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Old February 24th, 2014 #1
Alex Linder
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On Writing

Give the Reader the Best Contexting You Can Provide

By Alex Linder [index]

February 24, 2014

In this thread in this new column I am going to give examples of excellence in writing, along with explanations.

We'll begin with this, from the opening page of Clinton Rossiter's The First American Revolution (1953), p.3:

Quote:
In the year 1765 there lived along the American seaboard 1,450,000 white and 400,000 Negro subjects of King George III of England. The area of settlement stretched from the Penobscot to the Altamaha and extended inland, by no means solidly, to the Appalachian barrier. Within this area flourished thirteen separate political communities, subject immediately or ultimately to the authority of the Crown, but enjoying in fact large powers of self-government. Life was predominantly rural, the economy agrarian, religion Protestant, descent English, and politics the concern of men of property.
Boom! In a nutshell. If you don't understand why this is excellent...let me explain, long-windedly. Writers must know everything. Not possible. The more a writer knows, the better - for the reader. Men, lands, situations, psychologies, it all plays in. To what? What he can bring to bear on the page. What he can drawn from in trying to explain something to the reader.

But even if the writer doesn't know everything, even if he knows very little, at least he knows, or can reasonably speculate, on what he doesn't know. At least...and here's the pitch...he can give the true and accurate context. That is what Rossiter does excellently above. In one short paragraph, you have the American scene just prior to the political revolution. You have in a nutshell what you're dealing with. That is what a writer is supposed to do, but so often these days fails to do.

Giving the reader context ought to be pretty close job #1, even for newspaper reporters. Now, they are of course concerned with the five Ws - who, what, when, where, how - but the minute that is done, what else have these folk to do other than place them in context?

Say we're reporting on a fire in the mountains ringing L.A. What does context mean here? It means we research and talk to experts to establish:

- what is a typical fire season/fire in this area/in the West in general
- where/why this fire might be unusual or usual

Say we're doing a story on crime in Chicago. What does context mean here?

It means, locating this specific spate of, say, weekend shootings within a greater city (Chicago), state (Illinois) and national context.

- there are X murders per year. Here's a graph showing average annual murders in Chicago dating back to 1900 or 1950. Show the race of the perpetrators. Show the race of the victims. Show the interracial stats (if the media weren't controlled to exclude these because they speak against forced race-mixing the controlled media universally promote).

The writer's job in this kind of fact-based, analytical reporting-analysis is to give the reader everything he needs to gain a true picture of what's going on, so that he can understand it. The reporter's first duty may be to get the facts right, so that his every assertion may be relied on; but his second duty is to fit the facts into a meaningful and non-distortive context. What the controlled media ordinarily do is present a selection of the facts, and very little context, and a context that, whenever the story bridges on matters political, is distorted in line with an undeniable and absolutely predictable agenda.

It cannot be overemphasized, when you are the writer, you are the man. You are like a man taking a girl on a date. You are responsible for planning it, for seeing that she is well situated and enjoys herself. That's not a perfect analogy, but it's close enough. You don't make the reader-girl wonder wtf is going on, or if this guy knows what he's doing, you giver her everything she needs to know to make sense of the situation and draw her own judgments.

Most problems with writings are simply the same problems we see in people off the page: they live in their own little heads. I'm not even talking about selfishness, though it can be that, I'm talking about simply unawareness, proceeding from a number of sources, of what the other guy needs to understand in order to cooperate with one. On the page, this ego-obliviousness, or trapped-in-selfness, results in people writing things that aren't clear to outsiders. These writers aren't able to grasp that other people aren't in their head and won't know what they are talking about. An effective writer will instinctively understand where his reader is, educationwise and mentally, and with what sort of material he needs to prepare him so that he can easily grasp the story. He won't just plop down a bunch of context-free impressions and expect the reader to make a satisfying meal out of the mess.

Writing is not just teaching, educating, explaining, it's also guiding. Show respect for the reader always by giving him the context he needs to evaluate the precise information you're disseminating or the report you're making.

