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comment by Outlander
Outlander  ·  1941 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: What I Talk About When I Talk About Writing

Whenever I write, I begin by writing the way that I would speak to a friend, and it always ends up being a mess of subtleties and phrasing that I have to edit out so that it can be understood by strangers on the internet. I never get to correctly express the meaning of the story in then concise way that I would like to. My spoken stories involve a lot of dialogue and backtracking that work while I am speaking, but I can't rely on inflection in my writing the way that I do while I speak. Maybe it's just a matter of working on my structure or word choice, but it's difficult for me to find the text that does my thoughts justice. I realize this is a common problem for any kind of writer, but I am so often dissatisfied with what I write that it gets deleted.

My issues as a writer often make me question how much of anything that I read that I am missing. Do y'all feel that you understand a writer's message most of the time, or does most of what everyone writes fall on deaf ears?

kleinbl00  ·  1940 days ago  ·  link  ·  

So I'm going to piggyback off of _refugee_'s post because this is opportune, and because I kind of disagree with it.

The problem is there are two kinds of writing. No, that's not true. There's a spectrum of writing. One end of it is for hostile audiences, the other end of it is for friendly audiences. And they aren't the audiences you think.

Yeah, we all "write every day." A lot of that is texts.




Two people who know each other and who actually give a shit what each other says can communicate like this. It's a bare minimum. There's no poetry in it, it gets the job done. A sign that says "STOP" is a lot more efficient than a sign that says "You should wait here and look both ways so that small children are not crushed under your tires." But the former ain't prose.

There's writing where the audience needs your information. They want your information. They'll take it in whatever form they can get it, but the fastest, most efficient method is preferred. They may mock your grammar, they may mock your punctuation, but at the end of the day, they just need the information. This is a friendly audience and you can do no wrong.

Then there's writing where the audience does not need your information. In order for it to reach them it has to enchant its way in, exist on its own merits, communicate for communication's sake. This is prose, this is fiction, this is poetry, this is everything that anyone ever chooses to read for no reason other than they want to read.

And people want to read. Most people don't understand that.

I'm often in a position to mix television shows in which the contestants have been cut off from the world. They have no contact with news media, television, books, anything. Know what they do a lot of?

They read food labels. they read food labels to each other.

I don't think they know why. I don't think they realize that they're sitting there flirting with a girl and reciting the ingredients of a bottle of salad dressing to her. But they do. And that's because in the absence of any other writing, they'll teach each other to pronounce "riboflavin."

The trick, then, is to know if your audience is hostile or friendly to your writing. Like I said, it's a spectrum - and you have to know intuitively where they lie. Writing is, after all, communication, and the goal is to transfer an idea from me to you. How much florid prose does it need? How much vernacular? How much slang? How much artistry?

You're right. Backtracking only works while speaking. Li'l secret: speaking works better if you don't.

Know who you're talking to, know what they want, and give it to them. The rest of it is details.

Outlander  ·  1940 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Why would you consider an audience that needs your information as friendly? I would consider this kind of audience that is going to break down everything you present them as more hostile than those who are reading for pleasure. The people who read for pleasure might be a little disappointed by your writing, but they can stop at anytime with no harm done.

[Large Edit for the nonsensical post here from last night]

kleinbl00  ·  1940 days ago  ·  link  ·  

    I will give my audience details, but in most cases, I feel that they don't want it. That may be a confidence issue.

That's all kinds of issues.

ISSUE 1: Your audience reads a lot from you. If you come at it from a perspective of them not wanting it, they won't want it. Horses can smell fear.

ISSUE 2: You're actively attempting to shove it down their throats. You decide they don't want the detail, and you ramrod it anyway.

ISSUE 3: Your job is to make them want it. That's the "words sell themselves" aspect.

    There are stories that need a set-up and there are stories that need a one-liner. I can give either one for any story I want to tell.

Sure. But which one does the audience want? If you don't know that going in you're in for a rough time.

    I've been told that I can command any conversation I want to. The people that tell me this are biased.

If it were true you wouldn't need to be told. Not only would you know, you'd get in the habit of deliberately not doing that because you would find it was a very lonely place.

    I have information to convey; I have themes that I would love for people to understand and relate to.

Remember that bit about "feeling they don't want it?" You need to push through that. And then you need to understand when it's not working and why.

    I would like to be listened to for the quality of my information rather than the timing and rarity of my speaking, but that's not the case.

"Singing is a trick to get people to listen to music for longer than they would ordinarily."

- David Byrne

    I love the people that love me, but they are too nice to me.

They're also not your audience. They never have been. The response of anyone who has ever changed your diaper or made you chicken soup is wholly and completely irrelevant to your art. Quit worrying about whether or not your family doesn't provide you honest feedback - they can't. They never will.

    The only thing that I can say to you is that you often present arguments and I present anecdotes.

DUDE. I am the king of the self-referential non-sequitur. I mean, look at this shit.

    I know that you tell stories (more often than I do, at least online), but stories and anecdotes are all I can supply in an interesting manner.

Then try...harder.

    I don't have very strong opinions on factual matters, and I am not well versed on subjects other than geotechnical engineering.

I can't say this any clearer: you don't need a strong opinion, you need an interesting opinion. Know what I know fuckall about? Chemistry. Know what subject I had the hardest time with in college? Chemistry. Know what Derek Lowe mostly writes about? Chemistry. Know who is just about my favorite writer on the Internet?

Derek Lowe.

Derek Lowe could write about cell mitosis and I'd be hanging on the edge of my seat. This is a guy who takes something I'm not keenly interested in and makes me keenly interested in it. In fact, here he is making phenotypic screening (!?) interesting. Is it as interesting as "things that blow up?" No, because explosions liven up any conversation (friend of mine coined a law that we named after him: "any movie can be improved by adding lesbians and an exploding helicopter"). But damn. He sure gets close.

    This is all drunk rambling (and that's a cop out), but I can't ever absolutely know my audience.

Correct. But you can make an assessment and push hard in that direction. You'll turn some of them off, but most of them will appreciate it more than whatever cautious approach you feel is warranted.

    I would like to, but most of the time, they don't want my information, they don't care about my experiences or opinion, and they wouldn't like to.

They want to be informed (friendly audience). They want to be entertained (hostile audience). Mostly they want to be informed and entertained (every audience). If you come at it from a standpoint that they don't want any of this from you, your prediction will morph, Cassandra-like, into truth.

    The want their own opinion affirmed and so they want to be a friendly audience.

Sure. But they often want their opinion affirmed via trial-by-fire. That's why satire exists.

There's more to it than this, and also less. But setting off from a standpoint of I'm not good enough and they don't want to hear from me is the quickest shortcut to self-fulfilling prophecy I know of.

Outlander  ·  1940 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Sorry, it looks like I edited my last comment while you were writing this one, but I think you captured and quoted most of it anyways. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me this morning, so I took it off. Thanks for the response though, you dug at parts that I find true about that post in any state I'm in.

When I said that I command conversations, I don't think that I put that in the right way. I don't speak as often as a lot of people, but I've been told that when I do, my words have a bit more gravity than I intended. A large part of the way that I communicate verbally is the way that I present myself, and not necessarily the way that I present my ideas. This doesn't lend itself well to writing, and it is something that I need to work on.

I understand the difference you're making between friendly and hostile now, I'm just not sure that those are the terms that I would use for the audiences you are describing. It doesn't matter what we call them, that's just where the confusion came from.

And you make a great point about "interesting" rather than "strong" opinions when presenting an argument. It's just that "interesting" is a strange combination of substance and presentation that can be difficult for anyone to concoct over text to strangers. You're right though, and I think I'm going to spend more time trying to write anything rather than bouncing around just reading and wishing I could write as well as I would like.

Also, I would really like to know your lesbian/copter-splosion friend's nick-name if you don't mind sharing it.

galen  ·  1940 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Generally I feel like it's not too difficult to grasp a writer's message; it's more that the subtleties thereof (or perhaps references within) are lost in written communication.

And FWIW, I tend to write the way that I'd speak to my dad - we don't really hang out that much, so it isn't like there are phrases I'd use that aren't at least fairly universal, but it maintains a sort of familiarity in tone that I myself find enjoyable and effective in others' writing. The only exception online is I tend to use a lot of acronyms (like FWIW) just for ease of typing.