Monday, June 27, 2016

Regionalisms in Writing


My husband came home from fishing the other evening to find me all hot and bothered, 
pacing in circles and waving my arms.
 He chuckled, but kept a healthy distance. What was going on?

“Needs fixed,” I sputtered. I paced some more. “I hate, hate, hate it when writers don’t use the proper ‘to be’ before a transitive verb.”

We agreed the first person from whom we’d heard that peculiar construct was a Hoosier. Not like Wisconsin doesn’t have weirdeties, but, as my brother who's lived in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and is a world traveler says, the national evening newscasts are the final word: Midwestern accents and sentence structure are correct, if boring and homogenized.

My hissy fit had actually started a couple of hours earlier when I ran across the first such usage in a novel I was proofreading. I sighed and passed over it, then…came the second one. I perused the publisher’s particular style guide and, finding nothing, pounded out a message to get permission to correct.

“Hmm,” the publisher, who I respect highly, wrote back. From Pennsylvania. “I never realized that I do that too. Ignore it.”

The third usage had me flying around the internet on my editorial broomstick looking for examples I could call them all out on, proving this speechifyin’ was just plumb wrong. As wrong as the actual published book I happened to be reading for quasi-pleasure where ever’one said “plum crazy” and the like ’bout three times a chapter. Needless to say I was already cross-eyed with fury at authors. Who. Don’t. Bother. To learn the rules before breaking them. I learned from one article on the 'net that dialect is different from regionalisms which generally refer to geography.

I found an internet site that explained the usage which drops “to be” first started in Pennsylvania where the chocolate needs stirred and made a narrow swath across the middle states to Montana where the fence wants repaired. The usage supposedly puts an immediacy in the action and removes future tense.

It’s still WRONG. It will always be wrong. And it MIXES TENSES. I would recommend joining the American Dialect Society, but their word of the year in 2015 was the singular “they.” The world is just going to heck in a hand basket. Isn't lazy writing one of the seven deadly sins? I can feel the monumental lean of language drift dragging us all down with it.

Two adult beverages and a piece of pie later, I was calm enough to sort through my feelings on the matter. Of course in dialog fiction writers can and should use a gentle indication of character uniqueness which will often include local dialect after a fashion—at least to establish scene and time frame. Particularly if he's a pirate or a Quaker or she's a non-native speaker of whatever language. But there’s that trust factor with your editor. In my first published book my editor, a preacher’s wife from Ohio, absolutely refused to believe we have three-day funerals in Wisconsin. Another rep from Michigan didn't think a three-point turn—which I thought was on every state’s driving test, but I’m totally not going thereon a fire road would not pass the universal reader comprehension test.

But how much is too much, and when do we standardize our stories so our international audience will be able to feel comfortable reading our work no matter when and where it’s set? Regarding dialect, authors who read widely in many genres and types of media will capture a natural rhythm and pattern of language. Y’all authors who listen to television shows will hear how local shows, perhaps local cable or local news, compare to nationally syndicated shows, or even nationally syndicated shows with multiple hosts from different parts of the country. It’s okay to show how some folks may drop word endin’s or a consonant when looking for a pahking spot. Gently. Within reason. Not constantly to distraction. If one character from Ohio has a lawn needs mowed, by golly, let him mention it—maybe once. If a Hoosier has some warshing ta do…let him get on wid it. In conversation. Not in text. If it’s repeated in narration from more than one perspective, then we have an AUTHOR INTRUSION ALERT. Are you awake now? AUTHOR INTRUSION ALERTS are never a good thing in fiction unless it’s a running gag—like Death narrating The Book Thief.

If the regionalism or local custom is not critical to the story, don’t use it, even if it means obeying your cussed editor. On the other hand, if your story takes place in the Great North Woods, in which fire roads or lanes are cut between great timber stands in rural areas where roads are few and far between and your character is fleeing criminals while driving these back roads, lost as all git-out, and you have to stop and 'splain a fire road to non-native Wisconsin readers, it would slow the action, doncha know? THE CURE: You the Author can establish a way to make sure the reader understands this concept before your chase scene, you betcha, without demeaning native folks who can’t imagine anyone else not knowing about the need to get firefighters to the middle of a dense forest to fight fires.

The moral of the story is Go Gently with Colloquial Language, use regionalisms to establish quirk, setting, time frame, but don’t impale it into your story-telling technique.
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Friday, June 24, 2016

Side by Side, a review

Fellow Texan Jana Kelley based her story Side by Side on "real-life events." As a missionary to Africa and the Middle East, she had plenty of real life events to portray.

