Point of View and Plagiarism

I love:  patrons.  Too bad I don’t have any!  Ha!

No no, just kidding!

Portrait of Count Ferdinand von Waldstein, a patron of Beethoven’s, by Antonín Machek (1775 – 1844),. Think he’d slip me a little green to finish my novel? Come on, Ferdy….

 Image: Wikimedia Commons

 I love:  point of view.  Or POV for short.

The two most common types are first person, where the narrator is a character in the story and speaks using “I.”  The other one is third person, in which characters are referred to as “he, she, it,” etc.  Second person, or the “you” version, isn’t as prevalent, although for a while it was kind of trendy.

First person is usually limited to what the narrating character can see, hear, and is experiencing.  Sometimes the first person narrator is merely telling the reader what already happened, as in Eudora Welty’s story “Why I Live at the P.O.”  Other times, the story is unfolding as the person is telling it.

Example:

Tom and I went a little ways into the woods and spread out the blanket.  He helped me unpack the picnic basket and his fingers brushed mine.  My skin twitched all over like I’d just touched the electric fence, and my thighs trembled.   I just knew we would do it later.  My mind was already ticking off details to share with Shirley Jean later on, if we could get on the phone without our daddies hearing us.

The unreliable narrator is a version usually found in first person POV.  This narrator typically misinterprets or makes mistakes in the story that the reader finds apparent.  Toni Morrison’s Jazz has several narrators like this.

Second person is a little harder, which may be why it isn’t used as often.  If you’re not careful, it can sound rather awkward.  It tends to work best in present tense.

The morning sun slants across your pillow, and you screw your eyes shut as if to ward off its inexorability.  You feel your bones heavy like armature in the soggy papier maché of your flesh.   Your breath sucks over a tongue thickened with liquor fuzz.  You fumble for the alarm, and sit bolt upright.  9:37 a.m., its green numerals crow.  You’re late again.

Third person has different styles.  Limited third person keeps the narration firmly in the point of view of one character for the entire work.  Readers discover the other characters through their actions and the narrator’s impressions of them.

Roy tumbled into the hole, clutching at the sides.  He didn’t scream, but emitted weird squawks that drove frigid shivers up Carly’s back.  The squawks ended abruptly with the sharp, wet thud of a body on the fence spikes at the bottom. 

Her little girl didn’t ever have to know.  No one will, she thought.  The nightmare was over.   No trial, no dragging Amber through the hateful humiliation of testifying about what Roy had done.  A burst of elation exploded within her, a desire to run all the way to the hideout in Texas, where the two of them would cross the border tomorrow night. 

 Sorry, I got carried away, heh heh.

Third person omniscient tells the story through multiple characters’ points of view.  Each scene or chapter (or however the writer constructs it) is a different perspective, and equal weight may be given to them.   I like this POV because typically I end up with four main characters.   Omniscient POV gets inside everyone’s heads.

Dramatic third person, or third person objective, still has the multiple characters but doesn’t really let us in on feelings and thoughts.  It’s more removed, like watching a play.  The reader is seeing and hearing the action and dialogue only.  It’s a good way to move action scenes along, or to create contrast.

Harrison set the glass down on the table with a gentle click.  Amelia watched him, her eyes never leaving his other hand, still in his pocket.  The bulge didn’t move.   He half-turned away from her, then whipped his hand out.  Earl’s straight razor gleamed in the light.  Her mouth gaped in a soundless gasp.  The stillness of the library was not shattered by a scream, only the pattering of blood from her crimson throat. 

 We see what happens like a fly on the wall, but we aren’t told directly what Harrison and Amelia are thinking.  Although it’s pretty obvious!

I hope my examples were clear.  Doing this for blog posts is good practice for me, anyway.

——

I hate:  plagiarism.

Any artist or writer wants to be original.  It’s the height of rudeness to take someone else’s work and present it as your own.  In most academic settings, it can be grounds for expulsion from the class at least and the school at worst.

Once in a while, plagiarism is unintentional.  Most of the time, it stems from ignorance of proper citation procedures.  Other times, writers can incorporate something they recently encountered unconsciously.   The latter is much more rare, however.

Occasionally, writers are accused of plagiarism when their works use common ideas and themes.  While plots, settings and characters can be copyrighted, ideas and concepts cannot.  Nor can titles, actually.  So I could write a novel called Twilight and it could be published and have nothing to do with idiot teen sparkly vampire love.  But it’s unlikely I would get away with using Bella and Edward as character names and set my story in Forks, Washington

Now please kill me because I used Twit-light as an example.

