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Writing, and personal choice

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by amadeus, Aug 14, 2020.

  1. amadeus

    amadeus As seen on OT

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    A few topics condensed into one thread, feel free to pick out the ones of interest and disregard the others.

    1. When you write something, are you satisfied on the “first draft” or do you find yourself frequently revising your writing?

    2. Is your adherence to grammatical rules or “proper” use of the language something you value in your own style?

    3. Where do you get your word choices from? Are they chosen to convey the meaning of the text, or do you view the use of language artistically?

    Those are just a few questions on things while I’m idling here during my soon-to-end vacation.

    I’ll answer them.

    1. I only tend to proofread while I’m writing the first draft, rather than finishing the whole thing and going back over it. I’d rather omit something in the first part of the process than go back and mess up my point if I’ve already moved on to something else.

    Translating Japanese into English and vice-versa is kind of a different animal; how strictly do I want to adhere to the textual meaning, but at the same time correctly capture the nuance of the language? Lots of expressions in both languages do not have a direct equivalent that can, in my opinion, satisfactorily be both a “hard” translation of the text and properly convey its meaning.

    An example I came across recently was a six-country public opinion survey done that spanned Japan, the U.S. and four W. European countries. In the Japanese language, this is very simple: 日米欧, nichi-bei-ou. Translating this into the article as it could be written out becomes clunky, but do I want to make the editorial decision to omit or rephrase that particular word which properly conveys the meaning in the native text? I try to stick closer to the native texts where I can, but run into this problem once in a while. It’s probably the most time-consuming part of translating anything well.

    2. I’m probably not demonstrating it so much here but my adherence to grammar depends on my mood, and I think an artful use of language is often better than its structured, “correct” form if one views their language not only as a means of communicating ideas but also a form of self-expression. I tend to stick to these rules though, I think, when I post here for whatever reason.

    3. I like word choice depending on my mood at the time, kind of like the grammar thing. I mean, it is all context-based in that I wouldn’t pick a word that is imprecise if I felt the precision of a word in describing a concept I felt was important to keep.

    It’s a hot day today. Maybe I should go sit back inside!
     
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  2. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Hm. This is the sort of conversation we tend to have in A&E, but I'll play along here.

    My general view of proofreading is that you should do it again and again, with every draft. At some point you should ask someone else to proofread it, because that person will catch things you won't have, due to over-familiarity and unconscious mental shortcuts.

    By now, quite a few folks here know that three times a year I subject myself to 30/31 days (as may apply) of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month; it's really international as anyone can participate). The main event is in November, in which people attempt to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days (breaks down to 1,667 words/day. The other events are in April and July, in which you can choose your own word count goal.

    Most of my writing is first draft. I occasionally tweak a word or sentence here and there but during the contest months I try not to, as it messes up the word count. Any errors or plot holes or placeholder names just stay as they are. My current project actually started in 2018, when I got hooked on a specific computer game. I loved the storyline, characters, artwork, music, setting, and wanted more. The developers aren't likely to give us more, so I decided to do it myself.

    This project grew in scope, to reach far beyond the game I'm novelizing. Last month's NaNoWriMo competition (my word count goal was 15,000 and my final count was 20,966) consisted of prequel material, fleshing out part of the story that was told in flashback in the game, but which I felt deserved its own several chapters. Everything is first draft, and due to computer issues, it's currently being written in longhand in a notebook. I literally have no room for revisions, so any inconsistencies, any plot holes, any run-on sentences are all there.

    Some day I will undertake a revision and massive amount of editing. That's going to be a mammoth project, since I've got well over 250,000 words done on this already, and at least as much yet to go.

    Minor proofreading and corrections are things that are usually possible without much disruption. For example, if I forget a quotation mark when a character is finished speaking, I'll fix it.

    But the other night I had to go back to re-read about 60 pages because I'd forgotten whether or not I had my character arrive somewhere on foot or on a horse. The way the story is going, I'm wishing I'd given him a wagon as well as the horse, as it turns out he's got a dead body to transport to the graveyard for a discreet burial. That's too much work for now, though I may rework that section later. I'm in the midst of writing this section of the story, so I might let the character and his friend acquire a wagon somehow. Or not. A wagon would be noisy and rouse suspicion, as this is all happening late at night.

