Suck-Up

[DISCLAIMER]This post wasn’t prompted by feedback T.K.Trian has received (not recently anyway), but, rather, braces us for potential feedback when we do throw our more experimental works out there. It’s also meant to provide food for thought, especially for the more impressionable aspiring authors still searching for their voices.[/DISCLAIMER]

Suck-up. Kiss-ass. Brown-tongue. Fiction writer.

Which of the four doesn’t belong in the group? Most would say ‘writer,’ but I’m not all that sure, not anymore. You needn’t look further than any writing-related discussion forum and you’ll see posts upon posts warning you of this or that thing you shouldn’t do in order to aggravate and annoy your readers. You should avoid strange names and places, words of foreign languages, writing in speech impediments (like stuttering), grossing out the more sensitive readers by mentioning things like bodily functions (natural parts of everyone’s life as they may be), the list goes on.

In one WIP, I wrote a girl with a fairly severe speech impediment. She stutters. A lot. And sometimes can’t squeeze out the right word, so there are pauses in her speech here and there as well. Now, I’ve wondered whether I should just cut out all the stuttering and pauses, and just mention in the first paragraph that she does, indeed, have a speech impediment. But you know what? Just because so many people go on about how we, writers, should avoid anything not considered good, idiomatic English, I’ll leave it all in. I know the world has moved on since Tolkien annoyed us with his elven languages, odd names, and such, but even today I don’t mind any of that. Sure, I don’t speak Elven so I tend to skim over those bits, but so what? It doesn’t make the stories any less great.

And another thing is that the human brain is a fairly remarkable thing. Take this bit of text floating around the internet, for instance:

“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulatcly uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.”

Could you read it? I bet you could. So could I. And I’ve noticed, when proofreading the abovementioned WIP, that my eyes “autocorrect” the stuttered speech just like they did the above text (and the stutters in the dialogue are nowhere near as “bad” as that snippet). So if someone complains about stuttering in dialogue, s/he’s just being a bitch. Maybe it’s a generation gap: I’m, like, old, 30, so maybe that plays a part here, but when I read a book, I can forgive quite a few “mistakes.” More than one author has some eccentricities, and sometimes they are annoying, but if the story is good, it’s well written, or if I enjoy it for some other reason, I forgive the annoying thing(s). In fact, just like it was with Tolkien, I’m willing to work, to put in effort in order to get to enjoy a great story. The Lord of the Rings didn’t really start until page 100 or so. In the beginning there were pages upon pages of boring world-building with many names and places to remember. We all know what those are called in writing circles, don’t we?

That’s right, I’m talking about the dreaded Info Dump. Yeah, they can be very boring, but so what? If it’s an otherwise great story, an info dump here or there won’t ruin it. In fact, sometimes info dumps can be very rewarding (I know a “good info dump” is a paradox and is generally called exposition, but bear with me): you’ve pained through one, done your best to memorize the stuff explained or introduced there, and hey, later on in the story, some things make sense to you, thanks to the information within the info dump, that you would’ve completely missed if you hadn’t taken the trouble to trudge through it. I, for one, like being rewarded like that even if I prefer well-placed exposition over info dumps. I’m just saying what looks like a dump doesn’t necessarily make a book stink and it can even have a reason for its existence. Sometimes it’s even a cultural thing: Russian literature often has multiple names for one character and multiple characters, so you can imagine how much you need to memorize in order to avoid confusion later on. And Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin are still great.

Speaking of slow starts, like with LOTR, it seems many readers (or is it just wannabe authors, such as myself, on internet boards thinking this is the case?) want every story to start not only with conflict (preferably introduced in the first couple of pages), they’d prefer it if it was action. They also often want the entire plot to become clear within the first page or so. They absolutely hate all things that don’t make sense right away; everything should be explained early on just so the reader doesn’t need to scratch his or her pretty little head in confusion. I gotta ask: what about suspense? If you learn everything necessary on the first pages, why read on?

