Saturday, January 20, 2018

Stick to said.

I started to write an article on dialogue, but in research, I found this article on the Readers Digest site and I could never say it better than  Ms. Trupkiewicz. This is a copy of her article on dialogue. The link to the article is:http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii
The following is the second in a two-part, guest blog post from Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz, whose short story, “Poetry by Keats,” took home the grand prize in WD’s 14th Annual Short Short Story Competition. You can read more about Trupkiewicz in the July/August 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest and in an exclusive extended interview with her online. In this post, Trupkiewicz follows up on her discussion of dialogue with an impassioned plea: stick to said

Welcome back! Part I of this two-part post talked about two key aspects of writing dialogue. First, the dialogue isn’t usually the place to use complete sentences because most people in everyday conversations speak in phrases and single words. Second, effective dialogue takes correct punctuation so the reader doesn’t get yanked out of the story by a poorly punctuated exchange.

Remember, the goal in writing fiction is to keep the reader engaged in the story. But don’t give up on writing to spend the rest of your life doing something easier, like finding the Holy Grail, just yet. There’s one more key aspect that makes dialogue effective for fiction writers.
Problem: The Great He Said/She Opined Debate
In Part I, I mentioned learning from my grade school English teacher about complete sentences. Another subject she covered in that class was the importance of using synonyms and avoiding repetition.
To this day, that discussion drives me absolutely crazy.
Thousands of budding writers all over the world heard those words and deduced that they would be penalized if they repeated the word said in any work of fiction they ever wrote. So they dutifully found thesauruses and started looking up other words to use.
I’d like to submit that thousands of budding writers have been misled. Here’s my take:
Stop!
Do not touch your thesaurus to find another word that means said.
The attribution said is fine. In fact, when readers are skimming along through a novel at warp speed, the word said is just like a punctuation mark—it doesn’t even register in readers’ minds (unless used incorrectly, and it would be hard to do that).
But if you draw attention to the mechanics of your story with dialogue like this, you’re guaranteed to lose your reader in total frustration:
“Luke,” she opined, “I need you.”
“Raina,” he implored, “I know you think you do, but—”
“No!” she wailed. “Please!”
Luke shouted, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“You’re being so mean to me,” Raina wept.
With an exchange like that one, you might as well run screaming out of the book straight at the reader, waving a neon sign that says: HEY, DON’T FORGET THAT THIS IS ONLY A WORK OF FICTION AND THESE CHARACTERS AREN’T REAL!!!
Why would you nail yourself into your own proverbial coffin like that?
Here’s my advice. Don’t reach for the thesaurus this time. Leave it right where it is on your shelf. You might never need it again.
Instead, if you need an attribution, use said. If you must use something different for the occasional question, you could throw in “asked” for variety, but not too often.
An even better way to use attributions in dialogue is to use a beat of action instead, like this:
“I just don’t know anymore.” Mary folded her arms. “I think I’m afraid of you.”
Harry sighed. “I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I’m not very good at this.”
That way, you know who’s talking, and you’ve even worked action and character traits into the conversation. It makes for a seamless read.
Two final thoughts:
First, dialogue cannot be smiledlaughedgiggled, or sighed. Therefore, this example is incorrect:
“Don’t tickle me!” she giggled.
You can’t giggle spoken words. You can’t laugh them or sigh them or smile them, either. (I dare you to try it. If it works for you, write me and let me know. We could be on to something.)
Of course, if you’re using said exclusively, then that won’t be a problem.
Second, let’s talk adverbs. If a writer can be convinced to use said instead of other synonyms, then he or she becomes really tempted to reach for an adverb to tell how the character said something, like this:
“I don’t want to see you again,” Lily said tonelessly.
“You don’t mean that,” Jack said desperately.
“You’re an idiot,” Lily said angrily.
The problem with using adverbs is that they’re always telling to your reader. (Remember that old maxim, “Show, don’t tell”?)
An occasional adverb won’t kill your work, but adverbs all over the place mean weak writing, or that you don’t trust your dialogue to stand without a qualifier. It’s like you’re stopping the movie (the story playing through the reader’s mind) for a second to say, “Oh, but wait, you need to know that Lily said that last phrase angrily. That’s important. Okay, roll tape.”
Why rely on a telling adverb when you could find a better way to show the reader what’s going on in the scene or inside the characters? Try something like this:
Lily turned away and crossed her arms. “I don’t want to see you again.”
“You don’t mean that.” Jack pushed to his feet in a rush.
She glared at him. “You’re an idiot.”
Beats of action reveal character emotions and set the stage far more effectively than an overdose of adverbs ever will.
Conclusion
While a challenge to write, dialogue doesn’t have to be something you dread every time you sit down to your work-in-progress (or WIP). The most effective dialogue is the conversations that readers can imagine your characters speaking, without all the clutter and distractions of synonymous attributions, overused adverbs, and incorrect punctuation.
When in doubt, cut and paste only the dialogue out of your WIP and create one script for each character. Then invite some friends (ones who don’t already think you’re crazy because you walk around mumbling to yourself about your WIP if you still have any of those) over for dessert or appetizers sometime. Hand out the scripts, assign each person a part, and then sit back and listen. Was a line of dialogue so complicated it made the reader stumble? Do you hear places where the conversation sounds stilted and too formal, or where it sounds too informal for the scene? Does an exchange sound sappy when spoken aloud? Are there words you can cut out to tighten the flow?
And don’t give up your writing to search for the Holy Grail. While the search would be less frustrating sometimes, writing dialogue no longer has to look demonic to you. You know what to do!
Questions
In your current WIP, what sticking points and challenges do you find about writing dialogue? Is a character’s voice giving you trouble? Do you worry you’re overusing an attribution? Do you have a totally opposite opinion about adverbs? The rule about writing fiction is that there really aren’t many hard-and-fast rules, so don’t hesitate to share!
*     *     *     *     *
Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz is an author, poet, blogger, book reviewer, and freelance editor and proofreader. She writes full-length thrillers as well as short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Her blogs are Engraved: All About Writing (http://eleanoretrupkiewicz.blogspot.com) and Daily Poetry Prompts (http://dailypoetryprompts.blogspot.com) and you can find her on one of her websites at www.eleanoretrupkiewicz.com or Refiner’s Fire Editing (www.refinersfireediting.com). Follow her on Twitter: @ETrupkiewicz. She lives and writes in Colorado with cats, chocolate, and assorted houseplants in various stages of demise.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Like and As

