October 23rd, 2004

bear by san

Into the mouth of Hell-- (I tell lies to strangers for money)

Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

This weekend marks the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of one of the most notorious blunders in military history. Terry Brighton, author of  Hell's Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade, talks about it on NPR... along with a recording of Tennyson reading his famous poem, and a recording of a Light Brigade bugler. Tennyson, I must say, sounds rather as you'd expect.


We're a pattern-sensing species. This is both the bane and the blessing of the writer--the bane, because when the patterns we're attempting to manipulate are delicate things, and because readers will sense patterns we didn't mean for them to pick out--and the blessing, because once you get the rhythm of the thing, you can manipulate the reader's emotions with remarkable accuracy--depending, of course, on whatever baggage the reader himself comes with.

And make no mistake--what we do as fiction writers is manipulate people: no two ways about it. Some of us are more or less cack-handed about it, and get caught--this the reader complaint that "I could see the strings." Some readers, being less sophisticated, need slightly more unsubtle manipulation than those whose naiveté has been cracked, and who have defenses in place against that manipulation.

That latter group of readers must be seduced. They don't walk in and hand you their suspension of disbelief; it has to be earned, teased out of them. They have to give it up willingly. It can't be taken.

This is another example of how the basic idiot-proof writing advice becomes more and more subtle and complex as one gets deeper into what one is doing, as a writer. For example, what I'm talking about here is really "Show, don't tell."

But in the coarse screening, show don't tell applies to action, and then to motivation, and then to description--until you've got it down to the ultra-fine grit, the stuff I'm talking about here--which involves showing the reader a pattern, and letting him interpret it and draw his own conclusions, rather than explaining to him what you intend it to mean. This ties into another familiar exhortation to writers: trust the reader.

For example, does it seem that I was drawing a parallel with current world situations with the Tennyson quote and the bit of history above? Depending on one's political leanings, it might seem a viable analogy, or it might seem transparent manipulation.

Or I could just have been caught by the date, and--being a Tennyson fan (and I am a Tennyson fan, although I know he's terribly out of fashion these days--the rhythm of his language is astoundingly powerful, to my ear, and I'm a sucker for doomed heroism), I might have taken the opportunity to link a bit of poetry.

That's the reader's 50% we talk about, in action.

It's all about patterns.

It's like magic. But it's not. It's all just sleight of mind.

I shall go
Up and down
In my gown.
Gorgeously arrayed,
Boned and stayed.
And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace
By each button, hook, and lace.
For the man who should loose me is dead,
Fighting with the Duke in Flanders,
In a pattern called a war.
Christ!  What are patterns for?

--Amy Lowell, "Patterns"
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bear by san

Link salad

rilina on trunk bits-of-novel

Real Live Preacher on a trip to prison--as a visitor.

via arcaedia: When good agents go bad.

Twenty years ago Monday, poet and author Richard Brautigan's body was discovered in his California home. He had died some weeks previously, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He wasn't a Beat, but he dressed like one.

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He shows up in the general goldfish story too. I like to think it would have amused him.

Phil Ochs does not appear. Neither does Gregory Corso.
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Because I am still a bachelor, I made more Food The Boy Won't Eat for dinner tonight. It was my version of a kind of giant pancake thingy from the Tassajara Bread Book crossed with something a friend had in a restaurant in Vermont when a bunch of us went camping up there in 2002.

I'm not quite sure what to call it, so I think it's being advertised as apple thingbob. *g*

Please forgive approximate measurements: I did it all with my hands.

~1/3 cup unbleached white flour
~1/3 cup whole wheat flour
~1/4th tsp salt
~1 tsp baking powder
~2 tbsp brown sugar
1 egg
1 pat butter (melted)
cinnamon & cloves to taste
enough milk to make it runny, because it is a pancake thingy, after all.

Preheat oven to ~375 or so. Pour batter into hot, buttered, oven-safe frypan and cook until it starts to bubble. lay thin slices of apple on top and sprinkle with a little more brown sugar. Stick in oven. When it starts to smell good, pull it out and sprinkle grated really sharp cheddar cheese on top. Stick back in oven until the cheese melts. pull out. Slice. Consume with gusto.

It probably makes enough for two to four, depending on how hungry they are; I've still got half of it left, I didn't have anything else with it, and I *stuffed* myself. The end product was a warm, deliciously scented, slightly bottom-scorched apple pancake thingbob about 2/3rds of an inch thick.

I think it would be even better with just a teeny bit of maple syrup on top, and it would be good for breakfast, too.

To make two bold statements: There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant.

--William Carlos Williams
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