Category Archives: Oot

Something Like a Star

Tonight, Oot brought me a penny he’d found on the floor.

“Look,” he said. “It’s burned.”

Say something to us we can learn By heart and when alone repeat. Say something! And it says, 'I burn.'

It wasn’t a bad guess, everything said. A good guess, but wrong. It’s corroded.

For half a moment I thought about correcting him on this, but I didn’t.

Looking back, I could come up with some excuse for *why* I didn’t correct him. I could claim that corrosion is sort of like a slow chemical burning. But that would be bullshittery. The truth was, at that moment, it didn’t feel right to correct my boy. So I didn’t. I went with my gut.

“Maybe it got too close to the sun,” Oot said.

This was another good guess. Though it was probably wrong as well.

What pleased me is that my decision to keep my mouth shut paid such an immediate dividend.

If I’d told my boy the truth right away, he would have nodded and said, “Oh of course!” Or “Oh, I see!” And he would have gained a tiny fact. Namely, that a coin that looks like this is corroded. (Something he could have parroted back to me. But that he wouldn’t have understood in any meaningful way.)

But that’s not what happened. Instead, left to himself. His curiosity was engaged. He asked a question of himself, “How could this have gotten burned?”

Then he came up with an answer: It might have gotten to close to the sun.

This isn’t a bad guess. He knows fire would have to be pretty hot to burn metal. A match isn’t going to do it. What’s hotter than that? The sun.

And here’s the thing. He’s wrong. But the process he’s going though is good. What he’s actually doing, asking questions and attempting to figure out the answers, it’s the roots of rationality. The process he’s undertaking is the core of all true philosophy and science.

He looked at the penny again. “Actually,” He says. “It looks like moss.”

It’s called “verdigris,” I thought. It’s like rust, but it happens on copper instead of iron. Also, interesting fact, it’s mildly poisonous.

I thought that, but I kept my mouth shut.

Why? Because I am occasionally wise.

Because this is not the internet.

(Comic loveliness from the brilliant XKCD, of course.)

Because when a child comes to you in the full flush of discovery, brimming with excitement, correcting them is not the proper thing to do.

Because the truth is, facts can be small, sad things.

But learning to ask questions and guess at answers? That is the beginning of true understanding. Those are the bones of the world.

*     *     *

I have news. I’ll be posting about it as soon as I have internet in my house again. Stay tuned.

Also posted in The Art of Letting Go, Warning: Mild Literary Faffery | By Pat89 Responses

House Rules and Candy Land

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, or following me on any type of social media you realize that I’m a game player.

So it’s probably not a surprise that I like playing games with my little boy.

You probably also realize that I’m something of a hyper-critical curmudgeonly fuck. Which means I find a lot of things irritating.

For example, Candy Land:

orenstein_candyland

(This is what my version looked like when I was a kid.)

I’m not going to go off on some screed about game design here….

Ah hell. That’s a lie. I’m so going to. I didn’t mean to. I was just going to come in here and tell a cute story about my kid and then get out under 600 words. But I’ve kinda have to get this out or I’ll probably burst a vessel or something. I really shouldn’t keep this shit bottled up. I promise it will be a smallish, well-reasoned screed. Okay?

Dear everyone: Kids games should be games.

I know, I know. The main things we get from kid’s games isn’t competition. It isn’t intellectual stimulation. We’re not playing Traveler, here. We’re not looking for the subtle intricacies of Go. I get that. There are two primary things a kid’s game provides:

1. It gives you an excuse to hang out with your kids.

2. It gives your kids the basics of how to play a game.

This second one is not to be underestimated. When I started playing with Oot a year or so ago, I was amazed at how much of it wasn’t natural. The concept of taking turns, following rules. They need to be learned.

So yeah. I know those are the two biggies that you’re getting when you play a kid’s game. But you can still have some *game* in there.

Think about it. The main purpose of food is to get calories and nutrients, right? But we don’t just sit down and eat two cups of lard and a multivitamin, do we?

No. We do not. Not twice at any rate.

*     *     *

I remember playing Candy Land with my mom. It was fun. But I was a kid back then, so the bar for fun was fairly low. Pretty much anything a kid does with their loving parent is going to be fun. When I was older, my mom confessed that she’d gotten really tired of Candy Land. She used to hide the low-level candy cards because they made the game last forever.

Tedium is not the mark of a good game.

I felt a connection with my mom when, after playing Candy Land a couple times with Oot, I began to do the same thing. Because it *is* a tedious game, and not just for adults. Oot himself would start to zone out partway through the game. Not because he has a poor attention span, Oot will sit and read books for hours. He’ll work a puzzle on his own.

No. He’s bored because the game is tedious. And it’s tedious because there is no skill involved. You draw a card, you look at a card, you match a color, you move your piece.

Games that involve no skill are not good games.

Yesterday, after months of not playing, we brought out the game again and took another crack at it. Because he wanted to, and he asked nicely. And I can deal with some tedium if it makes him happy.

But we changed the game a little bit. We added a house rule where you drew two cards and got to pick which one you wanted.

With this small change, Candy Land became an actual game.

Sure there was still a huge random element to it, but now there was some skill as well. You had to make decisions.

CandyLand5

So what will it be, my little man? Green or red?

Suddenly, this game became fun for both of us. Not only was the race to the castle *much* faster. But you didn’t have to fear getting a “backer.” (Which is what Oot calls it when you get a card that makes you go backwards.)

Most important of all, there was suddenly some choice involved. He had a reason to pay attention. Which card do you want? Which will move you farther?

What really impressed me was when he got to this point on the board.

CandyLand4

“Oh no,” he said. “I hope I don’t get a green!”

(He didn’t want to get stuck in the Licorice Pit, you see. If you land on that particular green square, you lose your next turn.)

I took my turn and moved, then he took his turn and drew a double green and a double orange.

“I pick the two greens because I like green,” he said. Then he picked up his piece and looked at the board. He set his piece down again. “No. Wait,” he said. “I want the oranges instead.”

I tell you, I practically burst with pride and joy.

With this one simple rule change, the game became engaging for both of us. He even taunted me.

Candyland3

Which, as far as I’m concerned, is as vital a part of game playing as learning to take turns and follow rules.

The crafty little bastard even tried to coffeeshop me when I drew the popsicle.

Candlyland2

He’s like, “You should take the double blue, dad.”

Again, I glow with pride. That’s my boy. If you can’t win by the cards, you win the game with your mouth.

I beat him the first game. I was tempted to throw it, because I could tell he wanted to win. But that’s not doing him any favors. That’s another thing games teach us: how to lose. How to deal with disappointment. How to deal with the fact that sometimes, you just get shitty cards and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. And that sucks. Rub some dirt on it. Happens to everyone.

Also, Oot already taught me what happens when you don’t play straight with kids:

So I played that first game straight and beat him. He took it well, and because the game was shorter with the two-draw house rule, he was willing to jump right back in for a re-match. And, because it hadn’t been a tedious random trawl through sugar mountain, I was happy to give it another go too.

The second game I got an early lead again, and *really* considered throwing it. But I didn’t, and he won anyway. So that’s a good lesson for me, too: Sometimes I should just leave well enough alone.

It was also cool to see him get better at choosing which cards to pick. He’d always pick the doubles over the singles. But originally he liked to pick blue and green because he liked those colors better.

I didn’t tell him he was wrong, I just took my own turns and talked to myself, saying. “Hmmm. If I go to the blue, I go this far. If I take the orange, I go *this* far. I think I’ll take the orange, because it’s farther.”

By the second game, he was doing the same thing. Because kids are smart. They’re built to learn.

Why am I sharing this?

Well, partly because I love talking about games, and I love talking about my boy.

But I’m also telling you this story because I’m guessing a lot of you have kids, or you *will* have kids in the future. Or you’ll at least play with some kids. And this was such a simple, elegant fix to a classic children’s game that I couldn’t help but share it.

If any of you have suggestions for good kid’s games you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Play nice everyone,

pat

Also posted in gaming, mom | By Pat88 Responses

175K Stretch Goal – Music with Vi Hart

When I started Worldbuilders, my main goal was getting people to donate books. I’ve always considered that the heart of the fundraiser, and I spent a lot of time approaching authors and publishers, trying to bring them onboard.

But these days that’s not a problem any more. We’ve got a lot of authors who send us stuff every year. We’ve got publishers and collectors and bookstores that send us hundreds of books. Signed stuff. Rare stuff. Out of print stuff.

