2018 Kenyon and IITM Writing Workshop Talk

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Workshop details (pdf) | Webpage

The talk compares and contrasts three kinds of writing — loosely classified according to the nature of the readers and the content communicated.

A broad difference is easily identified by us between fiction and non-fiction. Several further classifications are possible for non-fiction, which are primarily driven by the nature of the readers.

While a few further classification is possible in fiction they are done more by form of the content than by the nature of the readers. Here lies an important difference, which has made us often assume wrongly that literary fiction is just stories that anyone can understand, appreciate and pass judgments on while science is tough and is to be left with scientists. Both generalisations are mired in presumptions of expertise and its un-necessity. To an extent these presumptions stem primarily from the associated writing.

Science writing conveys an objective idea to the reader. The writing depends on the appropriateness of the reader. Think of the same idea being conveyed by the same writer as a research paper, a monograph, a text-book chapter, lecture notes, a popular magazine or newspaper article.

On the other hand, Art — literature or fiction in our context — conveys feelings to the reader. As Tolstoy put it, Art (fiction) is an instrument that conveys the feelings of the writer to the reader — hopefully intact. However, unlike in science-writing, in fiction there is no such diversity of writing tuned for the specificity of the reader. Fiction writing doesn’t differentiate the reader on her expertise but perhaps only on her taste for types. Here lies the rub that allows for a third class of people apart from the writer and the reader — the art critic.

A critic is one who attempted to learn an art and had failed. Only a dull society requires a critic, observed Tolstoy in his What is Art. Giving allowance, I could agree with the perspective that the role of the critic is an objective mirror for the artist and an educative lens for the patron or listener.

That brings us to a classification of writing that is non-fiction but done with subject expertise. The writings of say, a political columnist, a cookery expert, an art critic, fall under this classification. Here again the writing need not be tuned according to the needs of the reader. The only assumption required on the part of the writer is that the reader is interested in following the text and diligent enough to overcome her contextual lacuna if necessary with some reasonable effort.

Specific rules and training can be provided to deliver the above form of writings and are done so in innumerable books and articles and associated talks. While Science-writing specifies and builds, art-writing expands and ripples — with the exception of poetry, which compresses but reflects. Emphasis on skills to be developed — language free of clutter and verbiage, narration that includes the particulars and the universals, story telling that conveys ideas from a personal vantage, providing visualisation and analogies to grasp ideas and so on — could be taught in a session or semester. But what is to be remembered at the end or even at the beginning of such writing workshops is that they could only teach the craft but not the associated art or science.

I am providing below links to few sample texts from my writings in all three categories Science, Non-fiction and Fiction, for analysis in the lecture. Some of these shall be discussed in the lecture. Fiction, from my novel writing experience, will only be briefly discussed as I write in my mother tongue while the language for the talk is primarily English.

Study Material

  1. Science Writing
  1. Non-fiction — Music Articles, Reviews and re-reviews
  1. Fiction — Novels and Stories (in Tamil language)