Tuesday, August 13, 2019

New #Writing Tricks & Tools — Or Old Ones Revisited

Ideally, we should all be computer-savvy, ready to conquer the newest app or upgrade or whatever with great gusto. Realistically, we aren't all computer whizzes. Some of us old folks (and a few younger ones) shudder at the prospect of interacting with yet another digital innovation that threatens to drive us back to the old, trusty Smith Corona.

Yes, the manual typewriter was a pain in the backside because corrections and changes required retyping—sometimes many pages of retyping—but it was what it was, and we knew what to expect. What we could not expect was upgrades (except perhaps to the electrified version); nor could we expect internet access. Hmm. Progress has at least one pro to offset its cons for this senior citizen.

Fast forward to today. Speaking only about myself, I am often overwhelmed by the constantly changing landscape of technology. About the time I think I understand something, it's updated to a bigger and better version, and I'm back to square one. What's a damsel in digital distress to do?

Think outside the box. What box? The writer's toolbox, of course. Remember that not all its contents are digitally based; some have been around for years. Can old tools become new tricks?

Dialogue: Each generation has its own lingo. Conversations that would have worked well and been easily understood in the twenties, forties, seventies, or even nineties can fly right over the heads of today's readers. One exception is historical fiction, and even this should be written with modern readers in mind. If your story is based on characters and incidents many years past, make sure it rings true for present generation fans of the genre. This applies not only to dialogue, but also to narrative. One warning: beware of slang. For a book to have multi-generational appeal, it must not spew forth a proliferation of nonstandard vocabulary that won't be understood. The following poem demonstrates major changes in slang (as well as references) over the last century.

Generation Gap

We are the flappers of the evil city;
Capone reigns here with a rat-a-tat ditty;
Our sheiks carry ukes and a flask on the hip;
Hollow canes camouflage the hooch that we sip;
Gatecrashing is one of our favorite sports,
And we like our hot numbers with rapid retorts;
Garbo and Fitzgerald are really big cheese—
Valentino and Banke, oh, the bee's knees.
Struggle buggies for necking are copacetic; 
Flat Tires and Dumb Doras are really pathetic;
This is the Jazz Age with the Charleston step;
Make no mistake, our generation is hep.

We are love children, the now generation;
We rap and we riot across the nation;
Peace is our bag; Vietnam's not our thing;
At sit-ins and love-ins, our joyful hearts sing;
Acid and grass and speed free our minds,
Like Hendrix and Joplin, free for all times.
Dylan and Baez tell the world who we are; 
Woodstock promotes our ideal to end war.
We stand out in a crowd in hippie attire,
But we've yet to be tested in trial by fire.
The Age of Aquarius, the time of the trip,
Make no mistake, our generation is hip.

We're the latch-key kids—we stay home alone,
But Mom is as close as her cellular phone.
We live under bridges; we live in the park;
We scrounge in the day and hide in the dark.
Our boom cars are awesome, and we're really chillin';
Jacko and Madonna replace KISS and Dylan;
Arrested Development sings out our woes;
Rap says it all, though our parents don't know.
Magic's our hero; we no longer fear AIDS;
Brew and coke at our keggers—we've got it made.
We risk it all,  and we put fate to the test;
Make no mistake, our generation's the best.

Perspective: This is a biggie. Old stories, old words, old ideas, and old clichés can be made fresh and new by adjusting your perspective, putting on your thinking cap, and reworking them with a modern twist. Unpublished manuscripts stuffed away in a drawer or languishing on a hard drive can march into the present on the heels of a new angle, a different protagonist, another point of view. Step back. Open your mind. Take another look. Close your eyes and ask, "What if?"

Grammar and punctuation: This is a fun one because unpunctuated sentences can mean a variety of different things. While I believe punctuation should not vary significantly from one generation to another, I yield to the expertise of The Chicago Manual of Style as a valid resource on this topic. Interestingly, it makes some changes in each new edition. The current one (17th edition) even addresses communications in the digital world. CMOS keeps up with new writing tricks and tools.

As a final example of the power of punctuation, I borrowed something I found on Facebook. Despite my effort to attribute it to its author, I was unable to determine who that was.

An English professor wrote this sentence on the blackboard and asked his students to punctuate it:
A woman without her man is nothing
The male students wrote, "A woman, without her man, is nothing."
The female students wrote, "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

My takeaway on this: Proper punctuation is an old tool that deserves to be viewed as a new trick. While taking that to heart, be flexible as is the CMOS. Then you can be sure your sentences will be clear, understandable, without ambiguity, and current.

What do you think?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and romance. You can contact her at websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.


  1. I wouldn't mind upgrades, but many times the upgrades aren't better. It's a way for the companies to make money and for us to spend it. Pretty soon Windows 7, which I use, will not be supported. Boo, hiss. I like it and want to keep it. Either upgrade or buy a new computer. Boo, hiss. I love my computer. I think we dinosaurs don't like change very much. Great post, Linda.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with those sentiments, Polly.
      My iPad is now out of date and keeps on kicking me out of various apps, back to the main screen. It also keeps on having trouble with web sites, saying 'There was a problem with this page so it was reloaded.'

  2. I guess we don't, Polly. I use Windows 10, which continually upgrades without my permission; in fact, I'm never given a choice, and I never know what has been added to my hard drive.

  3. I agree with Polly about the reluctance to change. I think perhaps we, er, older ladies come from a mindset if it "ain't broke, don't fix it." Younger people are all over the latest and newest in technology. My son, a computer scientist, said recently that things are changing so fast in technology that even the experts have a hard time keeping up.

    I remember when I bought my first computer, way back in the dark ages. LOL It was a Kaypro home computer, and all I wanted it to do was to take the words I typed and send them to this humongous printer and print out 400 neatly typed pages of my latest book. It did that just fine for many years with no updates.

    Great post, Linda.

    1. Oh, the memories your comment brought back! My first computer was a Tandy from Radio Shack. It's operating system was, if I recall correctly, TRS.dos or something like that. What I do recall is my computer-literate son lovingly dubbed that OS trash.dos. From there (still in the 80s or very early 90s, I think), I got a word processor and then a new computer with "MS DOS" as its operating system. Finally, I graduated to Windows, which, even in my technologically challenged mind, was a bit unstable in its early days. So I definitely subscribe to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. Problem is, technological gurus consider me a dinosaur that will soon be extinct, so my reluctance to continually update means nothing to them.


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