Good, But…

How many of you have ever experienced something and then given the “It was good, but” rating? I might better ask who has not…! “But” supplies an objection. It turns the “good” into a negative. Yes, the possibility of goodness remains, however deep the stain that comes after that tiny conjunction, but the whole has still been tainted. “But” implies that something about the subject could have been, should have been better.

The doctor’s intentions were good, but he prescribed the wrong medication. 

The holiday spending record is good, but the government figures on which the National Retail Federation bases its holiday sum do not take into account rising prices. 

The cake was good, but without leavening it was hard as a rock.

Nowhere is the impact of “Good, But” more widespread than in the media, particularly in this age of instant accessibility. We no longer have to wait until we can get to the store to buy a movie, or read a book, or listen to music. We don’t have to keep peeking in our (mostly empty) mailboxes to see if our goodies have finally arrived.

I have been thinking about the “Good, But” situation a great deal lately. First it was in relation to movies. Isn’t it great to be surrounded by high quality digital sound, sucking in all that juicy high definition color, holding onto the edge of your seat as you enjoy a vicarious rush? And then, right in the middle of Pure Awesome Sauce, there’s a Scene or a Phrase that just knocks you right out of the experience and leaves you reeling — disappointed, unpleasantly surprised, and possibly even angry.

Author Michael D. Young expresses a similar discontent in his post Move Over George Lucas.

The story, the characters, and the dialogue stand on their own without having to use gimmicks to get the audience’s attention.

Far too many artists don’t understand that “Less is more,” and desperately pile on the excess. More foul language, more graphically bloody mayhem, more explicitly base sex. Gimmicks. What, don’t your stories, characters, and dialogue stand on their own?

I recently downloaded a couple of samples from ebooks, and boy, am I glad they were samplers and I didn’t have to pay for the smut. The fact that so much obscenity is littering my beloved fantasy genre is a subject for another day. Maybe. One of those ebook samples was chosen because I liked the cover and the blurb sounded interesting. The other was chosen because I have very much enjoyed reading the author’s blog and the now-and-then contact I’ve had with him online. The fact that I loved the cover and the blurb made it an easy choice. The more I read, the more sullied I felt. He has a wonderful way of describing (some) things, a fantastic turn of phrase, and I think his narrative voice is good. I can’t be sure if I was turning the pages because of that or out of morbid curiosity. I think he’s a good writer, but

If someone pours you a glass of water and then tops it off with a little unfiltered sewage, is it still a good glass of water?

If a person can’t buy movie tickets because they’re underage, why can they buy books whose contents are potentially worse? Should books also have content ratings? Am I a prude? And if so, isn’t it interesting that the word “prude” is from O. Fr. preude “good, virtuous, modest,” or perhaps an ellipsis of preudefemme “a discreet, modest woman”?

2 thoughts on “Good, But…

  1. I don't think you're a prude at all – and this is coming from an author who does use coarse language in some of his books. In my mind, the 'obscene' words are just another tool to help create a more complete picture of a character. For example, there's a big difference between a character who smashes his thumb and blurts out an F-bomb vs a character who cries, "Oh, Fudgecycle." I wouldn't say either is necessarily 'wrong' however, depending on the style, theme and intent of any given piece generally only one or the other characterization will work effectively. In the novel I recently published, the 'hero' rarely curses, however, the city he calls home has fallen far into decay and with it so has its citizens. Many have devolved into vile, sinful examples of humanity and the hero is forced to deal with them often times on a low level. I felt that this coarse language suited these 'villains' because an elevated more elegant dialogue would have sounded false coming out of their mouths. I further felt it was important to be true to the nature of these characters even if it meant having to use impolite language, because-to use your glass of water analogy from above-if I had served up this gallery of wicked characters and then made them sound false because I didn't want to use 'obscene' language, that 'falseness', not the language itself, would have been the added sewage on top.
    That being said, I'll take the water analogy one step further and suggest that like the variety of fantasy novels in existence there are a variety of flavored waters too and each of us are simply trying to find the flavor(s) we find most appealing. Some will suit us quite well. Others not so much. If my novel was one you tried recently and you found the taste of it not to your liking, fair enough, but I would hope that you'd still be willing to pop by my blog and discuss writing with me from time to time. I enjoy having intelligent discussions about writing (especially when I'm awake!) and I'm curious about your thoughts.
    I hope you're having a great weekend, and I look forward to reading more of your stories on Smashwords.

  2. @inkcompetentwriter Hey, Shawn! Want a glass of water? 😀

    I am glad to hear your thoughts on this subject – and others! It is certainly a challenge to write about the seamier side of life and the characters who inhabit it without resorting to language and scenes that might make our readers cringe. Some cringing can even be good, but not, I think, when it alienates our readers. To quote Berin Stephens (from the comment section of the aforementioned article), "In normal marketing, you want to make your product as universal as possible, not see how many people you can offend with it."

    And to quote Michael Young again (from those same comments), "Has anyone actually said they didn't like a movie because there were too few swear words in it?"

    There are those 'artistes' that delight in shocking, and those who just don't care, but does a writer who wants to be read by a wide audience really want to drive people away? Or worse, betray their readers?

    Because if Joe Reader has picked up Book #1, liked it, and gone on to purchase Book #2 only to find out – to his horror and dismay – that it is chock full of foul language and explicit acts, what are the chances he will run out and read Book #3? How can Joe trust that author again? (Which brings us back to the ratings idea.)

    I was once told that I shouldn't write or do anything that I wouldn't feel comfortable writing or doing if my mother/spouse/child were watching me. After much reading, writing, and role-playing (Oh, look! The three R's!), I've concluded that it really is a good standard. Good for me, good for my family, good for my readers. I want ANYone to be able to read my works, and so I am willing to tackle the challenge of "clean grunge." If I can't gracefully accomplish it, then I'm willing to throw out the trash and look for another angle – one that will do the trick without embarrassing me or anyone else. And *still* spin a good tale because that, in the end, is what it's really about.

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