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Elmore Leonard's Writing Tips

Love these writing tips from Elmore Leonard and a bunch of other scribblers. Some favorites:

Elmore Leonard: 'Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.'

Leonard again: 'Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".'

Geoff Dyer: 'Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.'

Roddy Doyle: 'Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.'

Jonathan Franzen: 'The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.'

[I know I posted my writing tips here on the A-blog but can't seem to track them down. Read a printout -- there's one right there. Be fair. Get it right. And so on...]

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 11, 2010; 12:09 PM ET
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Next: NASA's narrative problem


I couldn't find those tips either, although I certainly remember them. But I did find this, which is excellent.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, JA.. The UK Guardian piece includes this from Roddy Doyle (Barrytown trilogy of The Commitments, The Van, and Snapper):

9 Don't worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed "What will survive of us is love".

YK, have you read these three books? You would like then all. And Mudge, the family is named, a bit of a take on Run Rabbit, etc.

Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the best child-pt, of view book ever.

His A Star Called Henry is magical realism set in the Civil War of 1919-1923 Ireland. Hard to follow, sorta, but like jazz if you just give over to the fantastic in it.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | March 11, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Re: Grammar

"Don't say 'learn 'em,' Toad," said the Rat, greatly shocked. "It's not good English."
"What are you always nagging at Toad for?" inquired the Badger, rather peevishly. "What's the matter with his English? It's the same what I use myself, and if it's good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for you!"
"I'm very sorry," said the Rat humbly. "Only I think it ought to be 'teach 'em,' not "learn 'em.""
"But we don't want to teach 'em," replied the Badger. "We want to learn 'em — learn 'em, learn 'em! And what's more, we're going to do it, too!"

And you can't say fairer than that!

Posted by: kguy1 | March 11, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Hard to believe. Mudged myself again. Reposting:

For instance, this is absurd: "FBI analysts and national security experts have worried for years that Westerners with easy access to passports could be recruited for terrorist aims." WTF does "easy access to passports" mean? Don't any and all of us have equal access to passports? You mean some d1ckhead in Iowa has any easier access to a passport than I do? There is no such thing as "easy access to passports," not unless you work in the passport office.

And it gets even stupider: "LaRose's actions again reflect the fact that immersing oneself in the propaganda and culture of jihadists through the Internet can lead to an individual attempting to undertake a violent act, no matter that person's age, gender, or background," according to an analysis by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private firm that monitors jihadist Web sites."

OK, now which is it, a predisposition by dropouts who get married at 16 -- or "no matter... age, gender, or background." You can't have it both ways. Either there is a pattern or disposition, or there isn't.

And this: "The charges came as a surprise to neighbors ... where LaRose had lived for years while taking care of Gorman's elderly father." Yup, gotta watch them elder care people, using Alzheimers patients as "cover." D@mned wily, I say. What will they think of next? One thing's for certain: we need to monitor our geriatric institutions a lot better.

And this lovely piece of deep wisdom: "Sounds crazy," Gorman told CNN. "It is hard to believe. . . . She wasn't no rocket scientist. She was limited in her capacity, so I'm not sure how much she thought she could do on her own."

See, she "wasn't no rocket scientist."

"LaRose had brushes with the law in Pennsylvania, where in 2002 she faced charges of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, according to public records."

Drunk and disorderly -- clearly "gateway" behavior leading to international terrorism. A lot of your top al Qaeda operatives spend their weekends binge drinking Budweiser at tailgate parties and frat houses.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 11, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I think "westerners" refers to people of the western world, not the western US. As opposed to someone in the Middle East or Africa, where a passport might be harder to come by. I don't have one, but I don't think it's hard or very expensive for a US citizen to get a passport. The story on NPR kept saying how this proved there is no profile for a terrorist, so I agree, this article got it wrong.

Posted by: seasea1 | March 11, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Here is one column: (I'm posting it all because I like it.)

Posted at 1:18 PM ET, 03/13/2008 Achenbach

Like a Field of Shoes

Got to substitute teach today at the high school. Offered writing tips. Like beware sentence fragments. Abjure staccato rhythms. Be very wary of the word "very" and of useless, overwrought, purple and unnecessarily effervescent adjectives. Avoid cliches like the plague. And so on.

We discussed that graph I like so much by Annie Dillard, the one in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" [see page 6] where she describes watching steers:
I sit on the downed tree and watch the black steers slip on the creek bottom. They are all bred beef: beef heart, beef hide, beef hocks. They're a human product like rayon. They're like a field of shoes. They have cast-iron shanks and tongues like foam insoles. You can't see through to their brains as you can with other animals; they have beef fat behind their eyes, beef stew.
Why do I like that so much.
Because the repetition of the word "beef" is like the repetition of the cows themselves as they move about -- undifferentiated, members of not merely the same species but the same breed, designed for efficient conversion to steak, burger, and meat byproducts.
Because the similes are simple. There are no loose words. "They're like a field of shoes" is a line that can't be improved. I would have written something like, "Shoes, being made of leather, which comes from cow hide, are what leaps to mind whenever I see a bunch of cows."

Because almost all the words are one syllable, and one-syllable words get you so quickly where you need to go.
Because she's found a novel way to describe something mundane.
Because she mentions that zoned-out look that cows give you -- that glazed expression that suggests that the grass contains THC.

Posted by: nellie4 | March 11, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

My personal writing tips.

1) Always include words that you don't know to pronounce. This makes it all the more amusing when you read things out loud.

2) Remember that it is hard to tell the difference between double spacing and double-and-a-half spacing. This is important when meeting a page count requirement.

3) When attempting to write funny stuff it useful to laugh uproariously so as to convince the words.

4) If something is funny the first time, then by gosh, just keep repeating the joke over and over and over again. Because everything thinks it is endlessly amusing that my workplace doesn't provide free coffee.

5) Write from what you know. If you are going to write about bank robbers, be sure to first rob a bank.

6) Writing with foreign words makes people think you are très sophisticated.

7) When writing for upper management use short direct sentences. Remember they are busy people. And, occasionally, stupid.

8) When writing for pleasure one should indulge in exceptionally long complicated sentences full of multiple subordinate clauses and gratuitously inserted phrases like "predicated on" mostly because "predicated on" is really fun to say.

9) Revising is crucial. In general, to save time, I simply delete the first three or four drafts of everything I write.

10) Typos are a sign of brilliance.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Not so sure Atwood was completely in the spirit of this thing: "3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do."

Loved this from Doyle: "10 Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work."

Dunmore's "1. Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue" is a riff taken from Hemingway. I use it-- but it is d@mn-all hard to do. I usually stopped when I'm exhausted and brain dead.

Ester Freud: "7 Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken."

This one from Gaiman is VERY tricky and subtle: "8 The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like."

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 11, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Love it when the boodle turns to writing as a topic, better yet when it is on kit. So many good writers here, and readers of good writers. Good company for lunch.

RD-re repetition making things funny, I have but one comment- More bears!

Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I love Elmore Leonard's writing. I probably have an increased chance of skin cancer because his books are so engrossing that I forget to follow the package direction on the sunscreen bottle when sitting at the beach.

And his bit about "said" is pretty profound. Some years ago I was reading a book to my daughter where the opposite held true, and it got pretty distracting. I mean, the characters never "said" anything. Instead they always gasped, exclaimed, stuttered, yelled, or cried. But never asseverated. Because, you know, it wasn't that kind of book

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

"Predicated on" can't compare with "allelomimetic". "Allelomimetic" not only sounds impressive, but it feels good on the tongue.

