Monday, March 28, 2011

Taming the Dragon (NaturallySpeaking) that is...

I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking Speech Recognition Software because I was pleased with the performance of the free iPod Dragon Dictation app. So I am playing with it right now, trying to learn how the application works and if I can teach this thing to write faster than I can type. I definitely think this has a lot of potential and I like the opportunity to have another way to write. Even if it's just to get the raw ideas down on paper. 

I wonder how many people are out there who would choose to be writers but their keyboarding skills are not letting them pursue their dreams. 

Where did I hear about Dragon?  From a doctor who treated me for pneumonia in urgent care last December. When he found out I was a writer he asked me if I used it. That is what helped him get through all of the writing tasks he had to do in medical school. 

So I downloaded and started playing around with the Dragon Dictation app, and I was  impressed with its accuracy. The only drawback was that I could only use it when I was in a place with a strong wireless signal that my iPod Touch could pick up.  Which isn't convenient since that place happens to be either in my family room or dining room, which between dogs barking, SpongeBob blaring, kids arguing, the phone ringing... you get the picture.  I needed something a little more powerful.

It is hard getting used to using your voice to command your computer. This is something right out of Star Trek or as I remember it, the device Commander Adama (the Lorne Greene one, not the Edward James Olmos one) used in Battlestar Galactica.

First impressions - Pros: 
  • A great way to capture ideas quickly and efficiently. 
  • Probably good for writing junk documents such as lists, chat sessions and some e-mail
  • The voice commands work well and it will be interesting to see how much you can do with them.
  • Will definitely need to proofread carefully. During these early "training" days, the application misses some of the words and leaves out important little ones like articles and prepositions occasionally.
  • Because I've done very little training with it., And it seems to miss a lot of the words that I'm trying to enter. 
  • The voice commands work pretty well, but not all of the time.
  • I think this tool might make my writing wordier, unfocused, and more unpolished when using it. 
So tune in the coming weeks to get the answers to these questions. Does the Dragon work well for him? Does Michael end up losing his voice trying to write?  Has he gone insane with frustration and irritation? Watch this blog for updates and a final verdict!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Muse Review: TV-Tropes

Here is an interesting site that manages to breakdown the myriad of character, plot, setting, dialogue "tropes" or building blocks of fiction in a a giant wiki-like format.  The problem with a trope is that many times it is used way too often.

The site defines a trope in the following way:
Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting.
Have you ever wondered when you watch a family sitcom or drama why you feel like you've seen this episode before? Probably because you have. The plots of these shows often have similar issues and resolutions. Such as the favorite plot staple: The Evil Twin. Or why Phil Dunphy on Modern Family reminds you of another dad in some other show?  Well it turns out that there is a trope for that, the Bumbling Dad. And the trope extends into other mediums such as films, literature, and comics.

There are even music tropes. Ever notice that the you can count on certain songs to be used to promote movies, introduce certain characters or sequences of events? Such as:
"Walking On Sunshine" by Katrina And The Waves was used in pretty much every trailer for family comedies in the 1990s and 00s.
"Who Let The Dogs Out" will be used in any children's movie featuring talking dogs, and it will be used in a scene where the aforementioned canine's escape from a pet pound/locked room/generally do something cool that involves knocking down something or someone. 
This is a fascinating site where you can spend hours just browsing through all of the different tropes. (Which is one of the reasons this post is a bit later than I intended.) The site illustrates each trope with dozens of examples of it in many different mediums.  The writers of the site are also careful about not revealing spoiler information by hiding it by changing the color of the text to white on a white background, so you can only see the spoiler info if you highlight the white text.

If you are a writer and want to avoid the dreaded cliche, or just want some information about how a story can be put together, you need to check out TV-Tropes.  Keep an eye on the Grist for the Muse in the weeks to come on using TV-Tropes to improve your fiction writing skills.  Until then, browse and enjoy! TV-Tropes gets **** out of 5 stars.

Muse Review Website Rating Scale: * - SPAM is more enjoyable and entertaining; ** - Content not fit for a link farm; *** - An OK site, probably won't be back here often; **** -  Good resource, bookmark and visit often; ***** - An essential resource to consult daily.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Muse Reviews: Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing

Elmore Leonards 10 Rules of Writing Limited EditionElmore Leonards 10 Rules of Writing Limited Edition by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Really William Morrow? You take a one page article from Elmore Leonard and stretch it, and I really mean S—T—R—E—T—C—H it into an 89 page book. Even so less than half of these pages have text on them, and on the pages that do have text on them might consist of a sentence or maybe a short paragraph illustrating one of the 10 rules. At a $14.95 cover price I can’t recommend this for any writer. It is obviously intended to be a gift book for writers (and probably then only writers who are huge Elmore Leonard fans).  The thick, smooth card-stock pages with whimsical cartoons scattered throughout it can only be appreciated by those people struggling to find a last minute gift idea for a writer friend, not a serious writer looking for some good writing advice from one of popular crime fiction’s masters.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 07, 2011

Maximum Verbosity -- Why I Hate H.P. Lovecraft

There has always been a reason that I hated H.P. Lovecraft. If the densely packed paragraphs of prose, unbroken by any smidgen of dialog whatsoever wasn’t enough, the seemingly ham-handed attempts at creating an atmosphere of dread and foreboding didn’t do it… it was the vocabulary. For a “pulp” author, Lovecraft really hit the thesaurus hard. I actually had to look up the word effulgence in the dictionary because I had no idea what it meant. 

