Interactive Fiction on the Horizon?

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A while ago, I mused about the future of books. One of the things I wondered about was whether e-books would make reading more interactive.

Netflix, according to a recent story on Variety.com, is launching interactive television episodes for children. On limited systems (for now), children will be able to choose which story line to follow.

As a reader, I have always created alternate or extended plots in my head about my favorite characters.

Writers often have to choose among several plot lines and character development to get their story to progress in a linear fashion.

Is it time for these two to merge and become interactive reading? What would it take to create an interactive book? Will e-publishers take the economic risk to offer them?

I’m sure this has been used for children’s books somewhere. Their stories are usually simpler (and shorter) than adult fiction.

The technology is here to produce interactive fiction for adults.

This is an exciting development for authors. Think about it; you offer alternative fictional worlds and lives. Minor characters could morph into protagonists. The possibilities are endless.

Has anyone tried this yet? Is anyone working on it? Anyone have suggestions on how to go about doing this?

Magic in Our Words

book-magic-quotePeople love magic, or at least the idea of magic. The overwhelming success of Harry Potter proves that.

There is something attractive in the ability to intone a few words and swish a stick to make things happen the way we want.

Want to right a wrong? Want to help someone out? Want to travel to a far off land?

There’s a spell for that.

My pal, Webster’s Dictionary, defines magic one way as “any mysterious, seemingly inexplicable, or extraordinary power or influence.”

Books are where that “extraordinary power or influence” thrives.

We don’t all think alike, which I believe is the greatest gift of life. Yet, it can be difficult. It’s not always easy to see the world a little differently from the people who surround us. As a child, I found companionship in books. I’ve never stopped visiting them.

The real magicians are the people who can create worlds out of words. They can help people escape to exotic places or alternate futures. They can present solutions to problems. They can create a fortification of ideas that no oppression can tear down.

Thank goodness there’s a book for that.

Got a Comma? Need a Comma?

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When you check out at the store, there’s a little dish with a sign asking for excess pennies or inviting you to use a penny or two if you are short. Why not do the same with commas?

Commas are always a bit tricky. There are so many exceptions to rules that, it turns out, aren’t really hard and fast rules.

When it comes to dependent clauses, the exceptions are rarer than most people think. Just put one in if the dependent clause comes before its independent clause, and leave it out if it follows the independent clause.

I’m worried about the state of writing, because commas are running rampant.

The comma in this sentence needs to come out and go into the comma jar. Writers (and editors) can dip into the jar when they see this sentence:

Because commas are running rampant I’m worried about the state of writing.

If I corral my commas into one place, I can avoid tripping over them throughout my office. They tend to hang out with the feral paper clips.

I’ve got a bit of room next to my monitor. It’s a perfect place for my comma jar. Where will you put yours?

Don’t Fear the Feedback

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Isn’t it a great feeling, after you’ve done something well, for someone to acknowledge your effort?

On the flip side, don’t you want to know if disaster is looming, so you can take action to minimize or correct it?

As an editor and writer, I’ve had to deal with how to handle criticism. The word “criticism” has an evil connotation these days so we’ll substitute “feedback.”

We all know that writing is extremely difficult work. It takes a great deal of time and effort. It requires constant thinking and analyzing. Most of the time, we pour our emotions into it.

It’s easy to understand why writers may get a little huffy when their “babies” become exposed to someone’s review. It is painful when people start picking them apart.

I’ve had writers get upset if I removed an unneeded comma, suggested a better word, or noted their development could use some work – really upset. Admittedly, in the heat of deadline battles, I may have stomped on the emotional connection between writer and piece.

When seeking and giving feedback, remember that nothing is totally abysmal. (Okay, I’ve had a few thrown-together papers that came close.) There is always something good in what someone has written. Start from that foundation and go forward with the attitude that any feedback is designed to make it better.

A good editor will resist the temptation to change everything. Honestly, there are times when I think I could make corrections to a Shakespearean sonnet. Some things just need to be left alone. However (and this is a big “however”), there must be a good reason for it.

“Because that’s the way I want it,” is not a good enough reason. Explain why you want it that way.  You’ll be surprised at how much good feedback you will get.

Lots of time we avoid asking for feedback. It’s terrifying to hand over our literary “baby” to someone else. We can almost feel our hearts contract.

Think of it as sending your child off to kindergarten. She will be okay, and she’ll learn a whole bunch of stuff in the process.

