A little something I've noticed...

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Kallila Tsarati
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A little something I've noticed...

Post by Kallila Tsarati » 2011-05-26 04:17

Those of you dinosaurs like me, who have been a member at this site so long enough to remember when NIF didn't even have a chat room, might recall the way I used to post. I was fast. I was a machine. I remember many evenings in which I'd have a thread going with TH, and another going with Ace. I'd post for Ace, turn around and post for TH, and by the time that was done Ace would have a reply for me so I'd immediately him back. Then I'd hit TH back. Then Ace. Then TH. Almost all night long. It was ridiculous! But it's not the amount of posting I'm trying to draw attention to. Rather it's the speed at which I would churn one out.

I have to contrast that to my posting these days. Consider, for instance, my posts in my most recent thread. They aren't very long, only a page and a half or so in a word processor. But each of them took me hours to finish.

It draws my attention to what I must look like when I post now as to back then. I remember, back in the day, furiously pecking away at the keyboard as words flew across the screen. It was almost as though my brain weren't running any of my words through any sort of checkpoint or quality control. Words occurred to me, and words were typed (incorrectly more often than not, I'm sad to admit).

Yet today, I labor over almost every single word. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm struggling with writer's block or lack of creativity. The idea I'm trying to convey is clear, and the words required to describe those ideas are plenty. What I labor over are things like word selection, sentence structure, and paragraph flow. I put a lot of thought as to how each sentence sounds. For example:

I had a moment of pause before coming up with this example sentence.

I paused momentarily before coming up with this example sentence.

The difference there is subtle, but it has an impact on the reader. The first sentence drags the ready through the moment, the word "had" implying some past event with no immediate consequences. While the second one implies action. It's still past tense, but it's structure and word selection drive the reader froward with a touch of tension. It's like trying to balance a coin, and the difference between setting the coin down statically or rolling it on its side. A penny with momentum will keep its balance even on uneven ground. The same is true for sentences.

I don't always bother doing thorough proof-reading for NIF, but when I do, I'll often almost rewrite the whole post a sentence at a time. I'll stare at the same sentence for several minutes, running all the different ways it's idea could be conveyed.

Mai smeared charcoal over a grinning cheek before slipping into the shadows.
Grinning, Mai smeared charcoal on her cheek before slipping into the shadows.
Just before slipping into the shadows, Mai grinned as she smeared charcoal on her cheek.

Each one of those versions of the same idea are perfectly valid, and none is "better" than the others. But each creates a slightly different emotional impact on the reader. It's a question of what the sentence structure emphasizes. The charcoal, the grin, or the slipping into the shadows? These decision seem small, and often are small. But they stack up over the course of a post. In a good post, each sentence flows smoothly into the next, creating an ever building sensation and mood that accumulates into whatever it is the post itself is about. The more time you're willing to spend considering each small decision like this, the greater your post is likely to be. Not only will it be more engaging to read, but when done well every word creates a sort of synergy that makes a post on even a boring event seem charged with intent and reasons to get excited.

I'm not sure why I decided to write this. It's just an idle observation I've made about myself and my writing habits. It does have a side consequence though. Never again can writing a post be an idle thing. From here on, it's a process that requires energy and thought. But another thing has changed since my early days. I'm way more likely to read my own posts over again several times, just to enjoy them. In the end, the increase in work and energy has been well worth it.

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Re: A little something I've noticed...

Post by Tycho » 2011-05-26 05:12

I've noticed this as well. In my first year I could send out posts with the speed of lightning. For all of their speed they carried none of the impact. School definitely compounds upon this, but I try to be more qualitative and that results in a longer time spent on writing posts. I can definitely say that I am one who doesn't do any proof reading before I post. Once only have I ever done that.

Thanks for sharing. I think it's good to pause and think how much weight our words will carry and what type of emotion they can/could/should convey.

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Re: A little something I've noticed...

Post by Tavish McFini » 2011-05-26 15:54

Dinosaur?!? Way to make me feel old again Mai! Admittedly, I would have preferred "amoeba" ;)

I'm not sure if I can entirely relate. I will admit that I was probably a much faster poster back in the day but I don't necessarily labour over each sentence or post very often, even now. There will be instances when I will proof-read and make a few minor changes here and there but I guess I'm of the mindset that writing is sort of like those multiple choice questions you get during an exam where, you think you know the answer and circle C. Then, when you finish the test and you go back to the question and start second-guessing yourself, you change the answer to B only to find out you were right the first time.

