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Posts tagged ‘editors’

REBLOG: NYT: “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms” AND PERILS AMBIGUOUS HEADLINESE

link: On Language – Crash Blossoms – NYTimes.com

The New York Times

January 31, 2010
ON LANGUAGE

Crash Blossoms

Elizabeth Barrett Browning once gave the poetry of her husband, Robert, a harsh assessment, criticizing his habit of excessively paring down his syntax with opaque results. “You sometimes make a dust, a dark dust,” she wrote him, “by sweeping away your little words.”

In their quest for concision, writers of newspaper headlines are, like Robert Browning, inveterate sweepers away of little words, and the dust they kick up can lead to some amusing ambiguities. Legendary headlines from years past (some of which verge on the mythical) include “Giant Waves Down Queen Mary’s Funnel,” “MacArthur Flies Back to Front” and “Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans.” The Columbia Journalism Review even published two anthologies of ambiguous headlinese in the 1980s, with the classic titles “Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim” and “Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.”

For years, there was no good name for these double-take headlines. Last August, however, one emerged in the Testy Copy Editors online discussion forum. Mike O’Connell, an American editor based in Sapporo, Japan, spotted the headline “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms” and wondered, “What’s a crash blossom?” (The article, from the newspaper Japan Today, described the successful musical career of Diana Yukawa, whose father died in a 1985 Japan Airlines plane crash.) Another participant in the forum, Dan Bloom, suggested that “crash blossoms” could be used as a label for such infelicitous headlines that encourage alternate readings, and news of the neologism quickly spread.

After I mentioned the coinage of “crash blossoms” on the linguistics blog Language Log, having been alerted to it by the veteran Baltimore Sun copy editor John E. McIntyre, new examples came flooding in. Linguists love this sort of thing, because the perils of ambiguity can reveal the limits of our ability to parse sentences correctly. Syntacticians often refer to the garden-path phenomenon, wherein a reader is led down one interpretive route before having to double back to the beginning of the sentence to get on the right track.

One of my favorite crash blossoms is this gem from the Associated Press, first noted by the Yale linguistics professor Stephen R. Anderson last September: “McDonald’s Fries the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers.” If you take “fries” as a verb instead of a noun, you’re left wondering why a fast-food chain is cooking up sacred vessels. Or consider this headline, spotted earlier this month by Rick Rubenstein on the Total Telecom Web site: “Google Fans Phone Expectations by Scheduling Android Event.” Here, if you read “fans” as a plural noun, then you might think “phone” is a verb, and you’ve been led down a path where Google devotees are calling in their hopes.

Nouns that can be misconstrued as verbs and vice versa are, in fact, the hallmarks of the crash blossom. Take this headline, often attributed to The Guardian: “British Left Waffles on Falklands.” In the correct reading, “left” is a noun and “waffles” is a verb, but it’s much more entertaining to reverse the two, conjuring the image of breakfast food hastily abandoned in the South Atlantic. Similarly, crossword enthusiasts laughed nervously at a May 2006 headline on AOL News, “Gator Attacks Puzzle Experts.”

After encountering enough crash blossoms, you start to realize that English is especially prone to such ambiguities. Since English is weakly inflected (meaning that words are seldom explicitly modified to indicate their grammatical roles), many words can easily function as either noun or verb. And it just so happens that plural nouns and third-person-singular present-tense verbs are marked with the exact same suffix, “-s.” In everyday spoken and written language, we can usually handle this sort of grammatical uncertainty because we have enough additional clues to make the right choices of interpretation. But headlines sweep away those little words — particularly articles, auxiliary verbs and forms of “to be” — robbing the reader of crucial context. If that A.P. headline had read “McDonald’s Fries Are the Holy Grail for Potato Farmers,” there would have been no crash blossom for our enjoyment.

Headline writers have long been counseled to beware of ambiguity. “Ambiguous words often lead to ludicrous and puzzling headline statements,” Grant Milnor Hyde wrote in his 1915 manual, “Newspaper Editing.” “They can be avoided only by great care in the use of words with two meanings and especially words that may be used either as nouns or verbs.” More recently, in the 2003 book “Strategic Copy Editing,” the University of Oregonjournalism professor John Russial offered this rule of thumb: “As the word count drops, the likelihood of ambiguity increases.” He advises copy editors to think twice about trimming the little words.

