Flights of Imagination

*I’m sorry this is so disgracefully late.  I was a bad, bad, bad writer yesterday and had dinner with one of the occasional readers of this blog who happened to be in town (and who is a friend.)  AND THEN this morning had to unload the SUV and then unpack enough boxes to make coffee.  So by the time I sat down to write it was 10 am, and I got sidetracked.  And now I’m going to unpack boxes as I’m temporarily in possession of an older son to help me move things up and down stairs.*

Lately there has been a lot of flap in the respectable literary circles to which none of us would belong, even if they sent us a gold plated invitation about how you must not just writing only what you know, but you should write only what you ARE.

I’ve been on record many, many times that you should write what you don’t know, in the sense that you should write what you haven’t lived.  (Not can.  SHOULD.  It stretches your craft and allows you to experience something else rather than the space behind your eyes.)

Writing what you know should mean something different.  Once you’ve studied a subject or a set of circumstances, you know it and can then write about it.  This is in no way restrictive, and in this sense I FULLY agree with “write what you know”.  I.e. for instance, the person who wrote a regency mystery in which — in ENGLAND! — a nobleman could safely shoot someone in a main street in London and there was no outcry, only “well, he was a peasant” didn’t write what she knew, and made absolutely no effort to check her facts.  More shockingly, Penguin Putnam published that piece of dreck, once more proving the necessity of layers and layers of fact checkers, and demonstrating of fact checkers.  An indie publisher could never have corrected– oh, wait, never mind.

We’ll return to this particular piece of dreck later, for other reasons.  (No, not giving the name, partly because I don’t want to start a fandom fight, and partly because, d*mn it, I can’t remember it.  I deleted it from my kindle with a loud PFUI and have since forgotten both author and title.  This is good.  If I ever meet the author I won’t say “OMG, it’s you! How could you be so stupid?”)

However, by the side I entered publishing, there was already a string of crazy-cakes elderly aunts (particularly the men) screaming that you should only write what you’d LIVED.  Which suddenly and with enlightening force has revealed to me why their novels could cure insomnia.

Look, I’ve lived a relatively more adventurous life than most, by the definition of adventure where it is bad things happening to someone else far away.  A great part of it was through no fault of my own.  I’m a fruit of a place and a time and that whole “peaceful revolution” thing was vastly exaggerated.  Oh, sure, it was not the French revolution, or even the Russian or the Chinese.  But to consider it peaceful you’d need to avert your eyes from several incidents.  Which most of the press did, because these happened to people of no consequence.  And at any rate, you can’t have a revolution without the public getting shirty about it, on either side or — like me — against both sides (though I wasn’t above assuming one side or the other to piss off the other side.  I was a teen.) So there were… incidents.  And those could be the fodder of stories, except for a) my wretched memory.  I can’t even remember WHEN certain things happened.  I retain a memory of escaping through a small window to an alleyway because police were asking for ID at the door (I THINK I was out after the curfew.  I THINK it was nothing exciting.  Just hanging out with friends.  Sweeps were rare, but…) but I can’t for the life of me remember if I escaped through a bathroom window or a warehouse window, if the tip to the guy who showed me that route was extortionate, OR if he did it out of the kindness of his heart.  And I can’t remember WHEN.  All of which would help write a story about it.

Then there’s the various times I disrupted demonstrations in the school: Which year?  What was the price paid?  Don’t know.

Worse, all of these memories have become tangled in things I’ve read, things I’ve studied, and other, later incidents.

And while these were exciting, I don’t feel any particular impulse to write them.  Also, my LIFE wasn’t exciting.  Most of it was boredom, studying, working, and a lot of weekends spent in my bedroom reading, because, you know, I WAS a geek girl.

Since then my life has been anything but adventurous, and certainly not particularly fun to write.  I mean, I could write about my early married years, but even if I set it on terraformed Mars, it would still be a “slice of life” novel.  Now, if I introduced alien invasion…

But of course alien invasion never happened and I can’t tell you for sure how it could go.  For all I know I’m othering the Martians and disrespecting their culture.  (Hangs head in sorrow.)  At any rate, there will be a lot of crazy Marxists, telling me that I only wrote Martians instead of gays, or women, or the poor, or some race or other.  Marxists can’t help it.  They’re rather like the crazy people who follow you screaming things in the downtown of any big city.  Take my son at 13, for instance.  There was a crazy homeless guy in downtown Colorado Springs, who would follow my son around screaming that my son had run over his daughter.  Choice phrases included “You think it’s fun to drive your car and run over people.”  What had Robert done to bring this about?  He existed.  He didn’t even look old enough to drive a car.  But something about his existence piqued this man into deciding Robert was the man who’d killed his daughter.  I can’t even say if he ever had a daughter.  I can just say that when Marxists or crazy street people shout this stuff at you, you should understand the problem is theirs, not yours, and just pretend you didn’t hear.  (Though when I was sixteen and the guy followed me around downtown Porto shouting “you left me for a woman, you whore” this was rather easier said than done.  Never mind.)

However, if I introduce Martians, something I blatantly don’t know in the sense of haven’t lived, into the equation, then I can construct a tale few people have lived (and which might include escapes out of warehouse windows) and therefore interesting to read.

Because the whole point of reading fiction is to LIVE through things you wouldn’t otherwise experience, not to read about other people’s just like yours, humdrum lives.

While I was writing the above about Marxists inevitably saying the villain in your novel must be a placeholder for another race/gender/orientation/nationality, whatever, it occurred to me WHY they are so invested on people writing only what they lived and what they are.

It is entirely possible that flights of imagination are unknown to them.

This is not as strange as it might sound to those of us who whiled away our school days imagining various adventures.  There seem to be in the world a vast number of people — possibly a majority — who can’t really imagine anything wholly new, no matter how hard they try.

It has nothing to do with intelligence.  Even in gifted classes, you see this effect.  The teacher asks the students to write a story and what she gets is a rewrite of the last story read in class. OR you get a mishmash of the last two stories.  OR you get a recounting of the last movie they saw, with names changed.

People who write fanfic (have been known to do that) are several steps above that.  And people who write completely different stuff from anything existing are… apparently baffling.  Which is why — besides assuming that we’re bad people, without any proof but that we disagree with them politically — then tend to pour over our stories in increasingly far-fetched search for allegories and symbolism that mean we’re really, really, evil.

Bah.

I read because I want to experience being in someone else’s head.  I don’t require that the character match the author, I DO require that the author convince me.

