The Classic Literature Workshop

post by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T09:54:22.971Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 115 comments

From EY's Facebook page, there were two posts that got me thinking about fiction and how to work it better and make it stronger:

It would have been trivial to fix _Revenge of the Sith_'s inadequate motivation of Anakin's dark turn; have Padme already in the hospital slowly dying as her children come to term, not just some nebulous "visions". (Bonus points if you have Yoda lecture Anakin about the inevitability of death, but I'd understand if they didn't go there.) At the end, Anakin doesn't try to choke Padme; he watches the ship with her fly out of his reach, away from his ability to use his unnatural Sith powers to save her. Now Anakin's motives are 320% more sympathetic and the movie makes 170% more sense. If I'd put some serious work in, I'm pretty sure I could've had the movie audience in tears.

I still feel a sense of genuine puzzlement on how such disastrous writing happens in movies and TV shows. Are the viewers who care about this such a tiny percentage that it's not worth trying to sell to them? Are there really so few writers who could read over the script and see in 30 seconds how to fix something like this? (If option 2 is really the problem and people know it's the problem, I'd happily do it for $10,000 a shot.) Is it Graham's Design Paradox - can Hollywood moguls just not tell the difference between competent writers making such an offer, and fakers who'll take the money and run? Are the producers' egos so grotesque that they can't ask a writer for help? Is there some twisted sense of superiority bound up with believing that the audience is too dumb to care about this kind of thing, even though it looks to me like they do? I don't understand how a >$100M movie ends up with flaws that I could fix at the script stage with 30 seconds of advice.

A helpful key to understanding the art and technique of character in storytelling, is to consider the folk-psychological notion from Internal Family Systems of people being composed of different 'parts' embodying different drives or goals. A shallow character is then a character with only one 'part'.

A good rule of thumb is that to create a 3D character, that person must contain at least two different 2D characters who come into conflict. Contrary to the first thought that crosses your mind, three-dimensional good people are constructed by combining at least two different good people with two different ideals, not by combining a good person and a bad person. Deep sympathetic characters have two sympathetic parts in conflict, not a sympathetic part in conflict with an unsympathetic part. Deep smart characters are created by combining at least two different people who are geniuses.

E.g. HPMOR!Hermione contains both a sensible young girl who tries to keep herself and her friends out of trouble, and a starry-eyed heroine, neither of whom are stupid. (Actually, since HPMOR!Hermione is also the one character who I created as close to her canon self as I could manage - she didn't *need* upgrading - I should credit this one to J. K. Rowling.) (Admittedly, I didn't actually follow that rule deliberately to construct Methods, I figured it out afterward when everyone was praising the characterization and I was like, "Wait, people are calling me a character author now? What the hell did I just do right?")

If instead you try to construct a genius character by having an emotionally impoverished 'genius' part in conflict with a warm nongenius part... ugh. Cliche. Don't write the first thing that pops into your head from watching Star Trek. This is not how real geniuses work. HPMOR!Harry, the primary protagonist, contains so many different people he has to give them names, and none of them are stupid, nor does any one of them contain his emotions set aside in a neat jar; they contain different mixtures of emotions and ideals. Combining two cliche characters won't be enough to build a deep character. Combining two different realistic people in that character's situation works much better. Two is not a limit, it's a minimum, but everyone involved still has to be recognizably the same person when combined.

Closely related is Orson Scott Card's observation that a conflict between Good and Evil can be interesting, but it's often not half as interesting as a conflict between Good and Good. All standard rules about cliches still apply, and a conflict between good and good which you've previously read about and to which the reader can already guess your correct approved answer, cannot carry the story. A good rule of thumb is that if you have a conflict between good and good which you feel unsure about yourself, or which you can remember feeling unsure about, or you're not sure where exactly to draw the line, you can build a story around it. I consider the most successful moral conflict in HPMOR to be the argument between Harry and Dumbledore in Ch. 77 because it almost perfectly divided the readers on who was in the right *and* about whose side the author was taking. (*This* was done by deliberately following Orson Scott Card's rule, not by accident. Likewise _Three Worlds Collide_, though it was only afterward that I realized how much of the praise for that story, which I hadn't dreamed would be considered literarily meritful by serious SF writers, stemmed from the sheer rarity of stories built around genuinely open moral arguments. Orson Scott Card: "Propaganda only works when the reader feels like you've been absolutely fair to other side", and writing about a moral dilemma where *you're* still trying to figure out the answer is an excellent way to achieve this.)

Character shallowness can be a symptom of moral shallowness if it reflects a conflict between Good and Evil drawn along lines too clear to bring two good parts of a good character into conflict. This is why it would've been hard for Lord of the Rings to contain conflicted characters without becoming an entirely different story, though as Robin Hanson has just remarked, LotR is a Mileu story, not a Character story. Conflicts between evil and evil are even shallower than conflicts between good and evil, which is why what passes for 'maturity' in some literature is so uninteresting. There's nothing to choose there, no decision to await with bated breath, just an author showing off their disillusionment as a claim of sophistication.

 

I was wondering if we could apply this process to older fiction, Great Literature that is historically praised, and excellent by its own time's standards, but which, if published by a modern author, would seem substandard or inappropriate in one way or another.

Given our community's propensity for challenging sacred cows, and the unique tool-set available to us, I am sure we could take some great works of the past and turn them into awesome works of the present.


Of course, it doesn't have to be a laboratory where we rewrite the whole damn things. Just proprely-grounded suggestions on how to improve this or that work would be great.

 

P.S. This post is itself a work in progress, and will update and improve as comments come. It's been a long time since I've last posted on LW, so advice is quite welcome. Our work is never over.

 

EDIT: Well, I like that this thread has turned out so lively, but I've got finals to prepare for and I can't afford to keep participating in the discussion to my satisfaction. I'll be back in July, and apologize in advance for being such a poor OP. That said, cheers!

115 comments

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comment by knb · 2013-06-16T23:50:31.504Z · score: 15 (25 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a good example of a misunderstanding between people who have different communication and thought styles. Eliezer is obviously very verbally-oriented and George Lucas is an extreme visual thinker:

Small, shy, and socially maladroit, Lucas was a daydreamer who had trouble reading and writing at school and who gravitated toward mechanics and the visual arts, in which he showed early talent. "I was more picture-oriented," he says. He liked woodworking, tinkering, and taking photos, mostly of objects rather than people. He sculpted and did watercolors and ink drawings of landscapes and sports cars, some of which he sold. Comic books were a passion: He collected so many that his father built a shed for them; Lucas later called them his primary model for terse visual narrative.

Someone like Eliezer watches Star Wars and thinks about how weak the dialogue and plotting is. Someone like George Lucas would look at Eliezer's Harry Potter fanfic and think how sad it was that someone spent so much time stacking and arranging letters.

I think this is part of the reason why--in this overwhelmingly verbal/textual age--people think movies can be "bad," (synonymous with poorly-written) but still intensely enjoy them.