Buffy tumblr by likeyoumeanitlikeyoudo and stfabray

Outlines and Orphans

I love: outlines.

Not those things you did in school with the Roman numerals and the ABC sections, although to this day I still take notes in classes that way.  An outline of a book is a list that touches on the major action or ideas.  It’s a great way to organize it.

You can do it either by chapter, by scenes or make it more general.  I like to do it by chapters and then the scenes that are in the chapters.   I can see how long my chapters are that way.   It’s almost like a written storyboard.

Here’s a bit of my 2009 outline for Rose’s Hostage.

 OUTLINE – FINISHED NOVEL

Chapter 1

Scene 1- Wednesday, July 2. 1:42 pm.

Libby is in the bank and it is robbed by the Black Bandit.  She recognizes this from the TV news.  She and Sheila are taken from the bank and put in a car.  While they are driving, the Bandit goes through her purse and we learn that her mom is dead, and she likes plants. Her thoughts are full of her friends, her only family, and their reaction to her abduction. They are taken to a house, where they are chained in the basement.  Libby tries to comfort Sheila but is unsuccessful and doesn’t feel much comfort herself. POV: Libby

Chapter 2

Scene 1 – Same day, no time.

Detective Stephen Pierce and Art Rossberger come to the scene and meet Quentin Caruthers, the FBI agent.  There is a bit of conversation and they get going on the investigation.  This scene establishes who they are and what their roles are in the investigation.  POV: Pierce

Scene 2 – Later that night, no time.

A forty-something man, Earl, is in a motel room with a hooker named Melissa.  After a bit of back-and-forth and a line or two of coke, they get down to it.  Just as Earl reaches his climax, the door bursts open and a man in a black trench coat, black hat and a black bandanna tied over his face enters.  He shoots the hooker and then kills Earl.  We have just met the Motel Shooter.  POV: Earl, until he dies and then omniscient.

I can mix and match scenes, and cut and paste.  The notes keep me on track.  Sometimes I make this outline before I start, especially if I already know what happens.  Other times I don’t write it until the story starts to come together.   It’s usually pretty sketchy at that stage, with just POV, an couple of random notes, and a bit of setting.

During my abbreviated stint in grad school, my Technology in the Classroom course had us do software reviews.  I found a cool graphic organizer and concept map maker called Inspiration®.

It runs between $50 and $70 for an individual license, which might be too steep for some.  If you want to try it, the company offers free 30-day trials.  Any graphics software that allows you to make flowcharts will suffice.

If you’ve tried any of these or have any suggestions for readers, feel free to share them in the comments.  Or if you have an outlining technique that works for you, whether it’s for a novel, a business project,  or homeschooling, let us know!

——-

I hate: orphans.

For those who don’t know what I mean, orphans are short lines that begin a paragraph at the bottom of a manuscript page.  They are separated from the rest of the paragraph by a page break.  An orphan looks like this:

 

Screenshot by Elizabeth West

I’ve indicated it with an arrow.   A widow is the same thing, except it’s at the end of the paragraph and appears at the top of the next page.  (Off topic–I just discovered the Snipping Tool in Windows 7.  Whee!  Expect more screenshots!)

Yes, I know.  In Word, you can set your paragraph formatting under Line and Page Breaks so that doesn’t happen.  Widow/orphan control is your friend.   Set it in defaults, and you never have to worry about it again.  Before I figured this out, I went nuts trying to get rid of them.

I still hate them, especially when the formatting goes wonky and you end up with a huge space at the end of a page.   Grrr.

 

 

Novels and Numbers

I love:  novels.

Technically, a novel is a work of fiction that is longer than 40,000 words.  A novella is a short novel, like Stephen King’s The Mist or Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Novels can get pretty thick, topping 100- or even 200,000 words.   The typical commercial length mainstream novel is around 85,000 – 90,000.

This is my chosen form.  My stories have multiple protagonists, and they take longer to tell than a short story.  I love the challenge of keeping everything going and linking it together in the end.

I’m still learning.

Perhaps you’ve thought of writing a novel.  If you want to try it, there’s a thing every November called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  The challenge is to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.

I haven’t done NaNoWriMo; the last few years, I was either editing or something stupid was going on.   I might try it this year.  I have a couple of ideas and it wouldn’t be too hard to get a first draft going with adequate preparation.

You don’t have to sign up to try it.  You can do it on your own if you like.  The goal is just to get you writing, and working every day establishes good habits.  No matter what you call yourself, in order to be a writer you must write.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.

