Is it people in general, critics, or what who are getting stupider?
I work in a call centre, I may have a skewed perspective on Human intelligence (that or it was an engineering genius who figured out to bang the rocks together). I mean, I talk to people every day who can’t figure out what to so if their cable doesn’t work, because gods forfend they should open a book, own a book, watch a movie, get out of the mother fucking house, etc.
It’s not just that though. It’s a lot of other things. Forgetting the rest of Humanity for a moment and focusing just on the strange breeds known as readers, writers, and critics (though there are very strong arguments than critics are actually a throwback or unevolved species distinct and separate from Human) I just wanted to think about the crap that goes on in that little niche of the world.
What could I mean? Don’t we know more about literary technique and structure than ever before so that we can avoid the mistakes of Tolkien and Doc Smith?
Yeah, that’s what I mean.
First off, let’s take a fairly contemporary writer: Dennis L McKiernan. Writes some excellent books. Really, check him out. Thing is, a lot of people criticise him for his complex narratives, elabourate sentences, and florid descriptions. Frankly, I applaud the man. The gist of the criticisms, at least the ones that try to sound like the one criticising him has more than two and a half damaged brain cells, seems to be this idea that long or complex sentences are hard to understand. Are they? Really? I though poorly spelt, poorly punctuated sentences were hard to understand. Length is irrelevant. Or DO Human beings now have no more short term memory than a severely concussed fruit fly?
Back to the criticisms of older authors. How about this PC bullshit where people want to abridge and censor Mark Twain?! Talk about off the deep end stupid. The stuff they want to censor? Dialogue that is perfectly accurate for time and place of the setting of the story! Really folks, if you’re that easily offended you have some serious issues and should probably get therapy. Or have your meds adjusted.
Doc Smith and his embarrassingly outmoded dialogue and characterisation. Really?! is it actually that horrible for chivalrous behaviour to be assumed to exist in the far future? I could go on about the people who criticise the tech, but anyone so stupid as to not realise that the transistor and microchip hadn’t been invented when he started writing just needs to have the label removed from their hair dryer telling them not to use it in the shower so that they can exit the gene pool. The dialogue is perfectly believable if one assumes that, in the far flung future, there is such a creature as the Gentleman. A noble creature with the deepest and most abiding respect for women, children, and the elderly. An altruistic soul who is thoughtful, intelligent, caring, gentle, generous, and capable. If you think the Human race can spread through the galaxy without some of those around you might want to contact the Guinness records people and see if they can put you in under “world’s biggest optimist”. Seriously, a gentleman doesn’t have to be Sir Galahad. From certain points of view Lazarus fucking Long qualifies (but barely, only on technicality, and with a small bribe to a couple of judges)!
Here’s a fun one: identifying with the characters. Okay, now this is a touchy subject. It’s good to have characters the reader can identify with in terms of the characters’ thoughts, motivations, etc. being made clear enough that the reader can understand why the character might say or do some things. In short, the shy bookish, geeky teen girl probably isn’t going to drag her friends out clubbing. Be drug to a club by friends? Sure. Decide to try to break out of her shell by wearing something so outrageous, compared to her normal wardrobe, she refuses the whole night to look toward a mirror? Sure. The thing is, you don’t have to be a shy and awkward teen girl to understand her, if she’s well written. It helps, but if the author did its job right then then the outgoing septuagenarian man can identify with her too. Instead, though, people feel that they must have characters just like themselves to understand them. Is this a lack of imagination? Is the reader so self centered that he cannot understand another being without being in the same circumstances? However do these people manage to watch so-called “reality TV” if that’s the case?
Do I have a point? I think so. I’m sick of critics, authors, and readers dumbing shit down or decrying those who don’t. A woman can write a good male character; ever heard of Jo Rowling? A man can write wonderful female characters; Terry Pratchett anyone? Plenty of wonderful writers can write beautifully thought out alien creatures whose motivations, thoughts, and so on simply are not Human; exhibit A would be Ed Greenwood, and Exhibit B, Elaine Cunningham. Narrative needn’t be simple, loaded with concrete imagery, and all of that other crap. Honestly, I’m no fan of Lord of The Rings, The Hobbit yes, but not LotR, but I can say it is well written and that Professor Tolkien did a fantastic job in the council of Elrond, and that I had no trouble following Gandalf’s nearly page long paragraph monologue.
Come on, folks, the adjective is our friend! The adjectival phrase more so! Embrace the semicolon, the comma, the ellipse, the dash, and hyphen. Let’s coin new words, form compound words, lets make grammatically correct sentences that run two or three lines! It’s okay, really. No one is going to kill you for it. It won’t hurt you. It might even help. You might, by not shackling yourself by arbitrary nonsense levied upon us by the ignorant and illiterate who won’t be reading your stuff in the first place (believe me, even if they pick up and even open the book and stare at the words they won’t be reading it. That requires brains enough to comprehend), be able to tell your story better!
Just a thought, really. Just a suggestion that, if we don’t write for the lowest common denominator or even the lowest one common or not, then perhaps the craft of writing will be enhanced by it. That more vibrant and lasting stories might come of it. And that, with some luck (and a glance toward those popular tales like Jo Rowling’s which don’t strictly follow “The Rules” for a proof), it might go a little way toward bringing that common denominator up a few marks.