The list strategy and Google pattern matching

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lemonstar
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The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by lemonstar » Thu Nov 24, 2011 6:09 pm

I'll preface this post with a brief summary because (judging by my post on semantic links) I don't expect this to generate that much interest - it will look like a long post (it is!) but it's about something that is actually very simple and the idea of using Google's pattern matching may be useful and new to some of you - the rest of you can bail out now.

In short, a post to mention one technique that combines the use of "pattern matching" in the Google search engine and a list strategy to start writing. I give an example, a song written as part of an annual internet-based challenge. I include a real example to show that the approach can work, that there are a few small problems to look out for and that a list strategy does not necessarily result in a finished piece that has a very obvious list structure. It's a way of working that sometimes proves helpful, especially if you are struggling for the right words to express and idea or to extend a metaphor - I'm not describing it as a method for all circumstances or a substitute for inspiration but I think there is some value in trying different methods of writing; this is one approach I've found useful, specifically, in my case, for song writing (something I find profoundly different to writing poetry but I don't want to get into that discussion here).

An important point I want to be overlooked is that this method ISN'T just about creating candidates that fit a pattern in order to produce a piece based on an obvious list structure. It is NOT just about generating or finding a LARGER QUANTITY of candidate ideas - it IS also about avoiding clichés by finding familiar or common enough expressions without resorting to language that is too obscure or perverse, i.e. it is also about QUALITY.

Now and again you will come across poems very deliberately structured as lists; I've often seen it in poetry for and by children. Walt Whitman is one of the first names that springs to my mind and Charles Causley is another poet I've noticed who has used simple list structures on more than a few occasions. Look at this example "I am the Song" http://forum.caithness.org/archive/inde ... 13595.html
I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.
The list structure is obvious. It's easy to see the pattern he uses at the start of each line - "I am the * that "
I'm sure a lot of you will know this but I'll spell it out anyway. I use the wildcard symbol (the asterix) to stand for any other word (or number of words) that weill sit between the the words "the" and "that". I use this symbol because the Google search engine will use this symbol to find words that match this pattern.

If you type
"I am the * that "
into the Google search engine (and include the opening and closing quote marks to make sure Google searches for an exact match) the results will include examples of other lines that follow the same pattern, lines or ideas that you might want to consider if you wanted to write a similarly structure poem - it could be a way of defining a writing task, e.g. for children to write in the same way/same style as...

I've written more songs than poems and the list strategy is one I have certainly used on occasions and I'm pretty sure many other songwriters use it. The list can either be a very deliberate structural feature of the finished song (or poem) or it may simple be a stepping stone that may not be so obvious in the final piece (and that might be deliberate or accidental).

One of my favourite list songs was written by Ben Lee for EvanDando, "Hard Drive":-

The list technique is laid bare in the final piece but sometimes you get a sense that the listing process might have been used in the process of writing a song.

I've used mind-mapping extensively in various work roles and for creative things such as song writing, play scripting but the list strategy, I find, is quite different (and I could expand on that but I don't want to here); it lends itself better to certain tasks and produces characteristically different results.

I'll get into the list technique in a moment but first a bit of background to the example I'm including. I have long held a love for a Lucinda Williams song, "Like A Rose", here's Evan Dando singing it:

Over the years I thought about this song a lot and managed to put my finger on the ideas and words in it that really make it work for me - it's the idea of wanting a possibly insecure or mistrustful person to open up (Like a Rose) with the other person is offering security, openness and trust. I like the word "open" - it's very singable. I've wanted to be able to write a song capturing that same idea, dealing with the idea of opening up, building trust and getting someone else to open up - it has a personal relevance (maybe why I like the song in the first place).

I take part in an annual song writing challenge http://www.fawm.org - to try and write 14 songs (a good albums worth) in the shortest month of the year, February - February Album Writing Month)

I'll go on to describe the example. I used the list and Google method to develop 2 different ideas in this song. I started playing with the idea of writing a song in the same vein as "Like A Rose". The only line I wanted to work with initially was "I don't want to make something out of nothing", i.e. I don't want to get the wrong idea about our relationship and say the wrong thing. I started with a list, to express the idea of one treading cautiously and searched for the following pattern using Google:-

"I don't want to *"

In the results you can see (now I repeat this) that a few songwriters have been down this route before, e.g. Aerosmith "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" - often this is the surprising thing - you see lots of familiar pattern matches in the results that didn't occur to you when mulling things over yourself - so many results are so obvious (once Google has found them)

One of the problems I find is now also obvious - there is a lot of clutter in the results, often from social media sites that you may or may not be interested in. This is where the second critically important part of the pattern matching comes in - the ability to exclude certain words or sites from the results.

If I add -youtube -video -lyrics -news -facebook -twitter to the end of the search term so I have:-

"I don't want to *" -youtube -video -lyrics -news -facebook -twitter

I will deliberately exclude results from those sites.
It is also the KEY to EXCLUDE all the obvious CLICHES - it allows you to focus on DIGGING DEEPER.

After scanning down the results I decided to omit a few more easily thought of words so I add:-
-eat -miss -forget

Then add:
-live -know

i.e. so I am now searching with:-
"I don't want to *" -youtube -video -lyrics -news -facebook -twitter -eat -miss -forget -live -know

(In fact, if you persevere with this approach you will end up with some very very long search terms)

Finally you start to get more song writing type ideas emerging:-
I don't want to lose you
I don't want to sleep alone
I don't want to talk about it
I don't want to die in my sleep
I don't want to dream any more...
I don't want to talk about it

Here is the 1st page from my writing book for this song - I can't quite remember which ideas I generated myself and which ones were generated while I was Googling but that is what I was doing at the time.

Image

The bottom part of the next page in my book looks at developing a second idea, finding similes for "opening" - other than the most obvious ones, i.e. flower, book, window, etc - these expressions are exactly what I want to avoid.
Image

Two good ideas came out of this search for "open * like" that I don't think I would have come up with any other way - opening up like a guillotine(*) and a camera lens. I started writing on 9th Feb 2011 and these ideas ended up in the final demo which was posted on 15th Feb 2011. You can see the finished lyrics and hear the demo here:-
http://soundcloud.com/lemonstar/guillotine

The actual demo suffers very badly from sibilance, I think I may have actually made it worse by accidentally boosting rather than cutting frequencies in the 6-8kHz band. The song was too long and I cut out the third verse from the demo - but that is what it is, a quickly written & recorded demo. It's not a patch on "Like A Rose", I wasn't as pleased with the final demo as I had initially hoped I would be but at least it's out of my system (for now).

NB (*) - In my opinion 3 and 4 syllable words are like manna from heaven to a singer/songwriter, my ears are now trained to pick up on these words - in another song I wrote as part of the FAWM challenge there is a line in a song about an Ekranoplan that I find so singable "Under the radar so effortlessly"

The last point I want to make is that I find the pattern matching and excluding in Google very useful when I'm writing - one of the reasons I'm writing this is that I use this trick all the time and not just in the way or for the reasons I have described - to avoid clichés, to find less familiar but common enough sounding expressions, to find similes. Sometimes I may have the beginning or end of a line that I am keen to keep but want to pad the line out with more syllables, or add an adjective - I find it very useful in those situations.

Once, when I wanted to fill out the line "the room with * light" without changing the start or end of the line I ended up discovering the word "sulphurous" (3 syllables) that fitted perfectly with what I wanted. I was pleased to discover only in the past month that Sylvia Plath had used the same word in The Bell Jar.

I hope someone finds these ideas useful.
Last edited by lemonstar on Mon Apr 23, 2012 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by bodkin » Thu Nov 24, 2011 7:39 pm

Interesting post.

Perhaps the biggest revelation for me is that Google take wildcards!? When did they start doing that? I remember that search engines took wildcards back when the internet was young, and then they stopped, probably when the data got too big. So I stopped trying to use them. Now I discover wildcards are back, and I wonder whether I missed out on ten years of more-efficient searches...

I feel strangely annoyed with Google now.

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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by JohnLott » Thu Nov 24, 2011 9:27 pm

You are right - a long post.
However, I can see the google * will come in useful for those elusive relationships.
Already I know I am the gravel in the shoe.
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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by bodkin » Thu Nov 24, 2011 10:41 pm

The tool I really need is something that will combine a rhyming dictionary with a thesaurus:

[center]Find me a word which means "completely" and rhymes with "raven"...[/center]

Or else the ability for cross-reference thesaurus entries against each other:

[center]Find me a word which means "heart" and also appears in an entry somehow related to "ink"[/center]

Or even a tool to go the whole way:

[center]Write a sonnet about the more melancholic aspects of break-dancing, using broken ornaments as a metaphor and where the rhymes are "tree", "lamas-tide", "fontanelle", "cheesy", "spike", "deodorant" and for the ending couplet: "moose"[/center]

I've asked Google but they said they were too busy compiling a database of front door colours across the whole World...

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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by brianedwards » Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:25 pm

bodkin wrote:
Or even a tool to go the whole way:

[center]Write a sonnet about the more melancholic aspects of break-dancing, using broken ornaments as a metaphor and where the rhymes are "tree", "lamas-tide", "fontanelle", "cheesy", "spike", "deodorant" and for the ending couplet: "moose"[/center]

I've asked Google but they said they were too busy compiling a database of front door colours across the whole World...
:lol:

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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by lemonstar » Thu Nov 24, 2011 11:45 pm

bodkin wrote:Interesting post.

Perhaps the biggest revelation for me is that Google take wildcards!?
Ian
http://www.onelook.com/

also offers a more complex wildcard search - not on the level of GREP but useful for helping to solve the kind of low level word problems we all get into sometimes. In one of Brian Eno's talks he talks about the problems of modern technology and how it can impact negatively on creativity - he talked about starting the day with some clear overall vision of what he wanted to achieve but sometimes found himself in what he described as "screwdriver mode" tweaking some almost inaudible parameter on a single sound in a recording having completely lost his original focus.
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Re: The list strategy and Google pattern matching

Post by BenJohnson » Sat Nov 26, 2011 12:51 pm

lemonstar wrote:In one of Brian Eno's talks he talks about the problems of modern technology and how it can impact negatively on creativity - he talked about starting the day with some clear overall vision of what he wanted to achieve but sometimes found himself in what he described as "screwdriver mode" tweaking some almost inaudible parameter on a single sound in a recording having completely lost his original focus.
I'm not sure he is fair to blame procrastination on technology, a hundred years ago he would have been waylaid experiment with a new type of goose fat to rub on his piano strings. For many that procrastination getting bogged down on a small detail is actually part of the process while doing that their minds are subconsciously working in a totally different direction.

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