If you Google “how to write a novel,” you’ll get 150,000,000 results.  Numerous people will tell you what to do.  They’ll talk to you about structure, protagonists, conflict, resolution, and other technical terms.  They’ll give you character worksheets—which may or may not help you.   Some will even charge you for the privilege of sharing this information, counting on you not to know that you can find it for free on the Internet.

My method is different from yours.  It’s different from Stephen King’s, J.K. Rowling’s, Elmore Leonard’s, and Audrey Niffenegger’s.  The only thing Audrey and I share is that we’re both writers and we both have red hair.  Ha!

I tend to skip around when I write.  For you, following a linear path might work better.   I have trouble getting started, so I follow the tip of starting in the middle.   I tend to save the end (or the really cool parts) for last, because I want to treat myself.   It makes editing a bit harder but I take copious notes and save all my cuts just in case.   Sometimes the middle of the story is the best place to begin.

——

I hate:  numbers.

In writing they’re no less annoying to me than they are as themselves!   It’s a generally accepted rule that any numbers over 100 are written as numerals; anything less is spelled out.   But not everyone follows that exactly.  Some people like numbers over ten to be written as numerals.

Whatever you use, be consistent within a sentence.   Otherwise it looks sloppy and can be confusing.

Bad:

 With his superior android speed, Data could sort through 1000 dilithium crystals to Geordi’s seventeen in just a half hour. 

 Okay:

 With his superior android speed, Data could sort through 1000 dilithium crystals to Geordi’s 17 in just a half hour. 

  Better:

 With his superior android speed, Data could sort through a thousand dilithium crystals to Geordi’s seventeen in just a half hour. 

 I like the last one better.  In prose, it looks better than writing out numbers, especially if they are only a word or two long.

With more lengthy or complicated ones, you might want to go ahead and use numerals.

 Captain Picard had been to the Teleron system many times, but he never failed to marvel at the galaxy’s light show of 75,645, 082 flickering stars. 

 You could round it up or down a bit also:

 Captain Picard had been to the Teleron system many times, but he never failed to marvel at the the galaxy’s light show of some 76,000, 000 flickering stars. 

 It’s perfectly acceptable in this case to mix words and numerals to make it easier to read, but only within the numbers.  And remember to stay consistent if there are any more.

 Captain Picard had been to the Teleron system many times, but he never failed to marvel at the the galaxy’s light show of some 76 million flickering stars. 

Outside of writing, numbers are not my friends, unless they’re on a paycheck.  I’m sure most of you will agree with that one.

 

 

Memories: RMS Titanic, April 14, 1912

I will not be doing a love/hate post because it is a very special day.  At the bottom of the post, see an activity you may share with me as we observe the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the White Star Line ship Titanic.

This disaster has captivated the world since it happened.  A brand new ship, luxurious even by today’s standards, and at the time the largest man-made object in the world.  It carried the elite of society, along with hundreds of immigrants heading to New York and a fresh start.   The new ship boasted a barbershop, a swimming pool, a Turkish bath and the best accommodations in steerage of any liner.

The Royal Mail Steamship (RMS) Titanic.

Image F.G.O. Stuart / Wikimedia Commons

You can read the Wikipedia article for more information on the ship and its fate; I won’t rehash it here.

The last known picture of Titanic. Bye bye.

I will say this:  Captain Arthur Rostron of the RMS Carpathia, a much smaller ship than Titanic, was a hero.  When told of the distress message sent by Titanic’s crew, he gunned his little liner immediately to the site, through a dangerous sea filled with growlers and bergs that were hard to see that moonless night.

Captain Arthur Henry Rostron of RMS Carpathia, in 1912.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tiny Carpathia had to really cram to hold the survivors of Titanic.  The people onboard shared their blankets, and by all accounts were very kind to them.

RMS Carpathia.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Titanic inspired many books and films. The stories of the passengers and crew, their lives and their deaths, intrigue us.  Sadly, with the passage of time, there is no one left who survived the sinking to remember it.  It is fortunate that their testimony and anecdotes were so well preserved.

The ship went undiscovered for over 80 years.  Everyone knew roughly where it sank, but no one could pinpoint the exact location.  Two miles deep, the wreck appeared to be lost forever.

On September 1, 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard, former Navy officer and professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, and a crew of explorers discovered Titanic’s remains on the ocean floor.

 

Dr. Robert Ballard.

Image:  Wikimedia Commons

We now have images of the wreck.

Titanic's bow. Notice the "rusticles," bacterial growths eating Titanic's hull. It is estimated that in 30 years, she will be gone.

Photo: AP

 

An assortment of objects in the debris field.

