes is trivial and we don't care, then it's totally so-fucking-what and we very rapidly forget it.

That's why I loathe cheap womag stories with identikit characters, strings of vacuous stock phrases, thirty cliches to the square inch, and then to "sudddenly" make the story "matter" a crude "surprise" twist in the tail.

A twist is OK, but a story should stand alone without the twist. How many stories are "nothing" just set-ups for the twist-ending? I tell Boot Campers, "If you have a twist, put it at the beginning and then WRITE. Don't use cheap tricks."

So Aesthicism v Instrumenal writing? Pretty versus Content.

For me it's a no-brainer. I want MEANING, purpose, a strong theme delivered through great characters. Name a great story that did NOT have a strong theme, that did NOT "say something". Do we think that insight, that message, that political point, that social commentary was ACCIDENTAL? Of course not. So the great writers are instrumentalist.

Does that mean they don't care about their delivery, their style? NO.

Firstly, they may break new ground in performance, in method. Could they have written their story using standard methods? Probably. Might it have been as good? Probably.

But perhaps simple conceit made the writer try new ways. or perhaps the story's core demanded something new. Gibbon wanted to represent the people of his homeland, their manners and speech rhythms. If he wrote purely in their dialect, what would his readership be? If he wrote in simple English he couldn't express his feelings. So he invented a dialect, Scots rhythms in English, and enough Scots words to honour his people but not so many that international (and English) readers would find the work near-impossible to read.

I absolutely LOATHE having to read stuff like "H'away y'ken oot t'door, hin y'breeks" the deciphering kills the fictive dream. (beginners take note!)

The methods of delivery: of course along with, on top of a real point, a solid theme, we are not going to refuse "great writing" and I don't even mind "beauty" on the page... but it is when the beauty becomes more important than the message that something is wrong. it's masturbating in public.

My favourite example of "utter bollocks" is the laughable Emperor's Clothes Booker winner John Banville's "The Sea". Even more entertaining is watching fledgling writers or intermediate writers attempt to explain why the excruciating prose in The Sea is so "magnificent.

The plot is pathetic. There are some truly dire moments, silly plot holes. The author witholds information llike the rawest beginner. It is the most up-its-own-arse book written in the last ten years (excluding, I'll guess, a few thousand self-published ones.)

I don't dispute the author is a well-read man. No doubt highly intelligent. No doubt he has self-educated himself. But Jesus Christ, what pomposity, what verbiage, what a con job. We throw back the same sort of dumb, self-abusing excess when beginners write it. Where is this language NECESSARY, where does the style enhance the meaning, deepen the insight?

Why didn't more critics speak out against this book? If aspiring writers read this "winner" will they attempt to pour treacle over every trivial plot and call it art?

Why is a rusty gate described (laughingly IMO) as a filigree early in the book but later it's just a rusty gate?

Bummer, I have to go post this OU essay.

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