Posts Tagged "Writing Pitfalls"

Misspelled and Misused Foreign Phrases

Posted by on Jul 8, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Misspelled and Misused Foreign Phrases

Using foreign phrases can be beneficial to your manuscript, not only because they add flair, but because sometimes they just sound better or more aptly fit certain situations in your novel. Not to mention that there are actually foreign terms for which there are no English words. Kummerspeck, for example, is German for the excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally translated, it’s grief bacon. What a great word, right? So it’s definitely fun to add a little je ne sais quoi to your novel, but it’s also imperative that these words and phrases are spelled correctly and used properly. Here are some of the foreign phrases we’ve seen misspelled or misused in our journeys as editors: Per se – misspelled as per say: Latin for “by, of, or in itself,” we tend to use this phrase to mean intrinsically. This is, by far, the most often misspelled phrase I come across. Chaise longue – misspelled as chaise lounge: This is a common misspelling due to the general misuse of the word lounger to describe a long chair that one can rest one’s legs upon. Technically, a lounger is one who lounges. What one lounges upon is a chaise longue. In French, chaise longue literally means long chair. Segue – misspelled as segway: Italian for “there follows,” this term is most often used to identify something that bridges or forms a transition from one item to the next. A cappella – misspelled as acappella: Italian for “of the chapel/in the style of the chapel,” a cappella is without instrumental music. It is always two words. Like a lot. And a little. Tchotchke – misspelled as chotchkey: Tchotchke is Yiddish and means bauble or trinket. Yes, the spelling is about as far away from phonetic as possible, but there you have it. Chotchkey is the most prevalent misspelling I’ve seen. Espresso – misspelled as expresso: There is no X in espresso. No X when you say it; no X when you spell it. Ever. Voilà – misspelled as viola: I cannot count how many times I have seen this misspelling. Voilà is a French term that is actually a contraction of vois là—literally see there. A general French-to-English translation is there is, however, it is used in English more often as an interjection of satisfaction or surprise when something appears or turns out the way it was intended to. Déjà vu – misspelled as deja view: Literally translated as “already seen” in French, Déjà vu is the sense that what you’re experiencing has happened to you before or a familiarity with something you have no reason to be familiar with. Yes, the accents over the E and the A are a required part of the spelling. And yes, it’s vu, not view. Stay tuned to next week for part two of Misspelled and Misused Foreign Phrases. Happy...

Read More

Writing Pitfall #12: How To Create Backstory

Posted by on Sep 23, 2013 in Divas on Writing | 0 comments

Writing Pitfall #12: How To Create Backstory

Wikipedia mashed together two great definitions of backstory: “A backstory, background story, back-story or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding—and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.” What does that mean to you the writer? To me, it means in order to completely support your plot, character motivations, and development of your story line you should have a detailed backstory analysis before writing even begins. But be wary of  getting trapped with too much backstory that drags down the reader. It’s a balance an author needs to master. I compare it metaphorically to a ladder, which has many rungs to climb. You have to take each rung one at a time in order to reach the top. Jumping from the ground to the middle rungs is hard and you can slip and fall.  The top isn’t even reachable yet, and you’re too short to pull yourself up. Starting at the bottom, the backstory is the foundation to any ladder and will only help you rise to the top. As you ascend the ladder, looking down is okay and even encouraged to see your progress if you’re not far from the bottom, but once at the top, it can be a dizzying experience causing your ladder to wobble and fall. Make sense? Mastering backstory may not be for every writer. It’s hard to write and plan out all of your characters, settings, emotions, relationships, and etc. It’s difficult to surmise how much is enough or not enough. Many writers find developing their characters and motivations as they write is easier and allows them to keep things fresh and in perspective. While others will need the extra structure in order to guide them as they write; hence the climb up the ladder. Both types of these authors can bog themselves down with too much backstory if they aren’t careful. How do you create an effective backstory? I found a list of five things to consider while writing backstory from an article on Wikihow and made it a little of my own. Start from the very beginning—childhood: All things have a beginning. Find the root of your characters histories with their past. Write it all out and keep it as a reference for yourself.  Compare what you’ve come up with to your character’s personality: Does your history make sense to what the your character is doing in the present? For ex. If  Billy was shy, he’s not going to be all of a sudden outgoing later on without a reason. Write the plot for the story: Most times this is done already but after your backstory is developed or your have a clear idea of where your characters are going, the plot can change or you need to revisit other elements running around in your head. Reread the backstory: Does it all make sense with your entire story? If not, go back and rework it. Having something out of place will trip up a  reader. Now that you’ve made the backstory, get another opinion: You may think it works in your head, but to others it’s a big old mess. Have a writing partner help keep you on goal with your characters. Now that you have your foundation, how much do you inject into your story? It’s a question of how much you want your reader to learn and how much you need to know in your own head as you write. While injecting backstory is prudent to the story line, most times backstory if purely for the author’s purposes. My general rule of thumb is to keep it as simple as possible. For example, Sally’s backstory includes being bullied by a boy named Timmy when she was a child. It makes it hard for her to trust men. Now,  in present day, she’s attracted to her future math tutor,  happens to be named Tim. His name is a reminder of the pain she went through growing up. How would you write Sally in a scene letting the reader understand Sally’s mental state and her...

Read More

Writing Pitfall #11: Stereotypes and Clichés

Posted by on Sep 16, 2013 in Divas on Writing | 0 comments

Writing Pitfall #11: Stereotypes and Clichés

It seems as though every writing website out there has something to say about stereotypes and clichés, but what’s the big deal? When stereotypes and clichés are used, authors simply have to define a character as a dumb jock or a nerdy bookworm, and they can get away without having to establish characterization because the stereotype has done all the work for them. Stereotypes and clichés are used all the time in literature. Think of how long books would be if we didn’t use stereotypes to a certain extent? The nosy neighbor, dumb jock, and mousy librarian are all stereotypes that need no introduction or a lot of description because the reader already knows what to expect. So if authors use a cliché to describe women’s figures as having all the right curves in all the right places, it frees them up from having to actually describe their characters. I mean, really… It’s not like doing this is going to hurt anyone, right? Wrong! When authors use these tropes in their writing, it labels them as inexperienced and it hurts their image. Will using stereotypes and clichés ruin a book? No, but these elements will make a book sound worn-out and unoriginal, and the author could very likely be described as unimaginative. Let’s look at stereotypes, also known as stock characters. If authors use these, they will almost guarantee that their readers will apply a preconceived notion of that character’s personality. They might also dismiss their role as not important or will read with prejudice against that character. Why? Let’s look at the definition of stereotype in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. By using stereotypes, characters will be viewed a one-dimensional, simple, flat, and lacking any real development. Reviewers will have no problem letting authors know when a book disappoints because of the lack of character development. Below is a list of common stereotypes seen in books. Wikipedia has a larger List of Stock Characters that can be used as a quick reference. Please note that this is not a complete list, but a quick place to start. Common Stereotypes orphans queen bee dumb blonde dumb or super macho jock out of touch parents nerdy brunettes redheads with a temper Mary Sue / Marty Stu bad boy male protagonist dishonest politician girl/boy next door evil or ugly step parents mousy librarian fat comic damsel in distress gay best friend (always a guy) The temptation to use clichés is great. We use them in everyday speech all the time. These phrases convey an idea in a few short words that would take longer to explain or sound boring. For example, an arm and a leg is a colorful way to saying something costs more than it’s worth. The formal explanation is a tad dry while the use of the cliché sounds more exciting.  So why not when we write? Look at the definition of a cliché in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. A trite phrase or expression; also the idea expressed by it; a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation; something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace. The use of clichés will contribute to the unoriginal feel of a story because clichés are phrases that someone else coined and everyone else used over and over. Common Clichés instant connection or pull tall, dark, and handsome legs that go all the way up love triangles in young adult fiction all the right curves in all the right places undesirable characters are ugly, overweight, balding, or middle-aged emotional broken characters who miraculously heal each other characters who were abused as children engage in BDSM to cope ordinary people who solve huge problems that experts can’t every woman wants to be with him and every man wants to be him only beautiful thin characters are successful in the boardroom and bedroom characters who are naturally talented at things they’ve never done before male and female protagonists who are at each other’s throats but are...

