Are Readers Being OD’d On Angst?

Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?

I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.

Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.

Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.

Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict

Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?

I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.

They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”

I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?

That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.

Put More STORY in the Story

I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.

Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.

For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.

The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.

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What DO Feminists Hate?

Monday Morning Musing

I was going about my morning as usual when I happened to check my SPAM queue and saw a title that caught my eye:

“If Feminists Hate This, It Must Be Good”

I didn’t open the e-mail, but I must admit the title IS thought-provoking. My mind immediately brought up various responses:
If feminists hate war, then war must be good?
If feminists hate child-abuse, then child abuse must be good?
If feminists hate drug-trafficking, and the sex slavery that often goes with it, then drug use must be good?
If feminists hate SPAM, then…

Ah, but… So much meaning hinges on the word THIS. Since I never read the message — which is undoubtedly an ad of some kind — I have no idea what “this” refers to. I just jumped on the title and thought, “Wait a minute. This is a false assumption!”

Rather than getting the complete picture, aren’t we sometimes inclined, as listeners or readers, to catch a few significant words and build our rebuttal on that?
“You said this, and it isn’t true.”
“She wrote thus and thus, and it makes no sense.”
“He carelessly asked for a dozen when he should have asked for precisely twelve!”

Looking back I blush to think of times where I’ve pounced on some short phrase and shook it like a rat, not listening for — or deliberately ignoring — the real meaning behind the statement. Yes, “Guilty as charged.” The speaker may have had a valid point but I’ve allowed one sentence to negate it.

Conversely, haven’t we all seen a child pick the part they wanted to hear and go from there?
Mother: “I don’t think you really should go along with them, but if you feel you have to do that I won’t order you stay home.”
Child to friends: “Mom says I can go.”

Another phrase comes to my mind. Over the years people have seized on this statement and taken it literally without ever exploring the context for the complete meaning.
Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matt 7:1)

These words from the Bible are frequently quoted, in fact they’ve become a motto for our times. They’re used to excuse a LOT of bad behaviour, to prove innocence of a sort. Usually comparatively speaking, like:

“Sure, I’m smoking pot, but who are you to judge me? You have a social drink now and then. Remember, the Bible says, ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’.”

Years ago I worked for a boss who smoked. Her sister nagged her about the danger of getting lung cancer. Then studies revealed that women who dyed their hair had a higher incidence of cancer. (It was slight, if I recall correctly.)

Well, the sister dyed her hair, so my boss justified her smoking with this ‘you’re just as wrong as I am’ approach: “My sister criticizes me for smoking, but she’s dyeing her hair. So who is she to judge?” Her argument didn’t affect her chance of getting lung cancer in the least, but it got her off the hook with her nagging sister.

In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement.” Sadly, this sentence has never gotten equal billing with the “Judge not” line of thought.

In Matt 5:48 He tells his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Now wait a minute! What’s this about PERFECT? Who can ever be perfect?

The only way to find out what Jesus meant by this statement is to read the book of Matthew.

Just like the only way I’ll ever find out what “feminists hate” and why it’s so good is to read the e-mail. But I’ve deleted it. I really don’t want to know; the answer is not important to my life.

Those Old Autograph Books

“Lest old acquaintance be forgot…”

Writing my Nanowrimo story in November, the main character being a girl turning twelve and the setting being the summer of 1957, I was researching various interests and hobbies of the late 50s. One of these was autograph books, so I gave my main character one for her birthday.

I wonder how many of you readers remember the autograph books we passed around among our family and friends so we’d have a memory of them for our old age? I’m afraid this bit of social fun has been forgotten in this texting generation — though I’d be delighted to know I’m wrong and some children still have one.

I had one myself, and so did my husband, and I signed many a friend’s autograph book. The idea was to write some sort of good wish, verse, quote, bit of song, and then sign it.

Flowers poem

This poem was written by one of Mom’s siblings:
“How nice it is to have a friend
who always plays the game,
knows all the faults that you possess
and loves you just the same.”

This bit of wisdom, maybe a forerunner of the “How to eat an elephant” line, has often encouraged me when I feel overwhelmed by many To-Dos:
“Little and often makes a heap in time.”

This advice was given to Bob by his Dad:
“A little said, and truly said,
can deeper joys impart
than hosts of words that touch the head,
but never reach the heart.”

Here’s another encouragement my third-grade teacher wrote for me:
“May your life be like a snowflake;
leave a mark, but not a stain.”

Verses could be silly, like these written by two of my friends:
“I saw you in the ocean; I saw you in the sea;
I saw you in the bath-tub. Oops, pardon me!

