A Tip on Writing Better Articles.
posted by Dave Hoffman
There’s tons of advice out there on how to get better placements for your academic writing. Much of that genre holds writing quality constant or assumes it away. But that’s silly. Pat Rothfuss, one of my favorite fantasy authors and a former interviewee here at CoOp, has written a terrific column on how to avoid a mistake that bedevils first-time fantastists and junior scholars alike: excessive and ponderous vomiting of everything the author learned while preparing to write. His diagnosis of the problem is lucid, and for fans of the genre, familiar:
“So here’s how it goes wrong.
1. You create something for your fantasy world: a creature, a culture, a myth, whatever.
2. You’re proud of your creation. You’re excited about it. You love it with a fierce love.
3. You need to describe this thing to your reader, because if they don’t understand how it works, your story won’t make sense.
(3b. Remember, the story is the real reason people are there. Story is everything. Story is god.)
4. So you start to explain how folks in the the Shire celebrate their birthdays. (This is important because one of the first major events of the book is a birthday party.) You talk about how hobbits give presents away at their parties instead of receiving them. (This is important because it ties into why Bilbo is going to hand over the ring to Frodo.)
Then you start talking about how some of these presents get passed back and forth, party after party. And how those items are actually called mathoms, and how there’s actually a museum full of mathoms at Michel Delving, which is in the Westfarthing of the shire, since, as you know, the Shire is composed of four sections which take their names from prominent families in the area, such as Tookland being named after the Tooks, who are among the largest and oldest of the Shire families, and in fact still held the title of Thain, which had been passed to them from the Oldbucks, and while the title was largely ceremonial these days due to the lack of Shire-moot in recent, peaceful times…. …
You see what happens? It’s easy for an author to get so caught up in the details of the world they created, that they go off the rails and give us more than is really necessary for the story.”
How many articles have you seen where an author provides multiple footnotes in each sentence of the introduction, each larding on another fact that the reader is compelled to digest? Or first sections of articles that, in elaborate detail, tell you what the existing literature says. Such articles are exhausting to even skim – it can be fifteen to twenty thousand words before we start to get a hint of the author’s unique contribution. We get it – you did your homework!
Follow the link to read Pat’s advice on how to avoid the problem.