To return to the unnamed dreck, this woman was supposedly portraying a tall gentleman, but all of the characters reactions were so wrong, that I kept reverting to seeing him as a small woman.  I finally settled on “Extremely effeminate small gentleman” and so was quite shocked when a woman comes out of the shadows and ravishes him.  (Yes, you read that right, and THAT was wrong, too.  Not that I have anything against a woman ravishing a man, but that the mechanics were …. subtly wrong.  It was not a woman ravishing a man, but a man ravishing a woman.)

By which I mean, by all means, write what you aren’t and haven’t lived, but make sure you know it enough to inhabit that space behind the eyes and then sell it to the readers.

And now you’re wondering why there is a writing blog at according to Hoyt instead of at Mad Genius Club.

There is a blog about this here, because this goes beyond writing.

It is, of course, possible that the people insisting the character MUST match the writer are in good faith, and that being devoid of that kind of imagination themselves they can’t imagine anyone else possessing it.  It is POSSIBLE, even if it is unlikely, since if you DO write what you are, then they accuse you of MarySuing, but that might just be the “crazy people compulsion to follow people on the road and scream at them” in another venue.

Assuming they are in good faith: WHY in h*ll are these people in the arts, much less are accorded any kind of respect and authority?  What has gone so badly broken in our society that their demands aren’t met with the guffaws they deserve?

Another point is: do they imagine everyone is locked in the categories they are born into, unable to understand or work with anyone else forever?  No wonder they so much desire for the government to arbitrate everyone’s life and tell everyone how to live in the most minute detail.

But then the important question is: WHO ARE these creatures that constitute the government?  Last I checked — the Lord be thanked — there were neither gods nor supermen living among us.  So ultimately the people governing us are just humans.  And even if they try — they do — to have humans of like hue and sexual preference and whatever represent each population, the more power they have the more they have to interact with people different from them.  If they are incapable of understanding everyone else, then injustice is inevitable, unless we confine government to very small units over very small groups.  Which might, of course, obviate any sort of common defense or other benefits of civilization.

OR they could tear down that wall in their minds and realize we are all humans and that the hue of our skins, the people we prefer to have sex with, or our socio-economic status are not even the most important things about each of us.

And that the only way to understand the space behind another’s eyes is to put yourself in their places, using sympathy, empathy and, yes, imagination.

 

250 responses to “Flights of Imagination

  1. …and then unpack enough boxes to make coffee.

    Good grief woman. You had said that your office and kitchen were nearly done. This is proven a lie by the fact that you did not have the proper where-with-all to make that most necessary of fluids. And you say your health is improving…

    We are becoming concerned. Know you are loved.

  2. Isn’t a demand that an author only write what he (she, ze, whatevah) has lived oppressive to transidentity persons? Haven’t such persons suffered enough without being forced to limit their writing to what they’ve actually lived rather than the lives they identify as having lived? How can anybody be so cruel and heartless as to make such demands?

    • There are some very pilly seople out there. Moo.

    • By that definition, when exactly would Herman Melville been able to write a book about killing a white whale, if he had to spend his entire life at sea?
      While I don’t doubt your Husband and Sons are wonderful people, and I enjoy the occasional anecdote you post here, I would much prefer you write about Shifters and Oort Cloud pioneers.

    • You should thank whatever power you prefer that the Author wasn’t restricted to only creating what He knew. There was darkness. Let there be darkness! And there was darkness. It just isn’t the same, somehow.

  3. “It is entirely possible that flights of imagination are unknown to them.”

    I’ve always wondered if that is the reason that over the years, there have been intellectuals insisting that Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written all his plays and poems, because how could this lower-class and likely only somewhat educated man written of such scenes in the corridors of power, blah, blah blah.

    Imagination and research. Research and imagination open us doors to other countries than our own.

    • Willy the Shakes might possibly have talked to the household servants of the rich and powerful … of course, what could such ignorant uneducated drudges have observed that would matter?

      • Feather Blade

        Just goes to show you that our Intellectual Betters (TM) don’t regard the household help as people.

        • From Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers:

          Sea Captain: This pass is for one person.

          D’Artagnan: I am only one person. That is a servant.

          • Screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, which explains quite a lot.

            “There’s a point, you know, where treachery is so complete and unashamed that it becomes statesmanship.”

    • Actually, we have a fairly good idea of his education and it was arguably above average for the period.

    • The fun part is that his early plays do, in fact, show a lot of ignorance of high ranking people. You have him treating a crown like a hat — the king wears it around and hangs it up at night.

  4. I deleted it from my kindle with a loud PFUI and have since forgotten both author and title. This is good. If I ever meet the author I won’t say “OMG, it’s you! How could you be so stupid?”

    As so many of us have made a mistake at some point in our past that would render us embarrassed to have recalled, forgetting such things can be a good policy to take towards others. The poor writer may have learned better since. On the other hand they may not. Even so, it is still probably not the most constructive manner to start a conversation to announce upon making a new acquaintance, “OMG, it’s you! How could you be so stupid?”

    • My problem is remembering it is the Kindle, and it is not advisable to throw it against the wall like a paperback.

      • I suss a market opportunity here. There needs to be an app for Kindle that not only deletes an unsatisfactory book but does so to satisfying visual imagery: explosion, images of words being sucked down a garbage disposal, etc.

        After market additions to the app might include suitable accompanying sounds, alternate modes of destruction and even an email message to the author/publisher to the effect of:
        “Dear Sir, you are without any doubt, a rogue, a rascal, a villain, a thief, a scoundrel, and a mean, dirty, stinking, sniveling, sneaking, pimping, pocket-picking, thrice double-damned no-good son of a bitch.”

        • There needs to be an app for Kindle that not only deletes an unsatisfactory book but does so to satisfying visual imagery: explosion, images of words being sucked down a garbage disposal, etc.’

          I have it on excellent authority that any discarded books are taken down to the well of lost plots where they are dismantled into their constituent pieces for future use.

        • Free wrist strap included

  5. Maybe part of the problem is that we don’t agree on what “empathy” means?

    There’s at least these different meanings:
    Empathy: understanding how and why someone did a specific thing in a situation.
    Empathy: belief everyone is like you, at heart.
    Empathy: belief that everyone has some Very Important Things in common and that can be drawn on to understand them.
    Empathy: ability to mentally put yourself in someone elses’ shoes.
    Empathy: total agreement with whatever someone else tells you their situation is.
    Empathy: refusing to consider any sort of responsibility or even legitimate consequences being held by the one being empathized with.

    • I understand that those may all be meanings some unknowledgeable people believe the term to have, but only one is correct. It’s not that we don’t agree on what “empathy” means, it’s that many don’t have any idea of what “empathy” actually means.

      • Not quite right; they are all the fruit of the understand and share the feelings of another definition, they’re just filtered through world-view. Most of those are implicit, and they wouldn’t say it that way anyways– 1, 3 and 4 are not even contrary to each other, but depend on the situation.

        If you’ve got your flame underoos on, go look at some of the abortion/euthanasia/eugenics arguments about what “human” means. 90% of it is people who mean “people like me” or “someone I think should live” rather than the biological class. Likewise, “alive” gets used to mean something more like “has a life like me” rather than “not dead or inanimate.”

        • Exactly. And when filtered through completely irrational worldviews, they become wrong. Not merely different ways of interpreting the term, but flatly wrong. Incidentally, 3 is pretty much the correct definition. 1 isn’t empathy, it’s just knowledge. 4 isn’t empathy, it’s gullibility. 2 and 5 are just restatements of leftist multi-culti dogma.

          I agree with your last paragraph too. The big problem with those debates are that many of the debaters are using terms like “human” when they really mean “legal person,” and “alive” when they mean “viable outside the womb” or “capable of responding to stimuli.” If the people on all sides of the debate (and most other debates) would agree on the meaning of the terms used before debating, things might be a bit less likely to devolve into shrieking matches than they usually are.

          • And when filtered through completely irrational worldviews, they become wrong. Not merely different ways of interpreting the term, but flatly wrong.

            Now show a way to verify which world-views are irrational and which are just different.

            The other guy being wrong doesn’t do a lot of good if you can’t figure out how to convey it to him so he can change his mind.

            • In many (perhaps most) cases, you can’t change his mind. The best you can do is to make sure that anyone listening to the debate understands that his worldview is irrational and therefore isn’t infected by it. You’re not speaking to him, you’re speaking to observers of the debate.

              • You might want to check what I actually wrote….

                A big part of the issue with arguments online is that people flip from the “I will win, by changing his mind” and over-react in the opposite direction of “this is performance art.”

                This…does not have good results. This makes for people becoming the monster they’re fighting, in addition to dehumanizing the people involved.

                Give people the truth, try to make it so they can change their mind– and like raising a kid, you cannot control them, but you can give them the tools they need.

                • And you might want to check what I actually wrote as well. Certainly, try to change your opponent’s mind. Just don’t expect to. And know that you’re talking to more than just him, that anyone following your discussion is likely more convincible than the person you’re ostensively talking to.

            • Oh, that’s easy! I see it demonstrated by SJWs all the time, and they should certainly know! Just yell at him and tell him he is a {FillInTheBlank]ophobe for not agreeing.

            • Fox, I only stated that empathy exists. I never told THEM to have empathy.

      • Nonsense — they know very well what empathy means. It means “agrees and sympathizes with me.”

  6. sabrinachase

    Whenever I hear “you have to be x to write about x” my snarky inner voice says “The Education of Little Tree.” Which was cited by Native Americans as a true voice of their people’s experience. Author was white. I’m sure there are many other examples.

    It’s all just a way for weak and insecure racial guilt people to signal they are of the Elect, even though they have no melanin. See, they *know* they are guilty and they can show they are trying to rise above their Original Sin by telling *other* People of Pallor how wrong they are.

    Meanwhile, even though I am so pale the FAA has enjoined me from sunbathing three miles from any active airport due to glare, I have been told I could not rent an apartment because of my skin color. It was kindly meant, but still. Something tells me if I tried to put that in a story the usual suspects would label it “inauthentic”. Because it doesn’t match *their* ideas of what my “lived experience” should be.

    Besides, one of the neatest triumphs for a writer is to con the reader into thinking you are part of *their* community, when you aren’t 🙂 It means you are doing it WELL.

    • 15 years or so ago there was a “big” brewhaha over _Black Elk Speaks_ because it appears that there may well be more of John G. Neihardt in the book than Black Elk. A goodly number of people assumed it was 99% Black Elk and not so much Neihardt. Apparently not.

      • The Other Sean

        The professor for the intro to cultural anthropology sequence I took used Black Elk Speaks as one of the texts for the course. However, it was the annotated edition. Using Neihardt’s notes on his discussions with Black Elk, it indicated where Neihardt had inserted his own text or changed what Black Elk had said slightly. ISTR that Neihardt’s largest changes were largely of the “insert my own message here, but attribute to Black Elk” variety.

        • Well of course the wise white male champion of diversity and compassion understood better what the wise Native American was trying to say better than the wise Native American.

          After all, only straight white men can choose their thoughts…all others have their thoughts assigned by genetics (in fact, I hear women actually receive the entirity of Our Bodies, Ourselves via the second X chromosome). Thus, only those WHAM can sort out the thoughts of all the others and get the correct wisdom out of them.

          • Um… Someone one once made some noises about a fused Y in second x chromosome. (explaining why I consistently miscarried girls. SOMETIMES boys, but always girls.) I think it’s interfering with reception 😉

    • Author was a Ku Klux Klan Grand Kleegle, author of the “segregation forever” speech.

  7. This reminds me of an exchange I and some other would-be helpful NaNoWriMo veterans had with a newbie on the NaNo boards some years back.

    Newbie: So what are we supposed to write?
    Us helpful folks: Anything you want.
    Newbie: You mean they don’t tell us what to write?
    Us: Nope.
    Newbie: So what are we supposed to write?
    Us: Anything you want.
    Newbie: Like what?
    Us (trying to be patient): Anything. Just make something up.
    Newbie: What do you mean, just make something up?
    Us (still trying to be patient): Just make something up.
    Newbie: It doesn’t have to even be true?
    Us (with collective but invisible eyeroll): Nope. You see, that’s the “fiction” part in National Novel aka Lengthy Work of Fiction Writing Month.
    Newbie: Well, what’s the point of that?
    Us: (collective but invisible headdesk).

    The newbie seemed to have disappeared after that, apparently disgusted with our refusal to tell them exactly what to write and our silly insistence on making something up that wasn’t even true.

  8. Professor Badness

    People with no real imagination?
    Just the thought makes me sad for them. (You know, like the sadness I felt for the orcs who used to be elves in LOTR.)

    • My imagination is rather lacking, to the point where I’m constantly amazed by the things you all come up with. Heck, when I first started commenting here I felt like a total imposter because you’re all such creative people. The thing is, I like seeing the worlds other people create and find them far more interesting than what I come up with. I recognize that you all can think of things that never happened and don’t read too much into it.

      It’s the people that don’t realize that others really can imagine impossible things that are the problem. They figure that everyone is just like them and extrapolate from there.

      Seriously though, getting an original idea out of me is next to impossible.

      • Like he said.

