Speaking of Strange Vocabulary

One thing I find interesting is reading authors from, say, late Victorian to about the 1950s. Their vernacular is spectacular.

For instance, I can read Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars series, at least most of them, for free.  Edgar never messed around with using short words when he could use big ones. I tried reading one of those books to my 7 year old, and found myself doing a lot of substitution or “do you know what that word means?” Obviously, the sophistication level of ERB is higher than a 2nd grader, but there were words in there that are $20 words where a .25 cent word would have done fine.

Were authors showing off? Was having a large vocabulary of singular purpose words, like defenestration, useful when writing? Did people at the turn of the century or in the roaring 20s appreciate or desire complex words over simpler ones?

Zane Grey, that prolific western writer, like to use the term ejaculated, and no, not like what you’re thinking. It meant, “say something quickly and suddenly.” So you’d come upon gems like,

“Har har har, Sheriff!” Black Bart ejaculated, expectorating a large glob of chew into the dirt and on the sheriff’s boots.

That’s not ZG, that’s my version of something he might write. You get the drift. Or take something written by Sir Walter Scott:

“We bestow no mean compliment upon the author of “Emma” when we say that keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners, and sentiments, greatly above our own.”

(From Jane Austen. (1775–1817).  Pride and Prejudice., The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917, Criticisms and Interpretations I. By Sir Walter Scott, retrieved from http://www.bartleby.com/303/2/1001.html March 19, 2017.)

That’s really wordy. I know a couple of editors who’d tell SWS to tone it down, and not be so high falootin in his language.

Which raises the question, if Leo Tolstoy were writing Anna Karenina today, would the editors have been writing in big red letters on his draft, “What the hell is this? Unnecessary chapter. Cut it out.”  and “Why did you kill the title character half way through this book?” OTOH, at 364,000 words, the editor charging .014 per word would make $5,096.  That’d be in rubles, of course. And all those big words… let’s dumb it down a little, Leo, the people simply don’t have the vocabulary of 100 years ago.

Cultural trends point toward the continual dumbing down of our language. Most people do not understand the simple apostrophe, and while they may have composed 80000 word novels, those novels were in vapid text messages to their friends. “Wht R U doing?”

Based on this cultural change, do writers reflect that in their writing? Where it was okay for Josef Conrad to slowly bring you into the Heart of Darkness, would that sort of writing be considered overly pretentious and wordy today?

In support of this, I submit the movie making of the 1960s vs. now.  First episode of Columbo, we get a 3 minute loving helicopter shot zooming in on a mansion.  Then we get several more long scenes showing the murderer in their home, doing this and that, and it’s quite slow and lazy.  Contrast that with today’s movie, where all that would be accomplished in several 4-5 second scenes, because you don’t have the luxury of mucking about on a long scene. That reflects the audience, not the movie maker.  The audience is so ADD, we’re bored to death if you don’t do a cut every 4-10 seconds. Action, reaction, action, reaction, wide shot, action, reaction, etc.

If I see terms that are archaic in modern writing, I think either the writer is out of touch or they’re trying to show off. “Look, I’m smarter than you because I own a thesaurus and it has these obscure terms that no one knows. Even your Kindle dictionary won’t know ’em. I’m awesome.”  Thanks, but no. That’s not communication, that’s prattle.

That does not mean you’re allowed to spell minuscule with an “i” instead.



Seriously, we need a word for throwing someone out a window?

It’s kinda cool, though. Fenestra is Latin for window, and de is Latin for out.

Learning the Cornetto in G – renaissance instrument

A few years ago, a friend lent me two cornettos, one in G, the other in C. The G is an alto, the C is a soprano.  The cornetti are curved and have a thumb hole and six finger holes, and is fingered similar to a recorder. The mouthpiece is shaped like an acorn, and similar in size to a french horn mouthpiece. It has a more mellow sound than a trumpet, and is unique in being a mouthpiece instrument that uses woodwind type fingerings instead of valves.

I have extensive experience playing brass instruments (tuba, baritone, trumpet) and can easily make noises on those, but this requires a small embouchure (I think that’s French for “pucker up.” Okay, no, it means mouth. I was close). Like as in half an inch across embouchure.

Every couple of months or so, I pick up one or the other and play them a little. Very little. Because it requires a mouth of iron, and I don’t have the callouses yet to play for more than 1-2 minutes at a time. Then I must rest for a minute, and go another 1-2 minutes. If I play every day for 15 minutes, I can build up endurance so that I can play for longer periods, to the point where I would be able to play an entire song.

If you’ve never heard or seen a cornetto, it’s because there was a battle for who would be the lead instrument in the late renaissance. Violin or cornetto? The violin won.

Here’s a vid of one being played by one of the premier cornettists, Bruce Dickey.
Josquin des Prez: Mille Regretz

In the meantime, the instrument can be used in context of playing at renaissance faires and SCA events. That’s pretty much it, unless I can talk others into including it in their musical affairs. I’ve got some sheet music from a few SCA sites–they’re pretty nice about giving out music because they WANT people to perform it for dancing. The cornetto is the perfect instrument for leading a band in dance music, both country dance but especially noble dance, such as Fabritio Caroso, Cesare Negri, and their ilk.

