Saturday, June 30, 2012
Anne of Green Gables is one of the most beloved children's books of all time, and if you haven't read it (or any of the successive books in the series), you've probably seen some pieces of the four films it inspired. Lots of girls identify with Anne, who reads books and hates her hair, but lots of fans are surprised when they start comparing the book to the film.
The original book, and the first in what would become an iconic series, was published way back in 1908. It remains extremely popular; even today, young girls show up in Canada with their hair dyed red and styled in pigtails. They come to walk the same paths that Anne took and to see the iconic Green Gables farmhouse, located in Cavendish.
Anne Shirley is an orphan girl who has been tossed to and fro for much of her life. The bane of her existence is her hair, which is as red as carrots, though the matching freckles on her face are cause for some concern as well. A pair of elder siblings, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, have decided to adopt an orphan boy to help with the running of their farm. The orphanage sends Anne instead, much to everyone's dismay. Anne wishes to stay at Green Gables immediately, but she's a talkative and brash little thing -- not to mention female. At first it seems certain she'll be sent back, but Marilla decides that Anne should stay instead.
What follows is a series of enjoyable hijinks as Anne goes through her teen years. She develops an instant dislike for Gilbert Blythe, and strikes up a great friendship with Diana Barry. She's easily distracted by books and by her own imagination, prone to getting into scrapes and thoroughly lovable in all ways. Gilbert, of course, is wildly interested her and does all he can to earn her affections -- but he is being punished for teasing her about her red hair. At the end of the book, Anne has decided to stay at Green Gables rather than go to college due to a tragic event. The story continues in 7 books that follow.
Lucy Maud Montgomery is truly a literary icon and an accomplished author, and she created one of the most memorable and beloved characters of all time...but Anne of Green Gables is one of those rare books that's actually better on film.
It's easy to see the book is an early effort from Montgomery, and riddled with classic first-book problems. Frequently, Montgomery has her characters standing in empty rooms simply talking out loud to themselves -- having very in-depth one-sided conversations, no less, and it's disruptive. Much of the book is, in fact, dialogue. It is most definitely a delightful read, but you're missing out if you don't see the book on film, too.
Anne of Green Gables is a popular story, and it's been adapted for the screen more than once. But without question the best version of the book is the 1985 television movie of the same name, starring Megan Follows in the title role. Montgomery's rich characters come to life in this version, and though I have my doubts about some of her early prose there's no questioning the author's gift for creating wonderful characters. The setting is also the same, and positively gorgeous on screen.
What Got Adapted?
But there are several differences between the book and film versions of Anne of Green Gables. The opening scenes of the film give a very detailed glimpse at Anne's life before she arrives at Green Gables, something the book does not do. Many fans of both are also annoyed by the trial period in the movie, an event which does not occur in the book. Once Marilla makes up her mind, it's made up -- in the movie, there is some suggestion that she might be swayed in one direction or another, but this is not the case in the book. Some characters, particularly the Reverend's wife, fade into the background in the movie more than they should.
Most notably, the concert Diana and Anne attend in the book is changed to a ball where Anne, in behavior that's outlandishly out of character, attempts to prove her own feminine wiles by exerting her spell over Gilbert Blythe. Anne is sort of accidentally pretty, and through her life never seems to realize it, so this entire scene is out of keeping with the books. Anne and Diana are too aware of boys by half in the movie; Anne absolutely isn't thinking of Gilbert romantically in the book.
That said, it's still an amazing movie and the best adaptation of the well-loved book. The world Anne inhabits, and the people in it, come to life beautifully and the casting is absolutely spot-on. I've loved it for so long, I actually own it on VHS (taped from public television, what). Go and watch it right now.
Friday, June 29, 2012
How long do you stare at your screen before you start typing away at your latest story? How much time do you spend wrestling with your scenes to get them just so? I always know what I'm going to write next, thanks to a little trick I call pre-writing. It's one of my secrets, and I've shared the entire method in my latest guest post.
Visit Annalisa Crawford's blog to read all about it, and make sure you take a look at the rest of her site while you're there -- she's one of my favorite bloggers!
The world moves fast. Email can be transmitted in moments, practically everything has a drive-through window, and the moment you hit "send" on Facebook your words are out there for everyone to see -- you might even get a comment or a "like" within seconds. Sometimes, it's necessary to use abbreviations (after all, Twitter only gives you 140 characters). But you should think twice, and edit heavily, before you put them in your book. Don't let abbreviations ruin your work.
Common abbreviations crop up in writing all the time. They're included in online articles, they're used on blogs, they're great for Twitter and other social media sites where space is limited. It's so easy to use them, you might never even think about it.
But you should, because even everyday abbreviations should be absolutely left out of your books. Have you ever actually heard someone use one in conversation? When was the last time you said e.g., when you meant for example, or i.e. for that is? People do commonly say et cetera, but if they're doing it in your book it should presented spelled out and not as etc.
Using abbreviations in book writing, even the very common ones, looks lazy and unrealistic. People don't use them in speech, and you certainly should use them in your writing...well, for the most part. Like every good rule of writing, there are plenty of exceptions to this one.
Certain acronyms, which are definitely in the same language family as abbreviations, are used all the time in speech and in writing. PETA, MADD, NASA -- the list goes on. Your book could easily become cumbersome if you're spelling out People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals instead of PETA, and some readers definitely won't know what you mean because the acronym is much more common.
OMG and other acronyms that crop up frequently in social media are trickier, and still new enough that many standard style guides don't address them. People do commonly use text-speak acronyms in everyday conversation, particularly younger people, so if you're writing a book with teenagers and kids in it these common acronyms are going to crop up. Some writers spell them out phonetically (oh em gee, for example), but it's simpler to just use the acronym itself, and this will create less confusion.
