Question of the Day

I keep seeing this and every time I wonder.  Why, on books, do they put a book title followed by “a novel”?  Are they afraid we’ll think it’s a comic book?  There might be some rare, specific instances when that would need to be clarified, but it seems like the bulk of the books out there any more feel they must make that absolutely, unequivocally known.  Does anyone know why?

I Swear, Swearing is Out of Hand

The past few years, I’ve noticed what, to me, is a disturbing trend, particularly in the workplace.  Words that would never have been used in polite company now drip off the tongues of anyone and everyone, even in a professional environment.  Maybe people think they are no longer ‘swear’ words, but ‘just words’.  That isn’t true.  The nature of the word didn’t change simply because it became allowable to use them more frequently and publicly.  Somewhere along the line someone ‘uncensored’ them and the hordes have taken full advantage of that – men and women alike.  But why?

It is as if they think swearing in some way validates them as a person, in their career or whatever.  In truth, all it really does is offend many people around them, who are either too hampered by their own politeness to mention it, figure their comments would fall on deaf or hostile ears, or fear the many ‘laws’ that now protect people in being as offensive as they like.

Even aside from the offensiveness, I must say that it gives me a very poor opinion of those people overall.  That they would willfully be crude in front of others without regard to their feelings is a strike against them.  But even on a more basic level, it makes me question their intelligence and knowledge.  When I hear a co-worker using the F word literally almost every other word in a sentence, I have to think, “Do you not know any other words with which to express yourself?  Is your vocabulary truly that limited?”  If you don’t speak any better than that in public, then I must assume that you can’t.  Dressing up in business attire won’t disguise what comes out of your mouth.

Some would say (even yell) ‘Freedom of Speech’!  Yes, you have the right to say what you want as I am doing here, but the sign of a mature individual is one who can control their behavior, including speech.  They can determine that a professional workplace or a public place with strangers is not the place for such language that others might find offensive.  If they and all their friends want to hold inane, uneducated conversations like that in private then more power to them.  But a mature person would not think it appropriate to inflict that on anyone and everyone around them without regard for the other person.  To do so is offensive and disrespectful.

Don’t we have enough disrespect and offensiveness in the world already without that?  Perhaps now is the time to sweeten our language and thus hope to sweeten our world a little.  And, as a saying goes, ‘Blessed are those who choose their words wisely, for tomorrow they may have to eat them.’

A Radical Notion

In a radical departure from accepted standards, I am seriously considering keeping gloves in my car’s glove box.

My apologies if civilization as we know it comes to an end.

In other news, the last of the daffodils have passed into the great hereafter.  Hmmm…methinks another trip to Trader Joe’s might be in order.  They were glorious while they lasted.

Daffodils, daffodils, daffodils – daffy, delightful daffodils!

daffodils_zTX5anoac

   [image source:  http://clipart-library.com/clipart/zTX5anoac.htm%5D

I think one of my favorite parts of spring is spring flowers, in particular hyacinths, tulips and daffodils.  They don’t last long, but they are cheery while they do, bringing color back into the world after the white/gray/darkness of winter.  Of course, like many things, probably part of that enjoyment is that I grew up watching these flowers come forth each year, and even helped with planting them so they would.

I ventured out to Trader Joe’s this morning for a little shopping and they had their annual sale of daffodils going on.  I hadn’t seen a flyer that mentioned they were in stock or I would have gone just for those alone.  Now I have a vase of 30 stems on my table, waiting to burst into full bloom.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, Meg Ryan’s character declares daisies to be the friendliest flower.  But I believe I am with William Wordsworth on this:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils

One of the most delightful things I saw when I visited the British Isles years ago was daffodils blooming any and everywhere.  In yards, in parks, in woodlands and even alongside the road.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company

Indeed!  I have no nearby lake, or fields and trees stretched wide around me – just my living room, but still they have that wondrous effect.

How did we get from Killer Clowns to Daffodils?  Beats me.  Stream of consciousness?

[If you’d like to read the full poem, see:  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45521%5D

Killer Clowns?

