- C.S. Lewis, "On Reading Old Books"
Emma Coats, formerly a storyboard artist with Pixar, has taught storytelling for a few years, I gather. Her 22 principles of storytelling have been on the Interwebs for a while, but I don't believe I've linked to them here. They are very good.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.For a different perspective, award-winning author Paul Harding has a few ideas of what makes fiction work. "Fiction is about immanence. We are beings who experience our selves in time and space, through our senses. Fiction persuades its readers that they are reading something artful by immersing them as fully as possible in the senses and perceptions, the thoughts and actions of fictional lives."
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#9: When you're stuck, make a list of what WOULDN'T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
Author Barnabas Piper also chips in his two sense, saying it's the boring parts that make the whole story work. "World-class novels are not composed of email responses and traffic jams and grocery shopping. But without such things the characters would never get where they needed to go and be who they need to be."
Kevin DeYoung talks about a pastor's responsibilities and possible conflicts with writing books and articles. Among other good thoughts, he says, "I’m glad I read Martyn Lloyd-Jones before I ever wrote a book because I can hear the Doctor in the back of my head saying, 'The pastor is first of all a preacher and not a writer.' There is nothing wrong with being a writer first, but that’s simply not the calling of a pastor."
He notes what a wonderful privilege it is for people to read anything you've written, which is a good reason for a writer to get over himself.
On a related note, Miles Mullin writes about contemporary tribalism among evangelicals. "This is the troubling reality of the personality-based leadership that encompasses much of American evangelicalism. Often, charisma and dynamic communication skills trump character and integrity as popular appeal wins the day," he observes. Like fans of sports teams who argue over purely subjective judgements, fans of preachers and writers defend their leaders against any accusation, sometimes even against obvious sins.
People have often suggested a popular Christian fantasy author is the next C.S. Lewis. I don't think that's an appropriate question. Few people strikes us as the same as another person only better, so why should we look for a living author to replace a dead one? That would make the dead one mostly obsolete, wouldn't it?
Steve Harrell doesn't think so. He says we need a new Lewis. "When we try to insert Lewis' cultural observations into our culture today," he writes, "we become like Indiana Jones—still fighting the Nazis through the 1980s. The Modernist war between reason and theology is over.... We live in a postmodern, post-secular age that doesn’t respond well to the intellectual arm-twisting and large-scale historical criticism that Lewis excelled at."
Joel Miller argues Harrell is missing the point. "A vibrant intellectual life includes thoughts that span millennia. They’re not so foreign as some insist, and their differences might just keep us from going off the rails."
Rowan Williams, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, notes Lewis's blessing to us is "in what you might call pastoral theology: as an interpreter of people's moral and spiritual crises; as somebody who is a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception; and somebody who, in his own book on bereavement after his wife's death, really pushes the envelope – giving permission, I suppose, to people to articulate their anger and resentment about a God who apparently takes your loved ones away from you."
In related a post, Jeremy Lott notes the angst many have had over Susan's absence from The Last Battle. Many readers think Lewis condemns her life choices by appearing to keep her out of Narnia when everything comes falling down, but Lott quotes from Lewis' letters to show that the author simply believed Susan's story was longer and more adult than the one he wanted to tell. "Why not try it yourself?" Lewis asked a reader, to which Lott replies, "Who has tried to tell Susan's story?" He hopes someone will attempt to pick up the life of Susan Pevensie and finish at least part of her story.
Image: C.S. Lewis by ~free-slave on deviantART
Read many good reasons for keeping a journal in this post by Ivan Mesa. One reason is to help us remember God's blessings. Mesa writes, "D. A. Carson is right: 'Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.'" (via Challies)
Gay Talese didn't want to write about so public a figure as Frank Sinatra when his editors at Esquire assigned it to him, but he took it on with creative persistence and produced a masterful profile. Elon Green talked to him about it for Nieman Storyboard, so we now have the feature story with writerly annotations throughout.
