Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't be so Cliché!

When creating descriptions, it is tempting to go with something that is familiar. When making comparisons, we want to reach the widest audience and make sure they get it. But it is important to avoid clichés like the plague! Ooohhh, see how easy it is to slip into clichés?

There is a reason that clichés are cliché. They are good... er, were good. Honestly, they are still good, but they do not do an author any favors. Using clichés makes the author look lazy and unoriginal, even if that is not the case. The only time it is o.k. to use cliches is perhaps in your character's speech or to add a unique twist, when the cliche is broken. Otherwise find a better, more original way!

For Example

He followed her around like a little lost puppy.

Yes, dogs are loyal, but is it ever really a compliment to refer to your character as a dog? Isn't there a better way to describe this and convey the loyalty?

How about, he stuck to her like glue. Are there no other sticky objects? Oh, right... like a fly on honey.

Hmmm..... you had no idea how many cliché phrases would be locked out when avoiding cliches did you?

So, when describing a very loyal friend who goes everywhere with the other, how do you display that deep connection without using a cliché?

You get creative

Johnny and Leah had always been together. From the first time they met, something just clicked for him. He knew that one day she would realize it too. In his own quiet and unobtrusive manner, he was there for everything. He laughed with her and cried with her. He helped her through math and she helped him through natural science. Though she took their relationship at face value; he knew that no matter what happened, he would do anything for this girl. He would even die for her. Little did he know, that could very well be the case.

Now, I just used about 100 words to say basically the same thing as "Johnny followed Leah like a little lost puppy." (eight words.)

Which was more interesting? Which gave you a deeper feel for their connection? 


Clichés may convey a similar meaning, but they are lazy. As an author, don't be lazy. Make your work as original and unique as possible. Avoid the cliché!

What are some of the worst clichés you have experienced in writing? How would you avoid them? Share with us in the comments below.

Until next time, keep writing!

P.S. this is a great writers group exercise!! Get a list of clichés, pass them out and then re-write the cliché just like I did above!

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Sense of Accomplishement

I have been sitting here for a half hour trying to focus my mind on editing and get this new post out. But all I can think about is that my first children's book is getting published! I am anxiously awaiting the first proof for my physical copies. I am spastically checking all my links, planning and plotting my marketing campaign!

So, we are going to take a short break from the endless editing tips and celebrate the joy and pride and sense of accomplishment you can look forward to when you finally finish and publish your own book! It is amazing! There is no feeling like it!

I am the first of my siblings to have completed a bachelors degree program and the day I graduated I was quite proud of my accomplishment, but it wasn't anything like this! I imagined my success in the business world would look something like the first image above. After graduation, I couldn't find a decent job. I finally took a position as a manager for Movie Gallery and bailed just before their boat went down to take a job that I was overqualified and underpaid for, but would at least pay the bills.

Things were tough with that job, and I kept putting applications in at other places, but nothing came of it. As my husband got closer and closer to graduation, I felt more guilty about taking a career job when I knew we wanted to leave the area once he graduated. My company gave me the chance to work from home and I thought this was the answer.

Working from home, I could be there for the kids and my husband could take a part-time job. I would have time to focus on my writing and slowly build my career with a little extra money from this job keeping us afloat. I started submitting queries to agents right and left. I started a sequel to that book. I felt like this might just be the best thing for me.

Two weeks before Christmas, my job laid me off. My world felt like it was crumbling. I was a failure! I could not support my family. I had a stack of rejection letters building up. The economy in my area was at an all-time low and my husband only had one year left of school. What were we going to do?

We ignored the problem through Christmas and the New Year, then I set to work looking for any job that could sustain us. On January 6th, I got a letter of interest from an agent. Less than a week after I sent her my full draft, she offered me a contract. My husband and I weighed the pros and cons and decided (with incredible support from my loving mother!) to take the leap of self-employment!

I started writing full-time. I started building my platform. I started this blog, which everyone said would make me money through Adsense (BTW, don't plan on living on Adsense, if you choose to make this leap! SOOOO NOT HAPPENING!!)

After a couple of crappy contract offers, my husband and I were beginning to doubt our decision. But he is in his last semester. I can't justify taking a job I know I might be leaving first of the year, so I knuckled down. My novel is still under contract, but I have tons of writing! What could I publish first?!?

And I pulled out Prince Vince, something I wrote back in high school, and started polishing! After months of working mad hours, worrying, plotting, planning and pushing the envelope; I have finally gotten a look at the finished product.

I feel giddy, I feel transcendent! It is almost like the first time I thought I fell in love!

When people like my link to my book, I feel like I did showing off my child for the first time.

When people talk about how much they liked it, I nod my head with a deep satisfaction. I did that! I made them feel that way!

