January 12, 2011
The Crown and Other Stories
These shorts would be excellent discussion topics for bookclubs. And among older children and teens, even adults. Different age segments would be able to talk about the stories from different viewpoints.
The writings are concise, though I suspect the translated works convey an old-style English quality that may seem more to “tell” than to “show” the reader, but still flavourful enough.
“The Crown” is about three princes, who are brothers. We learn how the youngest sows the seeds of discord, playing on the second brother’s need for affirmation to the first; and the eldest being seemingly too straight-forward for his own good.
“Giving and Owing” tells a tale that made me wonder if it is still happening today: a man marries off his daughter at an enormous amount of dowry he could not afford. He resorts to borrowing the money but still falls short. His snobbish in-laws ill-treat the daughter because of the inadequate dowry payments. The man is saddled with debts, his entire extended family suffers. Eventually his daughter passes on from neglect by her in-laws. Ironically they spend lavish amounts of money on her funeral and even incurs significant debt to do so.
P48. “The world is a scientific laboratory for the workings of Destiny”
Story structure architect: A writer’s guide to building dramatic situations & compelling characters/ Victoria Lynn Schmidt
January 12, 2011
As the title says, this is a guide for writers on how to create dramatic situations and believable and compelling characters.
I thought it’s also a good reference guide for media studies students, who may need to analyse/ critique plots and scripts.
I thought the various “scaffold” provides a way to plan the overall story. Writers often face the problem of not knowing how to continue (or begin, or end). Though this guide was not meant to be the prescriptive text, I thought it would help get past writer’s block.
The book comes in four main parts:
Part 1 – on drafting a plan
Part 2 – on building the story structure
Part 3 – on adding stories (this is the bulk of the book, explaining the “55 dramatic situations”)
Part 4 – on finishing touches (talks about research and how it applies to writing; famous authors say their secret to success is research; book poses a series of questions for consideration, to prompt for areas for further research).
P28. The traditional story structure has a clear beginning/ setup (Act I), middle/ development (Act II), and end/ climax & resolve (Act III). There are usually turning points at the end of acts I and II.
Structures include: The roller coaster ride, the Replay, Fate, the Parallel, Romance, the Journey, metafiction, the slice of life.
Example, the Melodrama elements has: in the traditional Act I, the hook, mood/ tone, villain, main characters, turning point. New elements are: conflict comes between characters, the villain could be one of the main character. The guide also poses questions for the writer, like “how does the character rub the villain the wrong way?”, “will you add betrayal to the turning point?”
The 55 dramatic situations (for creating believable characters as well) include: “Vengeance for a crime and Rehabilitation”, “Revolt and Support”, “Adultery and Fidelity”, “self-sacrifice and self-preservation”.
Example: in the “enigma and invention” situations involving a Seeker and Interrogator, the questions posed are “what is the main cause for the seeker to approach the Interrogator?”, “how do the seeker and Interrogator meet?”
January 12, 2011
You need a certain level of consciousness/ mindfulness to appreciate poems. I suppose that applies to most aspects of life. The best and most expensive wine in the world tastes like water if we merely gulp it down.
Some poems in this collection made me re-read it over and over, replaying the imagery in my mind’s eye. Some poems just make me want to go “Yeah!”
The title itself was pure poetry (probably taken from the title of a poem by Maria Melendez, who’s also featured). I mean, “between water and song”… the sound that water makes while bubbling through a brook and cascading down a fall. Akin to a song, and yet not quite. But not to mean it’s incomplete, for poetry is music in a class of it’s own.
“It begins in the leaves,
a hush that precedes all weather…”
- Kevin Goodan’s “Theories of Implication”.
Some are concise, right to-the-point, profound in its simplicity. Like Ruth Forman’s “Risk”:
You cannot discover
unless you have courage
to lose sight of the shore
Jay Leeming’s “Apple” is another favourite of mine, bringing out new perspectives from a seemingly ordinary thing (i.e. the fruit). I read this with a touch of familiarity and wonderment:
Sometimes when eating an apple
I bite too far
and open the little room
the lovers have prepared,
and the seeds fall
onto the kitchen floor
and I see
that they are tear-shaped.
I’m inspired to write about my childhood, as a poem, after reading Terrance Hayes’s “The Blue Terrance” (excerpt):
I come from a long line hollowed out on a dry night,
the first son in a line of someone else’s children…
The collection is edited by Norman Minnick.
P312 – poet’s biographies.
In-cover page says: “The publication of this book has been made possible with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency.”
October 30, 2010
I thought this was about dissident Chinese nationals through the ages. But I was wrong, in a good sort of way LOL.
It’s about the origin and explanation of various sets of root characters (radicals) in the Chinese written language.
Didn’t read the entire book, but it’s a easy-to-understand reference. I’ll be buying a copy for myself. Useful and handy-sized reference material for my home.
Macbeth: The graphic novel, plain text version/ William Shakespeare; script adaptation, John McDonald
August 30, 2010
Complete play, in full colour, translated into modern English (like titles in the Classical Comics series, there are the ‘Original text’ and ‘Quick text’ versions).
End section – interesting factual info on William Shakespeare, the real Macbeth (Mac Bethad; “Son of Life”), Macbeth and the Kings of Scotland, the history of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (possible reasons for writing it, and why the script may have developed in that manner), how the graphic novel pages were created, about the Globe theatre, and organisations and initiatives carrying on the Shakespeare tradition.
May 27, 2010
The blurb made me borrow the book:
“John Marsden has done what a legion of educators, my parents, a great number of my more literate friends, and my read-anything-you-can-get-your-hands-on grandmother failed to do. He has made me, for one glorious moment, love Shakespeare. Marsden’s version of Hamlet is smart, tough, lyrical, thoroughly readable, and uncompromisingly engaging… I now get Hamlet.” - Chris Crutcher, author of Whale Talk, Deadline, and Angry Management.
Which turned out to be true for me too.
I got Hamlet.
The opening line: “”Do you believe in ghosts?” Horatio asked him.”
Very different from the original, as to be expected.
The fear, of a more accessible version, is that it would dumb down a classic. Marsden’s version assuredly does not. It does bring out the prose and plot more vividly.
I tried reading the original play to be sure. It confirmed that without Marsden’s work, I would not have gone past a fifth of Act I.
For sure, Marsden exercised creative license in accentuating the parts that modern audiences would relate to. Well, the Shakespeare purists should stay away from this book, if only to prevent a blood vessel from bursting (no fault of the book but more due to anal-retentivity, heh).
I bet teen readers would identify with Ophelia’s teenage angst, complicated by the onset of puberty and desire for Hamlet. Also of Hamlet’s spiral towards what may seem like insanity; of his rage upon confirming his uncle’s betrayal; the tension between his anger and disciplined respect for his mother.
Marsden retains aspects of Shakespeare’s word play, like in Hamlet’s retorts to Claudius’ lackeys, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
What I couldn’t quite remember was whether Marsden used the classic line, “To be or not to be, that is the question”, in his version.
I see this as an excellent primer for modern readers, before they attempt the more “serious” Shakespeare.
I enjoyed Julius Cesear for Literature class in Secondary School. But only because my teacher made sense out of Shakespeare.
While I appreciate the texture and imagery that Shakespeare can conjour from the reader’s mind, attempting Shakespeare on one’s own was a challenge, let alone trying to force it down an already reluctant bunch of kids.
Marsden makes sense out of Hamlet. And in doing so, he makes the wit and drama of Shakespearean plays more accessible.
This is a YP book, but also relevant for adults who have not read Shakespeare.
The Iliad (adapted from the epic poem by Homer): Roy Thomas, Miguel Angel Sepulveda, Sandu Florea, Nathan Fairbairn, VC’s Joe Caramagna
January 24, 2010
A Marvel rendition of Homer’s epic, in graphic novel form.
It made me revisit “Troy” the movie (the one starring Brad Pitt) in YouTube.
Have to say though — tried reading the full English version of Iliad and it was confusing. The graphic novel was also equally confusing for me, in terms of the plot. I don’t have the capacity for Classics! But this graphic novel is definitely more accessible.
December 31, 2009
“What follows is an attempt to put down, briefly and simply, how I came to the craft, what I know about it now, and how it’s done. It’s about the day job; it’s about the language.” (p. ix).
