Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Saturday, June 17

The Mummy (2017): A Review: Two Thumbs Up (Kinda)

The Mummy (2017): A Review: Two Thumbs Up (Kinda)

The Mummy is cinematic cotton candy, sweetness and fluff that tastes good in the moment but doesn’t satisfy. That said, it’s only in comparison with the 1999 version that the movie falls flat. It's not a GREAT action movie—for that I'd recommend Edge of Tomorrow—but it was entertaining. Overall, I give The Mummy thumbs up.


It’s going to date me, but I saw the 1999 version of The Mummy in the theater and, ever since, it has been my high water mark for all monster movies.

The way I think of it, the 1999 version is primarily a love story and, only secondly, a horror story. That's my opinion! The writers (Stephen Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre) created two great stories—the main arc and the relationship arc—and seamlessly wove them together. In 2017 we have two stories but the relationship arc isn’t as robust. It’s more a story about power and what some will do to keep it than it is about love and the cost of forbidden love.

In a way, the 2017 version was about love twisted into lust for power. But that’s a very different thing.

** Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet and you want to, don’t read any further! **

One of the ultimate expressions of one person’s love for another is to sacrifice their life. Lust for power leads to the opposite behavior and we consume even those we care most about. And, yes, there was some of that in the new movie. At the end Nick Morton kills himself and in so doing partially transforms into the god Set, becoming a monster.  He does this because it’s the only way to bring the woman he loves back to life. He would rather transform into a monster than live in a world in which his love does not exist.

Personally, I found this act unmotivated. To turn yourself into a monster—a fate worse than death—so that you can bring someone back to life, you REALLY have to care about that other person! I didn’t feel the groundwork had been laid for this.

I thought Nick’s sacrifice was implausible

It is unclear why Nick has this kind of epic love for Jenny Halsey. Sure, he likes her. We’re told they had a great night together, but at the end of this epic night Nick steals a treasure map from Jenny thereby endangering her career. But that’s okay. That’s just the beginning of the story.

Later on Nick saves Jenny’s life at the cost of his own BUT Nick tells us, later, that he didn’t think he would die. But whatever. Let’s ignore that. Let’s accept that Nick loves Jenny. Still. I may be jaded, but just because one person loves another doesn’t mean they would condemn themselves to a fate worse than death to save the other’s life.

Show don’t tell

In the 1999 version of The Mummy there’s a scene which shows the viewer how much these two love each other. Rick and Evelyn have just survived a skirmish with Ardeth Bay and his minions. Rick takes Evelyn in his arms, concerned, looking at her wounds. Later on, as Rick teaches Evelyn to fight, they finish off a bottle of liquor. Evelyn is drunk and very charming.

Rick: Unlike your brother, I just don’t get you.
Evelyn: I know, you’re wondering, ‘What is a place like me doing in a girl like this?’
Rick (grinning): Yeah, something like that.

They chat some more then Evelyn says, “I may not be an adventurer, but I am proud of what I am.” Rick asks, “And what is that?” Eveln replies, “I am a LIBRARIAN,” and then (she really is very drunk) kneels in front of Rick and says, “I am going to kiss you Mr. O'Connell.”

Rick: Call me Rick.
Evelyn (smiling drunkenly): Rick.

Evelyn passes out, Rick catches her, and then kisses the air where he lips had been.

I’m not doing justice to the scene. It’s very sweet. The emotion comes across in the acting.

In any case, after that scene you know Evelyn and Rick are in love, you know they would do anything for each other. There was no scene (or series of scenes) in the 2017 version that convinced me that Nick and Jenny were in love. They liked each other, sure. Maybe they even loved each other. And, yes, they would save the other’s life if they could, but accept a fate worse than death? I’m not convinced!

The Curse of the Unexceptional

Arguably, the number one rule of storytelling is that for your audience to care what happens in your tale you need to create characters that are EXCEPTIONAL, exaggerated, memorable. Even Murdoch (Murdoch Mysteries) whose primary characteristic is that he’s exceedingly ordinary is SO ordinary that he becomes extraordinary.

Although as a supernatural creature Ahmanet had many exceptional qualities, her backstory was surprisingly ordinary. Yes she was evil, but it was the kind of evil we’re all too familiar with. She was ambitious. Very ambitious. When it became clear that the only way for her to become Pharaoh was to turn darkside and make a pact with Set, a pact that involved killing her father and infant half-brother, she didn’t bat an eye. So, yes, she’s evil but a lot of people are evil. I don’t say that lightly. It’s hideous. But, tragically, people kill their family and for much less than to become ruler of a kingdom.

In the 1999 version of The Mummy the High Priest Imhotep (the Mummy) didn’t choose a fate worse than death. He chose to RISK a fate worse than death in order to bring his beloved back from the dead. Which is believable given that her death was partly his fault!

And, yes, I do see the parallelism: At the beginning of the story Ahmanet chooses to become a monster because of avarice while Nick chooses to become a monster at the end of the story because of love. That's a nice touch, but, still, my feeling is that love wasn't a big theme of the movie and it suffered because of that.

What went wrong?

If I could sum it up I would say that the 2017 version of the movie lacked key moments, memorable scenes. Yes it had a few (I’ll talk about one, below) but not enough.

My guess is that a few great, key, moments were left on the cutting room floor, but it takes more than that to account for the difference between the two versions.

As I've been saying, I believe one of the fundamental differences between the two movies, the two stories, is one of focus. In 2017 the theme was life versus death/evil where in 1999 it was love versus death/evil. That’s a significant difference.

To illustrate my point let’s take a look at the very beginning of the movie, at the trailer. Granted, this is just one moment but it is a series of these moments strung together that make a movie memorable.

The beginning of the 1999 version of The Mummy

The 1999 version was a hopeful, thrilling, terrifying, story about naivety, love and adventure.  It was about how love—even the High Priest’s forbidden love for the Pharaoh’s mistress—triumphed over death. It wasn’t that Imhotep was intrinsically evil, he just loved the wrong person.

In 2017 people are evil if they ... well, it’s not clear. And, really, that’s the fundamental problem with the movie. There’s a fuzziness about it that saps it of strength, of interest.

First, we don’t have the terrific scene that details some of the more gruesome aspects of the curse (the Hom Dai).

Recall that in the 1999 version we see the knives used to perform the rite laid out on the stone, we see Imhotep struggling, held by his captors. We see Imhotep's tongue pulled out of his mouth, we see the knife coming closer and closer. Imhotep’s eyes are wide and fixed on the blade as it descends.

JUST before the gruesome deed is done one of his captors steps in front of the camera but we hear Imhotep’s scream.

The next scene shows Imhotep being wrapped in strips of linen, his mouth sealed and his eyes closed. Then his struggling form is forced inside a sarcophagus.

But his tormentors are only getting started. They then pour insects—beetles—over him. We hear his muffled screams as the beetles race over his form, eating him alive.

Then the lid fastened and the sarcophagus is sealed with a special lock.

In a voice-over we’re told that the Mummy must remain sealed inside the sarcophagus, undead, and that if he ever gets out he will “arise a walking disease, a plague upon mankind, an unholy flesh eater with the strength of ages, power over the sand and the glory of invincibility!”

What can I say? It’s awesome!!

As we’re told this we watch the Mummy’s sarcophagus being buried beneath the sad. Then the camera pans up and we see the enormous statue of Set that is his tomb marker.

It was VERY dramatic! At that point I KNEW I would love the movie.

The beginning of the 2017 version of The Mummy

In the beginning of the 2017 version of The Mummy there’s no story of forbidden love, instead we get elderly knights chanting. Granted, their clothing suggests something Arthurian (at least, it did to me), which was interesting. We see a knight’s body being interred. His lifeless hands cradle a beautiful ruby that seems to burst into fire when the light catches it, almost as if it is alive.