Greens says at one point every story he has ever heard about Sinatra appears to have come from Talese's profile, which is enormously detailed. Here's an appealing bit:
I had seen something of this Sicilian side of Sinatra last summer at Jilly’s saloon in New York, which was the only other time I’d gotten a close view of him prior to this night in this California club.... That night dozens of people, some of them casual friends of Sinatra’s, some mere acquaintances, some neither, appeared outside of Jilly’s saloon. They approached it like a shrine. They had come to pay respect.... Read the rest of this entry . . .
Today, according to this web site, is National Punctuation Day.
I think I'm pretty good at punctuation, generally. The problem comes with differing styles. For years I eschewed the Oxford Comma, because somebody back in elementary school told me you should never add a comma before the conjunction, as in "I had lunch with Gary, Eric and Denny." It was only fairly recently that I learned there was any controversy. I learned this while acting as editor of the Journal of the Georg Sverdrup Society. I found out that we follow the Chicago Manual of Style, which mandates the Oxford Comma ("I had lunch with Gary, Eric, and Denny"). The Associated Press is against us, but we don't follow them. So I learned to love it. Now I can't imagine doing without it. And that's good, because we use the APA Manual in graduate school, and they're Oxfordian as well.
I keep wondering how the American Psychological Association's style book came to dominate graduate school documentation.
The only other punctuation problem I can think of that I personally struggle with is the way Microsoft Word automatically clumps the three periods in an ellipsis together, turning them into a single, compact idiogram. Which we then have to unclump over at the Sverdrup Journal, because we want our periods separate but equal. I don't know why. I just do it.
Happy Punctuation Day. Period.
Our friend Greybeard sent me a link to a comic today, and I thought it was pretty funny. I’d post it here, but I’m not certain about copyright fair use, so I’ll just link to it and you can look for yourself.
It’s about “contrived coincidences” in story plots.
This, friends, is a very bad thing.
You read a story, and you’re following along with it, and suddenly something happens out of the blue, completely out of left field, purely so that the author can make the plot go in a direction he wants.
C. S. Lewis wrote about a similar issue, somewhere (I forget where, and I don’t have time to riffle through my library). In writing about miracles, he notes that it’s entirely against the rules for a novelist to include a miracle in a story, just to get his hero out of a tight place.
But, he notes, there is at least one legitimate use for a miracle in a story. You can start the story with a miracle. The occurrence of a miracle, followed by an examination of the way it affects the people who observe it, is a perfectly legitimate premise for a story.
In other words, a miracle can pose a problem in a story. But it can’t solve one.
Otherwise, you’ve wasted your reader’s time. You’ve dragged him through all the sturm und drang of plot development, rising action, rising tension, repeated frustrated attempts at resolution, and then you resolve the whole mess with a deus ex machina (a Latin term referring to a dramatist's trick of sending an actor, dressed like a god, down by block and tackle to save somebody from a bad situation). The whole purpose of a story is to teach the main character something through suffering, and to teach the reader by proxy. The miraculous/coincidental resolution renders the whole exercise meaningless. The story itself becomes a redundant appendage to the climax. You might as well have written the climax on its own, and saved the reader the time.
I note that I have confused coincidence with deus ex machina in this post, but they’re closely related and undeserving of individual attention.
E. Stephen Burnett picks up on the discussion over comments made regarding the stories told by J. Mark Bertrand ("Russell" to his friends), asking an insightful question: "According to the Bible, what is the 'chief end' of story? Is it evangelism? Gritty realism? Entertainment? Or a higher goal?"
I chafe at the idea of everything we do in the world being evangelism or pre-evangelism, though perhaps it's true. I like to think of life being more multifaceted than that. We delight in God our Father. We make disciples of his people. We fight for justice and work in mercy. What are the themes Jesus addressed in his Sermon on the Mount? Who are the blessed of God, being a life witness, the place of the law, the nature of sin (anger, lust, divorce, promises, retribution), loving one's enemies and neighbors, mercy, prayer and more. Is all of this meant to be seen in the colors of evangelism?
