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Terms That Authors Are Sick of Hearing

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message 1: by Louie (new)

Louie (rmutt1914) | 885 comments "The next time someone asks me if I write hard SF, I'll say I keep a box of little blue pills on my desk just so I can keep it hard enough for them," says Madeline Ashby (author of the Machine Dynasty trilogy).

"Infodump," "Mary Sue," "Hard SF," "Dystopian."
What are some terms that you are tired of hearing/reading?

"Infodump," "Mary Sue" And Other Words That Authors Are Sick Of Hearing [via io9]


message 2: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Sorry, authors, but infodumps, Mary Sues and idiot plots are plain ol' bad writing, and that won't change even if we stop using those terms.


message 3: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6376 comments Kim Stanley Robinson favors "tell" over "show" as well.


message 4: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4149 comments I dunno about "hard SF." I kind of like the term. I prefer books where science is an integral part of the story and that's pretty much what works described as "hard SF" have. I was pretty pleased when a reviewer referred to my first book as such, because that's exactly what I was after. It's not a pejorative, just an accurate description of what to expect.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I wish the term "Marty Sue" would also take off as much as Mary Sue. We criticize Mary Sues a lot but Marty Sues are everywhere.


message 6: by Aaron (last edited Nov 25, 2014 08:17PM) (new)

Aaron Nagy | 379 comments Some of these terms are used a bit much. Many of these terms are thrown around too much often incorrectly so I can understand why authors are tired with them.

Mary Sue gets thrown around too much for my tastes, because to me it really did signify a kind of reality bending aura around the character that made no sense in a wish fulfillment kind of way. Now it gets used for overly perfect/competent characters, which often time still do have flaws but they are too competent so people complain even though it's a nice way of making the character succeed as the underdog.

Hard sci-fi is just a subgenre while people get uppity about soft sci-fi not being REAL SCI-FI and that is annoying, who cares it's a useful term.

Also sci-fi isn't binary what the heck.

Sci-fi
>Space Opera
>CyberPunk
>Post Apocalyptic/Dying Earth
>Time Travel
>Military Scifi
>Colonization/first journey to the stars.

These genre's all have subgenre's and some like Military and Space Opera have some pretty strong overlap.


Whelp I was mostly fine reading this article then I got the part on relatable. Are people conflatin relatable with likable or something. If I can't understand your characters actions and be able to relate to your character by the end of the book YOU FAILED.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Aaron wrote: "Some of these terms are used a bit much.

Mary Sue gets thrown around too much for my tastes, because to me it really did signify a kind of reality bending aura around the character that made no se..."


But the thing was that wish fulfillment stories do have a target audience. They have a time and place. I mean, that's essentially Indiana Jones' popularity and James Bond's.
You can say that they're not the most intellectually stimulating works but you can say that there's some form of entertainment value coming from them. Sometimes you just want to see someone win and it's fun.

I think I am tired of giant blanket terms that don't really mean anything that are used to describe a book. For example, I hear a book was "contrived" quite a bit. Well yes. All books are. That's what the word means. Someone put the book together.

Another is when the word "pretentious" is misused to label books that use a larger vocabulary. A book can't be "pretentious". A book cannot be deluding itself in its self worth.

I'm not sure if that's what this article was going for but in terms of words that I am tired of seeing in reviews, those are mine.


message 8: by Aaron (new)

Aaron Nagy | 379 comments I'm pretty sure that is what it was about, the title was just written in a bit more of a clickbaity way. Many of these felt like terms people use to quickly discredit a book.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 888 comments I dislike the term "hard SF", because it's often misleading. It tends to privilege physics and mathematics over every other discipline. So many works held up as "hard SF" are really, "the author got the physics and math right, so it's okay that the biology, genetics, medicine, computer science, planetology, geology, psychology, and understanding of history are complete nonsense."

That it's often used as a club by its fans to castigate "lesser" SF just adds to the irritation. I actually like a lot of "hard SF", just not the way some SF fans want to privilege it as the only "true" SF.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1954 comments It seems like Kim Stanley Robinson thinks 'info dump' refers negatively to ANY information in a book. I love sci fi and fantasy. I love tangible new worlds with rich histories. You can't really get that without a whole lot of information. Conveying that information in a way that doesn't stall the plot is really difficult. It is meant to be. That's why we celebrate those brilliant authors who can weave the information into the plot so carefully that there are no visible joints, no moments when you think 'oh, right, now the author is going to tell us about the political structure of the world he has created' or whatever.