The next scene shows the burial chamber being broken open by an enormous drilling machine.

Soon folks in hardhats and aggressively orange vests swarm over the site. These folks are then politely shooed away by Dr. Jeckell and his minions. Here’s the voice-over; it’s told from Dr. Jeckel’s perspective:

“The past cannot remain buried forever. In my lifetime I have unearthed many ancient mysteries. At last, this too reveals antiquities’ darkest secret. A secret erased from history and forgotten to time: Princess Ahmanet—beautiful, cunning, and ruthless.”

As Dr. Jeckell speaks we see the princess spar with a man as her father, the Pharaoh, looks on approvingly.

“Sole heir to the throne of Egypt, the pharaoh’s kingdom would one day be hers to rule without mercy or fear and she would be worshiped as a living god.”

My opinion: They missed an opportunity. They’re TELLING us the princess is cunning and ruthless, but all they’ve SHOWN us is her sparring with someone. Perhaps if she’d killed her sparring partner, or perhaps if instead of sparring with someone if she’d tortured them for information and then broken her word to the unfortunate sap and killed him anyway ... well, that would have been pretty ruthless! As it is, we’ll have to take Dr. Jeckell’s word for it.

Back to the voice-over:

“The pharaoh had a son, the boy, now, would inherit her destiny and Ahmanet understood that power was not given, it had to be taken. Now in revenge, she made a choice to embrace evil. Set, the god of death, they made a pact. A pact that would unleash darkness itself.”

As we hear this, something suggestive of a mummy (we only see its silhouette) limps up to the princess and presents her with a dagger sporting a brilliant red ruby in the hilt. As Princess Ahmanet grasps the hilt of the dagger she begins to transform. Tattoos radiate out from the dagger, covering her naked, shapely, form.

Dr. Jekyll tells us: “Ahmanet was reborn a monster.”

We see Ahmanet kill her father and his newborn son.

Voice-over: “Yet the pact was not complete. She vowed to bring the demon into our world, in the body of a mortal man. Together, they would take their vengeance on humanity.”

Here’s part of what I don’t understand: What vengeance? I looked up the word just to be sure and here’s the definition, “punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong.” What injury? What wrong? That her father had a child?!! Anyway, moving on ...

Before the princess is able to complete the ritual she is shot with darts and pinned to the ground. In the next scene we see her form swaddled in linen bandages.

Voice-over: “For her sins Ahmanet was mummified alive.”

We have a close up on the princesses’ linen-wrapped face as she is placed in the sarcophagus. Then—and I thought this was brilliant—we see the lid of the sarcophagus from the point of view of Ahmanet. We see it descend toward us. Just before the lid slides into place we have an extreme closeup of her wide, terrified, eyes and, as the lid is fastened and she is condemned to eternal darkness, we hear her haunting scream: Nooooo!!!!

I thought that was very effective. That was a memorable moment.

Voice over: The body, carried far from Egypt. There she would remain, condemned to eternal darkness. But death is a doorway and the past cannot remain buried forever.

Comparison and Summary

As you can see, the openings of the two versions of the movie say it all. The opening of the 1999 version set up all the dominos in the trailer. We met the High Priest before he was cursed. We saw his passion, his love for Anck Su Namun, someone who was forbidden to him. We saw the lengths to which he’d go to be with her, to keep her in his life. We were told WHY the Mummy must be kept in his grave and we were told what would happen if he got out, what his powers would be.

The 1999 version was hideous and horrifying. It was about love and death and the possibility of love being so strong it could survive death.

In this article I’ve argued that the 2017 version doesn’t have the same horrific moments and that it’s not as sharply focused. Granted, I’ve only watched the 2017 version once (when it comes out on DVD I’ll watch it a few more times!), but what I got from it was that, “Evil is real and it’s coming for you.” Which is a perfectly good theme for a horror movie (and a reason why I’m giving the movie a thumbs up), BUT it’s not a great theme for The Mummy.

The 1999 Mummy had a LOT of great moments, the 2017 Mummy had a few—thus my positive rating—but not enough.

To sum up:

The first movie (1999) is a love story, the other (2017) is more an invocation of evil. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie! It’s a DIFFERENT movie. As I said at the beginning of this article, I found it entertaining.

Every post I pick something I believe in and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I like with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, they put a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending the classic On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I’ve read On Writing a few times and each time I learn something new. I guess that’s what makes it a classic!

From the blurb:

On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does in the age of e-mail and the Internet. Whether you want to write about people or places, science and technology, business, sports, the arts or about yourself in the increasingly popular memoir genre, On Writing Well offers you fundamental principles as well as the insights of a distinguished writer and teacher. With more than a million copies sole, this volume has stood the test of time and remains a valuable resource for writers and would-be writers.

Wednesday, March 15

How to Write a Kickass Restaurant Review

How to Write a Kickass Restaurant Review

I love food. No seriously. I LOVE food. Any kind of food, from the greasiest french fries to the most healthy quinoa-stuffed salad. And I’ve eaten it all: fried intestine, blood pudding, even a rooster’s private bits.[1]

Recently I lost a ton of weight and have become completely and utterly food obsessed. They say thin people have more taste buds—like their body is panicking, saying: Look at all the yummy food, wouldn't it taste AMAZING?! You know you want to eat it, yes, you know you do. Yes, that’s right, go closer, go to it ...

Anyway, I thought one way to combine my two favorite things—writing and eating—would be to visit a few of the funky restaurants in my area, eat something that makes my mouth water and then write a review.

So, next question: How does one write a review? I mean, not JUST a review, I’m talking about an amazing, fantastic review, one that makes you, the reader, feel as though you’re there with the writer, sitting at the table, taking in the ambiance, scrutinizing the service, tasting the dishes.

True, I published an article about how to write a restaurant review not too long ago (creatively titled: How to Write a Restaurant Review) but I didn’t feel as though I’d given enough ... call it ‘actionable’ advice. That post gave more of a general overview of the topic, one that focused on the norms food journalists live by, this one is more contemporary, more focused on the nuts and bolts of writing a review. It’s more gorilla journalist than traditional journalist. Make sense? No?! Ah well, here we go ...

How to Review Food

What does a food reviewer do? What’s expected of them? I came across this sentence in an article I read while researching this post:

“The job of a food reviewer is to accurately convey the taste, texture, smell, and presentation of a restaurant's food.”[2]

I thought that was such a specific, informative answer I wanted to give it verbatim. Because we’re not just reviewing the dishes we’re eating, we’re judging the entire experience: the food, the atmosphere, the service and one’s general impression of the restaurant.

Let’s do this in parts. First, I’ll talk about the importance of researching the restaurant. Who owns the restaurant, does it have an interesting history? Who is the head chef? What was the atmosphere like? Were the waitstaff helpful and friendly, and so on. Second, I’ll focus on the meal itself.

1. The Background

In fiction writing we often need to give background information but don’t want to give the reader an information dump. That is, we don't want the reader to feel overwhelmed by information they couldn’t care less about but which the writer feels they need to know in order to appreciate what’s going to happen in the scene.

This sort of background information is a bit different, but we must still be careful not to overload the reader. Although the history, location, ownership and philosophy of a restaurant are important parts of the overall experience, it is a good idea to only share those parts which are unique and specific lest we bore our readers.

The Restaurant

What is the history of the restaurant? How long has the building been in existence? What sort of businesses have been there (only mention this if you think readers will find it interesting, for instance if it’s a historic building.).

How long has the restaurant been open? What kind of restaurant is it, what is it trying to achieve? Is it Chinese or Indian or Japanese? Is it fusion? And so on.

