by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Internet”

Why I'm Suddenly Not So Enamoured Of My Paladin

Posted 26 November 2008 in by Catriona

You know, I’d thought that Paks the paladin was a more successful adventurer in the Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures universe than retired Saeana, whose less savoury adventures I’ve chronicled elsewhere on the blog.

(Honestly: that elf and her predilection for incubi.)

But Paks—helped, I admit, by the Vorpal Greatsword I carried over from Saeana’s pack, which is really not a level one weapon—seemed to be passing through the adventures with more success and with fewer problematic moral choices—well, except for the time he faked a marriage with an orc maiden and then legged it with the wedding presents.

That was aberrant, hopefully.

But my brief absence from Tiny Adventures seems to have caused him to lose his panache: perhaps he’s rusty from disuse?

It seems so, since so far in today’s adventure—Red Plume Mountain, in which I’m apparently chasing down a thousand-year-old wizard called Byron Silvertongue, who has been leaving mocking poems at the site of cunning thefts. Naturally, when your parents saddle you with a name like “Byron,” you have to live up to it—he has:

  • fallen into a pit trap, while wandering casually around a deserted mine.
  • successfully beaten up some hobgoblins, which was a measure of success that didn’t last, since he was then
  • successfully beaten up by four brigands, after comprehensively failing an Armour Class check. But, seriously? Four brigands? That’s hardly a fair fight.
  • been skewered by the poison spikes of a kruthik. I don’t even know what that is, but it caused fourteen points of damage, which seems to be the main thing.
  • completely failed to find a mysterious and familiar-sounding bird that he could hear in the woods. On top of that, while he was searching for the bird, the merchants he’d been chatting with disappeared. Double fail, there.
  • more or less managed to outdistance a goblin horde, until he tried to jump off a cliff into a river, missed (how do you miss an entire river?), and broke his leg. That’s going to make the rest of the adventure a little tricky.
  • been severely beaten by a strongman who managed to get his Vorpal Greatsword off him. Now what’s the point of carrying a Vorpal Greatsword if you’re going to allow a long strongman to just take it off you?
  • fallen down a mountainside trying to help a young man who was hanging over a ravine. To add insult to injury, the man then broke his leg and Paks had to carry him up the mountainside—which is odd, since I’m quite certain Paks himself broke his leg jumping off that cliff. Perhaps there was a silent passage of time in the middle of the adventure?
  • ultimately failed the entire adventure—no surprise there, then—after this woeful encounter:

Paks found Byron Silvertongue sitting on a rock overlooking a beautiful mountain vista. Byron rose, turned, and confronted Paks. After a moment of baleful glaring, the wizard shot a vicious poem Paks’s way.

Paks made a Wisdom check with a difficulty of 17 . . . and rolled 9

Paks shouted some vulgarity back at Byron and charged. What Paks hadn’t realized was that the wizard’s words were also a spell, and he ran smack into an invisible wall of force, knocking himself out. When Paks awoke, Byron the Silvertongue was long gone, with the only remaining evidence being a small scroll with the poem inscribed upon it.

Really, Paks? A wizard—a one-thousand-year-old wizard, in fact—shouted at you and it didn’t occur to you that it might be a spell? So you knocked yourself out on an invisible wall? Now, that’s just embarrassing.

And “some vulgarity”? I hope, for your sake, it was at least a rude limerick.

Ack! It's Everywhere!

Posted 4 November 2008 in by Catriona

Okay, this rant is a clash between two of my current obsessions: Bones and sentence-level punctuation and grammar errors.

I’m not concerned about my obsession with Bones: it’s one of the few shows that we actually watch on telly, rather than waiting for the DVDs to come out, so it’s not much of an obsession. But the show is simultaneously grotesque and frequently hilarious, and I’ve always enjoyed David Boreanaz much more in comic roles.

(Angelus, for example, was much more fun than Angel—not that Angelus was funny. Well, in an incredibly dark sense, he was.)

The obsession with punctuation is not something I’ve kept secret.

I don’t claim for an instant that my writing is perfect at the sentence level. In fact, I know it’s not. Sometimes, when I look back over the past entries on the blog, I have to silently correct embarrassing mistakes that I should have spotted the first time around—especially in the live-blogging, though I tend to leave anything that’s not a factual error, to maintain the authenticity of the process.

But I maintain that it is at least competent.

And for five years or more, I’ve been teaching writing courses that rarely extend beyond the paragraph level, so I’ve become more and more attuned to spotting sentence-level errors—largely, of course, the more common errors.

And today those two obsessions clashed horribly, when I was looking up the details on a forthcoming episode of Bones on Your TV:

Bones
The Pain in the Heart
9.30pm – 10.30pm Seven
Monday 10 November 2008
In an episode that will rock the lab to it’s core, a well known serial killer strikes again and when crutial evidence mysteriously goes missing, every Jeffersonian employee becomes a suspect.

The odd thing is that I’ve never noticed this quantity of errors on the site before.

I could let the absence of a hyphen in the compound adjective slide.

But that mistake with “its”? That’s basic—and it’s not that difficult to distinguish between the two uses. Though we all type the wrong one occasionally, it’s not too tricky to correct any errors on a read-through.

And the misspelling of “crucial”? Oh, lord.

In the courses that I teach, we have a draconian attitude towards spelling errors because, as we emphasise each semester, nothing will ruin your credibility with a reader faster than a spelling error.

That’s certainly true here—especially since any computer-based spell checker would have picked that one up.

The Television Without Pity Malaise

Posted 2 November 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been putting off writing about my current discomfort with the way in which Television Without Pity has been reshaped recently.

But I’m cranky today.

Partly it’s general end-of-semester tiredness.

Partly it’s because I just made it to the end of a Lego Batman level, realised my computer-controlled companion—needed to help me operate a two-handed switch—had disappeared, and had to run all the way to the beginning of the level, where I found him hiding under a set of stairs. Why? Who knows. He wasn’t stuck; he was just standing there.

Partly it’s because I’ve finally begun reading a Margery Allingham novel—the only one of the four great female writers of Golden Age detective fiction whom I haven’t read—and, only twenty-two pages in, Albert Campion is irritating me.

But partly it’s because I read a Television Without Pity recap this morning, for the first time in some time, and it reminded me of why I don’t bother with the site much.

Now, I never was an indiscriminate reader of the site. The recaps are enormously long, which pleased me when it was a show I enjoyed—I adored the Deadwood recaps, for example—but bored me when I wasn’t interested in the show in question.

Fair enough: I didn’t read those ones, and everyone was happy.

But the recappers were variable, as well. Generally, the standard was high, but sometimes the general attitude towards the show, the recapper’s tone, or the framework for their recaps began to frustrate me after a while.

One recapper, in particular, I had to give up on, despite the fact that they recapped shows in which I was interested, because something about their writing brought the teacher out in me. It wasn’t to do with the quality of the writing, per se. I don’t quite know what it was, except it brought out in me an overwhelming urge to write “so what?” in the margins.

(I do not, by the way, write “so what?” in the margins of my students’ work. But we do tell them to apply what we call the “so what?” test, to make sure that every sentence and every paragraph in their writing advances their central argument. That was the problem, for me, with this recapper. When it reached the point where they declared that the episode they were recapping that week would be read through Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam,” despite the fact that there was no real or concrete connection between the two texts, I decided I was out.)

But that’s the nature of a large site such as Television Without Pity: you read the bits you enjoy and ignore the rest.

Then it all started going rather odd.

The first thing that annoyed us was the cancelling of the Doctor Who recaps: I’d stopped reading them, but Nick still enjoyed them.

Recaps are cancelled fairly frequently, if the reader figures are low or the show turns out to be either less successful or less interesting than anticipated.

But these were cancelled with only a brief, bitter message: “If you want to know what Bit Torrent is, ask a Doctor Who fan.” When people queried this, they added an explanatory note: “(Translation: y’all have already seen the episodes by the time Sci Fi airs them anyway.)”

Well, yes. Because it’s a British show—and when you’re writing for the Internet, not all your readers are going to be American. And as Nick pointed out, people watch the show then read the recap. How does it matter when they watch it?

Still, that’s editorial policy. It annoyed us—and many other readers—but it’s their decision.

As was selling the website to Bravo Television, but that’s where they really lost me. And, indeed, the three creators of the site and some of their longest-serving recappers also left rapidly after the sale.

Which is when I noticed a noticeable drop in the quality of the writing.

It was evident even in some of the long-serving recappers, such as the one who, I noted above, brought out the blue pencil in me. It used to be, with their recaps, that I’d read them and think, “Wow, this recapper needs some rigorous editing.” Now I read them and think, “Wow, this recapper used to be edited rigorously, after all.”

But take, as a different example, this recap of a 30 Rock episode:

“Hey dummy I was just telling all these dummy’s that we used to go to the park and make fun of all the joggers,” says Duffy to Lemon. Lunch arrives and Lemon and Duffy double-team Toofer for having ordered a salad from a burger joint. The whole room yucks it up as Duffy casually puts his arm around Lemon who suddenly becomes aware of the moment. A single Cheeto stays dangling in her mouth.

That quote’s from the second page of the recap, but it’s not the only example. For example, there’s also this one, from the first page: “In walks Kenneth who looses it like he’s just seen Hannah Montana.”

No. I’m sorry, but this degree of poor sentence-level writing is sufficient to completely kill my interest in a professional website.

Even when the show or recapper held no interest for me, I could at least recognise that the entire site was rigorously edited. It was, in fact, one of the aspects that appealed to me the most.

To see this quantity of basic grammatical and punctuation errors on a site such as Television Without Pity is bad enough.

Throw in the new Flash-driven site, where it’s almost impossible to find the recaps among the advertisements, video files, and picture galleries, and I’m not interested any more.

It’s a shame, though. I know that certain groups of readers, such as the ones who run this site, have always been uncomfortable with the level of moderation in the TWoP forums and the perceived socio-cultural snobbery behind the site, but at least it was a site that recognised that since the Internet is a text-driven medium, it should be held to the same standards as we anticipate from print media.

Not any more.

And that is a shame.

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