Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An E-Prime Character Intro

Homework for my Writing Class had us writing a page in E-Prime and also beginning to jot down ideas for a Character we'd like to write about.

E-Prime, as explained in the link, has a great deal of potential as a tool to free up the English language from the constraints of too much reliance on the verb to be and with the pleasant side effect of improving readability for a broad range of individuals with difficulties reading contemporary writing.  The example given being persons with English as a Second Language (ESL) who have a difficult time following what is meant by our many subtle uses of the verb.

That sounds good, but writing in that mode takes a great deal of attention as I discovered when I combined the two objectives and wrote a story opening with a heavy focus on the main character and entirely in E-Prime.

The result follows, hit the break to see it and my thoughts on the exercise.

Oliver started the day pretty sure something had gone wrong getting out of bed.  All through his morning routine everything appeared normal; he showered, shaved, and dressed without a hitch and had even remembered to set the coffee timer the night before.
As he sat drinking his coffee (decaf these days) and enjoying a bowl of 'delicious' FiberMAX, he stared off into space, pondering the feeling that still twitched in the back of his brain with a foreboding urgency.  As with all Oliver's morning ruminations, whether lamenting the absurdness of the latest spinner flights in Darts & Boards Monthly, or the steady decline of quality darts coverage in the local paper since Ol' Larry lost his column, he quickly collected his thoughts, or more accurately, discarded these invading ones, and proceeded on his way to work.
Oliver spent his life a stalwart defender of public transit, believing that the chief problem of city life lay nestled behind the wheel of every hybrid import and giant SUV on the road, namely yuppies, and as such he avoided driving at all costs.  By 8:05 Oliver had huffed up to the Bus Stop on Spencer St (huffed because this gentle slope amounted to his day's primary workout) with one hand in the pocket of his dated sport jacket clutching his bus pass and the other patting the balding patch on the top of his head with his checkered handkerchief.
At 8:10 the City Transit #16 Southbound came hissing to a stop in front of Oliver and the doors swung aside revealing the first shock of our day.
"Good Morning Vince!", the young man behind the wheel said to our Oliver, flashing a small grin.
"Good Day Billy," said Oliver mounting the bus and bracing himself against the hand-holds as the bus began to slide forward.  "Right on time, 3 days in a row, you might kick your tardiness problem yet."
Billy, clearly amused by this outlook let slip another small grin, "Well I just hope I can 'continue to serve the citizens of this fine city in a timely, efficient, and professional manner' until my well-deserved retirement, Vince."
Vince, or rather Oliver as we know him, raised his eyebrows at this, "Well I hardly need to hear about a well-deserved retirement from a young one like you! And I don't appreciate your taking liberties with my official city services critiques Billy."
"Oh, now we are calling letters to the Mayor, City Council, and my boss down at the transit commission complaining about me 'city services critiques' are we?  And here I thought you just had a soft spot for me Vincey!"

I sincerely hope you didn't notice a single form of the verb to be as I put a bunch of effort into that.  I had to cross off whole sentences more than once and re-write it back to front.  What I noticed about the times I did this clarified for me why E-Prime has a valued role in a professional writer's toolbox - I almost always found myself re-writing the 'next line' that had come to me easily following my main creative thought and almost every time it took the form of a 'writing cliché'.  Simply put, a boring sentence structure that I had read or written dozens of times in the past.

I came to the conclusion, after this exercise, that keeping E-Prime on-hand and 'primed' up as a tool, would be an invaluable asset for your re-writing and editing phase, when you really want to sweep out the cobwebby writing.  Not so much for the first draft, when you want to spend more time writing pages and less time worrying about how to say the same thing better. Even then, I didn't find better writing resulted every time I E-Primed a sentence as often it became up to twice as long and actually convoluted a simple concept.

And what about my poor schizophrenic Character, Oliver?  Or should I say Vince?  Well, we'll just have to see if anything comes of that or if the explanation ends up being as simple as a strange nickname.  Oh and that strange feeling he had?  Well, I've already discarded that invading thought myself.

Did you notice I E-Primed this blog post?

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