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Author Topic: The Wisdom of Captain Liberty  (Read 3212 times)

Joel

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« on: May 05, 2005, 12:50:43 pm »

In another thread, Tim Osman said this,

Quote
alas you find in so much libertarian/freedom oriented fiction, the seemingly endless preaching, sermonizing, proselytizing, and speechifying. (For a good example of this, read L. Neil Smith's "Forge of the Elders".) Characters exist only to ask questions of the wise liberty-loving heroes. Here's my short example of this:

1-dimensional character #23: "Oh, Captain Liberty, you are so brave and smart and handsome. Tell me, why is liberty the correct way to live?" or "Why is it good for a society to have guns?" or "Why is capitalism the best thing ever?"

Captain Liberty (A cooler, braver, smarter, funnier, and sexier version of the author): "Good question! Well, it's like this." (begin lengthy diatribe, interjected with occasional questions from 1DC#3 or another character, to provide Captain Liberty with a hidden monologue.)

I thought this was beautifully put, but what really struck me was that this isn't the first time in the past few weeks this issue has arisen.  I was involved in a conversation with another writer about another book in which she expressed a deep and heartfelt desire to avoid exactly this pitfall.  

Now I happen to be an El Neil fan from 'way back, love his books, won't brook any criticism of him, yadda yadda yadda, but there's no denying that yowza howdy doesn't that man love to preach.  And it's not a huge surprise, considering all of the above, that he hasn't cut an especially wide swath in the world outside "the family."

So I get up this morning, boot up the computer, make some coffee, and try to write a chapter with Ellen Lawler.  And what does she do but sit down to sew with Aunt Mary Wells, who proceeds to preach about freedom and non-aggression for five hundred words.  Damn near had to pull the plug to get her to shut up.

I ended up deleting the file without saving a draft.  Cut me to the quick, too, because there was some nice dialogue in there.

I don't want my characters talking about freedom, any more than they talk about the principles of respiration and digestion.  I just want them to do it.  So I'm left pondering the great imponderable; how to get Ellen's mind right (and by extension, the mind of anyone who isn't already in the choir) without sermonizing at her.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2005, 01:24:48 pm by John DeWitt »
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cowardly lion

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2005, 01:02:30 pm »

can you begin with a seemingly-innocuous anecdote from aunt mary's life, that ellen doesn't at first understand, until a light clicks on and she can put it together with either a) another anecdote she previously didn't catch, or b) a deep-seated gut feeling that the rules as she learned them weren't in her best interests to begin with.

i think that was a question, but by the time i reached the end i wasn't sure . . . . .

cl
« Last Edit: May 05, 2005, 01:06:33 pm by cowardly lion »
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Sic semper tyrannis, baby!    - Joel Simon

As much as we may not want to consider it, we must have a mindset that enables us to do instant and devastating violence in defense of self and/or loved ones.   -Dave Champion

It's not unusual to run into folks in the internet that are dense enough to have event horizons.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November . . . .

Don't mistake my silence for weakness - no one plans a murder out loud.

George Potter

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2005, 01:52:02 pm »


There is no easy answer to this. I tend to avoid it by allegorical means. There was a fair amount of 'preaching' in Roberta but I considered it justified for two reasons:

1) It was a fish out of water tale, and that form by necessity demands rhetorical explanation as a large aspect of the story.

2) It was written in the voice of RAH, who enjoyed preaching. ;)

I'd say trial and error will be your best bet, and a hawkeyed willingness to cut when you feel you've overstepped your bounds.

But, really, John, in a work of this size, a few hundred words of rhetorical explanation wouldn't be out of place. Just make sure it's entertaining.

Oh, and good suggestion CL. :)
 
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Docliberty

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2005, 02:39:07 pm »

I think that you're making an apple and oranges comparison here John.  Tim stated that he didn't like stories where the character was a vehicle to get the speech from the writers mind to the readers mind.(kinda like baked potatos are a vehicle to get the sour cream and bacon bits from the plate to my mouth :D )  Your story has Ellen Lawler currently sitting at the bottom of the sesspool(sp) sucking deep doo-doo and trying to figure a way out or at least her next step.  Having Aunt Mary do a little preachin' and explainin' is not necessarily a bad thing as far as the story line goes.  Just don't do it every chapter.  It would also give her a chance to pick up some ideas that she can bring to the gulch later.

Free advice that may be worth no more than you paid for it. :rolleyes:  
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Doc

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on.  I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them."  Marion Morrison

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"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats." H. L. Mencken

Claire

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« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2005, 03:13:50 pm »

I agree with Doc and George (and also think cowardly lion's idea is an artistically elegant one). Although your desire to have your characters live freedom rather than yack about it is a fine motivation (and cheers to you for hanging onto it), not every speech is a bad speech, and I'm personally kinda sorry you wiped out that draft.

You're a good enough writer to work a few speeches into the narrative flow with realism and integrity. I say goferit -- and wipe them all out in the second draft if they still don't seem right to you then.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2005, 03:14:47 pm by Claire »
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When faith ceases to be a challenge to the standards of polite society, it is no longer, or has not yet become, faith. -- Donald Spoto, Reluctant Saint:  The Life of Francis of Assisi


My life is my message. -- Gandhi

cowardly lion

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2005, 03:57:17 pm »

i see ellen as particularly receptive to a series of 'ah-ha!' moments as others' experiences open up to her eyes the realization that her gut feelings have more basis in reality than she had previously known.

cl
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Sic semper tyrannis, baby!    - Joel Simon

As much as we may not want to consider it, we must have a mindset that enables us to do instant and devastating violence in defense of self and/or loved ones.   -Dave Champion

It's not unusual to run into folks in the internet that are dense enough to have event horizons.

