I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Steven Pinker’s style-guide / usage manual, but it does have a couple of important things to say about written English.
Respect Your Tools
Language has its own internal logic. Good writing respects that logic. Writers should study grammar explicitly rather than rely on intuition in order to communicate clearly, show respect for their readers, and inspire confidence in their work. Good writers are those who read widely enough to absorb good practices from a longstanding written English tradition. They know the rules but also when to break them.
Break the Rules
The Ancient and Venerable English Teachers’ Code—beloved by Grammar Nazis, Prescriptivists, Fussbudgets and Curmudgeons—is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules, and some of the guidelines will lead you astray because (a) Some were written by people who didn’t understand English and (b) Thanks to natural and inevitable language change, the English we use today differs from the English of the past.
See below for more details about what I liked and what I didn’t like about Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style.
Continue reading The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker
When and Why I Read The Sense of Style
I bought this a while back. Finally getting around to it.
Date started / date finished: 22-Nov-20 to 01-Dec-20
Length: 368 pages
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Sense of Style
The first-person singular pronouns of English are ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’. Although in daily speech people have been known to use them somewhat interchangeably, IMO it’s worth knowing which roles those different words are supposed to play in a sentence.
Give yourself a quiz. Read each of the sentences below and decide whether it is grammatically correct.
Me/Myself/I Usage Quiz
- The horses were trained by Sylvia and myself.
- Me and Sylvia sold the horses to a riding school.
- The boss split the profit between Sylvia and I.
Answers and explanations after the jump.
Continue reading English grammar: How to use pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘myself’
I attended a talk on worldbuilding by Singaporean author JY Yang and took some photos and notes. My notes are not comprehensive, but are hopefully characteristic.
In keeping with Yang’s preferences, in the notes below, I have used they/them/their pronouns. (Still, being somewhat of a traditionalist in the realm of English grammar, I wish there were a distinct gender-neutral singular.)
About JY Yang (from Sing Lit Station)
After six years of writing speculative fiction, JY Yang finally finds themselves at the end of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Tensorate series, with the fourth and final volume, The Ascent to Godhood, out in July this year. As a postcolonial feminist writer who deals specifically with gender, cultural imperialism and structures of power in their work, JY Yang is currently embarking on the epic journey of crafting their first novel-length work of fiction. Described as a far-future space opera centred on the descendants of a doomed generation ship, it has giant robots, space stations under siege, emperors and hierophants, holy artifacts and faster-than-light travel. It is Joan of Arc meets Gundam.
About the Event (Worldbuilding “Lecture” at Sing Lit Station)
There were no PowerPoint slides; I can’t imagine the talk proceeding in that way. Yang was animated, spontaneous, and concise in sharing about their struggles and successes as a writer. The talk was neither wholly about worldbuilding nor off-topic, neither wholly driven by the author nor wholly driven by the audience. The chairs were filled, but there was space for everyone. It was a good-sized group, but still felt intimate. A delightful event.
Continue reading New Terrain / New Works featuring JY Yang at Sing Lit Station
In the fourth book in the excellent fantasy series Five Kingdoms by Brandon Mull, the main character decides that, even knowing what he knows at this point, he would go back in time and do it all again.
At a writing workshop I and some writer friends went to recently, we were told that, because a story always involves loss, the main character would always wish, at the end of the story, not to have experienced the events of the story.
Clearly there’s a disjuncture between commercial and literary fiction, and I prefer commercial fiction. See below for more on why.
Continue reading Five Kingdoms (Books 1 to 5) by Brandon Mull
Okay, so technically it’s one of five blogs of the month, but they gave me this badge that says “blog of the month”, so here we are.
It would be foolishly optimistic for me to assume my blog is about to “go viral” or start making me big affiliate bucks or whatever, and in the search for content to feature, I don’t assume I was terribly close to the top of the list.
Nevertheless, I’m pleased to have been selected, I’m seeing an (undoubtedly temporary) traffic bump since the listicle was published, and I even went so far as to create a Facebook page for this blog, in case any of you temporary visitors are thinking you might want to hear about future blog posts that way.
I enjoyed my recent trip to Australia—or, as I like to call it, The Place Where Some of the Coins Are Huge, Most the Flowers Are Purple and All the Birds Are Really Weird. I went there to attend a writers’ retreat with two writer friends.
See below for about 50 photos selected from over 200 in total. (About a quarter were out-of-focus shots of flowers, and another 25% were of a very cooperative kookaburra that sat still while I took photos of him for 20 minutes.)
Continue reading Montville, Queensland, Australia
Reading this British book published in 1978 (a revised version of the 1948 original) was like going on an archaeological expedition in a foreign country. The English recommended by the author differs from my own for reasons of both time and place.
In some passages, the author of The Complete Plain Words speaks of the changes in the language that will inevitably take place in the decades to come; it’s almost as if he’s conversing directly with me, forty years in his future, at the same time that he’s conversing with his predecessor, thirty years in his past.
Our national vocabulary is a democratic institution, and what is generally accepted will ultimately be correct. I have no doubt that if anyone should read this book in fifty years’ time he would find current objections to the use of certain words in certain senses as curious as we now find Swift’s denunciation of ‘mob’. (53–54)
See below for what I learned, what stood out, and what I heartily agree with, as well as when and why I read the book.
Continue reading The Complete Plain Words (2nd edition) by Ernest Gowers
Writing the Breakout Novel is a book by an experienced agent about how to write fiction that is not just good but great.
Maass offers valuable advice on how a newbie can avoid amateur mistakes and how a published author stuck in a rut can get out of it.
Broad topics include: premise, stakes, setting, characters, plot, subplots, point of view, theme, and industry shop talk.
Do you want to be published? Drop what you’re doing and read this book. Do you want to start getting fat royalty checks again? Sit up and pay attention. Whatever situation you’re in, it’s time to seize the day. It’s time to break out.
If you’re interested in this book, I also highly recommend Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.
When and Why I Read Writing the Breakout Novel
Go big or go home!
I also read this book 26-Mar-14 to 28 Mar-14. Worth reading twice, or as many times as necessary.
Genre: non-fiction (writing)
Date started / date finished: 13-Mar-17 to 19-Mar-17
Length: 260 pages
ISBN: 9781582971827 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2001
Amazon link: Writing the Breakout Novel
I’d say The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel is useful whether you’ve got a completed manuscript or not.
There are suggested methods for rewriting a whole manuscript by targeting certain parts of it on specific weekends, and suggested methods for writing vivid word pictures: use sensory descriptions, strong verbs, and concrete nouns—especially repeated objects that can become symbols.
But there are larger lessons, too.
The book talks about the primal conflicts that make stories compelling. Using examples from successful fiction and film, it explains story structure by breaking down subplots by character and showing how major scenes happen when secrets explode from the subplot and collide with the plot.
I still like Save the Cat better.
When and Why I Read The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel
I read this before. I remember it had useful things to say about subplots.
Genre: non-fiction (writing)
Date started / date finished: 07-Mar-17 to 13-Mar-17
Length: 266 pages
ISBN: 9780823084432 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2007
Amazon link: The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel