When You’ve Said Too Much

I’ve long been fascinated by the art of communication. While writing is my forte, I’m also fascinated by radio—I was a teen-aged disc jockey for a time at an educational station—and just about all other forms of gasbaggery. One of the things that has struck me most profoundly over the years is how much all the various means of exchanging thoughts and ideas have in common with each other at the basic level.

Over the years I’ve chosen a very few favorite literary passages and other odds and ends of communication and thought long and hard about what makes them work so well. One is an excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, more specifically the arrival of the Midnight Circus Train. Another is the last few paragraphs of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which never leaves me dry-eyed. A third is a lesser-known but still famous scene from book five of the Horatio Hornblower series (Beat to Quarters was the American title) by C.S. Forester in which the protagonist, half-mad from noise and terror and the strain of command in the most brutal sort of combat struggles to maintain his sanity as he (largely by pure force of will) stands for hour after hour in the hot sun with the corpses of his friends and shipmates piling up ever deeper all around him. These are all three of them brilliant gems of the literary art, and each achieved much of their impact using very different techniques. Indeed, they share only a single thing in common.

Not one of them is one syllable longer than they absolutely must be in order to achieve the effect intended. Indeed, each is remarkably short compared to the power they command in the reader’s mind. Not a shred of “non-essential” or “second-rate” material is present to water down the impact of the rest.

It wasn’t literature that first caused me to notice this phenomenon—like many children my age I was required to memorize the Gettysburg Address. The Address was only a few words long, yet if ever a national leader has delivered a more powerful or timeless message I’m unaware of it. According to my history teacher, during that era speeches—and American political speeches in particular—tended to drone on for hours and be filled with highfaluting twenty dollar words, impressive gesticulations, eyerolling, appeals to heaven and seventy-four other sorts of tommyrot nonsense audiences would never tolerate today. By contrast, Lincoln’s speech was over before some of the audience were even aware he’d truly begun. Again we see the same pattern, in this case expressed so powerfully that eventually it redefined the art of speechifying in America if not worldwide—brevity, brevity, brevity. Let not the second-rate water down the Really Good stuff. After all, if it’s not on-point then it’s not what your audience came to hear about/paid to read.

Which leads me to the real point of this piece…

[adjective][species], as I understand it (and correct me if I’m wrong here), wants to be seen as the “literary” or “intellectual” news source of the fandom. There’s nothing wrong with that—this world has plenty of room for both The New Yorker and Mad Magazine, after all. No one enjoys a good “thought piece” more than I do, and I’ve even been honored to write a couple-three of the things myself in this venue and others. But there are dangers here, some of which are less obvious than others. When one sets out to intellectualize about the fandom, for example, it’s first essential to have something valid, on-topic and interesting to say. Such articles are in very short supply for a “furry New Yorker”, I’d imagine, so it’s understandable that the focus may have to widen sometimes merely in order to obtain new material. The demand for quality, on-topic articles is bound to exceed the supply, especially considering what the authors are being paid. The danger is, however, is that if you water things down enough pretty soon you’re really not running an intellectual magazine about furries and the furry fandom anymore. Don’t get me wrong—if I were to attempt to force myself to write at least one “deep” or “introspective” furry article a month for [a][s], well… I have the self-discipline to crank something out, were I foolish enough to make such a commitment. But would it really be up to snuff or invariably of interest to the average fur?

No. Not a chance. I just don’t have that many good ideas. And that’s why I believe that [a][s] should be about the really good stuff and only the really good stuff. It is of this that true greatness is made. If the cost is a shorter magazine or fewer issues per year, then let it be so. After all, there are only so many genuinely profound things one can say about a given fandom. This is the lesson of the masters of communication—not a syllable should wasted, nor should a sentence (or an article) be off-topic. Instead let there be laser-like focus on what is truly of interest to the fandom and creating excellence in how this material is presented. Most of all, let not the editors worry themselves excessively over rejecting (or heavily editing) that which does not belong.

I congratulate [a][s] for attempting something incredibly difficult in terms of what they aspire to be, and I’m also very proud to be associated with them. (Or at least I hope that I’m still associated with them after posting this article!) I’ve always been all about high aspirations and reaching for the very top, and I think that [a][s] is doing exactly that. Let Flayrah—a publication equally high in my regard, for various reasons—deal with the “what” and “when” and “where” of the fandom; that’s their forte. [a][s], in my own opinion, should be where a reader seeks the “how” and (even more importantly) the “why”. These are far tougher questions, requiring a different mindset and format to deal with properly, and…

Oh, my.

I’ve gone on a bit too long. Haven’t I?

About Rabbit

Rabbit Is the author of over thirty published furry novels and novellas as well as numerous columns and articles in other furry venues. He's a retired Tennessee auto worker.

