Monthly Archives: July 2013

Stop! In the Name of Grammar!

half man half womanIt’s hard to decide which common grammar mistake is the most irritating, but the ubiquitous practice of referring to a single person as “they” is a strong contender.

Professional writers who should know better make this mistake all the time, though I doubt it is always a mistake. That is, in some misguided attempt to be politically correct and avoid gender specificity, some writers would rather sound foolish than offend some indescribable, shadowy entity that objects to differentiating between men and women.

Examples:

“If an employee misses work more than twice in one calendar year without notifying management, they will be terminated”

“Each participant in the study will be injected with radioactive cockroach blood, after which they will be expected to keep notes of any changes in behavior or number of limbs.”

“If you love someone, set them free.”

“Who is your favorite blogger? I suggest you mail them a check for $100.”

Sure, you can rewrite the first clause in some instances so that the second clause becomes acceptable. For example, the first item above becomes, “Employees who miss work more than twice in one calendar year without notifying management will be terminated.”

But what to do in the case of examples 3 and 4? Simple: Choose a gender! Really. It’s ok. If a writer does not choose a gender in these scenarios, they sound foolish, don’t they?

Seriously, if you love someone, give him a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. After the participant in the radioactive-cockroach study develops an exoskeleton and feelers, keep her away from bug spray. Every writer who reads this post should double check his work for gender-avoidance errors, if he hasn’t already. Everyone who buys a gourmet cupcake today should remember her old pal Eric and get a second one for him. He prefers mint chocolate chip, but anything chocolaty will do.

Three rules in love and life:

  1. Don’t take people you care about for granted.
  2. Don’t drive on the sidewalk.
  3. Stop writing “they” and “their” when you are talking about one person.

______________________________________________

I am aware that this is a photograph of The Marvelettes, not their Motown label mates The Supremes, from whom I paraphrased today’s post title. You see, I‘ve long been irked that the following image does not appear in online searches, as it’s one of my favorites. So, in a fit of exasperation and declaring, “If you don’t do it yourself, it won’t get done,” I took apart the CD case, removed the rear insert, scanned it, and loaded the image here. That’s right. For the first time anywhere on the internet, I present this photograph of The Marvelettes, my favorite Motown act. Get on it, Google Image Search:

The Marvelettes (from top): Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton, and Wanda Young

The Marvelettes (from top): Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton, and Wanda Young

Advertisements

New Artist Spotlight: Hip-Hop Poet PoetryMisses

I spend way too much time bitching about technology problems without praising the tech gods when things work. Such as the confluence of do-it-yourself music recording and social media that allows artists to create their work and get it out there without being beholden to some executive in suit. That is awesome and powerful.

How else would the world be able to discover original artists like PoetryMisses, who performs her spoken-word poetry to a beat and then posts to YouTube? Don’t let the smile fool you.  She’s unapologetic, and she ain’t playing around.

PoetryMisses answers my questions below this clip, “Best for me,” a real slow burn of tension and angst. Listen as you read!

EJB: What made you decide to put your poetry to music?

PoetryMisses:  I’ve been writing poetry since before the age of 10, and I’ve always had a strong passion for all genres of music; I just never saw myself actually doing it!  Recently I started getting more serious about what I want to do with my life and decided my poetry needs to have more energy to it, because it just couldn’t be wasted. So, after I started playing around with the words and instrumentals, I knew I had found my niche.

EJB: How confident were you that you could make your poetry work with beats and rhythms?

PoetryMisses: You would be surprised how much I struggled in the beginning.  To me, poetry is freedom with no limits, no exact number of words because I’m all about free verse.  So, when you have only a certain number of bars and a certain beat to keep up with, it gets confusing.  Practice truly does make you better at anything in life, because before you knew it, I was writing complete songs with confidence that came from  nowhere.

EJB: Please tell us about your recording process.

PoetryMisses: My first step is to find a beat.  I usually have a “beat finding” day when I get online to browse for the perfect sound I need.  Depending on my mood of the day, the beat will be slower or fast paced.  I usually don’t write on the same day, just so I can let the tunes sit in my head for a while.  Then there is my writing process.  First verse, chorus, second verse, and whatever else comes behind that.  I usually have had the same mundane writing process since I’ve started rapping, but I love EVERY step.  I record myself most days.  It’s very stress relieving when I can do it alone, but my daughter always wants to “spit” right along with me.  Recording for me is pretty straightforward. I don’t like to waste time.

poetrymissesEJB: What inspires and influences your poetry?

