Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Writing

The struggling author V

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The prior installment of my “struggling author” series, appears to have been published last November. Time for an update:

I have almost finished the book, in that 99%-there-but-the-last-percent-will-take-time sense: most of what remains is polishing and tuning, fixing up details, improving the language, whatnot. In this, there is obviously a risk of pushing things too far, as there is always something left to improve. There will be at least several weeks before this becomes a concern, but it does lead me to my current main struggle:

With time, I have become better and better, gained a better and better eye for what works, is good literature, whatnot, and grown less and less satisfied with prior works. As a consequence, my satisfaction with the book has not improved as much as its actual quality, leaving me with the paradoxical situation that it is much better* than I would have hoped for this time last year, but that I am still unsatisfied. Similarly, every now and then, I see some pages by someone else that make me revise my standards and give me an impulse to improve something—as with Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: the early descriptive sections left me feeling like a rank amateur. I deliberately have not used much description, Conrad is a high bar indeed, and the rest of his book appears** less ambitious in this regard, but I still have the urge both to revise the descriptive scenes that I do have and add some more. (Whether I will, I leave unstated. If not, the impulse might affect my next book instead.)

*As in “I like it”. I make no statement about what publishers, readers, and critics will think, but no matter their reactions, I will have the knowledge that I went well beyond my own expectations for my first work, I will consider the time taken well spent, and I strongly suspect that I will love reading it, myself, ten years from now, when my memory has faded. But: if I stop revision today, I will fall short of what I could have accomplished.

**I read a chunk as I escaped construction noise this Friday, and have postponed the remainder with an eye on what might happen on Monday (i.e. tomorrow). I also read it once as a teenager, but my memory is very vague and I was less discerning at the time.

Looking at large stretches of my early efforts, just putting words on the page has been a major obstacle, to come up with something that makes sense plot-wise, to overcome my natural tendency to describe a running dog named Spot with “Spot runs”, etc. During the spring, this changed, likely, for two reasons: Firstly, I had reached some level of critical mass. Secondly, I learned to adapt my work to my strengths, including what is often a weakness when blogging: when my mind is occupied with something, ideas tend to sprout off that something*, and then new ideas off those ideas, etc. Similarly, when I see something, I tend to see things that could be improved, even though I might not have been able to spot the improvements during the planning stage. So then: “Spot runs” might be shitty text, but it is a text, and once I have “Spot runs”, I can improve it from there.

*Which explains e.g. the many “excursions” of my (blog) texts and, partially, the footnotes.

Of course, “Spot runs” is a metaphorical example, but the general idea holds true. For instance, once I have my characters in a certain situation, I might (at that point or two days later) see how something that they say or do in that situation would improve characterization or lead somewhere else, which in turn leads to some other improvement, and so on. Similarly, putting them in one situation might ring a bell regarding some accidental* detail in another situation, which causes me to add a plot development connecting the two, which in turn might add something to a third scene or give the inspiration for an entirely new scene. In one case, I had a chapter with a good idea, which seemed both thin and lifeless when written. To boot, it had the flaw that an intended plot-twist did not work, being (in my eyes, at least) too obvious. I tried to remedy the latter through adding a “guest character” (a virtual Spot) to serve as a decoy, and another character for symmetry. A day later, the chapter was twice as long and alive, as the amount of interaction between characters increased and a few sub-plots appeared—both in a manner that I had not at all foreseen as I added the new characters.

*The amount of things that have so far arisen more-or-less accidentally is enormous. In many ways, it is as were the book a river that I am merely navigating—not a canal that I am building. (As an example, above I mentioned “Heart of Darkness”. Here I coincidentally spoke of “river”. This is something that I might have been able to spin out.)

