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Laugh and the World Laughs with You (Unless You’re not Funny)

At least he gets it.

I've been thinking about humor in novels. Or more specifically, humorous novels. By which I mean, a novel that attempts to make humor its central driving animus. There's a number out there; I've tried a few. And I've only ever found one that worked: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

It's ludicrous, and very British, and was unlike anything else at the time it was published in 1979 (perhaps because it was based on a series of radio episodes). The novel's plot is tissue thin. The world gets blown up, but Arthur Dent (a kind of everyman/fish-out-of-water) and his friend, Ford Prefect (an alien in disguise) are saved when Prefect "hitches a ride" on a passing space ship. A merry band of misfits come together, gallivant about the galaxy, and in between philosophical musings, and ridiculous asides, the story kind-of-sort-of bumps around through time and space. The only thing that holds the book together, besides its binding, is that it's really, really funny (if you like British humor). Again, there's basically no plot, no rising and falling action, no resolution to any conflict. The characters are wooden props, with no interior lives, and not one of them have anything remotely approaching an arc. They're just vessels for absurdity.

And yet it works. Because, again, it's a very funny book.

A lot of writers have tried to replicate this approach, and I haven't found one who's pulled it off. I think I know why.

I try to infuse a little humor into some of my works (Yonder & Far once had a reviewer who said he wasn't sure if I meant my writing to be funny, but he found some of the scenes absolutely hilarious—which I'll take as high praise). Misunderstandings, misdirections, a little absurdity, they can help break tension and an otherwise slow part of a story keep pace with the rest. But I couldn't pull off a whole book around gags and one-liners. Very few authors can.

Why? In my view, it's a challenge inherent in the medium. A stand-up comedian only has to entertain you for about an hour. A comedic movie, a little over an hour and a half. And in the span of that time, some jokes might hit the audience as gut-bustingly hilarious, some might fall a little flat, a few might bomb. But it's okay, the audience is indulgent because their time investment is small—and, perhaps more importantly, it's understood that, by and large, each "bit" is meant to stand on its own. A comedian can transition set-ups quickly, change the scenery, so to speak, in a matter of seconds to turn to the next piece of funniness. To a lesser degree, the same holds true for comedy movies. We'll indulge a loose-hanging plot line if the gags are good enough. Take Caddy Shack for example. The "plot" can be summed up as follows: a gauche condo developer shows up at a country club, rubs the blue-bloods the wrong way, and settles matters with a golf game; some characters come along for the ride (albeit for different reasons); hilarity ensues. Sure, there's a story in there, but that's not why the movie remains in syndication decades after its release. It's Bill Murray trying to kill a gopher. It's Rodney Dangerfield's bevy of one-liners. It's Ted Knight's pompous laugh. It's classic Chevy Chase being classic Chevy Chase. The comic strands are more than capable of holding together the movie.

You don't have that luxury as an author. To hold an entire novel together with humor, you have to pack humor into all 70,000-odd words. You have to keep the reader entertained for days, not just a couple of hours. If comedy is the only strand, it's going to have to be made of steel, which means the jokes have to be really funny. Not just enough to make the reader smile or giggle; the laughs have to keep the reader coming back day in and day out for days. And none of them can land flat.

That doesn't mean a book should eschew humor. If you're an author and that's your "voice," speak in your voice. But I do think writers need to approach humor in stories the way a chef approaches seasoning. Sprinkle in the right amount and you can make a good dish extra special. But if you try to make a meal around cumin, or pepper, or, God forbid, thyme, most people are going to politely decline and move on to something else.


- Matt

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Clubs and Communities

So dorky it was cool...

When I was about 12, I shelled out around five bucks to join a club. It was the only club I'd ever staked my own cash on. And it was so worth it.


I'm referring to the now-defunct Otherworlds Club of the now-long-since-shuttered Walden Books. Walden Books was a chain bookstore that had its heyday back in the 80's when shopping malls were still in their halcyon commercial glory. The bookstores were small, no more than 3 or 4 aisles, and usually located near one of the big corner anchors. It was pretty standard fare for what you'd see in a big box bookstore--everything broken down by genre, register near the front, signage for new releases and best sellers--only on a much smaller scale. Which, in hindsight, meant its days were surely going to be numbered. 


