Monday, July 25, 2011

Writers say the darndest things!

Remember that show Kids Say the Darndest Things? (and the spin-off Grandmothers Darn the Darndest Things?) Well, the basic premise--and don't correct me if I'm wrong, as I'm simply making an effing joke, sheesh--was that kids say really stupid things, which is hilarious. And for the record, I'm not joking, maaan can kids say dumb things, amirite? At least I think that was the point of the show. Anyway, in that spirit, I thought I'd write a blog called Writers Say the Darndest Things!

Today's spotlight is a story from the online journal Every Day Fiction called ...And Counting by Christopher Allen (the story isn't my favorite ever, but this story by the same guy is pretty good)

The charm of the Every Day Fiction site is you get to rank the story (1 to 5 stars) and there's a comments section where the readers (read as: bunch of writers, mostly) get to comment on the story. The real fun starts in that comments section, of course. Why? Because (and this is where the entire studio audience says it togetherly!!!) WRITERS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS!

I recommend going there, if for no other reason than to just read the comments and marvel at how quickly a group of writers is likely to end up on a Wreck-Train express. Responding to set the record straight and explain intended techniques (or anything, really) to a reader is never a good idea. Readers get what they will, it's all subjective, blah blah.

In particular, writers need to remember that when a work is finished, published, out in the world, their intentions no longer matter. What matters is what the story is actually saying. You can't follow around all your readers explaining how you meant to do something, or how their perception of something is actually false because you intended something else. You write it, they read it, and in the end it's like that dumb saying how the customer is always right. It doesn't mean the customer is always IN the right, just a way of expressing the consumer has the product creators or sellers by the balls, and it's no different for writing.

Another interesting lesson is when you do something really, really well, even if unintended, just pretend you meant to do that all along. In this case, we have a very well voiced narration that really gets into the psyche and perspective of the main character Jim. It's one of the most interesting aspects of the story. The point of contention in comments ended up being over whether something was a POV (point of view) slip. So, the author argues it wasn't a POV slip, since he was working in an omniscient POV.

Wrong. I mean, right, that may be what was intended, but the smart answer is to embrace the well written single POV and just pretend the POV slip was exactly that, a POV slip. That way, instead of an awkward omni POV that doesn't seem well balanced or tapping into the power of an omni POV (in this case, I could see even a head-hopping omni POV being dizzyingly effective and awesome for a story like this, but an omni POV that only gets out of a single characters head once, insignificantly, doesn't make a good omni POV), you can just pretend you meant the lesser evil all along: a strong single POV with a slip up. There's nothing wrong with admitting to minor faults, even if based on your intentions they aren't faults at all, in order to gain greater good.

Basically, writers, learn to fake it til you make it! What, you were just having fun writing a story with lots of boobies? No, no, if someone suggests it, then admit you were providing commentary on the dualistic nature of feminism and trying to raise awareness for the over-sexualized expectations put on youth in our increasingly desensitized society! Nobody will know the difference as long as you keep pretending, and you're a writer, pretending should come natural!

In comments futher down (not a typo, people, see, that's the other problem with writers, they don't READ so much as analyze!).... Anyway, if you know me, you probably know my comments tend on the lengthy side at times. For instance, I refuse to constrain myself to the prescribed, recommended 500 words for a blog post I'm convinced word-count ceilings are only if you're a boring writer or lazy readers. If you're a lazy reader, or I'm a boring writer, please do yourself a favor and simply stop reading! Anyway, FUTHER down in the comments, a kind fellow named Mickey Mills, who writes his own blog here, provides the following comments on my commenting:

And in case anyone was keeping score, the word count here was 819. The word count on popsicledeath’s comment was 800. I can only speak for myself but I never… repeat NEVER read a comment that goes on and on like that – from anybody. I fear those may fall on deaf ears. Just an observation; he may be making good points but because of the sheer volume I never see it. (This was not an attack… it was a personal observation… take it as such.)

No problem, Mickey, my comments often fall on not only deaf ears, but blind eyes and dumb mouths. I don't take offense!

But wait... wait, so you took the time to parse out the word count of my comments compared to the story in question. And took the time to respond to my comments. By taking the time to mention you did NOT read my comments? Interesting...

And, in the same comment, Oh-Mickey also provides this perspective:

When I offer one of my stories for publication I need to check my ego at the door and STFU. I look at the comments as a buffet. I take what I can use and leave the rest alone.

To extend the analogy, do you also stand over a dish you don't want on the buffet line and tell everyone around that you aren't going to take any? Listen up, people, this dish is taking up 1/8th of the space of the other dishes, dishes I like, but I don't like this dish, so I just wanted to point out I'm not taking anything from this dish. I just don't have the space in my gut or time in my lunch hour to spend dishing up this dish and then sitting at my table regretting it and not eating the dish I didn't want. So, now that I've told you all what I'm not doing...

Err, no offense, Mickey, but just move the hell on down the line! There are hungry people behind you who don't give a shit what you aren't doing, and especially don't want a dissertation on how you don't spend your time reading dissertations; apparently only responding to them.

