Tag Archives: words

Can grammar be glamourous?

Phil: Grammar. It’s dull, boring and essential.

Worse, it’s endlessly argued over by very dull and boring people who really need to get out more and take up and exciting hobby, like bus spotting.

You find them haunting on-line discussions, pouncing on minor infractions in someones posting, promptly dragging themselves up to their full height to denounce the criminal. Never mind the subject under discussion, they have nothing to add to this, no, all they want to do is show their superiority handling a preposition.

Sadly, grammar does matter when you are writing, which is why I pitched up to see David Crystal : Making Sense: The Glamorous Story of English Grammar a couple of weeks ago.

David is described as ” the most famous name in English linguistics” although I’m not sure how much competition there is for that particular accolade. What I do know is he is marvelously entertaining.

Basically, grammar is all about ensuring your audience can understand you. And English is an evolving language. Things change over time and some of the rules laid down many years ago were arbitrary.

A good case is the Oxford comma.

Were I to be described by Cambridge University Press, I would be tall, dark and handsome.

Oxford University Press would say, tall, dark, and handsome.

See the extra comma before the and? Should it be there or not? I’m in the Cambridge camp here having been taught that you don’t comma before an and in a list. It’s the sort of thing that keeps grammar Nazis entertained for hours.

And what about starting a sentence with a proposition (e.g And)?

This rule dates back to the 19th Century when teachers decided children were doing it too often – so banned them from doing it at all. Sorry, who voted them in for the job? Perhaps they should be asked if it’s wrong, does that mean children should be exposed to Shakespeare, who writes, “And then it started like a guilty thing.in Hamlet. Yes Hamlet, that dreary play where everyone ends up dead. Basically, if starting sentences with And is A. Bad. Thing. Then the Bard can come off the syllabus.

For a potentially dull topic, this was a fun hour.  The Q&A at the end was especially entertaining as David punctured the balloons of some questioners who obviously had specific grammar crimes that really bothered them. A quick explanation of how each came about soon explained why this stuff isn’t life and death.

Me, I took away the knowledge that there are very few hard and fast rules. If the reader understands what you are saying, that’s all that matters. We’re writing a story, not a university text. Even if we were, would it be for Oxford or Cambridge? FIGHT!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Word counting

wordcountPhil: There has been a lot of writing going on over the last couple of weeks. We’re back in the zone with new scenes full of laughs (me) or luurve (her).

I can’t help but keep looking at the word count though. When we started this writing malarkey, I found something on the web that said the  benchmark is 80,000 for a sensible length novel. Kate vs the Dirtboffins made it there and the current project shouldn’t be any shorter.

Reading through our work so far the main structure is in place, but quite sketchy sometimes. New scenes are required as well as plenty of smoothing out of the ones already in. Experience has brought us to this point far quicker than we managed first time around. At this stage we still had the story in the wrong order!

Now numbers aren’t everything, the story will be as long as it needs to be, but I don’t suppose I’m the only author to fixate a little bit on the count. Many famous storytellers aim to produce a minimum number of words each day. Not because this matters especially, but because without it, you don’t have a goal to aim at. At least knocking out the text makes you do something, even if it all ends up in the bin after the first edit.

This caused me a bit of pain recently. A couple of hours hammering the keys, and I’d not quite made the magic 1000 words. I was 50 short.

Then I realised that I’d been working on the opening scenes for part of the time. I’d not added words, I’d taken some out and changed others. Result – tighter and better reading, but a lower overall count!

I guess that proves that numbers aren’t everything. Not that I’ll convince Candice that I’ve been working hard if the count keeps going in that direction!

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Writers can learn from Star Trek

sptsPhil: Warwick Words literary festival has re-invented itself this year as a literary history festival. I went along to a few sessions and was fascinated by the life of Warwick Castle’s housekeeper and the local hiring fairs. I’m told that many of the other talks were brilliant, but some of us have to work.

One session that didn’t seem to fit the pattern was Marcus Berkman talking about Star Trek. This didn’t matter, I beamed in anyway. Only the day before did I realise that the TV show was 50 years old. That counts as history to me.

Marcus is a lifelong fan of the series, both in original and spin-off forms. The talk was based on his enjoyable book Set Phasers to Stun, both a history of the show and it’s production as well as a critique of many of the episodes.

This is proper nerd stuff. I loved it but then I can just about place most of the original series episodes from the descriptions thanks to repeated showings on TV. In Marcus’s book, there’s interesting trivia from behind the scenes, not a happy place to be it seems a lot of the time. Characters came and went as the series settled down and all the familiar elements.

As the book progresses through the various incarnations, Berkman identifies a huge problem faced by the writers – running out of storylines.

Even within the 79 original Trek episodes, there were plenty of very similar plots. Some blame Gene Rodenbury’s obsession that the cast had to be in terrible jeopardy every week, and he liked them to come up against god-like foes (this is one reason why the first film bears more than passing resemblance to the TV episode The Changeling). Berkman describes it as the “plant of the week” plotting style.

The followup Next Generation enjoys 178 shows which really did give the writers a problem. Basically, even with a team working on the series, you can’t avoid duplication, or at least your obsessive fan base spotting parallels.

It must be really tempting for TV and film executives to stick with succesful series. Witness the current trend for re-boots of both films (how many Spidermen do we need?) and re-hashing TV comedies.

We’ve had to consider this for our novels. There is a story arc, and the original plan involved 7 books. We’ve loped this back to 5 as sketching the basic plots out, we reckoned this was just enough to do the job. Any more and we’d be stretching the plot or repeating ourselves. It’s hard enough to avoid doing this and we’re only working on book 2!

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Regional accents on the page. A good idea?

Leprechauns of IrelandPhil: Allroit bab?

A couple of weeks ago, I spotted an interesting story on the Birmingham Mail website. The 50 top words and phrases that say you’re from Birmingham or the Black Country. I tweeted this to Candice with the tag #poshbrummie – because she was born and brought up in the Midlands.

“oy I am not a brummie!however I did used to go to the outdoor…but not the back of rackhams” was the repost, followed by sharing the article to her friends on Facebook.

Reading through the list shows just how rich Brummie lingo is. Those in the south might need subtitles but for those living in the middle of the country, there’s a lot of fun in recognising certain words and phrases. Saying someone is going round the “Back of Rackhams” for example tells you that they are probably a “lady of the night” or at least  a customer of same. And no, you don’t get points on your store card. In fact when they say “Love being recognised?” then answer is probably, “No”.

Anyway, I am reading Meet Me in Manhattan by Claudia Carroll at the moment. Holly Johnson (no, not the Frankie goes to Hollywood one) lives in Dublin (bonus points for a non-London setting) and is Irish.

Or should I say Oirish.

The trouble is the Carroll has given her a regional accent on the page, and it’s bugging me. Every “Feck” brings to mind either Father Jack or Mrs Brown as played by Brendon O’Carroll. I’m expecting a “Top O’the mornin’ ” at some point followed by discussion of the little people.

In Kate vs The Dirtboffins (Buy it now!), it never occurred to us to give anyone much of an accent. All the main characters are accent-free because we wrote how we spoke and neither of us has an accent. Not even the one is definitely NOT a Brummie.

Should commercial fiction be like this or are regional dialects on the page a good thing? Would a soft southern shandy drinker Londoner or worsem an American, be put off if we included some Midlands colloquialisms? When was the last time you read a book with an accent?

1 Comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Your search history

Candice: You know you are having a bad week when you start to type in your search into Google and when you put in d the word “diarrhea” comes up.

Luckily it’s not me being ill but another, smaller member of the household.  She’s fine in herself but not so well in other areas.  This means, of course, that she can’t go to nursery.  We are now a week in and I’ve used up all my grandparent passes so the other half and I are stepping in to the breach and having to take some time off to look after her.

But I am always harping on about time and the issues with having a child so I will shut up!

I did manage to squeeze in some book time the other day as we have  new typeset version of our book, courtesy of Clink Street. However, in the transfer from Word to Indesign a lot of the formatting has changed, and we have spotted some typos.

I’ve also had a colleague at work read the book and give me some good feedback on it (its a bloke so that’s even better) but also give me a list of things he spotted.

Between the two we now have a long list of things to change to make the printed version even  better!  However, by the end of the two hour proofing session my eyes were going a little screwy.

I have a recommendation to anyone who needs to proof read their work.  Read it from the end.  You don’t get distracted by the meaning and the story, you literally just spot the mistakes.

After many missed speech marks and full stops, it definitely worked for me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Candice, Writing

200 words

200Phil: A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that at the Writing West Midlands networking event, Liam Brown had given the best bit of writing advice ever. However, before passing it on, I wanted to test it.

The advice is: Write every day. Even 200 words is enough.

Simple, and brilliant.

Truth is, “write every day” is good solid advice for any writer. To get the book finished, you have to put in the time at the keyboard.

Like any journey, the hardest part is the first step and so it is with writing. But 200 words doesn’t seem that much. I can knock those out in a few minutes (I haven’t timed myself but for the purposes of motivation, I’ll retain the fantasy) and feel good about myself.

Of course, you don’t stop at 200, or at least I haven’t. Which means several chunks of our second book are fuller than they were. Meeting Candice for lunch yesterday, I checked through the work and while there’s lots to do, there’s quite a lot done too. Not finished, but blocked in 1st draft style. Every 200 words is a step in the right direction.

This post is 200 words long.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing

Faster fingers, FASTER!

How to type diagram

Phil: Last week, Candice and I sat down and talked out way through one of the main chapters in Book 2.

When we started, it was nothing more than a single line in the plan. Allocated to me, I’d a fairly simple outline in my head where I set up the story with a quick tour for our heroes.

An hour and some cake later, we both had several pages of notes and the single line expanded to a multi-layered chunk of story with an awful lot happening – a million miles away from the realitcly simple chunk of text I’d expected to churn out.

Buzzing with ideas, Candice has already written a couple of pieces where she abuses our characters a bit. My job is to weave these in to the main set-up text I’m supposed to be working on. The one chapter set-up now looks more like three with many subtle twists and turns along the way. It’s a lot better than the initial idea.

Trouble is, I’m also buzzing with ideas and here’s the frustration – I can’t get the ideas out of my head fast enough. There’s loads going on in my brain and now I need to get them on to the page.

Years ago, I learned to touch type but never progressed to the stage where it was faster than my two fingers and thumb (for the space bar – get me) technique. Even if I did, I still couldn’t keep up and find the letters tripping over each other as I try to put them in some sort of order.

One day there will be a faster way. A Johnny Mnemonic plug in system where ideas can flow straight in to the computer perhaps. Or we’ll get rich enough to employ a bank of assistants who can take dictation.

Can’t happen fast enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Phil, Writing