Titles are commonly abbreviated, and most readers are comfortable with seeing this. Keep on using abbreviations for Mr., Mrs., Dr. and all the other common titles that everyone abbreviates in writing. The exception to this is when the name isn't attached to the title. If my character says Doctor, what should I do? the title should be spelled out; but it's fine for me to write Dr. Green, what should I do?
When I'm writing in my notebook or making a notation on my to-do list, I might write "Jul 4" or "Aug 8" -- but I'm not ever going to do that in one of my books. It's all well and good to use shorthand when you're writing to yourself, but not to an audience. Don't abbreviate your dates unless you're specifically quoting something a character has written down (for example, Laurel had written "Mar 12" at the top of the page).
Text Messages, Emails, et al.
Speaking of stuff that characters are writing down, you may have the occasion to include emails, text messages and similar stuff in your book. When this is the case, it's more than okay to write with abbreviations, acronyms and even misspellings because that's how people write their texts and emails. Always make them authentic, and to heck with the rules. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, realism always trumps in writing.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Some stories are told and re-told in hundreds of different ways; they're being constantly updated for new generations. Most fairy tales are hundreds of years old, but you can walk into any bookstore and find new versions of those old stories, written with today's kids in mind. Most people can probably name at least a dozen different film adaptations of Cinderella, one of the most popular fairy tales of all time. But some writers find ways to take even the oldest and most popular stories and flip them completely upside-down. The most convenient vehicle for re-telling an ancient story in a brand-new way is to simply change the point of view.
Cinderella was first published not by the Brothers Grimm, but by a Frenchman named Charles Perrault. Rumor has it that one castle in France lays claims to being the inspiration for the fairy tale castle in the story, but in truth Cinderella's story is ancient. A story originating in Greece, circa 1st century BC, is credited with being the oldest version of the tale.
In most versions of the classic tale, Cinderella is the victimized stepdaughter whose father unfortunately died after becoming newly wed to a vicious woman with two ugly daughters. By contrast, Cinderella is beautiful and kind and good -- so naturally she's promptly put to work as a maid-of-all-work in the house. She sleeps by the hearth at night, so her name is Cinderella. When the kingdom's prince throws a ball with the express purpose of finding a wife, the two ugly stepsisters and the stepmother happily trip down the road to the castle, nastily keeping Cinderella from attending the event.
Her fairy godmother arrives just when Cinderella gives into despair and cries. The young woman is dressed in a glorious gown and glass slippers, handed into a fancy carriage and thus gets to go to the ball. The prince immediately falls for her, of course, and spends the entire night dancing and chatting with her at the ball. She's so carried away, she's almost late for her midnight deadline. This forces her to run away, leaving behind one of those telltale glass slippers.
After an epic search for just the right foot is conducted all across the land, Cinderella and her Prince Charming are wed. Naturally, the evil stepsisters and horrible stepmother are punished, and all is at last right with the world.
I could write a ton of posts about Gregory Maguire's books, but I'm only going to bring up one: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. It's a re-telling of the Cinderella story, but with one important twist: an ugly stepsister is the one narrating the tale. It's an amazing version of the classic tale, and if you haven't read it then you just don't know Cinderella.
The novel largely focuses on the life of Iris, younger daughter to Margarethe. Though she is the youngest in the family, Iris must take on many responsibilities because her sister, Ruth, is somewhat dim-witted, clumsy and apt to wander off on her own. They leave England to go to the Dutch town of Haarlem, North Holland. Their circumstances are not good, but Margarethe is crafty and cunning and soon has herself ensconced within the home of the town's richest resident as a cook/maid.
When she is not helping her mother or minding Ruth, Iris begins to learn painting with a master and his apprentice, Caspar. She is an unattractive child, but Iris has a spark of intelligence that others can see and a core of self-reliance that serves her well. Clara is the breathtakingly beautiful daughter of the Van Der Meer household, the richest in the town. When her mother dies, Margarethe cleverly inserts herself as the mistress of the house and Van Der Meer's new wife -- thus becoming stepmother to Clara.
Of course there is a ball, and of course there is a prince, but there are lots of events that occur both at the ball and before that are never whispered about in the original tale of Cinderella. There is even some hope that Iris, and not Clara, may land the prince for herself...right up until the moment when the prince actually sees Clara, that is.
Of course you should not expect much of a happy ending -- Iris is, after all, one of the ugly stepsisters -- but Maguire throws in a surprising twist at the end that's really delightful (and you know how much I love twists). Confessions is truly a re-telling, and the story feels new and fresh even if it's a few thousand years old. Don't look for magic or talking mice or any of that mess -- this novel is presented as straightforward fact, and it's certainly written in a way that appeals to adults rather than very young children.
Some phrases are so common that we never even think twice about them...not even when we have to write them down. Is Christie a shoe-in for Prom Queen? Or is Edward a shoo-in to win the election? Should I wrack my brain to find the answer...or rack yours? The most common and oft-heard phrases can be the worst ones to spell. Now, find out whether I have a deep-seeded or deep-seated love of proper grammar...
Microsoft Word, and other computer spell-checkers, may not catch your mistakes when you're writing your phrases incorrectly. Because all the words are still spelled the right way, the automatic checkers may not realize that you're actually not making any sense whatsoever. Make sure you double-check your phrases, even the ones you think are very common, because you might be surprised by how often you're actually getting it wrong.
