It’s always so difficult to write the most basic things, apparently. Sunday, May 27 2007 

Of the qualities that writers often seems to be lacking, the most common and most surprising is alway basic reading comprehension. I understand why a simple sentence like “Her daughters ignored Stephanie” might seem to require creative imbellishment, but a significant proportion of writers, in their imbellishing, manage to alter the actual meaning of what they’re trying to say without apparently noticing it or bothering to correct it.

The sentence “Her daughters ignored Stephanie”, appeared in a book I was reading as “Her daughters tried their best to ignore Stephanie”. What’s wrong with this? Well, everything. In isolation like this, it looks like Stephanie has some quality that makes her hard to ignore. In the book, she doesn’t. So that’s wrong. It also implies that the daughters weren’t quite succeeding — if I wrote “I tried my best to plug the leaking tap with tissue paper”, it goes without saying that I didn’t succeed completely, and some of the leak managed to get through. So the daughters are trying and failing to ignore Stephanie, which is wrong, because there is no reason they couldn’t just ignore Stephanie entirely. The daughters aren’t trying their best to ignore Stephanie, they’re just doing it.

Writer of book, you have failed as a writer of book. You don’t actually have a bloody clue what you’re writing. Good day.


The cause of effect. Wednesday, May 16 2007 

I have failed to replace my LiveJournal with this WordPress. (Not sure about the capitalisation there). But since the comments here are supposed to be timeless rather than topical, and more universally relevant than fleetingly amusing, I don’t feel the pressure to make comments all of the time — only when I think of them.

I’m often forced to listening to the call waiting music on the telephones at work. The best phrase I can use to describe it is ‘ambient tinkling’, and it’s so utterly innocuous that it drives me up the wall. Jack Johnson has the same effect — his music is so mellow and harmless that no one could possible take offense to it, and yet, when it’s played at work, people are falling over each other to turn the music off.

It’s a strange paradox that the most utterly bland and innocuous things become the most incredibly offensive. I think most of the literature industry works on the principle of ‘bland and innocuous’, which is one of the reasons I can hardly ever read past the first page of a book randomly picked off the shelves. They seem like they’re trying to appeal to everyone, rather than risking alienating some people in order to appeal more strongly to others. The books that do take that risk end up being the most popular, but all that people can then see is a book that’s universally appealing. Even though some people hate the apparently universally popular Harry Potter, they’re disregarded as aberrations rather than acknowledged as collateral the people that the books risked annoying.

People try to emulate the success of other writers, but they try to emulate the effect rather than the cause — the effect is popularity, the cause is an infinitely subtle quality that’s impossible to identify or document, and is obscured by the effect of popularity.

Forbidden fruits. Tuesday, May 1 2007 

I’ve always tried to avoid ‘creative writing’ websites on the grounds that some of their ludicrious, narrow-minded ideas might get stuck in my head and distract me from actually writing. But I let my guard down for a moment and read a small piece about what the writer thinks is the ‘passive voice’. The example of ‘wrong’ they use was this:

She realized she’d reached the point of no return. She had to kill him.

And the example of ‘correct’ was this:

The point of no return. Breached. She had to kill him.

Apparently the former creates distance between the reader and the character, whereas the latter doesn’t. What I loathe about ‘creative writing’ rules and guidelines is that they assume that there’s only one novel in the world, and there’s only one way of writing. The woman writing the article doesn’t point out that the former is correct if that’s what the writer is trying to achieve; the example is out, RIGHT OUT. It is Anathema. And so are a list of words that the writer doesn’t think should be included in fiction: ‘hoped’, ‘realized’, ‘considered’…

Personally, I can see the value of creating distance between the reader and the character. What if I want the reader to study the character rather than ‘be’ the character? What if I think that writing in the stylised style of the latter example is the equivalent of using musical cues in cinema to tell the audience to feel ‘sad’ at the sad point and ‘scared’ at the scared point, a method that defeats its own purpose by being too heavy-handed?

No no no — verboten! And furthermore, no editor will EVER consider your manuscript if you don’t abide by their doctrine, so there’s no incentive for you to rely on your own judgement at all. You may be making a statement, but no one will ever hear it, so what’s the point?

Fuck it. If the editor is, like this creative writing instructor, so narrow-minded that they can’t see the value of what this writer thinks is the passive voice, then they’re probably utterly negligible. I may reduce my chance of having my book published by breaking their cruddy rules but at least I’ll have my pride.

This is why I can never take advice from anyone who holds or who has attended a creative writing course — why I’ll never allow them to critique my writing. They’ll be so distracted by their black and white ‘active voice good, passive voice bad’ bullshit (and other things) that they won’t be able to judge whether the passive voice is actually appropriate or not.