Book I Love But Others Love to Hate – Part 2

Last week I made the point that real readers are becoming frighteningly uncommon, so in an effort to get people to read more, I thought I’d share with the world why I love some of the hot and hated books right now – and, therefore, why I think they’re worth reading.  Last week’s post was about Stephanie Meyer and her books, the Twilight Saga and The Host (click here to read last week’s post!), and this week’s topic is going to be about Christopher Paolini and his books, the Inheritance Cycle (a.k.a. the Eragon books)!

Now I know this one might not be hated as hotly as the Twilight books are, but (in my experience, at least), I’ve gotten a lot of sneers for confessing my love for these books (and I know a lot of friends who have gotten sneers for liking them, too).  Some of the arguments I’ve heard most often against Paolini’s books (there are four: Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance) are that he uses too much description, the language he uses is hard to understand, his characters/the setting/the world/the storyline are not believable, etc., etc.  There are many more things I’ve heard people say about how “bad” these books are, but the ones I listed are what I’m going to address, so I’ll stop there.

For one thing, I thing it’s pointless to argue that a book’s plot or characters or setting is unbelievable – especially when that book is clearly fiction.  The whole point of setting a novel in another world is so that your readers aren’t always worrying about whether something in the story is “believable” or not.  And I’m making this argument as both a reader/book-lover AND writer/aspiring-novelist.  So don’t call something in a fiction book “unbelievable” unless you know that the author intended the story to be accurate to life… or unless you mean it in the “this book is so awesome!!” sense.

Description has always been a matter of opinion to me – some people like to read longer descriptions that paint pictures in the reader’s mind, and some people like less description so that they can let their imaginations fill in the details that were left out.  It’s the difference between describing (for example) someone’s eyes as “the green-blue color of the ocean, shaded by thick, dark lashes” or simply as “piercing.”  So in the case of Eragon and Paolini’s other books, I would agree that he has a lot of description – but I would also argue that his description is eloquent, beautiful and appropriate.  He’s not another Melville.  (If you don’t get that reference, go read Moby-Dick… or at least try.)

Which leads me to my next point – there’s nothing wrong with good, well-educated and well-used diction and vocabulary.  Yes, I do think Paolini uses a lot of vocabulary that the average public high-schooler might not know, but so what?  When you don’t know a word, look it up!  (It’s called “LEARNING!”)  I grew up reading tons of books that were technically “above” my reading level, so I learned a lot of words sooner than most other kids my age, and it actually gave me an advantage in my high school literature classes.  Sure, you can call me a nerd if you want – or you can ask me what a word means and learn something yourself.

Ok, I can’t let this topic go until we talk about the film version of Eragon.  Unfortunately, this is one instance where I agree with the general public (and in this case, the general public’s opinion is by far the majority opinion)  – the movie was terrible.  Bad acting, bad accuracy to the book (and I mean worse than usual, Hollywood), low budget, they never made the other books into movies (so we have no sense of how much better it could have been), and it just wasn’t very well made in general.  Now don’t get me wrong – there are actors in there that I loved when they were in other films, but they just weren’t the right ones to play these characters…  The books were epic and really well anticipated when they were still coming out, but I don’t think this movie was very highly anticipated – and of the people who did have high expectations, it turned out to be a sorry disappointment.

So those are my thoughts on Christopher Paolini and his Inheritance books!  I’d be very interested to hear what your opinions are of these books, or, if you haven’t read any of them, whether my post has made you any more motivated to read them now!  Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

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What Exactly IS a Feature?

We go through school constantly being taught how to write an essay: start with the introduction, come up with a thesis, the body should be such-and-such a length, the conclusion restates the thesis, start out broad and then get specific, support your thesis with strong points, prove your points and don’t just state them, blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc.  Somewhere in that time, some of us decided we didn’t like writing and reading very much, so we became scientists and mathematicians and doctors.  The rest of us read more than we had to and wrote more than we had to – and we discovered we liked it.  We liked reading and writing outside our schoolwork, and we had the desire and ambition to try our hand at other forms of writing than the all-important essay.

So we discovered story and poetry.  And with story, we began to experiment and learn and discover.  We started to develop our very own style and voice, often incorporating and emulating the kinds of techniques we admired in the styles of our favourite authors and favourite books.  We wrote stories and dabbled in poetry and created characters and designed settings and worked on our description skills.