- Shoo-in/Shoe-in. The phrase means something like "a certain victory," though it's always used with a noun (like I did in the examples at the top of the post). The only correct way to write it is shoo-in. It's derived from an old racing term, actually -- something about "shooing in" the winning horse at the track across the finish line. Shoe-in means nothing, because shoes go on your feet; they don't go in them.
- Wrack/Rack my brain. When you wrack or rack your brain, you're trying to think of or remember something -- like maybe the correct spelling of a common phrase. The phrase rack my brain is especially hard, because both rack and wrack have distinct meanings. Wrack was once used to describe wrecked ships, but today it usually refers to seaweed. A rack is a framework of some sort, used to display or store various items. The phrase rack my brains is derived from the use of the rack in torture. Try to remember that racking your brains is torture, and it'll be easier to remember the correct usage of this phrase.
- Deep-seeded/Deep-seated. When something is deep-seeded or deep-seated, it usually refers a firm conviction, principle or belief. Both phrases look like they could make sense. Deep-seeded sounds like it means planting something deeply, but it actually means nothing at all. Deep-seated is the phrase you're looking for, though this is probably the most improperly used of all the phrases on my list. Even respectable publications get this wrong all the time.
The above phrases are the ones that have, historically, troubled me the most. While looking around the Internet, I found several more:
- For all intensive purposes. The phrase sounds, and looks, like it would make sense. Intensive comes from the word intense, which means passionate or earnest. Saying for all intensive purposes might sound like your motivations are strong and deeply-felt, but it's an improper turn of phrase. For all intents and purposes is the phrase that's actually used. Intent means there's a plan in place, so when you say for all intents and purposes, you're saying practically, yes. You aren't saying anything if you use the other, improper, phrase.
- Home in/Hone in. Do you hone in or home in on something when you're writing phrases? Both sound like they might work. Home is where you live, hone is a tool you use to sharpen a blade. But you are not a bee, so you can't home in. You can only hone in, which means that you're concentrating sharply and intensely focusing on a goal.
- Moot point/Mute point. Am I making a moot point, or a mute point, when I write about grammar (I hope not!)? Mute is in everyday language, and you know it means to completely silence something. Moot means that conversation is null and void, so of course the phrase you're looking for is moot point. The other choice, mute point, doesn't exist -- even if it sounds like the action you have to use to quiet the TV.
- Tongue and cheek/Tongue in cheek. Don't let an improper conjunction make your writing look silly! The correct phrase is tongue in cheek, which means to subtly poke fun at something (usually through sarcasm). Tongue and cheek is the stuff that creates your mouth.
- Escape goat/Scapegoat. This is my personal favorite among the incorrect common phrases, because it's hilarious. A scapegoat is the hapless victim in a plot, the person who ends up taking the fall for the real perpetrators of a crime or feat of misbehavior. An escape goat is a specially-trained magician goat who performs at county fairs -- or, it's just an improperly used phrase that means nothing at all.
Common phrases are deceptive, because they're used quite often in conversation -- but that doesn't make them easy to spell. If there's more than one way to spell a phrase, take the time to double-check yourself and be certain you're getting it correct. Otherwise, the escape goat might come along and gobble up all your readers.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
It's important for writers to do the proper amount of research to present information knowledgeably, and I'm a huge advocate of it, but today I learned a valuable lesson: there's a dark side to it. Storytellers can be a little too diligent in their efforts to keep their work accurate...and end up doing themselves, and innocent parties, a whole lot of harm. I've talked about the importance of setting before, but it's worth looking at the issue from another angle. Sometimes, writing a real location into your work can go very, very poorly.
Location Writing Gone Bad
Another writer actually called my attention to this, and his post was great, but I'm so fascinated by the topic I thought I'd go a little deeper.
Lots of writers use real locations in their books. Stephenie Meyer famously used the real town of Forks, Washington, which happily embraced the Twilight phenomenon. There are numerous tours of the town, which is routinely assaulted by eager teenagers throughout the tourist season (Forks now has a tourist season). You can watch numerous documentaries and featurettes about the real-world Forks, which looks just as Meyer promised it would and sits exactly where she wrote that it was. You can even see Bella's truck if you go to the right place.
But it doesn't always work out so well. Anne Rice ended her iconic Vampire Chronicles, and her character Lestat, in front of an old, abandoned building in New Orleans. But the building didn't stay abandoned. A few months after Rice released the last novel in the series, the property was purchased and turned into a restaurant. Reportedly, Anne Rice was none too pleased when the owner of the building embraced the notion that a famous vampire was living in his building.
It's not at all the worst-case scenario, but it took another writer to point out the possibility to me. Some books become so wildly popular, towns create tours of various places mentioned in the pages. That's all well and good when the associations are positive -- but what about when they're not?
When Innocent Parties Get Hurt
Thanks to Google maps and the rest of the Internet, any writer can create believable fiction about any real place. You can go to travel sites and find famous landmarks and hotspots; you can even use your computer to move down to street level and get a real look at the locations you use. This is a wonderful tool for writing...and a dangerous one.
Suppose you mention an actual street address in your work (the home of your killer, the domicile of your victim, the place where your character actually lives) and fans start to visit it? It's not at all outside the realm of possibility -- just ask anyone in Forks. Real people may actually live in that home, and they never asked to become a famous stop on self-driven fan book tours. They may feel harassed and uncomfortable inside their own homes, and you may have unwittingly ruined their personal lives.
That's bad enough for certain, but things could still go one step further: you might get sued. The homeowners could easily file harassment charges against you, and I'm not a lawyer but I'm sure a clever one could dream up several other charges as well.