I don’t remember exactly when I first discovered it, but many people apparently consider clowns to be ‘scary’.  I don’t recall ever in my life being frightened by one, or seeing anything sinister or frightening about them.  Did the proliferation of psycho killer clowns in movies cause people to think of clowns in a negative way, or did their fears predate such movies?  Am I not afraid of clowns because I don’t watch such movies?

I’ve heard people say ‘nobody likes clowns’.  Is that true?  Am I really the only one who isn’t?

Feel free to put in your two cents worth, if you’re so inclined.  I promise not to send a clown over to terrorize you if you admit to being one of the clown-dislikers!

For want of a comma, millions were lost

A class-action lawsuit about overtime pay for truck drivers hinged entirely on a debate that has bitterly divided friends, families and foes: The dreaded — or totally necessary — Oxford comma, perhaps the most polarizing of punctuation marks.

Most American news organizations tend to leave the Oxford comma out while allowing for exceptions to avoid confusion, like in the sentence: “I’d like to thank my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope.”

But the comma is common in book and academic publishing. The Chicago Manual of Style uses it, as does Oxford University Press style. “The last comma can serve to resolve ambiguity,” it says.

“In this situation, it did create an ambiguity, which means you have to either add a comma or rewrite the sentence,” he said.

               [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html]

Ah, yes, the joys of the English language!  In this instance, the lack of a comma created ambiguity, resulting in a huge cost to a company.  For writers, however, we face being misunderstood in what we intend if our punctuation is inaccurate or ambiguous.

“I love you,” Anna said.

“I love you?” Anna said.

Is there a difference in meaning of those two sentences?  Certainly, but you can only tell because of the punctuation.  As noted in the article about the dairy company overtime class-action lawsuit, if there is any possibility of being misunderstood you need to fix the punctuation to clarify, or rewrite the sentence.  In some cases, sentences lacking clarity are insignificant, but for the dairy company involved in the suit, it was not a small thing.

I once had a boss who would write or dictate letters to be typed by me, and he often misworded them.  Most of the time I could determine what he meant and fix them, but sometimes either of two interpretations was possible.  In those instances, I would have to go to him and have him tell me what he was trying to say, and then I would go write the sentence so that it actually said that.

Such mistakes can be costly, or merely embarrassing, but sometimes they are even funny.  I worked in a high-rise building, and we were notified that “firemen and their equipment and trucks will be in various parts of the building” during the day.  The obvious question was, “in which parts of the building will their trucks be – the elevators?  the restrooms?  the hallways?”.  This is an extreme example, and it was understood (despite the wording) what was meant, but the truth is they did not say what they meant to say.  I have sometimes read passages in books, too, where I am scratching my head trying to picture what the author is describing, and coming up short when elements of the description seem to contradict themselves.

It may never cost you any money, and perhaps you and a friend differ in your opinion of using the Oxford comma, but regardless, at the end of the day, you want to be correctly understood.  If an Oxford comma will achieve that, so be it.  If it takes something else to accomplish clarity, use that.  Just be clear in what you mean.

Dark, light or who cares?

I was reading a new post by David Ben-Ami on his Fiction All Day blog, and then took a look at a couple of older articles.  If you’re a writer, you may want to take a peek – for the most part I would agree with the points he makes in the articles I’ve read so far.

This particular post was regarding descriptions and using comparisons effectively.  In general, I considered him right in what he said.  As a fan fiction writer (versus writing in other arenas), things work a little differently, at least for me.  I’ve never been someone who is long on description.  If two people are in a scene with a sunset occurring, I’ll only describe the sunset to you if it is somehow pertinent to the scene or story that I’m telling.  Similarly, if I want your focus on their conversation, I consider it a distraction to give you two paragraphs describing the sunset in minute detail.  Pretty much everyone has seen sunsets.  If it isn’t important to the story, then I’m fine with you imagining any sunset you like.

That said, it is important to note that an economy of words makes it more necessary that you choose the right words to convey an idea in a very brief way.  It can be a tricky line to tread.  As David notes, slice away the unnecessary, but make sure you’ve said enough to create the image or idea that you want.

