Tuesday, March 21, 2017

On Modifiers, or Specificity vs Not

I'm something of a word nerd. I love the cadence and flow of certain words, I love the writerly act of choosing the exact right word to convey what I mean, I love learning new words. Depending on a single word I can create a cheerful image:
The bright yellow curtains

Or a mournful image:
The faded yellow curtains

Or a shocking image:
The fluorescent yellow curtains

And that image will (hopefully) stay with the reader as she delves into my story.

Or, I might choose to simple say the yellow curtains and leave the reader to fill in the blanks depending on the rest of the story, and depending on how important those curtains will be in creating a setting.

In my last blog I mentioned the podcasts I enjoy, particularly as a fan and writer of speculative fiction. Today, I have two specific episodes that I recommend for all writers, not just those of us in genre fiction.

Last week while I schlepped about, these two episodes happened to play back to back and I think they actually fit together. Both cover the theme of words and how words are absorbed. As writers, words are our tools, the medium by which we share our art. Episode 12.11 of Writing Excuses covers the how of words: when to be specific, when to generalize, when to use modifiers and which ones. Episode #64 of Hidden Brain digs into the why of words: what happens to our brains when we listen to someone speak and why we are influenced by what others think and say.

Of course, when we write our first drafts we should focus on getting the story down on paper. As we head towards revisions, either with a chainsaw or a chisel, it's important to focus on word choice, including modifiers and when to use them. 

Give these two podcasts a listen. And let me know whether you, too, are a word nerd and what you think of modifiers.

Writing Excuses #12.11: Diction

Hidden Brain #53: I'm Right, You're Wrong

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Podcasts for Writers, Geeks, and Other Humans

Podcasts are like French fries: I started with a few (Serial, Welcome to Night Vale) and quickly found my subscription list overflowing with more podcasts than I could listen to in three lifetimes. Maybe if I were back in my pre-child, city-dwelling days when I took the subway to and from work every day, or if I had a lengthy commute in my car, I could listen to an unlimited supply of podcasts. But I don't. Most of what I listen to would cause irreversible psychological damage to the little ears I schlep to and from school each day, and when I'm home and writing I prefer music without words. My podcast-listening times are pretty much: any time I'm in the car without the kids; at the gym; putting away laundry upstairs while the kids watch tv downstairs. I'd say I have about 90 podcast-listening minutes a day on average. I have to make them count.

In honor of March being #TryPod month, in which those of us devoted to our favorite podcasts share them with the world, here are the ones that have made my final cut.


Writing Excuses
A 15-minute round-table discussion between well-known genre authors on a particular aspect of writing. If you've ever wanted to dig deep on the subject of, say, POV, this is for you. I started off trying to listen to all the back episodes available on iTunes but became too overwhelmed, and now I just listen to new eps and occasionally scroll around for back episodes that seem especially interesting or relevant to my writing.

The Write Gear
Confession time: I am not one of those writers who journals, or takes notes, or otherwise does anything longhand. My therapist keeps insisting I write down whatever is making me anxious but I just can't. I detest writing by hand, something my oldest child the Juban Princeling inherited, making him a hit with his second-grade teachers. But I love this podcast dedicated to writing tools because of the down-to-earth discussions K. Tempest Bradford has with other writers about the nuts-and-bolts of the writing life. Thanks to K. Tempest and her podcast, I also knew which gel pens to get the Juban Princeling when he started school this year.

Any writer of dark fantasy or horror should do themselves a favor and add this podcast to their playlist. Host Aaron Mahnke, with a ridiculously exhaustive amount of research, relates real-life stories of the macabre and the origins of urban legends. It's not for the queasy-stomached or easily shocked, but it's a treasure trove of stories that will ignite the imagination of even the most blocked writers. I've never finished an episode without thinking, "I should turn this story into a novel," and in fact, during a particular episode a few months ago I thought, "No, really, this story is too good not to be a book or movie." That episode turned out to be the real story behind the inspiration for "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." At least I know I have good instincts.

I used to subscribe to every single spec fic market podcast, until I realized I'd rather read most of the short stories they publish. Here are the exceptions.

Uncanny Magazine Podcast
I love listening to hosts Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas talk about their lives and convention travels before they get to that episode's short story. Each ep also includes an interview and a poem.

One of my very first podcasts, I started listening to Podcastle when my youngest, the Duke of Juban, was still a baby and I would take him for long walks in his stroller while the Princeling was at preschool. Back then we lived by historic Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and listening to Podcastle's collection of fantasy stories amongst the old graves felt right.

Podcastle and Pseudopod are part of the Escape Artists family of podcasts: Podcastle is the fantasy sister and Pseudopod is the horror sibling. (If you like sci-fi, check out Escape Pod, and for YA there is Cast of Wonders.)

Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn't Dead, and Within the Wires
If you're one of those people who hates jumping on bandwagons and has avoided WtNV because of this, get over yourself. It actually is that good. Is every single episode a precious gem to hoard and gaze upon with longing? No, but then, nothing is. It's still one of the most creative, intelligent, and diverse podcasts out there.

Alice Isn't Dead and Within the Wires were created by the same team behind Welcome to Night Vale. Like WtNV, AID and WtW follow a long story arc over many episodes; in the case of AID it's a young woman in a stolen delivery truck driving across America in search of clues to her wife's disappearance; in the case of WtW it's a series of "relaxation cassettes" that might not be what they seem.

The Orbiting Human Circus of the Air
Bizarre, absurd, hilarious, tragic, and just plain weird, Orbiting Human Circus takes place inside the ballroom on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which is inside the mind of an abused janitor. It's too strange to pass up.

Hello from the Magic Tavern
I can't listen to this one at the gym because I laugh out loud. And I can't listen to it anywhere near my children because it is absolutely filthy. Our host, Arnie, fell through a portal behind a Burger King and wound up in a suspiciously Tolkien-esque land called Foon, where he manages to broadcast back to earth his weekly show, co-hosted by a wizard and a shapeshifting badger with two buttholes. Really.

The Room Where It's Happening
Last summer, the family and I finally listened to the "Hamilton" cast recording and we all immediately fell in love with it. My kids have become American Revolution buffs because of listening to this. We all know all the songs by heart. The Juban Princeling dressed up as George Washington last Halloween. If you're a Hamilhead like us, you simply must listen to this podcast from the start.

The Virgin Chronicles
Even if my brother, Mr. Funny, wasn't one of the co-hosts of this show, I'd still plug it because it's hysterical. Comics come on and share first time stories...some sexual, some definitely not, but all hilarious.

Planet Money
I suck at things like money, finances, and understanding basic economic principles, so I started listening to this podcast to make myself feel smarter. By breaking down very complicated issues into personal stories, Planet Money makes me feel less stupid.

Hidden Brain
I love psychology, and this podcast delves into the real-life brain science behind human behavior we otherwise take for granted, like celebrity obsession, comedy, and college hookup culture.