Rise of the robot writers? by Janine Donoho

Robot meets worldFor the last decade and more, makers of software have tried to lure writers into their electronic grasp. Their products fall far beyond our word processing needs. These programs claim to “unleash your creativity” with “programs to help you plan, structure and write your novel or…”

Your opus in an app or download. A quick search of “writing software” turns up 491,000,000 results—some free, but most? Not so much.

Since a law professor at my most recent alma mater raised a hue and cry for a “Department of Robotics”, I started thinking anew about how this tech has insinuated itself into so many areas of life. Vet robotic surgery, driverless vehicles, and algorithms fall into this general category. As do the aforementioned writing software/apps. Not quite Skynet—yet.

I, RobotDoes the trend explain the ongoing schlock issuing from the bastions of literacy in New York? And what of that oozing from Hollywood? Full disclosure: Intrepid Guy’s mancave hosts its share on our monstrously outsized screen. His love of all things tech issues from his ability to make inorganic electrons flow as he chooses.

Still… What elements imbue your favorite reads? Mine surprise me with reversals, hold characters that remain with me after I finish the story, and elicit true emotion. Yes, the opposite of the churning mill of boom, splat, boom that dominates blockbusters and movie screens. At risk of sounding cranky, I’m biased toward indie publishers, indie films, and indie bookstores.

Yet robotics has taken over the work of lower level accounting, law offices, assembly lines, and supposedly high level trading via algorithms. The results? Mixed. Hello, multiple stock market crashes.

Robotics is moving up our food chain, thus my question. Do algorithms trump the creative spark that makes us writers? Does the “boy meets girl by page 3”, “sexual sparks occur in chapter 3”, and so forth lend itself to this? And will we who write—and who begin that path as voracious readers—be satisfied with the results?Scary robot

That (@*#^ Edit Cycle by Janine M. Donoho

A few editing books that help

A few editing books that help

Let’s start with a confession–of sorts. My greatest joy in writing comes with the hot, fast gallop of first drafts. By then the story’s bones and sinews have developed enough so that each session equates with a joyous fleshing out of details. During this phase I can’t wait to leap from bed each morning–and hit the pillow enthralled by story each night.

Then looms the dragging, nagging edit. Some otherworldly creatures find this stage fun; I find it excruciating.

This is different than the macro-edit housekeeping accomplished while writing draft. Reviews of previous day’s work cover structure, plot, tone, pace, etc. I almost wrote ‘theme’, but that’s not always clear in the early stages. Along the way, I deepen conflict and sharpen reversals.

Worse yet, my après draft edits rarely clear the high jumps, much less the double ‘oxers‘, although I do fine over ditches and logs. What’s missing? Well, the heart pounding excitement’s gone, baby, gone. Only a plodding satisfaction remains. Which should be enough, right?

Self talk: “This isn’t my first rodeo. I’m disciplined and well-read. Both sides of my brain receive high quality nourishment and play well together. I can do this.”

Beyond the analysis of editing books, then applying what I learn, I’ve tried other ballyhooed remedies to make this work. The manuscript, hereinafter known as ‘mss’, rests like a freshly broasted chicken while I work on other projects. I do yoga–breathe–meditate–breathe–take long hikes–breathe. Then I go through the mss and ruthlessly scribble editing and proofreading marks learned in the aforementioned tomes. At that point I return to my computer and make these changes.

Then it’s time to surrender fully to the left brain for reviewing content, consistency in style, clarity and flow. I crawl ant-like over scenes for grammar, word usage and accuracy. Finally I read it aloud–or try. After a few pages, I realize I’ve gone silent again–and again–and again.

Cactus prickly pearBy this time I find nothing to like about my story and would rather walk barefoot in a prickly pear patch than read through it once more. My aversion signals the next stage. The mss goes to one or two first readers–published authors with whom I trade this boon.

They always find misspellings and points of unintended confusion. Yes, actual gnashing of teeth and clenched jaws transpire. How did I miss these obvious errors?

So I put on my big girl panties and fix them. The story’s deemed the best that it can be. It’s released into the world.

Then I swear, a few days, weeks or months later? A misspelling here, verb confusion there, dropped words, a formatting error that slipped beneath the motion-activated fence. Dissatisfaction plagues me. For what good is editing if it fails to make your story the best that it can be?

So next time I complete a new project, I’m considering a professional editor–one worthy of manna, dark chocolate, and ambrosia drenched in morning dew from hummingbird wings. Oh, and one who won’t break my fragile piggy-bank.Editing

On Relevance – Part II by Janine M. Donoho

The view from our balcony in Leavenworth.
I had the opportunity to attend Write on the River in Wenatchee this May. Actually, my friend and critique partner Anjali Banerjee was a speaker, so we made it a girlfriend weekend of three that included best buddy and fellow writer Kate Breslin. Since Kate ended up coming a day late due to her spousal unit’s truly wretched bout of gastroenteritis, on Friday before the conference I assisted Anjali as she visited two schools. Incredible writer and presenter both, she gave four different and delightfully relatable programs for various elementary school grades. Introducing her, then juggling props, especially wrapping and unwrapping children in a stunning sari that belonged to her mother, I got a good taste of the peripheral nature of a sidekick. Yes, ‘relatable’ and ‘peripheral nature’ both refer to relevance.
 
Then on Sunday, opportunity again shone when Larry Brooks, who writes critically acclaimed thrillers, spoke passionately about The Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling. This offered another view of storytelling as espoused by Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey” and more recently by Donald Maass’ “Writing the Breakout Novel”. However, Larry’s approach, soon to be followed by his book on the subject, clarified the process even further. One of the samples he gave for dissection was the movie Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Fox. Dutiful student of the craft that I am, the movie arrived via NetFlix the following week. It delivered on all of Larry’s elements.
 
However, the shocker of the day arrived as an aside. Larry claimed that actual writing, that sublime weaving of words, comes in dead last when weighed against concept, theme, character, structure, scene execution and writing voice. Last.


Leavenworth goat–apropos of this writer’s journey.
As a writer enthralled with both the import and nuance of words, this served as a body blow. All the books on my shelves, also known as ‘keepers’, are well written. However, Larry’s notion does explain many of the big brands in publishing, some of whom no longer write their own novels. So to be relevant to publishers, the six core competencies are paramount, while beauty and specificity of your words rank much lower. Ouch.
 

Which means I need to review my stories for those competencies–again. Maybe you’ll want to do the same. Perhaps publishers will overlook that they’re also delivered with well-written language. We want to be relevant after all.

Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
The big day is here.

Newsletter signup

Join in and receive a FREE short story as my gift to you. Exclusive promos, book deals and contests available only to subscribers.

%d bloggers like this: