My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Easy Way to Make Your Writing Interesting

Take an interest in your subject

This is an invaluable piece of advice. In order to make your subject interesting to others, you have to be interested in it yourself. If a person who hates classical music tries to write a novel about Beethoven, it will fall flat. If a person who loves cars and Sweden tries to write a novel about the history of Saab vehicles, however, they have a chance of being successful.

In short, you have to have a genuine interest in your subject matter in order to write well about it. Even if it something you never cared about before, if you can find some element that fascinates you, then you have a fighting chance. Find a way to relate to it, to care, and you will be able to convince the reader that they should care too.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Post: Holly L'Oiseau

For today's post, Holly L'Oiseau has generously offered to share her writing experience and provide some suggestions on how to create your own voice when writing YA. Dig in!

Today I wanted to write about voice because it seems to be the most elusive element of young adult fiction. Most YA writers, including myself, have said: what exactly is voice? The concept of voice is really a lot simpler than I made it out to be when I first started writing.

Words are what the character says. Voice is how they say it.

See? Pretty simple, right? How a character says something tells a lot about who that character is.

Here’s an example:
Sentence number one: “You’d better step out of that gosh, darned car,” Molly shouts. “Or I’ll lick you upside your head!”
Sentence number two: “Please get out of the car,” Molly pleads. “Or I’ll—I’ll hit you, I swear it!”

Both sentences say pretty much the same thing, right? But in the first sentence, Molly sounds pretty brash. And, judging from the words she uses, she sounds like she could be from the South (like me!). The Molly in sentence two comes off much more timid and apprehensive. Molly #1 is afraid of nothing and Molly #2 is very fragile.

The thing that makes YA a bit tricky is creating an authentic teenage voice. You want to capture the essence of a teenager, but you don’t want you character to sound like this:
“Hey yo, I like went to like the freakin’ mall today and like bought these hella-cool kicks.”

I don’t know if many of us could make it through even one chapter of that! And it’s hard for readers to make a connection to the character when their voice doesn’t sound authentic. Teenagers want (and deserve) characters they can truly relate to.

Another thing I’ve seen a lot lately is characters who are incredibly snarky. Sarcasm can be used in small measures to get across how a character feels. But using sarcasm as a character trait can cause the character to come off annoying, rude, and immature.

Mom: “You need to clean your room today, okay?”
Daughter: “Yeah, whatever,” I say, crossing my arms and rolling my eyes. “I’m totally on it.”

I don’t know that I can relate, or even want to get to know, someone who talks like that through 300 pages.
Just to cement the idea of an authentic, compelling YA voice, I’ve picked a scene from one of my favorite YA novels, Paper Towns, by John Green:
Margo Roth Spiegelman (just before sending Quentin into the grocery store for supplies): “So, right. I made you a list. If you have any questions, just call my cell. Listen, that reminds me, I took the liberty of putting some supplies in the back of the van earlier.”
Quentin Jacobsen: “What, like, before I agreed to all this?”
Margo Roth Speigelman: “Well, yes. Technically yes. Anyway, just call me if you have any questions, but with the Vaseline, you want the one that’s bigger than your fist. There’s a Baby Vaseline, and then there’s a Mommy Vaseline, and then there’s a big fat Daddy of a Vaseline, and that’s the one you want. If they don’t have that, then get, like, three of the Mommies.”

Margo’s voice just explodes off the page, and you can tell, just from that short conversation, what kind of person she is. She’s assertive. She knows what she wants. She’s confident. And she has a plan.

So, as you’re writing your YA novel, keep in mind who your character is and how you want he/she to come across to readers!


My Photo
So who is Holly L’Oiseau, anyway? 
I'm a larger than life, hilarious (at least my cats think so), 
closet girlie-girl who loves to write, read, and blog about
all things YA. I live in Tennessee with my extremely 
handsome hubby, nine-year-old genius son, two cats, 
and some fish. You can check out my website at:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Earthquake in Publishing World

The other day, I read an a blog post by John Bethune on the topic of publishing ( Unlike many other posts, articles, and discussions I have seen on the topic, he refrained from saying the self-publishing marks the death of traditional publishing, or that self-publishing will eventually fade away. He also doesn't say that the act of publishing is going to be buried any time soon. He simply remarks on the dynamics at stake in the publishing world. All types of publishing (traditional, vanity, and self) are producing good works. All three are producing bad writing. None of them lays a claim on quality any more. The only difference is how they operate.

This made the gears in my mind start turning over. We are living in a time where the terms "writer," "author," and "publisher" are fluid and blurry. They are constantly changing and many of us cannot agree on one definition for any of these words.

What is the distinction between an author and a writer? Many have told me that a writer becomes an author after they have been published. What if you were published by a vanity press and only a handful of people bought your novel? Does it still count? What about people that self-publish? Though they haven't gone through the traditional channels that used to define the publishing industry, have they still made the transition to author?

Just like many others, I am at a loss when it comes to answering these questions. I prefer to just try to keep up with the many different directions that the publishing industry is going in and to judge them by their own outcomes. I am slowly learning to turn to the Internet for my reading material, along with the bookstore. As always, however, I will decide for myself if a piece is worth reading or not. No matter who published it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Guest Post: EW Greenlee

For today's post, EW Greenlee has generously offered to share his writing experience and provide some suggestions on why you should never be afraid to write. Dig in!