Posted by: kguy1 | March 11, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

The unnecessary adverbs are a staple of humor form called the Tom Swifty which used to be a staple of the humor page in Boys Life. Here are a few examples from this site (

"I need a pencil sharpener," said Tom bluntly.
"Oops! There goes my hat!" said Tom off the top of his head.
"I can no longer hear anything," said Tom deftly.
"I have a split personality," said Tom, being frank.
"This must be an aerobics class," Tom worked out.

Adverbs were easy to parody, hence to be avoided. If you have to say "he said gruffly", you haven't put enough gruff into what he said.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Applying application upgrades to multiple, clustered servers is like watching bears hibernate. If you're lucky. If you're not, it's like being treed by a hungry bear.

There. writing about my field of expertise. Bears thrown in for free.

Posted by: -dbG- | March 11, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Joseph Williams, in "Style: Toward Clarity and Grace", in the chapter on emphasis, provided a paragraph from Joan Didion's "The White Album" in which her lack of emphasis indicated that what was evil was already familiar. Of course she violated Williams' principles for emphasis, which was demonstrated with a revised and "substantially less interesting" version of the paragraph.

Most art has method--lots of method, often invisible to casual viewers or listeners.

I just got what amount to crib notes on Darius Milhaud's "La création du monde", which uses jazz to create an "African" ambience. A substantial section of the music is a fugue, following all of Bach's precedents, but in a jazzy idiom such that the musicians seem to be improvising. At least if they're encouraged to make it sound loose. Now to actually hear it tonight.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | March 11, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I would be remiss in my duties if I did not link to at least one online source for Kurt Vonnegut's "How To Write With Style" essay:

Here is just one excerpt from it:

///As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. “To be or not to be?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story “Eveline” is this one: “She was tired.” At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.///

And if you prefer a pdf of the original article:

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

"I'm burning up," he fumed substoichiometrically.

Posted by: Jumper1 | March 11, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

My tips: Use fewer words. Use smaller words. [Disregard these if you are being paid by the syllable.] Don't try too hard to be interesting. Don't assume others will be interested in your opinions, thoughts, descriptions or explanations.

My favorite writing advice is from Calvin & Hobbes: 1. "I like to verb words." "What?" "I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when 'access' was a thing? Now it's something you do. It got verbed." "Verbing weirds language." "Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding."

And 2: "I used to hate writing assignments, but now I enjoy them. I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"

When a piece runs too long or is difficult to read, I often suggest removing all the article adjectives. Nobody has yet followed this advice.

Gosh, RD. I thought all those stories about how there is no free coffee in your workplace were tragedies.

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 11, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I would vouchsafe that younger readers benefit from spicing ordinary dialogues with a variety of adverbs and verbs, so that they may learn to intone dialogue mentally as they read while also expanding their vocabulary in the process.

There. I have pompously asservated that what qualifies as bad writing to adults isn't necessarily bad writing for youngsters... in discreet, dainty doses, of course. There's no need to choke our young with asafetida, garlic, or chili peppers.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

"Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about." - Vonnegut

This is my lifeline when public speaking is requested. I recommend it to others.

Posted by: Jumper1 | March 11, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

What I love about good writing is that it can be profound, but also deeply silly or absurd without violating any rules of style or usage.

Favourite typo still in print: "Shut up!" she explained.

Favourite character sketch in a single sentence: "She seemed such a nice woman, so rich and friendly."

Posted by: Yoki | March 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Haiku makes all good
seventeen syllables mean
Three strides, then tree pause.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I will now write a sentence which (that?) I never thought I would write. I miss the dog.

Posted by: badsneakers | March 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse


Make that two strides
and three tree pauses--more real
to life, not just art.


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

(If it were up to me, I'd also ascertain that certain poets not write without knowing what a metric foot means, especially how an three-syllable foot does not mean "can-a-pee-stick" or "attack-till")

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 11, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, dbG, for the bears!

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 11, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Joel, based on RD's 12:32, I can say unequivocally that you write far better than how you talk.

Join the club.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I smell grisly news
in here; black trouble's bruin
Grrrrr... where's my bear mace?


Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

"No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood.

Many a reader who wanted to read a tale through was not able to do it because of delays on account of the weather. Nothing breaks up an author's progress like having to stop every few pages to fuss-up the weather. Thus it is plain that persistent intrusions of weather are bad for both reader and author.

Of course weather is necessary to a narrative of human experience. That is conceded. But it ought to be put where it will not be in the way; where it will not interrupt the flow of the narrative. And it ought to be the ablest weather that can be had, not ignorant, poor-quality, amateur weather. Weather is a literary specialty, and no untrained hand can turn out a good article of it. The present author can do only a few trifling ordinary kinds of weather, and he cannot do those very good. So it has seemed wisest to borrow such weather as is necessary for the book from qualified and recognized experts-giving credit, of course. This weather will be found over in the back part of the book, out of the way. See Appendix. The reader is requested to turn over and help himself from time to time as he goes along."

-Mark Twain, " The American Claimant"

Posted by: kguy1 | March 11, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

And just because I love Twain and I happened on this while looking for the other, a note on how to deal with an unresolved subplot-

I didn't know what to do with her[the character Rowena]. I was as sorry for her as anybody could be, but the campaign was over, the book was finished,she was sidetracked, and there was no possible way of
crowding her in, anywhere. I could not leave her there,
of course; it would not do. After spreading her out so, and making
such a to-do over her affairs, it would be absolutely necessary
to account to the reader for her. I thought and thought and
studied and studied; but I arrived at nothing. I finally saw
plainly that there was really no way but one--I must simply give
her the grand bounce. It grieved me to do it, for after
associating with her so much I had come to kind of like her after
a fashion, notwithstanding things and was so nauseatingly sentimental.
Still it had to be done. So at the top of Chapter
XVII I put a "Calendar" remark concerning July the Fourth,
and began the chapter with this statistic:

"Rowena went out in the backyard after supper to see the
fireworks and fell down the well and got drowned."

It seemed abrupt, but I thought maybe the reader wouldn't notice it,
because I changed the subject right away to something else.
Anyway it loosened up Rowena from where she was stuck and
got her out of the way, and that was the main thing. It seemed a
prompt good way of weeding out people that had got stalled, and a
plenty good enough way for those others; so I hunted up the two
boys and said, "They went out back one night to stone the cat and
fell down the well and got drowned." Next I searched around and
found old Aunt Patsy and Aunt Betsy Hale where they were around,
and said, "They went out back one night to visit the sick and
fell down the well and got drowned." I was going to drown some others,
but I gave up the idea, partly because I believed that if
I kept that up it would arose attention, and perhaps sympathy
with those people, and partly because it was not a large well and
would not hold any more anyway.

Posted by: kguy1 | March 11, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

My favorite writing tips are listed in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," and the best of 'em is "Eschew surplusage."

I heart Twain.

Posted by: KBoom | March 11, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Of course Mark Twain used adverbs (and adjectives) in this diatribe:

"I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,--the confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't.

- "Reply to a Boston Girl," Atlantic Monthly, June 1880" by Mark Twain.

There is one clear adverb, but to my eye he also uses prepositional phrases as adverbs ("with frozen indifference"... "at all").

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

kguy, that's from his notes on how he rewrote "These Extraordinary Twins" into "Pudd'n'head Wilson"-- one of the best testamonials in favor of revision.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

DoC -- Love Joe Williams; he died about a year ago. Ran a program at U of Chicago called the Little Red School House -- writing for clarity and purpose.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | March 11, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

There are several things I like about that article on writer's rules:

(1) I love the fact that Elmore Leonard expresses admiration for writers whose voice and style and subject matter are nothing like his own. It reminds you that Elmore Leonard is the writer of books by Elmore Leonard, not a character in a book by Elmore Leonard, and as such he has an appreciation for the variety of writing.