PoetryMisses: It’s simple:  My life.  I can only write about and share what I know and have been through.  There used to be a ton of unhappiness, being lost as a teenager, and love.  Now I try to focus more on the happiness, freedom, and pure love for life.  My dreams are what inspire me to write.  I used to hate the way my mind would expand when I was younger.  Now, as an adult, it’s what fuels me.  To be able to share the countless wonders that float by in my head means everything to me.

EJB: What do you hope to do with your music?

PoetryMisses: Inspire!  That is truly my main mission.  To let everyone know that you can have the life you want and be who you want to be without caring what the next person thinks.  I want to spread happiness.  That’s the only way to live.

EJB: What do people need to know about you?

PoetryMisses: That’s a pretty tough question.  I’m still learning and creating myself each day.  I’m nowhere near perfect, but I love myself and I love the mission that God has planned for me.  Listening to my music will tell you everything you need to know!  I’m what you call a “privately open” person.  My past is what has made me and besides being a mother, inspiring people and letting you know it’s okay to love yourself and be happy even when life is taking more than giving, is what I’m here for.

Ok, here’s PoetryMisses’ self-introduction in the form of a poetic monologue that appears to be totally off the cuff, since she’s sitting in a car. The language gets pretty rough, so proceed only if you are ok with naked honesty . And F bombs.


Writing Dialog, Part II

My darling Anastasia

My darling Anastasia

“Eric, are you giving more advice about dialog writing?”

“Yes I am, Anastasia. Don’t judge me!”

“No, Eric, please. I’m not judging you, Eric! I just wonder… ”

“What do you wonder, Anastasia?”

“Well, Eric. I wonder what you love more, me or giving writing advice. My love for you is so deep, Eric, yet I feel like you are shutting me out.”

“Don’t, Anastasia. Don’t say it.”

“But Eric!”

“Anastasia!”

___________________

You’re probably thinking, now that’s a fine example of dialog. I’m so glad I clicked in here today. The sad truth is, you’re wrong. That is not good dialog at all.

Seriously, I can’t believe how of often I see name swapping in books. I read a novel last year written by a professor of writing at a posh private college in New York, and I only got 10 pages in before I started banging my head against the metaphorical wall of irritation and frustration. Every stinkin’ line of dialog included the recipient character’s name.

“Seth, don’t you think it’s time you came home?”

“I’ll come home when you quit drinking, Brad.”

“Seth, don’t you dare bring up my drinking when it was you who killed Mary in that accident.”

“Don’t, Brad. How dare you!”

How could a professor of writing think it’s acceptable to name swap? How did he get that job when he does not recognize such a basic flaw?

Knight? Or...

Knight? Or…

Think about the conversations you have with family, friends, co-workers, medieval knights, male strippers, and other people you run into every day. Better yet, listen to your conversations as you conduct them. How often do you say your counterpart’s name? Not very.

Here are the times we say the name of the person with whom are interacting: When we pass them in the hall at work, sometimes when we greet them for the first time that day, and when they are our children and they piss us off. That’s about it.

Here’s a much more realistic version of the exchange at the top. Let’s assume I set up the narrative so that we know it is Anastasia talking to Eric:

“Are you doing another post about dialog?”

“Yeah. Is that a problem?”

“What the hell? I was just wondering.”

“You were wondering what?”

“Well, since you’re being such a bitch about it, I was wondering if you even give a shit about me anymore. You pay way more attention to your stupid blog than you do to me.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s what’s happening.”

“It is! I’m a blog widow.”

“Knock it off. I’ll be done in five minutes. What’s with the drama-queen act?”

I wouldn’t leave eight consecutive lines of dialog untagged in an actual story, but I did here to emphasize the point of today’s post. Read the first version aloud, and I dare you not to imagine it’s from a soap opera. Then read the bottom version aloud, and you’ll start inflecting and adding emotion, because the pretense is stripped away and you can focus on the meat of the exchange.

If your manuscript doesn’t feel quite like a pro wrote it (or like a certain professor of writing in NY wrote it), strip out all the name swaps between characters. You’ll notice an instant, marked improvement in the realism of your dialog.

_______________________

Please pardon me as I shamelessly plug my eBay auctions for the week.