It's important to be accurate and realistic in your work...but only up to a point. Don't use real homes with real people living in them; and if you do, don't provide real addresses. Specifics are good, but too many could be your undoing. What's the old saying about having just enough rope to hang yourself?
Don't let yourself get so caught up in your own fiction world that you forget the real one exists, too, and you won't have to worry about wrecking people's lives or bringing severe legal trouble down on your own shoulders.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Few things can create as much pressure as being given the label "promising." One success usually isn't enough for any author. Phrases like what have you done for me lately? and you're only as good as your last book leap to mind. Once you achieve something in the world of publishing, you may expect all the doors to fall open for you. So when they stay closed, it can be a pretty brutal letdown.
This was the case for one very promising poet, flush with potential, who discovered that success doesn't immediately lead to more success...in an very harsh way.
Sylvia Plath was a very promising and talented poet, and she proved it with the publication of her poetry collection, The Colossus. The book was made up of 44 poems, and it didn't exactly set the world on fire right away...but it did give Plath the motivation to begin her first fiction novel.
Reportedly, Plath began writing the book in 1961 after being awarded the Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship. It was a rather prestigious grant attached to publishers Harper & Row, and it gave Plath the freedom to work furiously at her literary endeavors.
She was no stranger to awards. Plath went to Smith, where she edited The Smith Review, and won a position as a guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine. She even won a grant to attend Cambridge, and traveled around Europe when classes weren't in session.
So, after spending many months of working on her first (and what would be only) novel, Sylvia Plath sent a copy to Harper & Row, the benefactors of her Fellowship.
They hated it. They deemed the book "disappointing, juvenile and overwrought," and pulled her Fellowship.
Still determined to succeed, Plath submitted it to a different publishing house -- this time, under a pen name. The response? Another harsh rejection. The editor who read her work commented "there certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice."
Plath quickly responded, this time with the revelation of her real name. "I have now re-read --or rather read more thoroughly-- [the manuscript] with the knowledge that it is by Sylvia Plath which has added considerably to its interest," the editor wrote. "But it still is not much of a novel...there is no viewpoint." Of the plot itself, the editor wrote that "one feels simply that Miss Plath is writing of them because [these] things did happen to her and the incidents are in themselves good for a story, but throw them together and they don't necessarily add up to a novel."
Harsh...and stupid. The novel that Plath wrote was, of course, The Bell Jar. Today it is considered a classic, and it's been indelibly ingrained into popular culture as a representation of depression, suicide and teen angst, among other themes that deal in femininity and the pressures of having potential. It's still selling on Amazon to this day, and it's required reading in many high schools and institutes of higher learning. Plath's own sad story is hopelessly entangled with the book, of course...she died by her own hand very shortly after it was first published. Since The Bell Jar is about suicide, the parallels are inescapable. But Plath's voice lives on in the book, and it happens to be one of my very favorites.
Many brilliant minds struggle with emotions; genius and raw feeling do not make for happy bedfellows. Sylvia Plath worked in the fiction trenches and battled depression the best way she knew how: by writing about it. In the end, she couldn't overcome her own demons...but lucky for the rest of us, she managed to put them down on paper quite beautifully before she left. She weathered harsh rejection and suffered staggering defeats, and even after she died she was still winning awards for her brilliant work.
I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know where Antigua is, or that I can't name any other city in Australia but Sydney. The difference is, I'm a lot more tactful than most readers are going to be when they have this problem. When you're writing a book, don't assume I know what couscous looks like, what tiramisu tastes like or what kiwi smells like. When you're writing, make sure you're explaining it to me. Otherwise, I'm just getting frustrated, and when there are new indie books cropping up on Amazon every day I'm simply not going to waste my time with a book that forces me to guess with every other page.
What's That Mean?
How many Caribbean islands can you name? Did you know that they have different names? Hawaii, which is also made up of multiple isles, also has different island names. But if you walk down any American street and ask people to start naming different islands, chances are the majority of them aren't going to give you an accurate answer. So if your novel largely takes place on Molokai, and you never explain to me that this is one of the Hawaiian islands, your book might as well be set on the moon as far as I'm concerned. I might even think it's a place that you simply made up, and spend the rest of the book in a lagoon of confusion.
How many times have you eaten foie gras? It's the liver of a foul (commonly duck) that is usually presented in a sort of soft, spreadable substance that's not quite a liquid or a solid. It's a very high-dollar delicacy, and lots of people may have a vague idea of what it is but not how it tastes, what it looks like or even how it's eaten. So how frustrated am I going to feel if you're giving me a scene where everyone's standing around eating it, and I can't even come up with the appropriate mental picture?
You can write that a building "looks Japanese in design," and some people will conjure up an image...but others will have only a black space in their minds. Tell me how it looks, why it looks Japanese -- explain it to me.
What I don't want to do when I'm reading is continually think to myself, what's that mean? I shouldn't be sighing and struggling when I'm reading, which is something that's meant to be for entertainment, education and inspiration. What are the chances that your readers are going to take the time to look something up in Google maps, pull out a dictionary or start searching for information on something you didn't explain properly? Isn't it a whole lot easier to simply close the book, and read one of the other millions that are available to them?
Always remember that the average American reads at an eighth grade level. This doesn't just extend to language skills and grammar knowledge; it also applies to the amount of information they've retained through education. Don't take geographical knowledge for granted, and assume that everyone knows where Melbourne is located. Don't assume that everyone understands that a souffle is a delicate custard dish. Don't make me work or it. People read to learn new things, so if you're presenting them and not explaining them I'm not getting anything out of your book.
Monday, June 25, 2012
"When I thought I had figured out what would happen next, Jade would throw in another twist that caught me completely off guard."
Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has received another positive review on Goodreads. Go check it out, and don't forget to add the book to your lists!
Justice (Deck of Lies, #1) has received another positive review on Goodreads. Go check it out, and don't forget to add the book to your lists!
Proper capitalization is something that I struggle with every single day. Words like with and it are endlessly confusing when it comes to writing titles correctly, but more than any word the one that gives me the most pain is the. Is it a title? What if it's not? Suppose I need to mention the White House in the middle of a sentence, and not at the beginning? Just when the heck are you supposed to be using a capital The, and when aren't you?
How Do I Hate The? Let Me Count The Ways...
Without a doubt, the is my least favorite article. Since there are only two articles in all of English (a and the), I realize this isn't saying much -- but the depth of my hatred supersedes the general lack of choices. The is a problem for me personally because I can never seem to figure out just how to treat it when it comes to capitalization.
And frankly, neither does anybody else. The is treated all kinds of ways by all kinds of writers, and in looking for information about capitalizing the it's much easier to find condescending advice than something remotely useful (tons of grammarians, for reasons unknown, feel like it's necessary to explain in great detail that the first letter of any sentence should be capitalized).
After absorbing a mind-boggling number of capitalization rules, I still hate the. But at least now I know how to treat it -- and you can, too.
The is neither preposition nor verb, adjective nor noun, and that's why it's so hard to deal with. The rules of capitalization say that prepositions should never be capitalized, but that doesn't mean you should treat the like a preposition because it is not. Short verbs like are, be and is are also supposed to be capitalized when they belong to titles and proper names (example: the song Flowers Are Pretty should always be written thus). But again, the isn't a verb.
But the isn't just any other word, either, and that's where the confusion comes in. It's an article, and it plays by is own rules.
- Proper nouns. In proper nouns, such as exact place names (the Alamo, for example), the first letter of each word is supposed to be capitalized -- unless there's a the involved. It's an exception, and it's one that a massive number of people get wrong. Unless it starts the sentence, the should not be capitalized in proper nouns (so don't do it).
- Titles. In titles, every first letter of every word should be capitalized -- excluding your prepositions and your articles, of course. In the book For Whom the Bell Tolls, the stays small. However, if the is the first word in a title, it must be capitalized whether or not it starts a sentence. For example, I have to write The Catcher in the Rye with both big and little the, because the first starts off the proper title of the book and the second appears in the middle.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I've broken my own rules with the title above, When Do You Capitalize The? But you're wrong. It's one of those quirky rules of capitalization that I saved for the end, because that's where it belongs. In any and all titles, the last word must also be capitalized. Why is that a rule? I don't know; I don't make them up. Whether it's a preposition or a the, if it's the last word (or the first word) of a title, you've got to capitalize. So, when do you capitalize the? At the beginning of a title and at the end, but never any other time, and certainly not inside proper nouns.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
-President Bill Clinton to the Grand Jury, 1998
There are lots of sentences out there that end with is, but the above quote is definitely my favorite. Is it okay to end a sentence with is? Like Clinton says, that all depends on your definition.
The Meaning of Is
For reasons unknown, there seems to be some confusion surrounding the meaning of is. When discussing it's viability at the end of a sentence, many people point to the preposition rule. The rule says that prepositions shouldn't end a sentence, but a) that's already been debunked here; and b) is isn't a preposition.
Is is actually a form of the verb to be (third person singular present, to be exact). To be is one of the most oft-used verbs, but it has so many different forms you may not know when you're using it. Is is one of the them, and by all rules of English it's perfectly acceptable to end sentences with verbs -- and Shakespeare's famous for it (to be or not to be).
Some sentences, in fact, would be lot more cumbersome if you felt like you couldn't use is:
Is that where it is?
How long did you say it is?
I don't know what that is.
There are plenty of occasions when you can re-word a sentence to eliminate the use of the word is at the end, but do so only if it improves readability. Like the preposition rule, fear of ending on is is another one of those strange grammar myths that you just can't believe. Lots of sites say it's an abomination, but that's just silly. Always go by the first rule of good grammar: if it sounds right, it probably is.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Even if you haven't read it, or seen it, or pulled down your grandmother's curtains and paraded around the house (what? I didn't do that), I know you've heard of it. It's Gone With the Wind, and it's both a literary and film juggernaut that you just can't stop -- not even 75 years later. It also happens to be my personal favorite, and it's why I'm making it the first selection for the new Books on Film feature.
Gone With the Wind was published in 1936, and it was most definitely an immediate success. It was already a bestseller before the reviews appeared in national magazines. Almost instantly, author Margaret Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer and the novel's film rights were snapped up by one David O. Selznick (more on him later).
Set in the south during the Civil War and the Reconstruction era that followed, Gone With the Wind revolves around the life of Scarlett O'Hara. It's not often called a coming-of-age tale, though that's exactly what it is. Scarlett becomes shrewd and hardened during the war, the whole of which she spends pining away for a man who is married and who does not love her romantically.
Rhett Butler, the book's hero (or maybe anti-hero), is passionately in love with her. But Scarlett, obsessed with Ashley Wilkes, doesn't really care. She loathes and envies Ashley's tenderhearted and loving wife, Melanie. For spite, and to make Ashley jealous, Scarlett marries Melanie's brother Charles. After he dies in the war, she marries her sister's somewhat long-in-the-tooth beau Mr. Kennedy. It isn't until he dies -- arguably, because of Scarlett -- that she finally condescends to marry Rhett. He does all he can to please her but it's never enough, and when Melanie dies he finally decides he's just too fed up with his wife to carry on. Besides, she'll certainly be running after Ashley harder than ever now. So Rhett leaves, and in one of the most climatic and tragic scenes ever written, Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler realizes that she really loved Rhett all along, and Ashley could never be a decent companion for her. She runs after Rhett, but it's too late...and he walks out. The book ends, as does the film, with Scarlett's iconic line: "After all, tomorrow is another day."