I love all forms of books, but lately my passion with regards to writing has been in three distinct genres:
·         Fantasy
·         Science Fiction
·         Supernatural

Why, one might ask?  These genres allow an author total control over creativity and imagination.  If the author can dream it, they can write it. It just takes time and discipline.  Secondly, the genres offer escapism.  Crime novels come too close to home in the daily news.  I hear enough of that.  Finally, and I freely admit it, is the financial aspect of these genres.  I am also a CPA and financial advisor.  I look at any endeavor and consider the financial revenue streams.  If you look at the enduring success of stories like The Lord of the Rings, it continues to create an enormous and diverse stream of revenues. 

As a financial advisor, I read various sources of news to keep abreast of consumer trends.  It was in 2010, as I was nearing the completion of my epic fantasy adventure trilogy, that eBook trends began appearing more frequently.  It was at that time I made the decision to self-publish and retain control of all of my intellectual property rights.  I also acquired the technology to control the digital publishing and digital marketing processes.

As a writer, I have been given compliments on the conceptual aspects of my stories.  However, all authors have weaknesses.  My weakness is grammar.  It is horrible, but I am making the valiant attempt to self-improve and re-educate myself.  I would highly suggest to any author starting out, to assess your strengths and weaknesses, and to engage in networking that will provide candid improvement techniques.   I hire a professional editor and allow her to apply her strengths.

Do not allow others around you to make you give up your dream of writing a novel, novella, or short story.  With over six billion people on the planet, even a minute percentage may love your story.  All you have to do is put in the effort.  My trilogy took me ten years to complete and it required endless hours of research into subjects I was not altogether familiar with.  I used the evenings and weekends to do this, as I already had another career that paid the bills. 

In the end, the stories are not perfect, but I needed to let go of it.  I structured the story as a mythology, with fifteen more stories to follow that complement the compressed history in the trilogy.  Consider for a moment The Silmarillion, which is the creation story and history of the first and second ages of Middle-Earth.  My trilogy establishes this necessary history in the first nine chapters of book one, and lays the foundation for the unveiling of many clues to the final chapters in book three.  The telling of the history will be contained in the fifteen “Chronicles” to follow.

In all, I have over 30 stories in various phases of progress, a couple already written and requiring re-write and editing.  Why do I do this?  Honestly, I am bored with television, movie remakes, and formula novels.  New ideas and stories need to be brought to the reading public.  You may be the next author that everyone admires and emulates in their story-telling.  Never give up, and in the end, even if not financially successful, you can join a distinct and small group of people who can say “I did it!”  Network with fellow authors, join local writing clubs, a writer’s federation, and always listen. There is wisdom to be gained.  Now get busy writing, because if I can accomplish this task, so can anyone else.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Thanks to a wonderful friend on Twitter, Melodee Miller (@IKnowUrThere), I am now giving some serious consideration to the idea of starting my own daily online paper. She referred me to the site, and the more I read, the more I like the idea! It would definitely be a good way to expand my writing tips blog and to be able to deliver even more help to my fellow writers and editors.

At this point, I would like to open the floor to you, my reader. Do you have any experience with this type of social media? If you have one, tell me about it. Leave a link if you'd like; I'd love to check it out! If you read or subscribe to these papers, tell me about your experience as a reader. What draws you to one paper over another? What do you like to see from an editor of the papers you read? I would really appreciate some feedback on this idea.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spell Check Issues

Spell check does not have all the answers

Why you can't rely on grammar checkers

These two examples show exactly why you cannot rely on grammar-checkers and spell-checkers in your software program. A computer is only as good as the person that gives it commands, and even then, that persons cannot predict every situation that can come up in your writing. They can be altered and will skip over words that are technically correct, though you may have misused them or used the wrong version (such as the infamous there, their, and they're).

(I apologize for the extremely short post today, I have a cold that is trying to get the best of me.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Importance of Proofreading

Another example of why you should always proofread

Proofread, proofread, proofread!!!

This is why proofreading before publishing is so important

These three examples show exactly why proofreading is so important. Before you ever send even a query letter to a publisher, you should go back and thoroughly proofread your work. Check for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. Use your grammar-checker and spell-checker, but also use your own knowledge of the English language. If you are unsure of your abilities or want a second set of eyes, don't be afraid to call on a trusted friend to help you out.
Once your piece moves on to the next level, don't be afraid to double-check the work of your editor. Even if they are the best in their field, they are human too and can accidentally skip over something that will be obvious to others. Ask to see the final manuscript, the cover, and any other details that will be shown to the public world. This is your name that is being put out there, make sure you are confident that it is the best it can be.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Writing Doctor is Out

Do you need to go here?

Sometimes, it is easy to wish that this type of place existed. A place where you could have all your bad writing habits extracted by an English surgeon and, after a few hours, be free to go back out into the world with improved grammar and spelling.

In the real world, you have to work to improve your writing. Read books on grammar, style, and punctuation. Use your grammar-checker and spell-checker to catch your basic mistakes. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus handy. Attend classes and seminars on writing. Join a writer's club. And, most importantly, keep writing. The best way to improve yourself is to write as much as you can. This gives you more practice and allows you to catch your own mistakes and, through repetition, eliminate them from your repertoire. While there is no such thing as a perfect writer, we can always strive to make our writing better.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tag, You're it!

Eveli Acosta tagged me on her blog! Which means I get to answer her awesome questions. Here's the Q&A Eveli provided me with:

1) If I came to your home and looked under your sofa cushions, what would I find?
Possibly a few crumbs or coins, but mostly nothing. My couch only has one giant cushion, so it is hard for things to get beneath it.

2) Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, and find line 4.
Okay, now what?
Just kidding. It says "spirit of giving." I'll take that as a hint.

3) How would you describe yourself in three words?
Fun-loving editor.

4) What is your best childhood memory?
Racing go-carts with my father. I got to be "one of the boys" and got to spend time with my father, which may be one of the reasons I am a big daddy's girl. Then again, racing might have just been a result of that.

5) What would you do if you had a time machine?
I would just go back and watch important moments in my life to see if I could learn anything else from them. I would never interfere with the events going on, because I believe that everything made me into the person I am today, which I am happy with. Even the bad things taught me a lesson and help me appreciate how good I have it now.

6) If you could eat lunch with one famous person, who would it be?
Leonardo DiCaprio. He is the only celebrity that I care about. Which is probably why I am pretty fanatical about his movies.

7) What do you like to do most with a free hour?
Cuddle with my fiance. Or spend time with him in some other way. He always makes me smile and laugh.

8) What kind of books do you like to read?
I am pretty much all over the place with this one. I am currently reading "Devil in the White City," a creative nonfiction novel. If you want to know more, check out my GoodReads page:

9) Does your name make any interesting anagrams?, not really.

10) Is there anything that you’ve never told anyone and are dying to share?
I have an obsession with peanut butter. Peanut butter with celery, peanut butter Oreos, or just peanut butter straight out of the jar. I cannot get enough!

Now it's my turn to tag a few blogs.

Tag you're it!

If I've tagged you, you will need to answer these questions, post them on your blog, and link your post back to me!

1. What is one "mistake" that has changed you the most?
2. What is your dream car?
3. What one thing do you wish to achieve in your future?
4. What inspires you?
5. Do you prefer to write with a pen, pencil, keyboard, or some other utensil?
6. If a multi-millionaire offered to buy you one thing, what would you choose?
7. What is your favorite thing to do on a day off?
8. Do you sing in the shower or dance in your living room?
9. Quick, write down the first song lyric you think of!
10. If you could share one bit of advice with the world, what would it be?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Writer's Vending Machine

These should be everywhere!

It would be very convenient to have these machines in every area you write. The library, the bench at the mall, the middle of the forest, your living room. They could also be situated at every street corner, in the airport, and at every restaurant, so that when an idea pops in your head you have the resources to write it down. Whenever inspiration hits, these machines should be ready and waiting.

Unfortunately, that is not the way that the world works. Instead, you have to carry these resources with you. If you want to be a writer, it is a good idea to keep spare sheets of paper or a notebook on your person all the time. You should also have your favorite writing utensil, whether that is a pen, pencil, or marker. That way, when something brilliant slaps you across the face, you can be sure you will catch it.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Guest Post: Rayne Hall

For today's post, Rayne Hall has generously offered to share her editing experience and provide some suggestions on how to make your writing more concise. Dig in!

Could You Do Without 'Could'?
by Rayne Hall

In thirty years as an editor, I've found the same fatty words bloat the style of many authors.

Here is a notorious, fattening, calorie-rich word: 'could'.  If you cut it from your diet, your writing style will become sharper and tighter.

Beginner writers are prone to overusing it. Experienced authors may use it a lot in their drafts, but edit it out in the final version.

Instead of telling us that the heroine could see, could hear, could smell, or could feel something, let her see, hear, smell, taste, feel it. Simply cut the word 'could'.

'Could see' becomes 'saw', 'could hear' becomes 'heard', 'could smell' becomes 'smelled', ' could taste' becomes 'tasted', 'could feel' becomes 'felt'.

Better still: cut 'see/hear/smell/taste/feel' as well.  If you have established the point of view of your story, you don't need to say that your PoV hears the sounds, smells the smells, and sees the visions.

Obese version (before diet)
He could hear footsteps clanking down the stairs.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He heard footsteps clanking down the stairs.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Footsteps clanked down the stairs.

Obese version (before diet)
She could see his lips beginning to twitch.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She saw his lips beginning to twitch.
Slim version (after strict diet)
His lips twitched.

Obese version (before diet)
She could feel her cheeks firing.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She felt her cheeks firing.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Her cheeks fired.

Obese version (before diet)
She could sense that something was wrong.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
She sensed that something was wrong.
Slim version (after strict diet)
Something was wrong.

Obese version (before diet)
He could understand that it was time to leave.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He understood it was time to leave.
Slim version (after strict diet)
It was time to leave.

Obese version (before diet)
He could feel the air chill.
Overweight version (after mild diet)
He felt the air chill.
Slim version (after strict diet)
The air chilled.

Use your word processor's Find & Replace tool to count how many times you've used 'could', and cut most of them.

This will help make your writing style tight and toned.

Rayne Hall is a professional writer and editor. She teaches online workshops for intermediate, advanced, and professional level writers. Topics include 'Writing Fight Scenes', 'Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels', 'Writing Scary Scenes', 'Writing about Magic and Magicians', and more.

