Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction => Fantasy Book & Author Discussion => Topic started by: tebakutis on August 02, 2017, 05:43:11 PM

Title: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: tebakutis on August 02, 2017, 05:43:11 PM
Justin Jordan, a comic book writer friend, offered probably the most in depth (and savage) of the reviews floating in my fb feed:

Quote from: Justin Jordan
Things I have learned reading 32% of Ready Player One
1. This book is godawful
2. There's literally no plot for the first 18% of the book. A fifth of the book. LITERALLY. NO. PLOT.
3. This book is godawful.
4. The author either doesn't know how far 5 kilometers is, or hasn't thought through the effect of limiting the people on a particular world, a school world, to a not very fast walk. Although later the character sprints.
5. As yet, the nostalgia is.....listing things from the 80's. Not anything about why these things are special, or what made them interesting, or anything. Just....listing them.
6. I've read seven other books while getting to 32% of Ready Player One.
7. Even if the rest of this book is amazing, it's not going to make up for this 32%.
8. Even if Spielberg makes a movie worse than 1941, it will still be better than the source material.
9. Seriously, what is wrong with you people.
10. This book is godawful.

Gonna be honest here. Comments like this (your FB friend, Bradley) really annoy me, and not just because I enjoyed the book. BTW, this is not directed at you specifically, Bradley, just a comment on the Internet at large.

Because of the social nature of the Internet, there is an annoying tendency of folks to try to one-up each other in how they insult things, *especially* once someone (like an author) finds mainstream success. As soon as an author gets a big deal, rather than congratulating them and saying "Hey, good on you, fellow nerd, you've made it!" the tendency (because of jealousy, or another reason) is to pile on and say "Well you don't deserve that. Your book is terrible and you're a terrible writer." It happens so often.

Ready Player One's success as a book (and the fact that it's now coming out as a movie) have made it the latest target of Internet scorn, and honestly, it makes me sad (and it would even if I didn't like the book).

Basically, here's what I see:
- One person says (quite reasonably) "Eh, I read Ready Player One, but it just didn't grab me. Wasn't for me." Totally cool! What we like is subjective.
- The next person, wanting to one up them, says "Yeah, Ready Player One was really poorly written. I DNF'd it on the first chapter" (quality writing is incredibly subjective, but okay, you didn't like it)
- The next person, wanting to one up both, says "Yeah, Ready Player One is a steaming pile of crap and the worst book I've ever read anywhere in the whole of existence. Reading it is like having hot pokers shoved in my eyes while a sabertooth tiger rips out my intestines". Like seriously dude, what?
- And so on and so on...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me (the last example I can thing of where people trashed a super-successful author and her work was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer) but I wish we wouldn't pile on like this. Twilight is actually a perfect example because I *didn't* like it. It wasn't for me, but I'm glad so many people enjoyed it and hope it got them into reading more SFF. I'm also glad for Meyer and wish her all the success in the world.

Am I off base here?

EDIT: To be super clear, I think everyone should clearly state their preference on books (I liked it, I didn't like it) etc and authors should be ready for that. I just see Internet comments, specifically, spiraling into absurdity because people want to one up each other on how thoroughly they can trash the latest book to succeed.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 02, 2017, 08:49:42 PM
Am I off base here?

No. The tendency to play hyperbole wars for entertainment is not one of humanity's best traits.

That said, it is an awful lot of fun, and we all need to vent sometimes. And sometimes books we dislike do cause the need to vent. Because...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me (the last example I can thing of where people trashed a super-successful author and her work was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer) but I wish we wouldn't pile on like this. Twilight is actually a perfect example because I *didn't* like it. It wasn't for me, but I'm glad so many people enjoyed it and hope it got them into reading more SFF. I'm also glad for Meyer and wish her all the success in the world.

There is a common perception (which I share) that success in the entertainment industry often comes down to visibility and promotion more than actual talent. Therefore, when people (and sometimes myself) see people with less talent receiving more visibility and promotion, it often makes them angry. Someone has been given the keys to success when their actual product should be behind several others. Receiving what should have gone to others is getting close to a dictionary definition of undeserving.

That's what fuels the anger. Bad books getting great hype. And yes, bad is mostly subjective, but why shouldn't we get angry over subjective things? Particularly as subjective and objective aren't always clearly defined. I would argue there's enough of a consensus that on bad writing that we can call some things objectively bad. Some arrangements of words are so dissonant to the vast majority of English speakers that they fail to accomplish the purpose of the words.

As such... I'm not for it. But I understand it. And tbh, I'm only not for it until I next find a book that's really popular and really enraging to my subjective sensibilities. There's a reason I won't touch Eragon...

... and a reason I won't touch Twilight either. I can be pretty calm on books not meeting my personal standards and getting success, but the way Paranormal Romance is rolled into Fantasy rather than being treated as a different sub-genre of SFF does boil my piss a wee bit. I can't wish Meyer success while that continues. And generally, yeah, I wish every author success. Once again, that's a matter of the visibility given to a book rather than the quality itself.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: tebakutis on August 02, 2017, 10:17:16 PM
EDIT: To avoid threadjacking this thread (which I really shouldn't have done anyway, given it's for reading!) I made a new thread with the discussion topic here.

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?topic=10872.0

Feel free to respond or join in if you want to tell me why I'm wrong! :)

ORIGINAL POST:
There is a common perception (which I share) that success in the entertainment industry often comes down to visibility and promotion more than actual talent. Therefore, when people (and sometimes myself) see people with less talent receiving more visibility and promotion, it often makes them angry. Someone has been given the keys to success when their actual product should be behind several others. Receiving what should have gone to others is getting close to a dictionary definition of undeserving.

That's what fuels the anger. Bad books getting great hype. And yes, bad is mostly subjective, but why shouldn't we get angry over subjective things?

I can understand this thinking, as I sort of agree and don't agree. It is true that success in entertainment industries of all stripes (books, movies, games) will always have an element of luck to it. That's unavoidable, and people who refuse to acknowledge it should do so. But it's never been my impression of Kline (as one example) that he seems full of himself (as in "I wrote the best book ever and you should bow down").

Rather, he seems more like a nerd who wrote a book a lot of people enjoyed, and is now psyched to see a movie made out of it. I mean, if I was him, I'd be stoked (and to be fair, probably would ignore Internet hate). The idea that he doesn't deserve his success seems bonkers to me.

I guess this is because I think there's a baseline required for success, setting aside the luck factor. You have to write a solid, sellable book. Kline's book sold to an agent, and a traditional publisher, and then a ****load of copies everywhere, enough that a movie studio and Stephen Spielberg said "We want to make this into a movie". That's an objective fact if there ever was one.

As an aside, it's also an example of an SFF book my wife (who doesn't read ANY SFF) really enjoyed, which speaks to the fact that the book has appeal beyond hardcore SFF fandom. I personally haven't been able to interest her in my stuff (though she reads it to help me out) so hooking folks outside the SFF genre isn't something I've mastered yet.

For me, there are only a few "quality" things you can judge objectively, such as if the book is formatted readably or riddled with typos. But whether the book is "good" is entirely up to each person. The cold hard reality is, if a book is selling a ridiculous number of copies, the author did *something* right. Luck can help get you an agent, and luck can help get you traditionally published, and luck can get you some sales, but ultimately, sales and success on the scale Kline has had require more than just luck (IMO) even if, upon reading his book, we don't necessarily understand why it's so popular.

Rather than saying it sucks because we don't understand it, I'd rather we say "Eh, I don't know what he did, but good for him" and then go back to working on our own stuff. Spending time trying to be the person who comes up with the most elaborate way to say Ready Player One is a terrible book seems pointless to me.

It's like that GIF (which I can't link), where one child is yelling at another child and saying "Stop liking the stuff I don't like!" :p

Particularly as subjective and objective aren't always clearly defined. I would argue there's enough of a consensus that on bad writing that we can call some things objectively bad. Some arrangements of words are so dissonant to the vast majority of English speakers that they fail to accomplish the purpose of the words.

Yeah, but I don't think Kline's work falls into this regard. You could certainly say it leaned too heavily on nostalgia, but it *was* readable. I certainly didn't have any issues understanding the prose or the story.

I can be pretty calm on books not meeting my personal standards and getting success, but the way Paranormal Romance is rolled into Fantasy rather than being treated as a different sub-genre of SFF does boil my piss a wee bit. I can't wish Meyer success while that continues. And generally, yeah, I wish every author success. Once again, that's a matter of the visibility given to a book rather than the quality itself.

Yeah, I totally get where you're coming from, even though I disagree. And it's not like I feel the need to die on a hill defending Ready Player One. I thought it was a fun book, many other people did not, and I'm totally cool with that. Everyone has a right to think a book sucks.

I'd just like to see more of Nora's style of commentary ("Eh, wasn't for me") and less from Bradley's friend ("Seriously, what is wrong with you people." "This book is godawful.")
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 02, 2017, 10:26:42 PM
I just see Internet comments, specifically, spiraling into absurdity because people want to one up each other on how thoroughly they can trash the latest book to succeed.

That's a fair point @tebakutis -- I think it's fair to say that the internet has sort of become a giant hate mob (errr... YouTube comments? Reddit? Twitter?) and to my credit i only posted that my fb friends didn't like the book until I was asked for more details.  (and "a drunken handjob from Harry Knowles in the dirtiest bathroom at ComicCon" did make me kinda want to read it... so there's that).  I haven't read the book, don't love or hate it, I was just conveying some entertainingly eyebrow raising stuff in my facebook feed.

So, I'll agree with you that the internet (or at least my fb friends) has been uncivil with this book that i have not read.  But defending Twilight... TEB HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?  That's like defending 50 Shades of Grey or something. C'mon, you gotta let us at least let the claws come out with that one Teb!!!  or maybe I'm just a bad person.... I got in trouble on the what are you watching thread too...
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lady Ty on August 02, 2017, 11:03:35 PM
.. I got in trouble on the what are you watching thread too...

Nah, just got led astray by the bad kid  ;D ;D ;D ;D
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: tebakutis on August 02, 2017, 11:42:13 PM
Pinging @Peat and @Bradley Darewood, just in case they want to chime in further.

I started a discussion on the What Are You Reading Thread (which I threadjacked, and wish to unthreadjack) that I'd love to get more thoughts on, but I figure it's a discussion that should go in its own thread rather than there.

To summarize, I believe "talent", in regards to how good a writer a person is, can be judged objectively, but not in the way most people often say it can be. In short, I'd argue the only objective indicator of "talent" is sales and quality (more on that later). All other thoughts about a writer's talent are subjective.

I'm curious to hear other people's thoughts.

This is specifically in regards to the fact that I've noticed a trend in Internet commentary. Whenever any book becomes super popular, quite often, the critiques of that book increase both the number and ferocity, specifically in regards to questioning the writer's "talent". Basically, so long as a book is coasting or moderately successful, people who don't like it will say "Eh, not for me". But once a book has hit a certain peak (best seller status, movie coming out, etc) it seems like there is a massive spike in people who can't wait to get on the Internet and say "this writer is a talentless hack". And, I should add, these critiques generally come from people who have not attained the success of the person they're critiquing (not all are simply jealous, but many come across that way).

Also, I want to make it clear that I believe everyone is absolutely entitled to their subjective opinion about a book's quality. These are the type of critiques I think are fair game:

- I didn't like it.
- The characters didn't interest me.
- I found the plot too slow.
- I was bored.

These are the type of critiques I wish people would steer away from (and which seem common once an author finds large-scale success)

- This author is a terrible writer.
- This author just got lucky and is a hack with no talent (with the implication they don't deserve their success)
- People who think this book isn't terrible are misguided/wrong.

You'll notice the primary difference in these statements is their subjectivity. The statement "I was bored" is subjective. The statement "this author is a hack with no talent" is presented as objective (a fact) when in fact it is purely subjective (an opinion). You might think they're untalented, and someone else might think they're the best author in the world. Neither of you is correct. You simply have your differing opinions.

For me, when it comes to OBJECTIVELY judging "talent", there are three things we can judge objectively:

1) Is the language clear and readable? (you may not like it, but you can still understand it)
2) Is the book riddled with typos, or clean? (you can count # of typos per book)
3) How well has the book sold? (# of copies)

IMO, these three statistics (most importantly, number 3) are the best OBJECTIVE measure of if a writer is talented. Everything else is subjective difference of opinion. Talent, as I'm defining it, is the writer's ability to succeed in their chosen profession (writing). Those with talent succeed. This is not to say those who don't succeed lack talent (and I acknowledge luck plays a part) but that people who claim successful writers lack talent are being disingenuous.

And yes, while her work is personally not for me, this means I am arguing Stephanie Meyer (author of the Twilight series) has talent. I'm not a tween girl, and I don't understand the appeal to tween girls, but dammit, Meyer created a book that tween girls LOVED and should (rightfully) enjoy her success without a bunch of people who haven't had it yelling about how she lacks talent. :)

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 03, 2017, 12:01:29 AM
Gods know I don't wanna get too deep into defending this - just I thought there was an obvious reason why people think X is undeserving and why that makes them angry (as a generality, specific to no one), and that deserved pointing out and considering. Ultimately I'd rather people made their criticisms in rational and useful ways.

But I do think it should be recognised for what it actually is - this isn't people spending actual time on it. Its the guys screaming at the TV in the bar when their team is losing, its hopping around swearing when you stub your big toe, its spending 30 seconds joking about the government with your co-worker before getting in your car and going home. A reflexive joke venting about something that annoys you.


For me, there are only a few "quality" things you can judge objectively, such as if the book is formatted readably or riddled with typos. But whether the book is "good" is entirely up to each person. The cold hard reality is, if a book is selling a ridiculous number of copies, the author did *something* right. Luck can help get you an agent, and luck can help get you traditionally published, and luck can get you some sales, but ultimately, sales and success on the scale Kline has had require more than just luck (IMO) even if, upon reading his book, we don't necessarily understand why it's so popular.

Sure - get a good publicist ;)

With the tongue out of my cheek - yeah, any author who writes a publishable book has done a lot of work and a lot of good things. Huge respect to anyone who makes it.

But a lot of people do something right and few of them become 'stars'. To be given that kudos you should be doing a lot of things right. If they're doing something right and getting treated like they did everything right, we're back at the undeserving thing.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Matamelcan on August 03, 2017, 01:02:46 AM
While I agree with many of your points, sometimes popularity doesn't determine quality.  You can look at various movies, books, music, and other ambiguous subjects and say that the author is indeed terrible.
Look at Fifty Shades of Grey, immense successful with its own movie and over a 100 million in sales.  Yet the quality of its writing is low and the overall style is disjointed and sloppy.  Its main selling point is kinky sex.
Just look at these two quotes: "Jeez, he looks so freaking hot.  My subconscious is frantically fanning herself, and my inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm."
And: "His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate, fudge caramel, or... something."
You can purview some more of horrible quotes here: http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/02/14/21710269/fifty-terrible-lines-from-fifty-shades-of-grey http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/fifty-shades-of-grey/feature/a820703/worst-50-shades-darker-quotes/

Popularity does not mean talent.  If so, Justin Bieber's 'Baby' is one of the greatest masterpieces in history or Nicki Minaj is more talented then Mozart.

Being a successful writer doesn't necessarily mean you're talented.  There's truly terrible writers racking up millions of reads on fanfiction sites by exploiting popular topics like Alpha or Stockholm Syndrome stories.
In conclusion, I personally believe that success doesn't necessarily equate talent.  If anyone disagrees, I would love to hear an opposing opinion.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Matamelcan on August 03, 2017, 01:04:05 AM
(Accidental doublepost)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 03, 2017, 02:15:25 AM
The short version of my thoughts would be

A) There's enough consensus on what good/bad prose and storytelling look like, and maybe characterisation and world building, that one can say "This meets/fails the consensus" with some degree of objectivity (although not total). So yes, I believe "X is a terrible author" is fair game, although almost always wrong when it comes to published authors.

B) Sales and popularity do not equal quality. There are too many other factors aside from the quality of a piece of work that go into sales and popularity. There's a strong correlation but no more.

C) Reviews offer a better group consensus view of overall quality than Sales and Popularity, although even then it's an inexact tool because not everyone reviews, more people leave good reviews than bad, and you can't review what you haven't read.

p.s. If the book is riddled with typos, should I be blaming the author or the copy editor/publisher? Seems to be the editor to me.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 03, 2017, 02:51:27 AM
I do agree that no one can or should criticize a successful writer who is satisfying large audiences - that said, the 'credit' is not always entirely theirs, either. Many a work has prospered for reasons completely external to its making. And describing them as talented or not is flawed unless one takes the time to point to a supposed virtue or flaw and making a case. It still won't work: there's no real consensus that an element must or must not be present for a work to require talent; there's no surety that the artist used or avoided the element deliberately or even consciously; and it doesn't matter. People's tastes are entirely subjective.

I do think there's too many concepts rolled into the term "talent." First, I think there's a big difference between people who possess talent and works that require talent to produce. Second, linking either of these things (or both, or neither) with commercial success and then connecting the jumble to talent is probably not reliable or useful and undermines objectivity. Objective data can be applied consistently across examples, and these cannot be.

Applied to writers and writing, I think we have a tendency to associate taste, professionalism, and other non-talent-related things along with the core concept of "natural aptitude or skill." And even setting those aside, there's several different talents involved: writing (a whole host of subset talents and skills), story-telling, marketing (not just selling, but choosing a project and designing it to satisfy a market), and many others. So filtering down to the term requires a tighter focus.

For my part, objectively measuring subjective things is not an improved strategy but a doomed one; while the metrics are more easily defined, the causal relationships are based entirely on subjective areas, mostly overdetermined ones. So while the compass seems to point more reliably, there's no consistent reference with which to plot one's course.

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: S. K. Inkslinger on August 03, 2017, 04:01:24 AM
Also, I want to make it clear that I believe everyone is absolutely entitled to their subjective opinion about a book's quality. These are the type of critiques I think are fair game:

- I didn't like it.
- The characters didn't interest me.
- I found the plot too slow.
- I was bored.

These are the type of critiques I wish people would steer away from (and which seem common once an author finds large-scale success)

- This author is a terrible writer.
- This author just got lucky and is a hack with no talent (with the implication they don't deserve their success)
- People who think this book isn't terrible are misguided/wrong.

Great post, @tebakutis! I love the way you pointed out the reasonable critiques and the unreasonable ones. There are way too many people on the internet (and any other venues, as it is) currently that posted negative comments just truly based on their emotions, jumping on the hate train without even having actually experienced the works of the authors. People are better at insults then praises, it seemed, and many people just come on the net to vent their daily frustration withou heed of what is actually happening/ being judged. To calmy and clearly explain the points you didn't like about a book is totally fine, insulting the author and hating on people who loved his works are not.

Back on topic, I also believe that successful and quality could be parallel term in some cases, but not always. With the example of Fifty Shades of Gray above, one could undoubtedly say that it's successful, but the quality of the storytelling may be some other thing. Although since there are no clear requirements on what exactly constitute quality, that does puzzled things up a bit. Public consensus combined with certain qualities in storytelling is the way to go, I reckon?  ::)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 03, 2017, 04:14:20 AM
Literature overall is a very niche activity unfortunately, compared to pretty much everything else. How many books does the average person read per year or in their lifetime? People here who read 30, 40 or 50+ books each year... we're anomalies.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi are even more niche than the other genres, and that's without breaking it even further with subgenres. The common perception of the genre (that's just LoTR, GoT, Star Wars and Star Trek) among the mainstream doesn't help it much either.

While remaining in their area, even the most controversial works won't blow out of proportion. Did religious folk and parents worried about Harry Potter before it became a big thing, for example?

Reaching mainstream status means you're out for the masses. And the masses' tastes can't be labeled or predicted, much as some try to say otherwise.
The people who form the masses come from everyone, have an infinite combination of tastes, views and beliefs.

So when you "become mainstream" something you probably wrote as a certain genre will be thrown to the lions that probably may not even know anything about it or that don't care about the main intents of the work and focus on other details.

Take for example, Game of Thrones. GRRM just wanted to write an epic with large scale and a large cast of characters since he couldn't do it while working on TV. It had great success on its own, but when it became mainstream thanks to HBO things changed completely.

You can see people today using it to talk about disability, talking about under many different political/ideological/historical lenses, about women, economy, violence, sex, etc, whether it's praise or criticism. Some have no basis on anything or are purely anecdotes of a particular view, but that's what mainstream does: when something appeal to so vast and diverse of an audience, characters and events will have many different meanings to many different people.

Could GRRM possibly have thought all this would happen almost 30 years ago? Possibly not. Also, when reaching this stage pretty much authorial intent probably ceases to mean anything anyway.
People will see stuff that it's not there too or even if it makes sense, it wasn't intended. I read somewhere about a fan talking what Asimov did with a certain book, when the author himself talked to that fan and said he didn't do that and the fan simply replied: "Just because you wrote it, doesn't mean you understand it!"

So RPO is an ode to the 80's. You can just imagine the amount of controversy and scorn it'll generate from various different kinds of people that lived at the period...

Another reason mainstream gets so much hate it's because it tends to be overhyped as fuck. While it helps to generate some interest, it also easily creates a way to massive disappointment, which leads to frustration, which leads to angry rants.

Mainstream also has the bad fame of "dumbing down" stuff for the masses. Sometimes it isn't true but sometimes you can just feel and tell when something great and meaningful has been diluted for the purposes of mass appeal. Bad adaptations usually come to mind.

There's also people who are avid fans of something when it's obscure and wear it like a medal of honor, then when it becomes mainstream they kinda of hate it on people who start playing/watching/reading it. I don't know what triggers such reactions but I've seen it happen...

And finally, another reason I think for such reactions is of people who like to think they're unique and different from the masses so hating on anything that hits mainstream is almost automatic. After all you can't be cool and unique if you like what everybody also likes, right!

Of course, there are people who can say how exactly didn't like something (mostly I think it's because of hype) but when you open some books on GR and most of the top liked reviews are 1*s that are mostly rants (just look Game of Thrones!) you sometimes just wonder if people simply just like to destroy stuff for the sake of it.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: cupiscent on August 03, 2017, 04:35:47 AM
I totally agree with the underlying point that I got from tebakutis's post, which is that a work should always be judged as a work and not made a stalking horse for ad hominem attacks.

That said, I will now disappear into philosophical rumination on definitional debates... :D

Because to me, the question of "talent" is kind of meaningless. I don't know that it's possible to judge from the finished product - and especially not from one finished product - whether a writer has talent, or just worked really, really hard. But this possibly boils down to what we define as "talent". For me, "talent" is the ability to achieve stuff without working hard, but I believe it's almost entirely possible to achieve exactly the same stuff with hard work.

F'rinstance, my husband has an aggravating musical skill, whereby he can pick up a musical instrument and almost immediately play a recognisable tune. It's a combination of lots of things - a fantastic ear, and a lot of time spent thinking about and playing music on various instruments already. But the point is: anyone else can also get a recognisable tune out of any instrument, we might just have to work at it harder.

Is that talent? OR is talent the bit at the other end, the bit that will always separate the virtuoso performers from the hard-working average players? That extra glimmer that is - and this is an important point - almost completely indistinguishable for the average listener. (To be honest, I would be tempted to call this "flair" rather than talent, but possibly that term is actually more applicable to my husband's annoying skill.)

Either way, when you come back to a book as a finished product... how on earth is "talent" distinguishable from the products of hard work? Did the writer "naturally" dash off a taut and satisfying plot, or did they agonise and rework every single twist of it over multiple rewrites? Do they have a natural ear for dialogue so everything they write is both natural and yet narratively efficient, or did they annoy everyone they know by reading it aloud over and over until it worked? And the kicker: does it even matter?

Not to mention that I don't think "talent" is an objectively good thing, because it depends on what you're talented at. Another f'rinstance: I saw Seanan Mcguire at Continuum in June, and her guest of honour hour (which was a Q&A session) demonstrated her tremendous talent at natural and entertaining storytelling, but it also confirmed for me all the things that I didn't enjoy about her written work: that it's very slick, but not quite deeply considered enough to be interesting to me. She has talent. It's just not a talent whose products appeal to me.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: abatch on August 03, 2017, 04:43:00 AM
I've been a professional actor for more than thirty years. Along the way, I've been an opera singer and a stand up comedian...and now, a fantasy author. In many ways, I think that actions we take -- jumping, eating, fighting -- can be judged objectively. But when we're attempting to capture and articulate the feelings, ideas, images, etc., we must, of necessity, be subjective. We are, after all, subjectively expressing how we perceive reality. I think we can objectively say, "That person doesn't understand the difference between "it's" and "its," but I'm not as convinced we can say that person has no talent. Time was, I'd have said Chuck Norris can't act. But he clearly has fans who think he can. Perhaps -- perhaps -- my opinion has more weight because I've got a degree in acting, but that doesn't invalidate others' opinions.

I have no idea if any of that was remotely coherent. I guess I needed to say it for my own sake!  :)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: IWFerguson on August 03, 2017, 04:48:47 AM
Great thread with many good points. I totally agree with cupiscent's total agreement sentence. I also take issue with the conflation of units sold and a writer's talent. There's an interesting slide here, where instead of discussing a writer's talent, we're talking about a book's quality: two very different things, that sometimes go together (like sales and talent).

I think it's much easier to evaluate the quality of the experience a specific reader had with a book, than to evaluate a writer's talent or a book's quality.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 03, 2017, 05:07:15 AM
I'm pretty sure a lot of Norris' fans would say he can entertain rather than he can act - and a fair portion would say he entertains precisely because he can't act ;) I know I don't tune into action movies for the acting!

Which does kinda bring us to another point - is it more important to be a good writer & storyteller, or one people enjoy?


I would also argue that talent in the most common context of the thread so far is a synonym for ability - the ability, in this case, to write a story with the means by which they do so being irrelevant. Which I think is a fair use of the word, even if I would more naturally associate it with that whole seemingly innate aptitude for something - natural talent. I don't think I've ever used it to distinguish between the good and the great (although I will talk about which elite sportsman is more naturally talented than the other, so maybe I have).
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lady Ty on August 03, 2017, 06:31:47 AM
 ^ @Lanko, tebak began a new thread here on this subject

http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/index.php?topic=10872.msg175278#msg175278

so it didn't de-thread this one.Please could you move your comments there because they are very relevant ?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 03, 2017, 07:11:55 AM
Someone needs to summon @Lanko

I'm of three minds of this:

1) the anthropologist in me is all like "Yes @tebakutis ! Art is 100% subjective and only finds meaning in the interaction between audiences and the text! Communities of people give a book it's worth, no objective gatekeeper!"

2) The reader/writer in me is a bit more conflicted:

I totally agree with the underlying point that I got from tebakutis's post, which is that a work should always be judged as a work and not made a stalking horse for ad hominem attacks.

As usual, I'm with you @cupiscent Add that the internet is seriously a hate mob full of half cocked idiots. [eg.  the whole down with Joss Whedon feminist rampage... basically shutting down the twitter account of a guy who's done groundbreaking things for female leads b/c the Black Widow had to be rescued for 30 seconds in a movie]

That said I think it was @Peat who said something about it being fun to vent when you have a diff of opinion from the masses... god knows I feel that (errr.... I'm trying so hard not to say something about Sanderson destroying WoT for me...)

3) the social critic in me (prolly the real me) is all like "Aw HELLLL no.  You can't let these hacks off the hook!"

Popularity does not mean talent.  If so, Justin Bieber's 'Baby' is one of the greatest masterpieces in history or Nicki Minaj is more talented then Mozart.

