Friday, August 30, 2013

At the Correct Time

 I was reading a historical novel recently. It was set in the 1800’s. “What time is it?” asked the character. The response took me aback. ‘3:18’ Okay, so what’s wrong with that? If that’s what the clock said how can it be wrong.
When I left for college as a freshman, way back in the dark ages of 1972, one of the modern things I took was a digital clock. It had sixty little flaps for the minutes and twelve for the hours. It was lit by a teeny tiny light bulb. It was the latest and greatest. The dawn of digital time.

Before the early 1970’s all clocks were round. They had numbers in a circle with hands that rotated by the minute and hour. We learned to tell time in grade school. Five after, ten after, quarter after, twenty after, twenty five after, half past, twenty five till, twenty till, quarter till, ten till, five till. You could use past or after as you chose.

Until the advent of the digital clock only in school did you refer to a time as 3:18 and that was only when we were learning how to tell time. In life you rounded to the nearest five. The author of the book I read was young enough not to realize this.
The familiarity of culture can lead to small things being just a little off when set in a different culture or time. As authors, I hope we do the little bit of research to use the correct phrasing for the time period. Maybe most readers wouldn’t note the issue. I’m a stickler for historical accuracy, so I did and thought I’d share.

Sophie Dawson writes Christian fiction. She lives with her husband and cat on a farm in western Illinois. Her Cottonwood Series novels have been Indie Book of the Day and Healing Love received first place in the genre in’s 2012 contest and a second in eLit 2012 contest. Healing Love and Giving Love are finalists for Readers' Favorites Contest 2013.
Sophie blogs one a week on her website as well as in addition to
She has recently released her fourth and fifth books, Leah’s Peace and Chasing Norie.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Misused Words and Clichés


Donn Taylor

            One of the frustrations of being a fiction or essay writer is the fact that we have only words to communicate with our readers. Novels and essays have no pictures or diagrams to clarify relationships, and gesturing with our hands or counting on our fingers does not help. The poet W.H. Auden went so far as to describe a poem as a "verbal contraption," a machine made out of words, to convey the poet's vision to the reader. Consequently, it behooves us as writers to respect words and their meanings, and to use them both correctly and appropriately. Here I will list some that are frequently misused in CBA writing, and then I will mention some that have become trite through overuse.

            Let's begin with a heavy error (pardon the pun): The past tense of the verb "to lead" is "led," not "lead." This one slips through the proofreading to appear in quite a few novels.

            Another common error is confusion of the two verbs "lie" and "lay." The forms of "lie" are "lie, lay, lain," while the forms of "lay" are "lay, laid, laid." Forms of "lie" never take a direct object: "I will lie down." Forms of "lay" always do: "I will lay the book on the desk." Confusion arises because the past tense of "lie" and the present tense of "lay" appear identical. The solution is to select the correct word in present tense and then convert to the appropriate tense. When all else fails, remember that we can only "lay down" if we are carrying duck feathers.

            One frequently misused (and overused) word is "incredible." Its first meaning describes something that can't be believed. The second describes something so unusual as to be beyond belief. A problem arises when the writer intends the second meaning when the first meaning is also possible. One writer recently wrote that she belonged to "an incredible church." Who would want to belong to a church that can't be believed?

            Certain modifying words are "absolute," meaning that they cannot be modified as to degree. The most misused of these is "unique," which means "one of a kind." Something cannot be "very one-of-a-kind" or "somewhat one-of-a-kind," yet one often hears the expression "very unique" or "somewhat unique." Examples of other absolute words are "equal," "impossible, "eternal," "unanimous," "square," "round" and "perfect." (Yes, the US Constitution speaks of "a more perfect union." When we write a Constitution of the United States, we're entitled to use the same expression. Meanwhile, we must refrain from modifying absolute words.)

            Some irritating usages occur when the writer attempts to sound sophisticated rather than write for plain meanings. One is using the term "escalate" for the more direct "increase." (That is a cliché held over from the intellectuals of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.)

            Next comes the attempt to sound sophisticated by using “exacerbate” when one means simply “make worse.” When we’re tempted to preen our sophistication, we should not rise to the exacer-bait.

            Other words to avoid are those that have become clichéd through being overused. One such offender is “Excuse me.” In using it, the writer sarcastically feigns politeness while pretending to be victimized by a powerful but wrongheaded opposition. So many writers use this crutch that the victims apparently outnumber the oppressors.

            Then there is using the word “sure” to introduce a sentence. (“Sure, some people still think the world is flat, but….”)

              And there’s using the word “Hey!” as an attention-getter. (“Hey! Why do you want to use a cliché?”)

              I suggest the following rules:

  1. There is no excuse for “excuse me.” 
  2. “Sure” should be consigned to the sewer. 
  3. “Hey” should be fed to livestock. (They’ll never notice the difference in spelling.)

