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The Importance of Being...Disingenuous?

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Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:14 pm
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Poor Imp says...

Earnestly speaking--habits of ennui or flippancy, tripping up gravity and certainty, even good parody... ^_~


' In matters of utmost importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. --Gwendolen, The Importance of Being Earnest

Sincerity, not style, is what holds a story together. Style may be fun; style may be a distinct part of your voice - but in the end?

There’s good reason in Wilde’s play title – barring irony. Anyone can like layered meanings, triple-telling and complete hilarity. The game of telling what you mean by saying what you don't while laughing... right?

Ah, perhaps or perhaps no. But how does that apply, honestly, to writing? To storytelling?

I suppose one ought to start with the common occurrence both of unconscious cynicism and boredom in storytelling. How often have you read a book, or an article in which the author seemed so very bland he might as well have been typing out his grocery list while listening to his playlist while trying to prepare a meal while wondering about his lovelife while typing whatever it is you’re reading?

It rather comes through, naturally. But I think there are two causes for the single symptom.

Firstly, simple, sneering disingenuous carelessness. This would be an instance of a writer feeling so clever, he’s really much beyond writing a simple, engaging narrative. He wants you to see his blasé, worldly-wise wit and he wants you to know he really needn’t care that much. He can make words perform backflips in the middle of double-entendres and cartwheels in their overly-complex sentence structure. Honestly, what the bloody heck could you want more than that? He’s brilliant.

…except that his story becomes a platform like a stand-up act. Doubtless, the characters suffer in the process, being props; and what might have been a multi-layered narrative becomes multi-layered game of stagecraft trickery in words.

And this means for the story? It’s dead, naturally. It means for the reader? Arched eyebrow, bewildered, irritable distaste; or on the flip-side, amused interest up until it’s obvious that author is laughing behind his hand.

Parody has its place. But it’s when the above tone creeps into everything you’ve a problem. Cleverness in itself carries nothing of much weight or depth; it’s a shallow intellectual net, more keen on illusion than truth. As for my direct experience, I have a character with a terrible inclination to mocking every other word, flippant to his last sentence.

If he gets into the narrative, the story teeters, aimless; as naturally, this fellow doesn’t give a second thought to where it’s going. Staying stationery suits him as well as any movement.

Secondly, plain bland boredom. ‘Tis the moment you look at the page and wonder why this? Is there any reason to write another word? Isn’t the story painfully dull, the characters flat, and why in heaven’s name did you set it in desert of the south Sahara when you couldn’t care a whit for deserts or contemporary settings?

This writer has the tendency either to self-doubt or obsession with novelty. She may love the moment she sees the first photograph of the Sahara. Dry air and the searing sun rise in her mind; weariness and her character crouched, covering his head… From what? She doesn’t much mind. It’s the first thrill of feeling like she’s there that matters, the vivid picture and the fact she knows nothing about it.

And so she begins writing, partially in earnest. By the third page, she can’t recall how long one can manage without water. Sighing, she drags herself to Wikipedia. Oh, there it is. Back to her story – but now her main character seems to be nameless; and she’s not certain if he’s African or if he’s a traveler passing through; and is this now or a few hundred years? Oh, maybe it could be science fiction.

But she doesn’t care enough now to bother with what the world is like in three hundred years or more. It just doesn’t matter too much; things are sort of different, that’s all. She wants to get to the desperate for water bit.

By the time she does, she’s weary of it. The desert is so deadly dull and her character has no personality. Well, it’s his fault for not being interesting. But seeing as that she promised to post her writing/show it to a friend/give it to a professor/get published she keeps writing. Her sentences become subject-verb, abbreviated. She calls her character Bob and gives him a past of turgid love and tragedy. Sort of like Romeo And Juliet. Except not. Bluntly, it’s living Hell. Right, like in a desert…she thinks. Possibly.

Well, clear as clean glass, yes? Like as not, if you haven’t begun one near it, you’ve read one painfully like it. Why write what doesn’t matter? And if you’ve things that are dull to you, naturally, why not make them interesting?

One often has the vague thought that Historical Fiction is dry and dull. But that’s before one's seen any scrap of Sam’sHourglass or run into a character such as Lieutenant or Adelais. Oy, and is Dostoyevksy so terribly long and verbose? ^_~ But a certain Dream Deep, in Russian-esque prose for length and depth has a fan club screaming for her to write more.

Why? Sam, though clever, is neither constantly flippant nor wasting away in historical ennui. She finds her characters interesting; and she cares what happens to them. Dream Deep thinks ceaselessly, agonising over character conflict and connection; and she writes as if every moment had an intent. Interest and sincerity are catching; and what matters has depth.

Finally, the subject of self-doubt. Too many writers feel inclined to write what someone else would like. Please the audience. Find the popular subject and the fad in sentence style and tact.

No one ever wrote well in another’s voice. (Sherlock Holmes pastiches very much aside.)

Know thyself, then. In closing, find what you care about, for the importance of being earnest in telling a story is of more import sometimes than even in everyday interaction. Doubtless, one shouldn’t imitate Wilde’s Algie, etc. being Earnest when they’re not. For the main point, in the end, is knowing what interests you and how you’d like say it – being earnestly and genuinely in your story and telling it to the end.
ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem

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Wed Sep 05, 2007 9:50 pm
Dream Deep says...

Lovely article, Imp, thank you. ^_^


But a certain Dream Deep, in Russian-esque prose for length and depth has a fan club screaming for her to write more.


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Wed Sep 05, 2007 10:07 pm
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Firestarter says...

Imp, you have the most awesome way of writing. Great article, by the way, agree one hundred percent. Could be applied to a lot of young writers!
Nate wrote:And if YWS ever does become a company, Jack will be the President of European Operations. In fact, I'm just going to call him that anyways.

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Wed Sep 05, 2007 11:00 pm
Cade says...

"My pet, I've been to the devil, and he's a very dull fellow. I won't go there again, even for you..."

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Wed Sep 05, 2007 11:17 pm
Leja says...

A truly wonderful article, Imp.

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Wed Sep 05, 2007 11:20 pm
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Caligula's Launderette says...


Wonderful article. Henry appreciates the flippantness.


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Wed Sep 05, 2007 11:22 pm
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gyrfalcon says...

*standing ovation*

Wow, I cannot even count the number of times I've found myself in the middle of your proverbial Sahara...
"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function...We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." ~C.S. Lewis

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Tue Sep 30, 2008 5:40 pm
Blink says...

That was actually very helpful!

Writing in another's voice gets you know where--like commercialising novels. Doesn't work.
"A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction." ~ Oscar Wilde

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Wed Oct 01, 2008 2:47 am
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W says...

I didn't really get it. So the point is to not to lie in your story? Or figure out what happens?? I couldn't figure it out with all the metephors.
el oh el

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