Yup!  At some point things descend to the lowest common denominator-- esp easy to see in pop music which always makes me violently ill when I've been out of the country for a like a year and turn the radio for the first time.  It's like a bad jingle of nonsense words about sex, jealousy, modeling crass narcissism and materialism and unhealthy relationships.  And given the socio economic system we're a part of you can kinda see why it works.  I feel pretty strongly that marketing is *not* art. It took like 16 writers to get the Beyonce lyrics "Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap it / Foot up, my foot up / Hold up now my foot up"

Package Books commissioned by the marketing directors of companies seriously disturb me.   

Have you seen the Banksy documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" ?

Pretty much hits it on the head. This French dude commissions people to make street art playing off the aesthetic for attention, taking the meaning out of everything he does to make a gimmick to sell shit he didn't even make (he managed).  So does the author of "50 Shades" have talent? well she was certainly talented at tapping into a market.  As snooty as it sounds, I think there's something to having people hold their critical eye up and say popularity doesn't make for a talented artist.  I mean, I'm not saying I want to follow the officious rules of say a painfully nihilistic critic-turned writer like Lev Grossman.* I prefer pulpy genre fun, to be totally honest.  But I do have to say there's something better about what we all do as writers in this group, writing from the heart, than, say, some of the pandering drivel out there.

*(and by the same token I bristle at Sanderson's writing formulas. Story formulas written by machine-like writers to satisfy market expectations are decidedly soulless and un-artistic to me.)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: ScarletBea on August 03, 2017, 10:17:42 AM
@Arry, could you please move these last comments to tebakutis' new thread? Thanks!
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 03, 2017, 11:00:02 AM
I beg to disagree on some of the words you use.

First of all "quality" is terrible, as it is typically broad in meaning. You can scientifically judge the quality of a Manuka honey, but the quality of a painting will always remain subjective. You need to define that word extensively before throwing it out. When I read it in my mind your point became "let's judge objectively, but using this *super subjective word* as a criteria". I agree with the idea behind it though.

Where i totally disagree, it's on using "sold copies" as a judgment of quality.

Are you not aware just HOW MUCH crap sells?! You know how much copies of Dan Brown sell? Or Twilight? Are you going to say 50 Shades of Grey is an objective masterpiece because its prose is clear and it sold millions?
Because it is and it did.

What of all the authors who died unknown and unappreciated and saw their work explode to fame X years after their death, or original publication? Keats died thinking himself a total failure. Was he a mediocre poet until his work sold millions too? When do you think a book's true value comes into fruition sales wise?
What about the big blockbuster classics of ages past? Authors who (comparatively) sold heaps, and are now considered total bores and studied in school/uni, but hardly ever for pleasure? Has the author's worth/talent diminished because of trends? If so then what if our Andy Weirs of today become the droning bores of next age?
Worse, how do you compare a book that has been selling for 50 years and one just published a year ago? They might be equally good but the new one will hardly sell as many copies as time goes by.

No I clearly think sells have little to do with an author's talent. It's an indicator, yes, but mostly of :
-how good the publisher is
-what the greater public likes
-what's the jazz of the time is

Working in a bookshop I see more and more how we can totally "make" a best seller. We sometimes hand pick books and turn them into the house's hot bun that ends up in every customer's hands. We receive lists and advertise our books accordingly, pushing forward some authors over others.

What about genres? Will you say that any random crime best selling book has a better author than a cult horror novel just because crime sells SO much more than horror? What if the horror seems to have better prose, tenser action, better arcs, and better reviews?
And so what about the Dan Brown book that will outsell both anyways?

No, I'll expend my opinion on how to judge for "talent" later, but I truly believe numbers are unusable in that argument.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Rostum on August 03, 2017, 04:52:56 PM
My somewhat off topic thoughts boil down to:

There are great story tellers and great writers some are both.

In SFF great ideas will sell books where use of the language may be weak. A great writer without imagination is lost in SFF.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 03, 2017, 10:16:56 PM
This made me remember stuff that I read about talent. More about the concept of it and how it's usually perceived than how to analyze it or to review it objectively, but I think it'll be interesting to share.

I read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. I actually only read the beginning, but there are passages on Mozart and Tiger Woods. And the book (and more researchers) actively confront the idea of innate talent.

Basically what I remember on the Mozart part was that his father was also an extremely talented musician who began training him since Mozart was 3 or 4 years old. When he got into school or whatever, about 10-12 years old, he was way ahead of the others, as what they were beginning to learn he already had learned and practiced for half a decade.

He explores earlier the most commonly ideas people have about talent. Or how we steer ourselves and others away from particular fields because we think we've seen signs that we or they have no talent in those fields. How in companies managers redirect people's careers on very slender evidence of what people "got". Or in our own lives when we try something new and finding it isn't easy for us and conclude we have no talent for it and never pursue it.

Anyway, regarding judging objectively:

We can measure quite precisely the achievements of athletes, chess players and others whose work can be evaluated objectively. In the world of finance, fund managers and other investors are judged by criteria that can be carried to several decimal places. Even scientists can be judged fairly objectively, if not too precisely, by the influence of their work in the years after it was done.

But composers, painters, writers, and other creators are judged by standards that inevitably shift, so we must at least be careful in drawing conclusions based on their alleged greatness or success. Many have been widely celebrated in life and forgotten in posterity, and vice-versa.
If we were looking for someone embodying talent and greatness in music in 1810 we probably wouldn't have paid someone like Bach any attention.

About talent being doing something effortlessly, I think on 48 Laws of Power there's a chapter titled "Make Your Achievements Look Easy". Or something like that.

Basically it says that people who often are considered geniuses are people who worked and practiced extremely hard and beyond what others did. But we, who only see the final performance or product, never see the sweat, the labor, the bleeding fingers and raw throats. And thus we think they do it effortlessly and that they are close to divine beings.

Then, tracing a parallel to Talent is Overrated, when we try and see it's not easy for us, we think we don't have the talent and stop pursuing it. Or when we believe talent is something akin to a divine gift by the muse/god/whatever.

I think artists also unconsciously know that and that's why in the past (and maybe even now) they rarely talk about their process or if they do, don't go into too much detail into it. It's far better to look much bigger than life than you actually are by looking like the things you do are the sudden spark of inspiration gifted by a muse than constant, laborious technical practice.

And when we come to stop and think of it, how can someone do something effortlessly without first having learned and practiced it?
Can one become a master swordsman after picking a sword and swinging it a few times? Or paint, sing, write a masterpiece just like that?

Another by Mozart, who is the ultimate example of divine-spark theory of talent.

Quote
Mozart's father was of course Leopold Mozart, a famous composer and performer in his own right.
He was also a domineering parent who started his son on a program of intensive training in composition and performing at age three.

So from the earliest age, Mozart was receiving heavy instruction from an expert teacher who lived with him.
Leopold always "corrected" the boy's compositions before anyone saw them.

... the young boy's compositions are not original. His first four piano concertos, composed when he was eleven,
actually contain no original music by him. His next three works, at sixteen, also contain no original music but instead are arrangements of works by Johann Christian Bach, with whom Mozart had studied in London.

None of these works is regarded today as great music or even close. They are rarely performed or recorded except as novelties, of interest only because of Mozart's later fame.

They seem instead to be works of someone being trained as a composer by the usual methods - copying,
arranging, and imitating the works of others - with the resulting products brought to the world's attention (and just maybe polished a bit) by a father who spent much of his life promoting his son.

Piano Concerto No.9 was composed when he was twenty-one. That's certainly an early age, but we must remember that by then Mozart had been through eighteen years of extremely hard, expert training.

This is worth pausing to consider. Any divine spark that Mozart may have possessed did not enable him to produce world-class work quickly or easily, which is something we often suppose a divine spark will do.

Mozart did not conceive whole works in his mind, perfect and complete. Surviving manuscripts show that Mozart was constantly revising, reworking, crossing out and rewriting whole sections, jotting down fragments and putting them aside for years.

Though it makes the results no less magnificent, he wrote music the way ordinary humans do.


Curiously this practice and learning under great mentors (no necessarily direct under them, specially with the Internet) is something greatly discussed in another book called Mastery by Robert Greene.

If the theme interests you all, I'd recommend these books:

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, Mastery by Robert Greene and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (this one created the 10k hours thing I think)
It's interesting that with different approaches, examples and methods you can see how they pretty much interconnect about the theme.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: DrNefario on August 04, 2017, 01:05:32 PM
Bounce: The Myth of Talent by Matthew Syed is the one I read.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 04, 2017, 05:51:19 PM
To those who say The Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and the like are all badly written books, I think you're missing the point. You're using your own subjective grading system to conclude the books are bad and that the authors don't have talent. But, these books appealed to millions of people. That means the authors have written works that resonate with people enough that they told a lot of their friends about the book. No amount of marketing could create that amount of buzz for a book that people didn't like.

Rather than criticizing the work, especially if you're a writer, you'd be better served by trying to understand why so many people talk about these books.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 04, 2017, 07:42:46 PM
To those who say The Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and the like are all badly written books, I think you're missing the point. You're using your own subjective grading system to conclude the books are bad and that the authors don't have talent. But, these books appealed to millions of people. That means the authors have written works that resonate with people enough that they told a lot of their friends about the book. No amount of marketing could create that amount of buzz for a book that people didn't like.

Rather than criticizing the work, especially if you're a writer, you'd be better served by trying to understand why so many people talk about these books.

Exactly my approach. I may not enjoy them but understanding why they are successful or what chords they struck are IMO, well worth giving some thought.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 04, 2017, 07:46:10 PM
To those who say The Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and the like are all badly written books, I think you're missing the point. You're using your own subjective grading system to conclude the books are bad and that the authors don't have talent. But, these books appealed to millions of people. That means the authors have written works that resonate with people enough that they told a lot of their friends about the book. No amount of marketing could create that amount of buzz for a book that people didn't like.

If this is a reference to my post, @Not Lu I would have you re-read me, because you're the one missing my point.
I said of 50 Shades that :

Quote
its prose is clear and it sold millions.

And yes, right after saying you can't call it an "objective masterpiece".

You can't. At least not by any official standard. The book won no literary prize worth anything, just the "National Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year" which only rewards books by sales. Nothing to praise the prose or the content.
The prose is objectively "poor". You can even define that only by the vocabulary used... Majority of critics were negative. Some pointed out the glorification of abusive relationships too, besides the lack of character development.

And even then so what? Are you going to argue that instant noodles are superior to 5 stars Michelin chef meals because they sell millions more?

My entire point was not "they're crap you shouldn't read them or learn from them", but that the talent of an author cannot be judged by how many copies they sell.
50 shades is acclaimed for having terrible prose, you're not going to tell me that terrible prose is a sign of a talented writer?
None of these authors received a single literary prize. No one rewarded them for their excellence. Lots of people bought them, which is also absolutely not the same as "lots of people loved it", as proven by Goodreads in this case :

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10818853-fifty-shades-of-grey?ac=1&from_search=true

I'll let you look through the reviews. The first positive one comes is in 14th place, and one of the first comments which is a scathing review, has about 19.000 likes.

SO, quantity does not mean quality. It's all I meant.

 I'm not saying we should abolish instant noodles or their book equivalent. Only that quantity is a dubious criterion.

If it's your goal to make it big, then you should read Dan Brown, Gabaldon, ELJames and all the people who have written down top best selling books.
All these can be seriously studied to understand what made them explode like that. Obviously you'll have to take in outside elements (like the fact that ELJames wrote twilight fanfic, so she surfed the fame of twilight itself), but if it's the sort of stuff you want to produce, then go for it. There is nothing to feel guilty about for wanting that, or for liking those books.
It doesn't make them literary masterpieces all the same.


Also, marketing CAN make a mediocre book rise. We have people who buy from publishers, deciding together what will be the best sellers of the month, and we get loads of them delivered, we put them out at 1/2 price and advertise them, give them tables to themselves, and are supposed to hand-sell them to customers.
If we meet the numbers we're given we get bonuses.
The bookselling business, just like the publishing one, is biased. We work to sell all the stock our buyer got us, and we can't send it back even if it doesn't sell. So no sale is a bad one to us.
Also people very often read recommendations in the papers and come looking for a book like that, so we have to keep an eye out on all major newspapers.
50 Shades had everyone startled because of good sales yet horrible reviews, and so bookshops put it forward and surfed that wave, because it made them money.
You see this :

(https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/commercial/2012/6/28/1340910144489/Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-008.jpg)

It's sold with a buy one/get one half price deal, right with a nice banner that says "discover the book everyone is talking about", and it's on a wall, faced out, with a bazillion of them. So yeah, totally upsold.


Anyway, back on track :

Quote
I would also argue that talent in the most common context of the thread so far is a synonym for ability - the ability, in this case, to write a story with the means by which they do so being irrelevant.

You also don't define ability @Peat, so we still don't know what you guys mean. Because, what's the difference between an author who writes a literary awards winning novel in 6 months without loosing sleep over it and one who does so in 10 years with 25 re-writes?
Isn't one more "able"? And what about an author who writes one masterpiece and the one who writes 10. Does one have more ability because he's more productive? How do you measure ability?

My view of talent is that it means a natural predisposition for something. One might write all they want about talent not existing, but there are areas where I tried so hard, even getting special classes, yet understood so poorly and slowly compared to other kids (I'm thinking of maths here), that I'm sure we have natural predispositions, helped along by what life exposes us to.
At the end of the day, from the moment you start writing, you might have certain facilities over others. I think listing these facilities is the key to defining "talent".

A more talented writer would be able to finish his work in shorter times, have a distinctive voice that comes with less effort, have a strong understanding of tropes and cliches, be extremely well read (yes, I think you can work on the grounds of your "talent", especially if you link it to 'ability')... That's sort of a weak definition too  :-\
I'll think on it.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 04, 2017, 08:07:10 PM
Where's the proof that so many people brought 50 Shades of Grey because they *liked* it rather than buying it because it was a kinky cultural phenomenon? I mean, this is the book that one single branch of Oxfam (a second hand charity shop relying on donations for those who don't know) had so many unsold copies of that they built a fort out of them. The ratings aren't great and in the one book released by EL James outside of that hype bubble, the number of them drop down to 100k. Which is still doing pretty great for most authors, but not for those with that sort of publicity, and it doesn't suggest most of the people that read her stuck with her. Her books do not create that sort of buzz naturally.

Sure, enough people liked it for publishers to pick it up. But what happened next, I'd suggest is proof that marketing can indeed create that amount of buzz for a book most people don't like and that is badly written. And having read a bit, yup, if any published book is objectively badly written, it is that. It falls far short of the consensus of good prose at the very least.

And I'm a big fan of the idea of looking at popular books that people rag on to see what the author did right. But I feel very safe in saying that what EL James did right was predominantly 'Sell far more sex in a mainstream book than had been seen for some time'. And if there's a conclusion to take away, its that its possible to succeed while being a very indifferent writer if you hit the cultural zeitgeist at the right moment.

50 Shades of Grey is the poster child for the idea that a book/author can be turned into a star by marketing and that success does not always follow talent.



edit: p.s. Nora

Ability is simply being able to do something and how well you do it. A bit fuzzy and catch all I'll admit, but that seems to be the way we're doing it.

And yes, I'd argue that a guy who writes 3 good books in the same time as another guy writes 1 good book has more ability. But the guy who's producing a book every 20 years still has ability. So does the guy producing 15 mediocre books in that time period. I will plead the fifth and run away from any attempt to sub-categorise those as different abilities or being worth more.

What I will agree on is that talent as in natural/innate talent is real and does matter. It sure as hell doesn't matter as much as hard work but nobody reaches the top without both.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 04, 2017, 08:21:24 PM
Regarding 50 shades, there are many articles who try to cover its success and makes some interesting points, whether they are correct or not, not about the story, the style or theme, but as resonance to something in society:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/07/13/living/fifty-shades-buzz-50-shades-success/index.html

Quote
The popularity of 'Fifty Shades' speaks to the fact that the dominant model of mainstream pornography and ideas of sex are targeted at men. The fantasy starts when he's into it and ends when he's done," she said.

A lot of women have said that they've learned the most about what sex could be for them from erotica novels," she said. "These stories focus on female desire and what's in it for the woman, and there's not a lot of that in mainstream culture."

Fifty Shades' is no different from what's already being sold. The major difference is that it has somehow become a part of current pop culture, of the zeitgeist. People won't stop talking about it, so it perpetuates the sales, perpetuates the mythos, of this work as some sort of watershed for erotic fiction," said Mala Bhattacharjee, features editor of RT Book Reviews, the pioneering literary review journal formerly known as Romantic Times.
"In truth, romance fiction and erotica have been this 'naughty' for decades — naughtier, even!" she said in an e-mail. "In essence, it's the phenomenon of FSOG that has snowballed its popularity for readers more than the actual text.

"Many new readers have discovered erotic romance and want to read more, but the more explicit covers don't appeal to them," said Cindy Hwang, executive editor of Berkley Books. "Publishers are smartly responding to the marketplace and adjusting the cover approach for some erotic romance titles. Cufflinks and keychains can be just as evocative as bare skin."


https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/the-real-reason-50-shades-is-so-wildly-popular-hint-its-not-the-sex

Quote
To truly understand the success of Fifty Shades, one first has to revisit the book’s roots.  Despite a determined campaign of internet scrubbing by author E.L. James and her publishers, it’s still relatively common knowledge that Fifty Shades began its life as an online Twilight fan fiction serial called Master of the Universe.

So what is the secret to Fifty Shades’ success?  Easy.  It never strayed far from its source material.  Fifty Shades is popular for exactly the same reasons as Twilight, because it’s exactly the same story, just written for an older audience – an audience with deeper pockets and no meddling parents to say “no” when they ask to buy the book at the store, check it out at the library, or see the movie when it comes out in theaters.

Twilight was told from the perspective of Bella Swan, a shy and awkward teenage girl who, without even trying, attracts the attention and eventual obsession of Edward Cullen, an inhumanly attractive classmate with superpowers and a dark secret: he’s a vampire, and even though he is desperately in love with Bella, he struggles with his innate desire to hurt her.

In Fifty Shades, we have Ana Steele, a shy and awkward college girl who, without even trying, attracts the attention and eventual obsession of Christian Grey, an inhumanly attractive (he’s repeatedly described as an “Adonis”) man with incredible power and a dark secret: he’s addicted to violent sex, and even though he is desperately in love with Ana, he struggles with his innate desire to hurt her.

The commonalities between these two stories go much deeper than the ripped-off plotline.  The characters of Bella and Ana are both written as almost blank slates, onto which readers can project their own personalities.  (For the salty-language tolerant, The Oatmeal explains the mechanics of this process here, better and more concisely than I ever could.)

All we know about each girl is that she’s ordinary – like, so ordinary that if you looked up the word “ordinary” in the dictionary, you would find their pictures – only you wouldn’t; you’d find a little mirror reflecting your own face back at you, because that’s the entire point.  You’re meant to insert yourself into the story, and suddenly it’s you, in all your banal lack of glory, who has proven irresistible to these powerful, godlike, beautiful, deeply damaged men, and only you can help them find their humanity again.  The best part?  You didn’t have to do anything to capture their undying devotion but be yourself.

No, the appeal of Fifty Shades and Twilight alike is the fantasy that somewhere out there, there’s an extraordinary man (or, erm, vampire) who will adore you just the way you are, no matter how plain, how unaccomplished, how downright unremarkable.

Imagine everything women want in a man, then exaggerate it by ten thousand - and you've got Edward Cullen,” Inman wrote.  “As far as the reader is concerned, Edward cares about nothing in the world more than [Bella]. What the author has done is created a perfect male figure - a pale Greek statue which the reader can worship and in turn be worshipped by.”

Substitute “Christian” and “Ana” for “Edward” and “Bella” in Inman’s commentary, and you’ll begin to understand what’s going on here.

The success of both Twilight and Fifty Shades stems from the battle that rages in all of us from the day we emerge screaming, naked, and helpless into this world.  On the one hand, we all want to be deeply loved for who we are.  On the other, we see ourselves as pathetically unworthy.

That feeling of unworthiness may come from a lot of different places – the media, society, maybe even our friends and families.  In fact, as I was writing this essay, a friend and fellow writer noted that the women who make up Fifty Shades’ core audience were born and raised in the late 1960s, and 1970s, when divorce was at its peak.  As a result, many of them – perhaps even the majority – were raised without a full-time father in the home.

That’s just one possible source of the emptiness books like Fifty Shades temporarily fill.  But the truth is, anyone who has ever felt unremarkable or invisible for any reason can put themselves in Ana’s shoes and understand her thrill at being chosen – her, of all people! – by a man with so much power he might as well be God.  And anyone who has ever tried to love someone out of a dangerous lifestyle – be it addiction, violence, self-harm, risky sexual behaviors, or heck, vampirism (you never know) – can relate to Ana’s joy as her steadfast love transforms Christian from a damaged, petulant dictator into a loving husband.

Ultimately, the secret to the success of Fifty Shades is that it puts the reader in the role of both the saved and the savior. 

About Twilight, I think the cover is actually very well done.

(https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1361039443l/41865.jpg)

It's simple and eye-catching, a pale girl/woman holding a bright red apple (the forbidden fruit!) under a dark background. It may give that vibe of horror or a more serious tone (who would have thought what the story would actually be about, but you get it  ::) ).



Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 04, 2017, 08:35:09 PM
Yes but one is a manual of "how to perpetuate rape culture" and the other sets as example to teen readers a character who jumps off a cliff for the sake of hallucinating the voice of her fist bf 7 months after he dumped her, and has their first sex scene being a legal definition of violent rape (yes, waking up the next morning having no memory of sex so brutal it left your body covered in bruises fits the definition of violent rape).

So either way, not impressed with these books. The fact that every-woman might project herself in Ana is precisely what makes this book so toxic. Though I beg to excuse myself from being included, as I found her so laughably unrealistic and fake I never managed to identify. Mind you I never read the whole thing, I couldn't make myself.

These guys made a great article on it : http://www.thealliterates.com/

*Trigger Warning: This review contains strong themes, to include rape.*

Before I begin what will likely become a very long rant/public service announcement, let me first say a few words. I have nothing against E.L. James. Nothing. She’s said that this series is a fantasy she managed to put on paper and that she never expected it to gain such momentum. Good for her for perusing her dream of writing.

If this book also fulfills one of your fantasies, or if you just plain enjoyed it, good for you too. This review is in no way meant to belittle or condemn you for liking these books, and nor is it an attack on the author. These are solely MY OPINIONS about how dangerous FSoG is to society and specifically to women.

Needless to say, this book does not fulfill one of my fantasies. It’s pretty much my biggest nightmare.

“But it’s just fiction!”

No. You can’t use that argument with me. Not anymore. This book is not “just fiction”. This book has become a frigging phenomenon. As I write this, over 70 million copies have been sold in the United States alone, hardware stores have run out of “natural fiber” rope and there are even ‘BDSM for Beginners’ classes cropping up in small town America.

So excuse me, but I can’t just read this and think of it like a fantasy, not when it’s become a reality for so many people, and not when I was so enraged by what I found within it.

Okay everyone, take a deep breath, grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and settle in. We’re going to be here for a while. First up is probably the most inflammatory of the statements I’m going to make, so we might as well rip the band aid off.

THIS BOOK PERPETUATES THE RAPE CULTURE WE WERE ALL RAISED IN.

There, I’ve said it. I’m not taking it back and I’m not apologizing. If you’re unfamiliar with this phrase, allow me to elaborate. Wikipedia defines rape culture as:

“A term used within women's studies and feminism, describing a culture in which rape and other sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualized violence.”

Let’s look at the first half of that definition. As much as we may want to ignore the facts, rape and sexual violence are common in America. According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes. On average that’s about 207,754 sexual assaults each year. 54% of sexual assaults are not reported, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail and 2/3 of these assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.

I could go on for days about how prevalent attitudes, practices, and the media condone sexual violence, but I won’t because I’m really going to try and keep my words and links relevant to FSoG. Thankfully, throughout my research, I found several…hundred.

The University of California has an interesting article about how social and cultural norms perpetuate rape and rape culture. In it, they specifically address how women are conditioned from early ages to be passive and accept and affect certain attitudes and behaviors. Here are some of the social rules they list and elaborate on:

1. When spoken to, a woman must acknowledge the other person with a gracious smile.
2. Women must answer questions asked of them.
3. Women must not bother other people or make a scene because they are uncomfortable.
4. When in trouble, it is best to defer to the protection and judgment of men.
5. Casual touching or suggestive comments in social settings are meant as a tribute to a woman’s desirability.
6. It is the natural state of affairs for men to carry the financial burden of social situations.
7. When engaged in a social encounter, it is not proper for a woman to superior in any game, sport or discussion if she wants to be accepted.
8. Women should always accept and trust the kindness of strangers if they offer help.

There’s a blog post by Harriet Jacobs that also speaks to this and I urge you to read it in its entirety. In short, it says “…women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:

· it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
· it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
· it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
· it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
· it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
· it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
· it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
· it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

Now how do these two examples relate to FSoG? Simply put, Ana, the main character in this series, continuously exhibits the behaviors listed in the rules and seems to have the mentality of those listed in the bullets. She might as well be the case study on which both were based.

Early in the book there’s an interaction between her and a young man named Paul, the son of the couple she works for. This is someone she says has “always been a buddy”. Just after they greet each other with a hug, “he releases me but keeps a possessive arm draped over my shoulder. I shuffle from foot to foot, embarrassed. It’s good to see Paul, but he’s always been overly familiar”

Does she tell him that she’s uncomfortable or step out from beneath his arm? No, that’d be going against everything that rule number three has taught her. Plus, she wouldn’t want to come across as a “mean bitch” now would she?

Just after this, Paul asks her out. “Whenever he’s home he asks me on a date, and I always say no. It’s a ritual.” Is it a ritual? Or is it something more than that? Has Ana, like many of us, been conditioned to follow the rules to such a degree that she doesn’t know how to tell him “It’s not okay to keep asking me out”? Is she so terrified of breaking cultural norms and coming across as a mean-crazy-angry-dyke-shrill-frigid bitch that she’ll put up with his pursuit of her indefinitely? Or does she just not know to put a stop to it because she hasn’t been taught to?

When she turns him down, yet again, he goes on to say “Ana, one of these days you’ll say yes.” Creeped out yet? You should be. How does Ana respond to this declaration? By escaping the room they’re in and getting back to a crowded store floor. What does this tell us? She felt the need to flee. She felt the need to not be alone with him. Part of her clearly recognized the danger of the situation and the repeated advances of her “friend”. But instead of speaking up, she fled.

She never voices her discomfort. She is the submissive, quiet person that society has taught her to be. And 70 million people have read about her and have had these dangerously passive behaviors reinforced, yet again, through her actions, behaviors and words (or lack thereof).

How will this same mentality play out in a situation involving sexual assault? I can tell you, because just a few chapters later, she’s sexually assaulted, by another of her “friends”.

“José, I’m okay. I’ve got this.” I try to push him away rather feebly.
“Ana, please,” he whispers, and now he’s holding me in his arms, pulling me close.
“José, what are you doing?”
“You know I like you Ana, please.” He has one hand at the small of my back holding me against him, the other at my chin tipping back my head. Holy fuck…he’s going to kiss me.
“No, José, stop – no.” I push him, but he’s a wall of hard muscle, and I cannot shift him. His hand has slipped into my hair, and he’s holding my head in place.
“Please, Ana, cari?o,” he whispers against my lips… He gently trails kisses along my jaw up to the side of my mouth. I feel panicky, drunk, and out of control. The feeling is suffocating.
“José, no,” I plead. I don’t want this.

