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Pretentiousness


Warrior1

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When an author is too high-brow, too sophisticated, to verbose and seems to spend a lot of time talking about philosophical issues etc we often end up labeling that author 'pretentious', 'trying too damn hard to impress', etc. But obviously that's not always the case. Sometimes the writing maybe beyond our level, but that doesn't mean the author was just trying to impress by word-play. Maybe there are really deeper meanings and philosophical issues involved.

 

So my question is when does a writing star feeling pretentious instead of feeling genuine and real? I have so much interest in philosophy and theology type of subjects that I know my writing will have them in the background. Will my writing then look just as pretentious? My question is, how to write about ... esoteric subjects without reading pretentious and showy?

 

[Also, as a sidenote, I think the pretentious is a bit overused. People use it all the time talking about critically acclaimed movies and books that they didn't personally like]

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There's an audience for almost anything you write and almost anything you write will draw detractors. It's something I've been struggling with in my own writing. I'll share the advice I've been given by a few people I trust: Write to please yourself and satisfy whatever urge first led you to put words down. Hopefully along the way you'll be able to entertain others and they will let you know.

 

Best of luck whatever you decide to do.

 

Carlos

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You can weave themes into your story that have a lot of weighty meaning without making it overwhelming to readers. I wrote about Carl Jung's theory of synchronicity in my short story, Coupled in Synchronicity, yet only one person saw the underlying psychology. I did that for me, and I wrote an entertaining story for everyone else.

 

For me, the whole idea of pretentious often comes from authors who want to write complex information into a story but pick a bad vehicle to do so. A teenage boy would not be described as verbose or querulous; he'd be talkative or sullen. Now, a college professor might be verbose and an old man angrily pushing away gold-digging family members at the end of his life might be querulous, and then those words would fit in the story narrative. The characters' personality, life experiences, physical reality... must dictate how you tell the story from their POV in both narration and dialogue. Without justification, doing otherwise does come off as pretentious because it makes no sense.

 

A good example was readers' initial impression of 'Strider' in LoTR. He's a no one, right? Yet his actions and speech go far beyond a simple Ranger. That sows distrust with the other characters--and readers--because it is out of character for who he is in the story. But that lasts only until readers learn he is 'Aragorn, son of Arathorn... descendent of Isildur' and was raised with elves. He's a king, no matter how humble a life he's chosen, and that comes through in his characterization, which no longer seems out of place. If that hadn't been true, if he'd simply been a Ranger, then it would've stuck out and not made any sense for Tolkien to write in a character that goes beyond his 'self' just to showcase his ability to write in such a way.

 

But that's just my opinion, because, while I know a lot of them, I like using five cent words instead of fifty cent words for the majority of my stories. I read to be entertained, and I write to entertain. If I want to teach readers something, I'll just stand on my soapbox on the forums like I am here. :lol:

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When an author is too high-brow, too sophisticated, to verbose and seems to spend a lot of time talking about philosophical issues etc we often end up labeling that author 'pretentious', 'trying too damn hard to impress', etc. But obviously that's not always the case. Sometimes the writing maybe beyond our level, but that doesn't mean the author was just trying to impress by word-play. Maybe there are really deeper meanings and philosophical issues involved.

 

So my question is when does a writing star feeling pretentious instead of feeling genuine and real? I have so much interest in philosophy and theology type of subjects that I know my writing will have them in the background. Will my writing then look just as pretentious? My question is, how to write about ... esoteric subjects without reading pretentious and showy?

 

[Also, as a sidenote, I think the pretentious is a bit overused. People use it all the time talking about critically acclaimed movies and books that they didn't personally like]

 

Pretentiousness is pretending. Just that. Striving to reach a level higher than the reach of native ability. If Noam Chomsky, say, talks about international politics in a knowing and sophisticated manner, backing his argument up with hundreds of facts as he often does, then he's not pretentious, he is an internationally renown Ph.D scholar that studies and debates and writes about such things, which makes him awfully persuasive, so much so that books have been published attacking him to try to tear down his reputation. Any writer that manages to pull off whatever he's selling is not said to be pretentious. He is not pretending, he is the real deal. Ultimately the question comes down to salesmanship. Can you sell it?