We might not have been taught how to do all these things, but we learned along the way through endless trial and error, and eventually, we discovered how to write a story.

Now we know how to write essays and stories.

 

 

So writing a feature poses a problem.

At least, it did for me.  I hope I wasn’t just speaking for myself earlier, but that’s basically how I learned how to write: I was taught how to write an essay, and discovered story-writing basically all on my own (I don’t count the occasional assignment to “write a story about this historical figure” or “write your own version of your assigned literature reading for today”).

By the time I got to this Magazine and Feature Writing class, I could probably write an essay in my sleep.    (. . . Well, I could at least tell you HOW to write an essay in my sleep.)  And I already “write” stories in my sleep (I often get inspiration from dreams).  So when I was told to mix the two in a completely new form of writing called a “feature,” I was completely at a loss.  How do you combine research AND creative writing AND somehow include an unspoken but clear and specific point?  I understood that that’s what a feature is, but I was utterly confused as to how I was supposed to balance all three elements into a piece that sounded (at least somewhat) like the examples I had read.

As a result, it took me an absurdly long time to gather my research, figure out how to fit it together with my storytelling, AND weave in my underlying point.  I won’t say it’s the hardest piece of writing I’ve done, but it definitely stumped me for longer than any other piece of writing has since high school.

Please don’t misunderstand: I am not trying to say that anybody failed to teach me what I needed to know for this assignment, nor am I saying that I should have been taught this information any sooner than now.  Actually, I love to be challenged, and learning things that are completely new to me gets me excited about continuing to improve my own writing and field of experience.  This piece just happened to be especially difficult for me to figure out.

If you would like to read my full feature, I’ve posted it here: http://mistressofquills.deviantart.com/art/Fighting-to-Fit-In-408119218  Please note: if you want to comment or critique my piece, you have to make an account on that site in order for me to see it, or you could just post your comment here instead.  Thanks for reading!

Visual and Found Poetry – Do They Count?

One thing I’ve often wondered in all the time I’ve been writing poetry is whether Visual and Found Poetry count as legitimate forms of writing…  I don’t deny that these pieces of art are both beautiful and artistic, but do they qualify as poetry, or should they be defined as a type of visual art instead of a form of writing?  Visual poetry (similar to “concrete poetry”) is when an artist (for lack of a better term) uses other artistic means to augment the meaning and impact of his words:

phantoms_by_adorkablexbabyxwhale-d5920oz (http://www.deviantart.com/art/Phantoms-317541635)

Found poetry is a little different: it’s when an artist takes a piece of writing by someone else and picks choice words out of the text to make a new poem.  In essence, they’re using the words of someone else to create their own art:

the_wind_by_mel_face-d3iqkt9

(http://www.deviantart.com/art/The-Wind-212871645)

One specific form of Found Poetry that I find particularly intriguing is called “Title Poetry.”  The artist takes the titles of a number of pieces of artwork (usually but not necessarily pieces of writing) and arranges them in a particular order so that the author creates their own meaning (usually adding small words here and there to make it flow better, such as “and,” “or,” “the,” or “but,” etc.).  I’ve never written any of these forms of poetry, but I’ve read quite a lot of them; I’ve found that while some artists can structure these kinds of pieces so that it really sounds as if they composed the whole thing themselves, many others only succeed in gathering a collection of poetic vocabulary and fail to actually compose a meaningful poem with them:

Destiny bought me a drink

(http://ninquetari.deviantart.com/art/Destiny-bought-me-a-drink-364666837)

Should such pieces of art be classified as poetry?  Certainly they are both forms of art that use more than raw words to create meaning and make their point, so can they really be defined as writing?  I think some writers (James Joyce being a prime example) would argue that the aesthetics of a text matter a great deal – that they enhance the meaning behind what was written and help the author to communicate his intent.  But is this what they meant by “the aesthetics of the text”?

run_away_with_me__by_dearpoetry-d5d1sxy

(http://dearpoetry.deviantart.com/art/Promises-to-Monsters-324250054)

I think many other writers would argue that Visual and Found Poetry are not forms of true literature because they use too much visual help to augment the meaning of their words.  It can be argued, then, that “true literature” is writing that can stand on its own without the help of any extra visual aid.  Oh, and “found poetry” is just plagiarism.

reality_by_jay_cougar-d54ef2t

(http://www.deviantart.com/art/Reality-309722069)

But what do you think?  Can you “pick a side,” or do you have your own perspective on the subject?  I would love to hear about all your thoughts in the comments!