Try not to judge the book on my brief summary; it took Mitchell over 1,000 pages to describe these same events, which she does much more wonderfully and poetically than I.
Upon purchasing the rights to the novel in 1936, David O. Selznik immediately went to work. He started taking meetings with Hollywood's biggest stars, both male and female, though from the outset public opinion was quite strongly settled on one actor, and one actor only, for the role of Rhett: Clark Gable. Debonair, drop-dead handsome, and oozing masculinity through ever pore, Gable was pretty much Selznick's first choice, too. Gable didn't want the role. Through much negotiation and deal-making, he was secured to play the part. The search for Scarlett would span two years and two continents.
Half a world away, a London stage actress named Vivien Leigh was also in love with the book. She told a friend as early as 1937 that she would play the role on film, but she had some extremely stiff competition. Just about every actress in Hollywood with any box office value screen-tested for the role, and Bette Davis rabidly coveted it. But Leigh was also on her way to Hollywood, and through her various connections scored an introduction to Selznick through his own brother, a well-known agent at the time. On the night when the studio burned up several massive sets used in former productions, to film the epic scene when Atlanta burns to the ground in the film, David O. Selznick met his Scarlett O'Hara. Leigh was introduced by this name, and after her screen test the producer was convinced.
Selznick was well-known for doing book adaptations on film, and he'd earned a reputation for staying true to the author's original work. But Gone With the Wind was a 1,000-page monstrosity covering years and years of truly epic history, and the project became overwhelming right away. By all accounts, Selznick was a veritable madman on set. He oversaw every single stage of the production, and it created some tension. One person involved with the film complained that everything had to be done and re-done again.
The opening scene alone was filmed four times, complete with costume changes and location changes, before it was finally deemed fit for the flick. Two directors were fired, one was re-hired, and Selznick edited the movie in full at least twice. The way the story goes, studio representatives literally had to take the reels for the film out of his hands because if the movie was delayed even one more day it would miss its premiere date.
Selznick's obsession and attention to detail paid off. Gone With the Wind became the highest-grossing film of all time, in its day, and remains in the top ten of the American Film Institute's Greatest Films of All Time. It has been released and re-released endlessly, in every possible format, and you can still catch it on television at least once a year. The movie practically swept the Oscars and made a quick star of Vivien Leigh. Fashion trends immediately developed, and anything associated with Scarlett O'Hara was an instant hit in the late 1930s and early 40s.
But any movie can be popular. The real question is: did Selznick succeed? Did he transform a massive book into a marketable movie, without too much loss of story?
What Got Adapted?
My verdict: yes. Now that's a controversial answer, because the film version of Gone With the Wind is certainly missing a ton of story elements. In the book, Scarlett has multiple children. In the film, there is only one. The movie also leaves out a huge chunk of the story that revolves around Scarlett's family; both her sisters come to rather ill ends, and movie watchers won't ever know of their tragic fates. Much of what happens to Scarlett in the years immediately after the war is skipped over quite neatly by Selznick, though that could be due to the fact that the original scriptwriter was fired. A parade of successive writers came along behind him, until he was eventually re-hired to clean it all up (the list of people who were fired from Gone With the Wind is quite impressive).
However, Gone With the Wind has a mind-numbing running time of 3 hours and 44 minutes for a good reason: a strong effort was made to capture the whole story. When you adapt a gigantic book, you end up with a really long film. The flavor and major plot points of the book are most definitely captured by the film, the actors are all well-casted and very suited to their roles, and despite the omissions of the more racy material that the book doesn't shrink away from, what's left unsaid in the movie is still pretty clear.
For a book on film, Gone With the Wind is one of the best adaptations you can find. The movie does just what it's meant to do: it turns text into live-action images. There are some discrepancies, of course. According to legend, while Margaret Mitchell and her husband watched the film for the first time, he turned to her during the famous train station scene and remarked, "If we had that many soldiers, we would have won the war!" But overall, it remains one of the best examples of a book on film and it's well worth watching.
Anyways is one of those words you hear in conversation all the time -- so often, if fact, that you may never question it. But any way you slice it, the word's grammatically incorrect...which doesn't mean you should always refrain from writing it. There are some things you ought to learn about writing with anyway, any way and anyways.
Writing Anyway/Any Way
Grammatically speaking, anyway is an adverb. This just means that, when applied, the word modifies the other words in the sentence. By definition, anyway means nevertheless or in any case. So I might say, well, I'm going to do it anyway, or anyway, I'm going to do it.
Any way, by contrast, means something different, though it's often confused with anyway like it's interchangeable. Any way is a combination of an adjective (any) and a noun (way). When used together as any way, it just means in any manner or by any method. Example: I'm going to finish this post any way I can; I'm going to do it any way possible. If you're confused about which one to use, just swap anyway or any way for another word or words that mean the same thing:
I'm going to do it in any case.
Nevertheless, I'm going to do it.
I'm going to finish this post in any manner possible.
Technically speaking, anyways isn't a real word -- it's an error. However, it's one of those words that's so commonly used, it's been accepted into the vernacular. It's a common expression, usually used by a speaker who is resuming a narrative: Anyways, back to the rules of good grammar...