One of the things that made Walden Books special was that it devoted a larger-than-average proportion of its space to fantasy and sci-fi books and role playing games. They really leaned into the genre; and dorky kids, such as yours truly, rewarded them by being devoted customers. What really set Walden Books apart, though, was how they went out of their way to make us feel like a community. For about five dollars (I can't remember the exact number, but it was enough, in 1980's dollars to hurt just a little bit for a kid living on a pittance of an allowance and lawn mowing money), you could become a member of Walden Books' Otherworlds Club. This got you a sweet membership card (example above) and a 10-15% discount on any fantasy, science fiction, or role playing game you bought from the store. It also got you a monthly (?) subscription to their "Xignals" newsletters, Walden Books answer to Dragon Magazine. The letter was green-tint, black, and white, as I recall, and would include recent book reviews, short story contests, announcements, and the like. I remember actually reading through them. But what I remember most was how cool it was to be a part of a group that shared the same interests as me.


Back then, in the dark ages before the internet, finding communities of common quirky interests was a lot harder than it is today. Which perhaps made it feel all the more special. 


Did Walden Books make money off of selling these memberships? Who knows? (Though I suspect between the discounts they were giving, and the production and postage of the newsletters, and the administrative costs of tracking memberships, probably not). What it did, however, was create a sense of community. And that's pretty cool.


I've been thinking about the notion of community in reading and writing lately. I've been trying to get a little more active in writing groups, both with the Authors Guild and one of my publishers--while I've also by trying to engage more with readers. What I've been struck with is that, as much as writing is mostly a lonely endeavor and reading a completely solitary one, writers and readers do enjoy the times when they can come together as a community. Whether it's talking about the latest book, or which writer in a genre is better, or if the movie or the book version of a story is superior, or just spending some time together in friendship and fellowship, readers and writers can, and should, hang out together from time to time. That can be in a small group, or in a convention, or online--whatever the form, it can be a really enriching experience.  


So if you're a writer, aspiring writer, reader, or gamer, make sure you're reaching out to others who share those interests. They're out there. And you don't even have to get a membership card to find them (although those can be cool, too).


Thanks for stopping by the blog.


- Matt

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The Bane of Back Cover Blurbs

The hardest part of writing

Back cover blurbs.


That age-old staple of book-making where a clever piece of copy splayed on a book's back cover in an eye-catching font gives the novel a little extra marketing umph. It's meant to close the deal for would-be-book-buyers who might not be sold on the cover, but don't have the time to skim the first few pages. A quick, spicy summary. All the shopper has to do is flip the book over and give ten seconds of his or her time. No opening any stiff book bindings, no page-turning, no finger-licking. 


They say the back cover blurb goes back to the earliest days of the printing press, when one of Gutenberg's more entrepreneurial apprentices, Johanne Blurb, realized they'd sell a lot more Bibles if they spruced up those boring, black vellum covers and gave the readers a little taste of the contents. Not on the front, that would be sacrilege. But, ah, what about the back? Herr Blurb cobbled together some spectacularly sizzling copy, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Blurbing (as it's now known) is actually one of the hardest parts of writing. Taking a 70, 80, 230-thousand word story and distilling it down to a hundred words ain't easy. Downright impossible when those words are supposed to also excite a total stranger to buy your book. I've had to write my own blurbs and have had the good fortune of having them written for me. I much prefer the latter. But even if you're lucky enough to have an editor write your back cover blurbs an author still has to master this arcane art because any time you pitch a new project to a publisher or an agent, you're going to have to "blurb" it. There's no getting away from it.


So how do you do it? I'm no expert, but I think it comes down to answering three questions:


(1) Who is this guy or gal?


(2) What happened to him or her?


(3) Why should you care?


Question one concerns your protaganist. Who is this main character you're asking a reader to spend the next few days with? What are they like, where are they from, what do they do? The second question revolves around the central conflict. Novels are made of conflict (novels that don't have conflict are "studies," or "scenes," or "really, really bad"). What's the conflict this character is facing and what are the stakes? Finally, the third question: why should you care. Answering this last question is the secret sauce of good blurbing. It combines genre-signaling (you'll care that the Zenzikkilian pirates of the Gomblot Galaxy have attacked the character's home world if you like space opera), characterization (this poor guy running for his life from those attacking pirate space ships sounds like a pretty cool dude), and a sense of urgency (will he save his planet, the galaxy, the universe? I want to know!). 


Great blurbing is an art. One I definitely need to keep working on.


- Matt

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Writing Out the Doldrums

She's listing...

"Doldrums" is one of my favorite words. It rolls off the tongue. It's evocative. It's nautical. It's what I named our world in Yonder & Far (because Yonder and Far's people find us so dreadfully dull). The word holds both a particular and a wider meaning:


Merriam-Webster.com captures both definitions, defining "doldrums" as: (1) a spell of listlessness or despondency; (2)  a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms … , squalls, and light shifting winds.