      • And yet Reality seems to be a place where whatever we might imagine, it’s nothing compared to what the Universe pulls off. I am reminded that several years ago I was puzzled at Scott Adams Dilbert seeming to go into the weeds with the ridiculous Elbonia. And then a few months later, possibly related but I do not know for sure, he related how he was getting letters that began, “How did you know…” So, since he was well established, he decided to push things into the ever more absurd to see when the letters would stop. They didn’t.

        • I keep learning about people that make me think if I were creative they’d be great inspiration for a character. Then think that no one would find them realistic. Being reminded regularly that reality is often more absurd than fiction it kind of unsettling.

          • Tom Clancy replied to the accusation that his books were unrealistic with saying that there was no way he could get away with a plot where a B-movie goes into politics, eventually gets elected President, and ends the Cold War. And yet…

            • B-movie actor.

              Though, hrm, Plan 9 as politician? This year? It might win.

            • The Wikki plot summary of RAH’s Double Star. Admittedly a Hugo winner, 1956, but please don’t hold that against it:

              The story, which is told in the first person, centers on down-and-out actor Lawrence Smith (stage name Lorenzo Smythe, a.k.a. “The Great Lorenzo”). A brilliant actor and mimic (or so we are told, by Smith himself), he is down to his last coin when a spaceman hires him to double for an unspecified public figure. It is only when he is on his way to Mars that he finds out he will have to impersonate one of the most prominent politicians in the solar system (and one with whose views Smith deeply disagrees): John Joseph Bonforte. Bonforte is the leader of the Expansionist coalition, currently out of office but with a good chance of changing that at the next general election. Bonforte has been kidnapped by his political opponents, and his aides want Smith to impersonate Bonforte while they try to find him.

              Bonforte is rescued, but he is in poor health due to the treatment inflicted on him during his imprisonment. This forces Smith to extend his performance, even to becoming temporary Supreme Minister and running in an election. (This is made plausible through Bonforte’s extensive Farley Files.) The central political issue in the election is the granting of the vote to Martians in the human-dominated Solar System. Lorenzo shares the anti-Martian prejudice prevalent among large parts of Earth’s population, but he is called upon to assume the persona of the most prominent advocate for Martian enfranchisement. Smith takes on not only Bonforte’s appearance, but some aspects of his personality.

              At the moment of electoral victory, Bonforte dies of the aftereffects of his kidnapping, and Smith assumes the role for life. In a retrospective conclusion set twenty-five years later, Smith reveals that he wrote the first-person narrative as therapy. Lorenzo has become Bonforte, suppressing his own identity permanently. He has been generally successful and has carried forward Bonforte’s ideals to the best of his ability. Penny (Bonforte’s adoring secretary and now Smith’s wife) says, “she never loved anyone else.”

          • As has often been noted, fiction must make sense. This is why “based on a real story” is generally a warning that the tale told will make no sense.

            • “Based On A True Story” too often isn’t what actually happened (as well as not being good fiction). 😉

              • “Based on..” which also means, “not actually the true story – we HAD to go screw it up.”

              • Can result in lawsuits, too.

                The Stopla family were freaking morons, and their “based on a true story” movie slandered the entire valley. (Snowbound: The Jim and Jennifer Stolpa Story)
                The Army veteran doctor was especially abused– Doc Roberts was an awesome, dedicated woman who had been all over the world, was a team doctor for the Raiders at one point, and did multiple stints volunteering on relief missions in the jungle.

                Dave at the corner store specifically warned the moron husband that the map was wrong, the route was CLOSED… and the asses moved the huge sign saying basically “this route is closed, it’s winter, you’re gonna die if you go this way” in order to drive around it. They were so lazy they didn’t move it back, which helped the snow plow driver figure out which way they’d gone when their family noticed they hadn’t shown up and tried to retrace their route.

                They had to change names and roll some characters into composites to be allowed to air the movie.

      • Professor Badness

        If you can read something that does not/has not existed, and can envision it within your head, then you have plenty of imagination. I suspect that the people we are discussing here are literally incapable of reading sci-fi/fantasy and envisioning the world/story within their own head.
        Like I said, Sad.

  9. Most of it was boredom, studying, working, and a lot of weekends spent in my bedroom reading,…

    In reading history I have come to the conclusion that even the most exciting of lives were periods of boredom punctuated by excitement. For example I think of pioneers on the prairie waiting for the wheat to finishing ripening, hoping that no disaster would befall before they could bring in the harvest. Laura Wilder Ingalls made churning butter interesting. She just did not repeat this in her stories as often as she must have in life. The latter would have made very monotonous reading.

    Anyway as a reader of a wide range of fiction – science, fantasy and mystery – I become troubled by the idea that anyone should write only what he knows. It reminds me of the U.S. purge of children’s literature to remove the frivolous and fantastic in order to promote the useful and practical at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds. My mind rebels.

    • The Other Sean

      Laura Wilder Ingalls made churning butter interesting. She just did not repeat this in her stories as often as she must have in life.

      She may have planned to, but then thought butter of it.

    • “Anyway as a reader of a wide range of fiction – science, fantasy and mystery – I become troubled by the idea that anyone should write only what he knows.”
      Yep, pretty much ditches all SF, doesn’t it? What WWYK should really refer to is the part that all of us can share, the human condition part. I really don’t want experience in murdering people to be a requirement for mystery writers either. Now, understanding the motive that can make one want to murder someone, that part you need to know, and I think we all have that down.

      • I can imagine that someone who has succumbed to the impulse to murder institutionalized at the taxpayer’s expense whiling away the time constructively by writing interesting crime novels. Still, I wouldn’t want to live in a world that would limit my crime fiction to this.

        Agatha Christie was not a murder. (Unless we truly have no idea what she really did with her lost time.) She certainly was not a male Belgium expatriate working as a private consulting detective. She was able to write such a character in such a way that he is accepted the world over. I could go on, as could any of the Huns who post here. We could do it at great length and covering a wide variety of literature.

        • For one thing, based on existing examples of such authors (Mumia Abu-Jamal, e.g.) the books would mostly consist of explanations for why the murder was justified, necessary and the result of an oppressive existent power structure denying the needs of the oppressed.

          Lois McMaster Bujold, being neither a mercenary leader nor a diminutive white male needs must immediately repudiate every volume of the Miles Vorkosigan saga and donate the royalties received to date to an appropriate charitable organization, such as the VA (whose administrators can surely be trusted to spend the funds in a manner most conducive to the health and welfare of their charges.)

          • I said I could imagine … but I am not about to waste any of the precious little remaining time in this sphere of existence — even should it be decades — imagining that kind mind numbing drivel.

          • To say nothing of C. J. Cherryh…

      • …the human condition part.

