Buffy ready

Oh noes! An entry with no theme at all.

As you know, Bob, I have a lot of tiny writing rules invented for myself. They're all breakable, of course-- every rule should be broken from time to time, when the payoff is worth it. Take the rule about avoiding adverbs, for instance. Break that one with glee-- gleefully, even-- but only after thinking about whether there's a verb out there in the vasty English vocabulary sea that might do the job all by itself.

I have a rule about not using italics for emphasis in prose. In dialog, sometimes, when I don't trust the rest of the writing to convey exactly where the character put the whammy, but even then I wonder if I could get away without them. In prose? Probably always a sign that I'm not trusting my writing.

Your mileage may vary. Your prose style is not mine. Adjectives may settle in shipping. But that's a rule I have for me. I was pondering it today while revising a sentence to make the emphasis fall naturally where I wanted it.

Promotion: girlsavesboyfic for the Girl saves Boy Ficathon. Since we're in the Buffy fandom (or many of y'all reading this are, at least), the trope works this way fairly often for us. But we could always do with some more girls saving the boys they love! Or like in a friendly sort of way.

Bonus pr0n: Taste the Sea. NSFW in a big way. Not always to my taste; probably won't be to yours either. But it's definitely the female gaze on lovely male and female bodies. For example.

Tumblr is a strange place, you know that? Lots of images flying around, being reblogged. It's far more of a scrapbooking place than a journaling place. Culturally quite different from here. I find it amusing how very old-fashioned and stodgy LJ looks as web technology in comparison with Tumblr, which uses AJAX in various lovely ways. LJ & its clones are so very very ugly and slow in comparison. Not sure what it means.

harmony033 tagged me for one of those answer-these-questions memes. I obediently answer them.

What song are you currently addicted to?
Aarktica, "Young Light", on At Sea.

What's your favorite season?
If I were still in New England, I'd say fall, but the part of California I'm in now doesn't have anything remotely resembling fall. So I'll say early spring, when it's stopped raining but the hills are all still green and growing.

What's the latest movie you watched?
"The Addams Family", which my husband had never seen before. This tragic gap in his cultural knowledge has now been filled.

What is the one skill you wish you had?
The skill of being able to sit down and work on a single story until it is finished. Please can I have this skill nao?

What's your current fandom/obsession/addiction?
Ha. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Probably will remain so for years yet.

What's your favorite musical instrument?
The analog synthesizer. Or software simulation of an analog synth, since the real things are temperamental.

What web sites do you always visit when you go online?
LJ, Tumblr, Daring Fireball. The usage "go online" seems quaint to me; am I ever really offline at any time these days? Only when traveling, and thanks to smartphones, not even then.

What was the last thing you bought?
A soy latte, while out grocery shopping yesterday.

If you win 10,000 bucks today, what would you do with it?
Bank it, so as to extend my period of glorious unemployment even longer.

Last concert you went to?
I cannot even freaking remember what that would be because it's... ten years ago now. I've just stuck Ulrich Schnauss's SF tour date on my calendar, though, because I'd like to hear him play live. Even if his most recent album was a snoozefest, his first is one of my desert island disks.

What could be one of the best things to happen to you right now?
Somebody could appear with a big cup of hot coffee, fully-leaded. Darn it, I need to get up and go make some for myself.

What's your favorite food?
SUSHI. Ahem.

Do you want to learn another language?
In the sense that I want to learn everything there is to learn, yeah. Not specifically at the moment, though.

Five things you can't live without.
Hyperbole ho! My husband. My Macbook. My Vibram Five Fingers. A pair of comfortable jeans, properly broken-in. A supply of contact lenses.
  • Current Music: Young Light : Aarktica : In Sea
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Your flist is collectively Bob? I can live with that. The shoe thing, do you wear them to do pretty much everything or is it more of an exercise/lounge thing? Like, would you go to the store wearing them? And are they stretchy? I only ask because I wear wide widths and it looks like they don't offer different widths.
Mind if I call you Bob to keep things clear? Well, Bob, I wear my shoes everywhere that casual shoes/trainers would be acceptable. I go to the store wearing them all the time. They're my #1 shoes right now.

They are quite stretchy. I would suggest, however, that if you have unusual feet you try getting them fitted at a store in person. Retail locator widget here. I bought mine sight unseen from their website after measuring my feet as they instruct, but I have pretty boring ordinarily-shaped feet.
I admit it. I'm almost fetishistic when it comes to hearing about other writers' rules of thumb. The chance to compare and contrast with mine? Guh. That's me, quivering like a meerkat that just spotted a jackal. A jackal with a knife and fork.

*quivers meerkat-like*

Ah, adverbs. I used to overuse the buggers and not even realise it. I understand this is more of a thing in the US than the UK; another US writer told me once that there are editors/agents in the US that will toss your prose the moment they come across '-ly'. Which seems a bit daft, to me, but I have been persuaded that (as with so many aspects of writing) less is more.

My own thoughts on adverbage are as follows:

1) Does it add any information? No? Then cut it, Zirkles, you moron.
2) Does it appear in a paragraph with another adverb? Yes? Then try to reword at least one of them to get rid of the 'ly' bit. Unless, of course, you are going for the poetry in the rhyme.

This way I avoid clusters (which is when adverbs become problematic, for me). And also I can train myself out of the magnificent redundancy of using adverbs like 'slowly, quietly, gently, softly' when the mood is already well established.

And then? I send my prose to my beta and she points out all the adverbs I've kept in that are also unnecessary and I get rid of those too. What can I say? I'm a work in progress.

I'm kind of wary of any 'rules' about writing (I'm talking the stylistic stuff here) that say DO NOT EVER. Like you point out, there's always going to be a context where the rule is better broken. So I'll buy 'use adverbs minimally' (hee! LY-LY-LY-LY!) but not really 'adverbs=prose!killing!evil!'.

As for italics for emphasis in non-dialogue prose? I think it depends on how much the POV character is using their 'voice'. Some stories I write are almost a stream of consciousness, whereas others have - to varying degrees - a greater formality to the narrative. Not that the POV character changes, of course. (Head-jumping=prose!killing!evil.) But I find that even when I've chosen my POV character for a story (or scene) there are 'shades' I can then apply. This also depends on choices like first/third person and tense.

If any of that makes a tiny bit of sense, I'd suggest that my own rule on italics-for-emphasis is as follows. The more the non-dialogue prose sounds like the POV character giving an internal monologue commentary on events, the happier I'd be to use italics to emphasise as I would in dialogue. Because that non-dialogue prose becomes, for me, a sort of internalised dialogue anyway.

Italics for other stuff (like foreign language words and phrases, and sometimes to indicate direct thought, which I tend to show as single-quoted italics) is another issue.

*tries to stop quivering*


Ahh, the old analogue synths. Lovely. I use a Roland JP-8000 in my own set-up which combines a lot of the classic analogue sounds with the convenience of a digital MIDI frame to build on. (I've a couple of nice modules too.) I've worked in studios where there's some gorgeous antique kit. What's not to love about a Minimoog? I mean, just say the name! Minimoooooooog.

Also? I now want sushi.
A response to just the synthesizer portion of your comment.
Auuugh guuuuuuuuh the Minimoog! I have a Prophet 5 (necessary for that Peter Gabriel sound) that needs repair sitting in the closet. And, um, an Oberheim Matrix 1000. My synths are mostly all in boxes neatly packed away right now. There was a reason why I packed it all, a good one, but now I wonder. The synth I love best is a software simulation with its own unique sound: the Clavia Nord Lead. One of the reasons I loved Ulrich Schnauss's "Knuddelmaus" on first hearing so much was the pleasure of hearing the Nord doing its thing (at least three of those voices are the Nord).

Some day I want to have the kind of money that lets me own and run a real modular analog synth. The kind you can electrocute yourself with.

And while we're on the "I Feel Love" gig, here's the Pro 1.

(Edit: pasted a sentence out of order that made the whole thing nonsensical.)

Edited at 2010-08-23 05:51 pm (UTC)
Re: A response to just the synthesizer portion of your comment.
I have a Prophet 5

*envy*

That must be worth a few bob!

Not just for that classic Peter Gabriel sound (worthy though that is - I think I'm the only person in the world whose favourite Peter Gabriel songs are all on the 'Scratch' album) but pretty much every really good early eighties single. Oh, and synonymous with Floyd of that late seventies/early eighties era.

For lovely textured pad sounds in string or brass, there's little better than the Prophet. (When it comes to bass voices, I'd probably go with a Minimoog if given a choice. Especially if my first choice of CAN I HAVE THEM ALL AND TAKE THEM HOME PLEASE? was not granted.)

