Monday, September 25, 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 cliches 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, September 11, 2017

Irma observations

    This storm has been a tough one for the trackers.  She’s had a mind of her own.  The islands, including Cuba and Puerto Rico, and Florida have, of course, taken a massive hit, and we feel for all those so seriously affected.  The difficulties and discomforts will be with them long after the storm has faded from the news.

    Here in eastern North Carolina, historically a prime target for so many hurricanes (the latest being Matthew last year, which brought serious flooding to us), sticking out into the Atlantic as we do, we’ve been spared this time and are only getting stiff winds and some rain.  I ran the NC State research trawler up a narrow creek four days ago to secure it out of the wind (but not necessarily out of any rising water).  So all is well here.

    I’ve been thinking, though, is there a way to stop hurricanes well before they grow into such destructive monsters?  Most of these storms begin as hot air blowing westward off North Africa.  The wind gives rise to thunderheads that enlarge and gang up to form a low pressure area, which acquires spin because of Earth’s rotation, and then comes charging across the warm Atlantic, guided by trade winds and the Bermuda high and other invisible steering currents, acquiring strength along the way to finally chew up the Caribbean islands, Mexico, and the North American coast.

    The science of cloud seeding with silver iodide or potassium iodide or dry ice in order to produce rain has been well proven to work quite well.  Therefore, why couldn’t an effort be made to seed those early thunderheads as they form just off the African coast, making them rain out where they are and thus preventing their gathering into the precursor of a hurricane?  Even if the cost turned out to be multiple millions of dollars to kill all the suspicious thunderheads during a hurricane season, that would be a mere pittance compared with the multiple billions of dollars these monster storms routinely wind up causing, not to mention the immeasurable costs in human life and misery.


Monday, September 4, 2017


     In the movie Hook (Robin Williams as Peter Pan and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell) Dustin Hoffman (as the evil pirate Hook) tells Smee, one of his scruffy underlings, “I’ve had an epiphany.”  Later in the story, Smee, emulating his idol, declares, “Oi’ve just 'ad an apostrophe.”  It’s one of my favorite movie lines.

     I’m happy to say I’ve had an apostrophe.  My current novel-in-progress had run aground at 35,000 words.  Like some other authors—John D. MacDonald, Elmore Leonard, and Lee Child for examples—I don’t write to an outline, preferring to make up the story as I go along, letting my characters do as they will.  I wish I could outline like Jeffery Deaver so cleverly and successfully does, but I cannot.  (I’ve met Deaver twice.  He creates an elaborate outline for every book, refining it repeatedly until it’s all laid out in detail, one reason his stories are filled with exquisitely devious twists.)

     I’ve often been asked at workshops and talks, “Do you outline?”  I’ve said, “Well, if even I don’t know what’s gonna happen next in a story, the reader surely won’t, either, and that keeps it interesting.”  But it seems a lame answer.  And it’s not the most comfortable or confident way to write.  Working on my second novel in a trilogy some time ago, I was 65,000 words along and nervously facing a looming deadline before I realized who the killer was going to be.

          One morning over coffee I opened the novel I was reading but my eyes were only scanning the words, my brain unable to retain anything because my own novel plot seemed to be growing ever clearer by the minute as if by some wonderful magic, my relief and enthusiasm growing as well.  Suddenly I could see nearly to the end of the story, with most of the loose ends weaving themselves together nicely like an exotic tapestry.

          It was an excellent feeling.  A major apostrophe.

          I think writers like the great John D. MacDonald really have outlined their work, albeit subconsciously.  Their stories are too refined and cohesive to think otherwise.  I believe my own subconscious mind has been churning away at my novel the whole time I’ve been working on it, and finally that aspect of my mind came through for me with clear visions for the rest of the story.  All that was left was to write it.

          Wishing you happy apostrophes in your writing and in your life.