Write Better!

Think you have an excellent grasp on the English language? Do you question the grammar of your copywriter? Are you an engineer or programmer who insists that you can write better than your technical writer? Well sir, I challenge thee to a English contest!

You have 1 month to put your money (5 bucks) where your mouth is. Point-to-Point, a publisher/language school/tour company based in Ottawa, is inviting all native English speakers to a Language Contest. The prize is a copy for The Oxford Atlas and bragging rights of course.

At first glance of the text there are a myriad of mistakes that jump off the screen, however I know that they’ve laid a number of hidden landmines for the language police. The results and corrections will be posted on September 30th.

While I’m on the subject of writing better, will people stop using crutch words please? The best of us use them. The Bush speechwriter cannot stop using “embolden”, not that I would consider this speechwriter one of the best writers out there. I’m reading through best-selling author Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series right now. She’s stuck on describing gas street lamps and insists on repeatedly calling them moons. I’m guilty of crutch words myself. Whenever you write on one topic/genre long enough you’re bound to have words that you use when you can’t find new ones that would better describe what you’re talking about. It makes your writing go faster, and in all honesty, it is the easy way out.

One more thing about writing better. Would “comedic” screenwriters *please* stop using that stupid ESP/ESPN joke? It was funny the first time I heard it back on the 80’s sitcom Perfect Strangers. It was funny because Balki didn’t have a great command of English, he was new to American culture and didn’t know what ESPN was, and ESPN had recently launched under those initials that don’t mean anything. It’s about 20 years later, we all know what ESPN is, the joke’s not funny anymore. And when it’s comes to making a ditzy blonde look dumb, there are far funnier, contempory jokes to use.


Inspiration Point

People always say that inspiration can come in the strangest of places. Well last week I had it in probably one of the most uninspirational places you can get, the California DMV.

Brendon had to take his road test to get his driver’s license. Yes, even if you have a license in Canada you have to take the road test, because Canada is a foreign country. Silly in that the roads and rules are the same, but those are the rules. So since I’m the official licensed driver of the family at this point, I had to drive to and be present for Brendon’s road test. Even though he still had his BC license and could legally drive home after failing the test, which he didn’t. So I gave up my morning to hang out at the DMV.

Between the crying babies, the robotic recording shouting off relief in the form of numbers for the next impatiently waiting person, and the overwhelming sense of frustration permeating the air, I somehow got inspired. Several plot forwarding events jumped into my head. One right after another. Boom. Boom. Boom. The ideas had nothing to do with what was going on in the room, except for one thing. They all had to do with conflict. And those of us who have experienced a day at the California DMV, there is much conflict to be found there.

Conflict is what keeps you interested in a story. If the characters have nothing to worry about, then it’s most likely you’ll wind up writing a rather dull story about happy people. If it wasn’t for conflict, shows like Survivor, the Real World, and the Apprentice wouldn’t be popular. Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, said that she’s always trying to think up of hot water that she can throw her characters into.

Well, seems I’ve found my inspiration point for whenever I’m having writers block. I’ll just head on over to the DMV and hang out there for the day. With all the arguments and a general atmosphere of malaise, it’s no wonder it inspires hot water for my characters.


Current Projects

People have been asking me, “So what the hell do you do all day?” Well my friends, lots of researching and writing. Here is what I’m up to these days when not looking for a full time job.

Web Writing for Small Businesses

There are a number of books out there that deal with how you should write for the web, but I don’t think they do a good enough job for someone who is starting out with a web presence or has never written a word of marketing copy in their life. So, I will remedy that with a book that will be available here on my site. It’ll cover the basics of how to write, how to change your writing for the web, SEO that’s not spam, and how to use these same principles in online corporate communications.

Life of a Thai Slave Girl

Fictional account of a young girl’s attempt to find her family that mistakingly sold her into slavery.

Water Bootlegging

It’s 2050, all of North America’s fresh water can be found only in Canada, and Californians have to live off bland, disgusting desalinized water. Of course you can buy real, fresh, designer water imported from Canada or Europe for $20 a liter, but why pay full price when you can get knock-offs for half the price. Enter the water bootleggers. Also, with a lack of water, what would this mean for computing as tons of water is needed to make silicon chips? Would we move to lasers? Or would it spur another technology that we have yet to consider?

Other Ideas

I would be interested in doing a study of the changes in American house architecture and the growing epidemic of obesity. As the American dream home has grown to incorporate great rooms consisting of a kitchen and TV room, our waistlines have grown as well. Is the change in the layout of the home caused by our love of excess and the underlining cause of both? Are both of these changes caused by our love of food, laziness, all or none of the above? Hmmm… could I have a Masters or Phd thesis in this?