Image: nationalgeographic.com

Shoes. The shiny object below them looks like a trunk or suitcase hinge.

Image: NOAA

The sea claimed any bodies long ago.  Salvage company RMS Titanic Inc. are the only entity legally allowed to take anything from the wreck.  They sell coal (Titanic carried tons of it) along with themed merchandise to finance expeditions and exhibitions of artifacts.

I own two pieces myself.  To me, that is financing its preservation both by exhibit and exploration.

Many artifacts are being preserved to learn about the time period and the ship itself.  Biologists and oceanographers study the little ecosystem that sprang up around the wreckage.  There are fish, bacteria that have adapted solely to feed on the iron in the hull, and other marine life we know little about.

In an interview on NPR April 11, 2012, Robert Ballard said:

“When I found the Titanic, I went to the courts, and I said, ‘Well, can I own the Titanic?’ And they said, yes. It’s an abandoned shipwreck. All you have to do is go down and retrieve one object of saucer or plate or something, come into the courts, and we’ll make you the owner. But we’ll make you the owner under one condition, that you remove it from the bottom of the ocean. … I was opposed to that. I wished I’d gone and got that one cup and brought it up and said, ‘I want to turn it into an underwater museum.’ I’d rather take people there through the technologies we now have, and I really regret I didn’t do that.”

What Ballard said is idealistic, but impractical.  You know what it takes to go down there?  It’s extremely dangerous and would be cost-prohibitive for anyone but the very wealthy.

One of the purposes of exhibits is for people to learn and remember those who went before.  Salvaging the wreck for historic purposes is no different from preserving a Roman or Viking wreck.  We are emotional about Titanic because we can remember survivors, and their descendants are still with us.  We don’t remember the Romans and Vikings, and we’re not quite so sentimental about them

To stand in front of these artifacts is to connect with the people on the ship.  A little bow tie is the one that got me.  Titanic‘s artifacts are all things that are familiar to us.  We use combs and ties and dishes like those.

It is important that we never forget what happened that frosty April night in 1912.   The people who died that night did not do so in vain.   Their fate inspired changes in maritime law that keep all of us safe now.

  • No longer is the number of lifeboats determined by the gross tonnage of the ship.  Now every single person on board, passengers and crew, has to have a seat.  There are mandatory lifeboat drills.
  • Radio communication can never be turned off.  Someone has to monitor it all the time. In addition, any color rockets fired from a ship are automatically taken as a distress signal
  • Although the icebergs drifting that far south at that time of year was a fluke, after the sinking the International Ice Patrol was formed to keep watch over the area.
  • Watertight bulkheads were extended to be truly watertight (Titanic’s only cleared 10 FEET above the waterline.  As the bow dipped, water spilled over into adjoining compartments, making the ship sink faster.)

Tonight, many of you may be watching James Cameron’s film.  I will be.  But there is something else I would like to share with you, as we remember those who were lost, from the famous and rich to the stokers in the belly of the ship.

I found this blog post, which Barry Cauchon updated from a previous 2009 article.  He gives the times in two different accounts of the sinking and extrapolates them from ship’s time (which is different) to now, with Daylight Saving Time factored in.  You may adjust them to your own time zone.

I will reproduce his answer to my comment below:

Saturday, April 14, 2012 at ‘8:38 am’ awesometalks said:

For the Central Time Zone, this is when you would commemorate the exact moments of the event. Not all states use Daylight Savings Time, but as most do, this calculation is based on that (CDT)(Central Daylight Time). If you are still on standard time (CST), deduct one hour from these calculations.

CENTRAL DAYLIGHT TIME (CDT)(if you are on Daylight Savings Time now)

Lightoller’s Version (Central Daylight Time 2012) (CDT)
1. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 10:07 pm (CDT )(April 14, 2012 real time)
2. The Titanic sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later at 12:47 am (CDT) (April 15, 2012 real time)

Lord Mersey’s Version (Central Daylight Time 2012) (CDT)
1. The Titanic struck the iceberg at 9:50 pm (CDT) (April 14, 2012 real time)
2. The Titanic sank 2 hours and 40 minutes later at 12:30 am (CDT) (April 15, 2012 real time)

Thank you, Barry!

I decided I’d use Second Officer Charles Lightoller’s version.  At 10:07 pm CDT, I’m going to light a candle in remembrance of the lost souls on the ship.

At 12:47 am, I will blow it out.

Won’t you please join me?  Let me know in the comments.

Limericks and Line Editing

I love: LIMERICKS!

I’ve been dying to get to L so I could do this one.

