Tag Archives: Mark Twain

POV

POV is shorthand in the film industry for “point of view” – in that context, it has to do with not only the narrative context but also the camera angles and editing process.  Changing the POV can affect the way the audience – or readers – perceive a character, an event, or the overall atmosphere of a scene.

Mark Twain - History's Ink is Fluid PrejudiceRecently I was watching a history documentary series from BBC called, “British History’s Biggest Fibs”, with Lucy Worsley.  The basic point of the series is that history is subjective; whoever wins gets to name the battles, and shape future generations’ perceptions about events; the victor gets to smooth over their own weak points and play up their heroism for posterity.  PR and spinning a good yarn helped to shape how reigning kings were perceived and toppled, or usurpers could style themselves as “successors”.

When writing a novel, the POV can drastically change a scene either from the inside, or the outside, or both; by that I mean that either the scene itself changes “camera angles” to tell the story from a slightly different perspective, or that something within the scene shifts slightly, affecting the reader’s perceptions of characters or events in the scene.  For example:  I was reading through a particular scene in my current manuscript that I knew I wasn’t happy with, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me aside from the outcome.  The scene involved an unjust flogging aboard a Royal Navy ship.  The officer on duty was forced by the captain to either flog the innocent man or be punished worse in his stead.  The original scene played out with the officer carrying out the punishment unwillingly but obediently.  The scene’s purpose is to show the gradually decaying grip on reality in a captain going insane; I wanted a stronger contrast, and so I tweaked the dialogue, which changed the outcome:  The officer refuses to punish the innocent man and takes the punishment on himself.  This outcome builds far more tension among the crew, gives grounds for retribution against the true instigator (a snivelling King John’s man of a junior officer), and contrasts the honourable dealings of the officer on duty against the captain’s failing sense of right and wrong.  By shifting the scene slightly, I take the reader and myself down a much steeper path.

POV - Screenshot Marvel's Avenger'sIn this illustration from Marvel’s Avengers film series, the camera angle chosen gives much more of an adrenaline rush than, say, if you were passively watching from off to the side; the fact that the arrow’s flying straight at you gives the scene that extra “kick”.

If you find yourself staring at one of your scenes – or even an entire premise of your story – that you’re not satisfied with, trying shifting the POV (sometimes it helps me to refer to it as the “camera angle”).  Put your inner eye’s camera in a different position in the scene, and see if that unlocks the key to improving that scene, the story arc or a character’s arc.  Keep writing!

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings, Plot Thots & Profiles

In Other Words – Make Every Word Count!

I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about.  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:

One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes.  Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly.  Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was.  Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”.  While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it.  That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long.  If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.

Mark Twain - Very, Damn

Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:

…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…

…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…

…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…

…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…

…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…

…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…

Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise.  Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing.  Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight.  Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death!  Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”.  If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene.  Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call.  It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.

Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood.  A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills.  If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement.  That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript.  Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t.  So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!

4 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

Quintus Quotes: Mark Twain

I love quotes; good ones take an entire concept and condense it down to one or two lines.  Some are pithy, some profound, some obscure and some obvious, but most always, they make you stop and think.  They often relate universal conditions of the human existence, whether that quote comes from a present-day person or one that lived hundreds of years ago.

I often use quotes in my articles here, but I’ve never really had titled posts dedicated to them; I like to use alliterations, but “quote” doesn’t rhyme with anything practical in English – so (naturally) I went with Latin.  [For the few Latin aficionados out there, please let me know if I’ve used the wrong form… there aren’t exactly Latin dictionaries floating around.]

I’d like to kick off with one of the wittiest writers I know of, Mark Twain.  Here are five zingers (and I apologize in advance for the grammatical errors – I didn’t make the jpegs!); enjoy!

mark-twain-argue-stupidity-experiencemark-twain-1marktwain_550mark-twain-frogmark-twain-quotes-5

3 Comments

Filed under Images, Lists, Quotes

Musings A to Z Challenge: W

Challenge:  Write a short paragraph (100 words or less) daily on a topic beginning with the sequential letter of the alphabet.