Luckily, Ana is spared further abuse because the one and only Christian Grey arrives on the scene and saves her. How? By saying “I think the lady said no.” That’s right. Ana can try to push José away and tell him ‘no’ multiple times but that’s not good enough. One sentence from a man and José immediately releases her, bringing us back to rule number four: When in trouble, it is best to defer to the protection and judgment of men. You got that, ladies? Don’t try to fight back because you’ll just be ignored, rely instead on a man. Sort of a catch 22 when the one who’s going to get you into trouble will likely also be a man.

Bear in mind that this little scene takes place in the parking lot outside of a crowded bar, just a shout away from salvation. You’re probably wondering why Ana didn’t scream. Why she didn’t fight harder. Well, I’d like to bring up Harriet Jacob’s blog post again because just after her “bitch list” she says this:

“If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.

Women who are taught not to speak up too loudly or too forcefully or too adamantly or too demandingly are not going to shout “NO” at the top of their goddamn lungs just because some guy is getting uncomfortably close.

Women who are taught not to keep arguing are not going to keep saying “NO.”

Women who are taught that their needs and desires are not to be trusted, are fickle and wrong and are not to be interpreted by the woman herself, are not going to know how to argue with “but you liked kissing, I just thought…”

Women who are taught that physical confrontations make them look crazy will not start hitting, kicking, and screaming until it’s too late, if they do at all…

Nobody obtains the superpower to behave dramatically differently during a frightening confrontation. Women will behave the same way they have been taught to behave in all social, professional, and sexual interactions.”

Eerie, isn’t it? I sure thought so. Hopefully by now you’re beginning to understand the inflammatory statement this all started with.

Not only do Ana’s actions and behaviors throughout the book reinforce the horrible societal conditioning that I mentioned earlier but this series also contains a lot of the other facets of rape culture, like victim silencing. For instance, once she’s collected herself, this happens:

“Turning, I glance at José, who looks pretty shamefaced himself and, like me, intimidated by Grey. I glare at him. I have a few choice words for my so-called friend, none of which I can repeat in front of Christian Grey, CEO. Ana, who are you kidding? He’s just seen you hurl all over the ground and into the local flora. There’s no disguising you lack of ladylike behavior.”

That’s right folks. It isn’t ladylike to yell (shrill bitch). It isn’t ladylike to swear (crazy bitch). It isn’t ladylike to defend yourself after you’ve just been sexually assaulted (mean bitch). Leave that to the menfolk. Surely they’ll defend you. Surely they’ll be the ones to address the fact that you were just sexually assaulted. Men, you know, the other sex, the ones that have been raised to talk about emotions. In public.

And while we’re discussing this scene we can’t forget about rule number eight: Women should always accept and trust the kindness of strangers if they offer help. That’s what Christian is to her at this point in the book. A stranger. She’s seen him only three times, in formal or work-related settings, and knows nothing about him other than he’s rich, good looking and that his shopping list resembles those of serial killers (I’ll get to that last part later in the review). But accept his help and trust his kindness she does. She lets this complete stranger remove her from the bar, assuming that as he’s just saved her from a sexual assault, he's not planning one of his own.

When she wakes up in his suite the next morning, pantsless by the way, she accuses Christian of stalking her. He defends himself by saying:

“…if I hadn’t come to get you, you’d probably waking up in the photographer’s (José’s) bed, and from what I can remember, you weren’t overly enthused about him pressing his suit,” he (Christian) says acidly.
Pressing his suit! I glance up at Christian. He’s glaring at me, eyes blazing, aggrieved. I try to bit my lip, but I fail to repress my giggle.
“Which Medieval chronicle did you escape from? You sound like a courtly knight.”

You got that? Stalking’s okay. Because it’s better than being raped.

*facepalm*

I’m almost at a loss at how to address the rest of this without copious amounts of swearing. How little she’s concerned with her “friend’s” behavior is appalling. That there’s no thought on her end about Christian’s allusion to her rape escape is appalling. How she glosses over it all and makes a fucking joke about it is appalling. It continues by the way.

“I would have been fine. I was with Kate.”
“And the photographer?” he (Christian) snaps at me.
“José just got out of line.” I shrug.

A shrug is a dismissive gesture, just in case you were wondering. She dismisses sexual assault as ‘getting out of line’. She downplays the severity of what happened. Why does she do this? Because it’s awkward to talk about it? Because it’s scary to think that someone she knows and trusts assaulted her and that when she tried to push him away and said ‘no’ he ignored her? Guess what? It’s always going to suck to talk about. It’s always scary to realize that statistics say that if you’re raped, you’ll know your attacker. But we need to talk about these things because if we don’t, nothing will ever change.

And now the grand finale, victim shaming and blaming. You see, José feels bad for what he did. At first, Ana is pissed at him, as she should be, and even after he calls her numerous times and leaves several messages, she continues to ignore him, deciding to “let him stew”. Then the NEXT DAY, this happens:

"The memory of José’s attempted kiss haunts me. I’m beginning to feel a bit cruel not calling him back."

She feels cruel? She feels cruel for not returning the calls of the man that forced himself upon her? Well, of course she does. She's been trained to be gracious and polite. He's addressing her. Rule number one has taught her that she should smile in this situation so it would make sense that she feels bad for not doing so.

Two days later, they talk:

“Can I see you? I’m sorry about Friday night. I was drunk…and you…well. Ana – please forgive me.”
“Of course, I forgive you José. Just don’t do it again. You know I don’t feel like that about you.”

Here’s where I start to get really angry. “..and you…” what exactly? Were there? Were breathing? Had tits? How can José’s behavior in any way be blamed on Ana? This is the “she deserved to be raped because she was wearing a skirt” mentality that needs to be burned from our collective minds. No one can ever make you do anything. Everything you do, every way you behave is a choice that you and you alone make. So no, there is no “…and you…”.

Books like this, with scenes like the ones I’ve spoken about only perpetuate our silence, our ignorance, our discomfort, and our complicity. They reinforce unhealthy behaviors and thinking patterns and they perpetuate rape culture.

Authors, I beg you, don’t cover tough issues and strong themes if you can’t do them justice. Grant them the depth and the severity they deserve. Please.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 04, 2017, 09:04:53 PM
Where's the proof?

All I have to do is connect the dots in your post.

So many people brought 50 Shades of Grey because they *liked* it... because it was a kinky cultural phenomenon.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 04, 2017, 09:13:11 PM
To those who say The Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and the like are all badly written books, I think you're missing the point. You're using your own subjective grading system to conclude the books are bad and that the authors don't have talent. But, these books appealed to millions of people. That means the authors have written works that resonate with people enough that they told a lot of their friends about the book. No amount of marketing could create that amount of buzz for a book that people didn't like.

If this is a reference to my post, @Not Lu

Not specifically. I'm replying to the thread in general. Talent is subjective. If I didn't believe that then I'd have to believe that those who disagree with me aren't being objective.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 04, 2017, 09:30:24 PM
The cover's nothing to do with the author though is it?  ;) A good cover is more evidence of the power of marketing, not the power of the writing.

It's definitely worth studying 5SoG, Twilight, Da Vinci code et al to get a good idea of what sells... but then you could have already done that with other authors. I don't need Dan Brown to teach me about the power of simple, easily comprehensible characters doing heroic things in a tightly woven plot full of surprises when I've already read Tom Clancy. I don't need Twilight to teach the me the power of a young ordinary character with a bland enough personality that anyone can identify with them suddenly finding that they're amazing when I've read ye traditional 80s fantasy bildungsroman. And I don't need 5SoG to teach me sex sells when I have the internet  :P All they do is confirm the world has changed that much. This is a somewhat reductive point of view that ignores a few changes in trend but its mostly true.

Is it worth studying them as the best examples of what sells? Are they world champs at their particular schlock because they sold a bunch? Have they shown themselves to have a particular ability/talent/knack at one particular part of storytelling, or an affinity for what the public wants in one area? That's the jackpot question.

Brown and Meyer are both certainly *good* at tapping into a certain sentiment and delivering something the public wants. They have at least a degree of talent. And they also prove that great prose and market success aren't always friends :P

James... James I am less convinced by.

p.s. Not Lu - that's so not proof. They brought it because it was a kinky cultural phenomenon. Buying a book doesn't mean you like it. Liking is what happened at the end of the book. Lukewarm mass reviews, rapidly declining interest in the author, and record amounts of donations to charity book shops indicates a fair number of people who brought it and didn't like it. Where's the proof for the people who brought it and did like it?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 04, 2017, 10:05:24 PM
To those who say The Da Vinci Code, 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight, and the like are all badly written books, I think you're missing the point. You're using your own subjective grading system to conclude the books are bad and that the authors don't have talent. But, these books appealed to millions of people. That means the authors have written works that resonate with people enough that they told a lot of their friends about the book. No amount of marketing could create that amount of buzz for a book that people didn't like.

If this is a reference to my post, @Not Lu

Not specifically. I'm replying to the thread in general. Talent is subjective. If I didn't believe that then I'd have to believe that those who disagree with me aren't being objective.

Ah sorry, since your post focused on the books I mentioned right above I thought it was.

@Peat : yeah, unless you're JK Rowling at peak fame you don't get to chose your covers, which I think is horrible. You ought to at least have a power of vetoing horrible stuff...

I guess they are worth studying for various reasons. Mostly from the outside, to analyse the "happening" of a block buster seller. But half of that is marketing. Enduring is indeed harder. What merits enquiry with James is how she got the movies signed, tbh...
The book, I mean she was famous online when it was a fanfic, so I guess the publishers picked up the rag thinking they'd do a quick buck off it.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: cupiscent on August 04, 2017, 10:08:10 PM
One thing that's missing here on the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, is how it became a fanfic "bestseller" in the first place - and that was extremely clever manipulation of the format by the author. I read a dissection of this a while back (which I can't find the link to, but I haven't time to search hard right now) by someone else who was reading/writing in Twilight fandom at the same time as the original fanfic version was being produced. Basically what that examination suggested was that the author is very talented... at marketing. (So this totally chimes in with what Nora was saying about how the writing is only part of the picture.)

In gist, the original 50 Shades (as a fanfic it was titled Master of the Universe, or something like that):
 - made a masterful study of a particular kind of fanfic that was popular at that point, and reproduced all of fandom's favourite moments from the existing popular works;
 - updated often, but with small chapters, keeping the "buzz" of new content constant;
 - which also meant that each read of each new chapter counted as a "hit" for the fic on the major fandom fanfic archive, effectively inflating the number of "units sold" of the fanfic.

So: lots of people were talking about it, plus it looked like so many people had read it that people were reading it just to see what all the fuss was about, and it was serving up a greatest hits of that corner of fandom's current favourite things. Yep, it was huge. And the author used that to leverage an actual publishing deal.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 04, 2017, 10:19:07 PM
Oh yes, indeed the cover doesn't have input from the author. Which also means success (and perception of talent) also has a very big reliance on luck. Which narrows how talent is perceived by others (since people may not even know the work exists).

Anyway, about Twilight or 50 shades being unhealthy...

I really don't buy the argument of a character in her own peculiar circumstances and set of personality is "setting an example for teen girls" for suicide.
At worst it resonates with the feelings of anguish and depression in broken relationships and at best it makes people aware of the issue. Teens in love feeling like dying for each other or if the other leaves is much older than Romeo and Juliet.

Ah, but someone may be inspired to... the same can be said for The Collector (there are controversies of kidnappers who were actually inspired by the book), the Saw movies, "video games inspire shootouts!"... any media can be used as an scapegoat for something.

Quote
“But it’s just fiction!”

No. You can’t use that argument with me. Not anymore. This book is not “just fiction”.

That's his particular view on it (and at least he says so). I could ask the same for The Collector or Hannibal Lecter. One doesn't end like most crime stories of the type would and the other has the female heroine kidnapped, drugged and brainwashed to the point of loving a cannibal and being happily spoon fed brain parts.

Why one isn't "just fiction" and the others are without a problem "just fiction"? Outside of particular views on certain subject, what's the threshold?

We could take GoT and say how it's also unhealthy for society on "how it celebrates a cynical view on the world, where backstabbing, violence, treachery and corruption clearly triumphs over anyone who displays a minimal of honesty, honor, pacifism and etc".
Or how it's actually a work that glorifies fascism! https://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/06/30/game-of-thrones-fascism/

Anyway, anyone with a blog can analyze anything under particular lenses and write a well-presented thesis about it that may actually convince a number of people to also view it under that same lens.

I think last year it was Uprooted, when there was a massive uproar on blogs and GR about the "unhealthy and abusive relationship" between the Dragon and Agnieszka, despite the characters not even being on a relationship...
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 04, 2017, 10:59:09 PM
You're not doing justice to yourself here Lanko.

The threatening and aggression of women in or out of relationships is a common occurrence, and the lady behind the article points out how 50 Shades validates and re-enforces all the cliche behaviours expected of women.
We don't have a problem with rampant cannibals picking girlfriends off the FBI staff, or problems about society in its feudal, dragon and zombie-plagued state.

Just like we all praise a book featuring a "strong female heroine", we're here presented with one so weak, she blames herself over being assaulted by a drunk friend who half blames her for it. Seriously, if we promote empowering things, why not blame the stark opposite?
Exploring the side of femininity that can crave and embrace submission is one thing, but not what James does in this book at all.

I agree that that line is the weakest in the article, BUT she is right, anyway. When you're 14 and sad after a breakup and you're vulnerable and influenced by what you read, if you identify with a girl who's so hung up, 7 months after her breakup she'll get willingly crash her bike to hear voices, then throw herself off a cliff to continue hallucinating... and is rewarded by indeed getting back with him...
I mean, imagine it's your daughter reading that. Imagine her breaking up and being inconsolable... and you know that the plot of twilight is one of the thing swirling in her brain...
I understand the point. It isn't just fiction because enough exposition to a crappy idea will set a standard. And if you read a lot of crappy romance that apologizes forms of rape, you get exposed to the idea in the worst possible ways.
She complains about how subtle and insidious it is, interbedded in the very behaviour and beliefs of the weak willed, easily abused MC, then packaged as smut and sold as "sexy".
Game of Thrones has rape and power plays out in the open and part of solid character arcs. Hannibal follows a damn cannibal serial killer. No one is meant to learn lessons from this book besides "don't write a third book that's not needed 20 years later for a quick buck, it is wrong".

Also, laugh at me if you will, but some of my first introductions to erotica and the idea of sex in general was through reading (at a fairly inappropriate age) Earth's Children and all the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice.
Let me confirm to you that the imagery those books gave me stayed with me to this day. I'd be loath to look back on my teens and find this abusive cheap ass smut starring back at me.
It is important to know your audience though, and while James was clearly targetting adults, Twilight was for teens and hence ought to have played it nicer. James however has way more disturbing stuff going on with her MC.

Quote
Anyway, anyone with a blog can analyze anything under particular lenses and write a well-presented thesis about it that may actually convince a number of people to also view it under that same lens.

Are you saying that you're reading the extracts of 50 Shades with your own eyes and you can't see the violence happening in front of your eyes?

Well clearly you've not been approached as much as I have. I've had men grab my elbow and ask me what I'm doing and what am I afraid of, won't I kiss them, and oh you're shopping well I'll come with you.

I've had to talk my way out of that shit so often... Or older guys chatting to you in a pub and as they decide it's time to go, grabbing you by both arms and slurring "I feel like kissing you", and leaning into you...
Trust me when you're there, wanting none of it (and owning a functional backbone), you're praying the stars the dude will take no for an answer and things won't escalate.
I once was terrified by a guy who was extremely pushy in the middle of the night and went straight to his pick up after I refused for him to "drive me home" for the 10th time. I ran in the street to find a corner to hide in while he drove away, there was no one in that area. That sort of stuff makes you want to -not- laugh or dismiss these sort of attitude.
Same dude goes home, picks up 50 Shades, again, sees a guy kissing a woman crying "no no no", and get pardoned 2 days later, do you think he's gonna think back on our meeting and feel he wasn't entitled to his behaviour?

So reading right at the start of that book, the one alleged "friend" of the MC, not take no for an answer X many times and go on kissing a woman begging no, it gives you chills man. At least it gives me chills.

And you know what, if this was a more hard core book endorsing this sort of abuse as a form of fetichism, I'd be all for it, as after all it'd not be bulk selling on front shelves everywhere and destined to more informed public.

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 04, 2017, 11:01:23 PM
I was thinking on talented artists who were only discovered much later after their deaths.

We're talking about the importance of promotion on making just average or even bad works popular... but how exactly those artists that were only "discovered" much later as geniuses achieved this status without promotion?

Lovecraft died in obscurity, but his work continued to be published and promoted by loyal fans throughout decades until conditions made it grasp a large portion of the horror/sci-fi community.

How did Van Gogh, Bach and others who in life didn't achieve great status were discovered? Who found their works and promoted them decades or centuries later? How and why?

I might investigate this later... but anyway, I'm thinking even being dead their works required heavy promotion just as the blockbuster of today.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 04, 2017, 11:02:59 PM
Actually I have to reverse a little and say I know two published authors who had input into their covers - indeed, one designed a part of it - but they are on the small fry end on the market. I don't know how different it is at the top, particularly when it comes to international releases and the like. Plus I'm fairly sure Robert Jordan didn't get much input into the most recent Wheel of Time covers...

p.s. Possibly the subject of books containing/support damaging views of society is better served in a new thread? I'm mainly saying this because the idea of a spin-off of a spin-off tickles me pink mind.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 04, 2017, 11:30:36 PM
Something I'd like to add is that I think people talk about talented writers/authors a lot, but rarely break down the many skill sets involved.

And most talented Xs have a number of sub skill-sets. Sidney Crosby is currently the most talented ice hockey player int he world but he's not the best backchecker or the best shooter, not the most athletically gifted, might not be the best passer, might be the best goal scorer, definitely the best backhand though... and so on.

To put it in writing terms... Brandon Sanderson is very clearly not the most talented when it comes to beautiful prose or showing romances. People might argue about his characterisation. His ability to plot and show interesting magic systems is undoubted and arguably as good as it gets in fantasy today. He's got great ideation.

Joe Abercrombie writes really characterful prose - maybe not beautiful, but it drips with character. I think he does character really well in general. His ability to plot has come on but certainly wasn't a strong point with The First Law. I don't think his ideation is great when it comes to showing "fantastic" fantasy if that makes sense. But it is good when it comes to blending it with the Western genre.

And so on.

I think this is an important point to note for writers looking to write the best they can - breaking down all the parts of being a writer and finding what you're good at allows you to concentrate on your best points.

And I think its good for readers too, as paying attention to who does which bits best allows you to identify the writers you'll like easier.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 04, 2017, 11:41:51 PM

I agree that that line is the weakest in the article, BUT she is right, anyway. When you're 14 and sad after a breakup and you're vulnerable and influenced by what you read, if you identify with a girl who's so hung up, 7 months after her breakup she'll get willingly crash her bike to hear voices, then throw herself off a cliff to continue hallucinating... and is rewarded by indeed getting back with him...
I mean, imagine it's your daughter reading that. Imagine her breaking up and being inconsolable... and you know that the plot of twilight is one of the thing swirling in her brain...
I understand the point. It isn't just fiction because enough exposition to a crappy idea will set a standard. And if you read a lot of crappy romance that apologizes forms of rape, you get exposed to the idea in the worst possible ways.
She complains about how subtle and insidious it is, interbedded in the very behaviour and beliefs of the weak willed, easily abused MC, then packaged as smut and sold as "sexy".
Game of Thrones has rape and power plays out in the open and part of solid character arcs. Hannibal follows a damn cannibal serial killer. No one is meant to learn lessons from this book besides "don't write a third book that's not needed 20 years later for a quick buck, it is wrong".

So the only difference is that one is based on the real, contemporary world and the other is a fictional pseudo-medieval world with dragons?

In the TV series Daenerys is pretty much raped by Drogo and later mourns his death and even gives her son and later her dragon a name based on him. Or Jaime and Cersei at Twyn's burial? Or Sansa's scene? Yes, I know those didn't happen in the books, but how are they not representative of issues of today as well? How are they different from the Ana's scene or not something we could think and learn?

I mentioned Hannibal because in Silence of the Lambs a very big factor was Clarice's gender and her treatment by fellow FBI agents. In the article you provided the blogger doesn't like the fact that Ana needs the help of a man against another man who is a "hard wall of muscle". In SOTL there's a scene where one of the prisoners throws sperm in Clarice's face and later Hannibal kills the guy to "clean her honor" or whatever it was. You know, the classic "it was done to the woman, but used to fuel the guy's motivation".
And later he brainwashes her...

Are you saying that you're reading the extracts of 50 Shades with your own eyes and you can't see the violence happening in front of your eyes?

Well clearly you've not been approached as much as I have. I've had men grab my elbow and ask me what I'm doing and what am I afraid of, won't I kiss them, and oh you're shopping well I'll come with you.

I've had to talk my way out of that shit so often... Or older guys chatting to you in a pub and as they decide it's time to go, grabbing you by both arms and slurring "I feel like kissing you", and leaning into you...
Trust me when you're there, wanting none of it (and owning a functional backbone), you're praying the stars the dude will take no for an answer and things won't escalate.
I once was terrified by a guy who was extremely pushy in the middle of the night and went straight to his pick up after I refused for him to "drive me home" for the 10th time. I ran in the street to find a corner to hide in while he drove away, there was no one in that area. That sort of stuff makes you want to -not- laugh or dismiss these sort of attitude.
Same dude goes home, picks up 50 Shades, again, sees a guy kissing a woman crying "no no no", and get pardoned 2 days later, do you think he's gonna think back on our meeting and feel he wasn't entitled to his behaviour?

So reading right at the start of that book, the one alleged "friend" of the MC, not take no for an answer X many times and go on kissing a woman begging no, it gives you chills man. At least it gives me chills.

And you know what, if this was a more hard core book endorsing this sort of abuse as a form of fetichism, I'd be all for it, as after all it'd not be bulk selling on front shelves everywhere and destined to more informed public.

Now this is I agree completely. But which was not what I got from the article, specifically:

Quote
Luckily, Ana is spared further abuse because the one and only Christian Grey arrives on the scene and saves her. How? By saying “I think the lady said no.” That’s right. Ana can try to push José away and tell him ‘no’ multiple times but that’s not good enough. One sentence from a man and José immediately releases her, bringing us back to rule number four: When in trouble, it is best to defer to the protection and judgment of men. You got that, ladies? Don’t try to fight back because you’ll just be ignored, rely instead on a man. Sort of a catch 22 when the one who’s going to get you into trouble will likely also be a man.

Basically (what I got from it anyways), specially after the "list of things that perpetuate rape culture" from this scene is:

- José is forceful one Ana. Rape culture. (Ok)
- A man (Christian) appears and surprises the attacker. "One sentence from a man and José immediately releases her, bringing us back to rule number four: When in trouble, it is best to defer to the protection and judgment of men." Rape culture. (what?)
- "Don’t try to fight back because you’ll just be ignored, rely instead on a man." Rape culture. (God forbid if a man tries to help a woman).
- If Christian had ignored the situation, it would also be rape culture.
- Even if Ana had a taser and knew jiu-jitsu and knocked the guy cold and was praised for empowerment, that would still be a consequence of rape culture.

So basically every possible situation that can happen is rape culture. José's insistence is obvious, but even if Christian helped her (because the author implies this scene is meant to reinforce the fact that woman need to rely on man's help, even ignoring the fact that maybe most women may not know how to fight (or can't) in such a situation and help would be appreciated?)
 
Rape culture, at least how I understood form this author is so ambiguous and embraces every possible situation (reinforced by that list) that in the end instead of helping people understand the... danger of certain situations embraces pretty much everything that can happen and in the end because of this ends up helping against... nothing.
I don't know if that made sense but I couldn't think how to elaborate it better.

Or maybe it bothered me because if the guy either ignored or helped the girl in this situation it would be "woman shouldn't fight and instead rely on the help of a man" situation, when probably the help would've been welcome (supposition)? Maybe being a guy this part bothered me more and made lose the point of the article.

You actually put it much better than the article...

Is it strange that I agree how you put it and disagree how the article did?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: cupiscent on August 05, 2017, 12:44:56 AM
Or maybe it bothered me because if the guy either ignored or helped the girl in this situation it would be "woman shouldn't fight and instead rely on the help of a man" situation, when probably the help would've been welcome (supposition)?

It's not whether he did or didn't help. It's that the man doing the assaulting only paid attention when a man intervened. Why didn't he pay attention when the woman said no? Why does a woman have to rely on a man to say what she just said?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 05, 2017, 12:51:54 AM
p.s. Not Lu - that's so not proof. They brought it because it was a kinky cultural phenomenon. Buying a book doesn't mean you like it. Liking is what happened at the end of the book. Lukewarm mass reviews, rapidly declining interest in the author, and record amounts of donations to charity book shops indicates a fair number of people who brought it and didn't like it. Where's the proof for the people who brought it and did like it?

If I must give proof, I will, but you still won't agree, because it's too subjective (just like judging a writer's talent).

You cite lukewarm reviews as proof that people didn't like it, but the book didn't get "lukewarm" mass reviews. It got love it or hate it reviews. Most of the people who hated it based their hatred on the subject matter or the submission of the main character. Many of them had the same revulsion that you did. Ironically, erotica wasn't the genre these people normally read... so of course they were going to hate it. In short, the fact that the book was a cultural phenomenon is the reason it has so many bad reviews. Which coincidentally, answers the question @tebakutis originally posed. "Whenever any book becomes super popular, quite often, the critiques of that book increase both the number and ferocity, specifically in regards to questioning the writer's 'talent'. Why?" The answer: When a book gets famous readers outside the genre read the book (and surprise, surprise, they don't like it). Which of course goes back to what I've been trying to say. Talent is subjective.

Declining interest in the author? Fifty Shades of Grey is still ranked near 2000 in the amazon store (kindle edition). That's a pretty sticky book. People are still telling other people about it six years after publication (because they liked it).

"Record amounts of donations to charity book shops indicates a fair number of people who brought it and didn't like it.". No, it indicates that the book was a guilty pleasure that women didn't want lying around the house after they'd read it (late at night after the kids were in bed). As a kid (important to know I'm a male) in the 70s, we looted the dumpsters of apartment and office buildings looking for Playboy magazine. The reason: we knew most men weren't going to keep the magazine on their bookshelf at home or at work after "reading" it. But, I'm pretty sure those men liked Playboy almost as much as I did.

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 05, 2017, 01:10:59 AM
Someone unrelated but as a direct result of looking for a meme to fit this thread, I ended up watching an awful YouTube dance battle between Harry Potter and Twilight characters.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 05, 2017, 01:22:44 AM
Or maybe it bothered me because if the guy either ignored or helped the girl in this situation it would be "woman shouldn't fight and instead rely on the help of a man" situation, when probably the help would've been welcome (supposition)?

It's not whether he did or didn't help. It's that the man doing the assaulting only paid attention when a man intervened. Why didn't he pay attention when the woman said no? Why does a woman have to rely on a man to say what she just said?

You put this much better than the blogger, or maybe I just paid too much attention to the other tangents he/she went.   

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 05, 2017, 01:45:17 AM
Someone unrelated but as a direct result of looking for a meme to fit this thread, I ended up watching an awful YouTube dance battle between Harry Potter and Twilight characters.

And, of course, some of us will like it and some of us will hate it. Some of us will say the creator had talent and other will say they didn't. Why does everything have to be so subjective?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 05, 2017, 08:53:34 AM

If I must give proof, I will, but you still won't agree, because it's too subjective (just like judging a writer's talent).

