I was going to do a book review of the tome that I just finished reading but, honestly, since I can not give a positive review and since I refuse to disseminate negativity about specific persons on the internet, I want to address this topic in a general sort of way.
I am not even going to address the specific subject of this book since, to do so, would likely reveal the author. In some ways, this individual is quite brilliant and I would not ever discourage someone from doing research into a topic that interests them. What I would encourage, in both this writer and in other writers in the paranormal and cryptozoological fields, is learning something about how to write an argumentative piece.
Now, some people might say, “I don’t want to argue anything; I simply want to present the evidence I have gathered” or “really, this book is just about the folklore and legends that I have discovered about X phenomenon”. In my experience, this basically means that the writer is giving themselves permission to go on and on, giving example after example, ad nauseum, around some vaguely defined theme that leaves the reader wondering why the hell they are reading this book when they could have re-read something that made sense.
I realize that most, if not all writers on paranormal themes, myself included, are passionate about their subjects. I know the urge to just ‘unload’ when I find someone interested in topics I am interested in. Unfortunately, I also have known the embarrassment of having someone’s eyes glaze over as I waxed loquacious about some topic that I thought was endlessly fascinating. The problem is that, with a book, you can not see your audience and you can not hear them moan, a quarter to halfway through the book and say:
“Oh my god, what the hell is this book about?”
Yes, dear writer, simply giving a book a title does not mean that you have a thesis to your book. In the opening matter of the book, you need to make it clear what the book is supposed to be about and then adhere to that thesis throughout the book. Even if you do not want to argue for the reality of something, you still need to let the reader know what you are talking about, why you are talking about it, perhaps why you think it is interesting and how you are going to present your material. Then, you need to adhere stringently to that promised theme. The only real exceptions to this straightforward piece of advice are people writing encyclopedic texts about the unexplained. Readers already know, when looking at these books, that they will be exposed to a wide variety of topics.
“This person is only giving me what he wants me to hear”
Folks, writing about the paranormal does not mean that we have to completely abandon the dictates of logic. I could probably write a whole post on this but will settle for this one example. It is commonly the case that a paranormal writer will start with a hypothesis and then go to mind-bending lengths to make all material covered in their presentation fit into that hypothesis and will ignore evidence of or even the presence of alternate hypotheses.
For example, the Nazca lines had to be constructed with the help of ancient aliens since they could only be seen from altitude. That is certainly a theory and there may be evidence for it but did any of these writers do any research into the spiritual practices of the people who built the lines? Bet there was a shaman or two or several dozen who was capable of out of body experience that included ‘flying’. For all we know, these so-called primitives worked out a way to make a glider or hot air balloon. Ancient alienists and many historians have a distinct bias against the idea that ancient people were as smart as we are and quite capable of working out tech for something they really wanted to do.
Another good example, is the paranormalist who has developed some unified field theory of the paranormal and is determined to fit all phenomenon into their fancy box. While there may clearly be something to what they are writing about, they crash and burn their own theory by trying to extend it into regions that they have no clue about.
“I am drooling . . . this is the 601st example of X that this writer has given.”
Dear writer: I understand that you are deeply impassioned about your topic and that you have reams and reams of notes about this, that and the other thing related to that topic. That fact does not mean that you have to share every single one of those notes with your reader and turn your book into a 7000 page monstrosity that only the most dedicated reader will ever get through. Remember, O Writer, that not everyone who picks up your book is going to be as excited about your topic as you are. No one is going to be interested in the story that you got from someone’s cousin’s friend’s brother who was on a mission in Malaysia 27 years ago.
“Wait, just because X is the case, it does not mean that Y is true.”
Skepdebunkers do this all this all the time (see the recent stories about UFO sightings and peak alcohol consumption periods) but, unfortunately, so do writers of the paranormal. Again, think of the Nazca lines argument. It does not follow that since the lines can only be viewed from altitude that ancient aliens must be responsible for their construction. This is one possible theory but it is not a fact.
These are a few of my favorite paranormal writing gaffes. Perhaps I will cover more in a later post.