Stephen King approaches writing like a word play, where he lets his unconscious (rather than consciously) develop characters. And he doesn’t believe in developing plots as much as developing characters in situations.
P17. As a child, he copied and slightly embellished the words fro comic books. His remembers his mother asking if the stories were original (he admitted they were not) and said he should write “one of your own”.
P33. He kept mostly science fiction books.
P34. His habit of saving his rejection slips on a nail spike, until there were too many. That was only up to sixteen years old, which meant he’d submitted and continued practicing during his teens.
BTW, that para is a lesson in making writing interesting (“write, not describe”). He could’ve written that he received many rejection slips but persevered. Instead he wrote: “By the time I was fourteen… the nail on the wall will no longer support the weight of all the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
And P37. Instead of listing Dave’s (his older brother) passion and hobbies, he wrote from his perspective: “I wasn’t interested in the printing process, and I wasn’t interested at all in the arcana of first developing and then reproducing photographs. I didn’t care about putting Hearst shifters in cars, making cider… What I cared about most between 1958 and 1966 was movies.”
P45/ 46. Selling his story in grade school (albeit plagarised unknowingly) sold en mass. And a teacher admonishing him for writing “trash” and leaving an indelible mark and self-doubt for years.
P56. Editorial advice he received from his first paid assignment as a student reporter: “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
(between P56 to 112). Early family life, struggles, his sale of Carrie, acknowledgement and dealing with alcoholism and drug abuse, death of his mother.
P112. “… Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”
P114. “Books are a uniquely portable magic”.
P118. Feels that if we want to be writers, don’t take writing lightly.
P125. His version of a writer’s toolbox:
1. Vocabulary. But write concise and appropriately; don’t use vocabulary merely to dress up.
P133. Good grammar is the foundation of good writing.
P134. place a noun with a verb and you always have a sentence (whether it makes sense is another thing): “rocks explode”, “mountains float”, “plums deify”.
P134. His pet peeve is passive tense: “The meeting will be held at seven o’clock” (passive tense) Vs. “The meeting starts at seven” (active tense).
P145. “With a hammer he killed Frank” Vs. “He killed Frank with a hammer” (see the emphasis on the hammer Vs. the person).
Suggests to have Skrunk and White on hand.
P145. Use “s” even if word ends with “s”: “Thomas’s bike” Vs. “Thomas’ bike”.
P164. To be a good writer, above all else, “read a lot and write a lot”.
P178. “one word at a time”.
180. “don’t wait for the muse”.
He reads about 70 novels a year. Not analyse them per se but because he enjoys reading. Also learns what is good and bad writing.
His routine is 2,000 words a day (about 10 pages) unfailingly. Keeps writing on current theme to keep the characters fresh.
P171. “The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.”
P182. On what to write: “Anything at all… as long as you tell the truth.”
P182. “… The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies…”
P185. Writing about what we know and like: “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work. Especially work. People love to read about work.” (e.g. John Grisham’s The Firm) suggests a plumber who enjoys Scifi might consider a novel about a plumber abroad a starship or on an alien planet. Recommends Clifford D. Simak’s Cosmic Engineers. And don’t lecture on what you know; use it to enrich your story.
P188. He believes that stories make themselves, i.e. Minimal predetermined plot and letting the story develop. That the writer’s role is to use their writing tools and techniques to uncover buried stories as intact as possible (paraphrase: “undiscovered relics of a pre-existing world” — hmm, one can say the same of music too, I suppose).
P189. Narration (moving the story); Description (creating a sensory reality for the reader); Dialogue (giving characters life through their speech). Plot, to King, is a writer’s later resort.
P190 – P195. Described himself as writing about “situations” rather than plots. Explains how he developed/ wrote Misery (or let the story develop itself).
P255. “is this story coherent?” and “what will turn coherence into a song? What are the recurring elements? Do they entwine and make a theme?”
P255. He looks for ‘resonance’: the thing that will linger in the reader’s mind and heart at the end of the story.
P256-263. His approach to getting his books reviewed (he prefers friends and critics he knows). Basically, the principle seems to be ‘listen to what the majority says’ and ‘author decides if decision is split’.
P266. Rule of 2nd Draft = 1st Draft less 10%.