ETA: Movie reviewers are of course overwhelmingly verbal thinkers (Armond White is perhaps an exception.), which is presumably why they became writers instead of visual artists. This is a problem because they often evaluate films as though the visual aspect is just frosting and the only great films are those oriented around tight plotting and dialogue.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-06-17T02:31:01.398Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, George Lucas is a bad writer and doesn't understand or care about writing. But that shouldn't stop him from hiring good writers. In the past, it hasn't: for the Last Crusade, he hired Tom Stoppard. Added: and for Revenge of the Sith, he hired him again.

comment by taelor · 2013-06-17T03:10:07.882Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And to get back to Lucas's Star Wars franchise, The Empire Strikes Back -- the installment that Lucas had the least involvement in writing-wise -- is generally considered to have the best writting.

comment by aelephant · 2013-06-17T01:16:53.371Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This struck me as very insightful. Thanks.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-25T23:40:31.431Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You don't need to be verbally oriebted to think in terns of a good story;

  • Exhibit 1: Storyboards.
  • Exhibit 2: Silent movies.

It's not a matter of verb, but of sequence and structure. Of buildup.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-16T13:40:37.612Z · score: 12 (18 votes) · LW · GW

It's often said (or implied without saying it explicitly) that the works recognized as "Great Literature" are praised mainly for historical reasons only, that contemporary fiction is superior in most ways that matter, in particular because it's better suited to modern values and the way of life, and that it's primarily literary snobbery that stands in the way of a widespread adoption of these attitudes.

This, however, is wrong. Great Literature works survive as such because they prove relevant to every new generation. When they don't, they very quickly become forgotten or relegated to "famous back then, known mostly to scholars nowadays". Great Literature works that retain their high status over many hundreds of years usually have done that by having something relevant to say to every generation in those centuries; sometimes there're gaps of obscurity and then rediscovery, but those are the exception, not the rule.

The reason that the wrong attitude is popular is that people tend not to know or think of once-Great works that fell from the top. They see Shakespeares, but not Ben Jonsons. Ben Jonson was much higher regarded than Shakespeare for about 100 years after both died. His were much Greater works, until in the 18th century people decided they didn't care much for his style anymore and he didn't have much to tell them. There have been many more Ben Jonsons than Shakespeares.

I am sure we could take some great works of the past and turn them into awesome works of the present.

I bet you'd end up with silly-looking, embarrassing pastiches of no lasting value, maybe good for a chuckle or two because of contemporary allusions the readers would recognize.

comment by drethelin · 2013-06-16T18:28:05.956Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This, however, is wrong. Great Literature works survive as such because they prove relevant to every new generation. When they don't, they very quickly become forgotten or relegated to "famous back then, known mostly to scholars nowadays". Great Literature works that retain their high status over many hundreds of years usually have done that by having something relevant to say to every generation in those centuries; sometimes there're gaps of obscurity and then rediscovery, but those are the exception, not the rule.

this was true until Public Schooling became a standardized system. Consider how long it took for Latin to go from being mandatory to being something almost completely forgotten.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-16T21:48:58.466Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Depends on the country, but, generally speaking, it went from widespread to rare in one generation, and never was mandatory in the age of compulsory schooling.

Not sure what your point is - teaching of (non-classical) fiction in schools is itself very new, only a little more than a century old, and if you look at the mandatory fiction reading list in 1910s, 1930s, 1970s or 2010s, you'll see a lot of changes. So clearly teaching of literature in school doesn't stop Great Works from being reappraised.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-17T10:32:41.112Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty much: something is good if it works out of its context. The work of a savannah poet who understands human nature. People do in fact read Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare in the present day for pleasure and not just because it was forced on them at school.

That said, literary canons tend to be retconned from contemporary works of great resonance, as if history were a story that built to a climax rather than shit happening.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:25:28.396Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

literary canons tend to be retconned from contemporary works of great resonance

Er, I don't get what you mean here...

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-18T11:18:03.065Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mean that when you see a literary canon listed, or a writeup of an artistic progression, it looks very like history writing a story, but has actually been constructed at all because of interest in the work at the end. So the progression may be true, but its selection is heavily biased and makes history look like a bunch of stories. In practice, everyone is just trying to write a good one this time out, and artists steal furiously from every possible source they can, whether it fits a marketable story or not; real life is messy and doesn't have to make sense as a story.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T15:45:15.705Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I bet you'd end up with silly-looking, embarrassing pastiches of no lasting value, maybe good for a chuckle or two because of contemporary allusions the readers would recognize.

Like Kick-Ass, huh? Its authors certainly don't seem to treat it (or its audience) with much respect. Or like, for that matter, Don Quixote itself (it was supposed to be a silly comedy and a lampoon of chivalry books, not the Best Novel Ever it's become... well, Part I was; part II takes itself more seriously).

The goal is to use modern, more sophisticated tools to make something better than the original. If your result is a "silly-looking, embarrassing pastiche of no lasting value", you've failed in your task as a writer, and need to try harder. And, of course, "silly-looking" is a subjective qualifier, but it's the job of a good writer to properly anticipate audience reactions; I'd even say it's their main job. If by "embarassing" you mean "will lower your status in the eyes of a certain demographic, whose cooperation you need in order to achieve your goals", then, yes, this is a crucial factor that should be accounted for, and pre-empted.

To sum it up, if the result is a "silly-looking, embarrassing pastiche of no lasting value", you need to try harder, because you weren't doing your job properly.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-16T22:21:36.573Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Don Quixote itself (it was supposed to be a silly comedy and a lampoon of chivalry books, not the Best Novel Ever it's become... well, Part I was; part II takes itself more seriously).

But that's just as I was saying: Don Quixote remains on the list of Great Works (there is no "best novel ever") because new generations find it relevant even as their tastes and understanding shift. To the contemporary audience Part I was LOL-grade funny and to modern readers it's much more tragic; this is probably because we've taught ourselves to empathize much more strongly with someone being ridiculed than people in the 17th century (note: this and not the novel's age! Gargantua and Pantagruel is 100 years older and reads today exactly as the satire it was then, w/o accumulating gravitas). But the novel always supported both points of view; if it didn't, we'd have stopped reading it. There's any number of satirical texts from the same era that are no longer widely read because to us they would just seem stupidly cruel, with no high tragedy involved.

Like Kick-Ass, huh?

Well, no. I don't like Kick-Ass personally, but it's a very successful graphics novel that also resulted in a successful movie. This is incredibly rare and difficult to achieve. If you aim to start with a "great work" of the past and change some stuff around to make it modern, it's highly unlikely that you'll replicate the success of Kick-Ass.

If by "embarassing" you mean "will lower your status in the eyes of a certain demographic, whose cooperation you need in order to achieve your goals",

By "embarrassing" I mean that it'll be embarrassingly badly written.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T06:54:52.347Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you aim to start with a "great work" of the past and change some stuff around to make it modern, it's highly unlikely that you'll replicate the success of Kick-Ass.

Yes, but that shouldn't stop one from doing everything in one's power, as a writer, to achieve it.

By "embarrassing" I mean that it'll be embarrassingly badly written.

The whole point of the exercise is to write better than the original. Again, if it's badly written, it's a failure, no matter how otherwise "modernized" it is. Whether the failure feels embarassing or not to the writer is utterly irrelevant; what matters is that they failed, when rationalists should win.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-18T14:02:57.168Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This conversation is bizarre.