I'd offer a third definition.


"Doldrums": (3) the point in writing the first draft of a novel, roughly between 55% and 70% of completion, when the initial thrill of the book's idea has long since faded and every line, every word, comes to the page as a long, ponderous slog.


I'm in the doldrums now in my work-in-progress, my sixth novel, and it's just as it was with the prior five. Tedium. Slow-going. Listless. Oh, I'm making progress. The way an ant makes "progress" trying to cross a field. At the end of the day, it's not in the same place as it was before--but it hasn't gotten very far, either.


So that's where I'm at with McJustice, a book I've been poking at for nearly ten years. I finally hunkered down five months ago to devote all my writing time to it. I completely changed the POV, worked out the plot kinks, I've got a solid ending in mind. And now I'm closing in on the two-thirds finished mark, and, my God, it's a drudge. 


Fortunately (or unfortunately), I've been here before. Every time, I've come to a point in a manuscript where I'm not close enough to the end to see the finish line, but I've made it so far into the run I couldn't possibly throw in the towel. It's the point where you're winded, your muscles are burning, and the miles aren't going by so much as taunting you. It's the doldrums of the first draft.  


How do you get through them? How do you work through that deathly becalmed part of the creative process?


Another take on "doldrums," this from oceannavigator.com: "For centuries sailors dreaded the aptly named Doldrums. This band of windless, hot, and humid weather near the equator could stall sailing ships for weeks, driving the crew to distraction with the monotony and sometimes even leading to the onset of scurvy as fresh supplies ran out. . . . Generally, voyagers want to minimize time spent in the [Doldrums] by crossing it as quickly as possible at its narrowest point and in an area with the fewest thunderstorms."


There you have it. You get through the doldrums by getting through them. As quickly as possible, through the narrowest means, and by avoiding making further storms.


That sounds about right.


Good sailing.


- Matt



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On Bad Endings

Watching Arsenal's championship run in the Premier League completely unravel in the closing weeks of the season (capped yesterday by a 3-0 loss at home to Brighton) [5/20 Edit: followed up with a 1-0 loss to Nottingham bleepin' Forest] brings to mind a certain kind of book. One where the story's enchanting beginning and middle becomes sullied by a lousy ending. There's not that many out there. Usually, a bad ending just tags along behind a badly written story. But every now and then, an otherwise brilliant tale falls flat because the author just can't quite "stick the landing," so to speak. 

Stephen King's The Stand, for some reason, stands out as an example for me. I remember reading it in ninth or tenth grade (despite my not being much of a reader back then and the book weighing as much as a cinder block). It had me hooked—for more than a thousand pages. Interesting characters. Intense conflict. A dark, paranormal build-up. And then … plop. I won't spoil the ending here, but suffice to say, King took deus ex machina to a level even a teenager couldn't swallow. Which, to me, left a pall over an otherwise entertaining epic.

So what makes for a good ending to a story? I think there are three main requisites. First, the main arcs—plot and character—have to land on solid ground. Are the conflicts the protagonists faced resolved (whether for good or ill)? Have they been changed (for better or worse)? Have events reached a natural (i.e., organic) conclusion? If not (if, for example, the story concludes with the Hand of the Almighty swooping down to detonate a nuclear bomb, killing off a quarter of the main characters, leaving two others free to return home and start a family), then the ending's going to feel shaky, rushed, unsatisfying. And an otherwise solid story will sink.

Second, does the ending deliver what was promised at the beginning? Note, this doesn't mean a predictable conclusion (in fact, many times, just the opposite). Rather, this requisite is, in large part, tied to the story's genre. If the reader bought a romance, she or he is almost assuredly expecting some kind of a romantic attachment to have been formed by the time the main characters reach the end. If it's a mystery, there needs to be an intelligent solution to the crime. Epic fantasy had darn well better deliver an action-packed, dramatic "big fight." 

And finally, are all the loose ends tied off? This one is probably the easiest to fall short on. Have all the problems the author raised either been resolved or else left in a purposeful place of stasis that suggests a likely conclusion. Did Checkhov's gun ever go off?

What all three requisites have in common is that they all embody, in some fashion, the fulfillment of the author's implicit promise(s) to the reader. One of the most important promises being: a solid, satisfying conclusion at the end of the story.

