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  1. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    To didact or not to didact...

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by DrWhozit, Dec 17, 2013.

    This seems to be a conflicting element. I sometimes get feedback that my writing is too didactic. From just as many other readers, I get feedback that especially new technological ideas need to be better explained so the reader isn't left in the dark. I think it is better to add a paragraph or two to explain a concept, letting the reader decide whether it's a good idea to read that part or not.

    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/ends-dream-about-2180-words.129714/#post-1176862

    This is one example of my own style where I chose to do just that, receiving negative critique about that element. Another example finds the didactic portion further into the posts (in this case) where one needs to know about a deviation from mainstream science.

    http://www.writingforums.org/threads/tweak-prologue-excerpt-3100-words.129680/

    I'll begin another thread about the subject of dark energy considerations in a more appropriate thread, still, for the sake of this being an isolated topic, these examples of in situ didactics are offered. To keep this thread in appropriate categorization (writing subjectivity versus workshop critique) I'll ask that we don't drag the excerpts themselves into this thread.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2013
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry to say i found your going on about yellowstone and geysers, etc. reads like bits taken from textbooks or an encyclopedia and my eyes would be set a-rolling if i was reading this as an agent, or acquisitions editor for a publishing house...

    my best advice as a professional editor, lifelong fiction reader, and writer is to can the teaching/preaching and just tell a good story...

    hugs, m
     
  3. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Then you think it's enough to say to the reader essentially, "The planet broke to bits for all sorts of reasons," leaving it at that?
     
  4. Duchess-Yukine-Suoh
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    Duchess-Yukine-Suoh Girl #21 Contributor

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    What does didact mean?
     
  5. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think the literary conceit you offer here is a bit over-dramatic. There is a middle ground to everything, and there needs to be actual story driving the information. In the first example, the issue is, IMO, placement. You start the story off with a flurry of data bits that don't link together into a meaningful chord. There is no hook. There is no reason for me to continue reading because, whether it is true or not, the impression I get from the first paragraph is that I am going to listen to someone's opinion of somewhat pedantic minutiae for an entire book. It's a very strong case of authorial intrusion. That doesn't get my money.
     
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  7. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    For the case of my short story, that might be helpful. There's plenty of room to expand it a bit without turning it into book.

    At this point, I'd question whether this is a matter of preference that a story has no teacher. Are you aware that the word "Doctor" is derived from the present participial of "docere" that meaning "to teach?" In the case of my story, the MC is a doctor. Teachers are authorial. That story is technical as well as mystical. You think it is fair to strip the MC of all that?

    Hypothetically, suppose a story has a cowboy. If the scene opens with him explaining the rigor of roping a calf, would that be authorial intrusion?

    The reason for this thread is in hoping to see how many readers embrace teachers opposed to how many fall asleep in class. As an example, I enjoy the works of sci-fi or mystery authors who sneak the medicine of teaching into the spoonful of sugar we accept as a tall tale. It's been a while since I read Congo, but I certainly recall a good teaching about blue diamonds and their value to the semiconductor industry and nuclear warfare. Crichton sneaks quite bit of teaching into his tale, including ASL being used to communicate with apes. The protagonists are doctors.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm very well aware of the root of doctor. It also give us indoctrinate and doctrine. I have a degree in applied linguistics. When I say authorial intrusion, I am using it in its literary sense. When the reader becomes aware of the ghostly presence of the actual writer in the room, pushing a given thing (that thing can be any of a myriad choices, data, dogma, rhetoric, politics, etc.) And again, when you say "strip the MC of all that?" I feel like you've completely glossed over my words of finding middle ground. There is little purpose to this conversation if there are only black and white choices from which to pick.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It seems to me you have to consider your target audience. If you're going straight at the hard science fiction crowd (which is a narrower audience) then being didactic is something they will appreciate and even expect. An example of this is Robert Forward's science fiction novel The Dragon's Egg, which is quite good but was described by one reviewer as a textbook on neutron stars disguised as a novel. There's an audience for that kind of work.

    The broader science fiction audience probably won't appreciate it as much, and would prefer terse explanations or even a bit of handwaving as opposed to great detail in terms of the science. There's nothing wrong, in my view, with going straight at the hard science fiction crowd. I wish there was more of that out there these days.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2013
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  10. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    @Wreybies
    I tend to think the problem with the discussion itself is having brought my own work in. An author is naturally prejudiced in favor of their work.

