Risks in Writing

My response to Fandango’s prompt for today: DANGER

Writing, as we all know can be fraught with hazards.
There are PLOT HOLES and SAGGING MIDDLES.
Our CHARACTERS may lack depth or interest.
The editor may say, “TOO MUCH LIKE one we just published.”
A reader may give us a BAD REVIEW even when we’ve done our best.

And there are editorial errors like
MUDDLED PHRASES and WANDERING MODIFIERS
that keep us from getting our message across.

I just finished a series of three cozy mystery books, written by A.G. Barnett. The series is subtitled, “A Brock & Poole Mystery.” Books in this series are:
#1. An Occupied Grave
#2. A Staged Death
#3. When the Party Died

These are police procedural mysteries, not so much danger and high tension like writer Charles Todd’s books, but quite satisfying in regard to plot and likable, believable characters. However, the editing in the first two books leaves something to be desired now and then. For example:
“He stood, looking down at the man that was waving his arms theatrically about him, arms folded.”

Edit #1: a person man is always a who.
Edit #2: Move that wandering modifier back where it belongs and snip a bit:
“He stood, arms folded, looking down (he was really tall) at the man who was waving his arms theatrically.”

The writer was quite inclined to switch to pronouns, so there were times during the first two books where I had to stop and think, “Who does he refer to?”

I’ve written an example to illustrate what I mean:
Roddy has a little monkey and he loves to climb trees. He calls him Timbucktu but he has a bad habit: he never comes when he’s called. When he’s being really stubborn he offers him a banana and he usually comes right away and grabs it.

I was happy to see that by the third book Mr Barnett, or his editor, had caught on to this problem and cleared up most of the confusion.

More Examples of Wandering Modifiers

We watched the avocets poking around in the pond with their long beaks through our binoculars.

Driving by in the car, the falling snow sifted down onto the shrubs around the abandoned house.

And one of my all-time favorites in the Muddled + Mystified Dept:
A social assistance recipient, providing information to her case worker about her two newest dependents, wrote, “According to your instructions, I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope.”

WHAT BRINGS THIS TOPIC TO MIND?

In the course of emptying book cases and moving books around, I came across a thin paperback written by Saskatoon columnist Bill Cameron. The title of this sort-of-memoir:
A Way With Words: A Light-hearted Look at the Agony of Writing.
©1979 by Bill Cameron
Published by Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon, SK
I really enjoyed reading it, though it may be out of print and unavailable now.

Mr Cameron points out to wannabe writers that the biggest danger is not saying what you mean. He gives a number of humorous examples showing how reporters and others have strayed from Say-what-you-mean clarity. (To keep things straight, I’ll post his comments in green.)

This snippet from a tourist brochure gives visitors to SK a curious picture of travel here:
“If you pull off the highway…and the first car to pass waves and the next one along stops and chats, you’re in Saskatchewan.”

“Cars that wave? Cars that stop and chat! And all this time, I thought it was the people of SK, not the automobiles, who are friendly.”

According to Cameron, this once-upon-a-time General Motors press release “set off chuckles and cackles all over the newsroom.”
“Some 800 employees…were furloughed for a short re-tooling period.”

“I presume furloughed is a weasel word for laid off. More important, I hope it was the factory which was re-tooled, not the workers.”

Even the universe is somewhat amiss, according to one news item:
“Ranging in size from dust particles to giant comets, interplanetary space is full of debris.”

“Nonsense. If space was full of debris there wouldn’t be any space, and Armstrong and Aldrin could have walked to the moon.”

An editor must read the news article carefully before committing it to the printer. As this Canadian Press headline from the 60s demonstrates:
“Alberta Catholic Women’s League delegates passed resolutions calling for tighter legislation against abortion and pornography at the group’s annual convention.”

“To suggest, as this does, that abortion and pornography go on at the annual convention…not only doesn’t say what the writer meant; it’s close to slander.”

Then there’s the famous one about Yogi Berra…a line that has been picked up by more than one gag writer since its original appearance.
“After he was hit on the head by the pitched ball, Berra was taken to hospital for X-rays, which showed nothing.”

I understand there are grammar checker programmes available now that will go over our writing and zero in on these zingers. Have any of you others bought one already? I’ll think I will be ordering one shortly. 🙂

The Long and the Short

Another writer wrote yesterday that the two-word tale, “Cut short,” is considered micro-fiction. I found this idea fascinating and started to consider a number of similar micro-fiction possibilities.
Like “Guillotined.”
Or the more polite, “Corporate shakeup: head dismissed.”

I suppose “Paid in full,” would count, too.
Or the more detailed, “We finally own our car, dear.”

Then I imagined an announcement telling that Kellogg’s cereal sales were down: “Snap, Crackle and Pop caught in crunch.”

In contrast, the gentlemen in my tale below, vying for the chess championship, are loquacious types. Not into brevity. This scene is my response to Fandango’s prompt for today: OPPONENT.

For those fond of unique words I’m also tossing in Merriam Webster’s word of the day: FUGACIOUS (fleeting)

The Gracious Rivals

The eager audience began a hearty applause and media cameras whirred as the two champions appeared on stage. An ornate chessboard had been placed on a low table in the center of the circular stage, with a comfortable chair for each player. This match could take hours — days even.

Everyone fell silent as the two players approached each other and bowed courteously.

“Esteemed opponent,” said Zakaruscu, the older of the two, “It gives me great delight in meeting you for this game. I expect to be defeated today by such an admirable adversary as yourself.”