When I revise, the text tends to become longer. This is a further reason to watch the perfectionism, as too long can be worse than too short, and as the accepted wisdom is that revision should cut the old more often than add something new. So far, knock on wood, it has worked well, however, as I start from a comparatively “thin” position and as every revision tends to also improve quality. (There is at least one scene which is much too long, a “cut scene” (in movie parlance) waiting to happen; and one or two chapters that feel too much like have-a-nap-while-we-wait-for-the-real-story. They will be improved or cut, however.)

Incidentally, this way of working parallels what I often did as a software developer, and writing software and writing novels does have a thing or two in common. The former is not the perfect training for the latter, but it is not bad as a component of the training. My particular approach, which is not the only one, particularly resembles refactoring and test-driven development.

The last few weeks, I have been a little troubled to get work done again. This in part, because I needed a breather; in part, due to the current “interesting times” (note my increased blogging); in part, because the construction work is here again.

As to the last, I still do not know for how long. Friday’s disturbances were short and, unlike large portions of last year, there was no work on Saturday.* This might mean that everything was done by Friday afternoon—or just that someone was lazy and that things will start up again on Monday, to continue for months on end. If it is the latter, frankly, I do not know what I will do. Somehow, I will have to move out, or I will never be able to finish, my health will be ruined, and I will be driven to the edge of a nervous break-down. Note that around six months of construction work last year wreaked havoc on my writing (not to mention mood and health), and that the (non-construction) disturbances of someone stomping around for hours a day during the COVID-19 lock-down did a lot of damage on top of that. It is a wonder that I have managed to get as far as I have.

*Sundays are work-free by German law, but then there is usually some idiot neighbor who sees Sunday as a day to make a ruckus, again and again—better than construction, but annoying enough. This especially when the preceding week would have made peace and quiet the more important. (And, yes, I suspect that it is the same idiot who ruined the COVID-19 lock-downs. It is rarely as bad, however.)

To finally revisit the Künstlersozialkasse: These idiots are still making trouble, costing me a few hundred a month. As it appears now, they refuse to admit me, because they do not believe that I am actually serious about writing. Their pseudo-arguments include that, as I have not taken a formal course in literature or writing, there are no signs that I would have a serious interest—never mind the fact that I have spent an enormous amount of time on this book, have it completed to the point of just-needs-polishing, and that I have foregone having a regular job in the interim … (To this, note that the formal, legal criteria for admittance are comparatively low, and that the Künstlersozialkasse appears to invent its own, illegal or extra-legal, criteria to artificially keep writers out. A formal requirement that someone needs to have taken a course does not exist, neither in the law, nor in their own official information. It is excuse making—nothing more, nothing less.)

Excursion on noise and health:
(What would one of my texts be without even just one, short, excursion?) The type of health damage that can occur through e.g. months of construction or the COVID-19 lock-downs should not be underestimated. Someone might seem to bounce back fine in the short term, but what about the long-term? Possibly, something like this can make the difference between having a fatal and a near-fatal heart-attack at 75, cutting of ten years of life? I have genuine concerns that my life is being cut down at the far end through the behavior of others. Health damage often becomes obvious only when the reserves run low, e.g. with old age or when a major disease strikes. (Something, incidentally, demonstrated by the much larger effects of COVID-19 on the elderly.)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2020 at 7:34 pm

The video infection of Wikipedia

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As I noted two years ago, one of the problems with the current Wikipedia is:

Increased use of animations instead of individual images to illustrate processes. Individual images are usually the superior choice for illustration, seeing that the users can jump back-and-forth as they please and can take their time or not. In addition, animations are highly destructive when trying to enjoy other parts of the page—like trying to read a book when someone waves a hand in front of the page once every second or so. With (at least) earlier browser/computers and some forms of animation (notably Flash) this also meant a considerable performance drain, especially for users of tabbed browsing. (I regularly have dozens of tabs open for days or weeks.) Unsurprisingly, to compensate, many users prefer to disable animations entirely, and these then have the problem that the animations are reduced to a single individual image with little or no value.

