Thursday, October 23, 2014

Do Typos Really Matter?



cringe face photo: cringe engcringe.gif

I have, on top of my filing cabinet at work, a sheet of paper printed from a page of a hazard assessment document.

One it, towards the bottom, is an asterisk next to a bullet point that has a red ring around one word: “Hoise”. The E is crossed out, rather savagely, with a T written, rather legibly, above it.

It should be “hoist”. But it’s not.

This is a published document. It’s been out there for about a year and a half. With this rather embarrassing typo in it.

I could fix it. I could fix it in about fifteen minutes, if the document owner were handy. Fixing an editorial mistake like this is easy, per our process.

But I don’t bother. The error, pointed out by a fire protection technician, isn’t significant enough to warrant the $2.60 it would cost the company to fix it – if only my “labor” were factored in.
So I have to wonder: Do typographical errors matter?

Yes, this is coming from the Grammar Nazi, at least of this blog’s fame. And yes, this blog post is prompted by two rather silly homonymerrors I encountered in a post (the “10 Bad Apples of Digital Media” at digiday.com.

Read the article. The errors – substituting queue for cue and wreaks for reeks – would make any copy editor squirm.

But the article has been up since June 25, 2012. More than two years. And has been shared, if I’m reading things correctly, more than 3,600 times.

I thought briefly about emailing the author to point out the errors. But then I’d be That Guy, pointing out homonym confusion on a two-year-old throwaway listie blog post.

And I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first. I’m sure the author has received numerous emails pointing out the errors. I HOPE the author has received numerous emails pointing out the errors.

But the errors remain.

It’s not worth the author’s or digiday.com’s time to go back to fix these two words, these two errors that make the copy editor in me cringe.

So back to my original query: Do typographical errors matter?

I’m not talking about errors in fact. I lost a job in journalism due to those, and the thought of those errors comes to me often – my shower this morning was a rather harrowing experience in which my brain, between half-hearted brushed with my loofah, replayed the emotions and potential consequences and what-ifs of those errors NINE AND A HALF YEARS after the fact. I felt so ill at ease I almost missed my bus and expressed, not for the first time and not for the last, that I must be a worthless human being for having made those mistakes.

Those are the kinds of errors that matter.

Typographical errors make one look sloppy, but they’re the common cold of the woes that plague the recorded word: Everyone gets them and no matter what kinds of defenses are put up, they’re going to get through to print (thanks to Yzma and Kronk for yet another illustration; your typical error-elimination plan).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Be Specific



NOTE: Another little something for my BYU-Idaho students.

Be specific.

Let me be more specific than that: Go microscopic. Show us why you believe as you do, and you’ll be a better writer because you’ll connect on a deeper level with your readers.

Let me provide an example:

I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through a warm feeling in our hearts after a conference talk. The Holy Ghost may speak to us through the intervention of others at a time we needed help or comfort. The Holy Ghost may speak to us directly, letting us know when we’re in a situation we need to get out of fast.

That’s pretty specific, right? I’ve offered three examples of how the Holy Ghost might speak to us. So it’s clear I believe listening to the Holy Ghost is important, right?

Try this on for size:

“Stop.”

That’s what the voice said. Distinctly. But also, distinctly in my head.

There was no one around at this hour to tell me to stop. I was alone. I left friends at the LDS Institute of Religion on the campus of the University of Idaho to go home to the dormitories to sleep. There were no friends to tell me to stop. The only other humans nearby were in that car, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing.

But the voice said stop. So I stopped.

A whoosh. A whoosh and the brush of something on the front of my jacket. A streak of silver. I stood frozen in the crosswalk. Blue and red lights flashed, followed by the chirp of a police siren. They were off after the silver car. That silver car that was only a smear of headlights, way down the road, far from the intersection I was crossing. That silver car that ran the stop sign and clipped the front of my jacket with its side-view mirror.

One step further and that speeding car would have hit me. One step further, but that voice said stop.
I believe in listening to the Holy Ghost.

The last sentence helps the reader know where I’ll go with the rest of this essay – but it’s almost unnecessary. It’s only there to clarify what I have just shown: That the Holy Ghost told me to stop before I became a pedestrian accident statistic.

Using a specific example or story to show why your thesis deserves support is the strongest way to connect to your readers. They may recall instances when they heard the Holy Ghost speaking to them. By evoking those memories, you strengthen your connection with your readers. The stronger that connection, the more they want to finish reading what you’re offering them.

