I’m really trying to write more on the blog, so I decided to go looking for fiskable material. All it took was one search for “recent articles on writing.” The top result was from, you guessed it, the New York Times.
A quick scroll through their “writing and writers” section revealed a lot. Most of the articles are about how so many authors who were oh-so influential had just died. Which is sad (may they all rest in peace, no matter who they are), but reveals where the NYT’s emphasis is. I’d never heard of any of them.
And right there at the top of the list was one that was just begging to be fisked.
The title sucks, for one–it sounds like a high-schooler with a barely adequate grasp of the English language wrote that.
I only made it three paragraphs in before I was ready to smash something.
I had to archive the post, because if I didn’t, you’d be obliged to pay the New York Times to read this utter tripe, and I’m not going to give them the satisfaction. You don’t have to, either.
As usual, the original text is in italics and my response is in bold.
The United States is a diverse country, but the people who produce its stories are not.
Of course it’s a diverse country. But one word that you inclusivity-obsessed people like to throw around is “minority.” You love that word. Everybody has to be a “minority.” They have special status, and they’re so much better than everyone else.
But let’s take a look at what that word actually means, shall we?
minority (n): the smaller part or number; a number, part, or amount forming less than half of the whole.
THERE ARE A LOT OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THERE ARE EQUAL NUMBERS OF ALL THOSE KINDS OF PEOPLE, GENIUS.
And only a crazy person would actually want there to be equal numbers of all kinds of people. That’s stupid, and impossible.
Last year, a survey of book publishing found that 76 percent of the staff who acquire, edit, market and publicize books are white. Another recent study determined that 95 percent of widely read English-language fiction in the United States was written by white authors.
Did you ever stop to think that that is the case because THERE JUST HAPPEN TO BE MORE WHITE PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY? Or maybe it has to do with the fact that over the history of the English language, most of the speakers and writers of English HAVE BEEN WHITE. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that English has become a widely-used spoken language all over the world, as opposed to French, for example. Even in England, French was used as the language of the court and the royals once upon a time.
So, I guess over the centuries, most of the people who wrote in English WERE FREAKING ENGLISH, which made them WHITE.
This isn’t that difficult a concept, and just because the world works that way doesn’t mean it’s a huge racist conspiracy. If you want to read works written by non-white people over history, you’re going to have to learn another language, like Spanish or Arabic or something.
Oh, wait. Spanish people–as in, people from actual Spain, not Spanish-speakers like those from Central or South America–are white. Mostly blonde and blue-eyed. My bad.
“We guessed that most of the authors would be white,” the researchers wrote, “but we were shocked by the extent of the inequality once we analyzed the data.”
You keep throwing that word “inequality” around.
It’s not like all those white authors got together and sat around a gigantic round table, petting long-haired cats and cackling while they plotted to exclude other people from their elitist club.
Oh, wait. That’s exactly what you think goes on. Sorry.
Statistics don’t lie. There are just more white people in the industry. If you don’t like it, go teach inner-city black kids to read and write, and then come and talk to me. Put your money where your outrage is.
Creative writing workshops, which train a significant number of writers and editors today, have long faced similar problems.
Objection. Asked and answered, Your Honor.
There are just more white people. Get over it.
The workshop model that started at the University of Iowa in 1936 and grew in popularity during the Cold War encouraged a view of fiction as separate from politics, racial or otherwise.
Where are you going with this? I thought we were talking about you asserting that there were too many white people in the writing industry. How did we get to the Cold War and “fiction as separate from politics”? Of course fiction should be mostly separate from politics, just because nobody likes to be preached at. People read fiction to escape from the garbage going on in the world, not to be neck-deep in it even in their off-hours.
If you write something political, odds are you’re not going to sell it, because fiction is primarily for entertainment, not an agenda. But then again, you write for the New York Times, so to you, the agenda is the be-all and end-all of existence. So, I shouldn’t be surprised.
Students were taught to produce concrete renderings of individual experience, with greater focus on personal agency than on social or historical circumstances.
And that’s a bad thing? Individual experience is a great way to write about things. That means that every written work will be as distinct and creative as the individual who wrote it.
I THOUGHT THAT’S WHAT YOU WANTED.
These principles were referred to as craft, and distilled to what are now considered universal truths: A good story should be driven by character, not plot.
You can’t “distill” all fiction into that one statement. Some stories are character-driven, yes. But other stories are plot-driven. You claim to want diversity, and yet here you are forcing everything into specific criteria that you just made the hell up. I doubt very much if anyone during the depression, World-War II, or the Cold War would have ever made such an asinine statement. If you’d read anything written during that time, you’d know that a lot of it is plot-driven, not character-driven. How about all the famous murder mysteries of the time (Agatha Christie)? How about all the early science-fiction (Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov)? That doesn’t mean that character-driven stories don’t exist (To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, or most of Mark Twain’s stuff), but they weren’t the only stories, you ignorant clod.
It should show, not tell.
Yes, that’s a basic still in storytelling, no matter what kind of story you’re writing. I can’t understand why you see this as a bad thing.