Since then, I have evermore often encountered something even worse: the inclusion of actual videos in lieu of text—but if I visit Wikipedia, it is to read about a topic. Moreover, these often give the first* impression of having a self-promotional “Youtube-y” character. For instance, the first shot shown to the Wikipedia visitors is often an entirely uninformative image of a speaker, as with e.g. the current version of the article on Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Here there is a video described as “A video on the history of black lung disease” depicting an older man in a shirt, apparently about to launch into a speech.

*I never watch them, so more than a first impression will necessarily be absent.

WTF!??!

If the maker of the video is one of the editors or otherwise wants to contribute to the page, then he should write a section on this history and put it in the article. If he is a third party, then his video might or might not be worthy of inclusion among the “External links”. To include the video in the middle of the actual article is utterly idiotic.

Apart from Wikipedia naturally being a text medium, I note that this type of video brings a number of disadvantages, e.g. wasted bandwidth, in-text searches that do not find the information, screen-readers who will stumble on them,* the security risks associated with active contents from unknown** sources, and the lower rate of information processing forced upon the viewer compared to the reader. Even from the Wikipedia editors’ point of view there are disadvantages, e.g. (in addition!) that it will be harder to discover and often impossible to correct the type of information that is consider unwanted*** in the article.

*In a twist potentially making such videos detrimental for those with impaired eye-sight.

**Note that while Wikipedia, it self, is a known entity, this does not necessarily apply to editors, uploaders, whatnot—anyone can contribute and malicious activities are not necessarily caught in time by the other editors.

***E.g. outdated science, sensitive or dubious information about living persons, and copyright violations.

Editors: Please, never, ever include videos in this manner—and throw those that you encounter out in a summary manner.

Visitors: Please, never, ever watch these videos.

Self-promoters, etc.: Leave Wikipedia alone!

Written by michaeleriksson

June 7, 2020 at 1:26 pm

That darn December / Follow-up: WordPress statistics II

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I have already mentioned a recurring downturn in traffic in December ([1], [2]).

This December followed both this trend and the downwards trend on this blog discussed in [3], making it the worst month in almost two-and-a-half years, and showing no less than three (!) days at 0 (!!) visitors. (Four, if we count the immediately adjacent January 1st.)

This despite a comparatively high post count (14), which could be seen as weakening my “new trumps good” hypothesis (cf. [3]), strengthening my “December sucks” hypothesis, or indicate that there is a certain lag between post count and popularity (consistent with other observations, outside the immediate popularity boost through the individual post).

Written by michaeleriksson

January 4, 2020 at 3:40 pm

A few recommendations around “X began Y-ing”

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Preamble: The weird formulation family X began Y-ing has remained in the back of my head. I had gathered some resulting recommendations in a draft (almost draft-of-a-draft), which I have polished up a little below, to get the topic out of my backlog. Note that there is some overlap with and repetition of the original text.

Prefer a non-“start”* formulation, whenever it is not contrary to intentions. For instance, “he started to swim ashore” is usually** inferior to “he swam ashore”. The non-“start” formulation is both shorter and more likely to match the actual intention. (It seems to me that e.g. some Wikipedia editors throw on an entirely unnecessary “start” formulation in a blanket manner. Consider, hypothetically, “modern humans first appeared” vs. “modern humans first began to appear” or, jikes, “modern humans first began appearing”.)

*With “start”, I include equivalent words, e.g. “begin”.

**An exception is when he did not reach the shore. Another when something follows in the text that takes place before arrival, e.g. an incident with a shark or a mermaid.

Prefer a “to” formulation. For instance, “he started to swim ashore” is superior to “he started swimming ashore”. The former is grammatically sounder, less prone to ambiguity, more likely to bring the intent over, and stylistically better. Note that the most reasonable interpretation of “swimming” (in this context) is as a participle describing what he was doing when he “started”. (Be it in the sense of a sudden movement or of “began” with a missing verb indicating what began, as with “he started to drown swimming”, which, while awkward, is a possible formulation.)