That’s the dot I hope we connect this week. Get specific. Really specific. Find a story that shows, rather than tells, what you’re hoping to prove, and you’ll connect with your readers.

It sounds crass, but look at it this way: Here in the US, it’s election season. Our airwaves are full of political ads. In these ads, the politicians never mince words. It’s always a very specific message: Vote for me because of X, or Don’t vote for my opponent because of Y. The X and the Y are always very specific. Like this:




If that’s too crass, listen to this talk LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson gives on the subject of Scouting. Listen, in particular, for the story he tells of the belt buckle. He uses this specific story to great effect to support his message that Scouting=Good.


Merse Your MERSE!




Just in case you thought we needed another book-centric social network, Squirl is here to answer your needs.

Or, in other words, if you’ve written a novel that uses a real-world location, pester anyone with a smartphone and the right user analytics to read your book when they happen to walk by that location in real life. Then shout at them as they keep on walking. (Coming in a later iteration: The ability to pester space- and time-travelers with booky locations NOT ON THIS PLANET or NEAREST CONVENIENT PARALLEL DIMENSION.

Yes, I know this is all part of the Millennial digital native wave that’s going to take over the world and, yeah, well, you get the picture. Get ready to merse your merse, with Squirl!

Yes, I’m being overly sarcastic, and a bit hard on the founders of Squirl. But I have to wonder what they’re going to do when they’ve got users strolling through areas where not much in the literary sense has happened.

This isn’t going to turn into one of those “who would use this” rants. Just because I wouldn’t use it doesn’t mean there aren’t many people out there who will. I don’t walk around with a smart phone constantly in my hands, but many, many others do, and they apparently don’t have enough to do with them.

I guess it’s just a contrast to how I discover new books to read: Using the highly scientific method of browsing through the racks at the thrift store. If I connect with a story or characters, I connect with them – chatting away with fellow travelers and the author isn’t going to enhance that situation for me. And if I don’t – as in the case of John Crowley’s Little, Big – I may coast along to continue reading the shipwreck, but I don’t need to merse myself in the merse-y universe. Either the magic is there in the book or it isn’t.

And I’ve been to places. I lived in Tours, France, home to Honore Balzac, fils; been to Amboise to see the home of Leonardo da Vinci, and expressly visited the Lake District and Watership Down (not to forget Stratford-on-Avon) while in England. But being there didn’t enhance my enjoyment of these books. The books did it on their own. I don't need to justify the expense of a device that always knows where I am (so the government can track me too, whoopee!) to inform me if I happen to wander past some random corner of minor literary significance.

But some will think it's neat. And that's fine. Just don't hold your breath waiting for me to sign up.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Listening to Beta Readers -- Not Bucky Katt



I announce, with trembling pleasure, the results of the first complete beta read of Doleful Creatures.

Verdict: It needs work. Which I knew it did.

I’ll present what my reviewer says, unvarnished:

I still stand by my suggestions in prior emails. A pruning of characters and a merciless cutting of the first 23 chapters seems like a good start. Putting a much more narrow focus on your main plot for the story I think, in the end, will leave you with a much better story. This will showcase the beautiful prose you intermingle in the story. As it stands now, you have a messy glass display case and it's tough to pick out the treasure. You need to tease the treasure from the distractions by getting rid of some of the subplots, side stories, and extraneous characters that are cluttering up the treasured main plot (as painful as that may be).

I’m not complaining about anything she said – not one bit. I asked for an honest opinion, and I got it. I want Doleful Creatures to be a good book, not a mediocre one, and I believe following my reader’s advice will be good for the book.

And, frankly, I’ve had the time since this last revision was completed in June to let this book simmer on the back burner, as all should simmer, and I know it’s got its flaws. I even did a spreadsheet to help me visualize its flaws. And the results of my spreadsheet aren’t all that far off from what my beta reader is telling me, so I have to take what she says as truth since I see it myself.

Calling Doleful Creatures now a messy glass display case is an apt metaphor, and I know why:
This book started out as one thing – a relatively simple animal tale – and morphed into something else – a more metaphysical tale featuring animals – between revisions. I’ve never successfully melded the two. And perhaps melding isn’t the answer. I’ve got to pick one route or the other, and purge what isn’t fitting any more. I’ve already got an idea of what subplots and what characters are going to go – because there’s at least one subplot and two characters linked to that plot that I never felt worked in the first place. Whenever I had to go back to that plot and those characters, I stumbled in the writing. I now know why. They don’t belong in this book.