One of the classes is 'The Word-Loss Diet'. If your writing style tends towards wordy waffling, if your critique partners urge you to tighten, and if editorial rejections point out dragging pace, this class may be the answer. It's perfect for toning your manuscript before submitting to editors and agents, or for whipping it into shape before indie publishing.  This is an interactive class with twelve lessons and twelve assignments, for writers who have a full or partial manuscript in need of professional polish. At the end of the class, you may submit a scene for individual critiques.

For an up-to-date list of Rayne's next classes, go to

Friday, February 17, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #9

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • Try to. Try and.
    • In proper English, it is correct to say "We will try to fix the train." It has become common in casual conversation to say "We will try and fix the train." This obscures your meaning though, as it could be taken that not only will you try, but you will undoubtedly fix it. If you use "try to," it makes it absolutely clear that you are going to try but cannot guarantee the results.
  • Unique.
    • This word cannot be qualified by words such as "most" or "very." Something either is unique or it is not.
  • Very.
    • This word really has no meaning left in today's world. If you need to use it to emphasize your meaning, then you should be using stronger words instead. For example, instead of saying that the ride was very exciting, say why it was exciting. What made it more exciting than other rides? Give your reader more description so they know exactly what you are trying to express.
  • Worth while.
    • This is another bland phrase that should be avoided at all costs. It doesn't tell the reader anything in particular and certainly lacks any descriptive qualities. If I told you that a certain book was "worth while" to read, what could you infer from that? Almost nothing. If I told you that a certain book has "invaluable information about improving your short stories," that gives you a lot more information, doesn't it?
In short, most of these commonly misused words and expressions can be boiled down to a few simple rules. Use precise, specific phrases instead of vague ones. Favor clarity over shortcuts. And give your reader descriptions, not bland phrases.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #8

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • That. Which.
    • The first is defining and restrictive. It tells which object you are talking about. The second is nondefining and nonrestrictive. It adds a fact about the only object in question. While modern language uses the two words almost interchangeably, it is best to know the difference between them and use them according to their definitions. This improves the clarity of your work and eliminates any ambiguity.
  • The foreseeable future.
    • This is a horrible cliche. It has no real meaning and doesn't add to your writing at all. Instead, tell exactly what time frame you are talking about. Will this event take place within the next week? Will your goal be accomplished within the next year? Be more precise with your wording.
  • The truth is. The fact is.
    • In most cases, the reader will already be aware that you are talking about your opinion. They assume that you are telling the truth. If you are writing a scientific paper or something similar, then the reader will already know that you are stating facts. Considering these two situations, it makes "the truth is" and "the fact is" unnecessary statements.
  • They. He or she.
    • If you start with one pronoun, do not finish with the other. Make a decision about which way you are going to write and stick with it. It is improper in any type of writing to say "If they go to the movies, he or she must buy popcorn." If this gives you trouble, try using a different pronoun in your draft, such as "you" and "your."
  • Tortuous. Torturous.
    • Tortuous describes a winding, physical situation. The other describes a painful situation. Both are indicative of twisting, but each is only applicable in its own way. Save the second for situations that replicate actual torture.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #7

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • Personally.
    • This phrase is often used in speech, especially in a relaxed or casual atmosphere. It is also used when someone wants to sound more intelligent or is worried about offending someone else. In your writing, it should be avoided (because of the above-mentioned implications). It also can be eliminated from your writing vocabulary because, in most cases, it is just an extra word. The reader is usually expecting your personal opinion, which makes "personally" rather redundant.
  • Regretful. Regrettable.
    • Regretful is incorrectly used in place of regrettable. Think about their suffixes for a minute. Regretful: -ful means to be full of; to be overwhelmed with. Is your character brimming over with regret? If you are talking about a regrettable situation, it would definitely be wrong to say the situation was filled with regret (unless you are using personification, which is another matter altogether.)
  • Secondly, thirdly, etc.
    • If you want to use these words, you have to be willing to lead with "firstly." That is a hard trick to pull off and is generally frowned upon. Instead, leave off the suffixes and go with second, third, etc., or pick another way to introduce your topics. A smooth transition might be better than a list.
  • So.
    • Some writers pretend that this word works as a description. No. It never has worked that way and it never will. Don't get lazy and try to use this in front of your adjectives. "It was so beautiful" does not give your reader anything to work with. Put in some real descriptions, please.
  • State.
    • This does not mean "say." This does not mean "say." This does not mean "say." Reread that line until it sticks. It can only be used to mean "express fully or clearly." 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #6

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • Meaningful.
    • This word is bland and meaningless. It conveys no actual information and is basically a placeholder. Take it out of any sentence and replace it with more specific wording. What made it meaningful? Who considered it meaningful? Was it meaningful to the person doing it/giving it? Give your reader more details.
  • Nauseous. Nauseated.
    • "Nauseous" means that it is sickening to think of. "Nauseated" is the physical feeling. Most people have gotten into the habit of using the first to mean the second; don't be one of those people.
  • Nice.
    • Use only for its traditional meanings, "precise" or "delicate." If you use it to mean anything else, you are falling into the same trap as using "meaningless." You will turn out sounding vague and as if you really have nothing to say about the subject. Then, the reader will wonder why you are writing about it at all, if you don't want to spend the time to say exactly why it was nice. Always use descriptions in place of bland words.
  • Partially. Partly.
    • These two words get confused a lot. Partially is about a certain degree. It is more about a mindset. Partly is used to describe parts of a whole; a physical situation. If you are unsure, it is probably better to go with a different wording.
  • People. Person.
    • It is common to say "20 people" and "one person." In proper English, however, it is incorrect to use them in this way. It is better to write "20 persons," so that if 19 of them leave, it is still the same noun, "one person." However, it is unusual to see this formal way of writing used today, so this is best left up to your personal preference and the particular situation you are writing for.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #5

