Showing posts with label opinions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label opinions. Show all posts

Jul 2, 2018

Picky, Picky, Picky!

As a kid I was known as a picky eater. Basically, if my mother didn't make it, I was suspicious, and my aunts learned to keep a jar of peanut butter around. That I'd always eat.
Today, I'm less picky about food, but as a consumer of entertainment, I'm still picky. I know that sometimes that comes off as sour grapes or the I-could-do-it-better attitude. That might be true.

I need some sort of logic in my comedy. Anything billed as "zany" or "madcap" is liable to go unread/watched. There are ways to do zany well--Mel Brooks comes to mind--but most of the time I get tired of silliness portrayed as comedic genius. I don't like those people. They need to grow up.

I need plot authenticity in my dramas too. A few nights ago we watched a movie (It was too hot to do anything else!) and though I kept my comments to myself, here are a few logical flaws I noticed.
*The millionaire bad guy had dozens of minions willing to obey his every command. So...he calls in a retired crook who doesn't want the job.
*In order to make the retired crook (let's call him RC) cooperate, MBG arranges his financial ruin if he doesn't take the job. Again, thousands of people in the world who'd gladly help him out, but...
*RC then goes out and gets a bunch of other retired crooks to help him, though it turned out the job only required two guys. None of them wanted the job either, but there's money.
*During the job one of the gang, a complete nut case who shouldn't have been trusted to cross the street by himself, goes berserk and kills the guy they were supposed to "warn" to leave a certain woman alone. The other guy, who should have known better, kills the woman, sorta by mistake.
Remember, these are the good guys in this film. We're supposed to feel sorry for them.

*This leads BRG to put out contracts on all of them. RC tells RBG he should only kill him, not the others, but of course they die horribly, one by one.
*In the meantime there's a girl RC really, really likes, so naturally he tells the RBG, "Please don't hurt her." Yeah, that's gonna work.
*There's also a hooker who doesn't seem to have a purpose except that RC goes to bat for her when a john beats her up and beats the crap out of him...by trespassing onto a corporate property and in front of a dozen expensively-clad witnesses. I guess that shows us how honorable he is...?
At that point I went to another room and read a book.
Now I know this was a testosterone flick, concocted to make a certain type of man happy with lots of  blood and the F word sprinkled like salt on French fries. But is it too much to ask that there be a cogent reason for the way anybody in the film acted at any point in time?

So yes, I'm picky. When I watch, when I read, I need to feel that the characters are acting from some point of logic, no matter how screwed up it might be. Others can dismiss bad writing as "just for entertainment." I want better entertainment than that.

Jul 18, 2016

Where Do You Stop Reading?

Last week I posted about the reader's delight: four great books I read all in a short time. Today I'd like to talk about the ones we don't finish.

My most recent "I'm not reading any more of this" book started on a weak note, but I stuck with it while the author rehashed the previous installment, figuring maybe I needed to know the stuff to get Book #2. Then the protagonist put himself in a situation where he was locked in without telling anyone or giving himself an emergency escape. I thought that was unwise, but as an author I know that we sometimes ignore what real people would do in order to make a story work. It's a story, after all.

The stopping point came in a scene that was clearly included only to shock the reader. The event had nothing to do with historical detail and didn't advance the plot an iota. It was simply degrading to the protagonist and uncomfortable for me to "watch." It was almost as if the author yelled from behind the page, "See how disgusting I can be? Now go tell your friends what a creative writer I am!"

Instead, I closed the book and put it in the discard pile.

Here's my question for you as readers? What does it take to make you close a book and decide you won't open it again?

May 23, 2016

An Argument for Better Arguing

"But can't you see how wrong you are?"

Centuries ago, when I was in high school, I took up argumentation. I joined the debate team because my sister had done well there, and because the coach cornered me in the hallway and asked me to.

I loved it. Research, constructing cases, looking for weaknesses in the arguments of others, and organizing information so I could get at it easily. It might not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly mine. I ended up ranked in the state and got a scholarship to college.