Info dumps are inelegant and should be avoided. I'll forgive a good story one or two, but I reserve the right to complain about 'that huge info dump on page 72/3' if it threw me out of the book and did nothing to directly move the story along.


message 11: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Anja wrote: "Another is when the word "pretentious" is misused to label books that use a larger vocabulary. A book can't be "pretentious". A book cannot be deluding itself in its self worth."

When somebody calls a book "pretentious," they mean the author is being pretentious in how they tell the story. And yes, acting like a stuck-up teenager by using five dollar words is pretentious. As Orwell said,

Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers.



message 12: by Alan (new)

Alan | 534 comments Louie wrote: ""The next time someone asks me if I write hard SF, I'll say I keep a box of little blue pills on my desk just so I can keep it hard enough for them," says Madeline Ashby (author of the Machine Dyna..."

Interestingly, the writer deleted the viagra joke from the article because it was derailing the conversation. I actually liked the joke because it highlighted a different reason why the author was right to be tired of the phrase -- it's a question more often aimed at female authors of hard SF than at male authors of hard SF. Whether that question comes from sexism or from the history of the genre in which a higher percentage of famous male authors have been interested in things like orbital mechanics than famous female authors, it must be a really annoying reservation to constantly have to answer.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Joe Informatico wrote: "I dislike the term "hard SF", because it's often misleading. It tends to privilege physics and mathematics over every other discipline. So many works held up as "hard SF" are really, "the author go..."

Yes! +1 for you Joe. You summarized feelings I did not know that I had.


message 14: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Anja wrote: "Well....nowadays we have 5 dollar words equated with pretentious but larger words add a specificity that sometimes smaller words lack."

No one's saying, "Don't use a big word if that's the only one that will convey your meaning." But in most cases, that's not an issue. "He's a pertinacious individual" and "he's a stubborn guy," have the exact same meaning, but the former is pretentious and would leave even people with a college education scrambling for a dictionary.

And that's exactly the kind of thing people mean when they complain about pretentious writing.

Older novels tend to use larger words because that's just how people spoke.

It's only pretentious if the writer has no control of their vocabulary. if they're misusing the larger words. But larger words, in and of themselves, aren't just used by teenagers. What if you're a writer who was classically trained by old school romantic (Jane Austen-esque) literature? You would tend to find comfort in romantic language, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.


Older novels tend to have more complex sentences, but the vocabulary isn't remarkable. The opening lines to Pride and Prejudice are ornate in grammar, but don't contain a word that isn't plain English:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.


As for authors who write in older styles because that's what they grew up on, that's what happened to H.P. Lovecraft -- he grew up reading 18th Century literature and decided that's the only proper way to write. And look how that turned out.


message 15: by Rob (new)

Rob  (quintessential_defenestration) | 1035 comments Agreed with "pretentious." Typically people complaining about a book being "pretentious" are just engaging in anti-intellectual onanism. Including Orwell.

Also "workmanlike prose." What it really means is "this person does not have awesome prose, but neither do they have really distractingly terrible prose." It tries to transform something mediocre at worst and neutral at best into something positive. Plus, if you look at this prose and call it "workmanlike" because "it gets the job done," you are implying that other types of prose do not. Rothfuss' prose conveys plot just as effectively as Sanderson's. And a ton of effort goes into crafting it.

Ted Chiang's comments in the source article are excellent, as are Ellen Kushner's, which I'm going to just post in full:

Relatable

Ellen Kushner (The Privilege of the Sword) says she gets tired of hearing this term. "Characters are not supposed to be relatable. You're not supposed to feel lke they're your pal, or they're you," she says. "The characters are supposed to open you up and explode you. You're supposed to engage with your feelings about them which are not necessarily feelings of cuddliness."

Adds Kushner, "You marry somebody relatable, you don't read about them." Fiction is supposed to expose you to different types of people, and new ways of thinking. Plus this whole notion of critiquing fiction based on whether characters are relatable is really "TV and movie talk."



message 16: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Rob Secundus wrote: "Also "workmanlike prose." What it really means is "this person does not have awesome prose, but neither do they have really distractingly terrible prose." It tries to transform something mediocre at worst and neutral at best into something positive."

"Workmanlike" isn't supposed to be a compliment, any more than a D- is a good grade because it's technically passing.

Plus, if you look at this prose and call it "workmanlike" because "it gets the job done," you are implying that other types of prose do not.

