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Posts Tagged ‘Writing

“If commas are open to interpretation, hyphens are downright Delphic”*…

 

The tilde is 3,000 years old, but is there any grapheme that’s more ~of the times~? The little traveling worm, originally designed to convey approximation (and used in Spanish and Portuguese to denote certain sounds), expresses so much more: strangeness, emotional and physical distance — but perhaps most importantly, sarcasm…

The twisted mark’s twisted story in its entirety at “The Internet Tilde Perfectly Conveys Something We Don’t Have the Words to Explain.”

– Mary Norris (the New Yorker‘s “Comma Queen”)

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As we move our fingers to the upper left of our keyboards, we might send rib-tickling birthday greetings to Moses Harry Horwitz; he was born on this date in 1897.  Better known by his stage name, “Moe Howard,” he was the de facto leader of The Three Stooges, both on stage and off.

Moe, flanked by Curly and Larry, in The Three Stooge’s classic “Disorder in the Court

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Written by LW

June 19, 2017 at 1:01 am

“You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead”*…

 

The oldest known pencil in the world, from the early 17th century, on display at the Faber-Castell castle near Nuremberg, Germany

The pencil’s journey into your hand has been a 500-year process of discovery and invention. It began in the countryside of northern England, but a one-eyed balloonist from Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, one of America’s most famous philosophers, and some of the world’s most successful scientists and industrialists all have had a hand in the creation and refinement of this humble writing implement…

The story of everyone’s go-to writing implement:  “The Write Stuff- How the Humble Pencil Conquered the World.”

* Stan Laurel

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As we keep our erasers handy, we might spare a memorial thought for Hugo Gernsback, a Luxemborgian-American inventor, broadcast pioneer, writer, and publisher; he died on this date in 1967 at the age of 83.

Gernsback held 80 patents at the time of his death; he founded radio station WRNY, was involved in the first television broadcasts and is considered a pioneer in amateur radio.  But it was a writer and publisher that he probably left his most lasting mark:  In 1926, as owner/publisher of the magazine Modern Electrics, he filled a blank spot in his publication by dashing off the first chapter of a series called “Ralph 124C 41+.” The twelve installments of “Ralph” were filled with inventions unknown in 1926, including “television” (Gernsback is credited with introducing the word), fluorescent lighting, juke boxes, solar energy, television, microfilm, vending machines, and the device we now call radar.

The “Ralph” series was an astounding success with readers; and later that year Gernsback founded the first magazine devoted to science fiction, Amazing Stories.  Believing that the perfect sci-fi story is “75 percent literature interwoven with 25 percent science,” he coined the term “science fiction.”

Gernsback was a “careful” businessman, who was tight with the fees that he paid his writers– so tight that H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat.”

Still, his contributions to the genre as publisher were so significant that, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called “The Father of Science Fiction”; in his honor, the annual Science Fiction Achievement awards are called the “Hugos.”

(Coincidentally, today is also the birthday– in 1906– of Philo T. Farnsworth, the man who actually did invent television… and was thus the inspiration for the brand name “Philco.”)

Gernsback, wearing his invention, TV Glasses

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Written by LW

August 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A word after a word after a word is power”*…

 

Sumerian cuneiform tablet

There is evidence dating back to Neolithic times in various parts of the world of people using pictograms—that is, drawing little pictures of objects to represent those objects. They might be scratched in stone, incised into pottery, or carved into bone or shell. Examples have been found in China (at Jiahu in Henan province), in southern Europe (at Vinča in Serbia), in the Indian subcontinent (at Harappa in Pakistan), in Egypt (at Girzeh), in Mesopotamia, and in Central America (near Veracruz in Mexico). The Chinese symbols, dating back to around 6600 BC, are currently believed to be the oldest discovered.

However, most scholars do not class these symbols as “writing.” They do not appear to be capable of communicating complex or abstract ideas. They are pictures, or at most signs—perhaps used for identification, claiming ownership, or as memory aids.

The general consensus in academic circles is that the earliest “true” writing system emerged in Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) around 3100 BC, and was fully developed with a substantial body of written texts and literature by around 2600 BC…

More at “Hieroglyphs aren’t words—so which civilization invented the idea of writing?

* Margaret Atwood

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As we ponder prose, we might recall that this is National Biographers Day– celebrated on this date each year to commemorate the anniversary of the first meeting, in 1763, of Dr. Samuel Johnson and his biographer, James Boswell.  Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson is widely claimed to be the greatest biography ever written. 

Boswell (center left) meets Johnson (center right, on chair)

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Written by LW

May 16, 2016 at 1:02 am

“Chance is the pseudonym of God when he did not want to sign”*…

 

This infographic from printerinks (via Electric Literature) takes a look at literary pen names through history:

 click here for larger version

* Théophile Gautier, La croix de Berny (Paris: Librairie Nouvelle, 1855)

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As we speak freely, we might recall that it was on this date in 1959 that Warner Bros. released Tom Graeff’s epic film Teenagers From Outer Space.  The movie failed to perform at the box office, placing further stress on an already-financially-burdened Graeff; and in the fall of 1959, he suffered a breakdown, proclaiming himself to be the second coming of Christ. After a number of public appearances followed by an arrest for disrupting a church service, Graeff disappeared from Hollywood.  His film however lives on:  featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, Elvira’s Movie Macabre, and Off Beat Cinema, Teenagers From Outer Space is the final prize in the action-adventure game Destroy All Humans, unlocked when a player wins.

