Monthly Archives: January 2015

Hilarious Amazon Recommendations

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

A small but very representative sampling of my DVD collection, which runs very heavy on trashy 70s and 80s horror and monster movies.

Anyone who shops online or browses free content knows that websites use search algorithms (or something else mathy) to get an idea of your interests and then make recommendations for additional purchases or other forms of consumption.

YouTube is pretty good at this. I watched a video of former Prince protege Sheila E on a whim the other day, and the right-side column of recommendations included a bunch of other 80s-era Prince proteges like Morris Day, Vanity 6, and The Family.

Amazon, on the other hand, is comically off target most of the time.

As you may deduce from my lead image, I am a fan of horror and monster movies, particularly the grimy, “video nasty” kind that played at drive-ins and urban cinemas in the 70s and 80s. “Why” is a different post; suffice to say that you won’t find many mainstream films on my shelf. Which is the reason I shop on Amazon in the first place. Best Buy and Target simply don’t carry much in the way of Japanese giant monster flicks or Spanish werewolf movies.

I receive nutty Amazon recommendations… or should I say “wreckommendations,” and took a few screen shots for your amusement. Note the reason for the recommendation in the red box at the bottom of each screen shot:

Amazon wreckommendation - Mickey Xmas

 

Look, either you’re one of them Disney people who can’t get enough of It’s a Small World, or you are obsessed with giant, toothy destroyers of worlds. There is no overlap. This is from Godzilla vs. Biollante:

godzilla vs biolante

 

******

And then there’s…

Amazon wreckommendation - breathless

Because they both start with B? Because “breathing” shows up in the poster art?

beast of hollow mountain

*****

 and…

Amazon wreckommendation - my girl

Look at the picture from Demons 2 below and tell me what complex statistical analysis determined it was made for the same audience that enjoys a sappy, gentle love story featuring two precocious children.

demons 2

*****

or…

Amazon wreckommendation - The Interview

Yes. The controversial 2014 comedy starring two current high-profile movie stars is practically an unofficial sequel to a trashy, no-budget splatter flick from 1977 that played at 3 drive-ins for all of a week.

Amazon wreckommendation - melting man

*****

and finally, my favorite:

Amazon wreckommendation - sound of music

scream blacula scream

One is a lush, sweeping epic featuring the most glamorous, beloved movie stars of the era, full of unforgettable music and directed by a Hollywood legend. The other is some drivel about a governess who falls in love with a Nazi and gets in trouble for turning the drapes into ugly clothes and putting them on his obnoxious, entitled children.

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What exactly are “unnecessary” words?

Never hire a Dalek to edit your manuscript. They don't understand nuance.

Never hire a Dalek to edit your manuscript. They don’t understand nuance.

One of the problems with writing rules is that writing deals in words, and we, as writers and readers, experience words differently.

The term “rule” implies (to me) a black-or-white statement with no nuance. Do not drink bleach is a pretty good rule. Get rid of words that do not add meaning, however, is more complicated. Applying that rule without nuance may not leave you with the best-possible finished work.

Look at my post title as an example. On a mechanical level, the word “exactly” is unnecessary. Without it, “What are unnecessary words?” is still an easy-to-understand construction. But on a subtextural level, is does not at all mean the same thing as “What exactly are unnecessary words?” The addition of that single word says, Eric is skeptical about something, and this post is going to challenge the status quo. Not bad for one of those crappy old adverbs everyone hates.

If writing served the solitary, utilitarian purpose of conveying information, banishing words that do not add literal meaning would be a sound objective. But writing isn’t solely function; it’s also art. Art has style, rhythm, form, and flow. In the previous paragraph I wrote that “What are unnecessary words” does not at all mean the same thing as “What exactly are unnecessary words?” At all does not add surface-level meaning. A robot would not glean additional information from it.

However, I’m not writing for robots, I’m writing for humans. I added at all because I like the rhythm of the sentence that way, and I like how it flows with the rhythm of the sentences before and after. You may look at that sentence and say, “I would not have written it that way,” which is fine, but, see, it’s my sentence. Write your own blog post. Damn it.

Danger, Will Robinson. You are forgetting why you started writing in the first place.

Danger, Will Robinson. You are forgetting why you started writing in the first place.

If you have taken a writing course or read books on said subject, you’ve likely been presented with an essay showing the power of lean, simple, crisp writing from which all unnecessary words have been excised. No doubt the essay was at once like a cool breeze blowing off the ocean and a bright blue sky with life-renewing sunlight washing over your body. You were suitably impressed by the writer’s (and editor’s) expertise.

Of course, those essays are great lessons for the rest of us. Learn how to be a lean, mean writing machine! But what if you are going for gothic dread or satire or noir? Sometimes you need those “unnecessary” words to lend weight or make people laugh or perfect the timing associated with stylized storytelling.

I do not suggest that when writing teachers talk about “words that do not add meaning” they lack the insights presented in this post. I do think, however, that the nuance of this message gets lost by the time it filters out to inexperienced writers and novices, leading some of them to obsess over rules and, in the process, lose the unique character of their writing.

Most times, extraneous words are exactly that: Clutter that must be cut away to reveal your voice and bring your story to life.

Sometimes, though, a word that adds no meaning can change everything.

♦♦♦