Happy Copyrighting!

I looked up January holidays and wacky observances—‘cause I like that kind of stuff—and I learned that today is Copyright Law Day. I had no idea we celebrated this. Did you? And, hey, Copyright Law is definitely something I appreciate! So, yay for copyrighting! And yay for everybody who remembers how to spell ‘copyright’ correctly. I don’t always. It’s like ‘sleight,’ as in ‘sleight of hand.’ I want to pronounce it “slayt.” I can’t help it. Or ‘bear’ in ‘bear with me.’ Isn’t that a grumpy animal that can kill you with one powerful swipe of his claw? Please don’t bear with me that way.

U.S. Copyright Law states that your work is your intellectual property. The law discourages the copying of your work, but it doesn’t enforce anything if it’s stolen. For this reason writers take the precautionary step of formally registering their manuscripts with the U.S. Copyright Office before they begin the query process. I’m not going to pretend to know what’s the best practice, but it seems to me that expenses could pile up if the writer decides to change the manuscript, say, 4,000 times. (I’m on my 1,346th draft—just thinking out loud here.) So, how does that work exactly? Do you just register manuscript amendments? [Amendment 53,602: Cedric is not the bad guy anymore. He was framed by Phyllis, who is now mentally unstable (see Amendment 49,979) due to the demise of her brother, Mark (see Amendment 49,733) when the Ferris Wheel exploded (see Amendment 12,022).]

It’s a risky business writing amazing things down that people can steal. *Sigh* It’s a risk I face daily. That brings me to a quote for the day: “With great imagination comes great delusion.” I hope nobody else said that. I’m thinking of copyrighting it.

In other news, Earth’s perihelion occurs at 11:00 p.m. tonight where I am! I’m going to celebrate it by sleeping.

Let Them Do All the Talking

Suppose someone uncovered a never-before-seen manuscript of Charles Dickens and posted it as a serial novel in an online magazine, or sold it on Amazon. Would it become one of the top-selling best reads of the year? I doubt it. It’s my belief that only a small percentage of readers today would hang around long enough for a story to unfold the way Dickens painted it. The decision to read a story by Charles Dickens is like drawing up a business contract to begin a relationship. It starts out as a chore and slowly evolves into a pleasant, satisfying friendship. Well, at least that’s how I feel about his first works; The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a bit of a gyp.

When I began reading the first chapters of The Pickwick Papers, I admit, it was a trial of perseverance. But by the end I was laughing, crying and inspired to expound on some of his sketches. Dickens, the master of characterization, merged detail and personality in a way that seemed effortless. A reader doesn’t consciously notice the character is being described at all. That’s finesse. I think it helped that he had a larger palette of words to use in painting his masterpieces. The writers of that time, such as Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Gaskell, were ‘free-penning’ concepts, aware that the culture was under fire. The Industrial Revolution was changing their world.

In comparison, our culture’s paperless venues are affecting the printed word to the point of confining literature to an often déjà vu-heavy shadow of what it once was. But while the vocabulary remains somewhat static, sometimes merely requiring one to invest in a growing repertoire of clichés, the expectation of the reader is greater. He/she is becoming acclimated to game, movie and graphic novel-driven forms of media. Books are in a mean competition with this accelerated thinking that allows the description to be mapped out in a few blinks. Is it any wonder some readers don’t want to waste time on descriptive prose, unless it’s a love scene in slow motion? Within this limited scope a writer is expected to create unique, relatable personalities, entrancing environments and novel plots.

With movie scenes replacing setting descriptions and animated images replacing character descriptions, what’s left to work with? Dialogue. Dialogue becomes the given for carrying a storyline. One must wield well-mastered dialogue to effectively capture readers. Instead of thoughtfully inhaling the perfume of a multi-worded garden of script, a reader looks for the description to make an appearance incognito between the humorous, oftentimes cynical, remarks of the characters. That’s why best-selling authors of young adult fiction avoid descriptive scenes that explain things organically and employ more flashbacks.

This is our Information Revolution to which we have responded with our own Age of Enlightenment and Romanticism. The yearning to stop and smell the roses – even the ones created with words – may be forgotten for a time in the bustle of the day-to-day; but it will emerge again. The times change, avenues change. People don’t. Neither should the integrity of a good story. Keeping that integrity is the challenge, I think.

I have to go now. The How It’s Made marathon is about to begin.