        Er, well now…

  10. Tom Wolfe took on this advice, from a 2006 address, starting about 36 minutes, 45 seconds

    http://www.c-span.org/video/?192489-1/southern-today&start=2446
    From Transcript, typos (mostly) intact:
    … AND THAT BECAME MY INTRODUCTION TO IT. IT BECAME THE THEME OF THE ENTIRE BOOK, WHICH IS THE FRATERNITY OF THE RIGHT STUFF, THE BROTHER HOOD OF THE RIGHT STUFF OF MILITARY FLIERS PARTICULARLY WHO PROVED — WHO’S RANKED AMONG THE BROTHER HOOD DEPENDS ON THEIR OWN FLYING COURAGE AND COOLNESS, TWO WORDS THAT THEY WOULD NEVER USE OUT LOUD.

    NOW, GOING TO ALL THAT, BY WAY OF STRESSING THE IMPORTANCE, TO ME, OF GOING OUTSIDE OF YOUR OWN ORDINARY BOUNDARIES AS A REQUIREMENT GOING OUTSIDE OF THE DOMESTIC ARENA IS CONCENTRATED ON BY SO MANY WRITERS TODAY, TALENTED WRITERS, AND SOMEHOW, SOME WAY, SEEING WHAT IS ON THE OUTSIDE IS OUTSIDE OF YOUR EXPERIENCE.

    MY THEORY IS THAT EVERYBODY’S PERSONAL PSYCHOLOGY IS CREATED BY TWO THINGS. OR RATHER THE INTERSECTION OF TWO THINGS: ONE IS THE, I THINK, OF HORIZONTAL, THE SETTING IN WHICH YOU’RE LIVING. IT COULD BE A CITY. IT COULD BE A FARM. IT COULD BE THE AIR FORCE. IT COULD BE HIPPIES. BUT THAT SETTING IS GOING TO HAVE A CRUCIAL AFFECT ON YOUR LIFE. AND YOU HAVE YOUR OWN PERSONALITY, YOUR OWN SICOLOGY BUT WHERE IT INTERSECTS WITH THE SETTING IS WHERE YOUR LIFE AND YOUR REAL PERSONALITY IS CREATED.

    THIS IS SOMEWHAT SIMILAR TO HAGGLE’S THEORY FROM OH, MY GOD, ALMOST 200 YEARS AGO. MEANING THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE. AND HAGGLE SAID THAT EVERY HISTORICAL EPIC HAS ITS OWN MORAL TONE, AND THAT YOU CAN TRY ALL YOU WANT TO ESCAPE THAT ZIGEIST BECAUSE IT’S GOING TO IMPINGE UPON YOUR MORAL LIFE AND THERE IS NO WAY ON EARTH THAT YOU CAN ESCAPE IT.

    TO ME, I BELIEVE THAT IS SUBSTANTIALLY TRUE. I THINK THAT’S WHY IT’S SO CRUCIAL FOR WRITERS TO DO WHAT WRITERS DID ROUTINELY IN THE 19TH CENTURY, NAMELY, LOOK FOR MATERIAL OUTSIDE OF YOUR OWN LIFE.

    THE MFA PROGRAM, THE MASTER’S OF FINE ARTS PROGRAMS IN CREATIVE WRITING, STUDENTS TEND TO BE — HEAR THE FOLLOWING MAXIMUM OVER AND OVER AGAIN. W[RITE] WHAT YOU KNOW. AND THAT’S ACTUALLY GREAT ADVICE. BUT NOW WHAT DO YOU KNOW? [LAUGHTER] >>

    MOST OF US KNOW ONLY OUR OWN LIVES. AND THAT’S WHY YOU END UP WITH THIS PHENOMENON OF A BRILLIANT YOUNG WRITER KAN[A]BILIZING ALL THE MATERIAL OF HIS FIRST 25 YEARS ON EARTH, COMES UP WITH A BRILLIANT NOVEL. IT GETS GREAT REVIEWS.

    THEN THE SECOND NOVEL IS ABOUT A YOUNG WRITER WHO’S GOTTEN GREAT REVIEWS ON HIS FIRST NOVEL. [LAUGHTER] >>

    NEVERTHELESS, HE’S — WHAT LITTLE INCOME HE GOT FROM THIS HIGHLY PRAISED BUT NOT WIDELY BOUGHT NOVEL IS GONE, AND HE’S TRUDGING WEARILY UP TO THE FIFTH FLOOR OF SOME DECREPIT WALKUP IN THE HELL’S KITCHEN AREA OF NEW YORK AND THINKING ABOUT THE FACT THAT HE HAS NOTHING. HE HAS NO BEAUTIFUL LOVERS. HE HAS NO POWER. THIS IS NOT REALLY A VERY INTERESTING NOVEL. [LAUGHTER] >>

    THAT’S BECAUSE ALL THAT’S LEFT IS WHAT HAPPENED THE PRECEDING TWO YEARS. [LAUGHTER] >>

    DICKENS NEVER LET ANYTHING LIKE THAT HAPPEN. AND WHEN DICKENS WANTED TO WRITE FOR NICHOLAS NICKEL BY WHERE PARENTS WOULD PARK THEIR CHILDREN THEY DIDN’T REALLY WANT AROUND, HE WENT OUT THERE AS A PARENT, PRETENDING TO BE A PARENT WHO WANTED TO ENROLL A SON IN SUCH A PLACE.

    AND HE JUST SPENT A DAY THERE, SOAKED UP ALL THE ATMOSPHERE AND IT PROVIDED AN INCREDIBLE BEGINNING SCENES OF NICHOLAS NICKELBY.

    LET’S COME FORWARD TO JOHN STEIN BECK. HE WAS OUR FIFTH NOBEL PRIZE WINNER IN LITERATURE. AND HE ESSENTIALLY WON FOR THE NOVEL “THE GRAPES OF WRATH” AND HOW DID HE HAPPEN TO WRITE THAT? WAS HE AN OKIE WHO’S FAMILY WAS TRAPPED IN LABOR CAMPS AND WENT THROUGH HELL AND WROTE ABOUT IT.

    NOT AT ALL. HE WAS A FAIRLY WELL TO DO BECAUSE HE WROTE A BOOK CALLED TORILLA FLAT BUT HE JOINED THE STAFF OF THE SAN FRANCISCO NEWS SO HE WOULD A VALID REASON TO GO AROUND THESE LABOR CAMPS DOING THE GREAT DEPRESSION AFTER SO MUCH FARM LAND IN THE SOUTHWEST HAD BEEN WIPED OUT BY — IN THE TREMENDOUS DROUGHT THAT WAS KNOWN AS THE DUST BOWL.

