Storytelling — what is it good for?

So what is the purpose of this strange thing?  What do we do when we tell stories?

This is prompted by Amanda’s post on Saturday about the Harlan Ellison interview, where Ellison proudly proclaims . . . that’s what writers are supposed to do, afflict the contented.

My first reaction to this was that it was “leftist boomer twaddle.”  Some people took offense with it as being boomer bashing.  We’ll go into that in a later post – what and who is a boomer, why there is a tendency to bash them and how defensive people get when “boomer” is used.  But I actually meant something very specific.  Note the modifiers leftist modifies boomer, which yeah, okay, modifies twaddle.

What I mean is, to me at least, the sixties were the era when people – particularly leftists, particularly young, so by definition boomers who turned 20 around sixty five – came up with this odd utilitarian version of society.

Oh, it wasn’t just them, of course, and it wasn’t even originally them.  I’ve said before that I think Western civilization is dying of World War I.  The generation after the war tended to look for “greater meaning” and reject what had brought about the war (at least in their mind) including all the old values of the society they’d been brought up in.

But the thing is, this was mostly an affliction of the wealthy enough to angst about whether what they were doing was “useful.”  Artists, sure.  Some writers.  (Okay, a lot of writers.)  The wealthy sons and daughters of wealthy families.  They worried about whether they were doing was “important.”  Most people were just trying to survive, just trying to get by.

The boomer generation was the first time a significant number middle class people were both wealthy enough and educated enough to take on these ideas and to want to “make a difference.”

It didn’t help that this was the height of the cold war, and that the Soviets had rather active agit prop branches.  Communism – Marxism – is a philosophy that appeals to most young people, because it’s so “neat” and “internally consistent.”  It usually takes a while to dawn that the way to achieve this is to have absolutely nothing to do with reality.  For certain people it never dawns.

And the sixties (and subsequent decades) was the first time that it became feasible for large numbers of young people to hold onto these ideas long past the point they should have grown out of them: particularly people in the arts, in education, in the sort of “business” that has little contact with reality.

These people are “leftist boomers” or if you prefer “beardo the weirdo” – particularly the women!  — They probably started to the left of most of their generation, and they’ve taken refuge in echo chambers where it got worse, and where their pronouncements spun more and more out of contact with reality.

At least that’s the only way I can justify this bizarre, otherworldly idea that the primary purpose of writing – which in this sense means of course storytelling – is to afflict the comfortable?

It’s a common enough view.  I got it from various types of college professors, who – if they demeaned themselves with science fiction – would have loved Ellison.  I also heard it as a statement from one of the major editors in the field.  A lot of English teachers and professors will also tell you “Our job is to do a critique of society.”

And yes, if you dig around, you can read pretty much everything, from Shakespeare to Jane Austen as “critiques of society” – but frankly, I can ape it, but I never bought it.  Oh, sure, Shakespeare says pretty acerbic things about his time, but they’re almost incidental to telling his tales, and in the end he was the Tudors tame playwright.  And Jane Austen makes needle-witted observations on the condition of women but only of the sort that frankly any women of her time might have made, in safe company.

Mostly their stories are something else: they’re about people, about relationships, about eternal things.

You go back far enough in time, and why did people tell stories, whether imaginary or supposedly historic?

You can tell stories to inspire. I imagine when someone got up after a dinner, in pre-history and launched into one of those long sagas of which the Illiad is an echo, people got tears in their eyes at the feats of heroes and a warm feeling at the idea of this great, shared history.

You can tell stories to dream – truly, the stories were told of monsters and gods, and beautiful nymphs and lands where men had no heads, and the vegetable lamb.  Humans like stories of the wondrous and the miraculous, and stories can introduce the idea of possibilities, of things to explore into people’s humdrum lives.  It satisfies the “exploring” need when you can’t.

You can tell stories to educate and enlighten.  I will tell you right now these are my least favorite type of stories.  I never enjoyed the lives of saints.  But there is a certain type of people who likes these and even finds them edifying.  And of course the writer’s idea of right and wrong always shows in a story, and that’s okay.

You can tell stories that allow people to escape.  I’m telling you that through some of the worst times in my life – through fear, instability, grief, illness – stories saved my life.  They allowed me to forget my pain long enough, to go elsewhere long enough that I could face my problems with new perspective afterwards.

But none of these were enough for the leftist boomers when they came of age.  An affluent enough society, with a wealth of young people (and it’s a wealth we desperately need now) viewed it as the most important thing that storytelling be for some great collective purpose.  “To critique society” – i.e. to bring communal living to that semblance of paradise that is not achievable to mere humans.

This is rather akin to pulling down walls because you can’t build houses.

If your purpose is to make people writhe, to yell at those who disagree with you and those you think stand in the way of making society “perfect” you’ll always find victims.  They’ll never be the right victims, either.  I mean, if you truly attack the powerful in society, they won’t buy you and they won’t promote you, and they will even actively work against you.  Make the feminists writhe and… well… look up “storm in a B cup,” aka the late SFWA kerfuffle for how much that will enhance your career.

But even if you yell at the least powerful, and enforce the rules of those in power, in the end, all your work will be is a long screaming tantrum of dissatisfaction at a world that seems to forever fall short of your demands.

Pardon me – my kids could do that at a day old.  It hardly requires learning to write.

So why write?  Why tell stories?

Like Robert A. Heinlein, I like to answer “first, I write to feed my family.”  But that is a bit of a cop out.  If I were looking at strict bang for the buck work output for money input, I should have stuck with translation, which pays much higher fees per word.

But I don’t enjoy translation, and I enjoy writing.

In the end and to a great extent, I enjoy writing for much the same reasons I enjoy reading.  I enjoy the day dreaming and the escape.  In fiction situations can be bigger than life, heroes more inspiring, villains more villainous.  You can build an elaborate dream and share it.  And when people buy it – when people forego a chicken or a six pack of beer to buy your paperback, and when they love it so much they write you a note about it… It’s the best feeling in the world.

But what about afflicting the comfortable?

First I’m not a sadist.  I don’t particularly like afflicting anyone.  (Okay, limited discomfort because I just killed your favorite character excepted.  Deal. You have to experience that to be really happy at the ending.)  Second, who is the “comfortable” – do we mean the rich?  Do we mean the powerful?  Or do we mean those who have never thought over their unexamined assumptions?

I’ll confess that if I can I’d like to make people think – not agree with me; not hiss the same villains and cheer the same heroes, or not necessarily – just make them pause and bring out things they always assumed were right and give them a good look-see; make sure they really do apply.

However, that’s a distant ambition.  If I can amuse the reader; if I can take them away on a wild ride, make them forget that their job is in jeopardy and the baby has a cold (again) and the cat really needs more food–  If I can do that, and make someone’s life better or more interesting for two hours or so, I’ve done my job.

If I can make a living at it (and I’ve sort of managed the last few years) that’s even better.

Making them think?  Good, but not got to have.

Using words as whip to chastise those who upset me?  Bah.  That’s secondary.  And a mean aim for fiction.

Inspire, dream, build – that’s what I want to do.  Why would I settle for less?


SOME QUICK NOTES: for those who missed this before, Sabrina Chase has arranged for an opportunity at promotion and wishes to share.  We’re thinking a human wave garage sale and/or humble bundle.  Sound of in the comments if you’re interested and/or go and find Sabrina’s email address in Satruday’s comments and email her.  Copy me if you have my addy handy.  We’re thinking early August.

Also, lending credence to the fact that Dave Freer and I are pretty much the same person, he hit a similar theme to mine in his post today at Mad Genius Club.

And finally, I’ve updated the subscriber’s space, and those fortunate enough to subscribe (!) get to see some of what I’ve written this week.  On condition, of course, they talk it up.  (Yay.)  And now I’m going to prepare the suburban fantasy stories for publishing.


167 thoughts on “Storytelling — what is it good for?

  1. Brava, Sarah! Good stuff.
    Frankly, I write to scratch the itch. I cannot NOT write – I either use my mind or my fingers, but I write.
    Sometimes, in a public place like a supermarket, chain store or the like, I’ll study the expressions on peoples faces and develop a history for each frown, every wrinkle. These I don’t physically write down, but I think they give me better insight into characterization.
    And one key concept formed from this: Man is not a rational creature, he’s a rationalizing creature. When pressed he’ll always form some logical (to him) reason for his actions, no matter if they are honorable and lofty or dark and degrading. He’s a hero in his own mind.
    In that, we lie to ourselves. And not for profit.

    1. I have that same itch– only when I don’t itch the poetry bug, it will itch under the skin until I give into it. It is more powerful to me than telling stories and I do like to tell stories.

  2. Yeah, it goes back further than the Hippies, it goes back to the people who TAUGHT them to be Hippies, those delightful communists of the Frankfurt School who fled Germany to the more welcoming shores of the US. They gave us “Critical Theory” where it’s not enough to just criticize something, you have to offer a better alternative. Whups, that’s exactly backwards. All you have to do is criticize something until you destroy it. Capitalism, Democracy, traditional morality, and they’ve done a great job so far.

    The one thing Critical Theory doesn’t teach is Critical THINKING, so you can tell someone that a traditional value like say, Monogamy, is wrong, that it exploits women, and then sell them sexual liberation that REALLY exploits women by liberating them to be sex objects for smelly hippie guys, who now don’t have to give back anything in exchange for getting to objectify you. And remember, it’s okay these days to be a “Slut”, and not exploitative at all, really.

    Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, and “Free Love” is Empowering.

    Or maybe I’m just bitter… *grin*

    1. Surely, if Critical Thinking has any validity it must apply to itself? Is not self-criticism the first responsibility of any individual? Until the proponents of Critical Thinking can demonstrate they have rigorously applied their methodology to their own ideology and found it withstands the inspection I decline to think them more than overly erudite auto-rectocranial inverters.

  3. I write because I want to make people feel the emotional ups and downs I feel when I watch good TV or a good movie. I couldn’t draw, so I made up for it with writing.

    However, while not all stories teach an explicit moral, all stories do have assumptions about the world and about what is good. If that story’s worldview matches up with society’s, the story will not be seen as preachy or political, but if the worldview does not match, it will be seen as preachy since the author consciously chose to use non-mainstream ideas.

    1. Actually, I think that gets back to the purpose thing. If the purpose of the story is to teach an explicit moral, then you run the risk of being preachy. At that point, it’s a question of how well you can pull it off. I don’t know how many times I’ve read something or watched something and been whacked in the face by what I call the “sledgehammer of morality”.

      Heeeeeree’s your MESSAGE WHACK!

      But the best example of someone doing it right is Heinlein in Starship Troopers, and to a lesser extent in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In both of those stories, there are very specific things being said about culture, government, people’s relationships to each other, economics/life (TANSTAAFL), family, etc… but that isn’t the main purpose of the story (well, maybe it is in Troopers). The main purpose of both of them is to tell a ripping good yarn and entertain.

      I’ve said it elsewhere – if you aren’t entertaining, then it doesn’t matter what your message is or how important it is – no one will receive your message, because no one will read your stuff.

      1. I’ve said it elsewhere – if you aren’t entertaining, then it doesn’t matter what your message is or how important it is – no one will receive your message, because no one will read your stuff.

        Agreed. You can’t overlook the fact that your first duty is to make it fun.

        1. I’ve come across people who feel that if a book isn’t hard to read it’s not worth reading. They also read for “elegance of prose.”

          1. I’m not sure what “elegance of prose” really means but it reminds me of people talking about “great art work” in comic books or animated movies. My opinion of talking about “great art work” in comic books or animated movie is that those people talk about “great art work” because the story (in the comic/movie) is junk. [Sad Smile]

          2. I don’t necessarily enjoy books that are “hard to read” but there are some writers I admire for their prose style – Patrick O’Brien being an example, as I enjoy how he’ll lay down some important plot elements in subtle ways.

          3. Books should be easy to read. That’s the only way to keep the audience focused on the story.

              1. Because what? Because transparent body parts are even more gross than the normal variety? (running again)

              1. I’ve actually encountered that. I’ve read many a book in which nothing happened.

            1. Eh, some books are easy to read, some books are hard to read. Let us not canonize the first as good and the latter as bad because the other side did the opposite. A book can be legitimately hard to read when its artistic goals can not reach by easy-to-read methods.

              There once was an editor who was asked whether his publishing house would publish Lord Dunsany today, and he said, Yes, but I’d tell him to stop fussing about with the style and just get on with the story. No would have been a better answer. Dunsany’s fans are fans for his elegant singing prose.

              1. Elegant prose can work if it conveys a mood or sets the tone. But still, a writer should try to keep things understandable.

                1. “The Gibbelins eat, as is well known, nothing less good than man.”

                  “Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun. To the south they are bounded by magic, to the west by a mountain, and to the north by the voice and anger of the Polar wind. ”

                  And for a larger chunk

                  “Come to Elfland,” the troll said.

                  The child thought for awhile. Other children had gone, and the elves always sent a changeling in their place, so that nobody quite missed them and nobody really knew. She thought awhile of the wonder and wildness of Elfland, and then of her own home.

                  “N-no,” said the child.

                  “Why not?” said the troll.

                  “Mother made a jam roll this morning,” said the child. And she walked on gravely home. Had it not been for that chance jam roll she had gone to Elfland.

                  “Jam! ” said the troll contemptuously and thought of the tarns of Elfland, the great lily-leaves lying flat upon their solemn waters, the huge blue lilies towering into the elf-light above the green deep tarns: for jam this child had forsaken them!

                    1. Which is why Lord Dunsany excells all others in conveying that we are no longer in the fields we know.

      2. Forget the message.

        People buy fiction for its entertainment value. To provide anything else for their money is fraud, pure and simple.

  4. If I ever manage to write anything it will be largely repayment, To Heinlein, L’amour, Asimov, and yes, Ringo and Hoyt. Repayment for the hours of pleasure they have given me, in hopes that I can do the same for them or others

    1. As Heinlein remarked when someone asked how to repay a favor, “You can’t. Pay it forward.”
      Benefices and blessings aren’t meant to stop; they’re meant to keep moving, touching a new life with favor, then being redirected. And if done so, they don’t diminish, but grow.

      My word! I’m being philosophical this morning! No excuse – I’ve had my coffee.

  5. I’m joining Amanda in being a red-headed hack. I write for the joy of writing, for the joy of hearing my readers like the story. I blogged today about reading adding flavor to my life, and that’s a big part of it. What flavor does affliction come in? I can’t imagine it’s tasty…

    1. Red-headed hacks of the world unite! Unite to tell good stories, stories readers enjoy, stories that show mankind (and that includes women — I refuse to be PC this morning) in a positive light. Oh yeah, we also write as Mary said below — to chase the plot bunnies out of our heads.

  6. Well, I write because I can create engaging characters and recreate a past world – and yes, in part I am trying to educate … or as the AFRTS mission statement had it, “To inform and entertain.” Our stories are important to us, as a way of transmitting our values and passing on our experiences.
    A great many readers, a mild bit of fame and a little bit of fortune for it would’t be bad, either. 😉

  7. The truly lovely ones review stories and books on charges of not propagating the reviewer’s notions, and this is always framed as something the writer failed to do, never something the writer wasn’t even trying to do.

    1. I’m not sure if he just lost the plot as he’s gotten older. I went through an Ellison phase in college, and the only thing I remember that he said about writing was that it had to entertain first. Use whatever message or not, if it didn’t entertain, people didn’t read it.

      Then again, there is an argument that publishing itself forgot that.

    2. “Contended” is by definition what they, out there, are. Just as “subversive” means undermining what they think. (Hence you get calls for subversion in literature. It’s impossible for a work not to subvert, because if it subverted nothing else, it would subvert the notion that literature is subversive.)

      1. …It’s impossible for a work not to subvert, because if it subverted nothing else, it would subvert the notion that literature is subversive.

        Porkins… look out for that recursion!

        …No, I can make it.

        Pull up! Porkins, pull up!


        1. hehehehehehehehehehe — yes, it’s a trick. As soon as you go in the free-floating “subversion” there’s no way out.

                1. The weird thing is that I’m fairly sure you DON’T correspond with my husband, RES. However, Dan has recently started doing RES level puns. I need to go recheck our marriage vows. I don’t remember saying ‘for better, for worse, or even for puns.’

                    1. Clams got sockpuppets!

                      J/K, no I am not Free Range Oyster. Never have been. The good mollusc is a far more creative commentator than I.

                    2. Don’t be absurd. Puns are NOT grounds for annulment, especially once you’ve gene spliced twice.

                      OTOH, punster wannabes need to keep in mind the legal principle of “no jury would ever convict.”

                      Those contemplating eliminating punsters need to be aware that to use that defense you will have to reproduce the triggering pun in court and therefore you must carefully consider the concept known as “blowback.”

  8. I write to create the kinds of stories I can’t find, because nobody writes my *perfect* stories.

    Though this post has inspired me to modify one of my belief proverbs, which now goes something like this: “A man will spend his life doing one of three things: what he loves to do, what he is good at doing, or what he thinks must be done. Fortunate is the man for whom two of these things are the same; blessed is he for whom all three are the same.”

  9. 1. Actually, most ancient societies with strong art traditions believed that either poets and artists were somehow part of stuff the gods liked, stuff that might attract them to manifest (the Greeks) or that poets and artists were part of holding the universe together and making the laws work on a local level, and that therefore poets had to follow certain strict rules and be given certain amazing liberties (the Irish and some African societies).

    But in most societies, art is usually a conservative force, or at least it’s supposed to remind you of the fundamental laws and values of your society. We’ve given that up so much that it sounds strange to us, but most people enjoy art more if it represents or reinforces what they know to be true and good. (Amazingly.) Or to put it more simply, people like stories they can sink into and enjoy. Putting in a little spice of questions that people can think about later — that’s good too. Telling people nothing but stuff they think is crud — that’s not good.

    The thing that attacked Greek art was philosophers feeling that art was overly powerful and should be harnessed for the state, and that poets were not “makers” but liars. (I don’t know if that’s why the later Hellenism went for “realism” or not.) But of course a lot of Greek philosophers who attacked art also attacked the traditional view of gods (they were either picturing a sort of monotheism or vague forces stuff), so it’s not surprising.

    1. There are two feasible statuses for an artist. One is the royal/tribal/whatever bard who does occasional verse to glorify the triumphs, the history, and the wonders of the tribe/court/whatever. Respect, position, prosperity, but you do have to embody the tribe’s views in your work. The other is the freelancer who does whatever he pleases and may starve in an attic.

      There are two unfeasible ones. One is the one that artists have been clearly hankering after for over a century: all the court bard’s respect with all the free lancer’s liberties. The other is the Socialist Realist position, found to this day in reviews that scold books for dissenting from the reviewer, that they should rigidly glorify the proscribed position and still starve in attics.

      1. A medieval Irish poet also had the duty to make dinner table conversation. It was one of the things he got paid for. It was also one of the reasons that classes at the schools for poets took place at the teaching poet’s house, including over dinner. Every other day and Sundays, that is, because the other days the students had to go out and get somebody to give them dinner, just like the monks at monk schools — except they had to do performance too.

        I think the local cow-owning families around the great Irish schools must have been pretty kindly people, but particularly the ones that lived around poetic schools!

        Anyway, the interesting thing is that there was a lot of comparison in Irish poetry praising a lord. You’d mention the great days of old or some kind of famous story about the area — and then you’d compare. And the unstated thing was that your own poet was often poking you to come off better in the comparison than at present. (If it got stated, it was satire, which usually you got a professional satirist to do. Satirists didn’t have to pay blush fines in law if they weren’t lying, whereas poets could be subject to them.)

        So yeah, there was a profession that was designed to afflict the comfortable (probably you invited them to make a nastily memorable satire and pass it around all of Ireland as the last resort to embarrass the heck out of bad lords, so you didn’t have to resort to tragic hunting accidents or intra-clan feuding). But they weren’t numerous and they weren’t beloved. They seem to have been pretty much traveling all the time, and they often got paid to stop passing around a satire.

      2. Btw, Mary — I forgot to say that I really, really agree with your statement. The paid dinner conversation comment just got away from me, because a lot of people have had that as an unofficial part of their artist jobs. 🙂

  10. So Ellison thinks he is called to afflict the contented and that he should get paid for taking a piss?

    This is for your own good. Pay me.

    Give him due credit: he is openly articulating what a lot of so-called creative people (the Piss Christ crowd, for example) believe but don’t quite dare to say outright.

    1. To give Harlan Ellison his due, he is an established writer, he is well known by merit of his high volume arguments, screaming, misbehaviors, self promotion and previous sales, and he does not need to give a free sample since so much of his work is out there, recommended and quoted. I’m sure that if he wished to piss on a canvas or a sheet of typing paper he could find people who would gladly pay for it just so they could have “a genuine Ellison”. That just means he has a successful, established brand. I enjoyed his stories way back when I was a kid. I found some of them insightful, and I could ignore the ones I found violated my idea of what I thought was right. Unfortunately I am a child of the advertisers, I came to the conclusion that if something is hyped so hard and so long, there is little substance of value in it since all the effort went to the packaging. So I don’t read or buy Ellison anymore. I read hacks since I assume they will have things like exciting plots, fun stories and interesting characters to keep me buying future work.

      1. I distinctly recall an Ellison story I must have read over forty years ago, about a guy who had discovered that when he chanted “rain rain go away, come again some other day” the rain actually would go away. Sometimes he would have to repeat the chant a few times, but it would eventually work.

        Now he’s sitting out by a billboard, putting up hash marks for each time he repeats the rhyme, having figured out that this was that “some other day” and all his accumulated chants had to be repeated, plus one, to avert the deluge.

        I s’pose there is a critique of society in there, or perhaps an affliction of the comfortable, but you’d have to be pretty intoxicated on something to find it persuasive.

        Ellison kinda dropped off my radar when he failed to recognize that his avant garde had become the rear guard. A lot of leftist Boomers have that problem.

  11. Apparently, the quip (in this country, anyway) comes from Finley Peter Dunne’s essay character, “Mr. Dooley.”

    Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.

    The important thing to know here is that Dunne, a newspaperman, was not complimenting newspapers in this quote. It was describing newspapers as poking their noses into everything, which they did.

    The book it’s taken from, Observations by Mr. Dooley, must be pretty late in Dunne’s career, because Dooley talks about Sherlock Holmes. He also has pretty good comments about the turn of the century interest in writing (“A family without an author is as contemptible as one without a priest”) and why women authors write more unrestrained action thrillers (“A man is always wondering what the other lad would do. He might have the punch left in him that would get the money.”), that writing books is naturally women’s work (heh, that one’s hilarious) and that “A man doesn’t think when he’s reading, or if he has to, the book is no fun.”

    1. OK, I finally got to the part where the quote comes from. It’s an essay starting on page 239 called “Newspaper Publicity.” And ouch, it’s scathing about the newspaper version of reality shows. It satirically complains that reporters are able to testify against criminals because they helped them do the deed, and that reporters act like police except that they haul off the criminal to the circulation office.

      And thus it leads into the quote.

      It goes on from there with many examples of how newspapers invade the privacy of private citizens, and comments that “We march through life and behind us marches the photographer and the reporter. There are no such things as private citizens.”

      So yeah, it’s not a compliment, and it’s talking about newspaper overreach and buttinskyism. Probably Dunne would have some funny stuff to say about the Internet too, but… so not a mission statement.

      He ends up with “A newspaper is to entertain, not to teach a moral lesson,” although there’s also a typical Dooley comment about how people must like the newspapers as they are, because they buy them.

  12. In a choice between the pot o’ message lot and the hacks, I step in amongst the hacks. The world afflicts us all a-plenty. There’s no need to add to it. OTOH, there can be no higher calling than to relieve the affliction via the administration of a dose of momentary escape. If a moral lesson happens to creep in, I’d say treat it as the stray interloper it is. Leave it a bowl of kibble and another of water on the back porch, but DO NOT invite it in.

    The assertion that art has an obligation to do other than entertain — and that that alone is an insufficiently high calling — is odious and deserves to be slapped down with all the (non-generationally denominated ( 🙂 )) opprobrium Our Hostess can manage. I see it as coming from the same place whence originates the social impulse — call it crabs in the bucket — to drag the successful down by implying that such owe — scorn quotes — “the community” to “give back”.

    I have always wondered, “Why?”

    If someone is successful in free commerce, he is because he has gotten that way by, as Walter E. Williams puts it, serving his fellow man. He has provided something to — scorn quotes — “the community” that individual members of — scorn quotes — “the community” have willingly — even eagerly — traded him money (representing their time and labor and therefore pieces of their lives) in a voluntary exchange for it. Having provided that to the community, and had his provision of it ratified by members of — scorn quotes — “the community”, why in the pluperfect hell should he be required to give some of it “back”?

    My baby sister (full disclosure, an elected public official) has dinged me, in my more anarchistic moments, with the aphorism that the world is run by those who show up. My response to that is: the error therein is the embedded assumption that the world needs or WANTs to be run. It doesn’t matter to me whether some [unprintable] who wants to run my life, my world, is from the government or some other satrapy of the establishment. They can all go to hell.

    If we are to treat one another as individuals, worthy of respect, then we must respect one another’s liberty and not attempt to attach faux obligations to one another’s activities. Artists have no obligation to anything other than our artistic vision. If we succeed and please (read: serve) others, it is to be hoped that reward will come of our diligence. External attempts to modify that in any way are repugnant.

    At least, they are to me. Who’s with me?


    1. Mark, that generated a lot of thought – thanks.

      First, it made me think about “the community”. There is real power in being able to define what “the community” is, and what kind of contribution you “owe” them. Really, though, there’s no such thing as Quote The Community Unquote. There are communities – which are typically people of like mind or near geography who unite for specific purposes. The audience / fans of a particular author can be described as one such small-c community. I certainly think of the Huns here as one – a small and occasionally contentious community, but ultimately a good community.

      Second, it made me think about what’s owed. There are people to whom I do owe some debt of obligation – my wife and daughter. And there are those whom I choose to serve. That service is vital, and I appreciate you bringing it out in your thoughts. I’d like to second that and add a hearty “hear, hear”.

      As for the world “wanting” to be run, I get what you’re saying. But if there are those who are intent on running the world, then unless they’re opposed, they will wind up (badly, ineptly, to our great horror and detriment) largely running a lot of it. Everything? No, but the statists have been increasing their influence and power over a lot of things.

      Sorry for the huge reply, but it was a really good comment that made me think. Thanks.

      1. The voluntary nature of your desire to serve makes ALL the difference, IMHO. It’s when charity becomes a tax that it becomes odious.


            1. You’re right, of course, Cedar. And that points out the fundamental dissonance [sic] in state charity. There’s no love in it.


              1. State “charity” isn’t love — it’s contempt. Contempt for the taxpayers, contempt for the truly needy, and contempt for the honest.

                1. State charity is the High Fructose Corn Syrup of charity. All of the drawbacks of actual charity with none of the benefits.

                  1. State charity is theft and bribery masquerading as love and respect. It is even worse than that since it drives out actual love and respect, which are supposed to support, and replaces it with desperation and dependence which entrap.

    2. “My response to that is: the error therein is the embedded assumption that the world needs or WANTs to be run”

      And there’s still an error: that the world CAN be “run”.

      1. Well, yeah. Reality always rears its ugly head. But, in context, I’m usually speaking about the consent of the governed — which is assumed by the government, but not always forthcoming from the governed. (Who may not willingly consider themselves legitimately governed, but that’s a rabbit hole lined with mirrors you could get lost in the other side of.) As in: the default response to ANY government meddling should be “Aw, HELL no!” And it should be considered legally dispositive.


        1. If consent of the governed meant a single bleedin’ thing it would mean no rigged elections, wouldn’t it?

          It would also mean no 1,000+ page legislation with “Easter Eggs” buried in every paragraph.

          Generally, those who mouth the “those who show up” mantra actually mean “those who count.” The T.E.A. Parties showed up and all they got was slapped down.

    3. …the error therein is the embedded assumption that the world needs or WANTs to be run.

      Demurral: that the world CAN be run. That we are more than fleas arguing our ability to manage the dog.

      If those who show up have any hope of “running” the world, even in the slight margins available to them, they would be wise to steep themselves in economics, biochemistry, physics and engineering. Given the muddle they have made of ethics, metaphysics, theology and philosophy any training in those fields is probably a disqualifier (beyond the exposure needed to grasp how psychotic those fields have become.)

    4. My baby sister (full disclosure, an elected public official) has dinged me, in my more anarchistic moments, with the aphorism that the world is run by those who show up. My response to that is: the error therein is the embedded assumption that the world needs or WANTs to be run.

      I think that it’s even more complicated– they’re not really talking about “the world,” they’re talking about communities. The social groups.
      But instead of accepting that they’re organic and self-forming, they want to define them– and make it so there’s only one, fitting their specifications.

      1. Possibly. What Sis and I are usually discussing is actual government and my dissatisfaction with the politicians we get. In that context, people tend to stick their noses in where they don’t belong rather a lot more often than not — including and especially in violation of fundamental principles in law of the organization of the state. I.E., unconstitutional laws and regulations.

        As an elected officeholder, she feels it incumbent upon her to represent that, if you’re not in the arena (to quote Teddy Roosevelt), you have little room to gripe. You have to “show up”. Not necessarily run for office or anything, but participate in the process. Like Woody Allen has been quoted as saying, 90% of anything is showing up.

        My objection is that point about so much of what the government DOES do is unwelcome and, in the context of the republic, not permitted to the government in the first place, so “showing up” amounts to bad faith intent a lot of the time.

        Since neither one of us drinks (much), it doesn’t consume a lot of alcohol, but the rest of what Heinlein wrote about political arguments obtains.


        1. Then your sister must, perforce, agree with the principle that any effort by those running the government to restrict participation — poll taxes and literacy tests, for example, invalidate the government. And it would follow that excessive permitting restrictions for groups to publicly assemble and express their concerns also delegitimize government.

          And, of course, using government power to deny people their participation (say, by onerous and discriminatory tax status demands) is simply fixing the game.

          Contra your sister, government “for those who are allowed to show up” is NOT how this country was premised. That is why we are based on the principle of inalienable rights which the government cannot impair without due process. What she is describing is more commonly known as “the Chicago Way” whereby your government services — street repair, garbage pickup, police response time — are contingent upon bowing the knee to they tyrant.

  13. There are two problems with taking it as your mission to “afflict the comfortable.”

    The first is that you place yourself in the position of judging who deserves comfort and who deserves affliction. Does a pfennigless, unemployable artist on the streets of Vienna deserve comfort? Does the womanizing grandson of an earl deserve affliction? Congratulations: you’re helping Hitler out and picking on Bertrand Russell. Moral worth and material circumstances are completely unrelated.

    Even if you assume it’s intellectual or ideological “comfort” that deserves affliction — great, you’re going to bitch at the Dalai Lama, who is famously serene in his beliefs, and give a pass to amoral opportunists who believe nothing.

    The second problem is that _everyone_ thinks they’re the “afflicted” and the people they disagree with are the “comfortable.” I’m sure Mr. Ellison still thinks he’s a courageous truthteller in a sea of Philistines, even though his opinions are pretty much identical to the President of the United States and every university professor in North America. (One of the more surreal aspects of the recent SFWA controversy is the charge of “bullying” leveled at Theodore Beale, by people who are bringing the entire weight of the organization against a lone individual.)

    I’d say the role of the writer is to entertain and tell the truth. That doesn’t mean you can’t make stuff up — you just can’t be dishonest about what you invent. If the beggar is a villain and the billionaire is a saint, draw them honestly.

    1. I don’t know if it’s accurate, but I sometimes think that the best storytellers are the ones that reveal the truth by telling lies (fiction).

    2. “One of the more surreal aspects of the recent SFWA controversy is the charge of “bullying””

      As far as I’m concerned the word “bullying” has lost its meaning. It’s the “racist” of the 2010’s.

    3. People like to read stories, not essays.

      It’s more fun to read about truths when you’re emotionally invested.

  14. I remember a quote from somewhere (can’t remember my name, you want me to remember who said something?) that said a writer should do three things with a story: educate, entertain, and/or inform. Many of the early sagas were based on clan/tribe history, and were used to reinforce the knowledge in the current generation, and spread the knowledge to the next generation. At the same time, they were also designed to entertain, and people were encouraged to learn them for themselves. Celia’s historical fiction serves much the same function — it educates us about a part of our history, but in an entertaining and enjoyable fashion so that we remember it. Many of us (myself included) write to escape — escape reality, escape the voices of our characters in our heads, escape the plot bunnies that won’t let us alone unless we confine them to paper (and sometimes not even then!). Write to afflict? If I want to be afflicted, I can walk down any street in this city, or (shudder!) turn on the television, or go read Instapundit. If I pay money for a book, even if it’s just a quarter at a garage sale, I expect it to at least entertain me, or it goes against the wall. I never cared much for Harlan Ellison, and I doubt I’ve read more than a couple of his works. I OWN more than that of Sarah’s, and as soon as I can scrape together enough cash, I’ll buy more.