“Two in a hammock waiting to kiss
all of a sudden they went like…”
The writer turned the book upside down to write “this…
She drew a little illustration to go with this, a hammock between two trees.

And someone was sure to turn to the last page and scribble these lines:
“By hook or by crook,
I’ll be the last one
to sign in this book.”

To write this article I went scrounging through my box of ancient papers, thinking I could find my or my husband’s autograph books — and didn’t. What I did come across was two sheets of notebook paper on which Bob’s mom copied all the writings in her autograph book, which she’d kept for years. Mom was born in 1908, so autograph books have been around a long time indeed!

Here are a few more from her book:
“There is a pale blow flower that grows
around the shepherd’s cot,
and in the silence of the night
it softly breathes ‘forget me not’.”

“May your life be like arithmetic—
friends added, joys multiplied,
sorrows subtracted, enemies divided.”

“When the golden sun is setting
and your mind from care is free,
when of others you are thinking
will you sometimes think of me?”

If you think of some autograph that’s stuck with you through the years, please share it in a comment.

Meadowlark + quote

Beware the SOLID BLOCK

IN PRAISE OF PARAGRAPHS

Pet Peeve #3

Have you ever gone clicking through the blogosphere —
perhaps checking out the Community Pool or First Friday —
or in some other way you’ve discovered some new blogger —
and suddenly you’re facing a solid block of type?
Maybe fifteen, twenty, or more
lines of SOLID words, like a brick wall
from one side of your screen to the other?

The writer may have presented an excellent case or clear explanation.
However, whatever their topic, whatever their opinion,
it’s written as one extremely long paragraph
and the prospect of reading it is daunting,
off-putting,
mind-befuddling
eye-blearing.

Like a different take on how to eat an elephant:
open your mouth and stuff the whole thing in,
then chewchewchewchewchew.
I don’t. I click out.
My policy is: if the writer doesn’t know what a paragraph is,
I’m not going to slog through what they have to say,
be it ever so brilliant.

Awhile ago I agreed to read another writer’s book and do a review.
Two days ago I opened this book on my Kindle. And faced
a solid screen of type.
No headings, no side bars, no quotes,
just one solid block of type.
The next page was two paragraphs. And thus it has continued
for as far as I’ve read. No more than two paragraphs per page.

My brain rebelled. I’ll work my way through it, but…
If this manuscript landed in a traditional editor’s slush pile,
the first reader would slide it from the envelope,
take one look,
and toss it on the RETURN TO SENDER pile.

White space is wonderful stuff!
Or so modern editors tell us
and I’m totally sold on the concept.
Five or six lines is long enough for a paragraph, in my opinion,
if a writer actually wants their work to be read.

Beware the SOLID BLOCK, my friend.

*Pet peeves #1 is when the internet isn’t working.
As it wasn’t when I first tried to post this.
Pet Peeve #2 is when I come back to my computer
and the cat is curled up in my office chair.

Blog Alert: Posts Can Disappear

One day last year I wrote a limerick to fit with a cute picture I’d found and I posted it on my old blog, Christine’s Reflections. Yesterday I thought of that poem and decided I’d post it again so I did a search of my blog and found the Post title: “Bad Hair Day.” The title is there, the Likes and Comments are still all there — even the WordPress ad is there — but the post and image have disappeared!

Well! What happened?

Guess I’d better find my own stored copy. So I searched through my word processor and two flash drives looking for a copy and turned up Zilch. Nothing. I must have written it on an impulse, posted it, and not saved a copy. Foolish me!

I wondered if I could find that post by going through my blog’s media file. Sure enough, the image I’d used for the poem was in my media library. It gave the attachment page as “Bad Hair Day” with the date and the link. So I do have a record that I posted it August 29, 2016. Clicking on the link got me back to that title — and the empty post.

This is the second time this year that I searched for a post and found the main part gone. I’d e-mailed the link for one of my short stories to another blogger back around April, he’d read it and commented. A couple of weeks later when I wanted to find that story again and pass on the link, I found the title, the Likes and Comments still intact but the story itself had disappeared. Thankfully I had a backup copy in my file storage.

So what happened to my posts? Has this ever happened to anyone else?

I consulted the folks at Word Press and they say I must have deleted that post — which I definitely did not. I wouldn’t have because I wanted to reblog them someday. Besides, when I’ve deleted posts before, everything is gone: the title, Likes, Comments. There’s no trace it ever existed.

So either there’s some glitch in my/their system and it slurps up post texts, or someone has snitched them. Not just copied, but totally removed.

