April 29th, 2006

bear by san

someone has drained the color from my wings.

edited to boldface my topic sentence, because I am not talking about whether or not Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarized, and considering the number of people rushing to reassure me that she did, I don't think that that is a plain as it should be:

Now, I'm not an expert. And I haven't read the works in question, just the wank over it, so don't ask me for specifics.

But I am a writer. And I'm a little uncomfortable with the standards that seem to be being applied in the saga of alleged plagiarism in How Opal Mehta Got Her Groove Back. Which is also pursuant to the recent Dan Brown flap.

Here are some things that plagiarism isn't, in terms of writing fiction. (What it is in terms of nonfiction is very different. In that case, the idea and research are considered to be the object of value. In the case of fiction, the presentation and execution are presumed to be the object of value. Sometimes, with a certain generosity on the part of the one doing the presuming.)

Plagiarism is not copying a single sentence from another book-length work, or even a short story, or work of poetry, even completely unattributed. If it is, then I am in serious trouble, and so is half my reading list. There is a technical term for this. We call it an allusion.

It is only one kind of allusion. There are others.

(Blood and Iron alone would put me in the ground, if this was so. There are at least two sentences, I think, lifted entire from Zelazny. One is "His kind is the reason why there are no wolves in Ireland." Nevermind Hammered, which references everything from The Three Investigators and "Casey at the Bat" to Henry Reed.)

Plagiarism is not borrowing a scene structure, a literary technique, a thematic or plot outline, or a character from another work of art. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Les Miserables) is not plagiarism. Neither is West Side Story.

Plagiarism is not lifting ideas for fiction from nonfiction books or other works of fiction. Otherwise we'd be whipping Shakespeare around the tree for his abuse of Holinshead. And pameladean would be hiding her head in shame after a massive recall of Tam Lin.

Plagiarism is not riffing off another work of art. Nor is it shouting "I refute thee!"

That is conversation.

Here is what plagiarism is:

In the case of fiction:

"Copying someone else's work and then passing it off as one's own." (Morehead State University)

In the case of nonfiction:

"the act of appropriating the literary composition of another author, or excerpts, ideas, or passages therefrom, and passing the material off as one's own creation." (University of Colorado at Boulder.)

Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?
bear by san

With one fist raised in anger, with one foot in the fire:

Poll #719439 (en)fouled

Is "enfouled" (i.e., "the diver became enfouled in the netting") a Real Word, or a horrible chimera created by tacking syllables onto the front of the front of the perfectly good extant word "fouled" by analogy to "enfolded," without changing the meaning?

the diver became fouled in the netting!
the diver became enfouled in the netting!
the diver should have carried his sheath knife, and he wouldn't be having this problem.

Please indicate your nationality and regional dialect in comments, in addition to any dictionary cites you feel moved to provide.

(I know medievalist has an itchy OED finger)
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bear by san

It's a very strange matter, fair maid, said he--

I cannot blow my horn but you call to me.

suzilem caught me, so I'm confessing what I was up to. For those who responded to the "(en)fouled" poll, does it change your mind if I tell you that Thomas Chatterton used the word in the late 1700s, while forging the supposed poetry of an allegedly medieval monk?

Al blessynges maie the seynctes unto yee gyve!
Al pleasaunce maie youre longe-straughte livynges bee!
AElla, whanne knowynge thatte bie you I lyve,
Wylle thyncke too smalle a guyfte the londe & sea.
O Celmonde! I maie deftlie rede bie thee,
Whatte ille betydethe the enfouled kynde;
Maie ne thie cross-stone of thie cryme bewree!
Maie alle menne ken thie valoure, fewe thie mynde!
Soldyer! for syke thou arte ynn noble fraie,
I wylle thie goinges 'tende, & doe thou lede the waie.

And I don't have an online cite, but AFAIR (and medievalist mentions one too), enfouled turns up in the 11th or 12th century with regard to hunting with nets.

*g* Robert Hasenfratz, from whom I took my first History of the English Language course, and who taught me both Anglo-Saxon and more about how language really works than any one else I have ever met, used a trick very much like this one to illustrate a point he was making. Which is that English is not what you find in the grammar books or the dictionaries; it is the language as she is spoke, a living and breathing entity. And that "proper" English is a construct of the 18th and 19th centuries, a classist trick in which the upper echelon of society declared its own dialect "correct," imported a bunch of silly rules from Latin, and told everybody else they were doing it wrong.

So, from a linguistic point of view, split infinitives and the double negative as an intensifier are perfectly proper English.

This is a useful realization for the writer. Language is not a holy of holies. Well, no, I take that back. It is a holy of holies. But it is also a tool, and there is no reason that something can't be both at once.

But. It's a really handy thing to know when you are trying to learn how to surf the language. Which is one of the things that fiction is about.

Alas, this argument will not hold much water with your tenth grade grammar teacher. And one does, in the end of things, have to navigate consensus reality, which is kinder when one can moderate one's idiolect to suit the expectations of the listener. In other words, it's handy to be able to sound like an educated person for certain kinds of job interview. So this is the sort of practical knowledge that has to be managed, lest one fall afoul, so to speak, of the "would you rather be happy or would you rather be right?" rule.

