Over at my Patreon —

Just letting you know that I’ve dropped the first chapter of RIHASI over at my Patreon, in case you’d like to click over and read it. I know not everyone likes teasers! I don’t usually read them myself! But if you enjoy teasers, there it is!

It’s coming along, honestly! Despite puppies and eclipses, I’m close to halfway through the first cut / primary revision.

I’m also posting more puppy videos and pictures at my Patreon than appear here.

Yes, I had to figure out how to get videos off my phone so that I could post them; yes, that was annoyingly indirect; yes, YouTube videos explaining simple things in simple words are helpful for those of us who don’t know that the Google drive is a thing you can use to email yourself videos that can’t be attached like a normal picture.

Anyway, short puppy videos probably every couple of days at my Patreon for the next little while, as they grow and change and get tremendously cute and delightful.

Meanwhile, here’s a cute picture I took this morning. This poofy dog bed is meant to keep the puppies from getting on the tile, because they have a little trouble walking on tile. However, they apparently decided it would be a fun thing to climb, defeating the purpose but creating this cute scene. Only the rubies could have gotten up there; the others are too fat to climb on something like that.

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Do not let anybody tell you not to use all the words

It’s not just “delve.” Here’s a list of the 10 Most Common ChatGPT Words

I’m not that likely to use the word “leverage” because I’m seldom talking about the uses of levers, which is almost the only context in which I would probably use that word. However, I am seriously now going to make an effort to use “delve,” “resonate,” and “tapestry.” As a side note, I knew of someone who named a beautiful dapple-gray horse Tapestry, and I thought that was such a beautiful name for that horse.

Image from Pixabay

But back to the topic. Look! Look at this article! Top 10 ChatGPT’s Favorite Words and How to Avoid Them

Emphasis mine. For crying out loud! How to avoid them! Well, God forbid you should use words that ChatGPT uses! How can anybody let themselves be bullied into not using words?

Here’s a thought: use ALL the words, and also write in such a way that no one could POSSIBLY think your text was generated by ChatGPT or any other text generator. Then, if anybody dares to suggest you’re generating text, I suggest bringing back the civilized response of a cold stare and an even colder, “I beg your pardon?”

What is the online version of that response? Is there an emoticon that indicates, “You’re a complete twit and should shut up because you’re embarrassing yourself”? If there’s not an emoticon for that, we need one. This is the exact situation in which to deploy such an emoticon.

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Appositives

So, as I mentioned in a post the other day, I recently attended a brief workshop on AI, with emphasis on what it can do for students and – as you might imagine – on what students should not do with it. I’ll be attending another workshop soon, this one with emphasis, I’m pretty sure from the promotional materials, on how great a tool AI will be for teaching! students! critical! thinking! skills.

If you guess that maybe I have doubts, this is true. Saying “The student can use AI to generate ideas!” or “AI can help a student organize a paper!” sounds a lot like saying, “So they don’t have to use their own brain, how neat!”

Also, there is this new study: ChatGPT linked to declining academic performance and memory loss in new study, and while my first reaction is, you guessed it, “Really? Can I see your methodology?”, my second reaction is, “Of course, what else would you expect?”

I am not actually viciously opposed to all possible use of AI, by the way, in case you might have gotten that impression. I hear it’s good for rapidly handling a mass of data, and no doubt that’s useful in many contexts. I’m horrified by AI hallucinations in medical diagnoses and advice, however. Also, the idea of getting AI to generate ideas so you don’t have to go to all the trouble of generating your very own ideas sounds, how shall I put this, somewhat less than useful, particularly as – from what we’ve seen in AI trying to generate fiction – you’re likely to get super-clichéd garbage ideas mixed with falsehoods.

However, my actual point here is: one comment made at the recent workshop is that ChatGPT in particular is very fond of appositives; so much so that this is one feature by which its generated text can be recognized.

I hadn’t noticed this.

What (you may be asking) is an appositive? If you don’t quite recollect the term, which in fact I didn’t, I’ll give a brief rule-of-thumb definition after a series of examples. And where am I getting these examples? From the chapter on appositives in Virginia Tufte’s book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, where she offers and discusses many examples. Here are a few:

***

Over the last decade William Langewiesche has been fascinated by the modern-day frontier – those wild places that stubbornly defy all efforts at control.  – Philbrick, “Waterworld.”