Wiring

Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  Life is usually smoother than its fictional counterpart; true stories made into film, such as It Could Happen to You (Nicholas Cage, 1994) would be “too boring” if they only told the truth.  But wires need to be crossed… relationships gone stale must be electrocuted back to life, communication hampered by misunderstandings, and obstacles placed in the path of the hero/heroine to make it more interesting.  Crossed wires are the bedrock of most tales, no matter the genre.

Wiring

Leave a comment

Filed under A-Z Writing Challenges, Images, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Quotes, Writing Exercise

Mark Twain on Switzerland & the Awful Language of German

This past week I’ve been quite busy getting ready for a big change in our lives:  Taking in an exchange (high school) student for nearly a year.  She’s coming from Thailand, and wants to learn German; I’m not sure she knows what she’s getting herself into, as we don’t speak the German she will need to learn for school; we speak Swiss German, which is about as similar to High German as Old English is to modern English.

In preparation, I’ve been doing a bit of spring cleaning too – might as well, right?  My main work room, our library, is also where I keep folders full of stories I’ve saved over the years, and while sifting through them I was reminded of an article about Mark Twain’s observations on the German language.  I found what I was looking for in a Kindle book; it would be astonishing (and perhaps a bit discouraging) to Mark Twain if he could see his entire life’s work reduced to an e-book for less than $ 2.00, but so it is.  I was surprised to find a short description of his time in Switzerland, as part of his Grand Tour no doubt.  And as I mentioned above, the German dialects we speak are not the German Mark Twain describes, so I can laugh along with the rest of you (and I can laugh at the fact that the WordPress spell check is going berserk).  I’ll need to resort to High German for the sake of our exchange student, but it grates on my ears and tongue like sandpaper on the eyeballs.  Mark Twain seems to have had similar sentiments.  I will first share his impression of Switzerland, and then bombard you with his opinion of the German language.  This post is a bit longer than my usual offering, but Twain is well worth it!  So put your feet up, get a cuppa, and enjoy!

On Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.

“It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. … there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The first best is afloat. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest. There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger’s first feeling, when suddenly confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven’s gates had swung open and exposed the throne. It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. There are floods and floods of that. One may properly speak of it as “going on,” for it is full of the suggestion of activity; the light pours down with energy, with visible enthusiasm. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as physically.

DCF 1.0

Vierwaldstättersee, taken 2006

“After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe air that has known no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic comedies of that sort and size. Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons [Vierwaldstättersee], and I saw Rutli and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of meadow, but I do not know how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set their enslaved and insulted country forever free…”

On the Awful German Language

What he had to say about the German and their language is quite different, however:

“Even German is preferable to death.”

“Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, “Let the pupil make careful note of the following EXCEPTIONS.” He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the rule than instances of it. So overboard he goes again, to hunt for another Ararat and find another quicksand.”

“German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head—so as to reverse the construction—but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.”

“…in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.”… “It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk.”

Mark Twain, Young“Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. Observe these examples:

Freundschaftsbezeigungen.

Dilettantenaufdringlichkeiten.

Stadtverordnetenversammlungen.

These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions. And they are not rare; one can open a German newspaper at any time and see them marching majestically across the page—and if he has any imagination he can see the banners and hear the music, too. They impart a martial thrill to the meekest subject. I take a great interest in these curiosities. Whenever I come across a good one, I stuff it and put it in my museum. In this way I have made quite a valuable collection. When I get duplicates, I exchange with other collectors, and thus increase the variety of my stock. Here are some specimens which I lately bought at an auction sale of the effects of a bankrupt bric-a-brac hunter:

Generalstaatsverordnetenversammlungen.

Alterthumswissenschaften.

Kinderbewahrungsanstalten.

Unabhängigkeitserklärungen.

Wiedererstellungbestrebungen.

Waffenstillstandsunterhandlungen.