P270. Praises J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels as good way of weaving in “back stories”, as well as being “fun”.
P273. Background remains in the ‘back’. Warns against self-indulgence in writing.
P278. King doesn’t believe, and admits a bias against, writing courses and seminars. Critiques are vague and he suggests writing a first draft should be just the author and the imaginary Ideal Reader, and not the whole world forcing you to second guess or interrupt the initial ideas.
P301. He states that he has never written a story for the money but for the buzz he derives from writing. “… if you can do it for joy, you can so it forever.”
P305 – 327. He writes a blow-by-blow account of his accident, of meeting the errant driver, being sent for emergency treatment, almost losing his life, the painful recuperation, and how he managed to pick up writing again.
P326. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
P336. He explains his editorial changes using an actual story he was writing.
P347. What he considers as books that have entertained him.
Ends with a short story he chose as the winner of a writing competition — “Jumper” by Garrett Addams.
The Life of Language: The Fascinating Ways Words are Born, Live & Die/ Sol Steinmetz & Barbara Ann Kipfer
November 23, 2009
Interesting stuff. Explains about origins of words that I’ve taken for granted (like ain’t) and things I didn’t know (like origin of OK).
By the end of the book, I really did understand how words are born,adopted (e.g. How they are naturalised/ anglicised, p316) and how they morph over time (morph is one such example!)
P39. Prof Allen Walker Read traced the proliferation of abbreviations to the late 1830s in Boston. “OW” was for “Oll Wright” (All Right) and “OK” was an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect” (All Correct). Most abbreviations then fell into disuse, except for OK.
P48. Chapter on “back-formations”, where words like “edit” (verb) were derived from “editor” (noun), rather than the typical way of forming longer words from shorter root words.
P49 – 51. Words like “enthuse” and “donate” were criticised and condemned in early 19th century (the book cites specific authors of books on English usage), but now has gained widespread usage.
P57. Chapter 8, on clipping/ shortening words. Practice can be traced back to early 1700s, where it was fashionable in England to shorten words when speaking informally (we can still find this happening).
P60. “zoo” is a shortened word from “zoological garden”.
P62. “Squash” (the gourd) is a shortened form of “isquoutersquash”, which itself was a borrowed word from Algonquian meaning “green things that can be eaten raw”
P68. On Contractions, like “had”, i’d, she’d, they’d, we’d, you’d. “Has” and “Have” created contractions like he’s, I’ve, it’s, they’ve, you’ve.
P69. “ain’t” is “am not” (why not amn’t?) see P72.
P70. A type called “wanna-contraction”: “wanna” from “want to”, “gonna” from “going to”, “oughta” from “ought to”, “shoulda” from “should have”.
P71. The contractions “I’d” and “I’ve” are used differently in American and British English. In BE, “I’d run out of ideas” or “I’ve to write home” is normal but in AE the same sentences would require “I had” or “I have”. In AE, “I’ll” can stand for “I shall” or “I will” but in BE “I’ll” can only stand for “I shall”. Explains that such differences are based mainly on tradition.
P80. Explains “why a muscle is like a mouse”. Both share a common ancestral source, the Indo-European word mus (meaning mouse). Indo-European is also where Germanic (ancestor of English) and Italic (ancestor of Latin) developed. Latin form of musculus meant little mouse. Which was applied to a muscle for the similarity of the muscle movement to a mouse. English speakers agreed and in 1300s borrowed the Latin term, spelling it muscle.
P85. On Doublets. Cloak (shaped like a bell) and Clock originate from medieval Latin Clocca (“bell”) by way of Old French Cloque.
P93. On Folk Etymologies (often invented by commoners). E.g. “Belfry” first appeared as “Berfrey” (via Old French and has Germanic origins to mean a seige tower). Then became a tower for watchmen, and eventually came to mean bell tower.
P95. Some words are ‘false etymologies’, where their origins are dubious or cannot be traced. E.g. Condom first appeared in 1706 but researchers have not been able to trace its origin (popular explanation is that its invented by a Dr Condom but this is not proven).
P103. “Nice” originally meant “stupid, ignorant”, then “fussy”, then “precise” and finally to mean “good”.
