Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Regional Fiction in an Electronic World

Saturday's Eat & Exchange was a lively and informative discussion of regional fiction in an electronic world. Here are the questions and a summary of the group's answers.

  1. 1. When researching locales, is the Internet more of an advantage or a disadvantage? The consensus was that it's a net advantage, not only for the research information you can find online but also for networking with people who know the answers to your research questions. It also has some disadvantages, which include student plagiarism for research papers and giving readers the opportunity to discover and chat about minor errors in a book, sometimes honing in on the details while missing the story.
  2. As electronic media expand a writer's potential audience beyond geographical boundaries, does that expansion require greater cultural sensitivity? The group felt that writers have always needed to consider their audience, and broadening the potential readership does not change this. One member noted that his humorous novel set during various periods in American history has found fans in Germany, so maybe the cultural issues are not as significant as we think.
  3. Books can carry readers away to new places, but so can online travelogues. Is this a competition that writers should worry about? The group was unanimous in its view that online travelogues complement regional fiction rather than competing with it. If someone reads a travelogue about China and is fascinated with the locale, that person may decide to look for a novel set there--and the Internet allows him or her to find and purchase it immediately. Regional fiction can also be bundled with travelogues for marketing purposes.
Join us for the next Eat & Exchange at 6:00 p.m. on April 11 at Season's Restaurant, 7219 Taft Street, Merrillville. We will discuss how to use new media to promote ourselves and our books.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mark Twain on Word Repetition

IWC welcomes this week's guest blogger, Mark Twain. He wrote this post in Vienna on May 6, 1898.

I do not find that the repetition of an important word a few times--say three or four times--in a paragraph, troubles my ear if clearness of meaning is best secured thereby. But tautological repetition which has no justifying object, but merely exposes the fact that the writer's balance at the vocabulary bank has run short and that he is too lazy to replenish it from the thesaurus--that is another matter. It makes me feel like calling the writer to account. It makes me want to remind him that he is not treating himself and his calling with right respect; and--incidentally--that he is not treating me with proper reverence. At breakfast, this morning, a member of the family read aloud an interesting review of a new book about Mr. Gladstone in which the reviewer used the strong adjective "delightful" thirteen times. Thirteen times in a short review, not a long one. In five of the cases the word was distinctly the right one, the exact one, the best one our language can furnish, therefore it made no discord; but in the remaining cases it was out of tune. It sharped or flatted, one or the other, every time, and was as unpleasantly noticeable as is a false note in music. I looked in the thesaurus, and under a single head I found four words which would replace with true notes the false ones uttered by four of the misused "delightfuls;" and of course if I had hunted under related heads for an hour and made an exhaustive search I should have found right words, to a shade, wherewith to replace the remaining delinquents.

* * * * *
The portrait was taken by A.F. Bradley around 1907, three years before Samuel Clemens' death.

Mark Twain's "post" is from page 119 of Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and published by the University of California Press in 2010.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trusting the Internet

Are you writing a children's story about people born into slavery? A paper on Walt Whitman? A novel set during the Great Depression? A book about the birth of America?

Three words are very important.

Research, research, and research.

You can go to the library and take out books covering your subject matter. You can travel to a plantation in Virginia or a slave market in Charleston, South Carolina. Or you can check the Internet.

It's easy to find information on the Internet, but you can't always trust the source. The Internet does, however, have one huge repository of reliable information: the Library of Congress website at

This site has more on-line collections than you can imagine. They range from first-person slave narratives and photographs like the one above, to copies of Walt Whitman's notebooks, to life histories gathered by the WPA Federal Writers' Project from 1936-1940, to James Madison's and Thomas Jefferson's papers. The site even reproduces the original records from the Congress that debated the Bill of Rights. And you can view them all from the comfort of your own home.

How much easier can it get?

The picture was taken around 1862 by Henry P. Moore and is labeled "Gwine to de field, Hopkinson's Plantation, Edisto Island, S.C." It is in the Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs on the Library of Congress website.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Make Your Writing Sparkle

Looking for ways to make your writing sparkle? Try these rhetorical devices.

  • Alliteration repeats sounds at the beginning of words or in accented syllables. Here are the first two lines of an old nursery rhyme:
I saw a ship a-sailing,
A-sailing on the sea.
  • Anaphora is the deliberate repetition of a word or phrase, often at the beginning of sentences or paragraphs or verses. Think of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • Hyperbole exaggerates for emphasis. Ralph Waldo Emerson used it in "The Concord Hymn" when he described the start of the Revolutionary War:
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
  • Imagery involves the use of vivid or figurative language to represent objects, actions, or ideas. Consider this passage from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame:
Never in his life had he seen a river before--this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free, and were caught and held again.
  • Metaphor is an implied comparison that usually includes a word picture. William Shakespeare used a metaphor in As You Like It when he said, "All the world's a stage."

  • Simile is also a comparison that usually includes a word picture, but it differs from metaphor because it draws the comparison explicitly using "like" or "as." In E.B. White's essay "The Geese," he describes three swallows who circled overhead during a fight between two ganders: "They were like three tiny fighter planes giving air support to the battle that raged below."
There are many more rhetorical devices that you can use, but this list provides a start.