    HE BOUGHT AN OLD TRUCK. HE SAID IT WAS AN OLD PIE TRUCK. HE PUT IN SOME CLOTHES AND SOME FOOD AND HE WOULD GO FROM ONE CAMP TO ANOTHER WHERE PEOPLE, MANY FROM THEM WERE FROM OKLAHOMA. THEY WERE ALL COLD OKIES. SOME OF THEM WORKING FOR 12 1/2 CENTS A DAY. AND HE FINALLY CAME UPON A FAMILY OF FOUR WHO WERE LIVING UNDER A CARPET.

    THEY’D MADE IT OUT OF HUB CAPS AND GRASS AND OTHER JUST PIECES, LIKE A GIGANTIC BIRD’S NEST. AND THE WIFE IN THIS FAMILY HAD HAD TWO MISCARRIAGES, LATE TERM MISCARRIAGES IN THE PRECEDING 18 MONTHS. AS SOON AS HE SAW THEM HE GOT THE IDEA FOR MA JOAB AND TOM JOAB. AND THAT FAMILY — I DON’T THINK THE AMERICAN FAMILY WILL EVER FORGET THE JOAB FAMILY IN THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

    TO ME, ALTHOUGH THIS CAN BE IMPORTANT, NOT BY GOING OUT AND LOOKING AT LIFE OUTSIDE OF YOUR OWN LIFE THAT YOU CAN GET COLORFUL DETAILS AND REALISTIC THINGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT OF, BUT IT CAN GIVE YOU A SENSE OF SYMBOLISM. A SENSE THAT THIS ENTIRE EXPERIENCE CAN BE CONCENTRATED IN THE LIVES OF ONE FAMILY, WITHOUT HAVING GONE OUT AND DONE IT, YOU WOULD NEVER HAVE HAD A NOTION OF WHAT THIS EXPERIENCE MEANT TO THESE POOR PEOPLE.

    NOW, EMERSON ONCE SAID THAT 1EVERY PERSON ON EARTH HAS A GREAT AUTOBIOGRAPHY TO WRITE IF THAT PERSON UNDERSTANDS WHAT IS UNIQUE ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE. AND FIND THE IMAGINATION OR THE — TO KNOW THAT THAT IS HIS EXPERIENCE. HE CAN WRITE A GREAT AUTOBIOGRAPHY, MEMORIABLE — WOULD BE REMEMBERED FOREVER. BUT HE DIDN’T SAY EVERYBODY COULD WRITE TWO AUTO BIOGRAPHIES. [LAUGHTER] >>

    AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM IF YOU JUST WANT TO WRITE ONE BOOK, BY ALL MEANS, WRITE ABOUT YOUR LIFE. IT’S PERFECTLY VALID MATERIAL, AND ALL THE DETAILS ARE PRESUMABLY AT HAND. BUT I RECOMMEND KEEPING A JOURNAL, MEMORY DECAY IS SO RAPID. MANY OF YOU PROBABLY KNOW. [LAUGHTER] >>

  11. There was a crazy homeless guy in downtown Colorado Springs, who would follow my son around screaming that my son had run over his daughter. Choice phrases included “You think it’s fun to drive your car and run over people.” What had Robert done to bring this about? He existed. He didn’t even look old enough to drive a car. But something about his existence piqued this man into deciding Robert was the man who’d killed his daughter. I can’t even say if he ever had a daughter.

    I know this was in no way funny, particularly for Robert.

    Still. Let me guess in that strange reality of your mind the man would turn into some ancient alligator, possibly of extra-terrestrial origin? Cough! Cough! Give me a bowl of red.

  12. There’s a parallel “teach what you know” thing about only women can teach Women’s History, only Persons of Color can teach Hyphenated History, and so on. It is assumed that if you have a PhD and two X chromosomes, you will teach a Women’s History course at some point and when the interviewer asks, it’s the kiss of doom to say no. [sound of hairball launch]

    Sorry, that’s a load of [fertilizer]. Study, work, learn what you need to learn, and write or teach what you want to and what you’re good at. Why shouldn’t a Finn write THE recent book on the Comanche Indians?

    • Oh, I think it would be very entertaining to teach women’s history. I just don’t think I could use a standard university reading list. Heh.

      • I could, given some time to research, teach a class about women in history. I can’t bring myself to teach Women’s History, because all the theoretical, ah, background stuff, makes my head hurt and my teeth clench as I try to force it past my logic and common-sense filters.

    • The mind is genderless. It is this sort of crap that convinces people they were born in the wrong body. because only x can make x and cans must match contents. I say this is my middle finger.
      By inclination I write male. Often gay male, assuredly but male. I had to learn to write females. And yet I thoroughly enjoy having a female body. So, there.

      • Yes. I wanted to either cry or hurl books when one of my advisors and I were at an academic meeting and she tutted and pointed out that every woman in the western history program at [redacted] was doing some aspect of “women in the west.” I’d wondered why they all seemed befuddled when we were talking about our research at a reception and I said I did water history and engineering in the US west. Apparently their department assumed that women grad students + west of 100th Meridian always = Women in the West.

    • The stupidest one I’ve heard of, and no it wasn’t a Poe, was that only women can teach fluid dynamics, because men don’t menstruate.

      Yep, some fine engineers coming out of that program, provided you’re exporting them to the enemy.

    • Professor Badness

      I seem to recall watching a documentary on a much touted Japanese historian. He was considered by the Japanese people, (or at least, the ones that were into history) as the quintessential scholar on Japanese history.
      He was also a white American man that had discovered a passion for Japanese history, and just did what he loved.

  13. Though when I was sixteen and the guy followed me around downtown Porto shouting “you left me for a woman, you whore” this was rather easier said than done.

    And you claim that your life is boring…

    The Spouse notes this must be why you became a white Mormon male with a great rack.

  14. It occurs to me that, according to this Theory of Authenticity it would be impossible for a black man of Puerto Rican descent, raised by two loving parents (father is a former political advisor, who advised New York City mayor Ed Koch, and his mother is a clinical psychologist) in Queens, NY to empathize with the experience of
    … a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
    Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
    Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
    Impoverished, in squalor
    Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

    Take Back The Tony!

    • Tho I remember Watership Down, and eye askance the …prey animals… that infest the Hallowed Halls, and consider that perhaps there’s a sort of prescience at work.

      • Hmmmm … what are we to conclude about the identity of Brian Jacques?

        Was Larry Niven of the Kzinti?

        L Frank Baum was never a little girl, a tin man nor a Queen.

        We won’t even get into Burroughs who, I am confident, never had more than two arms.

