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Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

Sorry for the lack of content over the past six months or so. I’ve been both very busy with my day job AND very uninspired in my writing. But all of that is changing. Here’s my second post of 2014:

IMDb Logo

I recently discovered that IMDb, the Internet Movie DataBase, has an incredible collection of keywords tagging the movies in their database.

How can a writer use this?

  • To predict the popularity of what they are writing.
  • To choose between potential plot points.
  • and most certainly many more…

Visit: http://www.imdb.com/Sections/Keywords/ for the MoKA home page. If you scroll down, there are lists of all the keywords broken down by starting letter, keyword length (!), and tag count.

I think the list of keywords tagged on 10,000 or more movies is quite revealing:

  • Death (11,357)
  • Family Relationships (10,721)
  • Father Son Relationship (12,334)
  • Female Nudity (14,770)
  • Husband Wife Relationship (10,371)
  • Love (13,509)
  • Murder (20,994)
  • Sex (13,022)

So there we have it. There have been more movies about Murder and Death, Family Relationships, and Love and Sex than on any other topics.

So should we all be writing murder-death-kill thrillers about families involved in complicated love quadrangles featuring kinky sex scenes?

Of course not.

Write what you know. Write what you love. Write what you would enjoy reading. This is only one measure of success. But a writer should always use multiple metrics because past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Charles Goodhart put it another way: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. 

So we must use IMDb’s MoKA appropriately. It is interesting information, but it is an indicator, a measure, a metric, and not your writing goal. It is a tool best used to hone existing material. If used prescriptively when creating material, you will have relied on it too much and the quality and direction of your writing will likely suffer.


Note: I removed the following non-plot keywords from the list above:

  • Based On Novel (29,833)
  • Based On Play (13,908)
  • Character Name In Title (42,430)
  • Independent Film (35,628)
  • Number In Title (13,716)
  • TV Mini-Series (10,145)

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Warren-Buffett

Source: What can we learn from the science of high performance? via Farnam Street

An amazing list composed of only 5 items:

  1. Routines

In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy Baumeister contends that the most successful people don’t make better decisions because of their willpower. Rather, they develop routines.

These routines reduce the number of decisions we need to make (as well as reducing stress). Thus it becomes easier to use your limited resources of self-control to avoid, rather than solve, crises.

  1. Focus

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. – Herbert Simon

  1. Practice

If we want to perform better beyond some basic competence researchers say we must engage in deliberate practice. These are designed, mindful efforts, to master even the smallest detail of success. To get better you have to get out of the autonomous stage.

  1. Exercise

Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks.

  1. Rest

Taking time to rest won’t make you a slacker. While the corporate culture of “back-to-back” meetings from 9-5 may seem “cool” it is actually crazy. Rest is a critical component of creating and sustaining excellence.

Read the whole article. I’ve perused a lot of self-help lists aimed at making people more productive. This is clearly the best I’ve found and each of the items (excluding #5) is backed by research into what makes people productive.

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Elmore Leonard

  1. Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac­ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look­ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
  2. Avoid prologues: they can be ­annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’sSweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.
  5. Keep your exclamation points ­under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos­trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ­Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

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  1. CASABLANCA
    Screenplay by Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch. Based on the play “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison
  2. THE GODFATHER
    Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Mario Puzo
  3. CHINATOWN
    Written by Robert Towne
  4. CITIZEN KANE
    Written by Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles
  5. ALL ABOUT EVE
    Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Based on “The Wisdom of Eve,” a short story and radio play by Mary Orr
  6. ANNIE HALL
    Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
  7. SUNSET BLVD.
    Written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder and D.M. Marshman, Jr.
  8. NETWORK
    Written by Paddy Chayefsky
  9. SOME LIKE IT HOT
    Screenplay by Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond. Based on “Fanfare of Love,” a German film written by Robert Thoeren and M. Logan
  10. THE GODFATHER II
    Screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo. Based on Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather”

This is a nice list though I haven’t seen all of these movies. Visit the Writer’s Guild of America site for the full version with all 101 movies.

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Source: The English Spelling Society

The Chaos

by Gerard Nolst Trenité

This version is essentially the author’s own final text, as also published by New River Project in 1993. A few minor corrections have however been made, and occasional words from earlier editions have been preferred. Following earlier practice, words with clashing spellings or pronunciations are here printed in italics.

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,

I will teach you in my verse

Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;

Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;

Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it! 10

Just compare heart, hear and heard,

Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).

Made has not the sound of bade,

Say – said, pay – paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,

But be careful how you speak,

Say: gush, bush, steak, streakbreak, bleak, 20

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;

Woven, oven, how and low,

Script, receipt, shoe, poemtoe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,

Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,

Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining, 30

Scholar, vicar, and cigar,

Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable – admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,

Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,

Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.

Gertrude, German, wind and wind,

Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind, 40

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.

This phonetic labyrinth

Gives moss, gross, brook, broochninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,

Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,

Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet. 50

Blood and flood are not like food,

Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.

Discount, viscount, load and broad,

Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.

Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,

Friend and fiend, alive and live. 60

Is your R correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes with Thalia.

Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,

Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;

Would it tally with my rhyme

If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy? 70

Cornice, nice, valise, revise,

Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,

You’ll envelop lists, I hope,

In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.

To abjure, to perjure. Sheik

Does not sound like Czech but ache. 80

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.