              Ultimately, however, attempts to stamp out trite expressions are doomed to failure. One fundamental rule always applies: Whenever a writer can’t find his Pegasus, he’ll hitch old Dobbin to the cliché.

            To summarize: For clarity, writers should use words in their accepted usages. For originality, they should avoid expressions that have become clichéd through overuse.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Are You a Social Media Boor?

OK, so this is a "Boar" not a "Boor" but isn't he cute?? :)
If you had asked most of us just a few years ago what “social media” was, we likely would have given a blank stare. Since it is such a new addition to our social lives, our mothers never had a chance to teach us manners in this arena. So as adults, we have to learn the hard way. We get “unfriended” on Facebook or “unfollowed” on Twitter if we act with boorish behavior.

This topic came to mind recently when I dove into the Twitter world. Just like with starting up on Facebook, I delved, kicking and screaming, into this new form of communication. But like with Facebook, I soon learned a few things that have been lessons on the frontlines of media marketing. And as authors, most of us are definitely facing the battle of book promotion and we find ourselves socializing online more and more. Thus the need to learn some manners.

What prompted my thinking about social media manners started out as an amusing “Follow” on my tweets—a well-known female pop star was suddenly following mine. I thought it was hilarious and “Followed” her back. Next thing I know, Miss Pop Star (likely one of her handlers) was flooding my tweet stream with drivel. It wasn’t so much offensive as it was annoying. I really wanted to see tweets from my other “friends” but they were lost in the crowd. Just as quickly as I had “Followed” her, I clicked on the “Unfollow” button. She can follow me as long as she wants, but I don’t want to be inundated by tweets from one person.

But it’s not just pop stars. I had one well-meaning Christian pastor who did the same thing. It was not drivel in his tweets, but the sheer onslaught of his messages overshadowed my purpose for even participating in Tweet World. Just as quickly as I “Unfollowed” Miss Pop Star, I clicked the same for that pastor. A few tweets from the same person works for me; a dozen or more at a time does not.

If you are on Facebook, you’ve likely seen the same annoyance. Post after post after post from the SAME Facebook friend, completely consuming your timeline feed. When I see that, I unfriend them rather quickly. I don’t have the time.

Here are a few other Social Media Boors:

-       The “I’m the Only Author In the World” Boor: This author rarely if ever promotes another author’s book. He or she is consumed with self-promotion. No matter what the post, it includes something about his or her books.
-       The “This is so gross I just had to share it” Boor: Photos depicting blood, gore, stitches, etc. up close and personal should be kept to share with your friends at home. If they have a strong stomach.
-       The “It’s OK if I use foul language” Boor: Click. They’re gone.

It’s really pretty basic: If we go back to the manners taught by Mom, I suppose we can apply a few of the lessons she taught us long ago: Don’t do all the talking. Let others have their turn. Listen and be polite.

So what are some boorish manners that drive you to distraction on social media?

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review, 'Pawn'

Steven James' first thriller, 'Pawn,' (432 pages) depicts a chess match of epic proportions between a psychotic killer, known as the Yellow Ribbon Strangler (who calls himself the Illusionist) and the protagonist, Patrick Bowers. He investigates serial killers from a geographical angle, searching for commonalities. Some things just don't add up, and it's because a copycat threw a few murders in the mix to hide his own crimes.

The good guys locate each victim with a chess piece (guess which one) and a trinket from the killer's next intended victim. This ties in the chess angle, as the perp left the trinket as a chess analogy. In chess, if you touch another player's piece, you must take it on your next move or lose the game, a very bold and risky move. I never knew that move existed in chess.

James' story moves well and keeps the reader in the story until the climactic finish. However, he sets the table for a sequel ('Rook'). How he did that took me out of the story, but for a first novel, I say, 'Check.'

James went on to write 'Rook,' 'Knight,' 'The Bishop,' 'Queen' and 'The King.' I find it intriguing that some titles contain 'The' and others don't.
The book reads well, and I suggest you check it out. Get it? Check? Sorry.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Of Cliffhangers, Free Books, and Cheap B*stards...

This isn't at all the post I imagined I'd be writing, but it's weighed on my mind for the past two days so heavily I haven't thought of much else in my spare time.

Recently, I made the first book in my Jefferson's Road series permanently free. I am told by many on and other kindle-centered sites that this is a particularly effective marketing strategy employed by many authors to entice readers into trying a series. And indeed, nothing sells quite like free. Since going free, my book has been downloaded almost six hundred times (not just Amazon), and I've seen an uptick in sales of the other books in the series. And everything was going along swimmingly, until I received the following review:
I get it. Authors write books to sell and make money from their sale. This author can not be blamed for his effort, his writing abilities, or his product. I very much enjoyed the partial book I just finished but his total overt intention was for the readers to buy the next partial book, the next partial book and the next and so on. Most writers do this but Kindle editions are becoming less than desired due to this process. This partial book would have received 4-5 stars except for the presentation of the alleged ending. Sadly, the author's interest was more in selling his next book than providing enjoyment. I will not fall for it by buying the entire story.
He left me 1 star.

