Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Universal Beauty

One of my favorite flowers is the Dogtooth Violet. You might say that I prefer it to some other flowers, such as the African Violet and yet, I have an African Violet growing in my living room window, but no Dogtooth Violet anywhere. The important thing to note here is that our preferences don’t keep us from recognizing the beauty of something else.


The other day, I mentioned 5 Favorite Plot Devices. These are things that when they appear in a book, I want to read the book. In response to that post, Michelle wrote, “There’s several of those that I actually avoid.” What I prefer, she doesn’t. Music is the same way. Some people might like Country, others might like Rock, and still others might like Classical or Jazz. I pretty much like any kind of music, as long as it isn’t Country or Southern Gospel. That is my preference; you don’t have to agree with me. It’s subjective and so are our preferences where books are concerned.


You’ve heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But what if it isn’t? Even though we may have preferences for one flower over another and some people may not like flowers at all, we seldom find a person who doesn’t recognize that a flower has beauty. There seems to be a universal beauty that transcends our preferences. I many not care for Country music, but I can tell a difference between a good singer and a bad singer. My list of good singers wouldn’t be much different from a list made up by a fan of country music. There’s something universal about that.


With writing, there are some things that are nothing more than preferences, while there are others that are matters of universal beauty. Remove all the issues that deal with personal preference and what we are left with is the question of whether a manuscript has beauty or not. Some agents refuse to address this question. They don’t want to discourage writers, so they say nothing worse than “not for me.” The assumption is that just because it doesn’t meet her personal preference doesn’t mean that it won’t meet those of another, but we often see manuscripts that are down right ugly. Anyone other than the author’s mother will reject it and she’s using it to line her birdcage. At the other extreme, there are writers who write beautifully, even when composing an e-mail. It seems like such a disservice to them when we imply that beauty in writing is completely subjective.


The same is true for story tellers. Some people simply know how to tell a great story and it doesn’t matter what it is. I was enthralled one time listening to a guy tell about going to get the mail out of the mailbox. He had an audience of five, but he could have held the attention of a large room. There was universal beauty in that story.


I hate this notion that we can’t really decide whether writing is good or bad, only whether it is likely to sell in the current market. I suspect it has come about because some agents don’t want to tell people their writing is terrible, but it takes something away from the truly good writers and prevents the rest of us from having a goal. Writing the next breakaway bestseller would be great, but it isn’t a goal, it is wishful thinking. We can’t aim for what will be hot next, but if there is universal beauty in writing, we can aim for that. We can take steps to improve our writing, though we may never time the market right.

2 comments :

yarnbuck said...

Agreed, Timothy. Excellence in any form is . . . well, excellent.

Lady Glamis said...

Timothy, this is an excellent post. I'm marking it in my Keeper folder to refer to later, and possibly expound on with my own thoughts. This is something I've thought about a lot but haven't been able to touch on in my own words. Thank you for putting this down!