Wednesday, April 13, 2005

On rabbit trails and writing stories

People are always asking writers how they come up with ideas for their stories. My answer is that it's not a technique, but a lifestyle; a peculiar way of looking at the world, and one which constantly fires the imagination. If that doesn't make sense, stick with me for a couple of minutes.

I came across this and was about to file it under "Well, Duh!" but I decided to share it with you, instead. In today's The Chronicle of Higher Education we are told that:
If you've ever used Microsoft Word, chances are you've seen that jagged green line appear beneath something you've written -- scolding you for drafting a fragmented sentence, maybe, or for slipping into the passive voice. That's Microsoft's grammar-checking technology at work.

But how much good does the grammar checker actually do? Precious little, according to Sandeep Krishnamurthy, an associate professor of marketing and e-commerce at the University of Washington. After experimenting with the tool, Mr. Krishnamurthy concluded that it cannot identify many basic grammatical faux pas -- like errors in capitalization, punctuation, and verb tense.

That's not exactly news, is it? But let's give Mr. Krishnamurthy points for badgering Microsoft to either improve the tool or scrap it.

If you've never used Word, you've missed a lot of good laughs and should run right over to Mr. Krishnamurthy's website for A Demonstration of the Futility of Using Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check. You'll find lots of goodies there, including this paragraph that MS Word thinks is just fine (Mr. Krishnamurthy recommends that you copy and paste it into your browser and try it for yourself):
Marketing are bad for brand. McDonalds is good brand. McDonald’s is good brand. McDonald’s are good brand. McDonalds’ are good brand. Finance good for marketing. 4P’s are marketing mix. I use marketing mixes for good marketing. Internets do good job. Internets help marketing. Internets make good brand. Gates do good marketing in Microsoft. Gates build the big brand in Microsoft. The Gates is leader of big company in Washington. Warren buffet do awesome job in marketing. Buffet eat buffet.

The line about Warren "Buffet" made me giggle, but it also made me wonder--doesn't the Oracle of Omaha spell his last name with two t's, just like Jimmy Buffett does? I Googled that and found it to be so. I also found a website advertising Profiles and Bios of the top American CEOs complete with pictures and golf scores. Forgetting the work I'm supposed to be doing this morning, I clicked, and I'm glad I did because now I know Mr. Buffett's handicap is 22.0. I can't wait to impress my husband at the dinner table by dropping that little tidbit into the conversation.

Yes, I spend way too much time on the internet. But that's one of the ways I feed my imagination; by following rabbit trails like these and learning interesting new things every day. That's where the story ideas come from; a not necessarily brilliant mind, but one which is continually fed interesting new information and experiences. When I need a new story I just shake the box (which is my imagination), then stick my hand in and draw something out. Then I ask myself, "What if...?"

That's about as much as I can tell you. Most of the story-creating is a complete mystery to me, which is exactly the way I like it. I don't want to mess with the magic.

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