So the thing right now, in the endless state of convalescence –
Yes, I know, it’s getting a little better everyday, but I didn’t finish the books or the other house before getting the surgery, mostly due to pre-op stuff and my younger son trying to destroy his foot (he’s better now), which means I’m champing at the bit and very impatient with the slow rate at which I’m becoming more capable of doing things. Among the things that annoy me are the need for naps, because I get extremely tired, but I still suffer insomnia.
So, as I was saying in the endlessly gradual convalescence, I need something to rest when I can’t sleep and can’t write. I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries.
Watching is, of course, sort of true. What I normally do is watch the first ten minutes, then start laughing and turn it off, and put another one on. Sometimes, once in a long time, I actually watch the whole documentary.
Why documentaries? You say. Well, I figure it’s because of mental illness. Unless you have a better explanation for why watching something with plot right now makes me physical nauseated. I think, honestly, though I am reducing the pain killers, it’s because the opiates turn my brain into mush and trying to concentrate makes me ill.
But what kind of documentaries, you say.
Well, mostly stuff on animals and history. The kind of stuff that Animal Planet and History Channel used to show, when the kids were little and I let them watch something with me for a treat. (Dan had a traveling job and Marsh had trouble sleeping, so we’d cuddle on the sofa and watch stuff like Al the alosaurus.)
The other restriction is that I’m watching the free ones on Amazon prime, because honestly … well, why not.
Now I realize these are not the crème de la crème, but a lot of them are produced by names like the bbc.
And documentaries would seem to me to be a fairly easy genre. In the end, what are you looking at but a kind of lecture, on a subject?
So, you show whatever the subject is, then you show the drawing/cgi – whichever – of how it got that way, then you show the subject doing interesting things.
Except that… most of these documentaries fail. Take the one on the petrified forest. I expected at least some drawings and explanation of what happened in visuals. No. I mean, they told us how minerals replaced the wood, and all, but what they showed us was random panning over petrified trees while this reassuringly paternal voice droned on.
Next came – it said – a documentary on the natural history of chickens. This interested me, since chickens are either descended from or a relative of the T-rex. I expected long explanations of how the bone became this bone, and how… etc. Etc.
Only… only the people making the documentary had other ideas.
I’ll admit the beginning, showing this woman living alone on a farm with her chickens and her dog was interesting. And by interesting I mean that in my early fifties I have twenty years to get that completely mad. It culminated in a scene in which the chicken freezes during a Nor’ester, so she brings the chicken inside and thaws her out, and gives her mouth to mou– er, mouth to beak ressusciation.
But then it devolved into this screed on the inequities of factory farming chicken and how we should all be vegetarians. Look, guys, whatever you think of factory farming, I grew up with chickens. First, with rare exceptions, they are the closest walking thing to plants. Second, most small farm operations are actually crueler than a well run factory farm. In fact, a lot of what they were going on about was based on the idea that chickens were the same as kids. Or something.
I don’t disagree with their right to say this (duh) but they were having a grand bathos orgy that would only convince those who already agreed with them (And who’d never seen a significant number of chickens raised.)
So… I tried one about this guy and whales. Oy. That one didn’t last long. It was about the inequities of the whaling industry.
Again, nothing against it, except you can’t start your argument by treating it as though the whales were human. The only people you’re going to convince are those who already agree with you. Also, you have your hook baited wrong, sir. The major whale harvesting right now is not in the US and I failed to see Japanese subtitles on your screeds and mini-fits.
Then I found a quite nice documentary on the Galapagos. Oh, it talked about tourists destroying it, but in the end it said “but of course, it is always changing, so…”
And then I tried to find a documentary on sea turtles. Uh… guys… yeah. The voice was this weird droning, and it took the same approach as the petrified forest one.
Anyway, we ended up watching one on the Terracotta army, but on the way there (and has anyone checked their heads for chems, or would they have rotted? Also Apropos nothing, if you haven’t read Barry Hughart’s delightful China trilogy, find it and read it now) my husband did the bad voice simulation on computer and I realized half of these “documentaries” are stock photos with voice over of “mechanical reading.”
So, why am I inflicting this on you?
Because it occurred to me how much this experience is like when I try to read indie books. Now, I read a lot of indie books and like them (duh) but I also have a high percentage of discards. Higher than in traditional? Well, not really but for different reasons.
The traditional discards tend to “impress” me a lot like the natural history of chickens or the rants about whale hunting (Btw, all whales are gentle creatures and the tales of its being dangerous to hunt them were made up to appear macho. No, seriously, he said that. Head>desk.) They are great if what you’re looking for is affirmation for some “correct” belief you already have. I.e. the belief your friends, your teachers and all your gatekeepers told you was true.
Look, you don’t even have to show any beliefs. The chicken thing could have made its case more effectively by being all about her crazy lady and her love of her chickens. At least I’d have hesitated before diving in to fried chicken because I’d think how important these silly muggings were to that old woman.
Likewise most traditional books could capture me by giving me people to care about and a story to follow. They might not convince me, but I’d be interested enough to read. However, when it turns to reciting the rosary of politically correct woes, I’m both bored and annoyed, and discard either documentary or book. (One of the indies that did this was pride and prejudice from an Evangelical pov. I’m sorry, the religion they depicted the Bennets having didn’t even exist in that time, in that place, and for people who didn’t already share your precise set of beliefs both characters and plot were risible. So, I suppose the political correctness of NYC gatekeepers is very much an evangelical religion.)
However, when it comes to Indie, though there is always some number I discard because the author assumed the world outside his head is exactly the same as inside his head, be that in politics, religion or just the way people act, most of what I discard is due to carelessness.
I have infinite tolerance with the cover, but if your character is Joe in the second chapter make sure he’s not Bob in the first. Also, try to make sure your style doesn’t read like voice-emulating programs. Also, plot – you should have one.
My second most likely reason to discard a book, is the strong feeling it’s not aimed at me, though it claims to be aimed at me. What I mean, is, particularly with science fiction, if you don’t read the genre, please, dear bog, don’t say you write it. If what you’re writing is hot girl gets it on with aliens, tag it as erotica and futuristic and romance, but DO NOT tag it as science fiction. Because when all your aliens are star treck aliens, enrolled in the forehead of the month and when it turns out that not only does Mars need women but so does every other planet, I’m going to return your book mostly unread.
On the other hand I will read things I shouldn’t have any interest in, and forgive a multitude of sins if you do two things: entertain me, and treat me as an equal.
When you’re writing, keep in mind the person in your head, the person you aim the book at, and treat that person with respect. Think of them as your equals in intelligence. Try to do your best for them.
Then if you have something interesting to say or an interesting story to tell, you’ll be all right.