The story traces the lives of two women, one an American missionary and the other a Muslim college student. Jana does an exceptional job of helping us understand the mindset of each, no doubt because of her personal experience with one and tangential experience with the other.

Through Mia, we get to see the loneliness of a wife/mother of a missionary while she's in a strange country, we get to see her longing to be used by God just as her husband is, and, when Mia's and Halimah's paths meet, we get to see just how God did use her to reach this precious woman.

Through Halimah, we get to see the cultural expectancies of women under Muslim rule, some I knew about, some were new to me. Jana gave us insight into the home life of Muslim women, into their personal lives and hopes and dreams. As the daughter of an upper class Arab, Halimah had the opportunity to go to college. She wasn't interested in getting married, but her best friend was. Watching the solution of the friend's dilemma unfold provided me with another reason to be thankful I'm an American Christian.

This thoughtfully written novel carefully weaves fact and fiction, leaving the readers with information and an insight we may never otherwise obtain. One of this year's must-reads.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Finding the Humor

It started innocently enough. I was on my way to an appointment with my four-year-old granddaughter, Molly, for her "school," when I realized I was an hour early. I decided to kill some time by visiting a local Christian bookstore to pick up a Bible I ordered last week. The Bible was in just as they'd promised, and Molly played with the enormous train set she looks forward to dismantling every time we visit the store. (She has a train set at home identical to the one in the store, but does she use it? No. She prefers the one seven miles across town.) I had a nice visit with a young mother and her two-year-old daughter who played alongside Molly. There I was--good company with whom to pass the time, a nice play area and friend for Molly, a brand new Bible, and surrounded by merchandise committed to the worship of our Heavenly Father. Aside from jumping up every other second to lure my granddaughter away from breakables, I had it under control. I was content and happy, lulled into a false sense of "all is well."

This is Molly on the day she graduated from
Tiny Felon Academy. Not really, although she
did steal that cap from her mother.
Since Molly is not one to leave a store willingly, I eventually bribed her with the promise of seeing her teacher, Miss Grace, at school, grabbed her tiny right hand, and barreled full speed ahead for the door. All went surprisingly well during my getaway as we weaved and careened between the displays, around shelves, and past piles of colorful merchandise. I gave the employee washing the glass on the front door a big smile as we exited and made a beeline for the car before Molly decided there was just one more thing she needed to examine. We stepped off the sidewalk, raced across the parking lot without getting run over, and reached the car without incident.

Aside from the fact that as I swung her around the store on our way out, pleased with my clean getaway and clueless as only a grandma can be, Molly managed to steal a ring.

If I thought I walked quickly on my way out of the store, that was nothing compared to the speed with which I dragged her back to the same employee washing the same front door. I handed him the ring--a large, sparkly man's ring that was nearly big enough for Molly to use as a bracelet--and apologized profusely, telling him she had no idea that what she did was wrong. I told Molly to tell him she was sorry. She did, although I doubt she had any idea why snagging the ring was not a nice thing to do. She thinks of stores as huge toy boxes that someone has graciously and neatly organized for her. He thanked me for returning it (who on earth wouldn't return a ring stolen by her granddaughter from a Christian bookstore, for crying out loud?), and the tiny felon and I slinked away. Well, I slinked. Tiny felon skipped.

Obviously, the point of this story is the incongruity of her innocent thievery and the fact that we were in a Christian store. She managed to break one of the Ten Commandments while surrounded by books prohibiting it. It's this kind of incongruous thing that makes great fodder for humor in our writing. Find something as ridiculous as you can imagine (and in my case it usually comes from real life), and weave it into your storyline. Several of my characters find themselves in absurd situations I dream up for them, then have to find ways to redeem themselves. Since they're under my control (for the most part), I make it as difficult as possible, and the result is humorous.

Now not all writers want to write humor, but for those of us who do it a lot, being aware of the incongruities occurring all around us is paramount. I find ideas everywhere I go--the shopper tossing three 12-packs of Coke into a cart overflowing with non-GMO organic food or the truck covered with lawn care advertisements parked in the driveway of the business's owner, surrounded by foot-high grass, dead flowers, and scraggly shrubbery. Oftentimes the most ludicrous things happen right at home with our own family members, as evidenced by this blog post. Take a look around you and find the humor happening everywhere.

