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This Is Your Brain on Writing

When I teach creative writing, I notice that novices frequently write as if describing a what a TV screen would show if a camera had zoomed in for a close-up of their narrator’s face. By contrast, an experienced writer would rely on a much wider range of storytelling techniqes, including dialogue and interior thoughts. “What do you mean?” I say, my brows furrowing in confusion. “Hold on,” says the old man.…

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Unless Buzzfeed-style Clickbait Replaces all Forms of Human Communication, or Republicans Return to the White House, Listeners will Continue to Deal with the Smug Dread Generated by the Formulaic Endings of NPR Stories

I love some good meta. I wrote a dialogue-heavy short story about writing dialogue-driven short stories. Mark C. Marino wrote this excllent MPR-style essay about the formulaic endings of NPR stories, which are designed to leave you feeling smarter but emptier, so that you return to fill your pledge-drive mug with another dose of Third World Problems angst. And although I cannot answer that question, one thing is for certain:…

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What Can You Do With An English Degree? | Seton Hill University

One of our seniors interviewed recent graduates for her Honors project. It’s all too common for English majors to hear “What can you do with an English degree?” from well-meaning relatives and friends, implying that the most viable career for an English major is that of a “starving artist.” So what can you do with an English degree? Well, it turns out, you can do a lot of things. Seton…

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What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?

English continues to evolve. I noticed this construction several times today. “No, totally.” “No, definitely.” “No, exactly.” “No, yes.” These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite. Out of the million-odd words in the English language, perhaps a hundred have this property. You can seed a field, in which case you are adding seeds, or seed a grape, in…

William Shakespeare (Portrait)

Blog ten-beat lines of verse, like Shakespeare wrote.

Blog ten-beat lines of verse, like Shakespeare wrote. But lazy bloggers, fill you not your posts With words transpos’d, poetic more to seem. Like this, who speaks? Like Yoda will you sound. Nor stuff your limping lines with pointless words And really wasteful phrases filling space And stretching points so thin across each line In order to fulfill the ten-beat rule. Yet rhymeless soul-pack’d verse arrests the ear. It echoes common speech you hear all day, Then surges with…

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Unpopular grammar rules

Language is a fluid, living social construct. The rules of grammar were not carved on stone tablets and handed down by God. They were created by human beings who had observations about how language works, and opinions about how it should work. “Subject pronoun,” “predicate nominative,” and the like are almost insider terms, ones that many people forget shortly after learning them in school. As we say, knowing why those…