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Lowest Common Literary Denominator

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posted on Aug, 15 2007 @ 09:31 PM
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So I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing (which I guess I should recommend...) and read a random bit from the ‘Writing’ section. I found most of his advice interesting, a few things I might try (desk in the corner, specifically), and one thing that pissed me right the # off:

“... Nor do I believe the contention of some popular novelists ... that their success is based on literary merit -- that the public understands true greatness in ways the tight-assed, consumed-by-jealousy literary establishment cannot. This idea is ridiculous, a product of vanity and insecurity.
Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages.” (p.160)

Now, please don’t understand me: the purpose of reading is entertainment. We want stories... not brain-busters. From the above snippet, it sounds like King has the basic equation down pat.
And I’ve read every Christopher Pike novel. He told some great (sometimes far-fetched, but always interesting) stories. But you know what? ...I simply cannot read them again. I’ve tried, but I know the story, and so there’s absolutely no pull for me to re-read them. They sit on the shelf, doomed to a dull life of dust-bunny collection.
((And for the record: I’ve tried to read several of King’s novels, and they all got put back on the shelf. I love some of the stories, but I can’t get past the writing. (I’m sorry, but a novel should not be a short story that’s seriously-stretched-thin just to make page count.) ))

I reach and reach again for those books (Nabokov and Kundera, most recently) that smack of literary quality -- there’s more to the book than just the story. There’s something to learn from people who truly love the art of writing, the crafting of the words that tell the story better than the same tired cliches -- when the author challenges our imaginations with new and strange combinations of words, when the characters actually breath on their own (rather than suffer from constant author-itarian
CPR), when the story begins to speak for itself...


Yet, again and again, I’m told to write for the lowest common denominator, that it’s too much to ask the readers/audience to rush to the dictionary and learn a new word...

I’m not trying to down King and his ilk for making their “bling-bling” via the mass markets. To them I say, “Rock on!” They’ve made themselves a niche, and let them milk it to their heart’s content.

I’ve made my peace with being broke, so I’m not in the ‘writing gig’ to make money. But, it is seriously discouraging to know that the market is not geared for your writing style (or, more truthfully, the style I think I'm working to achieve), and, so the trends foretell, will never be.

So why bother.





posted on Aug, 15 2007 @ 10:01 PM
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I read King and love his stuff. I like the fact that I don't have to work hard to enjoy his stories. I can read things that have more "merit" but don't enjoy them the way I enjoy King.

I read a lot of non-fiction these days, books on evolutionary biology, atheism, sociology. When I want to read fiction to relax, I want something that will carry me along effortlessly. There are books that I think are written poorly and I stop reading after a few chapters, but there are a lot of authors -- not literati as you prefer, I guess - that tell a story the likes of which we used to listen to around the camp fire in the long-ago and far-away.

Something about King, Christopher Moore, even Colleen McCullough and others like them are not about literary challenge, they're about entertainment.

Look at it this way, at least when someone is reading King, they're reading. So few people do that for pleasure anymore; any reading is better than none, at least in my opinion.



posted on Aug, 16 2007 @ 09:17 AM
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Hey MM good to have you back.

I enjoy reading MM's posts; always well crafted and full of big words that I don't understand.

Why bother?

If you write and you're not in it for the money, then it must be for the love of it. So there we go. If your hoping to win a booker prize or whatever the prize de jour is and be looked upon as a literary god! Then I'm sorry, but you may have been born a few hundred years to late.

Most sheeple these days think Britney Spears writes real good. Personally, "If music be the food of love" someone should decapitate that Spears woman!

If I'm off the mark, then: my bad.

Enjoy your writing.

MonKey



[edit on 16/8/07 by ChiKeyMonKey]



posted on Aug, 16 2007 @ 09:36 AM
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Originally posted by Diseria
So why bother.


Oh, please bother. Write because you feel you have something to say. A good writer will find an audience. Good writing, like any art, will last forever. I'm sure no writer (and wish I had the ability and patience), but if I were, the last thing I'd be considering is writing for the lowest common denominator unless I was writing ad copy, political speeches, or broadcast television series scripts.

So there are multiple kinds of writing. If we're talking about novels, then disregard the lowest common denominator concept and just tell the story the way you want.

And for the record, I'm a big Steven King fan, as well as a fan of Peter Straub and Dean Koontz. But I also like Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Robert Anton Wilson, Umberto Eco, and probably 25 other authors I won't bother to mention.

Point being, there's room for both cheeseburgers and Chateaubriand. And I like 'em both.

Press on.



posted on Aug, 16 2007 @ 03:58 PM
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Thank you, one and all, for replying.

