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View Full Version : Word that should be done away with according to Io9.



JustSarah
11-26-2014, 02:07 AM
http://io9.com/infodump-mary-sue-and-other-words-that-authors-are-1663345948?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_twitter&utm_source=io9_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

I probably mentioned I'm not real crazy about io9, for a variety of reasons. While I personally mostly agree with the article, I have problems with the dystopian portion and infodump.

As a reader, dumps about ... well anything is annoying if done to frequently. Though there is a difference between two much infodump, and just enough infodump. Now Mary Sue, yes I usually ignore it when used.

I think part of my irritation, if I take a step back, is I often find Dystopian is kind of the hate flavor of the week. Kind of like how people hate on hipsters.

Devil Ledbetter
11-26-2014, 05:41 AM
http://io9.com/infodump-mary-sue-and-other-words-that-authors-are-1663345948?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_twitter&utm_source=io9_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow

I probably mentioned I'm not real crazy about io9, for a variety of reasons. While I personally mostly agree with the article, I have problems with the dystopian portion and infodump.

As a reader, dumps about ... well anything is annoying if done to frequently. Though there is a difference between two much infodump, and just enough infodump. Now Mary Sue, yes I usually ignore it when used.

I think part of my irritation, if I take a step back, is I often find Dystopian is kind of the hate flavor of the week. Kind of like how people hate on hipsters.
If we do away with infodump, how do we then refer to long, boring, clumpy clots of exposition? And I agree with the sentiment that exposition is fine ... as long as it entertains. The second it becomes a dull iteration of info, it's an infodump.

If we do away with Mary Sue, how do we then refer to those annoyingly, unrealistically flawless characters whose only problem seem to be "people are just jealous of me"?

If we do away with head-hopping, how to do we explain to a new writer the problem of needlessly leaping from one POV to another within a scene? ETA: I'm not referring to well-written omni where we never have to wonder whose POV were in or why, but to the prose of neophyte writers who haven't mastered POV and let it veer all over the place like a tricycle without handlebars.

I agree we could get rid of Idiot Plot because around here that's usually pegged as a fatal character flaw called Too Stupid To Live. Indeed, if one's entire plot is driven by characters making really idiotic decisions and misunderstanding blatantly obvious things and jumping to ridiculous conclusions and all of these "problems" could be readily cleared up by a single honest conversation, one would probably be better off writing bad (but inexplicably popular) sitcoms.

Roxxsmom
11-26-2014, 07:47 AM
While I get some of what the writer's trying to say (because, yes, these terms are overused or misapplied all the time), each one does attempt to describe something that is often done clumsily. It sounds like the author is just put out with their critique group, because it is throwing these terms about without really explaining or understanding them.

Or maybe she's just miffed because her critting buddies told her she writes characters who are unrelatable because they are Mary Sues who still make unaccountably stupid choices, and she head hops all over the place and spends too much time info dumping :D

Okay, that was mean. I don't know her or her writing, and I'm sure she's quite good.

And I do kind of agree with the comment about hard SF.

At one time, the terms hard versus soft were used more to distinguish between SF that focused on social-science driven plots and SF that was more focused on plots driven by the effects a given technology might have on people or society if it existed.

But today, it's used to dissect how plausible the science behind the world building actually is based on our current level of knowledge, or to make a value judgement on whether or not the reader feels the technology is adequately explained. It's often used to assign value to SF stories, and sometimes there are real inconsistencies and double standards. Frex, the idea that CJ Cherryh wrote/writes soft SF because she has FTL and sexist, catlike aliens in her universe, but Niven writes/wrote "real" hard SF because he didn't have any of that unrealistic nonsense in his! Oh, wait, er he did, didn't he?

Seriously, who reads SF because they think it accurately predicts the future anyway? I'd rather see a distinction, if we have to have one at all, couched as existing on the spectrum of social SF to technological SF to adventure SF (with the caveat that there is no reason at all why a writer can't blend any or all of these quite nicely).

Hapax Legomenon
11-26-2014, 08:40 AM
Hmm...

I guess I would like a division of SF between where the technological leaps are small and large. Like, "low" SF would be 3D printers ruin the economy, and "high" SF would be starfleet exploring strange new worlds with a mix of aliens and humans. Or... is there already a division like that?

Jamesaritchie
11-26-2014, 07:11 PM
I do think terms like "Info dump and Mary Sue" need to be carefully redefined. Both cover too broad a spectrum, as now used.

The "head-hopping" advice is truly stupid, and completely wrong. It's asinine.

I absolutely want to know if something is hard or soft science fiction. I rarely like soft SF, and the term helps me know what to buy.

Ellen Kushner does not seem to understand what "relatable" means in terms of character. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the character being your pal, or the character being you. It's really is the wrong word, though. "Empathetic" is the right word. If there is no empathy towards a character, a reader will not care if that character lives or dies.

JustSarah
11-27-2014, 01:43 AM
I actually didn't even know what an infodump was until recently.

I only know what Mary Sue is, cause I was in a writing group at one point, where they had everyone take a Mary Sue character personality test.O_o

Well just an SF, I have no way of knowing what the future holds as a (mostly) non scientist.

Mr Flibble
11-27-2014, 02:23 AM
Infodumps are a tricky one because it's subjective -- one man's infodump is another woman's entertainment.

Some of my fave authors info dump all over the shop (Pratchett) but I don't care because they're fun. Other people yawn and skip the page. So there is no objective "infodump" there is exposition done well, or badly and often that rests on the person reading. So yeah, that needs redefining.

And I'm with them on Mary Sue's to an extent -- there is a reason we are following this person through the story and it is often because they are the most interesting person. And interesting people tend to have major good attributes -- charm, charisma, or good at what they do etc (ETA often the REALLY interesting ones have even more bad points :D). But that's not a real Mary Sue as the term originated. If it was, 95% of fictional characters would be them. And as the article says, ofc the story revolves around your protag or...or they probably wouldn't be the protag! And what I call a Mary Sue you may call OMG great character!

Head hopping is merely moving from one head to another badly(if done well in omni or other more remote POVs, it's not called head hopping but a valid literary technique)

Etc etc

Bottom line -- most of these terms are/were subjective and get bandied around even when inappropriate. The "rules" again, when actually they are guidelines. It's not "don't do this" but "don't do it badly"

Jamesaritchie
11-27-2014, 02:30 AM
Head hopping is merely moving from one head to another badly(if done well in omni or other more remote POVs, it's not called head hopping but a valid literary technique)



Even Omni is not an excuse for head-hopping. To many writers out there think they're writing omni by head-hopping, but it just doesn't work this way. If you head-hop, and call it omni when it's just third person limited with head-hopping, you won't get far.

Mr Flibble
11-27-2014, 02:40 AM
Even Omni is not an excuse for head-hopping. To many writers out there think they're writing omni by head-hopping, but it just doesn't work this way. If you head-hop, and call it omni when it's just third person limited with head-hopping, you won't get far.

While I agree, I have also seen headhopping in supposed third POV that worked (and once in a POV I couldn't even work out what it was exactly), and more often I have seen very good omni sneered at as "headhopping"

If you move from head to head* in a way that does not jar the reader, not many --except the people for whom it is a bugbear -- will notice. If you do it badly, everyone will


*And various forms of omni *seem* to do this, while actually being from the POV of said omni character

RichardGarfinkle
11-27-2014, 05:56 PM
I would completely ditch the idea that Headhopping is a problem. Of course it can be badly done. Anything can be badly done that doesn't mean that the thing itself is bad.

Each art has things it does better than all other arts. Writing is inferior to all visual arts in its depiction of physical appearance, but it is better than any of the others at expressing what is going on in people's minds.

No other art allows the audience to see straight into the act and effect of thinking.

