October 23, 2017, 07:15:06 AM

Author Topic: Is "Talent" Subjective?  (Read 2757 times)

Offline Nora

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #60 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 :





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 :



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.
« Last Edit: August 06, 2017, 02:29:43 PM by Nora »
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #61 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!
« Last Edit: August 06, 2017, 10:26:53 PM by Magnus Hedén »
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Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #62 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
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Offline Nora

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #63 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.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #64 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".
« Last Edit: August 07, 2017, 09:36:54 AM by Lanko »
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Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #65 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.
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Offline Nora

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #66 on: August 07, 2017, 10:55:48 AM »
Quote
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.

Quote
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.

Quote
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).

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #67 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. :)
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #68 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.
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Offline Lanko

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #69 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...

Quote
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.
« Last Edit: August 08, 2017, 09:15:52 AM by Lanko »
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #70 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.
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Offline Not Lu

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #71 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).
« Last Edit: August 10, 2017, 06:07:05 PM by Not Lu »

Offline Lanko

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #72 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?
« Last Edit: August 10, 2017, 06:58:53 PM by Lanko »
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #73 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.
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Offline Peat

Re: Is "Talent" Subjective?
« Reply #74 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.
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