Member Rara Avis
JP, have you ever watched a movie or read a book about a subject where you were fairly knowledgeable? More so, perhaps, than the writer? I've about given up trying to truly enjoy a show or novel where computers play a central role. The Net (Sandra Bullock) and Sneakers (Robert Redford) immediately spring to mind. Excellent movies in many ways, but the basic premise simply didn't coincide with reality. At least, not my reality. It doesn't matter what fields you've worked within, if you watch a movie or read a novel about that field you're going to feel cheated unless the writer knew as much about it as do you. And isn't it amazing how one little deviation from Truth can mar an otherwise enjoyable experience?
Of course, I'm really talking about apples and oranges here, because the "facts" within fiction can and often are stretched to meet the needs of plot. It's called suspension of disbelief. And most of us still find it irritating. How much more than just irritating it is, though, when the missteps from Truth are about basic human motivations and feelings. A clever turn of phrase or the skillful manipulation of language are tools, not the goal, and will never supplant Truth. If you try to write about emotions that are completely foreign to you, you might be able to fool yourself. You will fool very few readers.
If emotion is the destination for a piece of writing, the artist can describe the journey in only three ways. The first, and I maintain it is often the best, is through personal revelation. Done well, this can transcend the personal to the Universal, and unveil new Truths about our common humanity. The second is extrapolation. I may have never been to our destination, but if I've been somewhere in the same neighborhood - and have a great deal of talent - I may be able to lead us both into new areas. While not always reliable, this is often the most exciting. And, I think, the most common. The third course is to repeat the directions of another, to reword and rework what one "has merely read about."
Therein, I think, lies the core of bad writing.