You cite lukewarm reviews as proof that people didn't like it, but the book didn't get "lukewarm" mass reviews. It got love it or hate it reviews. Most of the people who hated it based their hatred on the subject matter or the submission of the main character. Many of them had the same revulsion that you did. Ironically, erotica wasn't the genre these people normally read... so of course they were going to hate it. In short, the fact that the book was a cultural phenomenon is the reason it has so many bad reviews. Which coincidentally, answers the question @tebakutis originally posed. "Whenever any book becomes super popular, quite often, the critiques of that book increase both the number and ferocity, specifically in regards to questioning the writer's 'talent'. Why?" The answer: When a book gets famous readers outside the genre read the book (and surprise, surprise, they don't like it). Which of course goes back to what I've been trying to say. Talent is subjective.

Okay, first off, I'm pretty sure I didn't say I was revulsed by the book.

My argument is that a substantial percentage of the people who brought 5SoG didn't like it. It doesn't matter why they didn't like it, only that they didn't. Large numbers of people posting "Hated it" reviews fits in with the idea that yes, lots of people who read it didn't like it.

I also find the idea that all of the bad reviews come from people reading it out of genre to have a few logical holes in it. The first is that its generally categorised as a romance, or erotic romance, and that is a highly popular genre after all; it had a third of the US fiction market in 2015 according to Nielsen and is worth a billion a year. Its likely there's some overlap between 5SoG non-fans and people who generally like romance. I picked three of top badmouthers on GR and looked at their profiles; one is a romance author, the other two are currently reading romances. A tiny sample but consistent with my anecdotal experience and I'm sure further inspection would find plenty more romance fans displeased with it. If you do think it should be considered solely as erotica, then a quick search of the Literotica forums very quickly finds no shortage of negative opinions about the book.

The second is that how many people who genuinely hate romance/erotica to the point they'll diss a book solely because that's what it is are going to actually read 5SoG? Its not like the nature of the book was a secret. It seems unlikely there's a great number of such people - and if there are, they're clearly buying it because of the phenomenon, not because they like it.

Quote
Declining interest in the author? Fifty Shades of Grey is still ranked near 2000 in the amazon store (kindle edition). That's a pretty sticky book. People are still telling other people about it six years after publication (because they liked it).

The book remains popular. Interest in the author's later output is much less, although still substantial.

Quote
"Record amounts of donations to charity book shops indicates a fair number of people who brought it and didn't like it.". No, it indicates that the book was a guilty pleasure that women didn't want lying around the house after they'd read it (late at night after the kids were in bed). As a kid (important to know I'm a male) in the 70s, we looted the dumpsters of apartment and office buildings looking for Playboy magazine. The reason: we knew most men weren't going to keep the magazine on their bookshelf at home or at work after "reading" it. But, I'm pretty sure those men liked Playboy almost as much as I did.

Consumer habits in terms of holding onto magazines and in terms of holding onto books are not comparable. One is seen as far more disposable as the other. Obviously people do chuck/give books away (5SoG was the most left behind book in Travelodge in 2013) but in nowhere near the same numbers.

I am unsure as to whether people's willingness to have sexually explicit content around in the 70s is comparable to people's willingness for the same now. Such standards almost certainly differ from place to place anyway. Going from anecdote and media report, there's a pretty substantial number of women in the UK at least who don't give a crap about reading 5SoG on public transport or discussing it in public. I find it difficult to believe that the same people would be bashful about keeping it around the home.

I also find it difficult to believe the same bashful people would then dispose of it by giving it to a charity in their local community, to people they'll probably/possibly see again, when there are so many other means of disposal.

And then of course there is the fact that the copies don't get brought either. Lots of Ian Rankin books are donated to charities but they sell.

And we're talking hundreds and hundreds of books at one store. Sure, probably some were a tad embarrassed to keep it round the house or liked it. Or liked it but just give away a lot of books. But not all of them. That would be extremely unlikely.


Plus, in other evidence for there being a significant disparity between the number of people who brought 5SoG and the people who liked it, there was the study that estimated only 25% of people who brought it on ebook finished it. Etc.etc.


This isn't to say that nobody liked it. Clearly a lot of people liked it.

But for every book there's a disparity between the number of people who brought it and the number of people who actually liked it. And there's a lot of evidence pointing at 5SoG having one of the biggest disparities going. Which in itself points to the idea that the book's initial popularity had more to do with marketing and publicity than it did the book's actual quality.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 05, 2017, 11:22:05 AM
@Lanko here's a slight correction to give you how I read it :

- José is forceful one Ana. Rape culture. (Ok)

- A man (Christian) appears and surprises the attacker. "One sentence from a man and José immediately releases her, bringing us back to rule number four: When in trouble, it is best to defer to the protection and judgment of men." Rape culture. (what?)
Here she means, ironically, that only the word of the man weighs enough, in the mind of the attacker. The problem here is not that Christian helps (I believe you should always help), it is that Ana won't go further than mumbling "no" (instead of kicking and screaming), and isn't indignant when only a man is taking seriously instead of her.
Because InRealLife, what's the probability that you'll be saved by someone you know while being assaulted? (and in this case by the buddy you're out with, yum yum...)
It means you shouldn't see it as normal that only a man's word can save you from this.

- "Don’t try to fight back because you’ll just be ignored, rely instead on a man." Rape culture. (God forbid if a man tries to help a woman).
It's not about the man helping the woman. It's about the cultural rule embedded in Ana's pea brain. She is indeed a stone throw away from lots of potential help and doesn't struggle that much. Doesn't kick, doesn't shriek. Damn she could even just cry. She doesn't even TRY. That's the problem, not Christian.
It's that she's being passive and conveniently helped by a man, who is stalking her too. She should have yelled, and she should yell on Christian too for being a total creep.

- If Christian had ignored the situation, it would also be rape culture.
No because in this case, if he'd been a healthy man in his head, he would not have traced the location of a chick he's met 3 times to pick her out of a pub because he doesn't approve of her being drunk. Think about it. His intervening against Jose is the only saving grace that keeps him from appearing as a complete control freak stalker.

- Even if Ana had a taser and knew jiu-jitsu and knocked the guy cold and was praised for empowerment, that would still be a consequence of rape culture.
No. Not from what the author says. She says women should be raised and reinforced with the idea that if you're being coerced and not listened to (by a man or a woman), you should feel free to yell, kick... If you're being asked you ought to feel free to clearly refuse. Being cute and womanly should never be hurdles on the way to having your way (in that context).
The part after Christian arrives is the most telling :

“Turning, I glance at José, who looks pretty shamefaced himself and, like me, intimidated by Grey. I glare at him. I have a few choice words for my so-called friend, none of which I can repeat in front of Christian Grey, CEO. Ana, who are you kidding? He’s just seen you hurl all over the ground and into the local flora. There’s no disguising you lack of ladylike behavior.”

That's our protagonist, desperately trying to impress a "CEO" by staying silence in the face of her aggressor, and feeling shame for having vomited in front of the same CEO.
Cause ladies don't puke. They don't yell at friends who try to force them either, hey?
This is what is wrong. She won't speak out, not even in the heat of anger, and two days later she pardons him and shrugs it off. Reinforcing the idea of how women ought to be meek and accept excuses like "I was drunk, and you..." and refrain from making a mess of themselves.

The author of the blog article doesn't even point the finger at the male figure that much. She points at the behaviour of Ana, Jose's excuses, and the system they excuse, all that written by another woman and labelled sexy. Christian does plenty to hate later on too, but in that specific event, it's not what's harmful to readers.

Daenerys is sold in a hasty marriage with a "barbaric tribe", and realises she's being treated like a slave, and ought to adapt to their ways and conquer her husband if she's to gain any respect. She does, and through many a weird event climbs her way to power. It's a bit different...
The fact that she's "taken" after her marriage is still a pretty standard development for many cultures nowadays, it's funny you'd point that out as rape-like. How many girls are married to old men at 9 or 10 these days?
Enough to horrify you, probably. But how many of them become beloved queens–sadly that's the fantasy part.
There's plenty of rape in GoT but I don't remember Martin coming off as apologetic?

That's the whole crux.

Of course you can talk of rape and abusive relationships. And cannibalism and worse stuff. It all depends how well and intelligently you do it.
Hence the blog author's last line : "Authors, I beg you, don’t cover tough issues and strong themes if you can’t do them justice. Grant them the depth and the severity they deserve. Please."

Martin created a rough world where women are often at the wrong end of power plays, and sometimes get on top and use their power more or less intelligently (like real people would). He didn't glorify abuse by making it sexy.



@Not Lu and @Peat

50SoG is hardly erotica. It's plain wrong when it comes to BDSM too, since Christian's mentality is off and his forcing someone unwilling into it is the definition of what adult, healthy approach to BDSM ought not to be.
Anais Nin wrote erotica. Anne Rice wrote erotica. Sensual stuff, with poetical prose.

But anyway,

Quote
It got love it or hate it reviews. Most of the people who hated it based their hatred on the subject matter or the submission of the main character.

(https://images.gr-assets.com/hostedimages/1380380625ra/737553.gif)

The book got negative reviews from professional critics, mostly about the weak plot and terrible prose, not because of the submission.

Quote
Salman Rushdie said about the book: "I've never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace."
Maureen Dowd described the book in The New York Times as being written "like a Bronte devoid of talent," and said it was "dull and poorly written."
Jesse Kornbluth of The Huffington Post said: "As a reading experience, Fifty Shades ... is a sad joke, puny of plot"

Quote
Metro News Canada wrote that "suffering through 500 pages of this heroine's inner dialogue was torturous, and not in the intended, sexy kind of way".
Jessica Reaves, of the Chicago Tribune, wrote that the "book's source material isn't great literature", noting that the novel is "sprinkled liberally and repeatedly with asinine phrases", and described it as "depressing"

Here's the lukewarm ones :

Quote
Princeton professor April Alliston wrote, "Though no literary masterpiece, Fifty Shades is more than parasitic fan fiction based on the recent Twilight vampire series."

Quote
British author Jenny Colgan in The Guardian wrote "It is jolly, eminently readable and as sweet and safe as BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism) erotica can be without contravening the trade descriptions act" and also praised the book for being "more enjoyable" than other "literary erotic books".
The Daily Telegraph noted that the book was "the definition of a page-turner", noting that the book was both "troubling and intriguing".
A reviewer for the Ledger-Enquirer described the book as guilty fun and escapism, and that it "also touches on one aspect of female existence [female submission]. And acknowledging that fact – maybe even appreciating it – shouldn't be a cause for guilt."

Quote
The New Zealand Herald stated that the book "will win no prizes for its prose" and that "there are some exceedingly awful descriptions," although it was also an easy read; "(If you only) can suspend your disbelief and your desire to – if you'll pardon the expression – slap the heroine for having so little self respect, you might enjoy it."

SO, to my final point : What do you do when some people think a book is good and its author has talent, when the "official" world finds it horrible for "objective reasons"?

I say objective because using word counters can physically prove how poor 50 Shades is, if using that example.

Word Count:
"Oh My" - 79
"Crap" - 101
"Jeez" - 82
"Holy (shit/fuck/crap/hell/cow/moses)" - 172
"Whoa" - 13
"Gasp" - 34
"Gasps" - 11
"Sharp Intake of Breath" - 4
"Murmur" - 68
"Murmurs" - 139
"Whisper" - 96
"Whispers" - 103
"Mutter" - 28
"Mutters" - 23
"Fifty" - 16
"Lip" - 71
"Inner goddess" - 58
"Subconscious" - 82

But enough people loved it and 5 stars rated it to make you pause and wonder.

Are we having an elitist approach to a writer's "talent"? And again talent is vague, as I think managing to please millions while off-putting millions more is a talent in its own right.

I think writing has lots of facets.

Writing good prose.
Writing convincing characters and lovable characters (not always both sadly).
Writing good dialogue.
Writing good humour.
Writing good descriptions in wise doses.
Writing tantalizing ambiance, dark or broody or threatening, with lean but engaging prose...
Writing powerful arcs, surprising twists.
Writing great plot with satisfying resolutions.
Mastering the art of pacing.
Having original ideas and vision.

All these are options you can get on your writer's bingo card. A truly talented author I think, would be one who can coin most of these in the eyes of the majority of readers, regardless of the number of reader, past a decent readership number (aka, not the 50 people you could get together to read your stuff).

So a horror writer with a smaller readership who is unanimously praised by his readers for having 8 out of 10 of these qualities, would show more talent than a block buster writer only known for his well paced plots, but has weak characters, weak arcs, shit humour and average prose.

This would mean you can judge talent by the piece rather than by the oeuvre. Of course you can compound that data and average on all books written by an author.

Which would mean that being READ would not be a sign of talent in any way. Which would disqualify books that you are forced to read, or books like the Bible (best selling of all time and first book published, right?).
Then it would get murky I guess, because beyond prose and pacing and plot, a lot of those criterion are subjective.
But by taking every reader's subjective take on all those aspects, you would get a graph telling you what the author is good at.
A sort of talent chart.

Like that :

(https://www.onlinecharttool.com/graph/image/blank?antifreeze=1501928463)

(I made that myself online)

What do you guys think? Wouldn't that bridge between objective and subjective, to objectify the subjective views of readers?  :D
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 05, 2017, 11:23:25 AM
Someone unrelated but as a direct result of looking for a meme to fit this thread, I ended up watching an awful YouTube dance battle between Harry Potter and Twilight characters.

And, of course, some of us will like it and some of us will hate it. Some of us will say the creator had talent and other will say they didn't. Why does everything have to be so subjective?

hahaha, and as I mentioned above, the anthropologist in me relates to this whole post-modern everything is relative POV.

but I feel like there's something that's a bit *off* about that perspective... it's a grain of truth taken too far.

* I mentioned this earlier but seriously you all need to get off this thread and watch Exit Through the Gift Shop right now.  Like now. Now!!!!!!
* Without some common idea of what we want to achieve, we can't improve.
* For me what matters is: did you write something that made people think or feel something they never could have before... Or did you write the literary equivalent of a jingle?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 05, 2017, 05:25:53 PM
SO, to my final point : What do you do when some people think a book is good and its author has talent, when the "official" world finds it horrible for "objective reasons"?

I say objective because using word counters can physically prove how poor 50 Shades is, if using that example.

Word Count:
"Oh My" - 79
"Crap" - 101
"Jeez" - 82
"Holy (shit/fuck/crap/hell/cow/moses)" - 172
"Whoa" - 13
"Gasp" - 34
"Gasps" - 11
"Sharp Intake of Breath" - 4
"Murmur" - 68
"Murmurs" - 139
"Whisper" - 96
"Whispers" - 103
"Mutter" - 28
"Mutters" - 23
"Fifty" - 16
"Lip" - 71
"Inner goddess" - 58
"Subconscious" - 82

Thank you for proving my point. You've given a list of words you and the official world somehow find unacceptable. While millions of other people didn't mind those words used over and over again. That in itself, shows how subjective talent is.

But enough people loved it and 5 stars rated it to make you pause and wonder.

Are we having an elitist approach to a writer's "talent"? And again talent is vague, as I think managing to please millions while off-putting millions more is a talent in its own right.

It's not that you have an elitist approach to a writer's talent. It is simply personal preference. The "official world"  is a club that has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent. George R R Martin has written a fantastic set of novels, but he'll never win a Pulitzer prize or a Mann Booker award, for the simple reason that those clubs have a set of criteria for judging talent that is at odds with his genre and style of writing. The Hugo award isn't going to be given to The Remains of the Day, for the simple reason that the Hugos have a set of criteria for judging talent that wouldn't include that type of book.

Take a look at the various "official world" awards. They don't pick the same books, even though they're mostly part of the same club. Why? Because it's subjective.

My main point is that you can't impose objective standards on art. If you did, all art would be the same. Subjectivity is what allows art to flourish.

As a writer, you should never be constrained by what other people (and their clubs) dictate as "good" or "right". Create your own art, then find others who enjoy it.

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Justan Henner on August 05, 2017, 07:09:31 PM
Heh.

I'm curious how much of the 50 shades and twilight hate is spurred by the fact they're popular to hate. They're a quick punchline often spoken by those who haven't read the books; which further perpetrates the narrative that they aren't quality.

I'm also curious how long it'll be before someone makes the argument, that by using 50 shades and Twilight -books that are primarily read and appreciated by women - as a quick societal punchline, is in fact further proof that women's voices are being silenced.

*Gasp!* x 132 times.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 05, 2017, 07:48:31 PM
It's not that you have an elitist approach to a writer's talent. It is simply personal preference. The "official world"  is a club that has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent.

Oooh, ok. So in the definition of Art according to you, Everything is Great, Nothing is Bad, literally, so long as someone likes it. One fan means it's good and the creator has talent.

So any random fanfic is better than any acclaimed award winning classic, just because people buy it.

Quote
Thank you for proving my point. You've given a list of words you and the official world somehow find unacceptable. While millions of other people didn't mind those words used over and over again. That in itself, shows how subjective talent is.

Don't you know why? Aren't you into writing and reading? Were you never taught that over-using words to death was a no-no, because it's bad and make people not want to read you? Have you never been annoyed by an author's restricted vocabulary? How is proving how limited her use of vocabulary is some sort of twist that her work is great?
It's more like proving that the readers were either cheated out of their money or ought to have read more.

More importantly, you have no data to prove that "Millions didn't mind those". Can you show a link for that? An article? Anything.
The world is full of people who DNFed this book, hated it, dumped it at their local charity... Yes some of those people liked it, but where is your proof that the millions buyers actually liked it?
Where did you see that they didn't get irritated by that weak prose?

And more importantly, are you going to say that such use of word is proof of talent and a strong prose? Why are you arguing so vehemently against such a lost cause? You're not going to convince people that such an objectively patched up prose, in a book that was riddled with typos and bad punctuation was well written, regardless of your personal feelings for the story.

As for the idea of a club, I'm sorry to say but between "random person A, who does not usually read and finishes maybe two crime novels and a romance a year" and "random person B, who reads around a hundred books a year in all shapes and format, fiction and non fiction, comics and novellas", if I'm asking for a book review, I will not take seriously the opinion of A over B.
A has almost nothing to compare that book to, as A doesn't read enough. What is a well worn trope to B can be a fantastic, fresh idea to A.
So I would always prefer B's opinion over A.
In the same way that if picking a WINE to drink over a romantic diner, you will much rather prefer a sommelier's opinion, as the guy has tasted many wines and knows a lot on the topic. You won't ask me as I swagger by with two stouts in my shopping bag.

Well, that's why we have critics. And awards. They all have personal taste you don't have to agree on, but they've read thousands of books and their evaluation of what is "well written" can be taken a little more seriously than "random person A"'s.

Don't you agree?

Also I don't see you speaking up about the content side of things. Do you think you can explain why the dialogue I copy/pasted earlier isn't a form of abuse that is treated in the worst possible way by the author?

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I'm curious how much of the 50 shades and twilight hate is spurred by the fact they're popular to hate. They're a quick punchline often spoken by those who haven't read the books; which further perpetrates the narrative that they aren't quality.

Do you care to elaborate? Have you actually read these books? Because I have. And the Dan Brown too. I've never bad mouthed a book I haven't read. I can further the narrative of them being the opposite of quality because I know when I see lack of quality, and I saw beyond that.

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I'm also curious how long it'll be before someone makes the argument, that by using 50 shades and Twilight -books that are primarily read and appreciated by women - as a quick societal punchline, is in fact further proof that women's voices are being silenced.

I absolutely don't get your argument. There are plenty of female reviewers out there, and it's a female author, and the book sold millions. What are you trying to say?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 05, 2017, 07:52:00 PM
Enough to horrify you, probably. But how many of them become beloved queens–sadly that's the fantasy part.
There's plenty of rape in GoT but I don't remember Martin coming off as apologetic?

We may not think so, but there are tons of blogs, articles and more out there saying that he is. Which makes us return to how each individual will see the details under their own particular lens.

Anyway, back to 50 shades, I will try to put down what I mean but failed to do earlier:

The author of the blog article doesn't even point the finger at the male figure that much. She points at the behaviour of Ana, Jose's excuses, and the system they excuse, all that written by another woman and labelled sexy. Christian does plenty to hate later on too, but in that specific event, it's not what's harmful to readers.

Of course you can talk of rape and abusive relationships. And cannibalism and worse stuff. It all depends how well and intelligently you do it.
Hence the blog author's last line : "Authors, I beg you, don’t cover tough issues and strong themes if you can’t do them justice. Grant them the depth and the severity they deserve. Please."

Here she means, ironically, that only the word of the man weighs enough, in the mind of the attacker. The problem here is not that Christian helps (I believe you should always help), it is that Ana won't go further than mumbling "no" (instead of kicking and screaming), and isn't indignant when only a man is taking seriously instead of her.
Because InRealLife, what's the probability that you'll be saved by someone you know while being assaulted? (and in this case by the buddy you're out with, yum yum...)
It means you shouldn't see it as normal that only a man's word can save you from this.

It's not about the man helping the woman. It's about the cultural rule embedded in Ana's pea brain. She is indeed a stone throw away from lots of potential help and doesn't struggle that much. Doesn't kick, doesn't shriek. Damn she could even just cry. She doesn't even TRY. That's the problem, not Christian.
It's that she's being passive and conveniently helped by a man, who is stalking her too. She should have yelled, and she should yell on Christian too for being a total creep.

No. Not from what the author says. She says women should be raised and reinforced with the idea that if you're being coerced and not listened to (by a man or a woman), you should feel free to yell, kick... If you're being asked you ought to feel free to clearly refuse. Being cute and womanly should never be hurdles on the way to having your way (in that context).
The part after Christian arrives is the most telling :

“Turning, I glance at José, who looks pretty shamefaced himself and, like me, intimidated by Grey. I glare at him. I have a few choice words for my so-called friend, none of which I can repeat in front of Christian Grey, CEO. Ana, who are you kidding? He’s just seen you hurl all over the ground and into the local flora. There’s no disguising you lack of ladylike behavior.”

That's our protagonist, desperately trying to impress a "CEO" by staying silence in the face of her aggressor, and feeling shame for having vomited in front of the same CEO.
Cause ladies don't puke. They don't yell at friends who try to force them either, hey?
This is what is wrong. She won't speak out, not even in the heat of anger, and two days later she pardons him and shrugs it off. Reinforcing the idea of how women ought to be meek and accept excuses like "I was drunk, and you..." and refrain from making a mess of themselves.

Ok, specially about the parts in blue, Ana doesn't kick, scream, her behavior is pretty much the same as the list the article makes about how society tells women should behave, then shrugs off José's and Christian's methods and how she views her own behavior.

But even without using 50 Shades, the article points all those things as things that are happening in the world right now. That the system makes a lot of women behave like Ana. Even traces a parallel to the amount of rapes or attempts of rape, provides numbers that millions of women out there passes through these situations or behave like that. You even gave an example.

There are stories where we, through our own perception and experience, know what's going on but the character doesn't and we get an idea where the plot will likely go, aren't there?

So in this example of 50 shades and the article, isn't this another case that we know what's going on, but we are seeing the story and events unfold through the eyes of someone who doesn't?

One may argue that Ana never learns and realizes what's going on, but the very article who criticizes this actually provides information and statistics saying how a lot of women in the real world don't either.

Considering this and the examples, wasn't the portrayal of those scenes and of Ana's behavior and unawareness and even not ever realizing it, faithful to what really happens to a lot of women?
So maybe I'm giving it far more credit than it deserves, but for me it looked like that part, the character and the author are being bashed for portraying it all with... accuracy. Or considering how the article ends, that this accuracy even means endorsing it.

And that's what I'm not understanding.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Justan Henner on August 05, 2017, 08:07:09 PM
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I'm curious how much of the 50 shades and twilight hate is spurred by the fact they're popular to hate. They're a quick punchline often spoken by those who haven't read the books; which further perpetrates the narrative that they aren't quality.

Do you care to elaborate? Have you actually read these books? Because I have. And the Dan Brown too. I've never bad mouthed a book I haven't read. I can further the narrative of them being the opposite of quality because I know when I see lack of quality, and I saw beyond that.

Haven't read Twilight or 50 shades. Opted for the movie instead. Didn't like 50 shades, saw why some might like Twilight. Have read Dan Brown, and loved the books.

My point is that the first I heard of either 50 shades or Twilight was in the context of "Ohh, that trash?" By the time it was popular enough to reach me in my little bubble, they were already a punchline.

The punchline became cyclical. A bunch of people who had never heard of the book outside of the mockery, further pushed the idea that it was trash in order to have something to say on the topic. comics, late night hosts, teenage boys that bashed it for no other reason than it was teenage girls that were reading it (Twilight)

I think that "shame factor" builds to a crescendo, and people who liked the book, might deny it, or throw out their copies, or jump on the hate train, for fear of being seen as someone who disagrees.

I'm simply wondering, how large was that effect? How many people would have loved these books, if the stigma wasn't already out there?

Quote
Quote
I'm also curious how long it'll be before someone makes the argument, that by using 50 shades and Twilight -books that are primarily read and appreciated by women - as a quick societal punchline, is in fact further proof that women's voices are being silenced.

I absolutely don't get your argument. There are plenty of female reviewers out there, and it's a female author, and the book sold millions. What are you trying to say?

Most of the hate I recall at the time was in the vein of "That trash for teenage girls". In other words, much of the denigration of Twilight was in relation to the group it was targeted toward. I was joking, but I'm sure someone out there is making the argument that Twilight/50 Shades became despised not for its content, but for its audience... i.e., the hate is an attack on women.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 05, 2017, 11:51:13 PM
It's not that you have an elitist approach to a writer's talent. It is simply personal preference. The "official world"  is a club that has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent.
Oooh, ok. So in the definition of Art according to you, Everything is Great, Nothing is Bad, literally, so long as someone likes it. One fan means it's good and the creator has talent.

Where did you read that? If you look at (and read, and try to understand) what you quoted, you'll see that what I said was each club "has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent." Thus talent is subjective (based on personal preferences).

I also said: "My main point is that you can't impose objective standards on art. If you did, all art would be the same. Subjectivity is what allows art to flourish. As a writer, you should never be constrained by what other people (and their clubs) dictate as "good" or "right". Create your own art, then find others who enjoy it."


Well, that's why we have critics. And awards. They all have personal taste you don't have to agree on, but they've read thousands of books and their evaluation of what is "well written" can be taken a little more seriously than "random person A"'s.

Now I understand why you don't like my point of view. Your club doesn't like repetitive words, or a "limited vocabulary", etc. It has a set of rules that members of the club prefer to adhere to. Each post you make adds to the set of rules you prefer to live by. Your club uses such standards to make critiques and give awards (aka judge talent). That's just fine with me because I want to live in a world where art is subjective. You get your set of rules and I get mine (although I'm a little scared that you want me to adhere to yours). ;)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Steve Harrison on August 06, 2017, 12:39:34 AM
The success of 50 Shades and Twilight indicates the authors have a huge amount of talent for satisfying readers, which, in my opinion, far outweighs any perceived literary abilities.

The wonderful thing about reading is that there are a variety of books for every taste and preference and if authors succeed in widening that readership pool significantly, I salute them!
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 06, 2017, 03:26:57 AM
Quote
Quote
I'm curious how much of the 50 shades and twilight hate is spurred by the fact they're popular to hate. They're a quick punchline often spoken by those who haven't read the books; which further perpetrates the narrative that they aren't quality.

Do you care to elaborate? Have you actually read these books? Because I have. And the Dan Brown too. I've never bad mouthed a book I haven't read. I can further the narrative of them being the opposite of quality because I know when I see lack of quality, and I saw beyond that.

Haven't read Twilight or 50 shades. Opted for the movie instead. Didn't like 50 shades, saw why some might like Twilight. Have read Dan Brown, and loved the books.

My point is that the first I heard of either 50 shades or Twilight was in the context of "Ohh, that trash?" By the time it was popular enough to reach me in my little bubble, they were already a punchline.