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Written by LW

June 2, 2015 at 1:01 am

“It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass”*…

 

In the first decade of the 20th century, Edward Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  As the head of the group, he commissioned writers to create quickly-written, formulaic juvenile novels; authors received short outlines, and returned book manuscripts within a month. As Meghan O’Rourke writes in The New Yorker,“ Stratemeyer checked the manuscript for discrepancies, made sure that each book had exactly fifty jokes, and cut or expanded as needed,”  The syndicate’s popular protagonists included the Hardy Boys,Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, and the Bobbsey Twins, along with many that are now unfamiliar, like the Outdoor Girls, the Motion Picture Chums, and the Kneetime Animal Stories.

The first of the two-page outline for The House on the Cliff, the second Hardy Boys novel

 

In this two-page outline for the 1927 Hardy Boys mystery The House on the Cliff, Stratemeyer directed writer Leslie McFarlane in the construction of the plot of the second book in the franchise’s original series. The book was officially published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, a fictional author whose name appears on all of the Hardy Boys books.

Stratemeyer, who grew up reading the Horatio Alger and Oliver Optic book series, was himself a writer of boys’ fiction. As Meghan O’Rourke wrote in the New Yorker in 2004, Stratemeyer was publishing his own series fiction—the Rover Boys, the Motor Boys—when he figured out a way to bridge two oppositional strains of children’s literature: “the nineteenth century’s moralistic tradition and the dime novel’s frontier adventures.” Stratemeyer’s books would be sold in hardback, thereby appearing “respectable” to parents, while containing adventure stories that were just as appealing to kids as cheap stories of the dime novel type…

James Keeline, who researchs the history of the Syndicate and granted me permission to run these scans of the Hardy Boys document, has put several other Stratemeyer outlines up on his site.

Rebecca Onion, in The Vault

* Eudora Welty

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As we turn the page, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one o fte most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.

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Written by LW

March 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are”*…

 

There are all sorts of theories and ideas about what constitutes a good opening line. It’s tricky thing, and tough to talk about because I don’t think conceptually while I work on a first draft — I just write. To get scientific about it is a little like trying to catch moonbeams in a jar.

But there’s one thing I’m sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this….

When I’m starting a book, I compose in bed before I go to sleep. I will lie there in the dark and think. I’ll try to write a paragraph. An opening paragraph. And over a period of weeks and months and even years, I’ll word and reword it until I’m happy with what I’ve got. If I can get that first paragraph right, I’ll know I can do the book…

– Stephen King (click here for full interview)

Find inspiration– or just enjoyment– at Kick Ass Ledes (“Your Daily Fix of Damn Good Opening Lines”).

Readers can follow KAL on Twitter… and noticing the the skew there toward long-form non-fiction and short stories, can further explore the implications of Mr. King’s advice in other, more novel-centric lists (e.g., here).

* W. Somerset Maugham

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As we sharpen our pencils, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to Chloe Ardelia Wofford; she was born on this date in 1931.  A convert to catholicism at age 12, she took the baptismal name “Anthony,” which family and friends shortened to “Toni”; then at age 27, she married George Morrison…. so it was as Toni Morrison that she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970.  She went on to write 9 more novels (including Beloved and Song of Solomon), a number of non-fiction books, a pair of plays, a host of essays, and an opera libretto– all while serving as a university professor at Howard, SUNY, Rutgers, and now Princeton.  She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved, the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

They shoot the white girl first.

– Toni Morrison, (the first line of) Paradise

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Written by LW

February 18, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it…”*

Today we revisit James– “DawnPaladin” on Deviant Art— and his handy reference for readers, viewers, and listeners: The Periodic Table of Storytelling.

Click here for James’ explanation, again on the image there for a larger version; and click here for the source material at our old friends TV Tropes… which has been materially updated/expanded since our last visit.

* Hannah Arendt

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As we prepare to tell tantalizing tales, we might send pious but modern birthday greetings to Laurence Sterne; he was born on this date in 1713.  An Anglican clergyman known in his own time for his published sermons and memoirs, Sterne is surely best remembered these days for his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.  

Tristram Shandy was roughly received in England on its publication.  It parodies accepted narrative form, playing with narrative time and voice, and includes a healthy dose of “bawdy” humor– which led to its being largely dismissed by the likes of Samuel Johnson as being too corrupt.  But it was a hit on the Continent; indeed, Voltaire declared it “clearly superior to Rabelais.”  That said, Sterne’s real influence had a longer fuse.  As Italo Calvino observed, Tristram Shandy is the “undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century,” one that, in its challenges to the formal concept of the novel, had powerful influence on Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and more contemporary writers like Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.

Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Sterne (1760)

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Written by LW

November 24, 2013 at 1:01 am

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