Debating in college was even more fun. The competition was tough, but we traveled to places I'd only read about and formed a close-knit group that loved to--you guessed it--argue. Play with language. One-up each other. Argue some more.

Debate is formal argument, and it doesn't bear much resemblance to the real-life version. One can try tossing out lies and false evidence, but the other team is likely to call her on it. [Great example: we once debated a team that based their whole case on a plan developed by the U.S. army. As they laid out their points, it sounded really good. However, my partner recognized the reference and went digging through her evidence cards. She was able to report from a later article that the army had abandoned the plan because it was flawed and unworkable. That pretty much ended that debate!]

In a formal debating situation, everyone is similarly armed with intelligence and background research. Results are decided by a judge who knows the subject, so there's little hope he or she will be fooled by tricks or displays of "personality." [Although we did have a judge once in college who gave us the win because he said it was pretty even as far as speaker points but we were dressed better.] In real life, people look for easy answers, don't do independent research, and stick with their beliefs even when the rest of the world thinks they're crazy to do so. To err is human, and we all do it.

Debaters often have to take both sides of an argument, which taught me that there is no "right" answer in most cases. Arguments can be made for just about anything, and tough subjects come down to emotional reactions we must all be aware of. Wise people look past their emotions and try to find truth. Not so wise people blame "them" for trouble and convince themselves that things would be better if we could just get rid of all those pesky _____ (Answers will vary).

One of the first things a debater learns is that she must listen to what the opponent says. Once she understands his arguments, she must apply logic and evidence to see where the weaknesses lie. You're going to build a wall. How will that get done? You're going to send everyone to college for free. Where will the money come from? You're going to overturn Citizens United. By what process? NOTE: Please don't write to explain those answers to me. I know what the candidates have said. I'm simply appalled by voters who think that when a person is President, he or she can just wave a wand and everything that was promised will happen. Um, Congress? Remember? Our legislative branch?

Listening and reasoning is a far cry from the screaming we see on TV and on social media. People talk past each other, belittling those who disagree with their views. Do we really think we can change anyone's mind by telling them they're stupid? Can we sway undecided voters by demeaning each other? Does anyone think the media isn't encouraging bad behavior and ridiculous statements? In most cases, their goal is to get people to watch/listen, not to create an informed electorate.

One of the most important things about competition debate was that we never engaged in personal attacks. Worse than useless (and very bad form); it was actually counterproductive. How much better would it be if we asked why a person supports a particular candidate and then talked calmly with him about it? He probably won't convince you to change your mind, but in the process of explaining his choice (if you don't get angry or uppity but just keep asking questions), he might be forced to admit there are weaknesses in his candidate's platform. Of course, he's likely to be prepared with his own ammunition, and you'll have to defend your choice, too. You'll have to admit to weaknesses on your side, because that's the way real life goes.

I'm heartily sick of politics, as is every thinking person I know. We need the process, I suppose, and we will go on as a nation no matter what happens, but I sure wish the American public would take some lessons from formal debate.

Mar 21, 2016

Taking Criticism

E-book available on Amazon. Print soon
Writers have to learn to accept criticism. It starts with your editor, who takes out some of your favorite passages because they don't advance the plot.
"But it's a commentary on society!" you whine.
"You're not a philosopher. You're a mystery writer," is the reply.
Then you get the beta reader who wants the story to end differently. "Why didn't she hook up with the sheriff?"
"I preferred to suggest that she might and let the reader imagine it. I didn't want to start another whole thread in the last few pages."
(Pouty face) "I think you should say it."
Later come the readers, who go on Amazon and say things like, "The author speaks of a 'dollar' but there were no dollars in Tudor England."
Actually, the word was slang for a coin called a crown in the 1500s. But don't let my months of research top your assumption you know what you're talking about.
Of course, there is criticism that's justified. My favorite story is the person who wrote to inform me that though the first Simon & Elizabeth book was interesting and historically well done, I'd put in rhododendrons, which didn't exist in the 1500s.
Okay, I'll take the blame for that one. Who knew? And who'd have thought to include it in her research? (Well, I do now!)
Writers have to learn not only to take criticism, but to not take it as well. Tastes vary. Best-selling authors sometimes leave me cold, since they don't write things I like to read. I try not to conclude they're bad writers because of my tastes. It's hard when a reader assumes that because he/she felt a certain way about a book, that's the final truth of it. "I didn't feel connected to the characters because they were not well-developed" is hurtful. It helps, though, when the very next review says the exact opposite. "Great characters that felt like people I knew well. I was eager to know what they'd do next."


