Archive for July, 2010

Gamer Forums: Speaking the Lingo

Without going into too much detail, some potential writing opportunities recently inspired me to create an account for the Star Wars: The Old Republic forums and take a look at some of the chatter surrounding the upcoming game.

Good lord.

I mean, it’s no secret that internet forums are not the place to go for well-crafted prose.  But I was genuinely afraid to post something using complete sentences and punctuation, here; it was clear it would cut no ice with these people.  Capital letters are a tool of The Man if you are serious about computer games.

As usual, I’ll set aside broad social commentary in favor of specific questions:  does one, in such a situation, simply speak the lingo?  Take the time to edit some misspellings and dropped punctuation in?  Or does one use the English language to communicate thoughts and opinions clearly, knowing that it will be less effective?  The middle road is of course to only express thoughts and opinions so simple that they can be understood no matter what language you use:  “Macs suck they should only make it for PC,” etc.

This is presumably applicable to arenas other than web forums about computer games, so I invite any commentary on the subject — what do you do when your usual approach to written language is clearly the ineffective one?

Hello, My Name is Geoffrey, and…

…I’m an alcoholic?  Not I, but apparently my two posts on drinking and writing were enough to convince some algorithm over at a UK-based addiction treatment center that this blog was a good example of real-life alcoholism; it’s tagged in the “real” section of their somewhat helter-skelter collection of links.

Let this be a lesson to you about keywords.  No sane reader is going to look over those posts and say “aha, a cry for help from a sufferer,” but computers are not sane readers.  They are very troubled readers, and they did not have healthy childhoods.  They lack basic social skills.  They do not understand humor.

There will be a regularly-scheduled Friday post tomorrow; I just wanted to toss this up because it was fun.

Random Writings: Obsolete Words

Look, a new category — sometimes posts just aren’t about anything but the post.

Today’s, for example, was sparked entirely by my running across a reasonably graphic love scene that used the word “tumescence” in complete seriousness.  The rest of it wasn’t even a badly-written scene by the admittedly broad standards of steamy romance.  But I stopped dead, feeling very Inigo Montoya:  “You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Or rather, the author clearly knows what it means, but haven’t said it out loud recently.  A “tumescence” is just a swelling, something that is tumescent; so by the dictionary — sure.  That’s a cock, fair enough, particularly in the state it needs to be in for us to believe the rest of the enthusiastic prose.  Some dictionaries even specify that one usage is specific to sex organs.

But can we talk obsolescence?  People were putting “tumescence” in dirty novels back when there were some doctors who maybe knew what tumors were, and paid good money for corpses with visible ones so they could cut ’em up and see if they were demons, but “tumor” was not a household word.  No one heard “tumescence” and thought “something that killed grandpa.”  It was still an okay thing to stick in your orifices.

I would argue that it is no longer so.  This is not an obsolete word, so perhaps the title of the post is misleading, but it is surely one that has lost some of its versatility.  It’s not sexy any more, through no fault of its own.

So this is a post that invites comment — what other words are still out there, but can’t do what they used to for people?  Whyfor?  Let me know your thoughts!

How to Go for Drinks as a Writer

Since my last post about writing and alcohol was such a hit (#2 in page views), I thought it was time for more shameless pandering to the masses with another post about drinking:


Alcoholism at home is easy:  take a glass, add gin, empty and repeat.  In public, this unfortunately makes you look less like a tortured artist seeking relief from the agonizing tedium of the world, and more like a stevedore.  A little class is called for!  In boozing it up in public you join the ranks of Hemingway, Faulkner, Poe, the Fitzgeralds, and many other great writers (all of whom died either young, unhappy, or both, it’s worth noting), so get it right.

First off, have the money. It’s okay if it’s borrowed (another great writerly habit), but have cash to throw about when you hit the bars.  If you can’t afford to drink signature cocktails and tip extravagantly, you can’t afford to go out.  Stay in and swill gin instead, secure in the knowledge that it, too, is traditional.  Keep in mind that cash means cash, not money in the bank and a debit card — small bills are going to make your night much easier, and help with the second key point to remember…

Be able to get prompt service. You’re a writer — a man or woman of letters, a thinker; a dreamer.  Standing at the bar drumming your fingertips is for pissants.  You’re going to be the extravagant, extroverted figure that the bartender gravitates toward naturally, and you’re going to do it by tipping like a motherfucker. Don’t be shy about having cash in your hand when you step up to the bar (but don’t wave it at the poor bartender, and don’t yell “Hey Chief” or anything like that — a simple wave of the fingertips or a nod is all it takes).  Order your drinks promptly (see the next point), and then lay down the cash for them.  When the change comes, shove ten or twenty bucks back across and say “Cheers, that’s yours” or something like that (the exact dollar amount should be around the value of two drinks off the bar’s list).  Smile cheerfully, so you can’t possibly be mistaken for a rich, condescending asshole — you’re piling money on the bar because you’re a friendly guy, and the bartender wants to come see your smiling face again!

Know your drink. Especially your first drink — if you look like one of those indecisive drinkers who hover over the specials list before making up their minds, the bartender is going to give you lots of time, i.e., not come around as often.  Find a well-known cocktail that you can reasonably expect most bartenders to know and rely on it as a fallback if nothing jumps out at you on a first quick glance at the drink list.  If you like it a specific way go right ahead and tell the bartender, but be good-natured about it, and know the lingo.  A more obscure cocktail is fine — “Do you know how to make a…?” — but only if it’s reasonably simple and uses ingredients that any bar could be expected to have, and even then it’s not something you want to do if the bar is busy.

Ordering a “Vesper,” whether it’s from the movie or the novel version of Casino Royale, will always make you look like a dillweed.

