And Objective Look at Subjectivity

Photo courtesy of BRMCWC.com

Photo courtesy of BRMCWC.com

By Alton Gansky

A special thank you to Alton Gansky for sharing his blogpost from www.BRMCWC.com . Al is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference held at Ridgecrest Conference Center, Black Mountain, NC.

ob-jec-tive, adj. — (of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts: historians try to be objective and impartial.

sub-ject-tive, adj. — based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions: his views are highly subjective | there is always the danger of making a subjective judgment.

Early on, children learn people have different likes and dislikes. Mom and Dad might like broccoli, but it seldom rings the bell of of a six-year-old. Some sports fans love baseball, others consider a game the quickest path to a nap (others feel the same about golf.) As we who came of age in the 70s might say: Different strokes for different folks.

Objective people form opinions on facts; subjective folk let emotions have a vote in the matter. Writers must face the objective/subjective conundrum. Readers form subjective opinions all the time. It’s the, “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” syndrome. That’s not an accusation. It’s an observation.

I’m no different. There are certain types of books I like to read. I like action-adventure novels, science fiction, thrillers, suspense. I’m not keen on romance, women’s fiction, Amish and prairie tales. Go figure.

On the nonfiction side, I like popular science books, some histories, certain theological texts. I’m not big on cookbooks, devotions, light theology, or “how to be a super-duper human being.”

Here’s the good news. I’m not the final arbitrator on these matters. There are plenty of people who love the books I avoid. Some of them avoid the books I enjoy (and even the books I write).

It might surprise some that this extends to areas that one would think had little flexibility: grammar. Grammar and usage is all over the map. There are people who believe in heavy comma use, other experts lobby for minimal application of commas. Don’t even ask about the semicolon.

Here’s the thing about personal objectivity and subjectivity. It changes over time. The way I write today is different than even three years ago. When I read a novel, I can’t help notice unnecessary adverbs (a subjective statement), over use of attributions (somewhat subjective), point of view shifts and a long list of other things. I’m sensitive to these things because I’m prone to use them. Just read one of my early books.

Sometimes, my subjective opinions get in the way of a good read or weigh down an edit I’ve been hired to do.

Arthur C. Clarke use more narration than is acceptable or considered wise, yet his books did very well and transported me to many a place in the future. Was Clarke wrong with his heavy use of the narrator? No, not wrong. Just different.

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were buddies and drinking pals. In many ways, they were opposites. So was their writing. Both changed literature.

Sometimes we want to tell other writers how to do the work. Mostly what we’re trying to do his make their work conform to ours. This is a mistake and damages the fabric of the literary universe. Sure there are objective rules in writing but there’s more elbow room than most will admit.

I fine that I’m a better writer when I worry more about what I’m writing than what everyone else is writing. Writing and editing are elastic disciplines. They stretch when needed but they don’t let just anything pass.

The questions will always be: Does it communicate? Does it capture the attention? Does it hold the reader’s attention? Does the piece do what it was designed to do? To answer those questions, we need to be objective with just the right amount of subjectivity. Like many arts, it’s a balancing act and one that takes practice.


Alton Gansky is a full time writer, director of BRMCWC, founder of Gansky.Communications and host of Writer’s Talk. He is the award winning author of over 40 books. Prior to turning to full time writing, he was the senior pastor to three Southern Baptist churches. In addition to his writing, he speaks to writers groups and church organizations. www.altongansky.com

His newest book WOUNDS (Broadman Holman) released in May of 2013. (Amazon, Barnes & Noble)

 

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