When we read the Rossiter start above, we say to ourselves, as reader, "Ahh...now I can settle in...I've got the big picture firmly in head: a couple million people, 3/4 white, mostly English, rural, etc., slowly trickling through to the west." That is firm social-geographical basis for the political story about to unfold.

Always give the reader the context he needs to make sense of the story. Disconnected bits of factual flotsam + ideological assumptions never fully articulation let alone examined is a bread made of sawdust: not nutritious at all.

Context exercises:

Quote:
- describe the earth to someone trying to understand it

- there has been a serious decline in honeybee populations in North America. If you were tasked with writing a story on this, what kind of different contextual factors would you bring out to ensure the reader had the best, fullest, understanding of the phenomenon - even if the precise cause of the decline of the populations weren't known?

- there's been a rise in murders in a city near you. The city is now majority black where in 1960 it was mostly white. Again, if you're trying to give your reader the best overall sense of what is going on, how would you go about doing that? which facts or factors would you adduce, assuming you had no motive other than diffusing enlightenment (true understanding)?
That will do for our first lesson. As with our language series, this will become a regular column.

You're the writer? You're the man. Lead. Dominate. Entertain. Educate. Wow. Make effective and enjoyable and educational communication happen - it's all in your hands. Bring the reader to intellectual orgasm, or if you can't do that, at least make what you're saying so brilliantly sunny the reader can see exactly where you're wrong, or what you're missing, even if you can't yourself. For that's the final fact: none of us can see everything. But at the very least, we can know what we need to get the job done, and supply as much of it as we can, given our limited understandings.

Alway have respect for the reader, and this means, in part, giving the reader the means to make sense of the specifics, which in many or even most cases will be new or foreign to him.

The only thing left to say is that even if you're not a writer, the lesson above applies to everyone, because we all must communicate continually with the outside world. If you find yourself frequently being misunderstood, it is very often because of your own assumptions. You are in your head, assuming other people know what you are talking about or referring to when in fact they don't. Be the unusual man: think about things from the other guy's perspective: what does he need from you? This will pull you out of yourself (which has the side effect, oddly enough, of making you happier) and make you far more effective as a communicator, as you will be more observant and become more observant through practice. Notice this, too. The #1 fear most people have is public speaking? Why? Because everyone is looking at them. They are self-conscious. Getting through this, which is merely a matter of publicly speaking a few times for most people, allows you to get to where you lose your focus on yourself (which is all self-consciousness is, even when it seems to come from the outside) and to focus on what the audience needs from you, and how to put it in the best form. You can see what I mean here: all these things show angles on the same common problem. Getting stuff out of our heads and putting it under the table under bright light so that we and the other guy can clearly see what we are talking about, and have the same basic picture in our heads. That is successfully contexted communication. You will hear that writing is self-expression, but that is quite wrong. Of course it is, inevitably, as we are all different, but writing is not onanism; there are other people involved, and their needs should come ahead of the writer's, for he is writing for them. He may write in the style he prefers, so that he will reach those who are more naturally of his mental bent, but no matter which particular style he follows or naturally expresses, the need to ask the basic questions and prepare the basic setting in which the communication plays out are always there, waiting to be met, by successful writers, or ignored, by defective expressivists, to be redundant. The world doesn't need more ee cummings; one is rather enough. Still another angle on or example of the same basic problem is the grammatical failure known as unclear antecedent. That's a pronoun such as it or they where no noun has been used. Now often enough the reader may get the gist, but often enough he can't. Either way it's a mistake. "Is what's clear in my head clear to the reader?" Ask yourself this repeatedly. Read what you've written. Can an average reader make sense of it? If not, then you must clarify. Put yourself in the innocent reader's chair, and what you need to know will guide you to both the things you need to say and the best way to say them.

Set your reader up for success by constructing for him the context he needs to understand (and then evaluate) the information you provide. That is one of your principal duties as a writer.

Last edited by Alex Linder; February 24th, 2014 at 05:06 AM.
 
Old February 24th, 2014 #2
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Readers can answer the exercise examples I pose in the above column, and I will evaluate your answers.
 
