Write? Right?

After 35 years as a technical writer, I am discovering many aspiring writers secretly — maybe not so secretly — want to write user guides. While invoking a glamor by calling their work fiction, their truest heart’s desire is to write dry narrative. We, the readers, should fill descriptive gaps from the overflowing richness of our imaginations.

If description is not the author’s job, who needs the author? If I can find all that imagery in my head, why should I read your book?

Everyone wants to be Ernest Hemingway. I’d rather read William Faulkner. Never exclude the possibility that what you want to write is not what people want to read.

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A wholesale willingness to discard pieces of our language appalls me. I’m not looking for the leanest, cleanest text. I love description. I revel in complexity. I adore rich language, word play, emotional depth, color and texture. I want my authors to carry me to unexplored and previously undreamt of realms. I wish to be transported on wings woven of words, to undertake soaring flights I would never achieve on my own. In my opinion, that is an author’s job. If not that, then what?

I deplore the overuse of any grammatical structure, but to suggest the complete elimination of adverbs and modifiers? Much of the beauty of the English language is the huge vocabulary available to us. And unlike German, Russian, and many Romance languages, English grammar is flexible, offering a wide variety of constructions. You aren’t locked into any rigid forms. You can place modifiers as you please and modify verbs, nouns and just about anything else.

The quote from Stephen King “The road to hell is paved with adverbs” has been tossed around a lot.

But I am sure it was not intended to suggest we eliminate adverbs. Read anything Stephen King has written and discover he is one of the richest users of English, as per the following clip from 11/23/63. Count, if you like, the number of adverbs and adverbial clauses. If you can.

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No author would advocate banning any part of speech. King’s admonition urges you to avoid overusing adverbs, not eliminating them because if you were to read a few lines further, he admits that ultimately, like everyone else he uses whatever parts of speech are right and most importantly, ensure that the reader understands what he means. Stephen King is not a great writer because his prose is so lean. He is a great writer because of its richness and creativity, the poetry of his words. Lean? Hardly.

Books need to be engaging, interesting. Writers need to love words. Everything ever written about writing is no more than a guideline. To write well you need to hear the music of words, the flow of them. You need to know when your narrative needs to be spare and when you need a glorious outpouring of rhythm and poetry. No one can teach you to write. It is a gift. You can learn to write better, but if you have no inherent talent for words, no amount of hard work will turn you into an author.

You can get away with virtually anything but if you bore your readers, they will never forget or forgive. And if by chance I’m reviewing your book? I won’t be counting your adverbs. Trust me, if I even notice parts of speech, you’ve already failed. Dismally (yes, it’s an adverb … cope).

Ultimately the only thing that matters is how your story and characters resonate with readers. You can create the most perfect text ever put on paper, but unless it’s interesting, readable, entertaining, gripping … I don’t care and neither will anyone else.

Worry less about style. Worry more about content.

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Garry’s Baseball Movie Picks

Summer will come. It’s already officially well into springtime. To me, this means baseball. Red Sox doing pretty well, so far. What could be better?

You guessed it. Baseball and movies, and especially movies about baseball that combine my two favorite pastimes. Put them together and I’m in heaven! I know it’s all subjective so here is my list of favorite baseball movies plus a few anecdotes.

FIELD OF DREAMS  — Perhaps the perfect film for a life-long baseball fan with memories of baseball “when the grass was green” and they had just 8 teams in each major league. For many years, I had the lineups of ALL the teams committed to memory. James Earl Jones’ monologue about baseball says it all for me and why it remains so dear to my heart.

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THE NATURAL — Robert Redford‘s Roy Hobbs is a sanitized version of the dark Bernard Malamud novel. But Redford who played college ball looks very natural (a welcome change from the awkward Hollywood baseball movies of the past) as the lefty hitter and southpaw pitcher. Hobbs is the reel version of real life baseball player, Eddie Waitkus who I remember from long ago. Redford has said he modelled his stance and swing after Boston Red Sox legend, Ted Williams. “Teddy Ballgame” who didn’t have an affinity for the media, took a liking to me and shared his feeling about movies in general. #9 liked John Wayne movies. So did I. We swapped anecdotes about time spent with “The Duke”. Asked about Redford’s Roy Hobbs, Williams said, “He’ll do”. I still get goose bumps every time Hobbs literally knocks out the stadium lights with his game winning hits.

Cover of "Bull Durham"

BULL DURHAM — Could easily be my number one baseball movie. It’s real, funny and well done. I spent time with our local Triple A team and can tell you “Bull Durham” is right on the mark, smack down to the clichés, the clichés notebook, the bus trips, the small town ball parks and the parallel lives of players ascending and descending as they focus on reaching “the show”. Kevin “Crash Davis” Costner was never better as the career minor league catcher who nurtures brash “wild thing” pitching prospect, Tim Robbins. And, yes, there are real life Susan Sarandons who also “nurture” players. You could look it up!!

PRIDE OF THE YANKEES — Yes, even if you’re not a Yankee fan, there is no way you cannot admire Lou Gehrig — the player and the man. And, there’s no way you cannot appreciate Gary Cooper’s performance as he breathes life into the baseball legend. Coop was a natural right-hander and they needed some photographic “magic” to transform him into the lefty hitting Gehrig. But Cooper captured Gehrig’s professional and private mannerisms. Ted Williams, who remembered Gehrig, said Gary Cooper got it “just right”. The closing scene of Coop/Gehrig walking into the dugout and into the darkening tunnel — is a classic.

MAJOR LEAGUE — Funny and endearing. Reminds me of Casey Stengel and his original lovable, bumbling “Amazin Mets”. The outcasts who become heroes never gets old. I still remember interviews with “The Ol’ Perfesser” extolling the ‘virtues’ of his hapless players like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry and “Choo Choo” Coleman who would become the character types for the “Major League” comic baseball heroes. Art imitates life.

THE BAD NEWS BEARS — The original with Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal. This is another one that never gets old. It’s the Little League version of “Major League”. It resonates with me because of my hapless days as a kid playing on the street and in pickup games on local fields. I couldn’t hit and couldn’t field. But my imitation of my hero “Duke” Snider at the plate was pretty good.

61*  — Billy Crystal’s HBO movie and homage to his beloved N.Y. Yankees and their memorable 1961 season with the Mantle-Maris chase of Babe Ruth’s home run record. Again, I had the good fortune to interview Mantle and Maris — just a year later when the draining physical and mental effects of that legendary year were still very obvious.

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THE BOYS OF SUMMER — TV documentary of the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers of the 40’s and 50’s. It peaks with the “Bums” finally winning the World Series in 1955 after many, many years of losing to their nemesis, The Yankees. These were the heroes of my youth. The “Duke”, Campy, Pee Wee, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and all the rest. I lived and died with victories and defeats. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles, a piece of me died. *One of the two biggest personal moments in my professional life was meeting my baseball hero, “Duke” Snider. He was in the twilight of his career but still had that sweet swing and classic jog. “The Boys of Summer” keeps my childhood memories alive.

BASEBALL  — Ken Burns multi-segment documentary on baseball. A historical TREASURE looking at the game from its birth, the parallel social environment as the game changed and evolved across decades and a century. It also arrived on the scene amid a baseball strike. Perfect timing for distraught fans!!

(*John Wayne was the other professional/personal highlight that tops a well-remembered list.)