You Know You’re an Editor When…

…you’re trying to edit your dreams while you’re dreaming them. True story. Last night I was dreaming something about being in some woman’s house who didn’t like me (can’t remember why; I think I snuck into the house for some reason), and next thing you know, she was welcoming me and offering me something to eat. And I was thinking to myself, “That doesn’t make sense; it’s a character inconsistency! Better make a note of that.”

IMG_20160430_101450

Maybe you need to send me your manuscripts to edit (more particulars are here: amo vitam editing), so I’ve got something better to do than to try to edit my dreams.

Life, the Universe, and Dream Edits.

Speaking Shakespearean

800px-ShakespeareSo the Internet was flooded with Shakespeariana the last few days, thanks to the big 400-year anniversary of his death last Saturday, April 23rd, 2016. I kind of missed it, as I don’t go online as much on the weekend, which is why I’m only now weighing in on the issue. But my excuse is that today is the Great Man’s Christening Day (452 years! Significant figure!), so that’s still an anniversary and I can still shove in my oar on the celebrations.

Did you know that even though we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April (the same day he died), we don’t actually know exactly when he was born? I think they (whoever “they” are) just picked the 23rd because it’s convenient so we don’t have to remember more than one date for his birth and death. And because he was christened on the 26th, and it was, apparently, traditional that babies were baptised three days after birth. That must be a peculiarly English custom, though; in Renaissance Germany baptism happened just one day post-partum (that’s how they decided Martin Luther’s birthday must be November 10th, based on his baptismal day).

Anyway, with all this Shakespeare stuff floating around the ‘net, I was reminded of one of my pet peeves. This link demonstrates it quite nicely: there’s a quite funny “translation” of some lyrics by Drake (whom I don’t know anything about other than this clip) into “Shakespearean language”. Except that it’s not. The “translator” falls prey to a very common misconception, which is that to make something sound Shakespearean, all you have to do is attach “th” to the end of every verb, and toss in a sprinkling of “thou”. You know, as in “thou randomly chucketh stuff around and hopeth thou soundeth like Romeo.”

Well, I hate to tell you, but all it does it make you sound like the Shakespearean equivalent of a LOLcat (“I has cheezeburger.”). Now, to avoid your embarrassing yourself further on this issue, let me explain how this “thou” and “sayeth” stuff works(eth).

It breaks up into two parts. First, let’s tackle the thou’s and thee’s, because that’s not quite as complicated as the verbs. What we want for the purpose is a nice little grid, like so:

Singular

Plural

First Person

I

we

Second Person

thou

you

Third Person

he/she/it

they

You see, the “thou” is just an old form of saying “you” – in fact, “you” is the old plural, “you two” (or “y’all”, if you’re from the Southern States). Even though “thou” sounds old-fashioned and formal today, it was actually informal and a bit rude, sort of along the lines of “Hey you!”, which is why it fell out of favour. So, what about the “thee” and “thy” stuff? Simple – they’re forms of “thou” just like “me” and “my” are variants of “I”. So whenever you’d say “me”, use “thee”; for “my” or “mine”, “thy” or “thine”: “He hit me, because my face annoyed him; he said the fault was mine,” or “He hit thee, because thy face annoyed him; he said the fault was thine.” To put it in another nice grid:

first person

second person

third person

subjective case

I

thou

he/she/it

objective case

(he hits) me

(he hits) thee

(he hits) him/her/it

possessive case

my (house)

thy (house)

his/hers/its (house)

Okay, now what about the LOLcats and their cheezeburger? Where does the “hath” come in? Quite simple: Renaissance people had a perpetual lisp. Wherever we put an “s” on the end of a verb, they put a “th”. (Completely off topic, I just found out there’s a special character for “th”, Þ, and it’s called a thorn. Cool, eh?) The third person singular (see above) present tense verb in modern English takes an -s: he jumps, she walks, it has; in old English, it takes a -th (or -eth): he jumpeth, she walketh, it hath. So, an actual Shakespearean LOLcat, messing up its first and third persons, would say “I hath cheezeburger,” or probably more like “I hath an eel pie” (or some such thing).