    Rather than omit something at first and come back to it later, I prefer to toss everything in and delete extraneous material later. I'm constantly thinking about this story, writing every day, and I have scads of notes written on the backs of envelopes. I don't want to forget the bits of dialogue that occur to me, so they all go in and I'll choose the best version later. It depends on what mood I want to create, and what nuances I want to give my characters. It's a bit annoying to discover that a character I'd intended to be nice and positive insists on being the opposite. Now I have to figure out how to handle this new and unexpected version of that character. It's meant changing some plot points.


    Now as to grammar... Way back in the late '90s there was a TV show called The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. That's a show that I'd never expected to like, as I'm not generally a fan of gothic fantasy. But surprise! I tried it and got instantly hooked. The actors had a way of conveying volumes of unspoken nuance with just an expression or tone of voice, and that made me wonder what that could mean in terms of the characters.

    I started writing fanfic for this show after the third episode I saw. Later episodes made my earlier efforts obsolete, but that's what AU stories are for. The later episodes just meant coming up with different stories to explain and explore the plot hooks left unexplored by the show's writers, and bits of dialogue that had potential but weren't addressed.

    One of the decisions I had to make about writing Crow fanfic was how to write the dialogue. Few of the characters speak what I would call standard, university-level English. There's a lot of slang, some of which I had never heard, and had to figure out what it meant. Part of the problem was that the show was filmed in Vancouver, had a lot of Canadian actors as extras, guest actors, and two of the main characters. It's my understanding that Canadian actors get coached in how to speak with an American accent, but there are times when our accent slips through.

    The characters in that show often drop the final "g" in the "ing" verbs. I decided to do an exercise I'd read about when writing dialogue based on TV/movie characters: Close your eyes and listen to the characters speak. To be fully authentic, write the fanfic dialogue as you hear the characters speak. That meant having to force myself to write "I was running down the street" as "I was runnin' down the street". It may seem like a simple change, but for someone who spent many years typing term papers for college and university students and having to be grammatically perfect, this was a huge change. It wasn't quite as hard as the first time I forced myself to use "teh" in a Cheezburger lolpic, but it came close.

    When you get into dialects, you'll need to decide how far you want to go with apostrophes and hyphens. My suggestion is to read it out loud, to make sure that anyone speaking those words can really say it so it's intelligible to whoever the listener is.


    Ideally word choice should convey meaning in an artistic way. But there are also times when serviceable words are good enough. I recently bought a few 'how-to' guides on Amazon to help me avoid too much "said," "sighed," "looked," and other overused verbs. They're good enough for first draft as a guide to what's going on, but some of them should be changed to convey a better idea of what is happening and what is going through the characters' minds while the action is happening.

    I recommend a thesaurus. Synonyms and antonyms are good things. And that said, I need to take my own advice. Some of my characters raise their eyebrows more than Spock does.


    When it comes to nonfiction, if you're writing instructions or trying to explain something technical, be as concise as possible. Save artistry for non-technical material.
     
  3. Bamspeedy

    Bamspeedy We'll dig up the road!

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    I try to proofread my post to correct any obvious typo, usually caused by phone's auto-correct that changes the word I wanted into something else.

    But beyond that, I just look it over to see if it would get past a 5th grade English teacher, not a high school or college one.
     
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  4. Samson

    Samson Deity

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    1. My 1st draft is likely to be a load of bullet points, and <Insert data here> annotations. It is very far from the final version, and it is designed that way.
    2. Yes, in the main. The primary motivation is communication without misunderstanding or confusion, and correct grammar is a good tool for that. Style guides are another matter. For example, "do not use the same word twice in a sentence" is a style rule, but one I strongly disagree with. If I am talking about the same thing I will use the same word, else people may wonder if I mean something different.
    3. The sole goal is getting across the meaning, art has no place in what I write.
    This is from the point of view of writing peer reviewed scientific literature.

    I wonder what are peoples prefered tools for writing, particularly collaboratively? I am alternating between markdown / LaTeX and google docs and neither is great.
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
  5. amadeus

    amadeus As seen on OT

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    It’s good to get everyone’s takes on things, especially because we all approach it from different angles; I hadn’t really been thinking about fiction writing nor scientific/technical writing, though I suppose the latter didn’t come into consideration because the degree of artistic license is probably less than what one sees elsewhere.

    Group writing... :twitch:
     
  6. Gorbles

    Gorbles Load Balanced

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    1. Nomatter the context, I generally always revise everything, nearly-continuously. To a problematic extent sometimes - I often don't know when something feels "finished". The starting point can vary. It can be a bunch of bullet points from a meeting, or it could be a full first draft of a technical specification.

    2. My preference will change depending on the context. Am I writing formally, or informally? Am I writing to a colleague, or a client, or for myself, etc. I did a lot of English Language in high school (also being British), so while I never took it further I have a decent understanding of writing as a discipline. Speaking as a software developer, the scale is based on "laziness", hah. The more informal the settings, the lower the worth of the work, the "lazier" I am. At the opposite end of the scale, grammatical perfection to the best of my ability. Bit of a non-answer, but I guess the value is incredibly contextual for me. I haven't done any fiction in a very long time, but one thing I do remember is I never had a "style" that I could describe. I didn't write enough / wasn't at a high-enough level, basically. It's fine to break the rules if you know the rules, but I wouldn't call that a "style" insofar as a guiding principle for a lot of authors.

    3. Everywhere! I used to read anything and everything, with the odd exclusion of biographies and autobiographies. I guess I had enough non-fiction in my school (and university) textbooks, and enough fiction in general. I was the kind of guy that would A-Z a library. Preference was fiction, but I read a lot of scientific magazines (Focus was a major one) and whatever books I found approachable enough. In terms of choosing words, again, massively context-dependent. I write technical documentation for developers, technical docs for non-developers and client-facing docs. Each requires a different style to the last, in wording - not just contents.
     
  7. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    One of the books that came up in my daily Kindle deals was Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem guide to NaNoWriMo. I haven't read it, but I did skim the preview. One of the quotes he uses is this: "Your intuition knows what it wants to write, so get out of the way." - Ray Bradbury

    This is so true. I have a character who was originally supposed to be a slightly socially-awkward younger son of a duke, married to the main character's sister (an original character I made up in order to avoid "Bonanza Syndrome" in which the main protagonists consist of a family of a father and his sons but no women). He was meant to be slightly annoying but basically harmless... and instead he kept getting into arguments, turned into a jerk, and now I have to get those two divorced and let her keep the kid (a daughter, so he won't object too much; women don't inherit in the kingdom of Ravensmoor). He's actually become a rather violent character, so the sooner I separate those two, the better. That is not how I intended Sir Robert Pendleton to turn out, but he had other ideas.

    Many years ago I read an essay on writing by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which she mentioned characters "walking into the story and taking it over."

    That kinda happened with me, or they decided they didn't want to be like the way I'd originally conceived them. Duke Stefan isn't turning out to be such a jackass, after all. He's just very protective of his family (he's not the father of the character who did turn into a jackass).
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2020
  8. Gori the Grey

    Gori the Grey The Poster

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    No
    Yes
    Both
     
  9. Zkribbler

    Zkribbler Deity

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    :agree:

    I am never satisfied with my first draft. Never ever. :badcomp:

    I have emerged from between the Scylla and Charybdis of grammatical rules. Decades ago, I mimicked Mark Twain's dialogue writing in Huckleberry Finn, writing out words the way people say them. I thought this clever, but it forces the reader to slow down to decipher what is being said. :hmm: Then, for the last quarter of a century that I was in the US, I was engaged in legal writing. This is incredibly formal, e.g., subject-verb-predicate, no pronouns, no contractions, no colorful language. This is dull. :sleep:So now, I am somewhere in between.

    My narration tends to be proper, but my dialogue tends to follow what the speaker is saying, albeit with no dropping g's in ing's, etc. Sentence fragments in dialogue are fine, and this habit has even leaked over into my narration.

    I am from the Valka D'Ur school. "I recommend a thesaurus. Synonyms and antonyms are good things." When I am writing, it's not long before I'm linked to https://www.thesaurus.com. On my nightstand, I keep a copy of The Emotional Thesaurus, so I'm not repeatedly using the same gestures. Now my character bare their teeth, lift their chins, ball their fists behind their backs, etc.

    I try to use words artistically. For instance, in a high fantasy I'm writing my characters walked into a warehouse "colder than the heart of a snow dragon." :smug:
     
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  10. Kyriakos

    Kyriakos Alien spiral maker

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    I don't really do first drafts. I try to finish mostly everything in the first go, and then edit it a week or so after that (minor changes).
    At least if we are talking about fiction pieces :)
     
  11. Chukchi Husky

    Chukchi Husky Lone Wolf

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    Everything I write is terrible. I've never finished a first draft, what little written is just all bad. Part of the problem might be that I never read anything when I was in school except for what I had to read. I wasn't until after I left school that I started reading, the first book being The Lord of the Rings.

    I don't know anything about grammatical rules.

    Word choices I find really hard. I find it's like there's a word that exists, but I don't know that word, so I have to end up writing around this word. Sometimes I may end up with a paragraph because of the lack of that word.
     
  12. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Rather depends on what I'm writing and who for.
    For stuff for work I'll worry about 1. & 2. For 3. to convey meaning only.
    For scenarios I'm writing to play with my gaming group 1. and 3. are important, 2. only matters for handouts my players will read.
     
  13. Hygro

    Hygro soundcloud.com/hygro/

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    I was revising my posts pretty carefully 5-6 years ago during my peak stoner days and it lead to high quality posts. I don’t now and it shows. Wrong words everywhere.
     
  14. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Retired Moderator Supporter

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    FTFY :)
     
  15. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    This is one of my problems, too. The game I'm novelizing ended with the true heir to the throne being crowned and the villains being tossed in the dungeon. The bonus chapter included in the Collectors' Edition of the game relates an escape attempt by one of the villains, abetted by someone the new king had thought trustworthy, but turned out not to be. It's a pretty standard thing - track and catch the escapee, discover and arrest the accomplice, and toss them both in the dungeon (hopefully in cells with more security). The end.

    Well, that wasn't the end for me. "And they lived happily ever after" doesn't work for me. There are plot hooks and questions galore that nagged at me and so that's how the story started to grow beyond the game. For one thing, if you murder the king, you don't just get time in the dungeon. You get executed, which is one significant change I'm making. The game probably didn't do this because it needs a family-friendly rating. But I wouldn't expect children to read my story so there will be more violence in it.

    I've got prequel material plotted (and am in the midst of writing) that takes place decades before the opening scenes of the game, and I've already plotted (but not written) the main character's death scene and aftermath over 50 years later, in-game time. And then there's the story of the legendary King Edwin Griffinrider (how can I ignore that as a plot hook; the game doesn't say what that was all about, just that there's a monument to him and a elaborate underground crypt. That, to me, screams "Write a story about this!"). The royal lineage puzzle shows a couple of characters I want to write about (there's a Queen Regnant in the royal lineage a couple of centuries before the game begins; what's her story?).

    So when is this project ever going to be finished? MaryKB compared it to Game of Thrones (which I have never read nor seen). On the one hand, it's nice to be favorably compared to the professionals. On the other hand, it means I can never read or watch GoT for fear of plagiarism. And it's going to be finished when I run out of ideas. That could take a long time.

    Same here, mostly. I second, third, and fourth-guess myself, as to whether the dialogue I've written is the most nuanced way the character could express what (s)he is saying, or if there's yet another way.

    That's why I recommended reading it aloud, to make sure it's intelligible.

