Tag Archives: Steve

This and That and Bears

Mornin’, all. Steve’s been reminding me that it’s been a while since you all had an update on how he’s doing, so I figured I’d better humour him.

His big news is that he just had a labelectomy. What’s that, you ask? Oh, it’s this thing that happens in Stuffed-Animal-Land, when you have your manufacturer’s labels cut off your rear end. Steve didn’t mind them so much, but they did make him self-conscious about his back view:

amovitam: Steve with labels

So we finally took the plunge and gave him the snip. He’s hanging in there.

amovitam: Steve hanging in there

In other news, he’s pleased about this year’s choice of NaNoWriMo project: an adaptation of “Snow White and Rose Red”, a fairy tale that prominently features a bear. Originally I was going to work on Septimus Book 5, but then a friend suggested that we both do an adaptation of a fairy tale – the same fairy tale – so how could I resist? I think my friend is doing a SciFi; mine is going to be a contemporary mystery/romance (I hope). Needless to say, my Snow White and Rose Red are not going to be a set of fraternal twins, one blonde and one brunette, who are so sickeningly sweet and good and domestic they should have the Diabetes Association called on them.

amovitam: NaNoWriMo notes

Oh, if you want to join us in doing a “Snow White and Rose Red” for NaNoWriMo, please do! We could have a whole SWRR club.

Otherwise, in honour of #Socktober I finally got back to the socks I had on the knitting needles for the last year or so, and even finished the first one of the pair:

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I was watching “Snow White and Rose Red” movies while I was knitting, so it counts as research. Youtube has quite a few Sonntagsmärchen – Sunday Fairy Tales – to watch. Did I mention the blonde-and-brunette convention? Urr, yeah – and in the 1955 version, the prince is called Prinz Goldhaar (Prince Golden Hair) to boot, and looks exactly how you’d expect him to with that name. Bring on the insulin. Good thing he spends most of the story in a bear suit! It’s still a fun movie, though. The 2012 version isn’t bad, either; in that one Rose Red swings a freshly-sharpened axe (which the actress apparently has never done in real life, judging by her completely inefficient grip on the thing), and doesn’t want to get married but travel the world and have adventures.

One of things that’s fun about fairy tale movies is that barring the changing definitions of “handsome” (coughPrinceGoldhairCough), they’re timeless. Which is exactly what a fairy tale ought to be – what a fairy tale is. “Once upon a time” is now, is never, is a long time ago or just last week, or maybe tomorrow. Somewhere in the woods, there is a cottage with a mother and two sisters, and during a winter’s storm there comes a knock on the door, and in stumbles a big black bear…

Steve says I better make the bear the hero of the piece, that’s what it’s all about. I’ll have to have a talk with him; he has a one-track mind on these matters. But that’s bears for you.

Life, the Universe, Bears and Socks and Labelectomies. And fairy tales, too.

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The Editor Pontificates: He Said, She Said

Punctuating dialogue seems to be a bête noire for a lot of fiction writers. Never mind what word you should use for describing your character’s utterance – he said, she yelled, it whispered, I answered – the real question seems to be, do you capitalise it or not? Which punctuation mark goes on the end of the sentence, inside the quotation marks, and what goes outside?

It’s not really that hard. Dialogue in fiction, I told the Offspring when we were homeschooling, is like speech bubbles in comic strips (I made them transcribe lots of Garfield comics to practise, poor things). The quotation marks are the speech bubble (somebody is saying something); the text is what goes inside the bubble (here’s what they’re saying); and the little pointy tail on the bubble is the speech tag (this is who is talking).

So if you picture your scene as a comic strip (or call it “graphic novel”, if that makes you feel more grown-up), all you need to do is put those speech bubbles in place and write down what you see.

The thing to keep in mind is that the speech bubble, pointy tail and all, is one unit. What that means is that speech and speech tag are one sentence, and you punctuate them accordingly: the speech tag is in lower case, because it’s the middle of the sentence. It’s easy to figure out: “he said” can’t be a sentence in its own right, ever – so you don’t capitalise it when it comes after a speech.

So here’s an example:

Steve comic 1

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” said Steve the Bear.

Easy speech tag, lower case. Question marks and exclamation marks stay just as they are, at the end of the sentence inside the bubble, so we know that the speaker is asking a question or exclaiming.

One slightly tricky case, however, is the period at the end of a speech. Because the speech and the speech tag are one sentence, English punctuation converts that period into a comma inside the quotation marks, and puts the period at the end of the speech tag instead.

Like so:

Steve comic 2

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird,” she said.

