Monthly Archives: November 2013

We’d been sat in a booth and eaten

I’m not sure what it’s called, but there’s a sentence structure which seems to cause confusion all round, and if our goal as writers is clarity, needs some thinking about. This is a sentence where the beginning part is reused later on, often after a conjunction. A very simple example would be “I like green eggs and ham.” In this example, readers can immediately tell which part of the sentence is impliedly repeated: effectively, the writer is saying “I like green eggs and [I like] ham.”

It gets a bit more complicated when you extend the sentences. In a recent Friday Fiction story, I wrote:

“The males and females almost indistinguishable: gender no more guarantee of temperament than appearance.”

Now this is arguably a poorly constructed sentence in that the verbs (were / was) are missing; which I excuse as an example of voice, but let’s put those verbs in to save confusion:

“The males and females were almost indistinguishable: gender was no more guarantee of temperament than appearance.”

The second part is where the problem lay, because the implied repetition is pretty long: “gender was no more guarantee of temperament than [gender was guarantee of] appearance.” It works, though. The implied repetition is exact and there’s nothing else it could mean. Sure, it might be an unusual formulation for some readers and we might therefore avoid it if we prioritise clarity above everything, but we don’t have to and it’s not wrong.

Which brings me to the title of this piece, and occasions where it is wrong or, at least, dangerous. The implied repetition intended by the writer is probably “We’d been sat in a booth and [we’d] eaten.” But my brain reads it differently. “We’d been sat in a booth and [we’d been] eaten.” Crikey, I’m thinking, I never saw that coming!

The difficulty here is twofold. First, there’s an alternative way of reading the sentence (which is confusing) and second, there’s a switch from the passive voice to the active one.

We should definitely use these implied repetitions in our writing. It’s hard not to – just look at how many times I’ve done it in this post. But be careful of them – try not to mix active / passive voice, tenses or singular to plural. Make sure the implied repetition is exact (I don’t like it when the implied repetition is a different part of the same verb, eg was to were) and when proof-reading, look for alternative readings that you didn’t intend!

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Friday Fiction – Islandspeak

I hope you will forgive me a longer introduction today. If you want to skip straight to the story, it’s below the picture (this week’s FF prompt, from longtime Fictioneer Ted Strutz). Enjoy, and please do leave your thoughts if you have time.

Now, an interlude. This is my 101st story for the Friday Fictioneers. Over the last couple of years I hope I’ve made you think, and feel, and occasionally laugh. In spite of my reputation for darkness, very few people have died (well, unless you count the nuclear bomb) and there’s even been a birth. There have been familiesarguments, love stories and divorces and – OK – a good helping of grief.

As there are now 100 stories in my portfolio, I thought it would be fun to make a 100-word story out of their last words. So I’ve punctuated it, but not changed any of the words or word order. It doesn’t have much structure, but perhaps it’s like modern art, and there are things to see within the apparent mess!

Bet grave happy roaches progress up, dear. Litter buy shop, present her me. Soar, winter, know all flashlight dreams, all albatross music. Ridiculous it. It? Course father railing beautiful rosebush, Ryder had angry drunk. All shell engine dreams themselves, returns dust, waits. Victim boys, cold sunshine off world. Ted fall door start. Think Texans it microwave step me now, watermill entry silhouettes judgemental. Ago off back ever swoops horizon bush stream. More France again, that else daughter walls despair. Enough forgotten darkness, it away dreams. Will bone gone mushroom winter. Boulder promised second trees. Tail last success. Rebellion, sleep named.

copyright-ted-strutz

Islandspeak

Back home, we’d call this weather mild, but I’ve been away long enough to class it as pissing cold, and the empty ferry suggests any would-be tourists agree. The Exit sign blinks, but no emergency on board could make me jump. The locals would call the water cool and choppy. Icy waves splash at the window and wash the decks outside.

It’s my upbringing that helped me survive the crash. As soon as the pilot said “slight technical hitch”, I looked for a parachute and a way out. But Gracie always bought into Islandspeak.

She’d have called this feeling “sadness”.

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Published!

Another small publishing credit to my name!

1x50x100 is a collaborative project: 50 authors, brought together by Madison Woods of Friday Fictioneers fame, and featuring a few handfuls of Fictioneers as well as some others. The result is fifty remarkable pieces of flash fiction, all based on a single photographic prompt. One of the stories is my own, and not one you’ll have seen on my blog. It’s a project I’ve been involved with for about a year now, although Madison gets the credit for most of the hard work, the rest of us just write and edit our stories!
A paperback version will be available in due course, but if you prefer your reading digital, or just can’t wait, the Kindle version (also readable on other digital readers via the free Kindle app) is available now for $1 USD, $1.03 CAD or £0.77, depending on your location.
Search Amazon (books department) for 1x50x100, or click on the price above to make your purchase.
Thanks for reading!

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Friday Fiction – Legacy

This week Friday Fiction gives us the Want no evil, Think no evil, Feel no evil picture below from Sean Fallon. There are so many things I wanted to do with it, but time and rules permit only one story, and the one below is what I chose. Even then, this is a scene I can see so much more of in my mind and wonder how well I’ve captured in 100 words. I hope you enjoy it. If you have time, please let me know what you think – good and bad – in the comments section.

Other stories based on the prompt can be found on Rochelle’s site. After you’ve read the story, if you’d like a brief musical interlude, click here, or here. Both are relevant.