What is the price of the average meal? Is the restaurant considered a good value, moderately expensive or pricey? Is it casual or fine dining? Is there a dress code? How were your fellow diners dressed? Should one make a reservation? If so, how far in advance?

What kind of area is the restaurant is in? Are there any local landmarks? Is it someplace a tourist might want to take a stroll after dinner? Or is it the kind of place you wouldn’t want to take your kids after dark? How was parking?

Does the restaurant have a specialty? Are they known for a particular kind of cuisine or for, say, their desserts? Their seafood? I had dinner at a particular restaurant a few times mostly because the restaurant served the most divine cocktails!

Did it seem as though your fellow diners were enjoying their food? Was it loud? Raucous? Quiet? Was it family friendly?

How was the service? Don’t just say it was good or bad. Ask yourself, “Why?” If the service was great, what was great about it? Give details. Was it difficult to get the attention of a server? Was your water glass kept full? Did your server ask how your meal was? Were the servers able to give you recommendations when asked? Was the staff charming and stylish? How was the server dressed? Was he or she wearing a uniform? Jeans and t-shirt? Smart black dress or pants and shirt? Most importantly: Did what the server wear match the venue?

The Owner

Who owns the restaurant? Have they owned previous restaurants? If so, were they successful? Is this restaurant similar to the rest or different? What are the owners major culinary influences? Why did he  open this restaurant as opposed to another?

The Head Chef

Who is the head chef? Where did she study? Where has she worked before, what kind of restaurants and for how long? What are her major influences? What is her style of cooking? What is her signature dish? Has she written a cookbook?

Try to find one unusual and interesting, one memorable, thing about the head chef. For example, were they the youngest chef to graduate from their culinary school? Were they the oldest? What is their signature dish?

One more thing about background ...

When trying to decide what information to include about background, only talk about something you think will interest the reader. After all, the main focus of the review is the food.

Ask yourself whether a particular tidbit of information about the restaurant, etc., is MEMORABLE. Is it exaggerated, unusual, vaguely scandalous? I’m not suggesting you veer into tabloid sensationalism, but you don’t want to put readers to sleep. This isn’t a history paper, it’s a review. You want to give the reader enough information to decide whether they will enjoy eating at this restaurant. If something isn't relevant to that question think twice before including it. Remember, if a certain piece of information bores the pants off you, your reader will probably feel like that times infinity!

2. Your Meal

What should you order? Generally, the advice is to order a drink, an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. If the restaurant has a specialty or a signature dish, order that.

Okay, so, that's (more or less) WHAT you should order, but how does one make one's review informative AND engaging?

Make it Colorful

Don’t put your readers to sleep! This is easier said than done but here are a few tips:

a. PROMISE the reader something, either an interesting story or a surprise. For example: “I’ve found the best cinnamon buns in existence!” That’s (kinda, sorta) a promise. (By the way, I am a lifelong connoisseur of cinnamon buns. I’ve eaten just about every kind. This recipe (Overnight Cinnamon Rolls, by Alton Brown) made the best cinnamon buns I’ve ever had! It’s easy. Make it, you will not be disappointed!)

You could also recount something interesting, unique, unusual that happened to you at the restaurant. Perhaps you interviewed the chef or something amusing occurred.

b. Give the reader an INTERESTING FACT. For example, “This is the owner’s second restaurant. The first one, in Greenland, was carved from a single sheet of ice!”

c. Describe a memorable aspect of the AMBIANCE, good or bad. Did it have an amazing view or was there a suspicious odor wafting from the kitchen? Use details that aren’t obvious. Does it have arched skylights? The perfect lighting for taking pictures of your food? Is it “industrial inspired”? [4]

The Review Itself:

The first sentence. More than anything a review is a piece of writing and, as is true for any kind of writing, we want to hook the reader with our first sentence.

Only describe 3-5 dishes. A great way to do this is go out for dinner with friends and sample each of their dishes. Let’s say you taste more than 3-5 dishes, what then? Only talk about dishes you had a strong reaction to, whether for good or ill.

Describe how the food was presented. How did the food look when it arrived? Was the dish/plate clean and beautiful or messy and tired? How did the presentation of the dish make you feel? Excited? Hungry? Did you feel pampered and special or did you feel like you were back home having dinner with mom and pops? How you felt, does it match the restaurant? When I go to a fine dining establishment I want to feel pampered but when I go to a place that advertises itself as 'homestyle' I expect a more casual experience.

How did the food taste? Describe it, be colorful. Engage all your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch (mouthfeel). Also, there are (generally speaking) five tastes: Sweetness, Sourness, Saltiness, Bitterness and Umami. Don’t be afraid of using adjectives—or even the odd adverb—when you communicate your taste experience.

Also, was the food spicy? Talk about what memories of food it evoked. What was the texture like? Did the food melt in your mouth? Was the food juicy and tender or chewy and tough? Were the noodles gooey or dry? Were there a variety of textures? Was something soft inside yet crunchy outside? How did the textures work together?

Talk about the complexity of the food. Talk about the variety of flavors. Was it better than the sum of its parts? How did the flavors come together?

Be up front about your biases if they are relevant. For instance, if you are reviewing a seafood restaurant but you hate seafood, mention it!

Give your opinion but don’t be opinionated. Give your own opinion of the restaurant at the end of the review. If you are inclined to review it negatively, consider going back and giving it a second try.

Write with Attitude. Be Unique

You want this restaurant to stand out and feel unique. Give specific details. For example,

“Danny Meyer’s flagship restaurant has moved to a new multilevel space with dramatically lit booths, cozy nooks, and a gorgeous bar.”[3]
“The original restaurant, on Sixteenth Street, was vaguely Tuscan, vaguely new American, and extremely hospitable. These were the kind of people who learned your name, then remarked on your lovely brooch while giving you an extra-generous pour of Barolo. Carmen Quagliata, the executive chef since 2007, has a penchant for elevated comfort food that befits the restaurant’s polished good vibes, and his cooking gets a grand showcase in the new multilevel space, spiffed up with dramatically lit booths, cozy nooks, and a gorgeous, towering front bar in the model of Gramercy Tavern.”[3]

A rule of thumb: Try to give at least one detail, one specific detail, for every aspect of your review.

One Last Thing

Remember, your review should not be about whether you liked something, it should be about giving readers the information they need to decide whether they would like it.

Tips from Zagat

Yes, that Zagat, the folks from whom even a single star is a very big deal! Here’s a short video they made.[4] It’s under three minutes long. :-)

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes, and More, by Dianne Jacob.

From Anthony Bourdain: "A concise, illustrative, and eminently useful guide to the nuts and bolts of professional food writing."


1. It was at a friend’s family’s get together and his grandpa—a withered Chinese gentleman who looked a million years old, could jog five miles without breaking a sweat and had forgotten more than I’ll ever know—ordered the food. My friend called the dining experience “old school.”

2. How to Write a Food Review.

3. Union Square Café Lives On[], by Shauna Lyon. The New Yorker. (For more excellent reviews see: Tables for Two)

4. How To: Write a Good Review.

Friday, December 23

Writing a Review

Writing a Review

In elementary school I dreaded writing essays. I had no idea how to proceed.

That all changed in high school. I had an amazing teacher who made essay writing understandable, even simple! Here’s the key: the rule of three.

The Rule of Three

This rule dates back to Ancient Greece. Don’t ask me why it works, but it does. For instance, pretty much everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. People, events, stories and even essays.

The Structure of an Essay

Beginning: Say what you’re going to say.

Middle: Say it.

End: Say what you’ve said.