The ability to present the same event from different perspectives and to dig into those perspectives as a way to illuminate both the event and the participants in that event is one of the advantages of writing. It seems absurd to throw away that advantage because it can done poorly.

JustSarah
11-27-2014, 06:50 PM
Like I can see (if better defined) being useful in crit groups. Some of these just seem like some guy mumbling their speech to me. "Garrf dayph to yough", when they could say "Mary Sue." Wait that's still garbled.

"But Gaiman said" I don't care what Gaiman said. Never read the guy.

Jamesaritchie
11-27-2014, 09:38 PM
"But Gaiman said" I don't care what Gaiman said. Never read the guy.

This is something I would never admit in public. Whether writing, or giving advice about writing, there is no one better.

Jamesaritchie
11-27-2014, 09:43 PM
I would completely ditch the idea that Headhopping is a problem. Of course it can be badly done. Anything can be badly done that doesn't mean that the thing itself is bad.

Each art has things it does better than all other arts. Writing is inferior to all visual arts in its depiction of physical appearance, but it is better than any of the others at expressing what is going on in people's minds.

No other art allows the audience to see straight into the act and effect of thinking.

The ability to present the same event from different perspectives and to dig into those perspectives as a way to illuminate both the event and the participants in that event is one of the advantages of writing. It seems absurd to throw away that advantage because it can done poorly.

I've never, ever, not once, seen head-hopping done well. It's always, without exception, poor writing, and there is never, ever a case where it's needed.

If you need to head-hop to get every perspective in, you're a lousy writer. This is why head-hopping is always bad. It's not needed, and it's an excuse for poor writers to do something good writers never need.

Nor is writing inferior to other arts in its depiction of physical appearance. In the hands of a talented, skilled writer, writing is vastly superior to the other arts in depicting physical appearance. It is, in fact, the most visual of all arts, and really the only one capable of allowing a blind man to see clearly.

Alessandra Kelley
11-27-2014, 10:20 PM
Nor is writing inferior to other arts in its depiction of physical appearance. In the hands of a talented, skilled writer, writing is vastly superior to the other arts in depicting physical appearance. It is, in fact, the most visual of all arts, and really the only one capable of allowing a blind man to see clearly.

I beg to differ.

Writing is a poor vehicle indeed at depicting physical appearance.

A painting can convey the visual at a glance.

Attempting to use writing to convey the same amount of visual information as even a simple painting will be inevitably slow, clumsy, and inaccurate.

There is no amount of writing, for example, which can convey Leonardo's "Last Supper" to someone who has never seen it. At best writing could give only a vague visual idea to someone already familiar with the concepts, the fashions, and the spaces.

And even if you know all the visual background necessary to understand a described image, you're likely to get it wrong. There is a detailed written description of a lost ancient Greek painting, the "Calumny" of Apelles. Working from it many Renaissance artists attempted to recreate the legendary image.

Every version was completely different.

If writing were truly supreme at conveying the visual, there should have been much more agreement.

Every art has its strengths. Writing is excellent, I would even say brilliant, at conveying thought. No other art can get as far into characters' heads, or do it as strongly.

But no art is superior to the others in all things, or even in many things.

Visual art depicts physical reality in a way that writing simply cannot. Music conveys emotion. Architecture shapes space.

And no art trumps all others.

JustSarah
11-28-2014, 01:07 AM
My point wasn't the author, but the reliance on using someone famous to hinge your writing advice on. Perhaps a less clumsy way to put it, I drives me nuts when people rely on someone famous or rip a quote from an author.

I'd rather just have straight writing advice.

Liosse de Velishaf
11-28-2014, 07:51 AM
Honestly, the only one I really agree with is "old hat". The rest of the complaints kind of remind me about criticisms of using the word or concept of "feminist".

Like, yes "Mary Sue" is occasionally used to disparage competent female characters. But mostly that's not the usage I see. Feminist is occasionally used, and with much more creativity, to disparage progressive views towards women. That doesn't mean we should stop using the word.