We say hallowed, but allowed,

People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.

Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,

Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label. 90

Petal, penal, and canal,

Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,

But it is not hard to tell

Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,

Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,

Senator, spectator, mayor, 100

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the A of drachm and hammer.

Pussy, hussy and possess,

Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.

Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,

Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker“,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor“, 110

Making, it is sad but true,

In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.

Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,

Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.

Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,

Paradise, rise, rose, and dose. 120

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.

Mind! Meandering but mean,

Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,

Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,

Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring? 130

Prison, bison, treasure trove,

Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.

Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,

Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;

Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,

Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn. 140

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.

Evil, devil, mezzotint,

Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,

Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,

Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did, 150

Funny rhymes to unicorn,

Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.

No. Yet Froude compared with proud

Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,

Troll and trolley, realm and ream,

Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme. 160

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,

But you’re not supposed to say

Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,

How uncouth he, couchant, looked,

When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty, 170

Episodes, antipodes,

Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,

Rather say in accents pure:

Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,

Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,

Wan, sedan and artisan. 180

The TH will surely trouble you
More than R, CH or W.

Say then these phonetic gems:

Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em –

Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,

Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight – you see it; 190

With and forthwith, one has voice,

One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does [1]. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.

Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,

Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry, fury, bury,

Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,

Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath. 200

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners

Holm you know, but noes, canoes,

Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,

Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,

Put, nut, granite, and unite

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer. 210

Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,

Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;

Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,

Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it

Bona fide, alibi

Gyrate, dowry and awry. 220

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.

Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,

Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,

Rally with ally; yea, ye,

Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver. 230

Never guess – it is not safe,

We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,

Face, but preface, then grimace,

Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;

Ear, but earn; and ere and tear

Do not rhyme with here but heir. 240

Mind the O of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,

With the sound of saw and sauce;

Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.

Respite, spite, consent, resent.

Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen, 250

Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,

Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid, vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),

G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,

I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.

Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,

Polish, Polish, poll and poll. 260

Pronunciation – think of Psyche! –
Is a paling, stout and spiky.

Won’t it make you lose your wits

Writing groats and saying ‘grits’?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,

Islington, and Isle of Wight,

Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father? 270

Finally, which rhymes with enough,

Though, through, bough, coughhough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

[1] No, you’re wrong. This is the plural of doe.

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Source: C.S. Lewis on Writing | The Steve Laube Agency

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to letter from an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
  4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please, will you do my job for me.”
  5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite

From: C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children, p. 64

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1. Write the sentence, not just the story

Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.

2. Pick a better verb

Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.

3. Kill the cliché.

When you’re writing, anything you’ve ever heard or read before is a cliché. They can be combinations of words: Cold sweat. Fire-engine red, or phrases: on the same page, level playing field, or metaphors: big as a house. So quiet you could hear a pin drop. Sometimes things themselves are cliches: fuzzy dice, pink flamingo lawn ornaments, long blonde hair. Just keep asking yourself, “Honestly, have I ever seen this before?” Even if Shakespeare wrote it, or Virginia Woolf, it’s a cliché. You’re a writer and you have to invent it from scratch, all by yourself. That’s why writing is a lot of work, and demands unflinching honesty.

4. Variety is the key.

Most people write the same sentence over and over again. The same number of words–say, 8-10, or 10-12. The same sentence structure. Try to become stretchy–if you generally write 8 words, throw a 20 word sentence in there, and a few three-word shorties. If you’re generally a 20 word writer, make sure you throw in some threes, fivers and sevens, just to keep the reader from going crosseyed.

5. Explore sentences using dependent clauses.

A dependent clause (a sentence fragment set off by commas, dontcha know) helps you explore your story by moving you deeper into the sentence. It allows you to stop and think harder about what you’ve already written. Often the story you’re looking for is inside the sentence. The dependent clause helps you uncover it.

6. Use the landscape.

Always tell us where we are. And don’t just tell us where something is, make it pay off. Use description of landscape to help you establish the emotional tone of the scene. Keep notes of how other authors establish mood and foreshadow events by describing the world around the character. Look at the openings of Fitzgerald stories, and Graham Greene, they’re great at this.

7. Smarten up your protagonist.

Your protagonist is your reader’s portal into the story. The more observant he or she can be, the more vivid will be the world you’re creating. They don’t have to be super-educated, they just have to be mentally active. Keep them looking, thinking, wondering, remembering.

8. Learn to write dialogue.

This involves more than I can discuss here, but do it. Read the writers of great prose dialogue–people like Robert Stone and Joan Didion. Compression, saying as little as possible, making everything carry much more than is actually said. Conflict. Dialogue as part of an ongoing world, not just voices in a dark room. Never say the obvious. Skip the meet and greet.

9. Write in scenes.

What is a scene? a) A scene starts and ends in one place at one time (the Aristotelian unities of time and place–this stuff goes waaaayyyy back). b) A scene starts in one place emotionally and ends in another place emotionally. Starts angry, ends embarrassed. Starts lovestruck, ends disgusted. c) Something happens in a scene, whereby the character cannot go back to the way things were before. Make sure to finish a scene before you go on to the next. Make something happen.

10. Torture your protagonist.

The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. Sometimes we try to protect them from getting booboos that are too big. Don’t. This is your protagonist, not your kid.

via Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers | Jacket Copy | Los Angeles Times.

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