Old February 24th, 2014 #3
N.B. Forrest
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I'll play:

In the Milky Way galaxy there is a star called the Sun. The Sun is orbited by 8 planets (well, maybe 13, if one chooses to include dwarf planets). The third planet from the Sun is called Earth. It is situated in a special area astronomers call a star's "Goldilocks Zone": not too hot, or too cold; just the right distance to be capable of sustaining life.

And Earth does sustain life, in myriad forms; on land, in the oceans and in the air - including self-aware, intelligent life. Earth is, in fact, the only planet in the universe proven to do so.
.......

In recent years, there has been a precipitous fall in the number of honeybees. This is causing great concern among beekeepers, farmers & wildlife biologists, and the likely sharp rise in the cost of honey is the least of their worries. That's because honeybees are the most important pollinators of many crops: if the bees were to die out completely, many items in the wide variety of foods we currently enjoy would no longer be available.
......

There are an alarming number of murders in (insert nigged shithole of choice). It makes many uncomfortable, even angry to see it acknowledged publicly, but it is an indisputable fact that most of these killings are committed by black males.

What is disputable is why this small segment of the population perpetrates so much deadly violence. Those on the right focus on the breakdown of traditional morality and the nuclear family; those on the left say it's because of poverty, and the racist legacy of slavery; still others say - far more controversially - that inherent racial differences are to blame.

So, what's the answer? Is it this, or that? Or is the reason to be discovered in a combination of answers?

That's what this piece is intended explore in depth, examining as many factors involved as possible: city demographics & murder figures, past & present; comparisons of income & murder/violent crime rates between the races today; etc.
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Old February 24th, 2014 #4
Alex Linder
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Quote:
Originally Posted by N.B. Forrest View Post
I'll play:

In the Milky Way galaxy there is a star called the Sun. The Sun is orbited by 8 planets (well, maybe 13, if one chooses to include dwarf planets). The third planet from the Sun is called Earth. It is situated in a special area astronomers call a star's "Goldilocks Zone": not too hot, or too cold; just the right distance to be capable of sustaining life.

And Earth does sustain life, in myriad forms; on land, in the oceans and in the air - including self-aware, intelligent life. Earth is, in fact, the only planet in the universe proven to do so.


That's good. Only thing I would add is our galaxy is just one of billions in a gigantic universe - the complete size of which is so immense it can't even be told (so far as I know) - that is the ultimate context. ... I do wonder about that 'the only place that life can be sustained' - to me, hearing that, I immediately suspect it is 1) untrue, 2) ultimately traces back to religious crankery. Why must all life follow the carbon-based forms we see on earth? Since we only know an infinitessimally small percentage of what's out there, I don't see a valid basis for conclusion. I guess I would say for the reasons you cited earth is the only planet IN THIS GALAXY or this SOLAR SYSTEM that can sustain life as we know it. Even that to my ear is nearly circular. I mean, we find tiny organisms in geothermal pools, or living under ice packs up north, so perhaps there are creatures alive on other planets which we just don't know about yet.

.......

In recent years, there has been a precipitous fall in the number of honeybees. This is causing great concern among beekeepers, farmers & wildlife biologists, and the likely sharp rise in the cost of honey is the least of their worries. That's because honeybees are the most important pollinators of many crops: if the bees were to die out completely, many items in the wide variety of foods we currently enjoy would no longer be available.

That's good. You connected the decline in bees to potential problems in human food supplies, which is the crucial thing. I would say, also room for some speculation on the misuse of the decline in bees to push the usual leftist agenda, but I haven't actually seen so much of that; it was much commoner with the deformed frogs who were the victims of smog and skyscrapers and people eating at MacDonalds inside Walmarts but yeah actually was a...parasite. An all-natural, God-created, home-grown, hand-spanked, corn-fed, pure-D, organic parasite. On the bee thing, I would try very hard to get the numbers, because they really tell the tale. In most things, numbers are superior to qualitative assessments. If I'm an experienced reader, I know the people writing the news tend to hype shiit. Ok, fewer bees. I can dig that. Haven't seen as many around, that checks. But when you say precipitous decline, what do you mean? I could see controlled media meaning anything from 10% reduction to 90% devastation. A number would really help. Couple that with some stats related to beekeeping. I don't even know how that would be calculated. Total number of bees, hives, beekeepers, price to have beekeepers visit your orchards...the writer's job would be to dig up the stats that best encapsulate the changing bee scenario.

