The Writer's Mailbag: Installment #328
R.I.P. Ruth Bader Ginsburg
While we relaxed this past weekend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first woman EVER to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
It seems totally bizarre to type those words in the year 2020 – the first woman ever!
Like, no woman deserved it prior to 2020?
For those of you not familiar with the U.S. government, and really with our U.S. society, change comes slowly in this county of 330 million. I have seen some monumental events during my seventy-plus years, but some of those events were like “what the hell took so long,” you know? It turns out, writing “with liberty and justice for all,” is much easier to do than actually implementing it.
So we say goodbye to a pioneer and a giant in this country. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery (an honor she richly deserved), the battle over a new Justice will begin, and life will continue, one small change at a time.
God bless America – God bless the World!
Let’s do this mail thing, shall we?
Converting Written Word to Word Doc
From Rinita Sen: “Hi Bill. Thanks for the response, but I guess I wasn't clear about my question. I wasn't looking for a speech to text software. Rather I was looking for software that converts words written on paper with a pen into a Microsoft word document. If you or anyone else knows anything, would be helpful. Thanks again and glad that the sky is looking better.”
I completely dropped the ball on this one, Rinita! You worded it correctly; I saw your question incorrectly.
And, to make matters worse, I have no clue about any software that does what you are asking for. So I did some research.
What you are asking for is an OCR software program. I found this on a site by The Guardian:
“There’s also CharacTell’s SoftWriting ($49.95), which the company says is for students taking notes in class and professionals taking notes in meetings. But it also says it is designed “for recognizing non-connected handwriting and machine-printed text” (their emphasis) so I wouldn’t bet on it reading your handwritten notes.
Like most if not all the programs in this field, SoftWriting has to be trained to recognize your handwriting. When it is processing a document, it will present you with words it doesn’t recognize, so that you can tell it what they are. If you have 250 words on a page and the program miraculously gets 90% of them right, you will still have to correct 25 words.”
And this from my friend Zulma: “This may help with your research. iskysoft may be just the thing you’re looking for.”
The problem with all of these software programs is cursive writing. They perform much better when you print characters rather than using cursive. Bottom line on this: what you are asking for has not been perfected yet, but it does exist.
From Uriah: “I find myself in a self-made trap. I settle for the easy descriptions of colors in my creative writing. The blue sky, the red carpet, the green grass, that sort of thing, and I’m boring myself to death. Seriously, do you have suggestions to keep me from yawning at myself?”
Oh Uriah, I always have suggestions. Ask and you shall receive.
Actually, your question/problem is common for all writers. There are times when we all slip into an old easy chair and get too comfortable. Your problem is shared by probably every writer who has ever picked up the proverbial pen. So let’s see what we can do about that.
One technique is to compare the color in question with something in the character’s world. Red could be “poppy red” or a gray sky could be “a porridge sky,” or a blue sky could be “robin’s egg sky.” Just be certain, when doing this, you choose a description that most people are familiar with. I might be pushing the envelope a bit by saying “robin’s egg sky” since many people may not know what a robin’s egg looks like, but you should, at the very least, understand what I’m trying to say.
Another technique is to see the color through the eyes of the character’s point of view. If you have a cook, colors may be associated with the colors of different spices. A soldier might see reds only in shades of blood, while a botanist might see junipers and lilacs.
Using Fewer Adverbs
From Marie: “I know you have warned us before about using too many adverbs, so I was wondering if you have any suggestions for describing things vividly without the use of adverbs?”
Well, first of all, Marie, I think adverbs have their time and place. I just think they are overused because, well, they are easy to use. “He hurriedly ran to the store” is, in my opinion, sloppy and lazy writing. “He worked hard” can be written by a ten-year old. What I believe is that writers have a responsibility to dig a little deeper into the tools of the trade. Stephen King, in fact, is quoted as saying “The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” so let’s not disappoint The King.
Let’s look at a couple examples.
“He ran quickly to the store.” In that sentence, ran is the verb and quickly is the modifying adverb. It is grammatically correct, but it is also lazy writing. Instead, let’s consider “He sprinted to the store.” This is a much tighter sentence, don’t you think? If you are running, you are supposedly running quickly, so “sprinted” eliminates a useless word, which is always a good thing in writing.
Or let’s consider this example. “’Why don’t you come over here and stand by me?’ she asked flirtatiously.” Oh, the horrors of this sentence. How about we change that to “’Why don’t you come over here and stand by me?’ she asked, batting her eyelashes.” This may not be the greatest sentence ever written, but it is far better than the first attempt. Visual clues show a reader what is happening; adverbs tell the reader what is happening. Big difference. As writers we should always seek to show rather than tell.
“It’s a hot day” is fine by itself. Writing “it’s a very hot day” does nothing to add to the narrative. And then you can always go the extra mile – “It’s hotter than Hades,” or “You could fry eggs on the sidewalk that day.”
Having said all that, I fall into the same trap, so you are not alone. It’s something to be aware of, and it is something to try to improve upon, but don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally trip over an adverb or two. It means you are human after all.
Nothing Else Today
We can only do what we can only do. Three questions, three responses, and my work is done for this Mailbag. Thanks to those who tossed out questions. If you have something on your mind for the Mailbag, drop your question in the comment section below, or email the question to me at email@example.com and I’ll include it in the next Mailbag.
Thanks for dropping by.
Yes, change happens, and sometimes change does not happen as quickly as we would like. That’s just the real of it in any society. We march for change, we shout for change, we fight for change, and at the end of the day, if we’ve moved that mountain just a smidgeon, we will have experienced a worthwhile day.
Go in peace, all of you, and remember to do all things with love.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”