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • Irregardless.
    • This word does not really exist. If you are dismissing something, the word is regardless, such as "Regardless of rain or snow, the games will still go on." If you want to mean the opposite, take off the -less. For example, "In regard to the rain, it was pouring too hard to continue the game." (Which, I would like to point out, has a lot of unnecessary words and could be shortened. But, it provided a clear example nevertheless.)
  • Kind of. Sort of.
    • In formal writing, these should never be used in place of "maybe," "rather," or "something like." Never never never. They are slang and should be treated as such. Instead, use them with their original meaning, as in "The common cold is a kind of illness."
  • Less. Fewer.
    • Less refers to quantity and extent. "The pillows were less comfortable than before." Fewer refers to number and amount. "There were fewer pillows than before." For the sake of clarity, it is important to keep their difference in mind.
  • Like. As.
    • "Like" is for nouns and pronouns. "As" covers phrases and clauses. While the use of one for the other is quickly gaining ground in common writing, it is still considered improper when writing in a formal setting. If you are writing in your diary or journal, use whichever you like. If you are writing a novel, go with the traditional rules.
  • Literal. Literally.
    • Thanks to current trends, these words have become greatly overused and have lost some of their meaning. They just don't carry the punch they used to. Therefore, if you want to convey the same meaning, it is up to you to create a way to add some force to the words. In most cases, it can be left out without changing the meaning anyway, so its best to just avoid it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #4

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • However.
    • When you mean "nevertheless," don't use "however" at the beginning of a sentence. Only use it at the beginning if it means "in whatever way" or "to whatever extent." For example, "However you phrase it, a good writer never puts themselves above their readers. Nevertheless, many writers have been called out for doing it."
  • Imply. Infer.
    • Imply means to suggest something. Infer means to deduce from evidence or surroundings. You can imply something, but the reader infers something from your writing.
  • In regard to. In regards to.
    • Do not put an 's' on regard. The proper phrase is "in regard to." If you can't remember this or prefer to avoid it entirely, us "as regards."
  • Insightful. Perceptive.
    • Insightful is a much more powerful word than perceptive. While normally, stronger is better, in this case it often sounds like exaggeration. In most cases, the word perceptive is more than acceptable. Only use it for extraordinary instances of future thinking.
  • Interesting.
    • This word has no descriptive qualities in today's language. It usually falls flat and has no meaning. Instead of saying something is interesting, say why it is interesting. Give some description and give enough detail so the reader can conclude for themselves that it was interesting. In this case, it is best to spell it out.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #3

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • Fact.
    • In our culture, especially with the younger generation, it is common to hear "fact" being used for things that are, well, not really facts. If it is an opinion, an idea, or a theory, do not use the word "fact" as a substitute. If there are no tests, studies, or years of reality to support your claim, do not use the word "fact." If it is at all questionable, do not use "fact." If it could be a matter of angle or point of view, do not use "fact." If it is a common assumption, culture-wide belief, or even a widespread comment, unless you can verify it, don't call it a "fact." Basically, this word is one of those rare ones you hide away in your writer's basement for special occasions.
  • Farther. Further.
    • Farther refers to distance. Further refers to time or quantity. Simple enough.
  • Flammable. Inflammable.
    • Inflammable means combustible. Something that can spark a fire, catch on fire, or otherwise easily become a tower of flames. Flammable is only used on trucks that carry combustible materials, such as gas trailers, due to the confusion of people thinking "in" means "not." In formal writing, use inflammable or combustible. That is, unless you are writing for a stupid audience. Are you? Didn't think so. (Oh, and another tip: You should never think your audience is stupid. Uneducated or uninformed, maybe, but never stupid.)
  • Fortuitous.
    • This is used to describe something that happens by chance. Something that could not have been predicted. Something unexpected or out of the blue. Do not use it to mean lucky or fortunate, please.
  • Hopefully.
    • This is traditionally used to mean "with hope." Now, it is commonly interpreted as "I hope" or "it is to be hoped." In the current times, the word is so overused, you should get tired and sigh just from looking at it. Find another way to express yourself that is more accurate and your reader will thank you.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #2

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • "Care less."
    • Sometimes the phrase is written or spoken as "I could care less." This is indeed incorrect. If you could care less, that means that you care about the subject now. Usually, this is not the case. Normally, the speaker or writer usually means that they do not care at all about the subject at hand, so the phrase should be "I couldn't care less." Simply, because you could not care any less than you already do. Get it?
  • "Data."
    • Though this word is slowly gaining acceptance as a singular noun, it is proper to use it as a plural. Therefore, a plural verb should be used with it. Instead of "The data is wrong," it would be more appropriate to write, "These data are wrong."
  • "Disinterested. Uninterested."
    • If someone is disinterested in a court case, that means that they are impartial (hopefully, the judge could be considered disinterested.) If they are uninterested, it means that they do not care what happens. (If the judge were uninterested, it could lead to a very bad trial.)
  • "Effect. Affect."
    • Effect means "to accomplish" or "a result." For example: The room seemed dreary, an effect of the grey paint. Affect means "to influence." For example: The grey room affected Drew in such a way that he instantly become sad." There is a big difference in usage here.
  • "Etc."
    • This literally means "and other things." If you are writing informally, it is perfectly okay to use it when your audience will be able to name the "other things" it covers. In formal writing, however, it is better not to use it at all. It is more appropriate to list out the things that are so important that an "etc." might be used to represent them. Also, never use "etc." after a phrase such as "for example." This phrase implies that you will be naming specifics, and etc. is too vague to be used in this application.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Commonly Misused Words and Expressions, #1