If I had to guess, I’d say this year we’re going to be giving away more than 50 or 60 thousand dollars worth of books to people who donate on our Team Heifer page.

That means these days, our problem isn’t getting more books (though more books is always nice). These days the challenge is getting the word out to people. Letting them know Worldbuilders exists. That’s why this year, we’ve been bringing in some geek celebrities to do some stretch goals

But here’s the thing, I know a lot of cool bookish geeks, because that’s the world I live in. But I don’t know many music-type geeks. And as for the video/youtube geeks… I know barely any at all.

So I called up Paul and Storm to see if they’d be willing to put me in contact with some folks who might be willing to help us spread the word. They agreed, and named a few names like The Doubleclicks and Molly Lewis.

“Is there anyone else you have in mind?” they asked.

“Well…” I said. “I know you’ve worked with Vi Hart in the past. If you’d be willing to introduce us….”

And I’ll be honest here. This last one wasn’t very much about Worldbuilders at all. It was more about the fact that I’ve had a huge geeky crush on Vi Hart for years now. Ever since I saw some of her videos….

So was I viciously exploiting my charity with the hope of making a connection with her? Yeah. A little bit. I’m not proud of the fact, but I won’t deny it either. I can occasionally be kind of an awful person.

Luckily Paul and Storm don’t know this. So they send a gracious e-mail introducing me to Vi. They briefly explain who I am, and mention Worldbuilders….

As soon as I read their introduction, I begin to obsess about my response. I start to think about how to be appropriately complimentary without coming across as a deranged fan. I start planning the tone of the e-mail, agonizing over how I will attempt to be enthusiastic about the fundraiser without being boring or self-indulgent.

But most of all, I’m desperately trying to think of something I can say that will make me look cool to Vi Hart.

Then, before I manage to write a single sentence, I see Vi has already replied to Paul and Storm’s e-mail. I click on the message, and it says:

Pat,

The yellow edition of The Name of the Wind that I won in the lottery a couple Worldbuilders ago is right here on my desk. I may have heard of you.

Vi

And I just sit there, stupefied. I think, “Wait. She knows who I am?”

And then I think, “Wait. She knows about Worldbuilders, too? She already knows about Worldbuilders and *donated* in the past? And won something?”

Then I think. “Hold on. Did she actually maybe just reference my book in her e-mail to me?”

And I am suddenly filled with a warm, glowy joy.

We’ve had several conversations since then, both on the phone and over e-mail. She is every bit as sharp and fun as I’d imagined. Simply said, even the few too-brief conversations I’ve had with her have changed the way I think about certain things. Which is about the nicest thing I can think to say about anyone.

To cut to the end of the story, Vi and I have decided to be bestest forever friends.

*     *     *

In the course of talking about stretch goal stuff, I mentioned to Vi that I had some lyrics lying around from the book. Songs that weren’t really songs, so to speak. Because a song without words is still music. But a song without music is just irritatingly formatted text.

I’d written the lyrics for Knackerman Knackerman a decade ago. It was kind of a round. Kind of dark with some layered meanings. I’d always thought of it as a duet for two female voices, and I remember the lyrics being pretty cool. Would she be interested in turning one of those into, y’know…. music?

She would.

So I went digging through my archives. And I found the lyrics. I remembered them being cool. They weren’t cool.

I e-mailed Vi and said I didn’t know if I’d be able to find them. Would she maybe be interested in taking a crack at Tinker Tanner?

She said she’d wait. She really liked the idea of Knackerman.

I e-mailed back and explained that I’d found the lyrics, but they weren’t any good. That they were, in fact, quite bad.

She said she’d still like to see them.

I explained I was afraid to send her these lyrics. I worried that they might make her lose respect for me. I worried that the lyrics might actually make her dumber. They might, in fact kill a piece of her brain. Maybe an important piece. Like the piece that stores the memory of fluffy kittens or the ability to taste pie.

She reminded me that we were best friends now, that it was okay.

I tidied up the lyrics a bit and sent them. I apologized for the fact that I shifted verse forms and pointed out the meter was uneven. I told her I was sorry for recklessly endangering her future ability to enjoy kittens and pie.

She replied:

Oh Rothfriend you lovely creature you don’t understand, this is a DUET, for two female voices, and it is a song, and songs that people sing do things, they grow their own special lumps and become unique, and what a lovely creature to wake up next to. Sometimes when I read a poem I can simply hear it in my head (I think I got this skill reading fantasy books. Hooray Tolkien!) and, well, ok, I’m just going to make a very quick recording so you get why the verse form isn’t a problem and then you can make edits if you want.

And the e-mail had an attachment. It was a song. She’d just… y’know… Done it.

And I thought. What the hell? What the serious hell?

About a year ago, I did a really bad magic trick for my 3 year old son. I used slight of hand and misdirection so clumsy that it would have made Pen and Teller weep tears of blood.

But it was enough to fool my son, and when he saw that I had made three blueberries disappear, he looked up at me with unalloyed awe in his expression. He looked at me and said, “Dad, you are quite a wizard!”

That’s how I felt just then, as I opened the e-mail and listened to the song. I felt awe and confusion and an almost holy fear. What sort of person can do this? I thought. Who can just look at some words and then make music out of them? Who does that?

My new best friend, Vi Hart, that’s who.

We talked more, and it changed my understanding of music. And I tweaked the lyrics again, because I’m me.

And here we are.

Thanks so much, Vi. I can’t say that big enough or loud enough.

Your new bestie,

pat

*     *     *

Please remember that these stretch goals are designed to promote Worldbuilders.

If you liked this awesome thing, please consider donating on our Heifer International Team Page. The more money we raise, the more cool things we do.

For more details about Worldbuilders, including a list of our past and future stretch goals, you can head on over here.

Also posted in fanmail, geeking out, meeting famous people, music, Worldbuilders 2013 | By Pat41 Responses

An Update and a Story

It’s been a busy week here at Worldbuilders central. We got a surprising number of orders for Unfettered in the Tinker’s Packs, along with people taking the chance to buy t-shirts, posters, and other assorted ephemera.

After I mentioned the book on Monday’s blog, we had about 500 orders, which is (if you’ll excuse my language) a shit-ton of orders for us to process in a week. But my team rose to the challenge, stared it grimly in the eye, and destroyed it.

Or, if we didn’t destroy it, we at least gruesomely maimed it.

I think my analogy is falling apart here.

My point is that everyone’s orders are being processed and shipped out with such speed and efficiency that you’d think that we were entirely staffed with some manner of high-tech robot ninjas. We’ve got the first 350 out the door already, and would be even further along if not for the whole federal holiday/post office being closed on the 4th of July thing.

First, I’d like to thank so many of you for supporting both Worldbuilders and Shawn by buying the anthology off the tinker’s packs.

Second, I should mention that if you’re one of those people who feels a burning desire to pick up first edition copies of books, they’re selling *much* faster than I’d anticipated. I asked Shawn, and it turns out that the first printing of this book was only 5000 copies. He’s sold a couple thousand. I’ve sold 500. The rest are going to get snapped up pretty quickly….

Thirdly, if you don’t know what the deal with the anthology is, you can read the introduction I wrote for the book over on Goodreads.

Lastly, a story about Oot….

*     *     *

DSCN1171

The man himself, showing off his new fruit-and-music tattoo.

When he showed it to me, he explained that it was pretty cool and that it made him super tough.

“How tough?” I asked.

Super Tough

Wow. That’s pretty tough.

But that’s not the story. That’s just the prologue.

This is the story….

A couple days ago, the two of us were taking a walk, giving mom some time to herself. We were looking at trees mostly.

On this particular walk, Oot also had brought a sack with him. He told me it was his bird sack. That’s where he’s going to put the birds he catches. Into the sack. He’s obsessed with trying to catch birds right now. Chases them all over.

And Honestly? I wish him the best. Aim high. Dream the dream.

Then out of the blue he says, “Y’know dad, I’d like to see you write your own book.”

“What was that?” I ask. It’s caught me a little off guard. He knows I’m an author, but he’s never asked anything like this before.

Then I realize this is probably because two blocks back, I stopped to chat with some folks out doing yard work. A husband and wife, older than me. What I think of as grandparent age.

Are you that author? they asked.

I am that author, I said.

We can’t can’t wait until the third book, they say.

