Steve Chatterton
Will Write for Food

Category: ‘Random Stuff’

Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: a New Approach to Outlining

July 24th, 2017 by Steve

Inspiration hides odd places at times. Like when Euripides took a bath and figured out what displacement was all about. Little epiphanies abound, waiting behind every corner, sometimes in groups of twos and threes, just waiting for us to stumble upon them.

Case in point: I was giving some thought to setting up a sideline copyrighting business, so I Googled something like “professional business writing” and came upon this article at the Harvard Business Review. No, seriously. I had to confirm I was wearing a tie before the page would load.

The page was an interview with grammar and usage guru extraordinaire Bryan Garner promoting his HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. In the interview, he’s asked about his madman, architect, carpenter, judge process which he says “was actually devised by a professor of mine at the University of Texas. Her name is Betty Sue Flowers. And I call it the Flowers paradigm.”

He says the approach is a great way to approach writing reports, memos, or letters, but it took me less than a second to realize this could also be used for creative writing as well, from coming up with a story concept to writing a whole freaking novel.

Here’s how it breaks down, step-wise:

  1. Madman: Think less Don Draper, more babbling idiot. This is the brainstorming session, the “hold it loosely” phase of the project. It’s just you and a yellow legal pad, curled up fetal in the corner with your seven-year pen, a tinfoil helmet on your head, writing down any stray thought that comes into your head. Pickles, astronauts, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, crack babies. There are no bad ideas in brainstorming, although someone reviewing your notes out of context might question your sanity. Make some dots, worry about connecting them later. This phase will give you an idea of what your gut tells you about this story and where you might need to do some research.
     
  2. Architect: In this stage, you evaluate all the dots from your brainstorming and figure out which ones you’ll really need. Organize your thoughts into simple bullet points to see the true bones of the story. Like the name suggests, you’re building a blueprint here. You can’t live in a blueprint, but you can get an idea of what the finished building might look like. Be prepared to review your bullet points ad infinitum before moving on to the next phase. It could save you valuable time and effort in the long run.
     
  3. Carpenter: This is the point in the ‘build’ of the story that you call in all your trades. Not just the carpenters. You’re going to need framers, plumbers, electricians, masons, roofers, HVAC–the works. Maybe a landscape architect, as well, if you’re a particularly flowery writer. Go to town on this phase, make sure you’re building a strong, stable structure.
     
  4. Judge: Here’s where the editing comes in. Allow George Saunders’ proverbial Inner Nun into your head and be prepared to justify every word choice before a tribunal.
     

In the end, you just might have yourself a serviceable story. Who knows. Stranger things have happened.

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Science Fiction References in George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”

July 21st, 2016 by Steve

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series

Before becoming arguably the most well-known fantasy writer alive, George R. R. Martin–author of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga that became the hit HBO series Game of Thrones–used to make his living as a science fiction writer. He made his first professional sale ever to Galaxy magazine when they published his story “The Hero” in 1971. According to Wikipedia, “Although Martin often writes fantasy or horror, a number of his earlier works are science fiction tales occurring in a loosely defined future history, known informally as ‘The Thousand Worlds’ or ‘The Manrealm’.”

First, let us assume that Martin–as a successful science fiction writer–is also well-read in the genre. Second, note that Martin has a tendency to reference other works within his own. This page, for instance, details references to everything from The Three Stooges and Blackadder to Jack Vance and Robert Jordan that can be found within the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, many of which have been confirmed by Martin himself.

Given that, it seems likely that Martin–whether consciously or not–might also reference classic works of sci-fi in his fantasy work.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Hemingway App Review

June 8th, 2015 by Steve

hemingway-app

Hemingway App is a new program designed to help in the editing process. It let’s edit your text down to something lean, mean and easy to read. It lets you know when your sentences are getting difficult to read, when you’re using a complex phrase that could be worded more simply, when you’re using too many adverbs, and when you’re using the passive voice. It counts you words and your sentences, and gives you guideline targets for adverbs and passive voice.

It also gives you a readability grade. Lower is better. A score of Grade 5 literally means someone would need a Grade 5 education to get their head around what you wrote.

For a point of reference, I put some Jean Jacques Rousseau into Hemingway App. I loathed having to read Rousseau at university, and the app backed me up, giving Rousseau a Grade 19 (Poor) readability. It rated every sentence very hard to read.

For contrast, I popped in some lines from Earnest Hemingway’s short Hills Like White Elephants. As one would hope, he hit it out of the park.

Readability: Grade 1 (Good)

  • 0 of 10 sentences are hard to read.
  • 0 of 10 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 0 adverbs. Well done.
  • 0 uses of passive voice.

