Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mixed Media

Pres du lac by Jean-Claude Gaugy, 2000.
Mixed media on hand-carved wood.

While linear expressionism is not my first choice in art, I think this is a very fine piece.
Further, it is carved in wood - and not in stone.

Am still astonished by rigidities of language and expression demanded by some writerly critics.
Objections to vocabulary - spume.
Ignorance of multiple meanings - ichor.
Demands that a subject conform to a preconceived and self-limited template - annals, knife.

I have no problems with intimations of seventh rate, or that imagery may be unclear, inappropriate or purple.
Those opinions may be fair, true, or just a matter of taste, but certainly something to carefully consider.
But begod, I always wince when I see a writer openly admit he doesn't know what relatively non-arcane words mean.
And can't be bothered to look them up.
And the suggestion that it is exclusively the author's error when a see-spot-run complacency is disturbed by the use of a "new" noun.
Or the implication of faux erudition.

Writers should covet and pursue words.
Wallow in their rich variety of inflection and meaning.
Words are our tools, our matrix. Our lust.

This rant brought to you as the result of comments on Evil Editor's site.


spyscribbler said...

Which comments? Where? LOL.

Author's error to use a word a reader doesn't know? Wow. I'll admit to not knowing what many words mean, but I'll look them up. Sheesh, I blame myself, not the author. I know my shortcomings and failings well. :-)

Bernita said...

Evil Ed as I indicated.
Scroll down a post or two to From the Minor Annals V.

Yep, Spy, I fall on new words like a wolf on the fold.

writtenwyrdd said...

I get told the same thing about my use of vocabulary. I am always told by the EE gang that I take to long to get anywhere. I get criticised for bizarre things.

But none struck me as so off base as your being so smugly informed that you can't use metaphore in an annal. LOL I about died laughing at that one.

I love big words. I love a poetic style of writing. Have you ever read Storm Constantine or Gene Wolfe? Like their stuff. Yummy.

Ignore those who don't find your voice to their taste. Let them bay at the moon. You can become the moon!

Bernita said...

Bizzare for sure.
That determination to apply a strict form and a rigid formula.
Disregard all the lucious imagery in the Bible, for example.

It is the mind-set that exasperates me, Written.
I don't know this (common) word. Therefore your use is excessive and pretentious.
I think of all knives as straight. Therefore an image based on a curved knife confuses me.

I understand and do not object to differences in taste, but don't spout absolutes at me.

Ric said...

One of the things I love about Bernita's blog is when she makes me work for it. Looking up a new word, an old word, trying to figure out why she chose a specific word to create a special image. That's what writers do and she's one of the best.

Which combination will convey the scene easily and clearly?

It is extremely rare to find a writer who can pull this off. And she does it seamlessly.

It is clearly within your rights to rant about lazy readers, nitpickers, or, worse, "I don't read this stuff, but...."

Everyone has an opinion - the ones you should worry about are those of us waiting to buy your books.

writtenwyrdd said...

Absolutes? In writing? hardy har har, that's a funny one, isn't it? More of an oxymoron, really.

And for a writer to not want to understand a word? That I do not get.

One reason I like hanging out on your blog is you manage to use words I don't know on a regular basis. And I don't have that happen all that often.

Bernita said...

Ric, you do me too much honour. Truly.

And I don't mean to sound like one of those who blame the reader for "not getting it."
But no writer has the right to tell me that words have only one meaning and all other uses are verboten.

My vocabulary is good - but not exceptional, Written.
And sometimes I lapse into sheer bastardization, just for the hell of it.
Now, if I could only learn to spell consistently...

I am very glad you come, no matter what reason.

Dave said...

Next to this computer (the one I use to write my stories and anything else) sits a dictionary and a thesaurus. I thought those comments silly, to tell the truth. That Opening brought out quite a few strange comments.

There is a point where a reader and critic has to stop and ask if there is anything worth saying. It is possible to say that the opening should stand as written and that is all the critique that can be managed.

