Thursday, September 27, 2007

Taiwan Times Vol. 3 -- Wordmaster

My dream was to become a paid writer when I first went to college. By the time I graduated, I had given up, because it seemed like all the cool creative jobs were

A) Too difficult to get


B) Really low-paying

The irony of life is that after I gave up on writing professionally, I get a job as a copy editor at a newspaper. As a bonus, the salary is enough to save money to chip away at my Great Wall of Student Loans.

I'm learning that writing for journalism is a lot different than writing fiction. Having to stick to the facts is so restricting! I can't put in cool plot twists, snappy dialogue or spectacular John Woo-style action sequences like I would with my own material. Everything needs to backed up.

Only half my job is actually moving words around. The other half is harassing writers to fact-check everything they've written and doing research myself. My rudimentary Chinese skills are really holding me back on this front, so I need to study if I want to get to the next level.

The funnest part of my job is coming up with the headlines. I love puns and wordplay, so it's a great creative outlet. The front page tends to be serious, so those headlines are pretty dry. But with the other pages, I just go crazy. You have idea how dorky I can be when I have too much time on my hands and nothing but words to work with. Below are some of my favorite headlines, linked to the actual articles I edited. They'll give you a taste of what Taiwan is like:

Nation closes chapter on publishing ban

Companies work the late shift to serve insomniac customers

Kung fu dishes hit New Year dinner tables

Wedding photos and Taiwan are a picture-perfect match

Banks lay down their bets on running the national lottery

Local video game companies free their Seoul from Korea

Kinmen takes sweeping action against China's wave of trash

Taipei's jazz bars keep music fans from feeling blue

I remember one headline in particular that I'm proud of. The article was about how Taiwan was planning test trials of unmanned convenience stores, which ran without needing human employees. I think I wrote something like "Taiwan tests out automated convenience stores."

That headline was too boring, so I tried to dream up something better. I imagined giant convenience stores with cybernetic arms and legs running amok in a big city, stomping on buildings and shooting lasers out of their eyes. That would be awesome! I tried to capture the feel of that scene in a headline.

There was no way the editor-in-chief would run it, I thought as I handed it to him. The editor took one look, burst out laughing, and called the other writers over to take a look. The headline said:

Robot convenience stores invade the island