(2) Many of the writers offer rules that are in obvious contradiction with others, so take the lesson that you need to impose upon yourself the rules that work for you. Leonard peppers his own rules with several exceptions that boil down to saying "Never write in that peculiar way that you do, unless you are really good at it, in which case that is exactly how you should write and don't let any b@stard tell you otherwise."

(3) I liked Margaret Atwood's facetious comment about taking something to write with and something to write on -- paper is nice, but other media will do. The comment is silly on the surface, but it has depth. She assumes that if you are a writer, then you will need to write, so make sure that you have no impediments to the natural flow of your words into text. A writer writes. If it is something that you simply have to do, if you cannot be happy without doing it, then you are a writer. Whether you are a good writer is a matter of practice and refinement and more practice, but you are a writer if writing is what you do to be alive.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 11, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Twain factoid: He "wasn't no rocket scientist."

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 11, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This just in: Cary Mulligan black Prada Oscar dress -- black with the embellishments? The embellishments were tiny fork and spoons.

Why this makes me so happy, I cannot completely say.

Dreams of forks; desires for cutlery: tis a Boodle thingie. Cary On (muhahahahahahha)

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | March 11, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Surplusage--a knight?
A life too long, benighted?
Fragrant herbiage?

Posted by: DNA_Girl | March 11, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

My writing tip to somebody once was: "Good, clear thoughts are half of writing."

The other, harder half is pounding those thoughts into words which make sense.

A good writer can take inchoate thoughts and hammer them into sturdier material- but not without regularly purging the furnace.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Important Titan news from Cassini:

Cassini Data Show Ice and Rock Mixture Inside Titan

The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:

PASADENA, Calif. -- By precisely tracking NASA's Cassini spacecraft on its low swoops over Saturn's moon Titan, scientists have determined the distribution of materials in the moon's interior. The subtle gravitational tugs they measured suggest the interior has been too cold and sluggish to split completely into separate layers of ice and rock.

The finding, to be published in the March 12 issue of the journal Science, shows how Titan evolved in a different fashion from inner planets such as Earth, or icy moons such as Jupiter's Ganymede, whose interiors have split into distinctive layers.

The results don't speak to whether Titan has an ocean beneath the surface, but scientists say this hypothesis is very plausible and they intend to keep investigating. Detecting tides induced by Saturn, a goal of the radio science team, would provide the clearest evidence for such a hidden water layer.

Those of prodigiously elephantine memory might recall that I once described Titan as a multi-layered candy sphere with methane-rich goodness on the outside and a rich, nougaty, rock-and-metallic-iron-nickel core inside a liquid-water mantle (possibly liquid-water-and-ammonia), encased within a crunchy ice-and-hydrocarbon crust. I have a small correction to make: maybe not. Please be prepared to forget all of that stuff, if it turns out to be wrong. We Regret The Possible Error, If It Has In Fact Ocurred.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 11, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

But does one side of Mercury always face the Sun? Because if not, all my Lucky Starr fan fiction is ruined.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Wunderkind Ezra Klein posted a video of Feynman talking about the fun of physics. Even I thought his talk was fun!

You may have to scroll down to get to the video.

Posted by: rickoshea1 | March 11, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

The best writing tip I ever received was, "Don't."

Unfortunately for Western Civilization, I have steadfastly ignored that advice.

However, it's paid a bill or two.

Being the Jackson Pollock of the English Language is a difficult job, and a mixed blessing at best. For who, I'm not sure.

If I had to give writing advice, I'd say, "Embrace ambiguity. By the time those black words on a white page get into a reader's head, it's all just shades-of- grey-mush. Instead of fighting that, use it to your advantage. Oh, and make sure you keep receipts so you can expense your bar tabs."


Posted by: -bc- | March 11, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

is that why you kept the receipt for the Tiara BPH?

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

One side of Mercury does not always face the Sun. In fact, one Mercury day is two Mercury years, which is just plain weird.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 11, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Seven presidents and the Prince of Asturias keep their cool during major tremor.

Presiden't Pineras inauguration was cut to ten minutes so that Congress building could be evequated as new quake hit.

The 6.9 new earthquake with epicenter just 60 miles south of Santiago. %th major tremor.

It is shaking as I write


Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Can you explain that to me, ScienceTim?

Posted by: Yoki | March 11, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Hang in there. That whole place seems to be coming down.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

New damage
Overpass jerked off its base, numerous buildings go down in Rancagua

Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I think I need to purge my furnace.

Sorry. TMI, I suppose.

Uh, Brag, stop blogging and get the hell out of the building, please.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 11, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

State of Catastrophe increased to the O'Higgins Region just south of Santiago.
New President does not stay for lunch with visiting heads of state.

Cocktail party this evening cancelled. Prez is in catatrophe area.

Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

We keep doors open so that they will not jam. My building has a quake-proof escape well. (ha ha) ;)

12 strong tremors here since noon.


Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Brag, sir.
Please be safe.


Posted by: -bc- | March 11, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Brag, please be careful, and keep blogging. When we read you we know you're okay (if not safe!).

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 11, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

This morning's aftershock even led to evacuation of a 30-story building in Buenos Aires. Looks like significant new damage in Chile.

And even a tsunami warning.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | March 11, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Buildings are falling, but the wireless keeps going. Thanks, Cisco Systems! Brag, keep safe.

Mercury is in what I believe is called a 2:3 resonance -- it rotates 3 times in two orbits. How does 3 rotations translate into 2 days, you ask? Rotation is compared to distant stars, rather than the Sun. As Mercury goes around the Sun, it rotates in the same direction as it moves -- looking from above the north pole, Mercury rotates counter-clockwise and goes around the Sun counter-clockwise. It's hard to explain in words, but easy to explain with toys. Mark a dot in the middle of a piece of paper for the Sun's position, and draw a big circle around it for Mercury's orbit. Put a toy on the circle to represent Merucry, something that is easy to see which way it is pointing -- like a spoon, or a pin, or a slip of paper with an arrow drawn on it.

Mercury's year is 88.1 days. Mercury's rotation period (compared to background stars) is 88.1 times 2/3 = 58.73 days (Earth days, that is).

It takes Mercury 14.68 days to make 1/4 rotation. Mercury goes 1/6th of the way around its orbit in that time. So, make 6 roughly equally-spaced marks around your circle. Move your toy Mercury around the circle, rotating it by 1/4 rotation each time that you move 1/6th of the way around your circle. After Mercury has gone all the way around the circle (meaning = it has finished one orbit, which is one year), you will see that Mercury will have rotated 1.5 times (6 times 1/4) and whatever part was facing the Sun at the start is now facing the other way. Keep doing the same thing and after you finish the second trip around the Sun, the Sun will shine on the same part of Mercury as when you started.

How do "magic" things like this happen? Why is it so fine-tuned? Is it the hand of G-d? Perhaps, but He is working through the medium of gravity and tides. Tidal resonances like this are actually very common. It's a result of tides bending and stressing the planet, which consumes some energy from its motion in the gravity field of the star. The gravitational stress is diminished when the rotation period exactly matches some simple fraction or multiple of the orbital period. That's why the Moon orbits the Earth in exactly the time it takes for the Moon to rotate once, which also is true of all the major satellites of the giant planets, and Venus rotates exactly 5 times in 3 Earth years (if I recall correctly), so that if we could see through the clouds of Venus, we would see the exact same face of Venus every time Venus is between us the Sun (called inferior geocentric conjunction). Our own planet has enforced a tidal resonance with Venus.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 11, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

I watched the change of presidents on TV. It was impressive the cool of attending public.

Police cleared media people while ceremony was underway.

meanwhile , outside people were running for high ground as Tsunami warning sounded

Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Though they keep calling this an aftershok, it is a new earthquake

Interesting, Dave

Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

The comical angle.

Press says real reason cocktail was cancelled is that the foreign delegations, all left the country as quick as they could.

Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Dear Brag -- do keep safe.

For those of us who are local to DC, and, if you're not doing anything on St. Pat's Day next week (besides drinking green beer), one of my favorite authors will be speaking and signing at Politics and Prose starting at 7:00 PM. I will most definitely be there! He is Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and has come out with a new book called "Dreams in a Time of War -- A Childhood Memoir" which was also very favorably reviewed in the WaPo yesterday. I am literally floating on air right now, in anticipation of meeting him. I hope he'll accept delivery of my short story. Since he's teaching at UC-Irvine, any opportunity of taking a course from him is negligible, to say the least.


Okay, that's as rock-star-adoring as I get.

Posted by: -ftb- | March 11, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Tim, you just completely blew my mind. When I realize that I've gone through my entire life without being aware of something as simple and elegant as tidal resonance, it makes me realize (again) how little I know.

I wish I was 18 again, when I knew everything.

I'm afraid to participate in the writing discussion, out of fear of committing embarrassing grammatical mayhem and stylistic sins.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

brag, please look after yourself 1st, blog 2nd.

Posted by: Yoki | March 11, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the expressions of concern.

Seems the wave of tremors has quieted.

To stay on topic, I learned to write in spellunking school :)


Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Rashomon, your last comment is why I liked Atwood's comments; the largest obstacle is paralysis in starting. Just write, man.

Since Yoki mentioned typos I will add my new favorite typo. Explanatory note: "mitigation" is the obligation of all plaintiffs to take reasonable steps to not let their damages or losses increase where possible.

Seen recently in a Statement of Claim: "In the alternative, the Plaintiff has failed to litigate his damages."

Indeed. A grievous sin, that.

Posted by: engelmann | March 11, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

rashomon, I like that 18 comment a lot

Posted by: Jumper1 | March 11, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

LOL, Brag, please stay safe and let us know that you are!

I wrote the intro to my memoirs not too long ago. Now, if I could just write the rest of them, at least maybe my kids would be interested.

Posted by: slyness | March 11, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

I know, engelmann, but it's so discouraging to glance behind you and see a group of tough-looking subordinate clauses gathered in the corner, pointing at you and giggling.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Gotta go to supermarket. Probably next post for Dawn Patrol tomorrow.


Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I bake.
I tell the occasional joke.
I type things onto the boodle.
I do not write.

I'm just a schlondorffrau.

Posted by: MsJS | March 11, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Loot something for me.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Yah, Yello


Posted by: Braguine | March 11, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the link, Joel. I have to do some technical writing for my job. Rule 1 is, know your stuff. Rule 2 is, know your audience -- know how they talk, how they listen, how they themselves write and read about the given subject matter. There are other requirements that don't fit readily into a framework of "rules" because you have no real choice. For instance, even under difficult circumstances, there had better be at least some subliminal joy to what you are doing. If you don't like explaining things to people and stimulating their understanding, you're down and pinned before the wrestling has even started.

Posted by: woofin | March 11, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

This will give me hours of entertaining thought. I wonder if I will remember those moments as happy"

Posted by: Jumper1 | March 11, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember knowing everything at 18. Can I have a do-over?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Woofie, am opening tomorrow's tech writing class with your para. Thanks, dude! But, I will elide over your name. Woofin is no basis nor name for the authority of workplace writing.....I shall say,...a trusted colleague of mine in the REAL WORLD....

Brag, dear southern-most boodler, take care.

In other news, for some time, the Chinese have been seeding clouds, in effect, rain making. I see this geo-engineering tool through the lens of that post-Gidget vehicle,
The Flying Nun.

Worlds collide.

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | March 11, 2010 6:27 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember even being 18.

Posted by: MsJS | March 11, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Few people know this, but when I was 18 I really did know everything. Sadly, I never got around to sharing my omniscience with anyone. And now, sadly, I have forgotten just about everything.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Wibrod J. Anon


The bearer named above is entitled
to one re-spin of the wheel.*

*life, of

Ok, WB, let that painted pony ride!

Posted by: CollegequaParkian | March 11, 2010 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Lucky you, MsJS. You can now lie and make yourself at 18 sound like the world's greatest person ever without any fear of your conscience forcing you to tell the truth.

I was looking for that Twain quote on how as he aged he could only remember what wasn't true.

I found this jewel on lying instead.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Few people know this, but when I was 18 I actually did know everything. Sadly, I never got to share this omniscience. And now, the opportunity has forever passed. I have forgotten too much.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

Ooops. I thought my post had vanished into the ether so I wrote it again. I just figured the ether was making an editorial comment.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

May I have a coupon too, CqP?

EYE remember being 18, not particularly well, but I remember. Getting a C- in Algebra II/Trig. Graduating from high school. A vacation to Sunset Beach. My first semester in college. Having my wisdom teeth out over Christmas break, the only time I've been in a hospital except to birth children. Not a bad year, but hardly a fabulous one: I survived and prospered.

I really don't care to go back, so I'll take the coupon and pick another year, if that's okay.

Hmmm. Have to think about which one I'd like to have again.

Posted by: slyness | March 11, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I actually remember turning 18 very clearly. I had to work at McDonald's that day, and a young woman of my acquaintance brought a cake into the store.

They lit the candles and everyone there sang "Happy Birthday." I am told that I turned bright crimson. Then the store manager said something I shall never forget. "Enjoy it. It's all downhill from here."

Thankfully, she was wrong.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I remember very clearly my seventeenth birthday and my 19th, but the eighteenth do not recall. It was my last year of high school though (we still had a 5 year high school then), it was a good year, stressful but fun, small graduating class of about 100 were very close. I did really poorly on a grammar test that year and cried though an entire class, thought for sure my dream of getting into the course I wanted at university was destroyed, was given a chance to do extra credit an all was good.

Even then there were grammar issues.

Posted by: dmd3 | March 11, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I think this might be the Twain quote you were looking for:

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Or maybe not, WB. I should have reread your comment before posting. Still a good quote on the topic of teen omniscience.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

The only real regret I have from being 18 is that I spent the entire summer working the swing shift at McDonalds. 3 until 11 five days a week.

I earned a little over a grand for college. I would gleefully return that money, with interest, to have that summer back.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

It'd chase bears up trees;
dogs would lose their tails and ears
Eesh. Really scary.

"The Killer Vacuum's Hum--
throat full of screaming pet souls,
it stalks yet more prey...."

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Mark Twain had a few thoughts on James Fenimore Cooper's writing style ----

"Cooper's gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series."

--from Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, by Mark Twain

Posted by: nellie4 | March 11, 2010 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Nellie, the cinematic equivalent of Cooper's broken twigs is the inability of women in movies to run from a threat without falling down. The (male) protagonist then has to go back and help her to her feet. This is almost an ironclad rule when the characters are fleeing from monsters, aliens, or large carnivorous animals.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure yellojkt has worked out the movie physics behind that rule, rashomon; my guess it's likely due to casting of actresses with ironing board-flat behinds and heavy breast implants.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Twain also touches upon lying (among other weighty matters) in his very sage "Advice to Youth".