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Aggravate. Irritate."
    • The first means to further annoy or anger someone. The second means to initially annoy or anger someone. A person has to be irritated before they can be aggravated. An aggravating situation is only possible if the situation was already irritating someone. Think of it in stages: calm; irritated; aggravated.
  • "All right."
    • This has become very common in everyday speech. I have seen it written as "all right," "allright," and "alright." Only the first is correct; the last two are incorrect. Unless you are texting your friend, it is best to stick to two words.
  • "And/or."
    • When used as a phrase, "and/or" is outdated and annoying. It also ruins any chance you have at clarity. Instead, break the phrase up and use two clauses or sentences. Make the possibilities separate instead of trying to lump it into one. Clarity cannot always be accomplished by taking shortcuts; this is one of those times.
  • "Anybody."
    • If your meaning is "any person," then the word should be "any body." If you could replace it with "any human," "any corpse," or "any student," then you need to use "any body."
  • "Anyone."
    • If you are using it to mean "anybody" (not to be confused with the above), it is written as one word. If you mean "any single person," "any individual student," or "any single thing," then it needs to be written in two words, as "any one."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Elementary Principles of Composition, #2

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Omit needless words."
    • This requires you to be super-objective about your work and also requires a lot of patience. Take a step back and evaluate each word in your draft. Is it necessary? Does it aid in your meaning? Does it add to your description? If the answer is no, then delete it. Could the word be stronger? Is it generic or unhelpful? Then it needs to be changed. Keep your work concise and tight and your reader will be more inclined to keep reading.
  • "Avoid a succession of loose sentences."
    • If you look at a paragraph and there are a large amount of connectives (andbut, who, which, when, where, while), you have too many loose sentences. One or two keeps your writing from becoming too formal and choppy; more than that just makes you look inexperienced and unskilled.
  • "Express coordinate ideas in similar form."
    • Don't let your writing look undecided or timid. Allow yourself to repeat important words or phrases to connect similar ideas. A similar structure brings together ideas that are directly related and helps the reader connect them. Parallel structure indicates that the content of each sentence is a new but related idea. Variety is not always the spice of life.
  • "Keep related words together."
    • In your descriptions, some thoughts go together while some other ones are slightly less related. Be careful in constructing your sentences to ensure that the most directly connected thoughts, phrases, or words go together. This will keep your meaning clear instead of ambiguous and will eliminate any chance of confusion.
  • "In summaries, keep to one tense."
    • When recalling recent events or the plot of a story, it is easy to slip between present and past tense without even noticing it. Many writers fall in this trap and end up coming across as annoying and uncertain. Make sure that one of the read-throughs you do during proofreading focuses just on tense. Highlight any inconsistencies and fix them as soon as possible.
  • "Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end."
    • Have you ever read a sentence and realized that the main emphasis was placed in the middle, so by the end you had lost interest? It makes the rest of the words seem rather pointless and unnecessary. If you want to avoid this trap with your own writing, place the most important point at the end. It is the one that readers will remember, because it is the last thing to cross their minds, and it keeps the interest on everything you have to say instead of trailing off.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Elementary Principles of Composition, #1

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:
  • "Choose a suitable design and hold to it."
    • When you have a topic in mind, think of how you want to present it. What points are you going to make? In what order would they be most effective? Have a general idea in your head of what would work best, then stick to it. You don't have to have a sentence-by-sentence outline, but you have to have a basic plan so that you don't start to ramble or go off-topic.
  • "Make the paragraph the unit of composition."
    • While the paragraphs have to fit together to make an essay, each individual paragraph also has to function as a unit. It has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even if a broad thought covers several paragraphs, each one has to have a definite point.
  • "Use the active voice."
    • Not only does an active voice keep your piece from being unnecessarily wordy, it also is more precise. It allows the reader to be involved in your work and keeps them from feeling like they have been taken on the long road. Instead, show them the shortcut.
  • "Put statements in positive form."
    • People respond better to positive statements than to negative ones. Also, it is better to point out what something is instead of what something is not. It is clear, concise, and to-the-point. It makes your descriptions exact.
  • "Use definite, specific, concrete language."
    • In order for your reader to become involved in your story, you have to be exact with your wording. Be confident in your ability and let it shine through in your writing. Give descriptions that allow the reader to see what you are seeing, smell what you are smelling, and hear what you are hearing. Instead of using "pretty," say "blonde teenage girl with a scattering of freckles on each cheek." These precise adjectives convey much more than generic wording. Be creative.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Elementary Rules of Usage

Selected tips from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, presented without commentary:
  • Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's.
  • In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.
  • Enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.
  • Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause.
  • Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.
  • A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
If you would like me to expand on any of these statements, please let me know in the comments and I will gladly do so.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Finding Your Style, #4

