Tuesday, August 25, 2015

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Commonly Misused Words

This is, by no means, a complete list of misused words, just the ones I’ve seen most often, both as an editor and as a person on the receiving end of edits.

- A -

accept/except
Accept means “to receive”. Except means “not including or other than”. Example: Jane accepted John’s awards on his behalf, all of them except for Best Screen Play.

advise/advice
Advise is a verb “offering guidance or suggestions” while advice is the noun referring to the “guidance or suggestions”. Example: Jane advised her friend to quit drinking, but John didn’t take Jane’s advice.

affect/effect
Affect is a verb which means “to influence”; effect is a noun which means “a result of” and a verb that means “to accomplish”. Example: The effect of a drought affects crop growth.

a lot/alot
A lot means “many”; Alot is not a word, so don’t use it ever. Ever, ever, ever. Ever! Example: I want to publish a lot of books.

all ready/already
All ready means “prepared”; already means “by this time”. Example: The meal was all ready when everyone arrived. The meal was already finished when the guests arrived. Tip: A good rule of thumb is that if you can just use the word “ready” and the sentence still makes sense, it’s two words.

anymore/any more
Anymore is an adverb meaning “any longer” while any more is an adjective dealing with “quantity.” Example: I don’t love you anymore; I don’t have any more clean clothes. Tip: generally, if you can remove the “any” part and the sentence still makes sense, it’s two words.

apart/a part
Apart means “to be separated” while a part is actually the indefinite article “a” with the word “part”. Example: My backyard fence keeps my dog and my neighbor’s dog apart; a part of me with always love him.

ascent/assent
Ascent has to do with “climbing” while assent has to do with “agreement.” Example: The road’s sudden ascent made my ears pop; I gave assent to the mechanic to change my wiper blades.

- B -

breath/breathe
Breath is a noun describing the inhalation and exhalation while breathe is the action of inhaling and exhaling. Example: Her breath was ragged; she couldn’t breathe.

- C -

capital/capitol
Capital refers to the “seat of government” or deals with “financial resources”. Capitol is the actual building where a legislative body meets. Example: Washington DC is the capital of America; its also where the U.S. Capitol building is located.

cite/sight/site
Cite means “to quote” from a source. Sight refers to “vision” and site refers to a physical place. Example: He had to cite 5 sources for his term paper. He was losing his sight and had trouble seeing small print. They built the new building on the site of the previous building.

complement/compliment
Complement (with an e) is usually used as a noun referring to “something that completes” something else; but compliment (with an i) is both a noun and a verb that deal with “praise” and the “act of praising” someone. Example: White wine is a good complement to seafood; she complimented her mom on a well-cooked dinner.

conscience/conscious
Conscience is a noun that describes a person’s “sense of right and wrong” while “conscious“ is an adjective referring to being “awake.” Example: A person conscience gives them a sense of right and wrong; John was hit in the head with a softball, but he remained conscious.

council/counsel
A council is a noun that describes a “group that advises“ while counsel is a verb that means “to advise.” Example: The Great Council provides counsel for the entire magickal community.

- D -

dragged/drug
Dragged is the past tense of the verb “to drag” while drug can be used as both a noun and a verb but always in reference to medicine/illicit substances or the act of giving a person medicine/illicit substances. Example: John dragged Jan from the street after she passed out. There’s a new drug on the market to battle cancer; the villain in my WIP was arrested for drugging women at bars.

- E -

effect/affect
Effect is a noun which means “a result of” and a verb that means “to accomplish” while affect is a verb which means “to influence”. Example: The effect of the drought truly affected the farmers whose crop growth was down.

elicit/illicit
Elicit is a verb that means “to draw out” while illicit is an adjective referring to “illegal” action. Example: The poem elicited a strong emotion from the reader. The eBook pirates were arrested for their illicit actions.

except/accept
Except means “not including or other than” and accept means “to receive”. Example: Jane accepted John’s awards on his behalf, all of them except for Best Screen Play.

- F -

Further/Farther
Further refers to “metaphorical distance” while farther refers to “physical distance.” Example: We’re going farther into the forest tonight; we’re not going to discuss it any further.

- I -

illicit/elicit
Illicit is an adjective referring to “illegal” action while elicit is a verb that means “to draw out” while. Example: The eBook pirates were arrested for their illicit actions. The poem elicited a strong emotion from the reader.

its/it’s
Its is a determiner meaning “belonging to” while it’s is a contraction for “it is”. Example: The dog dropped its bone; it’s a very stupid idea.

- L -

lie/lay
This entry is a bit too complex for a simple definition. Click here to read a full explanation. 

loose/lose
Loose is both an adjective meaning “not tightly fixed in place” and a verb meaning “to set free or release”. Lose is a verb meaning “to misplace or not win”. Example: Jane lost twenty pounds now her jeans are loose. John stubbed his toe and let loose a scream that could be heard down the block. John didn’t lose his keys until he took that last shot of tequila.

- P -

passed/past
Passed is the past tense form of  the verb “to pass” (to have moved) while past can be used as a noun, preposition, adjective and adverb. It can refer to “a former time” or “on the other side” of something. Yeah, past is pretty versatile, but it’s not a verb. Example: John passed right by Jane in the supermarket but didn’t see her. George Washington is one of our past presidents. To get to my house, turn right just past the fire station. 

principal/principle
Principal can be used as both an adjective meaning “most important” or a noun referring to “a person who has authority” while principle is a noun referring to “a general or fundamental truth.” Example: The principal violinist is a bit of an egomaniac; the principal at my daughter’s school is a woman; we’re learning about the principle of gravity today.

- S -
sight/site/cite
Sight refers to “vision” and site refers to a physical place. Cite means “to quote” from a source. Example: He was losing his sight and had trouble seeing small print. They built the new building on the site of the previous building. He had to cite 5 sources for his term paper.

stationary/stationery
Stationary is an adjective referring to “standing still” while stationery is a noun referring to “writing paper”. Example: The accident was John’s fault because he ran into a stationary object; John wrote Jane a note on the stationery she bought him for his birthday.

- T -

than/then
Than is a conjunction and preposition used with comparisons while then is an adverb referring to “after that; next; afterward” and “at that time; next”. Example: I would rather go out to eat than eat at home; I ate all the ice cream in the freezer and then went to bed.

their/there/they’re
Their is the possessive form of they; there indicates location; and they’re is the contraction form of “they are.” Example: Their car is red. There goes her last chance at love. They’re still dating.

through/threw
Through means “by means of; finished; into or out of” while threw is the past tense form of “to throw.” Example: I walked through the dark woods and survived; John threw the baseball to his son.

thorough/through
Thorough means “careful or complete” while though means “however; nevertheless.” Example: John thoroughly cleaned his apartment before Jane’s arrival; Jane looks like a diva though, on the inside, she’s one tough old bird.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Show, Don't Tell

If you’ve been a writer for more than ten minutes, especially if you’re actively trying to learn the craft, you’ve heard someone utter the maxim “show, don’t tell.” It’s great advice, but what does it really mean?

Good question.

How do you rid your manuscript of something so nebulous? Let’s face it, some telling is unavoidable. If you’ve got some exposition to get out quickly, telling is your friend, but telling should be a small portion of your writing toolbox.

When writing a novel or fiction of any sort, you should hunt down telling phrases and give them the ax whenever possible. But tracking telling down can be harder than you might think. Some of the best advice I’ve read regarding this topic came from a Writer’s Digest article written by Roseann Biederman.
“Get the passage in front of you and ask this of it: Can the camera see it?”
Can the (metaphorical) camera see it? So simple, yet so effective. Let’s go over a few examples.
Jane didn’t know what to do. She, on average, was a pretty indecisive person. Just figureing out what to wear in the morning was taxing beyond belief. Maybe one day, she’d learn how to speak her mind and stand up for herself, but as she stared into the face of the meanest, bitchiest cheerleader on her high school’s squad, she knew today wouldn’t be that day.
So showing versus telling, which is this? If you guessed primarily telling, then *ding, ding, ding* you get a cookie. The camera can show Jane is staring into the face of the cheerleader but little else.

Let’s look at another example:
Jane planted her feet, pulled her shoulders back and stared down the meanest, bitchiest cheerleader on the high school squad. “But out, Alison. No one asked you for your opinion.”
Alison tossed her bottle-blonde hair over her shoulder and leaned into Jane. “How dare you talk to me like that. Don’t you know who I am?”
“Yeah, I know exactly who you are. A bitch.” 
How about this example? Showing or telling? Telling, exactly. This is stuff the camera would pick up if this were a movie. We would see Alison toss her blonde hair. We’d hear the dialogue between the two. This is showing.

Like I said before, telling isn’t always bad. You’ll have to judge that for yourself once your story is complete.

BONUS:

Here’s a list of some inherent telling words. In other words, if you’re using these, you’re telling, hence the name “telling words”. ;-)

Feel/ Felt
  • Avoid: “She felt the breeze on her cheek.” 
  • Try: “The breeze kissed her cheek.”
Watch(ed)
  • Avoid: “She watched him walk across the room.” 
  • Try: “He walked across the room.” 
Saw/See
  • Avoid: “She saw him walk across the room.” 
  • Try: “He walked across the room.”
Heard/hear
  • Avoid: “She heard the birds chirping.” 
  • Try: “The birds chirped.”
Thought/think
  • Avoid: “She thought he was the cutest boy in school.” 
  • Try: “He was the cutest boy in school.”
Wondered
  • Avoid: “She wondered if he thought she was pretty.” 
  • Try: “Did he think she was pretty?”

White Space

Have you ever read a book where two paragraphs comprise an entire page? Yeah, me too. And I don’t know about you, but I cringe every time I see that. I don’t cringe because it’s “wrong.” I don’t look at it and think, “Geez, the author should have known better.” My reaction is nothing as black and white as that.

I cringe because the page looks daunting.

Yes, as you may have guessed (ya know, assuming you haven’t already read the title), I’m talking about white space. Beautiful, blessed white space. What is this elusive white space? Ahh...allow me to show you.

The following well-crafted series of sentences do not contain a lot of white space.

This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. 

I know. I have such a way with (the same four) words.

Joking aside, doesn’t that visually overwhelm you? It’s a big blob of condensed text jammed into one spot. I don’t know about you, but that just hurt my eyes.

Now contrast that paragraph with the following ones. And mind you, these two sections each have the exact same number of sentences. I just hit copy and paste and then manually added some paragraphs to give the bulky prose (and I use the word very loosely, LOL) some white space.
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence.  
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. 
“This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence.” 
“This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence.” 
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence. This is a sentence.
Ahhh...much better, don’t you agree?

Don’t be afraid to use white space to your advantage. It’s okay to have only one sentence in a paragraph. Yes, it really is (despite the fact my high school English teacher is screaming profanities in my head as I tell you this). Not every paragraph can have only one sentence because too much white space is just as daunting as no white space. Don’t believe me. See for yourself.
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
This is a sentence. 
 And that’s not even the entire first paragraph of the previous section. Yeah...yikes.

As a good rule of thumb, whenever there is new action in your story, add a new paragraph. Whenever there is a new speaker in dialogue, add a new paragraph. Whenever you take a turn in a different direction, yeah, you guessed it...add a new paragraph.

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Then

Be care to keep from using “then” too much. This happened and then this happened and then this. Readers will grasp the sequential actions, usually, via contest.

Avoid: “John kissed Jane. Then, he buried his fingers in her hair.”
Try: “John kissed Jane. He buried his fingers in her hair.”
  • The “then” is implied and can easily be removed. We understand one happened and then the other happened.

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Redundant Phrases

Redundant phrases, as their name sounds, are words and/or phrases that give redundant information. Yeah, yeah...I know. I'm being vague. Let me give you some common examples.

Avoid: She shrugged her shoulder.
Write: She shrugged.

Would she shrug with another part of her body?

Avoid: He nodded his head.
Write: He nodded.

Would she nod with something other than her head?

Avoid: Her heart pounded in his chest.
Write: Her heart pounded.

As opposed to the heart in her left leg?

