Critical Essays & Analysis

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Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby JBDryden » Sun May 29, 2011 2:49 pm

Hello all.

I have recently been discussing with a colleague the notion of critical analysis of contemporary speculative fiction pieces. This discussion was in two parts: 1. There are few to be found either on the Internet or in print, as most of the pieces about fiction are reviews without much in the way of analysis; and 2. There are not many places that accept such pieces were I to write them (which was the impetus behind the discussion). I find that critical analysis of works can be very useful -- both as a writer and an educator -- because it's constructive to get someone's perspective on a story in an objective way. I also think it is useful to review contemporary pieces, as well as the classics, because it not only highlights authors who are writing now, but it also gives light to our own contemporaries -- people we might admire and wish to emulate.

So my question is this: as a writer would you find it useful to have a site (or a publication) that had such critical analysis essays of works that are recently published? If so would it be more useful -- or perhaps just more interesting -- for the stories behind analyzed to be from professional or semi-professional markets, or both? (Or even, really, from token-paying markets or others).

I ask because I am looking to start a new site for such things, and I'd like to get a feel for my audience. I'd also like to find those who have an interest in writing said essays to have on the site. Right now the thought is still in brainstorming mode, but I would welcome any thoughts, comments, suggestions, et al from those here on the site. As well I would encourage anyone interested to send me a message on here.

Cheers,
J Boone Dryden
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby admin » Mon May 30, 2011 6:43 am

My impression is that there are lots of academic journals which publish such pieces. I'm also under the impression that, like tweets, more are written than are read.

I'm currently reading Those Who Can: A Science Fiction Reader. It has stories with commentary by Robert Silverberg, Samuel Delany, Joanna Russ, and others. I took a class from Delany at Clarion, and found him the most perceptive and helpful writing teacher I've ever had. And the single best piece of advice I got from him or from anyone is this. Reject the first word that comes to mind, and a better one will follow.

Several of the authors in Those Who Can make this point: the experience of the writer, and the pleasures of writing, are very different from the experience of the reader, and the pleasures of reading. I don't think anyone who is not a professional writer can give useful advice about writing, any more than a person who is not a professional carpenter can give useful advice about carpentry. As for essays aimed at readers, very few writers are perceptive enough to come between the reader and the book in a way that is both interesting and helpful, and very few books are worth that kind of analysis. The best that I've found is Kenneth Rexroth's Classics Revisited.
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby JBDryden » Mon May 30, 2011 8:53 am

Academic journals had come to mind, but I realized that defeated the purpose of the project. The idea is to reach writers -- especially fledgling writers -- who might hope to learn something from the critical analysis of contemporary works. Thus my audience isn't academics but amateurs.

I had not heard of the book you mentioned, but I looked it up, and it looks good. I will have to add it to my list of "to-read" for the future. I am currently going over Silverberg's book, Science Fiction 101, which is quite good, too.

This I agree with wholeheartedly:
admin wrote:Several of the authors in Those Who Can make this point: the experience of the writer, and the pleasures of writing, are very different from the experience of the reader, and the pleasures of reading.


This I do not:
admin wrote:I don't think anyone who is not a professional writer can give useful advice about writing, any more than a person who is not a professional carpenter can give useful advice about carpentry.


Or, perhaps, it depends on the clarification of 'professional.' I think that there is a lot of good that can come from fledgling writers learning from anyone willing to give them some time and energy. I also think that the argument can be made that while it may not be as refined as someone who is seasoned, a writer with 5 or 6 or even 10 years of experience can still teach someone who is just beginning -- and in my case is more willing to spend the time doing so without pay. Perhaps I am mis-perceiving (and please tell me if that is so), but this statements sounds a little equivalent to saying, 'new teachers are not as useful as seasoned teachers.' Professionalism comes in many forms, I believe, and thus many people can teach and learn at various levels. My vision of a 'professional' lies much in the line of Silverberg, himself, who says that such persons are those who dedicate their time and energy and discipline to learning a craft or art. It's broader, perhaps, but I think it fits.

admin wrote:As for essays aimed at readers, very few writers are perceptive enough to come between the reader and the book in a way that is both interesting and helpful, and very few books are worth that kind of analysis.


I would not actually be reviewing books but short works, which I realize I did not mention. I think that short stories are a great medium and a good way for a lot of newer writers to begin. So my energy and efforts would be in finding contemporary short fiction and writing analysis of those pieces. It would also not be aimed at readers of the genre but writers with an intention to help them better understand the craft behind the story and perhaps where it might be lacking -- even in its published form.
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby Malcontent » Mon May 30, 2011 1:27 pm

Hey JB,

I think I see what you are trying to do here and I think there may be a solid market for it. But I'm not convinced you have the grist for a regular (or semi-regular) periodical. Since your mission seems to be to provide a series of critical analyses of different works that illuminate the nature of story elements like theme, message, analogy, metaphor (all on a story scale, as opposed to a more restrictive scene scale), etc., then I would suggest you actually want to write a book. Pick a set of works and then use them to illustrate how the authors evince major thematic concepts. You could dedicate a chapter to each of a series of these major concepts and in so doing, provide novice readers with the kind of tools (or at least awareness of such tools) needed to turn a fun story into a meaningful story. Kind of like a guide to turning pap into art. Maybe.

/M
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby slaven41 » Tue May 31, 2011 9:12 am

Okay, at the risk of looking totally ignorant here, I'll ask the question. What is the difference between a "review" and "critical analysis"? Or perhaps the question I want is "What defines critical analysis?" Or something like that.

--Dave
"It's only Neutron. We call him that because he's so positive." --from This Island Earth
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby JBDryden » Tue May 31, 2011 2:23 pm

Malcontent: I would not be writing all of the essays myself. I am hoping to find a few others who can write, with each of us picking a genre we rather enjoy and writing about it in our essays. To your point about the book, I am actually working on one, because I currently run a class on writing short stories in the city I live. So that is definitely an option. But I think that there is definitely a market for something like this, because there are always a ton of stories out there to be read and looked at, and fledgling writers (I think) can really learn a lot both by reading such stories and by studying their make-up. That's the intent behind this project -- or my hope of its intent.

slaven41: I think the difference between a review and a critical analysis is this: reviews are mostly a broad-sweeping "I liked it because..." or "I didn't like it because...;" whereas I believe critical analysis relies more heavily on in-depth assessment of why a piece is or is not working or how. Or, I suppose, in a broader sense, reviews are meant for people who haven't read the piece being reviewed; an analysis would assume that the reader would have read the story (or will in conjunction with the analysis). At least that's my thoughts.
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Re: Critical Essays & Analysis

Postby Malcontent » Tue May 31, 2011 9:28 pm

Hey JB,

I still think you are looking at a book more than a periodical. You can pull in collaborators with a book just as easily as you can pull in collaborators with a periodical.

The review vs critical analysis is an interesting one given that this is the SFSite forum. IMHO a review will tell you if a given work is entertaining. It will be relatively short (like the reviews on SFSite) and is really aimed at letting you know if the book/movie/tv show/etc., is worth your money and your time. A critical analysis is a much deeper analysis of the guts of a story and will delve into all the artsy elements you will discover there (assuming there are any) -- the mythology, the symbolism, the metaphors, etc. Alternatively, think on it this way...reviews are commercial. They help people make a buying decision. Critical analysis is academic. It will (in this case at least) show you how something is done and what it means. (It's also, in all likelihood, tremendously pompous).

That may or may not be helpful. It also may or may not even be right. I've written a few reviews for my local daily and for SFSite, but not for several years, but definitely no critical analysis. At least not outside of school. (In the Religion in Science Fiction subforum you will find a thread asking for help on a Uni paper...I posted a draft of an essay I wrote about the nature of humanity in Blade Runner. While not as deep as many critical analyses I have seen, I might suggest that that is as close as I have come to it.)
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