Tips #16-21 from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Be clear."
    • This point can not be made often enough. Clarity is your best weapon. If your writing is crisp and concise, the reader will be more than willing to follow you down the new yellow brick road. If your sentences are jumbled and your words are made up, however, they will become confused and quickly turn back. Keep your thoughts open and find the best words to express yourself as clearly as possible.
  • "Do not inject opinion."
    • Trust that the reader is smart enough to come to their own conclusions. This is your writing. Your opinions are already apparent in how you approach your subject, the tone you use, and the points you make. The reader does not want to be constantly reminded that you, the author, thinks that the world is flat. Instead, they want to lose themselves in your argument and be presented with reasons why they should think the world is flat.
  • Use figures of speech sparingly."
    • Figures of speech are an easy way to make yourself look unimaginative and unoriginal. Millions of people have used that phrase before you. It's old and lacks any descriptive qualities anymore. Instead, use your creativity and ingenuity to coin a new phrase or come up with your own unique metaphor. Make your descriptions fresh and pleasing to the ear.
  • "Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity."
    • Don't start your piece by using abbreviations and other shortened forms of words. If your company is called Unlimited Financing Options, don't start out by calling it UFO. The reader will not understand what in the world you are talking about and will most likely refuse to do the research to figure it out. If they do, they will become frustrated with searching and having to scan up and down the document. Spell it out until you know that the reader will be able to make the connection, then feel free to use the acronym for the rest of the piece.
  • "Avoid foreign languages."
    • Unless you have a very dedicated readership, they will not stop to take the time to look up what your foreign phrase means. Instead, they will skip over it and be irritated that you actually threw it in there. If the phrase has an important meaning, it can also mean that they will not understand your full message and may even get totally lost. Unless you are writing in a situation that calls for it, such as about French restaurants, stick to the native language.
  • "Prefer the standard to the offbeat."
    • While creativity is an important part of writing, that doesn't mean that you should go wild and crazy. It might sound cool to write your novel backwards, but in reality, it's not such a good idea. There are ways in which you can express your individuality, but make sure you know where the line is between unique and wacky.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Finding Your Style, #3

Tips #11-15 from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Do not explain too much."
    • Let your reader infer what you mean from your word choice and tone. If the character is being sarcastic, make the dialogue show that instead of pointing out "he said sarcastically." Set up the scene and allow the reader to input their own imagination and intelligence into the reading.
  • "Do not construct awkward adverbs."
    • Just because many words can be made into adverbs by adding -ly doesn't mean they should be. Tiredly? Failingly? It might be cool to make up these words, but they can be confusing and can tangle up the reader. It can make your sentence a stop-and-go process as the reader tries to interpret the new word. Instead, use already-established wording to get your point across.
  • "Make sure the reader knows who is speaking."
    • If there is a long section of dialogue, make sure you occasionally point out who is speaking. Even if your line spacing and indentations make the dialogue clear to you, your audience might get sidetracked by an idea and lose track of who was talking when. Even if they keep their focus, it is better to keep their attention on the scene itself instead of trying to figure out who said line #15.
  • "Avoid fancy words."
    • Throwing one or two in there isn't a crime, but if you use too many of them, your reader will start to make negative assumptions about you. You will come across as either pompous and big-headed or as an idiot trying to make himself look intelligent. Neither of these outcomes are good for your reputation or for your story. Instead, keep the language clear and concise.
  • "Do not use dialect unless your ear is good."
    • If you want to use a dialect in your story, make sure you know it well. Do your research and study the nuances of the speech. Know it inside and out so that when you go to write it, you can hear in your head exactly how a native would express themselves. Also, think carefully about how to write the words out. Have an outsider read over your dialogue to ensure that they are able to interpret your meaning from your spelling. One more important consideration: keep it consistent. Your spelling must match every time a particular word comes up.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Finding Your Style, #2

Tips #6-10 from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Do not overwrite."
    • As tempting as it is to just let your thoughts keep flowing and allow your fingers to keep moving, there have to be boundaries. If you find yourself making the same points over and over again or simply circling a subject, it is time to move on. While stream-of-consciousness has become a popular way to brainstorm, very few writers can pull it off as a writing style. Also, you have to consider your audience. If a piece is too long, they will turn away or only skim to find what they are looking for. Long, exaggerated sentences will quickly lose their interest, resulting in a lost readership.
  • "Do not overstate."
    • There is such a thing as too much detail. Yes, you must aid your reader in setting the scene, but you have to allow their own imagination to have partial control. Another object to a good writing style is using "big" words to try to make your subject more impressive. Don't tell the reader that the man was gigantic; let them discover that for themselves by comparing him to the trees nearby or the length of his shadow.
  • "Avoid the use of qualifiers."
    • This goes along with the previous point. Telling the reader that the show was very interesting does not tell them what was interesting about it. Saying that the girl was pretty doesn't tell the reader if she was blonde, tall, skinny, or had a button nose. Instead of using a blanket word to express what you mean, give the audience some details so they can draw that conclusion.
  • "Do not affect a breezy manner."
    • If you have nothing to say, then why are you writing at all? Keep your message the focus of the piece, not your personal experiences or opinions. Don't brag to the reader about how great you are or how awesome your latest vacation was. They are not doing  you a favor by reading the piece and they, unlike your family, are not required to sit through your slideshow of photos. Don't act superior to your reader; remember, you need them! Also, don't use slang haphazardly. If it fits and is a consistent theme, then use it. If not, don't throw it in at random.
  • "Use orthodox spelling."
    • There are many ways in which technology is improving our lives. Spelling is not one of them. Unless your book is about teenagers or about texting shortcuts, it is not a good idea to use "tho" or "whatev" in your novel. When it comes to differences between American and British spellings, pick what is appropriate in your situation. If the setting is the slums of New York, the spelling of "theater" as "theatre" would be out of place. If you are unsure, check a dictionary and do some research. You will never lose readers by using proper English.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Finding Your Style, #1