If you want to expand the speech tag, the period goes on the end of the expanded part, because it’s a part of the sentence:

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird,” she said, frowning at him.

This is the thing that trips people up the most, that comma/lowercase convention. The thing is that if you capitalise the word after the speech, you’ve started a new sentence – you’ve chopped off the pointy tail. A lone “He said” is just as disconcerting as a free-floating pointy speech bubble tail.

You are, of course, free to start a new sentence after a speech – often, a speech tag isn’t necessary; it’s clear who speaks without the pointy tail. And in that case, you want to keep the period as a period. Here, for example, I could say:

“Why on earth would you want to do that? That’s weird.” She frowned at him.

Another thing that’s a bit tricky is interjected speech tags – the speech tag in the middle of that sentence package. You read the first part of the speech, then look at where the tail is pointing, then read the rest of the text in the bubble. But once again, we’re dealing with one sentence here, so the speech tag is set off with commas, and what comes after a comma is always a lowercase letter.

Steve comic 3

“You’re right,” he said, “it was a silly idea. Never mind.”

If you break up the sentence inside the bubble with a speech tag, lowercase the letter in the second part of the quotation. If, however, your speech tag comes between two complete speech sentences, the second sentence still starts with an uppercase letter, just like it does inside the bubble:

“You’re right, it was a silly idea,” he said. “Never mind.”

And there you have it. Punctuation of direct speech, caps and lowercases, and Steve the Bear waxing Shakespearean on me.

“I can only blame the heat of the day for it,” she said, wrinkling her forehead, “it’s pretty toasty today.”

“You just can’t take compliments!” yelled Steve from the back of the couch. “Besides, bears don’t mind the heat.” His voice got quieter as he rolled down onto the couch cushions. “Have you seen my notebook? I’m sure I left it somewhere around here…”

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#WordlessWednesday (sort of): Froschi

Okay, a few words are necessary here: Project Unstick turned up a very old friend in a bag of stuffies in the basement. Froschi was a gift from a friend – she sewed him for me for my confirmation, when we were both in Grade 7. I didn’t even know I still had  him! Steve was pleased to meet one of his forerunners.

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Me showing my new Froschi to my aunt

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This, That, Jealousy and Herding Cats

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Steve guarding the old watering can (it’s a family heirloom)

I keep getting emails from WordPress these days: “Shenoptikus Caractacus [or whatever other name] is now following your blog. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.”

Oh dear, I think to myself, I wonder what Shenoptikus Caractacus thinks he’s getting into. Perhaps he started following because of the advertising on Enchanted Conversations’ newsletter, and expects regular erudite Editorial Pontifications. Or he picked up my blog because of a fairy tale story post, or a cooking one, or a “Wordless Wednesday” snapshot, and he thinks that’s what there is going to be on a bi-weekly basis – writing, recipes, photography.

Instead, Shenoptikus, what you’ll get is a hodgepodge of topics (not unlike the hodgepodge of my house), posted with less-than-perfect-regularity. Sometimes I drop out of the blogosphere for weeks or months at a time, then there’ll be a flurry of posts and blog engagement for a bit. And every once in a while, there are posts involving a small stuffed bear – his name is Steve. You’ll see him in the photo above.

So I apologise in advance if my blog doesn’t meet your expectations. But it’s not like I asked you to follow my blog, is it?

Aaagh, yes – yes, it is like that. I did ask; I want people to follow my blog. I’m jealous of bloggers who have a huge following, who get dozens of “likes” on their posts and lots of comments. Truth is, I have a jealously problem. I’m jealous of others who’ve achieved what seems so far out of reach for me – for example, writers who have traditionally published books, or an actual income from their self-published ones. Or editors who have a large clientele of gifted writers lining up and clamouring for their expert services.

For that matter, I’m also jealous of people who have clean and tidy houses and neatly weeded and trimmed yards with thriving plants and beautiful cosy patio nooks (yes, I’m looking at you!), and whose ducks are all nicely lined up in a row, doing synchronised swimming.

Mine – well, I don’t even have ducks. I have cats, and you know what they say about herding them.

However, cats are also far more comfortable to cuddle than ducks (I think – I’ve never tried cuddling a duck). And, sure, they shed fur (Louis currently exists in The Cloud, i.e. he raises a fur cloud every time you pet him), and they bring in dead things (or even worse, live ones), and they claw the furniture (my dining room door post is completely shredded). But they’re soft, and cute, and such personalities; and it makes me happy to have them around. They’re part of my life, in all its messiness.