And the other thing is that the author can simply choose to ignore a comment if it hurts the story.

Bernita said...

Dave, thank you.

Apparently some writers don't use dictionaries.

Saying similes are over-done is fine and fair.
Maybe so, maybe just taste, but something to look at.
Saying that similes have no place in a chronicle is idiotic.

writtenwyrdd said...

Anyone who thinks a word in English has one meaning and one meaning only doesn't understand the language and its habits. Nothing in English is stable. We are just about the only language that will take a noun and make a verb of it, or any other part of speech, for that matter.

I'm thinking back about twenty years to the last class I had on the development of English, so I might be misremembering; but I seem to recall that because English doesn't indulge in too many cases and that the placement of the various parts of speech are fairly stable, English is more flexible in the area of words changing function. (How's that for a long sentence?)

raine said...

Interesting comments over there...

I'm puzzled by the idea of words being specific to a particular reader's understanding of that word. In my own reading, if I come across a usage I don't understand, I'll do a bit of research, for my OWN benefit.
Am also a bit confused by the hard lines drawn between poetry and prose--but that may be me.

kmfrontain said...

One only has to read Dickens to realize our language devolved to the use of "easy" words in a few centuries. There are a number of reasons for this, including the relative cheapness of print press publishing as compared to print press publishing in Dickens' time. It also has to do with more people reading, and publishers catering to the common reading level to make a quick buck.

I believe it is a mistake to weed the less used words from a written work. The only way to push readers toward an expanding vocabulary is to use more vocabulary. When I edit, I do this balancing act between making certain the reader will "get it", and throwing out something so arcane it just won't work at all, given the conditions that are extant right now with average readers. But damn, I hated it when members of crit groups pegged a word that was legit as "not a good idea" just because they didn't feel like looking it up. And how many times have I seen a more common word get inserted in a critique when the original word used was already very common, just required maybe a grade higher of education. As someone who worked in the field of education, I say use the better, less used words.

Bernita said...

Also makes me think they never use a friggin' dictionary, Written.
Inflexibility will kill a language.
I tend to think it kills a writer too.

Confused me too, Raine.
Was taken aback by the "poetic' imprecations.
The imagery-has-no-place-in prose-school?
Or simply badly handled imagery?
Certainly I failed to communicate to some in this instance.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Karen. Naturally I agree.
The interesting thing was that words were not rejected on the basis of the "average reader" but on the fact that "writers" were unfamiliar with them.

The thing that amused me was that the two words particularly targeted I had learned by the time I was 12. In a one room school. With a limited library.
On the other hand, one critic accused me of mis-using cliche, but for the wrong reasons.

December Quinn said...

At least half the time I think comments given on sites like EE or Miss S are useless (except for those given by the admins themselves, of course). People take the opportunity to crit as a chance to nitpick and force their own styles on other people.

As I said, I thought it was a stunning little piece. I wrote a continuation for it (something about the Pagan Butcher Shop and Meat Processing Plant, if I recall), but even as I wrote it thought, "This one is so good; I can't wait for it to go up so I can say so."

December Quinn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
December Quinn said...

Oh, and I agree. As a writer I'm ashamed to admit when there's a word I don't recognize (although I certainly know ichor!). I don't get mad at other writers for knowing them, I get mad at myself for being ingorant.

Bernita said...

Thank you.
Wish EE had chosen it, December, that sounds like a hoot!
Some critics do seem to operate from the premise that "if it's here, there is much wrong with it."
A perception imperative, as it were.
Others are very helpful.

Blogger stuttered - so I removed the dublicate.
Yup. I call myself dummy and look it up.

anna said...

I too have a dictionary always within reach but to tell the truth it really galls me when a writer uses a fancy schmantzy word when a perfectly fine ordinary word will do the trick. It stops the flow of my reading and dammit I hate to feel dumb. heee!! of course there are exceptions - there always are
Guess it depends on your reading audience.