To me, whenever I start proof-reading my posts, I start changing things and before I know it, I've completely changed things around to the point that it scarcely resembles the previous post I had. Not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, there have been times it was for the better but I suppose I'm of the mindset that, if I liked it the first time, chances are, it's going to be good and if I change it, much like that answer in the multiple choice exam, I'm going to come out more disappointed in the end.

That being said, I probably do spend a lot more time mulling over what to say, do, think and feel when posting than I used to where before it was just knee-jerk reaction posting. I'll probably delete a sentence before I complete it as my mind changes gears and reworks the wording but once a sentence is finally done, I move onto the next one and don't often look back.

Don't get me wrong, it's great to proof-read and if you like making subtle changes or even complete overhauls, that's terrific! Heck, I could probably stand to have a grammar-proof-reader along with the spell check built into the browser. I know the writing quality of everyone I've met here has vastly improved over the, what, 8 years that I've been here now. You've all come a long way and its great reading the stories that everyone is developing and working on! Keep up the good work chaps!
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Re: A little something I've noticed...

Post by Kane » 2011-05-26 21:15

Hmm. There's a notable difference in quality from my earliest posts and present ones, but that's simply the effect of getting better at what you do. My style hasn't changed all that much over the last decade, unless it's been so insidiously slow that I haven't really noticed.

Usually I write at a moderate to fast speed, unless I'm either having a fit of inspiration or a bit of a bind. I tend to spurt and then hesitate, so I go at an uneven pace at micro level. Mostly I write in a half planned, half improvised manner, unless I get to do a rare long solo session.

I'm something of a perfectionist, so I correct any errors I spot, but you get a bit home blind. It's something of a weakness, because if I spot any error, I usually want to double- or triple- check myself. It's rare that I want to totally change a paragraph around, but it happens. I don't rephrase as much as you do, Mai, I try to get my phrasing the way I want it the first time around.

I try to improve my vocabulary by making notes of unusual words and make my own description for them. I'm also constantly trying to be better at conveying the feeling of a situation, and liven up my dialogue a bit with body language. I still have much work left to get better with unimportant details, I'm too focused in my own opinion. It's that fine subtlety that Mai speaks of that I could get better with. I also have a bit of a trouble with my main character in so far that he's keeping most things to himself. As a result, I try to show small details in an indirect manner that might not be fully clarified until years after the fact. I would really benefit from having more characters, but I simply don't have the time. So I try to get what I can out of blanks and the like, given opportunity.
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Re: A little something I've noticed...

Post by Kallila Tsarati » 2011-05-27 01:14

I certainly need to clarify that I'm not a master at this art of word play. In a lot of ways, I'm still fumbling in the dark. But occasionally, I find a solid wall, a method I like, and I stick to it. I suspect, if I keep at it, eventually this sort of tireless detailing work will eventually smooth out and my pace will quicken again, as I get a better feel for what I'm doing. But writing, like many of the things I do, is a life long educational process. None of us will ever be "done" improving our writing skills.

I know what you mean though Fini. I rarely go back through NIF posts with a fine toothed comb, but when I do, I'll often come out the other side with a post in which almost every single sentence has been changed or moved in some way. A lot of this has come from my reading of the book "On Writing Well" from William Zinsser. In that he really emphasizes cleaning and pruning your work. The goal he purports is to remove nearly every single unnecessary word from any sentence.

I'm thinking in my head that this sentence I wrote could use a little revision, as it's quite inflated with a lot of unnecessary fluff that it doesn't actually need.

I think this sentence could use revision, as it's inflated by unnecessary fluff.

This sentence could be revised to remove fluff.

See what happened there? The idea was condensed each time to a simpler form that is easier to understand. Now, I'm not as strict as Zinsser, as I think fiction is a longer form of poetry, and sometimes those unnecessary words help create a cadence, or an emotional effect you want. But it would be irresponsible of us to totally discard the "rules" and advice of the masters. Pruning your work as Zinsser suggests is an excellent training device, and it forever changed the way I approach writing.

Of course, as I said several times before, I don't usually put the amount of work I should into NIF posts.

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Re: A little something I've noticed...

Post by Kane » 2011-05-27 08:13

I work with information, not just information technology. I find that clarity is pre-eminent for conveying the idea in a message. Clarity is achieved with short and simple statements. But fiction is not a scientific log. Fluff is a subtle way to convey subtle things when done right.

Good writers inspire me to improve my own writing, and writing with them is both joyful and a privilege.

I hope to write with you more, Mai.
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