At least one of my senators Doesn’t Get It.

So I wrote to my congress people, and I got a nicely vague, waffley letter back from one of them. I know he’s just trying to keep everyone happy, but I don’t WANT vague and waffley, I want him to tell me he’s going to vote against the damn bill. Otherwise, it feels entirely too much like he’s just trying to keep me soothed and placated while he’s planning on voting FOR it.

Dude. I don’t want the internet to become TV. I don’t want to live in fear that some fuckwit griefer is gonna come across my site and decide to use SOPA/PIPA to fuck with me, just because they fucking CAN. Given what I write, it’s waaaaaay too likely that someone will use SOPA/PIPA to keep my stories offline.

I don’t want to see hundreds of thousands of forums, of stories, of creative and brilliant people to just disappear. Believe it or not, but someone has pirated First Flight — it turned up on ebookr.com, and I was both somewhat excited (someone thought it was worth stealing!) and annoyed (hey, someone stole First Flight! and the blurb, straight off Dreamspinner’s site…). I sent off a DMCA notice, and they, to their credit, responded appropriately. (In fact, they responded so quickly and politely that I’m seriously considering uploading a couple of my free reads.)

Do I spend hours of my day, trolling pirate sites, looking for anything of mine? No. If someone posts about a pirate site to one of the many mailing lists I’m on, I’ll go take a look, but until ebookr, I’d never found anything of mine. It’s not like it matters to people who pirate stuff — they’re gonna do it no matter what the law says. I’ll poke at pirates if I find them, but in general it’s not like it matters in the grand scheme of my writing life. Hell, at least they’re NOT trying to scrub my presence from the web — pretty much the opposite.

SOPA/PIPA are the antithesis of pirate sites in that regard. It wouldn’t affect the pirates at all, but it could–would–affect ME in a big way. Yeah, it would be nice if we could keep people from stealing stuff, but that’s just not going to happen. The internet is the best thing to happen to my life: it has brought me friends, it has expanded my horizons, it has allowed me to learn things I never would have even known I WANTED to learn. I want my internet to stay pretty much exactly the way it is, full of the sparkling dizzying array of wonder that is humanity. With SOPA/PIPA in place, the internet will likely become TV: catering to the lowest common denominator; run by people who think Jersey Shore and Desperate Housewives and I don’t even know what insipid sitcoms are on these days are what *I* want. I come to the internet to get AWAY from that crap, because no one asks me what *I* want — and it sure as hell isn’t THAT.

In honor of Banned Books Week…

I’m going to commit atrocities on classics! I mean, I’m going to use passages from classics to which people have objected to illustrate the necessity of adjectives and adverbs. If you’d rather just learn more about Banned Books Week, the American Library Association has all you’d ever care to know right here.

So, I’ve taken the liberty of removing all adjectives and adverbs (as well as a few articles) from the following passage.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long–having money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about and see the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing the mouth; whenever it is November in my soul; whenever I find myself pausing before warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and whenever my hypos get me, that it requires principle to prevent me from stepping into the street, and knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Old Melville’s writing may not be for everyone, but that’s just…horrible. There are places where it makes no sense, and places where it says the exact opposite of what is actually true for the character. While it conveys the same general idea, it’s just not quite right.

Here’s the original:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such and upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Now we know that Ishmael’s run out of cash and, being rather bored and having nothing and no one depending on him, decides to run away to sea again. We now know what’s so compelling about the warehouses he’s loitering around, what he’s growing, and even the bit about the hats is somewhat more amusing. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.) Not only is it November in his soul, it’s a damp, drizzly November. If you’ve ever experienced a damp, drizzly November, you can appreciate how he must be feeling. (If you haven’t, they’re about as much fun as they sound.)

Adjectives and adverbs help the reader fill in the gaps. A fiction writer’s job is to hand the reader the bricks (characters, plot-points) and the mortar (descriptions, setting, atmosphere, theme, tone) in such a way that the reader may reconstruct the story you are telling as effortlessly as possible.

Take a look at any of your favorite scenes from any of your favorite books. It doesn’t matter what kind of a scene it is–action, sex, maybe just two people chatting in a kitchen. Five will get you ten that a big part of what you get out of that scene comes from the way the author used adjectives and adverbs. If the scene was merely a recitation of the things within it, or if one character merely recapped it for another without letting you see it, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective or affecting. It wouldn’t be your favorite scene.

You can have my… Revisited

I am, for the most part, a decent kind of person. I don’t start flame wars, I don’t pile on when other people do, I stay away from sites and topics that make me want to throttle someone.

Today, however, I have come across two different sites that said the same thing–DON’T USE ADJECTIVES OR YOU SUCK!!!!11212!ehjouhe–and I have been having a very hard time maintaining my usual even demeanor.

One of the sites had collected five quotes from Stephen King and claimed they were five that all writers should take to heart. I really don’t know how King’s fondness for putting Junior Mints on a toothpick in the movie theater will make my writing better, but then again, I like editors so what do I know?