Avoid: He reached out her arms to her.
Write: He reached out to her.

I guess she could have reached out with her legs, but honestly, that would just be weird. Well, under most situations anyway.

Avoid: She stood up.
Write: She stood.

As opposed to standing sideways?

Avoid: He sat down.
Write: He sat.

Is there another direction in which she'd sit?

Avoid: She thought to herself he was hawt!
Write: She thought he was hawt!

Does she have another self? And honestly, if you wanted to break this down even more...

Write: He was hawt!

In this example, we're in her POV; we know she's the one thinking this.

Avoid: She paced back and forth across the floor.
Write: She paced across the floor.

Pacing means to walk back and forth.

Like I’ve said before, there are always exceptions to every rule. Use your best judgment, but eliminating unneeded words is always a plus.

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Lazy Verbs

Verbs come in two types: active and passive. With a passive verb, something is being done to the subject. For example: Jane was kissed by John. Jane is the recipient of the action. With an active verb, the subject of the sentence is doing the action. For example: Jane kissed John. Jan is now the performer of the action. And at this point, you probably know where this is going.

Passive verbs bad!

Yes, passive verbs are a form of weak writing you should always strive to avoid. I mean, with most things, there are exceptions to every rule, and passive verbs do have their place in writing. Those places, however, are few and far between.

Was/were
These words aren’t wrong, per se, but they’re helping verbs that are almost always paired with another verb. Like in the above example, Jane was kissed. You have was (helping verb) + kissed (main verb). Let's take a look at some simple fixes to get rid of the helping verb was.

Avoid: Jane was walking down the street.
Try: Jane walked down the street.

Avoid: Jane and John were kissing behind the diner.
Try: Jane and John kissed behind the diner.

Now, let's try our hand at some more complex changes. We're still striving for the same objective here. We want the noun in the sentence to be performing the action.

Avoid: The long drive was bordered by palm trees.
TryPalm trees bordered the long drive.

Avoid: John was struck by another car.
Try: Another car struck John.

Moved
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the verb “move,” it’s very nondescript. Take the following sentence.

"She moved across the street.”

Okay, so she moved. but how did she move? This word doesn’t say anything visually about that. Should could have walked, moseyed, skipped, jogged or did cartwheels. We really don’t know.

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Vague Pronouns & Telling Verbs

Coming soon...

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Simultaneous Actions/Impossible Sentences

Be on the lookout for sentences that contain so many actions they're “impossible” for the character to do. Watch for multiple “as” phrases, “ands”, “thens”, and “whiles” in a sentence. They’re giveaways.

Avoid: I ran downstairs and hopped in a cab while I called my mom on my cellphone and the cab driver pulled from the curb, heading across town.
Try: I ran downstairs and hopped in a cab. As the cab driver pulled from the curb and headed for downtown, I called my mom on my cellphone.

Also, phrases starting with “as” and “ing verbs” are supposed to happen simultaneously within the action of the main sentence.

Avoid: Pushing to her feet, Jane ran to her husband.
Try: Pushing to her feet, Jane smiled at her husband.

Jane is not pushing to her feet at the same time she's running to her husband. One action happened (she pushed to her feet) and then another action happened (she ran to her husband).

Avoid: As Jane pushed to her feet, she ran to her husband.
Try: As Jane pushed to her feet, she smiled at her husband.

Same here. Jane did not push to her feet at the same time she ran to her husband. One action happened (she pushed to her feet) and then another action happened (she ran to her husband).

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Wandering Body Parts

Be careful not to give body parts autonomy. Body parts cannot do things independent of the body they’re attached to. Eyes are the worst offenders.

Avoid: Her eyes wandered his body.
Try: Her gaze wandered his body.

Avoid: His thumb brushed over her lip.
Try: He brushed his thumb over her lip.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. Sometimes phrases are so natural everyone knows what they mean, so changing them can often produce clunky wording.

Example: When their eyes met, the rest of the world slipped away.

Their eyes didn't literally touch. They didn't jump out of their sockets and roll across the room to find each other, but "their eyes met" is such a common, everyday phrase no one questions it.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Streamlining

Streamlining isn’t an easy concept to explain—or master—but it’s well worth the effort. Simply put, streamlining is the act of trying to get your point across in the shortest number of words possible. Yes, I know, I said “simply” when there’s nothing simple about it.