Good on you, Mr. Hemingway. Apparently, you have quite the future ahead of you.

To see how I might fare, I put in one of my short stories and let the app analyze it.

Readability: Grade 5 (Good)

  • 13 of 84 sentences are hard to read.
  • 11 of 84 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 2 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 12 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
  • 1 use of passive voice. Aim for 17 or fewer.

Clearly not as elegent as Mr. Hemingway. So I proceeded to use the app as an editor, letting it tell me where to whittle my prose down. In less than an hour, I got this score:

Readability: Grade 3 (Good)

  • 0 of 114 sentences are hard to read.
  • 0 of 114 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 9 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
  • 0 uses of passive voice.

My sentences still ramble for a bit, but I’ve got the readability down from Grade 5 to Grade 3.

Is it actually better? I think maybe it is. I have a tendency to ramble on, and use too many subordinate clauses, as the unedited text I bashed out for this review will bear witness to.

But let’s let you be the judge. Below is the updated version of my story Grasshopper, Ant. Better? Let me know what your thoughts are on Hemingway App in the comments below.

Once upon time, Clive reveled in the warm spring air. He frolicked about, dancing and singing. He praised nature in all its glory as he hopped from leaf to leaf, eating to his heart’s content. He was grateful indeed for his powerful hind legs.

Clive was the living embodiment of living in the now. He wasted no thoughts dwelling on the past, nor did he worry about the future. The only things that mattered to him were what he could see with his own eyes in the here and now. Things like sunshine and daisies and dewdrops. That was what mattered to him. And jumping. Jumping high. Jumping far. Getting a bird’s eye view of the grass all around him so he could find all the best places to eat.

One glorious spring day Clive came across another bug crawling along on the ground. It was smaller and darker than he was. It had pathetically short legs that would have made jumping nigh impossible. Yet Clive was a curious sort, so he hopped on over and introduced himself.

“Hi there,” said Clive as he landed abruptly in the other bug’s path. “I’m Clive. What’s your name, friend?”

“Bloody h***!” said the smaller bug.

“That’s an odd name,” said Clive. “But I’ve learned to celebrate differences and revel in the diversity of creation. Hi there, Bloody H***!”

“Isn’t that nice,” said the smaller bug. “Look, my name’s not Bloody H***. That was an interjection blurted out in surprise. You scared the bejesus out of me, jumping out of nowhere like that. You can call me Rodney, if you like.”

“Hi Rodney! I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re not a grasshopper.”

“That’s right, Clive. I’m an ant, from the anthill on the other side of that tree.”

“Uh huh. Uh huh. And what are you doing? Got time to play?”

“Sorry, Clive,” said the ant, “but I’m gathering food all day today. Winter is coming. I’ve got to do my bit to make sure everyone in my colony has enough to eat so we make it through to next spring. My queen always says, ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”

The ant was truly sorry. He would give anything to kick up his heels, unwind, and chat with the grasshopper. But he realized all his ant friends and relations were still plugging away at it. Foraging like the dickens. Starting to make him look bad.

“Perhaps some other time,” said Clive, ever the optimist.

“Stranger things have happened,” said Rodney noncommittally.

***

Spring segued into glorious summer, and the bug’s paths crossed yet again.

“Rodney, right?” asked Clive, as he lay on his back on the petals of an open flower.

“That’s right, Clive.” Rodney marched around a tree carrying a seed over his head. “What are you up to today, buddy?”

“Sunbathing,” said Clive. “Though I’m getting rather bored of it. I think I’d much rather be singing. Or dancing. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, or perhaps a screenplay. It’s about a cop who solves mysteries in her spare time. Perhaps I should make a start on that. Unless of course you’d maybe like to jump and play together.”

“I appreciate the invitation, mack,” said Rodney, “I really do. But the queen’s upped the foraging quota this week. I’ll be busting my ass till sundown at least.”

“Maybe another day,” said the grasshopper.

Rodney felt guilty about getting his friend’s hopes up. He knew his commitments would never allow this relationship to become anything more.

“Listen, mack,” said Rodney.

“It’s Clive, actually.”

“Yeah. Listen. You might want to think about gathering some stuff for yourself sooner than later. Remember? ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”

Clive pondered this nugget of wisdom for a millisecond. “I wonder what’s happening in Milan right now,” he blurted out. “Or Paris. Haven’t you always wanted to bound merrily down the Champs-Élysées?”

But Rodney had already shuffled off out of earshot, his prized seed held high.