But. This is important. One of the tools of effective writing is effective rhetoric, and one of the tools of effective rhetoric is managing connotation in addition to denotation. And connotation has layers. One of those layers has to do with being aware of other words evoked by the sound of the word one is using. (There's a scene in The Stratford Man in which I intentionally went through and worked in every single common English word I could manage that descended from the Latin raptus, without being silly about it. Rapt, rape, rapture, raptor...)

This stuff works subliminally. But it does work. It's important, and it informs quite heavily the sort of choices Samuel Clemens is talking about when he compares the right word to the almost-right word, as lightning to the lightning-bug.

In the comments to that last post, a number of people said they'd go with a more common word, such as entangled. A number of people (cleverly) pointed out that "fouled" is common nautical usage. What nobody mentioned is the resonances that "fouled" has. One, that it suggests foulness, with all those implications. Also, the extra syllable in "enfouled" passed unmentioned, and of course that unstressed syllable could be incredibly important for the prosody of a sentence, and how it fits into a paragraph, and how it reads.

(for those who suggested befouled: to me, (and according to my dictionary, which I have of course just extensively disproved the utility of) that word does not include the sense of "being entangled" and has rather a denotation of being "made dirty or foul." Rather than the suggestion of being fouled implied by "fouled" or "enfouled.") 

This is why I don't write as fast as I used to, by the way. Or one of the reasons. Because I am always bloody thinking about this stuff.

By the way, the example sentence doesn't exist in my WiP; it was just the thing I scribbled down in the poll box because I needed an example. So you'll have to wait to rewrite my actual prose until it's in print.
bear by san

a rebel from the waist down

This song is for stillsostrange, and anybody else who is writing a sad story about a mining town. I imagine they'd prefer if you downloaded rather than streaming it, though it doesn't say so on their website.

Will somebody please explain to my writerbrain that I am writing a genre thriller here, one half planetary romance and one-half caper novel, and not only does it not need to be the First Great Novel of the Twenty-First Century, but this is a first draft, and that spending half an hour fussing over each sentence and worrying about making the prose, plot, characterization, absolutely taut and shiny and perfect is somewhat counterproductive?

Christ, Bear. I realize that you want to write really, really good books. And you do know a fair amount about writing, now. But you do not have to use every ounce of it now.

I'm trying to get myself into the habit of using the comment function to leave myself a note to go back and fix something (frex, when I notice myself sticking a second-order cliche into a sentence and can't immediately come up with something better, or when some minor point of motivation eludes me) rather than staring at it for half an hour while wishing I smoked cigarettes.

The problem also arises when I find myself going this is all internalization and it sucks, where's the action, where's the momentum, Bear? Because somehow my brain has gotten hung up on show don't tell--in excess, judging by how much exposition and internalization my editors made me go back and put into both Carnival and Whiskey and Water.

(No, I'm not looking for advice on how to handle this, thanks; I know exactly what I'm doing and why. It's just a problem of making myself not do it, because I've written two books in this state and it gets old. I've become, in other words, like the centipede who has to think about how it walks. So I find myself saying things like "I suppose this massive chunk of internalization would be less noticeable if I grounded it in some worldbuilding." And it gets tiring thinking so damned much alla time.)

I've also come to the painful conclusion that I will have to go back and put characters in this book when it's done, rather than the caricatures I have in here now.

This is conscious competence. Do you suppose it ever ends?

Today's problem: figuring out what !Karen Silkwood learned that got her killed.

Progress notes for 29 April 2006:


New Words: 2064 (I remember when this was an average day, rather than a really, really good one.)
Total Words: 18,352 (I could hit 20K and 100 pages tomorrow if I was butch.)
Pages: 89
Deadline: August 1
Reason for stopping: wrist hurts, also, I want to watch Doctor Who.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
18,359 / 100,000

Stimulants: seltzer, Blue Lady tea
Exercise: none. Maybe Gothercise later.
Mail: a short story anthology sale that I think I'm not allowed to talk about yet.
Today's words Word don't know:  spiderweb, landward
Words I'm surprised Word do know: n/a
Mean Things: Andre is stuck in a skiff and a hail storm is coming.
Tyop du jour: what little breeze there was brew the voices across the water, just beneath the oft brown water
Darling du jour: The wind died as he passed through the next belt of reed, and now he smelled the storm.
Books in progress: Wendy Moore, The Knife Man;
Interesting tidbit of the day: via riba_rambles, An Uncompromising Vision of Snack Time 

sartorias wants your opinions on fictional matrimony

Other writing-related work: n/a
bear by san

with the wainscot our horizon and the ceiling as the sky / you'd not expect that anyone would go and


Oh, and from the any work but the work we should be doing file, various people have started handing me scenes and bits of dialogue from Patience and Fortitude. Because, you know, a book that I don't have to hand in until 2009 or so, assuming the Promethean Age does well enough that anybody wants to buy it, is exactly what I need taking up valuable cranial space while I'm trying to write an effing SF novel.