Tuesday, 29 April 2014

ON THE VIRTUES OF FICTION




A while ago a friend told me she was unable to read novels because she felt the events could never happen. This surprised me because almost everyone I know reads stories in one genre or another, but if the first rule, suspension of belief, doesn’t come into play then yes, you might find the fictional constructed worlds contained within books difficult to accept. However, reading is entertaining and beneficial. So here are a few reasons (I know there's plenty more) why people should read fiction.

Reading is an immersive process, where we enter into another world through our imagination. In stories we experience the struggles, losses and triumphs of lives other than our own. This opens the possibility of altering, modifying or even transforming concepts we hold about ourselves, our attitudes and behaviour. When we enter the world of what if, this allows us to become, however briefly, someone else. This enhances and enriches our understanding of life. 

Several studies have shown that because fictional stories give us an intimate view of the main character’s inner life, this develops empathy. Reading about someone who comes from a different cultural, historical, or socio-economic background, and is undergoing a difficult experience we are unlike to encounter, deepens our comprehension of the human condition. Empathy is a quality not listed on any country’s school curriculum, but it should be, because it increases the possibililities of improving the lives of others.

Writing involves the use of metaphors, and other figures of speech, which work because they rely on commonly known phrases, which when placed in a new context result in the creation of strong images in the mind of the reader. These new associations expand the thinking process, encouraging flexibility and innovation. (I did once read that the creation of metaphors increases left/right brain integration, but I couldn't find the article.) 

One criticism of fiction is that presents a simplification of life, along with the question of whether this is helpful or not? Do our lives follow a dramatic arc or have Hollywood endings? No. Life can be chaotic, it’s unpredictable, and the only thing we can control is our response. Yet there is a gratification in reducing the world to black and white, to good versus evil, because it gives us hope. And life without hope is miserable. Fiction shows us heroes, and while we may not view ourselves as heroic in our daily lives, we’re able to find examples of how fictional others survive. I mean who does not in some corner of their imagination admire how Scarlett O’Hara overcomes adversity?

Books can be friends and comforters, a place to escape to, because the theme, the characters or the setting resonates with something inside us. The pleasure gained, whether you enjoy thrillers about betrayal and revenge with complicated twists and turns or straightforward linear romcoms, means we come back for more. 

I feel sorry for my friend, but let’s face it, if most of us didn’t enjoy fiction, there would be no writers, readers, books, or publishing industry. However, the latest developments in digital and online publishing show that even if the methods of delivery change and evolve, fiction remains alive and well. 

Writing Update

I may have, after a number of changes, worked my break-up story, Cupid’s Game, into a form that satisfies me. Although I started with 3rd person omniscient, past tense, the story is now 1st person POV and told in the present tense. I haven't posted it yet because Wattpad has allocated the Parental Guidance or Restricted Content classification to the story, and I've requested they alter this as it’s misleading. There’s no sex or eroticism as such – only a look at the end of a relationship and the aftermath.  Or maybe I'll put it up with a disclaimer? (Check it out...I have posted it with a message about the classification!)

Tomorrow I start back with Vance the Vamp, my WIP. Working on the Wattpad project (three short stories - including covers - and editing a previous nano effort) was enjoyable, but I’ve missed the absorption of the longer form of the novel with the slow rise of tension, greater scope for character development, subplots and setting. I’ll finish the final bit of research today, then, re-read here I come! Yeah!

Today’s Haiku
COFFEE
one Guatemalan
Soya latte, small, to go –
sipping on the run

Useful Links
A brilliant article on reading by Neil Gaiman
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/24/neil-gaiman-face-facts-need-fiction 

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

ON BEHALF OF THE ADVERB


I feel like a wee ant going up against a colossus, but today’s post is about something which bugs me. So, here goes. Fashion goes in cycles – one year something is in, the following year, it’s out. Education also promotes various initiatives which find favour for a while, before being discarded. Literary style is no different. If you take a writing course, one piece of advice your tutor will give is remove your adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
(Page 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1.)
The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met.
(Winner of the Man Booker prize 2013. P.S. She also used ‘bodily’ in the second sentence.)

If you challenge this current wisdom, you’ll hear that adverbs tell, and don’t show, that they bog down and over-complicate whatever it is you are trying to say. Adverbs are the tools of the weak and the lazy.
 