Now, in modern English, the third person singular is the only case in which the verb changes. But in old English, the second person singular also got its own verb ending, namely -st (or -est). So, whenever you pull out a “thou”, you also need to slap an “-est” on the verb that goes with it: thou jumpest, thou walkest, thou hast. To grid it:

Singular

Plural

First Person

I jump/have/do

we jump/have/do

Second Person

thou jumpest/hast/dost

(modern: you jump/have/do)

you jump/have/do

Third Person

he jumpeth/hath/doth

(modern: he jumps/has/does)

they jump/have/do

That’s why you get: “Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” or if you say it straight to someone’s face: “Methinks thou dost protest too much.”

So, now you know. All you need to do is add a sprinkling of “alas”, “forsooth”, “methinks”, or “knave”, and thou art all set to quaff a flagon of ale with Falstaff, Hamlet and Prince Hal.

Life, the Universe, Thou and Hath. Alas, forsooth, methinks thou hast heard enough of my pontification. I prithee that thou takest it not amiss.

The Ants Go Marching

IMG_20160421_094943I was going for my walk this morning, and found myself having to cross a couple of highways: ant highways, to be exact. There they were, hundreds, if not thousands, of little black ants, marching on a path not more than a centimetre or two wide all the way across the road (I measured – six metres, or 25 feet).

I saw the first Ameisenbahn on my way up the hill. A little further, there was a lone ant walking about the road, looking a little lost. Ten minutes later, when I came back down, there was a second ant highway, somewhere where that single ant had been earlier – she hadn’t been lost, she was a scout! And now there they were, all her sisters, utterly determined, scurrying back and forth, never straying from their narrow little path.

They keep to their track, but they don’t seem to have figured out that a highway runs better if you stick to one side for each direction. So the coming ones are always meeting up with the going. “Sorry, excuse me, coming through! Oops, pardon me, sorry, excuse me!” and so forth (these being Canadian ants, they’re polite). They look like nothing so much as the stream of business people and shoppers rushing along the streets of Downtown Vancouver. I think if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear a faint chorus of “Everything is Awesome” coming from them.

Life, the Universe, and Ant Highways. Who’d have thought?

The Editor Pontificates: Past Perfect

Double-Stuf-OreosNo, I’m not talking about the perfect past – you know, where your grandma keeps going on about the Good Old Days in the Past, When Everything Was Perfect. What I’m talking about here is the grammatical “past perfect” tense.

Bear with me for a moment here. I keep stumbling over this matter in my work as editor (ahem – I almost feel like I should capitalise this: My Work As Editor. Spoken with a suitably declarative intonation, so that the capitals become evident and everyone is duly impressed. Anyway…). Now, most of you probably don’t give a rip about grammar. If so, just ignore me. But some of you might actually care, and for those, allow me to pontificate for a moment.

“Pontificate”, incidentally, comes from the Latin “pontifex”, which was an early word for “bishop” (the Pope is still called Pontifex Maximus today). So, to pontificate is, quite plainly, to preach. Speaking of Latin, “perfect” is, of course, also Latin, from “perficio”, “through + make”, or “finish building”. Something that’s perfect is completed, all the way. So in grammar terms, something that’s “perfect” is something that’s finished, over with.

I was in an online discussion the other day on this very topic, and one participant, who is an ESL teacher in Asia, said that when he talks to his students he calls the past perfect the “double past”. That’s a great term, because it describes exactly what it is. Like a Double Oreo cookie, where you get twice the filling (the Oreo of Oreos, as it were), the double past means you get the past of the past.

So, when I’m talking about today, I use, of course, the present tense. “Today I waffle on about grammar matters and bore my readers to tears.” If I talk about yesterday, I use the simple past: “Yesterday, I thought of this topic.” Now, if I want to talk about something that happened before the past, I use the past perfect: “Yesterday, I thought of this topic, because the day before yesterday I had discussed it with other writers online.” When I thought of the topic yesterday, the discussing was already in the past. Double past, or past perfect.

In English, to put it simply, the past perfect is formed by “had” and the appropriate verb form: today I eat, yesterday I ate, the day before that I had eaten. (There are some convoluted verb forms where you end up with stacks of “had”, but we’ll ignore those here.)