So I think I’d rather have my cats than someone else’s tidy, cold, quacking ducks, even if they’ll never neatly line up in a row. Like my blog posts – they don’t line up neatly under one topic, either. Which might mean I won’t ever get that really large blog following, and once Shenoptikus figures out what an eclectic mess this page is, he might unsubscribe again. Oh well, too bad.

Then again, if Shenoptikus Caractacus is a spam bot, I don’t care about him anyway. Steve and I don’t need him; we’ve got all of you.

Life, the Universe, and Herding Cats. Jealousy is a waste of time, isn’t it?

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The Editor Pontificates: Point of View

Very recently (as in, yesterday evening) I got bitten by the screenwriting bug – I want to learn how to do this. So this morning, in the course of a couple of hours of trawling the Internet, which included placing half a dozen holds on library books under the subject heading of “Motion Picture Authorship” (go figure – Library of Congress couldn’t assign it a sensible heading like “Script Writing”), I ran across a useful web page, “A Glossary of Screenwriting Terms and Film Making Definitions“.

Scrolling through the headings, which include such interesting terms as “lap dissolve” (which, without the definition, would bring up a rather gruesome image), what jumped out at me was “POV”. Every writer, screen or print, knows what that means, don’t they?

Well, apparently not. In editing, that’s one issue that comes up quite frequently; POV – Point of View – doesn’t seem to be as easy as you’d think. So what exactly are we talking about when we go on about POV in writing? That’s where this web page’s definition is extremely useful:

POV: Point of View. The camera replaces the eyes (sometimes the ears) of a character, monster, machine, surveillance camera, etc. As a result, we get to see the world through the sensory devices of some creature.”

The camera replaces the sensory experience of one character.

The 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie demonstrates this extremely well in the scene where Elizabeth is asleep while riding in the carriage. The camera – what we see on the screen – fades from darkness to blurry pink flashes of soft light, like sunlight flickering over one’s closed eyelids. The camera is literally replacing Elizabeth’s eyes, putting the viewer into her head.

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Steve’s POV: “I looked at the big orange cat. He refused to meet my eyes; I suspect him of nefarious intent.”

Now, in film making, “the camera” is restricted to the audiovisual medium. All it can do is see or hear, no more. However, in prose writing, our “camera” can do much more. It can shrink down to a tiny atom and burrow right into the brain of our narrator – it can feel everything she feels, know everything she knows.

And that is where the danger in handling POV comes in. Because a narrator has the power to pontificate – uh, I mean to tell – what they know, it’s very tempting for the writer to narrate something that the POV character could not know.

One of the first decisions a writer has to make when they set out on a new story is which perspective to write the story from. To quickly recap your boring Grade 6 Language Arts class, the basic perspectives fiction tends to be written in are either first person (“I ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under my feet”) or third person (“She tripped over the cobblestones”); third person is further subdivided into “tight third person”, which is roughly the same as first person except with different pronouns (“She ran down the street, feeling the cobbles under her feet”), and “distant observer” (“She ran down the street, but she did not know that around the next corner one of the cobblestones was sticking up above the pavement”).

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Louis’ POV: “This person is sticking a camera behind my head, and there is a small fluffy thing sitting across from me. I wonder if it tastes good.”

There are multiple versions of this style of narration, which we won’t go into at the moment, but let me quickly mention the most noteworthy one, which is the “omniscient perspective”: the narrator is God, they know everything about every character. In that POV the camera is, in fact, split into hundreds of tiny cameras implanted into each character’s brain, knowing and feeling everything – and the screen, i.e. the story, is a mosaic of all the different cameras.

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Omniscient observer’s POV: “The cat and the bear sat across from each other on the bed. The cat felt mildly curious, but the bear, as usual, was indifferent to the proceedings.”

And that’s the perspective that it’s very easy to fall into accidentally. The writer knows everything about everyone – he can see the cobblestone sticking up above the pavement – but the character does not – she runs along headlong and stubs her toe. Ouch. A filmmaker is physically restricted to what their camera lens can see – they put the camera on a character’s shoulder and leave it running, and that’s what will be on the film – but a writer has to make a constant effort to keep that mental camera lens where they have chosen to put it.

So if you choose to write your story in first person or tight third, your character cannot know what other characters’ feelings, thoughts and motivations are. “I looked at him, and he felt angry” is not a sentence that should ever appear in any story. I can only know what I am feeling; what I know of other people is only what my senses experience. I can see that he’s frowning, I can hear that he’s yelling at me, I can feel his fist hitting my jaw – but I can only deduce that these pieces of evidence mean he is angry. For all I know, he’s perfectly calm, and these are in fact an expression of love and care on his part (which would make him a psychopath, and my whole novel has just gone off the rails – but that’s a different topic altogether).