Remember, remember, the fifth of November . . . .

Don't mistake my silence for weakness - no one plans a murder out loud.

Joel

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2005, 01:30:17 pm »

I like the new chapter better than the one I wrote yesterday, anyway.

Usually, when I give up on a story and delete it, I mourn for it for a while then sit down and write what I should have done in the first place.  In the end it's almost never a loss.

I've got a better idea, now, where I'm going with this character.  Might be wrong, but it's clearer.  Thanks for all the comments.
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JayPHailey

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2005, 03:25:47 am »

] I don't want my characters talking about freedom, any more than they
]  talk about the principles of respiration and digestion. I just want them
]  to do it. So I'm left pondering the great imponderable; how to get Ellen's
]  mind right (and by extension, the mind of anyone who isn't already in the
]  choir) without sermonizing at her.

IMHO - then Ellen has to be put in a position where she has to do an Frteedom action - Freedom as a verb, man.

a story is where someone with a problem seeks a solution to that problem

so what we need here is a problem with a freedom oriented solution -  Or an establishing scene which shows ellen nautrally doing something free-ish.  Freedom like

So what sort of freedom stuff does she do?

Is she a freelance arbiter among a circle of free thinkers?

Is she an investigator for an insurance company or an interested party who wants information concerning a dispute to be arbitrated?

Does she knit with the vil, forbidden hemp-yarn?

Does the lady shes hanging out with notice the gun Ellen carries?  And order Ellen out of the home for daring to possess such a diabolical thing?

Does Ellen invite her friend shooting instead of knitting?

I guess I don't have enough of a context.to throw any real suggestions your way

I guess we need a problem, a situation that has a Freedom Oriented Solution and a "Conventional" (Statist?) solution so that Ellen can make a Freedom oriented decision and then put a Freedom oriented solution into action.

A small one can be an estabishing scene to say "Ellen is a Freedom oriented person - watch as she does freedom"

But what that is, I'd have no specific idea.

 
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JayPHailey

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2005, 03:27:41 am »

Maybe I should shut up and read the draft first before shooting my mouth off.
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Shevek

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« Reply #9 on: July 15, 2005, 11:45:30 am »

This Captain Liberty theme expands into a broader topic. How does one teach complex theoretical ideas through fiction?

I have written several non-fiction texts, and many non-fiction essays. The essays are short and serve as a teaching tool. But the longer texts, especially a book covering a complex topic in depth, is not the avenue for the general masses. Only those who prefer intellectual reading will grab such a book.

A friend of mine once said that these kind of books need to be converted into equivalent "Animal Farm" books if an author wants the ideas conveyed to the masses. As time has passed since that recommendation, I have grown to agree. Yet, the question is how does one convey complex ideas through fiction?
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Scarmiglione'

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The Wisdom of Captain Liberty
« Reply #10 on: July 15, 2005, 12:22:30 pm »

Quote
This Captain Liberty theme expands into a broader topic. How does one teach complex theoretical ideas through fiction?

I have written several non-fiction texts, and many non-fiction essays. The essays are short and serve as a teaching tool. But the longer texts, especially a book covering a complex topic in depth, is not the avenue for the general masses. Only those who prefer intellectual reading will grab such a book.

A friend of mine once said that these kind of books need to be converted into equivalent "Animal Farm" books if an author wants the ideas conveyed to the masses. As time has passed since that recommendation, I have grown to agree. Yet, the question is how does one convey complex ideas through fiction?
You take the ideas, and disguise the characters that represent each stereotypical viewpoint as farm animals, then set them loose on each other.
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Joel

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« Reply #11 on: July 15, 2005, 12:44:24 pm »

Do what Orwell did.  Allegory, my boy.  The future is allegory.

Just don't use farm animals.  It's been done.
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Shevek

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« Reply #12 on: July 15, 2005, 01:16:17 pm »

Quote
Do what Orwell did. Allegory, my boy. The future is allegory.
Just don't use farm animals. It's been done.
Nah, I wasn't thinking of using farm animals. Animals maybe, but not farm animals. For a while I've had this story festering inside me that has to do with a talking bear that appears one day outside my front porch (I live in the woods). We do some philosophizing, but my imagination only goes so far and then I run into the Captain Liberty syndrome with the bear playing that role. The last thing I want is an animal version of a certain fictional speech many people detest. I read "that" book 20 years ago and I still get glassy-eyed just thinking about the thing. Plus, I think many people are "offended" when an animal professes to possess more wisdom that a human. Although, I have to admit that with living in the woods I've learned much just from watching animals. They aren't as stupid as many humans believe---.

The problem with the talking bear is that the basic idea has been done in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. He used a gorilla that could communicate by thought.

The allegory makes sense. One of my favorite series of stories is The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, which contains many allegories.

I know that with kids' shows or plays, often a zany or wacky character tries to do the 'splaining to the kids. I don't want to reach that low---I want to reach basic adults. Yeah, I know, for some people there is no difference [smile], but nonetheless I would like to convey some complex ideas to the general masses. Perhaps Claire's ideas of how she worked with a co-author would be a better approach. Find somebody who possesses the skills for fiction while I provide the outline, technical corrections, etc.
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"But there was always time for swimming and for talking, and never a time by which a task must be finished. There were no hours: only whole days, whole nights." The Children of the Open Sea, The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. Le Guin.

http://www.simpleliberty.org/   http://humanreadable.nfshost.com/
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