**UPDATE: Based on the comments posted today, I’ve made a few edits (two, really, and then a few other tweaks to keep the word count). Hopefully this version is a little more clear.

sean-fallon

Legacy

“Deuce is wild,” said Tommy, cutting the deck. “I wanna legacy, like them novels Ron, here, wrote.”

The four men sorted their cards.

“Donate your body to science,” said Ian. “That’s my plan.”

“Don’t think they’ll want mine.” Geoff rubbed arthritic knuckles and glared at the mixed bag of nothing in his hand. “I figure my legacy’s all the scribbling on walls I did during ‘Nam. Peace graffiti never gets cleaned off, right?”

“I’d forgot you’re a Peacenik,” Tommy spat.

“That’s your legacy then: death and destruction. That and your bui doi.” Geoff dropped a fifty on the table. “Bet.”

 

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A Complicated Kindness – Book review

I keep vowing not to read books that win awards. Then I go and pick up another one, read it and renew my vow. This was a classic example. As we know, I’m a slow reader. I’m also a reader who doesn’t like to give up part-way through. The result is that I wasted multiple hours of my life on this book. If you’re a fast reader, maybe it’s not so bad.

Warning: SPOILERS (if you can call it that for a book which has basically no plot).

ComplicatedKindness

It’s set in a Mennonite community, but with plenty of people who don’t seem to be Mennonites or at least don’t live in the way we might expect. I wish the author would make this a bit clearer, or in any sense clear at all. Oh, it was so frustrating.

One of the reviews on the back commended Teows for taking us so vividly into the Mennonite way of life. I think what they were trying to say is that the Mennonite way of life is evidently really boring (that’s the premise of the novel, I’m not imposing my own views here), and the novel is really boring too. It also encapsulates the life of a teenager-going-nowhere: also boring, and a bit depressing.

“Funny-sad”, comments another reviewer. The novel is definitely peppered with wry observations about the community and life of the narrator, but funny? It’s not what I’d call a comedy.

On the plus side, it is well-observed, the characters are believable and there are some touching scenes between the main character, Nomi, and her father. But they are not worth the hours spent on the rest of the book.

The précis on the cover claims that when Nomi discovers the truth about why her sister and Mum went away, she makes a bold decision that changes her life forever. In truth, there is no revelation about the sister, and the discovery about the Mum comes chronologically too early to be any sort of trigger for ending (we only discover it at the end of the novel, but Nomi has clearly known for a while). And that bold decision? Well the community decides to excommunicate her, her father decides to leave (or kill himself, depending on your interpretation) … Nomi pretty much bumbles along as she always has.

Sigh.

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Bridget Jones’ Diary – Book review

After reading a few award-winningly frustrating award winners recently, it was nice to settle down with something trashy. In spite of the time pressure (partly my fault, partly the stupid library’s stupid renewal policy’s fault) and the fact that I was supposed to be studying it carefully in preparation for my own foray into chicklit, I thoroughly enjoyed the romp through Bridget’s life.

I’ve seen the movie, of course, and even without it, could probably have guessed most of the plot by about page 4, but that’s not the point, is it? Nor is the fact that parts of the plot are brazenly copied from Pride and Prejudice and other ‘proper’ books. Nor is the fact that it’s short, or silly, or non-feminist, or any other quasi-insults we could justifiably lay at its door.

This is the best book I’ve read for years. And to prove that this doesn’t make me a soppy, romantic, uncultured ‘chick’, let me tell you why.

PLOT

Heaps of it. Far more than the stupid Mennonite book, or Cloud Atlas, or any of the other award-winning nonsense I’ve read this year.

Chase your character up a tree: Bridget is single and doesn’t want to be.

Throw increasingly large rocks at her: Daniel Cleaver, various embarrassments on the family / lovelife / career fronts, Mark Darcy’s disdain…

Appear to let her down: Relationship with DC.

Pull ground out from under her: DC’s behavior in relationship.

More rocks: see above

Resolve everything: Oh yes, and some.

CHARACTER

Bridget – loveable, believable, sympathetic, but far from perfect. Humorous… Bouyant…

Even Mark, Daniel and her parents are impressively 3D. OK, the supporting cast less so, but that’s a great show for a “trashy” novel and at least as good as Jane Austen ever managed.

SUBPLOTS

Bridget’s parents and their relationship dramas are a great counter-story. Her friends, each with their own relationship issues make a colourful backdrop. And if the main story is Bridget’s lovelife, the episodes in her career and with her family / parents’ friends are far more developed subplots than most novels can boast.

VOICE

You could open this book anywhere and know instantly what you’re reading. I found the lack of articles somewhat wearing at times, but it’s part of the character, of the idea that this is a diary, and most importantly, of the voice.

ESCAPISM

More than anything else, what I look for in fiction is a book that carries me along and takes me away. I don’t despise my real life, but I do like to escape it once in a while. A good book gets you so caught up in the lives of the characters, you don’t think about your own. And you don’t keep looking at the amount you have left and thinking “oh no. All that still to go?” like I have with the award winners.

 

So, am I shallow and uncultured? Do the judges of these awards see something I cannot? Or is this book like a beautiful woman in a cheap dress – infinitely preferable to the opposite?

 

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Living Language

It’s NaNoWriMo, so I’ll keep this short. Further to my post praising the development of the English language, here’s someone else singing how I feel about the flip side of that debate.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PgfQpJFYp8

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