Oh, and wood panels! CLASSY! It's like getting into an old Jag with a walnut dashboard and thinking, 'Oh yes. Not only does it go like a dream, it looks good doing it.'

In the days before MIDI set ups and Cubase, the Prophet 5's ability to programme phrases for callback was revolutionary. Ahead of its time. (And why I'm telling you this when you have one is beyond me -- I can offer only my enthusiasm as excuse.) When I did my original sound recording course I had a tutor who was very into classic analogue synths. Entire lectures would be spent with him comparing the relative merits of different models. It was an education.

Thanks for the linkies! Enjoyed them very much.

*Hugh Laurie icon 'cause, you know, he plays piano and that*
Writing rules. IT TOTALLY RULES!
2) Does it appear in a paragraph with another adverb?

Ooh, interesting one. That would suppress overuse, for sure. It's related to my rule-ette about reusing attention-catching words. If I re-use them, it has to be to take advantage of the connection in the reader's mind among the uses. This also helps to compensate for a consistent writing error I make, where I re-use words that I shouldn't simply because they're close to hand because of a recent usage. As in, using a bouncy word in one paragraph, then using it again in the next. Oops. Clusters are a problem I'll always have, I fear.

Here's Mark Twain (America's greatest writer thus far) on a similar topic:
“Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
Seconding your comment about head-jumping. This is one of the things I have to overlook when I read older fanfiction, when the practice was more common. Paragraph-by-paragraph POV switches sometimes, and often without any of the clear signals that indicate the writer was even aware of the shift. This is something distinct from an omniscient point of view, which is... I was going to say "vanishingly rare in fanfic", but then I couldn't think of a single true example. But it must exist. And be rare because it's rare in modern fiction overall.

Another example of a writing rule: Use 'said' for dialog attribution because it's invisible. Use a verb other than "said" when you want the attention you'll be calling to the word. And always use a speech verb unless you're *really* going for something unusual. Juxtaposing character action with speech is a sneaky form of attribution that's effective.

A rule that's probably more personal: Juxtaposition indicates causality. Any time I see the verb "to cause", I read for my red pen. Well, the mouse to edit. I am so allergic to this one that I never do it, but it makes me twitch when I encounter it reading.

Then there's little stuff like, don't jump around in time on a microlevel. That is, describe events in the order they occur, particularly at the sentence-by-sentence level. Even more urgently *within* sentences. You might, of course, have good reasons why you want to jumble time sequence at a higher structural level.

Edited at 2010-08-23 06:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Writing rules. IT TOTALLY RULES!
It's related to my rule-ette about reusing attention-catching words.

I have the same problem. It's like the top storage-level of my memory is miniscule or something. Like my brain wants to give me a dirty look and then wander off to get a ladder if I demand that it searches for stuff in the back, grumbling all the while.

I tend to catch most of my word-repetition when I read my prose aloud: an important part of my own editing process. I find it to be a good technique for alleviating that problem, as well as assessing that most abstract of beasties, 'flow'.

I love the Mark Twain quote. I have no problem with 'very' but I do tend to insert a lot of redundant 'a little' or 'slightly' or 'a bit' type qualifiers. Ugh. I hate myself every time I see them, and wish for a big boxing glove so I can punch myself on the nose. Fortunately my beta assists in thinning such things out, if any slip through my own Net Of Self-Loathing.

Seconding your comment about head-jumping.

I think I met your friend (and now mine! Hoozah!) sahiya talking about POV character discipline. My own feeling is that there's a big difference between 'I will write in the omniscient style' and 'I don't want to limit myself to one person's MOST INTRICATE LITTLE THOUGHTS AND REACTIONS'. Most people claiming to write omni are doing the latter, and badly.

Omni is tricky to write well. It's such a technical thing to get right: you're taking on board the additional job of guiding the reader into different characters' heads, alongside the other jobs of telling a story and writing flowing prose. I know I'm not good enough to pull it off. Shame. It can be a brilliant style for certain formats.

(Not, I'd suggest, for stories that focus on a relationship. I have another rule of thumb - also subject to periodic breakings - that if I'm focused on a relationship then I'll only use one of the characters in that relationship as my POV character. Otherwise I find that acquainting the reader with what's going on in both heads is a bit tension-killing. Better to keep some ambiguity, at least until the denouement. But of course, then there's the occasions when knowing both characters' thoughts is the whole point, perhaps for the comic purpose of hiLARious misunderstanding. So it's no more than a very gentle rule of thumb for me.)

Alas, I have not your tolerance when it comes to fanfic. I've spent so many years teaching myself to write fiction - reading, analysing, researching, learning - that I'm hypersensitive to such errors. They become glaring Mistakes Of Pain for me, and I must move on.

I have similar rules to you for dialogue tags. I use 'said' now a lot more than I used to, when I panicked about repetition. I'll mix it up from time to time, usually if volume or delivery is an issue (ie. it isn't obvious from the dialogue itself - and that in itself is a whole other discussion, as I've met writers who believe that if the dialogue as standalone doesn't convey its delivery then the writing is somehow 'lazy', but I personally think that it's more important to write dialogue that is fitting and in character than that carries its own in-built stage directions -- even if you end up needing to iron out the ambiguity with a 'shouted' or 'muttered').

I tend to lump 'asked' and 'replied' in with 'said', and these are the words I'll apply an adverb to on occasion, since this is sometimes less in-your-face than changing the verb up to something that distracts. HE LAMENTED. SHE SOLILOQUISED. You know?

So my rule of thumb is to keep it simple, only use adverbs with the most 'invisible' of verbs, and only use a less invisible verb when it doesn't distract out of all proportion.

Oh, and word on inserting action rather than a he said/she said. Just so long as you don't scroll up and realise that your two talking characters have spent so long shrugging and rolling their eyes at each other that they appear to be having fits. (She said, blushing at her own acknowledged mistakes.)

Any time I see the verb "to cause", I read for my red pen.

You're making me want to check my own archives for occasions I may have used this verb! Seriously, there's no context in which you'll tolerate its presence?
Re: Writing rules. IT TOTALLY RULES!
In re: "to cause"--

That was hyperbole. There are plenty of usages that wouldn't make me blink. An example of the kind of usage that makes me twitch would be something like:
Giles tickled Buffy, causing her to giggle.
Re: Writing rules. IT TOTALLY RULES!
I think your point about invisible words is a great one. The goal of prose is to get the reader to sink down into that fictional dream-state and then stay there, nudged along by the signals in the prose they're reading. Things that jar them out of the dreamstate are bad. Things that enhance the dreamstate are good. Most of the time you just want the reader flowing along through the dialog, hearing the characters' voices in their head, and "said" is the invisible word that helps most of the time. And then, sometimes, you want to do something the reader couldn't predict, tell them something they didn't know already. And then the attention-getting word is the right word.

Hardest thing I've ever done, this writing thing.
Interesting, I love your thoughts about adverbs. By reading you, I realize how much I overuse them when I write in English. However, I never use them while writing in French, because adverbs are so heavy in a phrase and one tries to avoid them. I love adverbs in English, because they sound lighter. But I should be more careful.

Very interesting to read about yours -and Antennapedia's- writing rules.
By reading you, I realize how much I overuse them when I write in English.

I am beyond impressed at the way you are able to write in a language that isn't your first (because, you know, WOW). I speak conversational German, but the notion of trying to write fiction in that language? Good grief. I'd have a panic attack.

For what it's worth, every time I recognise a stylistic issue in my writing I end up looking back at my work and thinking: 'How did I not see that?'

Whether it's overusing adverbs, over-complicating dialogue tags, using ellipses incorrectly (or too much), or more subtle issues like avoiding sentence structures that are too similar back-to-back -- all these things weren't obvious until they were pointed out.

Usually the recognition came about because a beta raised the issue in discussion with me. (Pretty much every stride in quality my writing has taken in the last ten years has come about because of a good beta.)

Used to be I'd come across an issue discussed on writer's web pages and the like -- I was a demon for researching when I was starting out.

But my point is that I know just how you feel with your 'I never realised this before' comment, because I've felt it myself, over and over.

It's a satisfying part of developing as a writer, I think: recognising these different aspects to style, establishing your own preferences and rules with regard to them, and then knowing that those rules are there in your writer's brain when you come to write some more. Hard work, yes, and sometimes frustrating. But satisfying when you have the sense that your prose is getting closer and closer to what you *really* want it to do.