Friday, August 20, 2010

Rules of writing....

Ahhh....gotta love that interweb thing.  Such a lot of information, pretty much at my fingertips!  Of course, like walking into the biggest library in the world, you STILL have to use a roadmap.  Or you can do what I do, and rely on friendly natives to direct you.
        Today, I was taken to an essay by "zornhau" (like me, a fighter in a Western Martial Arts club so you KNOW he is on the side of the angels) in which he rants rather eloquently upon Clarke's aphorism that "a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  Zornhau does not necessarily agree with this...since he often feels that magic, even "technological star wars like magic, is simply the author taking easy way out.  This is a cut and paste sample of his essay (for review purposes)...I urge you to visit his blog to get the rest. 
        56. My Legions of Terror will be trained in basic marksmanship. Any who cannot learn to hit a man-sized target at 10 meters will be used for target practice.(From The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord)
We all laugh at the crap evil overlords of TV and cinema Fantasy. We tolerate them because – like 1970s gays embracing their own particular reading of Batman – we’re pathetically grateful for whatever bones mainstream culture deigns to toss our way.
This, however, is not true of printed Fantasy. The budding - mostly wannabe – author might argue, “But it’s Fantasy – I can make anything happen if it’s cool.”
We respond, “But your novel is a heap of offal.”
If we’re sober, and asked politely, we might expand on this statement:
If your Evil Overlord does not exploit his every possible advantage, then we cease to believe in him (if he’s so stupid, how come he got to be an Evil Overlord), and the hero’s victory is unearned – and sometimes both.
If we cease to believe in the Evil Overlord, then our suspension of disbelief collapses, and we are catapulted out of the story. In other words, you have failed to achieve Verisimilitude.
If the hero’s victory is unearned, then any deeper themes are undermined or invalidated, so your story is devoid of Truth. This bears some explanation.
For example, if you want to say that bravery and ingenuity will prevail, you have to put the hero in situations where his bravery is convincingly tested and his ingenuity stretched to its limits. A backdoor raid on the Evil Overlord’s castle, opposed only by inept uncoordinated minions, neither tests nor stretches.
If the reader spots this lack of Truth, then the story merely feels thin. If your fine writing carries them along… well then I’m afraid you’re a liar, cheating in order to teach fallacious and dangerous life lessons, such as “If you stand up to a bully, they back down.” (Like fuck they do, but we’ll come to that.)
Thus, though you have a lot of freedom in your world building, if you want to attain Truth and Verisimilitude, the Evil Overlord must behave authentically.
 This is the sort of authenticity which matters.
OK (says budding wannabe). I get the point. I’ll make my Evil Overlord act like he’s played by an experienced roleplayer. Now shut up, I have to write this bit where the plucky ploughboy sneaks into the castle using an ingenious scheme and then faces off with the Evil Overlord’s chief henchman guy man-to-man, and uses his manly strength and faith to prevail…meanwhile the Princess is using a cunning device to disorder the Legions of Doom so that the peasants can defeat them. Then- Ouch! Ouch! Stop hitting me. Ouch! I mean it. Oof! (Thud)
These things - castles, swords, military drill - you treat as mere props or amusing eccentricities are, unless explicitly stated otherwise, tools of established technologies (by which I mean systems of practical knowledge comprising know-how and the tool to exploit that know-how).
If your hero can easily get into a well guarded-castle, then building a castle and setting up sentries is a waste of time. If your untrained hero can defeat an experienced swordsman, then experience and training count for nothing. If a few cheap tricks with rope break up the serried ranks of veteran Legionaries, then all military training is stupid.
In short, if you write these things, then you are implying that the results of years of experiment and experience can be overcome by a few cheap tricks, and that 90% of human systematic endeavor is futile. Faith and bravery are all.
Is that what you really want to say? On some level, readers with any worldly wisdom will pick up on your improbably world view and - POP! - there goes your verisimilitude and any sense of depth.
The rest of this very entertaining essay is here, 
     Zornhau expands on his theme  in a series of lectures about "Merlin's Miraculous Snake Oil"

And of course his note that writing with too much phoney baloney tech-magic will simply become comedic.  A term he refers to as "Dinotech", a Flintstones reference...
It is rare to see writing ABOUT writing which is non-pedantic, and entertaining.  

1 comment:

zornhau said...

Would be even nicer if I had credentials....