One of the many challenges I face as a beginning writer (I can still claim novice status, particularly when making novice mistakes) is the issue of how temporal to be. “Temporal” often means “temporary.” Who knows how long LOL or awesome will last? And, do you really want to date your writing? Then there’s the more complex issue … vocabulary and usage reflect a character’s expressed personality, which is a function of the time and place. “Cool, daddy-o” doesn’t work in a piece set in the 1890’s. Certainly, leave out y’know, like and other limping conjunctions and fillers that are common in conversation … except maybe occasionally, as linguistic spice. That part I got.
Less obvious is the subtle change discussed in a New York Times opinion piece,“Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’ ” by Molly Worthen. She notes, “imperfect data that linguists have collected indicates (sic) that ‘I feel like’ became more common toward the end of the last century. In North American English, it seems to have become a synonym for ‘I think’ or ‘I believe’ only in the last decade or so. Languages constantly evolve … But make no mistake: ‘I feel like’ is not a harmless tic. George Orwell put the point simply: ‘If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.’ The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument.”
So, possibly irritating phrases (such as) “I feel like” don’t get expunged because the help define the characters inner self? The next big question: “I feel like” is like fingernails on a blackboard to me, but does it describe a character’s state of mind to my reader? Am I justifying not including it because I am, after all, an English major living on a higher plane of language? Is that higher plane really an affectation?
No more questions. Start, like, writing!
Too good to pass up from Miranda Kopp-Filek (koppeditingservices.com):
Writers write because there is a fire in the soul. Editors edit so that the fire might be seen through the smoke.
I grew up with the notion that the novelist was a solitary sort, tucked away in a drafty garret, composing literature for yes, a decade or more. Then, through a process never very clearly explained, this solitary creature would be FOUND. A great editor would become friendly; publication would follow. And another iteration of the Great American Novel would be visited upon an adoring public.
The other day, I was looking for an article on podcasting. I found the article, but it was slow to load, waiting for <<pop>> a window exhorting me to publish NOW. For a mere $4,000, I could have that great editor…and publicity…and reviews. NOW. I closed the window.
DInner was near, and I was to be the cook. What temperature to use for roasting vegetables? Sure enough, Google provided several options. And the first one said…hmmm, loading slowly…<pop> Publish your work NOW. Different unusually discriminating small publisher. For only …
Maybe that garret was a better way.
Two writing group friends have new books out:
John Harrigan, former foreign service officer and professor has an historic thriller, Crosshairs on Castro. What if, in the confusion that surrounded the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the government decided to assassinate Castro?
John weaves this plot around meticulously researched details from the historical record. Edge-of-the-chair exciting! See more of John’s writing at his website.
Jacy Sutton’s Available to Chat is a new take on a very old subject: Love, lust, and the interesting in-between. The first line of the blurb is, “People tell Olivia that her online beau may actually help her fading marriage.” We know how that turns out, right? Well, no, we don’t. It’s complicated, interesting, full of great conversations and convolutions. See more at Jacy’s website.
There’s another coming soon from Karla Jorissen that pits a couple of smart women against a cadre of bad and semi-bad guys. I’ll let you know …
First, a thank you to readers. A couple of months ago, I asked you to help me out with my vision of what the world would look like ten years from now. A group of intrepid souls realized that my request to answer the blog post in the comment box wasn’t working (my WordPress skills are apparently lacking), and I got a wealth of commentary from them anyway. The most regular critique of my initial vision came in the form: “Your 2026 looks a lot like today. Surely much more will have happened by then.” That gave me pause. Leaving out geopolitics, which I didn’t have the temerity to predict (except to assume CyberWar I will happen in a few years, which I take to be obvious), things did move pretty much at current pace. I hadn’t fleshed out that assumption with deep analysis; after all, I’m writing fiction. But really, look back at 2006. More apps, yes; otherwise, not so different.
About a week ago, the economist Paul Krugman reviewed THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH, by Robert J. Gordon, in the New York Times. Krugman, reflecting on Gordon’s thesis, says “The truth is that if you step back from the headlines about the latest gadget, it becomes obvious that we’ve made much less progress since 1970 — and experienced much less alteration in the fundamentals of life — than almost anyone expected.” He notes that between 1870 and 1940, “Electric lights replaced candles and whale oil, flush toilets replaced outhouses, cars and electric trains replaced horses.” But today, “you or I could walk into a 1940s apartment, with its indoor plumbing, gas range, electric lights, refrigerator and telephone, and we’d find it basically functional. We’d be annoyed at the lack of television and Internet — but not horrified or disgusted.” (Tell that to one of the chilly dudes waiting in line outside the Apple store for the latest iPhone. Wait … have our lives become trivial, or is the insatiable quest for life improvement focusing on that which is available?)
Anyway, I feel more comfortable with a world in which I don’t have to spend too many words explaining exotic, transformative technology. Thanks again for your additions and corrections.
My father was a sculptor in wood. I remember him saying, “The wood has a story. It’s my job to let it out.” I was six or seven, but those words have stuck with me.
I have been working with a fine editor (see Kopp Editing Services) on the first part of my second novel. As I was hacking away at the prose, chopping a sentence here, a participle there, I saw my father working. His chisel was at first roughing out the block, revealing the grain and density, finding the story. Maybe because all writers are suckers for metaphor, I realized as I read through the margin notes and suggestions, the first draft is that roughing out. Rewrite teases out the shape, and editing provides the fine adjustments my father made to his sculpture with the gouges, skews and v-groove chisels that gave the the piece character.
There is something to be said for that metaphor. When I began my first novel, I thought I would write a draft, then line edit. (After all, I’m a good writer, I thought. Got B’s in college from the writing teacher who was reputed to believe, “A is for God, B is for me, and C+ is for the best of the rest of you.”)
My father saw a pelican in this piece of wood
That first time, I got the same result a woodworker would have gotten by jumping to fine detail before the roughing out was finished. Now, on the second novel, after more experience and the help of three critique groups, I believe it’s time to take out the gouges and skews. So I sent the third pass off to my editor.
Here is a starchy tour de force. Good writing, too.
My critique group friend Julia Carpenter wrote this article for the New York Times. It speaks to the delicate task of explaining one’s writing to one’s kids (or grandkids) when that writing is, ahem, a little spicy.
(Well, more than a little … Julia redacted certain bits that the writing group really, really wanted to read.)
When I asked you, my friends and readers, for your take on the world a few years from now, I expected comments responding to the post.
Then I realized the comment section wasn’t working and your comments were in a special folder in my e-mail. So I stopped mumbling under my breath. One friend was probably right that I jumped the gun having Congress start using genetic data to ration healthcare by five or six years from now. Hell, just getting the roads fixed is in the Too Hard column for Congress. My friend Weaver gave me a prescient warning three years ago that I’d better deal with drones, so I was glad to see his references to several articles (the media does tend to look forward at the end of a year). I got some help on the likelihood of grid coverage or lack thereof and the staying power of wired connections. A member of one of the critique groups that are pulling me (slowly) toward good writing mentioned that the implanted blue tooth devices I imagined in my second novel are just around the corner, not the few years away I imagine. Another friend comments that I haven’t really addressed demographics … I have no Muslims, just Bostonians, North Dakotans, Floridians, good old boys. The third book will have Muslims.
Thanks to all of you!
Tim McMullin, a friend, musician, songwriter, videographer and observer of the human comedy wrote a long reply full of insight to my post on the Agony of Grammar. In it, he referred to a story by Katherine Anne Porter that is a tour de force in descriptive writing. You can read it here.
One of the great pleasures of writing and music is the crowd of interesting people that are drawn to these arts!