One of the problems I see often in fan fiction are girls who watch a movie, tv show or read a book and fall in love with it, so they try their hand at writing.  But they aren’t so much interested in the storytelling aspect as they are in creating their fairytale wherein they are the girl and they get to dress in fabulous clothes that are described down to the tiniest thread over the course of twelve paragraphs.  They might just as well go write a clothing blog of some sort, because there’s little room for a story by the time they finish these detailed descriptions.

I’m also not much for physically describing people, again unless I deem it important for some reason.  I may mention hair color or height if I want to make sure you aren’t seeing a short blond person when I fully intend them to be tall with dark hair.  But if it doesn’t really matter to the story, I’ll let you see anything you like – including yourself.

All this is not to say that description is overrated.  When done well, it is very effective.  As David points out in his blog, paint me a picture, but don’t keep touching it up endlessly or I’ll yawn and walk away.  Pare away the superfluous.  Use descriptors that are significant, and if you can bring in a comparison that ties it all together, it will make me remember that scene long after it’s ended.

I’ve mentioned Rick Riordan’s books.  In his Egyptian gods series, one of the two main lead characters is Carter Kane.  He specifically mentions that Carter is a young black man.  In and of itself, that isn’t important except that it has bearing on certain things that happen during the stories, so it is worth bringing to the reader’s attention.

On the other hand, in the Percy Jackson series of books (two separate series that are connected), there are two black characters (of note).  One, Charles Beckendorf, is briefly mentioned as being black and beyond that it rarely comes up again.  It doesn’t matter to anything that happens.  The other, Hazel Levesque, gets a little more focus on her color because it is important for brief moments in the stories.  While it’s true that Hazel is more of a “lead” character than “Charles” is, in general it simply wasn’t important to harp on that detail of them.  It was merely one part of their whole and often the other parts were of far more interest and pertinence than simply the color of their skin, hair or eyes.

So, my personal feeling is, if you’re going to describe it, let there be a purpose for doing so.  Is describing what someone looks like or what they are wearing more important than describing what they are thinking, feeling or doing at any given moment?  Usually not, and they may even get in the way of the story, disrupting the flow.  I don’t much care what clothes the hero is wearing in that dark alley.  I’m more interested in why they are there and what they intend to do.  Only if the clothing matters in some way will I ever even wonder about it.  Does he get discovered because he foolishly wore something bright white or reflective while on a covert mission?  Then I care about what he’s wearing, and why, and what happens because of it.

What about you?  How do you feel about descriptions, and could yours use some work?

[see https://davidbenami.com/2014/09/21/whats-missing-from-the-forest/%5D

Why is it frowned upon to smack co-workers, even when they deserve it?

Some of my co-workers on the other coast ought to be very glad they live so far away from me, or they’d definitely be getting the stink-eye from me.  I couldn’t persuade the company that I need a taser to keep some of these folks in line, so stink-eye is the best I can do.

Twice this week, someone contacted me indicating something was going to happen on a certain day – someone was coming into the office on a certain day/time.  So I dutifully made sure I was near the phone so Security could call me to approve their coming to the floor.  When they hadn’t shown up quite some time past their due time, I contacted the person who had put me on alert.  What did they say?  “Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you.  We changed that and no one’s coming.”  In one case I even went to work nearly an hour early to be there to make sure they could get in!  I was NOT a happy camper.

Have a great weekend co-workers, but watch your backs.  I just might be coming for you!

Hmmmm…do they still have those people you can hire to put a cream pie in someone’s face?

Reviewing reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, but I thought I would go a little deeper into it from a writer’s perspective.

When you put your writing out in the public eye, you invite feedback.  Some will be good and some will be bad.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Amazon and the reviews for your most favorite author of your most favorite book.  There will be negative reviews.

Part of whether a review is good or bad for any given work has to do with personal preferences.  I have a friend who adores certain books/movies/music, and while I agree with some of it, others of her favorites I dislike or feel ambivalent about.  Personal taste.  It doesn’t make either of our opinions right or better than the other, they are just different perspectives.