Limericks are five-line short poems with a distinct AABBA pattern.  The first two lines rhyme, then the two in the middle, and the last one closes the verse by rhyming with the first two.

Famous Limericks!  I took these from a well-loved old Hallmark book I have had for years.  Enjoy!

An old maid, a luckless romantic,

Said, as she crossed the Atlantic:

“Now is my chance

To find true romance

On this beautiful ship, the Titanic!”

            –William Peterson

I love this one.  If you say it really fast it’s extremely effective.

A fly and a flea in a flue

Were imprisoned, so what could they do?

Said the fly, “Let us flee!”

“Let us fly!” said the flea.

So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

            –Anonymous

 Read this one out loud:

 The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher

Called a hen a most elegant creature.

The hen, pleased with that,

Laid an egg in his hat—

And thus did the hen reward Beecher.

            –Oliver Wendell Holmes (who knew?)

 People like to play with the form, too.

 There was a young man from Japan,

Who wrote verses that never would scan.

When they said, “But the thing

Doesn’t go with a swing,”

He said, “Yes, but I like to try and get as many words in the last line as I possibly can.”

            –Author Unknown

Edward Lear and Ogden Nash wrote hundreds of limericks.  Here are two:

There was an old man of Dumbree

Who taught little owls to drink tea;

For he said, “To eat mice,

Is not proper or nice,”

That amiable man of Dumbree.

            –Edward Lear

 A careless explorer named Blake

Fell into a tropical lake.

Said a fat alligator

A few minutes later,

“Very nice, but I still prefer steak.”

            –Ogden Nash

 Okay, one more:

 A jolly young fellow from Yuma

Told an elephant joke to a puma.

Now his skeleton lies

Under hot western skies.

The puma had no sense of huma.

            –Ogden Nash

 From Wikipedia:  This is the first version of this.  I’m sure you know the other one!

There once was a man from Nantucket

Who kept all his cash in a bucket.

    But his daughter, named Nan,

    Ran away with a man

And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

            –1902, Princeton Tiger

 And finally, here’s one I wrote many years ago:

 I once saw a little brown rat

Sitting astride a housecat.

When I asked him why,

He said in reply,

“Shh!  He don’t have a clue where I’m at!”

            –Elizabeth West

 ——

I hate:  line editing.

This is where you read each line to check for spelling, grammar, and things like style, tone, and consistency.  It’s where you find mistakes like writing numbers wrong, using a weird spelling of a term, not italicizing thoughts consistently, and other snafus.

The part of editing I like is rewriting and revising.  Going over each line makes me want to pour gasoline on my manuscript and set it on fire.  It’s soooo tedious.  But I have to do it, and the best way is to print it out and check each line.

And when I’m done using the pretty colored editing pencils, I like to color a picture. Then I curl up in a ball and sob.

Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Line editing makes you feel like a horrible writer.  Remember, nobody writes perfect early drafts.  With the first draft especially, your creative rush will outpace the mechanics of your writing at times.  You’ll leave marks.  This is where you’ll find them.

The computer makes searching for redundancies or mistakes easier, with the Find/Replace function in Word.  You still have to read it in hard copy, but a lot of things can be changed before you print.  Yay!

It also makes me feel good, because I’m cleaning up the mess.  But only when I’m finished!

 

 

Knowledge of the Self and the Suppression of Knowledge

Back on track!  :)

I love:  knowledge.

We learn when we read, and when we write.  I’m not talking about research—that’s for another post, but about ourselves.  The books a person chooses tell you a lot about him/her.  If you were to look in my library, what would you see?

You would find:

  • Horror fiction
  • Classic fiction
  • Children’s fiction
  • Mainstream fiction, mostly thrillers
  • Dollhouse and crafts books
  • True crime and forensic books
  • Books about writing and editing
  • Cookbooks
  • Miscellaneous books—humor, decorating, gardening, household
  • College textbooks

What do all these books tell you about me?  If I got amnesia and walked into my house, not knowing it belonged to me, I would think the person 1) loved to read, 2) was interested in a lot of different subjects, and 3) enjoyed making things, like food and dollhouses.

I learn about myself from the books I love the most.  For example, I just finished looking through all my dollhouse books for the umpteenth time, while I plan a revival of my dormant Sweeney Todd miniature project.

Yeaaaah, my efforts won't look like Queen Mary's dollhouse. I guarantee it.

Image: Rob Sangster / Wikimedia Commons

There are several that detail the history of dollhouses, but the ones I’m drawn to now are instructional.  This indicates several things:

  • I need external sources of inspiration.
  • I like to read instructions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will follow them to the letter.
  • I want to know as much as I can about a subject (or project) before I tackle it.

