Tuesdays With Story
WRITER’S MAIL for September 14, 2012
Good Words from Way Back
“Anybody,” said Johnny, carried away by his personal dream of Democracy, “can ride in one of those hansom cabs, provided,” he qualified, “they got the money. So you can see what a free country we got here.”
“What’s free about it if you have to pay?” asked Francie.–from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, 1943
September 11 Meeting: On Wallpaper…
Wallpaper that comes to life! That was one of the discussions amid critiques and laughter during a “Lucky Seven” turnout for this week’s Second-and-Fourth meeting. Here’s what happened Tuesday night:
Terry Hoffman read from Chapter 12 of The Great Tome. Katelin liked it, but Jen felt the second half was better than the first, thanks to more showing, less telling. Shorter sentences, members said, would create a stronger impact. First silence. Then, the sound. Rebecca felt that the character Doug should be more concerned and shouldn’t back down so easily. Carol wanted him to be scared off. We’ve seen him as calm, strong, and aggressive, but not yet scared. Jack pointed out that the character Rachel was having a psychotic break. Focus on that, he suggested: Let her go nuts for a little while. Then, he said, Doug can just disappear because Rachel would be busy “in her own head.” Another suggestion: Tie in the colors from the painting. If those intense colors start showing up in the bathroom, that would definitely illustrate Rachel going over the edge, at least for the moment. At this point in the critique, members recalled “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about a woman going insane, seeing images in the wallpaper begin to move.
Rebecca Rettenmund presented a scene from The Cheese Logue – “All about Limburger.” Terry cautioned her to be careful of point of view – as the narrator, she can’t know what her customer is actually seeing, just that he’s looking at something. Pranita was a little confused by the mix of dialog and action. Jack said that could be solved by breaking up the lines a bit. Carol suggested cutting some of the character direction and letting the dialog tell the story. Jack recommended removing her thoughts as well: “Let the guy tell his story.” Jack also noted that the overuse of “I” is often a problem. But, when people tell a story out loud, they tend to be very self-centered, so the frequent use of “I” in the customer’s dialog makes sense. Jack suggested contrasting this prevalent usage of the first-person voice with almost no use of “I” on the part of the narrator. Members liked the overall layout of the story: Two people coming together and utterly failing to make any kind of a connection.
Please thank Carol Hornung for this report!
Who’s Up Next?
September 18: Lisa McDougal (chapter 5, Follow the Yellow), Andy Brown (chapter 2, Lo’s Quarter), Amber Boudreau (chapter 11, Noble), Millie Mader (chapter 38, Life on Hold), Pat Edwards (chapters 5-6, Our Soul), Aaron Boehm (film script, part 4, “Stealing from Yourself”), and Jerry Peterson (chapters 15-17, Rage).
September 25: Rebecca Rettenmund (The Cheese Logue), Jack Freiburger (Path to Bray’s Head), Pranita Raju (short story), Carol Hornung (?). To join the reading list, contact Carol at email@example.com.
October 2: Rebecca Rettenmund (chapter 13, The Cheese Logue), Bob Kralapp (?), Judith McNeil (short story, part 3, “The Man with the Broken Heart”), and Jerry Peterson (chapters 18-20, Rage). Two slots remain open. To join the reading list, contact Jerry (firstname.lastname@example.org).
To read or postpone reading:
• First-and-Third Tuesdays, contact Jerry Peterson
• Second-and-Fourth Tuesdays, contact Carol Hornung
Fifth Tuesday: Publisher On-Hand to Hear Your Freaking Stuff!
Ben LeRoy, publisher of Tyrus Books and a TWS alum, is coming to our Fifth Tuesday meeting, October 30, which takes place at 702 Emerson Street in Madison from 7:00 p.m. until the werewolves quite their yammering. Besides howling with the rest of us, Ben is going to tell us about the fast-changing book biz.
Our venue is the home of Rebecca Rettenmund’s mother Victoria Horn – thank you! – where you’re welcome to bring good food for the potluck feasting table. Second-and-Fourth group is hosting.
Here’s the writing challenge: Write a story, poem, essay, or short film script of the supernatural; include a ghost, a vampire, a werewolf, a witch, or any combination, or some other unreal critter; and, exclude trick-or-treaters, who are not supernatural, except possibly to their parents. But, what if… a werewolf came trick-or-treating… and the treat was… gulp!
Send your treat — 250 words max – to Jerry Peterson.
“Nothing Primes Inspiration More than Necessity”
Here’s a phrase you and I use – writer’s block – with its explication provided by Wordsmith Anu Garg.
• Pronunciation: RY-tuhrs blok
• Meaning (noun): A usually temporary psychological inhibition preventing one from proceeding with a piece of writing.
• Etymology: After the term “block” or “blocking” used to describe obstruction in mental processes resulting in an inability to do a certain task.
• Earliest documented use: 1950.
• Notes: The writer’s block has been described as the situation when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. But this condition is not limited to fiction writers or even to writers. Here’s the composer Rossini’s advice… “Wait until the evening before the opening night. Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or for the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair. In my time, all the impresarios in Italy were bald at thirty.”
• Usage: “This writer’s block is terrible. I don’t know how to get the story to flow again.” – Tina Leonard, The Renegade Cowboy Returns (Harlequin, 2012).
How Do You Backup Your Work?
A young adult author and blogger asked that question in a recent post: “I’m paranoid about losing anything I’ve written. I would rather step on a rusty nail than rewrite a scene I’ve already slogged through.
“Now that I have OS X Mountain Lion on my Mac I’ve switched to the Pages app, which saves documents to the cloud (bonus: I can work across my devices without e-mailing them around).I also have a Time Machine to back up all my files, and when I make significant progress I’ll e-mail the document to myself so it’s in Gmail’s cloud too (just in case something happens with Apple’s cloud and my apartment is struck by a meteor). Paranoid? I say careful!”
What about you? What’s your method for making sure you don’t lose anything?
How are you as a writer and a rewriter?
Did you read The Phantom Tollbooth when you were a kid? Here’s how Tollbooth author Norton Juster says he works: “Probably 80 to 90 percent of what I’ve written is nonsense, and I just throw it out. But there’s always something in there that I can hang on to and make use of, and that’s a very valuable thing. I’m a virtuoso reviser anyway – I do things 20 and 30 times … I will do a lot of revising to change the rhythm of a book … I’ll spend time putting an extra comma in, or taking a two-syllable word and making a three-syllable word in its place, or the reverse – always in the service of trying to keep that story moving at a pace that will engage the people reading it.”
R Grammar Gaffes Ruining the Language? Maybe Not…
by Linton Weeks, originally on NPR on August 2, 2012
Good grammar may have came and went.
Maybe you’ve winced at the decline of the past participle. Or folks writing and saying “he had sank” and “she would have went.” Perhaps it was the singer Gotye going on about “Somebody That I Used to Know” instead of “Somebody Whom I Used to Know.” Or any of a number of other tramplings of traditional grammar – rules that have been force-fed to American schoolchildren for decades – in popular parlance and prose.
You can find countless examples of poor construction in the news, like this report from a radio station’s website about a thief who “had ran out of gas” or this Fox News item about a dog owner who said “her dog had ran away” or this gossipy blog post about actress Demi Moore and her daughter, Rumer, “when her and Rumer attended the Friends Cinema for Peace event in Los Angeles and posed for photos on the red carpet!”
Such cacology drives some people to distraction. “I won’t hire people who use poor grammar,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of the iFixit online community and founder of Dozuki software, writes in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post.
In The Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger observes, “Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter, where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.”
Sure enough. Reading and listening to contemporary English, you just might think that the language is going to hell, and there is plenty of evidence to help make your argument. “Every year fewer and fewer students enter college knowing the difference between `lie’ and `lay’,” says Connie C. Eble, an English professor at the University of North Carolina.
But Eble and some others who study the contemporary tongue do not think that bad grammar is necessarily destroying the English language. Instead, some posit, it may be making the way we talk and write more vibrant and relevant.
Proper Grammar, Incoherent Essays
Oh sure, Eble says, students may confuse certain words or be ignorant of the correct pronoun case when two noun phrases are joined by “and.” For instance, someone might say “Michael and me rented a car” or “between you and I.”
But, she says, “today’s students are actually much better writers than they were 30 years ago.” Back then young people often used proper grammar to write incoherent essays.
Students are no longer being drilled endlessly in grammar, Eble says, “but they are being taught about topic sentences and paragraph coherence and overall organization.”
If clarity of communication is the aim, most prescriptive rules of usage do not really cause misunderstanding, she says. “Between you and I” gets the point across as well as “between you and me.”
Other scholars agree. Matthew Gordon, a linguist at the University of Missouri, says that with the advent of the Internet “a new wrinkle has been added to the complaint tradition.”
In the pre-digital era, he says, “most texts we read came from published works – books, newspapers, journals, et cetera. This means they represented the variety of English associated with such media – generally formal, edited prose using the grammatical and orthographic conventions of `standard English.’”
Such texts are still part of our world today, Gordon says, “but we also encounter very different kinds of writing online and sometimes elsewhere.” He cites the use of “U” to represent “you,” confused homophones such as “you’re” and “your” or “it’s” and “its,” and the use of newish terms like “LOL” for “laughing out loud” and “totes” for “totally.”
But it would be wrong to take such contemporary usages as indicative of the deterioration of the language or even a relaxing of the rules of grammar, Gordon says. “They are trivial matters in terms of the overall structure of English.”
Such liberties are not new. “People have always had trouble with homophones,” he says, “and they have always used language creatively, coining new words or respelling established words. … What’s different today is that we can see these `mistakes’ more commonly because we’re encountering a broader swath of writing on the Internet.”
Tweets and Seeds
Carter Revard, a professor emeritus at Washington University who taught the history of the English language for more than 35 years, says that in almost all cases, the new developments in language – new constructions, new words, new meanings – spring from the past.
“They grow from roots that may be out of sight,” Revard says, “or take root from seeds or spores spread by word of mouth or Tweety Bird droppings. They may suddenly be noticed but usually have been in use for quite some time before people notice them as `new and different.’”
Wiens, the high-tech CEO, isn’t buying the academic defense of dynamic language. Yes, language is constantly changing, he writes in his essay, “but that doesn’t make grammar unimportant.”
Those who pay attention to the rules of good grammar, Wiens says, will probably pay attention to other details as well.
As he puts it, “Good grammar is credibility, especially on the Internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re.”
In other words, Wiens is saying to those who argue that bad grammar is not all bad, there may be a real-world reality in their argument they’re not reckoning with.
– With thanks again to Jerry Peterson for this item and the three above it!
Writer’s Mail: Duty Roster
Do-tee-it-up and take a swing it: Edit Writer’s Mail for a month by joining the schedule below.
• September – Clayton Gill, riding the Equinox.
• October – Carol Hornung, who will edit November instead if we have a taker for October.
• November – Volunteer and you can talk turkey to your fellow TWSers!
• December – Clayton again, like the screech on your blackboard!
Join up with an e-mail to Clayton and send him content for the next issue of Writer’s Mail. Thank you!
The Last Word: Who Needs a Night Light?
“Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things.” – Jean Baudrillard, sociologist and philosopher (1929-2007)
Thanks again, Jerry!
Hey folks, don’t let Jerry do all the lifting. Put your backs into it: Send your Writer’s Mail contributions to Clayton.