No. A story may witness the glory of God to an unbeliever without having evangelism as its goal, and perhaps that's the answer. Glory. I want to write to magnify God's glory, to color myself and everything I see with it.
"Revision is the only writing instructor worth the investment required." Mark Bertrand offers the best writing advice available, despite the plethora of ideas which can make enjoyable reading. This is the reason I don't want to pursue a graduate degree in writing.
Apologies for not posting yesterday. The day went in a direction I hadn’t planned.
This week I’ve been taking what’s now known as a stay-cation, loafing some and pottering with things I’ve been putting off handling. Yesterday I’d planned on going to dinner with a friend I see periodically, and somehow that restaurant date turned into a reunion with other old friends, and then an evening at the home of one of those old friend’s relatives, up in the trackless wastes of the far northern suburbs. We spent the hours talking about old times, some of which I’d shared in, and it was pretty late by the time I got home.
Today I went to the post office to get my picture taken so I could send in my passport renewal form. I wanted to do it at mid-morning so I wouldn’t be slowing down a long line of customers. The clerk who helped me was the nice-looking lady there I’ve long admired, which may explain a certain wistful look in my eyes in the picture (I think I’m the only person in the world who generally likes his passport photos).
Then I found out the renewal fee. When in the name of all that’s wholly unreasonable did the price of renewing a passport get to be $110.00? Plus the cost of the photo and certification of the letter? I’d write to my congressman if he weren’t Keith Ellison.
Then in the afternoon I gave blood. This was at my favorite hemorrhaging venue, the VFW in Golden Valley, where they serve you sloppy joes as a reward for your suffering. I got the pretty technician, which should have put me on alert from the start. Pretty women almost always end up hurting me, and this one didn't break form. She finally had to get another tech to find the right place to puncture my vein. In fairness to them, I’ve given a lot of blood and there’s a great deal of scar tissue inside my left elbow. Nobody’s ever been able to get anything out of the right arm.
And then home. Some reading, and then I worked a little more on revising the last completed novel I’ve got in storage, which may or may not come out as an e-book after a while, depending on how diligent I am. I’m worried about one character – someone I don’t like, and who was intended as a caricature of a kind of person we all know. I don’t like plain caricature in other people’s novels, and I need to get past it in my own. I’ve got to find something admirable or sympathetic in this person. I’m working on it.
I have been asked to mention a web site called Grammarly on this blog. It advertises itself as "an automated proofreader and your personal grammar coach. Correct up to 10 times more mistakes than popular word processors."
I have not personally used Grammarly, but from looking at the site and doing some web searching, it seems to me this sort of thing might be useful to a fair number of people. I'd compare it to "coarse" sandpaper, in contrast to fine sandpaper. If you're one of those people (and in my experience in recent reading, I think there are many) who just can't figure out these grammar rules, Grammarly might be worth the price to you.
Full disclosure: I was offered a substantial remuneration for posting about Grammarly.
Does my doing this trouble you? Give me your feedback.
Andrew Klavan posted a thoughtful article today called “Eyes Wide Shut: Christians Against Art” which ought to spark some discussion. Klavan is rare among Christian fiction writers in that he learned his craft first, and then embraced the Faith. That places him in what must be at times an awkward position – he knows what makes for a good story, and sometimes that’s something that his fellow believers don’t like.
An artist’s job — even if he’s a Christian artist — is not to sell Jesus, it’s to depict life truly. A Christian’s faith is that Christ lives in real life, not only in pastel greeting cards with Easter bunnies on them. Thus any honest and good work of art should be capable of strengthening a believer in his belief — even if it strengthens him by challenging him, by making him doubt and then address those doubts.
Art only goes wrong when it lies. Pornography is so deadening (and so addictive to some!) because it depicts human intercourse without humanity — something that never occurs in real life, not ever. Most bad art does something similar — and some good art includes dishonest moments that need to be confronted and rebuked.