Have an open presence. Don’t hunch over your drink.  Smile and nod at the people to either side of you when you take your seat.  If they seem friendly and want to go for the handshake and introductions, go for it.  Start right off with the job-talk, because that lets you start flaunting your exalted status as a writer as soon as possible!  Be modest about it, of course — it ain’t no thang, you’re just a genius.  Why yes, they can find some examples of your work online.  Here’s your card.

Have a business card. Kind of says it all.  If (like me) you float from job to job while writing and don’t want cards that go obsolete every few years, there is nothing wrong with your name and number printed in black on a white card.  You’re not looking to impress people with your graphic design skills; you’re looking to give them the information they need to find your webpage, writing, etc.

Write. You’re a writer, right?  It’s expected that you will occasionally jot something down in your notebook or on a cocktail napkin.  Don’t overuse the sudden grab for the napkin, as if you have just had a bolt of inspiration from the blue, but feel free to scribble on them nonchalantly.  Be prepared to tell people exactly what you’re working on when they inevitably say “Whatcha up to?”  You don’t want the answer to be “Oh, I’m not sure, just something that popped into my head.”  It should be more along the lines of “Oh, I just had a good idea for a scene in a novel I’m writing, and I didn’t want to lose it.”  Then when they ask, tell them what the novel’s about…

Personal Pages: Format as Function, or, Why I Text Slowly

I am not an efficient text messenger.  Messager?  Either way, I’m slow.  This is partly because I have owned exactly one cell phone and it is a battered, old one with the original keypad options, rather than a built-in QWERTY of some sort, but it is mostly because I don’t take shortcuts.  I write words out, use punctuation, and capitalize.

The lazy explanation for this is snobbery:  I type better than other people, even when it isn’t necessary, because I think I am better than them.  Fair enough, sez I, I certainly can be a snob sometimes.  But not, I think, on this, since I don’t particularly care how people are writing to me if it’s just a friendly text or instant message or what have you.

It seems to me that it’s a more fundamental issue, possibly dating back to childhood trauma involving parental editing of a grade-school paper.  Somewhere along the line I acquired the dogmatic belief that a poorly-edited text would be one that didn’t communicate its contents accurately.  For most text messages, this is not the case:  “spr @ 6 tonite?” gets across just as much of the important information as “Can we do supper at six tonight?”  Absolutely nothing is lost in that particular translation, but I’m still going to use the latter option every time.

It really just comes down to an awareness of formatting.  When Tom Robbins slips in “This sentence may be pregnant, it missed its period” I notice the absent punctuation (I also notice that he should have used a semicolon and not a comma).  I recognize that there is never a grammatical reason to use a colon and follow it immediately with an em dash, and that anyone who does is trying to create a visual phallic image on the page (two dots with a long, straight line emerging from between them: — see what I mean?).  Things like that just sort of pop out at me.

There should be more to unpack there but my tired brain isn’t doing it, so I’ll just leave it at the basic message here:  where you choose to put your periods and your commas and your capital letters does matter.  And there are people out there, including your humble narrator, who notice.  So…pick ’em carefully, eh?

Writing Life: Workplace Communications

Writers — we hope — are good at writing.  It’s kind of what they do.  Being able to accurately and completely represent a situation in words is pretty much the job description.

Where this runs into trouble, I’ve found, is when writing is called for but comprehensive description isn’t. There are times when you just don’t want to be working on the next great American novel.  Depending on your day job (and writers have all sorts). anything at work that needs a quick note is almost certainly one of those.

Here’s the thing about workplace communications:  it implies that whatever’s in the communique is what you think it is very important for the recipient to know.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t have left them a note, you’d have just waited until you saw them next.  There’s no room for deadwood — and in fact, if it really can wait until you see them next, it should.

If you have to write a memo or whatever, keep it as short as humanly possible, and resist every well-trained writerly urge.  Adverbs, for instance?  Almost certainly a sign that you’re writing too much.  Nothing basic and job-related is going to need more than the very occasional adverb.  Commas should probably also be kept to a minimum.  These are just signs that you’re putting too much time and craft into a your sentences.

The exception to this rule is if you’re describing a specific task that has to be done in a specific way — and the recipient has never been told how to do it before.  Then it’s fine to lay things out as explicitly as possible, and you’ll probably be thanked for it.  But if it’s a task that someone has been trained in before, taking the time to write out what they already know is just going to sound condescending.  Remember, the written word always implies that you think it is immediately important for the reader to know everything you’ve committed to paper!

If your handwriting is, like mine, illegible, block capitals are probably also a good idea.

And that’s it for today!  It would seem hypocritical to make this post longer than it needed to be.

Writing Links: Some More Cheap Humor

I’ll preface this post by reminding my readers that links to other people’s half-wit and witticisms are generally an indication of my having too much other writing to spare time for the blog.  This is a good thing!  Be happy for me.

And, if you enjoy the brute-force honesty approach that the writers of apply to humor, you can always look at their piece on how to write novels.  For me, the entertainment is less in the writing, and more in the bad formatting.  You’d think an article about writing would look like a page of real writing, instead of an epic by e. e. cummings, but remember — their article is actually bad advice.  So perhaps the bad formatting is just more sublime irony from the same geniuses who brought us The Six Most Surprising Ways Alcohol is Actually Good for You.

Here’s an interesting psychological experiment to think about, to make up for the short post — when you hit embedded links to referenced articles like this post contains, what’s your approach?  I usually right-click, open the link in a new tab, and keep reading the current page, unless it becomes clear that I’m missing needed context and should read the linked article first.  To my mind that’s an argument for not linking to content you need your readers to get immediately — an excerpt would seem better — but maybe not everyone reads that way.

Compulsive link-follower?  Only check them out if the original article was really good?  Drop a comment and let me know.  You can let me know how the jumping out of buildings drunk thing goes for you, too.


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