But, as Matthew Salesses argues in his book “Craft in the Real World,” “what we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations. … These expectations are never neutral.”
First of all, who the hell is Matthew Salesses, and why do I care? Unless he’s a massively wealthy, A-list, bestselling author, why should I care for his opinion?
craft (n): an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill
expectation (n): the act or the state of expecting; expectations: the prospect of future good or profit; something expected: a thing looked forward to
Sorry, those two things don’t have anything to do with each other. The art of writing does have certain expectations: people who read books do expect certain things to happen (that’s why there’s a whole website devoted to tropes). If you’re writing a murder mystery, readers expect the bad guy to get caught at the end. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, they expect aliens, or spaceships, or futuristic technology. But that kind of “expectation” isn’t what you’re talking about, is it? You’re talking about restrictions, limits. There is such a wide range of stories that can be told within the guidelines of the basic expectations of the modern reader. That’s not a limitation; that’s part of the fun.
Salesses is the author of three novels, as well as essays on adoption, grief and parenting.
In the words of Hudson:
In this new book, he dismantles a number of assumptions that underpin the teaching of craft in workshops.
And there’s the problem. He’s not teaching, and neither are you. He’s destroying. Any two-year-old can destroy something; it takes real skill to create something, and judging from the fact that I’d never heard of this idiot until today, I’d say his skills as a creator are significantly lacking.
You’ve also taken the word “craft” and stripped it of its meaning, making it nearly impossible to understand what you’re talking about unless we have the whole context of this article. For all I know, you could be talking about woodworking, needlework, painting, or writing. All of those are “crafts.” Technically, so is fingerpainting, and I recommend very highly that you go back to that and abandon writing entirely. You’d be doing us a favor.
For example, students are often advised to choose striking details — what John Gardner called “the lifeblood of fiction” — and leave out others that are too familiar.
Don’t know who John Gardner is, either. I’m amazed that you never quote anyone who is an actual famous author.
Striking details are good to include. The familiar stuff you can, in fact, leave out. Keeping in pointless details is a mistake that most new writers make, they over-describe something in an effort to be clear in their description of a person, place, or thing. I made that mistake myself when writing my first book. I had to have an editor clean it up for me. So I don’t understand your problem with that piece of advice. It seems sound to me.
The trouble is that what stands out to, say, a disabled white character will be different from what stands out to a Black trans character, which will in turn be different from what stands out to an undocumented character.
Oh, you did not.
I already said that there should be as many different stories as there are authors to tell them. How dare you try to say that all “white disabled” people should see the same things, or that all “Black trans” people should see the same things, or that all “undocumented” people should see the same things?
And yes, I did notice how “Black” is a proper noun, while “white” is not. You are, in fact, the racist, not me.
You just LIMITED what people can see or write about. My husband is a “white disabled” person, and he sees things differently from me. I’m white, and I see things differently from authors like Mary Higgins Clark. It isn’t WHAT I AM that makes me different; it’s my EXPERIENCES that make me different, and THOSE are what we should be celebrating. You’re just trying to slap a label on everyone and confine them to the little boxes that make you feel so very woke and liberated.
You can kiss my 1/16th Apache ass.
Minority students may be told to scrap what is striking to them in favor of what is striking to the dominant perspectives of their workshops, which Salesses points out are overwhelmingly white and cisgender. As a result, the students’ artistic choices may be stifled rather than nurtured.
Only an idiot–or a liberal, like you–would ever tell a writing student to abandon their own perspective and write only what a “dominant perspective” wants to see. If all I wanted to read was the same old boring garbage over and over and over, I’d buy books from people like you, not people like Larry Correia, or David Weber, or Mary Higgins Clark, or Gail Carriger, and on and on and on. They’re all different, and that’s what makes them fun. Even a single author can tell different stories. Larry switched from Monster Hunter International–urban fantasy with guns and monster-killing–to Son of the Black Sword–high fantasy–and both stories are brilliant.
I have an online acquaintance who is a librarian, and he frequently makes us laugh with stories about the Young Adult books that he has to put on the shelves in his library. It’s amazing how THEY’RE ALL EXACTLY THE SAME WOKE TRASH, over and over and over and over again. There’s almost no point to him putting down the titles and authors. All he has to say is “two more woke superhero crap, one slice of life, and another woke fantasy,” and we know exactly what the content is, because it’s ALL THE SAME CRAP as last month’s crap.
That is what we get in fiction when woke people like you are running the show.
In the first half of the book, Salesses redefines craft terms like plot, conflict, tone, character and setting, arguing that each needs to be understood in its sociocultural context.
And there went the English language.
Plot, conflict, cone, character, and setting only mean one thing when applied to writing. You can’t change it just because you want it to be more politically correct. You do that, and nobody will understand what you’re talking about. You’re not encouraging a craft; you’re brainwashing vulnerable and impressionable students to be woke creeps like you, and in doing so, you’re not doing the world of art and literature any favors. You’re taking away their ability to write well, and express the ideas that they want to express.