Prefer a regular noun over a gerund. For instance, “he started constructION” is better than “he started constructING” (with very minor reservations for the exact contexts and intentions, seeing that there is a slight difference in meaning). As a special case, be careful not to replace a regular noun with a gerund that is the noun + “ing”, as with “he heard a moan” vs. “he heard a moaning”. (Again, with reservations for exact intention: If one moan is meant, it is “moan” and not “moaning”. However, if an on-going series of moans is intended, then “moaning” might be acceptable.)

Pay attention to prepositions: a gerund will often require one. For instance, “he began teaching of math” is logically acceptable as a gerund (even if very ugly), while “he began teaching math” implies* that “teaching” is a verb form, making “he began to teach math” the preferable version.

*Unless it is a participle, with something missing from the sentence: “he began to write on the blackboard teaching math”. (Incidentally, a good example why participles should be used with caution in English.)

Pay attention to the difference between gerunds (quasi-nouns), participles (quasi-modifiers), and verb forms. A great deal of confusion and a fundamentally flawed understanding of grammar arises when the simplistic idea of “ing” words (and, similarly, “ed” words) is used as a blanket replacement. These might all end with “ing”, but this is arbitrary and we might well have had them end with, respectively, “ing”, “ang”, and “ong”—or any other suffix, or have them be distinctive in some other manner yet. They happen to be the same in English, but that does not mean anything. The two lefts in “I left to the left” are not the same either and treating them as the same would be idiotic. “Swimming, he was swimming during the swimming” uses all three: The first is a participle, the second a (part of a) verb form, the third a gerund (if a little artificial in context). We can e.g. see that “was swimming” can be replaced with “swam” but that the others cannot; and that “was” fits with the second but not the others. The third can be replaced by e.g. “swim session”, while the others cannot. It also goes well with “the”, which the others do not. The first allows extensions like “pleasantly swimming” that are incompatible at least with the gerund use.* Indeed, the corresponding** sentences in Swedish and German display three visually (and phonetically) different words: “Simmande, simmade han under simmandet” resp. “Schwimmend, schwamm er während des Schwimmens”.***

*A gerund, as a quasi-noun, takes an adjective like “pleasant”. Participles and verb forms take adverbs like “pleasantly”.

**The commata are a little dubious in Swedish and German, but I have kept them to make the identification with the English sentence easier.

***The German version also illustrates a complication not obvious in the weakly inflected English language: Different word classes can underlie different modifications. Here the basal “[das] Schwimmen” is turned into “[des] Schwimmens” in the genitive case, which (at least in German) would affect neither the participle use nor the verb use. (The preposition “während” causes the genitive.)

Addendum on infinitives: In the original text, I spoke of how “Y-ing” in this type of formulation “logically fills the role of an infinitive”. With hindsight this was a partial misjudgment on my behalf: an infinitive is often used in such roles, but it is hardly a universal linguistic law. There might, for instance, be cases where English uses an infinitive and Latin a subjunctive, e.g. “he does it to win” vs. (with great reservations for correctness) “facit ut vincat”, not “facit ut vincere”. (This could possibly be the result of long-term confusion between “logical case” and appearance of the words involved, where one case disappears from consciousness or language because all its forms coincides with those of another case.)

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December 14, 2019 at 1:09 am

Follow-up: WordPress statistics II

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As a follow-up on topic influence on popularity: Writing that text, I contemplated mentioning a downturn in visitors when I began to write more on political questions again, especially dealing with the Left and the “Right”. However, at the time, I saw this as more of a coincidence than a systematic topic issue.

In December, however, I see something similar: I have written of topics relating to the Left and the “Right” and have not seen the “newness” boost in visitors that I am used to. One possibility is that these topics are the reverse of the topic of blogging, in that they find few readers or even detract readers.

