Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Monday, October 5, 2009

Don't Know Much...

...about History - got a snappy beat, doesn't it?

Like the old saw, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like," we often have a hard time defining the difference between great writing and so-so prose, but we sure as heck know what we like to read: action and dialogue.

If you catch yourself nodding off in the middle of a chapter, what do you do? Usually, your eyes start scrolling down through those dense paragraphs until you come upon (1) Somebody saying something exciting, (2) Somebody punching somebody, or (3) Somebody ripping someone's clothes off.

Perhaps I exaggerate. But not much. Few of us pick up a volume of Socrates or Aristotle when we desire a couple hours of diversion, because one Deep Thought after another starts to make our hair hurt. It's different, though, when the Deep Thoughts arise as a result of choices the protagonist is forced to make, demonstrated by his actions instead of lectures from on high. For example, what if the grandson of long-dead Socrates were to challenge Aristotle to a duel because of an insult by Aristotle's mentor, Plato? (Of course, the grandson would be secretly involved in an affair with the daughter of Aristotle.) To show Artistotle choosing pacifism when a hot-blooded, testosterone-driven teenager is holding a dagger to his neck, might be a bit more compelling than page after page of philosophical whertofores.

Especially if you're writing commercial fiction. But even in the rarified regions of literary fiction, there is a resurgence of "story" if we can believe the latest issue of New Yorker - you know, plot, things happening to interesting people, and the consequences thereof.

Anyway, this writer sometimes yearns to critique stories that are acted out by quirky characters with opposing goals in exotic locales, instead of being trapped inside the protagonist's skull for thousands upon thousands of words.

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