And Thank you for (as silly as it sounds) helping to renew my zest for the craft.

I must confess that prior to graduating from college, I wrote because I loved to write. I didn't understand why the stories needed to be told, but I had fun playing with the words, working through the storylines so that they made sense, that the little details weren't left hanging. (I write short stories, by the way.)

The last day of school, as I left the last class, I felt... so much that I'm still sifting through it. Straight away, I felt the obligatory sense of joy and accomplishment, and walked home with my head held high. (Even did a little boogey up the stairs!) As soon as I received the diploma, I became overwhelmed with obligation, duty: As a graduate, now I must produce. I must prove myself to the world, prove myself to myself, prove to my parents that 6 years of education (3.5 of that spent in the Fiction Dept. of my previous college) was worth the ungodly amount of money...

I began viewing writing as an end -- the goal being to pay off my student loans. (Or, at the very least, pay for a meal, or maybe just a portion of a meal... a napkin... something.)

And ever since then, my vision has been clouded. I hate money, and yet the majority of my thoughts swirl around "how to get money and pay the bills". But, I'm not very prolific (takes me, quite literally, hours to write/type a single page -- indeed, by the end of this I shall have spent over 2 hours writing this post...), so I can't 'pull a King', so to speak, and write myself a niche. Yet, when I read the popular fiction, I scoff, "I can write better than that!" But if that's the market, if that's what people are demanding -- it makes no difference that I can write better...

It's difficult to remind oneself of the process involved... especially when the bookstores are filled with final products. "It took me three years to write" tells of the timespan, but not of the hair-yanking effort involved, the daily and conscious persistence necessary to finish the first draft...

So bogged down by the idea of 'final products' that I even stopped reading for awhile. I felt personally chastised whenever I watched the movie 'Quills', when the Father says to the Marquee de Sade, "A writer who writes more than he reads... tsk tsk tsk... the sure mark of an amateur..." And because I wasn't writing, I felt more like a hack than a writer... even debated u2u-ing Masqua and asking to have my writer status revoked -- why bother wearing the badge if I'm not doing the job?

...'job'... :shk: yeah, that's the right word. It's really the wrong one, when talking about a passion. But it became a job. I wasn't writing for me, I was writing for a paycheck that I might someday get. Mentally, I became a word whore, lamenting over the evaporating short-story markets, re-writing stories to fit the styles of this or that magazine, developing plots according to which market might pay the most...

I've become everything I hate...


But no more!! Such a mentality is draining and castrates creativity.

Let me try this writing thing again...



Thank you!!





posted on Aug, 17 2007 @ 08:13 AM
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No worries!

If you ever feel in need of a reality slap: I'm ya MonKey.

Work to Live don't Live to Work and all that.

Finding your place in the world is a lot easier than finding your way through a college course. Man, there's a whole three pages of quotes involving paths. Hmmm there all a bit cheesey if you ask me!

Do me a flavour and write some new ones!!

MonKey



[edit on 17/8/07 by ChiKeyMonKey]



posted on Aug, 18 2007 @ 09:46 PM
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For me its all about the story.

Don't get me wrong, I love writers who can get that story down superbly, but it all boils down to the plot, the characters, and the events.
I can read, re-read, and re-read until the pages are worn (I have several times) no matter how good the writing. If there's a good story there's nothing I like more than laying down and letting myself be carried through the Fortress of the Pearl, or over the Kazak Pools, or through the Multiverse.



posted on Aug, 27 2007 @ 02:34 AM
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Originally posted by Diseria
So I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing (which I guess I should recommend...) and read a random bit from the ‘Writing’ section. I found most of his advice interesting, a few things I might try (desk in the corner, specifically), and one thing that pissed me right the # off:

“... Nor do I believe the contention of some popular novelists ... that their success is based on literary merit -- that the public understands true greatness in ways the tight-assed, consumed-by-jealousy literary establishment cannot. This idea is ridiculous, a product of vanity and insecurity.
Book-buyers aren’t attracted, by and large, by the literary merits of a novel; book-buyers want a good story to take with them on the airplane, something that will first fascinate them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages.” (p.160)



I might be a little late, but here are my two cents.

This is King's book and this is how he thinks and how he writes. Since you're reading his book he's going to tell you how he thinks a book should be written, and I agree, somewhat. The average reader doesn't want to hassle themselves with looking up new words, so we leave the more 'eloquently written' books to the people that want something more.