Other possibilities include, but are not limited to, that it is still coincidence, that December is just a poor month (cf. the linked-to text), and, more nefariously, that anti-Left writings are punished by some algorithm. (While I do not consider a punishment likely in my case, especially because my low traffic makes manual attention improbable, I have repeatedly seen claims that more well-known “heretics” against the Left have had artificial problems in e.g. search-engine rankings.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 10, 2019 at 10:06 am

My future plans

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A few words on my future activities and their respective background:

I have quite a large backlog of blog posts that I want to write, some of them at least partially done. This situation was worsened considerably by the roughly five months of construction work that severely impacted my working and living conditions. I also want to spend less time blogging in order to write fiction (and have done so for the past few months).

I have some accumulated or ever re-occurring tasks relating to government agencies (e.g. the German IRS) and incompetent or dishonest businesses (e.g. the insurer HUK or my current building management). This accumulation, too, has been considerably increased by the construction work.

I have a website, which is years out of date and which I had intended to fix during my latest sabbatical. With the one thing and other, I never got around to this before ending my sabbatical to start the work on my first novel. Just fixing many issues with the existing texts and merging off-line changes that never were published* would be a considerable amount of work. Re-working it to e.g. allow a more blogging style of publication (which I consider necessary in the long term) will be another considerable amount of work. At the same time, WordPress is such a horribly user-hostile platform that I will have to get back to my website sooner or later—and every text that I publish on WordPress is one more text that I will at some point want to move to my website, which is more work.

*For various reasons, I had a very long absence from the Internet a few years ago, during which I did some considerable off-line editing. These changes are still mostly unpublished. A particular problem is that this was a few computers back, implying that I will have to search to even find out where the changes are located.

An overreaching complication is finger health: When my writing exceeds a certain level for a prolonged time, I develop finger pains. I could work through this, but I am extremely reluctant to do so, because I fear long-term damage and would like to use these fingers for decades to come. Correspondingly, even when I have the energy and motivation to write more, I have to pace myself. Fingers aside, I could sit down and write ten hours a day for a few months, and then be more-or-less done, but in reality I have to settle for a lot less.

My current plan is the following:

  1. I will take roughly one-month (rest of December, beginning of January) almost-break* from writing fiction, in order to bring as much of the government/business issues as possible out of the way, and to address some of the more important backlog items.

    *There might be a new page here and an edit there, but no set hours or minimum word counts.

    I will also do a considerable amount of reading, which is extremely helpful to improve my own writing. Indirectly, this break will also give my writing the time to “mature” a little more.

  2. At some point in January, I will return to fiction as my main focus, with another reduction in blogging, possibly to one post a week. Blogging will mostly deal with the remainder of the backlog, including the texts of my visits to Sweden (which I will hardly get done during the almost-break) and a few texts directly or indirectly relating to the building management, especially as a small-scale analogy of some larger societal problems*.

    *E.g. how the apartment owners find themselves giving up rights to the building management, which sees it self as an overseer, where it should be a service provider—much like voters and politicians, respectively.

    Ideally, it would be backlog only, but realistically, I will hardly be able to resist the temptation of the occasional new idea. I will try to be much more selective than in the past, however. Indeed, even when it comes to the backlog, I will filter considerably. (There are so many topics to address, especially based on current news, but it is unrealistic to actually address them all.)

  3. When I feel that my novel is concluded at a satisfactory quality level, likely towards the end of next summer, I will take a further break from fiction to bring my website into shape and to look for publication* of the novel.

    *Whether through conventional publishing or self-publishing, I leave open for the time being—self-publishing appears to have grown into a valid option over the years, as opposed to a crutch for those unable to find a regular publisher.

  4. From there on, things are vague, but I will likely start on a second novel, stop publishing at WordPress entirely (good riddance!), and continue some minor non-fiction writings on my website. A migration of existing content from WordPress to website will likely also take place at some point, but I have no idea when.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 5, 2019 at 1:02 pm

WordPress statistics II / Follow-up: The problem of new trumping good

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To expand on my previous text, there is a known area where either* choice of topic or tags used do have a clear effect on popularity: discussions of blogging. These texts tend to get more visits from “WordPress.com Reader” than other texts, according to the statistics pages, irrespective of quality. Presumably, either WordPress gives such texts a “preferred placement” relative other texts or many WordPress users deliberately keep a lookout for such discussions.

