Sunday, August 29, 2010

Author voice vs character voice: I seem to like to start certain dialog with “So, blah blah…” It becomes a problem when I let my tendency to type that run a little wild, showing up in more than one character. It can be a speech pattern in one guy, maybe two if the writing’s good enough, but readers will quickly start seeing the author’s voice if that same pattern keeps popping up.

This post may not be as organized as others; I've got a headache this morning.  A general thing I've noticed as my writing has improved: continuing to improve is getting harder.  I'm more concerned about a whole lot of things that I either didn't know about before, or didn't realize were really so important.  Author voice is an example.  And I'm still wrangling with Neal's language; exactly which words might he use when?  I have to jog my own memory to keep up with stuff happening behind the scenes.  "Off camera", and mentioned briefly in the story from time to time, Neal reads a lot.  I haven't specified what, though earlier chapters mentioned the L.A. Times and unnamed Spanish-language newspapers.  I referred once to him getting fiction from Sam, the drum tech who gave him his first look at what roadie-ing is about. 

Maybe I need to mention that more in the story, because if I forget that he's continually reading a lot of stuff that would affect his language, readers might too!  There's so much to remember and check for and beware of while writing!  Not only do you have to keep your characters' voices separate and unique, you have to stay grammatically correct, unless you want to draw attention to a phrase.  You try to avoid stereotypes and cliches, unless you have a good reason for using that.  You try to come up with unique ways of saying things, that will still make sense to most readers. 

Writing seems to be something you have to balance: picture a scale like that often used to depict the zodiac sign Libra.  You load "stay grammatically correct" in left-side pan, but then the right-side pan is too light.  You load exceptions in the right-side, but it overbalances, so you have to take some out.  On and on.  I was born under Libra so maybe this should be easier than it is ;-)

With all that going on, it's easy to get overwhelmed with the details.  Sometimes my brain locks up because so many options present themselves and I don't have a knowledgable person sitting right next to me who can offer advice.  Then it's time to physically walk away from the laptop.  Even 15 or 20 minutes helps.  I like to get some cookies, or tea with honey; sometimes just go walk around outside the house.  I let the words and questions finish bouncing around in my mind, let the echoes die down, and look at the paragraph again.  If it's still not sorting out, then I know I have to put it away till tomorrow. 

Having said that, I still love to write.  That geis I mentioned before is as strong as ever.  I'm so focused on my characters' world that when I hear half-sentences in conversation, it sounds like Spanish (even when it's not), and I automatically think of musical contexts for words even when people are talking about something else.  I'm sure this is what some writers mean when they say they inhabit another world while working on a novel.

I love feeling so close to my characters that I can touch them sometimes.  Hearing their unique voices -- clearly enough to glance sideways to see if, maybe, they popped into my universe -- is one thing.  Seeing the stage, and the audience spread out in a hazy, smokey sea, from Sandy's viewpoint during a live show is something else.  The closest I've come to being on a stage has been seeing filmed events where a few brief shots let me glimpse what performers see.  I can get myself in the right frame of mind to close my eyes and flick into a moment or two of a Sylvyr Star show, right there with the drum kit spread out in front of me, the lights in my eyes, and the first few rows down in the crowd jumping, waving, and screaming like their lives depend on it ... because for that short time, it does.  That's how I come alive :)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Connecting espionage, electricity, Macy's store windows, and the Beach Boys

"Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage" by Albert Glinsky

This book is 342 pages, in hardcover.  If you think you're going to go from Russia in 1896 to the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" without a lot of stuff in between, you're gonna be disappointed. 

I'll be honest: I tried reading every page of this book, but about a third of the way through, I gave up.  Firstly, Leon Theremin was heavily involved in industrial spying for the Soviet government during his years in America, and the details of that keep popping up between exhaustive discussions of Theremin's musical work.  I didn't need an exact list of music played at every concert appearance by Theremin.  Knowing how insanely complicated the man's story is without such minutiae, I would have expected Glinsky to make more of an effort to present it in a more understandable way.  But maybe the editor insisted on adding stuff.

I'll go back to the book in the near future, though.  I found out all kinds of really cool trivia: a few people were actively working on the concept of television in the 1880s.  By 1924, Theremin's electric burglar alarms were protecting the Soviet State Bank and some American businesses.  He had a metal detector in Alcatraz. 

By 1927, he mused over how to combine music, touch, movement, and fragrance, anticipating virtual reality by a few generations.  He'd already successfully combined his electromagnetic musical instrument (known as the theremin) with a color-wheel that projected changing hues which corresponded to pitch changes. He wowed audiences with a music and light show many decades before disco and lasers.

He used an early sort of hologram in Macy's windows, showing a mirror that people always stopped to look into. This interrupted a relay, which made an ad appear in the center while the mirror's border remained.  In the '30s, this was nothing short of an actual miracle.

I didn't get to how the theremin led to the development of the Moog synthesizer, which led to electronic music as we know it.  There were glimpses of how and why that happened.  Leon Theremin's life seems to have been directed, in matters small and large, by the hand either of God or the devil: maybe both.  At one point, he married a (mostly) African-American woman 20 years his junior.  He flaunted their relationship despite how it hurt his friendships.  In 1938, this was one of the biggest scandals around.

Theremin's life is worth reading about for the sheer adventure of it, but I also had to think about where American society has been over the decades.  The USSR became Russia again but a lot of other things haven't changed.  This well-dressed, unassuming Bolshevik, entranced by the possibilities of electricity, wound up changing our lives in real ways.  I absolutely think his life would make a perfect PBS miniseries.  If I had the writing chops, and the proper research contacts, I'd make one hell of a trilogy of it.  I leave that to those better connected.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Twitter Spelling Test

The Twitter Spelling Test

Created by Oatmeal
. . .  when I correct your spelling in a crit, I know what I'm talking about.  In high school, when I had some time between classes, I read through the dictionary - no kidding.  But spelling well is a learnable skill, I believe, so if you have trouble with it, take heart. 

If I can learn that the correct answer to 1 + 1 is two and not eleven, you can learn proper spelling! :D

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Top Ten Demons

It occurred to me, while beginning the first editing pass for one of my chapters, that I have ten words I regularly scan for because I tend to overuse them.  Any group of ten words is a potential Top Ten List.   When they're connected to writing, blogging about it may help somebody else, so here I go.  These are mostly in order of which ones are overused most often; of course that changes somewhat from chapter to chapter.
  • was
  • were
  • went
  • look
  • come
  • came
  • move
  • would
  • could
  • should
You could legitimately ask why I include 'come' and 'came' separately.  For me, those words crop up differently and I've found it's better to scan for each one.  For 'look' and 'move', the past tenses are picked up by my word processor's Find feature during the same pass. 

I make one Find pass for each word.  For every instance of those words, I change the color.  'Was' is a dark blue, 'were' is teal, and so on.  After doing a Find for each word, I can then scan the document to see how often each color shows up. 

I have been quite shocked to see how much dark blue there is.  My Was Demon is one I have an uneasy relationship with.  You need 'was' sometimes; there's no getting around that.  It's a verb, a lot of sentences need verbs, sometimes it's the one that does the job best.  But wow, it is so easy to 'was' everything! 

My WIP puts me in an interesting place with overused words.  My character Neal started the story with minimal formal education; his English has largely been picked up from his street gang pals and others who live on the fringes of that turf.  He's strong with Spanish, but it's mostly slangy and often vulgar.  In order to show how his language - spoken and in thought - changes during the story, I have to use simple constructions, wrong grammar, cliches and overused words.  Frankly, it's like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard, but it's also an interesting challenge.

I always smile mentally when I switch to Sandy's Point Of View, because he's well enough educated - and well enough connected - to use better English.  At the point in my WIP I'm currently fighting with - er, editing, Neal's language has been changing, improving.  Rather than simply making things easier for me because of that, it's harder.  I have to think more than I used to about his sentences.  Exactly which words should go?  Would that phrase be something he'd be likely to keep using for a while?  How many 'was'es and 'were'es is it logical for him to still be using?

When talking about these tribulations with my critters, I often say I walk a tightrope with Neal's language, and it's true.  I fall off sometimes.  I don't always land in the net and I've got some healed breaks to show for it.  But I consider those trophies for having done a lot of work with words.  I've got a long way to go and I'll fall off again.  I'll just climb back up on my pile of overused words :)