Maintaining The English Language

If you’re a language geek then you’ll like this. If not, you might as well skip it.

My History of the English Language professor Whitney Bolton at Rutgers University sparked my interest in how our English words evolved from other languages and continue to evolve today. No word’s spelling or meaning is ever set in stone. It slowly changes over time according to how people speak and use those words whether its in slang, business or academia.

What keeps this in my mind nowadays is the whole backlash against gay “marriages”. I’ve heard many people say that they just don’t want them to be called “marriages”. “Union” is okay, but not “marriages”, which makes me laugh. Because at the heart of them, they mean the same thing. The meaning marriage is already different from what it was when my grandparents were my age. Even the OED lists that “marriage” is now used for “long term relationships of people of the same sex”. So I’m sorry to break it to the religious right. Your battle to police the English language is already lost.
As for the spelling police, it’s a lost cause. There are at least four different ways to spell certain words depending on which English speaking country you are in: England, USA, Canada, Australia and all the other English speaking former colonies of the Empire. So I had a good chuckle today when my mother-in-law, also an English major, sent me the following email.

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.As part of the negotiations, Her Majesty’s Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as “Euro-English”.

In the first year, “s” will replace the soft “c”. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard “c” will be dropped in favour of the “k”. This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome “ph” will be replaced with the “f”. This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent “e” in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing “th” with “z” and “w” with “v”.

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary “o” kan be dropd from vords kontaining “ou” and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza.

Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

So if we’re not careful will this mean that our language will devolve into its basal form? I think not. It ain’t so easy as that. 😉


It’s a Christmas Tree!

A Christmas tree by any other names does not smell as sweet. Political correctness has gone too far. So far, in fact, that I’m incredibly offended.

I grew up vaguely Catholic (church on Easter and Christmas Catholic). So Christmas was as religious as the Fourth of July, but just as fun, if not more so because of the presents. My own sister went into a religious store this week to buy a present for my grandmother and asked for “rosemary” beads (not rosary). So that shows you just how religious my family is.

Well, over the years in our society’s attempt to be politically correct and sensitive to non-Christian religions, we’ve secularized all Christian holidays. And this year’s Christmas has lost any sense of being Christmas here in Vancouver. Christmas is on its way to extinction.

Vancouver decided that the large pine tree decorated with colorful lights and a star on top will be called the “Seasonal Tree”. They should have also changed the name of the giant candelabra that holds 8 candles standing directly across it to the “Seasonal Candelabra” instead of a Hanukah menorah. But secularizing anything Christian seems to be awfully in vogue. But both name changes are incredibly insane and completely wrong.

This year, I can’t even wish other Christians a “Merry Christmas” without being told that I should say “Happy Holidays”. Give me a break! What’s next? We can’t put up Christmas lights on our homes?

Most people I know that aren’t Christian don’t mind it because they get into the spirit of the holiday. They don’t think about the fact that it celebrates the birth of the Jesus. The holiday has pretty much lost it’s meaning for non-Christians. It’s become this one time each year where we strive to be good human beings and treat each other nicely for just one day. Why do we have to alienate and deny Christians their holiday by demanding that they don’t make any mention of it what-so-ever?

Next, we’ll be told that no one can call December 25th Christmas, and instead, it’ll be called Festivas. This is not tolerance and acceptance. It’s downright discriminatory. And I will go on saying that those two huge things on the front of the Art Gallery lawn are the Christmas tree and menorah. Otherwise 10 years from now, there will be no Christmas celebrations at all. And we’ll all be longing for the good ol’ days when people decorated their houses with lights, we had the annual lighting of the Christmas tree and children and adults were good for one whole month in hopes that St. Nick would bring them the presents that they wished for.


Web Writing Tutorial

It always amazes me at how little people know about writing for the Web. But that’s probably because I live and breathe it day in and day out. So I’ve decided that I’m going to write an extensive online Web writing tutorial.

What made me think of doing this is that I’m going to be holding a training session in December specifically on this topic. So why not just write it up and put it online so that they can reference back to it? There’s so much that I take into account when I write that it’s hard to convey in a 3 hour session.

So if you check back here in the new year, I’ll have it up ready to go! Once it’s up and running, I’ll update it with links to the best Web writing (and writing in general) sources out there.

Stay Tuned!