Which of these sentences are correct?

1. Winston tastes good like a cigarette should. (This is a famous ad jingle?)
2. He spends money like a drunken sailor.
3. He lied on the witness stand, like one would expect a guilty person to do.
4. My cousin looks like Greta Garbo.
5. Robert likes to run his company as though he were a dictator.

Only sentences 3, 4 and 5 correctly employ the word "like."

Remember these two rules when considering the use of "like":
Rule 1: "Like" can be either a verb or a preposition but not a conjunction. Thus, we should not use it before a subject-verb combination (a clause).

In sentences 1, 2, and 3, we should use the conjunction "as" or "as if" in place of the word "like" because in each case "like" is followed by a clause. In these corrected sentences, we have bracketed the clauses and capitalized the subjects and verbs to highlight the grammatical structure:

1. Winston tastes good [as a CIGARETTE SHOULD].
3. He lied on the witness stand, [as ONE WOULD EXPECT a guilty person to do].

Rule 2: We should use "like" either as a preposition to demonstrate a resemblance between two things or as a verb to express a preference.

In sentence 2 the comparison of spending money .  In Setence 4, "like Greta Garbo" is a prepositional phrase. In sentence 5, "like" is the verb in the main clause, and "as though" is the conjunction launching the subordinate (dependent) clause.

Of course, in casual correspondence or in conversations we have more flexibility, and many idiomatic expressions using "like" are perfectly acceptable even though they do not follow these rules.  Consider also the expression "It looks like rain," which employs a perfectly acceptable idiom for the highly formal statement "It looks as though it is going to rain."