Words are the core of thought; you change words, you change thought. THAT is what you want. You don’t want good literature or entertaining fiction. You want those students to be mindless drones subject to your ideology.
And it sounds like you’re getting exactly what you want, if the content of most of those books my librarian friend has told me about is the standard of the industry now.
For instance, a conflict that omits race or class pressures is as revealing a writing choice as a conflict that overtly refers to them.
So, basically, any white author is damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
You. Are. Obsessed.
And that’s your problem, not mine. And certainly not the writing industry’s.
In the second half, Salesses quickly dispatches the traditional “cone of silence” workshop — in which the student sits quietly while peers and instructor give feedback — and instead offers alternative approaches like the critical response workshop, in which students ask questions and make observations, providing suggestions only if the artist requests them.
So . . . you’re not letting them take criticism from their peers and grow by it. You’re letting the author stand up there and be invincible to any criticism because you’ve frightened the other students into staying silent, lest they “offend” someone.
This is why the millenials are so fragile and need “safe spaces” because “words are mean.”
Any of those students who ever actually write a book are going to break down and be suicidal the first time they get a bad review on their book, because you haven’t armed them to take criticism like an adult.
Occasionally, the book relies on hypothetical examples when a quote or an excerpt from published work would have been more illustrative. It also offers a few general statements when examples from specific authors would have been more effective.
Okay, fine. Go ahead and critique the critique. It doesn’t help if the content is garbage anyway.
But Salesses is clearly a generous instructor, willing to share ideas for syllabus design, grading techniques and writing exercises.
God help us all.
I don’t need a “generous” instructor. I need a COMPETENT instructor. This is just the blind leading the blind straight into the woke pit.
He brings to this work many years of experience as a writer and professor, along with palpable frustration at what he has witnessed or endured in these roles.
How about MY palpable frustration at hearing your bitching and moaning, hmm?
And this idiot is a professor?
The book is rife with anecdotes of insensitive or racist comments he heard during his training, experiences that will no doubt feel familiar to many writers of color.
Yeah, because the way you’d tell it, ANY criticism of anything he wrote is automatically racist if the person criticizing him is white, right?
I was reminded of feedback I was given in a writing class many years ago, when I was working on my first book, a collection of stories about Moroccan immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea. A white student suggested that I recast my story with Cuban refugees trying to reach Florida and that I excise from the text Arabic words, including those for which there are no English equivalents, in order to make my material more relatable to American readers. This revealed more to me about the critic than it did about the writing.
It certainly does reveal more about the critic than the writing. It means that the critic has more brains than you do.
Face it, there are times where an author has to cut something they love out of their work because it doesn’t do the story any good. I’ve done it. Every successful author in history has done it. It’s a long-standing joke about “killing your darlings.”
That critic was trying to tell you that if you want the book to sell in America, you have to make it READABLE BY AMERICANS. Using Arabic words in an English-language novel meant for the typical (ignorant) American reader is a death sentence for your story, and that’s before we can even get to the plot, and frankly, it sounds like you have a major plot problem, too. You’d have to “kill your darling” to get the book published. I’m sure that if the critic in question had said that, he was just being mean and nasty and racist, right?
He was being smart. And, considering he didn’t just say “your story sucks,” and move on, he’s a very polite critic. He offered you a suggestion where you could keep your basic plot, but fix a language-barrier issue, and make the story much more meaningful to an American audience, especially in places like Florida, where there are quite a few Cuban immigrants.
And, just to call you on your utter ignorance, there aren’t any Arabic words that have “no English equivalents;” that’s a woke load of crap. There’s always a way to translate it, even if it loses a bit of meaning coming over to English. It might take a phrase to do so instead of a single word, but you can get it done.
If you speak Arabic, that is. Oh, and English, too, don’t forget that one.
You can’t accuse that critic of being a racist. He was offering you a perfectly woke alternative subject for your story–Cubans. He wasn’t talking about WASPS coming over from England to America. He was handing you exactly what you woke warriors want–stories about minorities, and the struggles of the non-whites in America. You claimed you wanted that, and you have the unmitigated gall to slap him for it?
You’d be singing a different tune if the student in question had actually been Cuban, right?
“Craft in the Real World” is a significant contribution to discussions of the art of fiction and a necessary challenge to received views about whose stories are told, how they are told and for whom they are intended.
And there it is. You’re not trying to broaden horizons, make more fiction, and give people more stories. You’re trying to LIMIT fiction. Only certain select stories can be told, and only if they check certain minority boxes. Only “woke” writing styles with different definitions of basic words like plot and conflict can be told, even if nobody understands them at all. Only certain people can read those select books, because contrary to the whole idea of America, there are definite Elites in this country, and they must all tell us stupid, white, cisgendered, evil, meanie-pants what to do and how to think and how to behave.
You go right ahead with your woke agenda. You’ll go broke, while people like Larry Correia sit back from their private mountaintops and laugh at you.
I’m going to join in with them. I don’t care about your agenda. I just wish I could stop you from teaching it to impressionable young people. They, unlike me, don’t know that you’re full of it.