On writerly temptations

by look i have opinions

“A lot of Act 6 [of the webcomic Homestuck], mostly the later parts, look a lot to me like the product of a certain temptation that is familiar to me.

“It’s the temptation to use the fact that ‘shit has gotten weird’ in the plot to justify writing choices that aren’t very good, even on the story’s own (strange) terms. The fictional world is ‘breaking apart,’ so why shouldn’t the writing break apart, too—form fitting content? This can be done well. Sometimes writing choices that are objectively lazy, from your perspective as a writer, are also the right choices for knocking the reader off-balance in a certain desirable way.

“But of course, once you recognize this possibility, you’re going to start doing motivated reasoning, talking yourself into the idea that this or that lazy choice is oh-so-conveniently a good one. You can always talk yourself into rash and sloppy writing because ‘the plot is getting too wild for subtlety’ or ‘I have to surprise the readers somehow’; you can always talk yourself into not resolving things you’ve set up because ‘the story is about uncertainty’ or ‘things don’t resolve in real life.’ But is any of that really true?  When you set those things up, is this the sort of thing you hoped to do with them?

“Certain [reader] interpretations rub me the wrong way because they seem like they’re enabling this behavior. Sure, if someone’s mind was blown by a writer’s lazy choices, their mind was blown, and that’s just a fact. But sometimes it looks to me like people are teaming up with the little devil on the author’s shoulder.”

—nostalgebraist (x)

“[David Foster] Wallace was steadfast in defending stylistic choices. When his agent, Bonnie Nadell, tried to dissuade him from ending the novel [Broom of the System] mid-sentence, Wallace ‘proceeded to explain the entire Wittgensteinian philosophy behind why it was what it was.'”

—Zac Farber (PDF)

And so, as a result, for the rest of my life[,] I will see that book occasionally at signings. And I will realize I was arrogant, and missed a chance to make that book better. And hopefully I won’t do it again.”

—David Foster Wallace