Tips #1-5 from Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, with my own commentary:

  • "Place yourself in the background."
    • In order to develop your own style, you have to forget about style. I'm not saying that you shouldn't be concerned with your words, sentence structure, grammar, dialect, etc. My point is that you cannot focus on creating a style out of thin air. There is no way that you can just think about it for a moment and, aha!, come out with a great way to write your piece. Instead, you have to focus on the subject at hand and let your own voice work its way into the piece on its own. Your natural intonation, your own personality, will shine through by how you write.
  • "Write in a way that comes naturally."
    • This goes along with the first point. If you concentrate on every word and every punctuation mark, you will lose sight of what you are writing about in the first place. If you try to imitate the style of your favorite author, you will end up sounding like a cheap copy. Imitation is a good trick for beginning writers, but only if you are doing it to add to your own repertoire instead of relying on it to be your only weapon. Instead, let the words flow onto the page in a way that feels right to you. Don't concentrate on the details, just let your own voice shape the words.
  • "Work from a suitable design."
    • If you have no game plan, you will end up failing. Your writing will drift all over the place and lack a clear purpose. Because of this, the reader will give up on trying to follow your path and you have lost the contest. Instead, you have to have a general idea of what you are going to write. What points are you going to make? What impression are you trying to leave the reader with? How will one section lead into or relate another? You don't have to write down a to-the-letter outline, but you need to know what direction you plan to go in.
  • "Write with nouns and verbs."
    • This might sound like common sense, but some writers lose themselves in adverbs, adjectives, and participles. If your writing because flooded with these elements instead of sprinkled, you will come off sounding fake and insincere. Allow your writing to become real and sound like a true-life story. Would you talk the way you write? If the answer is "Heck no!" then it is time to reevaluate your style.
  • "Revise and rewrite."
    • Beginning writers have the nasty habit of believing that their first draft is their best draft. The key to becoming a good author is to get over it. Sometimes, your first draft will need torn to shreds in order to make a good piece. Sometimes, it will only need minor tweaks. The key is to objectively look at your draft (and gracefully accept constructive criticism) to improve your writing into a public-worthy document. Don't be afraid to look at a section, realize it doesn't serve your purpose, and cut it out completely. The opposite holds true: allow yourself to notice where your writing needs improvement. Keep an open mind in order to make your final draft the best one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rules for Good Writing

Tips from Elmore Leonard, excerpted from the New York Times, with my own commentary:
  • Never open a book with weather.
  • Avoid prologues.
  • Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  • Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  • Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
  • My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
These are just several starting points to good writing. Some, you know already. Some, you had no idea existed.
Opening with a statement about the weather is like opening a conversation with a comment about how hot/cold/humid/gray it is outside. It is boring and shows you have nothing else to talk about. To grab the interest of your reader, you actually have to start with something interesting. Hook them in, then keep them in your net until your story is over.
Let's be honest here: most readers skip over the prologue like it never even existed. It is viewed as just another way to take up space and is unimportant. It's like watching a preview of a movie right before it starts. Allow your novel to tell its story in its own time, and spend your own time writing it instead of focusing on a prologue.
One point that we are taught in high school and some college courses is that repetition is bad, bad, bad. Instead of using "said" over and over again, you are supposed to mix it up with "told," "asked," and "squealed." Well, now that you are out of those classes, you can throw that rule right out the window. That rule was meant to help advance your creativity. If you want to be a writer, then you already have a creative streak; use it in a more appropriate way.
You want to sound mature and educated to your audience. If you use exclamation points in every sentence, you will sound like a teenage girl in the front row at her favorite band's concert. If you use it frequently in dialogue, it will make your character sound the same way. Repetition makes anything become dull, so save the exclamation marks for when you really need them to make your point.
"Suddenly" has become a cliche in the literary world. It no longer packs any punch and just makes you seem as if you have nothing original in your arsenal. Find a new, creative way to express that something happened when it was least expected.
Yes, it is important to help your reader see the stage you are creating. You have an image of the scene, the characters, and the setting in your head that you want the reader to share with you. However, part of reading is allowing your own imagination to take the lead. Give your reader the ability to fill in the details on their own. They don't need to know that you envisioned the curtains as a bloody shade of red. If they want to think they were robin-egg blue, or think that there were no curtains at all, allow them to do so. Give the reader some room to make the story their own.
When you are proofreading and editing your own work, are there places you don't even want to read? When you describe your story in your head or to someone else, do you leave certain long passages out on purpose? If that is the case, cut them. If there are any important details in that section, find a way to put them in another area of the piece. Don't keep anything that you don't want to read yourself. And be objective. Yes, in an ideal world everything you write would be interesting and worth keeping. You are human, though; be willing to let go.
If you reread your writing and notice the way the punctuation is inserted, the way certain words are used together, then the focus is on the words themselves instead of the story they are telling. If the reader can't get lost in the tale you are spinning, it needs to be rewritten.