The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors (halfshellvenus) wrote,
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

Writing and cluelessness

I've been meaning to post up a bunch of thoughts on writing, and it seems that it would be better to do it in chunks rather than all at once. Otherwise, I don't see myself getting around to it at all!

Today's first installment is mainly about "different writing hats," with a little humor thrown in because I can't help myself.

There are different versions of "me" as a writer, and probably most people. These are different for a reason.

All of my writer aspects want you to understand what I'm saying, and as a reader I expect the same from you. If you're incoherent, sloppy, or make me work ridiculously hard to parse your sentences, I'm going to be annoyed. If it's fanfic, I'll also avoid reading it.

The grammatically correct writer in me is a grammar fiend. I'll allow ending sentences with prepositions (because it's often more awkward not to), but I balk at non-words, using the wrong words, incomplete sentences, and incorrect punctuation. My mother would be proud!

The fanfic writer in me has a different perspective. A story's narrative might take the technically correct approach (with only the dialogue/internal monologue being different), or the narrative itself might sound like the point-of-view of the character(s) whom the story is about. For instance, if the character is a man-of-few words (Bobby Singer in Supernatural, for example), the narrative might be terse and the sentences not fully complete: "It seemed to him that it had been forever since he last saw the boys" might be written as "Seemed like forever since he'd seen the boys last."

If the narrative truly sounds like it belongs to the character, this is entirely appropriate for fanfic. If Bobby Singer's narrative is instead "It had totally been days since he'd seen them last," that's jarring. You might get away with that for Andy, but not for Bobby.

Your sentences and grammar should still make sense, i.e., the reader should still be able to understand what you're saying. They might be less formal that what is considered strictly correct, but as long as they can be understood and don't sound like verbal diarrhea, that's fine.

Certain forms of punctuation are rarely used in fanfiction as opposed to other writing. Semicolons are rare; perhaps they don't register as well on a computer screen as hyphens do (which are often used in place of semicolons). People often also strip out commas where they are not necessary to interpret the flow of the sentence (though it's possible to overdo this!). For instance, the punctuation that is correctly written as Wilson said, "So what?" is usually written in fanfiction as Wilson said "So what?"

The rule that even fanfic writing should still follow is that if a person reading the sentence out loud should pause after a phrase in order for the meaning to be clear, the point in the sentence requires a comma. Do not make your reader have to back up through your sentence and try again!

The technical writer in me interferes with my other writing hats. I find that passive voice, which is best avoided in most writing, often is the most clear way to state something for technical purposes. Unfortunately, that blinds me to when it creeps into other areas of my writing where it would best be omitted.

"Passive voice" is the construction in which whoever or whatever is performing the action in a sentence is not the grammatical subject of the sentence.

Sometimes this is helpful. For instance, personal pronouns are generally avoided in technical writing. "You" is excessively personal, the impersonal "one" is rarely used, "he" is sexist, and using "they" in an attempt to avoid sexism is incorrect. Passive voice can help these situations by allowing concise sentences that are also more easily understood than more wordy equivalents (especially by people for whom English is not their first language):
The priority can be set for packets coming from a particular port.

This doesn't say WHO is setting the priority (the user configures it, the device later does it), or why. Simply that it is possible to do so (other text explains the reasons the user might want to do so).


Now for the humor.

Sometimes helping out at my daughter's school involves grading kids' schoolwork. This week it was grading sentences which used the weekly spelling words. This is where I put on my grammatically correct writer hat, correcting slang such as "alot" for "a lot" and marking incomplete sentences and such. Part of me is dismayed to see that where "accepted" was once used with "by" or "into," it is now repeatedly being used with "at" or "to" thanks to the common vernacular of people being "accepted at Boston University" or "accepted to Boston University." I personally would still use "by" or "into" in those cases, but 90% of the kids (5th/6th grade) used "to" or "at."

Some amusing highlights of this week's work:

* Kids who misspell the given spelling word in their sentence (talk about defeating the purpose).
* One of the words was 'governor,' and we're in California. You would not believe how many interesting spellings of Arnold Schwarzenegger's last name came up in these sentences. One began with Shwarts, which looks like the plural of "shwart," whatever that might be. ;)
* Most kids did not know the difference between exceed and succeed. I think three of 33 got that one right.
* Most also did not know that squander requires that you waste something. So, "Don't squander around the house" was a common mistake. But my favorite was: "Mice squander all over the city." Say the sentence out loud, and you'll get it.
* 'Memorize' was largely used correctly, except for "The WWI soldier was memorized at a ceremony" and "I was memorized by the magic show."
* Here's how one kid used 'barrier' (Again, read this one out loud): "The barrier at the funeral wore a dark suit." HAHAHAHAHA!

My daughter used all of her words correctly, but her specialty is misspelling other words along the way. She gets fantastic grades on her spelling, but the words fall right out of her head immediately afterward. It's hard to persuade her that she doesn't spell as well as she thinks. On this week's grocery list she put down "mushmellows" (for an upcoming science experiment). I prefer her Kindergarten spelling of "mushmelos" ;)

Tags: humor, writing
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