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Juggling tools

September 29, 2014

One of these really should be electric. With a cord.

One of these really should be electric. With a cord.

Hwæt! (Always wanted to open a blog post like that.)

While the Powers that Be ruminate on Sleep of the Unjust, I’m finishing up revisions on Dance Around the Dying. I shuffled the novel from the word processor back to YWriter for the sole purpose of tweaking some chapter and scene breaks; it’s much easier to slide scenes around there, like the tiles in a puzzle, while at the same time tracking how long the chapters are as I do.

I wanted to keep the chapters in this one relatively consistent, and they still are (a little over 3000 to around 4500 words each). Chapter length and scene length are both important parts of the pacing formula, which I’m sure can be expressed as a function of the relationship between nuclear magnetic dipole moment and the valuation of the Swiss Franc during the Cold War, but which boils down to: don’t let a reader put it down. Rob your readers of their well-deserved sleep. Make them resent you in a loving way, like your novel is one of their children.

But I digress.

What I was going to say was that it only hit me last night, as I was massaging a two-scene lump through the python, what an absolute luxury it is to be able to do this sort of thing now, as opposed to, say, a hundred years ago, or even thirty-five. (Cue harp music for flashback.) I recall those days, of Liquid Paper and handwritten outlines, of typing up a friend’s term papers in the basement of the Geology building, and you know what? It’s a miracle anyone ever wrote anything longer than twenty pages without a gun pressed to their temple. I leave whose hand held the gun to the audience’s fertile imagination.

Since we romanticize the travails of the past like the three guys comparing scars in the boat in Jaws, there are apps that simulate typewriter keyboard animations while you write ( and yes, it’s that Tom Hanks) and even YWRiter lets you insert typewriter sounds. I’ve always put those sort of things in the fun-but-unnecessary category (then again I like clickity-clack keyboards, so maybe that’s enough).

Yet I wonder if that sort of thing is good on a spiritual level, if only to remind us that the act of writing has never been easier than it is today, just as chopping down trees is easier now than it was when the best we had were logger-powered two-person saws.

Of course, fewer people lost their fingers in their back yards then too.

PS: Hanks has a great line in that interview: “Typing on an actual typewriter on paper is only a softer version of chiseling words into stone.” Unless it’s a Selectric with the built-in correction tape, in which case it’s more like quick-drying cement.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 30, 2014 8:48 am

    Jeff, I think you’re looking for the Dirac constant (h/2 pi) instead of the nuclear magnetic dipole moment, and don’t forget to do a log/log plot to get a nice smooth line.

    My father used a manual typewriter all his life, usually a worn-out Underwood that was scrapped out from his newspaper. I learned how to type on these, and you forgot to mention the joys of the “good old days”. Un-sticking keys and getting typewriter ink all over your fingers in the process. Looking back at this makes me understand why we thought Word Perfect 5.1 was the bomb. We were wrong about that too.

    I’ve read articles and heard some Luddites claim that our tech advances cause us to lose competencies. Having an electronic calculator didn’t make me forget how to add and multiply in my head. Having a spell checker didn’t make me forget how to spell, and I don’t see how it could. Having a self-driving car won’t make me forget how to drive. I suppose we should worry about the next generation, although I’m not sure why they’d need some of these skills, unless we drive ourselves back to the stone age (or worse, the gilded age).

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