Monday, March 25, 2013

Henry Higgins was right.

Last week I saw a recently published book that sent me on a mini tirade at work. The book claimed that certain founding fathers were the inventors of the constitution. I'm not going to deny their importance. However, in my opinion, calling them inventors was ludicrous because the constitution was an amalgamation of ideals. It would be better to call them compilers than inventors. Since there are more than a few history buffs in the building, no one could see fault with my logic.

A few days later, a co-worker showed me a copy of Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke, saying that it was another example of poor word choice since there was more than one revolution. She expected me to agree with her. To her surprise, I didn't. The difference this time was age. Since Reflections was written at the time of the revolution, Burke had the right to call it The Revolution in the same way that people referred to WWI as The Great War.

The exchange made me a little sad in that it was yet another reminder how clueless many people are about word history and context. Perhaps this is something that only writers, linguists and other word nerd types pay attention to but I still feel that it's something that we as a society should be more conscious of. This is after all, our heritage. Is linguistic context disappearing from our daily language like spelling and grammar? I hope not. It certainly doesn't look good. Especially since I can't send a message by droid to OED Wan Kenobi.

What makes me sad isn't just the lost knowledge, though that is a part of it, but how it limits what I can put on the page. If I wrote about finding a faggot in the woods, how many people know I was talking about a bundle of kindling? Likewise, if I wrote about an ancient Greek warrior who, after a battle, said that he would "rather smell Paul Bunyon's boots than face another assault like that", how many would realize why those words should never have left his lips?

In the Cyberfunk book I'm not only using British idioms in the appropriate character's dialogue, I'm also using European spelling and phrasing. It's been frustrating because I know that most people won't appreciate the word candy because they won't even see it there. So, if I'm so frustrated, why go to all the effort? Because someone will notice and clap their hands with glee. While the finer points of the English language are going the way of the dodo, they're not extinct yet. If the public loves the story, I'm ok with the word candy becoming Easter eggs for the word nerds. Because there are others out there who care about accuracy as I do, I can soldier on. Besides, someone has to prove the Henry Higgins' of the world wrong. Americans haven't completely forgotten how to speak.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Plot liposuction

Once upon a time I had a weird, vivid dream. When I woke I said "This is a great story idea" and proceeded to write down the idea. The writing went well and before I knew it I had an outline for a novel and a couple partial scenes. Then an evil sorceress cursed me with so many writing projects that I had no time to see this project come to fruition. The outline then spent many years languishing in the pit of postponed ideas.

All right. I wish I could blame my lack of time on an evil sorceress -- actually, there are a lot of things I'd like to lay on her doorstep -- however, seeing as I have no conclusive proof nor an address where I can lay said proof and blame, I have to take it on this one.

There is one thing that was omitted from the above fairy tale. The first half of the story was a trope-laden affair with only a couple of interesting things happening before the stellar ending. At the time I had no idea how to fix it so I allowed the "no-time curse"to take effect. Well, I can proudly say that this particular tale's curse was broken last week.

I needed a short story idea that I could whip out before a contest deadline. As I went over my list of sidelined projects (it's a long list) it occurred to me that if I simply wrote the cool stuff at the end of this story, I'd have a pretty good piece. It wasn't until I was halfway through the first draft that I realized the novel version of the story didn't need to be fixed, it just needed surgery. By cutting away the excess weight it became a much stronger story. As for those two interesting things that were supposed to happen? Apparently they weren't as cool as I originally thought because they got cut and the story won't suffer from the loss.

Why did I have so many lame ideas in one outline? It wasn't story idea overloaditis, I can tell you that much. What I think happened was that because this was one of my early ideas, I made the new writer mistake of assuming that every idea I had was novel worthy. I had yet to learn that some ideas are much better when allowed to be short and simple. In some ways it was a blessing to be time cursed. If I had written it right away, it would have been an atrocious trunk novel. Since I waited until I had enough skill to suck away the fat without killing it, it's become a story that I can be proud to put my name on.

Note: Don't forget that this Saturday I'll have a guest post on The Fictorian Era.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rocket ships and Lonestars

Yesterday was the deadline for the Hugo Award nomination ballot. While I filled out my ballot, I made some interesting observations. The first being how cool and weird it was to actually be filling out a ballot. I know it's not hard to get a ballot but this is not only my first year attending but the first time I've had a membership of this magnitude. In some ways it feels like I've officially transitioned from reader and fan to writer and colleague.