Anyway, An author that disregards the 'Lowest Common Literary Denominator' that wrote an On Writing of his/her own would probably have a different view point than King.



posted on Aug, 28 2007 @ 03:49 PM
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Originally posted by JelloFaust
I might be a little late, but here are my two cents.


I keep peeking back, so no worries! As the old saying goes: Better late than never!



This is King's book and this is how he thinks and how he writes. Since you're reading his book he's going to tell you how he thinks a book should be written, and I agree, somewhat. The average reader doesn't want to hassle themselves with looking up new words, so we leave the more 'eloquently written' books to the people that want something more.

Anyway, An author that disregards the 'Lowest Common Literary Denominator' that wrote an On Writing of his/her own would probably have a different view point than King.


No doubt that King has his own opinions, as each and every person does. Likewise, 'readers' will choose to read whatever they want, no matter the size of my soap box...


But the quote from his book wasn't the first time I've read/heard about the "lowest common denominator" thing. And I understand that language changes with time... (I'm still undecided about "bling-bling" being entered into the dictionary), but it bothers me that great words are falling to the wayside because people are, frankly, too lazy to be bothered.

If nothing else, our thoughts and ideas are only as good as the language we use. And if the language is sub-par, then if follows that our ideas and thoughts become sub-par.



posted on Aug, 29 2007 @ 02:14 PM
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Originally posted by Diseria
But the quote from his book wasn't the first time I've read/heard about the "lowest common denominator" thing. And I understand that language changes with time... (I'm still undecided about "bling-bling" being entered into the dictionary), but it bothers me that great words are falling to the wayside because people are, frankly, too lazy to be bothered.

If nothing else, our thoughts and ideas are only as good as the language we use. And if the language is sub-par, then if follows that our ideas and thoughts become sub-par.


I totally agree.

Though, I wonder, have the 'masses' or general public always used the 'lowest common denominator' kind of thing? I don't think ATS consists of the 'general public', most of the time, and that is one reason I like this site -- I can talk and read interesting things without people bashing each other and being immature.
:bash:



posted on Aug, 29 2007 @ 04:23 PM
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Originally posted by JelloFaust
Though, I wonder, have the 'masses' or general public always used the 'lowest common denominator' kind of thing?


Part of me wants to argue yes, and part of me knows better.

I'm an English major, and I know darn well that in Shakespeare's time (1500-1600) people knew more words than they do today. He wrote for everyone - the kings and queens saw the exact same play as the peasants did. Because of the lay out of the theatre, not everyone could see the play, so they depended on hearing (and understanding) the words.

I'm sure there are examples that point in either direction. If you study Analytical Philosophy, no one outside of that particular circle understands wtf you're talking about. Same with economics, politics, et cetera. Each "culture" (and I use the term loosely) creates its own language...

So, like I said before, I understand why these various groups must use the 'common speak' of the masses -- if you've got a message for everyone, but only 30% of the population understands it, then you haven't achieved your goal.

I just wish we'd raise the bar for the 'common speak' so that we're actually using the language we created, rather than dumbing ourselves down out of sheer preference for convenience. (Of course, looking at the American 'culture', it's hard to imagine people consciously choosing the un-convenient route...)



I don't think ATS consists of the 'general public', most of the time, and that is one reason I like this site -- I can talk and read interesting things without people bashing each other and being immature.
:bash:


Most of the time, I agree with you.
Although it totally depends on the topic...



posted on Aug, 29 2007 @ 06:32 PM
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For me, reading a Stephen King novel is comparible to playing World of Warcraft... even though I know many millions of people are adoring fans, I just can't really see what the big deal is.



posted on Aug, 30 2007 @ 11:24 PM
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Originally posted by Diseria

Part of me wants to argue yes, and part of me knows better.

I'm an English major, and I know darn well that in Shakespeare's time (1500-1600) people knew more words than they do today. He wrote for everyone - the kings and queens saw the exact same play as the peasants did. Because of the lay out of the theatre, not everyone could see the play, so they depended on hearing (and understanding) the words.


I didn't think of that, but I agree. Though, maybe that was the 'lowest common denominator' and Shakespeare himself, I'm sure, probably had a bigger vocabulary then what he wrote with... Or maybe not? Just ideas. Either way, it still does not justify the fact that our 'lowest common denominator' is way lower then that of the Shakespearian people's... :shk:


Originally posted by Diseria
I just wish we'd raise the bar for the 'common speak' so that we're actually using the language we created, rather than dumbing ourselves down out of sheer preference for convenience. (Of course, looking at the American 'culture', it's hard to imagine people consciously choosing the un-convenient route...)


I totally agree with this. I still need/want to raise my bar, hehe.







 
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