Thursday, November 09, 2017

Weak words to hunt down and destroy when editing fiction

(This is my personal list, reflecting my own bad writing habits. Use or add to as you like. Obviously you don’t have to delete every instance of the verb “be” or other similarly common and useful words, but in at least some cases you can replace them with more vivid phrasing. E.g., “It was raining” can become “Rain lashed against her face.”)

seem
could
that
this
just
look
glance
stare
know (knew)
hear
feel (felt)
reach
move
watch
was (were, is, be)
-ing
-ly (adverbs)
keep (kept)
have (had)
anyway
actually
paused/hesitated (have them do some action instead)
peek (for an inanimate object)
now
em-dashes –
spin/turn on one’s heel
thought to herself/himself
picked at invisible/imaginary speck of dust/thread/etc
quite
very
pretty (to mean “fairly” or “kind of”)

And let's not forget "let out a breath she didn't know she was holding."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Kids these days are not destroying English

Every time I see a thread of “don’t you hate it when people mispronounce/misspell/misuse word X,” I feel the need to weigh in with this, as That Person Who Majored in Linguistics:

“Kids these days” are not, in fact, destroying the English language, and in fact fears of kids these days destroying the language go back all the way to early written records in the ancient world. No language has ever fallen apart and gone extinct from being regularly used, I promise you. Quite the contrary; popular usage only makes a language stronger and more innovative.

Could most people stand to learn a little more about etymology, and read over their written documents more carefully before calling them done and sending them? Sure, absolutely. Again, however, this has always been the case. It’s just that in the past, lots more people couldn’t read or write AT ALL, so we have fewer records of the people who would’ve had “worse” language usage. And with the internet, we now have far, far more examples of language usage every day–every second–than we ever did before. The amateur writer, the professional, and the in between. This is, for linguistics, a WONDERFUL thing, because it’s far easier to track usage than ever before.

And though the grammar Nazis hate hearing it, common usage is what decides a word’s meaning. Not some sacred language council at a university, not the lexicographers who compose the dictionary’s editions, not The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Lexicographers track usage, and tally it up, and faithfully record it, AS IT’S USED, not as it “should” be used, and that is that.

Language is strong. Language changes. It always has. It’s fine. Don’t panic.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Don't punish me with fruit IDs

I just had a good misheard-lyric moment. In Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," I swore I heard "don't punish me with fruit IDs." (Looking it up, I find it's actually "don't punish me with brutality.") But you know, my misheard version is essentially what the "Goblin Market" poem does.
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries, 
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
There, don't you feel punished with fruit IDs?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Not my story to tell

Okay, insecurity crisis time.

I’ve seen people in the publishing industry (and just online in general) advise against writing, say, a novel about being black and experiencing racism if you’re a white author. Or writing about the experience of coming out as gay/bi/trans if you’re a straight author.

Now, for whatever reason, I do feel like the former case (racism) would be “not my story to tell,” and I don’t feel compelled to attempt it. I feel more comfortable leaving it to those who know it from the inside. But (again for whatever reason) I do want to write about gay/bi people in love with one another (as well as straight people in love with one another), and the scenario sometimes involves coming out and having angst about it. The trans experience—yes, that would be farther from my knowledge than I’d try right now, at least as a central plot, though I’m happy to have characters casually mention that they’re trans.

But should I honestly not publish a book about two men in love, one of whom is struggling to come out, because I’m neither a man nor gay/bi, and have thus never had to come out?

I see the point in that side. We SHOULD have more own-voices books; I want that as well. Still, trust me, I’m not hogging the market and getting rich on “someone else’s” stories—I’m a pretty small-time author at the moment who makes enough in royalties every three months to cover about two weeks’ worth of the household groceries, maybe.

But I write what I love to write, as we all should. One of the things I love to write is love stories, and sometimes they’re male/female, and sometimes they aren’t, because I like variety in my stories. I view it all as love. I want more people to view it that way. Wasn’t that the point? Getting people to see all such relationships as equal?

And, look, it isn’t about me. It’s about the story. When you read a book, the author is not there in the room with you. (Jeez, I hope not. That’d be creepy.) It’s about the story. You can dislike an author and love their stories, or vice-versa. If I’ve done my job right, you’re not going to be thinking of me at all when reading my novels. You’ll only be thinking of the characters.

And yes, I’m being as respectful as possible. I do research. I read, I listen, I learn. I have people among my beta-reader team who count themselves as “in the community,” and they’re giving me lots of feedback on what sounds realistic and what needs tweaking. They don’t seem to mind my writing this story, but then, maybe they’re just being nice.