The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. – Kincaid, A Small Place.

He lumbered into the city room, a big guy in his middle twenties, wearing a suit too dark for the season, and the disconsolate expression of a hunter who has seen nothing but warblers all day.  – Thurber, “Newspaperman.”

One of the great poets, Milton is also one of the least read. – Untermeyer, The Lives of the Poets.

Mr. Somerville – a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great – was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing – namely, to write mere English.  – Churchill, A Roving Commission.

Modern houseboats being what they are – sinfully luxurious is what they are – it ought to be enough to run them lazily around back rivers and bayous. The last thing anybody needs is a national championship houseboat race. – Whall, “A House is Not a Hotrod.”

They helped create a special memory of my father – my gossamer memories suddenly given vivid shape and form and color.  – Kunhardt, My Father’s Country

***

Okay, you see what all those sentences include? They include a phrase that renames, redefines, or expands on a noun or noun phrase. It’s the renaming or redefining that makes an appositive. This is the short form of the definition, remember. I don’t actually care a lot about the details because life is short and I’m not planning to teach a class on syntax and style any time soon. (Though that might be neat.) Quick rule of thumb, therefore: an appositive renames, redefines, or expands on a noun or noun phrase. They’re set off with commas, with dashes, with colons, or sometimes they’re set as fragments after the main sentence. They usually, but not always, come after the noun or noun phrase. Here are all those sentences again, this time with the appositives bolded:

***

Over the last decade William Langewiesche has been fascinated by the modern-day frontier – those wild places that stubbornly defy all efforts at control. – The appositive here is defining “modern-day frontier.”

The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. – The appositive is redefining Antigua; repetition is common in appositives.

He lumbered into the city room, a big guy in his middle twenties, wearing a suit too dark for the season, and the disconsolate expression of a hunter who has seen nothing but warblers all day. – The appositive is expanding on “he,” a very boring noun, so that the appositive is doing all the heavy lifting.

One of the great poets, Milton is also one of the least read. – An inverted appositive, coming before the noun on which it expands.

Mr. Somerville – a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great – was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing – namely, to write mere English. Expanding on the noun.

Modern houseboats being what they are – sinfully luxurious is what they are – it ought to be enough to run them lazily around back rivers and bayous. The last thing anybody needs is a national championship houseboat race. – Delightfully expands on the noun phrase, and if I were teaching a class on syntax and style, I would use this sentence, because it is great.

They helped create a special memory of my father – my gossamer memories suddenly given vivid shape and form and color. – Expands on the noun phrase “special memory.”

***

Okay, so after this comment at the workshop about appositives, I told ChatGPT to generate a student essay on an excruciatingly common topic. Basically every student taking English Comp I thinks this would be a great original idea for an essay.

Please write a thousand-word essay on the impact of modern technology on student performance in the classroom.

If you happen to be taking English Comp I or if you know a student who is, please please please do not write, or allow anyone you know to write, an English composition essay on this or any similar topic. I promise you, the instructor has seen ten thousand iterations and is deeply bored with every possible variation on this theme.

I will spare you the thousand-word essay. It’s pretty obviously generated, but the interesting thing, given the workshop, is that having read the whole thing pretty carefully myself, I see … no appositives at all.

Yet this claim about appositives is definitely made here and there. Here, for example:

I’m going back to my generated essay. I’m still not seeing any appositives. None. I’m tempted to paste it in below so you can see what you think, but a boring thousand-word essay about this extremely boring topic, I mean, if you want to see it, let me know and I’ll paste it into a comment, but otherwise, no.

I will pull out one sentence, however:

Educators can promote digital literacy skills by incorporating media literacy and information literacy into the curriculum, teaching students how to critically evaluate online information and navigate digital resources responsibly.

Emphasis mine. Honestly, I can’t even be bothered to roll my eyes.

