August 28, 2012

Fiction Q&A: Including character names in dialog

Q: I’ve been told not to use names in dialog, except in rare cases. If that’s the case, would the line “I’m speaking to you, Judy” be incorrect?

A: Calling such inclusions “incorrect” overstates the case. An occasional inclusion of another character’s name is entirely appropriate.

What the person who gave this advice is trying to point out is that when real people really converse, they rarely use one another’s names. So we need to be aware whether characters are doing so too often. One symptom frequently found in the manuscripts of newbies is dialog like this:

“Ismene, mine own dear sister,” Antigone said, “what new edict is this of which they tell, that our Captain hath just published to all Thebes? Knowest thou aught? Hast thou heard? Or is it hidden from thee that our friends are threatened with the doom of our foes?”

Ismene answered, “No word of friends, Antigone, gladsome or painful, hath come to me, since we two sisters were bereft of brothers twain, killed in one day by twofold blow.”

“I knew it well, Ismene,” Antigone said, “and therefore sought to bring thee beyond the gates of the court, that thou mightest hear alone.”

Ismene leaned closer. “What is it, Antigone? 'Tis plain that thou art brooding on some dark tidings.”

“Ismene, hath not Creon destined our brothers, the one to honoured burial, the other to unburied shame?” Antigone replied.

Now if you look at the original text, you’ll see that Sophocles is not quite that ham-fisted. Only the first two lines contain the interlocutors’ names. The rest proceed without them. You need them once to show who’s talking, but after that, as there are only two people in the scene, you don't really need any more reminders. Although if it’s a long scene, another once in a while can help -- and can even reduce the need for dialog tags.

Moreover, sometimes such insertions are needed to help the reader keep track of who’s speaking to whom. If three women are working in a kitchen, and Judy is closest to the sink, a line of dialog like “Judy, would you hand me a dish towel?” is ideal.

Dialog needs to be realistic. But that's different from being real.

August 21, 2012

Intriguing but risky investment guide

Ashes To Riches: How To Profit Spectacularly During The Economic Collapse of 2012 to 2022 by John F. Carlucci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a book for those who like to play things safe. Carlucci seems to have developed some pretty solid analytics. I disagree with him about stopping all trading when the market is down. I prefer Warren Buffet's advice to buy when the market is down. But honestly, I'm a buy-and-hold, dollar-cost averaging kind of girl, so Carlucci's market-timing strategies are a little too far outside my comfort zone.

Nevertheless, I admire the chutzpah of anyone with the nerve to follow through on this advice. His description of end-of-day trading is thought-provoking -- and explains that bounce we so often see in the charts after 3:30 p.m. You can tell the traders get active then. I didn't realize just how much thought went into those trades.

I read this book mainly for its perspective on how the economy is likely to perform over the next decade, and Carlucci offers some good insights there. Lots to think about, and some advice on commodities trading that might be worth pursuing if you have a high tolerance for risk.

Disclosure: I downloaded this book when it was offered for free on Kindle.

August 15, 2012

Discovering treasures on my own bookshelf

Photo by Kristen Stieffel
Like most bibliophiles, I own more books than I can keep track of. I came across one recently that turned out to be such a gem, I thought I'd share.

You may have seen an earlier post here about the wonderful old books we cleared out of the library when we had to close our old church. The members of the Christian Education Committee, myself included, got dibs. I remember one of the other teachers sidling up to me and saying, "Do I have to arm-wrestle you for the Interpreter's Bible?" As it was twelve volumes, I said he could have it, if I could have the five-volume Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Deal.

Once the committee members had their pick, the congregation was allowed to take home anything they liked from what remained. Once they were done, we returned, faced with the nearly impossible task of sorting the remainders into two categories: those another church might want, and those to be put in the dumpster. There were way too many in the second group for any bibliophile's stomach to take.

I admit, I cheated. Many of those books fell in a no-man's land. Too old to be desired by another church's librarian, but to precious to throw out. By the end of the afternoon, I was checking the inside cover of each book for the words "Donated by R.L. Hall." I figure any book that came from the library of the founding pastor was worth keeping. So I started a third box, under the category of "books I have to keep because they once belonged to Pastor Hall."

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but he didn't keep them, right? So they couldn't have been that good, if he wanted to get rid of them." Nope. Pastor Hall died in 1962, and his family donated the books to the church.

While preparing a Sunday school lesson on the second commandment, I perused my shelves for commentaries. One of them, Smoke on the Mountain, was one of those I inherited from Pastor Hall. When I had brought it home, I didn't take much notice of it, beyond noting its topic (so I could shelve it in the right place) and its rather worn and foxed state.

Photo by Kristen Stieffel
But this week, when I took it out, I noticed that it's dedicated to C.S. Lewis. Well, I suppose a lot of books are, but I looked to see how the author knew him. The author turned out to be Joy Davidman. Also known as Joy Gresham. Also known as Mrs. Lewis.

Are you kidding me? I didn't even realize she wrote, let alone that I had a book of hers in my collection. I'm an idiot, clearly.

She wrote the book in 1953-54; it was published in the U.S. in 1954 and in the U.K. in 1955. The British version apparently has a preface by Lewis that's not in my edition. (She married Lewis in 1956). It's a brilliant little book. For example, she warns against putting our focus on the physical trappings of the worship space:
I have fallen into the last and subtlest trap; I bow down to wood and stone, in the shape of a church building…I have forgotten that the church itself is not God.…And yet, if the church is anything except a means to the knowledge of God, the church is nothing but a bore. (Perhaps that's why it so often is a bore.)
I still have several more of Pastor Hall's books sitting unread on my shelves. I look forward to discovering what other treasures they hold.