Friday, October 29, 2010

On the Notion of Reasoned Debate

Couple postings back, I got into some stuff about violence and teaching, and referenced an expert in the field, Rory Miller.

Couple of my readers took me to task for what I said. Which is fine, because a difference of opinion is what makes a horse race, innit? 

Just to clarify some things, a little history:

First post I read of Rory's on his blog was in November of 2005. He talks about going to Orycon, and mentions in passing that he doesn't read fiction. More than a couple times since then, he's brought that up again, even asked for recs once from folks trying to get him back into it: his blog, 5 April 2010. He has little patience for fiction. If he is using force and it is dramatic or entertaining, he says, he's doing it wrong. (23 February 2008)

If you are writing a novel and you aren't dramatic and entertaining, you are doing it wrong. 

Truth is no defense in fiction. 

I've trained in an ER and worked in a clinic. I've seen all kinds of body fluids outside the containers, and dealt with them, and how they got outside. But I'm not going to -- so to speak -- splash it all over the pages of a novel. It doesn't serve my purpose in most stories to do so. Thus my fiction is not real, but if you want reality? You can read non-fiction or watch the evening news. 

Still, I don't fault Rory for writing a book offering how to teach fiction writers how to write about violence even though he doesn't read the stuff. (Scroll down the page for my notice and the review, which was five stars.) You don't have to know everything to venture an opinion or a helpful comment. Let me repeat that, with emphasis: You don't have to know everything to venture an opinion or a helpful comment. There's good material in his book, even if I believe that too much of it might kill a novel sale. It's not my job as a fiction writer to educate my readers, it is to entertain them. What I use to season my dish is up to me. Too little spice makes it bland. Too much makes it inedible.

Rory allows as how there are things he knows how to do but has problems teaching to beginners. Breakfalls, for instance. He can do them, but he's forgotten the basics of how he learned them. (I've had this discussion at length, the expert showing the beginner, and I won't belabor it, but my opinion stayed the same after the discussion because nobody showed me anything compelling to change it. And I don't hear disagreement in that comment.)

The reason we got into tigers and rabbits is because I think it's hard for a tiger to teach a rabbit how to think or behave like a tiger. I could be wrong, but that was my thought.

Against a tiger, a wolf is going to have big problems. I wouldn't bet anything on the rabbit. 

More than once, Rory and I and other readers of his and my blogs have thrashed through some of these questions about movement and psychology and fight-or-flight, and more often than not, come away with something we didn't have before. This is one of the reasons to bring it up. And if I read something I think is fuzzy, I am going to point it out and listen for clarification. If Rory is looking for yes-men -- and I'm pretty sure he isn't -- I'm not the guy he wants to ask. Mostly I'll go with him. Sometimes, I think he's wrong, so he gets the "no" response.

Just as I appreciate it when I get called on it on my blog. Which happens often enough.

When Rory and I get to a point where the words on the page don't do it, we get together for coffee, because face-to-face conversation beats the best writing all hollow. 

I respect Rory; who he is, what he does. But he's not always right, and if I hear something I don't agree with, then not telling him would be a disservice. I'm a reasonably bright fellow. If I miss something, I know it could be me; I could be biased, I could misread it, I could misunderstand it. Happened plenty of times before, no reason to believe it won't happen again. But it could also be that the person offering it didn't do it as well as s/he could. And telling him makes him sharpen his argument and rethink it ways he might not if everybody nods and smiles and gives him a reflexive thumbs-up. If you believe something is true, it should be able to withstand questioning. If an opinion isn't worth defending, is it worth having?


Narda said...

I must have missed the thrashing.

I purchased and read the e-book, and have been putting my thoughts together on it. Rory is gracious enough to invite comment, even from an provincial old lady! :)

In general, I think it's a good start. It's just that he forgets his audience at times, and changes hats during the writing.

Dan Moran said...

"If an opinion isn't worth defending, is it worth having?"

If you don't care what other people think. I have opinions in plenty of trivial areas. ("All of them," the chorus sings...)

Humiliatingly, the captcha is "joidork."