Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Essay: The Ethics of Workshopping (incomplete)

Word Count: 612
Form: Essay
State: Incomplete, First Draft, Tangential Scrap

The Nature of Workshop Comments

Comments in a prose writing workshop should be aimed at facilitating the completion of the work of a peer. It is important to remember that members of workshops are peers. The relationship of a commenter to an author is not that of a commercial editor determining what is and is not right for publication, but that of a reader to an author, helping the author make those decisions for himself.

The most effective comments are statements of reaction to a piece
-- not suggestions of meaning or how to achieve a different reaction, but what one's first, second, and third impressions of a piece were.

A comment like, "I hated Joe, he was a jerk to Sally," can be remarkably useful to an author.

Categories of Workshop Comments
Comments can be categorized as matters of fact, linguistics, or artistic preference.

1. Matters of fact involve the story's presentation of factual elements, such as where Sally was when she shot Joe, where she learned to shoot, and what kind of gun she used. Factual elements are concrete images, rather than intellectual abstractions, such the "metaphoric value" of Sally's shooting Joe.

2. Matters of linguistics involve the effectiveness and clarity of language in conveying the factual elements of the story.

3. Matters of artistic preference include everything else. They are the commenter's personal preference about the story's subject matter, tone, style, and unwritten intellectual meanings and implications such as metaphors.

The Ethics of Presenting Comments
Comments must be categorically identifiable when presented by the commenter to the author if the workshop is to be a productive experience.

It is common and quite unethical to present matters of artistic preference as matters of fact or linguistics. Matters of artistic preference cannot and should not be explained in objective terms such as the first two categories may be. It is a terrible flaw of human nature to look for a reason for everything, to rationalize and justify everything. We should be satisfied to say, "I like this," "I don't like this," without manufacturing some neat "because."

A common manifestation of this rationalization is in comments regarding the completeness of plot. Some commenters will insist a plot did not feel complete to them, because they simply "wanted to know more." But instead of saying that, they will phrase it as if it is a factual lapse, when it was actually it was a matter of artistic preference in determining the selection of important elements of the story. It is important to ask oneself if this lack of factual elaboration is a critical flaw or not, and it is the commenter's utmost ethical duty to present it as such.

Misrepresenting a comment on a matter of artistic preference as a matter of fact or linguistics is commonly done because we have a desire for what we say to carry weight, and our traditional tendency to more heavily value that which can be "justified" gives us enormous incentive to machinate false justifications

*At great risk of getting off on a tangent, to rid oneself of the necessity for artificial justifications will provide one with much spiritual enlightenment and satisfaction. Allowing oneself to be content with What Is is a marvelous concept. If one would like an illustration of the uselessness of justification, I personally recommend watching the financial cable news networks where at almost any hour one can witness two authorities in the world of finance give compelling, rational justifications for completely opposite predictions about the future behavior of some stock.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Flash Fiction: Tangent/Ode on a Girl (what else?)

Word Count: 359
Form: Flash fiction
Written in 5 minutes at 3 a.m.
Personal State: Tired as hell and smell like fire. Cat running around apartment nutso-crazy.

There was a young girl, 20, no 21, and she was a barista, or so she said. But really she worked in a coffee place in a rich little town on the leftern half of Connecticut. She burned herself all the time, and she said it was because of her job. She must have been really dedicated. She wasn't. She just burned herself. She was really good at hiding it too. She had creams and ointments. She wanted to be a doctor, a dermatologist. She never slept though, so she did miserably in school. Except in English, because she was real good with words. She never wrote anything down on paper because she was afraid people would read it. Well, she had journals and notepads and her sisters read them and stuff and she hated that but they did it anyway and she said it was because they loved her. And she loved them too much to put an end to it. Or maybe she didn't really hate it all that much. Maybe she just needed to be pried open or greased up (not in that kind of way) or WD-40'd or something like that, I don't know. But one time this boy came over and read her todo list and she had a fit, because she felt so vulnerable. She was really strong and she ripped it away from him. She liked to write in pencil when she had to do schoolwork but she wrote so light that no one could read it and she would get in trouble in grade school. The boy who came over and read her notepad said it was because she was afraid to make her mark on the world or something, but she said it was because she was just in too much of a hurry to press down. Anyway, she started using black pen way before she met him, and he grew up using blue pen. She said blue was yucky and for drafts and he said black was too permanent and that everything he wrote was an unfinished draft. So she wrote in black and he wrote in blue and they never worked it out really.