Obviously integrating text generators into the classroom will not encourage critical thinking. I can think of assignments that would actually do that, such as having students generate an essay on a topic where they are a genuine expert and then analyze the generated essay for falsity and misleading statements. Lots of students are experts in something or other. Use that. Or maybe have the students deliberately try to get the text generator to spit out something they know is false. Or generate fake essays using two different text generators, or the same one twice, and compare style and accuracy. Or have each student both write AND generate an essay, then hand both to a different student, and have each student try to figure out which essay is the real thing and which isn’t. Or have the students pick a particular book they like, summarize it, then try to get an AI text generator to write something similar, and analyze the differences between the real thing and the fake. Then discuss the results, maybe assign something like a written explanation of the differences between human-generated and AI-generated text.

My very strong expectation is that practically no teachers will assign anything like the above. No, teachers will wave their hands and chant “We’re teaching critical thinking skills!” and then they will either turn a blind eye to plagiarism from text generators or else they will try to prevent plagiarism, neither of which will have anything to do with teaching critical thinking.

Well, we’ll see.

Meanwhile, now I bet you’ll be noticing appositives for a while. I know I will be!

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Would You Turn the Page?

Okay, this time I went to some effort to find a bestselling fantasy novel that is not YA and should not have Hunger Games vibes. At the time I write this, the book I picked is #14 in “Fantasy Adventure Fiction,” which is a big, competitive category. This book has about ten thousand ratings and an average star rating of 4.7.

The author is very well known. I’m betting some of you will have read this. It’s hard to avoid that when it’s a bestselling fantasy novel. For me, the author is somewhat hit or miss, with rather more emphasis on the “miss,” but I haven’t read that many books by this author.

Okay, so, first page:

***

In the middle of the ocean, there was a girl who lived upon a rock.

This was not an ocean like the one you have imagined.

Nor was the rock like the one you have imagined.

The girl, however, might be as you imagined — assuming you imagined her as thoughtful, soft-spoken, and overly fond of collecting cups.

Men often described the girl as having hair the color of wheat. Others called it the color of caramel, or occasionally the color of honey. The girl wondered why men so often used food to describe women’s features. There was a hunger to such men that was best avoided.

In her estimation, “light brown” was sufficiently descriptive — though the hue of her hair was not its most interesting trait. That would be her hair’s unruliness. Each morning, she heroically tamed it with brush and comb, then muzzled it with a ribbon and a tight braid. Yet some strands always found a way to escape and would wave free in the wind, eagerly greeting everyone she passed.

The girl had been given the name of Glorf (don’t judge; it was a family name), but her wild hair earned her the name everyone knew her by: Tress. That moniker, was, in Tress’s estimation, her most interesting feature.

***

What do you think? Did you recognize this right off? If so, did you read the book? And now, looking just at this opening, do you think you would have if you hadn’t known the author?

I didn’t set out to be super critical. Really! I didn’t! But I don’t think much of this opening. This beginning, about the ocean not being like the ocean you think of, nor the rock being like the rock you think of, made the single most familiar opening lines in all of fantasy leap to my mind.

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

That is literally what I thought of, that this opening is just like the opening of The Hobbit. I immediately felt this was cliched. Except for the line about collecting cups. I liked that.

But opening with a series of VERY short one-sentence paragraphs just struck me as contrived and silly. So did the author speaking directly to the reader, using second person. The use of the parenthetical aside is also second person and also contrived and silly. That can be all right; the author is obviously signaling tone and mood by using this approach. This novel is supposed to be arch and humorous. I don’t like it, but I realize plenty of readers will probably enjoy it. This kind of style is just a hard sell for me personally.

THEN the lines about men describing women with food comparisons — well, as it happens, I have also described characters as having eyes the color of dark honey; is that okay? I’m feeling defensive and annoyed. I realize that may not be a common reaction. It seems to me that “dark honey” is not the same as “light brown,” by the way. If you want a more translucent golden-brown, that is actually like honey, not like generic “light brown.”

But you know what I am now primed to notice? That THIS author is describing women’s features in terms of wild animals. Is THAT okay? Is there some reason THAT is better? At least in part because I’m feeling peeved at this criticism of using honey and wheat as descriptive terms, I’m really intolerant of this type of wild-beast description. Also, the metaphor of “eager greeting” looks really stupid to me. I know! I’m annoyed! That’s making me extra critical!

Anyway, this is Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson.

