QUADRIVIUM

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

What’s wrong with the modern novel?

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Two bloggers at the Telegraph decide to take on that question (H/T: Breakpoint). 

You can read a lot of novels nowadays that are perfectly good – there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. But there’s also nothing particularly right with them, either.

[…]

I’d still probably slog through 500 pages of hype-inflated, prize-laden pretentiousness about a lesbian commune in 1930s Cork than the stuff that really sells today: Brown and Meyer. Have you any idea why they do so well? I’m not against bestsellers by any means: Stephen King can write, or so I thought when I last read him, i.e. at about the age of 15. But, dear Lord, surely even during the wrong-headed fug of adolescence I wouldn’t have fallen for The Da Vinci Code or Twilight.

Fair enough.  I won’t argue at all about the merits of Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer.  If you look at the quality of writing between, say, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, and The Firm by John Grisham, there’s a measureable difference. 

Still, certain bestselling authors, like Orson Scott Card or J. K. Rowling, have managed to move me at least as much the sophisticated literary work of, say, Cormac McCarthy.   Even some of Stephen King’s prose manages to rise above the junk food metaphors critics typically wield to strike him down. 

There’s something Anton Ego says at the end of Ratatouille.  “The bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”  So I had to smile when one of the Telegraph bloggers manages a refreshing moment of honesty:

I suppose in the end though it’s the height of idleness to complain about the standard of modern novels – after all, if I dislike them so much, there’s nothing to stop me writing one of my own. The trouble with doing that, of course, is that I would soon discover that novelists have a far harder job than I’ve given them credit for in this discussion, and so I’d have to relinquish my sniping prejudices and admit that the current lot – Christ, perhaps even Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer – aren’t so bad after all. And there’s nothing that horrifies a blogger more than the thought of having to relinquish his sniping prejudices. Hell, they’re all we’ve got.

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Written by taj

August 11, 2010 at 11:13 am

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Quick Review: Avatar

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Saw the movie.  I hope to expand my thoughts and deliver a real review, but here’s the gist: Avatar is a great B-movie, wrapped up in incredible special effects. 

The story is its biggest weakness; the narrative fails to challenge the audience on any level.  And that’s okay–there’s a lot left there to enjoy.  The problem is that there’s so much there Cameron never bothered to tap.

Hope to write more on this soon.  For now, Overstreet’s review pretty much nails it.

Written by taj

January 11, 2010 at 7:37 pm

A Brief Word on Under the Dome

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1074 pages.  The story achieves lift-off somewhere around page 100, and rockets full-throttle all the way to page 1042.  Those last 32 pages kill the entire ride.

Written by taj

December 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm

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Overstreet posts best review of Avatar I have read so far…

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I usually find film critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet’s insights invaluable.  And in regard to Avatar, he does not disappoint.

Most critics either gush over the film or dismiss its contrived plot, but others have managed a more balanced approach.  James Cameron has always delivered a feast for the eyes, and anyone familiar with his work would agree with Steven Greydanus–Cameron is a master manipulator adept as making his themes seem weightier than they really are.

I never suspected Avatar to be any different, but all the talk of its sermonizing has started to make me wonder if it was somehow weaker.  Overstreet’s reaction to the film has at least compelled me to take the time and go see it (maybe), but still manages to cut through the hyperbole.

The masterstroke of the original Star Wars‘ trilogy was its bold third-act subversion of audience hopes and expectations. Lucas made the villain we loved to hate into a redeemable human being, one who could be saved by grace. Avatar has nothing so bold or redeeming as that, nothing to discomfort audiences with the wild truth.

What begins as mythmaking devolves into political pulpit-pounding, a narrow-minded “war-for-oil” critique of recent and present-day American military interventions in the Middle East that sounds oh-so-2004.

[…]

So I’ll join the chorus in singing “I can’t believe my eyes.” But I cannot echo the recurring declaration that the movie is “mind-blowing” unless I mean that the movie short-circuited my intellect as I watched. The waves of toys spilling from Cameron’s toybox momentarily distracted me from the fact that what he’s built from them is flimsy and crude.

As an achievement in technical innovation, Avatar is phenomenal, a ride worth taking more than once, but as adventure movies go, it is impressively new in every way except the way that matters most. Its look will last. But its heart won’t go on.

After waiting 12 years for another Cameron film, I had hoped for better.  Sure, Cameron could never live up to the hype he generated.  Who could? After all, this was the film to which Titanic was a mere detour, right?

Riiight…

Written by taj

December 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

Has Lost Ever Had a Master Plan?

