Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Editing

As it happens, I got sidetracked on the 'net, poking around in a site called Literature-Map, at http://www.literature-map.com/. This addictive little site lets you enter an author's name, then, after clicking on the Search button, you get a screen full of authors that sort of float around, firefly-like, until they come to a stop. The names of the authors closest to your author you entered are the ones that, supposedly, other readers read.

For example, I entered H. P. Lovecraft, one of my favorites to read around Halloween. It returned as Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and once the other authors stopped bobbing about, two of the closest were Clive Barker and Jonathan Swift. I've not read either of those, and I should at some point, but my other Halloween author is Edgar Allan Poe, who was a little further from Mr. Lovecraft than either Lewis Carroll or Ayn Rand.

Mr. Poe and Ray Bradbury were about equidistant from H. P., so I decided to give Mr. Bradbury a spin on the Wheel-O-Literature. I now had Mark Twain, C. S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll hovering like moths around Mr. Bradbury. Mr. Poe and George Carlin were about the same distance away from Ray, with Carl Sagan a little closer then Edgar or George.

I'm always curious about software like this that predicts what I'm supposed to like, and as a former developer I have to wonder how they designed it, and how they verified its accuracy. Especially when after I entered Jules Verne, I got Herbert George Wells fairly close to Mr. Verne, but H G Wells was a little further away. H. G. must be a distant cousin, of Herbert George, I suppose.

Keep writing, friends.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

I Have No Idea What This is or Why it Was Made

I'm confused. And whereas I'm not at a complete loss of words, I've "...puzzled and puzzled 'til my puzzler was sore...", as the Grinch would say. Or did say, oh so many years ago.

While this post is a tad bit outside the area I normally write about, which is writing, I'm stretching the point as I consider how best to describe a visit my wife and I, along with two friends of ours, made this evening to a store called "at home". The 'a' and the 'h' in at home were not capitalized, best I remember.

I don't fully know how to describe some of the stuff for sale in there, and as a writer that does puzzle me, but I took it as my sacred duty to give it a go. There was, for instance, an orange footstool, or plant stand, or dust collector, that was made of a hard ceramic material--but it was made to appear soft, as though it was made from vinyl cushions. But it was in truth hard, though it was made to appear soft... We finally had to walk away from it.

Then there were the books that weren't books at all, they just looked like books, complete with titles. I don't know if they opened or not. I just set them back on the shelf and walked on.

We saw many items that we couldn't readily understand what they had been made for--silver things that looked like a cross between an old-fashioned electric shaver and a Venus Flytrap; items made from feathers that weren't feathers; and other objects that were obviously designed to hang from the ceiling, but we had no idea why.

The crowning thingamabob was a toilet paper holder--but not just any toilet paper holder. No sirree. This was a porcelain, or resin, or plaster figure of a guy with a toilet bowl plunger on his head, the finger of one had was in his nose, his other hand held the toilet paper, and his pants were down.

If I ever have writer's block again, I'll just return to this store.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He Rode in on His Thesaurus

Yes, I'm back again, beating (or drubbing, or trouncing, or defeating) a dead (or stiff, or checked out, or buried) horse, going on about words and their various synonyms in the Thesaurus. And what we find is that not all synonyms are created equally. As in some of the above word choices, one could beat a dead horse; however, it's obvious a stiff horse has already been defeated. It could, however, be argued that the horse had already been defeated, in a sense, and that you can no longer defeat that which is already defeated. So, there is that.

What got me started on that line of thinking was the word 'synonym'. And I decided to plug it into the Thesaurus, and came back with 'equivalent' and 'metonym'. Equivalent produced choices such as even, like, and parallel, whereas metonym dodged the issue by tossing me back to equivalent. What I'm trying to figure out, is how to replace synonym with those words in a sentence. If even, for example, is a synonym for synonym, is it that way for every situation? In the case where even is used as an adverb to express surprise or something in the extreme, is it even a synonym? And parallel. Are parallel lines synonymous lines?