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
(Page 1 paragraph 3)
Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday....
 (This book heads Wikipedia’s list of the bestselling books of all time – with over 100 million copies sold. P.S. The same paragraph has another two adverbs – supernaturally and lately.)

When studying English grammar, first nouns and adjectives, then verbs and adverbs are the normal order in which we teach these parts of speech to young children. We wouldn’t dream of saying, adverbs describe verbs, but you must never use them in writing, though you can when you’re talking to each other. So why are writers informed that this particular part of speech is not welcome at the literary dining table?

Harvest by Jim Crace
(Page 1, paragraph 1.)
It rises in a column that hardly bends or thins until it clears the canopies.
(Booker prize short list 2013)

I understand the modern penchant for concise prose ala Hemingway and that long descriptive passages are no longer in vogue, and if the advice given was to use adverbs sparingly, I’d agree without reservation – but to eliminate? Isn’t this a tad drastic?

We are told to make our verbs work harder. The image of a brawny overseer, a flashing Word Police sign emblazoned on his uniform, wielding a razor tipped whip over a line of cowering verbs, while those abject sinners marked with that telltale ‘ly’ are lined up against the wall and executed springs to mind.

Will adjectives will be the next in line? Maybe the new wisdom will be don’t use more than one at any given time? For the moment adjectives have a reprieve. Although I do wonder how the sentence snot-nose, tousled-haired, raggedy Ann dressed orphan would be received by the anti-adverb posse?

The Old Man of the Sea by Earnest Hemingway
(Page 1 paragraph 1)
...the old man was now definitely and finally...

In their defence, adverbs are versatile. They modify adjectives and verbs, and function as transitional conjunctive adverbs between two independent clauses in a sentence (however, nonetheless, etc., etc.). I have noticed that most articles deriding their use are sprinkled with them. Henry James loved adverbs, and although Stephen King dislikes them, he still uses them.

Joyland by Stephen King
(Page 1 paragraph 1)
The only thing, actually.
(Joyland was published in 2013.)

You know by now where I’m headed with this post. I’ve done my best to show that past and present writers, whose works literary critics and the public hold up as examples in terms of style, content and popularity made use of the humble, much maligned adverb. And just to emphasize my point, I’ve added this last example.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
(Page 1 Paragraph 2)
Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and wholesome, Bavarian preferably.
(Booker prize short list 2013. P.S. There are three in paragraph 3 – softly, manly, currently, and two in paragraph 4 – slowly, eventually.)

In conclusion, adverbs are part of our language, therefore how can we write stories which reflect life without using them? Instead of banning, shouldn’t we employ them judiciously? If we treat them like precious gems rather than pariahs, they will enhance our writing.

Writing Update

I had hoped to finish my break up story – but I’m still tweaking, making sure the main character is believable. And I’m almost finished editing the second chapter of Unknown Planet. This week’s to do list includes research for Vance the Vamp. Next week, back to my supernatural adventure for a read through to see where the results need to be added.

During the last month, I took one day off a week from social media to allow myself some breathing space, and found it helped keep everything a bit more in perspective. Overall progress is steady, although I always have more to do!

Today’s Haiku
raucous dawn chorus
pine trees stand to attention
pale gold sun rises

Useful Links
An article defending the adverb:
And an article in defence of difficult books:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/17/in-defense-of-difficult-b_n_5128657.html

I’d love it if you popped over to Wattpad and read my two stories...more coming shortly!

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing! .

P.S. I've spent 45 minutes trying to get the web page to correct the spacing in one of the paragraphs - I give up! Apologies - with handfuls of hair in my hands - as I do work hard on the presentation...


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

IN FAVOUR OF FREE EDITING



If you have the choice of going to the ball fashionably attired, or in your old clothes, the choice is obvious. Bear with me as I’m aware attending balls isn’t a regular occurrence in the lives of many working writers. In this scenario I’m comparing Pro Writing Aid, the free online editing tool to the better outfit, and your everyday clothing to your computer’s spell checker program. My apologies to the creators of the latter – their everyday standard is certainly adequate, but the online editing programs take your work to another level.

Auto Crit, Writers’ Dock, Editor Software and LitLift are several other programs available. When I first discovered this kind of help was free, I tried Auto Crit as well, but I found Pro Writing Aid worked best for me. And as I’m the not broken, don’t fix it type of person, I’ve continued to use the same program.   