The punchline became cyclical. A bunch of people who had never heard of the book outside of the mockery, further pushed the idea that it was trash in order to have something to say on the topic. comics, late night hosts, teenage boys that bashed it for no other reason than it was teenage girls that were reading it (Twilight)

I think that "shame factor" builds to a crescendo, and people who liked the book, might deny it, or throw out their copies, or jump on the hate train, for fear of being seen as someone who disagrees.

I'm simply wondering, how large was that effect? How many people would have loved these books, if the stigma wasn't already out there?

I am sure at least some of the 5SoG/Twilight/anything else hate is cyclical and based on the fact its a punchline, yeah. Most hate/'hate' propagates from itself as much as from any meeting with the enemy.

I am equally sure that at least some people who would have liked the book have been put off by the negativity as you say. Stands to reason.

And I am equally sure again that at least some of the people who read the book did so because they heard people being negative about it and thought "That doesn't sound bad actually"/read it out of spite/read it so they could be negative in a fair way/etc.etc. It equally stands to reason.

There is no way of knowing how many of either but my money is on the latter. No publicity is bad publicity and all of that. Plus the average person is well capable of liking something that's mocked by others. I mean, hi, we're all fantasy fans, we all know that one right?

As victims of stigma goes, I'm guessing 5SoG is a long way down on the list.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 06, 2017, 06:47:50 AM
It's not that you have an elitist approach to a writer's talent. It is simply personal preference. The "official world"  is a club that has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent.
Oooh, ok. So in the definition of Art according to you, Everything is Great, Nothing is Bad, literally, so long as someone likes it. One fan means it's good and the creator has talent.

Where did you read that? If you look at (and read, and try to understand) what you quoted, you'll see that what I said was each club "has their own set of personal preferences that they use as a guide to judge talent." Thus talent is subjective (based on personal preferences).

I also said: "My main point is that you can't impose objective standards on art. If you did, all art would be the same. Subjectivity is what allows art to flourish. As a writer, you should never be constrained by what other people (and their clubs) dictate as "good" or "right". Create your own art, then find others who enjoy it."


Well, that's why we have critics. And awards. They all have personal taste you don't have to agree on, but they've read thousands of books and their evaluation of what is "well written" can be taken a little more seriously than "random person A"'s.

Now I understand why you don't like my point of view. Your club doesn't like repetitive words, or a "limited vocabulary", etc. It has a set of rules that members of the club prefer to adhere to. Each post you make adds to the set of rules you prefer to live by. Your club uses such standards to make critiques and give awards (aka judge talent). That's just fine with me because I want to live in a world where art is subjective. You get your set of rules and I get mine (although I'm a little scared that you want me to adhere to yours). ;)

@Not Lu I really love what you said there "Subjectivity is what allows art to flourish. As a writer, you should never be constrained by what other people (and their clubs) dictate as "good" or "right". Create your own art, then find others who enjoy it."  But I do think you're taking subjectivity too far.

1) PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SOMEONE WATCH "EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP" ITS SO RELEVANT TO THIS DISCUSSION AND I HAVE NO ONE TO TALK TO ABOUT IT!!!!

2) While the experience and definition is certainly heterogeneous, there are still *boundaries* to what we even between factions, consider art, a Wittgensteinian cluster if you will.  "Art" exists as a social fact, we wouldn't even be able to have this discussion if it didn't evoke something common between all of us, and some of those concepts are inflected with certain commonly held ideas about quality.  So Nora's "group" isn't the only one that cares about word repetition (done unintentionally and unartfully), perhaps all of them do.  For me the bigger distinction that's been bothering me in this discussion is that art is NOT popularity (even popularity within one of your sub-groups).  Art is about conveying meaning and perspective. That's why a beer commercial and and a pop song, in my opinion, usually shouldn't be considered art, unless someone was able to seriously subvert the capitalist machinery behind it.

So I wrote an essay on art when I was in Colombia a few years ago talking about Marxist propaganda, museum pieces and some dude doing handstands at an intersection.

If anyone's interested it's here for now:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/bradley-darewood/thoughts-on-art-in-cali/1423802314549583/

Or in spoilers:

Thoughts on Art in Cali

“Can you give me some water?” the man asked as I crossed the intersection.
 
I doled out a sympathetic rejection like a knee-jerk reaction:  “I’m sorry, friend, but I don’t have much left and I’m terribly thirsty.”
 
Being asked for things all day, these sorts of rejections were necessary, unless I wanted to be left with nothing in the course of an hour or two.   But as I took the time to study him, I immediately regretted my hasty reply.  Sweat glistened on his forehead and while his breathing was calm, his eyes had the marks of strain and exertion.
 
“What happened to your hand?” I asked.
 
One hand was wrapped in some sort of camouflage cloth.  As he motioned to it with the other I caught a glimpse of the palm of his unwrapped hand, the flesh blackened as if it had been scorched.  It was torn and bleeding.  It was black from the asphalt.  I couldn’t imagine what the other must look like beneath the makeshift bandage.
 
He was a street performer.  Not one of the carefree Argentina hippies you find juggling throughout Colombia, trying to get money for pot while on their travels.  He was a beggar who performed out of desperation.  He would walk on his hands between the cars stopped at the intersection—I had actually seen his upturned feet from afar—and then beg for spare change at the windows.  It took a toll on his body, pushing to perform until his hands broke.  I’d seen worse.  The fire-breathers spitting gasoline on a flame often become terribly disfigured as continual flow of gasoline in their mouths eats away the lining of their cheeks.
 
I hand him my water, and he looks around for a leaf or something to fashion into a cup, so that we won’t have to share saliva.  “Don’t worry about it,” I say with a wave.  “I don’t mind drinking out of the bottle if you don’t.”
 
He nods in thanks as he lifts the bottle to his lips.  He winces: using his hand to grip the water bottle is clearly causing him pain.  I can’t imagine what he must feel each time he does his handstand.  But he continues on, relentlessly, ignoring the agony for the slim chance that someone might roll down the window and hand him some change.
 
He offers the bottle back, but I tell him to keep it.  I try not to let the pity show in my face. “You’re getting a lot more exercise than I am,” I explain, struggling to hide the pangs of sympathy squeezing my chest.  “I don’t really have anywhere to go to break a sweat.”  He directs me to a park, and I continue on my way.  Pity is condescending, I know, but it takes me nevertheless, splashing unbidden across my face.
Down the street is the Museo la Tertulia, a gorgeously designed museum of Latin American art.  Outside teens run back and forth across the concrete topography in a series of acrobatic leaps and flips.  They are practicing parqour.
 
Inside was an incredible series of expositions.  Amidst abstract paintings--car bumpers arranged into something reminiscent of flowers, and beautifully broken ceramic pieces--I came across a painting by Rosmeberg Sandoval titled “Pintura Sucia” or “Dirty Painting.” Brown-black markings smeared the white canvas in a way that was both beautiful and evocative of dirt.  A series of photographs captured Sandoval as he had made the painting in his hometown of Certago, Colombia.  He had taken a homeless person from the street (a picture-perfect homeless man complete with a thick beard, tattered clothes covered in grime) and had him lie on the canvas.  Rosemberg lifted the man’s legs and then pushed him across the canvas like a human paintbrush.
 
I looked at the photos beside the painting in horror.  Sandoval had reduced a man to a human paintbrush, then sold his painting, rooted in the exotification of poverty, for a fortune.  This was wrong.
 
Suddenly the museum and the art I had enjoyed became a sinister place.
 
What is this thing we call “art”?  “Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost,” Tolstoy once wrote.  But who decides what is art and what isn’t?  More importantly, who decides what art is for?  In Los Angeles, I lived in the Artist District, full of warehouse galleries of artists hoping to connect to wealthy benefactors.  A combination of validation from art curators, wealthy art consumers, and gallery professionals is what made art “art”.  Even if museums offer free entrance, privileged elites are the ones who define what art is.  That constrains what art can be for.
 
Looking at Sandoval’s “Pintura Sucia” in Cali’s Museo la Tertulia, I imagine MfA students discussing his painting in a class, about how his art was used to “raise awareness” or “consciousness” of homelessness.  Something tells me that the homeless man Sandoval used as a human paintbrush is well aware of homelessness.   So how did “consciousness” come to only apply to the elite class of people who purvey art in a museum? And what difference does it really make if an artist’s tribute to poverty ultimately finds its way to the wall of an art-collector’s mansion?
 
The curators of the Museo la Tertulia must have thought of this, and beyond the abstract paintings and sculptures was a brave homage to pro-Communist anti-imperialist graphic design.  Protest posters against the U.S. invasion of Vietnam to efforts to mobilize rural indigenous under Communist ideology.  A crumbling American dollar framed propaganda posters of Vietnamese women with rifles; in another, indigenous farmworkers posed proudly in an advertisement for a community gathering.
 
Fifty years of brutal violence between left-wing insurgents and right-wing (para)militaries have devolved into little more than a war between competing drug cartels today: the paramilitarized state and the mafia-like FARC. Worse, the tarnished image of the FARC, Colombia’s drug-dealing rebels, has been used to legitimate violence on multiple fronts, especially against those that have nothing to do with the FARC.  Violent repression of labor organizing continues in Colombia today with student activists disappeared, and the largest number of labor organizers assassinated in any country in the world; this exhibition was no small statement.
 
But like Sandoval’s “Pintura Suscia”, Marxist elites try to impose an ideology on people they haven’t bothered to consult or understand.  Indigenous workers only become “class conscious” or conscious at all when the elites tell them what to think.  Those farmworkers in the picture no different than the everyman in a beer commercial. They aren’t partners in imagining a new future, they are a target audience for an ideology that has already been set.
 
Diarist Anaïs Nin once said:  “It is the function of art to renew our perception.  What we are familiar with we cease to see.  The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.” The “new meaning” the Museo la Tertulia’s communist propaganda posters (just like the “new meaning” in capitalist advertisements for products) is part of a coordinated machine driven by public relations specialists and propagandists.  Even for the art in the rest of the museum, this “new meaning” is part of a conversation between elite artists and their consumers. A conversation that is not likely to be relevant for my new acquaintance standing on his bleeding hands between the cars stopped at the stop light for spare change.
 
Entertaining the driver’s as they pass with his acrobatic dance... is he an artist?  I’m not sure.  But there’s definitely a difference between what the art celebrated in museums has to say, who they are saying it to, and the art made on the street.
 
Graffiti is scrawled across the beautiful colonial architecture that lines the road as I return from the museum.  Some of it is haphazardly scrawled by gangs, marking their territory, but others are beautiful murals scrawled clandestinely on walls.  For my graffiti artist friends in high school, graffiti was about taking back the public space dominated by advertisements and replacing it with art.  Art that did not need a curator or wealthy benefactor to define it.  Much of graffiti art is simply the artists name, spray painted in meandering swirls, but Banksy consistently uses his art to make a statement: an anarchist with flowers instead of a Molotov cocktail, soldiers handing a bomb to children... all scrawled quickly on London streets.
 
It’s a beautiful thing for an introspective artist to share their profound reflections with the world around them, however right or wrong those reflections may be.  Flowers made out of car bumpers in the Museo la Tertulia, just like spray paint on a wall outside, can challenge us, like Nin says, to “shift our perception” and find “new meaning” in the world around us.  But this is a conversation between the artist and us.  A conversation we can’t let museum curators, propagandists or even artists control.
 
Art doesn’t happen when a rich man buys a painting and puts it on his wall.  It happens when an artist’s creativity stimulates our mind. It’s a conversation between the artist and the purveyor, with all the twisted shadings of class, race, sex, and inequality that conversation might or might not involve. Art happens when we appreciate it, and in appreciating it, we change the way we see and live in the world.  What we appreciate... that is what makes art.
 
The man who asked me for a drink of water and stood on his hands told me something as he performed. He made me think in a way I wasn’t ready to.  And that... that is the most powerful of art.

A couple of quotes I referenced in it: Tolstoy: “Art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost."  He sounds a bit like @Nora or me on a particularly irritable day.  But I prefer Anaïs Nin:  “It is the function of art to renew our perception.  What we are familiar with we cease to see.  The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”

I'm not sure that's what's happening with some of these poorly put together, gimmicky popular works we're talking about.  They're not opening our eyes to new meaning, but reinforcing social dysfunction.  And that, to me, might be popular, but that doesn't make it art.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 06, 2017, 07:37:16 AM
If a writer - or any other artist - doesn't really care whether anyone other than themselves like what they've done then, sure, ignore all the stuff about "good" and "right".

If a writer does want other people to like what they do and connect with their vision, then they should probably pay at least some attention to "good" and "right", which in a lot of cases boils down to "Here is the sum experience of other writers in terms of what connects with people and what doesn't".

If a writer wants as many people possible who'd be interested in the vision to like it, then they'd be well advised to immerse themselves in "good" and "right", particularly the parts of it subtitled "Do this or the gatekeepers will chuck you in the slush pile".

You don't necessarily have to follow all of what is "good" and "right", but I think about it as like building an aeroplane - you can totally ignore the law of gravity for extended periods, but only by playing really close attention to a lot of other rules to counter-balance this.

It's not like the boundaries permitted by "good" and "right" aren't wide as all hell and permit a great deal of subjectivity anyway. Sure, subjectivity allows art to flourish. But artists require objectivity as well - it's that or be the metaphorical equivalent of trying to hit a major league pitcher out of the park the first time you pick up a baseball bat.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: ScarletBea on August 06, 2017, 09:58:28 AM
(I don't have much to add, but I'm loving the discussion...)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 06, 2017, 02:25:40 PM
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So in this example of 50 shades and the article, isn't this another case that we know what's going on, but we are seeing the story and events unfold through the eyes of someone who doesn't?

One may argue that Ana never learns and realizes what's going on, but the very article who criticizes this actually provides information and statistics saying how a lot of women in the real world don't either.

Fair point @Lanko, and I think it's the case here, in so far that the author probably doesn't realise how what she wrote is nefarious, and many men and women who read it didn't see it at all either.
This whole Jose scene can be purely seen as a white knight moment where Christian swoops down to save a damsel in distress, a trope well known and used.
But I think that's the whole point the blog writer wants to make : Don't use assault as a plot device if you don't know how to exploit it in a beneficial way.

Also, we're talking about an excerpt here, but your argument becomes hard to sustain as the entire book is a long breakdown in abusive relationships and unhealthy behaviours. At no point do the characters take the steps you would actually like them to take if they were real human beings you knew. At no point does the book go "beyond" to carry a message, a moral... She doesn't realise what she's describing is problematic.

If you take The Collector, you find there pure horror, and behaviours even murkier and more problematic than anything in 50SoG, though of course it's never sexy or meant to be. But the grievous behaviours reach their crux when Frederik goes to find help, and finally turns around because of the glare of society.
In many respects it's a book that never gives you any moralising line, but shows you how it's partly our fault these people exist. We could also do a thing yet we don't, and create Frederiks. Fowls disturbs you and feeds you enough to think.
EL James feeds you garbage that she feels is ice cream. There is no deeper layer in any way, hence she probably ought not to brush on hard topics, because she isn't doing them justice and reinforcing bad behaviours.

This being said, it's the case with soooo much smuty fiction it's crazy. I've read some in my time, and while some can be enjoyed as is, I believe some really showed stuff that was plain wrong, because it was "wrong" yet portrayed as "good". Like vampire alpha males keeping their "mate" in their den and restricting their movement and life because they could and wanted to, and the women globally being happy to be carted like sheep.
You read the smut and hardly stop long enough to think about the wider problems going on in the book.

It takes us all to something I find fascinating, which is called Art Morality. Does Art need to be morally acceptable to be good?
Can something morally wrong be Artistically good? Are the talented videos made for Hitler's regime propaganda Art? The man who made them was widely known for being a great of the time. Yet the videos glorify the nazi regime.
What about Wolf of Wall Street, which gives you no moral handholds and can be seen as apologetic if one wishes to?
So it goes from moralist to autonomist (people who believe art and moral are independent)
I'm a moderate autonomist myself.

For any of you who might be interested :

https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/11776803/in-defense-of-moderate-autonomism-stanford-university-

But of course 50 Shades is not anywhere near Art and simply divertissement.

The punchline became cyclical. A bunch of people who had never heard of the book outside of the mockery, further pushed the idea that it was trash in order to have something to say on the topic. comics, late night hosts, teenage boys that bashed it for no other reason than it was teenage girls that were reading it (Twilight)

I think that "shame factor" builds to a crescendo, and people who liked the book, might deny it, or throw out their copies, or jump on the hate train, for fear of being seen as someone who disagrees.

I'm simply wondering, how large was that effect? How many people would have loved these books, if the stigma wasn't already out there?

Ah now I see what you mean. Interesting. I wonder as well how many people picked it up as @Peat says, because there isn't bad publicity. It's exactly why I opened it up myself. Everyone in the meme community was moaning about it being soft porn people could feel like displaying.

Oddly enough Twilight always had the rep of being a white mom thing rather than a teenage thing.
That sort of stuff :

(https://img.memecdn.com/twilight-moms_o_190801.jpg)

(http://wheresmysammich.com/images/18953.jpg)

I get you, and I think it's quite the normal reaction. I mean, the books aren't stellar. Whatever your feelings about it, they aren't so well written, whether they catch you or not. So I guess when people hate a book and saw it as weak and not well written, they'll say so (like, in their GR reviews or whatever), and move on... Unless the book becomes so popular and catchy that everyone speaks about it, in which case many people will turn vindictive.
"Omg what is there to like in this book? How come it's becoming famous?!"

I read the Twilight books a good time before they became famous. In France it was a real struggle to find that author at all! So it exploded to fame quite some time after publication. I can definitely imagine people who'd thought this was just another mediocre book would be baffled and angrier at its rise to success.
However, I read Meyer's other book "The Host" and much preferred it. Decent little scifi love story for a summer read. I'd say many people "didn't lose much of anything" by not reading Twilight. I'm not gonna feel sorry for anyone who didn't pick it up because of stigma. Chances are they read better stuff instead, including other books of Meyer's.


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Most of the hate I recall at the time was in the vein of "That trash for teenage girls". In other words, much of the denigration of Twilight was in relation to the group it was targeted toward. I was joking, but I'm sure someone out there is making the argument that Twilight/50 Shades became despised not for its content, but for its audience... i.e., the hate is an attack on women.

I see what you mean now. But I wonder though, if that's the real problem? I mean, books geared towards teenage girls and women are LEGION. None of them raise any hate, or even attention. Mostly because they aren't the book "everyone is talking about" atm.
But then you have some books written by women about other topics, doing absolutely great, and they aren't being bashed. Or worse, like Rowling's, they're being so loved, it feels like holy scriptures. So what's the difference?
Why does Twilight come to fame with lots of bad rep, and HP does with lots of love and critics rolling it over for belly pats?
Maybe HP wasn't for teenage girls only, but teenagers for sure.

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If a writer wants as many people possible who'd be interested in the vision to like it, then they'd be well advised to immerse themselves in "good" and "right", particularly the parts of it subtitled "Do this or the gatekeepers will chuck you in the slush pile".

Yes. Definitely. It's all good to argue that my "club" is this or that, but sadly my "club" members tend to be sitting at the doors of publication houses with the Rod-of-Slush in their hands. One can try and write a novel with 100+ time the same silly words, but getting it out in the official world is another matter.
ElJames had the same luck Andy Weir had, of being spotted while doing their thing only and meeting a lot of popularity there. (And then Andy Weir went out and sold better, and had a much more popular movie as well). But the immense majority doesn't get such treatment. It's usually safer to try and polish your prose to something easily readable at least.

Here's an interesting graph from Nielsen actually :

(https://blogs-images.forbes.com/natalierobehmed/files/2015/11/1124_book-movie-chart_1200x675_logo1-1200x675.jpg?width=960)

Comes from this interesting article : https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalierobehmed/2015/11/30/from-fifty-shades-tothe-martian-how-2015s-movie-adaptations-boosted-book-sales/#255252991e58

About how the movie adaptations boost sales.

Damn I don't know if getting movie deals is a sign of talent, but it certainly is synonymous to "making it".

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It's not like the boundaries permitted by "good" and "right" aren't wide as all hell and permit a great deal of subjectivity anyway. Sure, subjectivity allows art to flourish. But artists require objectivity as well - it's that or be the metaphorical equivalent of trying to hit a major league pitcher out of the park the first time you pick up a baseball bat.

I don't feel like we've managed to agree on any objective criterion to judge talent so far though. Mostly by my own mistake for dragging anomaly books into the limelight. Sorry.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 06, 2017, 07:05:46 PM
Where to begin? I've read most – but not all – of the posts in this topic. I can't reply to every argument made or I'd be here all night. So I am going to unload some of my thoughts – feel free to dig into me from every angle. Apologies for any repetition.

The quality of art is not entirely subjective. To claim so would be to claim that all art is equal (because it cannot be objectively judged). Yet that is obviously wrong. Take a short story written by a veteran writer and another written by a beginner. Those educated in creative writing will be able to tell the two apart consistently (and quite possibly, so could experienced amateurs). If the quality of writing were entirely subjective, this would not be so.

So why is that? It is because writing is a craft and its quality can be judged objectively (beyond grammar). It can be broken down into identifiable components that have the same basic function regardless of where they are found. To an experienced writing professional, poor writing is as easy to identify as is to a carpenter a house built without the proper knowledge and tools.

When a book makes it huge, it is inevitably true that skill is involved. But the skill doesn't necessarily have to lie in the writing (or indeed, with the writer). To judge the quality of writing based on the monetary success of the book is ridiculous, plain and simple. There are so many other variables that factor into whether a book sells or not.

So, millions of people like Twilight. I congratulate Stephanie Meyer on her success. I have no reason to dislike her for it. That doesn't mean I think she's a good writer. I've read enough excerpts from the book to know that she isn't. But I don't go around throwing bile at her for being successful, nor do I deride her fans for liking her poorly written book. What fucking good would that do?

Now, I have two explanations for the success of books that have objectively poor writing.

1. Their appeal is something other than the quality of their writing.

The list of possible ways a book can appeal to a reader other than the quality of its writing is long, and I think it has been covered extensively in the thread already. So I'll settle for saying this: I think the most basic appeal is simplicity. Many readers look for books that do the same thing, over and over, just like they do with films, TV series, jobs, hobbies, food, etc. Humans are programmed to prefer the comfortable, the familiar.

2. People who read books that are objectively bad don't read many – or any – books that are objectively good.

There's plenty of bad literature out there, enough to keep someone reading two poorly written supernatural romance thrillers a day for the rest of their life. But I also believe that a lot of people who read books like Twilight or 50 Shades don't do much other reading at all (which is true based on my experiences, though I have no solid support in big data). These books are primarily phenomena of excellent skill (and likely a fair bit of luck) in marketing.

And that's a positive side to them: They get people reading. You can't tell people they are doing something wrong when they are reading, can you? Instead, grab the opportunity to lure them on a path of finding better literature, step by step. Because reading opens the mind. It reduces biases and increases intelligence. Every time someone picks up a book instead of watching reruns on TV or playing their thousandth round of Dota 2 or commenting on Youtube-videos, humanity gets a little bit better. Let's support that!
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 06, 2017, 08:24:06 PM

I don't feel like we've managed to agree on any objective criterion to judge talent so far though. Mostly by my own mistake for dragging anomaly books into the limelight. Sorry.

Hey, I like a good excursion to tangentville.

In this particular case, I wasn't talking about objectivity in terms of there being a scale for talent, but rather in terms of the ability to step back from one's own work and say "Others will get what I'm communicating here, this scene stays", "Others will not get what I'm communicating here, this scene gets redone", "This scene will confuse others about what I'm communicating, this scene gets chopped" and so on. Both the ability to suppress most of your own subjective preference for what you've written, and the awareness and ability to apply objective writing standards.

I think if there's any one objective criterion I'd suggest for measuring talent, it would be a figure derived from a formula roughly based on (Number of Good Reviews on Popular Reviewing Sites - Number of Bad Reviews on PRS) % Book Sales x Minor Balancing Numbers for effects of not selling to book junkies at the very top end/books published before PRSs became big. That would give people a good solid idea of just how many people who actually pick up a book love it. Minor flaw in it doesn't account for library numbers/theft (although if you got reliable numbers for those, they could be included in book sales.

Another good one would be the percentage difference in ratings between an author's most popular book and least popular book on said PRSs, maybe with a balancer for number of books. That's a pretty good indicator of an author with the ability to constantly please fans, as opposed to authors who surf waves of popularity but don't retain fans.

Not that I care anywhere near enough to try applying them. Its not like they're hugely useful anyway.

What is highly useful are objective measuring sticks for what makes a book that will please its readers. And as I recently found something that serves pretty well in that regard, I'm going to share it - http://rafasny.org/rmm/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2012/02/readerrules-terryrossio.pdf

First off, its aimed more at movie scripts, but a lot of the tick boxes apply just as well to fictional stories. If any agent/publishing house has released a similar document, I've yet to hear about it. The other thing is it is just one guy's opinion. But it is one guy's version and aggregation of a lot of similar sets of rules. I'd say its a pretty good objective version of what's found in most good stories. How you tell whether it's there or not is a different matter of course :P
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 06, 2017, 09:15:43 PM
So why is that? It is because writing is a craft and its quality can be judged objectively (beyond grammar). It can be broken down into identifiable components that have the same basic function regardless of where they are found. To an experienced writing professional, poor writing is as easy to identify as is a house built without the proper knowledge and tools to a carpenter.

When a book makes it huge, it is inevitably true that skill is involved. But the skill doesn't necessarily have to lie in the writing (or indeed, with the writer). To judge the quality of writing based on the monetary success of the book is ridiculous, plain and simple. There are so many other variables that factor into whether a book sells or not.

Amen to that, brother!

Which is also why I think it's confusing and unnecessary to include any sales at all @Peat. Doing so means you only judge published or self published author. You're basically saying that an author who sits on a genius manuscript is talentless.
You also subject yourself to marketing.

I tend to agree that Writing is a craft. Just like drawing. And I also think that the "uneducated" have poorer taste.
This, I noticed in art a lot. Having done my studies in Art schools, I often noticed how people could get really appreciative of pieces that were obviously poor in skills.
Like, not being able to see that the painter obviously isn't very experienced, and has weak choices in framing the subject, no dynamic, and boring style... Which is always fine though.
Because art (as in drawing, painting...) is a craft, and while talent exists (and you see some people leap and bound ahead of you picking things up with ease), you also see many dedicated people draw day in and day out and become incredibly good because of the crazy practice they get under their belt.
I'm mediocre at best so no pointing fingers, but I've studied drawing too many years to have wool pulled over my eyes. I can see a boring drawing and wrong joints on a nude. But many people can't.
More importantly I used not to see the flaws of my own work. It took years of dedication before I started being able to do some real-time appraisal. Even then, one of the best ways to see the flaws in your work is to show it to a mirror.
Your brain which has gotten so caught up in the looks of the piece as you drew it, suddenly rediscovers it and sees it with a critical eye. Can be quite scathing.

So yeah, I think in books you have the same pattern. It's easy to stick to the mediocre or bad, and takes some effort and practice to get into the higher stuff. It's not always agreeable either. I'm glad I was forced to study many classics at school though, as it made me discover some authors I would never have opened otherwise.
I think the depth and simplicity of a brilliant plot can be discovered by reading Stefan Zweig, for example.

It's like we're all on a path of self improvement, and the more we read the more critical we get.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 06, 2017, 11:19:29 PM
And that's another crucial point, specially on books.

One can be a poor writer, but a great storyteller. One can create erudite phrases that show great dominance of the language and then fail to create any emotion or reaction from his characters and plot events.
Meanwhile another can have a story with typos, rough and unpolished sentences, messy structure... and still captivate the audience with his characters, plot and world.