Okelly65
11-28-2014, 08:47 AM
If we do away with Mary Sue, how do we then refer to those annoyingly, unrealistically flawless characters whose only problem seem to be "people are just jealous of me"?
you could start using the name of my ex demon in law, its appropriate:D

Roxxsmom
11-28-2014, 09:17 AM
I would completely ditch the idea that Headhopping is a problem. Of course it can be badly done. Anything can be badly done that doesn't mean that the thing itself is bad.



But it's only supposed to be called head hopping when it's confusing. And large tracts of backstory or world building are only supposed to be called info dumping when it's done in a way that takes the reader out of the story or bores him or her. And overpowered characters are only supposed to be called Mary Sues when they're so overpowered or perfect that they're not believable.

And so on. The fact that some people mislabel their pet peeves as one or more of these things, or that there's a somewhat subjective and blurry line for whether it's being done in a way that works doesn't mean the idea has no merit.

Besides, we'll just have to come up with new words for these things if we banish these.

The question I have is whether or not this tendency for writers, agents, editors and so on to make up terms for common mistakes, then bandy them about until they become commonplace is relatively recent, and if so, is it a function of the internet? Back in the days before the web, did everyone have their own "local" terminology?

I ask because I took creative writing back in college (way too many years ago), and looking back at the book we used (Burroway (http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Fiction-Guide-Narrative-Craft/dp/0316117684/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417152555&sr=8-1&keywords=Burroway+Writing+Fiction+1982)), there are some terms that were in use, possibly even coined by her ("filtering" is one, though I'd forgotten what the term meant until I started running into it online), and she talked about the importance of knowing your narrative point of view, but I don't think she ever used the expression "head hopping." In fact, she didn't talk about limited third pov at all.

Does this mean that limited third didn't exist as a pov back then, or does it simply mean that people were less inclined to be sticklers for drawing a clear line between omni third and limited third back then? Or did it exist, but people just didn't have a name for it? I guess the question is, how important is it to have names for things in writing?

Ken
11-29-2014, 04:51 AM
headhopping
wasn't really sure what it was or wasn't
happened upon this just now
pretty good explanation and example:

http://marcykennedy.com/2013/11/head-hopping-can-avoid/


To be head hopping, a passage needs to meet two criteria:

(1) The viewpoint shifts between characters without a proper transition (e.g. a scene break).
(2) The thoughts/feelings of the characters are given in their voices rather than in the author’s voice.

Robert Dawson
11-29-2014, 05:34 AM
...whether or not this tendency for writers, agents, editors and so on to make up terms for common mistakes, then bandy them about until they become commonplace is relatively recent...

No. Consider Ruskin's coining of the loaded term "pathetic fallacy" to describe meteorological symbolism in Modern Painters (ca 1850). Or "split infinitive" (ca 1900). Or "purple prose/patch" which goes back to Latin, from which we also get "olet lucernam" ("it smells of the lamp") meaning overworked prose.

Roxxsmom
11-30-2014, 11:37 AM
headhopping
wasn't really sure what it was or wasn't
happened upon this just now
pretty good explanation and example:

http://marcykennedy.com/2013/11/head-hopping-can-avoid/

That is a nice description. The only thing missing is a rewrite of the same scene in omni, showing how the narrator can, in his own voice, describe the character's internal states to the reader without head hopping.

Once!
11-30-2014, 05:18 PM
Odd article - seems to be a spectacular missing of the point.

Infodump does not mean the same thing as exposition. We do need exposition, particularly in science fiction and fantasy when we are describing a world other than our own. Infodumping is exposition done badly - too much information thrown at the reader in one dollop.

Ditto just about all the other words on the list. They each have a specific meaning and, with the possible exception of dystopian, are usually something to be avoided. Usually.

What seems to happen is that people can misuse these terms - either to become obsessed with them or to ignore them.