......

There are an alarming number of murders in (insert nigged shithole of choice). It makes many uncomfortable, even angry to see it acknowledged publicly, but it is an indisputable fact that most of these killings are committed by black males.

What is disputable is why this small segment of the population perpetrates so much deadly violence. Those on the right focus on the breakdown of traditional morality and the nuclear family; those on the left say it's because of poverty, and the racist legacy of slavery; still others say - far more controversially - that inherent racial differences are to blame.

So, what's the answer? Is it this, or that? Or is the reason to be discovered in a combination of answers?

That's what this piece is intended explore in depth, examining as many factors involved as possible: city demographics & murder figures, past & present; comparisons of income & murder/violent crime rates between the races today; etc.
[/QUOTE]

That works. But we want the best perspective. The way I think we could BEST do this is with almost tabloidy wow-look-at-this: all this crime, i mean literally like almost ALL this crime, is coming out of one tiny sliver of the community. They're all black, and they're all male, and they're all young. They are the ones making your neighborhood unlivable. Explain to the reader that crime has always been a mans' thing, not a woman's (altho that has changed a little, as women have been pushed to become manlike in recent decades). But that there are radical disparities between crime rates among whites and blacks. And these rates are never written about honestly. Blacks are always portrayed as victims of crimes, either by other blacks or by rough police, but never presented as the main criminals. The interracial crime difference whereby whites are DOZENS of times likelier to be attacked than blacks by whites is literally never mentioned in mass media.

This is the most obviously political of the three, there are many ways to go, but if I were truly trying to get someone to understand:

- all this crime comes out of ONE tiny sector
- the media cover it up. in fact, they go farther. they don't just not-tell, they reality-reverse. they play blacks as the victims when they are actually the perpetrators. use zimmerman-martin as example, as microcosm.
- the media do this because their owners are jews, a tribe that sees itself as at war with the white host population. falsifed information is a way to enhance jewish power and open up white society for predation.

So in this way the person you're teaching comes to see where crime is coming from, why it's deliberately miscovered in the media, and who are the real forces in society doing battle. he is know equipped to read the codes in any story about crime he comes across.
 
Old February 24th, 2014 #5
N.B. Forrest
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That's good. Only thing I would add is our galaxy is just one of billions in a gigantic universe - the complete size of which is so immense it can't even be told (so far as I know) - that is the ultimate context. ... I do wonder about that 'the only place that life can be sustained' - to me, hearing that, I immediately suspect it is 1) untrue, 2) ultimately traces back to religious crankery.

Why must all life follow the carbon-based forms we see on earth? Since we only know an infinitessimally small percentage of what's out there, I don't see a valid basis for conclusion. I guess I would say for the reasons you cited earth is the only planet IN THIS GALAXY or this SOLAR SYSTEM that can sustain life as we know it. Even that to my ear is nearly circular. I mean, we find tiny organisms in geothermal pools, or living under ice packs up north, so perhaps there are creatures alive on other planets which we just don't know about yet.
Ah, but I was careful to avoid saying that: what I actually said was "Earth is, in fact, the only planet in the universe proven to do so" - and it is. That in no way meant that it's the only place it does exist, or that carbon-based lifeforms that require The Three Bears are the only game in town...

Quote:
On the bee thing, I would try very hard to get the numbers, because they really tell the tale. In most things, numbers are superior to qualitative assessments. If I'm an experienced reader, I know the people writing the news tend to hype shiit. Ok, fewer bees. I can dig that. Haven't seen as many around, that checks. But when you say precipitous decline, what do you mean? I could see controlled media meaning anything from 10% reduction to 90% devastation. A number would really help.


Sure - but since I'm not actually writing a piece about the Bee Holocaust, screw that....