But good art can be about absolutely anything and still lift us heavenward….
I can’t, frankly, share his approval of the Game of Thrones series, but I do so with fear and trembling, fully aware that Klavan understands stories at a much deeper level than I do. Still, after reading the first four GOT books, I grew wholly disillusioned with George R. R. Martin’s (to me) cynical and nihilistic approach. If I were to watch the Game of Thrones series (I haven’t), my only motivation would have to be seeing the female nudity, because I can’t work up any other.
Klavan might be comforted somewhat – though the example is an old one – to read the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America’s current Bulletin, which includes what may be the last “Resnick & Malzberg Dialogue.” (See my Wednesday post.) Barry Malzberg reminisces, in view of recent attempts to muzzle the two of them: Read the rest of this entry . . .
There’s a Great War going on currently in the SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; don’t ask where the second “F” went; it’s a secret). Although I’ve been a member for years, I wasn’t aware of the controversy until Vox Day started discussing it (in pretty strong terms) over at Vox Popoli, because I don’t follow the SFWA Forum. I just read the members’ Bulletin, which is what sparked the fist fight.
One of the magazine features I’ve enjoyed for the last few years has been “The Resnick-Malzberg Dialogues.” In this series, old pros Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg talk back and forth about the history – and sometimes the future – of the Science Fiction genre from the perspective of two guys who’ve been through the wars and met the people most of us never had the chance to. I’ve never been a fan of either guy, but I’ve learned a lot from picking their minds at one remove. Even when they disagreed with each other, which was fairly often.
Anyway, in a recent issue they dealt with the almost mandatory subject of women in science fiction. In the course of the discussion (which I personally judged a bit obsequious and politically correct), they mentioned that a couple of the women under discussion were quite attractive, and one of them spoke admiringly of how one looked in a bikini. Also they used the word "lady."
And the heavens parted, and the Furies were unleashed.
Sarah Hoyt, in an excellent blog post today, speaks with more authority than I can:
So how [expletive deleted] did these columns – innocuous and reminiscent – become the latest fire storm in the long-drawn civil war in science fiction. And who is fighting this war, anyway?
Ah, sit around my children, and make long ears. Aunt Sarah will tell all. Well, actually not, but I always wanted to say that. I have guesses and ideas at what is causing this series of conflagrations starting with Orson Scott Card’s non-calling-for-the-death-of-all-gays but opposing their belonging to his church (this my atheist, Budhist and various other flavors of Christian gay friends find a non event, btw.) and continuing to what can only be called the wilding hunt for Malzberg and Resnick.
This hunt has gotten out of control….
I expect I won’t renew my SFWA membership when it next comes up. The organization is growing increasingly irrelevant, especially for self-publishers like me. I’ve kept with it mostly to have credentials of some kind, because credentials are pathetically important to those of us with low self-esteem.
In any case, it looks like SFWA is going ideological, and if I want to belong to an ideological writer’s organization I ought to join a Christian one.
Mason Curry talks about the habits of artists in a three week series on the work routines of famous creatives. Frank Lloyd Wright started getting up at 4:00 a.m. and working until 7:00. Curry writes:
Indeed, many artists are early risers because they have little other choice; working early in the morning is a tried and true method of fitting creative work into busy schedules. The 19th-century novelist Frances Trollope is a good example. She did not begin writing until the age of 53, and then only because she desperately needed money to support her six children and ailing husband. In order to squeeze the necessary writing time out of the day while still acting as the primary caregiver to her family, Trollope sat down at her desk each day at 4 a.m. and completed her writing in time to serve breakfast. Her son Anthony Trollope later adopted a similar schedule, getting up at 5:30 a.m. and writing for two hours before going to his job at the post office. (Later in this series, I’ll be looking closely at artists who also held down full-time day jobs.)Curry has just released a book on this topic: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
Image by Stefan-Xp.