Part of my day job duties as the official Sci-fi Lady is to keep the Hugo and Nebula award winner lists up to date. Before I started writing seriously, checking the winners list was a fun task because I could stay up to date on which of my favorite books and authors won. It also gave me something to gush and/or commiserate about with my regulars. Getting paid and selling books while doing it was a bonus.

After I chose to make writing a career and started going to workshops and signings, my outlook changed. Why? Because not only were there more names on the list that I recognized, some of them belonged to friends. No longer were they anonymous, lofty artists. They were people that I'd hung out at the bar with, asked writing advice from, played games with. Individuals that I could actually call to congratulate. The award suddenly became personal -- remotely, but still a lot more personal than before. In a lot of ways, the experience is like listening to a Forbidden Broadway parody.

The first time you hear it it's funny. After you've been cast in the show that is being lampooned, the song takes on a whole new meaning and significance.

Before, it was merely disappointing when a book that I really liked didn't win. Knowing the author only makes it harder because you know how hard they worked on it. On the other hand, it's absolutely thrilling to see their names on the nomination lists and to watch them accept their well deserved awards, so I guess it balances out.

This year, I got to take that thrill to the next level by being one of the many people who put them on the ballot. I know there are certain individuals (mostly trolls) that will spew accusations that the awards are fixed because we all nominate and vote for each other. I'll confess, most of the works I put on my ballot were written by friends. However, I didn't do it because of a conspiracy or a sense of obligation. It's because I don't have a lot of reading time and the works of my friends take precedence over the rest.

Friendships aside, if I didn't love the story, I wouldn't have put it on my ballot. When I bought my attending membership and I thought about who I might vote for, that was a distinction that I didn't know if I could make or not. Once I actually saw the ballot and how many spaces there were in each category, it was far easier. What can i say? I have more friends then the ballot has spaces. (Not exactly a bad problem to have.)

As the voting process continues it will be interesting to see if I have any more moments of "Wow! I didn't expect that." In the meantime I will delight in the fact that I was able to make my opinion known and see the process with new eyes.

Note: Mark your calendars! Yours truly will have a guest post at The Fictorian Era on Saturday, March 28th.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How to exploit friends and influence strangers: Part 1

Writers like to ask questions. It’s an occupational hazard. When you spend X hours a day asking characters “why did you do that?” it sort of becomes second nature. We’re not trying to be nosy pests. We just can’t help ourselves. When there is a quandary that the internet can’t solve, there is no shame in turning to your friends. Heck, a lot of times it’s better and faster to turn to them first.

I have a good mind for trivial information but there are a lot of subjects that for one reason or another, I know jack squat about. As fate would have it, those tend to be the subjects that my stories require me to research. For example, I was free writing a scene wherein my protagonist needed to get someone to tell her the sensitive information she needs. The obvious solution was to get the informant tipsy enough to become chatty. The problem was that the informant was not a casual drinker or the sort of person that would frequent bars. That ruled out all the usual imbibables.

The informant however, was the sort of person that would occasionally indulge in a glass of good whisky. This presented me with another problem. I don’t know anything about whisky, quality or otherwise, and since I don’t drink there was no way for me to find out first hand. Fortunately I have friends that do drink and within a few minutes they were able to give me the information I needed so my protagonist could get the information she needed. Yay!

Sure, I could have Googled the answer but sending a text message isn’t laborious. Plus, I didn’t have to waste an hour sifting through search results and one of my friends gets the satisfaction of knowing their help was instrumental to that scene. It’s a win all across the board.

So, how do I keep track of which friends knows what? That’s easy. They’re my friends. I already know their hobbies and interests. You don’t need a knack for trivia to keep track of that. Sure, I could keep a list (and if that helps you, by all means, do) but since I do have a knack, I don’t need to. Besides, it would be a bit creepy if any of them saw such a list on my computer.

Of course there is always going to be a topic that none of my friends have a working knowledge of and that’s ok. In those circumstances I can turn to the internet or professionals in the field to satisfy me. If I were an introvert, this wouldn’t be a go to method for me. I’d probably stick to library books and Google in that case. Since I’m not an introvert and have many friends, it would be idiotic not to crowd source whenever possible. Just because I can’t afford an assistant doesn’t mean that I don’t have lovely people willing to volunteer for a few moments. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?