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What the hell have I been doing this (academic) year?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Also for research papers.

The point is about fiction, but it applies to academic writing, too.


Making Light: Parsimony and refinement:

The reason writers use implausibly inefficient approaches is that they start with a big dramatic thing they want to do, then come up with some sloppily pasted-on justification for doing it. A good way to study this is to refuse the stewardess' offer of headphones on long flights. When a movie has an implausible plot, the visuals will have all the stuff they wanted to put into the movie in the first place. The dialogue will have all the stupid contrived reasons why the plot supposedly has to happen the way it does. When you can't hear the dialogue, the moviemakers' true motives are much clearer.

Twister, for instance: (1.) “Hey! We can do a pretty good-looking tornado!” (2.) You Will Believe A Cow Can Fly. The rest is just noise and rubbish. Speed is about a city bus that can't slow down, no matter what. Jaws is about the shark coming to get you. The Warlock in Spite of Himself is about how cool it would be if a bunch of SCA people had psi powers and their own planet.


Yay, good parts. But if I can wrap this around to the beginning again, the other parts—the supporting and explaining and incluing bits—are just as important, even if they're not what's remembered. When that stuff is logical and proportionate and properly connected, we're happy. It blends near-invisibly into our general map of the world, and the cool stuff becomes part of our world as well.

When the support structure doesn't work, the cool stuff may still be theoretically and abstractly cool, but we don't connect with it. It's like meeting what at first you think is the most beautiful [gender of your choice] in the whole world, only as soon as they open their mouth you realize that not only do you not want to hear their voice; you wish you didn't know they thought those things. Regretfully, you fold your heart up and put it back in your pocket. They're still beautiful, but they're beautiful like an artifact, not like someone you could love.

Now, back to working on achieving that in my own papers.

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