The potential for unintended humor in “compressed” English isn’t restricted to headline writing; it goes back to the days of the telegraph. One clever (though possibly apocryphal) example once appeared in the pages ofTime magazine: Cary Grant received a telegram from an editor inquiring, “HOW OLD CARY GRANT?” — to which he responded: “OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?” The omitted verb may have saved the sender a nickel, but the snappy comeback was worth far more.

The space limitations of telegrams are echoed now in the terse messages of texting and Twitter. News headlines, however, are not so constrained these days, since many of them appear in online outlets rather than in print. (And many print headlines are supplanted online by more elastic “e-heads.”) But even when they are unfettered by narrow newspaper columns, headline writers still sweep away those little words as a matter of journalistic style. As long as there is such a thing as headlinese, we can count on crash blossoms continuing to blossom.

Ben Zimmer is the executive producer of visualthesaurus.com.

REBLOG: SUCKER LIT MAGAZINE: Rookie Guide to Good Self-Editing

Sucker Literary Magazine Issue #1

A Rookie’s Guide to Good Self-Editing by Allie B. 

Editing is important. It goes hand in hand with writing and publishing. You can’t publish a story without editing it, and you can’t edit a story without writing it…

But what is an editor?

Believe it or not, they are regular people, with regular interests and regular lives.

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/guest-post-from-allie-b-on-self-editing/

Editors don’t live in ivory towers, they aren’t out to destroy your career, and they aren’t heartless monsters. They are business professionals, and they are interested in a quality story.

Having a good story, a complete story, is the most important part of getting published. The second most important is telling that story with great writing.

So how do we make sure we accomplish these things before we send our work to an editor?

We edit it.

Yes, you read that right. We must edit our work BEFORE we send it to an editor.

Editors and writers are busy people so sending an editor a mess of a story with plot holes, inconsistent characters, and no understanding of grammar is a waste of time for BOTH of you.

You don’t learn anything as a writer by getting an automatic rejection based on the first or second sentence of your story.

The goal of sending a story to an editor is to have them read it—the whole thing. We do this by self-editing.

On my own blog, Allie B Books, I take you through a rigorous and sometimes painful step-by-step description of my own process, but today we get the cheat notes on the importance of self-editing.

TEN STEPS TO A GOOD SELF-EDIT

1.     Keep a fresh mind.

Once you rip through your first draft, it is important to rest. Separate yourself from the work by taking a break, working on something else, or focus on your “real” life. Do whatever you need to do to get your head straight and make sure that you have taken enough time so that when you come back to the story, you are seeing it with new eyes.

2.     Read it like you didn’t write it.

When you read over your story for the first time, do so as if someone else wrote it.

Keep this question in mind and ask it frequently as you self-edit: ‘What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?’

3.     Perfect the concept

I was told that if you can’t describe your entire story in one sentence, then it is too complicated, or you have not figured out the focus yet.

My first reaction to that was “Whatever, that’s just what agents tell you so you don’t ramble for hours.”.  But now that I have decided to set my first novel aside due to self-diagnosed plot complications I retract all former snark and doubt. It’s true. I had no focus because I didn’t take the time to really think about my concept and perfect the base of my story, and it showed.

Write a one-sentence summary for your story; write it a hundred times in a hundred different ways if you have to. This is your concept and the stronger and more compelling the sentence is, the stronger your story is. If you cannot, for the life of you, come up with something, then there is something wrong with your story or your focus.

4.     Write a review

To find out what is lacking in your story, refer back to the question “What would I expect from this story if I hadn’t written it?” Write a review of your story, and not one of the goofy reviews found on Goodreads with the gif’s of dancing cats. I mean rate your piece seriously and write a real review. It is here where you will find out if there was too much/not enough romance, if the characters were too flat, if the tension needs to be boosted etc.  Remember: What would you expect from the story if you hadn’t written it?

5.     The five R’s

Once you’ve focused your concept and decided the story’s strengths and weaknesses, you can go through the story scene by scene and make changes based on the five R’s.

  • Review what you’ve written and make notes about what you could do to make it better.
  • Refer to your one-sentence summary.
  • Revise the scene based on your review notes.
  • Rewrite it if there are too many problems with it.
  • Refresh your mind by stretching, taking a break, napping, checking your email or whatever activity time permits.