When I see that another person bought my book on Amazon, I feel  on top of the world, ready to explode with my excitement!

Some of you out there are probably thinking I am completely mental. Some of you are envious of my ridiculous euphoria. Well, take the leap, commit yourself to finishing your project, spend the hours editing, re-editing, fighting to get it published, formatting, re-formatting, jumping through all the hoops with no guides and at the end when you find yourself landing on your feet... then you will feel the way I feel!

When you see your mom's eyes tear up because of your dedication page and you see the pride she feels in your accomplishment, then you will know how I feel.

It has been a long year of self-employment, building toward this day. Things are lining up and I am starting to see the possibility of success in this long, lonely road of being a writer!

Keep at it, believe in yourself, work as hard as you can and you can stand here too!

Until next time, keep writing!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is Whom a Made up Word?

There are so many grammar mistakes out there, that we cannot possibly cover them all in one post... probably not even in a hundred posts! There is really no way to even systematically cover them all, so we will just wing it! Today we are going to review who/whom.

I can already feel some of you cringing. By the time we are done, you will love it!

Every time I see the word whom, I get a flashback to The Office. My favorite line is when Creed says "Micheal is right, it (whom) is a made up word used to trick students"  to which Oscar replies "Obviously, it is a real word- but I don't know how to use it correctly."

I laugh hysterically every time I see that episode (to get the full transcript of that scene click here!)

Creed isn't completely wrong in his sentiment! It does feel like the who/whom conundrum is simply a cruel teaser to confuse people. But it is not. Nor is whom the formal version of the word who, despite some people's desire. Honestly, sometimes I feel like someone throws whom into a sentence because they think it sounds more scholarly... but if you use it wrong, it makes you look less scholarly! So, how do you know what is right?

Well, as Pam says in The Office "It's whom when it is the object of a sentence and who when as the subject."

...And some of your eyes just glazed over... right?

Who in this group has diagrammed sentences since third grade? (I technically did it last year with my son, so I get to raise my hand!) Most people learn diagramming sentences once and then we don't use it again. We go based on whether it sounds or "feels" right. But with terms that are not commonly used, such as whom, we have not had enough exposure to know what sounds right.

So here is a fun, quick, little test (rather than trying to diagram your sentence!)  Take the sentence you are trying to analyze and substitute who/whom for a personal pronoun. If it is replaced for a subjective pronoun (I you, we, he/she, it, they.) then you use who. If it is replaced with an objective pronoun (me, him, her, it, us, them) then you use whom.


Who/whom shall I say is coming for dinner?
When re-phrased saying shall I say him just sounds silly. shall I say he... yup. (Oh, and you thought it was supposed to be whom because that sounds right? Don't trust me? Check out this Daily writing tips article!)

Whoever/whomever said life was easy was wrong!
He said life was easy... him said life was easy.  It is definitely whoever!

Whom/who do you like?
Answer the question. Do you like him or he? AHHHH!!!!!!

The men, four of whom/who were ill, could not afford the room.
four of they, or four of them!

Mrs. Nesbitt is the woman whom/who I had tea with last week. 
I had tea with her, I had tea with she....

Once you know this simple cheat, it becomes easy to figure out who/whom, whoever/whomever!!

Never let whoever torment you however they may! (who is tormenting you, he is tormenting you!)

Any tips or questions about specific instances where you are not sure which is right? Ask in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grammar School Re-visited

Here's the deal with grammar: we all hate it, but we all need to use it properly! Why do we hate it? I could use all the lame answers we gave in high school, but the truth is, we hate it because it is hard! It is hard, because there are so many rules and the rules change all the time! Not all of the rules, mind you. Just enough to leave us slightly dazed and confused.  Grammar rules are bad enough when writing a technical paper, but when you have to implement them in a novel, it becomes a nightmare.

As a creative art form, stories are not required to follow the rules of grammar to the letter. Grammar, in a novel, is a tool to get the meaning of your story across. Which leaves the writer having to decide which rules can be broken and which cannot.

For example, it has become common practice in novels to start sentences with a conjunction. But the unspoken rule to this egregious grammatical error is that you are using it to draw attention to the point you are making in that sentence. (See how I did that?)

The problem with that philosophy is that my generation saw it in print and learned that it was okay to do so, without knowing the unspoken rule. This is probably one of the grammatical errors I catch most in my work. I overuse it entirely too much!

Stories are typically told in the vernacular, and grammar and vernacular are hardly bed-buddies. Really, they have a hard time even sharing a house together! Especially when you write a story where the main characters speak in a regional accent. Just throw grammar out the window!