I appreciate your 'personal observation' that my comments are long (I remember, seeing as I wrote them!). And I respect your God given right to not read them. I even respect, though inane, your right to spend time commenting on how you aren't reading my comments (shall I be ironic and not ignore you by informing you I'm ignoring you?). But you also wrote:

I was somewhat surprised to see the author cringe and reply to the critiques posted

That's what the first bit of this blog was about, too, and I agree. But, but, but, remember what else I quoted about checking one's ego at the door (and how you STFU. Translation: Shut The Eff Up, for those of you just learning how to use a computer box on the internets).

I agree, it's bad form for a writer to respond and argue with readers offering their reading, or even critique, of a piece of writing, and such ego should be left at the door. But I also wonder what kind of ego it takes to then, in the same breath, to offer a 'personal suggestion' by spending nearly 100 words to explain to someone else you didn't take the time to read their 800 words.

Mickey, my boy, you're standing at the dish in a buffet line you don't want to eat. Nobody cares if tomatoes give you gas. Nobody cares if you were traumatized by an unfortunate accident falling face first onto an artichoke. Nobody cares WHY you don't want the dish, or even that you don't. Probably time to just move on down the line.

Basically, check your ego at the door and, by all means, not an attack, just my own personal suggestion: STFU.


  1. And someday I will learn that I can NOT drink or eat ANYTHING while I read your posts. I won't waste your time telling you how awesome you are cause I already.. wait, I'm telling you what I'm not doing. Guess I'll just STFU!

  2. I read "Red Toy Soldier" and it is decent, but regardless, the author's attitude stinks. If you think your writing is God's gift to the world, then by all means, keep it under your pillow where it belongs. Maybe the writing-fairy will bring you a quarter.

    "To extend the analogy, do you also stand over a dish you don't want on the buffet line and tell everyone around that you aren't going to take any?"
    I'm picturing this in my head and it's HILARIOUS!

  3. First, thank you for plugging my blog.

    As I said, it was an observation not an attack. Others have said the same thing to me in the background. I was just the first to say it in open. (unless I missed it along the way because I don't read all the comments every day.)

    You seem like a nice enough guy who means well. I would say the same thing to anybody who writes "War and Peace" length comments about someone else's work. Be succinct and move on. If I have learned anything about writing it is to say more with less.

    Again, thank you for allocating so much of your blog today to my comments.

  4. No problem, Mickey, always glad to bring what little traffic I get to another blogger! And your blog is actually pretty good, so I don't even feel bad about it.

    People privately expressed consternation over the length of my comments...?

    Oh, man, wow, in light of this information, boy, now I feel no differently.

    Actually, I do. You either made that up to give your comments on not reading my comments more weight, and it's backfiring, because that's lame. But I don't think you did that (though, it's happened). Or it's true, and it's backfiring, because that's even more pathetic that you aren't the only one that can't simply NOT read something you don't want to read, and instead are not only writing comments, but actual, real life discussion with others on the things you're not willing to read.

    Oh, I know, I know, more flies with honey. But people would 'like' me more, right? I obviously don't care about that (it's a defense mechanism).

    And you seem like a nice guy who means well... and I'm being serious. You seem like a nice guy by fibbing and saying I seem like a nice guy, when I'm not. And you seem like you mean well by fibbing and saying I seem like I mean well, when I don't.

    So, just to settle the score. You, nice guy who means well. Me, don't care.

    And, yes, plenty of other commenters have offered their helpful suggestions that my comments were too long for them to bother reading. I was equally perplexed and unimpressed by them, as well, though I'm sure they were all genuinely nice and meant well.

    I know you're especially nice and mean well because you're still here, being nice, meaning well, offering suggestions about how I write. Fortunately you aren't my fiction, blog or comments editor. Fortunate, because I couldn't afford to pay you (well-meaning gets expensive these days!). That also means that while I don't appreciate the sentiment... well, yeah, pretty much that.

    It's not personal (you actually seem like a nice guy who means well), it's just that I don't care, the sentiment isn't appreciated, I'm not an idiot, I'm a decent writer, I know what I can do and obviously do do (hah doodoo) whatever I want with the things I write, even comments, and will probably keep doing so. So, be nice to yourself and next time you may be better served channeling that well-meaning somewhere else where it's needed, or at least appreciated.

    The problem is that I'm a born celebrity. The proof is in how people love spending time informing me they're unrolling their bunched up panties. That's the difference between a nobody and a somebody. When a nobody ticks you off, you just move on. When a somebody--a STAR--gets your panties in a bunch you spend your own time not only trying to unbunch them, but informing them of your unbunching efforts, hoping they notice, hoping they don't want you to stop with just the unbunching.

    Sure, right now you're probably wanting to be nice and offer some well-meaning comments about how off putting people may find my air of superiority... you're absolutely right, but that doesn't mean they'll stop loving to breathe it.