***

The sun-filled delight of summer soon turned into a cold and rainy autumn. A cold, miserable winter followed quickly. The ants stayed in their anthill, for snow blanketed the outside world. They had all the food they needed to get through until spring.

One day, though, just before Christmas, Rodney got a message. There was someone at the front door to see him. When he got there, he saw his friend the grasshopper. Clive looked chilled to the bone, and emaciated from weeks of going hungry.

“What’s become of my glorious grasshopper friend?” said Rodney. “You used to have it all. How I envied your carefree life of leisure.”

“I was reckless,” said Clive. “Please forgive me, my dearest friend, but I never heeded your words of wisdom. Had I paid attention to your guidance, I might not be in such a miserable state. I might have something to eat besides endless fields of snow as far as the eye can see. I miss the juicy blades of baby grass. The leaves of the mighty oak. The stately oats that grow in the fields over the hill. What I wouldn’t give, dear friend-”

But we’ll never know what he wouldn’t give. At that moment, Rodney’s friends and relations poured out of the anthill. They swarmed all over the grasshopper, ripping him limb from limb. They carrying the severed chunks of grasshopper down to their queen below.

Rodney picked up his friend’s disembodied head. The antennae still twitching. Eyelids still blinking. Mandibles soundlessly asking Why? He said, “Listen, mack, I tried to tell you. Winter is hard, and I’m sorry you blew it, but a bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.”

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The Problem with Me

May 29th, 2015 by Steve
Photo by Mike Rose

Photo by Mike Rose

Here’s the problem with me in a nutshell. I want to write a story called Hearsay Heresy. All I have is a title, but I really like the way the words stand together. I actually believe it has promise, when I don’t think critically about it.

Also, I want to write a novel called Nothing Yet. Again, all I have is a title. But I want to write it, see the whole process through, start to finish, from writing character sketches to getting it published, all so I can play out the following scene in real life…

Stranger:
So, what do you do?

Me:
I’m a writer.

Stranger:
Have you written anything I might know?

Me:
Nothing Yet.

And then I walk away slowly with a big ol’ Cheshire Cat grin on my face. All set up, no punchline.

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Working Faster in Scrivener with Additional Substitutions

May 26th, 2015 by Steve

addl-subs

In the previous article on Working Faster in Scrivener with Auto-Complete List we examined a way to pre-populate a list of auto-complete suggestions specific to the document you’re currently working in so little lists will pop-up as you type, allowing you to quickly select words from that menu and save yourself a little time in the long run.

This article is going to deal with enabling additional substitutions, allowing you to use shorthand for long chunks of text you find yourself typing over and over. For instance, if you write about science often, sometimes you’ll need the long form of a term, like deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s usually shortened to DNA, but sometimes you’ll have to write it out in full, and perhaps look up the spelling.

By enabling additional substitutions you can program a unique text string, such as ‘dna/’ to represent the longer string ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ so that when you type ‘dna/’ Scrivener automatically converts the text to ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ for you. I recommend using a dedicated escape character, like ‘/’, to delineate the end of a shorthand snippet. If not, typing the name ‘Edna’ would result in the automatic conversion to ‘Edeoxyribonucleic acid’, and nobody wants that.

Bear in mind that additional substitutions are not document specific and will be available in every document you work on so long as additional substitutions are enabled. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on your situation.

The Nuts and Bolts of How to Do It

Go to Tools/Options and click on Corrections. At the bottom of the Options pane is a section called Substitutions followed by a checklist. The last item on that list says ‘Enable additional substitutions’ — make sure that box is checked.

Below and to the right you’ll find a button that reads ‘Edit substitutions…’ Clicking on that opens another pane called Substitutions. Here is where you build your list of snippets.

Click on the ‘+’ button (bottom left) to open yet another pane. You’ll see two text boxes, one labeled ‘Replace:’ and the other labelled ‘With:’ Type ‘dna/’ in the Replace box and ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ in the With box to get the handy-dandy DNA example for you, or start building your own list to suit your own purposes.

Auto-Correct You Most Common Typos

Do you mispell misspell a lot of words? If so, it’s additional substitutions to the rescue for you.

Click the ‘+’ button and fill in ‘teh’ for Replace and ‘the’ for With and you’ll never spell have ‘teh’ pop up in a document again.

But what if you want ‘teh’ in a document. Say you have a story that takes place with lots of internet references. Then open the Substitutions list again to replace ‘teh/’ with ‘teh’. I know, the shorthand is actually longer in this example, but life is quirky and so is Scrivener.

If there’s anything else you want to know about Scrivener that I haven’t covered yet, just ask in the comments and I’ll see how I can help. Thanks!

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