Tag: Quotes

Video Saturday – Advice to Writers – Amy Tan and Creativity

Today’s video (which is backdated because I’m running late again) is from Amy Tan’s TED Talk. It’s longer than my usual video clips at 24 minutes but is easy to listen to in the background while doing other things so I don’t want to hear any “I don’t have time” excuses. :) It is an interesting discussion about creativity and where it comes from and the mystery of ideas and cosmological constants. So definitely worth a listen.

Amy Tan has written several bestselling novels, most famously, The Joy Luck Club. Also included are, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and Saving Fish from Drowning. Her most recent novel Saving Fish from Drowning explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition in the jungles of Burma. In addition to these, Amy Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series which aired on PBS. This last of which I have seen and is really very cute.

But, lets get to the video!  And as she said, “Near death is good for creativity, as is childhood trauma.” (If you what to know what THAT means…watch the video)


Phrases We Owe to #Shakespeare

Phrases We Learned from Shakespeare

The image here is from Becky a young “English Lit geek” in London.  She scribbled down some thoughts in her moleskine, took the photo and uploaded it to Tumblr.  And wow did it get a response.  Although I am well aware that many phrases come from Shakespeare it is something else to see them all written down in one place.  Can you find your favorite?  Which one is it?

 

 


Quotable – Advertising, Halitosis and the Power of Words

Today, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” is a common saying.  It wasn’t quite as common 150 years ago when it was a line in a Victorian dance hall song by Fred Leigh – “Why am I always a Bridesmaid?”  The lyrics being:Listerine Ad - Edna with Halitosis

Why am I always a bridesmaid, 
Never the blushing bride?
Ding! Dong! Wedding bells
Always ring for other gals. 
But one fine day  
Please let it be soon  
I shall wake up in the morning 
On my own honeymoon.

But it wasn’t until the 1920′s the phrase rocketed to prominence and became perhaps one of the most potent slogans for, of all things, mouthwash.  I love etymology and history and so found myself digging for more information.  It would seem that two advertising executives, Gordon Seagrove and Milton Feasley created a campaign around the social dangers of halitosis and how it destroyed the marriage prospects of a young woman, Edna.  Seriously.  Here is some of the text from one of the ads:

“Edna’s case was really a pathetic one.  Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry.  Most of the girls of her set were married – or about to be.  Yet not one possessed more grace or charm or loveliness than she.

“And as her birthdays crept gradually toward that tragic thirty mark, marriage seemed further from her life than ever.

“She was often a bridesmaid; but never a bride.

That’s the insidious thing about halitosis (unpleasant breath).  You yourself rarely know when you have it.  And even your closest friends won’t tell you.”

Pretty harsh, yes? And you can see the imagery (special thanks to nzgirl for the image!) the tragic girl, unknowingly afflicted by halitosis.  The ad sold millions of bottles of Listerine mouthwash and gave us this modern metaphor.  Hmm, I may be married already, but I have to admit, I DO have a bottle of Listerine in the house.

 


Quotables: Happy Birthday Mary Shelley! #Frankenstein #SciencevsNature

FrankensteinYes, true believers today is the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (b. 1797) author of Frankenstein. I wanted to put down a few words to celebrate today and this amazing writer who has given us a well recognized, well loved trope within the horror genre.  She writes about horror in perhaps its truest, most frightening form – that which comes from us - not human pride, but human optimism. It isn’t arrogance per se but our own exploration that led to the sad conclusion of this story.  It is a reflection of the state of human nature and of a human world.  We build the structures of our own destruction.  We fight against nature, mold it, shape it and try to make it our own – enslave it.

 Frankenstein is a novel about romantic striving against the boundaries and limitations placed on our existence.  Shelley’s Frankenstein is not a mad scientist, as his character has been reduced to over the years, but a scientist who is passionate about the primary questions and preoccupations of his time. In his quest for a scientific ideal – the perfect human – he creates a monster, who then must be held in check by other systems and institutions that humans have also created. While these institutions are more concrete and based in reality than the creation of the monster, they are equally imperfect. This novel helps the reader understand that there is no such state as perfection. Furthermore, there is no social experiment, whether based in reality or in fantasy, that will result in an ideal solution. Rather, human beings will always create imperfect institutions and inventions, and given this, must be prepared to accept responsibility and anticipate the potential consequences. (From Nicole Smith’s Article, “Romanticism and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley“)

I saw—with shut eyes, but acute mental vision—I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

Taken from Mary Shelley’s Author’s Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein she describes the dream she had that inspired the book.  The phrasing is not only gripping and graphic but very clearly highlights the themes we see repeated throughout the novel:  the unnaturalness of the monster, the relationship between creator and created , and the dangerous consequences of misused knowledge.  Best.  Introduction. Ever.

