Monday, March 30, 2009

The Shoe Thing: Imelda Marcos and Mary P. Duffy

While I own two pairs of black dress shoes, 2 pairs of sneakers (white and black), and two pairs of winter boots, my wife Mary owns --the last time I counted-- close to six hundred pairs of shoes. Of course, that is a low count, when I recall that Imelda Marcos (wife of Philippines dictator Marcos) owned close to 5,000 pairs.

Curious as I am, I've asked many of my friends and students about this great disparity. To date, no one has advanced a logical answer to this gross inequality. If one goes to an extreme, in Plato's Phaedrus, we learn that old Socrates was always shoeless:
PHAEDRUS: It's convenient, isn't it, that I chance to be barefoot; you of course always are so.

My tentative conclusion is that color, shape, design, proportion, feeling, sense of fashion, elegance, and grace might just be a female trait. Male chauvinism apart, my male friends tell me that they own even less shoes than I do.
The writing techniques I use are explained in Mary Duffy's Toolbox for Writers e-book.

Mary Duffy's Toolbox for Writers

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Toolbox for Writers, Glossary

[Below, the terms defined, and examples are in bold; cross references to other defined terms are in italics].

Adjective is a word that modifies a noun or pronoun. An article (the, a, an) is a type of adjective:
The loud music awoke me.
Dracula’s castle was dark, damp, and desolate.

Adverb is a word that explains or modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb—and often specifies how, where, when, in what manner, etc:
Camila worked hard.
Leticia sleeps there.
Dad snores loudly.
He was very, very drunk.
Her assistant was frequently late, and therein lied the problem.

Bound modifier is a group of words introduced by a relative pronoun such as that, which, or who. It is usually set off by commas.
The steak, that looked too charred to eat, was sent back.

Case refers to the use of nouns and pronouns in a sentence. Case can affect the form of certain pronouns used. The cases, along with pronoun forms used, are:

A. Subjective case (also called Nominative case) refers to the subject:
Mr. Micawber was put in debtor’s prison.
Pronouns to be used in the subjective case: I, you, he, she, it, we, they, who.

B. Possessive Case is used to indicate possession or ownership:
Diego Rivera said, “It’s my painting.” Nelson Rockefeller: “On my wall.”

Possessive pronouns to be use for this case: my face, your face, his face, her face, its face, our face, their face]

C. Objective case refers to the person or thing to whom the action is done.
Sad and doe-eyed, she looked at me. Stunned, I only waved at her.
Pronouns to be used in the objective case: me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom

Clause is a group of words that includes a subject (noun or pronoun) and a predicate (verb), but does not contain a full thought. (A compound sentence can include two or more clauses). A clause can be categorized as: (1) a main or independent clause (2) a dependent or subordinate clause.

Comma splice occurs when a comma is placed between two clauses; the correct punctuation should use either a semicolon or a period. If the writer wishes to keep the comma, then it must be followed by a coordinating conjunction.
I brushed my teeth, I didn't wash my face.
Proposed solutions:
I brushed my teeth; I didn’t wash my face.
I brushed my teeth. I didn’t wash my face.
I brushed my teeth, but I didn’t wash my face.

Conjunction is a word used to connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. Examples: and, or, therefore, however, but, because, as, while, either.

Coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so, for (FAN BOYS)

Correlative conjunctions: both/and; either/or; neither/nor
Correlative Conjunctions are paired connective such as neither/nor, whether/or.
Neither borrower nor lender be.

Gerund is a verb ending in —ing that is used as a noun. A gerund takes the possessive form of a noun, or the possessive adjective from of the personal pronouns [see case].
Modeling can be exciting.
Swimming is healthy.
I cannot see his being elected. [“him” would be incorrect]
Tom’s swimming across the lake was amazing. [“Tom” would be incorrect]

Independent clause (also called a main clause) is a clause in a compound sentence that contains a subject and verb, and could stand alone grammatically as an independent sentence. Independent clauses in a compound sentence are usually separated by a semicolon or a coordinating conjunction.

Intransitive verb is a verb that ends a sentence.
Jesus wept.

Linking verb is a verb that expresses a state of being rather than an action.
My dog Pepino felt depressed.
She looks like a million bucks.
We remained dumbfounded.
His novel became boring.
The accounts receivable turned into bad debts.

Nouns name people, places, things, objects, feelings, and ideas.

Objective Correlative is the term that T. S. Eliot coined to explain how novelists stir up emotion in readers by animating things to mirror human feelings.

Participle is a verbal used as an adjective.
The frozen lake.
The teeming jungle.

Parts of speech constitute a traditional grammatical classification of words according to their contextual functions in a sentence—and include the noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.

Past Participle is the form of a verb that ends in —t, or —ed when the verb is regular. Irregular verbs take their own forms: to freeze takes frozen, to give takes given, etc.

Phrase is a group of words that has neither subject nor verb. Refer to Appendix A, which contains a full treatment of all the phrase categories and illustrated with copious examples.

Predicate as opposed to the subject, is the verb and other elements related to it (including direct and indirect objects, adverbial modifiers, and predicate nominatives).

Prepositions are words that show position, direction, or relationships between words, things, or people. There are about seventy prepositions. Examples: With, without, in, out, over, under.