    Authorial intrusion can mean the writer intruding into the story or the presence of authority in the story. I agree the story needs a hook. I disagree that I'm making it required reading. Unfortunately I can no longer edit that OP.
     
  11. Cerebral
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    DrWhozit, I don't understand why you're so reluctant to assume your reader already knows what you know. If you write a story with a certain audience in mind--which in your case will be a very small one, unless you get lucky and become a 21st century James Joyce--then I don't see a reason for you to condescendingly teach.

    And you shouldn't listen to the people on this forum (not without a grain of salt, anyway). By and large, most people here seem to be chasing the widest possible readership--and so they prefer empty stories that say nothing in the plainest way possible.

    Many strange works that NO ONE could have predicted becoming successful became successful. So don't be disheartened.
     
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2013
  12. jannert
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    I do enjoy learning things when I read fiction. I also enjoy reading fiction that 'teaches.' (I've read most of James Michener's books and loved them. I loved Arthur C Clarke's books, also The Right Stuff, etc. All of these authors include a lot of scientific and/or historical data in their novels. I did find Michener's tendency to start each book with the primordial slime a bit strange at first, but I got used to it!) However, I don't want to acquire a doctorate myself in order to understand what I'm reading.

    I think I'm with @Wreybies on this issue. Make sure there is a way 'in' to your story, for people who do not already know what you know ...unless you're going for a very VERY limited readership.

    Keep in mind, you can't teach anybody anything if they don't pay attention or don't understand. If a reader puts your book down immediately, you will have taught nothing. Your schooling didn't start with Shakespeare, it probably started with Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff like mine did. Take it slow, and start simple. Don't worry, the readership will get there eventually, as long as you lead gently.
     
  13. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I read the first few hundred words in your first link, and it's not all bad news. The problem lies in the way you change how the character thinks. He seems like a character who analyzes everything, but you don't really do anything with that as the story progresses. So the first two paragraphs just seem like unnecessary filler.

    Like the others have said, you do need to consider your target audience. As soon as your start explaining stuff like the way you did, you're going to lose a ton of potential readers. That's a sad fact. If you write a difficult book, no one's going to attempt to read and understand it unless you're famous.
     
  14. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I suspect I fall into the 'target' audience. I don't have a natural scientific bent, but I have interest in it. If these concepts he's working with weren't explained to me on the page, I'd have to keep putting it down to go Googling every 5 minutes. What I've read of the Doc's work, I've enjoyed, but what I would like to see is a more fluid transition when it comes to the lecturing. As it stands, it sticks out like a sore thumb, despite my urge to keep reading. Perhaps look into ways that would allow for more seamless integration while still getting the information across? This might make the work more palatable for a broader audience.

    I think @Wreybies makes a valid point about middle ground. Finding middle ground doesn't necessarily mean dumbing down the science. I'm sitting here pondering, and all I can hear is Peter Jones voice in my head. (The original voice of the Hitchhiker's Guide.) Ok...so he wasn't relaying this kind of info but every time he opened his mouth I was completely invested in what he had to say, looked forward to his next interjection, relished it even.

    Obvious didacticism will put many off. My guess is that one can recoup this loss to some degree, simply by looking into how you are going about the teaching. I still to this day can remember how many breasts Eccentrica Gallumbits has, what she does for a living and where she comes from. Why? Because that information was relayed without dry intellectualism. We are not all academically orientated. Personally, it takes more than the dry facts to get an idea to stick in my head. I need to be motivated to take the info on board, I need to be entertained to a degree.

    A lot of the Doc's work has a delightfully quirky edge. If that same lens was applied to the teaching elements, I think the transitional elements might start to take care of themselves.
     
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  15. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Readers aren't some uniform and uniformly thinking group, so even though we often talk about "what the reader wants", it's impossible to please everyone. In fact, you can only please one person, and that's yourself. You probably want to entertain us, teach us, tell a good story, a story worth telling, and if your way of telling it comes off didactic to certain readers (and most definitely to many editors and publishers 'cause they only look for potential sells), then so be it. There'll be readers for all kinds of works out there.

    You could ask yourself, "what do I want to say with my story?" Is it a story you want to tell? Or is it to teach? If both, which one is more important to you as a writer/artist? Or are they somehow intertwined (as they probably should be).