Side note: If I ever get snippy or terse about people being on my case about book three, it’s because of this sort of thing. It’s not mean spirited. And honestly, taken by itself, it’s fine. Flattering even. And it’s loads better than someone screeling, “Why aren’t you writing the next book right now!!!”

The problem is that it’s incessant. I don’t just get it online. I don’t just get it when I go to conventions. I get it when I go for a walk around the block with my boy. Three years of this sort of thing wear a guy down.

 Anyway, Oot repeats himself, he says, “I’d like to see you write your own book.”

I thought about it a little bit, then asked, “What do you think that would look like?”

“Oh you know,” he said, very matter-of-fact. “You’d pull a feather out of a turkey. Then dip it in some ink and write on some paper.”

I nodded. “That is probably what it would look like.”

Then I asked, “How much time do you think it takes to write a book?”

“Oh you know,” he said. “Not so long….”

I’ll admit my heart fell a little bit when he said that. I found myself thinking, Oh Oot, not you too….

But then he kept going, “…but long.”

And you know what? He’s exactly right. That’s exactly how much time it takes to write a book: Not so long, but long.

Just in case you were wondering….

pat

Also posted in Stories about stories., The Tinker's Packs | By Pat136 Responses

Signing in Arkansas and the Taste of Tears

First and foremost, I’m going to be doing an event in Little Rock, Arkansas this week. 7:00 on Thursday the 9th.

Here’s the Facebook Event if you’re interested in more details. Or you can click on the “Tour Schedule” tab up above there…. 

I’m actually doing the event at Heifer International’s headquarters: The Heifer Village.

If you’re planning on going, you might want to drop a line to the folks at Heifer (501.907.2697 or email heifervillageregistration [squiggly atsign thinger] heifer.org) It’s a free event, but if you call ahead, your name will be on the guest list, and you get to feel cool. (And it will help them prepare.)

There will be books. I will be there too. I will talk. I will read and answer questions and be witty to the best of my ability. I will then sign books.

The event will be more fun than the above paragraph implies. It’s just that I’m a little tired right now, because I just got back from a little vacation. I got to spend 6 whole days with Sarah and Oot and my dad. Something that I don’t think has happened in years.

It was a nice time, which means there aren’t many interesting stories to tell. I’d post pictures of Oot being cute, but when I’m having a good time, I generally prefer to keep having it, rather than stop having it so I can take a picture.

amazing-animal-pictures-29

(Instead, here is a picture of a giraffe licking a squirrel.)

I went to Busch gardens where I saw one of those cat-bear things. I went to the ocean for the first time ever and got to taste it. (Saltier than I expected.) I touched a crocodile. (Softer than I expected.)

Oot also displayed much bravery at the pool, dunking his face and making an honest attempt to float on his back. He was quite a civilized little man through the whole trip, polite and well-behaved even when he was tired or hungry. I am endlessly proud of him and love him beyond my ability to express with words.

See? Lovely to live through. Boring to talk about.

I just wanted y’all to know why I’d gone quiet for more than a week, and give folks a heads-up about the Arkansas event, as I don’t know when I’ll be back down in that neck of the woods again.

I’ll be posting blogs more often now that I’m back on the clock.

Stay tuned….

pat

Also posted in appearances | By Pat36 Responses

Snowmen and Second Chances

So earlier this month, I started to catch up on certain things in my life. I turned in a story that’s three months late. I caught up on reading my backlog of e-mail (well… most of it). I got back in touch with people I’ve been meaning to e-mail for months.

And at the beginning of the month, spring started to arrive here in Wisconsin.

You would think this would be a cheerful thing for me. Birds singing. Flowers budding. All that Disney shit.

But you’d be wrong about that.

For one thing, you’re thinking of the wrong sort of spring. In Wisconsin, spring really just means the snow melts. Everything is brown and grey and muddy. It rains. The trees stretch their bare, black branches into the slate-grey sky like they’re auditioning for a part in a particularly emo T.S. Elliot poem.

Yeah, eventually things green up. It gets warm. Trees bud. But that’s in May. That’s *late* spring. Early spring is depressing as fuck.

The other reason spring isn’t very cheerful for me is that in my head, spring isn’t a beginning time. Spring is an ending time for me. Maybe it’s because for 20+ years of my life, I lived by the school year, rather than the calendar year. And May (Which again, is spring in Wisconsin) is the end of the school year.