What goes hand-in-hand with this is that you need to know your characters. If, for example, your POV character is a five-year-old, he will not look at a canoodling couple and think “They must be so much in love,” but instead he’ll think something like “Eeew, why is Joe licking Suzie-next-door’s face?” He also has to stand on a barrel to be able to see over the fence in order to watch the canoodling – the camera in his eye is about three-and-a-half feet off the ground, and the fence is five feet high.

There are various reasons to choose one POV over another – they all have their advantages and drawbacks, which we won’t go into because this post is getting too long already. But my main point here is: when you pick your POV, stick with it. Never, not even for one sentence, remove that camera lens from the eye of the character it is strapped to at that moment. You can take it off and strap it to a different character, or to an unnamed observant narrator who knows everything about everybody, but be aware that that is what you are doing – and again, if you pick it, stick with it.

So, POV: it’s the camera in your character’s eye, or brain, as it were. And once you pick it, stick with it. Not that hard, is it? No, I didn’t think so.

Life, the Universe, and POV. It’s all in the perspective.

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Thoughts on Social Media

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Another one of my friends announced on Facebook today his intention to delete his account, so as to no longer feed his time and emotional energy into the social media monster. Well, when I say “friend”, I really mean “acquaintance”. I’ve met him only once in real life – he was one of my grad school profs, and as the school in question is an online university, all of our contacts happened in the cyber world. I was sorry to see him leave Facebook – there goes any further opportunity to get to know him a little better.

However, I also very much understand where he’s coming from. I’ve just come off a six-week hiatus from the FB world myself – I didn’t cut it all altogether, but restricted my facebooking to checking in on specific messages, and tried to avoid browsing and scrolling through my feed, let alone actually posting status updates or engaging in conversations.

Unfortunately, with the kind of work I do, I can’t really avoid Facebook and other social media altogether. I write books and try to sell them online. I write for an online magazine. I edit the work of writers who work online and I get new clients and professional contacts online. Getting off the cyber merry-go-round isn’t really an option – much as I sometimes want to.

But you know what? For all that I hate the amount of time and energy suck that social media generates, there are some real benefits I’ve derived from it. Apart from my professional contacts, I have made real friends through the Internet, and have rediscovered old friends and deepened existing real-life friendships. I have a network of connections all over the world.

Granted, the kind of relationships you form through social media is of a peculiar type. “Facebook is so terribly fake!” I’ve heard people say more than once. “I don’t want to see pictures of your lunch or your kittycat!” In fact, one of the several reasons my abovementioned friend gave for cutting the Facebook strings was the triviality of so many posts.

Yes, I agree – there is a lot of idle chatter, a lot of fakeness, a lot of posing. But, at the risk of sounding judgemental, the kind of person from whom I’ve most often heard comments of this kind is male and of the Baby Boomer generation. I don’t know what he (this generic middle-aged man) expects from social contact. In my experience as a slightly younger (i.e. GenX) middle-aged woman, trivialities are the very stuff relationships take their beginnings in.

You want to show me the snazzy lunch you had on your business trip? Please do! You like posting pictures of your funny cat? Bring it on! You think your kid’s jumping on the furniture is worth broadcasting on the Internet? Yes, I agree! Because to see how your children are growing, or that you love your cat, or that your favourite food is sushi, tells me things about you. You become more of a person to me. And what, may I ask, is a relationship but a connection from person to person?

If you’re the kind of person who has lived in one place their whole life, whose birth, education, career, friendships, and family life have all taken place in a 20 km radius, then what I’m saying might not apply to you. You know that your friend loves their dog because they live next door to you; that your buddy from Grade 2 just had another baby because you’ve run into her at the grocery store when you picked up milk; and that the guy you met at a professional development seminar is an arch-conservative because he has political placards all over his front lawn at every election.

But that kind of relationship circle has become very, very rare today. A Facebook friend (another grad school prof, as it happens) recently posted a quote that said something like this: “When future generations look back on us, the thing that they will find most puzzling is that we thought our online life was separate from our real-life existence.”

Just this morning, I was enjoying the stunning landscape photography of a childhood friend who now lives in Switzerland. I saw that an online friend whom I’ve never met in real life is having a great time on a trip to New York. I watched, in slow motion, as a friend’s small grandson leaped off the bed, his floppy blond hair flying, and it brought a smile to my face.

