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View Full Version : Does book format add pathos to story?



CK Matthews
12-23-2009, 05:43 AM
So this is something that has been tossed around the halls of UNC's English department, at least among the TA's.

How much does reading a story from a bound book/magazine add to the credibility and enjoyment of a story?

For example, if someone were to read "The Old Man and the Sea" as a printed out word document, would they still recognize it's genius?

I only ask this because I have often found myself, when reading a novel, wondering what people thought of the story when it was only a word document.

I believe reading a piece in a book adds to its credibility. Also, it is so much easier to dismiss a manuscript when it is only a word document. Presentation is everything.

ChaosTitan
12-23-2009, 07:30 AM
Manuscripts are read all the time in word documents. If people couldn't recognize their inherent worth and marketability from a word document, editors would stop buying books.

I've read and enjoyed word documents sent to me by friends to beta. And I've enjoyed quite a few e-books recently, in Adobe format. For me it's about the words, and the way they are ordered to tell the story.

CK Matthews
12-23-2009, 09:17 AM
Well said.

Tedium
12-23-2009, 10:54 AM
I'll give two examples of a manuscript being in book format adding nothing to the work itself.

First, in 2006 I believe, Wildside Press published a paperback edition of the infamous "Eye of Argon" by Jim Theis. Personally, I think Jim Theis' story(his life story that is) is tragic. The guy wrote the story when he was sixteen and published it in a local fantasy fanzine. Unfortunately for him, someone found it and the literary world has not stopped making fun of it since. According to an interview he was so shamed by all of the negative press and jokes that he vowed to never write again. It's a sad story if you ask me. Regardless, the fact that you can now have this story in paperback form does nothing to help the story itself. It is still as bad today as it was then, though I still don't think it merits the hostility it has received.

Second, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005. Transcriptions of this speech have filled inspirational e-mails and been printed out for college graduates for several years now. I printed it out last year and I think it came to a whopping seven pages. In 2009 Little, Brown published the speech in book form with a total page count of 144 and a price tag of fifteen dollars. They accomplished this feat by only printing one line per page. This has been justified by saying that this is an important speech and the format forces the reader to contemplate its awe-inspiring significance. I won't lie; I think it's a damn good speech, but if I were to open the book and only see this printed on one page, "You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket.", I would probably choke someone. That's just me.

Ultimately, it is subjective, but in my opinion good is good, bad is bad. The fact that it is bound, printed, copied, or on a computer screen does little to change that fact. If someone were to disregard something good out of hand just because it is a Word document, then they aren't reading too well and likely have no place judging the worth of a book in the first place.

CACTUSWENDY
12-23-2009, 12:05 PM
I don't care what format a story is in. I want a good story.

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Bartholomew
12-23-2009, 03:48 PM
So this is something that has been tossed around the halls of UNC's English department, at least among the TA's.

How much does reading a story from a bound book/magazine add to the credibility and enjoyment of a story?

For example, if someone were to read "The Old Man and the Sea" as a printed out word document, would they still recognize it's genius?

I only ask this because I have often found myself, when reading a novel, wondering what people thought of the story when it was only a word document.

I believe reading a piece in a book adds to its credibility. Also, it is so much easier to dismiss a manuscript when it is only a word document. Presentation is everything.

There's something to the idea that format lends credibility; I read a really good short story in a slush pile once, but it was formatted incorrectly, so I almost rejected it out of hand.

And then, when I read things in a slush pile and I've been at it for a while -- or if I'm just reading in SYW -- I'll get it into my head that these documents need fixed. And then it's really hard to convince myself that they're worth reading, and I generally have to take a break.

My criticism of a word document or PDF starts almost immediately.

I don't start to criticize magazine stories or novels until I put them down--barring Publish America-esque catastrophic editing.

This could be because the magazine versions really are better--they've been edited already, and in the cases I read, the word documents haven't.

It could also be that, on the computer, I have the ability to edit instantly, and want to.

Or that I've associated innate quality with works on paper, and innate flaw with electronic works.

...there's an argument for submitting via post instead of e-mail buried somewhere in here.

Hedgetrimmer
12-23-2009, 06:18 PM
I'm inclined to agree. I know it's psychological, and probably without any true merit with regard to the writing itself, but I've always found my own work to read better on paper than it does on a computer screen. I don't know, but there's just something about seeing the words put down in ink and arranged neatly on paper that appeals to me.

I also have a bias toward books published between rectangular covers rather than the traditional square layout. Maybe it's the novelty of the format, as such books tend to be pretty rare, but simply holding a long book makes me feel like I'm experiencing something different. The type of paper the book is printed on and the font also play with my mind. I love books printed on heavy, grainy, somewhat off-white paper.