So…should I not publish this novel about two young men and their coming-out fears, because I’m not one of the community? Would it make me a bad ally to publish such a thing? Or would it make me a bad ally not to? Because, see, my hope is that by publishing it, people will read it and gain a little sympathy, a little understanding, make the world a better place—which is really what I wish with all of my books, and what I think fiction gives the world in general. We look through others’ eyes. We consider a new point of view. We gain understanding of someone else’s struggle. We come away from it better ourselves.

So…am I doing the wrong thing to seek publication, if those are my motives?

Not a hypothetical question. I honestly want to know.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Guest post: Allan Batchelder on world-building

Allan Batchelder is the author of an awesome grimdark fantasy series, Immortal Treachery, and we've had such fun chatting at Seattle author events (as well as on Twitter) that we lately decided to exchange guest posts. Since world-building is often on my mind and he does such an excellent job of it, I asked him to chat about that. Here's Allan!
---
Some writers may find the task of world-building daunting. But if you were lucky enough to grow up like Sherman Alexie, George R. R. Martin, even Stephen Colbert (or me), your deep and lengthy experience with Dungeons and Dragonsmakes the process feel like donning a favorite pair of old jeans. You are already aware, for instance, that magic must have a cost. You understand that occupied cities and territories have governments. You know that money makes the world go ‘round. In short, you’ve been dealing with the minutiae of world-building – other people’s and your own – for so long that’s it’s become almost second nature.

But what if you never played Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, that means you were one of those kids. You know, the ones with actual lives, with friends, with things to do! We D & D fans generally named our orcs and kobolds after you. But let’s suppose that now you’ve seen the light. You never played D & D, but you regret your shortsightedness and would now like advice on how to proceed with this world-building business.
Easy.
That’ll be 25 gold pieces.
I’m not kidding.
Okay, I am kidding, but it’ll cost you 250 experience points.
Fine; I’ll help you.

Consider the world you live in. It’s a poorly held secret the George R. R. Martin did so when creating his Song of Ice and Fire. The whole “Game of Thrones” universe is famously modelled upon the War of the Roses, between the Yorks/Starks and Lancasters/Lannisters.  This was his skeleton, his framework. From there, for example, Dorne is Spain. Meereen is Cleveland. Kidding. I think. But if, as I said, you do consider the world we live in, you’ll see a veritable checklist of questions to be answered. Questions like: Is there religion? If so, who or what is worshipped and what does this look like? Why does it happen and what, if anything, do the faithful receive in return? If there is religion, are there also non-believers? How are they viewed and/or treated? What does the calendar look like? How many seasons are there? If you have more than one moon, what are tides like? Are there nights of multiple full moons? What is the light quality like on those occasions? I mentioned money earlier. What passes for currency in your world?

Literally everything you encounter in our world can have its fantasy analog, you see? Here, do this exercise:

We have buses, they have…
We have McDonald’s, they have…
We have WWII, they have…
We have Exxon, they have…
We have crack, they have…
We have Cuervo Gold, they have…
We have coffee, they have…
We have Motel 6, they have…
We have football, they have…
We have Westboro Baptist Church, they have…
We have the Red Cross, they have…
We have ATMs, they have…
We have Disneyworld, they have…
We have tornado alley, they have…

Make a game out of it. Play it with your kids. Or your neighbor’s kids. Just don’t offer them candy. But do play it. Answer all the questions you can, and then let your mind loose in your new world. Have at it like a Weight Watcher in a Krispy Kreme!

You will love what you discover.

---

Thank you, Allan! I am going to use that exercise for my next world-building project. Incidentally, my guest post for Allan is over here at his blog: he wanted me to write about why my tastes in fantasy often *aren't* grimdark/violent, so I did that--although I should add I do really like Allan's series! It's got humor and and a diverse range of characters, which saves it from being all dark all the time. Go check it out.

Friday, October 06, 2017

A-intoxicant? A-alcohol? A-drinking?

We need a word similar to “asexual” to mean “not interested in alcohol.” Every time I say “just water for me, thanks” while others are ordering alcoholic drinks, I feel the need to explain. I feel like people either think I’m avoiding alcohol because I have an addiction to or similar problem with it (I don’t), or because I’m morally opposed to it and am thus quietly judging them (I’m not). It’s just that alcohol does not do anything fun for me, the way it CLEARLY does for most people. All it does is make me tired, and a bit ill. Not any particular fun at all. So I’ll occasionally sip a drink just for the nice taste of it (assuming it’s the sort that actually tastes nice), but I don’t *drink* drink. Just not that into it.

So, yeah, it’d be nice to have a single word to describe that, so I could say, “I’m a-intoxicant” (or whatever) in explanation instead of having to give the entire above paragraph every time. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Summer depression report from Mordor - er, Seattle

While Texas drowns and another hurricane barrels toward the East Coast, wildfire smoke is filling Seattle’s sky, filtering the sun to a dim orange circle. We’ve had the driest summer on record, barely a drop of rain since mid-June. Heat and drought have rendered all the grass brown and the plants desiccated. Leaves are shriveling up and falling off trees. The “evergreen” Northwest looks not entirely unlike Mordor.