You: "Let's work together and, as an exercise, take a famous classic work and rewrite it as a better one"

I: "This is a naive and ill-founded proposal that has near-zero chance of success. You don't seem to understand what made past great works great, or what it takes to make a successful work of literature today. Most likely you'll end up with an embarrasingly badly written piece of pastiche".

You: "The whole point is to be better than the original! Rationalists should win! Try harder! If what you say happens, that just means I haven't achieved my goal."

... yes, it does? What does this pronouncement have to do with anything I've said? Why are you just repeating empty slogans?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T23:02:45.288Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You don't seem to understand what made past great works great, or what it takes to make a successful work of literature today.

That part is new. Very well, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I don't. Enlighten us.

empty slogans

Woe! "Rationalists should win" is an empty slogan now?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-18T23:33:26.879Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think Anatoly's point is just that this project is will involve an absolutely massive expenditure of time and effort, while being overwhelmingly likely to fail. In general, the combination of these two situations is very good reason not to do something, especially when there's no clear payoff.

For my part, I also don't think it's true that LWers are well equipped to handle this sort of project. LW tends to attract comp-sci, math, physics, bio, engineering type people. It also tends to specifically drive away history, literature, art history, english type people. The reaction to philosophy is mixed at best. If GRE scores represent anything to do with writing ability, this means that LW is a community that generally selects against writing talent. And writing talent is just a minimum condition on writing good literature. It's not close to sufficient. Almost everyone who spends their entire lives perfecting their writing and trying to write great literature fails completely.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-20T06:00:09.183Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It also tends to specifically drive away history, literature, art history, english type people.

The causes of that, and how to counteract them, would be a topic very much worth investigating. We cannot get by on matter-oriented skills alone.

will involve an absolutely massive expenditure of time and effort

Well, yes. I´m just beginning to set the foundations and attempting to gather interested, like-minded people. The easy part is to look at an old book and go

  • where is there here room for improvement?
  • what techniques and methods in this book wouldn't a modern writer be able to get away with? unless already high-status or explicitly homaging older works?

A typical example would be to switch from an Omniscient Narrator who judges characters for the reader, to a narrator that doesn't spell things out so much, while also avoiding the alienating extremes of a Cameraman Narrator who only shows the externalities of actions. Third Person POV narration seems to be the modern standard, with character thoughts referenced to obliquely (instead of "'She´ll kill me!' she thought", use "She would kill her!") so as to get past the subconscious separation between reader and character, and make the story more immersive.

Another would be to take old stories that used to follow Random Event Plots and Nested Stories and shave off anything extraneous to whatever the tale´s "about". Part One of Don Quixote had lots of little stories and backstories in it that had nothing to do with the plot, the themes, or the message (heck, sometimes they sort of undermined it; a pastoral fantasy in a chivalry lampoon?), and which didn't even serve the purpose of being allegories or reflections of it, and which might have been better off as separate stuff. Many nineteenth century Doorstoppers were compilations of serialized works where the author was paid by the word, encouraging them to verbosity and filler.

when there's no clear payoff

There is; fun, and improvement of writing and critical skills, and all the secondary skills that go with that. There is also focus; an interesting, challenging goal, with clearly-set parameters, and with all the usual facilities of fanfiction.

There's already a bit of a tradition of writing fanfiction of classics (from the Aeneid, to Avellaneda's Quixote, to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and there's a bit of a tradition in the fanfiction community of writing fics that change something about the original that audiences found unsatisfactory, and "Better Than Cannon" is not all that uncommon a praise.

The only thing about this project that is novel and dangerous and exciting is that, instead of starting from works that come under heavy fire for their flows, one starts from works that are so sanctified and canonized as to be nigh-untouchable. Setting out to "improve" them is a twofold task:

  • Determining what, precisely is great about them, why we would want to keep them around, why they would be worth the effort of reading by new readers.
  • Getting rid of whatever gets in the way of that greatness, of conveying whatever the work is meant to convey.

This optimization process, and its defiance of blind faith, bias, and halo effects, is gratifying in itself, and very much in the spirit of Less Wrong. Failure, at first, is, of course, inevitable, as part of the process called deliberate practice.

Almost everyone who spends their entire lives perfecting their writing and trying to write great literature fails completely.

Irrelevant; we're not trying to write new great literature; we're just updating stuff that's allegedly (allegedly) great.

LW is a community that generally selects against writing talent.

Are you conflating academic interest in the history of the arts with proficiency of creative writing skills? More importantly, what is this "talent" you are talking about?

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-17T18:35:34.171Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What are the 'modern, more sophisticated tools'? I think that's one of the things I don't see from your post.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T08:23:57.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a wonderful answer for this that my margins of time are too narrow to contain right now. I'll get back to you on this in July, when I'm done with finals.

comment by D_Malik · 2013-06-16T15:04:20.715Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My impression was that "great literature" is mostly read to signal intelligence/culturedness to people who don't realize that reading them doesn't require much intelligence, and that fiction doesn't "teach lessons" as much/well as people claim, and that people only claim that it does because they need some justification (to themselves and others) for spending long periods of time in fake worlds. I've only read like 3 or 4 classics though, and I could be convinced to read more if I found one that actually seemed to teach something, but that hasn't happened yet.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-17T01:25:57.700Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The impression I've had from reading supposed Great Works is that they often (but not always) fail to tell you much that's new about life or love or the human condition or what have you, but they do often tell you a lot about the evolution of fiction as an art form. That doesn't generalize all that well, but it does make you a better reader and a better writer.

Another point: if you're reading works that're central to your native literary traditions, you're likely to have already picked up most of their major themes through cultural osmosis. That doesn't mean they weren't insightful at the time, but it does mean you've been spoiled for that aspect of the books. If you're looking for new insights in your fiction, reading Great Novels from a culture you don't belong to is probably a better idea than digging into your native canon.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:27:44.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

they do often tell you a lot about the evolution of fiction as an art form.

Hence why I thought it might be easy to see where there was room for improvement using more modern techniques.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-18T07:38:22.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Depends what's changing about it. Sometimes I'd say the evolution of media points to genuine improvement, especially when you see it in relatively new branches like rock and roll or comic books or film; we've been doing some literary forms for a very long time. Often, though, it reflects external changes in technology or education, changes in language, or just differing tastes and preoccupations. And even that might be assigning too much rationale: sometimes it's just a random walk based on recombinations of whatever's been popular in the last thirty years or so.

With this in mind, I'd say modern writers are likely to get more out of responding to technological and social changes than trying to improve basic technique. Reading techno-thrillers or near-future SF, for example, is vastly different when you've got a Wikipedia tab open, and yet I can only think of a couple of writers that seem to have realized this potential.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-16T22:01:37.481Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what the point of your reply is - my comment wasn't about why people read "great literature", it was about how the canonical list of great works changes over time and the implications of that. Perhaps you're eager to signal that you think reading classics is all about signalling?..

Your list of what you think people's motivations are w.r.t. "great literature" has middle-school rebel written all over it. It's not even wrong, and hence difficult to discuss. The fact that you seem to be using "great literature", "fiction" and "classics" interchangeably doesn't help either (e.g. the "fake worlds" clause applies to genre fiction just as well as to literary fiction, but people don't normally claim that romance novels or detective novels teach important lessons).

comment by D_Malik · 2013-06-17T02:10:42.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what the point of your reply is - my comment wasn't about why people read "great literature", it was about how the canonical list of great works changes over time and the implications of that.

Yeah, sorry, this was probably the wrong place to put it. I'm just trying to figure out why people read "great literature", because it seems weird to me and I suspect I might be wrong that it's not worthwhile, especially because some aspiring rationalists seem to think it's worthwhile.

Perhaps you're eager to signal that you think reading classics is all about signalling?

Ha, I missed that :) I'm writing under a pseudonym though, and I've never told the stuff in the grandparent to anyone in person, because it:

has middle-school rebel written all over it

Maybe my ape-brain wants to metacontrarianly signal that it's so smart it can afford to signal middle-schooler-level stupidity? Still, I think middle-schoolers are largely right about "great literature".

It's not even wrong

Do you think it's wrong to say that "great literature" (by which I mean things like Shakespeare or The Great Gatsby) is read mainly to signal intelligence/culturedness? I really think it is, because for instance it impresses people, and it's difficult, and it's not as fun as most things you could read, and I don't think reading (a small amount of) "great literature" has taught me anything useful for anything other than signalling. By saying I think it's about signalling I'm not trying to imply that it's wrong or that you shouldn't do it, but if you know you're signalling then you can optimize for signalling (by e.g. reading summaries rather than the original).

comment by taelor · 2013-06-17T03:21:27.508Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think it's wrong to say that "great literature" (by which I mean things like Shakespeare or The Great Gatsby) is read mainly to signal intelligence/culturedness?

It doesn't have to be one or the other. It is possible for something to both genuinely posses literary merit, and for people who don't actually appreciate that merit to say that they do in order to signal culturedness.

On an unrelated note, The Great Gasby is unrepentantly an Idea story, and that Idea is "Fuck The Jazz Age"; if you don't give a shit about the Jazz age, then Gatsby probably isn't going to appeal to you at all.

comment by cousin_it · 2014-01-07T13:24:00.701Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's strange, I also thought Gatsby was an idea story, but with a different idea: "don't get too hung up on your dream". But then again, I saw the same idea in "Moby-Dick" and "Tender Is the Night", so maybe I'm imagining things...

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-17T18:08:42.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You might be using 'fuck the jazz age' in a slightly broader sense than referring to the literal, but I don't care much about the jazz age, and Gatsby appealed to me. Though I've only seen the film and so probably lose all signalling rights.

comment by taelor · 2013-06-19T08:34:18.409Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have not seen the film; what about it appealed to you?

For my part, when I said that Gatsby's Idea was "Fuck the Jazz Age", what I meant was something along the lines of: "The period in American history from the end of the first World War until the onset of the Great Depression was a decadent, morally bankrupt time and furthermore the so-called 'American Dream' that it was said to embody is a hollow lie; fuck it, and fuck any similarities that our current time period has to it". It's been years since I read the book, though; so it's possible that I'm misremembering details. Elsewhere in this thread, Moridinamael says: "The value of The Great Gatsby is (some would say) in how it perfectly expressed the zeitgeist of a time and place." This comment leads me to believe that my assesment of Gatsby as an Idea story may be incorrect; perhaps it works better as a Milieu story. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it better if I had understood it as such when I initially read it.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2014-01-08T03:51:37.685Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You sound like you don't know that Gatsby was written during the period it chronicles. I don't expect that this will have a large effect on your reading, but some of the details in the long version of your slogan are definitely off.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-19T12:57:15.600Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what I liked about the film so much: I'm a sucker for Lurhmann in general. But there's something more general about privilege and carelessness, and the dismissal of those outside an enchanted circle, going on in it for me: these might be particularly well-shown in the jazz age, but they aren't limited to it. There's clearly something about the American Dream going on - apparently Fitzgerald tried to change the title to 'Under the Red, White and Blue', but I think being British I don't fully get the American Dream either intellectually or emotionally.

Then again, this is

  • just the film
    • probably heavily influenced by half-hearing about it and expecting an entirely different story (I thought Gatsby was the dangerously careless one and that the narrator would be drawn into his glitzy world but wouldn't have the money and power to escape the bad sides and would be discarded)

I saw the film with people who'd read (and possibly briefly studied) it, and I suspect my view isn't typical. For instance, I saw a clear and direct read-across between Gatsby and Steerpike (from Gormenghast), and everyone thought I was just being weird...

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-23T08:53:59.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think it's wrong to say that "great literature" (by which I mean things like Shakespeare or The Great Gatsby) is read mainly to signal intelligence/culturedness? I really think it is, because for instance it impresses people, and it's difficult, and it's not as fun as most things you could read, and I don't think reading (a small amount of) "great literature" has taught me anything useful for anything other than signalling. By saying I think it's about signalling I'm not trying to imply that it's wrong or that you shouldn't do it, but if you know you're signalling then you can optimize for signalling (by e.g. reading summaries rather than the original).

I've read a lot of "great literature", and I will admit that signalling is a big motivation. Many of my friends are academics in the humanities and I'm often involved in conversations where references to Dostoevsky, Henry James, etc. are frequent (again, probably to signal intelligence and culture). Not being familiar with literature would incur a significant social cost in that context.

That said, I do also legitimately enjoy much great literature. Not so much because I learn a lot from it (although I wouldn't say I don't), but because a lot of it is actually brilliantly written and involves deep and interesting ideas. As a contrast, I also have friends who are really into anime, and they often talk about it. I've tried getting into it, but I've found even the most acclaimed animes (Cowboy Bebop and Death Note are ones I've tried watching) to be dull and somewhat silly. I just can't get into the aesthetic. I pay a social cost for this -- I often feel left out of the conversation when I'm hanging out with my anime-loving friends -- but that isn't enough to force me to watch these series.

So signalling is definitely a big part of why I read literature, but it's not a sufficient reason. If I didn't enjoy it I doubt I would force myself to do it.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T15:51:17.115Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Those can be some of the factors, depending on the people. Another reason for reading "focus point" works of fiction is that they give you a common topic to talk about. This is true for Cult Classics as well as for Great Classics.

One can thus read fiction for two social reasons; their value as a simulator of interesting and dangerous situations, and their value as a conversation piece.

Ambiguous works that invite a lot of alternate character interpretation or a lot of symbolism are especially appropriate, whether it be Hamlet or Neon Genesis Evangelion; you make the audiences care about what happens, and then you leave them homework (an exercise to the reader).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-16T14:20:07.368Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I still feel a sense of genuine puzzlement on how such disastrous writing happens in movies and TV shows.

Smart people who only hang out with other smart people are often puzzled like that.

The best unexpected outcome of working in K-12 education was learning how isolated I'd made myself, intelligence-wise. Now I've broken out of that isolation, and when I think about how to make the world a better place I think about the world and not just the world of smarty smart-pants.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-16T22:27:52.915Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Smart people who only hang out with other smart people are often puzzled like that.

That's applicable to half the threads around here. When people estimate other people, they often project their own minds as the template. But people are very different, and we're a particular tail end distribution.

I had a similar immediate reaction to EY's quote. Fix the story? For who? For what purpose? For us, the 0,1% tail of the distribution? The smarty smart pants adults?

Seems like Lucas went for two audiences - children, who want black and white, and morally retarded adults impressed by the moralizing point/counterpoint of Luke/Obi Wan.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:24:15.677Z · score: -8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Fix the story? For who? For what purpose? For us, the 0,1% tail of the distribution? The smarty smart pants adults?

If you are unable to successfully reach out to everyone, that's your failure as a writer.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-18T10:16:19.546Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If you are unable to successfully reach out to everyone, that's your failure as a writer.

If you try to reach everyone with a given piece of work rather than optimising for a particular audience then that's your failure as a decision maker.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-17T10:35:43.336Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Smart people who only hang out with other smart people are often puzzled like that.

Also, because you're clever means everyone else must be stupid.

(note: may not be a 100% effective theory)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-16T22:36:23.871Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(Bonus points if you have Yoda lecture Anakin about the inevitability of death, but I'd understand if they didn't go there.)

New Pro Life Fan Fiction:
The Force for Life, where Luke tries to bring Jedi/Sith immortality to the masses.

I note that while the Sith are implicitly condemned for their desire to cheat death, the Jedi are portrayed as actually achieving it. There is a lot of "have your cake and eat it too" moral propaganda. Condemn the desire for something, while granting the desire to those denying it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-18T06:37:59.593Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I note that while the Sith are implicitly condemned for their desire to cheat death, the Jedi are portrayed as actually achieving it. There is a lot of "have your cake and eat it too" moral propaganda. Condemn the desire for something, while granting the desire to those denying it.

Furthermore, the Sith can save others, the Jedi only save themselves. Why are the Jedi the good guys again?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-18T08:04:51.077Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Furthermore, the Sith can save others, the Jedi only save themselves. Why are the Jedi the good guys again?

How do the Sith save others? Is there actually tech. in the movies that is used for this purpose? Or is it just something the Sith could do?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-18T07:21:45.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He could save others from death...but not himself.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-18T22:32:28.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

'could' but I'm not sure anything in the movies (as opposed to the EU, who knows what that's gotten up to by now) implies that Darth Sidious did.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-22T18:29:41.980Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think at least the movie showed that Palpatine believed what he was saying. I didn't get any sense of deception from him when he said it. He seemed entirely congruent. Admittedly that's hardly conclusive that it in fact happened, or that he was being congruent with his memory of actual events, and not a "Sith legend" as he characterized it.

As for the Jedi, if they were able to make themselves "more powerful than you can imagine", why didn't they just do it, instead of waiting to die? And is whispering in Luke's ear supposed to be "more power than you can imagine?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-23T21:47:49.220Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

is whispering in Luke's ear supposed to be "more power than you can imagine?

Perhaps, given that Anakin seems to have a vivid imagination, "more than you can imagine" means "inconceivable" ?

"Lord Vader, Skywalker has torpedoed the Death Star into oblivion, with guidance from beyond the grave!" "Inconceivable!"

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-23T22:30:05.764Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To which Inigo Montoya replies...

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-17T00:55:27.179Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Condemn the desire for something, while granting the desire to those denying it.

Exception: The Rebel Alliance wanted freedom from the Empire, and got it.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-17T07:49:42.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't mean to imply that all stories were examples of "have your cake and eat it too" moral propaganda.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-06-17T21:39:18.298Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't think you were; I thought you were implying that Star Wars regularly had that pattern.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-06-17T23:31:50.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not that either. Just pointing out a pattern seen elsewhere.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-17T18:02:18.963Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that too much is being read into the Star Wars case here: I'm not convinced it's typical. It felt to me like George Lucas was being given too much of a free hand, and so there wasn't anyone doing that checking, and that the interest was more in the 'event' of new films than their quality.

I also think that this post is more generally a bit muddled. The assumption seems to be that 'old' books are worse but that we hold them to lower standards, and I don't think this is true: it's certainly not demonstrated above. Nor is there any reason to think that LessWrong has a 'unique tool set' for good writing: Eliezer's post is in fact drawing on another writer, not cut from new cloth

As it happens, I'm also in an ambivalent position on HPMOR itself: I love it and find it really enjoyable, but I don't think it's fantastic as literature or in terms of characterisation. I think it uses lots of interesting ideas and is very good at sucker-punch or uplifting set-pieces (it can definitely make me laugh, cry, seethe etc.), but the feel of it is more a series of very effective sketches than a novel. Three Worlds Collide read very much like a very good SF short story to me though.

comment by moridinamael · 2013-06-17T22:13:56.366Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There exists an eternal Internet argument, a hydra which reappears in every discussion of art everywhere online, and it grows from the failure of the typical person to disambiguate between entertainment value and other metrics of quality. Most old books are not very entertaining. Most "literature" isn't even very entertaining. I would provide examples but I honestly don't really feel that I need to. Chances are that if you read something in high school, it was both literature and not very entertaining.

A very fast and effective way to make something more entertaining is to make the characters likable or at least relate-able, possessing some degree of internal conflict. Writing an unlikable or flat protagonist is viewed as a novice writing mistake, and yet many literary protagonists are unlikable, or merely very flat.

The value of literature isn't in its entertainment value. We're trained to expect entertainment from art. Suggestions to improve literature are thus usually aimed at making it more entertaining, which in a sense misses the point. In my personal view, I don't see why something can't have literary merit and also be entertaining, but I also try to assess art on its own terms.

I think it uses lots of interesting ideas and is very good at sucker-punch or uplifting set-pieces (it can definitely make me laugh, cry, seethe etc.), but the feel of it is more a series of very effective sketches than a novel.

I feel that this can be attributed to the episodic nature of the work. Novelists have the chance iterate on their novels - the first draft often represents the raw materials from which a good book is later reconstructed. HPMOR is essentially a first draft. It is amazing that it is as good as it is.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-18T06:26:32.743Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree there's more going on than being entertaining, but I've read many incredibly entertaining (taken in a broad sense) works of literature at school. Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies...

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-05-25T11:05:26.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We're trained to expect entertainment from art.

I expect entertainment from entertainment. I want to be moved by art, preferably in a way that can be used again and again in life.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:11:45.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The value of literature isn't in its entertainment value.

Where, then, does it lie, precisely?

Chances are that if you read something in high school, it was both literature and not very entertaining.

Never happened to me. Even The Great Gatsby, which I loathe, is entertaining in that it has cool prose and witty turns of phrase, much in the same way that the operation of a very well-designed torture machine is entertaining to an engineer, without the engineer ceasing to find it loathsome in other ways.

comment by moridinamael · 2013-06-18T17:46:07.626Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Where, then, does it lie, precisely?

That's sort of a different form of the ultimate question, what is art? Some people say a toilet with a Bible in it is art, others say it's not. Clearly it's doing something for somebody, it's trying to say something, but it doesn't tickle the sense of aesthetic appreciation, so it's hard to accept as art.

Likewise, I don't think you would say that Heart of Darkness, The Jungle, or the film Irréversible were created to entertain. Maybe they do entertain, but the desire to entertain probably wasn't the motivation driving their creation. Like how you might be amused by the Bible in the toilet, but it clearly wasn't done just to amuse you.

The value of The Great Gatsby is (some would say) in how it perfectly expressed the zeitgeist of a time and place. We can appreciate it as a kind of historical artifact, or as an unpleasant journey through a set of unique human failure modes. Most people don't finish it and say, "Wow, I really enjoyed that book."

Anyway, I think we actually agree on this topic in general, I just wanted to answer your specific question.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-25T23:37:59.851Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

how it perfectly expressed the zeitgeist of a time and place

I strongly disagree. That kind of mood can be found anytime, anywhere, among any social class.

Guy born with status gets girl born with status who was previously courted with guy born without it who doesn't know the codes of status all that well. The latter sets out to obtain status, at great expense, all for the sake of getting the girl, on whom he fixated as a status symbol and the solution to all his self-esteem issues.

He fails because of his lack of belief in his newly-acquired status, in the face of the first guy, who is absurdly secure in his own. Also because he's terrible at making practical plans and gathering the information he needs; he's charming, but in the end he's an un-savvy, socially awkward dork.

There are social gatherings of high-status people which are entertaining yet disappointing. Pleasures are abused, and ennui is rampant.

All is passively witnessed by a guy with middle-status is fascinated and repulsed at the same time by high-status people, and has a bad case of cognitive dissonance about it, i.e. sour grapes.

Frankly, this story could take place in a freaking playground, or have a cast of chimpanzees, and still work.

comment by moridinamael · 2013-06-26T03:44:59.166Z · score: 0 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that is why I added the "some would say." =)

I'll grant you that The Great Gatsby is probably too good a book to be used as an example of obviously bad literature.

There are definitely parts of the book that seem to emphasize the absurd excess that became the hallmark of that time and place, but I agree that in general it's a very universal story template.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-26T10:40:53.100Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps that is the hallmark of "literary fiction"; trying to be as timeless and applicable as possible while dealing with human failure modes. "Genre fiction," because it often deals with strange and spectacular situations, doesn't endure, because humans get acclimated to amazing and wondrous and shocking things, and they soon become zeerust of one kind or another. Also works set in the past tend to grow a wondrous and wistful aura merely by virtue of being old, making us feel nostalgia for times and places we never saw.

By the way, reading historical novels, written at different times, and set in the same time period, alongside works written in that actual time period, can be in itself a source of much amusement and bewilderment, even when the time period is fictional.

Films are also quite fun about this; pay attention to the haircuts :P.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-26T13:49:42.305Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reading historical novels set in the same period but written at different times does sound like fun.

C.S. Lewis' High and Low Brows * builds the rather plausible theory that high brow fiction is simply more difficult than low brow, and thus higher status. He mentions Dickens, who was low brow when he was writing, and high brow after his work became less accessible.

It isn't a matter of the authors' intent.

You may have a point about more recent literary fiction considered as a genre, rather than looking at the fiction which is counted as classic.

*Unfortunately, Google books has left some pages out, but the outline of the argument is still there.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-26T21:24:58.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes, stuff that's harder to like and harder to enjoy becomes popular among the "right" crowd who can delude themselves and each other that they're appreciating it right, and the rest of the world's oafs aren't. Subverting this kind of stupid bullcrap is another big motivator for that project.

I suspect that many literary and philosophical projects were motivated by the urge to flip the bird to the current paradigm. I just gotta hope most of them failed and we only heard about the winners, because outrage, frustration, defiance and facetiousness don't seem like very good motivators to get suff done...

comment by gwern · 2013-06-18T00:03:34.855Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It felt to me like George Lucas was being given too much of a free hand, and so there wasn't anyone doing that checking

FWIW, this is pretty much the story that I got from reading (ironically, I've forgotten which) Kaminski's The Secret History of Star Wars or Marcus Hearn's The Cinema of George Lucas: Lucas, for the original trilogy, was able to circulate drafts of the movie scripts among a circle of friends and acquaintances, who would edit and make suggestions and criticize it heavily. This circle had, however, disintegrated by the time the prequels got going, between normal life events, Lucas's divorce, etc.

(As far as Empire Strikes Back goes, you can't give any of the credit to Leigh Brackett; she was dying at the time, and supposedly Lucas wound up ignoring what she managed to finish.)

comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-16T17:42:02.124Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is probably stating the obvious, but most people watch television to be "entertained." They don't sit and think about the plot. They don't wonder about the character's motivations. They just passively watch. Producers probably know this and don't feel the need to spend extra money to appease a small portion of the population, even if it would make the show better all-around. They have no incentive to make better characters.

comment by Anatoly_Vorobey · 2013-06-16T20:47:21.246Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

No, this isn't stating the obvious, it's cheap, unthinking cynicism. In reality, TV shows compete against each other very aggressively, and having more complex, interesting, realistic characters can and does bring a huge competitive advantage to one show over another. That depends on the genre, in the more lowbrow sitcoms you may want a very stereotypical character instead, but those do not capture all the market or even most of it. What you're saying is easily falsified just by reading a few articles on which shows get cancelled and speculations as to why.

TV shows die due to bad writing all the time (Heroes is a particularly striking recent example where a show was off to a great start and fizzled out due to bad writing and characters the viewers couldn't care about in the later seasons). Unless the show is particularly formulaic, the producers have all the incentive to organize better characters, and in fact the networks interfere in the shows' character development and plot arcs all the time, demanding this or that change because they're convinced their audience will like it better. Every major TV show has a huge amount of attention devoted to characters.

comment by knb · 2013-06-17T03:20:25.887Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

No, this isn't stating the obvious, it's cheap, unthinking cynicism. In reality, TV shows compete against each other very aggressively, and having more complex, interesting, realistic characters can and does bring a huge competitive advantage to one show over another.

TV shows do compete aggressively, but having complex and realistic characters is only a good investment for the small minority of shows that are highly serialized and oriented around complex characters (Mad Men and Breaking Bad are good examples). There is a market for shows like this, but it is small and not terribly profitable.

The big money comes from shows with simple cardboard characters and one-off storylines like The Big Bang Theory (which set a record for biggest per-episode syndication deal ever) and Baywatch, which was syndicated in 142 countries. They have mass appeal and--most importantly--are easy to sell into syndication, where they become permanent cash cows.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-18T03:54:53.981Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not too long ago, the highest rated TV show in the U.S. was serial drama The Walking Dead...

comment by knb · 2013-06-18T06:59:34.889Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nope. To check this I just looked at the average ratings of The Big Bang Theory and compared it to The Walking Dead. TBBT had higher average ratings all three seasons The Walking Dead has aired. A quick check confirms that Two and a Half Men also had more viewers.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-18T22:08:46.778Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Really?

comment by knb · 2013-06-19T01:18:16.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's only 18-49. Wikipedia sources TV By the Numbers, which includes people not in the 18-49 demographic.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:18:59.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To be fair, TTBT episodes are short and easy to watch. It's the fiction equivalent of candy, or of a casual game. Could you have a look at the DVD sales?

comment by Michelle_Z · 2013-06-17T02:12:47.264Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. That does make sense- you might have found some cached knowledge of mine. I would like to point out that there are quite a few painfully crappy shows that people enjoy, but now that I think about it, they tend to go off the air in a couple seasons.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-18T04:05:26.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My father watches Revenge. He acknowledges that the writing is terrible and says he watches it to see what kind of moronic and unbelievable plot twist they're going to come up with next.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T20:32:14.113Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, they most certainly do. Who doesn't want their work to become a Cash Cow Franchise that people keep utterly obsessing about years or even decades after it came out? It it just costs one little extra effort in term of paying for good writing (we assume good acting and directing are par of the course).

And, of course, the whole art of Hollywood is to make stories that are fun and compelling on many levels, enjoyable to the sharp and the dull in equal measure. Pixar is especially good at that.

TLDR; the reward for good art (whose virtues include being accessible to all and being entertaining and emotionally cathartic) is boatloads of cash. Forever

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-16T19:37:45.195Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It probably depends on the show. There's a lot of Internet-driven TV fandom these days, which has helped make more complicated shows (such as "Game of Thrones") successful.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-06-17T10:34:45.574Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The other important thing about Game of Thrones is the model of payment: the people watching are the customers, not the product.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-18T03:51:23.588Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Many shows that appear on advertising-supported TV stations have been making substantial amounts of money through DVD sales. (Cable networks also get to charge cable companies for merely carrying their programming - so if a channel is popular enough that people complain when it gets dropped, the channel ends up being subsidized by everyone who pays cable bills, even if the actual number of viewers is relatively small.)

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T20:42:11.573Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, it depends on the target demographic.

And then there's surprises like My Little Pony. Wait, a committed artist assembled a dream team of writers, animators, designers, voice actors, musicians, and so on, and set them on a challenging task ("making a girls' cartoon that is awesome"), with a body of executives that was supportive and friendly?

It would have been a surprise if they had failed.

Even the IDW comics are awesome, and are the best-selling IDW series in, like, ever! Does anyone here read those?

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-18T04:09:41.066Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When you put it that way, it's not surprising that the show turned out to be good. Merely being good certainly doesn't guarantee that there will be a big enough audience to achieve financial success, though.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T06:58:05.669Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's a base factor that is correlated with popular success (financial success, to a creative type, is secondary, as long as they're making a decent living; the important thing is to have "lots of people watching your shit", as Trey Parker and Matt Stone put it). Increasing it is no guarantee, just like raising your child with excellent values and work ethic and a good school doesn't mean he'll get the Nobel or even do anything important with themself, but still, it's what you do if you want them to succeed as much as possible.

However, for the record, I'd argue that a show must be "good" for a purpose. There's no such thing as "good" in abstract. MLP;FIM was designed with the main purpose of attracting little girls and their parents, keeping their attention, and selling them toys. The authors made sure it was "good" for that purpose.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-16T10:28:08.578Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I always thought it would be kind of neat to have a version of Don Quixote set in the present and in which the title character has a comic book superhero obsession instead of a "knight-errant" obsession...

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T11:14:29.710Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's been done, with a repetition of the two-part scheme, with the first part being black comedy (with tragic undertones) showing just how incompetent and selfish the protagonist's motivations are, and the second showing him having matured and having acquired genuine altruistic motives (and still being tragic). It's called Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T08:04:24.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You mean the graphic novels, right? I saw the movie but didn't read them.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-23T11:00:12.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You'd be in for a surprise or two...

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T21:11:13.801Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know that they changed several things, like the real past of "Big Daddy"...

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-23T21:53:35.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The tone changes drastically as a result.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T22:28:22.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. Much of the movie is about Hit Girl being a badass; I think the graphic novel plays it for tragedy, though.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-06-16T16:00:14.190Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This sounds kind of like Watchmen (although it is Cold War Era, rather than the "present").

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T08:12:46.167Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You actually can get away with doing this kind of thing - but only if you're also writing in a language other than the one the original author used. You can get away with a lot more when you're doing a "translation" because it's literally impossible to simply leave everything as the original author wrote it.

Case in point: W.S. Kuniczak's "modern translation" of the Sienkiewicz Trilogy.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-23T11:09:53.765Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My first experience of Shakespeare was through French translations, which I really loved. Later, when I learned enough English, I tried to read the originals... it was a suffocating exercise in frustration.

It wasn't until I read Brush Up Your Shakespeare that I learned to appreciate the original language a little better.

You actually can get away with doing this kind of thing

Actually, that's what interested me in this exercise in the first place; that it's "sacrilegious" and likely to attract ire, a state of affairs that I find silly.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T21:08:32.362Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reading Shakespeare without footnotes is difficult even for native speakers. Some of the plays work well enough (although there will always be some passages that will be confusing), but the sonnets are mostly incomprehensible.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-25T23:28:38.847Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To be honest, I had the opposite problem. Dialogue with no captions or directions or context? How am I supposed to guess how the characters feel?

And, honestly, moden actors take playing Shakespeare so damn seriously, they could be saying "ba ba ba ba" and still sound emotionally three-dimensional and intense and layered and stuff. I keep finding that the text often doesn't measure up to the skill invested in portraying it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-25T01:17:50.925Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't find the sonnets too confusing, and I'm not even a native English speaker.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-18T08:11:27.129Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I was wondering if we could apply this process to older fiction, Great Literature that is historically praised, and excellent by its own time's standards, but which, if published by a modern author, would seem substandard or inappropriate in one way or another.

Historic Great Literature. You mean Lord of the Rings, right? Surely you don't expect us to read things from before that?

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T08:22:03.352Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What, and miss out on Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and The Caves of Steel and I, Robot and...?

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-18T09:10:51.073Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What, and miss out on Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and The Caves of Steel and I, Robot and...?

Pardon me, I of course meant to start the date from 'The Hobbit'. Lax of me. Foundation was great, particularly the first time I read it a couple of decades ago.

I've read things from before then, but largely under coercion. I'm utterly unimpressed by Shakespere and want those years of my life back.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-23T08:28:37.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read Borges? I would be very surprised if someone attracted to the LW memeset didn't enjoy him. Nabokov is another good bet, I think.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-23T10:57:26.230Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read Borges? I would be very surprised if someone attracted to the LW memeset didn't enjoy him. Nabokov is another good bet, I think.

Never heard of them. Thankyou for the recommendation. Since I near constantly have audiobooks running at high speed in my earphones as background noise I find myself hard pressed to find enough non-trashy content to catch my attention.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-23T09:16:54.121Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nabokov put out most of his famous work after WWII (and thus The Hobbit); Lolita was published in 1955, Pale Fire in 1962. With LW as an audience I think I'd recommend the latter over the former, although they're both quite good. Borges was also most prolific postwar, although there isn't a sharp division with him like there is with Nabokov.

While we're recommending authors, I might as well give a nod to Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita; Heart of a Dog). Though he's one that's hard to put an era to; he died in 1940, but The Master and Margarita was published in 1968. Translations into English came even later.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-06-23T10:01:09.769Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nabokov put out most of his famous work after WWII (and thus The Hobbit); Lolita was published in 1955, Pale Fire in 1962. With LW as an audience I think I'd recommend the latter over the former, although they're both quite good.