Of course none of this matters if the writing doesn't hold. Good writing will trump good packaging every time.

Michael J. Hoag
12-23-2009, 06:46 PM
Authority is everything in fiction and book format is a big part of that. I'm less biased by it now than I was as a teenager, but when I examine my feelings closely I must still admit bias. There are two ways of looking at it: 1, I'm a sucker for packaging, 2, I have an appreciation for the book as an art object. I think it's good to be aware of both.

Novel as art object: http://www.zachplague.com/

Michael J. Hoag
12-23-2009, 07:03 PM
Thinking a little more...

I think there's a strong element of "appeal to identity" at play here too. I'm looking at my bookshelves and noticing all these "pretty" (to me) covers, with simple, minimal design, issued from small art and university presses, and gee, I think, putting a mass-market paper-back up there--something with elves on the cover--would really cramp my style....

Now, when it comes down to it, I can dig on the elves. I mean, I'm no racist. But if I'm honest I can admit that bias.

So I'm not surprised by the trend for big releases of books, such as some new Kerouac editions I've seen, that look like they were done on the cheap by small presses... because, putting those on my shelf would really be stickin' it to the man!

Jamesaritchie
12-23-2009, 08:19 PM
So this is something that has been tossed around the halls of UNC's English department, at least among the TA's.

How much does reading a story from a bound book/magazine add to the credibility and enjoyment of a story?

For example, if someone were to read "The Old Man and the Sea" as a printed out word document, would they still recognize it's genius?

I only ask this because I have often found myself, when reading a novel, wondering what people thought of the story when it was only a word document.

I believe reading a piece in a book adds to its credibility. Also, it is so much easier to dismiss a manuscript when it is only a word document. Presentation is everything.

It is much easier to dismiss a manuscript than a published book or short story. That editors can do so is a talent and a skill achieved over time.

If you want to see for yourself just how differently most people read the two, type out a published story so it's in manuscript format, and give it to the average critique group or writing class. I've done ths many times, including groups that had several professional writers, and the results are always astounding, and often frightening.

CK Matthews
12-23-2009, 08:56 PM
James,
I've thought about printing out an already published story and seeing what others have thought about it as a word document. What were some of your experiences with this?

CK Matthews
12-23-2009, 09:05 PM
Bartholomew, I think, hit it right on the head. In my reading, criticism starts almost immediately when reading a word document. In contrast, readers often criticize the book only after finishing it. I know this isn't always the case, but I do see myself doing this in my own reading.

Lots of great points made already from everyone.

While I do think a "good story is a good story" I also confess that a good story presented in a book format - something concrete - can become a great story.

And I do agree that seeing the text in ink adds something to the piece. It adds an almost immortality to the text - that it takes abstract ideas and thoughts and makes them somewhat physical.

Kalyke
12-23-2009, 09:18 PM
The word pathos means "eliciting emotion" not "credibility" by the way.

I think that a published work gives the illusion of being in some way accepted, or fact-checked, or true. I think it also give the illusion of being finished, or not a work-in -progress.

I feel that a lot of this comes from the the idea that non-writers have that writers are experts of some kind.

Sevvy
12-23-2009, 11:04 PM
For example, if someone were to read "The Old Man and the Sea" as a printed out word document, would they still recognize it's genius?


Or maybe they would have recognized it as the snore-fest it actually is. Anything else by Hemingway is better than this novel.

Seriously now, I don't think I have a bias for the printed book, but only because I'm so used to reading manuscripts and word documents that either form works for me. I will admit that I am attracted by nice covers, but if I don't like the back cover blurb or the first page, I still don't buy it.

kuwisdelu
12-23-2009, 11:17 PM
Bartholomew, I think, hit it right on the head. In my reading, criticism starts almost immediately when reading a word document. In contrast, readers often criticize the book only after finishing it. I know this isn't always the case, but I do see myself doing this in my own reading.

I'm as critical about published, printed stories as I am about print-outs in manuscript form or even when it's on the computer.

Actually, I'm usually more critical since I know it's supposed to be the final product.


And I do agree that seeing the text in ink adds something to the piece. It adds an almost immortality to the text - that it takes abstract ideas and thoughts and makes them somewhat physical.

I guess I can agree with this to some extent, since I still buy hard copies even when the ebook version is easier and faster to get. I just prefer the form. But then, for me it's the physicality. I'd still read all my favorite stories whether they're printed in a book or in manuscript form.

It doesn't make the story any better or worse.

veinglory
12-24-2009, 12:01 AM
Presentation certainly isn't everything. It is just one of many contextual factors.

Jamesaritchie
12-24-2009, 12:11 AM
Or maybe they would have recognized it as the snore-fest it actually is. Anything else by Hemingway is better than this novel.

