Who Is Mistral Dawn?

Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at mistralkdawn@gmail.com

Friday, October 21, 2016

When Is #Enough, Enough?

Hey Everyone!! :-)

Today, I'd like to talk about different types of writing. As I've said before, I was a science nerd long before I started writing novels. Through most of my school career, I hated English classes and avoided them as much as possible. Instead, I loaded up my schedule with science and math classes, which I loved.

My antipathy towards English classes wasn't because I didn't like to read. I did. But the books that my English teachers assigned were often not books that interested me, and I hated having to write essays and reports about them. Part of the problem I had with writing essays was the style of writing required.

Unlike with lab reports, which I enjoyed writing, essays require that you expound upon and explore a theme. This was a concept I had trouble with, especially when the subject matter didn't interest me, and I had more than one disagreement with an English teacher over whether an essay was detailed enough where my argument amounted to, "But I answered your question!"

The trouble was that I had answered the question, but I hadn't explored all the implications of either the question or the answer. I treated essay assignments the same way I treated lab reports, a statement of the question, a factual description of the methods used to find an answer, a statement of the raw data observed, and an analysis of that data supported by fact-heavy sources.  But that's not what an essay is or is supposed to be.

Essays, even essays that discuss matters of fact and not opinion or philosophy, are just that, discussions. The purpose is to explore a subject, not simply report observations and attempt to place them into context. Unlike with lab reports, in essays it's not only permissible to roam beyond the realm of recorded observations to speculation and opinion, it's encouraged. In essays, analogies, metaphors, and similes can be used to both enrich the reader's experience and clarify a point. That's not true of lab reports.

When reporting on the results of a scientific experiment, it's important that the writer sticks closely to what was observed and only report what is supported by the data. One does not speculate on what might have been; one only reports what one sees and measures.  If an experiment leads to more questions, then further experiments need to be conducted to explore those questions. But it is not permissible to invent answers that one does not have data to support.

In essays, one is absolutely allowed to explore possibilities and speculations. Opinions lend a human element to the writing that helps engage readers. And descriptions can and should be colorful and in-depth. Unlike science, which should ideally be entirely divorced from emotion, essays seek to provoke an emotional response. Essays pull readers towards a conclusion; lab reports simply state the conclusion the data supports.

It was this fundamental difference that I failed to grasp while in school, and that's something that I regret now as I think I missed out on many opportunities to fill in gaps in my writing skills. What's really maddening to me is that one of my favorite parts of both reading and writing, world-building, would have benefitted greatly from developing the very descriptive skills that essay writing depends on.

There's more than one author whose work I read solely because I love the worlds and places they create. The word-pictures they paint let me see, feel, hear, and smell planets and realities that only exist in the pages of a book. I love that. Even when those authors don't have the same skill when it comes to plot or character development, I'll still read their books just to discover new and exciting worlds. It's my absolute favorite part of speculative fiction. The possibilities limited only by the imagination of the writer.

If you've read my books, you know I indulge in that same creativity when it comes to my stories. I love to imagine and write about the details of a place that only exists in my mind. I often spend days trying to get my descriptions just right, and I'd happily go into even more exhaustive detail if I didn't think my readers would hate me for it.

You see, unlike in my youth, I now face the opposite problem, when is enough enough?  I laugh to think back on how my English teachers used to have to drag every detail and description out of me. I drove one poor woman almost to the point of frustrated tears once when I obstinately refused to expand on a particular aspect of a literary theme that didn't interest me. I had answered the question, that was enough!  I could kick myself for not taking advantage of her expertise to learn and improve my descriptive techniques.

Because a sterile answer, lacking any humanity, isn't enough. Human beings respond much more readily to emotional appeals than they do to cold facts and figures.  Even when writing about factual matters, couching them in emotional terms increases the likelihood that people will understand and absorb what you are saying. If you don't believe me, feel free to research the psychology of persuasion and advertising, but I bet you'll end up reading essays on the subject rather than journal articles. ;-)

As a novelist, my primary goal is to entertain. It's great if my readers learn something from my stories, but that isn't what their main purpose is. And in entertainment, emotional appeal is even more vital than it is in essays.  I need to connect with my readers and get them invested in the fates of my characters. Am I successful at that? I don't know. You'd be in a better position to judge my abilities in this area than I would. But there's always room for improvement and I wish I had taken the opportunity to hone those skills when I had it.

But I can still learn, and I strive to continue to do so. As much as I love world-building, I've learned that there is such a thing as too much. After a while, readers cease to be fascinated and become bored. Does this mean I'll stop writing detailed descriptions? Nope! I like them and to some extent they're necessary to speculative fiction, the science fiction and fantasy genres. But it does mean that I'll strive to find a balance in this regard, and I'm always happy to hear your feedback on the matter. So, I'll ask again, when is enough, enough? ;-)

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