There are also trolls out there.  We see them all the time on the Internet.  Their sole purpose in life seems to be going around actively bashing anything and anyone, usually in the rudest possible manner they can muster.  Ignore them.  They are not worth anyone’s time or energy, either to read what they’ve written or bother responding.

There may be other shades of types but we’ll group most of the remainder into people expressing a well-meaning review (admittedly some are less well-meaning than others).  They are trying to give honest feedback, and they may or may not accomplish it.

Trouble is, some of them don’t/can’t express themselves very well, so it gets lost in the translation.

Others, give “feedback” that says very little: “loved it”, “great story”, “this is amazing”.  While they’re being honest, and it may make us feel good, it isn’t particularly helpful.  What did they love?  Why was it a great story?  What is amazing about it?  Do they think the characters are brilliantly realized?  Do they consider the storyline utterly fascinating?  Is this the most original and unique story they’ve read in a long time?  What was it they particularly liked?  Writers need some idea of what it was they did right.  Similarly, they need to know what didn’t work.  “It was great for the most part” doesn’t give me much idea of where I need to improve.  What is wrong with the ‘non-most part’, and what in particular was it?  Did I put the characters into a completely unbelievable situation, but it was brief and you forgive me and just ignore that part?  What?  Details and specifics can help.  Examples can help.  Vague praise or criticism doesn’t do me much good.

The other sort of feedback that I see a lot of in fan fiction is quite specific (though sometimes presented a little nastily).  You can tell me you didn’t like something without being nasty about it.  Try really, really hard – you can do it!  Some of what they express is on-the-nose accurate.  Yes, I did mess up that part.  Yes, the story did fall a little flat in that part of chapter two.  Yes, I could have done more with that character.  But writers – DON’T take the reviewers’ words as gospel.  I’ve had people tell me I’m wrong about something when in fact they were the one that was wrong.  I’ve also had them express an opinion – but it WAS an opinion and not based in anything concrete.

If they offer criticism, examine what they are saying and try to honestly determine if they are right.  If you believe they are, then take it to heart and try to do something about it in your future writings (or fix the current one if that is possible).  If they are wrong, thank them for their input and ignore it.  I’ve seen some reviews and I’m curious about the person who wrote it so I go to see what they have written.  Many times it turns out that they haven’t written/posted anything, or what they have written is so poorly written that I wouldn’t even read it all the way through.  That being the case, why would I (or anyone else) listen to their criticism of someone else’s work?  But if I find that they have published stories and they are extremely well written, then I sit up and take notice.  They know whereof they speak.  I can learn from them if I will.

For those of us who post online in a format that allows making changes, we have the option of fixing things if we wish.  Hardcover or paperback books don’t have that luxury.  Any errors must remain until the next printing, and even then remain unless the book owner buys a new copy that fixes the error.  Since I write in the Lord of the Rings universe, and it is a huge, rich universe, there is a learning curve.  Early stories have detail errors that I only discover later.  I don’t necessarily go back and fix them if they are a major part of the story, I just don’t repeat them in the future.  Other things are trivial: I had given a male horse a certain name that someone pointed out would actually be a feminine name in Tolkien-verse.  That was easily changeable and so I made the correction.

But only once did I rewrite a scene after a reviewer said they felt someone acted out of character.  I agreed with them after reading their very specific comments, and it was easy enough to replace that scene in the story, so I rewrote it to try to bring it back into line with the character.  They were astonished, not expecting me to do that, but it was my choice not to leave that error in the story.

So, bottom line, take all reviews with a grain of salt.  Honestly examine what is said and try to fix what you can, either in the present or in the future.  And while you’re at it, try to leave constructive reviews for others, the kind of reviews that you would like to get.  There likely will never be a “best writer ever”, but we can all be better writers collectively, and help others toward that goal.

This Might Interest Some of You

via Pixar Rolls Out Free Online Storytelling Course | Mental Floss

Noticed this on Mental Floss.  Those of you who write might want to see if it offers anything you can use.

In case the link doesn’t work:  http://mentalfloss.com/article/92367/pixar-rolls-out-free-online-storytelling-course?utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=mf&utm_medium=02_21_17-grid_1-92367

https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar

https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelling