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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

More lexicon terms

The Lexicon (http://www.kitwhitfield.co.uk./lexicon.html) continues to grow . . . and will be updated on its proper page eventually. In the meantime, here are some new terms.

The first one is added in tribute to a good point someone made on a thread discussing it (click http://www.writewords.org.uk/forum/65_85172.asp to see it): that rereading your own work too many times can make it feel like a 'slippery page', which is my term for something unreadable that you can't keep your eyes on. If other people find your writing slippery, then there's really not much that can be done except sigh, junk it and write something else, but there's also the following effect - one that I certainly know from grim personal experience:

Eyegrease
A thin layer of which is added every time you reread your work. After a while, there's so much Eyegrease on every word that your eyes skid all over the page, taking practically nothing in.

Thanks to Emma for pointing that out.

Some other terms . . .


Points of Style:

Nuggety
Full of neat, pleasing and memorable incidents, scenes, turns of phrase and similar. Gives the audience that warm, satisfied feeling when reading and when reminiscing.

Buffsasstic
The feisty, sassy, wisecracking style that has proliferated, with varying degrees of success, in female-centred popular fiction in the past couple of decades, particularly popularised by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fun when it works, laboured when it doesn't, and no substitute for good character writing.


Structure:

Ravelled Threads
The result of almost but not quite perfect rewriting. You think you've tidied it all up - but then later, there's a single sentence referring to a character who isn't there any more, or the appearance of someone who now has no reason to be there, or a reference to a conversation that now didn't take place, hanging loose and snagging the reader's attention.

Cockroach Eggs
You know you have to clean them off, but it's so difficult to spot them all. Little stray words and typos here and there that you should have wiped up - but there, you missed one, and now the whole page looks grubby.


Handling Character

The Sabre-Toothed Kitten
A common figure in pulp sci fi and action that's paying lip-service to feminism without really being interested in women. She's tough, she's a kick-ass fighter, she kills evil men . . . the fact that she's also beautiful, cute, often small or young, provides the same comforting amount of T and A as a bimbo and has about the same level of personality doesn't mean she's not a strong female character. Honest.

Note to the guys: a woman who's just a body that fights is not a big advance on a woman who's just a body that fucks. Give her some thoughts.


The Critics section, which I think will probably have to be defined as 'critics and feedback':

Essay Fallacy
The assumption made by critics and academics that writing fiction is akin to essay-writing - ie, everything in the story is there to illustrate some previously-decided-upon theoretical point, rather than because it felt intuitively right, was the only way out of a corner, seemed funny at the time, or any of the other practical reasons that writers do things. Such criticism tends to put words into authors' mouths, and can lead to blind spots as to elements in the book that don't fit in with the supposed message.

Rewrite Shades
Projecting your own interpretation onto something so strongly that you come away with a memory of it that reflects your own personal vision rather than what you actually read or saw. It's possible to sit through an entire movie or novel wearing the Rewrite Shades. This leads to arguments later, as it can be very difficult to tell when you've got the Rewrite Shades on, and different people can be equally convinced that their version is the correct one.

Doing the Author's Homework
Projecting an intelligent and complex explanation onto a story to explain something that otherwise doesn't make sense, and which was probably the author making a mistake. Also, projecting layers of deep meaning onto a story that doesn't really have them. Basically, putting in mental work to improve something that, if it was going to merit your praise, should have been done by the author.


Living the Life

The Overhead Projector
A frustratingly common device that sits on top of your skull, projecting onto the page an image of what you meant, rather than what you said. This notional gadget is responsible for the fact that authors trying to edit themselves can miss incomprehensible sentences and misspelled words, because they saw the image from the Projector, not what was actually there. It's the main reason why it's good to get a second opinion.


Doubtless more terms will follow if I can think of any.

Good review in the Observer this weekend: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1843346,00.html. Picking up anticipated reviews is exactly like waiting for exam results. You've done the work and handed it in, now all you can do is pray - which you do with increasing frequency as the time draws near. I got up after a restless night on Sunday morning at about 7.30 and trekked through the rain looking for a copy . . . Thanks are due to the nice newsagent who let me retire with my damp umbrella to a corner of his shop so I could look at the review then and there. The walk home was much cheerier than the walk there, rain and all. The newspaper even printed my photograph, which you don't see on the link . . . but heck, if you're on this site you can find out what I look like anyway. If you particularly care. I wouldn't.

Comments:
Can I suggest a term for the lexicon?

Novel By Numbers

An author who works to an obvious template - every single novel or series of novels they write is exactly the same as its predecessors. The same characters, the same plot, the same solution, etc. The only things that change are the names. Eg, David Eddings.
 
Interesting. I guess a lot of writers feel the temptation to do that, but it's probably something that should be avoided. Though I'm always prepared to defend Agatha Christie, who you can make a case that every novel she wrote is the same - she knows that you know she's using a formula, and she plays with your expectations beautifully when she's on form. 'Cards on the Table' is a favourite of mine . . .
 
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