The following two paragraphs are from a prompt written during a writing course I took a few years ago, and put through my computer’s grammar and spell check. 

Oaxaca bustles despite the simmering heat. Ellie sits in a window seat of the hotel restaurant scanning the crowd.  She takes a slug of cold cola. Momentary relief. No sign yet of Mimi or Roger. Nor of Jose, their contact and guide who’d driven them out to the mesa. She’s waited for two days now, unsure whether to go to the police or not. Sweat trickles down her back in slow warm drops.
Then she spots him. Jose. Standing right in front of the hotel. She recognizes his dirty green baseball cap. She taps hard on the window. He looks up. His eyes widen and his face flushes.  She stares at him as he turns and dashes into the road cutting through the slow moving traffic, disappearing from sight. Now she knows for sure something’s wrong. 

Here’s the same paragraph after running it through the online editing program.

 Oaxaca bustles despite the simmering heat. Ellie sits in a window seat of the hotel restaurant scanning the crowd.  She takes a slug of cold cola. Momentary relief. No sign yet of Mimi or Roger. Nor of Jose, their contact and guide who’d driven them out to the mesa. She’s waited for two days now, unsure whether to go to the police or not. Slow warm drops of sweat trickle down her back.
           Then she spots him. Jose. Standing near the entrance. She recognizes his dirty green baseball cap. She taps hard on the window. He looks up, eyes widening as he recognizes her. She watches in disbelief as he dashes into the road, cutting through the slow moving traffic, disappearing from sight. Now she knows for sure something’s wrong. 

Not a huge difference, (unlike some of the work I've put through this editing mill) but the program did highlight errors in the following categories; overused words, long sentences, sticky sentences, use of passives, repeated sentence starts, grammar (which includes spelling errors), repeated phrases, diction, and vague/abstract words.  

I looked at all the points picked up (two paragraphs didn’t take long), but left the final sentence as it was - despite the warning that now, for, sure, something, and wrong were all glue words (words that slow down readers) because that sentence expressed exactly what I wanted the character to think. Yet because the editing tool had emphasized this sentence, I gave that decision extra consideration – which is always a good thing to do. 

When editing with an online program, I found a couple of areas to be wary of, as Pro Writing Aid is, after all, a computer program. Dialogue is one of the weak areas. The way people talk using colloquial expressions, repetitions and clichés doesn’t make the program a happy bunny. Misinterpretations of words do happen on occasion: the suggestion to change the vice squad to the versus squad made me laugh.  

 I’m not suggesting that writers don’t use human editors, and syntax is one area a breathing editor will be far sharper at spotting, but you can give yourself a head start in the editing game - and editing your work helps you detect and correct your most frequent errors.   

The one thing you don’t relinquish to any editor, computer or human, is your writing voice. My advice would be, use an online tool, they’re free and they’re good, just make sure you don’t edit the life out of your stories.  

Writing Update 

I’m editing a love story – well, it’s break up story – for Wattpad, but something keeps niggling even after running it through Pro Writing Aid (and yes, I did leave in a couple of repeated sentence starts for emphasis), but it still isn’t right. And it’s the plot line because I’m missing a discernible dramatic arc. Must every story have a dramatic arc? Maybe I could consider it a modernist story? But I like that rising tension – it’s what keeps me reading. I don’t think I have to rewrite the story, but a changing around of events might just work. 

Chapter one of Unknown Planet is with beta readers; Vance the Vamp (definitely a working title) is finally asleep, and research in one particular area I need more information about is on next week’s list. I know, me and my lists – but they remind me there’s always more to do, so I keep the momentum going. I am making progress, and it’s all good.  

Today’s Haiku
THE SEA
breathing in and out
slow sea murmurs sweet nothings –
massages the shore  

Useful Links:
If you want to try one of the following programs, check them out and see which one best fits your needs:
http://www.prowritingaid.com

http://www.litlift.com   

Karen Woodward puts a few famous writers through Pro Writing Aid:
blog.karenwoodward.org/.../want-help-with-editing-try-free.htm...
And Google + blogger C. M Skiera gives his take on the program:
cmskiera.blogspot.com/.../online-editing-software-pro-writing-aid.html   

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku and I'd love it if you could check out my stories on Wattpad.

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment. 
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

 




 


About Me

My photo

         
         
Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

Google+ Followers

Followers

Translate

Search This Blog

Like us on Facebook