Grammarcheck.Net continues its battle against boring writing. Are you ready to join in?
Anne Lamott does it all. She writes novels and nonfiction, speaks her progressive mind in public and private, and on the side she teaches the writing craft. We’re thrilled to be able to present her perspective.
My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me, and he wakes up a lot of mornings and he says, “You know, this could be the best day ever.” And other times, in the middle of the night, he calls out in a tremulous voice, “Nana, will you ever get sick and die?”
I think this pretty much says it for me and for most of the people I know, that we’re a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure. There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.
For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being. My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.
Our true person is outside of time and space, but looking at the paperwork, I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954. My inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. I’m every age I’ve ever been, and so are you, although I can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been helpful if I hadn’t followed the skin care rules of the ’60s, which involved getting as much sun as possible while slathered in baby oil and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.
It was so liberating, though, to face the truth that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age, that I decided to write down every single true thing I know. People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days, and they keep asking me what’s true. So I hope that my list of things I’m almost positive about might offer some basic operating instructions to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.
Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system….
We here at TVWriter™ are major fans of Mark Evanier, one of the biggest writing talents in TV, comic books, and blogging. Today seems to us to be a good one to present to you this encore of the most popular posts he has ever written over at his News From ME blog.
This is a series of articles I’ve written about writing, specifically about the problems faced by (a) the new writer who isn’t selling enough work yet to make a living or (b) the older writer who isn’t selling as much as they used to. To read other installments, click here.
I want to tell you a story…
The scene is Farmers Market — the famed tourist mecca of Los Angeles. It’s located but yards from the facility they call, “CBS Television City in Hollywood”…which, of course, is not in Hollywood but at least is very close.
Farmers Market is a quaint collection of bungalow stores, produce stalls and little stands where one can buy darn near anything edible one wishes to devour. You buy your pizza slice or sandwich or Chinese food or whatever at one of umpteen counters, then carry it on a tray to an open-air table for consumption.
During the Summer or on weekends, the place is full of families and tourists and Japanese tour groups. But this was a winter weekday, not long before Christmas, and the crowd was mostly older folks, dawdling over coffee and danish. For most of them, it’s a good place to get a donut or a taco, to sit and read the paper.
For me, it’s a good place to get out of the house and grab something to eat. I arrived, headed for my favorite barbecue stand and, en route, noticed that Mel Tormé was seated at one of the tables.
Mel Tormé. My favorite singer. Just sitting there, sipping a cup of coffee, munching on an English Muffin, reading The New York Times. Mel Tormé.
Once upon a time – oh God, it was the ’60s! – the late but often brilliant comedian Godfrey Cambridge, used the immortal words “They are us!” as a brilliant comic punchline. Now, however, it’s absolutely correct to say, “They are me!” Here’s why:
If somebody wants to refer to a person whose gender they do not know, or who doesn’t have a gender, they can use a certain very common English language pronoun. You know which one I mean. I just used it twice. Congratulations to they on being Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
But we have to talk about something. There are some curmudgeons out there who claim that they cannot be a singular pronoun (it absolutely can), or who refuse to allow the concept of a non-binary person into their brain. These people are, in every possible sense, wrong.
I have received angry emails about this pronoun, just as the Merriam-Webster folks are currently fielding tweets from people who have decided to get up in arms about they ever referring to a person. This humble pronoun is newfangled and “PC,” somehow, they allege. (It is neither.)
It is true that many style guides and grammar books encourage the use of they only for groups of people, and clunky constructions like he or she for a single person. However, it is also true that people use singular they all the damn time, and it’s fine.
In the weeks after a particularly self-righteous old grump wrote to me to complain at length about my use of they in a Lifehacker post (“You are indeed part of our declining society,” they opined), I chuckled to myself every time I saw the word in a formal context or from a teacher or other authority figure. A note from preschool asked me to help my child with their craft project, for example. Anyone expecting to hear or read English without encountering a singular they will quickly find themselves disappointed….
One of TVWriter™’s favorite writers – and writing consultants – is here with a guide to storytelling that every single one of us needs to memorize (or maybe even worship?)
Not only do I find editing novels and helping authors achieve their vision incredibly meaningful, it’s such an interesting exercise because it forces you to think very deeply about storytelling.
It’s a wonderful challenge to be forced to articulate what’s working and not working in a story and, most importantly, why it’s not working.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the essence of storytelling. What’s that essential framework that undergirds every good story? What are the core elements?
If you can’t readily identify each of these components in your novel… well, you have a big problem on your hands.
A perspective is the ultimate foundation of any story. It’s the lens through which everything happens. It is the point of view that contextualizes the reality of the novel.
You must know your novel’s perspective and keep it holy. Decide early, stick to it, and be consistent.
For further reading: