Friday, March 25, 2011

Around the Word

Stories, Neuroscience, and Experimental Technologies. . . Leave it to the Pentagon to come up with a project title as bureaucratic yet mind-blowing as this one. According to The Book Bench Blog in The New Yorker, The Defense Sciences Offices (DSO) of The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at the US Department of Defense (DOD) assembled a group of linguists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other “ists” to answer the question raised by middle school English teachers across the country: “What makes a good story?”

Why is the government so interested in the nuts-and-bolts of narrative all of sudden? Have the DOD’s researchers found preliminary evidence that the best defense is a good prologue? One possible explanation the New Yorker came up with, courtesy of a Stanford literature professor, is that the project “may have to do with the rise of the conspiracy blogosphere and its power over otherwise rational mind.” Care to share your own conspiracy theory?

The Big Self-out, Continued: If you still think self-publishing is a gateway to the literary ghetto, just consider the gold-plated book deal that DIY author Amanda Hocking signed this week. After Hocking’s self-published books sold more than 1 million copies, St. Martin’s press bought her next four young adult novels for $2 million. The New York Times reports that Hocking has become “a reluctant spokeswoman for the practice of self-publishing,” but opted for a traditional publisher so that she could focus on her writing (though we would guess that the cash doesn’t hurt).

Automatic for the people, copy-editing edition: Are you one of those people who feels compelled to clean up your apartment before your housekeeper comes to visit? Then you will probably love a new tech toy called EditMinion, which writers with OCD tendencies can use to scrub their copy before sending to a human reader. According to a promo for the program on Galleycat, the rhetorical robot is still in beta testing, and it shows. We did a quick test and found it a little limited in its abilities, marking  any sentence with “is” as the passive voice. But maybe you'll have better luck. Try it out and let us know what you think.

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