Read More

Writing Pitfall #10: Rushed or Slow Pacing

Posted by on Sep 9, 2013 in Divas on Writing | 0 comments

Writing Pitfall #10: Rushed or Slow Pacing

Nothing can ruin a good story faster than rushed pacing. If you’ve ever read a story, stopped, and blinked, all the while thinking, “wait, what just happened here?” then you know what I mean. But just as bad as rushed pacing is a slow, lagging narrative. You know the kind—where you fight the urge to click the next page on your e-reader and skim paragraphs of unnecessary detail while trying to get to the action. To understand how to avoid rushed or lagging pacing, we must understand what pacing is. Pacing shows the movement of time throughout the story. It is unique to each genre and story; there are no set rules for how the pacing should be set, which can leave the first-time author in a quandary. How do you know how to set your pace? Generally speaking, different genres call for different paces. Overall, action/adventure novels—where you’d want to engage and keep your reader on the edge of his seat—are most often set at a faster pace than a historical romance, which may be better suited for a slower, more anticipatory pace with more descriptive detail. That’s not to say, however, that every scene in every action/adventure novel is set at a breakneck speed or that all romances are slow, flowery, and flowing. Each scene should help move your story forward—if not in time, then in plot or character development. In preparation, you must determine what you need to convey to your audience in your scene and what kind of pace would best suit your purpose. Once you’ve determined that, you can use some of these tips to write your scene. To speed up a scene, use shorter sentences that get right to the point. Remove adjectives and adverbs, and pay close attention to noun and verb choices to make your point. Choose strong verbs, not passive verbs, and make each word count. Narrow your focus to the specifics of what is happening at that moment and ignore extraneous information that distracts the reader and slows down the action. Focus more on dialogue than narration, and keep your dialogue crisp. Have the characters jump right into the conversation at the most important part and skip the mundane “hi, how are you” chatter. Keep actions around dialogue to a minimum; use just enough to help readers identify with who is speaking so there aren’t two disembodied voices talking back and forth at each other. Allow characters to cut themselves and each other off in order to get more than one point across in one scene. Do not include any superfluous words, and end the dialogue as soon as your point has been made. Conversely, if you want to slow down your scene, use longer sentences with descriptive narration. Set the scene around you; pull back from the action and focus on the setting, the atmosphere. Include the adverbs and adjectives—but only in moderation. Consider including a flashback; these tend to slow down the pacing of a story as well as give additional information without resorting to an info dump all at once. Slow down the dialogue, as well. Allow characters to verbally wander, giving more back story or insight to character development, before making your point. Add more action and description to the dialogue—how the character is speaking and what she is doing while she’s speaking. Don’t allow the characters to interrupt each other and continue the dialogue after the point has been made. Once you’ve established the pacing of your scene, it’s time to look at the overall rhythm—the flow of the scenes throughout the story. Are all of the fast-paced scenes close together? Is the reader overly excited with no chance to catch her breath? Or are the slower scenes running together, creating a monotone of sleepy narration. The rhythm of your story mixes the paces; it uses slower narrative to build the anticipation, quick action scenes or dramatically short emotional explosions to keep the reader at a high level until the climax, and then eases the reader once again with longer, drawn-out scenes. But how...

Read More

Writing Pitfall #9: Overuse of Dialogue Tags

Posted by on Sep 2, 2013 in Divas on Writing | 0 comments

Writing Pitfall #9: Overuse of Dialogue Tags

In today’s article we are going to discuss our ninth writing pitfall for first-time authors, the overuse of dialogue tags. But what’s the big deal? Well, the problem with unnecessary dialogue tags is they eat up your word count and provide very little in return. Not every piece of dialogue needs a tag. Overuse of tags inhibits your ability to dig deeply into a scene and into the motivations and personalities of the characters who are conversing. When this happens, the dialogue stumbles along rushed and riddled with meaningless and telling descriptions. Dialogue tags are somewhat like the weeds of the literary world. And like weeds, not all dialogue tags are bad, detrimental, or even unnecessary. But similar to their plant-based cousins, these tags do tend to multiply rapidly and clutter up something you’ve worked hard to make beautiful. Use them with caution. In the same way you wouldn’t line a bed of prize-winning roses with dandelions, you shouldn’t clutter up your witty conversations with filler in the form of dialogue tags. Such tags are distracting and they weaken the overall presentation of your scene. Below we’ve taken a small conversation and revised it in various ways to illustrate the faults of dialogue tags. “Hey, you, what’s up?” Sally asked. “It’s been years…” she said. “Oh, you know, same old, same old,” Sam said. “So…want to go out for a cup of coffee?” Sally asked. “There’s a café around the corner,” she said. “Sure. Let me grab my coat,” Sam said. Notice that the dialogue tags add very little to the scene other than indicating who is speaking. This is the issue with dialogue tags. They only tell one thing. If there’s a primary rule of writing, it is to do as much as you can in as small a space as possible. Books are not like big houses that can be filled with copious amounts of useless or little-used items. Books have an extremely limited amount of square footage in which you have to do a lot of things. Because of this, your words must do double or even triple duty. This means there’s little space for dialogue tags that do one thing. To fix this, authors have taken to adding adverbs and subordinate clauses to creative tags so they give more information. So, let’s take a look at an example of this. “Hey, you, what’s up?” Sally inquired nervously, remembering how long it’s been since she last saw him. “It’s been years…” she said, letting her words trail off. “Oh, you know, same old, same old,” Sam mumbled as he stared at his feet with a shy expression on his face. “So…want to go out for a cup of coffee?” Sally queried, but she seemed almost shocked by her words, as if she didn’t meant to say them. “There’s a café around the corner,” she added, feeling awkward. “Sure. Let me grab my coat,” Sam replied with a happy grin. Even with creative dialogue tags combined with adverbs and subordinate clauses, the scene is not improved.  In fact, I’d say it’s worse. It’s anemic, the pacing is a mess, and the readers are given very little in the way of meaningful information. Perhaps the key to fixing this scene does not lie with dialogue tag usage. Remember the primary issue with dialogue tags? That’s right: they tell only one thing. But this is a two-fold problem: singular focus and telling. In the above example, we have fixed the singular focus of the dialogue tags, but they are still extremely telling. You’ve heard it said: show don’t tell. But if you have an issue with telling, how do you fix it? Well, the first place a writer should go to improve their ratio of showing versus telling is the dialogue. Take a look at those tags and replace them with narrative. Showing is a way in which you leave things to implication. In other words, don’t say a character is attracted to another character because he is staring at her with a smoldering gaze. Instead, describe that smoldering gaze and let...

Read More