All these things are real. I know that if my online friend’s travels ever take her out my way or mine hers, we’ll meet for coffee and spend hours talking about everything under the sun – I know, because it wouldn’t be the first time that happened. Seeing the pictures of the sun gloriously glinting on the Alps means I’ve shared in a small piece of my now-Swiss friend’s life – before Instagram, I had no idea she was such a great photographer; in fact, I hadn’t spoken to her in decades. As for my other friend’s grandchildren, they are growing up so fast, I would never be able to enjoy the exuberance of their little lives in even such a small way as I do now if it wasn’t for Facebook.

This might all sound kind of Polly-Anna-ish. “Aren’t social media great? Don’t they give you the warm fuzzies? Isn’t getting the warm fuzzies the best thing ever?” Blah blah blah. Yes, I know that most of what scrolls by in a social media feed is sludge. I hate the politics, the mud-slinging, the preaching, the arrant nonsense, the sheer volume of all the jabber and beak-clacking. It eats into my sanity, drags my mind down into the muck of arguments and darkness. And that’s not even considering the big-picture societal problems that the social media phenomenon is implicated in.

There have been times when I’ve wanted nothing more than to hit the “delete” button on that Facebook account, be rid of its drag on my life. But I never did, because – see above.

I wonder if 15th-century Europeans felt about books and newspapers the way we do about the Internet. “Oh, I wish I could be rid of all this print! Shelves full of clutter, of people’s opinions, of paper! Let’s just go back to the day when people actually talked to each other!” But, of course, they didn’t go back. They learned to live with it, live with the new reality their world had evolved into. Yes, the invention of print brought problems – enormous upheavals, in many ways – but it also brought so much good.

And that’s the place we’re in right now. We need to learn to live with social media, learn to use it, instead of letting it use us. Oh, good grief – what am I using the “royal we” for? I need to learn it, need to get a handle on social media.

Sometimes, I think, that could mean pulling the plug entirely, like my friend is doing. I’ve never chosen to do that yet, although that’s not to say I might not do so sometime if the sludge threatens to overwhelm the joy. Or sometimes, it requires taking a step back – staying away from social media for a few weeks just to prove to myself that I can, and to build new habits.

“It’s not you, Internet, it’s me…” – and that’s the thing to keep in mind: I don’t have a relationship with social media, but with the people on the other end of social media. The Baby Boomer’s lament that “Kids today are always glued to their phones!” completely overlooks the fact that it’s not the phones the kids are interacting with, it’s their friends on the other end of the phone.

The word “social” in “social media”? It’s there for a reason. Social media isn’t good or bad – it’s what we make of it. I for one want to learn to use it, not be used.

Life, the Universe, and Social Media. Oh, in case you’re wondering – even my stuffed bear has Facebook.

 

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The Editor Pontificates: Pouring vs. Poring

You know that nerve on the front of your knee that makes your foot kick out when the doctor taps it with a little hammer? Well, that happened to me, metaphorically, the other day, while I was reading some short stories. Three times in two stories, all in the one day, this particular mistake whacked me in my editor’s knee. It’s a quite obscure and unimportant matter, and it’s really nitpickety of me to even complain, but, well…

The phrase in question goes something like this: “The scholar poured over the manuscript to find the hidden meaning of the document.”

There, that made you wince, didn’t it? I knew it would. Because of course the first question you ask when you hear a sentence like that is, “Poured what over the manuscript? Hot coffee? Maple syrup? A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon?”

“Pouring”, according to dictionary.com, means “to send (a liquid, fluid, or anything in loose particles) flowing or falling, as from one container to another, or into, over, or on something“. Here, for example, is Steve pouring a cup of juice:

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That’s obviously not a manuscript he’s holding there, the thing with Big Bird on it. No, the word you want in the sentence with the studious scholar is poring. “The scholar pored over the manuscript, carefully examining every pore of the parchment with a magnifying glass and coming to the conclusion that it was clearly a late-fifteenth-century fake…” “Pore”, “to read or study with steady attention or application” (thank you, dictionary .com). Here is Steve poring over a volume of Shakespeare:

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Not that hard, is it? Pour, pronounced “poor”, dumping liquid into something; pore, pronounced “pawr”, studying something carefully. If you can’t remember which is which, maybe think of POUR having a U in it, shaped just like a cup for pouring things into. And PORE is what you do when you stare into those magnifying make-up mirrors to examine the, uh, pores of your skin. Okay, eew, I’ll stop now.

Life, the Universe, and Pour vs. Pore. Now I have to get Steve to give me my Pocket Shakespeare back before he pours juice all over it.

 

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