Friday, January 24, 2014

Things People Really Need to Start Understanding About Language

Saying that the internet is full of extremes when it comes to the way people feel about grammar, language, and word choice is like saying the sky is blue and it really shouldn't be that way. As with most extremes, stances like these don't really have a place in modern society. The extremists themselves always seem to find out the hard way when those they interact with inevitably want to beat them to death.

  • On the one hand, you have your die hard grammar Nazis that can't stop themselves from ripping someone's week a new Saturday if they misspell something, misplace a comma, or accidentally type "their" when they really mean "they're". They're sickened by anyone who would dare swear in their written communications, dammit. Don't even get me started on how they feel about slang.
  • On the other, you have the type of people that leave me wondering how they even managed to pass fifth grade. You know the ones. They communicate in text speak and misspell words on purpose pretty much all the time, even in so-called professional communications. They think they're making themselves look cool, cute, or unique when really they're just making themselves look stupid.
Then there are those of us who not only know the ins and outs of proper English, but also know how and when it's appropriate to mix things up a bit. You know... normal people. People who understand the following concepts.

Language is a living, breathing thing.

Yes, there are rules to language and everyone really ought to know the basics. However, it's important to understand that that English language doesn't exist in a vacuum. It really is a living, evolving thing. It's influenced by pop culture, different subsections of society, and many other fantastic things. Like it or not, people do bend the rules of word use. It's their way of taking something we all share and making it their own. 

That said, there are a million different ways to express yourself with language that wouldn't be considered textbook "good English". Swearing can be a perfectly legitimate way to really add emphasis to what you're saying, especially when talking about feelings. Well-timed slang or off-color expressions can be fantastically funny when used in the right context. This is something that is especially important to understand if you're a creative writer who'd like to master a really simple way to give your characters some individuality.

A person occasionally using popular expressions like "amazeballs" or maybe having a bit of a potty mouth shouldn't add up to their automatically being written off as stupid or taken to be someone who doesn't take words seriously enough. If you did that, you'd have to condemn some of modern literature's most noteworthy authors.

There's cool and edgy... and then there's confusing.

Of course, this isn't to say it isn't possible to completely overdo things. We've all had the experience of trying to decipher something someone wrote or texted that is so "individualized" we can't even read it. We all also know "that guy" that drops an f-bomb pretty much every other word. Then we're outside the realm of simply being expressive and into a land of confusion where we can barely understand what's being said.

The whole point of language is supposed to be to communicate. If you're having a hard time getting your point across because of the way you express yourself, it might be time to tone it down. It's not cute, or edgy, or cool. It's just confusing. It's also making you look like an idiot. Fuck is a great word. Really, I assure you that I'm a big fan. But there are other words out there that are really pretty cool, too. Why not keep things interesting and mix it up a little bit?

There's also a time and a place.

Another thing I wish more people understood is that there really is a time and a place for casual English. And guess what. It's not when you're writing a professional e-mail, writing a college paper, applying for a job, or anything else along those lines. And yes, people really do this.

I've actually received so-called professional e-mail from potential clients before that was full of text speak -- "u" instead of "you", "ur" instead of "you're", et cetera. There wasn't any shortage of confusing run-on sentences and really obvious misspellings either. Needless to say, this hardly got me excited about working for these people. Now... they may well have been serious about wanting to hire me for projects, but do you know what happened? I ignored the messages. I mean... literally ignored. These people didn't even get a curt "no, thank you" in response.

Other people's mileage may vary, but I legitimately didn't think someone who couldn't be bothered to type out y-o-u in a professional e-mail warranted the time and energy it would take me to send a response. I most certainly wasn't interested in working with someone like that and it's because of the impression they made. If they're that lax about writing e-mail to people they might potentially be working with at some point, then what else will they not take seriously? It could be consistency, promptness in communication, and reliability when it comes to actually paying me for my services.

Now it's perfectly possible that I was wrong about those people. However, that is nevertheless the impression they made on me. Don't let it happen to you. Show potential employers (and employees) that you take them, yourself, and what you're doing seriously and devote the time necessary to write out a courteous, professional message instead. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece of modern English or anything, but it does need to be legible and reasonably free of errors. Really, it's not that hard and it really does make a difference.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Evidence Boxes and Mysterious Objects

Louisiana State Evidence
So last week, something pretty fantastic happened. We received our first official promo box on behalf of More Horror.