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8 thoughts on “When You’ve Said Too Much

  1. Thanks Rabbit! I really liked this and it gave me food for thought.
    With websites like this, it’s really important to keep content flowing: both from an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) perspective, but also from a user perspective. You don’t want your readers to stop coming to your site because it doesn’t have content often enough.
    Obviously there’s a balance to be reached. You argue that perhaps the balance is too far towards constant updates and that they should be pared down to maintain quality. That’s fair enough.
    But I like the different voices, different topics and different conversations. Ideally, I’d like to see more authors on [adjective][species]. I want to see more perspectives and ideas. This would also mean that a single author wouldn’t struggle to come up with content so much.
    I like your articles, please keep writing :)

    1. Thank you for your kind words, and for taking time to reply.

      Being over fifty, I lived most of my life in the pre-internet era. Back in the day there were maybe ten thousand magazine titles on the shelves broken down to the nth degree of specialization. I recall titles devoted specifically to model railroad scenery-making, remodeling urban apartment buildings, modified off-road VW Beetles, things you could do to small-block Chevy (and no other!) engines, making children’s clothing from patterns, and even one devoted to a specific (though very popular) make and model of handgun. While I’m sure you’re correct regarding search engines and updating, etc– I don’t pretend to know anything of these matters– I find it odd to imagine that the Internet would be a force towards generalization as opposed to specialization of interests. It goes against all my preconceptions and instincts. Then again, it was almost impossible to actually find many of the highly-specialized magazine titles that I referred to actually physically present on the bookshelves in your local store. It often took years to first discover the title existed at all and then find out where and how to subscribe.

      And perhaps that’s the key difference between then and now right there, come to think of it. “Subscribing” involved making a payment, you see, which invariably serves as an incentive to make a product– in this case magazine articles– more readily available.

      At any rate it’s fun thinking about the differences between then and now. Thanks again!

      1. I guess there’s a question of scale. You’re right, the internet is great at specialization, but only if there’re enough people and enough content involved. Once you fall below a threshhold, then you can easily be swallowed by the waves of general interest.
        Furry certainly has enough people, but as you suggested, there may be a problem of enough content. I’d rather see [adjective][species] include a few more spurious articles to stay afloat, than to vanish entirely.

  2. I hope that prospective authors will not hold back their work in fear that their work is not good enough for [A][S]. I can imagine authors thinking that if they just hold onto an essay a little longer, and keep working at it, they will eventually have it perfect enough to submit for publication. It can be too easy to postpone and delay until interest declines and something new comes along to demand an author’s attention. Great authors have for decades been assisted by publishers in fine tuning stories and books. I hope that [A][S] can encourage new talent through some careful advice before publication, and that [A][S] readers will also encourage writers through thoughtful and non-judgmental critique. I hope that authors can keep in mind that they can take ideas from one of their essays and develop them further into more profound works. It is possible for a person to develop their talent and skill through participation in the Furry community much as you will see if you will please read this story from Bilerico Project: http://www.bilerico.com/2009/03/the_amber_that_furry_built.php

    1. Hi SR. Thanks for the link, that’s a really nice story, and it’s nifty to think that furry has such a positive influence on so many people. Our community really is special.

      You’ll be pleased to hear that we most definitely encourage and coach all our prospective guest writers. When an article draft, or even just an idea, is submitted (via submit@adjectivespecies.com), Makyo or I will always get back to the writer with friendly and useful feedback. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “that’s great, let’s publish as-is”, and sometimes there are a bunch of comments and a few revisions. And even on the occasion where an article doesn’t end up being published (for whatever reason), we always give feedback back and, where appropriate, suggest alternative venues (perhaps Flayrah or Claw & Quill).

      The guest writers are, I think, really important to [a][s], because they provide diversity. Depending on who the most active writer is at any given time, there are periods where one voice becomes a bit too loud – at the moment, that voice is mine. (I suspect that this is the hidden message in Rabbit’s article here.) The guest articles make for a nice change, and hopefully some of them will become regular contributors themselves.

    2. Hello, Shining! Thanks for the comment!

      Being who and what I am, (including the Tennessee auto worker referred to in your link), I am absolutely and always in favor of nurturing developing writers in every way practical. I’ve tried very hard over the years to walk the walk as well as talk the talk in this regard, though being human I’ve made my share of mistakes. I’ve very little formal education in writing (or much of anything else for that matter) and owe almost all of what little I’ve accomplished to the freely-given coaching and help of others. What kind of ungrateful ass would I be if I didn’t at least _try_ to pay it forward and help other newbies, as others once helped me? That’s not at all who I’ve ever sought to be.

      That said…

      The direct inspiration for the article above was actually JM’s “shy bladder” piece, which was published months ago. My impression was– and still is– that it was published here not because it was on topic or really had much to do with furry, but rather because JM felt he needed an article _right now_ and this was a subject he already knew something about. (Note that I’ve never once, that I can recall, found the _quality_ of the writing here to be less than excellent. Indeed, I consider my own work to be among the poorest in many respects.) My concern, in other words, is that the quality and, even more importantly, the _pertinence_ of articles published here should not be sacrificed in a misguided quest for sheer volume lest we lose sight of our true mission and the path to genuine excellence. Are genuinely good, thoughtful and incisive articles on the fandom easy to come by? Heck, no! As someone who’s made an effort to write them on at least a semi-regular basis for over a decade now, I ought to know.

      But then, if true excellence was easy _everyone_ would achieve it.

  3. Rabbit, it is okay to ramble- I understand what you’re saying, but I really don’t mind reading good articles that meander or aren’t as “on topic” with regards to what’s expected 100% of the time. There’s enough room for more here & everywhere online as long as it is good (that’s what matters to me).

    (Silly Rabbit, introspection & weaving through different subjects IS for [A][S] sometimes!~)

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I agree it’s okay to wander about some, but there comes a point at which you’ve done so much rambling that you can no longer define what is and and is not a deviation. In other words you’ve lost your true, guiding direction. That’s when you’re due for a major rethink. Lack of structure creates fun and sometimes even beauty– there’s much to be said for it. However, it rarely gets you very far in the real world.

      Personally, I prefer to live my private life as much as possible without formal structure. My writing-life, however, is quite the opposite with a few key exceptions. One of the beauties of life is that everyone gets to find their own mix.

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