The bottom line: in formal contexts, we use "like" only as a verb or a preposition and never when we mean "as," "as if," or "as though."

Do any of these sentences correctly use the word "like"?

1. Like a man walking a tightrope, he teetered on the brink of financial ruin.
2. It looks like Arthur could become the next unit director.
3. He acts like he owns the world.
4. He carried an umbrella, like everyone should do on a rainy morning.

ANSWERS:

1. Like a man walking a tightrope, he teetered on the brink of financial ruin. [Correct because we are making a comparison.]
2. It looks as though [or as if] Arthur will become the next unit director.
3. He acts as if [or as though] he owns the world.
4. He carried an umbrella, as everyone should do on a rainy morning.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Worth Noting

Sometimes, it is worthwhile to recognize these amazing achievements:

During the 3-1/2 years of World War 2 that started with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and ended with the Surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945, the U..S. produced the following:


147 aircraft carriers, 8 battleships, 40+ cruisers, 750+ destroyers, 1,102 convoy escorts/destroyer escorts, 400+ submarines, 34 million tons of merchant ships,

 212,000 fighter aircraft, 153,615 bombers, 43,045 transport aircraft, 93.578 training aircraft,

227,235 tanks and self-propelled guns,  914,683 artillery pieces,  657,318 mortars, 
4,744,484 machine guns, and 3,060,354 military trucks

and an estimated 10,000,000 tons of concrete for runways. We put 16.1 million men in uniform in the various armed services,

Invaded Africa,

Invaded Sicily and Italy,

Won the battle for the Atlantic,

Planned and executed D-Day,

Marched across the Pacific and Europe,

Developed the atomic bomb and

Ultimately conquered Japan and Germany.


It's also worth noting, that during the almost exact amount of time, the Obama administration couldn't build a functioning website.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Conundrum

Free people are not equal. Equal people are not free. (Think this one over and over and it makes sense!)

The definition of the word Conundrum: Something that is puzzling or confusing.

Here are six Conundrums of socialism in the United States of America :

1. America is capitalist and greedy - yet half of the population is subsidized.

2. Half of the population is subsidized - yet they think they are victims.

3. They think they are victims -yet their representatives run the government.

4. Their representatives run the government - yet the poor keep getting poorer.

5. The poor keep getting poorer - yet they have things that people in other countries only dream about.

6. They have things that people in other countries only dream about - yet they want America to be more like those other countries.

Think about it!  And that, my friends, pretty much sums up the USA in the 21st Century.

Makes you wonder who is doing the math.

These three, short sentences tell you a lot about the direction of our government for the past 7 + years and cultural environment it has created:
 
1.  We are advised to NOT judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics.  Funny how that works.  And here's another one worth considering.

2.  Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money.  But we never hear about welfare or food stamps running out of money!  What's interesting is the first group "worked for" their money, but the second did not! Think about it ... and last, but not least;

3.  Why were we cutting benefits for our veterans, no pay raises for our military and cutting our Army, Navy, Air Force & Coast Guard to a level lower than before WWII  but we were not stopping any of the payments or benefits to illegal aliens.


Are you among the few who are not missing something?

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools.�  ~Plato

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Why did America drop the “U” in British spelling?

Whichever branch of the English language you are brought up with, you have to admit parts of it are an inconsistent mess. There are words that are spelled broadly the same but pronounced entirely differently—cough, bough, borough, through, brought—words that are spelled entirely differently but pronounced the same—write, right, two, too, to—and words that do the same job and have only slightly different spellings —obfuscate, obfusticate.

And of course, as with most things that are old and full of character, there’s a lot of beauty in that mess, but also a lot of room for people to argue over which aspect of the mess best exemplifies the true spirit of this living, breathing, evolving thing we all use every day.