Whatever the reason, spring is a melancholy time for me. I don’t think, “Yay! A new year is starting!”

No. I think, “I was so busy this winter that I didn’t take time to make a single snow angel. I didn’t build a snow fort like I wanted to with Oot. I didn’t even make a snowman with him. I don’t think I even made a snowball this year.”

It’s a depressing thought.

Luckily for me, Stevens Point got about three inches of snow last week. Then last night, on Saturday, we got about four more. Good wet packing snow.

It’s nice to get a second chance. Especially when you don’t deserve it. To ignore such a gift would be reckless to the point of arrogance.

So today I took a couple hours and focused on the important things.

Best crop

(Click to Embiggen.)

Those of you who live in the uncivilized backwaters of the world might not know what Sarah is doing back there. But anyone here in Wisconsin can tell by the tracks in the snow….

We’re making snowmen. Snowpersons, rather. A whole snow family.

Snow family

The one in the middle is Oot, pretending to be a snowchild with his corncob pipe. Or, as he refers to it, his smoker.

If you have trouble with snowman gender identity, let me clarify by pointing out that the one on the right is me, while the one on the left is Sarah. You can tell because the one on the left is more cheerful, and looks better in her hat. While the one on the right is more full of shit.

And no, I’m not speaking figuratively. I’m talking about this:

full view

Can’t see it? Let me get you closer….

Close up of deer

There’s a herd of deer that regularly hang out in our backyard. This is one of the many nice things about living in central Wisconsin. Some deer poop in your snowman is a small price to pay. It’s as inoffensive as rabbit poop. The two are virtually indistinguishable, truth be told.

The other way you can tell the difference between snowme and snowsarah is that snowme has an icicle beard….

icebeard and pat

Next time, I think I’ll go for the pine beard, as the icicle one is hard to see.

If you can’t tell which one is the real me, it’s the one on the right. I have better posture than snowme, and I’m more full of shit. (Figuratively.)

Also, for those of you who are curious, that is my favorite coat. (Well… I only have two, but it’s still my favorite.) I’ve had it for over twenty years. That’s why it looks a little the worse for wear….

Anyway, to wrap things up, here’s our whole snow family:

snowfam

And with that I will leave you.

May you all have a relatively pain-free tax day. May you all have ample opportunity to make snowmen, and more second chances than you deserve.

pat

Also posted in day in the life, my beard, Sarah, small adventures | By Pat52 Responses

Punctuation

So earlier today I took a break from catching up on my e-mail. There were sounds of intense tickling happening in Sarah’s bedroom, and Oot was doing one of his best laughs: sort of this helpless throaty chortle that means you’ve *really* got him going.

I don’t know if Sarah realizes, but he gets that laugh from her. When something happens that strikes Sarah as really funny, she does this deep, throaty laugh. It’s like the sound a donkey would make if it was suddenly turned into an cartoon stereotype of an overweight geek. It goes heah heah heah.

It is in no way a dignified sound. But it is my favorite laugh ever. It’s full of genuine amusement. And whatever it lacks in dignity it makes up in honesty. True laughter is rarely dignified.

Anyway, Oot is doing his version of this laugh, which means she’s probably managed to get his ribs. She’s good at the ribs, I’m a leg man myself.

Best tickle

(Dramatic Recreation)

I would like to digress slightly to say that I’m a master-class fucking tickler. Seriously. I’m amazing. I could teach a class on tickling. I could do a TED talk.

Anyway, I come in to Sarah’s bedroom and lay down on the bed all casual-like, ready to produce some bespoke tickling.

Then Sarah looks at me with lust in her eyes and says, “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.

To understand her statement, you have to realize that I am the next stage in human evolution. My pheromonic musk is developed to the point where it’s practically a weapon. In the best of circumstances, I smell masculine. And on a day when I’m staying home and have skipped my morning shower…

Well…. suffice to say that you know there’s a man in the house, even if you can’t see me.

On top of that, I’d been writing. I don’t know why, but when I’m writing, my man-smell gets particularly strong. It’s like my body is trying to establish its dominance over reality itself.