6.     Don’t be scared to CUT CUT CUT

Here are two of the most important questions to ask yourself for every scene, paragraph, sentence and word:

a) Does this advance the plot?

b)  Does this develop the characters?

If the answer is “no” to both of those questions, CUT IT! Never hold onto something because you think it’s clever or funny or smart because chances are it’s not. As they say in the biz, “Kill your darlings!”

I wrote a newspaper article with a finishing line that I thought was the best line of the whole feature, and you know what? The editor cut it… it was the ONLY line that was cut from the piece. If it doesn’t help tell your story or bring your characters to life, get rid of it.

It’s easier said than done but divorce yourself from the work and remind yourself it’s not about you: it’s about the story.

7.     Tighten up

Now that the story is complete, focused, and clear, it’s time to get into the POWER of the writing. Time to focus on the pacing, tension, emotion, and language of your story. Go through every scene, paragraph and sentence and ask yourself:

a)    “What am I trying to convey here?”

b)   “Am I achieving the desired effect?”

c)     “Is there a better way to convey what I want?”

If the scene you are reading is a fight scene and you have massive paragraphs and sentences, loads of description and babbling characters telling backstory, chances are it’s a boring fight scene.

Fight scenes are fast. High tension. Clanging swords. Thundering hearts ringing out over short breaths. Fear. Short sentences. That’s how to speed it up.

Did you do that?

Can you do it better?

Try.

I dare you.

8.     Be consistent

There is nothing worse than reading a story with inconsistencies in it. Nothing. I can deal with the odd spelling mistake but POV head-hopping, character inconsistencies, setting flubs, and an all over the place voice is THE most annoying thing about poorly edited stories.

Some questions to consider as you read through:

a) Is my character clear and believable in their actions and dialogue? (Keep your character sketches handy for reference).

b) Do I head-hop or is the scene from one POV? If I’m head-hopping, is it intentional? Is it clear and obvious who’s POV it is? Are the transitions from one POV to another clear and smooth?

c) Are my descriptions engaging? Are they consistent with other descriptions I’ve made about similar places? Are they vivid and clear?

d) Is the setting obvious and well-developed? Or do I just have talking heads with no clear idea of where they are, what they are surrounded by and the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the environment? Is my setting alive or do I have characters in a bubble?

e) Is the voice consistent? Am I staying true to the character’s voice (if first person)? Is the distinction between different character’s POV voices and narrator clear and effective?

9.     Proof of quality is in the proofread

For the proofread I suggest three things. First, read this post on revisions by Sucker Literary Magazine and familiarize yourself with the common errors writers make.

Second, read your story out loud as if you were reading it to a hall of people. Project your voice and point to each word as you read it. If the sentence is not grammatically correct and/or well written, you will stumble over the words. Well-written sentences will flow off your tongue beautifully. The reason I say to point to the words as you read them is because as writers, we spend a lot of time with our stories and after a while we start to see what we THINK is there not what is actually there. Pointing to the words forces you to read what is written.

Last, check for clichés and over used words. I have a secret love for the word slightly. I use it ALL the time. It’s a toxic relationship, and I’m almost over it… almost. Slightly. I do searches of random words to see how many times I’ve used them in the story. For example: I’ve used the word ‘story’ 35 times in this post. I should find other words to use…

10.   Be honest

The final step may well be the most important in the self-editing process and that is being honest with yourself.

I know you are excited and you want to send that story out and you want editors to love it and you want to get that letter that says you’ve been accepted for publication, but if the story is not ready, it is not ready.

If you don’t think the story is ready than go back to step one and refresh. Work on something else for a while then come back, take another look and decide if this story is worth fixing or if you are better off breaking up and moving on to stories that make you happier!

END NOTE: You are going to miss things. In every step you will miss something but that is OKAY! This is the self-edit! You CANNOT edit your own work to perfection, but the better you self-edit the more your editor will love you… and the better your writing will be, because the less time your editor spends rolling her eyes at your all-over-the-place character descriptions and your non-existent knowledge of comma splices, the better s/he can help you improve your story and your writing.

Happy Editing from Allie B!

I am not an editor. I am a writer that hates editing but knows how truly vital it is on the journey to publication. I developed a self-editing method that works for me and share it in hopes that it may help someone else. I value the hair on my head and my sanity and suggest if you also value these things that you take the time to do things right. It may take a bit more time and seems more painful, but in the end it will save you worlds of hassle.

