Monday, March 11, 2013

Writerly Rules

A friend of mine turned me on to the Aerogramme Writers' Studio. A couple of interesting things they have posted:
Given some of Pixar's films I suspect that on some projects the rules were honored more in the breach than the observation. Still, they're good rules. RSS feed here.

One of the Gaiman rules is interesting:

"Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."

I think this is also true for writer's talking about writing. They are almost always wrong in what they say they do. You have to look behind what they say.

I was at a conference on computers in medicine a number of years ago.  A woman gave a paper on automated tissue analysis. She went to a bunch of pathologists and asked them how they determined if a tissue sample was cancerous. They gave her a bunch of answers that didn't do her much good. One idea was "texture." How do you quantify something like that? The answer is that you can't.

What she did instead was to look at samples that had, to the pathologist, the right "texture" and analyze the sample for commonality. (The algorithm was pretty cool. She used a derivative of a linguistic analysis. The same sort of algorithm that can predict the probability that an "h" will follow a "t" or a "u" will follow a "q" in English text.) She got a quantifiable result that seemed to approximate the same result for "texture" when used by the pathologist. Yet, when the result was visualized it did not resemble cell texture in any way.

I think writers are similar in this way. They wrap words around something that makes sense to them-- these are "magic words" in the sense that they mean something very special to the writer or the writer's audience. But in and of themselves they have little meaning.

Personally, I always liked Ray Bradbury's rules for writing:
  1. Relax.
  2. Don't think.
  3. Work.

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