    A more modern example is C.J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights shared-world series. Cherryh wrote the novel Angel With the Sword, and other authors joined her for the next 7 books. Some of the characters are aristocrats and others are the riffraff of Merovingen (think of Merovingen as Venice on another planet in the 33rd century, after the inhabitants have lost most of their modern technology; weapons are mostly swords and knives, with a few revolvers). Cherryh developed several accents and slang for her characters so it's easy to tell which characters are Merovingen aristocrats or from Nev Hettek (another city-state), which are middle-tier, and which are canalers (the bottom-tier people).

    Some of the dialogue is full of apostrophes to indicate where vowels are skipped or cut very short, and it was probably a pain for her to type. But it's effective in conveying how the characters talk and not making illiterate people sound too educated.

    Dropping the 'g' is something I had to force myself to write when doing my Crow fanfic. It's how the characters speak and it would be out of character for them to speak any other way (at least some of them; others don't drop their 'g's). Sentence fragments are things that have crept into my writing over the years and decided to move in. It's embarrassing at times to read some of my posts here and realize they're full of fragments. Sometimes I will go back and fix them, but other times I just leave them if they convey what I wanted them to do and it doesn't matter much.

    I have a school? I always wanted one of those! :) And just think - we must be the most socially-distanced school on the planet! We are doing it right! :smug:

    I recently bought a Kindle copy of The Emotional Thesaurus. As I said before, in an eyebrow-raising contest between my characters and Spock, Spock would lose. My characters need to develop other gestures to indicate surprise, ironic surprise, disapproval, and what can only be considered the 11th-century version of "wtf?".

    That's a nice turn of phrase. :yup:

    I get how cold that must be, but I wonder how it would work with a reader who has never experienced a cold winter (I've encountered people online who have never seen snow). It wouldn't just feel cold on the skin. The air would be cold to breathe.
     
  16. Hygro

    Hygro soundcloud.com/hygro/

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    I thought you were serious for a second :shake: like both ways
     
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  17. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Retired Moderator Supporter

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    No, I was just poking you needlessly.
     
  18. Zkribbler

    Zkribbler Deity

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    39 suggestions are listed under "skepticism." :dubious:

    One of the next tings I'll do on a re-read is to search for unnecessary adverbs. He ran quickly. She grinned broadly.
     
  19. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    I'm going to need them. Duke William and Duke Stefan are trying to figure out how to smuggle the Princess' body into her late husband's crypt, it's the middle of the night, and William has come up with an audacious "solution" that involves buying out a tavern owner. Stefan thinks his friend and colleague has gone insane. "Skepticism" doesn't even begin to cover it when William insists that it's a really good plan and will work.

    I can only surmise that fatigue and an obsession to discharge his obligation to the late Prince and Princess are giving him crazy thoughts. That said, he's not wrong to worry that just asking to rent the tavern for a couple of days might make the owner even more suspicious.

    This is what happens when I forget to write in a wagon for William in the first place. Now he has to come up with crazy plans to get one, and find a place to safely stash a body for a short time. I might end up ditching this whole part of the story later, since it makes absolutely no sense... but I'm having fun exploring the give-and-take of these two characters who are in their early 20s when the main character (the heir in question) is born, but by the time the King's Heir game actually starts they're 30 years older and would never engage in such foolhardy shenanigans. Mary said I should let my characters make mistakes, so they are. Maybe. This is just weird enough that it might work. It depends on the tavern owner, and I've no idea how he's going to react since I haven't written that far yet. I'll get there tomorrow, though.

    (Duke William Bennett is one of the characters in the game. Duke Stefan Westmore is a character I invented, as I needed names and bodies to fill out the remaining five members of "The Seven Dukes of Griffinvale". Gradually he became a supporting character with a wife and three children, and I decided that his sons and the Ulmer brothers become friends who hang around together, serve in the army together, and so on.)
     
  20. amadeus

    amadeus As seen on OT

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    Now that’s a show I haven’t heard about in a good long while.

    Lots of folks here do a lot of fiction writing, or at least far more than I’ve ever done. I guess coming up with a story and sticking to it isn’t so much in my skillset. Well, I can’t say that entirely—it’s more writing in characters and dialogue.

    I suppose if I did more, my style might change? I’m not sure.
     

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