And let's not get started with metonym. It's supposed to be equivalent to parallel, but I've not heard of metonymous lines.

Okay, I've abused your heads enough today.

Keep writing, friends.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Still Editing After all These Years

Finally, finally, I near the end of the editing process. After this last batch, of which I'm editing ten pages a day, which should wrap things up in less than a month (as long as I stick to my schedule and don't get sucked into a protracted Angry Birds, or Age of Mythology, or the genealogy rabbit hunt). Of course, then my beta readers, poor souls, will hammer it, turning it red with their pen-swords. Ha ha! I say unto them, make it bleed. I shall heal it!

There is no such thing as pure editing or pure revising. At least not for me. In the process of trimming a word or two, replacing two for one, and just generally sweeping away the debris, there's always a bit of revision in the process. In the rereading (and I recommend highly reading aloud to yourself so you can hear the flow of your story) I'll see a sentence that needs to go away, or go elsewhere. Also, can't help but see places where I can improve the tone.

Mostly I'm getting rid of the weasel words that are okay if not used often, but when they're sprinkled in like crushed red pepper flakes (can't get enough of those), they rob your words of their power. Words, for example, like 'just', as in, "I just have to add in a just or two, just to make it sound like me."

Here are a few other posts about editing. Also, please leave your comments below. I'd love to hear from you, my readers.


Okay, back at it.

Keep writing, friends.

Friday, June 10, 2016

We're Gonna Go Back...Way Back...

Sometimes I need to revisit a few past teachers, especially as regards my writing. There were a few along my random writing path who stand out. My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Hardy, complimented me on a paper I wrote for class--I paper I still have. There was the teacher in high school who taught a creative writing class. I no longer remember her name, but she allowed us to flex our writing muscles.

And then there was "Bart", who taught first semester English Composition. When he walked into class that first day in long hair and a beard, blue jeans, packing a worn-out copy of "Sirens of Titan" by Vonnegut, I had a feeling he'd help open a door or two to the writing process. He'd play The Beatles in class as we wrote. That was cool.

From Bart I learned that it was okay, even necessary, to break grammar rules, in order to get your message to the reader. That was a radical concept to me. After years of having the rules pounded into me, the idea of busting them was revolutionary, transforming. That meant I could <gasp!> play with words, bend them, warp them. They were no longer hard-edged chunks that, if I didn't treat them well, would get the grammar police after me.

That was the beginning of the fire they, and others along the way, lit. I shall spend the rest of my life learning the Tai Chi of words, and it is a privilege to do so. Thanks to all those teachers who showed me the path.

Keep writing, friends.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Voices from the Past

Lately I've had an opportunity to travel backwards in time and revisit a few old lessons. Wendy and I have been working on our family trees, shaking the branches to see who falls out. That's been an interesting voyage so far, especially when we're rummaging through old census records, and birth and death certificates. And here's one more plug for cursive writing--that's how the majority of these old records were recorded.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that not all of them are 100 percent legible. Some are just flat-out unreadable. A script 'F' looks a lot like a 'T' at times. But that's how they were written, so we work with what we have. And if we lose the ability write, and especially read, old manuscripts, then in a couple of generations or so all that information will vanish. Perhaps a super-sophisticated computer program could interpret cursive, but I doubt it. Plus, I'm Luddite enough to think that we still need to use our human eyeballs and gray matter for that purpose.

Beyond the obvious visual aspect of cursive handwriting, there's the individual's personality and style that gets infused into it. No two people write cursive the same way. And, a person's handwriting changes over time. That's something that can help a researcher establish the time period of a document when other clues fail.

Then there's the purely artistic side of cursive writing. From the pen and hand of a master, it's like looking at any work of art. On the other hand, from someone like me, my 'Z' look like, well, any other letter of the alphabet.

I'd like to see the computer that could read my handwriting.

Keep writing, friends.