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Music in Writing

It sounds worse than it looks

One of the understated joys of parenthood is when your children lovingly mock you in the form of a Pokémon card. 


I've been an off-and-on piper for almost fifteen years and consider myself solidly mediocre (as the picture here evidences, I'm just good enough to play a tune in church on St. Andrew's Sunday--but only if the church is big with lot of echoes and the congregation is especially charitable). The bagpipes are actually the fourth instrument I've picked up since childhood. My mom very much encouraged my learning classical music when I was growing up (though I like to think she came around to jazz and rock later on). Whatever the style, music was very much a thing in the Lucas house of the 70's and 80's. 


I bring this up because music often comes up in writing, especially in the fantasy genre. Perhaps it's because Tolkien wove so many songs into The Hobbit, or perhaps it's because music was one of the few forms of entertainment widely available in pre-industrial societies, or perhaps a lot of fantasy authors are simply frustrated bass guitarists (okay, so no one is ever a frustrated bass guitarist, but you get the idea). But having characters sing a song--and then writing out the song's verses--is very much a thing in fantasy fiction, almost a trope.


I was looking back over some of my stuff and realized I've done it a few times myself. My very first novel (a long, middle-grade animal fantasy) has about five different songs the characters sing at various points along their journey. The Mountain has one, too. Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock has a chapter that weaves in and out of a character singing a lament (the lyrics are very loosely based on an Oscar Wilde poem). It's not something I really set out to include, but it does seem to pop up from time to time in what I'm writing.


Music in prose a bit tricky, though. Sometimes the songs that come up in fantasy novels can come off a little flat (pardon the pun). To be honest (and, please Tolkien fans, this is meant as no disrespect, so hold on to your pitchforks and torches), I pretty much glanced past most of the tunes Tolkien ever put in his books (I mean, I could kind of get a feel for the goblin songs in The Hobbit, but it was a little hard to catch the tune of "O! Tril-lil-lil-lolly the valley is jolly! ha! ha!"). In fact, I'll go so far as to say that fashioning music into prose more often ends up as a distraction than an enhancement of the story.


And yet ... music is an important part of life. For a lot of people, music resonates with something deeper, even something divine. So it's only natural that if a writer is crafting a fantasy world, she or he would want to weave music into it in some way. How does one pull it off so that readers are humming to themselves, and not just flipping past pages? 


Two things, I think, can help a song in a novel truly sing. First and foremost, the music has to serve the story, not the other way around. Is recounting twelve verses of metered rhyme doing anything to propel the narrative, a conflict, a character arc, in any way? Is it foreshadowing something? Does it serve any purpose in the novel? If the honest answer is not really, then it probably needs to stay out. Second (and perhaps more challenging), is it actually musical? Often what's described in a fantasy novel as a character or a group singing a song comes across as a character or a group reciting a poem. There is a different beat and meter for spoken poetry than sung music (the latter must generally be shorter and punchier than the former). One trick I've found that makes a song in a story more likely to work: sing what you've written. Yeah, that's right, author. You want your reader to read your song? Sing it to them. Whether it's a tune you've made up or one you've heard somewhere, it doesn't matter. Sing your song. What this trick does is it puts what you've written to the musical test--if it can't be sung, it's not a song.


If your story needs a song in it, and if what you've written fits the bill of a singable song, then your reader will be less tempted to breeze past the singing parts, and might just try to sing along with you.


- Matt

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The “Big Five” are Still Big and Still Five

Although this blog has studiously and steadfastly refrained from veering into anything pertaining to the law, a recent legal ruling out of the D.C. District Court merits some mention, if only because it shed some really interesting light on the publishing industry. The case is United States v. Bertelsmann SE & Co., et al., but it's more widely known in the media and the writing industry as the blocked merger of two giants in the publishing industry. 


I'll preface this post by repeating the caveat of this blog: nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice, nor as any kind of indication as to how any judicial officer on my court or any other might view a particular case.

The case itself arose from an antitrust challenge to a proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, two of the so-called "Big Five" publishing conglomerates (the other three being, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and MacMillan Publishing Group). The government opposed the merger. Its case turned on a monopsony theory. Unlike the more familiar term monopoly (which, besides being a beloved board game, is the word economists use when they focus on how many sellers there are in a market), a monopsony occurs when there are too few market buyers (here, the buyers being the Big 5 as purchasers of book manuscripts). The trial lasted 12 days, after which the district judge (who now sits on the D.C. Court of Appeals) entered her ruling. It spans 80 pages. It's a bit of a dense read, but there were several points of interest to those who write for a living or for a hobby. I'll hit on a few of them.