Actually, the Nabokov novels I prefer are generally the ones he originally wrote in Russian, pre-war. My favorite is probably The Eye.

comment by taelor · 2013-06-19T08:47:20.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a fan of Shakespeare, can I ask which ones you read? Shakespeare wrote a large number of plays, and their quality varies considerably. There are a number of his plays that I actively dislike, and an even larger number that I am indifferent towards, but the ones I like, I like enough that I understand why people consider him to be so great.

If it isn't to much trouble, can I also ask how you were exposed to them? My understanding is that most people's first (and often only) exposure to Shakespeare's plays is through reading their scripts in high school English classes over the course of several weeks; this is unequivicably the wrong way to experience them -- the plays are, first and foremost, plays; that is to say, things to be performed.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-19T10:03:51.189Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As a fan of Shakespeare, can I ask which ones you read?

Romeo and Juliet was the one I was forced to study the most. I wasn't impressed. I saw A Midsummer Night's Dream at the theatre and it wasn't nearly as tiresome.

If it isn't to much trouble, can I also ask how you were exposed to them?

Excessively. Reading scripts, watching movies, watching plays, writing essays, memorizing passwords, pretending things are Deep and Insightful. Unfortunately 'English' was the one subject that wasn't an elective.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-23T22:24:58.648Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I liked Romeo and Juilet.

My favorite part is Friar Lawrence's epic chewing out of Romeo for trying to kill himself. (It's the single longest speech in the play.)

Hold thy desperate hand!
Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art.
Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote
The unreasonable fury of a beast.
Unseemly woman in a seeming man,
And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!
Thou hast amazed me. By my holy order,
I thought thy disposition better tempered.
Hast thou slain Tybalt? Wilt thou slay thyself?—
And slay thy lady that in thy life lives,
By doing damnèd hate upon thyself?
Why railest thou on thy birth, the Heaven, and Earth,
Since birth and Heaven and Earth all three do meet
In thee at once, which thou at once wouldst lose?
Fie, fie, thou shamest thy shape, thy love, thy wit,
Which, like a usurer, aboundest in all
And usest none in that true use indeed
Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit.
Thy noble shape is but a form in wax,
Digressing from the valor of a man;
Thy dear love sworn but hollow perjury,
Killing that love which thou hast vowed to cherish;
Thy wit—that ornament to shape and love—
Misshapen in the conduct of them both,
Like powder in a skilless soldier’s flask
Is set afire by thine own ignorance,
And thou dismembered with thine own defense.
What—rouse thee, man! Thy Juliet is alive
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead—
There art thou happy. Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slewest Tybalt—there art thou happy.
The law that threatened death becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile—there art thou happy.
A pack of blessings light upon thy back;
Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But like a misbehaved and sullen wench
Thou pouts upon thy fortune and thy love.
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.
Go, get thee to thy love as was decreed,
Ascend her chamber—hence and comfort her.
But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
For then thou canst not pass to Mantua,
Where thou shalt live till we can find a time
To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
Beg pardon of the Prince, and call thee back
With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
Than thou wentst forth in lamentation.
Go before, Nurse. Commend me to thy lady,
And bid her hasten all the house to bed,
Which heavy sorrow makes them apt unto.—
Romeo is coming.

I also liked Hamlet. Julius Caesar was boring, though.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-16T10:24:57.006Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, Values Dissonance is a common problem...

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-16T11:19:58.116Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you ever felt, when seeing characters in other settings deal with their problems, that they would be much better off if they had your values and your ethical equipment? The Great Gatsby would have been resolved very differently if it had occurred in the modern day.

I think we're supposed to find the actions of the characters immoral and depraved (that is to say, that Fitzgerald was attempting to invoke Values Dissonance), but all I felt was that they were being terribly stupid about the way they handled problems that we wouldn't bat an eye towards nowadays.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-17T18:05:56.121Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This exchange reminded me a lot of Brave New World: the idea that in a rational world (and perhaps just with a rational outlook) the drama of certain situations is lost because they just seem silly. Thus Helmhotz's confused reaction to Romeo and Juliet of being gripped by the language, but laughing at the crazy concepts of forbidden love and family tensions

"And yet," said Helmholtz when, having recovered breath enough to apologize, he had mollified the Savage into listening to his explanations, "I know quite well that one needs ridiculous, mad situations like that; one can't write really well about anything else. Why was that old fellow such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You've got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can't think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases. But fathers and mothers!" He shook his head. "You can't expect me to keep a straight face about fathers and mothers. And who's going to get excited about a boy having a girl or not having her?" (The Savage winced; but Helmholtz, who was staring pensively at the floor, saw nothing.) "No." he concluded, with a sigh, "it won't do. We need some other kind of madness and violence. But what? What? Where can one find it?" He was silent; then, shaking his head, "I don't know," he said at last, "I don't know."

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-23T13:51:09.243Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is reminding me of The Gaslight Effect, a book about emotional abuse. It includes that a healthy relationship simply isn't going to have the extreme high and low contrast, nor the intellectual fascination of trying to figure out how to deal with something that really can't be dealt with.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-06-18T07:34:31.336Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Well, Values Dissonance aside (as in "Why don't you just not shoot him?"), a lot of old stories, especially tragedies, rely on people being stupid, stubborn, impulsive, and otherwise unwise. And this can be silly.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-07-09T01:16:23.695Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Much Ado About Nothing, for instance.

Beatrice and Benedick's relationship troubles make sense: they're shy (possibly "once burned") and can't stop poking fun at each other long enough to admit they like each other. They're being dorky, and that's a fitting subject for comedy.

But Claudio and Hero, on the other hand? Claudio thinks he's seen Hero getting it on with Borachio, but instead of confronting her privately — or even talking to her father and calling off the wedding — Claudio publicly humiliates her in front of the whole villa. To my values, this would be intolerably abusive behavior even if she actually had been cheating, and it's really weird that Hero still wants anything to do with him afterward.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-07-09T10:15:48.621Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And what about The Taming Of The Shrew? Psychological abuse, harassment, and gaslighting, non-violent though it was... and everyone's happy in the end?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-07-09T00:56:06.141Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Eugene Onegin comes to mind even more starkly.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-07-09T11:06:47.258Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't read it, but the Wikipedia article points to the topic of the superfluous man,

The Russian critics such as Vissarion Belinsky viewed the superfluous man as a by-product of Nicholas I's reactionary reign when the best educated men would not enter the discredited government service and, lacking other options for self-realization, doomed themselves to live out their life in passivity. Scholar David Patterson describes the superfluous man as "not just...another literary type but...a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, a presence in life" before concluding that "the superfluous man is a homeless man"

which makes me wonder, "Why don't you just emigrate? You are wealthy, aren't you, and you have valuable skills, so why not?"

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-07-09T13:43:51.598Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking more of the 'get into a deadly duel with your best friend over his girlfriend, whom you aren't all that into anyway' aspect.

comment by Ritalin · 2013-07-09T14:12:52.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds enormously stupid, unless these people place very little value in human life.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-07-10T14:33:07.012Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes. That was why I brought it up. Hard to relate to.