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Writer's Guide to the Partial Observer

by Dear Jon

The Webmaster has asked me to articulate some less “formal” guidelines about what we publish or try to publish or wish we could publish some day, especially for those who submit fiction, poetry, and other miscellany. I thought I would take this opportunity to  revert to lashing out at a pet peeve of mine, a person I call the Smug Narrator. The Smug Narrator used to possess my writing until it was exorcised at a Writer’s Workshop in 1994. We will meet the Smug Narrator as we go through some guidelines point by point.
  1. Be a pro. This means a) Read more than you write because you will write better and b) Don’t get huffy if your piece is rejected. Write again. Submit something else. Learn the guidelines and write the stuff that fits.
  3. Being a pro does NOT mean getting paid. However, at the PO you own all the copyrights to what you post.
  5. While authors at the PO are not paid, several feature contributors at the PO do live a form of the paid writing life; the primary and most public feature of our career work is in the crafting of words. Even those that do not live this writing life probably could or might some day, and of those, some have advanced degrees in areas that developed rhetorical skill. The standard at the PO is that we write well. First-time contributors or occasional contributors are also required to write well.
  7. In opinion pieces such as appear by Barnabas and James Leroy Wilson, the article stands or falls on the clarity and cogency of the argument. An unreasoned argument, even if rhetorically catching, fails. In fiction, the story stands or falls on whether the action is resolved in a manner that fits with the narrative world that has been created. Resolutions that defy belief on the the writer’s own terms, are disappointing and are even a betrayal of the reader. This happens when smug narrators are not aware that the reader is worthy of respect. At the PO, writers should submit stories where the end has some sensible connection to the rules set at the beginning. If you are not grasping this principle at an intuitive level, so that you have to bother me or the Webmaster with questions about what I mean, then you might be doing a lot of practicing before you are ready for publication even on the PO.
  9. A pro has a personality which is evident in the way that the writing is conveyed. Prose or lyrical forms can steer the writing personality along certain conventions, but the personality will shine or fade on its own attractiveness. The great, classic novels from the 19th Century feature omniscient narrators. These are narrators that know more than their characters and more than the readers. Leo Tolstoy is an excellent example. War and Peace is an excellent novel. It is also written in the 19th Century. Stylistically, we have moved on from the “smug narrator” of Tolstoy’s omniscience. Omniscience is not required for suspense. The reader’s journey of discovery is, hopefully, what we experience when a friend, without being smug, tells us something about themselves and we reply, “I never knew that about you before!”
  11. Dark stories where miserable things happen are my personal favorite. These do not require maudlin emotions or moralistic twists. Good narrative personalities do not require vehicles with happy endings or uplifting themes. Writing is an art form. Some art is disturbing. Hopefully, the reader’s journey of discovery through the maze of human evil is what we experience when a friend tells us something about themselves and we reply, “I never knew that about you before! And now I’m calling the police and getting a restraining order you sick pervert.”
  13. Having said all that, dark and miserable things can happen in stories on the PO, but sick and perverted things will not be published, as this is a family friendly site.
  15. Good personalities are more interesting and popular than mean personalities in writing as well as in life. However, in writing, even mean or chilling personalities work better than stilted or didactic personalities.
  17.  The gimmick of Rod Serling’s "Twilight Zone" works in certain situations, but even he could become an intrusive and didactic narrator spewing moralisms at the end of the program just in case we didn’t understand the poetic justice. Let Rod Serling be himself. You be yourself, unless you are stilted, boring and didactic -- then you need to become someone else, which is the inspiring journey to professional writing.
  19. So, this is what we want at the PO: Stories and poems that spring from appealing or at least interesting narrators whose presentations invite us in to the suspense of the action without lording omniscience over us. These stories can be twisted and surprising, or straight-forward slice-of-life, or science fiction or mystery or thriller. In terms of genre, we are wide open to everything except pornography and outright blasphemy.
  21. What we don’t want:  We don’t want bad writing, and we don’t want smug narrators.
PS. A caution regarding allegory: Situational metaphors can be crafted with great skill in both poetry and fiction, and the PO has published spiritual and moral allegory in both forms. However, allegory is also one of the first refuges of the smug narrator. Careful!

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