I picked up an ebook of this book at World Fantasy Convention last year, but now it’s sliding down my TBR pile. I definitely am not in a mood to turn the page at this point. Part of that is, I realize, just me. But I really don’t like this first page at all.

Opinions? And, if you’ve read it, thumbs up or down on the book overall?

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Update: Eclipses and Puppies and Cake

Before I forget: The Death’s Lady series is very much on sale this week.

This is an attempt to boost KU reads for the series from the baseline. We’ll see how it works! The KU bounce from January promotions was disappointing. I think January was probably not a good time to promote. Hopefully April will work better, especially since this series hasn’t been in KU for quite a while.

The Year’s Midnight is #1 or #2 in its categories, I see. It’s #131 in the Free Kindle Store. It would be nice to see it get into the top 100, though I don’t know how much practical difference that makes. Regardless, if you want to pick up copies, this is definitely the time. I don’t expect to put the prices down this low again for a long time.

***

Okay, so we had fantastic weather for the eclipse, and I hope you all did too, especially if you traveled to see it. One of the great things about having near-eighty-degree weather is that the temperature drop was VERY DRAMATIC, as dramatic as the change in the light. Really neat to look at the sky through the dogwood branches and see the shift to a different quality of blue. Absolutely amazing how little of the Sun is necessary to get daylight that looks almost but not quite normal to the eye. It’s really a tribute to how your eyes and brain compensate for tremendous variation in light intensity, so it’s really hard to tell how dim the light is until poof! it’s practically dark. And then, two minutes later, back to weirdly gray-blue sky and strange dogwood flowers. And neat crescent-shaped shadows. I do find that amazing.

It was wonderful to have such perfect weather especially for everyone who drove to southern MO to see the eclipse. They all, or most of them, got to see it, which is splendid. I know some areas had clouds and rain and that’s too bad. I think a lot of people re-routed to southern Missouri at the last minute, because I drove to town and back just after the eclipse and whoa, the local smallish highway that leads up to St. Louis was PACKED. Looked like ten-mile-an-hour bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye could see.

Meanwhile!

The puppies are SO MUCH MORE ACTIVE. Also, this morning, all of them were willing to eat a little bit of soaked kibble with formula added. I feed the pieces into their mouths individually, like feeding coins into a slot machine, in order to (a) reduce the mess as puppies walk through squishy food, and more importantly (b) keep track of which puppy is eating what. So I know for sure all of them ate a few pieces. They’re four weeks as of yesterday. By next week, I hope they will be eating well. That will be a big load off Morgan.

The cake was just a cake, but one I’d wanted to make for a long time. I couldn’t because we didn’t have enough people around to eat it. I didn’t take a picture, but it wasn’t fancy. But three layers, with lemon curd between the layers and coconut-cream-cheese frosting, with coconut flakes patted into the frosting, so that’s more fancy than a sheet cake for sure. I know I should have colored some of the coconut pink and done a crescent of colored coconut in honor of the eclipse, but alas, I didn’t think of that in time.

ALSO: Yes, slow progress on RIHASI. I’m doing the first cut combined with primary revision, and the puppies are indeed taking up some time I would otherwise put into revision. But it’s moving fine. It’s just slow and uninteresting to talk about. I’ve cut about, I don’t know, 8000 words or so thus far, so that’s a good beginning. I’m removing a minor element, which does mean saving the new version as RIHASI 3 in case I change my mind. I expect and hope that this is the highest number the draft will have before it turns into RIHASI FINAL and, eventually, just RIHASI, while all the other versions get deleted. Invictus went to INVICTUS 8, I think. It would definitely be nice never to see a number that high attacked to a draft every again.

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Have a great Eclipse Day!

Last time, a physics teacher I know made this image by layering images from a camera connected to a telescope, which is pretty amazing.

My favorite pictures that I took myself were of shadows:

Eclipse coming …

… and going

Pretty neat, eh? Hard to believe that was eight years ago. We had tremendous luck with weather at my house that day. The forecast for cloudy / clear weather this time has been going back and forth a good bit, so who knows whether we’ll see anything today, but here’s hoping!

At least the people coming to our place for the eclipse can console themselves with puppies if clouds appear at the wrong time. I mean, that’s something, right?

Haydee is thrilled with the babies

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If you’re looking forward to the eclipse on Monday …

Annie Dillard’s classic essay is still the best I know about.

The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin band of river held a spot of sun.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was saturated, deep indigo, up in the air.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were now platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were fine-spun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.

The essay is in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

My house is in the path of totality, and at the moment we seem to be expecting clear and sunny weather. Crossing our fingers!

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This mass damper is very cool — and probably saved a lot of lives

So, I’m really impressed by the engineering that went into all the buildings that didn’t collapse in Taiwan yesterday. I thought, 7.4, that’s big, a lot of people must have been killed. It turns out, no. A few people, yes, and of course that’s tragic, but … I’m just stunned at how non-terrible this earthquake was. I just checked and the death toll right now looks like about ten people. From a 7.4 earthquake near a major city. A much weaker earthquake in Iran in 2003 killed 34,000 people. A very similar earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 killed almost 90,000 people. I’m so amazed by reports I’m seeing about this earthquake. I don’t think St Louis would do NEARLY as well if the New Madrid fault let go.

Here’s something I didn’t know about that probably deserves a lot of credit for preventing fatalities in Taiwan:

This 660-ton pendulum protects Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper from earthquakes

  • A 660-ton steel sphere hangs between the 87th and 92nd floors of Taiwan’s tallest building.
  • The “tuned mass damper” can reduce the building’s movements by up to 40%.
  • With the ability to move about 5 feet from side to side, the pendulum protects against earthquakes and high winds.

And as a result, that building, 101 stories tall, is still perfectly fine. That’s remarkable.

AND!

Not only that, but the architects and engineers did something extra cool with this weight damper: They put in an observation area so you can see this giant pendulum.  What makes Taipei 101’s unique is that viewers can watch it in action from an indoor public observatory. What a great idea. It’s very attractive, really. It looks like a 660-ton work of art.

Various other buildings only partially collapsed, which is also pretty amazing. The pictures of buildings leaning way over, it looks like about a 45 degree angle to me, that’s astounding. Apparently there’s going to be an investigation about why they collapsed that far, but honestly, leaning way over and not completely collapsing is so much better than crashing to the streets.

Definitely great to see these reports, and I hope they get all the trapped people out safely, but wow, good job by all the engineers who safeguarded this city against serious earthquakes.

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Claude vs a real novel

At recent workshop on how to handle AI in the classroom, someone mentioned that Claude is better at faking fiction than ChatGPT.

Okay, I said, let’s just see. Claude, please begin a story where a girl drinking from a pool in the forest sees a man walk out of the light. He doesn’t notice her and walks away.

***

Claude:

The cool water trickled down my throat as I knelt by the small forest pool, cupping handfuls of the crisp liquid to my lips. The slender beams of early morning sunlight filtered through the canopy of leaves, dappling the pool’s surface with ever-shifting patterns of light and shadow.

I paused mid-sip as a movement in my peripheral vision caught my eye. There, at the edge of the trees where a slightly wider ray of sunshine broke through the branches, a flickering luminance seemed to intensify and expand. I froze, my eyes straining to make sense of what was unfolding before me.

In a seamless cosmic blurring, the fabric of the light itself appeared to part and reshape into an upright human form. My jaw dropped as the radiant silhouette of a man steadily gained definition and solidity, coalescing into an apparent flesh-and-blood person before my astonished gaze.

Dressed in simple clothing that seemed almost archaic in its neutral earth tones and simple cut, the mysterious man stood calmly blinking as if getting his bearings. He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair and beard, taking in his surroundings with an enigmatic half-smile.

Too stunned to make a sound, I remained motionless by the pool, the faint gurgling of the water the only noise in the suddenly electrified air. Then, with a last squinting look around the sunlit trees, the strange man turned and set off at an unhurried pace deeper into the forest, disappearing as nonchalantly as he had arrived.

I could only gape at the spot in the treeline where he had vanished, my mind reeling. What in the world had I just witnessed? And who – or what – was that man who had seemingly materialized out of thin air?

*****

Patricia McKillip, Winter Rose:

They said later that he rode into the village on a horse the color of buttermilk, but I saw him walk out of the wood.