Except that grammar is a tool that we use to help make our sentences clear to our readers. You cannot throw grammar out the window. Not even when you are writing a story in first person using a strong vernacular that deplores proper grammar usage. (For example, if your main character were Cajun?)

The big question is "how do we, as writers, use grammar to our best ability in our stories?" That goes back to research. I have no less than five grammar books on my bookshelves, all from different eras. I also have the benefit of the internet to aid me in researching grammar usage. And I have test readers to ensure that my story makes sense!

At the end of the day, most people will not pick up on grammar errors, as long as they understand what they are reading. That is what is most important, understanding the story. Don't believe me? Go back and read Raold Dahl. His grammar is attrocious! Yet, his stories are famous.

Mark Twain wrote in a Southern regional dialect for most of his stories. The grammar rules were horrendously abused! Yet we are required to read him in school; because the stories he tells are beautiful and life-changing, despite horrible grammar usage.

We will review grammar rules, but as we do so keep in mind that rules were made to be broken. Just mind how you break them. It doesn't matter if you follow the grammar rules to a T, if no one can understand your story. It doesn't matter if you break all the rules in the grammar book, as long as your readers can understand the story!

Keep that in mind as we review the grammar rules. I will not be looking at grammar from the typical primer attitude, I will be looking at it from the perspective of improving your writing and making the story clear to your audiences!! (Grammar Nazis, stay at home!!)

Let us know your thoughts on grammar, in fiction writing, in the comments below!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Taking Care of Content

There is this phrase running around the internet, content is king. Now obviously you thought the story was worth sharing, or you would not have written it; but that doesn't mean you are done. Now it is time to make sure that you are telling the story you wanted to tell. Make sure as you read through that all the story pieces fit together.

Are there gaps in your story, where it is not clear how the characters got from point A to point B? Fix it. This is not t.v. or movies, you don't get cut scenes in books! Are you spending a lot of time telling us what is happening? Pick some good spots to show us what is going on (through your characters thoughts, feelings, reactions). Don't spend the whole time showing, or the whole time telling. Mix it up!! (for more on showing vs telling, check out this interesting article)

Make sure the story flows. Give rich detail in the slower scenes, keep the fast paced scenes flowing. Remember in our planning phase, how I showed on the dry erase board the slowly building tension, a few dips as smaller issues were resolved, but all still building to the ultimate conclusion? Make sure you can feel that as you read. If you get bored, find out why it is boring. If it is boring to you, the author, what is it going to feel like to someone who does not have an emotional investment in its completion?

Cut out the inconsistencies. A lot of this will be easier to catch if you have your charts from our pre-planning phase at easy access when you are editing. Is there a point where you say someone is a cousin, then later make them an uncle? Look back to your character chart. Is there a point when you tell the readers that a character is one age, then later make them a different age. It should be on your character chart! Do you have a minor character that is falling flat, because you cannot connect with him/ her? Add a small side story that fits in with the big story, but gives the readers more about him/her. It should be easy if you have your character charts!

Is the story long enough? In the modern world, a novel is at least 60,000 words. Don't rip your readers off. If your story is only 40,000 words, figure out where you can add scenes to enhance the story or set it up for a sequel. Fluff on the slower scenes and give rich detail. Don't let your readers feel cheated. Give them what they are paying for, a full story.

What if your story is too long? This is a little harder to gauge, and really depends more on the genre you are writing. For example, science fiction and fantasy readers tend to be more forgiving of a long complicated story (as long as the pace is kept) whereas crime thrillers and romance readers want the nitty gritty and get bored with extraneous information. If you are writing a crime novel and getting into the 120,000 word range, you may want to look at cutting extraneous scenes, and check your pacing. The average novel is 60,000 to 80,000 words. As long as every scene is necessary and adds to the development of the story then you will be forgiven if it is a little long. But if you spend two pages describing a sitting room that has no significant relevance to your plot... you might want to revise!

Make sure that your story has a clear ending. Even if you are setting it up for a sequel, there needs to be a conclusion to the main plot in the story. Sure, you can leave a teaser at the end to whet their appetites for the next book, but don't leave the story hanging. Set it up for the next story to leave them wondering what will happen on the next adventure. Don't leave a bunch of unresolved issues, just have one or two threads to draw them into the next story.

If you are not planning a sequel, please DO NOT leave any story line incomplete! It will drive readers mad! Make sure everything that left questions in the readers mind is resolved at one point throughout the story. Wrap it up and slap a bow on it!.

And there is our first read-through in one easy post!

Until next time, keep writing!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Top Ten Unusual Homophonic Blunders

Probably the most common editing mistake that slips through, homophones are words that sound like another word. We all know the common lists of homophones to watch out for: its/it's, your/you're, to/two/too, there/their. These are the most common mistakes and it is unnerving because even though we all know them, we still miss them!