Having knowledge about myself means I can plan my writing projects better.  I have knowledge about how I work.  Less time is wasted dabbling in new methods.  I don’t run around trying to gather material at odd times (unless I run into a snag).

——

I hate:  the suppression of knowledge.

Knowledge also gives us power.  Yes, this is a cliché, but it’s true.  When we know the truth about the world around us, we are better able to choose the direction of our future.  We can take decisive steps to change things.

We also lose our fear.   So much of prejudice comes from a lack of knowledge.  Sometimes it’s deliberate, as when people refuse to learn new information about something they’ve been taught is a certain way.  They’re too proud and too stubborn to ever see another side.  This ignorance hurts people, and stifles knowledge.

Countries that censor the press or Internet or communities that suppress the teaching of established scientific knowledge in their schools cause harm.  They are actually engaging in intellectual abuse.  Why should people not be allowed to seek and know for themselves?

Control, that’s why.

Some people are so afraid of losing control that they manufacture reasons why others should not gain knowledge that makes them independent.  Governments oppress people by controlling the amount and type of information they receive.

Religious leaders seek to retain control of their flocks by isolating them intellectually.  God forbid they should learn that LGTB people are the same as everyone else.  Bigots are afraid and persecute people they don’t like because of race, ethnicity, and other petty criteria so they themselves will feel powerful.

Because being batshit crazy just isn't enough.

Image: Heinrich Hoffman / Wikimedia Commons

These people not only repress knowledge, they refuse to seek it for themselves.  They know deep down that if they learn, they’ll have to admit they were wrong.  And they can’t stand being wrong.

They are also afraid of change.  But life is not static; our knowledge doesn’t stay the same.  Everyone is learning and growing, and so are humans as a whole.  If we never changed, we would not have the comforts and conveniences we have now.  We wouldn’t know how to cure diseases or treat wounds.

Open the doors and let knowledge in.  Go out today and learn one new thing.   Just one.  If you do this every day, you’ll be astonished at how much you’ve been missing about the world.  You may discover something no one else has ever known.

Juvenile Fiction and Jargon

I know, I know, I missed yesterday’s post!

Sorry about that.  I’m job hunting and someone I sent a resume to called me two seconds later for an interview.  Prepping for that threw off my whole afternoon and I completely forgot about the Challenge until I was ready for bed.

Pleez to forgib me?

Image: Carlos Porto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love:  juvenile fiction.

DISCLAIMER:  I do not write kids’ fiction.  This is a specialized genre and not everyone can do this.  I speak as a reader ONLY.

Juvenile fiction typically has a child protagonist, and can run the gamut from light comedic fare to dark fantasy, sci-fi or even horror.  Dystopian fiction such as The Hunger Games has been popular in recent years, especially in middle grade and young adult books.

The books and stories are aimed at different age groups.  Picture books for very young children and beginning readers have big print, lots of illustrations and simple language. Middle grade refers to ages 9-12, and stories start to exhibit more complex themes along with more chapters.   Books for kids aged 12-14 and up are termed young adult, and in recent years have embraced some edgy content including divorce, drugs, sexuality and mental illness.

I like them all.  I still have all my picture books, and my brimming Kid Shelf contains everything from Peter Rabbit to the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend.   See the first link for a GoodReads list of excellent juvenile fiction.

——

I hate:  jargon.

There are many professions that have their own language.  Technical terms in medicine, computer programming, science and other professions convey important information. Many of them refer to equipment and procedures that are typically confined to the field

Some of them have escaped into the vernacular.  Examples include the medical term STAT, from the Latin word statum meaning “immediately,” and above board, a nautical term meaning on deck, not hiding anything, with a corresponding everyday meaning.

Some jargon has a negative connotation.  It’s more like slang, and I don’t like it because it tends to be exclusionary and snotty.  Business-speak is the most notorious type.  Touch base, going forward, branding, and other words sound insincere.   Reach out bugs me the most as in “We are reaching out to the customer to establish a resolution to the problem.”

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 Just talk to me, people!

Internet and Isolation

I love:  the Internet!

Not only is the Internet a wonderful place to find subject matter, do research, and procrastinate when you have a story that’s annoying you, but it’s packed with things to read!

And create. I made this LOLcat just fer u.

If you want someone to read your writing, you can put it out there very easily on the Internet.  However, there are so many sites it’s hard to find a place where your work will be visible.  You can try SEO, but if you’re not careful, it ends up sounding like a collection of keywords with sentences written around them.  This phenomenon shows up quite a bit in poorly-done content writing.