The effects of this pheromonal cocktail vary, but with a select section of the female populous it has two profound, complimentary effects.

1. It delivers a message directly to the woman’s hindbrain, saying: THERE IS A MAN NEARBY, AND YOU MUST MATE WITH HIM.

2. It immediately drops the woman’s intelligence anywhere from 10-50 IQ points, which makes it hard for them to realize that mating with me is *obviously* a bad idea, while at the same time rendering them more vulnerable to my not inconsiderable charm.

You have to admit that evolutionarily speaking, this is a winning combo.

Anyway, Sarah says that, and we laugh. Then, after giving Oot a good tickling, I ask her if I can post her comment up on facebook.

She agrees, and I go to amuse the internets.

But here’s the problem. I can’t find a way to accurately portray what she said.

It should be easy. I know exactly *what* she said. Eight words. Two independent clauses.

But it’s not easy. The trouble lies in the punctuation.

Let’s start with the most generic way of doing this.

  • “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid.”

Punctuated like this, her statement feels choppy and wooden. More importantly, the statement feels matter-of-fact and emotionless.

But if you try to spice it up with an exclamation mark….

  • “You smell so good! It’s making me stupid.”

There’s a reason exclamation abuse is a crime. Punctuated this way, Sarah seems hopelessly manic. Like she was hopping up and down, excited. That’s not right at all.

You can’t do it the other way, either….

  • “You smell so good. It’s making me stupid!”

Then it seems like she’s excited that she’s stupid, which gives the wrong impression on every conceivable level.

And neither of those options address the other problem, that having a full stop in the middle makes it feel like she’s making two separate, unconnected statements. That’s simply not the case, she’s making one complex statement.

Here’s how I’d like to punctuate it…

  • “You smell so good, it’s making me stupid.”

But that’s a comma splice. I’m not opposed to them entirely, I’m no slave to grammar. But when you’re relaying one line of dialogue and it’s grammatically incorrect…. That’s just not classy. It’s sloppy writing.

Technically, you could fix this with a semicolon….

  • “You smell so good; it’s making me stupid.”

In some ways this is the right thing to do. A semicolon is the official way to show two independent clauses have a close relationship to each other.

Here’s the problem: Semicolons are for wankers. Seriously. You can go your whole life without ever needing to really use a semicolon.

Unless you’re an academic, of course. If you’re an academic, you’ve got to use semicolon to impress other wankers with how much of a wanker you are so you can get your paper published. You know, that paper you wrote detailing your in-depth Marxist interpretation of the last eight lines of John Donne’s “The Flea?” The paper where you used the word “moreover” twenty-seven times in eleven pages?

Most importantly, a semicolon looks really strange in a piece of casual dialogue. People don’t speak using semicolons. Unless they’re wankers.

A lot of time, I’ll default to an ellipsis. Because I love ellipses.

  • “You smell so good… it’s making me stupid.”

But it implies too much of a pause in the middle of the statement.

What about an em dash?

  • “You smell so good— it’s making me stupid.”

Nope. Just looks weird.

And don’t even think about using an en dash, you little fuckers. That’s *not* what an en dash is for….

In the end, the only way to make this piece of dialogue “sound” right to the reader is through use of interstitials.

  • “You smell so good,” she said, looking at me with half-lidded eyes. “It’s making me stupid.”

That’s not quite right either. We need some foregrounding *and* an interstitial….

  • Sarah looked at me lustily. “You smell so good,” she said, her eyes half-closed. “It’s making me stupid.”

There. That’s just about right. That conveys her tone and mood in the appropriate way.

What’s my point?

Well, first off, let me say that I never promised there would be a point here. Sometimes I just idly muse about shit. Sometimes I just tell stories. Sometimes there’s no point.

But if there *is* a point it’s probably this: When you’re writing, there are no small choices. Or perhaps it would be better to say that writing is nothing *but* small choices. And all of them have the opportunity to effect your story in a disproportionately large way. Punctuation can change the tone of a sentence. The tone of a sentence can change the feel of a scene. And the feel of a scene can change your impression of a character’s personality.

A secondary point is that this is why my revision takes so long. When you think all these little things to death, you tend to fidget with a text a *lot.*

More cool stuff this week. Stay tuned.

pat

Also posted in the craft of writing, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat141 Responses
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