Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Illiterate Generation

Is this the stage we've come to?

Recently we heard through the media that the current younger generation (and I guess they're talking about Y and Z) is the first generation since Australian settlement that is more illiterate than their parents! That's a concern but when I thought about it, I had to admit that I was not all that surprised for several reasons.

These are days of fast text talk and fashionable abbreviations. Sadly, I've seen billboards and magazine adverts with terms such as LOL and ROFL indicating that their writers assume everybody can understand them. When sentences can be shortened to C U L8R, who even needs to be literate in the 21st century? Not long ago, I made the mistake of not noticing that I was reading Face Book news feed on my daughter's profile. Assuming it was my profile, I made a few comments. Emma got really cranky and started scolding me. "Mum, can't you just LOOK! This is so embarrassing if people think it's me commenting."

As everything I'd written was quite pleasant and innocuous, I asked her why it would be such a disaster. Her answer spoke volumes. "Because you use full-stops and commas. You spell properly and put all those little wriggly things around sentences when people talk. I don't want people to think I'm a dork."

So it's become trendy and fashionable to use no grammar and punctuation! In that case, we may be up against a thicker brick wall than we ever expected. If you follow internet forums, you'll bang your head against it all the time. We have to turn a blind eye or we're called "Grammar Nazis." Lynne Truss quotes this film review example in her book, "Eats, Shoots and Leaves."

I watched this film (About a Boy) a few days ago expecting the usual hugh Grant bumbling.. character Ive come to loathe/expect over the years. I was thoroughly suprised. This film was great, one of the best films i have seen in a long time. The film focuses around one man who starts going to a single parents meeting to meet women, one problem He doesnt have a child.

Truss goes on to express her sadness when people who have been taught nothing about their own language spend their leisure hours trying to string sentences together for the edification of others. (And I have to add that this example from Lynne Truss is one of the better ones I've seen.)

I'll always remember when an editor of mine commented that I've done remarkably well with my proper English expression considering that I belong to what she called, "The Deprived Generation." She wasn't talking about Generations Y and Z but Generation X! People who, like me, were schooled in the 1970s and 1980s when schools were beginning to drop grammar and punctuation of the English syllabus to focus solely on literary critiquing. I can remember being taught about nouns and verbs in Year 3 (1978) but nothing after that.

I have suffered for the lack. I find myself turning to grammar guides, thesauruses, dictionaries and the internet when I'm editing work, while I'm sure many older friends and family who belong to Baby Boomers and Builders would not need to. This takes time that I wish I didn't have to use, but hey, at least I'm making the effort, unlike some younger folk from Y and Z who believe that trying to use their mother tongue correctly is corny and uncool.

It makes me very sad. We now see Baby Boomer teachers retiring leaving clueless Gen X counterparts (who don't have much idea) to teach even more clueless Gens Y, Z and Alpha (who have even less of an idea and don't want to know, thanks very much). Is this a case of the blind leading the blind? Where is it all going to end?

I want to finish with this hilarious letter which proves just what a huge difference seemingly tiny grammar changes can make.

Version 1
Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy-will you let me be yours?


Version 2
Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men I yearn! For you I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?


PS - I've been making generalizations throughout this post and apologize if I offend any individual who none of this applies to.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bells and Cuckoo Clocks

I've been mulling over an idea for a new novel. It's another contemporary drama/romance because I love those the best. I always begin my musings with a range of characters who appeal to me, and then I build a plot around them until I feel it's just right. (I know there are others who do it the opposite way; that is they come up with a catchy plot and then build the characters around it, but that's the subject of another post.)

For three or four weeks I've been trying to figure it all out inside my head and two nights ago it all came together. I now have a plot and characters intact, so the writing will soon begin. Having written seven other books already, here are a few tips I've learned about the creation process. I almost let myself fall into my old bad habits but pulled myself out of the trap.

1) Making a block of time to "nut it all out" doesn't work.
I've tried that often and I'm pleased to say I've finally learned my lesson. I would grit my teeth and think, I'm going to take my notebook, park in a quiet spot without distraction and won't come back until I have it all figured out or I'm the biggest dodo of all time! But it doesn't work that way. Creative people from long ago might have said that their Muse refused to be bossed around. I think they had a point. The nature of the imagination is such that you can't pin it down and demand that it come through for you. It just starts getting nervous and won't give you anything but nonsense.

At this stage, you could easily make the mistake of giving up with the belief that you'll never be able to figure it out. Don't do that!

2) Trust that no time has been wasted.
I mull over the story concept while I'm driving, washing dishes or walking. I come up with some little ideas which I think might work. Then I put aside time to jot them into my notebook so I won't forget them, just in case I may find them useful. This alone may take a bit of time. In the past I've found myself ending the day with a sigh, saying, "This is never going to work! I've just wasted time and I'll never have those hours back again."

In actual fact, those hours are not wasted at all. It may look like nothing much has been done, but that's an illusion, my friends! Those rough jottings and daydreams are worth more than we often give them credit for. I've found so often that even ideas I've decided to scrap have been stepping stones on the way to the ones I've kept.

My mind may appear something like this. I could have it so those two boys are swept off the coast while fishing.... somewhere like the Yorke Peninsula coast, or maybe Granite Island at Victor Harbor... then I could have it that they're picked up by a fishing boat..... Naw, I don't think I'll go with the sea idea because I want the heroine to rescue them and she wouldn't have access to a boat.... How about they get lost in the bush?.... No, not dramatic enough... they have to be really helpless and it needs to be clear that they are at the end of their own resources.... a hole in the ground.... yeah, I think that might work. An old mine shaft that nobody had discovered before!

Just for your interest, the result of all that musing above was "A Design of Gold." And don't get fooled into thinking it was easy by the few moments it might have taken to read that paragraph; it took hours, days and weeks to figure it all out.

3) When it all comes together, you may recognize it as a chime of triumph in your spirit.

Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I think the human spirit is wired so that you know instinctively when you've got it right! Getting my plots and characters all sorted out reminds me of trying to remember something I've temporarily forgotten.

For example, can you relate to trying to recall somebody's name and you're mulling different possibilities around in your head. I think it's John, no it's Jonathan, no, that's not it either, it's Jay... James... Jordan.... (At this point the bell chimes loudly) Yes, Jordan! That's it!

It's similar when I'm trying to figure out a plot for my new stories. When they are not quite right yet, it seems as if my brain doesn't quite recognize them. Then when I finally strike the right one, that bell chimes! Or imagine the ornate hand of a beautiful old cuckoo clock doing it's final stroke up to the twelve, and the bird pops out and sings. It's a great feeling and one of my favourite aspects of the early stage of writing. "I've got this excellent story and it's going to work. At the moment it's enclosed completely within my own head but one day others are going to read it too, love the characters, share the suspense and share just what I'm feeling now! Who knows where the impact may end!"

Writing a novel is not an easy thing but so worth it.