When Books Die…

They won’t.  I understand that a lot of people (especially authors and writers) are freaking out because, since the rise of technology has been swift and steady – and is predicted to continue rising, at an ever faster rate – print books, like so many print magazines and newspapers nowadays, will eventually die out.  I do understand that fear: I felt it too, for a while.  But then I realized that, as long as there are people like me who love books – the real, printed things with musty pages and rich-smelling ink – the book industry will never die out.

Of course, it’s unrealistic and impractical to pretend and claim that things won’t change.  I fully expect the publishing industry to evolve and adapt to the changes that are happening as of now, but that’s natural and normal.  Of course things must change as time goes on.  On the other hand, I think that some of the changes will mean that the number of people and books being read online, or on other things than printed pages, will increase, and that change, in term, will cause some major changes in the writing and publishing industries.

There’s actually a debate going on right now (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/checking-it-out/checking-it-out-part-i-reading.html) about whether reading from a page or a screen is “better,” but conclusions about the matter are mixed and… well… inconclusive.  Personally, I hold to the belief that people (including myself) read things slower and with better content retention when we read it from a printed page, as opposed to a document or page on a screen.  We’ve “conditioned” ourselves that way, to use a psychology term: that is, we’ve trained ourselves to read faster, skimming more, with more impatience and emphasis on speed while reading from a screen, while we’ve learned and trained ourselves to believe that sitting down with a book or looking over a page in hand is more intimate and meant to be slower, with better retention and attention.

Anyway, to sum up my argument, I think that the industry will change, yes, but I don’t think it’ll change so drastically that printed books will cease to exist.  I far, far prefer to read off a page than from a screen, and, as a writer who hopes to become published someday, I think that my role as a writer might also change somewhat.  It’s becoming more and more popular to self-publish now, and though I don’t think I’ll be doing that for myself, I am definitely involved with numerous online sites where I can post my work for publicity and critique/feedback.  So while I like some of the perks that Internet networking can provide, I don’t think it will replace printed books.

Words + Grammar = Writing?

Do they?  Is it that simple?  Is writing but a mix of the right words and correct grammar, maybe with a little style added to make it more than mundane?  Or is writing “Words + Style and Inspiration = Writing” with maybe a little Grammar mixed in to keep it understandable?

I would argue it is the latter.  Why?  Because writing with too much attention to the grammar and syntax and rules and correctness and perfection and order makes a piece of writing – no matter its form – boring.  I don’t believe in the old idiom “rules were made to be broken,” but in this case, I think we can make an exception.  The very definition of style is to be distinctive, unique – so how can we be unique if we all write the same, correct, stiff, perfect way?  The simple answer is we can’t.

Now, does that mean we should shun all lessons about grammar?  Well, no.  As I said before, a little grammar is necessary if you expect – and want – to actually be understood.  The skill of a writer comes with knowing the rules, and them breaking them beautifully.  So we should at least learn some grammar, but it should not be something that is pounded into our heads until its shouting drowns out the creative whispers of inspiration.

So, if I were teaching a class of Literature or Writing students (…which I very well might), I would not focus on grammar as a keystone of writing; I would mention it, spend a little time on the basics and the necessaries, but then I would let it go and allow my students learn the rest – including how and when to break those rules – by reading the writing of those that have mastered the art.  When they are assigned writing, I would correct their mistakes and continue to remind them of the fundamentals, but I would not be so strict as to let those mistakes stifle their own developing style.

Many people may disagree – and I expect them to! – but I speak from my own experience.  My own teachers drove those lessons into us like nails… large, sharp nails.  And the presence of those nails kept me from finding my own voice and style until much, much later.  I don’t regret knowing what I do now, but I do regret not being given the chance to grow in my own style while being taught the bare bones of the necessary rules.  So Writing does not = Grammar + Words, it =’s Words and Style.