*I suspect tags, but have not investigated this.

This was certainly the case with the previous text, and I allow myself this second, almost gratuitous, text for the purpose of driving the lousy statistics for November up a bit. (I do not normally engage in traffic hunting, but what the hell.)

Of course, this effect is also a good example of how new trumps good: The effect is much stronger on day one after publication than on day two, and it is usually gone by day three.

Another question is to what degree traffic varies by month of year, e.g. due to vacation periods or the length of the month (visits per day is often a better measure than visits per month). To study this effect could be interesting, but would be quite hard based on the statistics for a single blog, especially because it would be tricky to isolate other factors (e.g. post count and topic choice) from the limited material. I do note, however, that December has tended to be one of the weakest months of the year for me, which could be explained by fewer people being active. (Other explanations, assuming that this is not a statistical aberration, could include that readers are just as active as usual, but read with a temporary skew towards Christmas or winter topics.)

Disclaimer: These claims need not hold for other blogs, e.g. because high-traffic blogs might (or might not) be given a leg up in the “WordPress.com Reader” irrespective of topic.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 30, 2019 at 1:31 pm

WordPress statistics / Follow-up: The problem of new trumping good

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Almost half-a-year ago, I wrote about newness and visitor statistics of my WordPress blog (among other things).

In short: Being new seems to trump being good.

Looking at the months since then, statistics seem to bear out that claim. For instance, July saw a record number of posts—and the highest monthly visitor numbers that I have seen since 2013. After that, I dropped my rate of publishing and the length of the average text, in order to focus more on my novel—and numbers, with some delay,* began to drop. Depending on how the last few days of November play out, it might see the fewest number of visitors in a year-and-a-half, and might be short of half the July number.

*I suspect that a greater rate of publication helps to, directly or indirectly, build a temporary standing, which then attenuates over time, while leaving some positive effect for the next month or two.

A particular interesting phenomenon was an increased interest in older texts, to the point that my satirical discussion of Plato* was competitive with my complaints about Clevvermail for one or two months. Here it appears that not the value of these texts were the deciding factor but how often I published other new material. And, yes, the interest in these older texts appears to have faded again.

*In all fairness, with this specific text, the effect was partially caused by a link from another site. Quite a few other texts were affected too, however.

The Plato text is particularly interesting as I had expected it to be quite successful (by my standards) at the time of publishing—it struck me as one of my better texts, one of the most original, and one which could bring some entertainment to the reader (where most of my others texts are heavily focused on facts and arguments). This success did not materialize until the general upswing in traffic, months later, which left me with mixed feelings: on the one hand, this belated success was a validation of my original estimate; on the other, it shows how dependent readership numbers are on factors other than quality.

I also must re-iterate the observation that the more important texts (from my point of view) are among those least read. The text on Clevvermail, a side-topic, a consumer’s complaint, is by far the most successful (in terms of visitors) in the last few years. Give it another year, and it might top the list of all posts on a blog started ten years ago. All those text on important political topics and societal problems? Were my goal to collect visitors, they would be an unproductive waste of my time.*

*Making even a rough analysis of how choice of topic affects my visitor statistics would be a lot of work, but, yes, I do have the suspicion that months are more successful when I publish less on politics and more on other topics. Such differences could indirectly have an effect on the size of the perceived newness–statistics connection.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 28, 2019 at 10:26 am

For want of a dictionary / Paradoxical language issues

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The likely heaviest items that I brought to Germany in 1997 were a two-volume Swedish–German German–Swedish dictionary. I made heavy use of both the first few years. Indeed, early on, the German–Swedish part hardly left the bed of my small student room, as I had to constantly look words up when reading. Repeatedly, I used them to carefully construct and memorize one or two sentence for some official business, e.g. opening a bank account, so that the related meeting would not immediately descend into confusion.

Time passed, my vocabulary grew until I rarely needed Swedish as a starting point, and the exact choice and spelling of words were ultimately better handled by new websites like Wiktionary and Leo.

When I moved from Düsseldorf to Wuppertal a few years ago, I threw them away—I had not used them in years and they seemed like a lot of dead weight. There was even a slight feeling of pride, of the knowledge that these books, once so important, were now so unimportant. Big boys do not need training wheels.

Today, I find myself humbled and regretful: I am trying to write a letter to a Swedish bank, where my mother started a few accounts in my name—and finding reasonable Swedish (!) words is proving hard. Not only is my Swedish fairly rusty, especially when it comes to spelling, nuance, and false friends, but I also find that there are “adult” words* that I am accustomed to in German only, because I left Sweden before truly embarking on my adult life. A two-volume Swedish–German German–Swedish dictionary would have been a blessing …

*Business vocabulary and the like—not applied biology.

(The Internet still helps, but my knowledge of sites to help with Swedish is more limited than with English and German.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 26, 2019 at 2:16 pm

The struggling author IV

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Currently, I am stuck at three overlapping complications, which have brought me to a temporary standstill. If I forge ahead before I have come to a conclusion and then discover that I was heading in the wrong direction, I could end up with an enormous amount of re-writes. On the other hand, a conclusion can be hard to reach without further practical experimentation. It might be time to write a few short stories.

  1. How close to stick to the bare-bones of the events and how much to flesh it out, be it in terms of side-events or details of the events:

    My writing so far has been fairly bare-bones, which makes for a good tempo, a lack of a waste, and results in something that I find enjoyable to read. However, looking at the writings of others, there is often a great amount of fleshing out, and the result is often still enjoyable. There is a loss of tempo and sometimes too much irrelevancy is added, but this is also a source of atmosphere (or e.g. suspense), it can make an important scene longer and thereby more memorable, it allows more opportunities for character exposition, etc.

    Currently, I am considering to start with a bare-bones version of a scene and then to add material until I find a decent compromise. This has the obvious advantage that it is usable on what I already have written. (But note the contrast to the common advice of removing material over time.)

  2. How much to (explicitly) divulge of the inner workings of the characters:

    Early on, I tended to be extremely low on such information, but I have since tended to include more and more. The former might appeal to the more intellectual reader, give more room for interpretation by the reader, and leave me with more options in terms of later choices, because I have not nailed myself down. However, there is also fair chance that most readers will fail to connect the dots and/or will arrive at the wrong conclusions (in those cases where I do have a specific intention). I also have a suspicion that diverting too much of (even the intellectual) reader’s attention to deciphering the characters’ words and actions could be a misprioritization, and that this attention might be better spent on other aspects of the text.*

    *This might be a special case of the author wanting to achieve too many things in one go, which I suspect is a current weakness of mine.

  3. How much information to provide about how something is said:

    If we look at a line from a movie, how something is said is often as important as what is said. This includes indications about mood, emotions, intended irony or sarcasm,* urgency or stress, etc. Writing a book, such information has to be foregone, communicated by explaining text, or communicated (alone) by the words spoken by the characters. (Or some combination of the three.)

    *As a note to the U.S. reader, if the twerps on “The Big Bang Theory” considers something sarcasm, it is almost always irony. Sometimes, it is also sarcasm, but probably in less than half the cases.

    The last seems to be a common ideal,* but few actually try it—and I am honestly uncertain how this could work: it would leave so much up to the reader that (a) readers will disagree as much about the contents of the book as they might about how the characters look, (b) readers might stroll down a path of interpretation that is incompatible** with later parts of the book.

    *Up to the point that I have seen the recommendation to only ever use “said”, as in e.g. “[…] said Tom.”, “[…] said Dick.”, “[…] said Harry.”, irrespective of the circumstances. Variations like “[…] scoffed Tom.” and “[…] said Dick sarcastically.” would then be ruled out.

    **E.g. in that a strongly verbalizing reader has “heard” one of the characters say something in anger, while later events make clear that he said it in jest, without even pretend anger. Note the difference to the previous item, where later information might force a re-interpretation of events, but where a revision of what the reader “heard” is not needed. (Just like we might need to re-interpret experiences from our own lives without having a need to re-imagine how the experiences actually played out.)

    For now, I tend towards including as much information as needed to make the rough intent of (at least) the surface action shine through. In particular, I doubt that even a true master always can manage this using only words spoken by the characters. (Often nothing will be needed, because there is nothing particular going on, e.g. when two characters calmly discuss a topic. Often words will be enough in context, e.g. because a “Fuck!” will usually be interpreted correctly. Always? That is a different matter.)

    As an aside, theatrical plays are not a counter-argument, because they are usually intended to be consumed through the interpretations of actors, who provide the missing clues. The interpretations might be different from run to run, or even performance to performance, but they are not left to the fantasy of the reader. This is perfectly legitimate, and might well be the reason for the enduring success of e.g. Shakespeare, but it is a different situation.

To revisit some issues from the previous update:

I am still in discussions with the Künstlersozialkasse. Highly disturbingly, a recent letter from it tried to exemplify why the rejection was justified by pointing to an earlier court case. I looked into this case (superficially), and it actually appears to support my stance. If in doubt, the Künstlersozialkasse lost the case … This falls in line with prior observations of Germany governmental agencies, who tend to just throw out names of various court cases alleged to support their points of view—without bothering to check whether the respective case applies to the issue at hand.* In this case, it might go even further—just throw out the name of a court case, at all, and hope that the counter-part does not check up on the details …

*A fundamental observation about court cases and precedence is that there has to be substantial similarities between cases for precedence to apply. Without such similarities, the reasoning behind the prior court decision(s) need not apply, and when the reasoning does not apply, the conclusion is left in the air.

The construction work appears to be ended, but it is far from silent. At least one party (yet to be identified) in the building engages in truly excessive noise making, including stomping or jumping on the floor for hours per week, and often at unfortunate times at that. Note: Not “walks”, even be it clumsily or in shoes. Not “runs in the stairs”. Not “has a brief fit after a lost game”. We are talking about outright, prolonged stomping, someone deliberately driving his feet into the floor with force—on a daily basis and for hours per week. Notably, this is loud enough that it is impossible to sleep through even when using ear-plugs; notably, it often happens in the late evening or early morning.

Moreover, the source of the construction work has (accidentally) identified herself: To my great surprise, this was another person in the building, who had bought a second apartment for her daughter. She waylaid me and another neighbor when we were about to enter the building, blocked the way, and started a long speech about “problems in building”. I thought that she was rightly concerned about the noise levels, but no: she alleged that there had been repeated break-ins in the cellar, affecting all the storage units. (I found no trace of a break-in for my unit. Only one of the other units, at the time, showed damages in the lock area.) She also blamed the broken glass in the front-door on these burglars. Interesting: I had hitherto assumed that her construction workers were to blame … As a further oddity: if any reasonable person were aware of burglaries and wanted to bring them to the attention of the neighbors, the obvious measure is to write a letter and post it in the hall-way, so that everyone can see it immediately. She appears to have chosen to pick off individual neighbors person by person, with a considerably induced delay. (To boot, my personal suspicion is that she was more interested in gossiping and trying to turn the neighbors against each other. She struck me as that type of trouble-maker from her behavior and she seems to fit the profile of an angry and bitter aging woman with nothing better to do. During our one prior meeting, she was boiling with fury because someone allegedly had misused the paper recycling. In all fairness, speculations based on two meetings should be taken with a grain of salt.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 23, 2019 at 9:12 am