Workmanlike contrasts with craftsmanlike, which also gets the job done, but does so to the highest standard of excellence.


message 17: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 26, 2014 05:32PM) (new)

Rob Secundus wrote: "Agreed with "pretentious." Typically people complaining about a book being "pretentious" are just engaging in anti-intellectual onanism. Including Orwell.

Also "workmanlike prose." What it really..."


Yes!

I think in general, what I don't like about these words is that at the end of the day I don't really understand what the commenter thought about the book. Say you're using "pretentious" because you didn't like the word choice. The word pretentious is easy to throw around but at the end of the day doesn't say much. Why didn't you feel the word choice fit the book? A vocabulary that works for an regency-era romance novel may not work for a high school setting YA novel.

And relatable tends to translate to "didn't like the character" but I'm always more interested in "why didn't you like them?" "Did you dislike them as a person, as in you wouldn't want to be friends with them? Or is it that you found them 2 dimensional?"

Then the Mary/Marty Sue critiques. Is it just that you don't enjoy stories about competence, that you felt the environment catered to the protag, that you found the character unrealistic? If you found them unrealistic why did that bother you? Unrealism doesn't speak for itself because, again, people ADORE Xena Warrior Princess and James Bond, both who have their environment cater to them. They're both power fantasies and they're designed to be so. They add an element of escapism. Why did you feel that didn't work here?

And I think when I see these words, I feel cheated. I feel like there's more of a story there but we're only reading the chapter headers. I feel like I don't really understand what the person thought about the novel.


message 18: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4149 comments Joe Informatico wrote: "That it's often used as a club by its fans to castigate "lesser" SF just adds to the irritation. "

Interesting...I believe you, I've just never seen this in action. "Hard SF" for me simply refers to the stuff that uses realistic physical laws in it. For instance, bussard ramjets and time dilation, rather than "warp drive." Space habitats that spin for pseudo gravity rather than postulating artificial gravity. It's about things we might realistically do.

As for genetics and medicine, those are subject to new discoveries, but orbital mechanics will stay the same regardless. So for instance I will forgive Niven his Boosterspice, because he gets right even the spectra emitted by the fusion products of the ramjets in Protector. I'll even forgive the laughable idea that humanity originated elsewhere.

And as for Ringworld, it's less a piece of hard SF, although it's been called that, and more an extended conversation about how the Puppeteers engineered humans, Kzinti and really any races in their area, in order to suit themselves.


message 19: by Ben (new)

Ben Nash | 200 comments I love the bit from Kushner, though 'relatable' is an elusive term here. I suspect it means different things for different people, so I won't dismiss it as useless, but I'm reluctant to use it. I relate to Kushner in that I look for ways to experience what life is like for someone else. More similar to me does not equate to more believable.

I have a similar relationship with the term "hard science fiction". Over the years, I built my own definition through inference based on more formal uses (e.g. in forwards and story introductions). When I started joining in conversations online, I learned that everyone's definition was different and no one agreed with mine. So I'm more reluctant to talk about hard science fiction as such now, though I think discussions trying to define the term are useful (as long as everyone can remain civil). And it's not a major or binary thing for me. It's mostly just another descriptor to be applied to a story.

It makes sense that authors would get tired of hearing these terms. They must face all sorts of people who take various things for granted, when others take contradictory things for granted.

All of us could probably do to view these things with a lot more patience and humility. Whether we're isolated loners or citizens of the biggest and "most important" places in the world, our views represent only a small fraction of what's out there.


message 20: by Tommy (new)

Tommy Hancock (tommyhancock) | 102 comments Not an author myself, but a writer(published some short stories, but won't claim author until I have a novel published).

I'm okay with all genre tags, such as Dystopian, hard/soft scifi, high/low fantasy, etc. It makes it easier for people to find the kind of story they like. I think the problem some people have with hard/soft and high/low is that it almost makes it sound like it's a judgement of quality rather than of where it fits on a spectrum of how science or magic apply.

As far as other terms, Mary Sue, to me, is particularly dumb. What it's meant to explain is a problem, yes, but it seems like something people just apply to every female main character written by a female writer nowadays.


message 21: by kvon (new)

kvon | 562 comments I think infodump is still a good term, and a style to avoid. But Mary Sue should probably go--in the original comments, there were easily four different versions of what the phrase refers to (and more on this page). Thus, it is basically an undefined and negatively sexist term.