Let’s look at this in more detail. Let’s say you have to write an essay about what makes Gadget1 a better gadget than Gadget2. Breaking this task down:


The beginning one or two paragraphs (it depends on how long your essay is) contain your thesis statement. This is your claim, your statement, the idea you are going to argue in favor of. For example, let’s say that you claim:

Gadget1 is better than Gadget2.

Of course this isn’t enough. Why is it better? Just stating that one thing is better than another isn’t going to convince anyone. We need to give reasons. Here again we draw on the rule of three. Here’s the complete thesis statement:

Gadget1 is better than Gadget2 because it costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically appealing.

So, for instance, the opening paragraph might go something like this:

Gadgets are ubiquitous in our society. At this point it’s not possible to get through a normal day without relying on one gadget or another. Two of the gadgets people use most are Gadget1 and Gadget2. Both of these do pretty much the same thing which raises the question: Which is better? After rigorous testing I can definitely say that Gadget1 is better than Gadget2. As we will see, Gadget1 costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically pleasing.

Of course by stating this we’re implying that any gadget that costs less, works faster and is more aesthetically appealing is better. But that’s okay. That’s a defensible claim. If I need to buy a can opener and was presented with two can openers and the first cost less, worked faster and was more aesthetically appealing I would definitely buy it! So, moving on.


At it’s core an essay is an argument about an issue that isn’t easy to settle. If you and a friend disagree about what year World War II ended, a quick internet search will settle the matter. Why? Because there is a simple, straightforward and universally accepted answer.

In the case of our example, though, it’s not quite so straightforward. Different folks may receive slightly different results from their testing. Different folks may appreciate different things in a gadget. In this sort of question rational people can disagree and in this sense there is no one universally correct answer in the same way as there is for the start and end dates of WWII.

Here, we’re not concerned with coming up with the RIGHT answer, as much as we are interested in coming up with a REASONABLE argument.

So, what are our reasons?

Gadget1 costs less than Gadget2

This is simple and straightforward ... or so it seems! How many stores were surveyed? Was Gadget1 less expensive at every single one? It’s important not to cherry-pick results, mentioning only those that help support the thesis statement. But if, say, the price was checked against that of a major online retailer (*cough* Amazon *cough*) and it was markedly less expensive, that’s significant.

Also, the size of the price saving is significant. Would you save less than 1% of the purchase price by going with Gadget1 as opposed to Gadget2? If so, that’s hardly worth mentioning unless Gadget1 and Gadget2 are very expensive.

Gadget1 works faster than Gadget2

How much faster? 10%? 5%? 1%? Did it ALWAYS work faster or were there certain conditions in which it was slower? Many of the same questions we raised above are relevant here as well.

Gadget1 is more aesthetically pleasing than Gadget2.

So far we’ve talked about fairly objective measures. This one is subjective. That said, you and others have your reasons for feeling one looks better than the other. Give them, be specific, and your readers will likely agree.


Summarize what you’ve said. There really isn’t more to it than that.

Depending on the kind of article you’re writing it can be nice to take a chatty informal tone. As with everything, make it your own and try to have fun with it.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to you. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)

I’ve read and reread The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby. For those of you who are more pantser than plotter, you will find Truby’s books a breath of fresh air. From the blurb: “John Truby is one of the most respected and sought-after story consultants in the film industry, and his students have gone on to pen some of Hollywood's most successful films, including Sleepless in Seattle, Scream, and Shrek. ”

That’s it! Have a wonderful Christmas! I’ll talk to you again on Monday. In the meantime, good writing!

Wednesday, September 7

Review: Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

I began reading The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins in part because it was compared favorably to Gillian Flynn's spellbinding novel, Gone Girl, and partly because many of the reviews I read described the story as Hitchcockian. When I was a kid I loved watching Alfred Hitchcock's movies with my dad. He loved those movies like some love fine wine. My affection for Hitchcock's movies soon mirrored his own, so I was looking forward to reading this book.

And I was not disappointed!

By now I'm sure you're familiar with the plot. The protagonist, Rachel Watson, has been fired from her job for alienating a client because she was drunk, and yet she continues to take the train into London every workday, often taking advantage of the journey to drink herself into oblivion.

On her way to and from London the train passes the house where Rachel used to live with her ex-husband, Tom. Tom has married Anna, the woman for whom he left Rachel, and they have a child.

To distract herself from the painful reality of her life, Rachel fantasizes about another couple who live just down the street from Tom and Anna. In her imagination they are a lovely couple, upstanding citizens and very much in love. Their lives are perfect, they are perfect. This is the life she wanted, the life (or something like it) she believes she once had with her ex-husband Tom.

Of course the rest of the book systematically, relentlessly, painfully, dismantles her fantasy and forces Rachel to let go of her illusions and face the reality of her life with Tom. Somewhere along Rachel's path of self-revelation a killer is exposed in a rather delicious twist (I won't spoil it!).

My thoughts on Girl on the Train:

Rachel is about as likable as she is reliable, which is to say not much. She has her share of glaring faults—as do we all—but her life is melting down around her and, in her own confused and confusing way, she tries to grope her way through.

Strangely, I ended up relating to Rachel in part because of her unreliability as a narrator. What I found appealing was the way Paula Hawkins deftly prises apart two reasons for Rachel's unreliability. Often Rachel is unreliable because she tries to live in a fantasy but she is also occasionally unreliable because she honestly believes—and has more-or-less good reason to believe—something that is not true.

Part of the task Hawkins sets the reader is teasing those threads apart.

All in all, a wonderful—and wonderfully addictive—read.

I'm giving Girl on the Train 4.5 stars out of 5 because some (many?) of Rachel's actions appear bizarre or unmotivated. Sure one can say, Well, she's melting down, she wasn't in her right mind, but that's the thing. In real life that sort of reason might work, but this is a story. It is (in my humble opinion) supposed to make sense.

But, still, this was a wonderful book and a mesmerizing read. Highly recommended.

That's it for today! I'm trying out a new blogging schedule where I post something Monday, Wednesday and Friday. (Do you prefer only two posts a week? Three? Four? Five? Six? Seven? More? Please let me know!) So, I'll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing!

Other articles you might like: 

How To Write A Murderously Good Mystery
Three Ways To Create Suspense
Generating Suspense Through Conflict

Tuesday, July 19

How To Write A Product Review

I’ve talked before (see Links, below) about how I write a critique, but I’ve never written about how I do a general review. Time to change that!

Essentially, I see a review as a persuasive argument. Your review of the product gives, first, your opinion of the product and then why you feel/think the way you do.

So far so good. But a great review goes beyond this and uses the writer’s own experiences to shape a persuasive argument: “I think this product is lousy/great  … and so should you!” The stronger the reasons for your opinion, the stronger your argument.

For instance, let’s say that the Kitchen-Gadgetinator 2000 is, hands down, the best apple corer I’ve ever used. That would become my thesis, my claim. I’d back up this claim by listing its positive features. (For example, “The Kitchen Gadgetinator 2000 is fast! Most gadgets take two full minutes to core an apple but this dohickey takes under a minute.”)

Like any good argument, though, if there are negatives about the product they need to be discussed. If you love the product, why do you love it despite these defects? Conversely, if the product has many positive points, but you hate it anyway, why do you?

Be Personal

Talk about your experiences with the product. After all, your experiences are the reason you’re writing the review!

Even though the number one reason anyone reads a review is that they want to know the answer to the question, Would I like this, if you can get the customer to smile, if you can reach beyond the page and change your reader's emotion, then—no matter what kind of writing you’re doing—it’s good writing.

Who Is Your Audience?

Taylor your review to your intended audience.