Finally we got a spot of what the Vikings would have called “weather-luck.” It did snow last night, as described, but it lost interest after about three inches. And through the day most of it gradually liquefied and returned to the bosom of the thirsty earth. Right now the sun is shining cheerily. I took my evening walk. The forecast actually calls for 70 degrees this weekend. Maybe our long regional nightmare is over.
But I’m not putting the snowblower away just yet.
I thought about The Boy With the Red Pencil today.
That’s not what the title of the book was, I’m pretty sure. I never actually read it. I was too young. It was a book I remember lying around the house when I was very small. Somebody must have read it to me, I’m sure, but my chief memory of it is seeing it on the couch in the sun porch, picking it up, and looking at the pictures, following the story through them.
It was about a little boy who got a red pencil that had magical powers. Whenever he drew something with it, that thing would become real. Complications ensued, but I’m unclear on what they were after all the years.
All I remember is how fascinated I was with the idea of using a writing instrument to create real things.
I suppose my whole life since then has been an effort to emulate that boy with the red pencil. At first I drew pictures, like him, but eventually I moved on to writing stories, which (for me) produced results more like real things.
Tolkien called it “subcreation,” the compulsion of the created being to emulate his Creator by creating things of his own in turn. Such an impulse, like all our impulses, can be turned to good or evil. Creativity is a power, capable of corruption like any other power (the aesthetes never seem to grasp this point).
But whether you’re a computer programmer, or a tailor, or an architect, making things is essentially good. It’s part of what God put us here for.
Five books recommended by artist Makoto Fujimura. "Literature that reveals what art and beauty ought to be."
"How has your decision to write affected your health? Has it had negative effects on your personal life?” asks a survey. Kvetch for us about your life, they say, to which Neal Pollack responds, "How do I even know whether writing has had negative effects on my personal life? Maybe I would have been a jerk no matter what I did, and my being a writer at least keeps me in a room by myself so I can’t bother other people as much."
In yet another response to my Intercollegiate Review article, Speculative Faith asked me to answer a few questions over at their site. Thanks to those folks.
Visitors to the Evangelical Outpost website experienced, today, the horror of being greeted by my face. David Nilsen, who reviewed Troll Valley yesterday, followed up with an interview, which you can read here.
I don't think it would be right to say that my column on Christian Fantasy for The Intercollegiate Review, posted yesterday, has gone viral. But it seems to be approaching the communicable disease level anyway. Editor Anthony Sacramone tells me it's rapidly approaching their record for hits. There've been several links, including...
Our friend Gene Edward Veith over at Cranach calls it "beyond excellent."
David Mills at First Things speaks of "good advice" and "interesting insights."
And, most amazing of all, Jeffrey Overstreet himself devotes quite a long post to it, calling me a "formidable storyteller," which is kind of like having your singing praised by Placido Domingo. Although he's visited our blog in the past and responded to some of my comments on his works, I'm surprised that a guy with so much more important things to think about was even aware of my work. He disagrees with my use of the term "Christian fantasy," a point I appreciate, but I don't think there's much to be done about it.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who's spread the word. I did not expect a response of this kind. Frankly (as I confessed to Anthony) I was a little embarrassed to submit the thing, because it seemed to me a lot of conventional wisdom that had been dispensed just as well by better writers.
But sometimes you're in the right place at the right time, like the merchant in Hailstone Mountain who brought a cat to a country full of mice.
ScribblePreach recommends getting off your proverbial rear-end and writing with these simple steps. This hits me where I live. I often get discouraged when I sit down to write, because it takes me so long to get going. I can't just vomit words on the page or screen. I have to have something to say. Even when I do have something to say, I must fight my doubt over saying it.
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again.
[M]ainstream [fiction] hasn’t been paying attention to all the changes in our culture during the last fifty years. The major ideas of our time—developments in medicine, the importance of space exploration to advance our species—have been neglected. The critics are generally wrong, or they’re fifteen, twenty years late. It’s a great shame. They miss out on a lot. Why the fiction of ideas should be so neglected is beyond me. I can’t explain it, except in terms of intellectual snobbery.