One particularly vexatious argument concerns the lack of uniform spellings between British and American English. The simple reason for this is that England and America went their separate ways before anyone became unduly rigorous about spelling words the same way every time. The firm nailing down of language happened in earnest during the 1800s, on both sides of the Atlantic, and thanks largely to the reforming zeal of American lexicographer Noah Webster, it was with markedly different results in the U.S. than in Victorian Britain.

Seeking to wrest control of the language from the British ruling classes, Noah wrote three books that aimed to make a tidy pile of that mess we were talking about. One on grammar, one on reading, and one on spelling. His first—originally titled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language, then The American Spelling Book, then The Elementary Spelling Book—became the standard textbook from which American teachers taught spelling for 100 years, and it was from reprints and reissues of that original text that Noah began to subtly refine words, spelling them according to how they sound.

So while British English still insists on a c in the word defense, Webster changed it to an s. Theatre and centre were simplified into theater and center. Plough became plow, axe became ax, catalogue became catalog, and flavour, honour, savour, saviour, candour, behaviour, colour, armour, demeanour, glamour, harbour and all the rest lost their u.

This was largely to differentiate those words from the ones that end in –our and sound like –ower. As in hour, flour, sour and so on. Some words still enjoy a dual existence, in that the U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavour kept its u, as it was named after Lieutenant* James Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour. Glamour, being a Scots word, often keeps its u as well.

Ironically, the one word that Noah Webster failed in his attempts to get it spelled exactly as it rolls off the tongue is tongue itself, which he argued should be tung, but somehow this was a step too far, despite the loss of the concluding ue in words like catalog and analog.

I’d have stopped before the "e" was lopped off ax too, but it’s too late to try and graft it back on now.

*The reverse approach to Webster’s—saying things as they are spelled—can be found in this word, which the British pronounce “leftenant.”

Reprinted from a BBC America Article

http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/05/america-drop-u-british-spellings

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leading by Example

The light turned yellow, just in front of him.
He did the right thing and stopped at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection.A tailgating woman behind him furious 
she missed her chance to get through the intersection, and honked her horn, screaming in frustration. 

Still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a holding cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approached the cell and opened the door, and escorted back to the booking desk. The arresting officer stood, waiting with her personal effects.He said, "I'm very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, giving the guy in front of you the finger and cursing at him. I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, the 'Choose Life' license plate holder, the 'Follow Me to Sunday-School' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated 
Christian Fish Emblem on the trunk, so naturally I assumed you had stolen the car."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Retired and Bored


Retired and Bored
After I retired, my wife insisted that I accompany her on her trips to Target.  Unfortunately, like most men, I found shopping boring and preferred to get in and get out. Equally unfortunate, my wife is like most women - she loves to browse. Yesterday my dear wife received the following letter from the local Target:

Dear Mrs. Kell,
Over the past six months, your husband Larry has caused quite a commotion in our Mesa store. We can no longer tolerate his outrageous behavior and in accordance with company policy have been forced to ban both of you from the Mesa store. Our complaints against your husband, Mr. Kell, are numerous and listed below, If you have any doubts, we have them documented by our security people, on our instore video surveillance cameras.

1. June 15: He took 24 boxes of condoms and randomly put them in other people's carts when they weren't looking.

2. July 2: Set all the alarm clocks in Housewares to go off at 5-minute intervals.

3. July 7: He made a trail of tomato juice on the floor leading to the women's restroom.

4. July 19: Walked up to an employee and told her in an official voice, 'Code 3 in Housewares. Get on it right away'. This caused the employee to leave her assigned station and receive a reprimand from her Supervisor that in turn resulted with a union grievance, causing management to lose time and costing the company money. We don't have a Code 3.

5. August 4: Went to the Service Desk and tried to put a bag of M&Ms on layaway.

6. August 14: Moved a, 'CAUTION - WET FLOOR' sign to a carpeted area.

7. August 15: Set up a tent in the camping department and told the children of shoppers he'd invite them in if they would bring pillows and blankets from the bedding department to which twenty children obliged.

8. August 23: When a clerk asked if they could help him he began crying and screamed, 'Why can't you people just leave me alone?' EMTs were called.

9. September 4: Looked right into the security camera and used it as a mirror while he picked his nose.

10. September 10: While handling guns in the hunting department, he asked the clerk where the antidepressants were.

11. October 3: Darted around the store suspiciously while, loudly humming the, 'Mission Impossible' theme.
 12. October 6: In the auto department he practiced his, 'Madonna Look' using different sizes of funnels.

13. October 18: Hid in a clothing rack and when people browsed through, yelled 'PICK ME! PICK ME!'

14. October 22: When an announcement came over the loud speaker, he assumed a fetal position and screamed; 'OH NO! IT'S THOSE VOICES AGAIN!'

15. Took a box of condoms to the checkout clerk and asked where is the fitting room?
And last, but not least:

16. October 23: Went into a fitting room, shut the door, waited awhile; then yelled very loudly, “Hey! There's no toilet paper in here.” One of the clerks passed out.


Needless to say, I have been freed from the tedious shopping trips and we have stopped shopping at Target. Her new favorite place to browse is Walmart.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Deep POV and How It’s used. Part1

Richard Draude
It and Graphics Administrator
Mystic Publishers Inc



Deep POV and How It’s used.

Deep POV is the third-person subjective taken a step beyond the normal third-person subjective. Deep POV shows your story through the eyes of one or more characters—one at a time please, avoid any head-hopping. Deep POV goes into the head and heart of a character, taking your readers beyond the action on the page. Thus allowing you the writer to help your readers understand your character’s throughs, his or her experiences, history, and feelings.

What first-person POV executes with the I narration, Deep POV accomplishes with third-person he or she narration.

Using Deep POV puts your readers inside your viewpoint character. They feel story events as your hero or heroine does. What your protagonist or antagonist sees, the reader sees. What they feel or think, the reader knows. The reader understands automatically what is being reported are the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of your viewpoint character.

Deep POV allows writers to do away with what he thought, he felt, he wondered, he saw, all those phrases that intrude into the fiction, that unnecessarily encumbers the story.

Once upon a time, such phrases were considered necessary, a way to let your readers know we were in the character’s head or seeing through his or her eyes. With Deep POV, readers are in the character’s head –almost– all the time, and no other intrusions are necessary.

A few examples of simple sentences to show the contrast—

Third-person—
He was lost, Michael thought. Lost and certain someone followed him into the woods.
I’m lost, Michael thought. Lost and certain someone followed him into the woods.

Third-person Deep POV
He was lost. Lost and certain someone followed him into the woods.
I’m lost. Lost and certain someone followed him into the woods.

➢➣➢➣➤➢➣➢➣

Third-person—

Sherry trailed her quarry down Broadway, careful to look busy with store windows shopping on the opposite side of the street. She giggled when she watched him slip into the Big and Tall Shop and saw him hide behind a mannequin.

Third-person Deep POV

Sherry trailed her quarry—better known as her ex-husband—down Broadway, careful to look busy windows shopping on the opposite side of the street.  She had to laugh when he slipped into the Big and Tall Shop and hide behind a mannequin.

➢➣➣➢➣➢➣

Third-person—

Allen shook his head. It was moronic, he said to himself, the way Zen fawned over his wife’s parents.
Zen threw open his mouth, faking a long laugh.
A moron, Allen thought again, turning away.

Third-person Deep POV
Allen shook his head. It was moronic the way Zen fawned over his wife’s parents.
The loser threw open his mouth, faking a long laugh.
Moron.
Allen turned away.

➢➣➢➣➢➣➢➣

A first-person narrator never needs to identify his or her own feelings and thoughts as being their own. So, the third-person viewpoint character doesn’t have to tell his readers over and over what he or she is thinking or hoping or seeing or feeling. Readers understand the thoughts and hopes and visions and feelings belong to the viewpoint character.

The writer who uses Deep POV for his viewpoint character doesn’t have to use markers to tell readers what a character feels—

Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. She thought there was no way she could back out of the dare gracefully. She wiggled her fingers around. She felt slime ooze between them.