My teenaged grandson wants to write a book. In fact, he’s already written about 40 pages. One night, we sat down and talked about character and plot development. We talked about how his main character would react to certain circumstances given her background.

“I’m going to have to change a lot of things,” he said. “There’s a whole lot more to this.”

You know what was wonderful about the experience? We were so excited talking about how he could improve his story, we stayed up until 3 a.m.!

Yes, feedback can be a lot of fun. Don’t fear it!

What steps will you take today to face your feedback fears?

Is It Labor If You Love It?

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When I was a journalist, the owner of the local construction and demolition company would always let me know when they were taking down one of the old, historic buildings in town.  I’d go and photograph the demise of the local landmarks.

The company owner liked to recycle some of the old fixtures, so it wasn’t a quick smash job. It was a surgical removal, and the guy in the backhoe was Dr. Demolition.

He used to rumble toward the building in his huge backhoe, the massive bucket with those nasty looking teeth poised over a wall, and he would gently, ever so gently, start prying away the roof, the walls, the floors.

It was an entrancing process. I watched for hours. It reminded me of those nature shows where the baby elephants run through the legs of the mammoth adults without getting injured.

Dr. Demolition was a master at this craft and obviously loved his work.

That’s the way I feel about writing and editing. It’s hard work, but I am always striving to hone my craft. I don’t just say, “I’m a good editor and writer.” I don’t sit on my laurels. I’m constantly watching webinars, visiting other people’s blogs, and practicing.

I love looking at all the variables involved in writing and how best to apply the language to accomplish the goal. This is the same whether it is writing this blog or helping a company polish its web content.

Sure, there are points when yet another comma splice feels like the last straw – a sure sign I need a coffee break. Yet I keep going back. I’m head-over-heals enamored with communicating with the English language!

How about you? Do you love your “work”?

The i-e Confusion

“I just can’t take it anymore!”

Elbows planted on his desk, Dis  Connect clutched his remaining wisps of hair in an attempt to control his frustration.

I-e twirl“I know the rule is ‘before e except after c,‘ but that doesn’t work for in lieu of,” he groaned. “How am I supposed to get this report done if I can’t get the spelling right?”

Grammar Smith nodded in sympathy.

“The old saw has more than that,” she explained. “The whole thing is ‘i before e except after c and in words like neighbor and weigh.’ The long a words tend to be the exception.”

“That’s the problem,” Dis exclaimed. “There’s a rule, but there are almost as many exceptions as rules. How’s a body supposed to deal with that?”

“Yes, just when you think you’ve got it settled, someone tosses in a word like leisure to throw it all into confusion again,” Grammar said. “The thing to remember is that it isn’t a hard and fast rule; it’s more a guideline. I use it for words I tend to confuse like chief and shield.”

“Thanks goodness for Spellcheck!” Dis declared as he pounded away at his keyboard.

 

What’s the Motivation?

I dunno why, but I musta had a reason.“Why in the world would anyone do that?!”

The only answer is that there was some sort of motivation, a reason
for the action.

Ask a child why she misbehaved, and you’ll probably get, “I dunno.”  She might not always know the reason (chances are she does), but there is one.

Actors may think motivation is important, but writers – all writers – know it is essential to anything they do.

Fiction writers deal with the motivation of their characters all the time. Why someone does something will always affect the story line. Clashing motivations create tension and make for good reading.

Poets write to evoke feelings. Often their poetry highlights cultural or political inequity. People who feel strongly about something are more likely to take action.

Anyone who is writing anything has to ask the question, “Why?”

  • Why would anyone buy our product or service?
  • Why would this company want to hire me?
  • Why would this student’s experience be important?
  • Why does the world need to know about our scientific discovery?
  • Why are people crazy about Pokemon Go?
  • Why would anyone want to be a professional writer?

The answers to those questions will direct what we write and how we write it. Let’s make our writing life easier (that’s motivation enough for me) and find out why.

Now, If I can only find some motivation for housework…

😕 My Emoji Anxiety 😓

Yesterday (July 17) was World Emoji Day, and I felt a bit like Chicken Little. chickenemoji.png

The thought of emoji taking over human communication flashed across my mind, and I feared for the state of the written word. 😥

Are we falling back into the age of hieroglyphics? Will we lose the nuances only a written sentence can provide? Can emoji actually help communication cross language barriers or will cultural perspectives trip us up?👸👳💂

Just look at the emoji translation of the first line of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:EmojiCallmeIshmaelI don’t get it.

