LNH: Onion Lad #9

martinphipps2 at yahoo.com martinphipps2 at yahoo.com
Fri Jun 16 05:07:56 PDT 2006

Tom Russell wrote:

> Someone like, oh, let's say Jesus, for example, is much more complex
> than someone like Gandhi.  Gandhi, as we know, was not the sainted
> figure of Kingsley's protrayal, but rather a controlling household
> dictator, a doddering idealist (he thought that by writing Hitler a
> letter, he would end the holocaust), and a dirty old man who drank his
> own urine and slept next to nude teenage girls.  And bringing up these
> facts-- which don't sit well with his supporters/worshippers-- is what
> passes for a "complex" characterization these days, be it in biography
> or fiction.

I figure you've just offended a billion people.

> You see, for me, this "dirty underwear" school of writing is NOT any
> more complex than the Ben Kingsley Gandhi.  In fact, it's just as
> simple and shrill, only it's an anti-hagiography.  And while it makes
> for salacious reading, it doesn't make for a fulfilling one.

I actually thought the movie Gandhi delt with this.  Gandhi was well
schooled in Western Civilization but he couldn't predict how his own
people would react to Indian independence (ie civil war and the
formation of Pakistan)

Besides, what's wrong with sleeping next to nude teenaged girls?  I
mean, if they're over eighteen and all.

> Now consider Jesus.  Here we have a man who is not just a bed of
> contradictions (another fallacy passing as characterization these
> days), but rather made of stronger stuff: the son of God, the moral
> authority, righteous and powerful and awesome.  (If these aren't your
> particular religious beliefs, then let's just treat him as a fictional
> character.)
> Here is someone who does the right thing because it is right.  Here is
> someone who is tempted-- by Satan in the desert, by every-day life--
> and rejects it.  Isn't that more interesting than someone who lets
> their power corrupt them, someone who succumbs to temptation?  Here is
> someone who could save his own life with a word, but stands mute,
> sacraficed in gory pain for the good of all.  Isn't that interesting,
> isn't that inspiring and more complex?  Isn't that what a hero should
> be?

Sure, except one would have to ask if Jesus would have been arrested
and cruxified if he hadn't upturned the tax collection tables in front
of the church.  Talk about upsetting the Romans AND the local clergy at
the same time!  The gospels portray Christ as a martyr, the first
Christian martyr in fact, but isn't that just the way they spinned
things after the leader of their religion got himself arrested and

I figure I've offended about another billion people.  Yay!  Most
offensive thread ever!

> >    People have lots of layers of thoughts.  I know
> > Freud said two... but there are many more.   When I
> > write first person I stick only to the 'surface' layer
> > or dominate layer of thought.   Because the other
> > layers of thought that all people have are often
> > contradictory or things about ourselves that we don't
> > want to be true.
> -- and I want to say that this choice is well thought out, for what it
> is.  That Jesse has made a conscious decision, and that it's one that
> makes sense when applied to this character.  At the same time, it makes
> for a flatter interpetation of that character.
> Jesse's writing is fairly external: it depends not so much upon
> emotional states or interior moods as it does physical reality, WHAT
> happens WHEN to WHO (whom?).


The problem is that first person is best
> utilized, in my opinion, for interiors: for self-doubts, for opinions,
> for thoughts, for constantly and subtly-shifting emotional states: for
> a unique voice, to show us what is different and new and startling
> about this person, to put us into direct contact with another
> personality.

Well, actually, I think Jesse has a point: if you are going to write in
the first person then a lot of exposition doesn't make sense.  Listen
to yourself think: are you constantly thinking about your childhood and
how you got to be where you are today?  Well, maybe just before you go
to sleep.  I know I do.  Boring thoughts make me drift right off.  But
not during a fight scene.  I would expect TC's thoughts to be about the
moment and not on what happened before.  She knows what is going on:
she doesn't have to reiterate it for herself.  So a story told in the
first person is going to be inherently confusing to readers.  It's like
the first few scenes in a Hitchcock movie: we don't know who the
characters are and the lack of context makes it difficult to understand
why they do the things they do.

The problem, of course, is that Jesse's short posts might all be
jumping on points for readers.  Look how Jamie was confused with PIT
#2: we assumed that people reading PIT #2 would have read PIT #1 and
not be confused or, at the very least, that a three sentence re-cap
would be enough.  Even though my stories are short too, I always try to
provide readers with enough information to understand everything.
Jesse doesn't even seem to want to do this.  To me, this is a bit of a
callous disregard for the reader's best interest.  I, for one, like to
be able to easily understand what's going on in a story.  I don't want
to have to think too hard: it gives me a headache.  Sometimes I'd
rather read a paper on string theory than one of Jesse's stories.
Hell, give me a paper on string theory and have it written in Chinese
and I'd probably come out of it understanding more than an issue of the
(ironically named) Adventures Beyond Comprehension.

Now, Jesse would argue that confusion is a strong emotion and that if I
am extremely confused then, gosh, it means his writing is very, very
good.  Right.  Okay.  Let's get back to those papers on string theory.
Now a lot of papers on, say, sociology, are deliberately written to
confuse people so that readers can't argue with what the author is
trying to say.  But a good scientific paper should be clear to as many
people as possible and if it is NOT clear than it is because people
don't know their stuff.  Jesse takes the latter view with his readers:
that they should have read everything that he's written before and that
they should know everything he knows about the characters, including
perhaps things he hasn't even written yet.

I would argue that a good story, like a good scientific paper, should
be clear to as many people as possible, including people who have never
read a Jesse Willey story before.  Or an LNH story for that matter.
But that's just me.

That being said, I actually thought this was one of Jesse's better
issues, once I had finally read it.  (The bitchy, introspective TC
turned me off too.)  It benefitted from the fact that it was a single
narrative and not a patchwork of seemingly unrelated scenes.

> But by using first person with what is, essentially, a chase/action
> sequence-- an external piece of writing-- it works AGAINST the
> strengths of first person, and also AGAINST Willey's aims.  For a
> character like Teri to really come across, we need a little distance.
> We need to observe her true self when she thinks no one's looking.  We
> need to hear her say one thing and see her do another.
> And this distance-- this external POV-- plays _exactly_ to Willey's
> strengths, if only he'd slow down his plot train long enough to include
> those moments. :-)

I don't know.  I think, Tom, your internal monologues work in
introspective stories but they would slow down the action too much in a
fight scene.  We all have different strengths, I think.


PS: Mohammed was the world's first Islamic terrorist!  3 billion
offended people and counting!

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