***EXPLAINING STORIES: CARLOS VS.
I’ve allowed this topic to float away in the breeze for far too long, yet it’s been rolling around in my head since college. At WWU, I had two different writing teachers who had opposite schools of thought when it came to authors explaining their own work. Carlos Martinez, my first multi-genre writing teacher, was of the belief that it’s okay to explain yourself while Bryan Willis, my dramatic writing professor, was adamantly against it and would discourage students from doing so during critique sessions. Today we’re going to look at both sides of that debate and see which among you is on Team Carlos or Team Bryan. Though there will be disagreements, I promise you this debate won’t be nearly as much of a train wreck as the 2016 US Presidential Debates. But that’s an argument for another day.
If you’re in a critiquing session and you want your beta-readers/editors to know what it is they need to watch out for, you’ll probably want to sign up with Team Carlos. That is information your readers need. It’s your work, so you should have full reign as to what your story is trying to say or do. Your editors can’t give you advice on how to best convey your message if you don’t explain yourself ahead of time. Being a member of Team Carlos also has benefits if your work is unintentionally offensive and you’re trying to do damage control. While it is true that there’s always someone out there who will be pissed off at what you do, it would help those people greatly if you put them at ease with a reasonable explanation. But when you give them that explanation, give them the sensitivity they were looking for this whole time and don’t be condescending.
But if what you want most is for your art to be a democracy, join Team Bryan. Art by its very nature is a subjective field. Everybody sees something different and it’s those many interpretations that give the medium the spotlight it deserves. It sparks debate, just like this blog entry is attempting to do. According to
way of thinking, if you tell people what to believe, you’re taking away the
creativity you yourself exercise so freely. I think this might be part of the
reason why my current beta-reader Ashley Uzzell tells me not to put little
disclaimers at the top of my poems. Of course, the other reason why she tells
me not to do that is because it’s insulting to the reader’s intelligence if the
lyrics are blatantly obvious. It’s like if an author says “green grass”, “red
blood”, or “big elephant”. Duh! Remember, kids: show, don’t tell. Don’t tell
your audience how to feel about your work. Show them and let them make their
own decisions. The last time someone forced his artistic will upon his
audience, it was in the movie Pink Floyd the Wall during the music videos for
“In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell”. You don’t want to do that. Bryan
So there you have it, folks: both sides of this debate presented in full. Both Carlos and Bryan have good points that should be carefully considered, but ultimately, my own personal loyalties lie with Team Carlos. My biggest reason for that is because I’ve been on the wrong end of offending an audience before and I know what it feels like to be rained down upon with hateful comments. In 2009, I wrote an opinion essay called “Class of ‘13”, which was supposed to be a humorously vulgar look at what life would be like if I became an English teacher. My readers didn’t think it was funny at all and labeled me an ageist (because of my views at the time on teenagers). The argument started with me hurling endless insults at the readers, which to nobody’s surprise escalated their anger even further. Only through explaining my work in a calm and collected manner whilst apologizing did the situation eventually cool off. I’ll be the first to admit that aside from my big gut and chubby cheeks, I don’t have much of a thick skin. Being diplomatic and having the ability to defuse a situation is a huge benefit to being on Team Carlos.
Now don’t get me wrong: just because I favor one teacher’s point of view over the other’s, doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong altogether. Both Carlos and Bryan were easily some of my favorite teachers at
They had everything a student could ask for in a professor: friendly
personality, flexible rules, infinite wisdom, and an open door policy when it
came to asking for help. I particularly liked Western Washington University because of how much of an interest he
took in one of my theater scenes. He wanted to see more of that story come out,
so he gave me alternative assignments from the rest of the class where I would
add on to the ongoing narrative through different characters’ points of view. The
original story was about a high school student named Kurtis who complained to
his girlfriend about a D- he received in his history class. One of the
alternative assignments I had was to write a monologue from the teacher’s point
of view and the other one was an interaction between the girlfriend and the
teacher. These new assignments were a huge ego boost, not that my arrogant ass
needed one. Bryan
As far as why I liked Carlos so much goes (aside from his views on explaining stories), he was just an all around gentle human being even during moments when the students got under his skin. Even when one student openly admitted to not doing a reading assignment out of blatant laziness, Carlos never raised his voice when he reprimanded that kid. He was also delicate about how constructive criticism was handled amongst our stories. He insisted that we all be nice to each other, because at the end of the day, every author is sensitive towards critiques no matter how much they hide it. Carlos even told us a story about how he got pissed off as a kid when his fellow students told him to cut his lengthy poem down to four lines. Being hurt by critiques (whether they’re friendly or not) is universal and one-hundred percent natural. But the more you surround yourself with people who want you to succeed, the less painful those critiques become. Carlos wanted all of us to succeed and it showed in his friendly and calm attitude.
Not that this is a focal point of the greater debate at hand, but in case you’re curious, I ended up getting an A in Carlos’s class and a B+ in Bryan’s class. And to prove it’s not a focal point, I don’t hold any ill will towards one professor of mine, Katie, who gave me a C in my medieval literature class. She did everything she could to help me whether it was answering my questions or allowing me to visit her office for a one-on-one session. The blame for that C falls squarely on my shoulders since I had a hard time understanding the material. I went into that class thinking it was going to be like reading Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but instead all I got was religious zeal and purple prose, lots of purple prose! They call that period in literature the Dark Ages for a reason. That class was my version of the Dark Ages by virtue of how difficult it was to learn the material (despite having a good teacher).
But enough about me, let’s turn this debate over to you fine internet folks. Are you on Team Carlos (explaining your work) or Team Bryan (allowing your work to speak for itself)? Are there any points on either side of this debate that I’ve unintentionally neglected? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. I’m Garrison Kelly! Even when you feel like dying, keep climbing the mountain! And to show you my undying loyalty towards Team Carlos, I’m going to explain my signing off phrase. They’re lyrics from the Three Days Grace song “The Mountain”. Not only do I love the hell out of that band, but those lyrics can be surprisingly inspirational to someone who needs encouragement.
***LYRICS OF THE DAY***
“Sailing along the river of time. Adrift on dreams through midnight chimes. Positively frozen crystal waterfalls. The mountain of hope is there to be climbed. The sea of serenity is rightfully mine. Step onto the water knowing what is true. The beat of my heart. The rhythm of love. The earth that’s beneath us. The heavens above. I can hear forever calling out to me. The changes we go through are making me strong. The shelter of friendship is where we belong. Look into the future knowing what we see. The whirlpool of doubt can spin you around. The wave of emotion takes you up, pulls you down. Leaving far behind us sweet young passion spray. And never blame the rainbows for the rain. And learn to forget the memories that caused you pain. The last whispered wish of age is to live it all again. And never blame the rainbows for the rain.”
-The Moody Blues singing “Never Blame the Rainbows For the Rain”-