Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where You Been, Chuck?

Call me lazy. Better though to call it a hiatus, but I haven't been here for a while. I haven't got a real excuse. I just didn't feel like messing with it, and I don't know how consistent I will be in the future, but I got tired of bitching and moaning about the state of the world, of the economy, etc. I think I'll refrain from that in the future, though I've said that before.

I thought I might pass along a couple of writing exercises that I ran across in a book entitled, "Naming The World". This book consists of a series of exercises for the creative writer. These exercises have mainly been contributed by writers and teaches of creative writing in universities.

One thing that struck me as I perused the book was just how different writers can be. There's a tendency to think that the creative process is pretty much the same for everyone. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, I remember hearing an interview with Richard Powers. He was talking about how he had written his latest novel with speech recognition software. In other words, he had spoken into a microphone, and his software had converted it into type in his word processing program. He felt that it was more natural to compose his novel that way. I believe him, but with this reservation. It's more natural for him, but not necessarily for others.

I could never write like that. I'm too much of a brooder when it comes to writing. I have to put down some ideas, impressions, metaphors, etc. on the page before I even think in terms of phrases, and sentences, not to mention whole paragraphs. Only then do I type it out in my word processor. I do read my work out loud after having composed it, in order to get a sense of the music of my language, but that's at the end of the process. Like I suggested above, it's different strokes and all that.

There were a couple of exercises in "Naming The World" that intrigued me. The first one suggested listing all of the things that a character touched, handled, or used in a story or novel, this by way of coming to a greater understanding of the character. I'll have to try that. I don't know if it will work for me, but I'll see. It makes sense though. We are what we do, and the same goes for fictional characters. Doing means using or handling objects, so the objects that the character interacts with should give me some insights into the character.

The second exercise was a suggestion on how to write the dialog of non-native speakers of English. Take a number of English sentences and translate them into the character's native language using something like Google's translate function. Then, take the resulting sentences, and retranslate them into English. (You have to actually retype the resulting sentences. If you click the button that translates it back, you just get your original copy.) You will find some awkward constructions showing up, and it is just those awkward constructions that non-native speakers will tend to use. I tried a few sentences, and it seemed to work. Unfortunately for the purposes of this exercise, these translation functions keep getting better and better, and those awkward constructions are bound to disappear over time.