Wednesday, January 9, 2008


I have a bad habit.

I like stories. (That isn't the bad habit. It's coming later.) During a typical week, I’ll read them or watch them or listen to them and then I’ll want to tell someone else about them. The conversation will begin something like, “Hey, I saw Atonement last night,” or “So, I just finished a book by
R.A. Lafferty.” The person will then typically ask what I thought about it.

What do I always say? “It was interesting.”

I say it so often that an old writing buddy snorts whenever he hears it. I can’t say that I blame him. After all, “interesting” is value-neutral word. It tells one very little about an individual’s assessment of the thing in question. The Northern Lights can be interesting. So can a seven-car pileup on I-95. Try using the word the next time your wife asks your opinion of her new hairstyle, and you’ll see what I mean.

On the other hand, “interesting” is a superlative complement in our day and age. We are bombarded with more wonders than our ancestors could dream. In olden times, nobles would gather to hear a bard spin his stories. Now the whole life’s work of the bard and many others like him can fit in a device about the size of a deck of cards. Encyclopedias have fallen out of fashion since you can access the breadth of their contents and more with a few taps on a keyboard. Want to learn what happened across the globe today? Take your pick of pretty talking heads, some of which will blather for you twenty four hours a day.

The point of all this is that if something catches your interest, it's special. That’s a tough thing to achieve because we’re a grossly oversaturated society. But learning how to captivate someone, to induce him to willingly give you a parcel of his mental real estate is vital if you want to tell stories. Putting it in slightly different vocabulary in An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every good book should be entertaining. A good book will be more; it must not be less. Entertainment … is like a qualifying examination.”

Love what I write? Hate it? Either’s fine, as long as you find it interesting.

(Picture: CC 2006 by nick_russill)


Amy said...

What would you propose is the antonym of "interesting?"

(This reminds me of how, if you've ever watched The Bachelor, you pick up on The Bachelor describing every girl he encounters as "amazing.")

Loren Eaton said...

Merriam Webster online gives me "boring, drab, dry, dull" and a few others. I'd say that's fair.

Haven't watched The Bachelor for at least four years (no TV), but I know what you mean. "Interesting" can become a weasel word.