Seriously now, I don't think I have a bias for the printed book, but only because I'm so used to reading manuscripts and word documents that either form works for me. I will admit that I am attracted by nice covers, but if I don't like the back cover blurb or the first page, I still don't buy it.


That's the exact problem. Many, many readers and critics think this is Hemingway's best book. I do, as well. But whether it is or isn't his best, it's absolutely a publishable book that's going to get a lot of acclaim.

Good readers, good editors, recognize this, even if the personally find the book boring.

Darned few readers out there have anyting to go by except whether they personally like a story, and that's death for any poor writer who allows them to read and critique anything.

Jamesaritchie
12-24-2009, 12:16 AM
James,
I've thought about printing out an already published story and seeing what others have thought about it as a word document. What were some of your experiences with this?

My experience is simple. If none of the readers recognize the story, all say changes need to be made. When asked if it's publishable as is, almost none say yes. I've seen many, many very good stories get savaged, often by selling writers.

I've yet to have a single reader say the story didn't need some change, and the majority can always find a dozen reason why the story needs serious work.

Warning. I don't think it's a good idea to do this to show up a group, but only as a teaching tool, when and if you're in position to teach.

kuwisdelu
12-24-2009, 12:41 AM
My experience is simple. If none of the readers recognize the story, all say changes need to be made. When asked if it's publishable as is, almost none say yes. I've seen many, many very good stories get savaged, often by selling writers.

I've yet to have a single reader say the story didn't need some change, and the majority can always find a dozen reason why the story needs serious work.

Warning. I don't think it's a good idea to do this to show up a group, but only as a teaching tool, when and if you're in position to teach.

I do the same thing to published stories when they're in book form, collected in an anthology, and taught in university English courses.

I've had the audacity to tell my professor, while discussing the assigned short stories in class, that some of his favorite authors should have learned to edit a bit more. Okay, a lot more. ;)

The format doesn't make a bit of difference to me.

Richard White
12-24-2009, 01:59 AM
Reminds me of when I turned in an assignment for my Short Stories professor a couple of years ago. She was aghast to find out I'd written a rejection letter to Tolstoy over "Ivan Ivanovich".

*grin*

"I hate to inform you Leo, that this is not up to your usual standards and as such, we'll have to turn this down. However, feel free to continue submitting short stories to us."

CK Matthews
12-24-2009, 03:53 AM
The word pathos means "eliciting emotion" not "credibility" by the way.

I think that a published work gives the illusion of being in some way accepted, or fact-checked, or true. I think it also give the illusion of being finished, or not a work-in -progress.

I feel that a lot of this comes from the the idea that non-writers have that writers are experts of some kind.

I realized this after the fact. Rhetorical appeals are not my strong suit. I associate ethos with emotions (both start with 'E'), logos with logic (L), and pathos with personality (P). But thank you for pointing that out. Don't tell my program director. He'll probably go crazy.

CK Matthews
12-24-2009, 03:54 AM
Or maybe they would have recognized it as the snore-fest it actually is. Anything else by Hemingway is better than this novel.

Seriously now, I don't think I have a bias for the printed book, but only because I'm so used to reading manuscripts and word documents that either form works for me. I will admit that I am attracted by nice covers, but if I don't like the back cover blurb or the first page, I still don't buy it.

Ouch. I see we don't have a Hemingway fan.

kuwisdelu
12-24-2009, 03:58 AM
You can print it on two stone slabs from Mt. Sinai, I still wouldn't be a fan of Hemingway.

CK Matthews
12-24-2009, 06:56 AM
You can print it on two stone slabs from Mt. Sinai, I still wouldn't be a fan of Hemingway.

Haha. Funny. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of stuff being written on stone slabs. No copies.

Matera the Mad
12-24-2009, 07:51 AM
I don't care if it's on parchment, papyrus, or pixels, a good book is a good book.

Jamesaritchie
12-24-2009, 08:27 PM
You can print it on two stone slabs from Mt. Sinai, I still wouldn't be a fan of Hemingway.

Brave of you to admit that.

Kalyke
12-26-2009, 10:35 PM
duplicate post-- sorry

Kalyke
12-26-2009, 10:51 PM
I realized this after the fact. Rhetorical appeals are not my strong suit. I associate ethos with emotions (both start with 'E'), logos with logic (L), and pathos with personality (P). But thank you for pointing that out. Don't tell my program director. He'll probably go crazy.

Ethos is reputation (character), Pathos is emotion, and logos is logic ( rational argument). But that's Okay.

megan_d
12-27-2009, 11:48 AM
This debate seems to tread in the same waters as the physical, bound book vs. the digital ebook argument. Does the format a story is presented in alter how we receive it?