The very first King quote was “The road to hell is paved with adverbs”. The author of the article gleefully joins the chorus of adverbial hate, without (as usual) bothering to offer suggestions, options, definitions, or even examples. (Also, I noticed that the author of the article did not manage to avoid using an adverb. I did not leave a comment pointing that out.)

The second site I came across is written by “an award-winning author”, though I didn’t bother looking to see what award it was. While the author’s name is unfamiliar to me, that means nothing — I probably wouldn’t recognize this year’s Caldecott Medal winner’s name, either. This author is offering an A-to-Z list of “writing tips”, and right there in the As is “Adjectives”.

“Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly”, Author says, and I just heard you pull that muscle, you rolled your eyes so hard. Here, have an ice pack.

On top of that, in the Ds is “Description”. Author offers examples of passive and active descriptions, but the thing about Author’s examples? Mm-hm. Dripping with adjectives. Seven adjectives and four adverbs in the passive/short example; eighteen adjectives and three adverbs in the longer. And that’s not even counting the prepositional phrases–as they tell you where, they function like adjectives. (Also, there’s a subject-verb disagreement in the second example, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Again, I have not left a comment on that, though I am sorely tempted. After all, if I’m following the advice from Adjectives, then I cannot also follow the advice from Description, can I? They seem to be mutually exclusive.

Sure, there are good reasons not to lard your prose with every adjective and adverb under the sun, but to declare war on them wholesale is pretty much defeating the purpose of writing.

I’m not trying to recite a grocery list, when I write. I am trying to show you the pictures in my head, to bring what I hear and see into being with the admittedly limited medium of the English language. When I see a hot, dusty street, crowded with bodies and all manner of animals, in my head, I don’t want to sit down and write something like, oh, this:

Area: 50 square meters
Population: 2,015
Animals: 110
Temperature: 95 F
Chance Precipitation (percent): .005
Heat index: 115 F

(Numbers are adjectives, by the way — they tell how many.)

You could do something like this, which keeps the numbers:

Two thousand and fifteen people stood in fifty square meters. They were accompanied by a half-dozen dogs, twelve wildebeest, sixteen Guernsey cows (all pregnant), seventy-five parakeets and one very confused-looking penguin. The ambient temperature was 95 degres fahrenheit and rising precipitously. The chance of rainfall was less than five thousandths of one percent. The dew-point was listed as twelve degrees fahrenheit. The heat index was one hundred fifteen.

Or you could just give in and do this, instead:

The narrow street pressed friends and enemies closer than anyone really wanted to be. The smell of cattle and dogs mingled with the scent of humanity and their varied wares, a cloying combination that lingered in clothing even after one made their escape from the area. The merciless sky held nothing more than the sun, not even a wisp of teasing cloud, not even a bird.

Which of those makes you want to keep reading? Which of those rings of story, of potential adventures and heartache and maybe even something funny? I’m going to take a wild guess and strike the first example from the list.

And that is why I refuse to give up on adjectives. And why I refuse to take writing advice from people who actively refuse to be edited, but mostly the former.

You can have my adverbs and adjectives when you pry them from my clammy, tightly-curled fists.

Why you want to wait until I’m in full rigor is beyond me, but hey. To each their own, right?

I don’t understand– No, that’s not true. I understand why people get annoyed by thesaurus abuse, and I understand why people get annoyed by an overabundance of pedestrian adverbs. What I don’t understand is the absolute lack of compromise that I see in OMG NO ADVERBS/ADJECTIVES OR YOU SUCK!!!! “writing rules”.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that Kristen Lamb may be the one and only person I’ve ever seen to author a list of “writing rules” who actually explicitly states that it’s boring adverbial phrases like “she smiled happily” that need to die in a fire — but something like “she smiled, gleefully wielding her scalpel” is acceptable.

See, the thing is, you canNOT write without adjectives. Since I’m a highly visual person, I find examples to be far more illuminating, so here! Let’s have another experiment:

This is the first two paragraphs of my Sailors story, with every adjective, adverb, or other remotely descriptive word removed:

Everyone lined the railing. Tevseth was searching.

There. Tevseth caught sight of Kelvi, watching healers helping the men.

No adjectives, no adverbs, no prepositions. What do we learn from this? Well… There’s a railing… And some people, two of whom we’re maybe supposed to start caring about, but…

But what railing? Where is it? Who’s Kelvi, why should healers bother helping the men, what is it that Tevseth sees? Why the hell should we give a tin-plated rat’s ass? Who knows? I sure don’t — and if someone wanted me to read their story and this is what greeted me? I’d be clicking the ‘close tab’ X or the back button without bothering to see what happened in paragraph three.

So here, try those two ‘graphs again, this time with the dreaded and deadly descriptors (but no alliteration):

Everyone who could stand lined the railing as the Sea Dragon limped into the harbor, two and a half weeks late. Tevseth could see the crowd on the docks—most waving, some jumping up and down—and leaned forward, searching for one familiar figure. It wasn’t until they were manuvering into their berth that he found him.

There. Gold-brown hair glimmering in the sunlight, green eyes he couldn’t see yet, a wiry body half a head shorter than most and a full head shorter than himself. Tevseth’s throat went tight as he caught sight of Kelvi, standing toward the back of the crowd and watching the town’s healers helping the badly injured men off the boat.

There. Now we know where the railing is and what it’s attached to: on a boat! We also know why people are at the railing — they’re finally home. Tevseth is looking for someone among the crowd — not an easy task, because the crowd is just as happy to see their sailors as the sailors are to see home — and we know when Tevseth finds him. We immediately know that Kelvi is important to Tevseth (physical reaction); we also see that Kelvi is watching the healers because there are injured men that need help getting off the boat. We can guess that Kelvi is probably looking to see if Tevseth is among those who can’t move under their own power, but that’s not nearly as obvious as the rest of it.

And all of that information is conveyed through the use of adjectives, prepositions, and at least one adverb. Oh, and italics, but I’ve covered those elsewhere.

So no. I’m going to just keep on ignoring the screams and wails of THOU SHALT NOT when it comes to adjectives and adverbs, because I am trying to tell a story, here. Something made up out of whole cloth. Fake. Factitious. Fiction. If I tried to do it without adjectives, adverbs, or any other descriptors, you’d have something like “There was man.” and that is IT. Not really a story, there, not as it is.

(Edited to remove another prepositional phrase.)

Apparently, I think you’re stupid.

From the post ‘4 Writing Crutches That Insult A Reader’s Intelligence‘, on Kristen Lamb’s blog, after the usual “NEVER USE ADVERBS OR YOU SUCK” advice*:

In fiction, bold font and italics are almost never acceptable. Again, if the prose is well written, the reader will stress the word(s) in his head. Trust me. We don’t need to hold our reader’s hand, or brain, or whatever.

Bold font I’ll give her, because in fiction, bold font is the exclusive domain of things like chapter headings and the like. Italics, on the other hand… I don’t agree that “well-written prose” automatically equals the reader “stress[ing] the word(s) in his head”. Let’s try an experiment!

Here I have a passage from First Flight, italics removed. Can you tell what’s supposed to be emphasized?

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

And here’s the same one, with the intelligence-insulting italics in place:

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

I don’t use italics because I think my readers are stupid. I use italics because I want my readers to have the story the way I see and hear it in my own head. That’s what they’re looking for, after all–the story that I am telling. Don’t I owe it to them to tell it the way it and the characters demand it be told?

As usual, the post ignores dialogue entirely. Here’s another little experiment with italics, this time with Benny and Phil. (This scene is in first-person, from Phil’s agrammatical POV.)

“Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?” I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. “Or are you planning to kill me?”

“Kill–Sweet Jesus! What the hell?” I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ’cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? “What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?”

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

Where does Phil’s emphasis fall? How do those words sound, what cadence do they follow?

Here’s the original version:

“Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?” I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. “Or are you planning to kill me?”

“Kill–Sweet Jesus! What the hell?” I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ’cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? “What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?”

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

So did that make you feel stupid? I hope not, because all that was supposed to happen was that you were supposed to hear Phil’s voice, loud and clear.

I’m the sort of person who, if they were going to insult someone, would make it a bit more obvious than through the use of formatting in my writing.

* Which, to be absolutely fair, she did** temper with the note that one can use adverbs as long as you weren’t pedestrian about it.

** This is non-fiction, so it’s okay to use italics.

I played with an iPad a couple of weeks ago.

The on-screen keyboard was awful — I got punctuation in the middle of my sentences, where I didn't want/need it; I also didn't like the auto-correct feature. 

The other thing I'm not keen on is the way Apple has set themselves up as arbiters of decency. Steve Jobs himself has stated that Apple is offering "freedom from porn". At what point does porn begin? At what point does their control end? Will there be a requirement in the future that apps must have a built in censor/filter, so that if I were to try to write a sex scene, it would refuse to show all those porny words? What if it was as indiscriminate as some bulletin-board censoring software, so that one could not write anything about the breastular Hitchrooster(ian) bottomistant? 

I am an adult. I am perfectly capable of determining what offends me, what disturbs me, and what I want to spend my money on. 

I have parents, a mother and a father each. (I also have a step-mother, so technically I've got THREE parents!) There is no reason that I need a stranger nor a corporation to parent me. Much like Amazon's GLBTQ?-book rankings #amazonfail, this is an unimpressive imposition of someone else's morals on myself. 

It's one thing entirely if I am a minor answering to my own parents; it is another entirely to have a complete stranger claiming that I do not, cannot know what is good for me, what is good for my own family. I have things on my personal laptop that I would be mortified to have my mother see, but it is MY laptop. I use it; I am, as an adult, responsible solely for myself and the content of my computer. 

It would be the same were I to have children. If there was something I didn't want them to see, I would be a PARENT and do my job to make sure they didn't see it, until they were either mature enough or old enough that I no longer had any legal responsibility to do so. I would not leave my children to the tender mercies of Steve Jobs, because he is not part of my family. His personal moral crusade is not my personal moral crusade, therefore I see no reason that he should be part of my parenting decisions — outside of choosing NOT to expose my children to his PMC as a positive thing.