Yet, many authors such as Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Clive Barker and Alan Moore see him as a pioneer of the speculative fiction genre. He used the term cosmic horror to describe his work, which is according to his entry in Wikipedia: “the idea that life is incomprehensible to human minds and that the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely reason, like his protagonists, gamble with sanity.”

His writing reminds me of a game mode you entered in the granddaddy of all text-based adventure games, Zork by typing the word “verbose:” Maximum Verbosity. That is what prose by Lovecraft sounds like to me. When was the last time you used one of these often repeated words on this list: Cyclopean (47), Accursed (76), or Daemoniac (55)?

I have never used any of these words in any of my writing until now, so anyone who wants to keep a tab, mark this: Cyclopean (1), Accursed (1) or Daemoniac (1)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Grist for the Muse Manifesto

Obviously I’ve been struggling with keeping a blog. The Grist for the Muse newsletter hasn’t gone out since sometime in 2006 and I feel as if I still have not found my voice in the blogosphere. So here is what I’m going to do. Write my own manifesto. That’s right a manifesto. I don’t want this to be a forum where I talk to myself about the hardships of the writing life. Really. I am boring. I am the most boring subject out there. So much so I bore myself with my own blog entries. So here is what I’m going to do for the next 6 months: an experiment to see what I should do with this platform I’ve created:
Writing my novel
  1. Not to rely so much on my experiences and knowledge for the blog. You can get that anywhere on the web. I’ll still put together original articles and content, just not rely on it as much as a basis for the blog.
  2. Post cool things of interest to writers that I stumble across on other blogs and web-pages.
  3. Inject my “humble” opinions on these items of interest, when applicable.
  4. Not be so afraid to inject my “humble” opinions on those items of interest, the writing life, or life in general. I have, at times, held back on writing about something that might not sit well with some of the people I know, or backtracked when presenting an honest, but cutting review (after the author of the reviewed book contacted me). This is the politically correct “teacher-side” of me that emerges often to edit out my unkind thoughts. I need to stuff the teacher-side back into the tiny junior high school locker, where he belongs. I have definite likes and definite dislikes, and I will share them.
  5.  Post more often. At least once a week, although I’d prefer to make a habit of posting 2 or 3 times a week, to keep you coming back to see what’s going on.
  6. Continue to produce “Muse Reviews” for not only books about writing and creativity, but expanding them out a little further with reviewing books in general (and perhaps the occasional movie or TV show) that are either really good or really bad and why.
  7. Actually answer and thank those who take the time to leave comments on my posts. With apologies to Ched, Nita and Alanna. I am embarrassed to say that I always meant to respond to your posts, but something in my scrambled ADHD mind always seemed to get in the way, and then so much time had passed since you posted a comment that it was awkward figuring out just how to respond: “Thank for the comment you left 9 months ago, it was really important to me.” And it is, I just didn’t say this with my fingers. I thought kind thoughts in my head and felt pangs of extreme guilt and embarrassment every time I saw them when I opened up the blog.
  8. Share my journey (the struggles, failures and successes) and try to be honest and uncensored, and allow you to see how I-don’t-have-it-together-at-all. And funny. I have been told I’m funny… and I really am sometimes. Because let’s face it, writing is a crazy thing to do and crazy is always funny… well maybe not always…
  9. Stop being such a technical idiot. Learn to format these entries so they can be easily read. Maybe how to put a nifty picture or two in ‘em from time-to-time. I’d like to overhaul the design of this while I’m at it… but not right away.
  10. Stop being such a perfectionist. There are times where I sit on a good topic, or I write and write about it (but more often than not, think and think about it, not writing at all). And get complete stage fright, where I revise and revise whatever piece I have, worrying about how it will be seen by my students and complete stranger who have expectations when they visit the blog. I need to get in the habit of thinking on the page again, in front of an audience. And not ramble on and on so much…
  11. Be entertaining. There are so many interesting and engaging writers out there. I want to be like them.
  12. Continue the Shameless Self Promotion. A guy’s gotta eat, right?
  13. Be available to answer your questions.
  14. That these guidelines of this manifesto are fluid and subject to change as determined by my mood, audience response, and interests change.
So there you have it. The Grist for the Muse Manifesto. Thoughts?