The Attack of the Anonymous Moron

Some e-mail is good, some is bad, some is breathtakingly stupid. Here, for your amusement and edification, one of the latter……..

I read the main section and then followed the link to world building. I didn’t agree with any of it. Truthfully when I find a book that gives me that much of a look into the inner workings of the world the writer has created I put it down and never pick it up again to finish it.

Similarly I have found their statement on the use of magic in error. Most of my favorite books have had the use of magic all through them. Never once did they tell where the magic came from, or how the people came to use it. Even Tolkein had magic all through his book and you didn’t see any magical toilets and leaf blowers mentioned. That is just someone’s narrow view of how a book should be constructed. Believe me if I ever read a book like that I’d toss it before ever finishing it.

They said that for every magical use, there has to be a negative counter reaction somewhere. The wielder of that magic will always have to pay for its use…BUNK, BUNK, AND MORE BUNK. Absolutely not true. I think that whoever wrote that never really wrote a book and probably never ever read a good one. Good stories don’t need ecological details. Who cares if their trees breath argon instead of oxygen and are a brilliant blue? Unless it is directly related to a major event in the story it’s excess baggage and BORING!

I could care less if the small edible creatures are outnumbered 100 to one by the larger carnivorous creatures. They actually said that if that happens, its sloppy writing and bad form. Well I have news for them. If I were editing the piece with that particular mention- the whole mention would have been cut out.

What’s important is the story, and what makes the story? Characters, situations, and the events that move the character through those situations. Did I mention Scenery? Evolution? Ecology? Ecostructure? Or the number of smaller rodents v/s the number of bigger ones? Hell no.

Like Stephen King says in his book, “On Writing” that is just superflous ‘fill-in’ garbage that you don’t need. You don’t even need to go into detail explaining what the characters looked like for the reader to envision them. They (the readers) do have a brain and if you do all the thinking for them how are they interacting with the story? That is why we read isnt’ it? To feel like we are participating in the story? All that stuff about building worlds and ecology is the stuff that 99 % of readers skip over. It give a story an overstuffed feeling and when I find that sort of thing in a book everytime I have also found two dimentional characters and half baked plots. Yes there is a giving and taking, use and paying for it but it happens not in the magical aspects of the book, but in the writing of nonessential garbage like you mentioned in your piece on the main page.

There is no reason to think that in order to write well one must follow your dictates much less utilize any of the useless stuff like you are sugesting. Do we a readers need all that stuff to picture something in our head? Do we need to understand the innerworkings of their governmental systems and ecological systems to understand the characters? HELL NO.

A character, a situation, and a reaction from the character to the situation. That’s all you really need. Like a sentence, needs a subject, verb, and sometimes a completing thought. But mostly just subject and verb.

I started getting angry at the people that wrote such bull shit on this website and didn’t read any more, after two different articles that I STRENOUSLY disagreed with I didn’t read anymore of it. The first two articles (main section and link at the bottom of it) were crap. Just plain old everyday contrived crap, dressed up in fancy words to give it a good look. The content was still crap. The sad part is that who ever wrote this stuff is actually going to convince many young and struggling writers that they actually DO need follow the guidelines they’ve set forth and that’s the true crime.

Makes you wish you got my e-mail, doesn’t it?

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

30 comments… add one
  • lizvanzandt Aug 13, 2003 @ 10:56

    Can you say "ouch?" He can. Cause it must hurt to be him. Let’s all do a group prayer that he remains a headache in our emails only and not on anything published on paper. I know, I know, very unlikely, but catastrophies DO happen everyday!

  • Ivy Jul 29, 2003 @ 12:40

    "A character, a situation, and a reaction from the character to the situation. That’s all you really need. Like a sentence, needs a subject, verb, and sometimes a completing thought. But mostly just subject and verb."

    See spot.
    See spot run.
    See Jane.
    See Jane see spot.

    … can I collect my Hugo now?

  • Rikkui Jul 29, 2003 @ 12:29

    I guess the gene pool really is overdue for chlorination…

  • Jim Woosley Jul 28, 2003 @ 21:50

    Random thoughts…

    I would like to see this gentleperson’s idea of a good novel. Enough speculation — dear gentle reader, should you see this, please pass along a list of novels which exemplify your ideal. I suspect we’ll find that, as has been suggested, there is extensive world building at a layer you have’t comet to appreciate.

    Even some of the most — literally — comic bookish novels I know — Superman: Last Son of Krypton and Superman: Miracle Monday, are interesting because of the way author Elliot S Maggin (geeze, I can’t believe I pulled that one up; it’s been probably twelve years and two moves since I last even saw the books) intertwines the fifty year backstory of his hero with its malleable setting which always requires the contemporary Superman to be about 32, and the telling of good stories in which all power and magic has consequences which must be discovered and compensated.

    Second, I know of no novel that does not have SOME price to pay for magic use. Even those which ignore the second law of thermodynamics in its magical systems always obeys the first: use of magic requires training, and energy must be pulled from either the user, or from sacrifices made by the user. The user is generally set apart from others by inborne characteristics (at a minimum, the price paid by Rowling’s wizards is the need to hide from their fellow men. Training — and personal energy raised or created by training — is required. Not everyone can master every spell, and there are clearly specializations where wizards just use magic more efficiently — Nevel and his botanical interests, for example. And just about every spell — if miscast — has an immediately apparent ecological risk.)

    Tolkein has been more than adequately addressed. However, I’ll note that while magic permeates Middle-Earth, the magic is generally very subtle. And still extracts explicit prices. Tolkein was the most ecological of writers — a generation before ecology came of general knowledge, and it may not be a stretch to say that the Lord of the Rings was one of the stimuli of the environmental movement.

    Lastly, I’ll live with my headaches and hope that none of yours, Holly, permeate my conscious. Unless you yell for help 🙂

  • Superhoss Jul 28, 2003 @ 20:08

    I agree with everything that guy had to say. Ironic that he didn’t really HAVE anything to say, so I suppose I didn’t have much to agree with after all. Ahh well, he’s entitled to his opinion. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it is this bit of folk wisdom- opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and most of ’em stink. Writers are no exception, if this charming gentleman can even be called a writer. At any rate, the main thing he didn’t understand is that even though the rules are necessary, you don’t have to explain them all to your readers. You don’t HAVE to make the story boring and packed to the gills with extraneous information, but you do need to know the answers.

    -Chris/Superhoss

  • Writative Jul 28, 2003 @ 18:33

    Heh. His book is coming out when?

  • Michael AKA Highnside Jul 26, 2003 @ 20:05

    Oh my, it is reading this kind of logic that causes one to stop and ponder the fate of democracy when people like this are allowed the opportunity to participate.

    Frightful huh?

  • Shermel Jul 26, 2003 @ 19:55

    There’s the point.

    He’s running to catch it, he’s struggling to keep up, getting out of breath now.

    Oh dear. The point’s gone and he missed it by a mile.

    (Why I’m asuming it’s a he, I dont know)

  • Nick Jul 26, 2003 @ 15:37

    Hehe, I wouldn’t mind answering your email actually. I’m sure I could get creative with people like that. Ummmm, although maybe I’d have to use the Magic Delete Key.

    Sounds like he didn’t notice the essential distinction you drew between what the writer knows and what the reader sees. And since I picked up on that and I’m a famously unsubtle skimmer, I can only assume he was reading with some kind of bias in place.

  • Jay Jul 26, 2003 @ 15:16

    I’m guessing I’m in the minority here, but I would love to get your mail. Something about stupid emails just makes me shiver with delight, because then I can imagine posting them for everyone to see, and what he would look like if he saw what everyone thought of him.

    That said, I agree with everyone else: he’s definitely a reader. Though why he would say something about how the writer probably never did write a book makes me wonder. Maybe he is a writer, but he just writes about things in our own world, rather than things in a world he made up, and has never written fantasy at all.

    Or maybe he HAS written fantasy and he’s just horrible at it. That would explain quite a bit.

  • Marie Lu Jul 26, 2003 @ 12:13

    Wow. He must be a big fan of "1984" ‘s doublespeak. 🙂

  • Linda Jul 26, 2003 @ 11:22

    LOL!! No, thanks, but I’d rather not read your email.

    As for the idiot, he’s taking King’s words too literally. He reminds me of a child learning to speak their native language. They overapply the rules because they pick up on the rule before they get the exceptions. Thus toddlers say "amn’t" and "I readed a book."

    In this case, he’s taking what King said and applying it to situations unlike those King uses in his writing. His remarks remind me of those folks who are so rabid about "headhopping", adverbs, and dialog tags that they consider it bad writing if a writer uses these techniques even once. Ditto for the other "no-no’s" that you find in how to write books.

    As for King, his advice can really be summed up in two sentences. Read a lot. Write a lot. The rest relates more or less directly to his own writing and may or may not apply to yours. Which is pretty much the way any how to write book is. And that’s why people need to think about the advice they’re given, not just assume it’s right for them.

  • CC Jul 26, 2003 @ 4:18

    Couldn’t quit giggling; immature of me, yes, but I kept wondering if the emailer was serious or just pulling a prank? Lol, really, what reader or writer wants to have a fantasy world existing in a blank canvas. Got plenty of that on my comp and in my head already, thank ye very much 😉

  • Sara Jul 26, 2003 @ 2:03

    The mind boggles…

  • Lelia Katherine Thomas Jul 26, 2003 @ 1:36

    Ignorance speaks louder than words……….

    Lelia Katherine Thomas
    inion_de_dia@yahoo.com
    http://leliathomas.tk

  • TalesWritten Jul 26, 2003 @ 12:29

    *hugs* That person didn’t read your articles carefully enough to understand what you were trying to do. I found your articles helpful (more helpful than any other article I’ve ever read in my life) and I was amazed that I found something so great and logical in them that it hooked me to worldbuilding. I would like to thank you for all that you have done. I used to think worldbuilding was doing a lot of useless work, but I really learned something from your articles that kept me worldbuilding (and enjoying it, too). It really means a lot–especially since I’ve been writing fantasy more than ever before and it’s something I love do to. So I’m sure that person didn’t have any clue about what he was talking about.

  • Robert A. Sloan Jul 26, 2003 @ 12:27

    LOL …

    Nobody saw any piles of excrement or scattered piles of leaves in Lothlorien either, in the books. Therefore inferring magical toilets, leaf blowers and a decidedly civilized Elvish lifestyle…

    2 dimentional characters?

    I think the whole thing boils down to that this email writer doesn’t like dull infodumps, but does not recognize backstory unless it’s dull infodumps. And mysteriously expects how-to articles to be nice little short stories full of characters and nicely disguised worldbuilding, snippets of finished prose without a whisker of a hint of how they got that way.

    Some people don’t like going backstage, I guess…

    Thanks for a little glimpse of a type of mail I’m sure I’ll get someday. It’s good for a laugh and it comes along with the imagined convention trips and book signings — magic, even the real kind, has got its price…

    Robert and Ari >^..^<

  • Sheila Jul 26, 2003 @ 12:11

    Oh for God’s sake.

  • Jaye Patrick Jul 25, 2003 @ 22:14

    Well, how embarrassing for E-Mail guy to put his ignorance out in the public arena!

    I can’t say I have ever read a book that didn’t have a description or two of the scenery and/or ecology.

    I know Sara Douglass says to use the reader’s imagination, but even she agrees that worldbuilding is important.

    Er… I’ll let you handle your e-mail, my stress levels couldn’t cope, but thanks for the laugh.

  • cherylp Jul 25, 2003 @ 21:30

    Wow! You’re certainly in no doubt how Email Person feels, are you? And at length, too….

  • Ted MacKinnon Jul 25, 2003 @ 20:02

    I haven’t been on this website before, but my wife called me over and showed me this particular piece (excellent site and essays, BTW). After reading the essays to which this person refers, I can only deduce that he reads nothing but Dungeon and Dragons fiction. Those wonderful books, written of worlds filled with effortless magic that solves all problems with a wave of the hand, and scads of massively overpowered monsters lurking around every corner in defiance of ANY (and every!) natural law.

    He also, as noted above, obviously has no clue as to how much backstory and worldbuilding went into Tolkien’s works.

    There will always be people who are looking to boost their own self-esteem by attempting to criticze people who do that which they cannot do themselves. It’s sad, really, but you should take it as an indication of your skill and success that this sort of person has come ‘gunning’ for you.

  • Jean Jul 25, 2003 @ 18:58

    Thanks for a good laugh, Holly.

    Your Email Writer (EW) is quoting Stephen King’s "On Writing," and King clearly states, in much more effective words, something very similar to the EW’s position. Since King says it, I presume many other writers also employ that approach. I haven’t read King’s fiction in years, but, as I recall, he writes in a world familiar to most, so his need to worldbuild would be limited. Does that mean nobody else should ever do worldbuilding because Stephen King doesn’t do it? I don’t think even he would say it quite that way. His book states how he does it and what’s been effective for him. People on this site talk about what’s effective for them. EW is overreacting (and chose a particularly poor way to express it).

    EW does sound more like a reader than a writer. I concur with L.R. Black’s conclusion that EW probably isn’t aware of the amount of worldbuilding that goes into the backstory of his/her favorite works (Exhibit A: comments on Tolkien).

    To me, these comments come from someone who truly does NOT want to know how sausage is made. I’ve read enough on the site to know we have many members who do not do extensive worldbuilding for their writing. I think personal preference combined with genre impact that more than what we tell people on the site.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Rick Jul 25, 2003 @ 18:23

    We still love you, Holly! Poor bastard, his stupidity is painful.

  • April Jul 25, 2003 @ 17:06

    Did he even understand that the articles he read related to how the writer should look at their works and not the readers?
    I don’t know, this email didn’t really bug me too much. Maybe it was all the grammar mistakes. 🙂

    If he’s just a reader, he should stay away from author website and just enjoy their books.
    If he’s an aspiring writer…I would suggestion he read up on grammar before worrying about characters and such. (I would say worldbuilding, but he seems to assume that its all done in the writer’s head while they write the story.)

    And reading this over I see my bad mood has transfer to my writing. 🙁 Sorry.

  • Teriodin Jul 25, 2003 @ 16:52

    Well, I have to say that the e-mail writer obviously doesn’t know a lot about Tolkien. Maybe he only watched the film? *smiles*

    Tolkien developed several languages for his books, drew pictures of the locations, made countless maps, drew elven heraldic devices in great detail, knew the history of the world right back to creation (he wrote most of the Silmarillion before LotR), etc., etc.

    No – I don’t want to get your e-mails either, Holly *grins*

  • Shadawyn Jul 25, 2003 @ 16:51

    World-building is important. You don’t need volumes and volumes of information about the world, but you should spend some time figuring out why things are as they are.

    If there aren’t some rules and models for the world to work in, then I think that world will come off as clumsy and not well-thought out… which is more or less what would be.

    You don’t have to give the reader a blow-by-blow of the world, but I think if the author knows what they’re doing, it’ll show through, even if they don’t spend a chapter and a half explaining how that river runs UP the mountain.

  • tambo Jul 25, 2003 @ 16:37

    I think world building, and magic building and all that jazz is EXTREMELY important BUT it doesn’t have to be obvious.

    To me things have to make sense. The Laws of the World must be consistent (like gravity makes things fall) and if something/place/person doesn’t follow those rules, whatever they are, then I’d like to have it explained, at least a little. They certainly don’t have to follow Early 21st Century Earth norms by any means – I can accept magic and flying dragons and insect worship without the least bit of fuss – but, as a reader, I must admit I do get bored with page after page of explanation and backstory infodump. If it’s important, by all means put it out there as it’s needed, but unless I need to know that the castle characters walk past was built by Helsbog the Third during his rain-drenched dynasty and his youngest daughter had a pet mouse that chewed his shoes 500 years ago, I’m really not interested, as a reader. As a writer, heck yes I’m interested – maybe ever since then the castle has been plagued with mice or people wake every morning to find their shoes chewed or a million other story possibilities! The trick is choosing what’s important to the story at hand, what’s backstory, what’s reasearch, and what’s merely author’s notes.

    Description and reasoning and purpose are definitely necessary, but it can be taken to extremes and I, for one, find it dull. Maybe I’m a meanie, maybe I’m a purist, maybe I just prefer to use my imagination. I’ve read lots of books that contain a lot of "fluff" and I’ve read lean ones. I prefer, generally, lean and I write that way too.

    (not that you could tell by my meandering, wordy posts! lol)

    😉

    have a great day!

  • Quan Jul 25, 2003 @ 16:26

    Actually, I have a feeling that this guy watches more dumb Hollywood movies than read books.

    For a guy who’s against "overwriting", he rambles a lot…

  • Greg Scalise Jul 25, 2003 @ 15:45

    Er, no, Holly, I’d really rather not get your e-mail if it’s full of empty-headed screeds like that! It would be bad for my blood pressure, and my intemperate reply might vaporize key components in my ISP’s infrastructure. 😉

    The sheer, mind-boggling arrogance of this idiot, who takes it upon themself to lecture the creator of a world how that world should work, would be depressing if it weren’t so ludicrously overdone.

    But then, your correspondent is probably fresh from English Lit 101, so obviously they know what The Approved Lit’rary Path Of Light is.

    God help them when they try to sell a story to a real editor!

  • Lorcan626@eircom.net Jul 25, 2003 @ 15:20

    Firstly I’d like to say that I for one must be one of the severe minority members in that one percent who actually doesn’t skip over ”all that stuff” in novels. And second: I’ll bet my house, the cash in my pocket and my cell phone that this guy’s favorite novel probably has all the criteria it would need for him to label it ”crap” – he just doesn’t know it.

    Did our critically opinionated little friend here think that all those pretty words just came out all by themselves without any prior planning what-so-ever? I for one would refuse flatly to read a novel (especially a Fantasy or SF novel) if no thought were given to it’s governmental systems or it’s ecological systems. In fact, one of the major faults of the Harry Potter series is that there isn’t a direct consequence of the character’s magic. All they have to do is learn the words and ta-da! Everything’s all better (I realise that’s putting it bluntly). But our friend didn’t nit-pick that fact did he? No, he likes his stories light and fluffy. Well who then is forcing all our intellectual works down his throat? If he doesn’t like reading them, don’t. The Grimm Brothers wrote enough fairytales that should sooth his poor over informationalised mind. God forbid he read anything with the slightest bit of blood, sweat and tears in it.

    Thirdly, for his sake, I hope to God this despot doesn’t want to be a writer. Who in their right minds would want to publish him (except perhaps as a very eccentric April Fools joke, and even that’s doubtful).

    So in my concluding reveiw of this admittedly highly hilarious -and highly worrying- letter stating a very rediculous point of veiw I’d like to sum up by saying that if this amusing letter had been written as a joke: very amusing. However it clearly was an ACTUAL point of veiw and I would hope the author of this piece has someone refill the medication perscription he so obviously ran out of prior to this writing that particular example of opinionated drivilfilled authorship. Or so I’d like to hope…

    Sincerely,
    L.R. Black.

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