I am writing a short story for a competition at the moment. Whilst in the past I have always had trouble reaching a word count rather than squeezing down into one, on this occasion I have a rough idea of more or less everything that is going to happen in the story. As the narrative progresses this is beginning to seem as if it might cause a number of issues. I've barely scratched the surface of the events that are to occur and yet have already used up a full third of my word allowance.

However this need not be a problem. I have decided to just go with it, write the story as it comes naturally to me and once it's complete then embark upon the editing with a vengeance.


In the past I didn't used to like editing at all, feeling that it was a crime to discard whole passages of prose that I had sweated over, certain that the omission of certain facts or sequences would somehow leave the tale incomplete and incomprehensible to the reader. However the experience of editing my novel from first draft over the past couple of years has gone some way towards changing my opinion about the process.


Whilst "less is more" is a rather glib and annoying oxymoron most of the time, I have found it to be true when it comes to making your prose punchy and effective. I don't need to describe how a character leaves the living room, climbs the stairs, walks along the hall and then turns the handle of the door at the end. It is enough that I cut to her standing in the open bedroom doorway. Whilst I may write down the whole process in the first draft, most of it can be trimmed later. And this methodology can also be applied to events other than moving about inside a house.


Even to scenes that on first writing I was really quite pleased with.

The important thing to remember is that nothing is being discarded, not really. Whilst certain scenes may no longer appear in the finished story, they all still happened and in some way they can affect the reader. They are backstory, they're still there in the characters' minds and they inform the way these characters behave. Just as Dark Matter is invisible but can be inferred by its invisible effect on the rest of the universe, such shadow tales form dark narratives which we can no longer see but the effects of which are definitely present in the story.

Nothing is ever lost.

There seems to be an inherent impatience in the heart of humanity.

You only have to be waiting at a pedestrian crossing to see it in action. Generally when I'm waiting at a Pelican (a bad portmanteau of PEdestrian LIght CONtrolled apparently) crossing I wait for the lights to change in my favour, no matter how empty the road is. You never know when some maniac is going to come tearing round the corner.

Plus if there are young children with their parents waiting at the crossing I feel it's preferable to set a good example. After all, the parents are trying to drum a bit of road safety into their children's brains, brains which tend to see things in more of a binary fashion - things are either wrong or right. The last thing they want is another adult inspiring awkward questions about the important lesson they're trying to teach.

"But Mummy, why is that man crossing when the red light is showing?"

As I stand there motionless beside an empty road some people look at me like I'm insane, but I'd rather be insane than sorry.

Sometimes the level of traffic is such that dashing across against the lights isn't an option. When this happens, the impatient often take their frustration out on the button controlling the lights. The button on the little WAIT box bolted to the post.

If not illuminated these are intended to be pressed to indicate that you want to cross. This will, after a suitable delay which depends upon the last time the crossing was used, change the lights in the pedestrians' favour.

Pressing it repeatedly when it's already illuminated has no effect other than making the presser look like an impatient twit.

This is not the only situation when this behaviour can be observed. It happens even more when using lifts. Repeatedly pressing the already illuminated button for your floor every time the lift stops at another floor not to your liking will not get you there any quicker. Don't worry, the lift isn't going to forget your selection.

Unfortunately with lifts there are more buttons which, if misused, allow for the possibility of delaying your journey even longer - the very last thing an impatient soul wants.

This happens before embarkation. Unless on the bottom or top floor of a building there are usually two buttons - one for up and one for down. The impatient will of course press both - perhaps in the hope that they will be able to browbeat the lift into going where they want despite it having originally been heading in the opposite direction.

Of course this doesn't work. Mr Impatient wants to go down but presses both buttons anyway and boards an upward bound lift. He is puzzled by the fact that no matter how many times he presses the button for the ground floor the lift keeps going up, stopping at floors he doesn't want at which people he doesn't know get off or on.

Then, when it finally starts heading down again it stops at his original floor to reveal an empty corridor before heading down to its final destination. He could have saved himself time and a lot of frustration by only pressing the down button in the first place.

Yes, time is precious, but that's all the more reason to savour it.


The other day was a nice illustration of the way the online community - and particularly Twitter - is prone to react sometimes.

The scientists at CERN announced the discovery of the Higgs-Boson. Unfortunately they did so with a Powerpoint presentation using one of the worlds most talked about fonts, Comic Sans. There then followed a stream of tweets - some amused, some outraged, some eye-rolling - about such a perceived display of unprofessionalism. That was the first wave.

Then came the second wave. The second wave usually has far less of a sense of humour. This wave told people participating in the first wave that they were kicking up a fuss about nothing, that they should grow up, that only when they had discovered the secret of the universe themselves would they be in a position to criticise. Lightly peppered with a few Comic Sans apologists who, lets face it, are only doing it to be contrary - opinion as trolling mechanism.

This is quite often the way things play out. It's post-human nature, the desire of members of the species Homo sapiens internetis to use metaphorical bulldozers to build an ever more lofty moral high ground upon the crest of which they can then climb onto their thoroughbred high horses and look down on absolutely everyone else.

But in this instance many of the arguments put forward during the second wave were spurious.

For a start the fact that CERN had made an mind-boggling scientific discovery doesn't make them immune from criticism in other areas. This is like saying that if one of the scientists had been caught speeding on the way home from the Large Hadron Collider the traffic cop should have let him off unless he or she had also made a scientific discovery of equal magnitude.

I'd also challenge the idea that anyone who dislikes Comic Sans is being a "font snob". Personally I don't dislike it because it looks friendly or childish. I don't dislike it because I prefer fonts with more perceived gravitas.

I dislike it because I think it looks shit.

It's neither one thing nor another. If you've every tried to use it in a comic strip you'll know this to be true - it looks just as out of place there as it does in an important Powerpoint presentation. It doesn't look authentic. Believe me, if you ever need to letter a cartoon or comic, the free font family Komika is by far superior.

It doesn't look handwritten either. If you want to fake handwriting try Ampersand or Technical or, of going for a simpler feel, Chalkdust. For eccentricity why not give Girls Are Weird a spin?

But not Comic Sans.

It's not font snobbery, far from it. Comicsansophobia is not the preserve of those who eat, breath and shit kerning, leading and serif issues. It's something very different.

To me the mere existence of Comic Sans smacks of the Geography Teacher at the Sixth Form Disco syndrome, the dull stickler for rules who thinks he's letting his hair down at the Office Christmas Party by not wearing a tie. It smells of forced jollity, insincerity and a clumsy transparent attempt to be something that it is not.

We are all suspicious of fakers.

Of course it is also, I suspect, sometimes used by the very naive, people who don't use computers very much and don't entirely know what they're doing.
"Oh look at this!" exclaimed the Reverend Higginbosom as he pecked out his sermon on the old Windows 98 Pentium that had been donated to him by those kindly folk at the local newspaper seven years ago, "I can make my typing look sort of like I wrote it! What fun! I'm going to use this all the time!"
If you don't want your documents to look like a rural Parish Newsletter, there is only one rule.

Don't use Comic Sans.

Please?

Further reading