As anyone who is familiar with that aspect of our lives knows, we already receive quite a lot of screeners and opportunities to write reviews or conduct interviews. We also receive a lot of invites to premiers and horror-related events (which we usually can't attend due to a lack of transportation and funds), as well as requests to spread the word about goings-on in the industry. We had yet to actually receive an honest-to-goodness promo box though. We've been wanting to see something like this show up for a long time though.

This one was promoting an upcoming series for HBO called True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It looked exactly like an evidence box and came complete with red security tape and very official-looking labels. When we opened it, we found it contained a very odd-looking "unknown object" (as specified by the evidence labels). It looked like a cross between a voodoo doll and one of those curious twig totems from The Blair Witch Project. Similar objects can be seen in one of the official trailers for the show.

"Unknown Object"
The object itself is really pretty cool-looking and it's now sitting proudly over in Seth's work area where he keeps many of the DVDs and other very cool swag we receive. Quite creepy-looking and very neat. I actually felt the need to bless it or something, so well done, HBO's sculpture artist (whoever you are). You can read more about the show and watch a preview as part of Seth's True Detective promo write-up.

Like a lot of people that run relatively successful indie start-up companies, we sometimes wonder whether or not we're really getting anywhere with what we're doing. I don't have a ton of time or energy to pour into More Horror myself these days, as I am perpetually busy with my clients and other professional projects. I do the occasional media review or resource article for the site, but Seth spends the bulk of his time on it.

Those who love the site and envy/applaud its success kind of tend to assume that we must make a lot of money off of it, or be swimming in glamorous opportunities, or something. In actuality, that sort of thing rarely comes our way via that avenue, so acknowledgement of the site's clout with something like a promo box from HBO really means a lot to us. Seth says that we probably earned that clout at least partially because of the reviews I've written for so many of HBO's shows (like Dexter), so that makes me feel pretty awesome as a writer, too.

I want to be someone fantastic someday as far as what I do with my writing. The going is really fucking frustrating sometimes to be sure, but just when I need it most, something seems to happen that reminds me we've already got the most difficult part of the equation in the bag. We're talented and we actually have something wonderful to offer. We just need more outlets for those resources and it's at times like these that I have faith we'll find them.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tablets: A Gateway to Creativity

It's almost embarrassing how lazy I'm getting in my old age. I'm slowly beginning to realize that the primary reason I don't do more of the personal things I say I'd like to do isn't really not having the time or the energy the way I'm always saying (although those are certainly also legitimate factors). It's really sheer fucking laziness more often than not.

At the end of my work day, I quite simply don't feel motivated to do anything particularly creative for myself even when I really kind of want to. For instance, I might well have a fantastic idea in my head for a piece of art and even actually feel like drawing, but actually creating whatever it is doesn't feel like it's worth the trouble of getting my Wacom out, hooking it up, waiting for Photoshop to load, and all the rest of that jazz.

I've been like that when it comes to a lot of the things I've wanted to start doing again, but never quite got around to. I guess that's why I'm lucky to live in a day and age that finds everyone else getting lazier and less inclined to actually do much with their time as well. The result is the way even the average mobile device can be equipped with a million different solutions that make "getting shit done" so easy and convenient, you really have no more excuses.

I first started figuring that out when I finally caved and bought myself an Android phone. Thanks to that phone, I finally accomplished a couple of things I'd been wanting to for a while. For instance, I somehow managed to cultivate a daily prayer and Bible reading habit thanks to some really handy-dandy apps I installed that made it super simple. I even got where I actually bothered to read the news on something  the neighborhood of a regular basis. In fact, I got where I liked my Android phone so much, that I decided to buy myself a tablet for Christmas as well and it's been really helpful to me so far.

For one thing, I'm reading again. Like... really reading on a regular basis. There are apparently a couple of services out there now that are like Netflix for books that make the book part of the equation pretty simple. (I'm currently using Scribd.) I've also just discovered that you can apparently draw some pretty cool shit on these things as well. Really, I installed a painting/sketching/doodle app on it yesterday and suddenly found myself scribbling away for no real reason at all.

I didn't make anything special, as you can see -- just doodles -- but hey. Plus, Seth seemed to actually like them and begged me not to just erase them when I was done, so here they are getting shared with the intrawebz at large. So yeah... I was actually creative yesterday... and in a way that actually found me making visual art instead of just writing. It's literally been years, so that's definitely a good thing. Really, if I'd known that all it would really take to get me interested in once everyday essentials like reading and drawing again, I would have gotten a stupid tablet a lot sooner.