Writing is a craft... but it's not an exact craft. It's still a subjective craft. Let's even ignore grammar and go for tools like Point of View, Structure, Characterization, Reader Empathy, Concept, Pace, etc.

Some readers and even literary critics cannot stand First Person no matter how it's done and others absolutely love it. The omniscient narrator of classic works today is mostly frowned upon. Second person was universally loathed, at best with that ambiguous and useless "advice" you see everywhere "don't do it unless you really know what you're doing!". Oh, hello Jemisin!
Or about multiple POVs and single POVs? How many POVs are too much? I guarantee the answers will vary wildly.
Or how flashbacks should be avoided as much as possible? The Broken Empire abuses the hell out of it, and it's certainly well-written (subjective!) and certainly a popular with impact on the Fantasy genre or at least Grimdark subgenre.

What about structure? What's the best one, objectively speaking? Hero's Journey? Is there really only three acts? Or some other narrative structures out there?
Some hate the Hero's Journey and others praise it.

What about style? Certain allegories, similes or symbolism can blow the mind of one and make another roll their eyes.
Or pace? Some love or don't care about a story starting or being overall slow. Others can't stand it. And many others can't stand frenetic pace either. How one objectively quantify and analyze a story's pace if not by your own preferences or your own current state of mind, influenced by many factors outside of any author's control?

At some point the most sound advice was to make your hero sympathetic and not do acts that could repulse readers. Then came Grimdark and the anti-hero or downright villainous and heinous protagonist have never been so strong.

We can get two or three creative writing teachers and even if they almost certainly can tell apart an amateur story from a professional one, so what? How does that exactly define talent?
Specially in writing where it's hard to master everything. One can have the best prose around and severely lack in pace. Or have pedestrian prose but be a master of plot twists and magic systems. One can work meticulously on their structure and theme and fail completely at characterization or grammar usage.

Or behold! That pedestrian prose may also be greatly well-regarded by others and the magic system the thing that actually turns them off from that author. Or the slow burn-up pace is what they actually like. Or that one's "best prose" sounds purple and self-indulgent to others.

And even those specialized in criticism or creative writing aren't free of their own biases, whether their own or passed down by their own teachers - they are humans after all.
If I get three of those specialists and get three different answers for what a story did right and wrong with structure, grammar, style and pace, etc... which one would be right?

So that means even when analyzing the craft tools of writing, like grammar, structure, pace, characterization, theme... even them are subjective to one's own preferences on how to use those tools.

While writing certainly is an art, that doesn't mean that every work created is, was intended or needs to be the apex of artistic expression. Or even have a "minimum" of it, whatever that may mean.
A lot of art isn't and wasn't even intended to be that pretentious. You can be totally aware you are simply creating something for pure entertainment and realize it still creates value for you and others.
The majority of the public, even if they are indeed aware, do they even really care about the technical aspects of the craft anyway?

In fact, a lot (if not the majority), of works that are considered works of talent, genius and expression and even got *gasp* popular... maybe they got there exactly when their creators weren't having overly pretensions intentions to create the "biggest representation of artistic expression of X".
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 07, 2017, 12:19:58 AM
Yes, there are lots of sub-skill sets involved in writing a book. I'm definitely in favour of judging more around the skill sets than the overall book, I think its more helpful to everyone.

And yes, there's lots of different options available in terms of tense/PoV/structure, none of which are objectively better, although some are objectively easier to use.

But I don't think that means that ability in said skill sets and success in using said options can't be measured at least in terms of a consensus opinion, even by people who loathe them/place wildly differing values on them. Anecdotally, I treat talk of "great original magic systems" in books as a big old red flag, but I still give my opinion on the ones I read and find the opinions generally match up with other people's. Generally I find people's opinions of author's skill sets to be fairly consistent.

And there's consensus, I generally believe there's some degree of objective measurement to be found.

Nora - It's not saying they're talentless, it's just saying they can't be measured the same way.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 07, 2017, 10:55:48 AM
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Nora - It's not saying they're talentless, it's just saying they can't be measured the same way.

No. Again, it depends on your definition.

If talent is defined as an easiness to pick up the craft that puts them ahead of other practitioners, then many authors are not talented.

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natural aptitude or skill: he possesses more talent than any other player

That's the definition from my dictionary. And many authors by that rule are not talented. They're simply hard workers. Someone who gets good review on a good novel published young while not having written for so long, you might say of that person they have an ease/talent for writing. Maybe.

Not every author is talented. We're going away from the definition of talent just to consider the individual strength of every author.

OF COURSE I agree with Lanko and some authors are better at this or at that. Unrelated to talent though. You're reading talent as in "good at".
Also I think your entire list speaks of subjectivity in the reader, not the writer.

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Writing is a craft... but it's not an exact craft. It's still a subjective craft. Let's even ignore grammar and go for tools like Point of View, Structure, Characterization, Reader Empathy, Concept, Pace, etc.

Some readers and even literary critics cannot stand First Person no matter how it's done and others absolutely love it.

It is not a subjective craft. There is no subjectivity involved in the process of creating Art in any form. There is subjectivity in reading/watching it. Everyone reacts differently to the same painting, but a brush stroke is a brush stroke. The skill of the piece depends on the skill of the painter and the work put into it.

Whether the artist has talent, as in, a natural aptitude for his craft that puts him ahead of the pack, is an entirely different question.

Again, I think we're rambling all over the place because we don't do exact definitions and everyone is arguing about something totally different (also again because of me dragging twilight & co out, making the "worth" of a book a topic in the topic).

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: tebakutis on August 07, 2017, 03:26:16 PM
Holy cow, I go to a convention on Thursday and come back to five pages of discussion. I love you guys. Will catch up later today. :)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 07, 2017, 09:28:11 PM
I agree, Nora, that there may be a confusion here about the definition of words. Talent refers to something we are born with. It's an aptitude for one or more particular fields. A person with a talent for writing starts a little ahead of others and may pick up the concepts of the craft quicker. But they still have to put in the work to become skilled. Skill involves knowledge and experience, neither which can be substituted by talent.

I think Stephen King said it best: “Talent is table salt.” I admit, the first time I read that I thought he meant that talent was common. But what he means is that it's not a meal. You can't put salt on a plate and call it dinner. You can use it to spice up a meal a little. But the meal itself still has to be made, and that requires ingredients, knowledge, and work.

Craft, by definition, is not subjective. It is learned, not given. The result of applying a craft – e.g. painting, writing, sculpting, composing –  can be art. Art can be subjective, both in the definition of what constitutes art, and in the appreciation of it.

@Lanko Allow me to attempt to answer your post in a general sense, rather than going into every detail:

There is no objectively best plot structure or use of POV or any of the many other examples you make of elements of the craft of writing. It doesn't matter if a person hates or loves first person perspective – that's subjective. If a critic says of a well-written book: “This book is written in the first person, therefore it is bad,” then I would argue that they are simply bad at their job; they are letting their taste overrule objective judgement. What they could say is: “Despite being well-written, I cannot get past that this book is written in the first person, which I dislike so much.”

And yes, N.K. Jemisin makes excellent use of varied perspectives and POVs. I'm not sure what your point is with that. She has studied creative writing extensively. Even so, I'm not saying you need a formal writing education to understand the craft – or to be good at it. You don't even need to know the 'official' names of the elements of the craft. But you do need to understand those elements, and those elements do not change, whether you know about them or not. When I first began reading up on creative writing, I was surprised to find that many of the methods I had used in my writing had names and were well defined by the craft – and I admit I was a little disappointed; I was young and foolishly thought I had invented them – but I once I got over myself, I realised how useful it was to have a guide to all those elements: now I didn't have to figure them all out on my own!

Further, no serious teacher of the craft will tell you not to use flashbacks or that you have to write in the third person. That's advice. I know a lot of writers and self-proclaimed experts like to hand out pieces of advice like they are rules, but the fact is that the craft has no rules – only elements. And those elements are not affected by pretentiousness, or whether the majority of the public are aware of them, or whether the writer is aware of them, or if the work they are included in is *gasp* popular.

I know writers are helpless romantics. We don't like to be told that what we do can be measured and weighed because we think it takes away the magic. But that's not true; the better we know the rules, the better we can use and abuse them, to our advantage; the more capable of creating magic we become. So, my message isn't that you have to obey the rules or be lost, nor that a book is good or bad due to its popularity. My message isn't that you can't like something for whatever reason, craft or otherwise. My message isn't that you have to write for any particular reason, or with any particular goal. I'm simply arguing that striving to understand and improve our craft allows us to create better art.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 08, 2017, 09:08:38 AM
Also I think your entire list speaks of subjectivity in the reader, not the writer.

But one becomes a writer by being a reader first. You are first inspired by those who came before you. We all have writers or works who inspired us to take up the pen.

Whether it's tone, style, genre, themes, characterization or whatever, you'll love some aspects of some authors and find others lacking. What we think that they did right (totally subjective) and that resonates with our own preferences and style.

To have the Shannaras and other variants, one had to read Tolkien first, who read and was inspired by the Eddas and added his own experience and views on war, justice and etc.
To get the Grimdark of today most were certainly inspired by Martin, or at least Abercrombie or if doing it before them, probably Glen Cook.

Let's use your one of your own WIPs as an example, the story of the Danish FBI agent with magical eyes. Thomas Harris, Brandon Sanderson and maybe even John Fowles and others had a part in inspiring you, plus you adding things originated by your own creativity, experience and preferences that only you and nobody else can have.

And what about first person present tense? You didn't start writing it right away out of nowhere. You first had to read it and be enraptured by Bennett (or at least he was the one who did it), who in turn, to also write 1st person present tense, also needed this feeling by reading the works of others who wrote in that style.

And when you decided to use it, you must have weighted the pros and cons of the style and either you didn't agree with the cons or decided that the pros far outweighed it. For others it was the complete opposite. And how did you do that if not with your own preferences and feelings, even if just at the moment?

But how do you know objectively that that style was the 100% best choice? How do you know it'll accomplish things as intended? We can't be sure, can we? We simply believe that our choices are correct or at least the best ones we could make. We have our reasons to think that style, or that flashback, or that POV style will do the job.
Or more importantly, that's what we enjoy using on that specific story or moment we are writing.

So thinking and believe our choices are the best ones, or the ones we enjoy using... for me this uncertainty, this risk taking is exactly what encompasses for me subjectivity, not objectivity.

Which is important when replying to Magnus' post below.

It is not a subjective craft. There is no subjectivity involved in the process of creating Art in any form. There is subjectivity in reading/watching it. Everyone reacts differently to the same painting, but a brush stroke is a brush stroke. The skill of the piece depends on the skill of the painter and the work put into it.

What, how is that so? Of course what we read and our subjective take on what we read influences our writing.

We start to create a book inspired and motivated by a lot of subjective choices.

If a critic says of a well-written book: “This book is written in the first person, therefore it is bad,” then I would argue that they are simply bad at their job; they are letting their taste overrule objective judgement. What they could say is: “Despite being well-written, I cannot get past that this book is written in the first person, which I dislike so much.”

He still let his taste overrule objective judgement though. Despite recognizing it was well-written, he still couldn't finish it because of his subjective dislike of first person...

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You don't even need to know the 'official' names of the elements of the craft. But you do need to understand those elements, and those elements do not change, whether you know about them or not[/i]. When I first began reading up on creative writing, I was surprised to find that many of the methods I had used in my writing had names and were well defined by the craft – and I admit I was a little disappointed; I was young and foolishly thought I had invented them – but I once I got over myself, I realised how useful it was to have a guide to all those elements: now I didn't have to figure them all out on my own!

I know writers are helpless romantics. We don't like to be told that what we do can be measured and weighed because we think it takes away the magic. But that's not true; the better we know the rules, the better we can use and abuse them, to our advantage; the more capable of creating magic we become. So, my message isn't that you have to obey the rules or be lost, nor that a book is good or bad due to its popularity. My message isn't that you can't like something for whatever reason, craft or otherwise. My message isn't that you have to write for any particular reason, or with any particular goal. I'm simply arguing that striving to understand and improve our craft allows us to create better art.

Hah, I know how this romanticized view is popular. I even posted a few pages back about Mozart's process and how people view talent as some divine magical spark.

Anyway, the second paragraph made me understand where the first, specially in red, is coming from.

It's obvious that trying to write a novel blindly, without knowing what's required is naive and foolish, specially today with all the resources available, for free even.

I'm not saying not to or saying the craft is also subjective purely because of a helpless romantic vision on the craft.

But unless you're in creative class or workshop (or maybe even if you are), you're learning on your own.
Reading articles, books about writing, watching videos, reading advice and specially reading normal books, no matter.
And if you're learning on your own, and like you said, if the worst that can happen is when someone puts something as a rule and at best when it's put as general advice, then what you learn, take and apply by practicing not only will vastly differ from someone else studying in the same way but even more importantly, also won't offer anything to which to objectively analyze your progress.

I was gonna use computer programming as an example on objective craft, but let's use other arts mentioned here, like painting and sculpture since they're being used as examples. I don't know much about them to be honest, but let's proceed.

Let's say you're taught and then assigned to make a sculpture. If it's a real-size or miniature sculpture of someone, you'll calculate or have the metrics, the amount of necessary material, the type of material, an stipulated time, the strength of the support, etc.
If you get the size wrong, it can be measured and shown. If your support is too weak, the statue can fall and break, and so on.
All this can be objectively analyzed, reviewed, etc. There really are parts of the process that can only be done the right way or that can't be ignored.

Same thing with painting. How to use oil, gouache, spray, brushes (and the different types of brushes), depth of field, angles of vision, how to paint on canvas, wood, glass, clay, etc. There are ways of using these materials and these materials on those surfaces.

But writing has none of this. There's no need to learn how to write with different pens or a writing program to get a book done. You don't even need to know how to actually produce a physical copy of a book, how it's bounded, etc.

And the tools used are totally mental and abstract. You can't measure them.
Like many said before, there are no hard rules only general advice on the usage of these tools. There's no objective way to say "that's how you use flashbacks, write prose, create dialogue, structure your story and best use first person".

Also possibly one of the reasons the craft of writing shouldn't be compared to those visual arts as well.

So how do you objectively know you have learned or are using the elements of the craft properly? Are you able to objectively tell or just feel or believe you are writing element X, Y or Z better?
In my opinion, no. You can at best believe you made the best choices for the necessities of a particular story. That how we used characterization, flashbacks, structure, choice of words was, in our own subjective view, the best for that story.

And if the elements and principles of the craft are at best general advice on how to use them, then that makes them extremely subjective to each one of us, then what we really must strive to isn't to actually strive to master the craft... but to create our own. One that suits our needs, our aptitudes, our enjoyment, our perspective.

Pick Game of Thrones and you're reading Martin's craft. Pick Broken Empire and it's Lawrence's. Pick Kingkiller and it's Rothfuss'.
Lawrence could've written the story chronologically instead of using flashbacks almost every 1-2 chapters. Martin could've used less (or more) POVs and characters.

How did they nailed their decision? Simply by believing that's what they wanted to do and that's what their stories required and believing that they chose right.
We all have some instinct on these things that more often than not get the job done much better than anything else.

Also, one can learn the craft not only by reading but casually talking about it. That's like show and tell. Articles, books on writing, etc are like the "tell" and reading and seeing it applied the "show" part.
Just by reading (with maybe a more careful eye) you can certainly learn a great deal about the craft, perhaps more than directly studying a certain element.

So for me, learning and applying the craft of writing is entirely subjective. Specially when we absorb a lot from what we read, with subjective opinions why X worked and Y didn't and when the best advice for its elements is to use them as how you feel your story needs them, then for me that also makes the craft and its elements totally subjective.
Because just defining and knowing what a flashback, or the Hero's Journey or a prologue is can't be the definition of it being objective.
And like already said, how to use them is at best a general advice and can't be taught how to properly use them, much differently from learning how to use a specific brush or how to carve on wood.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 10, 2017, 12:21:42 PM
@Lanko, you contradict yourself repeatedly. You say that craft is subjective, yet claim that it can be learned. You say that different writers can be good at different elements of the craft, but you also claim the craft is immeasurable. If craft were entirely subjective, it would indeed be impossible to measure it, as it would be to learn it, teach it, or define it.

Mark Lawrence, George R.R. Martin – or any given writer – does not create their own craft. That is an example of exactly the type of starry-eyed romanticism that I was talking about; a need to feel special and unique, to walk outside of the box, to be undefinable.

But it is not true, and I can explain why. First, I want to look at the words we are using.

Quote from: Merriam-Webster
Subjective: characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind

Quote from: Merriam-Webster
Objective: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind

So by saying that craft is subjective, you're saying that it cannot be defined outside of the mind of the person who experiences it.

Craft is objective because it is “independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers.” Let me explain. As you say, a painter uses different types of brushes, colours, and canvas – physical components. Then they use different types of brush strokes to apply them to a canvas in different combinations, careful to apply depth of field, correct proportions, and undoubtedly numerous other techniques and methods that I – an amateur – do not know of.

Another painter, skilled in the craft, can look at the resulting painting and without consulting with its creator, determine both what materials and what techniques were used and how it affected the final result. As in the definition, the craft used to create the painting has a ”reality independent of the mind.”

You say writing has no base components like painting does, but that's not true. It has the elements of the craft, and they are constant in every writer's work, just like the brushstrokes and application of depth of field in a painting. The fact that our components and techniques are all abstracts does not make them less real.

The base components of writing, the techniques used to apply them, and the methods to combine them into a whole all have names. That doesn't mean the craft is entirely static, and that there is no room for new ideas, but the base components will not – can not – change. Even if we change its name, a metaphor would still represent the exact same concept as before, as would a stress, a syllable, or onomatopoeia. The elements of the craft exist objectively because they are defined, and because they can be located and identified in any text – independent of input from its creator – by someone who is versed in the craft, or even rediscovered by someone who isn't. They have a "reality independent of the mind."

So I can know for a fact that it is impossible for Mark Lawrence to have created his own craft because his writing can be analysed and found to be constructed from the same elements that are taught in writing classes all over the world. What you are talking about is called style, and style is a result of how a writer chooses to use and combine the elements of the craft in new ways. That's what creativity is, and while it does give us the ability to create unique works of art, we do so using components that exist outside of our minds.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 10, 2017, 06:04:25 PM
But it is not true, and I can explain why. First, I want to look at the words we are using.

Quote from: Merriam-Webster
Subjective: characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind

Quote from: Merriam-Webster
Objective: of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers : having reality independent of the mind

So by saying that craft is subjective, you're saying that it cannot be defined outside of the mind of the person who experiences it.

Exactly. Now, you're getting it. Since objectivity requires things to be "in the realm of sensible experience" of ALL people, nothing is objective. Everything is subjective because everyone functions based on "reality as perceived". There is no such thing as "reality independent of the mind" when judging talent (or judging anything).

So, if you disagree with me then you prove the point that everything is subjective (because not ALL people agree).
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 10, 2017, 06:45:52 PM
So by saying that craft is subjective, you're saying that it cannot be defined outside of the mind of the person who experiences it.

The base components of writing, the techniques used to apply them, and the methods to combine them into a whole all have names. That doesn't mean the craft is entirely static, and that there is no room for new ideas, but the base components will not – can not – change. Even if we change its name, a metaphor would still represent the exact same concept as before, as would a stress, a syllable, or onomatopoeia. The elements of the craft exist objectively because they are defined, and because they can be located and identified in any text – independent of input from its creator – by someone who is versed in the craft, or even rediscovered by someone who isn't. They have a "reality independent of the mind."

I guess that's where our main problem lies. Possibly my fault for lack of clarity in my other text, as I didn't write it in one go and could've structured and written it better with different word choices. But anyway...

The craft of writing isn't just what is the definition of its elements and maybe through my own fault, you think I'm saying that instead of having my own subjective view on how to use a flashback, I'm inventing my own definition of what a flashback is.

Quote
So for me, learning and applying the craft of writing is entirely subjective. Specially when we absorb a lot from what we read, with subjective opinions why X worked and Y didn't and when the best advice for its elements is to use them as how you feel your story needs them, then for me that also makes the craft and its elements totally subjective.
Because just defining and knowing what a flashback, or the Hero's Journey or a prologue is can't be the definition of it being objective.

I could've worded that better, like "the usage of its elements of the craft". But I did say the definition of the elements is objective.

@Lanko, you contradict yourself repeatedly. You say that craft is subjective, yet claim that it can be learned.

There's no contradiction and I don't know why you think there is, even with you taking out the context.

For example, objective education. Mathematics, biology, chemistry, etc. Subjective education, learned from our parents, teachers, friends or that we observe, like how you should behave, what is right and what is wrong, what to say and not to say, and so on. How do we measure what is right and wrong, or what to say to people in certain circumstances is the only and correct choice?

Learning the craft isn't just knowing what's the definition of a concept or what they do. You also need to learn how to do it, which is far more important.

Let's take for example flashbacks. You learn what's the definition and what it does. But there are too many ways in how to use them. And you can't possibly learn them all. It's possible to read 10 articles or 10 books that talk about it and find 10 different advices about it.

While all those articles/books/courses/etc will all say the same thing about what is a flashback, they may not say the same thing on the various ways to use them.
For example, one advice like "Flashbacks tend to slow the pace of your story, try to use it sparingly". Then a writer later reads Broken Empire and learns how Mark Lawrence uses them use great frequency without this problem (subjective opinion) and may try it out and improve his craft. But another writer may never come across Broken Empire or another work with heavy usage of flashbacks and may stick to only using them very sparingly, or even not at all.

So that means learning about the craft is both objective and subjective. Objective in you learn the definition of the concept and its purpose. Subjective in learning ways to use them.
Why? The definition of objective you posted has "perceptible by all observers", not only everyone will know when a flashback is happening they all know the same definition of it.
And subjective because in learning more and more ways in how to use it, you'll be heavily influenced by other works, articles, discussions, books on writing, etc, in your own way. BUT we won't all read the same things. So you may come across some new ways...and may never come across others. But we all know the same definition and purpose.

You say that different writers can be good at different elements of the craft, but you also claim the craft is immeasurable. If craft were entirely subjective, it would indeed be impossible to measure it, as it would be to learn it, teach it, or define it.

I'm baffled you think this is a contradiction.

For example, I think Brandon Sanderson is extremely good in worldbuilding, structure and plot, but not great regarding prose or dialogue. And it's my own subjective opinion on his ability regarding these specific elements.

We can take classes on these specific elements, learn more about them or even teach it to others, but how do we measure how well someone (and more importantly, us), is using them if not subjectively? How, for example, on a scale of 0 to 100 I could objectively rate his worldbuilding in Elantris as a 77 out of 100 and in Mistborn a 90? Or his dialogue as 33/100? Or his structure? Or mine?

If you say this is a contradiction then you're also saying there's a way to measure them all. How?

So by saying that craft is subjective, you're saying that it cannot be defined outside of the mind of the person who experiences it.

Again, the definition of the concepts is objective... but the craft of writing isn't just knowing the definition of what its concepts are.

Craft is objective because it is “independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers.” Let me explain. As you say, a painter uses different types of brushes, colours, and canvas – physical components. Then they use different types of brush strokes to apply them to a canvas in different combinations, careful to apply depth of field, correct proportions, and undoubtedly numerous other techniques and methods that I – an amateur – do not know of.

Another painter, skilled in the craft, can look at the resulting painting and without consulting with its creator, determine both what materials and what techniques were used and how it affected the final result. As in the definition, the craft used to create the painting has a ”reality independent of the mind.”

Sure, all painters will learn how to use material X on surface Y and all writers will learn the definition of a flashback.
You can measure the size of a sculpture to see if the sculptor got the proportions right. Even use a compass, a ruler or whatever to measure the scaling of a person in a landscape and see how much it is and if it was done correctly or not and why.

But how you do that to writing? How can you say that characterization was wrong? Or that the author structured and plotted wrong, and he should have done X instead? Or how well first person was used?
The only thing you can do a similar thing like in the painting and sculpture examples is with grammar - because you can catch the typos, even quantify them, tell what's wrong and why and how it affects the book. And how it affected the book would still come down to "how many typos is too much to turn you off a book?" because even traditionally published books from the Big 5 contain typos.

Mark Lawrence, George R.R. Martin – or any given writer – does not create their own craft. That is an example of exactly the type of starry-eyed romanticism that I was talking about; a need to feel special and unique, to walk outside of the box, to be undefinable.

So I can know for a fact that it is impossible for Mark Lawrence to have created his own craft because his writing can be analysed and found to be constructed from the same elements that are taught in writing classes all over the world. What you are talking about is called style, and style is a result of how a writer chooses to use and combine the elements of the craft in new ways. That's what creativity is, and while it does give us the ability to create unique works of art, we do so using components that exist outside of our minds.

Indeed I could have phrased it better. That's on me. Style was also what came to mind later. I was talking on what tools to use and how. Choices. That are subjective to our preferences.
While I could have phrased it better, you also exaggerated thinking that I really meant that GRRM or Mark Lawrence invented their own definitions of the concept of what a flashback is because of a starry-eyed romanticism and an uncurable need to feel special, unique and undefinable.

We are debating whether the craft of writing is objective or subjective... and thinking now, why it can't be both?

It's objective regarding the definition of the concepts and what they do. It's subjective in choosing a way to apply them and discovering new methods in doing it.
It's objective in grammar, but subjective on structure, choosing a point-of-view, prose, worldbuilding, etc.

And while certainly a book is supported by the objective part of it, isn't what really makes it the difference and makes it flourish the subjective part?

I mean, I learn the definition of a flashback. I write a chapter of what I'm doing today and then start another with what I was doing 10 years ago. There! I know how to do a flashback! I - and anyone else - objectively know about flashbacks as much as Shakespeare, GRRM and Rowling.

But it's not the definition of an element or what it does that's important, is it?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 10, 2017, 08:27:55 PM
I understand that it may have come across as if I'm arguing that the craft is entirely objective, but that was not my intention. The output of the craft has infinite potential, and infinity cannot be measured. I do believe that the quality of how we employ the elements can be objectively measured beyond their definition, but at some point -- which may be unknowable -- the judgement moves into subjectivity. I don't think I can bring anything more to expands on this discussion, at this time, though I shall certainly contemplate the subject further.

But any discussion where the knowledge in the world is expanded is a win in my book. I've had to consider how I think about some of the definitions, and I hope others have been able to bring something with them, as well.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 10, 2017, 10:21:24 PM
We are debating whether the craft of writing is objective or subjective... and thinking now, why it can't be both?

I have to say, I thought the debate was about whether there was an element of objectivity to talent in writing, and if so how big. I certainly didn't think anyone was arguing it was completely objective, if only because that would be the single most asinine opinion I've seen this year and I read newspapers' letter pages for a living.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 10, 2017, 11:47:53 PM
Exactly. Now, you're getting it. Since objectivity requires things to be "in the realm of sensible experience" of ALL people, nothing is objective. Everything is subjective because everyone functions based on "reality as perceived". There is no such thing as "reality independent of the mind" when judging talent (or judging anything).

So, if you disagree with me then you prove the point that everything is subjective (because not ALL people agree).

The problem with what you're saying is that then, by your definition of life, NOTHING is good, nothing is bad, objectivity doesn't matter because everything is filtered through entirely subjective filters.
So the books you defended earlier, 50 Shades and Twilight, are not good, or bad, they're just what you perceive them to be. Which is good I take it, while I see them as rather bad, but by your words they are nothing in themselves. Just pieces of paper with ink on them, ready to come into existence as someone picks them up.

You do the same thing that Descartes did, however. He basically proved that the only certainty he could have, was that he thinks, and therefore he exists. The problem with that being that he had a very hard time proving that anything else was real as well.
It's not a tenable option. There are objective perceptions of writing because there are rules to writing.
Grammar and Orthography are the most basic ones.

