Saturday, May 30, 2015

I thought it meant a male pig...

Interesting research tidbit:

I have a character in Fortune who is a veteran of the Crimean War, or the Russian War as it was called in those days. He isn't an old vet, for the story takes place in 1868, twelve years after the Peace was signed. He's a young vet of about 36 who plays an important role in the book, and whose life was forever changed by the War.

Although I plan to make only brief references to the battles that involved him, I needed to learn facts about the war, what caused it, who was involved, etc. I've been researching  on the internet. And one word kept coming up to describe attitudes in Russia and England at the time -- chauvinism.

It had a preconceived notion about the word and thought it had more recent origins. Here's what I found:

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

chauvinism -- word derived from the name of Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier of the First French Empire. Used first for a passionate admiration of Napoleon, it now expresses exaggerated and aggressive nationalism. As a social phenomenon, chauvinism is essentially modern, becoming marked in the era of acute national rivalries and imperialism beginning in the 19th cent. It has been encouraged by mass communication, originally by the cheap newspaper. Chauvinism exalts consciousness of nationality, spreads hatred of minorities and other nations, and is associated with militarism, imperialism, and racism. In the 1960s, the term “male chauvinist” appeared in the women’s liberation movement; it is applied to males who refuse to regard females as equals.

So there you go -- the word chauvinism was coined as a term for excessive nationalistic fervor. (Not unlike global attitudes nowadays, hm?)

Well, as the 19th century wars, like the wars of today, were decided upon, planned and executed by men, I see chauvinism as a man thing.

Would it be different if women were in charge? That's a whole other story, something in the realm of Mythology. Or Science Fiction/Fantasy. To some, probably, Horror.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Repeated words and phrases

Shakespeare's pithy phrases find their way into movie and television dialogue, often to great effect.

For example:
"All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. " Macbeth (Act V, Sc. I)

A while back, reruns of the original CSI TV series played each evening. I caught a bit of an episode in which Grissom, the head of the team, used the above quote in reference to a dead woman's hand. Okay, he's erudite, knows his snakes, scorpions, and Shakespeare. A few nights later I watched, also in reruns, an episode of CSI NY and heard the medical examiner use the same quote in reference to a dead woman's hand. It stuck out like a purple swollen big toe (I'm trying not to use a cliche).

The writers of these shows [I'm assuming different shows, different writers] probably didn't watch each others' episodes or read the scripts. Perhaps they receive lists of words, phrases, and quotations to choose from for the characters' dialogue. Most viewers wouldn't care. (Or even notice?) This writer, who satisfies her morbid interests by watching bullets bore through brains, knives slice though muscles, and teeth get lodged in guts, DID notice.

So what does this have to do with my own writing? I'm more conscious of re-using words and phrases and try to avoid repetition, but sometimes the echoes sneak through. I'm not talking about "invisible" words like the, it, said, and so on, but special words that sound great used once, overdone if repeated. Take words like frisson or cynosure. The first time I read these words I had to look them up. They are perfect when placed right. But if used again in the same work it seems like lazy writing. I've read books by top-selling authors and have seen them fall into the repetition trap. Makes me cringe. Were they not edited?

Those words are the swollen big toes. They stand out, make readers stop and shake their heads, and lose what's called the fictive dream. There are lesser words that are often repeated and would sound fine in context but often appear too close together in unrelated sentences. Most readers probably don't, but I notice these.

Microsoft Word has a search feature that finds every instance of a word in your file. It's a good way of rooting out undesirable repetition. Another thing I find helpful is having a Dragon NaturallySpeaking program read chapters aloud. Sometimes the ear picks up what the eyes miss.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

Curse of the comma and more

While editing, I found I've been playing fast and loose with commas, constantly inserting them when not needed. Guess you could say I never met a comma I didn't like. Of course the comma is a necessary tool, it gives the reader a moment to pause, breathe, then continue. But too many, inappropriately placed, say pause, pause, pause, interrupting the hopefully fine flow of prose.
There are several helpful websites about comma usage. I may be one of few, but I prefer the Oxford [serial] comma.

As for the other horrors: I waste too much time reading. But reading is never a waste of time. No, because reading is learning. But I'm on learning overload. Not from novels or research texts, but from reading of the on-line sort. Call me a blog junkie--I read writers' blogs, literary agents' blogs, political ranters' blogs, people-living-on-the-other-side-of-the-world-learning-English blogs. Then there are writers' websites, writers' forums, all packed with information......whew! I have barely time left to do what I want to do, which is write.

So as of today I'm putting a stop to my internet wanderings and will GET DOWN TO BUSINESS.

So why am I wasting more time on this blog? Well, I feel somehow connected. Maybe someone living on the other side of the world learning English is reading this. What a concept!

Neat poem by Shel Silverstein:

I'll take the dream I had last night
And put it in my freezer,
So someday long and far away
When I'm an old grey geezer,
I'll take it out and thaw it out,
This lovely dream I've frozen,
And boil it up and sit me down
And dip my old cold toes in.

– Cat