Will I be forced to learn a new language? (Seriously, I’m finally getting English straightened out in my head!) 😖

To calm my fears, I did what I usually do: I looked on the Web to see what other people are thinking. Turns out, most “experts” believe that emoji will augment writing much like facial expressions and hand gestures augment speaking.🙆

As someone of Italian descent, I think I can live with that.🍕💁

 

P.S. I’m not fluent in emoji. If I’ve created something negative or off-color, it was unintentional. 😳

Writing Explosions

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It’s July 4, and in the U.S.A. that means fireworks!

I struggled to write a blog about how to make a blog explosive when I tripped across Explode the Moment. This is a module for language arts curriculum designed to build descriptive writing.

I think it could be a lot of fun. The idea is to take one moment in a story and explode it with details. Put the scene into slow motion detailing thoughts and describing what you’re sensing.

Here’s the scene: You’re John Hancock. It’s July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia and you’re just about to put your name on the Declaration of Independence.

Have fun and share your moment with us!

 

Here’s a quick version from me:

It was 76 degrees and humid, a bit uncomfortable despite the breeze limply rifling the curtains. It wasn’t just the layers of linen and silk of his suit or even his wig that caused small beads of sweat to sprout on John Hancock’s forehead. The subdued conversations, foot shuffling, and coughs in the room only too clearly demonstrated how precipitous things were. The noises in the room mixed with the clip-clop of hooves, snatches of conversation, and shouts of the street merchants drifting in from the open windows.

The men were tired from a night spent arguing points and rewriting phrases. Many mouths yawned wide.  A few soft snores escaped. Smoke from the many pipes made a thick cloud layer near the ceiling and gave the room an acrid smell.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were seated together. Jefferson, even seated, towered above most in the room. Adams had a bulldog attitude. Franklin was leaning forward in his chair, both hands on the head of his walking stick, a slight smirk on his face. He reminded Hancock of an old, fat, gray, cat sitting there ready to pounce on any weakness. Hancock wondered if he looked like a mouse to Franklin.

Seated at his desk on a raised platform facing the representatives, Hancock toyed a bit with his ebony walking stick with the ivory knob that leaned against his chair. His stomach was tight with anticipation and trepidation. Charles Thomson, secretary to the Continental Congress, placed the document, the Declaration of Independence, before Hancock and stood nearby as witness.

 Hancock confidently scooped up a quill from the table before him. With dramatic flair, he plunged the quill with its rough, stiff shaft into the inkwell. A few drops of ink spilled out onto the green cloth that covered the desk.

“Gentlemen,” he nodded to the group.

With wide, forceful strokes, the quill scratching on the parchment, Hancock signed his name in huge letters across the document. He was sure Franklin could read it from where the old man sat.

“There! His Majesty can now read my name without glasses. And he can double the reward on my head!”

It was done.

5 Tips to Push Through the Writing Wall

man-304289_1280There are some days, as a writer and editor, I just don’t want to do any more – not write one more sentence, not clean up one more paragraph.

When I’m in the zone, I don’t even notice the hours flying by. But, like life in general, it’s not always that way.

Sometimes, writing makes me feel so vulnerable. Sometimes the subject is extremely emotional and it’s hard to make sense. Sometimes untangling huge snarls of another’s writing is exhausting, but there’s a deadline looming.

It’s important to not give up. Luckily, there are ways to pump up our resilience.

  • Take a five-minute mental vacation. Get up and get a cup of coffee. Ponder an upcoming holiday, event, or vacation. Sit back and go to your “happy place.” Just make sure you go back to work after the five minutes are up.
  • Make it into a game or contest. Challenge yourself to write a page in a half hour or five pages before lunch. When I edit, I see how many sentence structure and grammar errors I can correct in an allotted time span. Reward yourself if you achieve the goal. (Cookies or cheese works for me!)
  • Do some planning. This is especially helpful when writing. It lays down a direction you can follow when literary trees fall across the road.
  • Cut out distractions. We are all experts at chasing squirrels when we should be sticking to the task at hand. Don’t give yourself any excuse.
  • Post a “This, too, shall pass” sign where you can see it when you’re working.

Resilience is what separates the successful from the wannabes.