If everything is subjective, then "wRitin lik Dis...." is not bad, and probably beautiful and appealing to someone.

For all that this is sadly possible (there are book written in texting slang being sold), we're discussing mainstream, published authors and their work, and getting a work published normally implies you respect the basic rules of "writing something people will want to buy".

Since such rules exist, it means there has to be some objective element to the craft.

Also, you can't say "There is no such thing as "reality independent of the mind" when judging talent (or judging anything)"
Because one can judge many a thing, and most of them are a reality independent of the mind. From deforestation to murder through the quality of a big mac...
(https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/7/9/1373393561530/Almost-Famous-001.jpg)
And you're battling windmills with such arguments. "Oh everything is subjective, let's not imprison that serial killer, he saw each crime as Art and I kinda agree it was cool and esoteric."
That's not how society works.

This : "So, if you disagree with me then you prove the point that everything is subjective (because not ALL people agree)."
Is also kinda wrong. I'm not proving anything by disagreeing with you. And just because people don't agree doesn't make a thing untrue. No amount of people spitting on Botticelli's talent will make him less of a talented painter.

If you want to get into finicky philosophy, let me introduce you to the term of Zombie.

Quote
A philosophical zombie or p-zombie in the philosophy of mind and perception is a hypothetical being that from the outside is indistinguishable from a normal human being but lacks conscious experience, qualia, or sentience.
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies/

So I could argue that I only have proof of my own existence, and nothing in the world can prove to me you have qualia and sentience. Hence, disagreeing with you only proves you wrong, and only my opinion matters.

Alright, joke aside.
Disagreeing with you does not mean things are subjective. Because not everything is subject to your opinion and taste.
F = G*((m sub 1*m sub 2)/r^2) is the formula for gravity, and your opinion on it is irrelevant, and so is everyone else's. The only way you can disagree with this is through some hard maths, and good luck with disproving gravity.

There is also, indeed, the possibility that you might be wrong. You could defend to the death that a sentence is correct, while every dictionary argues against you that it is full of typos.

In our original argument "is there an element of objectivity to talent in writing, and if so how big", your opinion might be "yes", but someone else thinking "no" doesn't mean that "everything is subjective".
Gravity is still holding you to your chair.

We are debating whether the craft of writing is objective or subjective... and thinking now, why it can't be both?

Let's put this one to rest :

The craft of writing, like any craft, is objective. Its value and appreciation are subjective.

What do you think of that, for a clean start on the topic?  ???

Let me defend it :

Making a perfect chair is an objective craft, and joinery takes years of practice (especially the japanese way!). But no two chairs will appeal to the same people.

Your hard sci-fi :

(https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/a6/68/b3/a668b3654f1e3813faaff1b60add170e--dining-room-chairs-wood-chairs.jpg)

Their romance novel :

(https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/16/4b/6e/164b6e8fee7c91995acab9b9dd76329b.jpg)

Regardless of preference, both require skill to create (or else we'd be excavating those from prehistorical sites all over the place), and that skill took generations working out on objective knowledge, like making joints, manipulating wood products, and calculating whatever maths you need for that shit to hold your lounging self, all of this took us a while to acquire (or else we'd be excavating those from prehistorical sites all over the place).
Whether you'd rather have one, the other, or a leather poof, is unrelated.
Discussing talent in this case is only a matter of knowing how we'll define it, and then whether we believe in it or not, and applied to writing or not.

I think we really can't say "I like curvy chairs over angles, I think that designer has talent". Now that would be biased.
We need to find what elements mark talent.

Though to be honest, since talent doesn't guarantee a publication, or reader notice, and publication and reader notice do not guarantee a writer's talent, I'm loathe to see the point of the entire conversation!  :-\ Feel like it's a bit hard for me to say that though.  ;D
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Not Lu on August 11, 2017, 01:42:56 AM
Exactly. Now, you're getting it. Since objectivity requires things to be "in the realm of sensible experience" of ALL people, nothing is objective. Everything is subjective because everyone functions based on "reality as perceived". There is no such thing as "reality independent of the mind" when judging talent (or judging anything).

So, if you disagree with me then you prove the point that everything is subjective (because not ALL people agree).

The problem with what you're saying is that then, by your definition of life, NOTHING is good, nothing is bad, objectivity doesn't matter because everything is filtered through entirely subjective filters.

Once again, I have never said that. All I have said is that talent is subjective. That different groups use their own subjective measures to judge talent. Ironically, they claim their measures are objective (likely because it's important to them that they are right - but now I'm imposing my subjective measures in judging them).
 
So the books you defended earlier, 50 Shades and Twilight, are not good, or bad, they're just what you perceive them to be. Which is good I take it, while I see them as rather bad, but by your words they are nothing in themselves. Just pieces of paper with ink on them, ready to come into existence as someone picks them up.

Once again, I did not, at any point, defend 50 shades or Twilight. Nor did I ever say that they were good works. Nor did I say they are nothing in themselves. What I said is that millions of other people liked the work and that it would be beneficial to writers to find out what the authors did to make the book resonate with so many people.

As a side note not relevant to the conversation, I haven't read either of them because they didn't interest me.

You do the same thing that Descartes did, however. He basically proved that the only certainty he could have, was that he thinks, and therefore he exists. The problem with that being that he had a very hard time proving that anything else was real as well.
It's not a tenable option. There are objective perceptions of writing because there are rules to writing.
Grammar and Orthography are the most basic ones.

If everything is subjective, then "wRitin lik Dis...." is not bad, and probably beautiful and appealing to someone.

You made a huge mistake there. "wRitin lik Dis" was way too creative. I found it kinda cute. Now If I tell others about it, it will become a trend and before you know it everyone who is anyone will be writing that way.

Also, you can't say "There is no such thing as "reality independent of the mind" when judging talent (or judging anything)"
Because one can judge many a thing, and most of them are a reality independent of the mind. From deforestation to murder through the quality of a big mac...

Once again, you prove my point. Deforestation is abhorrent to some, but not to the starving farmer who is cutting down trees to make farmland with which he'll feed his family. Note: subjective judgement based on circumstance. Also, though most people find murder wrong, the murderer finds merit in the practice.

On the subject of big macs, NOW YOU'VE GONE TO FAR! DON'T DIS THE BIG MAC.

And you're battling windmills with such arguments. "Oh everything is subjective, let's not imprison that serial killer, he saw each crime as Art and I kinda agree it was cool and esoteric."
That's not how society works.

Once again, you're proving the point. You're using rules that "society" has pulled out of their fanny and calling them objective. Societal rules are clearly subjective or else every society would have the exact same rules.

This : "So, if you disagree with me then you prove the point that everything is subjective (because not ALL people agree)."
Is also kinda wrong. I'm not proving anything by disagreeing with you. And just because people don't agree doesn't make a thing untrue. No amount of people spitting on Botticelli's talent will make him less of a talented painter.

More subjective judgement posing as objective fact.

Disagreeing with you does not mean things are subjective. Because not everything is subject to your opinion and taste.
F = G*((m sub 1*m sub 2)/r^2) is the formula for gravity, and your opinion on it is irrelevant, and so is everyone else's. The only way you can disagree with this is through some hard maths, and good luck with disproving gravity.

People used to believe the the formula for gravity explained the movement of all bodies of matter. Now, scientists have proven that the formula breaks down (doesn't work) at the molecular level. Once again, what once was posed as objective fact is now unknown and subject to interpretation of the scientists trying to figure it out.

Let's put this one to rest :

The craft of writing, like any craft, is objective. Its value and appreciation are subjective.

The purpose of art is appreciation (the crass would also say art is for value).
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 11, 2017, 02:41:49 AM
Quote
The craft of writing, like any craft, is objective. Its value and appreciation are subjective.

And then it comes down again if the objective parts are merely the definition of a concept and what said concept does.

For example, Flashback: an interjected scene or point that takes the narrative back in time from the current point. Now let's practice it. I write what I ate today and start another chapter that later I couldn't sleep because of what I ate gave me stomach pains.

But that's not a flashback. You can point it out and explain why using the definition, like with the gravity formula, I can't prove it's incorrect. I will go and correct it. That's objective, in both learning it and applying it.

Now, there's more in how to do it than just writing something to nail the concept and how I keep learning how to do it is an entirely different matter.
I can end a chapter and start a new one when switching to a flashback scene, like Mark Lawrence does. I can have characters reminisce past events while still doing things in the present time and without paragraph or chapter breaks, like GRRM does. Like Rowling, I can use a timeturner to go see past events, or a memory storage spell/device like the pensieve as a plot device to see flashbacks of Voldemort's life.

We'll all learn what a flashback is and what is supposed to do. And you can say if I executed it right or know the correct definition. That's learning the craft, alright.
But so is finding out (or creating) new ways to use a flashback. That's also learning and improving the craft. And this is subjective. We may not even come across the same methods, or even if we read the same books, not notice them or think differently in how effective they are.

More importantly, you can't tell me, or prove it, that using time travel is using flashbacks incorrectly. Or when not starting a new chapter when a flashback begins. Or give me exact numbers of how much flashback is too much that will make me reduce their amount.

Again, this is subjective to each one of us. And isn't that also learning, applying and improving the craft? Isn't it part of the whole continuous process?

So there is objectivity and applying the craft... and also subjectivity.

But what's more important? For me, specially regarding someone as talented, it's the subjective part that matters more or at least the one with the most impact when doing it.

I think you also said in another post that there was no subjectivity when creating art in any form. But what about our stories and the themes, the characterization, the plot, the worldbuilding, the tone, the narration style, etc? Aren't those choices subjective?

What we value and appreciate is indeed subjective...but you say that as if what we value and appreciate didn't influence what and how we write, whether it's how we approach a theme or how we use elements like POV, tone, narration style, etc.

Again, what's the objective part of say, flashback, one of the elements of the craft? The definition of it and if you used it correctly by writing something that happened in the past?
I and anyone else can in 2 minutes learn that and even write something to prove it. If that's all, then just like that me and a lot of people are just as well-versed in flashbacks as GRRM, Shakespeare, Rowling... because what else they do with it, how they do it, and how well we think they do it, that's what gonna make the difference, that's what gonna make them stand from everyone else who also knows the concept and what it does, and that it's totally subjective, isn't it?
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 11, 2017, 08:31:05 AM

On the subject of big macs, NOW YOU'VE GONE TO FAR! DON'T DIS THE BIG MAC.


Since you all seem to be ignoring everything I said about objectivity/subjectivity/art/talent but not my comments about memes/gifs etc. I'll just leave you with this very important link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcJFdCmN98s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcJFdCmN98s)
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 11, 2017, 12:50:13 PM
This has been an interesting discussion! We've gone from Talent to Subjectivity/Objectivity and Concept. And as interesting and contentious as these are, there's still Literary Device (and all the other Devices), Skill, Technique, Effect, and the really specialized terms relating to writing/literary arts: pathos, bathos, etc.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: ultamentkiller on August 12, 2017, 06:51:09 PM
Justin Jordan, a comic book writer friend, offered probably the most in depth (and savage) of the reviews floating in my fb feed:

Quote from: Justin Jordan
Things I have learned reading 32% of Ready Player One
1. This book is godawful
2. There's literally no plot for the first 18% of the book. A fifth of the book. LITERALLY. NO. PLOT.
3. This book is godawful.
4. The author either doesn't know how far 5 kilometers is, or hasn't thought through the effect of limiting the people on a particular world, a school world, to a not very fast walk. Although later the character sprints.
5. As yet, the nostalgia is.....listing things from the 80's. Not anything about why these things are special, or what made them interesting, or anything. Just....listing them.
6. I've read seven other books while getting to 32% of Ready Player One.
7. Even if the rest of this book is amazing, it's not going to make up for this 32%.
8. Even if Spielberg makes a movie worse than 1941, it will still be better than the source material.
9. Seriously, what is wrong with you people.
10. This book is godawful.

Gonna be honest here. Comments like this (your FB friend, Bradley) really annoy me, and not just because I enjoyed the book. BTW, this is not directed at you specifically, Bradley, just a comment on the Internet at large.

Because of the social nature of the Internet, there is an annoying tendency of folks to try to one-up each other in how they insult things, *especially* once someone (like an author) finds mainstream success. As soon as an author gets a big deal, rather than congratulating them and saying "Hey, good on you, fellow nerd, you've made it!" the tendency (because of jealousy, or another reason) is to pile on and say "Well you don't deserve that. Your book is terrible and you're a terrible writer." It happens so often.

Ready Player One's success as a book (and the fact that it's now coming out as a movie) have made it the latest target of Internet scorn, and honestly, it makes me sad (and it would even if I didn't like the book).

Basically, here's what I see:
- One person says (quite reasonably) "Eh, I read Ready Player One, but it just didn't grab me. Wasn't for me." Totally cool! What we like is subjective.
- The next person, wanting to one up them, says "Yeah, Ready Player One was really poorly written. I DNF'd it on the first chapter" (quality writing is incredibly subjective, but okay, you didn't like it)
- The next person, wanting to one up both, says "Yeah, Ready Player One is a steaming pile of crap and the worst book I've ever read anywhere in the whole of existence. Reading it is like having hot pokers shoved in my eyes while a sabertooth tiger rips out my intestines". Like seriously dude, what?
- And so on and so on...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

I dunno. Maybe it's just me (the last example I can thing of where people trashed a super-successful author and her work was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer) but I wish we wouldn't pile on like this. Twilight is actually a perfect example because I *didn't* like it. It wasn't for me, but I'm glad so many people enjoyed it and hope it got them into reading more SFF. I'm also glad for Meyer and wish her all the success in the world.

Am I off base here?

EDIT: To be super clear, I think everyone should clearly state their preference on books (I liked it, I didn't like it) etc and authors should be ready for that. I just see Internet comments, specifically, spiraling into absurdity because people want to one up each other on how thoroughly they can trash the latest book to succeed.
I think you're missing the point of the Facebook post. Yes, he didn't like the book, and I completely agree with everything he says. But he's not attacking the author or the fans because he hates them. He's insulting a book he regards as little more than paper with filled in lines and making me laugh about it.

Oh sure, if you go in depth with people they can tell you why they didn't like something. But why do we always have to be thoughtful? Can't people insult something for the sake of humor? Because insulting is very fun at times! Half of jokes are insulting. Does that mean we should stop making them?

Yes, you see this in writing because of the Internet. But I doubt the Internet is causing these things to happen. People naturally make jokes and insult things we don't like. It's just who we are. Is it something we shouldn't do? Maybe. But no one's going to stop soon. I love making fun of things to get laughter out of a group. It's one of the things that makes me smile. Am I doing it because I truly believe the book is overrated? Of course. Am I happy they're making a movie out of it? of course, because I'll like it better than the book. Am I confused as to why people rave about it? Of course. So I'll make fun of it and laugh, because it makes me feel better when people laugh with me.

Call me terrible if you like, but I hope these guys continue posting stuff like this about anything they don't like, even if it's something I do. If it makes me smile, that's all that matters.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 12, 2017, 07:27:45 PM
Thing is, not any review is the same.

There are emotional/sensational reviews : "Ahhh, this was like a can full of compressed orgasms!" or "I had to cover this in salt, holy water and exorcise it by fire, it was this vile".

Those are general, expressing emotions, trying to get a nod, smile or chuckle out of whoever will read them.
If you found the reviewers and sat them down and told them to write a short, objective review of the book, they'd probably go into details of what they disliked : "Weak prose, clumsy dialogue, apparent lack of plot..."
An objective/serious review ought to focus on those aspects only.

And I think a good review contains a bit of both. Once you've told what irked you, you can wax lyrical, especially if you want to express how the book made you feel. Or, I guess, if you have a big readership hoping for a show.

Attacking other readers for it isn't ever justified, but it's hardly a feeling we can help having. We can not voice it of course... But who hasn't put down something that was so atrocious, you wonder who gave it the green light for publication, and who the hell enjoys it?
I won't throw the stone. That's how I feel about most women's magazines and sensational press like the Sun. People's mags, etc.

We have liberty of expression, and so long as it doesn't fall into hate speach or hate campaigns, I can't see why we'd be against it. Today it might be on that book you love, tomorrow you might be ranting on a book you hate, and quickly forget what it was to be in the shoes of someone who liked it.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Yora on August 12, 2017, 09:29:52 PM
The same rule goes for reviews that also goes for stories:

Show, don't tell.  8)

Whether you like something or not usually matters little to other people. Reviews should ideally give an impression of what to expect and leave it to the readers whether that sounds like something they want to read or not. When I want to get information about new videogames I've heard about, I always go looking for reviews that gave it a 4 to 6. Those tend to be the ones that put the most thought into what's actually there and argue what about those is good or bad. Anything with a 0 or 10 is completely useless.

I had a training course last week for my gardener training and we were taught to arrange plants in a large pot according to certain rules. Because even when the customer selects a collection of plants that we find absolutely dreadful, we still have to be able to arrange them in a way that looks good to people who like that combination. Whether we like the end result doesn't matter. But by following a set of rules and patterns we can make something that fits other peoples' tastes even if we think it's ugly.
An ideal review should also follow such rules so that reviewers can provide us with information we need to make our own (preliminary) judgement, regardless of whether they like the work themselves or not.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: ultamentkiller on August 13, 2017, 04:28:10 AM
I need to apologize.
For some reason, I saw that there were 2 pages of discussion, not 6. So I wasn't tracking things when I wrote that post. Your discussion on objectivity verses subjectivity was absolutely fantastic, and I am not near smart enough to weigh in. but keep it up. I feel like I'm interrupting something beautiful.

Also, I did not mean to suggest that all reviews should be humorous or whatever. I simply enjoy the humorous insulting ones but would not rely on them to judge a book.

Carry on!
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 13, 2017, 05:41:21 AM
For me, when it comes to OBJECTIVELY judging "talent", there are three things we can judge objectively:

1) Is the language clear and readable? (you may not like it, but you can still understand it)
2) Is the book riddled with typos, or clean? (you can count # of typos per book)
3) How well has the book sold? (# of copies)

IMO, these three statistics (most importantly, number 3) are the best OBJECTIVE measure of if a writer is talented. Everything else is subjective difference of opinion. Talent, as I'm defining it, is the writer's ability to succeed in their chosen profession (writing). Those with talent succeed. This is not to say those who don't succeed lack talent (and I acknowledge luck plays a part) but that people who claim successful writers lack talent are being disingenuous.

I was thinking again about this. Talent in something as subjective as art can't be measured. Yes, you can point a typo or what brush you should have used, etc. But nobody reads or create stories because of techniques and craft concepts. People read and write to escape, to experience new things, to wonder... to feel. That's what makes the difference. That's what matters, all things considered.

However, we still try it to measure it somehow. Why? My theory is that the world is too harsh, too unpredictable and too... aimless (forgot the word I was gonna use. Oh well). So by our own very human nature we try to make some sense of it. To have some proof we can have at least control of some things. The more logical oriented minds even more. In fact, in a lot of things we need to be able to objectively know it.

We can measure financial success. The performances of athletes down to decimals of seconds. Our health status. The prices of things.

Something like talent would be no exception. No one can say someone is talented by running some checklist on a story. And that's where sales numbers and popularity come in. No, they don't tell that someone is talented, but they are the only information we have to serve as a measurable parameter.

If there are millions of writers out there, and that one is at the top of the sales chart... then they must be talented. Right? Well, not exactly (and that would be subjective).

Clear and readable language along with lack of typos aren't good parameters either. There are tons of writers out there that have those but that evoke no emotion or amazement. Or fail too much at some other element that good prose or perfect grammar doesn't matter. And while these can make you enjoy a story more or even not make you abandon a novel with a bad story, they won't change the essence of a story.

Let's use 50 Shades as an example again. If it had a fantastic level of prose, no typos and awkward sentences, if every word repeated dozens or even hundreds of times were not used more than five times and all the commas properly placed... It would still be the same story. The girl who meets the guy and sign a pseudo-BDSM contract. The problematic aspects that raised red flags to a lot of people would still be there. Ana, Christian and José would still be the same characters.

I'm sure there are people who quit it because of the writing. But reading most of the complaints about the book, they would still hate it anyway regardless of the level of writing. Bashing 50 Shades because of this for them is simply beating the dead horse.

Then one could suggest how characters, situations and tone could've been done. And then it's when it's no longer objective (if even the style correction above was) but subjective, as the story is no longer James', but someone else's view in how things should be handled.
We can tell her the amount of typos, the misplaced commas, cut enormous repetitions of words...but how to write a character or solve a situation, that's an entirely different thing.

And then about the whole thing that started the topic... 

Basically, here's what I see:
- One person says (quite reasonably) "Eh, I read Ready Player One, but it just didn't grab me. Wasn't for me." Totally cool! What we like is subjective.
- The next person, wanting to one up them, says "Yeah, Ready Player One was really poorly written. I DNF'd it on the first chapter" (quality writing is incredibly subjective, but okay, you didn't like it)
- The next person, wanting to one up both, says "Yeah, Ready Player One is a steaming pile of crap and the worst book I've ever read anywhere in the whole of existence. Reading it is like having hot pokers shoved in my eyes while a sabertooth tiger rips out my intestines". Like seriously dude, what?
- And so on and so on...

Again, I'm not just saying this just because I personally enjoyed the book (what books people like are subjective). I'm saying this because I wish we spent more time building each other up (as readers and authors) instead of tearing each other down. When an author who wrote a sci-fi/cyberpunk book selling an insane number of copies and got a movie made by WB and Stephen Speilberg succeeds, I wish we'd say "Good on you, Ernie Kline, even though I didn't personally like your book" instead of "This book is a steaming pile of garbage" with the implication that the person's success is undeserved.

Indeed it's harsh to say "this book is pure garbage and I can't believe it was published", but maybe that's what they really felt when reading it. What we like is subjective, after all.

But since objectivity came to appear here too, if it's possible to objectively say it's good, I'd say even saying "This book isn't for me, I didn't like the characters because they made some decisions I couldn't agree, the style of prose and the dialogue didn't work for me, maybe it'll work for you", that isn't objective either. It's just a well-educated subjective opinion in why the book didn't work for them according to their tastes.
   
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 13, 2017, 06:48:15 AM
Quote
The craft of writing, like any craft, is objective. Its value and appreciation are subjective.

And then it comes down again if the objective parts are merely the definition of a concept and what said concept does.
*snip*

I don't think it does. I think the idea of what a good flashback and a bad flashback does have objective meaning, as do the various corollaries of "If you do X, then do Y to counter balance".

I think there is a Common Standard of what constitutes Good and Bad when it comes to various parts of writing and that we are able to talk objectively about Good and Bad when it comes to that Standard. Measuring what someone had written against that standard is harder to do in terms of "This is Objectively Right and that's all there is to it" but one can certainly be objective in terms of putting aside whether you liked the book as a whole and measuring what was done well and what wasn't. And I think that to a certain extent, you can objectively measure the quality as lying in a certain part of the spectrum.

And the reason I believe this is that, because if this is not the case, how comes people are so often able to agree on what a book does well and doesn't do well when one person likes the book and another dislikes it? Hell, how comes we're all able to have so many conversations about books without having to stop every five seconds and ask "Excuse me, how do you define good worldbuilding?" How comes there so many points of similarity between creative writing curricula everywhere?

And if there is a Common Standard, then it stands to reason there's more than the definition that fall under the category of the at least partially objective.


Also, since Lanko's slipped in a post since I started writing this...

"I was thinking again about this. Talent in something as subjective as art can't be measured. Yes, you can point a typo or what brush you should have used, etc. But nobody reads or create stories because of techniques and craft concepts. People read and write to escape, to experience new things, to wonder... to feel. That's what makes the difference. That's what matters, all things considered."

Craft and technique totally matter to providing that escape, that sense of wonder, that feeling. Storytelling is, at its finest, direct and calculated manipulation of the reader's emotions to get the desired effect. Provoking emotional reactions is a craft and does involve technique.

Take foreshadowing. One of the uses of foreshadowing is to prime your reader to accept a certain logic chain, so when Protagonist A suddenly guns down Protagonist B, you get emotional responses of sadness and awe, rather than "Wtf that makes no sense".

Or take the concept of Sequels and Sequences, which lays down when to have your characters have their emotional responses after their big conflicts, all in order to cause the reader to empathise more with them.

And so on. When you come down to it, most bits of Storytelling craft and technique are either about making Suspension of Disbelief easier, so 'Wtf' stops interefering with their other emotions, or about the best order to show things in order to provoke emotions.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 13, 2017, 07:19:19 AM
There's a slimmer, more objective use of 'talent' to describe someone who skillfully adheres to a doctrine or approach, such as a mystery writer who adheres to the 'rules' of a whodunit (killer is among the suspects; the method and motive are presented, but obscured). These are objectively defined and can be objectively seen.
Unconventional departures from this use (adherence to rules) are, in many ways, difficult to objectively measure, because they've literally left the yardstick behind. Deciding which are or are not "good", etc., requires using some other yardstick - such as popularity or other "success"-based measures.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 13, 2017, 07:41:48 AM
Quote
The craft of writing, like any craft, is objective. Its value and appreciation are subjective.

And then it comes down again if the objective parts are merely the definition of a concept and what said concept does.
*snip*

I don't think it does. I think the idea of what a good flashback and a bad flashback does have objective meaning, as do the various corollaries of "If you do X, then do Y to counter balance".

I think there is a Common Standard of what constitutes Good and Bad when it comes to various parts of writing and that we are able to talk objectively about Good and Bad when it comes to that Standard. Measuring what someone had written against that standard is harder to do in terms of "This is Objectively Right and that's all there is to it" but one can certainly be objective in terms of putting aside whether you liked the book as a whole and measuring what was done well and what wasn't. And I think that to a certain extent, you can objectively measure the quality as lying in a certain part of the spectrum.

Could you provide examples?

Yes, I certainly can put aside everything I liked in a book and what I didn't and why I think it was done well and wasn't.
But what other measure can I use other than my own preferences and views? And even level of understanding, whether the subject or the technique used. Or authorial intent.

We here can all choose a book or create a story to do this and even if somehow we end up with a 100% consensus on everything supposedly objectively analyzed, would be really fine to say it was an objective analysis or just that we found more people who shared the same subjective feelings and opinions when discussing the book?

And the reason I believe this is that, because if this is not the case, how comes people are so often able to agree on what a book does well and doesn't do well when one person likes the book and another dislikes it? Hell, how comes we're all able to have so many conversations about books without having to stop every five seconds and ask "Excuse me, how do you define good worldbuilding?" How comes there so many points of similarity between creative writing curricula everywhere?

Regarding the specific part I highlighted in red, it's easy. We're not interested in talking about the technique used or the definition of good worldbuilding or characterization when discussing what we liked and didn't in a book.

We talk about the reactions we felt. Readers, or at least I believe most of them, read to feel not to analyze (I mean here the craft, not that you don't think about what happened in a story).

And if there is a Common Standard, then it stands to reason there's more than the definition that fall under the category of the at least partially objective.

Common Standard is an interesting name. But what is it?

Another thing that I thought. In the past getting published was really, really hard. There was no self-publishing. Publishers didn't release a large number of books. Gatekeepers were various. If someone made in it was very usually perceived as a sign that writer was definitely, at least in his genre or to his target audience, very talented. Being traditionally published had prestige, which probably also added another factor to the "do you have talent" pool.

But today there's more than one million books being released and gatekeepers can be easily bypassed.