Melissa reluctantly stuck her hand into the pouch. There was no way she could back gracefully out of the dare. She wiggled her fingers around, wincing when slime oozed between them.

Using Deep POV rather than the traditional third-person subjective can cut your word count while keeping the intensity high. It can also keep readers deep in the fiction of the moment rather than reminding them that they are reading a story.

Markers used to remind readers a character is reporting that he’s doing something—felt, saw, watched, thought and so on—become a barrier between readers and the events and emotions of the story. They keep readers one step removed from story events and a character’s feelings.

Removing those reminders pulls your readers deeper into story’s events and deeper into the character’s mind and heart. When you remove the visual physical barrier, the psychological barrier is also separated. Then the reader dives even deeper into the fictional world.

Of course, being in a character’s thoughts and emotions for the length of a story can make readers antsy or induce a sense claustrophobia. It’s quite okay to draw back at times, to step away from that Deep POV.

When Deep POV is too much
At the opening of a new chapter, help the reader get a broad view of the scene. Allow scenes to gain perspective and provide relief from Deep POV. Go from the big-picture shot, shifting focus until your viewpoint character is again in the frame, then you can let him or her resume the storytelling.

Switching viewpoint characters lets your readers get the view from inside a different head. This gives them a break from the intensity of a single character’s point of view.

Remember, however, to switch viewpoint characters only with scene changes. And be choosy about the heads and hearts you dump your readers into. Not every character deserves to tell your story. Not every character is the right character to tell your story.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Common Writing Mistakes (4)

LISTS
“She was entranced by the roses, hyacinths, impatiens, mums, carnations, pansies, irises, peonies, hollyhocks, daylilies, morning glories, larkspur…” Well, she may be entranced, but our eyes are glazing over. If you’re going to describe a number of items, jack up the visuals. Lay out the scene as the eye sees it, with emphasis and emotion in unlikely places. When you list the items as though we’re checking them off with a clipboard, the internal eye will shut. It doesn’t matter what you list – nouns, adjectives, verbs – the result is always static. “He drove, he sighed, he swallowed, he yawned in impatience.” So do we. Dunk the whole thing. Rethink and rewrite. If you’ve got many ingredients and we aren’t transported, you’ve got a list.

SHOW, DON’T TELL
If you say, “she was stunning and powerful,” you’re *telling* us. But if you say, “I was stunned by her elegant carriage as she strode past the jury – shoulders erect, elbows back, her eyes wide and watchful,” you’re *showing* us. The moment we can visualize the picture you’re trying to paint, you’re showing us, not telling us what we *should* see..Handsome, attractive, momentous, embarrassing, fabulous, powerful, hilarious, stupid, fascinating are all words that “tell” us in an arbitrary way what to think. They don’t reveal, don’t open up, don’t describe in specifics what is unique to the person or event described. Often they begin with cliches.Here is Gail Sheehy’s depiction of a former “surfer girl” from the New Jersey shore in Middletown, America:

“This was a tall blond tomboy who grew up with all guy friends. A natural beauty who still had age on her side, being thirty; she didn’t give a thought to taming her flyaway hair or painting makeup on her smooth Swedish skin.”
Here I *think* I know what Sheehy means, but I’m not sure. Don’t let the reader make such assumptions. You’re the author; it’s your charge to show us what you mean with authentic detail. Don’t pretend the job is accomplished by cliches such as “smooth Swedish skin,” “flyaway hair,” “tall blond tomboy,” “the surfer girl” – how smooth? how tall? how blond?

Or try this from Faye Kellerman in Street Dreams:

“[Louise’s] features were regular, and once she had been pretty. Now she was handsome in her black skirt, suit, and crisp, white blouse.”
Well, that’s it for Louise, poor thing. Can you see the character in front of you? A previous sentence tells us that Louise has “blunt-cut hair” framing an “oval face,” which helps, but not much – millions of women have a face like that. What makes Louise distinctive? Again, we may think we know what Kellerman means by “pretty” and “handsome” (good luck), but the inexcusable word here is “regular,” as in “her features were regular.” What *are* “regular” features?

The difference between telling and showing usually boils down to the physical senses. Visual, aural aromatic words take us out of our skin and place us in the scene you’ve created. In conventional narrative, it’s fine to use a “to be” word to talk us into the distinctive word, such as “wandered” in this brief, easily imagined sentence by John Steinbeck in East of Eden. “His eyes were very blue, and when he was tired, one of them wandered outward a little.” We don’t care if he is “handsome” or “regular.”

Granted, context is everything, as writing experts say, and certainly that’s true of the sweltering West African heat in Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair which had once been the color of bottled honey was dark and stringy with sweat.” Except for “atabrine” (a medicine for malaria), the words aren’t all that distinctive, but they quietly do the job – they don’t tell us; they show us.

Commercial novels sometimes abound with the most revealing examples of this problem. The boss in Linda Lael Miller’s Don’t Look Now is “drop-dead gorgeous”; a former boyfriend is “seriously fine to look at: 35, half Irish and half Hispanic, his hair almost black, his eyes brown.” A friend, Betsy, is “a gorgeous, leggy blonde, thin as a model.” Careful of that word “gorgeous” – used too many times, it might lose its meaning.


The point to the List above is that even the best writers make these mistakes, but you can’t afford to. The way manuscripts are thrown into the Rejection Pile on the basis of early mistakes is a crime. Don’t be a victim.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Common Writing Mistakes (3)

FLAT WRITING

“He wanted to know but couldn’t understand what she had to say, so he waited until she was ready to tell him before asking what she meant.”Something is conveyed in this sentence, but who cares? The writing is so flat, it just dies on the page. You can’t fix it with a few replacement words – you have to give it depth, texture, character. Here’s another:”Bob looked at the clock and wondered if he would have time to stop for gas before driving to school to pick up his son after band practice.” True, this could be important – his wife might have hired a private investigator to document Bob’s inability to pick up his son on time – and it could be that making the sentence bland invests it with more tension. (This is the editorial consultant giving you the benefit of the doubt.) Most of the time, though, a sentence like this acts as filler. It gets us from A to B, all right, but not if we go to the kitchen to make a sandwich and find something else to read when we sit down.Flat writing is a sign that you’ve lost interest or are intimidated by your own narrative. It shows that you’re veering toward mediocrity, that your brain is fatigued, that you’ve lost your inspiration. So use it as a lesson. When you see flat writing on the page, it’s time to rethink, refuel and rewrite.

AWKWARD PHRASING
“Mrs. Fletcher’s face pinkened slightly.” Whoa. This is an author trying too hard. “I sat down and ran a finger up the bottom of his foot, and he startled so dramatically …. ” Egad, “he startled”? You mean “he started”?Awkward phrasing makes the reader stop in the midst of reading and ponder the meaning of a word or phrase. This you never want as an author. A rule of thumb – always give your work a little percolatin’ time before you come back to it. Never write right up to deadline. Return to it with fresh eyes. You’ll spot those overworked tangles of prose and know exactly how to fix them.

COMMAS
Compound sentences, most modifying clauses and many phrases *require* commas. You may find it necessary to break the rules from time to time, but you can’t delete commas just because you don’t like the pause they bring to a sentence or just because you want to add tension.”Bob ran up the stairs and looking down he realized his shoelace was untied but he couldn’t stop because they were after him so he decided to get to the roof where he’d retie it.” This is what happens when an author believes that omitting commas can make the narrative sound breathless and racy. Instead it sounds the reverse – it’s heavy and garbled.The Graham Greene quote above is dying for commas, which I’ll insert here: “Her face had the ivory tinge of atabrine; her hair, which had once been the color of bottled honey, was dark and stringy with sweat.” This makes the sentence accessible to the reader, an image one needs to slow down and absorb.Entire books have been written about punctuation. Get one. “The Chicago Manual of Style” shows why punctuation is necessary in specific instances. If you don’t know what the rules are for, your writing will show it.