July 31st, 2012


[links] Link salad wants to walk with you a while

How to Write a Book in Three DaysNaNoWriMo? Pah. Try NaNoWriWeekend. Of Michael Moorcock and Lester Dent. (Via Cora Buhlert.)

Oh My God. I Just Witnessed the Single Greatest Moment In Human History — This is simultaneously hilarious and sad.

More younger people getting colorectal cancerRates have risen slowly and steadily in patients under age 50. That would be me. (Thanks to Lisa Costello.)

Inca Mummy: 'Maiden' Had Lung Infection When Sacrificed, Study Suggests

Apollo Moon Landing Flags Still Standing, Photos Reveal

Researchers: South African fossils show modern culture may have emerged 30,000 earlier

Byman and King on “Phantom States”– More evidence of a neo-medieval international system — This is strange and interesting. (Snurched from Scrivener's Error.)

The ruins of empire: Asia's emergence from western imperialismThe central event of the modern era is Asia's emergence from the ravages of western imperialism. In Britain, meanwhile, Niall Ferguson is an ardent 'neo-imperialist'. Why can't we escape our narcissistic version of history, asks Pankaj Mishra.

Is Climate Change to Blame for the Current U.S. Drought?A leading climate scientist describes the possible connection.

Berkeley Earth project is back to re-re-confirm Earth is warmingBEST extends the temperature record to the 1700s, but gets the same result. Climate change denialism simply doesn't stand up to the facts. Yes, there are numerous ambiguities and exceptions in the data. Yes, there are errors in the theory. But this isn't criminal defense. Picking apart one point doesn't produce a triumphant victory. It simply highlights where more science needs to be done. The data, the trends, the analysis; they are all overwhelming and obvious to anyone without an ideological predisposition to deny.

The NRA's big secret: Nobody is actually trying to take your guns — Though they damned well should. I know, I know: Kenyan Muslim Socialism!!!

Religious freedom report: World is sliding backwards, Clinton says — Which is ironic that the US surveys this, given the constant, savage attacks on religious freedom from the American Right.

Church refuses to marry black couple in Mississippi — Welcome to conservative America. (Thanks to [info]teriegarrison.)

Chick-fil-A and free speech

Drafting Committee Puts Marriage Equality On Dem Party Platform — Yep. This. The future doesn't have to be regressive and bigoted and small-minded.

Bill Clinton to play prominent role at Democratic Convention — Just as the GOP is planning to honor their recent political leadership… No. Wait. What?

Mitt, tell the full story of your business career — Heh.

Why George Romney Released His Tax Returns

Romney Camp Disputes Premise Of Obama Ad — So just to be clear on the GOP position here, in campaign advertising context is crucial when parsing Governor Romney's words about abortion and women's health, but absolutely irrelevant when parsing President Obama's words about the interdependence of business and society? More of that justly famed conservative intellectual consistency.

Mitt Romney and the go-for-broke election[T]he right hopes to redefine middle-of-the-road policies as “left wing,” thereby altering the balance in the American political debate. Actually, they've already done that. Repeatedly. Viz the conservative Heritage Foundation healthcare plan which was hailed as a triumph of conservative policy under Governor Romney in Massachusetts that has now become destructive Socialism under Obama in virtually identical form to the original GOP proposals.

Mitt Romney: Too Wimpy for the White House?Dodging reporters, fearing his base, hiding his taxes—is Mitt Romney just too insecure to be president? In Newsweek, Michael Tomasky surveys a history of presidential manliness and asks just where Mitt would fit amid the studly swagger of Dubya and Reagan.

?otD: Across the sand?

Writing time yesterday: 1.0 hour (60 minutes on Other Me)
Body movement: 60 minute suburban walk
Hours slept: 6.25 (interruoted)
Weight: 237.4
Currently reading: The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems by Henry Petroski; Ironskin by Tina Connolly


[food] What was for dinner

The groceries were a little low, and I was too lazy to go shopping or hit a restaurant, so here's what I had for dinner last night.
  • One can great northern beans, heated

  • Four slices of salami, diced small and fried in a large pan

  • Added a tablespoon of chopped, pickled garlic, fried a bit longer

  • Added a small amount of olive oil to the pan with salami and garlic still in it

  • Dropped in my sad, end-of-life half bag of baby spinach

  • Sauteed until spinach wilted

  • Turned spinach, salami and garlic into a bowl, including the pan oil

  • Added about two teaspoons of Thai pepper lime vinegar

  • Drained half the beans, added to spinach, etc.