Quote:
This is the most obviously political of the three, there are many ways to go, but if I were truly trying to get someone to understand:

- all this crime comes out of ONE tiny sector
- the media cover it up. in fact, they go farther. they don't just not-tell, they reality-reverse. they play blacks as the victims when they are actually the perpetrators. use zimmerman-martin as example, as microcosm.
- the media do this because their owners are jews, a tribe that sees itself as at war with the white host population. falsifed information is a way to enhance jewish power and open up white society for predation.

So in this way the person you're teaching comes to see where crime is coming from, why it's deliberately miscovered in the media, and who are the real forces in society doing battle. he is know equipped to read the codes in any story about crime he comes across.
I would of course do all of that if I were trying to inform and persuade someone to see the hairy hand of Schmucky at the root of the matter, but I thought you were just talking about good, straight reporting vs. today's judenpresse lies.
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Old February 24th, 2014 #6
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Good job, N.B. and Alex

I appreciate the opportunity to observe and learn.
 
Old February 24th, 2014 #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by N.B. Forrest View Post
Ah, but I was careful to avoid saying that: what I actually said was "Earth is, in fact, the only planet in the universe proven to do so" - and it is. That in no way meant that it's the only place it does exist, or that carbon-based lifeforms that require The Three Bears are the only game in town...
Sorry, I missed it, i'm flying here. CREDIT RESTORED, TEACHER REPRIMANDED.

Quote:
Sure - but since I'm not actually writing a piece about the Bee Holocaust, screw that....
Well it IS a real bee holocaust, cuz i think like 90% have been wiped out. Anyway, the point is not having the info but knowing which info would be most useful to provide. That takes some thinking about. The general thing I heard repeatedly in the little professional training I got at the National Journalism Center from M. Stanton Evans, who was the youngest editor of a major paper in the US, a real good guy, was that journalists are too lazy, they don't dig or do research.


Quote:
I would of course do all of that if I were trying to inform and persuade someone to see the hairy hand of Schmucky at the root of the matter, but I thought you were just talking about good, straight reporting vs. today's judenpresse lies.
true...but i think even here our knowing WN perceptions have been deformed. We are used to thinking that our side is a side when it's really just the facts, in many cases. the stuff i said is factual, not opinion. the opinion comes in when we judge whether what the controlled media are doing is bad or good.

but yes, in a long piece, you could go into the whole history of crime before and after civil rights.

my point wasnt even journalistic. i'm thinking...to myself...how do i best convey this to people.

there's a real art to telling someone the right thing in just the right way. giving them all the info they can handle, presenting it most memorably, depending on their station. writing or speaking, that is.
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #8
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The general thing I heard repeatedly in the little professional training I got at the National Journalism Center from M. Stanton Evans, who was the youngest editor of a major paper in the US, a real good guy, was that journalists are too lazy, they don't dig or do research.
99.999% of today's jewsmedia whores aren't "reporters" at all, they're mere mouthpieces: actors, which is another name for skilled liars.
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Old February 25th, 2014 #9
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Originally Posted by Jimmy Marr View Post
Good job, N.B. and Alex

I appreciate the opportunity to observe and learn.
Glad you appreciate it. I should have yielded to convention years ago and done more regular columns...just always liked doing more random, irregularly shaped items. Chunks, bits, fragments...to me, I love that geodic feeling...start 'em off with a little granitey dross and them BOOM goes the dynamite! that was the spintro...
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #10
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Originally Posted by N.B. Forrest View Post
99.999% of today's jewsmedia whores aren't "reporters" at all, they're mere mouthpieces: actors, which is another name for skilled liars.
the thing to me is most of them are so intellectually slight they dont even realize that the conventional wisdom they do nothing but recirculate is just one jew-formulated position, and it's anti-whtie and often enough just plain wrong.
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #11
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the thing to me is most of them are so intellectually slight they dont even realize that the conventional wisdom they do nothing but recirculate is just one jew-formulated position, and it's anti-whtie and often enough just plain wrong.
Yet they imagine themselves to be part of the elite, shaping the minds of the Great Reactionary Herd.....
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Old February 25th, 2014 #12
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Yet they imagine themselves to be part of the elite, shaping the minds of the Great Reactionary Herd.....
yeah they're kind of like slightly more intelligent public school teachesr, most of them.

even where they are willing and capable to tell a real story, the editors tend to get in the way.

it really was a better profession back when writers were drunks rather than graduate-degreed cultists

there was so much more freedom even as late as 1960 than there is now..

i really recommend this book, if you want to sense how america and journalism have changed, it's like a time capsule of a better place and time and people

The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1): Hunter S. Thompson, Douglas Brinkley, William J. Kennedy: 9780345377968: Amazon.com: Books The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967 (The Fear and Loathing Letters, Vol. 1): Hunter S. Thompson, Douglas Brinkley, William J. Kennedy: 9780345377968: Amazon.com: Books
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #13
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Originally Posted by Alex Linder View Post
... always liked doing more random, irregularly shaped items. Chunks, bits, fragments...to me, I love that geodic feeling...start 'em off with a little granitey dross and them BOOM goes the dynamite! that was the spintro...
The Earth, of course, is not irregularly shaped, but despite its size, it has no weight.

That's irregular as hell.

But I won't belabor it here because I know N.B. is vulnerable to feelings of weightlessness, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, and I don't want to torture him any more than is absolutely necessary.

About his weightlessness, and the weightlessness of the our entire planet, that is.

I'm not even going to mention the progressive tilting of the Earth's axis.
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #14
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The Earth, of course, is not irregularly shaped, but despite its size, it has no weight.

That's irregular as hell.

But I won't belabor it here because I know N.B. is vulnerable to feelings of weightlessness, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, and I don't want to torture him any more than is absolutely necessary.

About his weightlessness, and the weightlessness of the our entire planet, that is.

I'm not even going to mention the progressive tilting of the Earth's axis.
I think I get what you mean about not wanting to write columns which require the development of context. Better just to wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting, especially if he fears weightlessness, and then go in with a quick jab.
 
Old February 25th, 2014 #15
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I've always thought of Alex Linder as a WN Hunter Thompson. Mostly because of the similar truly impressive levels of drug and alcohol use. I kid, I kid...

His stuff, when it's good, has the same sort of feel. Entertaining, and it sounds cliché, but it rings authentic.

I only have one rule for writers: Don't bore me. I can get that anywhere.
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Old February 25th, 2014 #16
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I only have one rule for writers: Don't bore me. I can get that anywhere.
QFT and then some!*



*thanks ELF
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Old February 25th, 2014 #18
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Someone recently recommended this book to me.

I wonder if you've read it, N.B.?

Bedford Forrest: and His Critter Company: Andrew Nelson Lytle: 9781879941090: Amazon.com: Books
Negative. I've read Nathan Bedford Forrest by Jack Hurst, and I might read A Battle From the Start by Brain Steel Wills, atho I've heard it's not as good.
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Old June 9th, 2014 #19
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Alex Linder
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On Writing
Can Writing Be Taught?

By Alex Linder
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June 9, 2014

Can writing be taught? Some say yes. Some say no. They are both right. But they are not talking about the same thing.

To the extent writing is error identification, it can be taught. That part is science. Instruction availeth in spreading its standards.

To the extent writing is the artful arrangement of words, it's largely beyond instruction.

Mediocrity develops. Genius unfurls.

Some people can paint. Some can't. Some can sing. Some can't. Some can write. Some can't. It's inborn.

You can't teach anyone to create word art any more than you can teach someone to create oil art or vocal art. The ability to write is genetic.

Teaching pretty much taps out at conveying the rules of spelling and grammar and simple construction; beyond that, about all that can be done is a modest enhancement in the ability to avoid the grosser cliches. Teaching can't really bring anything truly positive, genuinely artistic out of the student, it's wholly involved with avoiding or reducing the negative. Which is still something valuable.

Next week I'll go into the reasons for widespread semiliteracy in an age of universal public education. If you've read or listened to what I've said about homeschooling, you know the answer already.