Take Fahrenheit 451. You’re dealing with book burning, a very serious subject. You’ve got to be careful you don’t start lecturing people. So you put your story a few years into the future and you invent a fireman who has been burning books instead of putting out fires—which is a grand idea in itself—and you start him on the adventure of discovering that maybe books shouldn’t be burned.
There’s a good chance you’ve seen this short film already. Paperman is a black-and-white, almost silent production done by Disney animators using only traditional (non-computer) animation techniques. Everybody loves it, and with good reason.
I have to admit that, being me, I had a mixed reaction at first. Then I realized I was wrong. I want to explain why, because it has to do with the nature of Story.
(Spoilers below. Do not read until you’ve watched the film through.)
My initial, self-oriented response was to say, “Life isn’t like that. The Universe does not step in to make your dreams come true.”
Then I saw that I’d missed the point. The point is that when the Universe took a hand in this couple’s story, it was only after the young man had done everything he could from his own end. He’d made his boss mad, and may have sacrificed his job, for the girl. It’s a little like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, who sold all he had in order to purchase the Pearl of Great Price.
If you’re writing a story, you can permit a Deus Ex Machina (I’ve written about this before), but only after you’ve let the character suffer and fail a whole lot. If the audience feels he’s tried his best, and not gotten the reward he deserves, then you can bring the Cosmic Hand in to set things right at the end. If you handle it carefully.
That’s a narrative principle only, by the way. It’s not theological, or only partly theological. Christianity does not teach that you gain God’s acceptance through trying your hardest, followed by God’s pleased intervention to finish the job for you. In Christianity it’s all grace from first to last.
Still, from the experiential point of view, the two things are hard to tell apart. The moment of grace is when the merchant falls in love with the Pearl, when the young man falls in love with the girl. All their efforts afterward are not actually their own accomplishments but entirely the work of God’s grace within, doing business as Love.
It’s a mystery.
Jean-Francois Millet, Man With a Hoe, ca. 1860
I appear to have experienced a new “going out and coming in” (to put it in biblical terms) in my life. I have gone out of the age of leisure, and come into the age of workoholism.
For the time being, anyway.
“Workoholic” is one of those terms, like “plutocrat” and “spelunker” that I never expected to apply to myself. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that one of Walker’s essential characteristics is languor. When the call goes out for hardy souls to lend a hand and see the thing through, I can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of the donut table.
But here I am, in my sixth decade, living a life essentially divided up between work and sleep, with a few brief intervals for eating. Read the rest of this entry . . .
Aaron Armstrong passes on some writing tips from Doug Wilson, author of many books including Evangellyfish, which we linked to earlier. It's good stuff, but I need some help on the fourth one. What does this mean: "4. Stretch before your routines. If you want to write Italian sonnets, try to write some short stories. If you want to write a few essays, write a novel, or maybe a novella if you are pressed for time. If you want to write haiku, then limber up with opinion pieces for The Washington Post."
Today is the birthday of Prof. J. R. R. Tolkien, who needs no introduction here. As usual, Tolkien fans around the world are participating in a birthday toast, at 9:00 p.m. local time, wherever they happen to be. The formula is to raise your beverage of choice and say, “THE PROFESSOR!”
Tolkien did a bit of translation in his time, being one of the world’s great language scholars. I suppose it’s a stretch to try to use that as a bridge to the subject of my own ongoing translation work. I’m around ¾ of the way through the first draft now, which is a little ahead of my estimates, I think.
The New Year’s holiday gave me the unspeakable gift of two full, unscheduled days to devote to the project. I did 5,000 words each day, and was a little alarmed to realize something I’d never known before. Translating can be addictive. A Facebook friend who’s also a translator told me I wasn’t out of line to compare it to obsessive computer gaming, since he’s done both.