    Or maybe your strength lies in non-fiction? You could write Adrenaline for Dummies, and make it an entertaining read.

    I wandered off the point. I just think that if your character is a teacher, he's bound to be didactic, and I think that's fine. Sure, some readers will find it preachy, but some won't mind and are eager to listen to your teacher character. A lot depends on the focus, too, I guess. T and I are writing action-packed sci-fi, the focus is on the action, the characters, the society, and all kinds of struggles, not on the science (even though it's there, at times quite heavily too). You have a different focus, and that's all good, too.

    Like others have suggested, it's still best not to drown the story under technobabble or heavy explanations on how, say, a gravity belt works -- whatever that is, but you don't have to go down the action-adventure way either... Or, how did it go,
    ... you don't have to be one of "everyone" (isn't that paradoxical?).

    For what it's worth, I liked both of your excerpts. You write really well and fluidly, and there were some chuckle-inducing moments, as well. Good job.
     
  16. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Everyone is relative, unless all of the relatives are dead...

    I think these are all good points, (Yes... even Wreybies. (I think he's miffed at me over that robot arm comment ;) ). As for me, I toss all the thoughts and critique onto an imaginary bulletin board and think about all the reactions. That's for commentary about my own style.

    So often, I'm reading other work, by a number of you folks included, that leaves me wanting information. Even Tolkien provides a map of Middle Earth and information about hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs and wizards. In his book "The Cosmic Landscape," Leonard Susskind (father of string theory) does about the opposite in attempt to entertain his readers of a totally didactic work. He really ends up putting his foot in his mouth and falsifying his own concept of a multiverse in that effort. So it can work both ways.

    As a scientist, in reality I have something of an obligation to teach. As Wreybies says, there needs to be a middle ground. For me, in End Dreams I'll likely expand on it all a bit, since there's room. I'll likely attempt to get the reader to come to the connection between dreams and NDE's or perhaps death itself. That's the needed hook.

    I still think I should be able to include a bit of cover art in the workshops. That's the bait on the hook.
     
  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    On the other hand, the reader can fill in the blanks. The writer doesn't have to tell everything, right? If you're left wanting more, use your imagination :)
     
  18. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Well... Think of __________________________ _____________________ and then of course we certainly can't forget about the time we ____________________ and it _________________ so good.

    Yes. _____________________________ were the good old days. ______________. Sigh.

    I wonder how many readers could, or would, fill in those blanks ;)

    Being more Sirius, dog gone it, for me at least, my target audience is a dumbed-down America. I would rather see one person saying "Hey! Did'ja read Doc's book about time travel? It's a hoot! Oh yeah. It has hooters of all sorts too," to his neighbor who says "I jist couldn' get inta it. Too much of thet thar book larnin'." The other neighbor asks "Didn't you see all the illustrations?" The other answers," Oh yeh! Ah got it on top of mah stack uh bathroom readin'." "What do you mean by that?" Then the mayhem begins and the world goes up in puff of anarchistic smoke...

    If the rest of the world manages to gain some insight about what just might happen in the not-so-distant future, then I've succeeded. In fact, if the rest of the world buys a copy for the lew, I've succeeded.

    But that's 'bout my (ahem) "conceited" work 'bout robotic arms and spell checkers :D
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thinking back to the fantasy/sci-fi novels I've read and liked, the process of filling-in-the-blanks has happened quite automatically. I guess that shows how enviably skilled those writers are?
     
  20. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    I like books that include artwork.
     
  21. Cerebral
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    I went back and changed it for you.
    I didn't know posts here were so closely analyzed for slips and goofs.
     
  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes they are at least by one of us -- if the statement is as bold as yours ;)
     
  23. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    It appeared to be a normal font to me... of course I'm typing on a braille monitor. Or was that a Brazilian?
    (Forgive me... I'm suffering from Pood... which, BTW, is cleverly didactic.)
     
  24. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, silly. ;) One side of my tongue is honed to a molecule's thickness. When Wrey is miffed, there is little doubt in the matter. :p:D
     
  25. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    @Wreybies
    Well... okay... but I'm not buying you a bioloid for Christmas :rolleyes:... and the illustrated edition of the time travel manual won't be out for quite some time...

    Oh. That's right! We...err, you... deleted chapter six. Now nobody even knows what the frock they were being properly edified for... :eek:
     
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