P105. Transformation of words; acquisition/ change of meanings over years. E.g. “awful” initially meant “inspiring awe” but now means “disagreeable”. P106. “deer” initially referred to any animal.
P126. “Academia” was the name of the estate, which was named in honour of a Greek hero of the Trojen War, Academus. The estate became a park and Plato formed a school at the grove in the park. The term Academia was later generalised/ applied to all schools.
On Generalization. P130. The word “Thing” meant “an assembly of people in a court of law or parliament” in Old English but gradually became generalised to mean “any matter, any thing”. The word “guys” meant males of strange appearance but was applied to mean a group of males, and now is even applied to a group inclusive of females.
On Specification (narrowing of meaning or scope of the word) P144. In the 1600s, “Computer” meant “a person who computes or calculates mathematically”. Now it means a programmed digital device.
P155. Chapter on “Baby Talk”. Words like “Bye-bye”, “mama”, “da-da”, “wee-wee” and “tummy” are some child-directed words (that become accepted use).
P163. Pakistan was from the initials Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir and ending with ~istan.
P166. Origin of the word “googol”. Coined by nine year old Milton Sirotta in 1940, when he was asked by his mathematician uncle Edward Kasner to name a very large number, larger than the number of elementary particles in the entire universe (est. to be 10 to the 80th power). Milton was thought to have been influenced by the name of a then popular comic-strip character Barney Google. Googol became an accepted word, which later in the Internet era, the inventors of Google used it as the basis for the name of their search engine.
P169. “Blurb” was invented by Frank Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) to describe “the exaggerated and effusive recommendations found on the dust jackets of books”.
On “Coinages” (pretty punny part on the coins and circulation analogy for words). P169. coinages out of circulation:
“PAWDLE (noun). A person of mediocre ability, raised to undeserved prominence: The company’s new CEO is a nice guy but a pawdle”.
“VOIP”, noun: food that is filling but tasteless. Verb: to eat hurriedly without tasting: Stop voiping your food!” (cited from Burgess Unabridged).
P173/ 174. New invented words like “Internet” (international + Arpanet), “blog” (Web Log) and spinning off Blogging, Blogger, vlog (video), phlog (photo), splog (spam).
On Epoynms (words derived from names of persons/ places). P207. “boycott” was from the name of land agent Captain Charles Boycott (1832 – 97) who refused to lower the rent of Irish tenants, which led to a ‘boycott’ by the tenants. “Atlas” (the book of maps) was derived from the picture of the mythological Atlas, supporting the world on his shoulder. (note: there are dictionaries devoted to Epoynms).
P217. Words like “accountable”, “donate”, “enthused”, “practitioner”, “presidential”, and “reliable” were condemned and ridiculed by influential critics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So were “finalize” and “prioritize” (use of ~ize to end the word), “preventive” and “hopefully”.
251. Onomatopoeic words are those that suggest/ mimic the sounds in nature or environment, or made by animals or people. E.g. Ahchoo, aha, ahem, bow-wow, ha-ha, hiss, moo, crash, whack, zing, click, oops, zoom.
P291. “Retronyms”, or new terms for old things. A “guitar” became an “acoustic guitar” (Retronym) when it needed to be differentiated with an “electric guitar” (neonym). Other examples: bar soap and liquid soap; print book and eBook.
P306-315 gives a span of the various eras where languages of other cultures have heavily influenced English. Over half of the English vocabulary consists of borrowings from other languages. Danish invasion of England in 800s, which introduced Norse words into the indigenous Old English (anger, cake, egg, law, root, sky, shirt, they, them, window). Then the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (boil, fry, dance, painting, priest, army, battle, soldier, judge, jury, country, court, state).
P308. Cultural borrowings include Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Sanskrit, Dutch, French, German, Chinese, Japanese.
P315. “The English language hasn’t got to where it is by being pure”; Carl Sandburg, quoted by Richard Lederer in The Miracle of Language (1991).
Chpt 37 talks about how word history are reconstructed. Also what an Etymologist does and skills involved. Basically researchers trace the word back to its earliest source. Chapter also instructs how to read etymological abbreviations in dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the basis for many other dictionaries in drawing the historical and etymological information.
Chap 39 sums up the preceding chapters (good executive summary of sorts).
P3167. List of suggested readings.