I’m going to write this entry in a markedly different style to demonstrate a point. I’m normally pernickety about starting a new paragraph every two to three sentences, or perhaps only one sentence to emphasise particularly pertinent information. A surprising number of people don’t leave enough paragraph breaks, or don’t leave any, which makes the text harder to read. If you analyse a newspaper or a novel, you’ll invariably find the first sentence of each paragraph indented by a few millimetres. This tiny gap indicates that the narrative is moving on and allows the eye to rest briefly. There are occasional exceptions, like the Will Self novel Shark, deliberately shunning paragraphs in favour of a single sentence that spans the whole narrative. The Look Inside feature on Amazon shows how the publisher prudently compensates for this by using wider line spacing. In the early days of the CD-ROM and the Web, it was quickly discovered that longer articles aren’t so easy to read on a PC, and not just because of screen brightness. The main difference is that it’s possible to turn your head or eyes quickly to see a whole double newspaper spread, giving a solid frame of reference, but a computer screen can typically only show part of the text at any given time without some input by the user. As such, additional eye rests are necessary, and professional websites will generally leave at least one line between paragraphs, often with additional negative space at the sides. A big shout-out must go to WordPress for its readability. Composing an entry is done in blocks, typically containing one paragraph or illustration, and as such, it encourages spacing. The publishing layout is also widely customisable – something that social media sites could learn from – so you can fill as much or as little of the screen as you need. If you’re a writer of any sort, one action that makes your work look instantly more professional is to leave paragraph spaces. It doesn’t have to be every two or three sentences like me; indeed, Virginia Woolf was known to use page-long paragraphs. Your reader’s eyes, however, will thank you for the occasional rest.
I’d never been a fan of diagnosing fictional characters with mental illnesses until I started on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Septimus seems to have some combination of what we would now call schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and autism. As this was 1925, before treatments became available, his doctor merely recommends rest as remedy.
I mentioned this to a friend who also writes, and she told me that OCD runs in her family. Having thought about the stories I’ve written, I’ve realised I’ve created characters who probably have this particular condition.
For instance, one of my published pieces, Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, focuses on a man who is obsessed with acronyms. Every day, he scours the newspapers looking for acronyms. When he discovers one that he considers incorrect, he writes to the person or company concerned. Another features a woman who carries out set tasks at set times every week, and can’t cope with any change to it. Even the example piece I knocked up on 1 September to demonstrate editing techniques concerns a man who needs to repeat an action over and over again.
Tonight, I’m heading to an event in town where Life Sciences students from Dundee University will be performing factual and fictional pieces based on their studies. Their work has been edited and guided by students on the MLitt course.
My student is Greek, although she has an excellent grasp of English. Once we’d worked out the story structure, I only needed to change some of the grammar, particularly the tenses. I’ve realised that tenses in English are not always straightforward. For instance, If I was is sometimes correct, while If I were is sometimes required.
If I were able to, I’d tell you in this entry how it went, but I’ll come back to it next week.
I’ve discovered more notebooks, including some early drafts from my second novel, and a review of Tron: Legacy for my old LiveJournal blog. Once again, I’ve never reached the last pages of these pads. I find this rather strange, as I’m not the sort of person to leave a job half-finished. Once, I would have preserved them as they were, but I’ll use the other pages in the future if I need to.
My pencils are a different story. I have dozens of them around the house, and I don’t like to waste them. In fact, here are my two smallest ones joined by a rubber grip. I’ll use them until I physically can’t hold them any more:
I’ve also discovered from Mental Floss that every new prime minister leaves a handwritten letter about what to do in the event of a nuclear conflict if both he and his assigned second-in-command are dead. It seems a little strange that such a format is still used. If I was PM, I’d make sure I spelled it out in 16-point Helvetica so the commanders aren’t standing around asking, “Does that say, ‘load weapons,’ or, ‘lower weapons?'”
More poignantly, ListVerse posted a collection of last words written by people facing certain death. Not all of them had the luxury of pen and paper, including the prisoner of war who scratched out a memorial on a rock, and a diver who wrote his on a slate.
Lastly, I’d like to show you the paper books I plan to read throughout the rest of the year, including modern writers such as John Twelve Hawks and Richard Dawkins, a selection of Penguin Classics, and a number of local anthologies: