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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Book tokens for Christmas.

As usual I got a certain amount of book tokens for Christmas again this year... well I say ‘book tokens’ but it’s not really old-fashioned, redeemable at the store ‘book tokens’ anymore it is? What I got were gift-cards, credit-card sized pieces of plastic with arbitrated amounts of money, and wishes of ‘buy something you like’ attributed to them. All too often this translates to ‘buy something that I can see is worth the amount of money I gave you.’ This isn’t to say that the gesture wasn’t genuine and sincere. However most people give a ‘token’ with the intention of the recipient getting something tangible that they (the sender) can see the person will actually like, and/or enjoy. And this is of course totally understandable. They don’t want you to waist or squander their gift.  This sometimes brings a bit of a dilemma for me though. The good thing about these gift-cards is that most can easily be used for on-line purchases. Often what I want to do is use the gift-cards on-line to buy e-books, and not necessarily all at once directly after Christmas. Unfortunately this doesn’t really give me anything to ‘show’ for my gift. And has resulted in some confused or even sorrowful looks from the gifters, along this half hearted comments of ‘Oh, well if that’s what you wanted...’ The other side of this of course is when I show them a shiny new, and importantly thick, coffee-table book full of full-colour pictures, then their face will light up with the ‘gift’ they have got me.

I know it’s not exactly an earth shattering dilemma, and sometimes I’ll just get a ‘real’ paper-based book or books to approximately the same value as the gift-card and say I got those with it, keeping the card to use for on-line purchases for convenience. As it means I don’t have to use my bank-card on-line. That way everybody is happy.

Let me tell you a story...

I’ve been looking at some of the critiques I’ve received lately, and the old ‘show don’t tell’ seemed to be back with a vengeance. This could just be my rubbish writing of course, but I took a look at some critiques of other peoples work, on various sites, as well and they do all seem to latch onto the same things. This would be a good thing if all this ‘tell’ was indeed dry and slowing down the story. But it’s also an easy target.

If you read any book from one of the latest popular mainstream ‘blockbuster’ series, like Twilight or Harry Potter for example, they are full of ‘tell’ sections. Not that I’m saying this is inherently a bad thing, or bad writing.
I don’t think I’d like to read a book that is entirely written in ‘show’ and the popular authors certainly don’t write like this. Like everything in writing, I suppose the trick is to strike the right balance.
So going back to those critique sites. I don’t think a lot of people are looking for or getting that balance. And please don’t think I’m trying to defend my own writing here. I’m most definitely not, and I look at and take every comment I get very seriously, whether it’s from a good-selling author or a complete (hence usually very keen) beginner. I totally believe that everybody’s opinion counts.
I also don’t think most people are picking faults in their critiques with any malice, after all a good critique is supposed to pick holes in your writing. No, I think it’s more that writers, especially the complete beginners nowadays are being more and more bombarded with the same old ... truisms ... e.g ‘Show don’t tell,’ ‘always use active and not passive voice,’ ‘kill the ..lly.’ All snappy little titbits of wisdom, but they may also make people too focused on the technical mechanics of writing without sufficient regard to the ebb and flow of the overall story.
I try not to look for examples in my own work because it’s too subjective, but I have seen numerous examples of what I see as selective critiquing on other peoples writing. I’ve read sections that seem to flow perfectly well to me, but people have hit time and again on an often small ‘tell’ section with the standard ‘Show this, I want to see xxx yyy’ comments. Often my thoughts run along the lines of ‘Why would you want to see that? If you read the story you can plainly see it’s simple background information, and doesn’t play a major part in ether the plot nor the character development.’ I suspect that a lot of the time the honest answer would be ‘Well I saw a bit of tell and told them to show, like you are supposed to do.’ And I believe in all honesty that they are trying to do good.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Popular, esteemed, and accomplished...

I received two Terry Pratchett books at Christmas, one by him (Snuff) and one about him. And I asked, well hinted heavily, for the second one. Anyone who knows me will tell you ‘I don’t read autobiographies.’ So why, you may ask, did I want this book. Well I’d unashamedly say that the Discworld books are my favourite series, the only other series coming close would be the original Douglas Adams ‘Hitchhiker's Guide’ books.
Because of this I’ve developer at least a passing interest in the people who wrote these books, again something not particularly in my nature. Most times I would read a book without any interest in the author, like I would watch a film without any interest in the scriptwriters, director, or actors. But some people do stand out. I could only name a handful of actors, and I am only interested in about the same amount of authors.

A critic may say ‘you are interested in Pratchett because he is popular,’ and that may very well be true. But critics seem to all too often, and ready, to attribute popularity with some distain somehow. And I would argue that popularity in and of itself isn’t what made an author interesting to me, no that would be their work...
I wouldn’t dream of knocking J.K. Rowling’s work and she is definitely a very popular author, but that doesn’t make me personally interested in her books or in her as an author. I mean no disrespect, and it’s understandable because I was never in her target readership group. So what makes Pratchett, or Adams different for me?

To be honest it’s a hard question to answer. I like the work of other authors, in the same way I like the work of some actors or directors, but I have no interest in any of them as people.
I think this is where the ‘esteemed’ factor comes in, at least for me. I personally hold the work of some authors in higher esteem than most. Unlike professional critics I get to be entirely subjective in this choice, and I don’t need to justify anything past the fact that ‘I like it’ and the same holds true for all those ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’ fans out there. We do not have any ‘thought police’ (at least not yet) and I personally think some people should remember that a bit more.