Stop Telling Me What to Do

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I don’t claim to know everything. I hope everyone who reads what I write understands that. I hope people who read what I write understand that I’m just trying to help by putting what I do know and more tenuously but less definitively what I think into words. I hope everyone else out there understands that they don’t know everything either. No one does. No one can.

And yet there are some who feel sure that their way is the right way with no room for deviation or difference. And they have no second thoughts about telling everyone who will listen and the vast majority who don’t want to. I get a bit tired of being told I’m living my life wrong. If it’s true, then I will be the one who ultimately suffers. If I’m not (and even if I am), I don’t want to listen to other people’s judgements on actions that only affect me.

So let me say this. (No, actually, I don’t care whether you let me or not, I’m going to say it anyway.) Stop telling me what to do. Continue reading

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The Rise and Rise of the Unreliable Narrator

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Whenever I meet new people in real life, I always start out with the assumption that they’re perfectly pleasant individuals. Even when I might have heard other people’s opinions about them, I figure it’s only fair to give them the benefit of a clean slate and it’s only right that I should form my own judgement based on my experience with them, not simply perpetuate someone else’s adoration or resentment, which might be completely prejudiced.

I’m the same when I pick up a book and start reading. I don’t read reviews beforehand so that I can avoid being consciously or subconsciously influenced and I begin with the assumption that the person telling the tale is telling it truthfully (not factually, because that’s a different thing, but truthfully, which means honestly to the best of their recollection). After all, why wouldn’t they? The narrators are fictional characters and will never need to worry about any reader’s judgement.

Of course, in both cases, there are plenty of instances of people who don’t always disclose the absolute truth or the complete story. Sometimes they’re frustrating as hell (in the case of real people, especially when you figure out you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes), sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed (more likely in the case of a fictional character only). In the real world, we would call them liars but in the fictional world, they’re known as unreliable narrators.

Wayne C Booth, an American literary critic, coined the term “unreliable narrator” in his 1961 book, The Rhetoric of Fiction. His obituary in the New York Times explained that he felt “literature was not so much words on paper as it was a complex ethical act” and his “lifelong study of the art of rhetoric illuminated the means by which authors seduce, cajole and more than occasionally lie to their readers in the service of narrative”. A pretty good description of what it is the unreliable narrator does. Continue reading

Controversy in Writing

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Without having any real evidence to back up the theory, I have always thought that writers could be divided up into two categories: those who court controversy and those who avoid it. (I later realised there was a third category – writers who are controversial without realising it – and you can read a bit about that here.)

I also figured out a long time ago that getting involved in any type of controversy tends to leave me upset in greater proportion to any change I may be able to effect in advocating for one side or another. So I generally try to stay quiet unless I feel very strongly. And even then, I moderate myself and think long and hard about how to phrase what I want to say in order to avoid reactions from trolls and people who never change their mind about anything even in the face of overwhelmingly logical arguments. After all, the vitriol of stupid people can be vicious and my greatest ambition is an easy life.

Besides, how much controversy is there in writing really? Continue reading