  15. There seem to be in the world a vast number of people — possibly a majority — who can’t really imagine anything wholly new, no matter how hard they try.

    And even if some do have an imagination they certainly do not want those who disagree with them to exercise their’s. For example they certainly do not want anyone to imagine a better world outside the paradigms of Marxism and to write this eloquently for others to read.

    • I think it is that Marxism, like the Cuckoo’s egg, crowds out all competing objects of the imagination. These people have room inside their minds for but a single idea, and Marxism has filled that space.

      • ‘Tis true that the lenses of Marxism are very thick. Yes, it could be because they understand that it takes every bit of imagination anyone is able to muster to actually believe what they are teaching.

  16. I’ve found myself chafing at any advice of this sort that deviates from “Write whatever the hell you want to write about.”

    “Write what you know” leans toward the implication that you shouldn’t endeavor to learn anything new.

    “Write what you’ve lived.” Sarah pretty much covered it, but I’ve read student submissions that convey realistic depictions of what I’ve later found out they had never personally “lived”. They just cared about getting it right, so they did a little homework.

    It’s as limiting as the fizzle of inspiration that produced that caricatured English gentleman shooting a “peasant” on the streets of London. These people – almost all invariably different shades of Left – only see people as caricatures or stereotypes. Complexity, nuance, and individuality ironically seem to escape the members of the Reality-based Collective.

    • The key seems to be, for a writer what is a writer that writes (and not a “writer” that has yet to…): Write now.

    • I prefer “Write what you want to know.”

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I prefer “Write the stories you’d want to read”.

        Of course, that doesn’t work very well if you want to read “SJW stuff”. 👿

    • I wonder if that should be “pheasant?” It would make the whole scene work better, right?

      • For some reason I can see Reginald Gardiner’s Beverly Carlton character from The Man who Came To Dinner saying this in his best Lord Bottomley voice, “Y-y-y-ou got what y-y-y-ou d-d-d-deserved, you d-d-d-d-irty pfpfppheasant!”

  17. Birthday girl

    Re lack of imagination: this is something I have noticed and pondered about the lefties in my extended family. They are not un-intelligent people per se – most of them have far more pieces of paper testifying to their education than I will ever have – but my experiences with them usually lead me to thinking “you are so dumb” a good percentage of the time. I think it’s lack of imagination that presents as just plain dumb.

    • This is a common adaptation of highly intelligent people, a learned response to an academic environment that rewards supplying the expected answer.

      Those who go beyond the anticipated boundaries are often penalized even when their “proof” of the proposition is stronger than the expected response. This is especially so when the person(s) having to grade responses cannot simply mark off certain key words, phrases and concepts against a grading sheet.

      It is only the not quite so intelligent (or resolutely mulish) who insist on plodding through the whole process and going outside the box.

      • The funny thing for me is that I teach at the masters and doctoral level, and so I start quite a few classes by pointing out that most of the questions we will be looking at do not have well-defined or single answers, and that in other cases, even the questions aren’t known yet, and we will be exploring how to create questions, collect information, and postulate possible answers. This often leads to some unrest as those who are expecting fixed answers to known questions suddenly hit the edge and fall off. I do point out that I understand they have spent 16 years or more learning to respond to well-known questions with answers inside the lines, but… That’s not what we are going to do in my classes!

        I think I terrify some of the students, actually. Although they usually do like my classes once they get rid of the idea that I know the answers or even the questions.

  18. Feather Blade

    The fun thing about “You’re only allowed to write what you’ve lived” is that if what you’ve lived does not comport with their preconceived notions of your class and station (e.g. you spent years in a foreign country living as close to native as possible), they can then excoriate you for “cultural appropriation”.

  19. Hmm. I’d been thinking lately about lack of imagination’s political and social consequences: it would seem that many of the people with whom I disagree politically are unable (or perhaps unwilling) to even try to imagine that I might have reasons for disagreeing with them. It is not possible, it seems, that my objections could be reasonable – wrong, perhaps, but reasonable.

    Any chance of rational discussion is stillborn.

  20. Anybody remember J T Leroy? He was the darling of the literary world for a year or so. An authentic voice writing about growing up gay in the American south. He won all kinds of awards and had a movie deal.

    Only, he wasn’t really a young gay southern man. “He” was actually Laura Albert, and when the story broke the literary establishment turned on her. The awards were rescinded and the movie company broke her contract. All of a sudden her books–not a word of which had changed–went from being brilliant to being utter trash.

    I wrote a piece about her on my blog at the time and she contacted me about it, and shared some of the hate mail she had gotten–very vicious stuff that accused her of being a fraud and a hoaxer.

    But here’s the deal–what she wrote was fiction. She never claimed that any of it was true. She used a pen name–which many writers do–and people made assumptions that what she wrote was autobiographical. She never claimed that, What she wrote fit the preconceptions of the elite and she was held up as a hero. She didn’t want that–she just wanted to write the stories that she wanted to write. But since her identity didn’t fit the identity that they wanted her to have she had to be destroyed.

  21. I have a friend who is continually amazed at the stories I and others come up with and asks constantly ‘how do you people come up with this stuff?’
    I don’t think it’s the ‘flights of fancy’ so much as the detail involved in fitting everything together to make an interesting story.

  22. kenashimame

    c4c

  23. Christopher M. Chupik

    In the span of two weeks, I was accosted by crazy people waiting for a downtown bus. The first ranted to me about the “87 people who secretly rule the world”. The second asked me if the book I was reading had “the electron bugs that go FZZZZ!”.

    I think there’s something about my quiet, unassuming manner that makes crazy people want to speak to me.

    • Oh, good, they did find you. Now listen, when the third man approaches you this week with his garbled demand that you take up the ring and save the world, go ahead and take the ring from him. Of course, you’ll be putting your honor and life on the line, but… Well, it’s your choice. But you’re the last chance…

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        But I don’t wanna be the last chance . . .

      • Sara the Red

        Seriously, sometimes those crazy folks can give you the *best* plot ideas. I knew one while living in Cluj-Napoca, Romania who was *awesome.* He always came to our English classes–and in fact, spoke very excellent English–and pretty much always behaved himself. He was quiet, and polite and (so far as I ever saw) harmless. But so very crazy. He tended to fixate on a particular person (in this case, because I was a missionary at the time, one of the group of missionaries in the city) and would…give them gifts. Such as detailed lists of every minute of his day and what the government agents following him were doing. Sometimes it was a (creepy) painting he’d done. He always swore that he’d been kidnapped by the (Romanian) military back in the 80s and experimented on (actually, that part…most of us felt might be true…)

        I felt especially privileged, because one day I got a detailed description–in neat, handwritten, correctly spelled English–of a secret US military base in Andalusia that used mirrors and reflections to become invisible. (More than a decade later, I choked at that scene in the Avengers when they ‘cloak’ the helicarrier…). It came complete with diagrams and explanations of how it worked, and it was all very coherent and even plausible (for a given value thereof). I remember, after having read over it and allowing my companion at the time to do the same turning to her and saying “…What if he’s not making this up?”