    1. C. S. Lewis observed that in the Middle Ages, the rule was that the writer was to please and instruct. He then cited a writer who said that, the writer as a writer was concerned only with pleasing, but given that the writer was not merely a writer, but had other roles for which instructing was also a duty.

      In the course of explaining how he came to write the Narnia books. First you get the notion, then you work out whether it is something you should expend your time and effort on.

  15. Writing to afflict the comfortable? Eh – if that makes you comfortable, Harlan, please afflict yourself.

    Ellison is a gifted tale-teller who occasionally manages to provoke a thought I hadn’t already had by my 18th birthday. Or would, if I still considered his writing worth my time and money.

    I am curious as to how “The City on the Edge of Forever” afflicts the comfortable or critiques society. What does “Demon with a Glass Hand” say to us about man’s search for identity in the 21st Century?

    But really, who #@$!ing cares what Ellison has to say on anything beyond the craft of storytelling?

    Maybe the problem is that Ellison has grown so comfortable and revered in his role of eminent graying enfant terrible that nobody says, to his face, merde!

    1. The sad thing is that Ellison really is a good writer, sometimes even great. But just like a lot of musicians are not particularly to be trusted on other topics, Ellison’s savvy varies according to the topic.

      In the main, his stories come from the misty depths of his brain and heart, just like other writers. Hence his story (IIRC) about aborted fetuses riding flushed-away alligators through the sewers, which was certainly nothing his political correctness would have thought up. He just likes to think he has a message that he controls.

      In his essays from earlier in his career, however, he really did act as a gadfly to fandom. Nowadays, not so much.

    2. Interestingly, from the few stories of Ellison’s that I have read, it seems like his actual goal is to afflict the Statists, since those stories have poked the conformist and pacifist views in the eye. I don’t know – the statement itself still sets me off, but maybe he didn’t mean the people that statements like that generally are supposed to mean.

    3. RES | June 17, 2013 at 12:03 pm
      > I am curious as to how “The City on the Edge of Forever” afflicts the comfortable or critiques society.

      “If you knew that by killing one human being, you would avert an even-greater historical catastrophe than the one which actually happened, would you kill that person?”

      >What does “Demon with a Glass Hand” say to us about man’s search for identity in the 21st Century?

      “How does it feel to know you will spend *millennia* being the sole hope of your people; that you will be hunted for all those millennia by those who wish you dead; that you will never be able to settle down and have any sort of proper relationship with others of your kind; and that it will take but a single failure on your part to render all those millennia irrelevant?”

      And, because I’m a _Car Wars_ fan, I’ll cap it off with “Along The Scenic Route”: “Guess what happens to you when you Beat The Best?” (Hint: Listen to The Waco Kid’s tale from _Blazing Saddles_.)

      Now, that said: Both you examples do come from a *MUCH* earlier period in his career….

      1. CF, how would “Demon With A Glass Hand” Make you feel any different. Your description of the characters fate sounds pretty much like life for you…me too til lately

      2. That the stories provoke thought is granted — even horribly done stories can provoke thought amongst the thoughtful (although sometimes that thought is “by what colossal failure of the entirety of the publishing apparatus did this reeking piece of dreck see the light of day?) — none of them challenge societies prevalent beliefs about itself nor do they afflict the comfortable.

        Being able to interpret a story as thought-provoking and challenging often has very little to do with the story itself, unless the deconstructionists are full of crap, and probably even if they are.

  16. Re: lives of the saints, I would like to point out that hagiography really is one form of heroic legend, even when it keeps very tightly to biography. So it’s supposed to be entertaining so that you’ll pay attention; and if there are signs and wonders, that’s God showing that He’s not above drawing attention with plot devices and entertaining scenes. 🙂 There are some pretty dire, soppy, unwholesome examples of hagiography out there, but I avoid ’em!

    Looking back, I’m pretty sure that my child-self liked St. Therese’s (abridged for kids) autobiography in the parochial school library for the same reason I liked Little House on the Prairie books. The content was different, but a lot of the appeal was the same — writers talking about what life was like when they were very young girls. As a young girl myself, this was right up my alley.

    The school’s book of Lives of the Saints had gorgeous color illustrations (like a fairy tale book) and was non-soppy in its prose style (they wanted to appeal to both boys and girls, I’m pretty sure). It was also similar in some ways to books about the Founding Fathers, famous American heroes, etc., and tried to give kids a sense of timeline. I was reading a lot of Time-Life history books back then, so again, it fit in. If there’d been any saint books that involved horses or dogs, I probably would have checking them out every week of the school year.

    Anyway… I’m highly in favor of saints who started out as pirate kings or assassins (on the historical side), or St. Meno’s boot to the gut on the wonder tale side. I also like the multiplication of the ice cream cones, because it’s just so gratuitously nice.

    1. Oh. The lives of saints I am talking about are mostly the ones my students’ parents bought for their daughters. These girls were often gifted and those books convinced them NOT to read. Whether it convinced ANY of them that virginity was the ultimate virtue, I doubt. Yeah, they were mostly histories of virgins and sometimes virgin martyrs but told in the “From her infancy she knew–” style where all the saint does is pray and look afflicted.
      For a secular version of this, read the Countess of Segur. Not her fairytales, which are delightful and tempt me to write updated versions as romances, but the other ones, the contemporary stories, where the little girl is wonderful from the nursery and forgives the bad girl, and never has an evil thought, and is well rewarded.

      1. Well, that’s no fun. But I guess they figured they had to soften most of those virgin martyrs disobeying their parents and denying all human control of their actions. To emperors, kings, emirs, and all arranged marriages, phbbbbt says the virgin martyr, and makes it stick.

      2. I’ve read Saki. Her medals for deportment and punctuality will clink together at a *very* inopportune moment, and she’ll be wolf chow. I loved that short story …

      3. … read the Countess of Segur. … the contemporary stories, where the little girl is wonderful from the nursery and forgives the bad girl, and never has an evil thought, and is well rewarded.

        Thank-you, no: I am diabetic.

        1. Oh yes. Her fairytales are actually fun, though I think they might be GIRLY fun. the dresses… I used to try to draw the dresses she described 😛

          1. On Gutenberg, there’s an English translation of a fairy tale book by her, with really gorgeous Twenties-style sorta-Japanese illustrations by some woman named Sterrett. So apparently you’re not the only one. 🙂

  17. The boomer generation was the first time a significant number middle class people were both wealthy enough and educated enough to take on these ideas and to want to “make a difference.”

    Then there’s also the “Follow your heart” thing. I’m now into the fourth Jack Reacher book, and it almost went against the wall last night. The FBI Agent he was talking with was telling him he should follow his inclination to be a drifter, instead of telling him to grow up and be a man, for the sake of his girlfriend.