More Quotable Mary Shelley

“It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open.”

“None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.”

“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”

“The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body…[b]ut now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished….”

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

“I am malicious because I am miserable….You, my creator, would tear me to pieces, and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?”

“[I]f I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear….”

“The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.”

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

“But I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit what I shall soon cease to be–a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity, pitiable to others and intolerable to myself.”


Why We Can’t Write Science Fiction Anymore

From the Rolling Stone interview with William Gibson:PlanetExpressShip

You made your name as a science-fiction writer, but in your last two novels you’ve moved squarely into the present. Have you lost interest in the future?

It has to do with the nature of the present. If one had gone to talk to a publisher in 1977 with a scenario for a science-fiction novel that was in effect the scenario for the year 2007, nobody would buy anything like it. It’s too complex, with too many huge sci-fi tropes: global warming; the lethal, sexually transmitted immune-system disease; the United States, attacked by crazy terrorists, invading the wrong country. Any one of these would have been more than adequate for a science-fiction novel. But if you suggested doing them all and presenting that as an imaginary future, they’d not only show you the door, they’d probably call security.


WWW: “I am,” I said.

I’ve seen some dialogue advice running around the internet lately, and not even advice along the lines of distinct voices for characters, but just how dialogue should be presented in a story.  Dialogue is one of my favorite bits of any story, and what I tend to get my best feedback on, so I thought I’d pass along what I’ve run into, then allow myself a little indulgence by adding my own advice.

What got me kicked off was edittorrent’s list “Marks of the amateur,” shared on Twitter by Cat Vacuumer Emeritus Andrew B (name dropped here on Unleaded for the second straight day).  While the whole list is worth reading, two of the points specifically have to do with dialogue:

1) Improper dialogue formatting. That’s first for me, because, uh, if you’ve been reading for decades and never noticed there’s a comma after the quote tag and before the quote mark, and a capital letter starting the quote, and the punctuation INSIDE the quote mark, and a new paragraph with a change in speakers, well, you are apparently not really absorbing writing conventions as you read. That will make the work of editing this rather onerous.

4) Clumsy quote-tagging. Everyone agreed on this. I am the most lenient (yes, really– I am a positive libertine compared with Some Sticklers Recently in Yorkshire), as I don’t mind the infrequent “hissed” or “grumbled” if that’s in fact what the speaker sounded like. But the default for tagging your dialogue should be “he/she said” or an action.

The second one is difficult.  As a writer, I detest using then reusing the same word that I just used the last time I needed to use a word with similar usage.  See?  That really hurt.  But said is one of those words you shouldn’t be upset about ending up in your top 20 words used, along with your common pronouns and articles.  Mixing it up with the occasional flowery synonym should be done sparingly, especially since these things can probably be better handled with action.  And there’s the real way to mix things up.  As long as it’s clear who is talking, you may be able to get rid of all but one or two “said”s per conversation.  Characters should be doing something while they’re talking, even if it’s as simple as drinking a cup of coffee.  It breaks up walls of dialogue, and gives you a way to establish a speaker without explicitly using “said.”

Also, unattributed dialogue.  This can work in very limited applications.  It works best when two characters have a rapid fire bantering, distinct voices, and I find it works best if it doesn’t go beyond three pairs of lines, six lines of dialogue total.  Beyond that it starts to become work to keep track of the conversation, and work is the last thing we as writers want to impose on our readers.  If you’re going with this type of dialogue, recognize that it’s the conversational equivalent of an action scene.  It speeds up the conversation, so each line of dialogue in an unattributed section should be short and punchy.  Much as how writers can convey action by shortening and simplifying sentences.

The other bit of advice comes from my favorite new Tweep, @AdviceToWriters.  Quoting novelist Elmore Leonard, “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said.’”

He said jauntily.  He said gruffly.  He said expectantly.  He said quizzically.  Some of these ideas are better expressed in the dialogue.  He said quizzically?  If the dialogue is a question, it probably was said quizzically.  Some of the others are better handled with a short action.  Show, don’t tell.  He said jauntily?  No.  He said, doffing his cap.  Now he’s being jaunty, and we’re seeing exactly how he’s being jaunty, all without actually using the word.

Said is not a four letter word.  Well, it is, but not in that sense.  Don’t be afraid of it.  And if you’re looking to get rid of it, don’t be cute about it.  Take action, instead.

And now, time for my weekly cross promotion.  Over on my blog this week I explained my reasoning for walking away from a generation ship anthology, and then in a complete coincidence put up a flash piece about a generation ship.


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