First and foremost, it seems that the Big Five publishers' curation of potential manuscripts for profitable books is not so much an exercise of discerning quality, but a crap shoot. Actually, a game of dice in a casino would probably give better odds than what the Big Five churn out. Despite hundreds of imprints and all the resources the Big Five employ, "only 35 out of 100 books turn a profit … [and] the top 4 percent of profitable titles generate 60 percent of profitability." Indeed, the CEO of Penguin Random House likened publishers to "angel investors" who invest in thousands of books, knowing only a few will make it to the top. As such, the advance (that is, the upfront non-refundable advance payment of anticipated royalties to the author) is "the single most important term" in a Big 5 publishing contract—because most Big Five authors won't earn it out. In fact, the largest segment of Penguin Random House's revenues comes from their back list, not their new titles. As for smaller presses (of which, I can attest, there are many), the testimony before the court was that they merely serve as a "farm team" or "minor league" to the Big Five publishers; self-publishing was discarded as an insignificant factor in the industry.

The court's legal analysis is, as one would expect, comprehensive. I won't get too far into the weeds (first, because this isn't a legal blog, and second, because it has been many years since I've even had to think about antitrust law). But here's a rough summary. As the district court observed, Section 7 of the Clayton Act prohibits mergers and acquisitions when the concentration "may … substantially lessen" competition in a relevant market. The question before the court, then, was whether the proposed merger between Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would have an anti-competitive effect on acquiring manuscripts from authors. But what market of manuscripts was pertinent? The district court answered that question by employing a relatively narrow definition of the book acquisition market. The legal case was not so much about the state of the market for book acquisitions in general or even within the Big Five. The monopsony the court honed in on in this case was the market for "anticipated top-selling books," which, as noted earlier, turns out to be a pretty small sliver of book manuscripts. In fact, the market the court chose to address was the market for manuscripts that garner a $250K advance or greater. That market, the district court concluded, has only five buyers, and since those five vigorously compete for those titles, reducing the number from five to four—with the merged companies accounting for 49% of the acquisition market—would indeed result in reduced competition for top-selling manuscripts to such a degree that the proposed merger violated antitrust law.

Although this case has generated a considerable amount of discussion within the writing community at large, the set of writers the court was really considering—those whose manuscripts can fetch a quarter million dollar advance—was actually pretty small. I suspect the number of professional authors who fit that description could have all fit within the courtroom with some seats to spare. But the effects of blocking the merger will surely have broader impacts on writers (if not on the books the get published). I'll leave it to others to ponder what those might be.

Like I said, this really seemed to be a case about big publishing and big authors. The district court's relegation of independent publishers (whether small presses or self-published authors) to the outskirts of publishing significance has been discussed and decried by some folks. As a small press author, it did give me a chuckle to be informed that apparently I'm in the "farm system" for big league conglomerates in New York City. All I'll say is that courts have to work with the evidence they are given. I've not done an exhaustive review of the witness list in this case, but it appears that the government and the defendants' witnesses were largely drawn from the Big Five industry (whether publishing company officers, literary agents, editors, or major authors). And given the definition of the relevant market the court ultimately adopted, the court's remarks about independent publishing makes sense. Put it this way: it would have been somewhat awkward for the court to have made a factual finding that the fastest growing segment of book releases comes from independent publishers, but the market for the smallest sliver of the Big Five's releases needs antitrust enforcement.

At the end of the day, I suspect this decision won't have much of an impact for the majority of writers (or, at least, I don't think it will affect me). That's because most writers these days aren't working under a Big Five contract—and certainly not contracts with quarter million dollar advances. They'll keep doing what they do, and the book-buying market will keep responding to the books that they like—whether those books come from Simon & Schuster, or Kensington, or Ellysian, or Kick Starter. But the court's ruling does provide an illuminating peek behind the curtain of an industry in transition.


If you're interested in reading the court's 80-page ruling (and, I mean, who wouldn't be), you can find it here:Judge Pan's ruling

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Who’s On First?

Most of the stuff I've written is in third person (non-omniscient) with multiple points of view (usually focused on 3-4 main characters and perhaps a couple of secondaries). It's a natural form for story-telling. And it's fun. It allows the author to craft scenes around the most effective perspective; it lets you change the "voice" of the writing from scene to scene; it gives you a chance to explore different characters more deeply. Maybe because it comes so naturally, and because it has so much utility, I've just gravitated toward 3rd person POV.