I’m sorry (or not), but I don’t think I want to be the reader’s bitch. I assure you, I’m not so sadistic that I’d always strive to make my writing difficult to read, the plot overly cryptic, or the beginnings longer and more boring than a phone book, no, but I do reserve the right to throw in a few little challenges here and there if that’s my vision of the piece. Come on, seriously, do we really want a life where everything is served to you ready for easy digestion? Do you really like food somebody else has chewed ready for you? Whatever happened to the saying “it’s not the destination, but the journey?” Your idea of enjoying literature might be reading only the last page of a book, but forgive me if I don’t abandon my artistic vision to start catering to that particular taste.

I already said I don’t go out of my way to produce annoying reading, but the flipside of that coin is that I do expect my readers to put in at least a little effort in order to fully enjoy my work. I have poured blood (yes, a few times), sweat, and tears into my writing, to make the language good, the plot entertaining and interesting yet intellectually challenging (to the best of my ability, of course, which isn’t much), the characters compelling and realistic, in a word, I’ve worked my ass off over these stories, so I expect the reader to have a little patience because the mysteries will be revealed, the language isn’t overwrought with impossible-to-understand dialogue, and no one story is entirely about bodily functions either (what a surprise, huh?). If the reader expects me to start producing the literary equivalent of McDonald’s cuisine just because they can’t be arsed to “earn” their entertainment, they’re mistaken. I do this for my own pleasure, first and foremost, and I see no reason to change my writing into fast-food fiction just because some writers are scared shitless of challenging/antagonizing their readers.

Actually, I’ll do a favor for those writers and offer a little bit of highly classified, secret information: newsflash! No matter what you do, you will alienate, antagonize, and annoy readers! It’s pure, unadulterated impossible to please everyone: somebody will always bitch and moan about this or that (no matter that somebody else just praised the very same thing). So you might as well take a look into your heart, figure out what it is that you love to write, and write just that and to hell with everyone else. I guess it might also be a good idea to remind these writers that most things have at least two sides. Here the other side is that yes, some will hate it, but some will love it too.

Oh, and just to make things clear: I’m not blaming anyone that I’m not J. K. Rowling yet. It’ll happen in its own time or it won’t, and it’s all up to me (and a little bit of luck), but these sorts of trends can get a little frustrating to an aspiring author who’s still trying to make his or her mark and all they hear are “rules” that, yeah, intend good, but would end up making every story too similar. I know full well English and writing have their conventions, but it’s also good to remember that literature is art, people, not math.

Happy writing, and the next time you meet a bitchy reader, punch them (or if it’s a female, insult her shoes or bazooka).

-T. Trian

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One thought on “Suck-Up

  1. On the subject of stuttering, accents, speech impediments and foreign languages, I think it’s a matter of how much you use — and therefore how much it trips up the flow of the story. I recently read Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 (or NOS4R2 in Europe) and it has a character with a pretty severe stutter. It didn’t turn me off of the book; reading some of the parts made me cringe with sympathy for the character. But then, Hill had her stuttering for a plot-related reason, not just to add flavor.

    I have dialects, foreign languages, accents, speech impediments. It’s difficult to be certain whether or not the use of them is tripping up the readers, so I rely on my betas to point out where they don’t understand what’s going on or where it bogs down. I’m not trying to teach the reader Quenya, so I only use the foreign words where the point-of-view character isn’t supposed to understand them (and then only briefly), and translate them (with maybe a word or two of foreign flavor) when he/she is. It’s a delicate balance, and I really think you need second/third/sixteenth opinions on how to get the flow just right — to have these traits be remarkable without also being obstructive.

    As for the rest of the post, definitely agree. Write what you love, don’t grind it down to pap to make it palatable to the masses. (Unless your aspiration is to become James Patterson and be able to outsource all your work to ghost writers while you sit on a pile of money and wank.)

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