Airplanes, Readers, and Controversial Speakers

I’m willing to bet there’s a percentage of people out there who like model airplane shows and exhibits without ever being involved in the building of one. I also think the ones who don’t have a tie to the community itself or the people in it are in a small minority. The skill to make something small look as though it’s a perfect version of its larger counterpart and not just a toy is an art and a skill that can take a lifetime to master.

The end result is a piece of art that exists to show the mastery of the one who built it.

Planes that fly, on the other hand, have a purpose. Their job is to get people to other places where driving would take too long or might not even be possible considering the planet really should have been called Water instead of Earth. There are plane enthusiasts who gather at the end of runways to watch planes take off, but the majority of people who use them care about their function first and their visual appeal second.

The more advice I hear in and out of my MFA, the more I realize that a lot of advice is given about how to improve model airplane techniques and not how to get their story to a destination. Writers writing for other writers turn writing into a model airplane hobby. The purpose of their work isn’t to lift the reader’s experience somewhere they’re paying to go, it’s to impress other writers with the layers and layers of airbrushing so that everyone can see where the panels of the plane were welded together in minute detail.

A story with elegant prose but doesn’t even try to say something true is like that model airplane sitting on the shelf. Even if it looks exactly like the world/plane it’s trying to produce in miniature, it still has no purpose but to sit on the shelf showing off how much time and skill it must have taken.

A reader, though, wants to be a passenger in the story. They are reading commercial work, literary or otherwise, for the journey and the destination that a model plane isn’t designed to have. Putting all the classwork into learning how to finish painting something that isn’t meant to move is assuming that is what the readers are reading for.

There are enough beautiful planes out there that can still take passengers to where they want to go. Readers are spoiled for their choice for beautiful planes that go to exotic locations for the cost of buying a ticket. A beautiful model of a plane, on the other hand, has a market limited to only the people who like model airplanes enough to buy a completed one that shows off someone else’s hard work.

I am the first person who thinks the craft of writing is a series of complicated skills that need practice or god-like talent. But as important as it is to have a theme, conflict and tension, it is more important for a story written for an audience to be able to lift off.

That ability to take a story and make it say more of what matters to the ideal reader is a skill that needs to come before sharing airbrushing techniques.

But between doing what’s right and doing what’s easy, the UBC has always chosen the easy way no matter how messy they make their own bed for it. Criticism doesn’t tear down the work or the institution. It’s meant to make them better and stronger for it. Silencing criticism while having a statement on controversial speakers will always be a perfect example of how hypocrisy is built into higher education.

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