You know how some people say italics for emphasis are lazy, and a 'good writer' will be able to show anger or pointedness without having to use italics? That's kind of how I feel about date and timestamps scattered through a story when they're not actually needed. More often than not, leaps in chronology are clear, and you can spot them easily because of what's happening in the scene, or because of little hints the author's dropping throughout. I'd rather describe leaves turning brown at the start of one scene, followed by a scene where there's snow on the ground, than have 'September 4th' and 'December 12th' at the top of the chapters or scenes. If they work, and are important or integral to the plot, then ok. But there've been a couple of stories I've read recently with date stamps and I just didn't see the point of them. Of course, there are instances where date and timestamps work well. Just, y'know, in case anyone thought I was trying to say they're all (ooh, lazy) irrelevant. ;)
Talking of timestamps, it's about time I get back into regular exercise after a devilish two weeks of chocolate, cream, crackers, crisps, and zero physical activity. (Also, did you like that segue right there?) It's now just a case of finding the motivation to do aerobics every day. Which I enjoy, but only when I've been keeping it up. The thought of my newly acquired wobbly bits wobbling isn't making me want to slip on my Nikes. :(
Have you ever found an author, actor, musician, artist, or other public figure you've greatly admired, then stumbled upon their blog or website and discovered they're perhaps not as peachy-keen as you first thought and hoped?
This sense of disillusionment has happened to me a couple of times over the years. One of my most disappointing reader experiences was when I went hunting for an author who I'd read as a young adult and whose stories I adored, only to find out they were regularly rude about their readers on their blog. While the author wasn't writing as much by the time I found them, it was still bad form—fans were still buying their books, which IMO is the greatest praise whether the writer likes their old work or not. If the bacon is still coming in, the least an author can do is, y'know, not insult the people who are buying their product. I'm sure if the sales dried up completely, there would be epic indignation and shock-horror. Followed by more fan rants, no doubt.
I try not to let an author's/actor's/artist's personal attitude get in the way of my enjoyment of their work, but sometimes it's hard to look beyond their public conduct. This is why, when I discover someone new and I really like their stuff, I try not to dig too deep. The internet, social networking, and online marketing has made everyone incredibly accessible, but it can work against people, too. Yeah, we're all entitled to our opinions, but how far should we take it, and how do we recognise when we're not only damaging our reputations, but also unnecessarily hurting other people? Usually, it's not until after the proverbial shit has hit the fan (er, no pun intended), and by that time feelings have been stomped on, opinions have been formed, and it's hard to change that. It's almost impossible to make people forget you've acted like an ass on the internet, because everything we say is copied and pasted, screen-captured and logged in caches, caught on way-back machines or freeze-pages.
The lines between sharing our thoughts and airing dirty laundry seem to be getting blurrier and blurrier. I'm not saying we shouldn't talk about our feelings, but bear in mind that sometimes a little mystery goes a long way, and we don't have to leap head first onto every bandwagon that comes trundling along just because we want to be heard. There are certain topics I'd never discuss at a dinner party, and those same topics will never be discussed here.
This is inspired by Turkey City Lexicon - A Primer for SF Workshops
. It's worth checking out the full article because it highlights some of the common clichés and pitfalls that can clog up a story. The article was written with sci-fi in mind, although a lot of their points relate to all fiction genres.
The one I'm focusing on is countersinking. This one makes me grin because I used to do it a lot in my early writing. A couple of years ago, me and a friend set about workshopping our earliest pieces to see what we could learn and track our improvements. The workshops were a riot—seeing ourselves as young, bouncy authors, full of excitement and dreadful clichés, lacking finesse and attention to detail but having so much fun
writing and developing our styles. It's a bit like travelling back in time and spending an afternoon with the kid version of yourself, entertaining and not a little eye-opening. I'm way more conscious of countersinking nowadays and rarely find it slipping into my prose, but I do stumble upon it when reading other people's work—sometimes, even renowned published authors who should probably know better.
Here is an example of countersinking:
"You have to get out of here," he said, urging her to leave.
This is what's happening:
A form of expositional redundancy in which the action clearly implied in dialogue is made explicit.
Or as I like to call it, "showing and then telling". It's obvious from the dialogue that somebody is urging someone else to leave, so the explanation urging her to leave
Newer authors tend to do this due to a lack of confidence, but like I said, some pro authors do it too. I'm quite sensitive to countersinking; it slows down a story, reads clunky, and makes the writing feel loose and flabby. When doing a round of edits that focus on dialogue, I'm always on the lookout for sneaky countersinks. And if I find any? I kill them.
It's strange how writing peeves can bring up so many nostalgic feelings. :)
One of those annoying little details that can distract me from a story I’m reading is the unlikely passage of time. I try not to let it bother me, but I hate it when my brain snags on something trivial and drags me out of a good book. Every now and then I’ll read a story in which a ridiculous amount of time passes in the middle of a scene—or worse, in the middle of conversation or action.
One thing I try to do when I write the passage of time in my stories is to actually time it and see just how long it is. Let’s face it, if character A stares at character B for ‘several minutes’, there’s something seriously wrong with character A (unless they’re a known stalker, in which case staring at someone for several minutes is probably an every day event). Creepy.
But seriously, have you ever timed two or three minutes? It’s an age, especially if we’re talking about a blink/incredulous stare/fumble for words. Even the most awkward of awkward silences rarely last more than a handful of seconds, not when all parties are perfectly capable of leaving or going off to do something else.
This issue crops up more often than I’d like and I wish it didn’t propel me out of a story. But I suppose if time passage wasn’t so distracting it would be something else. ;) And to be fair, I’ve never thrown a book against a wall because of the unlikely passage of time(… yet).
What's with all the dimly lit rooms and overstuffed chairs? You'd think, by now, people in fictional universes - particularly those with advanced technology - would've figured out how to screw in a medium or high wattage light bulb, and work out exactly how much stuffing goes into an average-sized chair.
Or maybe this is a collective subconscious fear of ours: that underneath it all, we're dim and overstuffed. I don't know. But one thing I can imagine is a new circle of Dante's Hell in which bad people are forced to work in never-ending furniture warehouses, forever screwing low watt light bulbs into lamps and shoving, with bloody knuckles, clumps of foam into straining cushion covers.
And what about the emaciated chairs? Are they poured into fancy dresses and high-heel casters and sent out onto runways across the world, all in the name of fashion? Forced to diet even though you can already see their joints and springs through their fabric? I feel bad for these chairs.
Or perhaps the overstuffed chairs ate the emaciated chairs, and that's why they're overstuffed. Either way, somebody needs to do something about this.