And take it from me--don't be afraid to exploit your grandchildren. By the time they grow up and realize how you used them, you'll be too old for them to beat up.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Guest Post: Top Ten Tips from Children's Author K Wendt

Meet K Wendt
Our public library recently had a Day of K! Children's Indie Author, K Wendt, started the day off with a luncheon hosted by our local writer's group. She told about her publishing process, goals and dreams. She held a book signing for her children's books and poetry book for women that afternoon, and then ended the day as special guest at the Summer Reading Program. She read her books Susie, and Washed Away,which the children thoroughly enjoyed.

 



Miss K shared her top 10 tips for Indie authors:

  1. Do your research to thoroughly determine if you can publish on your own or if you need to go through a publishing company that helps self-published author.
  2. Thoroughly research any company before signing up with them.
  3. Create small groups of Beta readers (no more than five) and take into account all suggestions given to you. 
  4. .Don’t rush putting the book together!!!  
  5.  Market! Market! Market! You ARE your own product!!!!
  6.  Pay attention to words that can “brand” you or limit your audience.
  7. Write what your heart and mind want you to say-never force it.
  8. Don’t’ be afraid of editing!
  9. Always talk to other authors to gain more knowledge of your field and marketing.
  10. Always surround yourself with an amazing support system-they will come in handy! 
Have any questions for K?

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=K+Wendt










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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Error Committed, Opportunity Lost

by
Donn Taylor



            There is an error I continue to see in published novels, an error that denies the writer a handy grammatical means of dramatizing the action of his narrative. I’ve blogged about this before but am recycling it because the error continues to flourish.      
Here is a recent sentence in question, but punctuated correctly:
  
             Her blue eyes flickered in friendship, then retreated into inscrutability.

Apparently, some publishers' editing guides omit the comma, like this:

             Her blue eyes flickered in friendship then retreated into inscrutability.


            The grammatical problem with omitting the comma is that dictionaries list the word "then" as an adverb or adjective but not, as that last sentence uses it, as a conjunction. Grammar requires either the conjunction "and" (or a comma plus "and") before "then"—or else just the comma to mark the omission of "and."
            Researching that problem further on the internet, I found only one instance of the omitted comma. The site http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/4828/comma-in-compound-complex-sentences lists this sentence as correct:

I picked up my paycheck then paid my bills.

However, that site concedes that "most people would instinctively add 'and' before 'then' to allow for the comma between two independent clauses."

                        I picked up my paycheck, and then paid my bills.

            That introduces another error, though, for there are not two independent clauses. There is only a compound predicate, and the comma is thus misused. Moral: Never trust the Internet as authoritative.

            That site also invites critiques by readers, so I submitted a comment that the sentence without the "and" was ungrammatical because it uses an adverb/adjective as a conjunction.
            These abstruse questions of grammar will not affect the next presidential election or the price of oil on the international market, but they do affect our reputations as writers. And correct usage in this case allows writers to use punctuation of compound predicates to help dramatize the actions they describe.
Toward this end, the literary critic Stanley Fish wrote several decades ago that a sentence means everything that happens to the reader as he progresses through it. In our instance today, the writer can apply this principle to compound predicates. Here is a sentence that can be written and punctuated two ways:

The man hesitated and then spoke.

The man hesitated, then spoke.

            The comma forces a pause, dramatizing the man’s hesitation. But that dramatization is lost if the sentence is written with the “and,” rushing the reader through to the second action. Here is another example:

The rifle held steady, then wavered.

The rifle held steady and then wavered.

            The first example dramatizes the action of holding steady and the pause before wavering; the second deemphasizes the steadiness and rushes the reader through to the action of wavering.
            The principle is this: Use the “and” to rush the reader through the sentence to suggest continuous action, but substitute the comma for “and” to make the reader pause, suggesting a time lapse or at least separation of the predicate’s two actions. Here are several examples from my novel Deadly Additive, written both ways here for comparison of effect:



Kristin and Jocelyn exchanged a questioning glance, then stared again at the door.

Kristin and Jocelyn exchanged a questioning glance and then stared again at the door.


She shivered once, then steeled herself to endure a long, cold night.

She shivered once and then steeled herself to endure a long, cold night.

After jogging half a mile he paused to catch his breath, then proceeded at a walk.

After jogging half a mile he paused to catch his breath and then proceeded at a walk.


He took a sip of his drink, then started in alarm.

He took a sip of his drink and then started in alarm.


            Both forms are acceptable, but the effect is different—a matter for the writer to choose the one more appropriate for the narrative situation.
            Speed readers will not notice the difference, of course, but then speed readers miss much that the text of a novel contains.
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