Monday, May 29, 2017

How many does it take?

Ever since I became old enough to begin understanding the wonderful ways of nature, I’ve believed that sexual activity was, by definition and by exhaustive successful test results over many generations, an evolution-developed means of perpetuating the diverse species of animals that populate our planet, and also in perpetuating our own homo sapiens species (homo being the human genus and H. sapiens being the only surviving species of the genus homo).  Two sexes have always been required and sufficient since our species first emerged many thousands of years ago.  Male (M) and Female (F).  I assume most of us are pretty sure how this works.

Imagine my perplexity in realizing over recent years that carrying on our species apparently now requires eight sexes.
Count ’em:  M, F, L, G, B, T, Q, and I.  (I won’t even get into the myriad possible combinations thereof.)


Monday, May 22, 2017

Writerly wisdom

Excellent  advice from various pros:

From William Safire (author of the New York Times Magazine column “On Language”)
Tips in which he cleverly commits the very sins he warns about:

1. Remember to never split an infinitive.
2. The passive voice should never be used.
3. Do not put statements in the negative form.
4. Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
5. Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
6. If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
7. A writer must not shift your point of view.
8. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
9. Don’t overuse exclamation marks!! (I never use any!)
10. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
11. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
12. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
13. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
14. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
15. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
16. Always pick on the correct idiom.
17. The adverb always follows the verb.
18. Last but not least, avoid clichés like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

A few more nuggets:

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”  —George Orwell

“Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods.  If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong.  Then take the other road.”  —Margaret Atwood

“Write first and always.  Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.”  —Henry Miller

“Never use a verb other than said to carry dialog.“ —Elmore Leonard

And my favorite:    “Write.”  —Neil Gaiman


Monday, May 15, 2017

 Responsible reporting

                  If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do
                  read the newspaper you are misinformed. —Mark Twain
                  (I’ll update that to include radio and TV news these days as well.)

          My mother was a newspaper reporter, and she told me something I've never forgotten.  She said, “Be careful about trusting the news.  It’s absurdly easy for incompetent or unethical reporters to color it.  Let’s say, for example, the Sheriff is a hundred miles away speaking at a law enforcement conference.  There’s a terrible local crime while he’s away.  If I don’t happen to like the Sheriff or if I disagree with his policies, I could choose to report only that he was unavailable, or that he could not be reached for comment.  It would be true, but it wouldn't be honest, and readers might well take it to mean he’s not doing his job.  Do you understand?”

          Sadly, Mom’s advice has grown even more wise considering today‘s pseudo-news reporting.

          Whole networks have blatantly obvious one-sided political agendas, left or right, one political party or another.  Newscasters act more like ego-brandishing celebrities than reporters, and seem to become overnight experts on any number of topics from nutrition to child-rearing to environmental issues to foreign affairs to astrophysics.  They often essentially pre-judge the guilt or innocence of alleged transgressors and they don’t hesitate to slant the news, even to the extent of inciting violence over this or that incident that instead ought to be handled not in the media but within the established legal system, which is all we have in America for any semblance of true justice.

          Editorializing and commentary in journalism, when clearly labeled as such, are protected under our constitution and rightly so, but straight news reporting should be conducted with professional honesty, integrity, thoroughness, accuracy, and absolute objectivity.  Allowing us, the reading and viewing public, to make up our own minds on the issues.

          But good luck with that in today's world.


Monday, May 8, 2017


They’re figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is unexpected and frequently humorous.  (Winston Churchill was a master of them, often with cutting effect.)  Seven examples from all over:

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.
2. If I agreed with you, then we’d both be wrong.
3. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is knowing enough not to include one in a
    fruit salad.
4. To steal ideas from a person is plagiarism.  To steal from many is research.
5. War doesn’t determine who’s right.  Only who’s left.
6.  We never really grow up.  We just learn how to act in public.
6. You don’t need a parachute to skydive.  You only need one to skydive twice.
7. To be assured of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

To spice up your fiction recipe, you may want to sprinkle in a few such small surprise twists of your own in sentence or paragraph form.  They can be wry and subtle, and they work nicely when spoken by an unexpected character.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Three more tips for good writing

1.  Don’t use lazy clichés—clouds like cotton balls, lips like rose petals, the silvery path of moonlight on the water—and so on.  If a phrase feels familiar, it’s probably a cliché.  Many are not even true.  Do shots really “ring out?”  I’ve never heard a gunshot do so, and I’ve spent many hours in target practice with both rifles and hand guns.  Instead of grabbing an easy, comfortable phrase you’ve heard a thousand times, go outside on a moonlit night, say, and study your surroundings until you can describe them in fresh, original words.  Go to the beach and stay there until you can describe the surf in a way you’ve never heard or read it done before.  Study people in the same way.  Listen in detail to them speaking in all circumstances.  This will soon become habitual.  Your writing will improve considerably and as a side benefit you’ll experience the world around you as never before.

2.  Don’t forget you can use all the senses.  Visual descriptions will predominate, but you can also trigger strong emotions by using touch, sound, taste, and smell.  As a child I had a treasured red cedar pencil box, unfinished inside.  All it takes after many intervening years is a sniff of raw red cedar to transport me back to those pleasant days.  I grew up in New England, so such scents as new-mown hay and fall leaves or sounds like the crunch of snow underfoot or the crackling of lacy crystalline trees after a freezing rain or the silken feel of moss on a granite boulder or the scent of thawing ground in early spring can touch off similar feelings.  Many of these triggers remain so strong in the recesses of my mind that mere mention of them conjures strong feelings.  I’m sure you have similar triggers, easily tripped by all five senses, and your readers do, too.

3.  Always do enough research to be accurate and to invest your writing with enough detail to give it verisimilitude.  With ready access to the Net, there’s never any excuse for not getting it right.  Be sure your sources are accurate by double checking.  Fiction is a fragile construction, and all it takes is a single glaring error to crumble it all to dust for your reader.