1 star?!! On a book he so clearly believes deserves a 4 or 5?

What really incensed me is this term "partial book," as if somehow, I did not bring Jefferson's Road: The Spirit of Resistance (shameless marketing plug and link inserted) to a full, complete, and satisfying ending.
Which is simply not true. Now, this is what I wrote in response:
Partial book? Seriously? You get a book for free, and then complain because why, the rest of the story isn't free as well? I tell you what: go to my website and contact me directly through the contact form. I will GIVE you the next two book in the series. But don't call these partials. It'd be like calling the first season of a TV show incomplete because they wanted to make a second season. Book one can and does stand on its own, but the story can and does continue on from there. 
The thing is, the Jefferson's Road books are cliffhangers. Each one is designed to end on a massive plot hook that carries you into the next installment. That's the point of the cliffhanger. It is a completely legitimate and rather ancient art form, dating at least as far back as Scheherazade in 1001 Arabian Nights. Now, in Scheherazade's case, she wasn't employing a marketing strategy or trying to sell anything. She was simply trying to stay alive one more night. Her goal was to live one more day, and over time, to make the all-powerful sultan fall in love with her.

Frankly, as a writer, I'm doing the same thing. I'm trying to survive one more day in the cutthroat world of fiction, and hoping to make the all-powerful reader fall in love with me. I don't want the reader's money (per se: because let's be honest, I am trying to earn some dough) as much as I want the reader's heart.

My goal is simply to make the reader say, "I read all six books practically in one sitting, and I simply could not put them down!" as has happened a few times already.

I believe this reviewer would not have given me 1 star if I made the rest of the series free as well. The books each run well over 300 pages, and they take some time to write. That's why I haven't released it as one single, massively long narrative (who am I? George R.R. Martin?). If I had, I seriously doubt I'd have as many readers as I do. Think it has something to do with short attention spans, or people not wanting to give that much time commitment to a new, unheard of author.

Which means, to me at least, this reviewer's chief complaint is that I dared ask him for a couple of bucks, as if selling books is somehow distasteful. Actually, that's not right, either. I didn't ask him for anything. I made a book available for free, which he chose to pick up of his own free will. And he liked it, too. But now he wants the rest free as well? Maybe some day, when I don't need book sales of a single series to help me make my grocery bill, I can offer the entire thing for free and just let the readers enjoy. But for now, I just want to scream,
"Hey buddy! Amazon is a BOOK STORE, not a LIBRARY!"
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Monday, August 19, 2013

The Ten Most Overused Words in Fiction

Every writer has his own list of favorite words. You know what I'm talking about. They're the ones you tend to rely on a little too heavily in your writing, without realizing it. Then your scene comes back from your critique partner all marked up in red, and you realize you've been a little lazy in your writing. 

Here's my personal list of my top 10 Most Overused Words, plus 1:

1. Expression- "She wore a (insert adjective of choice) expression on her face." I don't know about you, but I feel lazy when I resort to this. How about getting a little creative and showing rather than telling? Your readers will thank you for keeping them engaged. 

2. Eye (eyed, eyeing)- I need your help on this one. Does it bother you when a character's eyes land on something, or follow someone across a room? Does it conjure up pictures of eyeballs literally popping out of their sockets, or is this an acceptable alternative to the oft-used "gaze"? Either way, don't let the eyes have it to excess in your writing. 

3. Face- As in "he faced her", "she turned to face him". 

4. Feel/felt- Definitely passive. Not a problem every now and then, but a little goes a long way.

5. Gaze/gazed- Wouldn't you think that with all the looking around we do, there would be more decent synonyms for it? 

6. Glanced- Same as the problem we have with #5, only quicker.

7. Pull- Until I started writing seriously, I had no idea how many things could be pulled. "She pulled her gaze."  "He pulled the door." "They pulled a fast one." 

8. Regard/regarded- This is one that's easy to overuse in your attempt to avoid "look" or "gaze". "She regarded him warily." Not a problem every now and then.

9. That-You will find, when you start paying attention to this word, that about half of these are probably not needed. Your writing will be cleaner after snipping some of your 'thats'. 

10. Turned- Sometimes my characters do so much turning, it makes me downright dizzy.

11. (Bonus Word) Was- Passive and boring. It's fine at times, but you would do well to tighten up your writing with a was-ectomy. 

Click here to check out ProWritingAid, a really nifty FREE tool that analyzes, among other things, overused words in your writing. I just discovered it, and considering my own reliance on this list of repeat offenders, I think I'm going to use it repeatedly. 

As a writer or a reader, what are your favorite overused words?
LESLEY ANN MCDANIEL writes romance, romantic suspense, and young adult fiction. Her first two books “Lights, Cowboy, Action”, and “Saving Grace” are available at her website or on Amazon

Cover by Lynnette Bonner, IndyCoverDesign

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