October 17th, 2007


Lecture at Museum of Science Tonight: Superstition, Science, and Sherlock Holmes

I just found out about this lecture taking place at the Museum of Science in Boston tonight, and it occurs to me that other people might be interested in attending. Clicking below will take you to the Museum's own page abou the lecture.

Superstition, Science, and Sherlock Holmes
Lecture with E.J. Wagner, crime historian and author. This presentation is part of the ongoing series Crimes, History and Mystery.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Sherlock Holmes may be a fictional character, but he had a very real influence on the development of criminalistics during the Victorian Era. E. J. Wagner is the author of the Edgar®-award-winning book The Science of Sherlock Holmes, which describes the real forensic science behind the legendary sleuth. Drawing on examples of landmark 19th century cases, E. J. Wagner explores how during the gaslight era, the scientific investigation of crime evolved from myth and magical beliefs with more than a little help from Mr. Holmes. Book signing to follow.

Free seating tickets are available to the general public in the Museum lobby beginning at 5:45 p.m. on the evening of each lecture. Seating is limited, first come, first served.

Robert's Rules of Writing #71: Mix It Up

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Although rule #71 might seem to apply to party activities or vacation plans, those are only analogies for what Robert Masello is really talking about: prose. In his accompanying essay, Masello warns writers of the dangers of allowing your writing to take on a repetitive rhythm, and suggests varying both sentence structure and events to keep the prose fresh and exciting. (Or at least that's how I interpret it.)

Sentence structure and rhythm are actually two of those important issues that often get short shrift in books on writing, so it's not a bad idea to discuss them a little more. When I first started out, the idea of varying sentence structure confused me. Although I felt that my underlying story ideas might be exciting, I worried that my sentences were lackluster and pedestrian. I thought my writing style was too simplistic, and I strained to add luster and sparkle to my prose.

I mainly approached this problem by two methods. I tried to improve my vocabulary and I eschewed any form of the verb "to be" that I could. But I soon realized that I could go further if I analyzed my writing "sentence by bloody sentence" (as a friend of mine from the Clarion Workshop once put it). The easiest way to do that was to read my sentences aloud and experience how they felt against the ear, as opposed to the eye.

Let me tell you, it makes a big difference.

In his book on writing, Worlds of Wonder, David Gerrold mentions the concept of "metric prose," which he learned from Theodore Sturgeon. Part of what made Sturgeon a masterful writer was his ability to play with sentence structure, in a way that lured the reader to plow forward through a story. He advised Gerrold to apply the metrics of poetry to his writing, and Gerrold found that to be useful advice. It's actually one of the simplest ways to vary your sentence structure and to mix things up.

For example, if you want the reader to march forward, recast your sentences in iambs (which, for those of you who don't recall, is a two-syllable foot of one unstressed beat followed by a stressed beat). If you want the reader to stop short, consider a one-sentence paragraph for effect. If you want the reader to get lost in a sea of stream of consciousness, work against any sort of consistent rhythm or pattern, and make the paragraphs as long as possible.

It is said that variety is the spice of life. It's also the spice of prose.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

Article: Ghosts in the Machine

For those of you interested in fantasy and horror, MSN Tech & Gadgets is running an interesting article, Ghosts in the Machine, about websites devoted to ghosts, vampires, zombies, and other such things. It's a weird web out there, folks. The article includes lots of fascinating links, including one to the Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds that terrified America back in October 1938.

Go read.