 

Pretentiousness can be tiresome but it can also be amusing. If Archie Bunker Homer Simpson says the French are all a bunch of lunatics, he's being pretentious, because by his choice of words and depth of knowledge, it is clear he does not know what he pretends to know.

 

The good thing about pretentiousness is, at least it's ambitious. The bad thing is people will laugh. But maybe that's good too, because they say laughter is the best medicine.

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People who talk about topics they know nothing about are the worst kind of people. I have met many people in my life (some even on this very site) who will go out of their way to match your knowledge on a certain topic, but in the end once you work out they are full of shit, then thats pure Pretentiousness diagnosed.

 

I am quite happy to say to someone that I dont have a clue what they are on about because most of the time I dont. :D

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I'm going to be pretentious and use an example from one of my own short stories the Barlow Boy

 

In this story the protagonist is a young minister named Peter who has been saddled with an onerous task that he's very uncomfortable with. One of the kids in his congregation is gay and his parents are demanding that their son be fixed. Peter has tried everything in his church approved play-book and nothing is working.

 

The antagonist is an angry teen ager named Chris. His parents have chosen the time honored method of trying to punish the gayness out of him. They've made his life very difficult, isolated him from outside influences and are force feeding him the bible.

 

Peter and Chris have been meeting for months and Chris is fighting him. He is depressed and angry and getting worse with every meeting until one day he appears less dispirited, confident and give Peter a lot to think about.

 

Even though it's a short story, there are levels to this story that a casual reading might miss.

 

Some of it is theological and some of it is symbolic.

 

Most people miss the symbolism of the names Chris and Peter. The whole thing is an allusion to Christ and Peter's encounters during the trial and execution of Christ.

 

Going deeper, there's a sound theological argument that even the most devout just can't argue with: Christ's own words.

 

There is the a shocking twist at the very end that is an allusion so blatant that I doubt it needs any explanation at all.

 

A work doesn't have to be long or even very complex to operate at a number of different levels and deliver a message. It doesn't have to be pretentious. It just has to ring true.

Edited by jamessavik
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People who talk about topics they know nothing about are the worst kind of people. I have met many people in my life (some even on this very site) who will go out of their way to match your knowledge on a certain topic, but in the end once you work out they are full of shit, then thats pure Pretentiousness diagnosed.

 

I am quite happy to say to someone that I dont have a clue what they are on about because most of the time I dont. :D

 

You don't find such types amusing? I can think of plenty of worse things to be than pretentious. Some people think all of us writers are pretentious, that writing is dead in the age of television and the internet, blah blah blah. Well, so what, is what I say to that.

 

There is a certain degree of pretentiousness in supposing that one has something to say that has not been said before, better, by a brighter mind like Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Tolkien, Lord Byron, and so on. The first step in becoming a writer is making peace with pretentiousness. Accepting your own arrogance in supposing that your thoughts matter to anyone but yourself. Anyone who is not pretentious cannot write.

 

Those who don't write are good, honest, humble souls. They have seen the masterpieces set before them, and in their wisdom, declined to make any attempt at imitation. So a writer has to be a bit foolish and say, "oh, yeah? well I have something to say, too!"

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I'm going to be pretentious and use an example from one of my short story the Barlow Boy

 

In this story the protagonist is a young minister named Peter who has been saddled with an onerous task that he's very uncomfortable with. One of the kids in his congregation is gay and his parents are demanding that their son be fixed. Peter has tried everything in his church approved play-book and nothing is working.

 

The antagonist is an angry teen ager named Chris. His parents have chosen the time honored method of trying to punish the gayness out of him. They've made his life very difficult, isolated him from outside influences and are force feeding him the bible.

 

Peter and Chris have been meeting for months and Chris is fighting him. He is depressed and angry and getting worse with every meeting until one day he appears less dispirited, confident and give Peter a lot to think about.

 

Even though it's a short story, there are levels to this story that a casual reading might miss.

 

Some of it is theological and some of it is symbolic.

 

Most people miss the symbolism of the names Chris and Peter. The whole thing is an allusion to Christ and Peter's encounters during the trial and execution of Christ.

 

Going deeper, there's a sound theological argument that even the most devout just can't argue with: Christ's own words.

 

There is the a shocking twist at the very end that is an allusion so blatant that I doubt it needs any explanation at all.