Many literary journals are online or have web versions that showcase short fiction.  They’re about the only market left for it, sadly.  Competition is fierce and compensation may only be in copies and of course, prestige.  Still, if you think your work is up to snuff, it’s worth a try.

You can create a free blog at WordPress or Blogger and showcase your writing that way.  If you can attract a good amount of followers, it’s something to put on your writing resumé.   You can post your photographs, create a portfolio of artwork, or create a virtual world for yourself.

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I hate:  isolation.

Writing is a solitary venture.  I’ve written about this before.  It’s easy to find yourself spending night after night working alone in your office or room, barely spending a moment in the company of other human beings.

When the work is going well, you don’t mind so much.  Hours can fly by and you take a break to pee and stretch and eat, maybe even take a quick walk.   But your mind is still in that world you’ve created, lost in fantasy or a mysterious setting, which until you’re finished word-crunching, is visible only to you.

It’s easy to look up and realize you don’t have a life.

Here are some ways to combat isolation.

Structure your time to include a little socialization

Many writers work, and they go home in the evening and start working again.  As we saw in The Shining, all work and no play makes Jack homicidal.  The next time your coworkers ask you to Taco Night Happy Hour at the local dive, DO IT.

“But I have chapters to arrange!” you cry.  Fine.  Make sure you manage your time so you can do both.  Taco Night doesn’t have to turn into a debacle that goes until three a.m.  A couple of hours won’t kill you if you stick to a regular writing routine.

Get out of the house

Take your laptop somewhere.  The library, the coffee shop, a local park.  If there’s an airport in your city, go there.  Plug in and work a little bit.  Many writer find they are more productive if they have something to ignore.  Being outside if the weather is good will make you feel like a million bucks.

Even if you haven’t a clue who any of these people around you are, it’s better than being alone with the furniture.  And you might even meet someone cool, or overhear a bit of dialogue that would fit right into that scene you’re working on.

Even in the city you can find green things.

Image: federico stevanin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 Join a group

It could be a writing group, a book club or a completely unrelated hobby organization.  Before the local miniature store shut up shop some years ago, they had a little club meeting from time to time where we worked on small projects (a hatbox, teeny Christmas stockings).   Focusing on a different type of project was not only fun, it helped my concentration.   AND IT WAS SOCIAL.

I have got to see if I can find another thing like that. Recently, I reorganized the space in my house that  I use as a craft/sewing room, and dug out the remnants of my last neglected project.  I finished a whole damn book; I can finish my Sweeney Todd pie shop and tonsorial emporium mini, by cracky.  You’ll get pictures, don’t worry.

 

 

 

 

Haiku and Hatey Painty

I love:  haiku.

I’m no poet, but when we were studying haiku in high school, I had a lot of fun messing around with them.

A haiku is a three-line Japanese poem.  The first line is five syllables, the second seven, and the third five again.  Traditionally, a haiku is supposed to muse on nature and everyday things.  If it gets mouthy or clever, technically it becomes a senryu.

There are some famous ones, such as this one:

An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

Splash! Silence again.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) Seems like a mellow dude.

Image: Tashebe Soko / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s one by Jack Kerouac:

The low yellow
moon above the
Quiet lamplit house.

Note that haiku in American English doesn’t stick to the syllable count, which is stricter in the Japanese form. The idea of English-speaking writers was to be able to say the poem in one breath.  This one is quiet, and effectively conveys a familiar and strong image.  That is the essence of haiku, so it works.

Jack Kerouac, 1956. Even the beatniks looked square back then.

Image: Tom Palumbo / Wikimedia Commons

Haiku are tricky.  The writer only has a few words to convey a strong image or feeling, something that can be difficult for novelists.   Haiku makes a terrific writing exercise.   Why not try it?

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I hate:  evil kitchen paint that looks lighter than it really is but actually isn’t that much different from the tired old paint you just painted over after you killed yourself moving all the appliances all alone and cut your finger on the back of your stupid 1950s Philco stove that nobody cleaned behind since before you bought your ugly little bungalow.

Guess what I did all day today?

I’m going to skip the hate today since I don’t really have one for H, and I’m whipped from the evil paint saga.  I think it will look better once I paint the cabinets white.

Try some haiku if you like.  If you’ve never written one before, I think you’ll be surprised and challenged.

Genre and You Pick the Hate

I love: genre.

Some people think genre writing, aka category fiction, isn’t serious writing.  I say, ask Stephen King about his bank account.  Serious enough for ya?  HA!

