Of all the words either Mr. Pond or I have come up with to describe the long-running blog-based conversation we've engaged in, his latest, webxchange, sounds like one destined to become an actual part of the English language. Maybe that's because when I Google it to see if anyone else has used it, I discover it already exists--and it even has a website, though for an apparently Paypal-like company. Hmpf. Oh well--I like it. Although I also like his other suggestion, blogalectic.
Mr. Pond responds to my vagueness about what good writing actually is with an emphatic "It can be quantified:"
Hamlet is great writing. If you don’t like it, fine. It’s still great writing. No one can argue that. ‘Taste’ simply doesn’t apply.Fashions come and go and sometimes repeat themselves, but the rules of great writing exist and they can be quantified. Hamlet succeeds--no educated person in their right mind would challenge the Bard, if only because the literary elite would shred them and eat them for breakfast. (Perhaps I should follow that statement with the assurance that I admire Shakespeare's brilliance with the dutiful respect of an English scholar and sometimes the fervor of a nerd who kills time in the shower by reciting Katharina's final speech from The Taming of the Shrew. No munching on me, elites.)
Because there are rules, and not just fashions. There are histories, and not just markets. There is light and darkness and music and structure and sound and fury—and these coalesce to make great literature.
Mr. Pond continues with the following, and I agree completely:
We must judge a text by the fashion of its own time, not ours. We must look endlessly for those texts which transcend time. When we find them, if we care about what great writing is, we read them, submit ourselves to them, to learn why.True. Very, very true. And the trick, for those of us aiming at the stars, is to write a tale that is both within our time and transcendent of it.
That is a resolution of contraries if ever there was one. Our hot, passionate, fleeting time, caught up in fad after fashion after fling, disrespectful of history and therefore unable to learn from it, busy trying to immortalize itself in 140 characters or less per idea--this we must unite, somehow, to the calm, unmoving, deeply resonant truths that were true ten thousand years ago and ever shall be.
I think the rules, the real rules of writing, are those which allow us to accomplish that goal. Those rules are most definitely not matters of adverbs and the passive voice. We may follow the laws of fashion to give our stories a chance at getting read and remembered, but the greater laws are just that--greater.
"This funny old writing life," Mr. Pond calls it, and elsewhere, "a wild, mad dream of golden leaves under a golden sky." Amen. It's the life in which we succeed wildly one day and fail the next, then succeed again after staying up half the night fighting a stubborn scene. It's asking for help, getting answers we hate first and love later. It's questioning and hoping, working out ideas, putting the secrets of our hearts out for anyone and everyone to see and critique.
But we don't do this without reason. One of my favorite wrockers has as her Myspace tag line the words "It's real for us." The quote comes from a young Severus Snape, referring to Hogwarts, but I've always been moved by Zoë's use of it. That world of wizards and wands and half-giants and house-elves and courage--it's real for us. The same is true of any world we enter through story, including the ones we write.
When the rules have me struggling with all my might, I know that behind the difficult passage is a world full of people and a quest that matters and magic and love. It's real for me, and that keeps me going.