Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nobody Knows the Wreck of the Soul the Way You Do

I love sentences. Man, do I love sentences. Plots, I can take or leave, but sentences kill me.

I had a good evening of writing last night. Lately, school's been so much in the way of everything--seeing as how I let myself get all behind and such--that writing's been very much an afterthought. But last night I plowed forward on my Spicy Slipstream Story (now with lots of slipstream, needs more spice), and it felt good. If I can pull this off I'll be so happy. It's structurally rather complicated, but hopefully more on this end than on the reader's. (Although the structural stuff is part of what is supposed to Make the Reader Feel Strange*, so I want it to throw off the rhythm a bit.) But I love doing the work. I love writing down a sentence and loving it and then looking back a paragraph later and seeing that the clauses need to be reversed and then loving the sentence even more and then taking out that unecessary word and splicing these two paragraphs together and dropping that dialogue tag because an action would be so much better there, don't you think and by this time I'm giddy with the rapture of making the words do just what I want them to do. I love words, too, not just sentences. I love amphitheater and infinity and sequence and Backpfeifengesicht (a German word for a face that cries out for a fist in it). OK, that last one's not in the story, but I'm going to find a way to use it somewhere.

Not only did I have a productive evening, but after watching the new "Amazing Race" (not as bad as I was afraid it was going to be, but more on that later) and reading a bit of The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove I fell asleep thinking of a new story which I only just remembered now. It's practically written already. Except for the sentences. Ooh yeah. Gimme some syntax, baby.

*™ Bruce Sterling


Blogger chance said...

I couldn't watch it (TAR) - they tend to put those people through the wringer and some of the kids were like 8 years old - that's child abuse if they run it like a regular race, and if they don't I expect it would be dire boring.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I thought it was fairly intense, and one of the two teams with young kids ended up going home, which was tough to watch. But I actually thought most of the parents acquitted themselves pretty well. They didn't tone down the challenges as much as I had expected, and that contributed to the early exit of the Black Family (and I know it's juvenile but I giggled a little at the name, if only because in true reality show tokenism tradition, they were in fact THE black family on the show). But there are some interesting teams and some annoying teams and at least one horrifying team, so overall it's not much different from a regular season so far.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Tim Akers said...

I've had a really, really hard time curing myself of my own logophilia in my writing. My early stuff was just ponderously, baroquely dense text. It would bloat off the page and choke the reader in a barrage of narrative bandwidth. Especially the way words sound, the way they feel when you say them. I used to write paragraphs just for the resonance and aesthetic pleasure of the syllables. Once, I fell in love with the sentence "smooth black beetles." Every goddamn story was littered with smooth black beetles. I've all ready decided that that's going to be the title of my first short storie compliation. Comprehension be damned!

4:00 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Tim, I had the same problem of overwriting. Too much Tolkien early, too much Faulkner late :-) At this point, I prize economy of language above almost everything else.

4:10 PM  
Blogger chance said...

*nod* I guess I don't really agree with taking kids under 10 into something like this (really I'd pick 13ish for a cutoff personally) - it's too young, and there is probably too much guilt thrust on the kids if they lose - it's not a thing I am comfortable with as much as I love the show.

And while I can be amused by two adults who argue and whatnot, I can't really take the same sort of entertainment from kids if they are at odds with their parents.

9:26 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

It took me many years to come to love short words. And short sentences. Before that it was all polysyllables and semicolons.

(But on the other end of the scale, Backpfeifengesicht would make a good blog name.)

11:37 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

I still have a semicolon fetish. I try to ration them down to one every three paragraphs.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Semicolons rule. One day I'm going to rewrite some fairy tale with the semicolon as the poor neglected third sibling of the period and the comma. The Three Little Punctuation Marks ("And I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your prose down.")... or The Three Punctuation Marks Gruff ("Who's that writing over my page?")

Periods and commas are good for sentences, but the semicolon... now, that's a punctuation mark that's focused on the bigger picture. No, let us not all be individual sentences; let us, rather, put aside our differences and join together for the good of the paragraph as a whole!

12:18 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Dude. (Er, "Bloke"?) We absolutely need an anthology of Punctuation Fairy Tales.

3:39 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

We can set it in San Seriffe!

Also: Penny Arcade, In the Lair of the Semicolon.

4:53 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

(I’m a big fan of the em dash, myself.)

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Gwenda said...

I love them all: the em dash, the semicolon, the regular colon, and (the first sign of madness) the ellipses.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Why do they call it an "em" dash, anyway?

I love them all and use them all (in moderation); but I find the ellipsis more difficult to justify than the other two . . . there are justifications for it--rhythm, for instance--but it always looks like a gaping hole on the page.

Also? I think I would really like to vacation in San Seriffe.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Shana said...

Emdashes—like em dashes—call attention to what's between.

The em dash (—) is defined as one em in width. By definition, this is twice as wide as the en dash in any particular font (except for monospace fonts such as Courier).

The em dash indicates a sudden break in thought—a parenthetical statement like this one—or an open range.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

I like that gaping hole on the [...] you get from ellipses. Sorta like someone's been flicking cigarette [...] on it, or like what you're dealing with is some ancient, perhaps mystical, [... manu?]script in really ropey condition, being edited by some (preferably obsessed) academic. Course that does go along with the "first sign of madness" thing, I guess.

And then, of course, there's that dramatic... pause, you know... for effect. Hokey, perhaps, but I can't help loving that pulpy flourish.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

One "em" in width? I never knew there was such a unit. Good, I learned something new today.

Hal, you reminded me of one of my favorite uses of ellipsis, to indicate lacunae in a transcribed or translated text. Like reading Gilgamesh (I think you may be familiar with it) and seeing those gaps where just about anything could have happened . . .

3:32 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

And it's called an em 'cause it's supposed to be the width of a capital M.

4:33 PM  
Blogger David Moles said...

(Yes, I read pre-WW2 editions of the Chicago Manual of Style for fun. It's a vice.)

4:34 PM  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Dave, yeah. I'm reading a new translation of Gilgamesh at the moment actually. Love that weird effect where [...] and then the scorpion men [...] and Gilgamesh says to Utna[pisthim...] for my furry love-mon[key?...] is dead! Boo hoo!"

And suchlike.

12:39 PM  

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