 

Aug 10, 2015

Stop Making Stupid People Famous!

The title says it all. I'm pretty sure it isn't a new thing, but our 24-hour, please-watch-us media makes it difficult to ignore those who pander to the camera and try to shock us with their "honest opinions". The only thing you can do is turn it off. Stop buying the magazine. Change the station. And let them know you don't intend to watch uninformed asses bleat that they have a right to their opinion.

If their opinions are based on stupidity and hatred, we need to ignore them, not play to their need for attention.

May 4, 2015

What Is a Good Book?

Which Are the Good Ones?
I've read a lot of books, but we probably won't agree on which were the best ones. Why? Because each book speaks to us as individuals: where we come from, what we value, and how we want our leisure activities to go.
Reading requires commitment: time for sure, concentration (some books more than others), and a degree of background preparation. The ability to read is the most basic level, but requirements build after that. For example, a person isn't likely to enjoy a book about modern immunology if she doesn't understand the vocabulary used or a book about WWII if she doesn't know or care who Winston Churchill was.
Reading serves different purposes. Many people read to escape from hum-drum, daily stuff. They want to escape reality, and they don't mind how wild the plots get as long as they're entertaining. Others demand that their fiction be realistic, with characters who could be real and plot-lines that might actually happen. People who read to become enlightened usually choose non-fiction and often have little patience for books that are offered just for fun.
Lots of readers. Lots of reasons to read.
As a former English teacher, I have to tell you I'm not thrilled with a lot of what sells these days. Bad writing, bad plots, and lack of creativity seem like glaring faults to me. Much of what's billed as non-fiction is actually fiction, with the authors either so biased or so deluded that I have no interest in what they claim is truth.
But not to the people who are reading those books and thinking they're really good.
So what constitutes a good book?
A good book is one that captures and holds your interest, whatever that interest might be. If it's panned by people like me but you enjoy it, read it. If nothing on the Best Sellers list does it for you but you have favorite authors you can't wait to get back to, that's okay. Keep reading what you like.
Keep reading.

Sep 17, 2014

You Know What They Say about Opinions

Here's the G-rated version: "Opinions are like noses. Everybody has one."
America is a country that has long valued the right of each individual to have an opinion, and that's good. The problem comes when opinions are all a person has. Here's my take on the subject.
*A person's opinions should be based on evidence, and that evidence must be real. It's difficult--sometimes really difficult--to look at the evidence, read or listen across a range of information, and make a conscious decision as to what you think about a subject. It's often easier to take the word of someone you think is smart or knowledgeable or well-read on the topic. The problem is that his/her opinion might be just as misinformed or slanted as anyone else's. If all it took to be right is brains or education, there wouldn't be so much disagreement in the highest levels of government. As a debater in high school and college, I learned that it's essential to look at both sides of an argument and examine the strengths and weaknesses of the supporting evidence. It does make it harder to be a 100% supporter of any candidate or solution, but it makes you able to think for yourself, which to me is the best way to think.
*Opinions must be presented in a way that doesn't denigrate the opinions of others. I'm not an idiot if we disagree, just as I'm not a genius when we agree.
*Opinions must be open to discussion and possible change. Whether we like it or not, things don't stay the same, and insisting they should doesn't solve anything. We can't deal with our problems by wishing to go back to the way it used to be. In the first place, the past probably never was the way we like to remember it, and even if it were, it's gone. We must form opinions based on today's reality, not some hazy view of how it was back when we were ten. (There was a lot going on back then we either didn't see or didn't comprehend.)
That's my opinion on opinions. Not that it will change yours.

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