For a refresher on genre, you can read my post here if you want.   I would like to point out that all the stories we tell over and over, our favorite yarns, all fit into some genre or other.

My favorite genres, in no particular order, and why I like them:

Horror

I’ve been a horror fan for years.  Stephen King, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Dean Koontz, Skipp and Spector and more recently, Brian Keene (hi Brian!).  Hmm, no women.  I’ve read Suzy McKee Charnas and sampled Lisa Tuttle and Melanie Tem, but I’m sure there are more.  Time to dig out my anthologies and start googling.

Why I like it

I don’t know.  I like being scared, but it’s been so long since anything actually did the job that I’ve grown weary.  The core element of a really good horror novel is still a great story, and I don’t mean the monster.  I mean characters you really care about, who are doing things in a way you can relate to.  My favorites all have this quality.   A five-shelf bookcase holds my collection.

Good ones

Dracula (1897)-Bram Stoker:  Has never gone out of print.  An epistolary novel that hits the ground running and doesn’t quit.  Quite lurid for the Victorian age.

The Exorcist (1971)-William Peter Blatty.  Yes, it was a book first.  Blatty’s writing has been criticized, but it actually fits the story quite well. I reread it every year or so and enjoy it more each time.

Anything by Robert Bloch, John Wyndham, and fun stuff by Bentley Little.

The Shining (1977)-Stephen King. The ultimate haunted house book.  Wendy in the novel is smart and articulate.  I don’t know what happened to her in the Kubrick film.  I like Shelley Duvall, but damn.

This is the REAL Overlook: the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO.

Image: Tom Lianza/Wikimedia Commons

Kids’ books

I LOVE children’s and young adult fiction.  I have another, entire bookshelf devoted to it.  Most of the books I picked up at library sales, quite a few of them are mine from my own childhood, and some are treasures I read long ago and searched for extensively.  They range from baby picture books through many of the Trixie Belden series and stop just short of adulthood.

Why I like it

Let’s get one thing straight.  Loving this genre does NOT mean I can write it.  Nor would I even try.  Kid’s fiction is hard.  But oh, when it’s well done, it’s magic.  Good writing, great characters and some of the funniest and most heartrending tales ever told.

Good ones

The Harry Potter series (1997-2007)-J. K. Rowling.  You knew I couldn’t leave this one out, didn’t you?

King of the Wind (1949)-Marguerite Henry.  Based on the true story of the Godolphin Arabian, an emotional and thrilling story of a boy and his horse.

Black Beauty (1877)-Anna Sewell.  No, I wasn’t one of those horse kids, but I loved this one because the horse tells the story.  Beautiful language.

Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series (1968-1999).  A funny, realistic portrayal of family life through the eyes of a spirited little girl.

Apples Every Day (1966)-Grace Richardson.  This is one I had to hunt for.  My childhood library had it.  It’s about these kids at a progressive boarding school in Canada.  I would have LOVED going to a school like this.

“Why yes, I’ve moved on to Anna Karenina. Get that Dr. Seuss outa here.”

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thrillers

There are a ton of subgenres in this category (see this article from Reader’s Digest), but thrillers usually involve some type of intrigue and heroic main characters.  Techno-thrillers make use of futuristic technology to either levy a direct threat against the protagonists or a set of hapless victims.  This is real edge-of-your-seat type stuff.  The only thing I hate about thrillers?  No boinking.  Come on!

Good ones

Deception Point (2001)-Dan Brown.  Say what you will about Brown and his irritating habit of foreshadowing at the end of a chapter.  This is my favorite of his books.  An Arctic meteor holds a clue to possible extraterrestrial life, but some will stop at nothing to hide the secret.  Lots of action, conspiracy and cool science-y stuff.

First Blood (1972)-David Morrell.  Yes, it’s Rambo.  Read it.  That is all.

Red Dragon (1981)-Thomas Harris.  A lot of people would choose The Silence of the Lambs and yes, that is a brilliant book.  But this one is not only my favorite Harris, but one of my all time fave novels ever.  The writing is terse and descriptive, the characters unforgettable.

Jurassic Park (1990)-Michael Crichton.  Best techno-thriller of all time.  God, I miss Crichton.  This book scared the crap out of me, way before they made a film.  Damn T-rex gave me a nightmare.

HOLY MOTHER OF G—oh, it’s fake. Whew!

Image: Qyd/Wikimedia Commons

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I hate:

Why should I have all the fun?  You pick the hate part today!   In the comments, tell us the absolute worst genre novel you ever read.  What was it?  Who wrote it (if you can remember)?  What made it so awful?