    My brother gave me these books, and I know he’s no more Left than I am, but I wonder how many more I can read before I can’t take it any more. The third book floated the twaddle that, “We got beat in Viet Nam”, instead of having abandoned our allies and not giving them the material support we promised

    The only reason I’m still reading them is that the action is good, and I like how Reacher has a talent for figuring out how things went down (he’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes that way, even though there hasn’t been any comparison), but if this keeps up, I’m going to have to give them back or give them away.

    1. ANYONE that says “we got beat in Vietnam” automatically goes against the wall, I don’t care how “good” the book is. I detest that idea, and I won’t support it or anyone who professes it. Just a personal quirk I picked up when the US refused to honor its treaty commitments with the government of South Vietnam.

      1. We didn’t get beat in Vietnam. We got beat in the United States. And while the conflict in Vietnam has been over almost as long as I’ve been alive, the conflict we lost here in our own country isn’t over yet.

      2. “We got beat in Vietnam”? Brother, that fight was fixed and when Nixon’s strategies were winning despite the fix — we took a dive.

  18. I am not currently a writer but I am trying to work up to it.
    The reason why I want to write is that I want to have my own starship and see the universe.
    The problem is I don’t know how to build a starship and ebay or amazon doesn’t offer any for sale.
    The only way I am going to get a starship is to get someone to build one for me. To get them to build it people need to be inspired and believe they can.
    I want to be on board the Venture 7333 and trek through the Chaledor. I want to face space pirates, unlimber the turrets of the nova guns, shoot off their front end, shoot off their rear end, and ram ’em in the middle.
    I want fly in the Racing Yacht Jongo III in pursuit of the Lady Raire.
    I want to see stars being born and die. Comets passing through the night. I want to fly through the rings of Saturn and watch worlds collide.
    I want to go where no man has gone before.
    I want to explore the ancient cities on dying worlds.
    I want to loot temples lost to history.
    I want to defend friends, family and civilization from hordes of barbarians.
    I want to overthrow the corrupt oppressive despots and see people live free.
    I want to see Cygnus Maelstrom. The Attack ships off the shoulder of Orion. The spiral of Beta-Lyrae. The Okie Cities in flight.
    I want all of this, I just need someone to help me build it.

  19. I write to please myself.

    And perhaps to keep myself sane, because when I don’t write the characters, the story fragments and scenes, and the plot fragments I can’t keep out of my head seem to have a tendency to get stuck in a way that is not necessarily good. Writing the story releases them in way which seems to be healthy. But since I need some practical reason to manage the writing part I mostly try to think in terms of money – I have been in a bad spot financially for nearly five years now, and perhaps there might be enough people who’d like the stories that I might be able to get at least some money out of this.

    The truth is that I have been writing, from time to time, since my 20’s, but with the way things were – very small local markets for my language, especially for the stuff I create, before internet the difficulty of trying to get to the English speaking ones (combined with the fear that as a non-native speaker my English might not be good enough) it was a few starts, lots of stops. Even after internet when you could more easily find addresses and other resources it was mostly stops when I figured selling something with the way publishing was was highly unlikely and I would probably be just writing into the drawer, and that was just a waste of time and I should try to do something more sensible instead.

    Besides I was kind of raised with the idea that artists, writers included, should really be aiming for something more lofty than just entertaining, and even the mere entertainers needed years of training in some school or at least as apprentices to some professional before they should try doing something on their own, and since I had none of that I was probably doomed from the start anyway.

    There were lots of excuses not to. I also never got any encouragement from anyone, every time I did mention the thing I’d get more excuses why I shouldn’t.

    Well, mostly I then wasted the time I might have used for writing reading and watching movies or television.

    So now I no longer have the excuse that I would never get anything published anyway so why try. But putting the stories out there where others can see them is still damn scary. Especially since I honestly can’t really claim any higher motives (well, the hope of being perhaps able to support myself financially, one day, counts, I guess). This is mostly just one sort of self-therapy. I can’t keep from getting the characters and the story fragments, and the only way to pass them seems to be writing the stories. Even if the only result is being invaded by more of the same, but at least they are then something new. Progress?

    1. I don’t think you need to worry about the English, if I didn’t know you were from Finland I wouldn’t realize English wasn’t your first language. You speak it (or write) a lot better and are more understandable than most Brits 😉

      1. Thanks. I have just done a five day free promo for the second novel, and got two nice four star reviews, except both had complaints about that part, so I’m a bit nervous right now.

    2. Even if it is only to please yourself or exorcise inner demons, one thing to remember: it worked for Kafka.

      Speaking of which, does Franz K. refute the “social critique, afflict the comfy” school?

      Does anyone want to argue Harlan wasn’t just jerking the interviewer’s chain?

      1. It bore speaking about because a lot of idiots will take it wholesale, anyway. I’ve heard any number of my colleagues, and one pro editor say this UN-IRONICALLY. Also my minister which is why we don’t attend his services anymore…

        1. Surely many idiots like to think that, but isn’t Ellison merely comforting the comfortable with such a statement? Isn’t it rather like a college professor boldly challenging the status quo by defending affirmative action or denouncing school policies that are insufficiently deferential to women? Or an MSNBC commentator denouncing conservatives as fascist and patting himself on the back for speaking truth to power?

          Either Ellison is spouting self-serving sanctimonious nonsense or he is pandering to the audience. Like Bill Maher dismissing Sarah Palin as a “stupid -unt” whose son is a “retard,” this is the lowest form of boldly going where plenty of persons have gone before.

          1. Heh. But boldly going down the well-trodden highway is the well-known route to ‘daring’, ‘unique’, ‘controversial’ and ‘groundbreaking’ as praise songs for latest regurgitation of the status quo.

            1. It hasn’t escaped my attention — nor, I daresay, that of any other of Hoyt’s Hons — that much of that tommyrot is about as bold and daring as putting cream cheese on a bagel.

            1. Joy. And here I thought it was the minister’s duty to comfort the afflicted, not engage in punking the congregation and pretend it is instruction.

  20. May have been brought up earlier and smacked down as a concept, but…

    Have the Huns ever thought of creating an online writer’s group? Or are there places where you already go for that?

    1. I’d join. I’d even help moderate. (Somebody’d have to, with this crowd.)


  21. It’s good for getting them out of your head, and potentially into the heads of people who will be entertained by them. 🙂

    I’d write for money if I ever finished anything and found somebody interested in giving me money for it.

    In the meantime, I write because I’m the kind of guy who writes an opening paragraph mocking the infamous “dark and stormy night” openings, and two weeks later is sitting with his wife in a diner talking about his narrator, who’s so obsessed with film noir and hardboiled detective novels that he frames every event of his ordinary life in noir-ish terms, to the frequent amusement and occasional actual annoyance of his friends and associates, seeing as how he lives in the suburbs of modern Detroit, and works not as a detective or something but as a phone support tech for a medical-device company based in India, making occasional arguments in his off hours about how a giant Indian corporation hiring American subcontractors (even if they are Detroiters) to do their phone support is just more proof of the noir-esque collapse and decay of society. But when his friend, the cyberpunk fiend, tries to raise an analogy with how Japan appeared to Americans back in the ’80s when cyberpunk was still a live thing, he just dives into a rant to the effect that it’s not like cyberpunk AT ALL, because cyberpunk SUCKS and is TOTALLY UNREALISTIC…and his other friends just roll their eyes at the unrecognized irony, and get him another beer.


    I’m not the sort of person who’d end up in a straitjacket if I didn’t write…and indeed, I’ve been known to go _years_ between the time one idea-that-seems-good peters out and the time the next one appears, but when one comes, it just seems wrong to _ignore_ it.

    1. “Jeremy Clarkson wandered the halls of the BBC offices, muttering ‘damn and blast’ like an obsessive-compulsive beaver who had just discovered how to make dynamite.”

  22. Somewhat OT but related I think.
    1. What the heck is “making a difference”?
    2. What the heck is “building community”?

    They sound like nonsense to me.

    As far as #1 goes why can’t you do as the ancients advised and “live a good life” whatever that may mean for you.

    As far #2 goes it’s pure gibberish to me.

    1. They’re synonyms, and “making myself feel good about what a great person I am, as opposed to all these scum about me, with the minimum expenditure of time, effort, and money.”

    2. I thought “making a difference” was tantamount to establishing an inequality, and “building a community” was like installing those developments with thousands of houses on the hills in identical patterns.

      1. Those people believe that “making a difference” means eliminating differences, usually by stealing from one person and giving to another. They think they’re like Robin Hood, but they forget that the Rich that Robin Hood stole from were representatives of Government.

    3. It depends on who is saying them. ‘making a difference’ – that’s my wife doing meals-on-wheels deliveries so a bunch of elderly folk can go on enjoying their independence in their own homes, and eat properly at least once a day, and oddly costing the state less money, and giving the old ducks a visitor. It probably does make her feel good too, but it does take a fair amount of time, effort and money. Building a community – that’s all of us turning out to help firefight. That’s a bunch of us getting together to put up a new jungle-gym for kindergarten. You get to know people, and it makes it pretty good place to live… But those words get stolen to mean some other drivel.

  23. If Mr. Ellison wants to afflict the comfortable he should become a tax collector. The story is the point of the story. If you’re putting anything before the story then you might as well be writing religious tracts and knocking on people’s doors on Sunday mornings trying to hand them out.

    People write stories for the same reason folks slap paint on canvass, get on stage and sing, or chip away at a block of marble. It’s as simple, and as complicated as that.

    The thing that has to be remembered about story telling, whether it’s the bible, Little Women, Lord of the Rings, a pulpy paper back, or Fifty Shades of Bondage, is that the stories we tell ourselves make up the DNA of our culture. They help us decide as a people what is virtuous and what is taboo, what we should strive for and what we should scorn. If our stories mock the heroic, the individual thinker, mock freedom, and all the other things that have made Western civilization possible, then those things will go away and so will the culture.

    So maybe you shouldn’t go out of your way to afflict the comfortable, but at least be aware that you are, in your own little way, helping to write the moral code for the rest of society. Writing your dinky little novel about orcs and elves, spaceships and evil aliens can have more of a long term impact than any protest or political debate.

  24. Chad wrote:
    “…the stories we tell ourselves make up the DNA of our culture. They help us decide as a people what is virtuous and what is taboo, what we should strive for and what we should scorn. If our stories mock the heroic, the individual thinker, mock freedom, and all the other things that have made Western civilization possible, then those things will go away and so will the culture.”

    Maybe they want to tear society to bits, or are brainwashed into the shibboleths they hold.

  25. I just want to know which “comfortable” needs afflicting. There’s all sorts of folks out there who need, as Jean-Luc Picard once said, “a good swift kick in [their] complacency” — typically starting with the folks who *don’t* think they need it.

    And given the way Authority Figures reacted to what I was writing in school: I can “afflict the comfortable” just by writing what I feel like writing…..

  26. Thinking of Harlan Ellison and “afflicting the contented”, I remembered one of his early stories. A hippy type who was a political agitator was kidnapped by these aliens. The aliens put him in a cage (along with his bullhorn) and he sees that the aliens had enslaved another alien species. He begins lecturing the Master Aliens about their own evil. The Master Aliens obviously stop to listen to him, wipe themselves in self-punishment but go on with their daily lives (which includes punishing their slaves). So the hippy is “afflicting the contented” but the contented listen without changing. [Very Big Evil Grin]

  27. I heard some one was looking for seafood and grabbed a cat by mistake, so I had to stop by. 🙂 Sorry I’ve disappeared – editing and IT work have been slow, so I’ve added two new jobs, and am working like a madman. On the bright side, my boss as a landscaper is a writer and is using me as a sounding board for what promise to be some ripping good yarns.

    On the subject at hand, story is paramount. There have been a few authors I’ve read with delicious prose that I enjoyed for its own sake, but they are vanishingly few, and most of them can write a good story on which to hang that prose. On the other hand, I don’t know how many books I’ve read over the years where I willingly gritted my teeth and plowed through awkward phrasing and glaring typos because the story was fun and the characters engaging.

    Tangentially, Man of Steel has some excellent storytelling (I can’t remember another superhero movie getting me choked up, and several times at that) and some very pro-liberty themes. Highly recommended. Also, for Our Beloved Hostess and others who have children with sensory issues (or have them ourselves) one of the flashback scenes will be extremely familiar.

  28. “You can tell stories to educate and enlighten. I will tell you right now these are my least favorite type of stories. I never enjoyed the lives of saints. But there is a certain type of people who likes these and even finds them edifying. And of course the writer’s idea of right and wrong always shows in a story, and that’s okay.”

    I feel the same way for the most part except I did like Aesop & Son and Fractured Fairy Tales from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.

  29. that’s what writers are supposed to do, afflict the contented

    Actually Harlan is right, just not in the way he thinks. Take Star Trek. If afflicted so many people, that when it ended they couldn’t handle not having it.

    Seriously. I was in Star Trek fandom I wrote FanFic (pretty bad, but hey, I was learning), attended conventions, played Star Fleet Battles, and in general paid to much attention to a fictional reality. Did the same with Lord of the Rings and The Dying Earth. Yep, I played D&D for years…

    Good writers afflict readers with a wish to stay in their universe, and keep on having adventures. They also open their readers minds to things that they might not otherwise of thought of. Like different marriage types (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), politics and history (Piper’s Federation and Empire stories), and even silly stuff like a kid learning about life (Mark Twain and J. K. Rowling).

    And I think that’s neat.


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