In daily life, we rarely use the double past. But in writing, it does become relevant. Most fiction is written in the past tense (“It was the blue bowl that started it all…”), so if you describe something that happened before that moment you’re describing, you’ve got to put it in past perfect: “It was a turquoise blue, very much like the eyes of the weird guy that had stared at Cat so disturbingly in the Room of Local Antiquities.” If that “had” wasn’t there, it would mean that the guy is standing there right now, staring at Cat – but it happened earlier, before she walked into the Ceramics Room and saw the fateful blue bowl. Because the whole story is told in past tense, anything that happened prior to it requires the double past. (If you want to know what else happened with Cat and the blue bowl and just who that weird guy was, go read Seventh Son. End of advertisement.)

The most common mistake in this regard is to have your story told in past tense, but forget to use the double past when you’re telling of events prior to your “narrative present” (i.e. the time the story takes place in), which can leave the reader scratching their head as to exactly what’s happening when. But I’ve also seen stories that are told in present tense, where the author overcompensates: the “narrative present” is the present, so anything that happens before then should be in the simple past tense (single Oreo) – but then the author tries extra-hard to get the tense right and ends up putting in an excess of “had”. Nope, you don’t want that. If you’re telling it right now, a prior event goes in the simple past – single Oreo. If you’re telling everything in the past, a prior event goes in the past perfect or double past – it gets the double Oreo.

Make sense? Good. I’ll get off my editor’s pulpit then and stop boring you.

Life, the Universe, the Past Perfect and Double Oreos. Pass the milk.

Slow Writing

You know we’re in the first few days of Camp NaNoWriMo. And NaNo is all about cranking out the word count. Fast writing! The quicker, the better! NaNo has word sprints, NaNo has word wars (who gets the most words written in the shortest time, that sort of thing). There’s a Wrimo in one of the local groups who can produce something like 1000 words in ten minutes – she literally sounds like a machine gun when she’s typing (I was at a write-in once where I experienced that live. It was impressive).

Now, all of that stuff is fun. It’s all good. We’ve named our Camp NaNoWriMo cabin the Word Count Slayers (you can follow us on Twitter under that hashtag), because we’re gonna slay those word counts, dontcha know.

But… (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you). Fast writing, writing in the pressure cooker, cranking out the lines, slapping together descriptions, slaying those word counts – do you hear the language? Pressure. Cranking. Slapping. Slaying. It’s all rather violent. What about growing, simmering, steeping, incubating?

I might have mentioned a time or two (hundred) that I like food. Scratch-cooked food. Homemade food. Slow food. A few months back, I was in the bookstore, and I ran across this book: The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity, by Louise DeSalvo. I don’t often buy books off the bookstore shelf sight unseen (I usually get them from the library first, and then if I like a book enough, buy a copy for keeps), but this one grabbed me. So I took it home, and (slowly) perused it. And it talks about Slow Writing on just the same principles as Slow Food. Let your work mature. Let it grow. Simmer it, steep it, let it ripen.

I loved it. I want to work on those principles. Not rush, not feel pressurised. And just now, in the rabbit trails of Internetland, I ran across this excellent little video that makes the point very, umm, pointedly. They did a little experiment with kids: they gave them the beginnings of a simple drawing and asked them to complete the picture in ten seconds. Then they did it again, but this time they gave the kids ten minutes to finish the drawing. The results are well worth looking at.

Don’t rush the creative process. Give yourself the time to turn those clock hands into something more, maybe even something entirely different. My favourite of those drawings in the video is the one that turns the rudimentary clock into a cat. Forget the ticking timekeeper, get a kitty instead!

Now, I still love NaNo, and I’ll remain a die-hard Wrimo. You’ll note that when the kids in the video had ten seconds to do something, they did produce – they all had a drawing in the end. Time-pressured projects like NaNo are great for getting your butt moving, getting something down on paper (or screen, as it were), doing your first draft – and some of us (ahem, Yours Truly) need that motivation to get anything done. But when the kids had ten minutes, they drew something better. And so I want to learn to draw slowly, to let my stories simmer, let them grow and solidify, and not subscribe to the rush job that, it seems, everything and everyone wants to push us into. I want to subscribe to the Art of Slow Writing.

And just as a little side note, right at the moment that I’m writing this, I have a meatloaf in the slow cooker upstairs that’s been simmering away since 9 o’clock this morning. The kitchen smells delicious.

Life, the Universe, and the Art of Slow Writing. What project have you got simmering away in your creative slow cooker?