But twice I've ventured into first person POV for novels. The first one was based on a short story ("Don't Call Me Godless"), and I finished it about a year ago (I've been shopping it around for the past five months). The second one is my current work in progress. Here's what I've figured out about writing in 1st person.


It's a lot more organic. There's almost this sleight of hand you get to play with a first person POV, where you (hopefully) end up fooling the reader by pretending to be the narrator. The old saw, "show don't tell" just seems a little easier in the first person. I'll also say that for a discovery writer who constructs a good amount of plot structure during the writing process, 1st person POV is a much more straight-forward form. The story line has to be set around one set of eyes, from one experience, and, more or less, along one plot line. It's almost like you're putting together a recipe for a cookbook. So there's less wasted time on scenes, characters, etc. that end up getting cut later on.


But there's also a challenge that I've been struggling with. When you write a whole novel from one character's first person POV, you'd better like that character. A lot. Because you're going to be spending a lot of time with him or her. There's no taking a break from the main character in these kind of stories. If the main character's kind of flat, or dull, or annoying, or a trope, then it's going to be a long 12 months of writing. 


Like all the choices that get made during the writing process, there are pros and cons to writing in the first person. I'm not sure it's something I'll do on a regular basis, but I do like the exercise of trying something different.

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If You Want to Know How Choose Your Own Adventures Came to Be, turn to ….

For those who grew up in the 80's and remember fondly the fun of Choose Your Own Adventure books (those illustrated chap books told in the 2nd person where the reader is poised with a choice on each page and, depending on her or his choice, flips to a different page), there was a really good article in the New Yorker telling the "backstory" (so to speak) of how these books came to be...The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books

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Top Five Most Annoying Platitudes

I'm middle-aged. Which means I'm probably prone to complain about things a little more than I used to.  I'm also a writer, which means I'm a little bit sensitive to how language gets used. So indulge my grumping for a moment, because I expect many of you may share this sentiment.


There are some really annoying platitudes that have gotten bandied about lately. I'm not talking about a trendy word (such as "like," which the current crop of teenagers invoke to a degree that would make Shaggy Rogers blush). I mean the phrases of the zeitgeist that I keep running into. They're terrible. Banal. Useless. Here are the five that irk me the most.


1. "It is what it is." I don't know of any more pretentious sentiment than "it is what it is." On its own terms, the sentence is redundant meaninglessness. Like saying A = A. You could just stop with "It is." But of course that's not what's meant by this little piece of modern witticism. A person only invokes "it is what it is" when he or she wants to convey understanding of something that is unfortunate or difficult without, you know, necessarily understanding it. It's pretend profundity. Try turning it around by asking, "well, what exactly is it?" They'll curl up like a turtle because they don't really know and have nothing to say.


2. "I'll fight you on this." Here's another bit of LARPing parlance that I've been hearing more and more frequently. It's always expressed with feigned earnestness, usually by a person who's never actually thrown or taken a punch. What it really means is that the topic or point of view or opinion under discussion is one that actually instills some kind of feeling on the part of the speaker, and he or she is unlikely to change their mind about it. That's it. They don't actually want to get into a rumble. Which is what's so grating about "I'll fight you on this" because, growing up, "I'll fight you" were three words that usually preceded an actual fight. Again, turn this around on the speaker and say, "Okay, there's a boxing gym down the road. Meet you in twenty minutes." 


3. "You do you." This is of a piece with "It is what it is," but salted with a little more insult. I suppose it's the modern equivalent of the old Southern expression, "Well, bless your heart" (which was never really meant as a blessing). Anyway, I don't like it.


4. "Follow your truth." I'm not going to get into metaphysics versus linguistics; I'm not going to hash through Arisotlean versus post-modern or emotivist worldviews. Here's the thing, though. For most people, "truth" carries an objective component to it. It's supposed to express an accepted point of (potentially) mutual understanding. But the animating sentiment underlying "Follow your truth" is idiosyncrasy. It's literally a call to celebrate a subjective ontology. Which is all well and good. But let's keep words expressing objective commonality apart from words of individual possession. Because "your truth" carries about as much meaning as "my universe." 


5. "It takes a village." This is a fine old African proverb that got turned into a book title that, in turn, became an overused piece of triteness to trot out whenever someone scolds someone else's kid. It's a lovely sentiment but, much like Orff's O Fortuna, it just got overplayed.


Okay, that's it for the rant. Feel free to add any I may have missed. I promise, I won't "fight you" over it.


- Matt

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