“Honorable rival,” Lo Chan replied, “It is my highest pleasure to match wits with you. Your prowess is notorious. Though I dare to challenge you and hope to play the man, you will undoubtedly be the winner.”

“Oh, worthy contender, I know you for a passionate devotee of chess. You’ve defeated many a great player and I’m certain you will put my skills to the test. Though I shall play to the best of my ability, I can easily see that you will emerge the victor in this game.”

“Oh, highly respected competitor,” Lo Chan countered, “Though I do hope to gain the victory in this match, I am certain your advanced years will give you a tremendous advantage over my lesser experience.”

Zakaruscu bristled. “I’m not that ancient.” He unclenched his teeth and took a deep breath. Onlookers noted his fugacious smirk. “Au contraire, I’m sure your youthful intelligence, fresh from the cradle, will give you a decided advantage.”

“Fresh from the cradle!” Lo Chan glared at his opponent in a most disrespectful manner. “Though I be your junior, I plan to tax your skills to the utmost in this match.”

“I’m certain that you shall, creditable competitor. However, I shall do my utmost to prove your abilities insufficient to overcome my mastery of the game.”

“I believe you shall find yourself soundly trounced, my renowned fellow pro.”

From off-stage someone yelled, “Three-minute commercial break! And after this, could you two sit down and start playing chess.”

The audience gave a rousing cheer.

The Birch Tree

by Edgar Guest

Out of a jutting rock, wind blown,
a birch tree braves the world alone.
A crevice in the granite first
captured the seed; a wave immersed
that tiny embryo. The sun
warmed it — and thus was life begun.

Scant food the passing breezes give
and yet that tree contrives to live!
Cruel the clutch of granite gray,
yet the brave roots from day to day
into the great stone deeper creep,
a surer hold on life to keep.

Twisted and bent some limbs appear,
but still undaunted year by year
those roots in cheerless channels sunk
courageously support the trunk
and green against the lake and sky,
a birch tree catches every eye!

Man thinks he knows what nature wills.
But much he plants the winter kills,
while far away from human care
and on a cliff by storms swept bare,
denied the commonest of needs,
a birch tree silently succeeds!

Cliff

From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest,
©1934 by the Reilly & Lee Co

Ragtag Community Prompt for today:  COLOR

The Seat or the House?

This morning my thoughts went to the words, “the seat of the scornful.”  And the inspiring poem, The House By the Side of the Road

David, writer of Psalm 1, gives this caution about who we choose to hang out with and where we sit down.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
Psalm 1:1

The seat of the scornful seems to be a crowded place in this day and age — and maybe always has been. I must admit that I’ve occupied that spot too often myself. I’ll make a comment about something someone’s doing, then suddenly I catch an undertone of, “Well, I would NEVER do a thing like THAT.”

Judgement is not scorn. We need judgement. We need to be able to draw from our own experience and observing the experience of others to determine where to put our feet. We need to form sound conclusions for our own safety and avoid the slippery slopes others may be saying are “great fun. We don’t need to scorn them when they disappear down that slope into the mud puddle at the bottom.

Sam Foss has a great attitude and many have found his poem inspiring: Here’s the second verse:

Let me live in a house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Have a great day, everyone. 🙂

Keep On

I don’t know who wrote this poem but it seems appropriate for this season. I get a little down when summer is gone and autumn is starting to fade away, too.  I hate to see the daylight hours dwindle, the evenings get so dark so soon, the winds blowing strong day after day.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hit by a lot more more blue moods in fall and winter. So I find it’s good to have a verse like this memorized for times when my ooomph has deflated and I’m feeling there isn’t much hope for improvement.

KEEP ON

You’ve tried and failed and down you tumble.
Your get-up’s gone; you sit and grumble.
The path of life’s just curves and hills;
the weather brings you coughs and chills.
But keep on trekking and you’ll get
to valleys full of sunshine yet.

Hiker + quote

Inspired Thoughts

Today’s Ragtag Community prompt word is INSPIRE. Such a nice, neat word. What better prompt to inspire a blogger to write a post?

I will confess, I haven’t been greatly inspired today, having gotten back some negative critiques on the short story I posted yesterday over at the Critique Circle. Not that I think the critiquers were wrong or unfair, but it hits me that I’ve been estimating my writing skills higher than they merited. My stories have flaws, too, and three people now have said there are just too many characters in this one to keep them all straight.

It’s kind of like having your manuscript returned by an editor with the standard form letter. Welcome to the wonderful world of writing: all your darling’s shortcomings pointed out. Critiques are good for a writer, I know. Kind of like a padded cell is good for you when you’re feeling like you can fly like the birds.

Oh, hey. I’m supposed to be talking about inspiration here!

I was inspired yesterday as I looked through Pixabay for a suitable image to use as a cover on my next book. I was all enthused about Fine Details and the cover I’d picked — and posted last week — but thumbs went down when I showed it around. “Too plain,” said some. “Too different from the norm for flash fiction covers,” someone else explained. So I searched Amazon and concluded this was true.

Back to my inspiration. I came across the following picture and since my granddaughter, age twelve, was sitting nearby, I called her to have a look. Somehow this scene just begged for a tale-spin, so between us we started imagining a story around it.

Reading

Pixabay photo

What might this unique creature be reading? Maybe he gets interrupted, a pal phoning or UPS ringing the doorbell. Who — and why? What does he do next? Or maybe his mom is calling him, but he want to finish his story.

This is what inspiration is all about. I saw another picture today that likewise inspired me. There must be something really witty one could think up to go with this upside-down bird. Nothing has come to me yet, but maybe it will inspire you.

Macaw

Pixabay photo