This is all wrong. By now we should have our first rains, cleaner air, a washing away of the summer dust. Instead we’re the Fire Nation and I hate it.

So, the time is ripe for a reposting, with a few edits, of something I wrote long ago on being one of those rare people who really, truly doesn’t like summer weather and really, truly does love rain, moss, ferns, clouds, and coolness. Here you go.

* * *

When I moved to the Sacramento area from my native Pacific Northwest in August of 2000 for a three-year grad school stint, the constant sunshine and 80-to-100-degree temperatures were at first a novelty. Then they began to make me bored. Then unhappy. Then borderline psychotic. I tried to believe it was the natural adjustment to an 800-mile move. I thought maybe I just needed something more productive to do with my days.

Then one day it rained--unexpectedly, and for that region totally unheard-of in August. All my tension relaxed. The air was clean, cool, and sweet. I could step outside, take a deep breath, and smile. Of course, it was August, so that only lasted a few days. The sun returned. The drought and 100-degree temperatures came back. Everything was yellow and brown and sky-blue for three months, like a photo of the African savannah, even into October. I plummeted into deeper unhappiness.

October is supposed to be the cool month, the month that is definitely no longer summer. In Seattle, October is when the battering rains howl in from the sea and knock trees down--if that hadn't already happened in September. In Cali, all remained warm and bright, the Beach Boys’ "endless summer." It was not so groovy after all. But the weather couldn't really account for my bad mood, could it?

Finally the rain returned in November, a true autumn rain this time: soaking, dripping, chilly, misty. The scent of wet leaves and chimney smoke rolled down the streets. Pollen and dust swirled away down the gutters. The wet pavement reflected lights at night. My mood soared.

I could no longer rule it a coincidence. After finishing grad school, I hightailed it back to Seattle as soon as possible.

Everyone's heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which renders its sufferers depressed in the winter months due to a deficiency of happy-making neurochemicals normally triggered by sunlight exposure. But when I suggest I might have Reverse SAD, I garner little sympathy or comprehension. Who could possibly hate summer and sunshine? What's wrong with me?

Some doctors do acknowledge "summer depression," a condition that can cause irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and decreased appetite, but researchers estimate it's only about a fifth as common as regular SAD or winter depression. What causes summer depression is less clear. Too much heat? Too much light?

Both, I propose; along with other factors. For example:

- Sun exposure can cause wrinkles and cancer. On hot, clear days I have to slather sunscreen upon myself, enduring its greasy feel; and slather it also upon my kids, who complain every time. Never heard of rain causing cancer, did you?

- Every summer day without rain, I have to take half an hour to water the garden, or live with beige-colored, dying plants for July and August. I much prefer the rest of the year, when the sky supplies the water cost- and effort-free on my part.

- We sleep less in the summer and feel the ill effects. Up here in the north, the sky starts getting light at four o'clock in the morning in June, causing birds to chirp and making it hard for humans to sleep in. It's also hard to get our kids to go to bed at eight-thirty p.m. when daylight still reigns. In dark, rainy weather our whole family regularly sleeps longer and deeper.

- Glaring sun in your eyes can cause car or bicycle accidents even when you're wearing sunglasses. Cloudy skies make our roads safer--aside from that one first rainy day in late summer, of course, when everyone temporarily forgets how to drive on wet pavement.

- For those of us with school-age kids, they are home all the time in summer, causing a “disrupted schedule” for us all, as this WebMD article on summer depression diplomatically puts it.

- I’m uncomfortable when I’m sweaty for hours at a time. Are there people who actually like being sweaty all day? Or at least don’t mind it? I assume there have to be, but HOW do they not mind it?

- Rainy seasons give me an excuse to stay inside and curl up with a book or a movie or a TV show. And if I do venture out to the park with my umbrella and waterproof boots, I'm likely to have the forest or beach to myself. In summer, I do want to go outside, but there are PEOPLE all over the place out there.

- Did I mention the West is ON FIRE?

The good news--besides the fact that autumn will eventually come--is that I'm not alone. When I asked around, family members and friends have come out of hiding to admit their preference for non-summer weather too. My rain-loving Oregonian mother suggests a few names for people like us:

SLUG: Sunshine Leaves Us Grumpy
SHINE: Sun's Heat Is Not Enabling
GRACE: Give Rain A Chance, Everybody
PUDDLE: Prefer Umbrella Drip-Drop-Like Environment
HAPPY: Have Always Preferred Puddly Yard


I’m ready to be HAPPY instead of summer-SAD, please. Hurry back soon, rainclouds.