That I promise you.

Allie B, an emerging Young Adult writer fascinated by the joys and tragedies that come with growing up. She grew up loving all things fantasy and all her work reflects that love. She currently lives and works as a Graphic Designer in Yukon Territory, Canada. When she is not writing or hibernating, she spends most of her time outside being inspired by the majestic northern landscape.  Follow Allie B on Twitter at  @alliebbooks and check out her blog  alliebbooks.wordpress.com and visit her on Goodreads at  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6963769-allie-b

Allie B’s Urban Fantasy short story will be featured in the upcoming issue of Sucker Literary Magazine, so stay tuned!

REBLOG: SUCKER LITERARY MAG: Which Sucks Worse? My Story or Your Feedback?

On Giving Feedback

link: http://suckerliterarymagazine.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/on-giving-feedback/

We writers are very sensitive about…well, everything : ) But mostly, we are sensitive about our work.  And that’s why when we give one another feedback, we need to choose the kindest approach.

I prefer a certain approach when giving feedback. This approach was further reinforced by Meg Kearney to me when I was a student at Solstice: When faced with having to criticize another writer’s work, choose kindness over harsh criticism. What this really boils down to is tone, use a kind tone when responding to a writer’s work.

I  think that sometimes when we read a piece and are asked for feedback, our own mood is really the determining factor in our tone and approach. My advice is this: if you find yourself irritated with the writer’s work, take a breath and walk away before you compose your feedback; you might choose harshness as oppose to kindness.

Helpful Versus Hurtful

Recently I read a feedback sheet from one of the Sucker Staff Readers (don’t worry, I’m not naming names). Anyway, this feedback sheet was very useful, and I agreed with all of the commentary, including that, ultimately, we have to reject the piece. What I made me pause while reading was the tone of some of the criticism.

For me, there is a helpful way to tell someone their piece isn’t very good, and then there’s a way that will just result in a writer getting defensive, which means they won’t “hear” the feedback.

It’s About The Delivery

While I think it’s helpful to tell a writer that their piece, well, bored me, I don’t think it’s helpful to add insult to injury in the form of an added metaphor or hyperbole: “Your story bored me out of my mind…The story was so long winded, I prayed for the end to come soon.” Or, “this story is SO pointless” and “the characters were SO poorly developed, that I actually hated them”.  Other cringe-worthy comments I’ve seen are: “The writing in this story is VERY corny and VERY lazy.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above criticism…except the tone is kind of mean. The very’s and so’s in all caps could be interpreted as yelling, so this writer might feel reprimanded rather than constructively criticized. The use of the phrases “your story bored me out of my mind” and “I prayed for the end to come soon” are borderline cruel. : ( A better way to say the same thing is: “I didn’t find myself turning the pages quickly while reading. Some of the paragraphs of description seemed too long, and I wanted to get to the action faster.”

Doesn’t that sound nicer? Isn’t that more helpful?

Antidote: BE SPECIFIC (and, yes, I’m yelling : )

Being specific in your feedback actually can change the tone from harsh to helpful because you are providing the writer with concrete evidence to support your opinion. If you just say that the piece was “filled with corny language and lazy writing”, the writer will probably take that to mean the whole thing plain sucks.  If you tell the writer what parts were corny or even just provide an example of the corny writing, than they might just feel empowered to fix the problem:  “The dialogue was corny because it used words like “golly” and “gee whiz”. Likewise, if you say the writing is lazy, point out exactly what parts were lazy, and, furthermore, explain what lazy means: Do you mean there’s an over use of certain words? That the writer chooses to “tell” rather than “show”? Does the writing have too much clichéd language or need more careful and exact word choice?

Bottom line, when you give feedback, be specific and point to the writing to support your comments, that way your commentary comes across as based on evidence in the writing and not a more subjective place…like your mood.

Encourage Rather Than Discourage

Ultimately when you read someone’s work and provide criticism, you want to encourage rather than discourage. Tone is what really makes the difference with this; constructive tone rather than destructive tone is crucial.

Our staff of readers are doing the very best they can to be kind and encouraging to our submitters, but sometimes I think we all forget or don’t notice our tone…Tone is subtle but super important in any form of communication and especially in writing. We don’t have inflection of voice or facial expressions to assist us in conveying our intended tone, so you have to choose your words very, VERY carefully.  : )