Some people get so afraid of info-dumping that they don't want to give any exposition. And they can get into a tizz when critiquing someone else's writing, thinking that any exposition has to be bad.

At the other extreme, we get people who think that these guidelines don't apply to them or that the words should be retired - forgetting that there are very good reasons why these terms were invented in the first place.

Too much exposition = info dumping. If someone accuses you of this, one of two things has happened. Either they have misunderstood the term or they genuinely believe that your writing includes info-dumping.

Neither is a good enough reason to retire the term info-dumping. Or head-hopping, or Mary Sue, or idiot plot or ...

Hell, I don't like the term obesity but that doesn't make by waistline any smaller.

Manuel Royal
11-30-2014, 11:02 PM
If we do away with [the term] infodump, how do we then refer to long, boring, clumpy clots of exposition?"Long, boring, clumpy clots of exposition" seems to describe it just fine. (I especially like "clumpy clots".) But I don't see anything wrong with the term "infodump" as long as it's used correctly. Obviously, it doesn't mean the same as simple exposition.


Consider Ruskin's coining of the loaded term "pathetic fallacy" to describe meteorological symbolism in Modern Painters (ca 1850). Or "split infinitive" (ca 1900). Or "purple prose/patch" which goes back to Latin, from which we also get "olet lucernam" ("it smells of the lamp") meaning overworked prose.Good point! I guess I should be less resistant to some of the neologisms used 'round here, such as "beta reader".

Aggy B.
12-01-2014, 01:05 AM
Good point! I guess I should be less resistant to some of the neologisms used 'round here, such as "beta reader".

Beta-reader, like these other words, fulfills a specific definition because it differs from an alpha-reader (someone who reads unedited/unpolished work) or a crit partner (who would read on a back and forth trade across multiple projects, not just a single book).

It's also not an unknown concept; video games and other consumer products have been using beta-testers for years.

Roxxsmom
12-01-2014, 02:19 AM
Odd article - seems to be a spectacular missing of the point.

Infodump does not mean the same thing as exposition. We do need exposition, particularly in science fiction and fantasy when we are describing a world other than our own. Infodumping is exposition done badly - too much information thrown at the reader in one dollop.

Ditto just about all the other words on the list. They each have a specific meaning and, with the possible exception of dystopian, are usually something to be avoided. Usually.

What seems to happen is that people can misuse these terms - either to become obsessed with them or to ignore them.

Some people get so afraid of info-dumping that they don't want to give any exposition. And they can get into a tizz when critiquing someone else's writing, thinking that any exposition has to be bad.

At the other extreme, we get people who think that these guidelines don't apply to them or that the words should be retired - forgetting that there are very good reasons why these terms were invented in the first place.

Too much exposition = info dumping. If someone accuses you of this, one of two things has happened. Either they have misunderstood the term or they genuinely believe that your writing includes info-dumping.

Neither is a good enough reason to retire the term info-dumping. Or head-hopping, or Mary Sue, or idiot plot or ...

Hell, I don't like the term obesity but that doesn't make by waistline any smaller.

Found myself nodding here. I don't think the author really understands most of the terms she thinks should be retired.

Or maybe she just needs to get some better critting buddies.

Fuchsia Groan
12-01-2014, 08:32 AM
I feel like some of these terms originated in fanfic -- Mary Sue, at least. Not sure about the others.

When I was getting my doctorate in Comp Lit, we'd use terms like dystopian, exposition, and omniscient POV, but never info dump or head hopping. I discovered those online. (And I love the term head hopping because it gives me a way to pinpoint something that drives me crazy. No way I'm giving that up!)

Roxxsmom
12-01-2014, 10:13 AM
I m curious when the term "head hopping" originated. Pulls a couple craft books that deal with pov off shelves.

Orson Scott Card (Characters and Viewpoint, 1988) distinguishes between omniscient and limited in his chapter on third person, and he says you should not change pov mid scene, but he doesn't use the term head hopping.

Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint (2005) by Nancy Kress doesn't use the term "head hopping either," though the author enjoins readers not to change pov promiscuously and to leave pov changes for scene breaks.

Both books also talk about narrative distance within limited third povs.

So it may be a term that's been coined fairly recently. But that doesn't mean the concept (and the admonition not to shift between characters mid-scene in a limited pov) haven't been around for a while.

This blog entry by Wendig on POV (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/02/12/25-things-you-should-know-about-narrative-point-of-view/) cracks me up.

Manuel Royal
12-03-2014, 05:49 PM
Beta-reader, like these other words, fulfills a specific definition because it differs from an alpha-reader (someone who reads unedited/unpolished work) or a crit partner (who would read on a back and forth trade across multiple projects, not just a single book).

It's also not an unknown concept; video games and other consumer products have been using beta-testers for years.It describes something people have been doing for millennia; doubtful whether a new term was needed. But it's a usefully compact term. And certainly inoffensive compared to other recent attempts at neologisms, especially the flood of unneeded, clumsy portmanteaus. (The other day, I saw someone announcing he'd just made up the word "snortle" to mean "snort and chortle", apparently not knowing Lewis Carroll had already done the work for him by (probably) combining "chuckle" and "snort" into "chortle" in the first place in 1872. Carroll knew how to forge a new word.)

Amadan
12-03-2014, 06:43 PM
The basic objection in the article seems to be that a lot of perfectly good terms are being used inappropriately/more broadly than their original meaning.

Mary Sue
Correct usage: A character who bends the universe and the plot around her, and is perfect, and who tells you which other characters are good and which are bad by whether or not they like the Sue.
Incorrect usage: An awesome, super-competent character who's the star of her own story.

Head-hopping
Correct usage: Frequent, badly-transitioned shifts in POV that leave the reader confused as to who is saying or thinking what.
Incorrect usage: Any multiple-POV writing style.

Dystopia
Correct usage: A society that has become a twisted, malevolent reflection of the real world.
Incorrect usage: Any sort of crapsack world where life sucks. Especially when conflated with "post-apocalyptic."

Amadan
12-03-2014, 06:46 PM
Ellen Kushner does not seem to understand what "relatable" means in terms of character. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the character being your pal, or the character being you. It's really is the wrong word, though. "Empathetic" is the right word. If there is no empathy towards a character, a reader will not care if that character lives or dies.

No, you've misunderstood her objection. A lot of readers complain about characters who are not "relatable" meaning either they are not like the reader, or not likeable. Kushner is saying that you should care about the character (i.e, empathy) and what happens to him or her, but you don't need to identify with or like the character.

Roxxsmom
12-03-2014, 11:05 PM
(The other day, I saw someone announcing he'd just made up the word "snortle" to mean "snort and chortle", apparently not knowing Lewis Carroll had already done the work for him by (probably) combining "chuckle" and "snort" into "chortle" in the first place in 1872. Carroll knew how to forge a new word.)

We've been snergling in my family for years. Hasn't caught on elsewhere yet, but we all know what it means.


No, you've misunderstood her objection. A lot of readers complain about characters who are not "relatable" meaning either they are not like the reader, or not likeable. Kushner is saying that you should care about the character (i.e, empathy) and what happens to him or her, but you don't need to identify with or like the character.

I've always seen the term "relatable" used to mean a character who is capable of engendering the interest and empathy of the reader, regardless of whether they are likable or not. I think the author is creating a straw man here.

That's my main problem with much of this article. The author is interpreting the words the way they want, or possibly taking a half-baked misinterpretation of the term they've encountered somewhere on the web, then using that as a rationale for scuttling a useful concept. It actually makes me think about what would happen if, say, scientists made a list of every scientific or technical term that is commonly misunderstood by people with less training (or that has a different meaning in everyday life) and using that as a rationale for banning the word entirely, or maybe even just deleting the entire concept from our textbooks.