I was ready to give up hope that my poem would ever show up again when I had a bright idea. My dear husband, bless his heart, subscribes to my blog — and he never deletes his incoming e-mails. I verified the date of the post, went into his In Box, searched through his e-mails for that day — and there was my poem! Sure, it’s not anything brilliant, but we writers are quite attached to our offspring scribblings and don’t want them disappearing.

Note to self: ALWAYS SAVE a copy! that’s why DropBox and flash drives were invented.

Given my own experience I’d advise other bloggers: subscribe to your own blog and save posts when they pop into your In Box. That way you’ll have a record of having posted this item if it should ever disappear and/or show up as someone else’s work. Or partner with a blogger friend to save each other’s posts, at least the poems and stories you may want to use again. Having a record could turn out to be very important.

Copyright reminder to all bloggers:
It’s against the law to help yourself to anyone else’s writings and claim them as your own. This is THEFT and can lead to PROSECUTION. Everything posted on anyone’s blog is automatically protected by international copyright laws; copying and saving someone else’s work without permission — never mind complete removal! — is a crime.

Respecting someone’s work, and giving credit where credit is due, is a basic human decency. Most bloggers are reasonable people and if you ask permission to copy something, assuming it’s for some good purpose and you give them credit as author, they’ll give it.

Lastly, in case you’re wondering about the poem I’m making all this fuss about, I’ll post the picture and limerick in my next post. It may be a silly little verse, but it’s mine. 🙂

How Far Will You Run?

Five years ago I wrote up one of Pastor Warren’s Sunday morning messages, as near as I remembered it.  Now I’ll post it again for my new site.

His topic was on accepting responsibility–which might include the need to go back and face the music. The scripture verses he started his message with were Genesis 16:6-11.

In Genesis 15: 4 Abraham was promised a son, but his wife Sarai had her doubts. At least she wasn’t producing any heirs. Then she had this bright idea — as we short-sighted humans often do. She gave her maid to Abraham thinking the maid would provide the descendants and Sarai would claim them as hers. After all, the maid belonged to her so any offspring would, too.

Alas for “the best laid plans of mice and man.” When Hagar knew she was going to have the heir, she got a bit “uppity” as Southern folks would say. Her smugness irked Sarai, who then became the classic slave driver, treating her maid harshly.

And when Sarai had dealt this way with her one too many times, Hagar fled from her face. (Verse 6) If she’s going to be so cantankerous, I’m outta here, she decided. She took the lad, Abraham’s son, and left for parts unknown.

Trouble is, the parts were unknown. She came to the end of the road, with no food, no money and no place to go. Her son was starving. And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness… And he said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou and whither wilt thou go?

God cared enough about Hagar to follow her; He let her run as far as she could and there He met her. Hagar, probably exhausted and hungry by this time, was finally ready to listen. That’s usually where God meets us, isn’t it?

So she told him, “I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.” And the angel of the Lord said unto her, “Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands… I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.”

Sometimes a few pointed words from a concerned Christian brother or sister will cause someone to run. Someone questions something they done, maybe implies they’re not the good Christian they think they are. So they feel hurt and offended. “He was too hard on me. She doesn’t really know me. I’m doing the best I can. They just don’t understand my situation. I’m not going back there again!”

There are people who go from church to church, from counselor to counselor, hoping to get answers they like. They may say they need help, that they need direction, but then listen “selectively” for the advice they really want to hear. Ten people may say “Don’t do it” but they listen to the one who says, “Yes, that would be okay.” Then they can go ahead and do as they wish, because “Brother so-and-so said it was okay.”

Naturally we want to be accepted by others as spiritual people. That we’re doing just okay. We don’t want to hear we’re wrong, that we have attitudes that are not Christ-like. We may feel so abused and unloved that we run. Perhaps not literally, but we avoid those who want to help us.

God is so good; He waits until we come to a quiet place, until we’ve exhausted every avenue and don’t know what else to do. Then He says, “Where are you? What are you doing here? How far have you already run? How much farther are you going to go?”

He tell us, “Go back. Go back to those ones that you think dealt so hard with you…and submit yourself to them. Listen to what they have to say. Consider that they may be right…that they may see something in you that does need changing.”

Heb 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”

God promised Hagar a rich reward if she’d just go back and stick it out. And after all, wasn’t her attitude part of the problem between her and her mistress? Likewise, He promises us a reward. Though our attitudes may have to go through a refining fire, He promises we’ll be the better for it. Relationships will be stronger, our love purer, our light brighter.

Or will we keep on running? For how many years? Through how many broken relationships? And where will it finally end?