I was kneeling at the well; I had just lifted water to my lips. The well was one of the wood’s secrets: a deep spring as clear as light, hidden under an overhang of dark stones down which the brier roses fall, white as snow, red as blood, all summer long. The vines hide the water unless you know to look. I found it one hot afternoon when I stopped to smell the roses. Beneath their sweet scent lay something shadowy, mysterious: the smell of earth, water, wet stone. I moved the cascading briers and looked down at my own reflection.

Corbet, he called himself to the villagers. But I saw him before he had any name at all.

My name is Rois, and I look nothing like a rose. The water told me that. Water never lies. I look more like a blackbird, with my flighty black hair and eyes more amber than the blackbird’s sunny yellow. My skin is not fit for fairy tales, since I liked to stand in light, with my eyes closed, my face turned upward toward the sun. That’s how I saw him at first: as a fall of light, and then something shaping out of the light. So it seemed. I did not move; I let the water stream silently down my wrist. There was a blur of gold: his hair. And then I blinked, and saw his face more clearly.

I must have made some noise then. Perhaps I shifted among the wild fern. Perhaps I sighed. He looked toward me, but there was too much light; I must have been a blur of shadow in his eyes.

Then he walked out of the light.

Of course I thought about him, at first the way you think about weather or time, something always at the edge of your mind. He didn’t seem real to me, just something I dreamed on a hot summer day, as I swallowed water scented with roses and stone. I remembered his eyes, odd, heavy-lidded, the color, I thought then, of his hair. When I saw them a day or two later, I was surprised.

I gathered wild lilies and honeysuckle and bleeding heart, which my sister, Laurel, loved. I stayed in the wood for a long time, watching, but he had gone. The sky turned the color of a mourning dove’s breast before I walked out of the trees. I remembered time, then. I was tired and ravenous, and I wished I had ridden to the wood. I wished I had worn shoes. But I had learned where to find wild ginger, and what tree bled a crust of honey out of a split in the wood, and where the blackberries would ripen. My father despaired of me; my sister wondered at me. But my despair was greater if I caged my wonder, like a wild bird. Some days I let it fly free, and followed it. On those days I found the honey, and the secret well, and the mandrake root.

My sister, Laurel, is quite beautiful. She has chestnut hair, and skin like ripened peaches, and great grey eyes that seem to see things that are not quite discernible to others. She doesn’t really see that well; her world is simple and fully human. Her brows lift and pucker worriedly when she encounters ambiguities, or sometimes only me. Everyone in the village loves her; she is gentle and sweet-spoken. She was to marry the next spring.

That twilight, when I came home barefoot, my skirt full of flowers, her lover, Perrin, was there. Perrin looked at me askance, as always, and shook his head.

“Barefoot. And with rose petals in your hair. You look like something conceived under a mushroom.”

******

What do you think?

I think there is not the remotest comparison. Compared to McKillip, Claude looks practically illiterate. Where does Claude fall down on the job?

–Cliched reactions; cliched phrases throughout. That’s what strikes me first, and then —

–Way too little voice. The protagonist does not yet exist as an individual in the reader’s mind. That’s what strikes me second. This is connected to the first problem. The dependence on cliches is one thing that prevents the protagonist from becoming an individual.

–Way too little setting, and what setting there is has been rendered boring. Oddly, though this is huge contrast between the generated text and the real thing, this struck me third rather than first.

Honestly, I think the above comparison really illustrates what creativity and individuality in writing looks like: McKillip’s work has it and Claude’s does not. This would no doubt become more obvious with a longer excerpt, even if you pitted Claude against a less skilled author than McKillip.

This kind of comparison might be useful in talking about “voice” in a class on fiction. That’s so nebulous, but it’s so plain here — that McKillip’s Rois has voice and is already an individual in this short snippet, and Claude’s unnamed protagonist is an undifferentiated Everyprotagonist.

This paired comparison also shows the importance of putting the protagonist in the world. Setting is important. Do it right, and you pull the reader into your world. Leave it out, or barely nod to it, and the story becomes unengaging.

*****

I should perhaps add here that Winter Rose is a lovely story as a standalone, but I so vehemently disliked the so-called sequel that I gave it away and I’ve tried hard to pretend I never read it. I therefore do recommend caution here, in case you read the above snippet, immediately buy Winter Rose, and then think about going on with the putative sequel.

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