Therefore, it's okay to use anyways in dialogue if it's the sort of word the speaker might use. In a casual conversation, the word crops up all the time. But you should refrain from using it in your standard narrative writing outside of dialogue, because by all rules of English it is incorrect.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Death (Deck of Lies, #3) will be released in about a week, so take a good look at the cover now and get ready to look for it in online bookstores!
One good lie deserves another.
One good lie deserves another.
I never wanted to get in this deep, but I did go looking for the truth before I was prepared to handle it. But how do you close the lid on Pandora’s box? You can’t unlearn something, or forget a dark secret once it’s been revealed.
I have no choice but to do my part to bury the truth again -- this time, someplace no one will ever be able to find it. But that’s the problem with lies. Once you start pulling threads, everything unravels.
No one is who they seem to be…not even me.
Are you and I reading this blog post...or you and me? When should you be using myself in your writing? Me, myself and I are some of the most misunderstood words in the English language, and it's time to clear up the confusion about how and when they ought to be used.
Technically speaking, you should be using the word me as a first-person singular when me is an object, and not a subject. But just in case you don't speak in esoteric grammar, let's look at that from a civilian point of view.
First things first: stop being afraid of me. Many writers of all skill levels are inherently frightened of the word, because it's been drilled into them over and over to use and I instead of and me in just about every single grammatical situation. Writers also incorrectly substitute myself when they should be using me instead. But sometimes, me is the only possible choice -- and the only correct one.
How do you know when to use me? Just take all the secondary subjects out of the sentence. For example, if I write The loud alarm startled Mary and I, all I have to do to check the grammar is remove Mary from the equation. I'll end up with a sentence that says The loud alarm started I instead, and that's patently incorrect. The loud alarm started myself sounds even more ridiculous. Clearly, this means that The loud alarm startled Mary and me is the only possible solution. The alarm is the subject of the sentence, and it's affecting Mary and me -- we're both objects.
The word myself is only used as a reflexive pronoun, and if you don't know what the heck that means don't worry. Plenty of writers have no idea what it means. Myself is in the same language family as herself, yourself and themselves, all of which are used as objects in a sentence and not as subjects (this means the sentence isn't about myself or herself or anyself). The subject is responsible for the action in a sentence; the object is being affected by that action.
Generally, myself only appears in sentences when you're using it with the word I. For example, I see myself writing another blog post early tomorrow, or I don't care for grammar rules, myself. What I wouldn't say is that The alarm sounded startling to both Mary and myself, because The alarm sounded startling to myself is ludicrously and obviously incorrect. But if I'm saying I thought the alarm sounded startling, myself, then I'm correct.
The word I is used when I am the main subject of the sentence: I am writing this blog post, for example. When I'm responsible for the action in the sentence, the word I is used instead of me. For example, Mary and I hate that loud alarm is correct, because the verb is hate and the ones creating that hate are Mary and I. Even without Mary, the sentence is correct: I hate that loud alarm. Remember that me is used when I am the object, not the subject, of the sentence. When I'm the subject, I use I.
And the Exceptions
There are exceptions to every rule, and some phrases become so common that they're accepted as correct English even when they are not. It's more technically accurate to say It's I instead of It's me, but who ever says It's I? Don't ever be married to grammar rules, because in everyday language they don't always apply. Re-read your sentences, and when the grammatically incorrect stuff sounds right and natural consider sticking with it anyway. It's important for your writing to be correct, but it's more important for it to be readable.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
In just five minutes, most people can name at least one movie they've seen or book they've read that featured two young lovers who fell under each other's spell despite the fact that their families are mortal enemies. Shakespeare made this sort of ill-fated romance famous in Romeo and Juliet, and now it's a convenient device for any writer who wants to create romantic tension. Certain plots come around again and again, because they're just too good to enjoy just once. But sometimes, authors decide to re-vamp entire books decades after the fact, copying plot lines, characters, setting and circumstance for brand-new audiences. The second time around, I found out I still don't like Wuthering Heights.
First printed in 1847 and written by Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights was not an instant success. Emily was but one of the ill-fated Bronte sisters, all of whom were writers and each of which would die young. Her sister Charlotte had published a book the year before, Jane Eyre, and it was a big success in contemporary circles. Anne Bronte released her book, Agnes Grey, in the same year Emily saw her work published.
Both books would overshadow Emily's work for her entire short life, which lasted for a little bit less than one year after Wuthering Heights was first printed. It was not appreciated by critics, and received mixed and very tepid reviews. She did not leave to see her book become the most wildly popular of the three, and an enduring classic that school children are forced to read in English classes the world over.
It has been adapted for the big screen a whopping 15 times, it's been made into three different operas, it's inspired other authors and poets to write their own original works. And it's been at least two different full-length novels...counting the original, of course.
And boy, it is morose. Wuthering Heights itself is a spooky, strange, sad house on the moor (that's kind of like a swamp, with less water). A moody man storms around the house all day, which seems to be haunted by a woman named Catherine. Once all of this is revealed, the reader is transported back to the life of young Heathcliff, the tale's hero. He falls in love with Catherine, the daughter of the man who took him in when he was a young, homeless boy. There is instant rivalry between Heathcliff and the firstborn son, Hindley. Once the old man dies and Hindley is the master of Wuthering Heights, he decides to take all the long, frustrating years of hatred out on Heathcliff.
Now that the stage is set, as you can imagine much heartache and tragedy follows. Clearly Catherine cannot marry Heathcliff; she's the daughter of a wealthy man and he's a nobody. She falls in with the rich neighbors, and their equally rich son, while Heathcliff sets out to make his way in the world (i.e. gather a fortune). Nothing works out well for any of these characters, though there may be some hope for their children.