Posted by: bobsewell | March 11, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I remember my 18th birthday most distinctly...

*meekly (if you can believe it)* "Drill Sergeant?"

"Yes, Nuke?"

"It's my birthday, and..."

"You'd like to use the barracks phone to call home?

"No, Drill Sergeant."

"Then WHAT, Nuke?"

"I'd like permission to cut to the front of the line for the laundry, Drill Sergeant."

*laughing* "OK, Nuke."

And quoting Truman Capote Jr. in "Kindergarten of the Stars":

"That's not writing, that's typing."

Am I caught up yet? :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | March 11, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

I have no recollection of my 18th birthday. Sophomore in college, working, just a day like any other. But, it was in North Dakota so I'm sure it was cold.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 11, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Most of what Twain says about Cooper applies to initially decent TV shows after they've lost their inspiration and the good writers have moved on.

When I was 18 I was a social idiot, a pure product of the Cold War education system. I was well prepared to go off and learn the skills involved in designing missiles (NOT what I do now, by the way), but I wasn't acquainted with the most rudimentary salient realities of my own home town. Been playing catch-up ever since. (I first wrote a Freudian slip, "paying" catch-up.)

Posted by: woofin | March 11, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

When I was 18, I didn't know Everything, but thought I was darn near close. As I've gotten older, I found that Everything is a moving target. And there's a lot more of it than there used to be, too.


Posted by: -bc- | March 11, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

That's the gospel truth, bc!

I don't recall my 18th birthday specifically, but I do remember my 21st vividly. When it was mentioned in my class on Milton that I reached my majority that day, a classmate brightened and asked if I would make a purchase at the local ABC store for her. So she and I went and bought what she wanted. I guess I looked honest, because the cashier didn't card me. Even then, that surprised me.

Posted by: slyness | March 11, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

What those gals should do is get low-density helium-filled implants. Avoid the hydrogen implants, they can lead to all sorts of havoc, especially in post-coital smoking.

Posted by: ScienceTim | March 11, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of writers, a young woman of my acquaintance recently recommended Tom Robbins. I am now reading "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" which is the only novel written in second person I have ever encountered.

It was a bit jarring being told that for the purposes of this narrative I am, in fact, a 29 year old female stockbroker of Filipino extraction. But you know what? It's working.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Especially in the naked-in-the-mirror scenes?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

My sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays were all quite memorable and I recounted them in this blogpost, which includes a picture from that day (I had so much more hair and so many fewer pounds):

Here's the Readers Digest condensed version:

For the sixteenth birthday, I gave my future wife a birthday card to soften her up for when I asked out a week later after I got my driver's license.

On my seventeenth a girl friend of mine threw me a surprise birthday party. The future Mrs. Jkt was at that party but I was pursuing yet a third lady that evening and we caused a bit of a scandal when we disappeared for some time.

On our eighteenth we were an official couple and had a joint party (see link and picture above).

Our nineteenth was spent in my dorm room splitting an ice cream cake I had gone to great trouble buying.

From there it is a blur until our 40th when we had an 80s themed bash (2x40=80, get it?). Here is the soundtrack to that fete:

Now I just confess to being somewhere in my 40s, a subterfuge I can get away with for a few more years.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

yello-that makes sense. The first adult(ish) birthday I remember is my 30th. I was taking care of Mr. F's cat (Mr. Katt). We had been dating 17 days and I was completely hooked. Back then I didn't even like cats.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 11, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

'Bright Lights, Big City' by Jay McInerney is written in the second person. You find yourself quite immersed in it. By the end of the book, you have become that Bolivian Marching Powder fueled fact checker.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 11, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Another Cooper-style snapping twig from the movies: whenever a handgun runs out of ammunition, it *must* be thrown at whatever the character was shooting at.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for reminding me of that Yello! I read "Bright Lights, Big City" many years ago. Remember that opening sequence in the nightclub? The second person perspective really grabbed me.

I wonder why second person isn't used more often? I can see how it limits the narrative, but then again, so does first person and that is fairly common.

Perhaps it is just too awkward for many writers. And I can see that it could be viewed as an affectation, especially if done poorly.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 11, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Nope, do not specifically remember my 16th, 17th, 18th or 19th birthdays. I remember all the summers very well, and where I was and what I was doing; I just don't remember any of the specific birthday nights. I remember my 20th, because I was in the merchant marine and in Beaumont, Texas, and a house of ill repute was involved (I shan't give the exact location, though I still remember it, ah, vividly), but I cannot say if it was my birthday evening, or the evening before. I think the evening before. So if that's correct, I was back aboard ship and we were transitting the Sabine River and the Houston Ship Channel, and I was no longer the innocent, chaste youth I had been before.

I do remember my 21st, because my roommate, a rookie copy editor at the Philly Inquirer, knew this guy had had graduated with who was working at the Washington Post. He was going to DC to visit this guy, and did I want to come along? I said sure. So we drove to DC and met up with my roommate's friend, and they took me out to the Showboat Lounge, where Charlie Byrd was playing jazz guitar. So I spent my 21st birthday at the Showboat, listening to the great Charlie Byrd and drinking my first legal beer. (Although the beers in Texas might have been legal the year before, I don't remember.) My roommate's friend was a guy named Nicholas Proffitt, who went from the Post to Newsweek, wrote a novel called "Gardens of Stone," which was later made into a movie with James Caan, Anjelica Huston and James Earl Jones. It's about the 3rd Infantry Regiment ("the Old Guard," from Washington's time at Yorktown) Army guys who stand guard at Arlington. Huston plays a Post reporter who is anti-war but is Caan's girlfriend.

Never saw/met Proffitt after that night. My roommate later went to the L.A. Times and was very high up in its management. Lost track of him long ago.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | March 11, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

The second person can be intimate, yet distancing.

I've read second person narratives that hit too close to home yet weren't how I'd think or react, so I started arguing and distancing myself from the storyline immediately-- i.e. too generic, I suppose, not enough background for me to get into the "character."

On the other hand, there are good second-person narratives, such as "The Man who Lost the Sea" by Theodore Sturgeon.

Generally the rule of thumb is to use it briefly in short stories or essays. Novel-length sustained second person is indeed rare.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Wikipedia's list of second person narratives. A few of the short stories sound familiar, but I don't think I've ever read a novel written this way -- although "Half Asleep..." is probably in my vast pile of unread books.

Posted by: rashomon | March 11, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

That's it, Padouk, second person is just too awkward, too difficult to sustain, and often irritates readers, whereas the other two persons don't.

First person is quite useful if the writer wants either an unreliable narrator, or simply the narrator's point of view. Third person is more useful if the writer wants either an omniscient narrator who sees "everything" that is going on, or simply is more comfortable in that mode without the omniscience.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | March 11, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

You gotta give this lady credit for having solid onyx ovaries!

"Thief strikes inside Montgomery Co. courthouse"

Posted by: bobsewell | March 11, 2010 10:33 PM | Report abuse

RIP to the man who made it safe for guys to send flowers -- which his obit fails to mention.

Posted by: Curmudgeon5 | March 11, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

Saw that earlier in the day Mudge, remember him both for his football days and his acting.

Posted by: dmd3 | March 11, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

I know that I am a very, very bad man for whom the afterlife will hold only horrific suffering, because this was one of the first things I remembered when I heard of Mr. Olsen's passing:

"African Child Dies Despite Merlin Olsen Endorsement"

Posted by: bobsewell | March 11, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Second person, is very powerful and depends on context. Within a family or love-match, 'we' and 'our' are natural.

These same words that create second person can be use rhetorically to create a community will; for me, as a rhetorician, second person in public arenas can be a device for persuasion. So, my BS detectors go up.

Sorta like: Friends, Romans, Countryman AND Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country AND this Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country.

Appeals to community should evoke caution in the hearer....this said from me, a devoted and devout communitarian.

Last item: dulce et decorum is often taken to mean the whole sentiment about patriotism. Ducle et decorum -- it is sweet and right -- to me means the gaze of love: especially sweet babies.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | March 11, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

Dulce et decorum est apud boodlum bloggare.

Posted by: woofin | March 11, 2010 11:38 PM | Report abuse

I tend to find myself more comfortable in third person limited or medium range (not fully omniscient), or first person-- but I tend to want to change persons.

First person is great for the "voice" but it has considerable trade-offs in the sense it is automatically very limited-- first person omniscient would be a stretch of credulity.

Second person made omniscient (or multiple character limited) would be interesting, though.

That's partly why the story "The man who Lost the Sea" works-- It shifts POVs from the kid (limited POV) to the old man (another limited POV), until one realizes they are the same person. It is absolutely a charming story which takes a single moment and builds suspense and layers of understanding to the final full meaning of it.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 11, 2010 11:54 PM | Report abuse

You're right, CqP. "You" can be taken to mean a polite form of imperative or at least pressure towards thinking the way the locutor wants you to think.
Which is why it absolutely backfires if you make any kind of character statements (which would work in first person or third person) asserting your character's opinions.

It is most effective when used to give a "camera's eye" description of events and impressions of others (which can be emotional as well as physical)-- an POV which we recognize thanks to TV and movies cinematography in which the camera moves and "becomes the character."

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: -jack- | March 12, 2010 12:36 AM | Report abuse

Oh carp. 'mudge beat me to the unreliable narrator, and Wilbrod sounds just like a grad-school English analyst.

Posted by: Yoki | March 12, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, Yoki. I'm practicing my pomposity today.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 1:00 AM | Report abuse

You've never been pompous, or even pretentious, Wilbrod. I just meant to convey that I remember how exciting it is, to be there. Where you are. Love of words, narratives, pomes, heady stuff indeed. *And* to have an intellectual grasp of why. I meant to celebrate.

Posted by: Yoki | March 12, 2010 1:06 AM | Report abuse

/Purges that darn writing furnace again-- out, out, dry gassing!/

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Letting the camera become the character is something which works best in small doses, IMHO, Wilbrod. Robert Montgomery tried to film Chandler's "The Lady in the Lake" with the entire movie as POV shots. The only time we see Marlowe (Montgomery) is in a brief introduction, and occasional reflections in mirrors. The gimmick becomes tedious about five minutes into the movie, with dialogue conducted with one party looking directly into the camera, and the other unseen.

Posted by: rashomon | March 12, 2010 1:07 AM | Report abuse

Yes. I rather like "Revising Fiction" (the book) because of all the POV analysis and examples. However, I do recommend not reading it intensively before a first draft is finished... it has too many carrots to tempt you out of the traces.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 1:12 AM | Report abuse

Yes, it's very limiting, but not uncommon in documentaries.

I think having the camera speak extensive dialogue and "act" would be really odd in any movie, unless the "camera" was integrated into a robot and made clear as such, or something like that.

I could more easily go with that for a limited, literal narrator who is peripheral to the story, like Scout in "to Kill a Mockingbird" (but perhaps not the whole story-- and I'm speaking of the book, not the movie).

Certainly, "Rear Window" probably could have been shot with a camera in a wheelchair.

Didn't the camera(man) as a character work for the Blair Witch Project, though?

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

I never saw "Blair Witch." Horror-movies-as-adrenaline-jag have never appealed to me. From the clips I've seen, the pretense that what you are seeing was filmed by the characters using a handheld camera gave it more flexibility -- the director could use standard techniques, such as cutting within and between scenes. The purely subjective approach used in "Lady..." meant a lot of lengthy scenes without cuts and minimal camera movement.

A great example of subjective viewpoint used judiciously in a few scenes:

Posted by: rashomon | March 12, 2010 1:48 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Good morning, friends. Concerning the kit, if there are errors to be made in writing, I'm at the head of the class.

Brag, I hope you can stay safe. My experience cannot compare to yours, but while in California, my one and only time, there was a small earthquake. I guess that's what they called it. The dishes rattled, some hit the floor. Everyone in the house stopped in their tracks and just kind of froze up. And I thought, Lord I wish I was on a plane leaving this place. Very brave of you not to take a plane.

Mudge, Yoki, Martooni, Scotty, Lindaloo, and everyone here, have a nice day.

Slyness, hope all is well with you and family. You know, Slyness, once we start to be unkind to people, the list only gets longer.

Posted by: cmyth4u | March 12, 2010 6:04 AM | Report abuse

Hola Boodlers!
Overcast and mist tells me we are at the end of summer.

When it comes to writing, one of the best and most helpful books I've read is Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. The Plot Thickens, also by him is very good. Donald Maas' Writing The Breakout Novel is another must read and re-read.


Posted by: Braguine | March 12, 2010 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Good morning and happy Friday, all, hi Cassandra! You're up early, but that doesn't surprise me.

Ham biscuits, a mixed fruit bowl, and hot/cold beverages on the ready room table, so enjoy.

The discussion of point of view was interesting. I'm with Yoki, I love a good analytical discussion! It took me a moment to realize that POV means point of view, in my world POV meant privately owned vehicle.

Still cloudy and wet here, Cassandra, although it is a spring wet, I'm glad to say. It smells earthy.

Posted by: slyness | March 12, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for all the insights about writing in second person.

The more I think about it the more I can appreciate the danger of alienating the reader. The protagonist in "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas" is flawed but sympathetic, so I don't mind being channeled into that character. But I can see how being forced to become a profoundly unsympathetic character could be off-putting.

A story that began "You got up and kicked the dog for the third time that night" wouldn't encourage me to read further.

Unless, of course, it was done really, really well. And even then I might find the experience too exhausting for anything longer than a short story.

This whole subject makes me curious if anyone has ever played around with classic stories by re-writing them in second person. Might be fun.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I've certainly seen a number of television programs done as first person "POV." MASH did it pretty well on a couple of occasions. The problem is that the technique gets on your nerves after a while. It just seems so artificial to have, say, characters talk to you while you remain silent.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

To overcome first person POV limitations many authors use a sidekick who can update and provide information to the protagonist via notes or dialogue. However, one must be careful not to fall into informative dialogue, which sounds corny or stilted.

Chomp, chomp, schmarff, schmarff

Posted by: Braguine | March 12, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

The chomping noises come from an attack on Slyness' super breakfast

Posted by: Braguine | March 12, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Words for the day from Desmond Tutu:

And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?

(This is from his op-ed this morning on WaPo's editorial page. It's a great essay.)

Posted by: slyness | March 12, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

IIRC, Scrubs did an all-musical show and the logic behind it was that it was the POV of a patient who had a head injury and she was hallucinating that all the staff was singing. Even cooler was that the patient was played by Stephanie D'Abruzzo from Avenue Q.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 12, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning and to all a Happy Day On Which we Celebrate Pi Day in School Since Monday Starts Spring Break. In honor of the day I made an apple pie for the Ivansclan, and two round chocolate cakes (two layers, not put together) to be served in two of the Boy's classes. Pi are round, but so are cake. These were the Hershey's cocoa box recipe, with a simple chocolate glaze ice because there was no time to properly ice them.

Mudge, those 18-year-old Texas beers were almost certainly legal. My 18th birthday was also in Texas, a week or so after I began college. I don't remember it now, though I'm sure at the time I thought I'd never forget. I do recall that about that time I began to (legally) order Black Russians, which seemed the height of sophistication. Ah, sweet bird of youth, with its burdens of lack of judgment, inexperience and, well, youth.

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 12, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

'Morning everyone. Happy to hear from you Brag. Very good discussion of writing, loved all the Twain quotes.

Very tired but happy to have my routine back. The grand dog was a very good house guest but 11 days is a long time. Glad to know that it will be rainy this weekend as that means good napping weather and I need some good long naps. Now to go clean the dog hair out of my car.

Posted by: badsneakers | March 12, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Camera as character? I suppose the movie Russian Ark shows how it's done. The narrator is represented by a camera moving through the Hermitage in a single, incredibly long shot, roughly from beginning (Peter the Great) to end (the siege of Leningrad, followed by a grand ball from the age of Nicholas II). The orchestra at the ball is conspicuously conducted by Valery Gergiev, who embodies St. Petersburg's culture as much as anyone.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | March 12, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

DothC - I remember seeing a bit about "Russian Ark" on television. As I recall, the producers had wanted to make such a film for a long time, but had to wait until hard drives were large enough to hold a continuous uninterrupted video file. I've never seen the whole movie, but am now intrigued to do so.


Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Wait, Ivansmom. Are you telling me that Black Russians are, in fact, *not* the most sophisticated drink one can order?

Well, that would certainly explain all the snickering.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

'Morning, Boodle.

You like Black Russians, too, Ivansmom? Still #1 as my drink of choice. (#1 dottir likes White Russians better.)

Back to 2nd person POV: two writers who used to do it extremely well were NY columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hammill, both of whom I am surprised to learn are still alive (Hammill's 75, Breslin 79). Back in the day (which is to say, late 1960s when I was in J-school), they were the "hot" guys every young newspaper reporter wanted to be. (This was all pre-Woodward-and-Bernstein, of course.) Breslin could tear your heart out with some of his second person stuff. Irrelevantly, Hammill was one of four guys who tackled Sirhan Sirhan and brought him to the ground after he shot RFK.

Some of the discussion about the "choice" of which person or which voice a writer should use I find all pretty mysterious and nonsensical. The discussion (and I don't mean here, I mean in the how-to-write books) makes it sound like it is a rational, intellectual decision, that the author sits there and thinks about which to use and decides, OK, I'll use technique XYZ. That is what I always call the "English major thinking" (sorry, CqP), which I almost always dismiss as hopelessly useless and pollyannish. I sometimes think a good many English majors/professors know LESS about writers, writing, and the writing process than any other human beings on earth.

I know it is not good to argue a point based simply upon one's own anecdotal evidence, and I don't think I am, because I've read a lot about how other writers write, and I think the evidence supports me. But I know this: I have been consciously writing fiction since the age of 12, which makes it 51 years now, and in all that time I have not once, not ever, sat down beforehand and tried to figure out which "person" to use, voice, etc. I firmly believe that all that "decision-making" that takes place in the writer's mind does so on a sunconscious, internal, "organic" level. I think if you need to ask yourself, "I wonder which would be better, 1st or 3rd person?" yopu are already hopelessly, hopelessly lost and doomed to fail in that project. There are things you just "know" before you sit down.

And yes, there may be other times when you dabble. You try it one way, and maybe you throw it out and start another way. But no writer I ever heard of "thinks" in this fashion. It's kind of like "thinking" about what to do next during sex. If you have to stop and wonder which technique would be best, which position to use, if you should put your hand, or there, you can guess exactly how successful the experience is going to be.

Many, many, many (can I say "many" a few more times?) writers will tell you that when they are writing, they have no more idea of what is going to happen next than the reader does.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Dave, the "camera as a character" notion is actually a pretty old (relatively speaking) and venerated technique. John Dos Passos used something he called "the camera eye" in his novels written right after WWI, in which the camera seems to be a character of sorts, or at least sees and records things on the page. Shortly thereafter, Christopher Isherwood wrote "The Berline Stories" (one of which features Sally Bowles, and became the basis of the musical "Cabaret"), in which "I Am a Camera" was (IIRC) one story, or at least one idea. John Van Druten adapted these stories into his play "I Am a Camera," which is the Sally Bowles story, which also became a non-musical movie. So we go from Dos Passos to Isherwood to Van Druten to Cabaret. (Van Druten also wrote the famous "Leave Her to Heaven" and "I Remember Mama.")

But I would posit the notion of the camera as a character and as a story-telling entity or device began with Dos Passos in the USA trilogy.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Well put, Mudge. As a writer myself, I know what my current style is and am ready to stretch out some other styles (time permitting). But no "one" style can ever be "correct" as our own individual templates cannot ever permit that ... unless, of course, a fundamentalist, totalitarian/authoritarian set of laws take over. I will admit that I haven't read the paper this morning yet, nor have I vetted what passes for "news" around here, but unless and until all that happens in one huge noisy confluence, we have what we have. And all that is good, even if the writing is bad, or otherwise not to our liking.

The other question is (wait, was there a first one?), to whom are we writing? Who comprises the audience? I certainly hope others like my writing, but I think I try to satisfy myself first. If others are likewise satisfied, that's gravy, yanno?

I can generally tell "good" writing from "bad" but that, too, is a matter of taste. As many of you know, I cannot abide Faulkner, while others love him. And there are authors of whose works I cannot get enough. Some authors come up with uneven writings, but I have a lot of respect for that. Besides, even if some works are not what we expect, because we liked the first (or nth) book and this one is not like the others, the effort to expand one's repertoire regardless is to be acknowledged and applauded, even if we don't really like the result for one reason or another.

For something completely different, Ivansmom, I now have about 50 pages left, which I expect to finish tonight. I was up until about 12:30 this morning polishing off the previous 50 pages, as I absolutely could not put it down. Which is why I simply cannot keep my peepers open this morning. Good book, the third one. But read them in order, please. Have you started the second one yet?

I think I will be putting off the Shakespeare, as there are too many books ahead of it (them?) on the nightstand, which have reached *imperative* status. So many books, so little time.

Posted by: -ftb- | March 12, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Interesting analogy between sex and writing, Mudge. In my experience, both can also offer great frustration when nobody else finds what you have to offer particularly enticing.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

RPD -- *snort*

Posted by: -ftb- | March 12, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Good morning boodle! Third day in a row where it seems we will not really have daylight, just steel gray from ground to sky and with the fog, in between. Yuck. But, if we have little or no snow from now to May this will be one short winter. No snow is unlikely. A March without snow has not happened since good records were started back in the 1850s.

Off to town, later gators.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 12, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

The first thing to do when you write in second person is decide which kind it is. There's sort of a generic "you" that you use as an instructional sort of voice. You want to educate the reader on how something is done in general. You want to convey this by using the present tense a lot.

When you deciphered that first paragraph, you understood it. Then you walked into the kitchen and fed the dog, and made breakfast. You had an odd feeling you weren't really in the kitchen at all.

Posted by: Jumper1 | March 12, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Mudge and RDP-but you don't have to be good at it to enjoy it.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | March 12, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Mudge... to carry on your metaphor: you can always do it over if you accidentally got a knee in somebody's eye. That is, if she'll let you near her ever again.

POVs do change from first draft to revision. Sometimes you just gotta write it dirty and then take a good look at the body count afterwards.

Especially if you haven't been writing fiction for 900 years as of yet.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Laughing, Padouk.

ftb, the question of the relationship between the writer and the audience is interesting and problematic. About half the how-to books I've read say you *should* consider who your audience is, and think about them. The other half seem to say exactly the audience that you should NOT think about them, but rather, write to please your innner self, your own sensibility, etc., whether you think there's an audience out there or not. Still a few others say to write for just one person, whoever that may be. Someone (Hemingway?) once said something about writing only for the woman you want to go to bed with.

I don't find the "write for your audience" especially persuasive. In theory it sounds OK, but I think what it winds up being is a kind of "marketing" thing, a cold-blooded calculation of what you think the market "wants." One can go overboard, if that's all one thinks about, and the writing simply becomes bloodless and passionless. That's all right if all one wants to do is churn out bodice-rippers or westerns or space cowboy sci-fi or whatever. But if one wants to write something meaningful, perhaps with some pretensions toward "art," and "truth, and all that internal gooey stuff, then no, screw the audience. You write for yourself. You write as therapy, you write as passion, you write what you *have* to write, not what some MBA marketing type thinks will sell.

I do think there can be a kind of honorable melding of the two, though, between the marketing commercialism thing, and the completely personal/interior thing. It's just a case of treading a fine line, that's all.

The trap of writing "for the audience," however, means that by definition, you will never, ever write something that is "different," experimental, never-been-done-before, off the charts, "original," whatever, because the audience always has expections that are basically "gimme-more-of-the-same." There was no audience just dying to read "In Cold Blood," or "Gravity's Rainbow," or "Catcher in the Rye," or "Lord of the Flies." There is no mass audience out there saying "Shock me, knock my socks off, challenge me, do something completely new and unexpected." (There IS such an audience, but there are only 9 of you.)

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

MMM, I dunno, frosty. I think being good at it helps quite a bit in the enjoyment.

Wait -- remind me which of the two topics we're talking about, again?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Good (late) morning, y'all.

Breakfast goodies still on the table: huevos rancheros, muffins, coffee, OJ, and hickory-smoked bacon.

Thinking of doing eggs benny this weekend with avocado hollandaise. Anyone ever try it? Or maybe a crab pizza. Something different anyway.

Glad to see the art and technique of writing is alive and well. I have nothing to contribute, as my writing was largely of the corporate genre in which communication is expressed as PowerPoint bullet lists.

Please carry on.

Posted by: MsJS | March 12, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Knocking my socks off is so passe', Mudge.

I insist on having unexpected violence done to other garments instead. But no Silence of the Lambs stuff, please.

Posted by: Wilbrod_Gnome | March 12, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

SCC: The other half seem to say exactly the opposite...

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I have tried to knock off one's L'eggs pantyhose. It is unbelievably difficult. Socks are just so much easier.

Thank god no one wears girdles any more.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

MsJS -- I *definitely* want to eat at your house! I shall be dreaming of eggs benny with avocado hollandaise for the rest of my life.

And, now, hungry for lunch.

I definitely read to write. And, Mudge, I agree about those who write for the marketing types. Unfortunately, really great (or even good) literature can't seem to be published, as the Borders, Waldens (if still around) and Barnes & Nobles of the world won't accept them for sale for being "unmarketable" -- which is why I go to Amazon or to Abe Books to fill my literature needs. The only Indie bookstore still around is Politics & Prose, which is an *expletive* shame!

But I also read a lot of foreign literature -- mainly in English translation, but if written in a language I know well, I will attempt to read it in the original. I was talking with a friend yesterday about the Swedish Millennium trilogy and I told her that I really cannot imagine how they could be translated to capture the underlying "Swedishness" of them -- the culture, the way of expressing (and not expressing) their thoughts, the passive-aggressiveness of the society, the societal and language mannerisms -- all of these represent a lot of layers of an onion that, to me at least, are really difficult to translate. Nevertheless, the translation of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" (done masterfully by Gregory Rabassa) was wonderful. Yet, I still wonder what it would be like to read that book in Spanish (or, indeed, Venezuelan).

Posted by: -ftb- | March 12, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

No Mudge, many women now wear a line of undergarments called Spanx.

Posted by: LostInThought | March 12, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Yet another application of advanced space-aged technology.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

And just in time for a Friday, a cautionary tale to which we all can doubtless relate:

Posted by: RD_Padouk | March 12, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Shortly after I first heard of them, I asked an acquaintance if Spanx were/was more comfortable than other girdles. I was informed sharply that Spanx doesn't make girdles.

I now generally stay out of discussions about ladies' foundation-wear.

Posted by: bobsewell | March 12, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

RD - I saw that last night. Very funny, very appropriate for this forum.

Posted by: bobsewell | March 12, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Black Russians may well be the height of sophistication, RD - I'm really no better in that department than I was at 18. How would I know? I have moved on, though. I evolved through Scotch into a sour mash bourbon drinker (with water, occasional lemon). In the summer I'm known to imbibe the occasional mojito (to go with the mosquitos) and on really hot days I find a lime or lemon vodka tonic refreshing. Of course, water is still the most effective thirst quencher.

And nothing beats milk with cookies or chocolate cake.

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 12, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

"These mustard people weren't really my friends." Good thing he didn't stumble on the home-vinegar crowd.

ftb, I haven't begun the second novel yet, but I will, I will. I'm reading one in a series about a Chinese detective inspector (loosely) now.

Posted by: Ivansmom | March 12, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I am (very vaguely) aware of Spanx, LiT, but I've never tried to knock any off of anybody. That's the trouble being so old school: I never got much past bustles and whalebone corsets. (You want a writing challenge? Try writing a sonnet that'll knock off some serving wench's corset. AND we had to attempt this feat back in the day before thesauruses, Old Spice and SpellCheck.) Not for nothing did they call us "ink-stained wretches."

I nearly had a nervous breakdown in 1758 trying to find something that rhymed with "Gwendolyn." Racked my brain for three weeks. Finally had to go with "Thou art my favourite mendocine."

She hated it.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Mandolin? A little late I guess.

Posted by: engelmann | March 12, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Ya think?

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"Penicillin" would not have helped.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | March 12, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I guess love poetry is one of those genres in which it pays to know your audience.

Posted by: MsJS | March 12, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse


Your 10:44 should be the comment of the day. Words of wisdom wrapped up in two sentences.

Posted by: cmyth4u | March 12, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

The only lesson I learned from the whole pitiful experience was try to find girls named May or June.

Priscilla was another tough one. Never got to first base. My couplet, "I must have you, darling Priscilla/
I'll be your Raymond Burr, if you'll be my Godzilla" probably had a lot to do with it.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | March 12, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse


You menfolk have a hard way to row. So,"she hated it". LOL

Posted by: cmyth4u | March 12, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

"Oh will-a, oh will-a,
my darling Priscilla?"

Posted by: MsJS | March 12, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Making Russian Ark in a single shot was evidently a great way to save time. The Heritage closed for only a day or two. I'm amazed that the camera made its way through so many episodes in a continuous manner, always going through the door. How can you do that without catching sight of temporary lighting? And have a whole ballroom full of dancing aristocrats leave and head down the stairs? The director must be able to herd cats.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | March 12, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

New kit.

Back to NASA.

Posted by: yellojkt | March 12, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

My darling Priscilla
Were you names Willa
My love would change
Not one scintilla

Posted by: Scottynuke | March 12, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Good thing I got 'Mudged...

SCC: named

Posted by: Scottynuke | March 12, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Intentional mudging:

We were not meant to be, my darling Priscilla
I was your dirty bomb, you my Padilla

Posted by: engelmann | March 12, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

To RDPs 10:44:

Sometimes I just write for myself.


Posted by: -bc- | March 12, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

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