Translating involves its own special challenges and headaches, but it has the advantage of entirely lacking one great roadblock of ordinary writing – you never have to figure out what’s coming next. Figuring out what comes next has always been the hardest part of writing for me.
Of course it helps to be working on a project you find fascinating in its own right.
I know what you're thinking, but this is post is not a rant about the changes that (one assumes) are being made in the new The Hobbit movie. Frankly, I'm looking forward to the movie. I looked at the web site today, and checked out the photo gallery, and there was one where the dwarfs were wearing hoods. Frankly, that was my main problem with the previews I saw. Tolkien was always consistent in putting dwarfs in hoods. Gimli's lack of a hood in the trilogy troubled me. But this time they've got hoods, at least part of the time. So good.
No, I want to share with you this YouTube video, which was sent to me by Dale Nelson. It's part of a lecture by Prof. John D. Rateliff, telling what he learned about Tolkien's writing process through examining his original Hobbit manuscripts at Marquette University, where they are stored. I enjoyed it.
In the upcoming update to The Associated Press' online stylebook, the suffix "-phobia" "should not be used 'in political or social contexts,' including 'homophobia' and 'Islamophobia.'
AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn explains the move:If current argumentative trends apply here, this move will be described as homophobic.
“Homophobia especially — it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”
“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing,” he said.
One change owning a Kindle has made in my reading habits is that I’m now a whole lot more likely than I used to be to dump a book that fails to please me.
When I was younger, it was kind of a point of honor to finish any book I started. (This sprang in part from the fact that books were copied by hand on calfskin in those days.) But as I got older, and especially as I crystallized my political and social views, I became more willing to ashcan a book whose author (as I imagined him/her) obviously wouldn’t want a person like me for a reader.
The Kindle makes this easier because I’ve been getting a lot more free books, especially from the Free Kindle Books and Tips blog. Easy come, easy go. A lot of these books are fully worth their price of nothing, and I feel no guilt (OK, not much guilt) in showing them the virtual door.
I dumped one book yesterday, and another today, which I think is a new record.
One was a mystery/thriller, pretty competently written. The characters were mostly good, and the writing slipped only rarely. But around half way through I discovered that the evil District Attorney, whom we had been schooled to hate (the one-dimensionality of his character was one of the book’s weaknesses from the start) was a political conservative, getting money from those evil conservative political action committees.
I could have finished it. I’ve finished worse. But I wasn’t in the mood. Maybe it’s the election season.
The second book was more congenial in viewpoint, being a sort of contemporary Christian fantasy. And the writing was pretty good for Christian literature. But then the main character, a non-Christian, got into a conversation with his Christian neighbor at one point, and it all went south as far as I was concerned.
I have strong views about how conversations about matters faith in novels ought to go. I like to think I do it pretty well in my books, but maybe other people find my approach as offputting as I find so many that I see.
Here’s how I think such conversations should be handled—generally.
1. Avoid easy victories. Christians love anecdotes about how some Christian silenced an atheist through a single pithy, incisive remark. In my experience this never happens in real life. In real life the atheist has a good laugh, and the Christian trickles away humiliated (this isn’t necessarily bad. I know of instances when such conversations have resulted, eventually, in the conversion of the atheist). You gain realism points if you allow your Christian character to lose at least the initial skirmish.
2. Remember that the point of the exercise is not winning the debate, but winning the person. The action of the story is where the non-believer will have his world-view truly challenged. A story where he gets converted merely by an argument is by nature a weak story. Use the rising tension of the story’s action to make him doubt his preconceptions. This is both good storytelling and true to life.
3. Eschew Triumphalism. This really summarizes the two points above. James Bond is not a Christian. The smooth character who always makes the right choices and is always in control of the situation is not realistic, and would be a poor example in any case, since none of us live that way. The Christian conquers through bowing, through dying, through the way of humility.
And no, I’m not going to tell you the names of the books I dumped. I deleted them from my Kindle, and I don’t think I remember the titles. I’m sure I don’t remember the authors’ names.