And if you're not interested in long-winded descriptions about the howling wind of the moor or somewhat archaic-sounding language, you don't have to read Wuthering Heights. You can always read Alice Hoffman's much more modern version instead.
Here on Earth, published in 1997, takes place in Massachusetts (which has weather a bit like what you'll find in England) and mirrors Wuthering Heights quite well considering the 150 year age gap.
The setup is basically the same: wealthy family of means takes in a young orphaned boy, who immediately befriends and loves the daughter of the generous man who adopted him. He is immediately at odds with the man's son, and of course he eventually leaves the family home to go out and make a fortune. March, the story's heroine, finally gets tired of waiting for him and marries the wealthy boy next door. Sound familiar?
Despite the changed setting, character names and time period, Here on Earth doesn't really diverge from Wuthering Heights until the last half of the book. In this version of the story, Catherine (March) remains alive and she ends up returning to her childhood home...and this time, her Heathcliff is there. He married the daughter of the rich neighbors, just like in Wuthering Heights, and he's still bitter and angry because he didn't get what he wanted. But this time around, he's even more broody and much more evil than Bronte's hero.
Personally, I'm not a fan of the plot or the characters in either version -- it's why I can say with certainty I definitely don't like Wuthering Heights. Broody love just isn't my deal, and I know that for a fact. I gave the book a fair shot twice over, and I am one of the few who is not a Bronte fan. The second time around, Wuthering Heights is still depressing and soaked in tragedy...and somehow, I feel that Emily Bronte would definitely approve.
Doesn't it seem like every famous author or artist has some dramatic life history? You hear all about how this one struggled with depression and alcoholism, how that one decided to go live in the wild one day, how so-and-so was the daughter of an actress and traveled all over the world. Here's the thing: we can't all have a totally fascinating and interesting life. Some people are, in fact, basically pretty normal: suburban neighborhood, standard high school, part-time summer job working at a fast food joint. So when you hear trite advice like "write what you know," it's perfectly fine for you to roll your eyes.
Not all of us know what it's like to see the hills of Spain lit with the afternoon light (lookin' at you, Ernest Hemingway) or grew up listening to fascinating Civil War stories from people who were actually there (but good for you, Margaret Mitchell). Some authors can only dream of being on a fully-rigged sailing vessel, storming across the seas...but should they never write about it just because they've never done it?
No. The much-parroted advice write what you know doesn't necessarily mean that you should go roam around a drafty English castle before you pen that romance novel, and I definitely shouldn't run right out and kill someone before I craft my next mystery book. A great many authors have very successfully written historical fiction novels; obviously, none of them are in possession of time machines. And while I can't say I ever knew the man, for he died well before I was born, I'm pretty darned certain that Jules Verne never actually went to the center of the Earth or 20,000 leagues under the sea, either.
Live and die by the write what you know cliche, and you're limiting your range of topics severely. If everyone followed that adage to the letter, it's extremely unlikely the world would have any science fiction stories, vampire romances, or Stephen King (unless you want to believe he was actually attacked by fog while at the supermarket).
However, write what you know is still decent advice -- but only if you understand that sentiment for what it is.
What Do You Know?
Whether you're writing about a girl named Sally, talking animals who live on a farm or an inanimate object (and those are all real books, by the way), there is always some human truth in the tale. After all, love is love whether it's happening in a drafty castle in 14th century England or in a college English class in Michigan. If you've really been in love and you really feel like you know romance, write that romance novel. Set the scene in an enchanted forest, 200 years in the past, or even on the moon if you like. If you know love, you can pull off a love story -- use your research skills to fill in the blanks when it comes to setting, daily life, and what gravity is like on the moon.
Write what you know is really just an easy way of saying that all writers have to draw on their own experiences and their own histories, wrap that all up in fiction and put it on the page. If you have a very complicated love-hate relationship with your sibling, it can become interesting conflict in your next book. If you've ever had a crush on someone who didn't crush back, you can include that unrequited experience in your work -- and, because you actually had that experience, it will feel very believable. That situation is universal, and it can happen on a pirate ship in 1760 or a futuristic colony on Mars in 2760. The emotions you've felt are always real, and they can always be used in your writing -- whatever you might be writing about.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
"Tell [her] to stick to her teaching; she can never succeed as a writer." These were the words of James T. Fields, then the editor of The Atlantic magazine. According to legend, the Boston editor wrote to the father of a young, aspiring novelist with these very harsh words. She'd just completed work on her first full-length novel, a monster of a volume containing some autobiographical elements and deep, gut-wrenching tragedy.
The novel in question eventually did get published, and Hollywood has immortalized it in film more than once using some of the city's favorite actresses (including Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor). And even if you've never read it, I'm pretty sure you've heard of it.
It's called Little Women, and it's considered to be a classic piece of literature. Louisa May Alcott, who famously penned the book while living in Massachusetts, eventually became a writer for The Atlantic magazine. Looks like she sure showed Mr. editor James T. Fields.
A Big Little Woman
Louisa May Alcott wrote prose all her life, though she is still best-known for Little Women and the three books that followed; a group of books known as the March Family Saga. It was published, over two volumes, in 1868 and 1869, and still delights readers and film lovers to this day. Little Women has been adapted in three big-budget Hollywood productions: 1933, starring Katharine Hepburn; 1949, starring Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson, Janet Leigh and Margaret O'Brien; and one in 1994, with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale. That's right: 125 years after Alcott was told she would never be a successful writer, Batman was the leading man in the movie adaptation of her book.
Louisa May Alcott was in the writing trenches well before Twitter and word processors, back when everything had to written by hand, and she still had haters to contend with. Thank goodness she didn't listen to them!