Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Sweetest Words

Apropos of words you overuse, what are those words or phrases you can never hear enough of?

Here are a few of my favo(u)rites:

* Congratulations!
* Accept
* Yes
* Thank you
* Leftover turkey

Okay, your list might be slightly different. I adore turkey sandwiches, turkey soup--in fact, most things turkey. Just to be sure, I looked up "talk turkey," which has apparently shifted in meaning from "talk pleasantly" to "talk directly about difficult subjects," but regardless, yes, even that is something I prefer.

As for the rest of the words, I would like to hear these words more often--and one way I can do that is to say them more often.

Another way to hear more is to ensure that others have the opportunity to say them to me. That's another way of telling myself "take the risk: send writing out."

Hey, that's another reason to like leftover turkey: without fail, it never says "no."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Analysis: Really? "Things"?

One thing "they" say, and by "they" I mean "someone else because I didn't make this up but I can't remember who just now," is that one way to improve your writing is to analyze it. What patterns do you fall back on? What words ("just," "okay," "only") do you overuse?

But looking with analytical eyes at your own writing is tricky.

In fact, revising is hard in general, especially when the hormones of creation are still pumping through your bloodstream.

It's easier to revise writing I do for work because I'm less attached to it. Still, it's easier and more productive to revise after sleeping. One night of sleep is often enough for writing I do for work. Some 90 nights of sleep is required before I can see flaws in my own creations.

My point is that revising is easier when you have tools. Like sleep, and/or time enough to create "new eyes."

So, back to those specific "old standby" words. First, a digression.

I'm currently reading a book by John Banville, one of two I got from the library when I had time to kill and found his name on my "try sometime" list.

I started with The Sea and found it useful to have a dictionary at hand while reading it. The narrator has an impressive vocabulary and his use of archaic or obscure "ten-dollar" words helped define his character. I learned that "crapulent" has a definition (related to debauchery or drunkenness) that's slightly different from the increasingly common definition (having the aura of crap, being full of metaphorical crap). Obviously, we're talking shades of meaning here, but Banville meant something specific when he used it, and I was glad to find the specifics.

Then I started on Shroud. And in the first few pages, Banville again has his narrator using words like "crapulent." And I'm wondering if his narrators are different from each other, which then leads me to wonder if they're not all, more or less, Banville.

In any case, I wondered whether Banville is overly attached to "crapulent." Much like one of my favourite mass market novelists always has protagonists "forking up" food, usually breakfasts that include waffles.

Recently I was looking at wordles ( I'd made of the g-kids' names and it occurred to me that using wordle to analyze text would be a fun way of finding those words that, perhaps, uh, over-appear.

So I used a blog post--the one about the buzzing flies. And the most common word was...drumroll...


Not "flies." Not even "bzz." "Thing."

The Wordle was set to ignore common English words, which perhaps spared me from writing mostly about "and" or "the," I'm guessing.

But still. "Thing"?

The site is pretty cool. If I'd been motivated ("thing"??) I could have saved the wordle and done a screen capture and printed it here. I wasn't that motivated.

Okay, so finding the results might still not be all that fun. But they could be useful, and having a wordle would be funner than not having one.

A tool! To have fun with! Happy holidays, indeed.
Sunday, December 12, 2010

Questions, Questions

Recently, I've completed enough creative and work projects (which is to say, I've sent out all those manuscripts that were rejected) that I've cycled back to a story that's stymied me before. Unfortunately, it's the title story of the collection I received funding for, so bailing on it is out of the question.

And truthfully, I would cycle back to this story anyway, because I really want to finish it. I like the characters, even the ones I don't like, and I mostly know what needs to happen. I know vaguely the status of things at the end. But I get stuck when I try to go from here to there. I won't even try to explain why because basically I know I just have to do it. Fingers to the keyboard and all that.

But while procrastinating, I ran across a list of questions compiled by Julie Bush from many different sources. She calls it her Break In Case of Emergency file.

What a great idea. The questions are, as she says, "basic drama stuff" questions--which also makes them extremely useful. Questions such as
* Who wants what?
* What happens if they don't get it?
* What's the silent movie version?
* What's the worst that would happen if this scene were omitted?

Like that. Isn't that last question annoying? Once I've written a scene, it's really hard to let go of it. If it exists on the virtual equivalent of paper, it breathes on its own. It has a kind of legitimacy: Look! Words!! This scene has to stay!!! Of course it can't GO! (But imagining "worst that would happen" scenarios is kind of fun.)

So, the questions are themselves useful.

And so is the idea of having a file where you store questions like that. The questions should be thought-provoking, though apparently they can be very basic, and they should take you in new directions, and they should maybe also annoy you. The file should be something you turn to when you are absolutely stuck and need to put down the hammer for awhile and pick up an awl, or a shotgun, or a boomerang, just to see how it feels in your hand, and because you suspect what you're facing isn't actually a nail that needs to be hammered.

Or if you have a burning desire to write an analogy that goes all over the place. For example. "You" meaning "one."

Just asking some of those questions about the characters in my story has shown me that the person I thought was the antagonist isn't. The scene that inspired the story in the first place may not actually end up in the story. Or it might, but the scene's purpose might be different.

And I'm going to start a file of my own with some of the questions from this list, the ones I find particularly useful (or annoying), and add to that file.

But first, I'm going to go see what happens if I set that scene to happen later in the story because what happens isn't something the main character knows about...

"What if?": the most important question of all.
Monday, December 6, 2010

Sorts, Types of

1. Out of. That's what I was last week when I got annoyed about the popularity of two adults engaged in a pointless argument. Fortunately, Wikileaks came along and engaged my snark and imitative skills.

2. Using codes. That's how people have been finding Wikileaks documents that mention Canada. It's a lot like googling yourself, which everybody does (yes, you do. Yeeees, you know you do) but nobody admits to. In terms of the Wikileaks searches, it's a little bit sad: not having much wikileaked about you is confirmation that you're a boring country. Whereas an individual who is not very google-able can be...mysterious. Above that sort of thing. An international man or women--who can even tell?--of mystery. Yeah, maybe.

3. By title. I made a playlist of Christmas songs to help keep me at my desk while I finish some stuff. I don't have a ton of Christmas music, and lots came as compilation CDs anyway, and as for the ones that didn't--well, sometimes I don't feel like listening to James Taylor or those Barenaked dudes for an entire hour. You might think sorting by song title would be even more boring--ten versions in a row of Silent Night, for example--but you'd be wrong. People actually do quite different things with these songs. I'm impressed. (Of course, you might think that my taste and perspicacity in picking holiday CDs might be a factor, though given that four are Pottery Barn compilations, you'd be wrong about that, too.) Even James Taylor's "River" followed by Sarah Maclachlan's "River" is just...interesting. Go try it.

4. By date of project finish. Oh, so many unfinished ones floating there at the top. Sigh. Bye.