Of course when one of these grand mountain ranges goes stretching across the printed page, it adorns and ennobles that literary landscape—but at the same time it is a great distress to the new student, for it blocks up his way; he cannot crawl under it, or climb over it, or tunnel through it. So he resorts to the dictionary for help, but there is no help there. The dictionary must draw the line somewhere—so it leaves this sort of words out. And it is right, because these long things are hardly legitimate words, but are rather combinations of words, and the inventor of them ought to have been killed.”

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.”

 

Quotes from the Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated). Delphi Classics. Kindle Edition.

9 Comments

Filed under Articles, Humor, Musings, Quotes

Just Sayin’

I had to share this!  As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  In this case, it’s the difference between a home run and a strike…

Right Word

 

3 Comments

Filed under Humor, Images, Quotes

Writing Tip: Layering

Lightning BugIf you’ve ever painted a picture more than a colouring book or a paint-by-number, chances are you’ve learned something along the way about layers.  Layering is also a digital graphics technique in programs such as Photoshop, and as each layer is made, the image changes, taking on the shapes or colours as you add the consecutive elements.

Besides being a writer, I am also a vocal coach.  I only take on students who are already in bands, or preparing for recordings or competitions, and one of the things I teach them is layering within a vocal performance:  The nuances of thoughts, the power of imagination, the colouring of the vocals through not only the physical placement of the tone within their instrument (their body), but the placement of their imagination.  One can communicate boredom or interest or empathy with the exact same wording by merely varying the intonation, and that comes through the layering of the performance.

Writing is much the same way:  It is through the employment of grammar, spelling and punctuation that we signal the reader to prepare for a particular experience; as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  

Oh, the difference between, “It was rainy last night,” and “It was a dark and stormy night”!

So the next time you feel like your manuscript or poem is falling flat, take a minute to think about the layers, and see what creative brush strokes you can give your work.

1 Comment

Filed under Articles, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Writing Exercise

Novel Writing Pyramid

Novel Pyramid

When writing or drafting a new story, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the forest due to the trees – in the myriad of ideas that flash up in a brainstorm.  The pyramid above helps remind me of the emphasis each area needs in the overall structure:

If a story is too complex, you’ll lose or confuse your readers; but if it’s too simple, it becomes predictable and therefore no challenge to the mind of the adventurer who’s picked up your book to get lost in another world.  Most of the best stories are, at their heart, quite simple – “boy meets girl”, or “person achieves goal”.

If you don’t know what your settings and themes are, how can you effectively work toward the final outcome?  If you don’t know who your character is, and what your basic plot (goal and how it’s achieved) is, how can you guide the reader through dialogue or prose toward the desired conclusion?  Diction is important because it is central to creating the voice of each character, and sticking to genre-specific vocabulary and expressions (i.e. no proverbial airplanes through the scenes of a historical novel).  As Mark Twain once wrote,

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

And if you have the top four slices of the pyramid in place, but don’t have proper foundations – in other words, know your grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax (sentence structures, tense usage, etc.) then no matter how brilliant your plot might be, or your character development, if readers can’t get past your bad diction and grammar, you’ve lost them as present and future readers!

I’d like to encourage you to know your weaknesses, and develop them into strengths!  If grammar or spelling is a weakness, work on it – invest time into reviewing the rules – Wikipedia is an excellent source for articles on how to use punctuation, etc.  Buy a good grammar book, or even a grammar practice book with an answer key at the back (The “English Grammar in Use” series is one I used for years with EFLA students).  If plot or character development is a weakness, then make a list of questions for each, and take the time to think about and answer them.

Good writing is about quality; it’s about solid foundations and constant development, the honing of your skills; it’s about research, thinking outside the box, and being able to convey in words the images born in your mind.  Just as sharpening a pencil makes it easier to write, so does sharpening your mind and skills.

1 Comment

Filed under Articles, Images, Nuts & Bolts, Plot Thots & Profiles, Research, Writing Exercise

On Letting Characters Loose

Mark Twain 3“If you invent two or three people and turn them loose in your manuscript, something is bound to happen to them – you can’t help it; and then it will take you the rest of the book to get them out of the natural consequences of that occurrence, and so first thing you know, there’s your book all finished up and never cost you an idea.”            Mark Twain

Leave a comment

Filed under Quotes