Today I want to focus on one thing: cliche aversion. Even those with little talent can improve their writing by recognizing and avoiding cliches. By cliches I mean a much broader concept than what is normally intended by that word. Wherever an adjective is ordinarily coupled with a noun - that is a cliche. Breaking up these word-blocks by replacing the adjective or the noun is a good way for non-artists to improve their writing. You don't need deep talent to think about what you're saying. Rather than, as a woman, being satisifed, even proud, of your ability to come up with the cliched expression, you can and should instead look for reasons not to use the typical expression.

Little thinking goes into most writing. Lacking artistic talent is not the same as lacking the ability to think. So think. Think about the words you are using. Don't go with the conventional expression if you can come up with something better. Something closer to the reality. This will make your writing subtly different, and it will burr the reader, gently rasp him, like a slightly too cool breeze. It will make him just a bit more alert than he usually is, and that's a good thing. He will have to pay attention. You're not just producing boilerplate like everyone else does.

This is not the same thing as innovation for innovation's sake. If a cliche is effective, then there's no reason not to use it. I like 'the bottom line.' I think it effectively conveys the sense of the thing, even if everyone uses it and it's as cliched an expression as it gets. Same thing with 'at the end of the day.' So I use them. But if I didn't like them or didn't think they worked, I wouldn't use them just because they are now conventional. Just because everyone else does something is not a reason to do it - nor is it a reason not to do it - the other mistake that has become common, particularly in non-verbal settings.

We are talking about improving writing here; if you're happy communicating with others in cliches, then that's great. They will like your verbal comfort food, and you won't have to put in any effort beyond a modestly logical structuring. But if you desire to write something a little more refined, a little more interesting, a little more artful, a little better, then thinking about the word-couplings you use, the cliches in the broadest sense, is a good place to start. Good writing, for the untalented, will begin with active thinking. The words you use are a matter of choice. You are the master. You do not have to use the same words in the same way others do.

It works like this: someone says 'cutting edge.' It's original and effective. It's easy to see in your mind. A million people copy the use. Eventually someone artistic gets bored. Changes it to 'bleeding edge.' Which is also effective and picturesque. The pioneer gets the arrows, as has been said. Eventually the masses follow this too. The alteration becomes the cliche. Now I have used pushing edge, just to give it a different twist. It is not as sharp as the original or the first alteration, but it has some value in bringing out a different aspect of the operation in question - the straining. It's perfectly grammatically valid, too. Why does the edge have to be cutting or bleeding? It doesn't. It can be whatever you want it to be - that makes sense. See, you have to think. You have to figure something out - if you can. That's where the talent comes in. But whether you have lots or little talent, you can still think about what each word and each term means. These slight little alterations won't precisely substitute for genuine talent, but they will set your writing apart in an effective and legitimate way. You are not expressing things differently for reasons of self but for reasons of sense. You want to bring out a different angle or aspect of the thing in question, and, in a meta-sense, convey to your readers that you are paying attention to the world around you and the language you choose to describe it. This serves the meta-meta purpose of enhancing literary culture, which is necessary in a world in which writing must compete with video, which was not the case in the 19th century, obviously.

So today's lesson is to consider a cliche as a much broader category than you have in the past, and consciously choose to decouple the usually coupled in order to achieve new and legitimate discriminations and depictions. I will come back to this matter of cliche in future columns, but until then, just try to notice in your reading the thousands upon thousands of undeclared or, might we say, amateur cliches of which most writing -- most professional writing, even -- is composed. Legitimate individuation, like preventing forest fires, is up to you. It's, by definition, not something someone else can do for you - beyond alerting you to the problem, as I have done here. If you wish to subcontract your sentence-formation choices to the mass-average, then you'll be like everybody else, and you'll reap the same not-very-satisfying result. But verily I say unto, thinking will make you a deeper and more interesting person, and this will reflect in your writing.//
 
Old July 10th, 2014 #20
Moose
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http://www.freep.com/article/2010110...les-of-writing

For fiction writing.

Quote:
Elmore Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday," but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated," and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs."

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories "Close Range."

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in "Sweet Thursday" was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle 1" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle 2" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

"Sweet Thursday" came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.
 
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