Loved the rant btw.. you can always make me smile

Bernita said...

I go with the flow of a piece - it's fairly easy to tell if a word fits in context or has been inserted for(dubious) effect.
I suppose some of my words could be considered "fancy schmantzy."
Sorry about that, Anna. I like words. I like synonyms. I like to use them.

Anonymous said...

I checked the comments on EE's site and looked through the ones here. You are more adventerious than I am. Perhaps I should say, I don't have your composure. I know most folks look at it as a learning experience, but I see it as open season for those that would sling arrows. Good on you, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Steve.

First, I owed EE.

Second, I owed the contributors a shot, as I have commented on various pieces.

Third, I think I was clumsy or too condensed with some of the imagery.

Four,even if a critic is dead wrong in regards to the reasons given, it behooves a writer to take a second and close look at the offending passage.
The critic may be right - but for the wrong reasons.
Or the critic may have anticipated a tendency and serve as an early warning system.

Fifth,it helps one define the standard objections a particular style may evoke and decide whether to accept or dismiss them. Perspective.

Sixth, it helps one determine the thickness of one's skin.

And seventh, after assessing the quality and type of criticism, such exposure may affirm confidence in one's voice and approach.

Gabriele C. said...

Lol, I've been there several times. You remember that crit in the comments on the Crabby Cows blog about me using words the critter didn't know? I think the revelation that English is not my native language came as a shock to her.

Well, I learned my English by reading books with complicated words. :)

And annals can't use metaphors? That one really made me shake my head. Some Mediaeval scribes had a lot of fun playing.

Bernita said...

I certainly do remember, Gabriele.
In fact I was thinking of that yesterday.
No casual reader would ever realize English is not your first language, you are so fluent.
It rarely shows - and even then could be taken as a typo ( which it likely is more often than not.)

And quite apart from any use in formal chronologies, the fact that the piece is represented as a first person and minor account should preclude the objection.

Cynthia Bronco said...

Drat, my dictionary is abridged and doesn't have ichor. I'll have to look it up on the internet.
My Dad used to call us things and when we asked what they meant, he'd say "Look it up in the dictionary." At an early age, I knew the definitions of shrew and buffoon. The dictionary has always been my friend.

bunnygirl said...

Well, things became more clear once we understood what you were trying to accomplish with the piece in question. There's an assumption that if one is submitting a snippet to EE, that it's the opening of a novel or short story intended for the mass market.

By that standard, yes there are some frustrating conventions one has to follow. When I have a piece of fiction I think I might want to market, I save it in two forms-- my vision for it, and the "rules" version. The "rules" are there to make sure books sell to a public that thinks Dan Brown, Michael Crichton and Danielle Steele are good writers. Use too many "unusual" words or a "difficult" style, and the book doesn't make money. That's what the biz is all about.

I'd rather read something that stretches my mind, which is why I almost never read current fiction. And I've never submitted to EE because I don't trust most of the critics there. I go to EE to be amused. There are better places to go for a critique.

You are obviously a writer's writer. There's few enough of you around that you can't really expect people to pick up on that in a blog like EE, which is mostly for fun.

I wouldn't worry about it.

Bernita said...

Interesting method of teaching vocabulary, Cynthia!

I don't worry about it, Bunny.
Knew exactly what I was getting into at EE's.
Still, some of the assumptions - from writers - surprised me.

anna said...

Oh gosh bernita, finally got to EEs site and read the comments on Minor annals. I should have kept my little fingers quiet and my opinions also until I knew what I was talking about. EEK! If nothing else brave to post something where it can be picked to pieces. I Love the voice in your piece - it's original and intriguing, I definitely would read more. ichor - for pete sake even if the reader didn't know the meaning it certainly didn't stop the flow so one had to consult the big red book. :::applause to you:::

Bernita said...

Thank you, Anna.
Appreciate those comments.