Does your sentence have thirty words when it could be said in twenty-two? Here are a couple concepts to get you started.


Adverbs

The dreaded “ly” words. As a general rule of thumb, get rid of these descriptive words whenever you can. They are “lazy” words and can weaken your narrative if overused. What do I mean by “lazy”? An adverb can almost always be removed by adding a stronger verb, which a lot of writers don’t bother doing. Hence it’s title as a “lazy word”.

Let’s see some examples:

Avoid: “John angrily hit his fists on the table.”
Try: “John slammed his fists on the table.”
Avoid: “John quickly moved around the track.
Try: “John sprinted around the track.”

Avoid:  “John spoke softly into Jane’s ear.”
Try: “John whispered into Jane’s ear.”

Adjectives

Adjectives are another type of descriptive word that can sometimes be slashed too. Unlike adverbs, however, adjectives are not seen as the pariahs of the literary world. That being said, overusing adjectives is a sure sign of immature writing.

Think of adjectives as pepper. Adding a little can spice up bland food; adding too much can completely ruin it. 

Avoid: “The big, giant, enormous spider startled her.”
Try: “The enormous spider startled her.”

Avoid: “John wrapped his big, strong, masculine arms around her.”
Try: “John wrapped his strong arms around her.”

Weak Verbs

Let, allowed, reached, began to, started to, and (sometimes) found are weak verbs which can be problematic as they usually add nothing of value to the sentence and/or are also implied. 

Avoid: “He found himself at the bus stop.”
Try: “He arrived at the bus stop.”

Avoid: “He let his hands slide from her hair.”
Try: “He slid his hands from her hair.”

Avoid: “He reached out and threaded his fingers through her hair.”
Try: “He threaded his fingers through her hair.”

In this instance, if he’s threading his fingers through her hair, we know he’s “reached out” in order to achieve this.
Avoid: “He started to unbutton her shirt.”
Try: “He unbuttoned her shirt.”

Redundant Information 

Be on the lookout for redundant information. Are you repeating information several times? Have you said his house was small multiple times? Has it been stated his eyes are blue every time his eyes are mentioned? Things like this.

There was

Avoid using “there was” ESPECIALLY at the beginning of a sentence. It adds unnecessary wordage.

Avoid: “There was a man with brown hair standing at the door.”
Try: “The man standing at the door had brown hair.” 

Both

Both is rarely necessary when used with they.

Avoid: “They both walked across the street.”
Try: “They walked across the street.”

Was(n’t) going to

The phrase “was going to” or “wasn’t going to” should be changed to “would” and “wouldn’t”, respectively.

Avoid: “If traffic didn’t start moving, I was going to be late.”
Try: “If traffic didn’t start moving, I would be late.”
Avoid: “She wasn’t going to be any man’s footstool.”
Try: “She wouldn’t be any man’s footstool.”

-ing Verbs 

Be on the lookout for overused -ing words as they can introduce weak “helping words” like was, had been and more.

Avoid: “She was running yesterday.”
Try: “She ran yesterday.”
Avoid: “She had been skipping through the park.”
Try: “She’d skipped through the park.”

Junk Words

Illuminating junk words is one of the easiest ways to streamline. Junk words can almost always be deleted without changing the sentence. Here’s a list of common junk words:

simply
even
that
clearly
besides
right
seemed/seemed to
actually
really
right now
well
up
down
now
barely
already
practically
just
then












Avoid: She’d already decided long ago that even spiders weren’t really that terrifying.
Try: She’d decided long ago spiders weren’t that terrifying.

Out Of

Often, you can change “out of” to “from”.

Avoid: “She stepped out of the car.”
Try: “She stepped from the car.”

So to sum up, streamlining is going deep into each sentence with a pair of metaphorical pruning shears and a box of real Kleenex and cutting out every word that doesn’t have to be there. The process isn’t easy—and I know it hurts—but in the end, your readers (and editor!) will thank you.

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