Fans of ‘80s horror unite in bidding for the 11 horror-related collectibles I’ve made available, including the rare Fangoria postcard magazine, issues of Gore Shriek, a Japanese Godzilla book, out-of-print books about Tom Savini and Lucio Fulci, and a special Fangoria issue autographed by Alice Cooper. The auctions end between Sunday and Thursday. Hope to see you there!

Auction1


A Real-Life Editing Demonstration

A few days ago I threw out a challenge: Who was brave enough submit a short piece of writing for me to publicly edit? Many quickly volunteered… to buy popcorn and watch.

One fearless soul sent me an e-mail with an attachment.

That fearless – and talented – soul is Aisha of Aisha’s Writings, who has permitted me to do a line edit on her roughly 200-word story below. It’s just what I was hoping for… a well-written piece that only needs what every good story or essay needs. A once-over by an editor.

A line edit is what it sounds like: The editor goes line by line through a body of text to eliminate extraneous words and tighten prose. Maybe flip a sentence or two. It happens after you complete the revisions your beta readers or agent suggested but before a copy editor scrubs for typos and punctuation.  A good line editor not only preserves the writer’s voice and message but removes obstacles to finding them. We are an invisible liaison between writer and reader.

Below is Aisha’s original piece, a moving and poignant narrative essay about humans’ innate ability to connect with other humans, no matter the barriers, followed by the edit demonstration.

Aisha’s story:

It was in Year 7, my first day at The Westminster School. I walked with slow steps towards my class. Searching my name in every class list, I was feeling nervous and shy. Talking to people instantly wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and as I entered I saw new faces everywhere. There were Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Philippines, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan, and so on. I felt my stomach ache with tension because I knew it won’t be easy making friends.

As time flew I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones, Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima, and I could just go on writing down the names till forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. There was no question of leaving anyone behind but rather walking side by side. We were truly a ‘One Big Family’.

And then the day came, it was the last day of our examination and it was time to say good bye. With a heavy heart and tears in my tears I hugged each one of the people I had ever met in TWS and left to face another challenging world all by myself.

With edits visible:

It was in Year 7., < It was my first day at The Westminster School. <<I walked with slow steps towards my class with hesitant steps. Searching my name in every class list, I was feeling felt nervous and shy. Talking to strangers people instantly wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and, as I entered, I saw new faces everywhere. There were Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Philippines Filipino, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan, and so on. I felt m My stomach ached with tension. because I knew I It won’t wouldn’t be easy making friends.

As t Time flew, and soon I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones:, Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima, . and I could just go on writing down the names till ‘til forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. There was n No question of leaving anyone one was left behind but, rather, we all walked ing side by side. We were truly a ‘One Big Family.

And then the day came., it was t The last day of our examinations, and it was time to say goodbye. With a heavy heart and tears in my tears eyes, I hugged each one of them people I had ever met in TWS and left to face another challenging world all by myself.

Edited version:

I walked toward class with hesitant steps. It was my first day at The Westminster School. Year 7. Searching my name in every class list, I felt nervous and shy. Talking to strangers wasn’t my nature. I finally found my class and, as I entered, I saw new faces everywhere. Lebanese, Indian, Syrian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Filipino, Japanese, Turkish, Egyptian, Moroccan. My stomach ached with tension. It wouldn’t be easy making friends.

Time flew, and soon I had not one or two but a whole bunch of friends. To name a few very close and good ones: Saba, Fajr, Maryam, Raeya, Hifza, Saba, Bushra, Arwa, Fatima, Amna, Ayesha, Samima, Faiza, Naima. I could go on writing names ‘til forever. Years passed and my family of friends kept growing. No one was left behind but, rather, we walked side by side. We were truly One Big Family.

And then the day came. The last day of examinations, and it was time to say good-bye. With heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I hugged each of them and left to face another challenging world by myself.

***

Outside of a demonstration like this one, I would only recommend these changes to Aisha, not implement them. You’ll note I did not make much effort to correct grammar. In fact, I introduced “errors” in spots, because doing so sharpened the emotional edge. In prose and narrative non-fiction, grammar is subservient to art. It’s not a textbook, so I didn’t edit as such.

Let’s give a big round of applause to Aisha for volunteering and for donating her talents to this exercise!

Image source: I can't remember. Sorry.

Image source: I can’t remember. Sorry.