Present Participle is the form of a verb that ends in —ing.
Pronoun is a word used in place of a noun, called an antecedent, with which it agrees in gender male/common, female, or neuter) and number (singular or plural).

Purple prose involves a writer’s excessive use of flowery language or sentiment.

Rhetoric is the language art that aims at persuasion by using figures of thought and figures of speech in writing or in speeches. Many of the greatest thinkers —from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, John Locke, David Hume, Nietzsche, Kenneth Burke, to Stephen Toulmin— were themselves great rhetoricians.

Romance is a work of fiction in which the author isn’t held to the rigor and standards of a novel. While novel readers expect verisimilitude to allow for the suspension of disbelief, romance readers will easily accept a semblance of believability.

Sentence is a group of words that has a subject and a verb; expresses a full thought; and ends in a period (indicative mood), question mark (interrogatory mood), or exclamation point (exclamatory mood). A compound sentence is constructed with two independent clauses: Mim read the novel, but she only remembered one or two characters. A complex sentence is constructed with one subordinate clause and one independent clause: Because she cheated, she was admitted.

Subject as opposed to the predicate, is a grammatical unit consisting of a noun or pronoun which represents the entity performing the action.
Dick and I went to the game Sunday.
Justice is blind.
The self and the ego are Freudian inventions.
Daffodils bloom in the spring.
Barbaro captured America’s heart.
NOTE: Subjects are often invisible as when writers use phrases and clauses that function as subjects, or in the imperative form:
To own riches is the poor man’s dream.
Don’t do that!

Subordinate clause (also referred to as a dependent clause) is a clause in a complex sentence that cannot stand alone grammatically as a complete sentence; is introduced by a relative pronoun (who, whose, whom, that, which—in which case it may be called a relative clause) or by a subordinating conjunction; and is used as a noun, adjective, or adverb.
After he ate his chow, Pucci took his regular two-hour nap.

Harry Truman was the last President who did not obtain a college degree.

Although he lacked a college degree, Truman was very well read.

Strong Verbs allow for internal vowel changes: sing/sang/sung, and slay/slew/slain.

Suspension of Disbelief takes place when the reader decides not to doubt or question the facts that the writer is presenting, as when Kafka wrote, “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

Syntax is the study of word order and disorder in phrases, clauses, and sentences. Skillful writers manipulate the pattern of structured word order to stir emotion, suspense, and involvement in readers.

Verb is a word that constitutes the main part of a predicate, and that expresses action, state, or relationships. Verbs often change their spelling or format to reflect tense (present, past, future, etc.), voice (active or passive), form (regular, emphatic, progressive), and to agree with the subject in number (as in I go, she goes).

Verbal is a verb form used as another part of speech. There are three types of verbal: (1) the participle (used as an adjective), the gerund (used as a noun), and the infinitive (which can be used as a noun or an adjective).

Verbal phrases include a verbal plus a noun (or sometimes a prepositional phrase). Examples: to see it through (where ‘to see’ is the infinitive, which is a verbal). Frozen to the spot (where ‘frozen’ is the past participle, which is a verbal). Picking a fight (where ‘picking’ is the present participle, which is a verbal).

Weak Verbs allow affixation by —ed/-t/. Examples: She walks/she walked, and She buys/she bought.

This the glossary included in Mary Duffy's Toolbox for Writers e-book.

Mary Duffy's Writing Guide

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Non-Human Knowledge in Bram Stoker's Dracula :

This is a book one has to revisit once in a while. Finally it dawned on me that Dracula scares us because the fiend knows something we don't. Non-human knowledge.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of the scariest books ever written. The reasons for its perennial appeal are basically two: (1) the vampire theme in which the supernatural is thrown into the natural world (2) Writing techniques: use of Absolutes.

At one point he says, "There are far worse things awaiting than death." Ah, what could that be? The only exploration of the other shore, comparable to Dracula, is Marciano Guerrero's Poison Pill in which the Vampire Donato Sabellius tempts the hero Ivon Bates with "knowledge," just as the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, or Calypso Ulyses.

Stephen King--the unsurpassed master of horror--on the other hand, terrifies us with human knowledge. Sins. Transgressions. Cruelty. King, with adroit prose and even voice, knows that fear is a visceral emotion--primal and vestigial.

Yet, what always puts a chill in my heart and mind is the lingering question: what worse things did Dracula refer to? What does Donato Sabellius know that we don't?

Because the novel Dracula does raise questions rather answer them, it will go on delighting readers for many generations. And what a treat it is! The author doesn't spare a single rhetorical figure to touch the reader's central nervous system where horror resides. In some scenes, the narrating voice employs the 'Nominative Absolute' to add the sensation of simultaneity.

While we think that Hemingway was the inventor of the Absolute, Stoker was way ahead of him. Hemingway abused the technique, Bram Stoker was measured and sober in his use of it. Mary Duffy's e-book has an entire chapter of this technique.

Though we, humans, instinctively seek beauty in what we read, we find it in Dracula, not in the theme or the plot, but in the composition itself, since it is beautifully written. Readers and writers who are serious about literature will find plenty of material that tingles the spine--and that is what literature accomplishes.

What makes Dracula a beautiful piece of work? There's only one answer: it is well balanced, it is harmonious, and its sentences sparkle with a radiance that is short of wondrous.

The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

Mary Duffy's Writing Guide

Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
Image via Wikipedia

Lindsey Vonn

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