Saturday, 19 March 2011

Honing Your Writing - How to Write on the Cutting Edge

I'm working my way through Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card as I revise my novel. The book is part of the Elements of Fiction Writing series, and I ordered it at a time when I was struggling to really the unique voices of the characters in my book.

As luck would have it, my muse kicked in just after I placed the order and I had pretty much resolved my voice issues by the time the book arrived a few days later. Because I enjoyed Card's fiction I decided to browse my way through the book anyway.

I'm glad I didn't immediately relegate it to the bookshelf. Thumbing through a few pages here and there has been helpful. Card is forcing me to reconsider details such as point of view, that I had probably decided in too much of a hurry when I sat down to write the first draft.

I still haven't made any life altering decisions - or at least decisions that would lead to a global rewrite! But I'm toying with individual scenes, reading more of Card's advice, and giving myself time to think about how I can best communicate my characters and their story to the reader.

Every few days I stumble on advice I hadn't expected to find in a book on characters. A good example is this passage about writing conventions, and how too many writers feel obliged to write something unconventional if they want to be taken seriously:
There are many young writers . . . who believe that good writing must be unconventional, challenging, strange . . .
This is far from the truth. Most great writers followed all but a few of the conventions of their time. Most wrote very clearly, in the common language of their time; their goal was to be understood. Indeed, Dante and Chaucer were each the starting point of a national literature precisely because they refused to write in an arcane language that nobody understood, and instead wrote in the vernacular, so that people could receive their stories and poetry in words they used every day.
It is often said that Shakespeare wrote his plays in the vernacular of his time, but I wonder how many of us would think the same of more challenging authors like Chaucer. This message will probably take a while to percolate into the minds of aspiring writers, precisely because works that have achieved the status of "classics" were generally written in an English that differs from our own. But as Card says, language evolves and so do the expectations of the reader.

We need to write for today's reader. The goal isn't to dazzle the reader with great feats of linguistic prowess, but to make our words seem so natural they are almost invisible. Then what shines through is the story we want to tell. As Card puts it, "Choose the simplest, clearest, least noticeable technique that will accomplish what the story requires." If you want to be on the cutting edge of writing, I suspect this is the place you'll find it.

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Business Resources for Freelancers

Angie Mohr's business e-book bundle is still available, for anyone who works as a freelance writer or is thinking about setting up a freelancing business. An accountant and freelancer herself, Angie offers advice on setting up your business and keeping financial records, as well as on preparing your taxes and even dealing with copyright infringement.

The bundle contains two e-books: Managing a Freelance Writing Business and Tax Preparation & Planning for Freelance Writers. There is also a set of spreadsheets you can use to track revenues, expenses and writing projects.

The entire freelancing e-book bundle is available for the price of US$25, of which three dollars goes to support writer Rissa Watkins in her fight against leukemia. If you haven't already taken advantage of the offer, I hope you'll take the time to head over to Angie's web site and learn more about this useful resource. With taxes due in the coming weeks, this is a great time to make an investment in your writing career.

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Business Resources for Freelancers by Kyla Matton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Kyla the Grammar Cop: Vertebrae vs Vertebra

I am not much of a sports fan, but you'd have to live under a rock not to know that Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty was seriously injured in a home game against Boston this week. Pacorietty spent several minutes unconscious on the ice Tuesday night, and remains in hospital today with a concussion and a spinal fracture.

I'm not going to comment on how the incident that caused the injury  is being handled by the police or the NHL. I was actually spurred to write this post because of how many times I've cringed when I heard someone official use the wrong word when describing Pacorietty's spinal injury. Every single report I heard on TV featured at least one person saying the hockey player had suffered "a fractured vertebrae."

OK, time for me to put on my grammar cop helmet! Please people, could we say "a fractured vertebra"? Please???

"Vertebrae" is the plural of "vertebra" — just like "antennae" is the plural of "antenna." It's an unusual construct in English, I know. But in Latin, some plurals end in -ae, and some of those words have been borrowed into our language. It's one of those things we have to learn to do correctly, if we want to improve our use of English.

The good news is that all the text I found relating to the hockey injury correctly used the singular form "a fractured vertebra." And I'm willing to bet that all those news anchors and sportscasters saw "vertebra" on their prompters too. With so many folks getting the word wrong, perhaps some got confused and others just decided it was safer to go along with the crowd.

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Dialect: What's a 'punter'?

I'm listening to my morning news show while I get ready for the day, and the weatherman mentions a headline that reads, "Brit punter wins tickets, wins jackpot."

The weatherman and one of the anchorwomen are both big sports fans, so of course they both found the use of the word punter interesting. But this story has nothing to do with football, he explains: A punter is a gambler. He adds that he hopes he hasn't just said anything offensive to folks who speak British English.