 

A work doesn't have to be long or even very complex to operate at a number of different levels and deliver a message. It doesn't have to be pretentious. It just has to ring true.

 

This is a good example.

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Maybe if you just yourself these questions: is it relevant? is it necessary? is it accessible?

For example is it needed for the plot, or understanding a character or can I tell the story / develop the characters just as well or maybe better in another way? And do you assume a high level of knowledge / education in your readers - very distracting for those forced to Google - or use a clunky device such as one character "explaining" it to another.

Also, as James said, can the story be enjoyed at more than one knowledge "level"?

Finally, are you writing to entertain, or have you got another agenda such as a political point to make, or self-aggrandizement? (ooo, was that pretentious? Moi? :funny:) If done badly it will probably end in tears - tears of laughter from the reader like Drak said :P Done well, the reader may learn new insights that enrich their reading experience, and want to read more from that author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edited by Zombie
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I like fiction that's well grounded in its own world, and sometimes I have to learn a lot about that world, real or imaginary, in the course of the story, to be able to understand the grounding. I enjoy that. Usually a writer who is truly excited about his or her subject will be able to convey that interest in a positive way.

 

A writer who is filled with contempt for people less knowledgeable will usually manage to convey that too, perhaps unintentionally. If I read a narrative where every other character except the narrator is being mocked for ignorance, illiteracy, or bovine stupidity, I'm more likely to call the tone pretentious, because it places the narrator on a pedestal above the common herd. It's an extremely rare intelligent person who is really that much of a contrast to those around them.

Edited by Irritable1
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  • 2 months later...

Hmm. This is a difficult topic, because there aren't rules that guide it. You kinda have to have an "ear" for it, and it also helps to have a skilled partner in the listening.

 

As a general observation, I'd say that if an element--aesthetic, mechanical, or structural--seems "forced" or put in because the writer wants to impress, that's pretentious. If it's an essential or attractive part of his/her story or style, it's not pretentious.

 

Discerning between the two, though, is sometimes a problem. And even some of the best writers go off the deep end occasionally...

 

Because--depending on your personal style and voice--sometimes for your stuff to "sing," you have to step right up to the line, but you have to do it without crossing over.

 

There are still constructions in Crosscurrents that make me wince. There are places about which my reaction is, "Ugh...that's awful! I gotta go rewrite that. It's too damn precious and self-aware." My writing's gotten better since I did CC, and I look back on my earlier stuff here and there with some embarrassment. And some day I will go back and revise the places that make me groan, but I have other fish to fry right now. On the other hand, there are aesthetic choices I've made in CC that cause the narrative to shine just a little in places, and if I hadn't risked or deliberately worked on a little flair, the story would be the poorer for it.

 

Good writing is risky work! But if the shine you seek to give it feels integral to the whole of the story, whether we're talking about style of writing or content or structure, then you're not pretending. And some good authors are good because their style is part of the pleasure of the reading. It's ornate. Or quirky. Or stunningly direct. Others give us their goods through the narrative and/or the characters, and their literary style is meat-and-potatoes. The first type of writer isn't necessarily pretentious. He or she is just a stylist in addition to being a storyteller. And when it's done well, it's a joy to read.

 

Regarding the sort of primal pretentiousness of presuming to have something that others should read, I'm not sure I'd call that pretentiousness. Since you're a student of theology and possibly know something about the Greco-Roman philosophical conceptions that lie at the base of the Prologue to the Gospel of John, I wanna tell you that I think everyone has a piece of the Logos of which said philosophy speaks. Some of us are burdened with the exciting challenge of sharing our pieces of it through writing. It's not pretentiousness to feel as though you have something to say, because in the final analysis, you, like everyone else, have a piece of Logos. It's why I feel morally bound to read a work to the bitter end once I've started, regardless of how bad I think it is. Writers have been given something to say. It's precious and it's worth a look at the whole. They may mangle it; it may be more trivial than they think it is; and not every writer has the competence to say it well...but it's a piece of something much larger, something universal, and as such, I want to give the writer a complete "hearing."

 

For the same reason, you don't have to feel arrogant for writing. Something's been laid on you to share. Who knows what greater good will be served by, and in, the sharing?

 

Okay, all of that probably sounded pretentious.  :P

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