But, in editing and reading other people's works I have found quite a few less-common homophones that you should watch out for. You see, with the words above because everyone is familiar with them, even other readers may overlook them. (Not that it makes it o.k. to miss them!) With the following list, it can cause great confusion if you use the wrong word!

This confusion on your part can add to a great deal of confusion for your readers. Because a man becomes bolder when pressing his luck, but if he isn't careful a woman might hit him over the head with a boulder! (Although you could theoretically say that a man becomes boulder when drunk, but usually you would expect that man to become bolder... yeah!)

This is a subtle one and most of you might not catch it, but it drives me crazy! You clench your fists, but clinch a deal. To clench(a verb) means to grasp tightly. It can also be used as a noun when describing a medical condition in which a part of the body becomes tightened or as a type of knot. But a clinch as a noun is a scuffle in close quarters or an amorous embrace. As a verb it means to confirm, settle or conclude an arrangement, or to fasten.

So if you mixed them up you would be grabbing your deal tightly ( not concluding it) and you would be fastening your hands.... hmmm... nope, doesn't work. All because of one silly little letter difference!

As in bare naked, grizzly bear and the last name Bair. I love it when someone writes 'I want to bear my soul to him, but I don't know how.' Well, I could totally understand how that would be difficult! bare means to lay out, to expose, to present. Whereas Bear is a noun for a large mammal that tends to be incredibly violent! I had a friend in high school with the last name Bair and she was always frustrated by the variety of different spellings that would come about.

One you eat, one will probably eat you! A dessert is a usually sweet dish served at the end of a meal. A desert is a hot, arid land with very little water, vegetation or life.  (Also often frequented by small poisonous critter such as snakes, scorpions... you get the idea!)

The eave is a part of a roof. Eve is a time of night ( right as the sun is going down). If I said "Yester eave was dark and dingy. You would have to wonder who is Yester and why doesn't he clean them?

Faille is a type of slightly ribbed woven material.
A file has many meanings. It could be a steal object with edges used to produce a smooth surface ( such as a nail file, or for filing the bars of a prison.) It is also could refer to a collection of documents that are grouped together because of a common link ( such as computer files, lawyers files, library files) and last but not least, it could mean a single line ( everyone filed out of the room). Where as a phial is an Old-English version of vial.It is a small container used to hold a liquid.

Gamble/ Gambol
Big difference in such a small word! I could gamble my life away, but it would be more fun to gambol my life away! Gamble is to make a wager. (so if I gambled my life away, I would be making wagers that would endanger my life) Whereas gamboling means to leap about playfully. Often used to describe young animals. Yeah, I would much rather leap about playfully for the rest of my life!

Medal/ Meddle/ Metal/Mettle
You win a medal, you cause trouble when you meddle. Metal is a physical substance with generally shiny property that is often stronger than the other elements. Mettle is an insubstantial demonstration of a person's emotional strength. So if you said someone really showed their medal, it would confuse the reader. What did he win? If you wrote that the mettle was very hard... the insubstantial demonstration of resolve was hard? You bet!!

One is a physical object and the other is a shade! But, I read in a published book "she pailed at the sight of the wound." No, she  did not turn into a usually cylindrical bucket with a handle used for hauling things. I suppose if this were a fantasy, she might turn into a pail to catch the blood? Yeah... no. what the author meant was that she paled, as in her face became a lighter shade due to the blood running out of her face.  (Little random note, this book was not a self-published work. It had the privilege of agent and editors.I was surprised to see such a blatant error!)

Sale/ Sail
I honestly do not understand this one, but I see it so very often. It is simple. If you work as a merchant you will use the term sale any time someone buys something from you. If you work with boats you will use a sail to help gain momentum or you might sail out of port. Rarely should these two ever get mixed up! (Unless you were a merchant who had to sail to make your sales... yeah, because that is often the case!!) 

(Also, for the sake of my neurosis Sole/Soul, thanks to the ridiculous example!!)
Sorry, I recently read someone quoting Boondock Saints and had the prayer reading "And teaming with soles shall it ever be."

what they actually meant was "And teeming with souls."

because what they said was a number of persons forming on one side with the bottoms of shoes.( Can I just say "GO Football!!" Anyone?!?!?)

when the prayer actually means overflowing or swarming with insubstantial objects believed to be the spark of life. (Much more of a prayery-type thing to say, right?)

So, there are my top ten most annoying homophones (at least this week.) If homophones make you nervous and you are not certain which version to use, check out this great list of homophones! It'll be sure to keep you strait or drown you more! (Yes, I did that on purpose folks!!)

What are some of your most annoying homophone blunders? Share in the comments below!!