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Brett Marie
10-14-2012, 12:45 PM
I wanted to start a thread to get us to look critically at our idols in the literary world. Too often when we love someone's work, we overlook flaws in that person's writing in our haste to declare the work 'perfect.' This sets a dangerous standard in our heads, one which our own writing can never meet. As a result, we risk becoming discouraged or giving up when we fall short.

Every writer is fallible, and not all of their failings succumb to the editor's red pen. Let's allow our heroes to be human, and find some examples where they too fall short of the Standard of Perfection. Find me an awkward phrase, a plot hole or a character trope in a piece you otherwise love. Please stick to authors you admire (or at least respect). The object here is to make our heroes' success seem more attainable -- not to smack down the hacks.

I'll start: Norman Mailer's immense talent snagged him two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award over a sixty-year career. But somehow he managed to doze off while writing the opening sentence to Harlot's Ghost:
On a late-winter evening in 1983, while driving through the fog along the Maine coast, recollections of old campfires began to drift into the March mist, and I thought of the Abnaki Indians of the Algonquin tribe who dwelt near Bangor a thousand years ago.I can forgive Mailer's dozing (and his editor's); I can barely keep my eyes open reading that opener. But over-caffeinated reviewers were quick to point out that, grammatically, our hero is telling us that it was the recollections of old campfires driving, not him!

Now, let's all run back to our WIPs and find a phrase where we've mixed up our subjects. Once we've ironed those phrases out, let's pat ourselves on the back that we've got one up on Norman Mailer!

Any others? Remember, let's keep these positive.

Susan Littlefield
10-14-2012, 09:27 PM
Brett,

I don't think we look at our writing idols as perfect, but they certainly know how to write stories that sell. Perfection is not the goal, writing a good story that is salable is. None of our writers out there are perfect, and they don't put out perfect works either.

Why pull out other's writing and say what's wrong with it? It's all about perception. That paragraph above your describe as a sleeper might keep someone else reading. You may see it as driving campfires having recollections, someone else might see it as a person driving along having recollections.

I am not interested in pulling phrases out of published works, saying what's wrong with them, and patting myself on the back for doing better. I am only interested in reading stories, learning all I can about the craft, and writing the best story that I can.

Brett Marie
10-14-2012, 10:23 PM
Touche, Susan.

I was aiming to make this more positive, but I guess even in its most positive form, it crosses a line. A mod can lock this if they'd like.

Susan Littlefield
10-14-2012, 10:26 PM
Touche, Susan.

I was aiming to make this more positive, but I guess even in its most positive form, it crosses a line. A mod can lock this if they'd like.

My response is not meant to be negative, and you might get some responses that you find to be positive. ;)

Brett Marie
10-14-2012, 10:48 PM
No, Susan, I think you were right. I sound a bit snarkier on the screen than I felt in writing that first post. I don't feel as eager to pounce on perfectly good writing as I did when I started this.:(

BarkingPup
10-14-2012, 10:55 PM
I honestly can't recall a single admired author of mine that I consider to be perfect. Even Terry Pratchett, my absolute favourite, has some boring books. Can't say I ever went through his novels and looked for weird paragraphs or sentences but yes, some of his books don't measure up to others IMO.

Any book I really enjoy will have flaws. There is no such thing as a perfect book. Maybe someone thinks it's boring, or there are some characters or plot points that make me scratch my head. Doesn't mean I can't enjoy them. Nor do I spend my time nitpicking.

I think this might degenerate into a "bad book" sharing. Instead of a "good book, good author" discussion...

Jamesaritchie
10-15-2012, 02:33 AM
What does perfect have to do with anything? Especially when you;re talking about writing, which is largely subjective, rather than story and character?

None of the things you mention really have anything at all to do with success or failure, even if true, and there's no way of knowing whether such a mistake belongs to the writer or the editor. It's a mistake to think a mistake is automatically one the writer made and the editor missed. About as often as not, the reverse is true.

But they don't matter, anyway. Success comes from the story writers tell, the characters they create, and the dialogue that rings true, not from petty little mistakes such as these.

Even if you write perfectly, make every sentence, every phrase, every paragraph in your book shine like a diamond in a coal pile, the story itself can stink, the characters can be cardboard, and the dialogue can sound like no human would ever say it, and you'll fail as a writer.

