08 February 2010

My Post-Super-Bowl Blog Post

Everything that could possibly be said about the Super Bowl--as a football game, or as a national entertainment spectacle--is being said a hundred times over, elsewhere.

06 February 2010

My Quest to Learn English All Over Again

As a writer, and aspiring author, I should have an excellent grasp of English grammar. Right? I mean, I'm an umpteenth-generation American. I grew up speaking and writing the language. I ought to be fairly expert in its usage.

Unfortunately, that's just not true. I like to think I get most of it right, but it seems to occur more by intuition than by understanding. (For instance, did I need that last by? It read better that way, but I don't know why.)

Before I began writing fiction in earnest, I couldn't tell you the difference between a predicate, a pluperfect, or a past participle. (Did I need that last comma?) I still have trouble recognizing various parts of speech and remembering their proper names, but I'm getting better. The more I try to learn, however, the more I find that the rules aren't always universally agreed upon. (Ended that sentence with a preposition, didn't I? Is that wrong? Depends on who you ask.) There's no central authority for English. Even well-respected manuals of style contradict each other, and have agreed to politely disagree on certain points. (Did you catch the split infinitive?)

I've just about given up searching the Web for grammar advice. It's fairly impossible to determine which sites' authors have correct information and which are as clueless as me. For example, I ran across this little gem this morning (on a site that will remain nameless) when I did a Google search for "grammar for fiction writers". (I know. I know. The punctuation goes inside the quotes, but that's just so illogical. My search didn't include the period.) Ahem. Anyway, here's the quote:

Fiction which lacks punctuation, randomly changes tenses, misuses pronouns, lacks proper capitalization, and is littered with sentence fragments is very difficult to read.

So is non-fiction that contains improper word usage. Come on. Microsoft Word has corrected me so many times on the difference between that and which that even I know the difference now. If I can't trust a post about grammar to be grammatically correct, who can I trust?

Some would say, "Grammarians be damned! As long as the reader understands what you're saying, you've written it correctly." Others aren't happy until every comma is accounted for, and every sentenced is polished to grammatical perfection. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. How about you?

01 February 2010

The Best Show on Television, and, More Importantly, Why

"Smart." "Sophisticated." "Classy." Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
There are a lot of good adjectives that can, and have been used to describe USA Network's "White Collar". The same though, can, and has been said for many shows. What puts this show above the pack is great writing.

I'm not just talking about the clever repartee of the dialog; I'm referring to the way each episode (and the overall story arc) is plotted to lure the viewers in and keep them interested right to the end.

The best way to keep viewers--or readers--involved in a story is to keep them asking questions. In fact, any story can be outlined as a series of questions that the reader--or viewer--wants to have answered. Keeping the audience absorbed in a story is all about keeping them focussed on the questions: "Will he escape?" "Who is the mystery woman?" "Why did he do that?" "What's her angle?" When one question is answered, another should immediately follow. Better yet, the answer to one question should generate another question.

Each scene should be focussed on one of the story's questions. The minute the audience forgets the current question, or loses interest in the answer, or figures out the answer prematurely, you've lost them.