I haven't heard the term Head Hopping, multiple POVs are usually fine with me (unless the fist instance happens 3/4 through the story.)


message 22: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 4149 comments See, the "infodump" is now regularly avoided by plot devices I find even more contrived. The "new person" who needs something explained. The "interrogation" where portions of the plot (and science, usually, for SF) gets explained. The "breakdown" where the ship / technology / etc gets an explanation due to an otherwise unneeded plot point. I'd rather have a few pages of infodump.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 27, 2014 12:42PM) (new)

Yeah. Basic issues in these words is that they're super general and easy to throw around but harder to pinpoint in exact meaning.

I definitely think that the gendering of the "Mary Sue" is the biggest problem with that term. It has value if it's in general about a character for whom the environment caters to them. Someone called "Black Widow" a Mary Sue and someone else pointed out she had the EXACT same powers as Batman.


message 24: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Anja wrote: "I definitely think that the gendering of the "Mary Sue" is the biggest problem with that term. Someone called "Black Widow" a Mary Sue and someone else pointed out she had the EXACT same powers as Batman."

Most superheroes are Mary Sues, or Marty Stus if you prefer a masculine term for male versions. It's one of the reasons I avoid the whole genre. That and an intense hatred of vigilante stories.

John wrote: "See, the "infodump" is now regularly avoided by plot devices I find even more contrived. The "new person" who needs something explained. The "interrogation" where portions of the plot (and science,..."

Those are still infodumps. Anytime the plot stops so the author can, either through narration or dialogue, explain some aspect of the world in detail, it's an infodump.


message 25: by Dustin (last edited Nov 27, 2014 11:44AM) (new)

Dustin (tillos) | 365 comments Paper Thin. Two words that are thrown around whenever someone can't explain why they dislike a book.

The themes were paper thin.

The characters were paper thin.

The setting was paper thin.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

+1 Dustin. Good one.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1954 comments Sean wrote: "John wrote: "See, the "infodump" is now regularly avoided by plot devices I find even more contrived. The "new person" who needs something explained. The "interrogation" where portions of the plot (and science,..."

Those are still infodumps. Anytime the plot stops so the author can, either through narration or dialogue, explain some aspect of the world in detail, it's an infodump. "


I agree. When I talked about skilful authors weaving the information into the plot, I meant in ways that actually still drive the plot. This is why it is so difficult to do. Sometimes, in trying to avoid one kind of infodump, you write another, more irritating kind instead. The worst kind, and it crops up in sci fi and fantasy a lot, is when two adult characters discuss something that should be common knowledge within the universe of the book, just so the reader knows it too. You end up with conversations that sound as ridiculous as this:

Adult One: How is Susan?

Adult Two: Ah, well, you know that thing that happens where two people have sex and then the sperm from the male goes into the egg from the female?

Adult One: Yeah, it results in pregnancy, right? Where the female carries a growing baby inside her?

Adult Two: That's right! Well, anyway, Susan is, as we say, pregnant.

It is clumsy and tends to make your characters look like morons. I agree with John that a plain simple telling of the information is far less intrusive.


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited Nov 27, 2014 02:12PM) (new)

Ruth wrote: "Sean wrote: "John wrote: "See, the "infodump" is now regularly avoided by plot devices I find even more contrived. The "new person" who needs something explained. The "interrogation" where portions..."

It's often why Amnesia is chosen as a plot device in games and why in Harry Potter the main protagonist is a character not born into magic.


Ruth (tilltab) Ashworth | 1954 comments Indeed. If a large part of your story is about showing off your world, it can be worth considering a protagonist who is not familiar with that world.


message 30: by John (Nevets) (new)

John (Nevets) Nevets (nevets) | 1614 comments I had never heard the term "head hopping" before, or even knew the rule regarding one POV per scene existed. But I have to say I can see why it is a rule. I think multiple first person can be used well, but just split it up more obviously, like imbetween chapters. Otherwise 3rd person is a valid way of writing as well.

I had commented on this in a post about a book recently, and how it really pulled me out of the story. I think it was On Basilisk Station. I did finish the book, and liked the story overall, just knowing who's head you were in got a bit confusing.

Otherwise I tend to like hard science fiction, but not exclusively. I like "competent protagonists", no matter what you call them. And I don't mind info dumps, most of the time.

My connotation of "Hard SF" has more to do if it seems logical (to me). For instance most of Alaister Reynolds I would consider Hard SF, even though most of it takes place so far in the future, it at times feels almost magical, but it all seems more logical then just convienent. I also tend to like fantasy that has a strong sense of its own rules, and the magic follows it, like Brandon Sanderson tends to do. This has sometimes been labeled "Hard Fantasy", and I think that is apropriate as well.


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