Samsonet
10-15-2012, 08:09 AM
...In my opinion, Agatha Christie used too many capital words in The Secret Adversary. ;)

Phaeal
10-15-2012, 04:30 PM
Why pull out other's writing and say what's wrong with it? It's all about perception. That paragraph above your describe as a sleeper might keep someone else reading. You may see it as driving campfires having recollections, someone else might see it as a person driving along having recollections.

Obviously, it's implied that a person is having the recollections, but the descriptor is juxtaposed to "recollections," not the recollector. Therefore, it's a grammatical fact, not a perception, that "while driving through the fog..." is a dangling participle.

Easy fix:

"...while I was driving through the fog, recollections of old campfires began..."

This preserves the desired conceit that recollections are entities distinct from the recollector, capable of sneaking up on him through the fog. This makes the above fix preferable to:

"...while I was driving through the fog, I began to recollect old campfires..."

Which puts the recollections in their psychological place (they come from the recollector, not the mist), but the subtle difference in effect could be galling to the author.

See? Grammar stickling is fun and instructive!

:D

Susan Littlefield
10-15-2012, 06:43 PM
Obviously, it's implied that a person is having the recollections, but the descriptor is juxtaposed to "recollections," not the recollector. Therefore, it's a grammatical fact, not a perception, that "while driving through the fog..." is a dangling participle.

Easy fix:

"...while I was driving through the fog, recollections of old campfires began..."

This preserves the desired conceit that recollections are entities distinct from the recollector, capable of sneaking up on him through the fog. This makes the above fix preferable to:

"...while I was driving through the fog, I began to recollect old campfires..."

Which puts the recollections in their psychological place (they come from the recollector, not the mist), but the subtle difference in effect could be galling to the author.

See? Grammar stickling is fun and instructive!

:D

Oh for goodness sakes, I knew someone was going to call me on this! :D

Yes, it does imply exactly what you and Brett said, and it's a pretty easy fix. But, some people like writing that might be confusing to other people.

It's just that no writer out there is perfect.

Susan Littlefield
10-15-2012, 06:44 PM
...In my opinion, Agatha Christie used too many capital words in The Secret Adversary. ;)

I love Agatha Christie. :)

Shadow_Ferret
10-15-2012, 07:50 PM
What is perfect writing? I would think it would be rather boring. The flaws are the personality of the writing.

I don't think I've ever regarded my favorite authors as perfect, I love them because of their great imaginations.

Phaeal
10-15-2012, 10:03 PM
It's just that no writer out there is perfect.

But there should be a lot more writers (and editors) who try to be.

;)

Hey, even Professor Tolkien messed up from time to time, as in Chapter Six of The Fellowship of the Ring, whence a certain mixed metaphor has stuck in my head all these many years:

Little fingers of fire licked against the dry scored rind of the ancient tree...

Fingers might scratch or claw, but it would be tongues of fire that would lick. Or just plain fire, which is often said to lick. Did this iffy figure stop me from enjoying the story? No, but it did stop my poor twelve-year-old mind (already plagued by a didactic streak) as it tried to picture those slobbery digits.

jaksen
10-16-2012, 03:52 PM
But there should be a lot more writers (and editors) who try to be.

;)

Hey, even Professor Tolkien messed up from time to time, as in Chapter Six of The Fellowship of the Ring, whence a certain mixed metaphor has stuck in my head all these many years:

Little fingers of fire licked against the dry scored rind of the ancient tree...

Fingers might scratch or claw, but it would be tongues of fire that would lick. Or just plain fire, which is often said to lick. Did this iffy figure stop me from enjoying the story? No, but it did stop my poor twelve-year-old mind (already plagued by a didactic streak) as it tried to picture those slobbery digits.

I know fingers can't lick, but when I was a child my parents used to throw those chemical-drenched pine cones into our fireplace when they were burning old logs. I'd stare at the flames and imagine the green, red, and yellow flames were hands reaching up and falling down as the logs burned. (I'd also see dragons, too, and other stuff.)

But still, can hands lick? Hmmmm ... depends on the situation, perhaps, and whether or not you've got synesthesia. :D

Phaeal
10-16-2012, 04:20 PM
Actually, some of my characters do have hands that can lick, what with having mouths in them and all.