If you love the product you’re reviewing, then chances are you won’t have to do much audience research. I love role-playing games. I watch game trailers as they come out and have more-or-less strong ideas about what makes a game great. And, of course, I have my own list of “the greatest games ever made,” a list which is pretty much guaranteed to be different from everyone else’s list!

But no matter how I feel about the product I try to talk to as many people as I can who have used it. It could be that my reactions to the product are idiosyncratic, or I just don’t ‘get’ it. If this is the case still write the review, but mention that you realize your opinion is in the minority.

Compare The Product To Similar Products

Say you’re reviewing a camera. You might think the camera is terrific, but talking about, say, two close runner ups will give your readers perspective. This is where a comparison chart of key features might come in useful.

Be Focused

You probably can’t—and wouldn’t want to—talk equally about all the product’s features.

- Does the product have a killer feature? If it’s a camera, is it smaller than all other cameras? Lighter? Etc.
- What are, in your opinion, the product’s most important features?
- Do these features work as advertized?
- What did you like about each feature? Dislike?


- What was your first impression of the product?
- What things are easier to do if you use the product?
- Was there anything you had a bit of trouble figuring out?
- Is there something you thought the product or service would do for you, but it didn’t? Or, alternatively, anything that came as a pleasant surprise?
- Did the product meet your expectations?
- Is there anything that surprised you about the product? Was the surprise good? Bad?


Generally, the only credentials one needs to write a review is your experience with the product. That said, readers would appreciate knowing a bit about you if the details are relevant to the product under review. For instance, if you’re reviewing a RPG game, your readers might be interested in which other RPG games you’ve played, which RPG game was your favorite, and so on. This information helps the reader understand your likes and dislikes and, I think, can help them get more out of your review.

Also, I think it’s much more fun to read a review that’s a bit personal and chatty. Don’t misunderstand, I want the facts, but I like it when they’re delivered in an entertaining and memorable way.

First Paragraph 

I try to (“try” being the operative word!) make the first line snappy, something to grab the reader's attention and showcase my writing style. I want to let the reader know this will be an informal, breesy, post—perhaps even a humorous post—and that they’ll learn something about the product in question that could be valuable to them.

Somewhere in the remainder of the first paragraph I’ll give the name of the product, I’ll also describe the product, what it does, how it can make a person’s life better, and so on.

At the end of the first paragraph I’ll inform my readers if I received a complimentary copy of the product for the purposes of review. Some folks do this at the beginning, in the first sentence, and that’s absolutely fine. Myself, since often the first sentence is what tells someone whether they want to read the review, I try and make my first sentence stand out from the crowd. I think as long as a writer is up front early in the review on about how they came by the product or service, that’s fine.

Ultimately, There Are No Rules

The only rule for writing well is that there are no rules. One hears this in connection with narrative fiction, but I think it’s just as true for review pieces. Which isn’t to say that certain ways of organizing your content don’t lend themselves more to being read and positively commented on.

How do you write a review? Please share your tips and tricks!

The Dark Art Of Critiquing, Part 1
Writing A Critique: Reading Critically
How To Write A Critique: The Sandwich Method

Monday, September 30

The Authentic Swing by Steven Pressfield, Five Stars

The Authentic Swing by Steven Pressfield, Five Stars

Certain things turn me into a kid at Christmas time.

That describes my mood as I waited for my ARC of Steven Pressfield's The Authentic Swing. I'm a longtime reader of Pressfield's blog and have benefited from his sage advice many times. Also, his fluid, inviting, writing style makes his work a pleasure to read. I feel we're sitting comfortably over two steaming hot mugs of caffeinated goodness chatting about the art and craft of writing.

The Authentic Swing is more about writing as art than writing as craft. This came as a surprise to me, but not an unpleasant one. After all, there are hundreds--thousands!--of books on the technical side of writing but precious few about finding your path, yourself, your soul, as a writer.

Finding Your Writing Soul

I have a confession: I've never golfed. Not once. Ever. Yet I found Steven Pressfield's account of the game riveting. He gave me new ways to think about it.

It turns out that golf is a lot like writing. Here are a few excerpts:

"[G]olf is not a team sport in the way that basketball is, or football, or baseball. You don't pass the ball in golf. There are no "plays." You don't celebrate a victory with your teammates.
"In life, you're born alone, you die alone, and most of the time you live alone.
"Golf is just like that.
"In golf, the competitor is on his own."

"[I]n golf, your opponent is not allowed to impede you.
"He can't tackle you or punch you or even try to rattle you by jingling the change in his pocket. ...
"In golf, no one can hurt you but yourself."

"[T]he struggle of the golfer ... is the same as the struggle of the writer.
"It's the struggle of any artist or entrepreneur, any athlete or warrior, anyone engaged in a spiritual pursuit, as meditation or the martial arts, yoga, dance, calligraphy; any person, male or female, in any creative or ethical field.
"What is this struggle? It's the quest to connect with one's true ground. To become who we really are.
"It's the search for our true voice."

And that's what The Authentic Swing is about, it's about finding yourself as a writer and then having the courage to trust yourself. For example, Pressfield writes (and this is a paraphrase):
The struggle of the golfer is the same as the struggle of the writer or of any other artist. We must connect with our true ground. We must "become who we really are". In other words, writing, like golf, like any other artistic pursuit, is nothing less than "the search for our true voice".
That's not the entirety of Steven Pressfield's writing advice, but it does tie into his instructions for how to write a first draft.

First Drafts And How To Write Them

In a word: Quickly!

All Steven Pressfield's advice resonated with me, but his advice about first drafts made me want to spring out of my comfy reading chair and do a happy dance. "Yes!" I thought. "Someone else who thinks like I do." It's always nice to know you're not alone.

Here's Steven Pressfield's advice for first drafts: Don't stop, don't think. Write.
He holds that "our supreme priority is to get SOMETHING down from Page One to The End--no matter how incomplete and imperfect".

He also writes that:

"The enemy in the first draft is not incompleteness or inexactness or imperfection. The enemy is resistance. The enemy is self-sabotage."

You have to dig deep, trust yourself and then dive in. As Steven Pressfield says:

"You start with instinct.
You plunge in.
Good things happen."


The Authentic Swing is a slim volume of only 144 pages, with the lines widely spaced. But that's okay. No complaints. It's not about how many pages a book has, it's about what's on them and this one is bursting with writerly goodness.

The Authentic Swing is a quick, enjoyable, read and a valuable addition to any writer's library. Five stars.

Photo credit: seeking meaning in the rorschach sky" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, May 25

A Must Have App For Writers: Index Card (5 out of 5 stars)

A Must Have App For Writers: Index Card (5 out of 5 stars) Writers, I've found the killer app for the iPad: Index Card.

Chuck Wendig recommended Index Card in a recent blog post, 25 Ways To Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story. Since I'd gotten a lot of use out of his last app recommendation (SimpleMind for iOS), I gave it a try.

I've used Index Card every day since I've bought it! I even wrote the first draft of my last story using the app.

(I guess after this glowing recommendation I should say I have no connection to the folks who made this app and I'm not an affiliate. I just like to pass along information that's helped me.)

Chuck Wendig also recommended a page called 10 Hints For Index Cards which gives great advice on what to include on a card. For instance:
  1. Keep it short. Maximum seven words per card.
  2. A card represents a story point, be it a scene or a sequence. You don’t need a card for every little thing.
  3. Keep cards general enough that they can be rearranged. (“Battle in swamp” rather than “Final showdown”)
I hear someone asking: What's so great about Index Card?

1. Index Card allows you to write as much per card as you want. 

This is a definite plus for me since I'm ALWAYS running out of room on physical index cards, but I don't want to buy huge cards because I want to be able to fit them all on my cork board. The app just shows the first couple of paragraphs of text in card view and allows you to title each card so you know what that scene/section/chapter is all about. Problem solved!

2. You can move the cards around

Yes, this is something we'd expect from a digital app, but it's a definite improvement over physically arranging bits of paper on a board made of cork.

3. You can change the color of the index cards

Again, this is a small thing, but it helps me keep track of cards that are just description (I use one card to describe each character). You can duplicate and rename the cards, or entire cork boards. 

4. You can create stacks of index cards

For instance, you could call one stack Act One, another stack Act Two, and so on.

5. If you don't like viewing the cards in rows there are other ways of viewing the cards.

You can view the cards in columns or as one long row.

6. You can diagram multiple stories at the same time. 

I like to work on three stories at the same time, but I don't have space to have three cork boards up on my walls. With the Index Card app, just start a new file. I can switch between projects with the tap of a finger.

7. You can quickly and easily export all your work to Dropbox, or email it to yourself, or export it to iTunes, or preview and print it. 

It can even make you coffee in the morning! Okay, maybe not, but I feel that it wants to.

Index Card is $4.99 but, for me, it was well worth it.

A couple of years ago Chuck Wendig wrote a post where he recommends a bunch of apps for the iPad, apps that help him as a writer; it's a great post, highly recommended (Chuck Wendig uses spicy language, so be warned): The iPad For Writers. His app recommendations are toward the end of the post.

What is your favorite writing app?

Photo credit: "form follows function" by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, May 9

How To Write A Terrific Review

How To Write A Terrific Review

Writer Victoria Grefer talks about how to write a fantabulous review.

What To Include

1. Is this a genre you normally read?

My go-to example for this is of a scifi aficionado reading a romance. It could be the best romance ever written but, chances are, the review would still be scathing.

Or, another example, if a reader only enjoyed mainstream or literary books they might think it was too predictable for words that the murderer was apprehended at the end of your murder mystery, but that's not a legitimate criticism. Sure, it could be a criticism of the genre but to leave the murder unsolved would have readers howling for your blood. (And murder mystery readers are a clever bunch, so you don't want that. ;)

2. Plot summary

Victoria writes,
Personally, I love reviews that include a short plot summary. One that avoids spoilers but describes the overall tone and the concept of the story in a way that’s a little different from the book’s official description.

3. Areas for improvement

Anything can be improved upon. What were some of the weak points? Perhaps list one or two. How did they affect your reading experience? Was it an I-wanted-to-throw-the-book-across-the-room moment or did it engender only mild irritation?

4. What you loved and why

I like it when reviews end on a positive note. Was there a character you especially liked? Was there something, some aspect of the book, you thought worked particularly well?

I've just touched on Victoria's fascinating article, I'd encourage you to read it for yourself: What every prospective reader (and every writer) loves in a review.

What do you like to see in a review of your work? Of other author's work?

Other articles you might like:

- 4 Tips On How To Find A Genre To Write In
- Russell Blake's 26 Tips On How To Sell A Lot Of Books
- Chuck Wendig On Finding Your Voice

Photo credit: "Me at Eva b" by flossyflotsam under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Monday, May 6

How To Get Over A Destructive Critique

How To Get Over A Destructive Critique

Have you ever quit writing for a period of time? Perhaps for years?

I did.

I was a teenager and had written a story I was particularly proud of. I'm not sure why, after all these years the memory is vague, but I remember being pleased.

Then I made a mistake. As it turns out, a huge mistake.

I gave it to the wrong person to read and then I asked them for feedback.

It's not just that the feedback stung. It's not just that this person's list of things wrong with that story was as long as my arm, it's not just that they clearly felt resentful that I'd wasted their time. No, it was that my own judgement had been so far off, that I'd been proud of a story that was so clearly crap.

I hope you folks see the flaw in my thinking. I'd asked one person.

Yes, sure, that person had read most of what I wrote, but I failed to ask myself whether they could have had a bad day, whether they were going through something in their private life which might have made them a tad grumpy and irrational. Which, as it happens, they were.

But let's imagine that my critiquer had been having a great day and wasn't the least grumpy and gave the same devastating critique. In retrospect, what should I have done?

Ignore it.

Here's what I think: if anyone gives you a critique so scathing that, were you to take it seriously, you'd never want to put pen to paper again then ignore the critique! Do NOT take it seriously.

Even if you gave the story to 10 people and they all thought it was fit for nothing but lining bird cages that doesn't say anything bad about you as a writer. You liked the story, that's what counts. And, sure, there's probably something about the story that's personal to you that makes you love it, but that's not a bad thing. Save the story, cherish it. That one's for you.

Now move on and write the next story. Do it NOW! Right away.

I've only ridden a horse once, so I don't know from personal experience if it's true that after being thrown you have to get right back on, but I think if a person has a horrible experience with a story they have to write another one right away. But, please, be sure to give your new story to someone who isn't having a bad day and who seems genuinely happy to give you feedback.

Also, it can help to be clear about the kind of feedback you'd like as well as what you consider constructive as opposed to destructive criticism.

As long as you're writing you're getting better. Not writing never helped anyone become a better writer.

What to do if your story is given a devastating critique

1. Talk about it

Having friends is great, having friends who are writers is a must.

Embarking on a career as a writer without having a network of writing friends and acquaintances is like going on a deep sea voyage during hurricane season without lifeboats or a personal flotation devise.

2. Write about it

I think this is a great way to turn a bad experience around. Especially if you can sell your story. Turn your horrible experience into creative non-fiction and then send the piece out or indie publish it.

You might want to write a first draft and then let some time pass--weeks or even months--before you read it again. Make sure it's not a rant. (grin) Or, if it is, make sure it's a rant that would be entertaining to others.

Making money from the experience may not be the best revenge (Joe Konrath had a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions a while back) but it's still darn satisfying.

3. Learn from it

As I mentioned, often destructive criticism has nothing to do with the merits or demerits of your story and everything to do either with an agenda the poster has (some reviewers enjoy dumping on anything they perceive as indie), or the kind of day they're having.

Since you've read the critique the damage has been done so try to determine if there's anything you can learn from what the poster said.

Were they irritated because you'd used a mirror to describe a character? Were they perturbed that you didn't tell anyone your protagonist's name until well into the story? You don't have to change something just because a reader or three was upset about it, but sometimes the information can be useful.

Sometimes it makes one feel better to know why a critiquer had the negative reaction they did. "This story is a pile of crap" isn't helpful, "This story is a pile of crap because X" helps put the review in perspective.

4. Do NOT respond

Whatever you do, don't respond to the negative critique.

I once had a crank caller who I suspect was my ex-boyfriend. This person would call at all hours of the night, wake me up, then make gibbering noises into the phone.

At first I politely asked the caller to stop. Then I shouted. Then I used a loud whistle.

Nothing worked.

Then I stopped responding in any way and just hung up the phone and disconnected it from the wall for the rest of the night while I slept.

The calls stopped.

Responding to negative reviews just wastes your time--time that could be spent writing--and it can  make one look unprofessional.

5. Don't look

Don't look at your reviews.

(This point only applies to reviews on social media sites and retailers like

I know, I know, this is much easier said than done. We want to know what other folks thought of our work.

Actually, that's not true. We want to know that readers loved our books. Chances are most will but it's inevitable you'll get a bad review if you keep writing for any significant amount of time.

And you can't do anything about it. You can't respond to the reviewer (see point 4, above) so what's the point of looking?

If we write hoping for the approval of others we set readers up as our judges, which isn't how it should be. Yes, we want to share our stories with others--that's a big part of why I write--but I write primarily for myself.

If I think I've written a great story, if I had fun writing it, that's all I can ask. Of course I give it to my first reader, and I usually do another draft after that in response to their feedback (they seem to always catch something I missed) but, fundamentally, I write for myself.

6. Eat Chocolate

Chocolate is good. (grin)

Question: How do you get over a destructive critique?

Other articles you might like:

- Writer Beware: Penguin And Author Solutions
- Creating The Perfect Murderer
- How To Design A Great Looking Book Cover

Photo credit: "Galapagos Sea Lion's Baby Portrait" by A.Davey under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Wednesday, March 13

Review Of Grammarly, Its Strength And Weaknesses

Have you ever tried Grammarly? I'd always wanted to but since Grammarly Inc. hasn't released a free-to-try version (at least, not that I know of) I haven't had the opportunity.

That's why, a couple of weeks ago when someone from Grammarly contacted me and asked if I'd like a temporary account, I jumped at the chance!

Having played around with the service more than I should--it's so easy to procrastinate doing actual writing--I'd like to discuss what I think are Grammarly's strengths and weaknesses.


Paper types

Grammarly can be set to various levels of sensitivity (Grammarly calls them 'paper types') depending on the kind of writing you would like to evaluate: General, Business, Academic, Technical, Creative and Casual.

For instance, when I used the Academic type to analyze text the program flagged contractions such as "isn't" as being in error, but when I used the Casual type it didn't. I thought that was a nice feature.


Also, I found Grammarly remarkably capable when it came to finding parts of text that were taken from documents already on the internet. If you are a teacher and you want an easy way of checking papers for plagiarism, I would recommend you look into using this program.

Ease of use

In general, I found Grammarly remarkably easy to use. I was able to use the program to evaluate various kinds of text as well as check the text for plagiarism and, at the end, print out a concise, easy-to-read report, and all without having to Google anything to find out how to do it.


Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so the perceived strengths and weaknesses of a program are dependent on the point of view of the reviewer. In other words, here's what I thought, but your mileage may vary.

Art isn't algorithmic

Writing, at its core, is art. Art that most of us are hoping will entertain others and that we'll be able to sell--one day. But writing, really great writing, often violates grammatical constraints. The writer knowingly, intentionally disregards various grammatical conventions because he, or she, wishes to produce a certain effect.

Stephen King, On Writing

For instance, here's a paragraph from Stephen King's book, On Writing:
And what about those critiques, by the way? How valuable are they? Not very, in my experience, sorry. A lot of them are maddeningly vague. I love the feeling of Peter's story, someone may say. It had something . . . a sense of I don't know . . . there's a loving kind of you know . . . I can't exactly describe it . . .
Grammarly went into conniptions when I fed it this! (And, in case anyone's wondering, I set the paper type to 'casual'.) The program found 34 issues with this one paragraph and gave it a score of 39 out of 100.

Obviously, Mr. King's paragraph is perfectly fine.

Let's not stop there, though. Here are the paragraphs that immediately follow the one above (the text contains adult language):
Other writing-seminar gemmies include I felt like the tone thing was just kind of you know; The character of Polly seemed pretty much stereotypical; I loved the imagery because I could see what he was talking about more or less perfectly.

And, instead of pelting these babbling idiots with their own freshly toasted marshmallows, everyone else sitting around the fire is often nodding and smiling and looking solemnly thoughtful. In too many cases the teachers and writers in residence are nodding, smiling, and looking solemnly thoughtful right along with them. It seems to occur to few of the attendees that if you have a feeling you just can't describe, you might just be, I don't know, kind of like, my sense of it is, maybe in the wrong fucking class.

Non-specific critiques won't help when you sit down to your second draft, and may hurt. Certainly none of the comments above touch on the language of your piece, or its narrative sense; these comments are just wind, offering no factual input at all.
Again, I wouldn't change a thing about the above paragraphs, but here's what Grammarly says:

- 1 mistake made when comparing two or more things.
- 2 mistakes made concerning punctuation within a sentence.
- 1 mistake with spelling.

4 issues were found yielding a score of 64 out of 100.

Here is a screenshot of the report Grammarly generated:

Chuck Wendig, Terribleminds

But let's not stop there. Chuck Wendig recently wrote yet another amazingly awesome blog post on the art and craft of writing. Chuck writes:
The power of withholding is key to telling a good story.

When describing something, withholding description allows for the audience to do work, to fill in the gaps, to bring something to the table and be a collaborator (at least in spirit) to the work. Further, by withholding description, you do not overwhelm with needless illustrative information. (Do we need to know what every lamp and sidetable and fingernail and skin tag look like? No we do not.) Pull back. Leave room. Do not overwhelm.

When creating characters, withholding aspects of that character (but teasing the existence of those aspects) gives us a sense of wanting to know more, more, more. A character with unrevealed secrets or stories interests us: we’re the kids at Christmas morning tearing through a pile of presents hoping to get to the big reveal at the end (a new bike! a BB gun! a Barbie dream home! a Turkish scimitar with which to behead thine enemies!).
I think these paragraphs are written beautifully, I wouldn't change a thing. Let's see if Grammarly agrees with me.

Grammary says that the above paragraphs contain:

- 1 mistake made when using articles, and how articles relate to nouns.
- 1 confusing modifier.
- 1 mistake concerning punctuation within a sentence.
- 2 spelling errors.
- 2 mistakes regarding capitalization.

In all, 7 issues were found and the text received a score of 65 out of 100. Here's a screenshot of the .pdf report generated:


I've provided the examples, above, so that you can draw your own conclusions. Whether grammarly is for you depends, by and large, on what kind of thing you write.

If I was writing an academic paper, I think I would find Grammarly a helpful tool. On the other hand ...

Well, let me put it this way. Chuck Wendig's writing sometimes seems like verbal jazz, his metaphors, the way he uses profanity and bizarre analogies to create an image in the reader's mind (often not entirely a pleasant one!).

Chuck Wendig's writing is fresh, often surprising and always interesting. I think the same is true for Stephen King. Programs like Grammarly have trouble with this kind of writing--the kind of writing many of us aspire to--but that's not surprising. There is no formula for art.

As I mentioned at the start, Grammarly isn't free. A monthly subscription will cost you $29.95 a month, but that goes down as low as $11.66 a month if you pay for a year in advance ($139.95 for the year).

#  #  #

If money wasn't a factor, I would seriously consider subscribing to Grammarly. True, when I'm zinging creatively Grammarly will give me some flack, but it also can catch the few times I do something silly. Yes, of course I'm going to send my work off to a line editor/copy editor before I publish, but still. It's nice to send off copy that is as good as one can make it.

Other articles you might like:

- Joe Konrath Makes $15k A Week Selling His Backlist
- How To Be A More Productive Writer: Use A Voice Recorder
- Writing And The Monomyth, Part Three

Other articles about Grammarly:

- Grammarly, revisited (The Economist)
- Review: Grammarly app (Emphasis)

Photo credit: "8/52 - mr & mrs 85" by PhotKing ♛ under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Tuesday, March 5

Cometdocs: A Good Tool For Writers?

Cometdocs: A Good Tool For Writers?

Ever had to convert one kind of a file into another? If your experience was anything like mine it wasn't painless.

Recently a website that provides free online file conversion and storage, Cometdocs, contacted me about doing a review of their product so I asked C.G. Cameron, writer and techie extraordinaire, to help me out. Here's the bottom line:
The restrictions on the free account aren’t too tight, and the paid accounts show where their funding comes from, which I find reassuring. (I don’t trust places where I can’t see what’s in it for them.) This looks like a usable business model and a useful service.
Sounds good to me! (By the way, neither C.G. Cameron nor myself have any affiliation with Cometdocs. I was provided with access to their service for the purpose of this review but that is the full extent of my involvement with them.)

Here is C.G.'s review:

C.G. Cameron's Review Of Cometdocs

Cometdocs is a place on the web which lets you store and/or convert your files for free (with limitations). Or in tech-speak, it’s a cloud storage service that also offers file conversions.

In their words:
Cometdocs (is) a fully free (no ads) document management web tool which lets users:

1. Convert their files between 30 possible file formats
2. Store files online
3. Share them with friends privately or publicly – with full control over
privacy and sharing settings
4. Transfer large files to others easily and effectively.
If you’ve ever lost the original of a paper and desperately needed to get the sole version you still have on pdf back into an editable format, you know it can be a challenge.

If you don’t set up an account and just use Cometdocs anonymously (aside from giving them an email address), they deliver your conversion via an emailed link, saying “Link will be valid for 24 hours, after which all data will be deleted from our servers.” If you set up an account, you can have it held for longer.

How it works:

Click the + and add your file to the clipboard. Wait while it uploads. Click on the task you want, Convert, Transfer, Store or Host, and drag the file into the box. Then choose the next option (in the case of Convert you have a choice of any Office product, plus TXT, most graphic formats, plus DXF, ODS, etc. Then enter your email address and they send you a link to download the converted file.

So I tested Cometdocs with the most complicated document I had available, written in three languages. The original was created on a friend’s PC in Word. My Mac has the same English and some of the Tibetan fonts installed, but not the Chinese font he uses although it has the default Microsoft Chinese fonts. He sent me the original Word and the pdf he’d created, and I used Cometdocs to convert the pdf back into MS Word and then compared the results.

Original PC Word document on my Mac:

The Chinese came up on my Mac as gibberish, and some of the diacriticals were missing on the Tibetan. Over all I could read the English and some of the Tibetan. The pecha boxing came through a mess, as usual. Word’s page margins don’t move well between Macs and PCs. Definitely it was not adequate for anything except extracting the English from the document.

Cometdocs Word document after converting the pdf

Cometdocs recognized most of the Chinese and displayed it using the installed Windows Chinese font. Cometdocs missed several characters, but showed more than half successfully. Probably if the pdf had used the standard Microsoft font Cometdocs would have recognized more. Cometdocs completely failed to recognize the Tibetan. Not at all surprising. It also didn’t catch all the diacriticals in the English, so a capital U with umlaut came up as < instead, and a capital U with a line across the top came up as U umlaut. But it did catch the italics and the punctuation and mostly got the right font in the English as well. It did a good job on the pecha boxing, better than the straight migrated version.

It was a difficult test and I was impressed with the results.

But that’s not all. There’s also the cloud storage.

Transfer lets you send a file to a friend by storing it on Cometdocs’ servers and they’ll send a link to the friend so they can download it. Handy if you have a home video you want to share.

You can also share your files publicly, somewhat like Flickr does photos, or list them as Shared or Private. It’s cloud storage space but without file type restrictions like Google Docs has.

For someone without easy access to their own web server space, this could be very handy.

What you get with a free account

Free users can do:
- 3 conversions weekly per IP address
- 100 MB worth of daily file transfers per IP
- transfer and host links are valid for 24h
Free registered accounts can do much more including control sharing visibility and store up to 1GB of documents. And you can pay either $9.99 a month for Premium or $19.99 a month for Pro access to convert more files and store more files. The restrictions on the free account aren’t too tight, and the paid accounts show where their funding comes from, which I find reassuring. (I don’t trust places where I can’t see what’s in it for them.) This looks like a usable business model and a useful service.

C.G. Cameron (@jazz2midnight) is a web developer and writer, living in Vancouver, Canada.

Thanks C.G.!

How much of your time is spent trying to get technology to work as opposed to actually writing?

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Sunday, February 17

Screenwriting Software: Adobe Story

Screenwriting Software: Adobe Story

Adobe Story

Most people I've talked with don't know Adobe has developed Sreenwriting software: Adobe Story. Of course, saying Adobe Story is screenwriting software is a bit like saying a smart phone can make phone calls. The statement is true enough, but it barely scratches the surface.

 Here are a few things Adobe Story can do:

 - Reduce shooting time. Adobe Story works with other Adobe tools--programs such as OnLocation and Premiere Pro--to speed up production time. For instance, Adobe Story can automatically generate shot lists, dialogue, and so on.

- Collaboration. Often more than one person is involved in the creation of a script. Adobe Story allows everyone involved to collaborate online by tagging and tracking whatever changes are made.

This shortish video (7 minutes and 54 seconds) gives a great overview of what the software can do:

Instant Adobe Story Starter by Christopher Tilford

One of the reasons I'm posting about Adobe Story is that Packt Publishing asked me to review Christopher Tilford's book, "Instant Adobe Story Starter" (they sent me a review copy of the book). Although I normally don't do reviews, I have fiddled around with Adobe Story and it seemed like the sort of tool I would want to consider using if I were a screenwriter. That said, I don't know how it compares to other screenwriting programs (for instance, Final Draft or Movie Magic).

As computer programs become increasingly complex I sometimes find myself wishing I had a manual, but these days comprehensive users guides don't come with software programs, you have to buy them separately.

This is where Christopher Tilford's book, Instant Adobe Story Starter, comes in. Christopher has written a nuts and bolts guide to navigating Adobe Story. His book gets right to the point and doesn't include a lot of filler (here's an example).

I feel I should mention that Adobe Story has an online manual that, from what I've been able to see, covers everything that Christopher Tilford does and it's free! (See: Using Adobe Story)

The Bottom Line

I wish I could have been enthusiastic in my endorsement of Instant Adobe Story Starter but the bottom line is that Adobe puts out a free document that covers the same information. That said, Instant Adobe Story Starter isn't a bad book--I would give it three out of five stars--it just needs more original content. I look forward to reading Christopher Tilford's next book.

Have you used a screenwriting program? What did you think of it?

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- Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge: Write What You Know
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Photo credit: "With great powers comes great responsability" by Juliana Coutinho under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Thursday, September 13

PressReader: A Great App! 5 Out Of 5 Stars

PressReader: A Great App! 5 Out Of 5 Starts

Occasionally I'm approached to review an iPad app and if it's related to blogging, reading, writing, or the publishing world I'm happy to oblige. In the case of PressReader it was a no-brainer.

Every day I read many online newspapers and blogs looking for interesting information to share with you good folks, but I have never read a digitized version of a newspaper.

Everything about PressReader is easy, smooth and bug free. Ordering a paper takes one click followed by a 5 second download. Rather than paging through sections to get to the article you want to read, you simply click on an embedded link and your chosen article unfolds in front of you.

Or, if you simply want to page through the paper quickly to get to a particular section, use the SmartFlow bar at the bottom of the screen. Although the images of each page are about the size of a playing card they are crisp, even on the iPad 2. Of course you can always just flick through the paper page by page. Once you've reached the article just do a reverse pinch motion to zoom in on the text and glide through the article.

What has made me fall in love with this app is the fast, smooth, movement. I've paged through two newspapers now and it hasn't stuttered once, let alone crashed.

Sometimes when I write an unreservedly glowing review of an app one of my readers will write to me and chastise me for being uncritical, so I asked a friend of mine who subscribes to two newspapers to take a look at it. He loved it! His one comment was that he couldn't find a way to view the entire page at one glance. (It could be that there is a command for this that I don't know.)

The next question is: how much? A monthly subscription will run you $29.95 a month but for casual readers--that would be me!--you can download a newspaper for only 99 cents. That's not bad, it's certainly cheaper than buying one.

Has anyone else tried PressReader? If so, what did you think?

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