  • Mixed and ate. Had some of Jersey Girl In Portland's pickles as a side dish.

Wow, was this good. Hooray for cooking with odd bits!


[process] Point of view

Another thing that came up over the weekend at Cascade Writers was the subject of point of view. This is a topic about which the more I learn, the less I know, so I don't feel especially qualified to comment on it in detail. However, here's what I talked about with my critique group.

First of all, the term "point of view" is loosely used in two different ways when discussing writing craft.

One meaning is essentially equivalent to narrator, or protagonist. Note these are not necessarily the same thing. For example, in the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson is the narrator but Holmes is the protagonist. In this sense, the question to be examined is at the intersection of whose story is being told, and who is doing the telling.

The other meaning of "point of view" addresses the topic of grammatical person. The overwhelming majority of fiction in the Western tradition is told in either first or third person, I believe with a tendency to favor third person narratives. For fiction purposes, we also talk about "tight", "close", "loose" and "omniscient" point of view. That is to say, story focus. So, for example, one might say that a text is in "loose third person". In this sense, the question to be examined is from what linguistic and stylistic perspective the story should be told.

With respect to choice of narrator or protagonist, a sensible default rubric is to determine whose story is being told by asking which character experiences change, transition, loss or personal growth. Absent other considerations, that's probably the character whose story you want to tell.

Note there are at least as many counterexamples to this as there are examples of it. How much does Holmes really change during any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories? Or even over the entire arc of the original canon? Likewise, in the movie version of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppinsimdb ], it is Mr. Banks who is changed and experiences profound transition, even though the film is nominally concerned with the relationship between the title character and the Banks children.

There are plenty of very good reasons to tell stories with these equivalent of over-the-shoulder basketball shots, but the simplest and clearest way to approach the story is directly.

This decision intersects quite strongly with the concept of grammatical person and story focus. First person is of course an "I" story. Third person is of course a "he" or "she" or "it" or "they" story. The focus has to do with where the narrative equivalent of the camera sits. Tight stories are told from close inside the narrator's perspective. They literally can't see or know anything on the page that the story action doesn't show them. Most first person narratives are tight, for somewhat obvious reasons. A close narrative pulls back from the behind-the-eyes perspective and sits more behind the shoulder. Loose pulls back even further, following the character around from a distance. Omniscient virtually abandons the character for a wider-ranging view of the world.

Note that the looser the focus, the stronger the implied narrator. Stories written in loose or omniscient point of view can have a very strong voice as the implied narrator. Sometimes authors will explicitly acknowledge that implied narrator as a stylistic conceit, as in James Morrow's The Last Witchfinder, where the story is narrated by a copy of Newton's Principia Mathematica.

When you're working in tight or close point of view, the narrative will generally notice things the character can or would notice. It will use words and concepts the character would. What a trained assassin sees on entering a room is very different from what an interior designer sees. The way they would describe the space is very different. That in turn infuses the descriptive and expository prose being used in the scene.

On the other hand, in loose or omniscient point of view, the implied narrator can take over and make all manner of observations either explicitly or implicitly, use different speech registers, and take significantly different approaches to story telling than the character would.

To return to the concept of a default rubric, absent other considerations, in Western story telling traditions we tend to write in close third person in the simple past tense, sometimes referred to as the "narrative present".

I haven't really touched on choices of verb tense, application of tense shifts, different types of narrator, intrusions, and many other techniques that inflect point of view. This post barely scratches the surface. Like I said, it's a complex topic about which the more I learn, the less I understand. From my own perspective, my best work with point of view has been in my novellas "America, Such As She Is" and "The Baby Killers". I also did some work I'm pretty pleased with in the Green books. Frankly, I'd be at a loss to analyze any of those in credible, objective detail.

That being said, for a newer writer still exploring the fundamentals of point of view, I hope these touchpoints will be helpful.

I am quite curious what the writers and editors reading this blog think about point of view. Where did I get it wrong? How would you explain the concepts? Can you intelligibly go deeper than I am able to?