That being said, the next revision to Doleful Creatures will be a challenge – but thanks to her I have a clear road map on where that revision needs to take me.

I’m working on what Stephen King says: [W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

I’m no genius. But I can be a good writer. Listening to beta readers will help me on that journey.


And avoiding the example of Bucky Katt will help me as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Writing Blips I



Introducing a new feature on my blog (one of many new features that’ll likely be around for a little while in one form or another until I forget about it): Writing Blips. These are posts wherein I look at a handful of articles about writing, my own thoughts on writing, and just about anything to do with writing.

First:

Stephen King Is Right. A few posts ago I reviewed Stephen King’s “On Writing,” form which I gleaned this gem: “In many cases, when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his own priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”

Wouldn’t you know the next book I start reading, John Crowley’s “Little, Big” is a prime example of this boring enchantedness. Yes, this book won fabulous awards. Yes, Harold Bloom loves this book. But you know what? It’s boring. I’m 37 pages in and NOTHING has happened, except that Smoky Bramble has walked to Edgewood, been told to wear a prophylactic by a character who mentioned she had to go to the bathroom, and then been introduced to the twee house where everything – everything – id described with dripping detail. It’s dull as something very dull.

Thanks to King, I know the name of this disease now. Knowing the name and recognizing it in a book makes me want to expunge the boredom from my own books. Red pens are coming out, Doleful Creatures.

Second:

Only figurative red pens, though, DC, since I’ll be editing you (again) in Microsoft Word.
That probably makes many of my writer friends’ skin crawl. So many of them use other software for their writing. Mostly Scrivener.

And that’s fine. I just don’t see the point. I will confess to being a free writer, one who just wants to sit down and see where the story takes me. I’m not terribly organized – probably to my detriment – but I don’t see organization as a way to become a better writer. And maybe it’s a faster way. But it’s not my way. (See above; I have to learn through hard knocks by reading writing tips written by a horror author.)

Besides – Microsoft Word is essentially free. Scrivener costs $40.

I have done some organization with my current novel, Doleful Creatures. Did it with Excel, and I think it’ll help. Maybe. But I have to agree with Kay Waldman, writing for Slate: There are a lot of creativity/productivity apps and such out there – but at the end of the day, don’t you get just as far with a boring ol’ word processor?

Says Waldman:

The fiction-writing app is a curious creature, because it can only sell creativity by downgrading it. It operates outside of the traditional, mystery-swathed model of inspiration, in which brilliance floods down on us from heaven, and instead reduces invention to a series of steps. In lassoing and regimenting the muse, fiction apps evaporate some of writing’s pain, but also some of its glory. Or maybe they just help us procrastinate!

I don’t need help in that procrastination department.

She adds further:

One worry with apps like these is that they will produce uninspired cookie-cutter novels. Should writing be easy? Composing by numbers, or by consulting a dropdown menu, seems destined to result in a clanky product, not a living thing.

In my experience, the only thing I’ve seen that has improved my writing and creativity is lots of time and lots of writing. The tools haven’t mattered. Well, they have a little. Using a computer and word processor have made editing and storing things easier. Time is the bigger thing: I may never have written a novel out longhand, but probably would be doing so now if I didn’t have the tool, simply because enough time and writing have passed that I see the possibilities of actually finishing a novel, let alone starting one.

But then there are things like this that make me nervous:

Eric Foster White, a music producer who helped artists like Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys reach superstardom, believes the future of storytelling lies at the nexus between technology and content. His Denver-based startup, ShowMobile, operates both a platform and content studio, producing and aggregating YouTube videos, Vines, tweets, Instagram posts and other media. But it’s far more than a social stream: ShowMobile’s primary purpose is to tell continuous, always-on stories across platforms young people actually use.

Why nervous? Because I’m a digital fossil. Yes, I plan on publishing Doleful Creatures as an ebook. But that’s about it. I may eventually come up with a book video trailer, but that might be the end of my foray into the digital crossover world.

I see stuff like this (and Daniel Handler’s web series promoting his books) and I get that ol’ corprolite feeling.

Then I start to breathe again. Is this really where books are going? The kind of books I’m writing?
I have to answer: I don’t know. I hope not. But I don’t know.