        He gave me another one that was rather less coherent and had to do with experiments on milk cows. I kept them both, and I swear one of these days either he or the notes he gave me will find their way into a story…

        • I remembered an article I happened across through Col Kratman’s where the Israelis had gotten to field prototyping a system that used infrared and visual receptors / emitters to make a Merkava tank look like a Humvee by picking up and reproducing the visual and infrared from behind the tank and projecting it across to the opposite side.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      It’s ’cause we can tell you are a good person who will give our ideas the attention they deserve.

      You should write more fanfic.

    • See, for instance, this blog.

  24. BobtheRegisterredFool

    in ENGLAND! — a nobleman could safely shoot someone in a main street in London and there was no outcry, only “well, he was a peasant

    Well, if the Sengoku Jidai ended in world conquest… the setting would likely be too AU to count as Regency.

  25. When I was in second grade, we had to write a story about a picture every week. The only one I remember was the drawing of a man with egg beaters for legs. For my story, I wrote about how he had a bakery and his wife had spatulas for hands and they made the most delicious cookies ever but they were constantly on the run from the muffin man who wanted to use them in his bakery but they didn’t want to work for him.

    My teacher told my mother I hadn’t completed the project as assigned because it hadn’t taken into account our social studies lesson about disabled people. I shouted at her that he wasn’t disabled, he was differently abled like in the book and there was nothing that said differently abled people couldn’t bake cookies if they wanted to.

    It turns out, everybody else in the class had basically just retold the story about the guy with no legs from the social studies book and she was thrown off because she actually had to read my story for content rather than fixing spelling mistakes (I didn’t have any) or grammar/punctuation (also perfect).

    Apparently (as reported by my mother, I don’t remember this part, but I tend to get fuzzy when I’m angry), I told her she was stupid and when I grew up I’d write stories about differently abled people who did things. She told me nobody would publish them and I told her I’d publish them myself.

    So.

    Thanks, Amazon, for helping me stick my tongue out at a stupid authority figure several decades later.

    • Brava!

      As the Klingon proverb says: bortaS bIr jablu’DI’ reH QaQqu’ nay’.

      It is very cold in the Consolidated Teacher’s Union Retirement Home.

      • Aaaaaand I just figured out how to actually write the story as an adult. With the man and his wife running an underground cookie ring, pursued by the gingerbread detective, and they’re muscling in on the muffin man’s territory.

        Dammit, plot bunnies, stop multiplying! I haven’t finished with the other ones yet!

    • The Daughter ran into her idiot teacher in Second grade as well. I met mine in the Fifth grade. I suspect that all of us here have that one teacher who taught us the very valuable lesson that just because you have a position of authority does not mean you merit it.

  26. Frankly, you should write what your AUDIENCE DOESN’T know, and depend on Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia to let you get away with it.

    Otherwise, I’m doomed, and I’ll NEVER finish Necessary Evil since it’s written from the first person viewpoint of a young girl in a magical middle ages setting. And I’ve never had a Succubus for a best friend, let alone met one, so I’ll NEVER be able to write that accurately….

    I’m such a fraud….

  27. This is an excellent bit of exposition with some really pithy insights about human nature.

    And I’m glad you made it out of that warehouse. Or gym. Or super-secret particle-beam weapons research lab.

  28. By the by, has anybody “seen” Fed the Fred for a while? I heard a terrible rumor that he’d been temporarily reassigned to Somebody’s security detail. If so, maybe we should send a sympathy card.

    • Nope, just did not have anything to say.

      As for being assigned to certain people’s security, it helps to know one’s superiors secret & silly sins and being willing to assist them in such secret & silly sins. 😀

      • Did not have anything to say??!? If everybody held to that standard we’d hardly ever exceed the fifty comment mark.

        • “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove that you’re a fool”.

          Silly Wallaby, why did you give me that opening? 😈

          • In European courts in days of yore, the Fool was often deemed the wittiest, wisest and most important functionary.


            Which is why that period became known as the Dork Ages.

  29. SJWs: “Write only what you know.”

    sumdood: writes what he knows

    SJWs: “Marty Stu! Marty Stu!”

    “The only way to win is not to play the game.”

  30. It’s not simply lack of imagination. It’s also a matter of mental training — what John M. Ford called the “rules of engagement” in his essay on the subject. If you aren’t used to reading stories about people who are exploring an ocean covered by ice on an alien world, you tend to assume those things are in the story as allegorical symbols.

    I have an example among my own circle of acquaintances: I know someone who is extremely intelligent, very well-read and well-educated, but has never been a fan of science fiction or fantasy. This friend reads all my science fiction work as satire of contemporary issues. That’s the only “lens” in that friend’s set of tools for interpreting my fiction that seems to make sense.

    It’s sort of the inverse of the rule many SF writers try to follow, that if you could tell the same story without the futuristic trappings, it’s not science fiction. The non-SF reader ASSUMES the SFnal trappings are there as symbols or satire, because the idea of writing SF for its own sake simply doesn’t register with them.

    • There’s a story that a producer first saw the concept for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” and wanted to know what it was about. Was it about the difficulties of the working class under Thatcherism, perhaps?

      Andrew Lloyd Webber had to explain that, no, it was about cats.

      It’s not just speculative fiction writers who have trouble getting people to see their actual stories and not try to read some sort of allegory into it.

      • Allegory is what pretentious HS English teachers browbeat their victims students into finding. Some people are so busy looking for subtext they’re incapable of seeing the text.

        • Professor Badness

          The reason I passed those classes with such high grades was my wonderful gift with BS. You don’t have to come anywhere close to reality with those papers. You just have to be able to follow a line of reasoning; (Fallacious or otherwise).
          It always got me excellent grades in Philosophy class.

        • Some people are so busy looking for subtext they’re incapable of seeing the text.

          I never have understood that… maybe it’s the second-hand Catholic training, but the whole idea of things having a deeper meaning is that they’ve got to have a meaning in the first place; Jesus feeding the multitude has to be a thing before it can also symbolize the Eucharist, or be a call-back to prior miracles of feeding vast numbers.

          The cup has to be a cup before it can be The Holy Grail.

    • Well, it doesn’t help that “The Making of Star Trek” and most stuff made subsequent to it insisted that it was…