R/W: Do Not Stray From the Subject
Welcome back to R/W, your weekend roundup of essays and articles on reading, writing, and literacy. This week, the CIA style manual, Iggy Azalea, and The Fault In Our Stars bust into the dusty halls of the literary eeeelite.
There are a million and one writing guides out there for whatever kind of writing you do, be it journalistic or creative. If you happen to be writing for the CIA, there’s a guide for that, too. As you might expect, it contains a lot of reference to wars, military, weaponry, that might not be useful in everyday writing, but some of the information is actually quite useful, and in some cases, obvious, though many writers tend to forget or ignore important things like: “Do not stray from the subject; omit the extraneous, no matter how brilliant it may seem or even be.”
Yes, yes, and yes, says Navneet Alang. Navneet was born and raised in London. His family moved to Toronto when he was twelve, and that’s where his complicated relationship with his accent was born — should he try to sound like a lifelong Torontonian? Should he play up his Britishness to impress girls? While pop culture’s fetishization of the authentic is as ridiculous as its obsession with celebrity diets, Navneet navigates the thorny territory where authenticity really means something: appropriation and essentialism. He considers Iggy Azalea, a white Australian woman who raps and sings in a Southern American accent.
Consider: A quick, neat condemnation of Azalea’s accent that claims “that accent belongs to black people” is often implying that there is a natural link between bodies and culture. It reeks of essentialism—the idea that people contain inherent “essences” within them that they then express outward. […]
What, then, does one do about claims upon the accent? If accents belong to people, then not only does the insidious idea of essentialism linger, it also makes illegitimate the global millions whose faces don’t “match” the way they speak. On the other hand, if everyone from Amy Winehouse to Ed Sheeran to Led Zeppelin can pick up an accent for which they have no essential need, then the long and storied tradition of, say, white artists profiting off black music—with no “trickle down” effects—continues unabated and unquestioned.
Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders assembled an all star list of twenty screenwriting tropes that have got to go. The list was created with reader input and features such beloved (ugh) scare tactics as “he’s right behind me” and “oh, it was just a cat.” Tropes become tropes for a reason — they work — but too many writerly shortcuts makes for a dull script. Slay your babies, be sparing with modifiers, and troll hunt for overused tropes!
Why do adults read YA? Why do YAs read YA literature about cancer and other life-threatening diseases? Why not? Writing in the LA Review of Books, Briallen Hopper discusses the millions of personal impacts of books like The Fault In Our Stars. Forget the ponderous navel-gazing, according to Hopper, TFIOS does what YA novels should do:
There will inevitably come a season for serious and adult contemplation — for piecing together a provisional pattern of meaning with the sharp shards of loss. There are plenty of literary works that offer this and only this. But a young adult novel also knows when to say: Whatever! Willful wish-fulfillment is what life is for. Now let’s go on a romantic jaunt to Amsterdam!