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We have asked from the beginning whether Lost creators J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof ever had a master plan for the show’s tangled web of mysteries. Committing to a show that would take (and has taken) years to reveal its secrets hinged on whether or not the initial mysteries really pointed to something bigger. After all, we’ve had our hearts broken before. Twin Peaks collapsed after wrapping up the mystery of Laura Palmer’s demise. The X-Files limped on into mediocrity. Many expected Lost to simply implode on itself, another casualty of creative minds spinning an intricate tale without a clue as to where it was all headed.

For many, Lost assumed the mantle of cult phenomenon as early as its fourth episode, “Walkabout.” As the mysteries unfolded into the third season, cracks started to show. Once audiences followed Jack to Thailand to get his tattoos, we began asking the question in earnest: Is any of this actually going somewhere?

David Fury, who wrote the famous Locke-centric “Walkabout,” dashed any such hope back in 2005, telling Rolling Stone that most of the show’s early plot developments were created on the fly. Ain’t it Cool News recently asked first season co-producer Jesse Alexander if the notion of time hopping the castaways to 1977 (a major story arc last season) was ever discussed during his tenure in the writer’s room. His answer? An emphatic “no.”

Meanwhile, various comments throughout each season’s DVD commentaries or special features hint that the series writers have spent significant time mapping the show’s trajectory. Lindelof and co-show runner Carlton Cuse have insisted in interviews, most recently this past Monday for TVGuide.com, that they developed a mythology with a specific story conclusion in mind. That conclusion, they maintain, has never wavered, only shifted to accommodate characters and events as they developed.

So the question is: how much of Lost’s enigmas and unanswered mysteries find their answers in this developed mythology? Will we learn what makes Walt so special? Had the writers always determined to “move” the island? What’s the real significance of Jack’s cryptic tattoos? 

While considering just how much the writers have known from the beginning, allow me to posit that, not only did Lost never have such a detailed master plan, its success was never dependent upon having one. What we fail to realize in maintaining faith in a master plan is that the business of network television usually doesn’t allow for that kind of creative mapping.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by taj

December 14, 2009 at 9:42 am

Ever wonder if they’re just making it all up?

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I’ve been hammering out a small editorial that takes on the notion of whether or not the creative minds behind Lost ever had a master plan detailing the evolution of the best show on television*.

After three drafts, I’m close to the final version, but a new interview from the show runners, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, may have rendered my efforts moot.

It appears evident that, after Cuse and Lindelof negotiated an end date for the show, things seemed to develop with a greater sense of direction.  However, this new interview makes some significant points about the tension between telling a good story, and doing the business of television.

Then, there’s this little nugget:

TVGuide.com: Have you always known what the end of the series would be? Has it changed at all?
Cuse:
Always is the operative word. We developed a mythology, as I said earlier, in the first season and between the first and the second season, and we’re actually moving toward that exact end point. I mean, that has not changed. Certain details of how the show ends have evolved over time but that’s mainly on a character level as we’ve gotten to know the characters and seen how the actors interact. So there are parts of the ending that are still living and breathing, but the actual mythological endpoint has been constant since we developed the show.

Given Blogcritics’ editorial rules, I can’t really share the thesis of my little essay right now, but suffice to say, this one quote throws a monkey wrench into my entire argument.

*a title Lost shares with the BBC’s recent reincarnation of Doctor Who

Written by taj

December 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm

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I was the 80th person under the dome

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I wrote once that Stephen King crafted lyrical prose.  The Crusty Curmudgeon let me know in so many words that I had no idea what I was talking about, and he was right.  At the time I think I had read maybe four of King’s novels and a handful of his novellas, and not enough make me any kind of an expert.

Since then, I’ve read more, and found King’s folksy style a nice, comfy read some of the time.  Most of the stories in Four Past Midnight, for instance, flow well enough (though, by the time King published that collection, editors had ceased trimming his work, and Secret Window, Secret Garden in particular could easily lose a thousand words).

Working my way though The Dark Tower, however, has become an exercise in patience.  While The Gunslinger unfolded an enthralling world and an equally interesting protagonist, the writing was atrocious.  If not for my buddy Andrew’s prodding, I might not have continued with The Drawing of the Three.  I want to read The Waste Lands soon, but I have to finish Under the Dome first.

I reserved the book at the library several weeks before the book hit the shelves, and I was 80th in line to get it.  I logged on this morning, and found it should be ready for me real real soon.  King’s newest tome hit the shelves on Nov 10, and three weeks is fast work for 79 readers.

Written by taj

December 2, 2009 at 12:42 pm