I'm behind on e-mail, behind on list mail--not even reading anything, really, and I haven't turned on my computer or downloaded mail at home for two days, and when that happens, it really says something about my distraction/avoidance level. I'm also finding that the more conscientious focus I give my job--like, the actual one, that I get paid for--the harder it is for me to keep up with fannish things. To anyone who has written me in the last few days, I apologize for not replying sooner.
Last night peeps came over and watched QAF with me, and it was good. I got S. through the end of the first season with the relieved, triumphant feeling of having wrangled a football down the field to finally score a touchdown. A. graciously came in midway at episode 17, broke all land-speed records learning character names, and was soon making telling little noises of angst and involvement. ("Oh, Emmmmmmmett. No, honey.") She doesn't know it yet, but there's a boxed set of loaner DVDs sitting on her desk right now, waiting for her. ;)
Notes on writing. I was looking for some way to pass the time and I had this on my mind--it was actually my caffeinated, gerbil-wheeled-mind's way of keeping me frustrated and awake the other night--my brain was drafting whole, punctuated passages of text right there on the pillow--so I thought I'd get some use out of that. Otherwise, all my exhaustion just feels wasted.
One: Ellipses and dashes are like polka-dots and stripes. Not especially mixy things in text. If you let your dithery thoughts drive dialogue or narrative, you can create a prose fashion nightmare. Like:
Blair swallowed. His eyes were wider than normal and he gave the impression he was holding himself steady. "Listen. This is...weird. I just--I'm sorry...this is too weird for me...if you don't want to fuck, then I'll go...and actually I think I should--that's--that's what's going through my head, if you want to know."There's really no need to write it like that.
Blair swallowed. His eyes were wider than normal and he gave the impression he was holding himself steady. "Listen. This is...weird. I just. I'm sorry. This is too weird for me. If you don't want to fuck, then I'll go, and actually I think I should, that's what's going through my head, if you want to know."Two: "Bollixed" means something is fucked up. "Christ, she's bollixed up this whole plan," Spike snapped. "Bollocks" is an expression of annoyance. "Oh, bollocks." They stem from the same etymological source, but they're two different words.
Likewise, "phased" isn't "fazed." If you're phased, or out of phase, you've probably slipped into a parallel dimension, like Geordi and Ensign Ro in "The Next Phase" or like Daniel Jackson in "The Crystal Skull." (And if you've been hit by a phaser, you're of course phasered.) Whereas if you're fazed, you're thrown off, startled, taken off guard.
Three: It's thankfully not common but SOME PEOPLE feel the need when writing--ESPECIALLY when writing dialogue--to emphasize CERTAIN WORDS AND PHRASES in all caps, to connote yelling. Or whatever. People who do this are required to go down to Barnes & Noble, into the fiction section, and find me an actual, published book where this lazy method of emphasis is used regularly. And if they find one, they then have to go back and find one that's not stupid.
Italics or emphatic asterisks can also be overused, or used as a crutch, though some authors--Francesca springs to mind--are skilled stylists who know what they're doing and are doing it very deliberately. Good writers have an ear for dialogue and can recognize where emphases should naturally go.
But it's usually smart to let your words work for themselves. Not everyone has the same style, but there are ways to contextualize dialogue so that you aren't over-relying on emphases.
Example 1: "WHAT? Are you out of your MIND? That, Major, is the most ASININE excuse I've ever heard in my career. Your mission FAILED. Three strikes and you're out." Jack glared at Major Dawson with disgust.Ugh.
Example 2: "What?" Jack's voice was incredulous, and he kept Dawson nailed to his seat with a glare. "Are you out of your mind? That, Major, is the most asinine excuse I've ever heard in my career. Your mission *failed*." His voice rose to a yell on the last word. "Three strikes and you're out." Jack glared at Major Dawson with disgust, as around the room the reverberations of his anger faded and Carter's sympathetically hunched shoulders slowly lowered back to a normal position.The above is obviously my own style of writing. The challenge I most often find when writing dialogue is rhythm and pacing. It can be hard to break up lines of dialogue without losing the timing:
Example 3: "What?" Jack's voice was incredulous, and he kept Dawson nailed to his seat with a glare. "Are you out of your mind?" His voice rose to a ringing pitch, and Daniel saw ripples in the surface of Dawson's coffee as Jack's tone created tremors in the man holding it. Fighting twinges of inappropriate sympathy, Daniel tightened his lips and forced himself not to say anything as Jack barreled on. "That, Major, is the most asinine excuse I've ever heard in my career. Your mission *failed*. Three strikes and you're out." Jack glared at Major Dawson with disgust.The last two sentences are actually better than in example two, because one would follow hard on the other. But the gap between "...out of your mind," and Jack's next sentence is way too long.
Four: I actually like adjectives and adverbs. I think that if we were meant to write without them, they wouldn't exist in the first place. I'm no minimalist. I tend to paint with a thickness of words. But stylistic overkill is possible. What's the opposite of minimalism--maximalism? It's the gout of writing, a dense excess of frosting, and it's especially noticeable when your word choices are poetic:
When the man walked into the club, all heads turned and conversation stopped for a moment. His gait captured every lingering eye, the flow of his movements stretching and rippling the glistening silk and leather that clung to his body's razor-sharp lines and to the leaner, sensual curves of his shoulders and backside. His cool gaze raked the crowd, burning like pure ice but melting whomever it touched, and then suddenly he caught Anya's look. His darkening eyes scoured her up and down. As she watched raptly, a keen, feverish flush descending her body at his attention, the dark stranger began to stroll her way like a panther stalking its prey. A silken tongue flickered out to caress the fine, lush plum of his lower lip, leaving it glistening.This kind of thing just worsens the longer it goes on. It has a cumulative effect that is tiring to a reader. Or at least to me.
Five: Which brings us to inadvertant rhyming. "...the dark stranger began to stroll her way like a panther stalking its prey." Rhyming is not of the good. Things like this indicate that a writer isn't hearing her own words, or is unable to gauge their effect.
Six: The same goes for repeated words. If you repeat the word "glistening" twice within one or two paragraphs, for unrelated thoughts, it reads as careless. It's one thing if you say, "Her skin was glistening, glistening like the blah blah on the blah." That's obviously deliberate. Not necessarily *good*, but at least purposeful. But in the example above, the two incidences of "glistening" would be clumsy. Or as another example, the two uses of "glare" I used in my first Stargate example up above. Is the author rereading? Probably not.
And now we return you to your regularly scheduled weevils.
Edited to add: As always when I use extensive blockquotes, I glance at this in Netscape and realize how fucked it looks. If you're using Netscape? Stop. Just bow down to the awesome and terrible power that is Microsoft, okay?