Anyway, those publishers, editors and agents had submission guidelines and even more guidelines regarding editing and etc.
They still do. I wonder if that would be one of the standard common, or a minimum threshold. Yet we all see the things that get published.
So if it can be analyzed in such a way of standard common or some quality control and that is objective, how come all those editors and publishers don't point it or use it on those works? Or is 50 Shades the very minimum threshold? Or a standard common?

Anyway, examples! On books or stories.

Craft and technique totally matter to providing that escape, that sense of wonder, that feeling. Storytelling is, at its finest, direct and calculated manipulation of the reader's emotions to get the desired effect. Provoking emotional reactions is a craft and does involve technique.

Take foreshadowing. One of the uses of foreshadowing is to prime your reader to accept a certain logic chain, so when Protagonist A suddenly guns down Protagonist B, you get emotional responses of sadness and awe, rather than "Wtf that makes no sense".

Or take the concept of Sequels and Sequences, which lays down when to have your characters have their emotional responses after their big conflicts, all in order to cause the reader to empathise more with them.

And so on. When you come down to it, most bits of Storytelling craft and technique are either about making Suspension of Disbelief easier, so 'Wtf' stops interefering with their other emotions, or about the best order to show things in order to provoke emotions.

Extremely interesting and I agree that storytelling at its finest is calculated manipulation. Though in parts.

We may know we need foreshadow so the reader will buy later (or even deduce early) what's gonna happen. We may know what foreshadow is and the purpose we intend to evoke with it. Now, and that's the important part, that will really break or make the story, is... how to actually do it.

And I mean the choices involved, not the skill with prose or anything else.

Because there are many techniques in how to do it, like earlier I used flashback. Mark Lawrence has Jorg directly telling us what he was doing. GRRM has the character thinking about the past instead. Rowling uses time travel.

So even though we know we need to foreshadow the event... how will we choose the approach. More importantly, how we determine it's the best one for what we intend?

And while everyone can analyze and say and agree you do need to foreshadow what's gonna happen, how to properly pull it off is a matter of choices, and one you won't be able to objectively say "it needs to be done THIS way with THIS approach" but rather "I believe it needs to be done this way". And that we'll be based entirely on our subjective views on the matter. Or how that's the way we wanted to write it, no other rationalized reason.

And when others read our story, they won't talk that we wrote a foreshadow in the right place. But what actually happened in it. And that's what's gonna make or break it. And it will be entirely their (and ours too) subjective reaction.

In the end it uses both approaches, since art requires technique but it's technique purely to evoke feelings and emotions (and regarding those, you can at best offer subjective advice).
But for me it's far easier to teach craft to someone who can naturally evoke feelings and emotions but lack knowledge of concepts and what they do than to teach someone who knows all the possible ins and outs of the craft to write truthfully about feelings and emotions. This person can and will learn... but subjectively in his own way.
 
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 13, 2017, 10:43:45 AM

Could you provide examples?

Yes, I certainly can put aside everything I liked in a book and what I didn't and why I think it was done well and wasn't.
But what other measure can I use other than my own preferences and views? And even level of understanding, whether the subject or the technique used. Or authorial intent.

We here can all choose a book or create a story to do this and even if somehow we end up with a 100% consensus on everything supposedly objectively analyzed, would be really fine to say it was an objective analysis or just that we found more people who shared the same subjective feelings and opinions when discussing the book?

For measuring devices, you have your own preferences and views, then you have individual expert preferences and views, then you have the consensus view. Sadly, there is something of an absence of consensus views available to use other than our own memories of conversations and the blunt aggregate ratings from Amazon/GR, but its better than nothing. So that's two subjective measuring devices and one quasi-objective one. It's like we're trying to measure someone for clothes but, while we all know what a metre/yard (country depending) is, someone's stolen all the measuring devices.

And that subjectivity means it'll never be wholly objective, and you'll never get say five people agreeing 100% on a book... but man, if you did, I'd call that proof of objectivity because when do five people agree 100% on anything? Either you hit the lottery or its proof of objectivity. But then, it would never happen. But I have seen a pretty near 100% consensus on Brandon Sanderson doing good magic systems, for whatever that's worth.

Anyway, an example. Lets use info dumps.

Definition - A big chunk of text that does nothing but tell the reader things about the story. Although even here's it a bit subjective, as some people include dialogue (I do, gods I do) and some don't.

But lets go further.

99% of people will tell you to be very careful when using info dumps as they can send a reader to sleep. 99% of people will tell you that you'll probably have to end up using them anyway in speculative fiction as elsewise you'll confuse the reader. I'd say that's an at least semi-objective statement about their usage.

Now a corollary - "Make info dumps into conversations between two people, and you're less likely to send people to sleep"

Sub-corollary 1 - "The conversation has to be natural. Don't have characters telling each other what they know, particularly don't have them go 'As you know' first, don't have them make random statements linked to the protagonist to slide us extra info" etc.etc.

Sub-sub-corollary 1 - "If you're going to do this a lot, have a character who doesn't know a lot about the world and give them mentors who do".

Corollary 2 - "The more little bits of information you can slip into ordinary scenes, the less time you need to spend info dumping"

Sub-Corollary 2.1 - "Readers might miss this, so repeat the information a few times if you want them to remember"

Sub-Corollary 2.2 - "Don't do this in fast-paced high stakes scenes like fight scenes".

Corollary 3 - "Make it super interesting and they won't fall asleep".

And so on. How much of this is objective you may ask? With the exception of 2.2 which I just made up, this is all advice I've seen given a few times at least. Everything up to corollary 2 I've seen given countless times (I got carried away).

But - here's the kicker, and before you say it - the relevance of these bits of advice about the Info Dump lies in the eyes of the writer, and that's all subjective. Someone might decide they'll never do Info Dump by Conversation and never need to know that bit. Hell, some brave souls might just go Info Dump free (and a few will make it work and be hailed as geniuses who've proven you don't need them, and no one will ever know about the vast majority who don't). But, the worth of this advice is still objective. I think.

Regarding the specific part I highlighted in red, it's easy. We're not interested in talking about the technique used or the definition of good worldbuilding or characterization when discussing what we liked and didn't in a book.

We talk about the reactions we felt. Readers, or at least I believe most of them, read to feel not to analyze (I mean here the craft, not that you don't think about what happened in a story).

Right, we're not (mostly).

But we still have to have a common definition for it to make sense. We aren't interested in the definition, but only because we all know it.

Besides, we do have more than a few conversations here about the technical side of writing, and they generally aren't full of asking for definition. And I'd add that's the case on the more writer-focused SFF forums I use too.

Common Standard is an interesting name. But what is it?

Another thing that I thought. In the past getting published was really, really hard. There was no self-publishing. Publishers didn't release a large number of books. Gatekeepers were various. If someone made in it was very usually perceived as a sign that writer was definitely, at least in his genre or to his target audience, very talented. Being traditionally published had prestige, which probably also added another factor to the "do you have talent" pool.

But today there's more than one million books being released and gatekeepers can be easily bypassed.

Anyway, those publishers, editors and agents had submission guidelines and even more guidelines regarding editing and etc.
They still do. I wonder if that would be one of the standard common, or a minimum threshold. Yet we all see the things that get published.
So if it can be analyzed in such a way of standard common or some quality control and that is objective, how come all those editors and publishers don't point it or use it on those works? Or is 50 Shades the very minimum threshold? Or a standard common?

Anyway, examples! On books or stories.

Well I'm glad you like the name, I just invented it :P

Because that's the thing. I'm convinced the Common Standard is a thing, but no one really talks about it. There isn't a set definition or anything, yet I might have 20 or so conversations about writing a day with people from all over the Anglosphere and beyond, and I can throw out a bunch of terms and everyone knows what it means, and I'll get fairly reliably consistent answers on whether Rothfuss/James has good prose, whether Sanderson has a good magic system and bad love stories, whether Lawrence's writing has a dark tone, whether this sentence ran on too long etc.etc. I do not see how this doesn't happen without a lot of shared assumptions about writing and stories.

I would also add that getting trad published i.e. published by a publisher who pays you money is harder than ever and for the most part is still a pretty good sign of a minimum level of quality. There's a few small publishers cutting corners but most times, it means the basic levels of craft are decent. Which still doesn't mean people will like it, but hey.

It certainly adds a lot to prestige, I've had enough author friends comment on the difference in response they get for being trad published.

But, as a rule, I wouldn't say that the publishing gatekeepers are setting the shared assumptions that make up the Common Standard. Unfortunately I struggle to explain the idea better than I have already.


Extremely interesting and I agree that storytelling at its finest is calculated manipulation. Though in parts.

We may know we need foreshadow so the reader will buy later (or even deduce early) what's gonna happen. We may know what foreshadow is and the purpose we intend to evoke with it. Now, and that's the important part, that will really break or make the story, is... how to actually do it.

And I mean the choices involved, not the skill with prose or anything else.

Because there are many techniques in how to do it, like earlier I used flashback. Mark Lawrence has Jorg directly telling us what he was doing. GRRM has the character thinking about the past instead. Rowling uses time travel.

So even though we know we need to foreshadow the event... how will we choose the approach. More importantly, how we determine it's the best one for what we intend?

And while everyone can analyze and say and agree you do need to foreshadow what's gonna happen, how to properly pull it off is a matter of choices, and one you won't be able to objectively say "it needs to be done THIS way with THIS approach" but rather "I believe it needs to be done this way". And that we'll be based entirely on our subjective views on the matter. Or how that's the way we wanted to write it, no other rationalized reason.

And when others read our story, they won't talk that we wrote a foreshadow in the right place. But what actually happened in it. And that's what's gonna make or break it. And it will be entirely their (and ours too) subjective reaction.

In the end it uses both approaches, since art requires technique but it's technique purely to evoke feelings and emotions (and regarding those, you can at best offer subjective advice).
But for me it's far easier to teach craft to someone who can naturally evoke feelings and emotions but lack knowledge of concepts and what they do than to teach someone who knows all the possible ins and outs of the craft to write truthfully about feelings and emotions. This person can and will learn... but subjectively in his own way.

Ultimately, yes. The choice of how to do the foreshadowing will be a subjective one.

But all the info about how to do it is and your choices and the ramifications of your choices is mostly objective. And just because there's a variety of choices available doesn't mean there isn't objective information available about them helping you pick the right way.

And just because most readers won't be talking about the Foreshadow, or the use of the Info Dump, or how much the Villain was used to mirror the Hero, or Scene Length, or proper ordering in a Sequel, or great use of the Three Act Structure and a bunch of other stuff... doesn't mean it isn't incredibly important. If you do not structure your story right, then no amount of great ideas, prose, characters and so on will save you (999 times out of a 1000) because they're buried under reader frustration. Sure, when the readers love it, they'll be talking about Characters and Ideas and shizzle... but they were only able to love it because those parts got the right stage to shine on. People turn up to a music festival to see the bands, but there's no bands without a lot of logistics.

Besides, I'd also say that Ideation and Characterisation are also parts of the craft subject to the same objective standard with subjective measuring tape.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 13, 2017, 01:13:56 PM
Well, this is interesting. What you believe it's objective I believe it's subjective and vice-versa  ::)

Again, even using Sanderson (and ignoring the contrary views on magic systems) we might have a case of simple shared feelings and opinions of what they liked.
We can like the magic system, the plot twist, the big reveal, the style of battles, etc... It's possible to be both subjective and objective, if we consider why it worked for you and many others as "what you enjoyed", even explaining why with mostly feelings or r why we didn't because a character acted stupidly for plot convenience and why or that revolver model the character used only carries 7 bullets but the character shot 14 times and that absolutely killed it for you.

The corollaries you provided are exactly what I've been talking in previous posts. We get the definition and what it does. Then comes the advice, which for you is objective and for me subjective, even if it's something like "try to avoid large info dumps because tend to slow your story" because how exactly is too large? And slows by how much? We do it by instinct (our own belief) of what is too large and too slow.

"You can use it as dialogue between characters, but it make it look natural". How do I know it's looking natural?  "Make it super interesting!" Well, shit... again, how the heck I know it is?
"Don't do it in fast paced battles". This one is actually pretty solid but look how it uses "don't" and a specific, clear situation it can't be used. This one was pretty objective exactly because it doesn't sound like general advice and doesn't have the ambiguousness of "make it look natural, make it interesting, make it short..." it says "don't" instead of "try to avoid". On the other hand, it also looks like a rule. But maybe actually one needed for that specific situation. Or maybe it's still subjective because I'm the one who uses it almost as a rule...

I'm also convinced, like you, that Common Standard exists. But for you it's objective. For me it's subjective, intuitive.

Why? Because I believe when most of us, if not all, open a book and see it's badly written, or bland characters, too slow or too frenetic, disjointed... we can do it by intuition. Specially if we read a lot and have a lot to compare with. Or maybe even that is not really needed.

Even readers without any intention of writing can do it. They may never even come across or care to know the concepts of the craft, but they just feel and can say why X didn't work for them and nail it exactly (the feelings I mean) without ever touching the technical aspects of it. That's what most reviewers, even paid ones, do.

Even the decisions on what technique or approach to take is for me subjective because you are going mostly with what you believe is right, without fully knowing it is. Yes, we can create some absurd examples to say no, but in the most cases, it's on your instinct.
You even said "unless you structure your story right" and I'm gonna reply with "How do I structure my story right?" Tons of possible choices. Which one is the right one? The one I believe it is... save something that can really only be done a certain way, but I can't think of one right now.

Another example? It isn't rare to see a 1* or 2* star review saying that they had problems with X about a book, then another with 4* or 5* saying it's totally justified criticism or even pointing it out on their own review. So problem pointed, agreed and even explanations to why. Objective and to the point, right? Yet, two different reactions, even while recognizing the problem. Pure subjectiveness.
Well, with this example, is more probable that both approaches work in conjunction, but ultimately it's the subjective one that stands out more, for both writer and reader, at least that's how I see it so far.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 14, 2017, 03:15:39 AM
Something I was thinking, since we talked a lot about craft lately. Nothing about obj/subj now.

Someone studying medicine has a clear beginning-middle-end path in learning until an institution or whatever approves him and says to him "now you are a doctor and can diagnose people", for example.
Or "now you are apt to fly an airplane". Or build a bridge, or perform surgery and so on.

But writing doesn't have (and doesn't need, I believe) such clear path or "now you are a writer able to properly write a book and sell it".
Writers with 30, 40 or 50 years of career say how they still keep learning new things in how to do stuff or experimenting or even after so much time still have some glaring issues in some parts of the craft.

I realized that we talked a lot about the craft, but what are actually all the elements that compose it? I think we can cite a lot of them, but do we have or even know all of them? Do we have such a list? Or just the very basics? I tried searching it, and maybe I didn't search correctly, and I found various elements, or advice, or common mistakes, etc... but not one with all of them. If there is such a thing.

To keep learning new aspects of it seems infinite, a process without end. But now I'm wondering where does it actually even begins.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 14, 2017, 03:34:23 AM
I think that's why there's a line between the arts and sciences. Arts cannot be learned wholly from the methodologies, or at least, not to an extent that guarantees ... anything. But, like sales and dating, some can take to it quite naturally - or at least, to a point.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 14, 2017, 04:33:56 AM
I think that's why there's a line between the arts and sciences. Arts cannot be learned wholly from the methodologies, or at least, not to an extent that guarantees ... anything. But, like sales and dating, some can take to it quite naturally - or at least, to a point.

Yea... and I think that's why I believe that the bulk of it is subjective. Because beyond the concepts and its use, how to learn new ways to use it, to keep learning, expanding, improving and applying it are also part of dominating the craft... but a part that doesn't involve a methodology, at best general advice, even if it's extremely sound and totally subjective to our perception, preference and I believe most of the time, pure instinct.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Peat on August 14, 2017, 06:28:03 AM
But writing doesn't have (and doesn't need, I believe) such clear path or "now you are a writer able to properly write a book and sell it".

Sure it does! Did you write a book and sell it? Congrats, you are now a writer able to properly write a book and sell it!  :P

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I realized that we talked a lot about the craft, but what are actually all the elements that compose it? I think we can cite a lot of them, but do we have or even know all of them? Do we have such a list? Or just the very basics? I tried searching it, and maybe I didn't search correctly, and I found various elements, or advice, or common mistakes, etc... but not one with all of them. If there is such a thing.

To keep learning new aspects of it seems infinite, a process without end. But now I'm wondering where does it actually even begins.

I don't think anyone's tried doing it, no.. Or if they have, its not often talked about. The art of writing stories often strikes me as one of the more haphazardly organised branches of the creative arts.

That said, I would argue that the three main branches of the craft are

1) Ideation - The ability to form and refine great ideas. Coming up with story concepts, characters, world building, and so on.

2) Storytelling - The ability to take those ideas and present them in a story that engages people.

3) Writing - The ability to write said story in clear and engaging prose.

Pretty much everything falls in one of those (except marketing).
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 14, 2017, 12:04:57 PM
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Writers with 30, 40 or 50 years of career say how they still keep learning new things in how to do stuff or experimenting or even after so much time still have some glaring issues in some parts of the craft.

Oh wow, have you met a surgeon 30 years in his career who said he didn't need to learn anymore?? I hope you didn't let him operate on you for anything fancy!

Seriously, no one in a craft stops learning. Ever. No master of craft X will tell you he has reached a summit and that there is nothing left for him to learn that could better his technique. We perpetually invent new things, new techniques, new materials, new conditions.

Also, many treatise and books have been written on art and its theories and how we learn and progress through it.

Look at Picasso. As a teen he was so good at drawing realistically, he started drawing with his left hand out of boredom. He had learned everything he could in that field and was a master at it, and proceeded to move into painting and from there into a crazy career of "deconstruction" (cubism, etc). This, he could do well only because he knew how to construct very well to begin with.
He had the ability to draw, paint, and decided to go beyond, and did, with a style unique and now famous. It's the same as an author going into something quite new and trying a different prose.

Sadly I think the ultimate art (with least interference) is music, then visual arts, then writing. Writers depend on making grammatical sense, engaging the reader for days, and said reader must be educated enough to be able to read, and appreciate a certain level there as well.
Writers can't go as wild as painters. And even though some education is required to read paintings, appreciating one subjectively because it's pretty can suffice, and only requires functional eyes.

Surgeons learn as science progresses, and sometimes the progress is wrong or false and will need to backtrack.
Art progresses as new things are tried and new themes tackled. But the sum of all craft is there for you to learn and pick up if you wish to.
Do you want to learn carving? Or etching? Printing? On screens, or with lithography, or common film photography? Or do you want to master watercolours, oils, gouache, or are you more into 3D stuff? Wanna spend 20 years mastering carving marble or want to go into the newest 3D printing technology?

Art has so much to offer you can't possibly master all of it. You'd even struggle to try everything in your life, so mastering it... no way.

But I think a master writer will have full control of everything that makes a great novel. Or script, or short story.
Because you can only do that with words. And there is only so much you can do with them, if they are to make grammatical sense (I exclude House of Leaves from this conversation).

So yeah, I'm pretty sure if we took all the greatest published authors of the century and asked them what makes a good writer, we'd be able to distillate the rules of the craft.
We definitely put a lot of magic around writing, but I think it's because of all the Arts, it the only one that makes us really hallucinate while looking at a printed page of paper.
You look at tiny scrawls, and your head fills with images. You read dialogue, and start fleshing out characters like people you've met and love. You feel for the people you read about. You cry like it's a transcript of something that really happened.
So after you go online and start defending that writing is the most magical of craft and entirely subjective (no, don't raise to that, I'm just finishing my point, not really saying it's what you say!!)

But it's not. You read a book that was written following rules, with a touch of the unique, because the author follows his own rules too, with his own unique voice and inflexions... But you reacted to that in a very subjective way.
That's the goal.

Just like people watching a great painting and tearing up from what it makes them feel, or being in awe... that doesn't stop the painter from having used correct perspective, extensive anatomical knowledge from thousands of nude drawings, and painting techniques he learned from his master, and improved by decades of practice flavoured by his own style.

See what I mean?
The book exists as an object, and we all have different reactions to it, and all make a different movie in our head as we read. One we like, or not... And then we go to critic the author and his work. And while some books have objective defects, your reaction is ultimately always subjective.
But if a writer indeed failed to accomplish one of those :

1) Ideation - The ability to form and refine great ideas. Coming up with story concepts, characters, world building, and so on.

2) Storytelling - The ability to take those ideas and present them in a story that engages people.

3) Writing - The ability to write said story in clear and engaging prose.

then it might well be objectively weak/bad/lacking. As these are definitely vital parts of the craft.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 14, 2017, 01:17:45 PM
Beginning-middle-end in the sense there's a conclusion of one path, but not final conclusion. I didn't say they stop learning. They can specialize, learn or discover new technologies or methods. Like you said, new discoveries makes it necessary to learn... or to backtrack.

Writing isn't, even as time passes. You don't need to use the new methods, styles or whatever that comes. You can see what it is, and not liking or not wanting to use it or whatever preference, can do it without a problem. I don't know if surgeons usually get that choice.

Because you can only do that with words. And there is only so much you can do with them, if they are to make grammatical sense (I exclude House of Leaves from this conversation).

What? What's this book about?

He had learned everything he could in that field and was a master at it, and proceeded to move into painting and from there into a crazy career of "deconstruction" (cubism, etc). This, he could do well only because he knew how to construct very well to begin with.

Very interesting. Totally agree you need to learn the rules to break them. And not just to affect the craft by creating new techniques. Take for example Grimdark. It uses the same craft everyone does, it was just a change in how it was usually used to tell most of the stories in a genre. A change born due to preferences and enjoyment.

Not totally subjective, that's for sure. But more than objective. There are rules, and like you said, they're flexible enough for authors to create their own, like you said. And isn't that the part that matters more?

@Peat, I liked the three big blocks. I think we can narrow it further to 10 blocks (that are still pretty big):

- Character
- Plot
- Setting
- Theme
- Style
- Structure
- Form
- Genre
- Narration
- Tense

Believe it or not, it took a lot of time to find this in list form... and that's because I even looked through the Table of Contents of a bazillion books about Writing Craft, techniques of writing, how to write...
And inside each one there's tons of other things. And that's still incomplete. Without any of the near endless advices. Got it from here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_narrative_techniques

And I don't think it lists conflicts and goals, or if they are inside one of those.

Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 14, 2017, 02:22:29 PM
Something I was thinking, since we talked a lot about craft lately. Nothing about obj/subj now.

Someone studying medicine has a clear beginning-middle-end path in learning until an institution or whatever approves him and says to him "now you are a doctor and can diagnose people", for example.
Or "now you are apt to fly an airplane". Or build a bridge, or perform surgery and so on.

But writing doesn't have (and doesn't need, I believe) such clear path or "now you are a writer able to properly write a book and sell it".
Writers with 30, 40 or 50 years of career say how they still keep learning new things in how to do stuff or experimenting or even after so much time still have some glaring issues in some parts of the craft.

I realized that we talked a lot about the craft, but what are actually all the elements that compose it? I think we can cite a lot of them, but do we have or even know all of them? Do we have such a list? Or just the very basics? I tried searching it, and maybe I didn't search correctly, and I found various elements, or advice, or common mistakes, etc... but not one with all of them. If there is such a thing.

To keep learning new aspects of it seems infinite, a process without end. But now I'm wondering where does it actually even begins.

Learning doesn't automatically stop because you get a license or earn a doctorate. Those are arbitrary limits set with a goal that relates to the society in which the skillset is used. A pilot's license is a way to inform society that its holder can fly a plane with an acceptable risk to themselves, their passengers, and their surroundings.

Let me say this again (and this is setting aside the discussion on objective/subjective): the components of writing (and telling stories) have names. It is not created by some ethereal, unnamable process. It is the combination of elements that can be identified. I honestly do not understand how one could believe otherwise, except for not having studied the craft.

The glossary of terms in the back of Imaginative Writing, Elements of the Craft by Janet Burroway – used by writing classes around the world – is nine pages long, and by no means exhaustive. The step beyond that would be to look at all the elements of language, revealing ever smaller components. Again, just because someone, or anyone, does not know each of their names does not mean they do not exist. We could learn more about the smaller components by studying linguistics and all its subsets: phonology, semantics, semiotics, et cetera.

Each of the components (and how they function in combination) constitutes knowledge that we are often taught to use well enough without knowing their names. So we can, for example, have a good chance to know how to pronounce a word correctly even if we've never read or heard it before. The reason is the universality of the components. This intuition is not a magical power (nothing is): intuition is a name for when we've learned something so well that we can access the information with little or no conscious effort.

And the deeper you go, the smaller the components get. In the end, everything we do, think, and imagine is created from the interaction of the core components of the universe as defined by physics. We can't explain it all, but that does not mean that there is no explanation. To summarise: believing that stories can be created out of nothing is magical thinking.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Lanko on August 14, 2017, 02:44:20 PM
intuition is a name for when we've learned something so well that we can access the information with little or no conscious effort.

I never thought about it this way before. Indeed the accumulation of studying the craft plus reading and noticing what works and doesn't, at least for each of us, will carry over to our own writing. Consciously we may recognize some of these things and even explain... and others unconsciously... but that's still a product of our subconscious working it out for us knowledge that we had cooking already.

Hm, now that's something to mull over.

And I'll take a look at this book you mentioned as well.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Nora on August 14, 2017, 03:17:17 PM
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Beginning-middle-end in the sense there's a conclusion of one path, but not final conclusion. I didn't say they stop learning. They can specialize, learn or discover new technologies or methods. Like you said, new discoveries makes it necessary to learn... or to backtrack.

Writing isn't, even as time passes. You don't need to use the new methods, styles or whatever that comes. You can see what it is, and not liking or not wanting to use it or whatever preference, can do it without a problem. I don't know if surgeons usually get that choice.

You think you can't skip new methods, styles, or whatever in visual arts? You can see gouache and not like it and stay an oil painter your entire career.
Surgeons are not practising an art, and they get little choice, though not all keep training, and not all learn the same things, even in the same branch.
Writing has less diversity because of the use of words, for sure, but I wasn't meaning the example to be literal.

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@Peat, I liked the three big blocks. I think we can narrow it further to 10 blocks (that are still pretty big):

- Character
- Plot
- Setting
(...)

Believe it or not, it took a lot of time to find this in list form...

Snif. Kind of miffed, cause I already tackled that and offered a way of maybe defining talent seriously and even did a diagram, while trying to list those and you guys didn't notice/remember.

*goes to pout somewhere else*

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Each of the components (and how they function in combination) constitutes knowledge that we are often taught to use well enough without knowing their names. So we can, for example, have a good chance to know how to pronounce a word correctly even if we've never read or heard it before. The reason is the universality of the components. This intuition is not a magical power (nothing is): intuition is a name for when we've learned something so well that we can access the information with little or no conscious effort.

That is exact, and a huge reason why we see so much magic in writing, and more craft in painting or music, because we don't all learn to play the violin or paint as soon as we've mastered walking, while we all (hopefully) get to learn reading and writing as toddlers, and practice it all our life. A huge part of our learning goes through it too, and most other crafts will be learned later/in parallel. So by the time you pick up a "hobby", writing doesn't feel like a craft.
Title: Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
Post by: Magnus Hedén on August 28, 2017, 03:29:55 PM
So, the book I just finished touches on some of the bigger subjects here (as well as, well, everything). It's called The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. I think it's safe to say it's the most fascinating non-fiction book I have ever read (luckily, the very premise of the book suggests there will always be something even more fascinating). It discusses how our potential for progress (in science and art) is infinite, and how there are such things as objective morality and beauty. I can't begin to sum up how Deutsch makes these arguments; it took me well over a month to read the book because it often made me stop and think. I feel like I should just start over. Anyway, I can heartily recommend it.

@Bradley Darewood I think you'd enjoy it! There are parts that relate to the discussion we never finished about science, and Deutsch argues the case better than I ever could. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.