The sneaky “there was” and writing filler & crutches

I was going over a piece I had written when I found this seemingly innocuous sentence: “He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told that there was a group of Chinese civilians, around twenty, that was coming in their direction.” I usually do two or three proofings of the stuff I write, and this is why the second one is so important, to catch stuff like that.

Now, the sentence may not be awful, but it made me cringe a bit because I felt I heard it scream something like “I have been written by an amateur! Come and take a look!” Without much effort, I rewrote it into this:

“He talked to them in his crude Japanese and told them a group of twenty Chinese civilians was coming their way.”

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Indie self-publishing experiments, or “I’d rather eat my own gallbladder.”

I ran a little experiment a few days ago, although you can consider other of my publishing attempts in the previous years a long experiment, and I’m a strong believer in the principle of publishing negative results, not just your successes.

I knew the results wouldn’t be great, and as I began reading up on the subject my gnawing feeling got worse, but really, never for I moment I thought it would be that bad.

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Updating my journal: literary projects, Cirsova, and other people’s work.

I have realized that I have managed to accumulate a reasonable number of short stories/novelettes, some of them unsent to potential publishers or awards, others sent but rejected (although usually with an “almost a winner” note appended, so there’s that.) And I have also realized that since I follow a setting-less style of writing (or at least a setting that is hidden from the reader and unexplained) I can just string them together. And that’s probably what I will do.

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Psychology of reading and writing: recalling vs. recognizing.

In a previous post, I mentioned I believe the usual advice given to writers (or, rather, to people who want to write) may not be that good, if not downright useless. And if one wants to be controversial, you might as well start with a big bang:

Read a lot. Reading will make you a better writer,” or variations of the same. It seems logical, common-sensical. But if you think about it, it’s a bit like saying that if you want to be a good musician, you should listen to a lot of music, or look at many paintings if you want to be a painter. A kind of craftsmanship by osmosis.

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Bad Writing: Amazon bestsellers edition

The original goal of this post was to write a mini-essay on something that annoys me about contemporary writing. As far as I know, it has no name, and I struggled to find one, so I had to settle for something as cumbersome as “mid-action or mid-description beginnings.” Essentially, the story starts in media res, but not in the middle of the plot, but in the middle of a scene, with people (sometimes a lot of people) doing, sometimes exciting or action-related, stuff… for no reason we can discern. No goals, context, purpose, or meaning are given. It’s just a picture, like a movie scene (and in many cases, it shows the writer imagined it as such.)

The protagonist can be fighting another person (and we know nothing about them so we have no reason to care,) sweating profusely from some equally strenuous activity, engaging in a heavy dialogue with a character we know nothing about, or sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden description as the character prepares to do one of those things (the standard in fantasy until a few years ago was to describe, for some unfathomable reason, the sky – usually a sunset or dawn- and how that light reflected on the local vegetation.)

The opposite, of course, is to start like all stories have always been written, with a small, perhaps only a single sentence, explanation about the why, where, and when so we can contextualize what is happening and will happen.

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Reading the Hugos (2018) “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand”

This is a tough one. When I read the, what at first seemed like a wonderfully nonsensical first sentence, of this story “There’s a ticket booth on my tongue” I felt that this was it, the Hugo story of this year, and if you have read my 2017 Hugo reviews, you know that’s not a compliment. But then I read the story, and I was seriously confused, first because it is, indeed, quite confusing, but also because it wasn’t what I was expecting. My fault, really; my PSTD from reading some other Hugo finalists, encountering this story’s jumpy, fragmented style and narrative, and the use of (oh-my-god) second-person narrator  (and the title! I mean, come on!) made me think that this was one of those artsy literary experiments (and it may be, to some extent.) And with that in mind, that’s how I read it… and I understood nothing. Then I read it again, without expecting anything, and I understood it a bit better. Finally, I read it a third time, and ah, then I got it (I think.)

tisamystery

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Hemingway didn’t write like you think he wrote.

If you have spent more than a few seconds following the writing blogosphere, searching for writing tips and stuff like that you will have found variations of these two statements: “Write short, clear sentences“, sometimes followed by a “like Hemingway did.” Either as an example of simple, clear writing or as a description of his style, the universal, known-by-everybody message is the same: he wrote short sentences, and that’s the style to emulate.

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