There’s an import CD I picked up years ago, entitled Danses de la Renaissance Itallienne, directed by Sergio Balustracci.  It was published in 1988. In it, the cornetto is featured on nearly every track, and it remains my favorite version of these dance tunes that I’ve heard.  I remember when learning noble dances for faire, that our instructor loved to use a tape of tape of a live performance of the tunes for training. It was muddy and hurt my musically sensitive ears with a loud, muddy thumping performance of the music that had been recorded on the world’s worst microphone. I hated it. These, these I would listen to.

So, this time around, I’m being intentional about playing it. I started 3 days ago. I will hold to it, learn the fingerings (I’ve been lazy about the accidentals), and be able to perform with it within 3-4 months.

Kindle Highlighters… why?

I’ve got that nifty feature turned on where you can what other people have highlighted in stories on your Kindle. I don’t know what, exactly, I’m hoping to know about with the highlighting, but it fascinates me.

See, if one person highlights a section, maybe it won’t tell me about that. But if 12 people highlight an area? Then I find out that I have NO CLUE WHY THEY DECIDED TO HIGHLIGHT THAT SENTENCE. None. Whatsoever.

I’m reading “Dead Lawyers Don’t Lie” by Mark Nolan.  The story is bumping alone, and then boom, here’s a gem highlighted by 12 people: “Ivan Zhukov is one of the most respected and feared killers in the world.”

That is a statement in the middle of the statement by someone.  Nothing else is highlighted, just that sentence. Why?  Why highlight that sentence, instead of the other ones that might be pontification or erudition about whatever piques the interest of the author?

I oft run into highlighters who highlight a part of a character description. Why? You highlight so you can go back to it later and it’s significant in some way to the reader. Every so often, highlighters nail some bon mot that an author is pontificating about, and those I get, but character descriptions is weird.

They have a faster ship. Or do they?

Stuff in space moves and will continue to move in the same direction at the same velocity until and if it comes in contact with another object or is subject to gravitational pull of some other object.

So, it’s exciting to have chases between ships, but real space has certain problems you must overcome in order for it to, well, be scientific. A ship is not “faster” than another ship. It can have greater acceleration and deceleration. However, once you are going faster than the ship you are chasing, you must decelerate when you’re in range with your weapons or you’ll see them for a bare second or two before you’re gone. Make that, decelerate before you reach them. A sudden burst of deceleration won’t work, especially if your rate of travel is up there in the thousands of miles per second.  The math is uninteresting, but when you’re going really fast, you’ll need some way of slowing or changing your trajectory.

Therefore, a meeting engagement may be very brief, a few seconds, and then you may need a few months to turn around and come back to the fight.  At high speed you turn slowly and it may take time to first slow to a stop, turn around, and accelerate to the point where you will overtake the ships you fought a few weeks ago.

Ultimately, it’s not how fast your ship is, it’s how much fuel you carry and how efficiently you can create thrust and whether that thrust or deceleration affects the people on the vessel.  (I believe most authors make the mistake of assuming space ships are like airplanes or ocean going vessels in how they function. Nope. Not even close.

Radiation in space

The solar system is awash in radiation. The second largest thing in our solar system, after the heliosphere (or area of sun’s influence) is the magnetosphere, which comes from the magnetic fields of Jupiter forming this immense penumbra or plume of radiation around it. If you design a space ship that is not shielded against radiation, you didn’t do it right. Especially if said ship has to travel through a magnetic field that causes the radiation.

Secondly, if you are designing a space suit of any kind, again, plan for radiation. Nasty stuff, that.

Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1 by Lindsay Buroker

I read this one a week ago, and have since purchased three additional books in the series.

It’s space cowboys, I suppose, in a way, sort of inspired by Firefly.  I have been enjoying the series and like Lindsay’s writing. I recommend it.

However, the one thing that has stood out for three books are THERE ARE NO ERRORS. At all. No usage errors, no homophones misused, no punctuation missing or out of place or present when it shouldn’t be, no mangled sentences where I have to guess the meaning, or missing words, or missing carriage returns that need to separate two speakers. Nothing.

Her editor is Shelley Holloway (Shelley Holloway’s website).

The question is, does Lindsay have impeccable manuscripts to start with, or does she present something to Holloway who magically makes it all perfect?

Either way, I’m impressed with four books I’ve read and nary a single error. Kudos to the author and the editor.

That went okay. Rebuilding the plot with… well, plotting

I went ahead and mixed the Larry Brooks story points spreadsheet with my scene list. Now, I went through the 32 k words and did a brief description of each scene, the exact word count, the cumulative word count, and percentage of the book location. Then, I put the ideal word count (number of scenes/total word count) for each scene. 60 scenes for 80,000 words = 1333 words per scene.

I then placed the Larry Brooks 6 important tent poles in the location where they should go, whether the corresponding scene was correct or not (usually not).

Then I took a look at what the scenes that are already written are doing, and where they are located.  For instance, my initial scene sets up something that will happen at the midpoint.  It was 800 words, but it lacked conflict. I wrote 400 additional words to bulk up the conflict in the scene. I also added more description. After listening to some major best seller books (CDs… we drove to Tahoe and back this weekend for a snow day with the kids), I concluded my writing is parsimonious and miserly. Go ahead and put that lush description in. Why not? Since each scene now has a job to do, and can be put in the right location, it shouldn’t be a problem filling out the scenery a bit more than I did.

With a bit of tweaking and moving about, I ought to be able to slot the important scenes into their logical locations, and map out the plot twists to the end to increase the pace of work and complete this thing within a month or two.

Been working on the novel. Resetting to match Larry Brook’s outlining

I’m at 33 k, and I went back and fixed it to remove 5 additional characters who were clogging up the works. That took some time, but there was no reason to haul around two entire fireteams of marines, so I killed off a fireteam and offed two of the shuttle crew while I was doing that. Overall, I changed a few hundred words.

I also wrote 1500 words yesterday. I will need to rewrite the scene for conflict.

Today I’ve broken down all the scenes I have so far. I have 32 scenes (so far). They average 1047 words each. In an 80,000 word novel, I’m 40% of the way through. A review of the scenes shows that some are information only, no conflict, and will need a rewrite to introduce goal/conflict in each scene.

So I’ll take what exists and rewrite the scenes for conflict. Extend them to create more uniform length. Shortest scene: 47 words. Longest scene: 3800 words. The rewrites will fix the pacing and structure. I can see that my structure, in order to sit correctly in the Larry Brooks sense of things, needs to have that first plot point somewhere between words 16000-20000.  That is not correctly set right now, which will be fixed by controlling the scenes and length.

I’ll also plot out the rest of the scenes, so that each scene has conflict/goal, each scene accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish for that part of the book, and it all comes together with precision.

I see the only problem with having the structure be so defined is that someone who knows structure will be noting the important points while reading their kindle, since it tells you percentage-wise where you are in the book if you choose that information (or tells you location, or how many minutes are left in the book).  That’s thrown off if there’s a hook chapter at the end of the book so you get sucked in to the sequel – your 25% plot point might be more at 23%, so it looks like it’s early when it’s not. But… if people want to see the underlying structure, fine, so be it. I want it to be obvious that we’re hitting the plot points when we should and that all is right in the universe, writing-wise.  Those who hate structure and don’t care, that’s fine, they can ignore it and just enjoy the book, which will seem awesome for some strange reason they don’t understand, like the fact the plot is structured perfectly. 😀



Stewardess? Can you bring me a clip for my gun?

I just finished Brad Thor’s “The Lions of Lucerne,” which was splendid and thrillery and I recommend it. At the end, Brad thanks the dozens of people who helped him on the book, and names some SEALs and FBI guys who gave him information.

That’s all well and good. And most of the writing rings true. Then I hit this sentence: “Do you have an extra clip of ammunition?”

Okay, maybe the editor missed it. Or maybe the author is like, “don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

Look, nomenclature is a big deal. If your character is a former navy SEAL, he would never, ever say “clip.” Not in a million years.

And when the author is speaking of events in third person, his narrative should use the correct nomenclature, as well.

I understand if someone unfamiliar with weapons were speaking, they might use “clip” instead of “magazine,” but otherwise it’s wrong usage and while it won’t matter to half the population who reads the book, it makes other people’s teeth itch.

See, I know the author knows better because there are multiple instances where “magazine” is used correctly, in a quote or outside a quote. There are 18 uses of magazine in the book, and of those, about half are referring to a box with a spring that hold ammunition to quickly load it into a semi-automatic weapon of some kind.

As to my title, you would never use the term stewardess in real life unless you wanted to insult or upset a “flight attendant.” (It’s sad that there aren’t stewards and stewardesses around anymore. What’s so offensive about the term, anyway? It comes from a long line of impressive credentials. The steward was the person in charge of an entire estate, and in the early days of flight, you had people who served you food, made your bed, and acted as a steward, so the title was pretty apt. Then boom, in the 1970s, we lose PSA -and- suddenly the title changes to Flight Attendant… who brings me food, blankets, pillows, and does steward-type stuff. But now they’re flight attendants because they’re primarily taking care of safety, such as making sure the door is closed and giving a brief lecture at the beginning of the flight, and checking seat belts… and bringing me food, blankets, pillows, and doing steward stuff.)

So, right, if you were writing a thriller that happened in the 60s, it’d be stewardess for sure. Nowadays, you say that, and someone’s head will explode, for sure.

Right, then. Brad: replace all the instances of clip with magazine. (But carefully. There are some instances of “clip” being used in its correct form, three times out of six.)