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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Discusses

Timing and Indulgence

with Carmen Ruggero and Don Webb

[Carmen Ruggero] We are storytellers and yes, our language usage should be appropriate to the subject, historical period, and the characters involved. And we can’t get so carried away with the love of the subject matter or intellect that we forget that someone has to read it. If we’re not engaging the reader, we’re being self-indulgent and self-defeating.

Those of us involved in the Bewildering Stories Review Board comment on these stories and hope our critiques bring up points that can help the writers improve their craft. And all of us writers need to ask ourselves: if this were a book in someone’s hand, will that person continue reading despite the frustration, or will he put the book down and forget it?

In theater we learned that on average, every time the audience has to stop and think about the meaning of something — even for a second — they lose at least ten more lines of dialog in the process. I think the same applies to reading. Except that when we’re not bothered about wasting the price of admission, we just put the book down and forget it.

[Don Webb] Readers are reluctant to put down a book. They’ve invested something in acquiring it. And books are usually better produced than on-line work. But readers will give up on a book if they lose patience with it.

On-line writing is under the gun even more than a playwright is. Many a time I’ve told contributors that on-line readers will allow three mistakes. Readers will be distracted by the first one, annoyed by the second, and they’ll click off at the third.

You’re right, of course, about the theater. The audience doesn’t think, “That’s the third time I’ve missed a line. I’m going to walk out.” They’ll sit out the performance but won’t give it a good recommendation. On-line readers will walk out at the drop of a hat; they’re like TV channel-surfers.

[Carmen] If we were scientists, we would write for the appropriate audience. But we are not scientists. We are writers of fiction. Whatever the genre, it’s all the same: it needs to inform and entertain the reader.

When you turned down a couple of my submissions, I was polite, but privately I threw a fit. Today I thank you. I eventually took another look at what I was doing — Oy! I am becoming a better writer because I was put in the position to take a second look, and I honestly do thank you.

[Don] Egads... was something of yours rejected? I’m shocked. I do not remember that! It must have been years ago.

{Carmen] That was “Phantoms.” You didn’t reject it outright but told me to keep working on it. It’s about childhood fears carrying over into adulthood. I finally concluded that as written, it was very self-indulgent, and it just didn’t work. I’m still working on it, I want you to know, and it will be a good one some day. You’ve forced me to think about it.

[Don] That’s terrific! And if Bewildering Stories has somehow helped you, who are an accomplished author, what might we do for others?

[Carmen] My voice teacher used to say to her pupils — yours truly included — that they would sing a hundred times better if they just got their egos out of the way and sang from the heart, with humility and respect for the music, the composer, and the audience who comes to hear it. Why do we write? Just to hear ourselves think? Often, that’s the problem. And when that happens, it’s sheer self-indulgence.

[Don] The discussion “Validation,” with Gary Inbinder in issue 399, takes an ironic view of a mercenary attitude common among “professional” writers: “What’s in it for me?” That’s more than putting carts before horses, it’s putting a whole wagon train in front of a mule!

You’ve defined the attitude of a true professional. It requires education, training, and a certain emotional security, none of which is easy to come by!

Our article “Who’s Your Audience?” concludes by giving the readers a very practical assignment, to find a work in Bewildering Stories that raises the question “Why should I care?” The professional writer — like the professional actor or singer — answers that question by learning how to communicate with the audience. As long as a work is still the author’s “baby” — or, far worse, the equivalent of child labor — it’s not ready to leave home.

Copyright © 2010 by Carmen Ruggero
and Don Webb

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