How to Kill a Character Without Enraging Readers

From Writers in the Storm:

The death of a popular character has caused more than one angry fan to send email to the author and unfavorable reviews to chat groups and review sites. So, when you absolutely must cause a character’s demise, how do you do that without enraging your readers?

When and how you choose to kill off a character can make or break a story. It’s quite difficult for authors. The characters are very real. Permanently dispatching them is a bit like purposefully ridding oneself of an ally.

Characters should be killed off when the purpose of their demise will be the most impactful. Death may occur near the story’s end such as in John Steinbeck’s Of  Mice and Men, once we really feel for the victim. Or, like in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, where deaths frequently happen with no warning, establishing the theme that the characters are never safe.

1. Make the Death Meaningful

Nothing aggravates a reader more than characters who die for no good reason. If you’ve built solid, relatable characters, then they deserve to die for a purpose.

For a death scene to be truly meaningful the other characters need to be invested in the outcome as well as the reader.

  • Show how the death affects your characters
  • Explore the repercussions of the death
  • Look at the emotional impact on the characters

Hodor, one of the kindest characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, sacrifices himself by holding a door shut with his body to block the attack of a horde of wights, allowing the family he served time to escape. He is torn apart, while he repeats his own name until it’s revealed that Hodor is really saying “hold the door,” a phrase that became the only thing he could say.

2. Foreshadow the Character’s Death

When done right, foreshadowing is a great way to create emotional tension for the reader. It can set up expectations of the characters’ behaviors and outcomes.

Here are some common examples of elements used as foreshadowing:

  • Dialogue, like “I have a bad feeling about this”
  • Active weather, such as storm clouds, wind, driving rain, clearing skies
  • Omens, like a broken mirror or prophecies
  • Symbols, such as blood, weapons, certain colors, types of birds, and physical/emotional symbolism like the pain of Harry’s scar in the Harry Potter series
  • Settings, like a graveyard, battlefield, river, isolated path
  • Characters’ reactions, such as secrecy, fear, apprehension, curiosity
  • Time and/or season, such as midnight, dawn, twilight, fall, winter

If you end the life of an important character suddenly, readers are probably not going to react well. They anticipated spending quality time with this character. Ripping that character from them at the last-minute means sacrificing foreshadowing. And may get your book tossed across the room.

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, the reader knows early on that Owen is going to die. The narrator, who is retelling past events, tells us. Owen’s dreams provide clues to the manner of his death. When tragedy strikes, we are ready for it.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Five Ways Numerical Data Can Improve Your Novel

From diyMFA:

A few weeks ago, I shared how numbers could improve your writing life. Today, I’m going to discuss how numerical data can improve your story. The suggestions I present here are in the context of novels, but you can apply these principles to other forms as well. 

As with the previous article, I don’t want to scare away any writers who fear the very mention of numbers. I promise there are no complex equations or proofs here – just practical ways you can use numerical data to help you revise your novel. 

1. Pace Yourself

Pacing is all about rhythm, and rhythm is very mathematical, so it should not be surprising that numerical data can identify pacing issues. For starters, determine your word count for each of your chapters. Are they within a close range of each other or do they wildly fluctuate throughout the book? You might have a good reason for a lot of variation in your chapter lengths, but make sure this variation is serving a purpose. 

Note where your novel’s critical scenes occur as a percentage of the entire manuscript. Does your inciting incident happen at the 30% mark? Your opening is too long. You can also look at the length of each critical scene. Maybe your climax is occurring at an appropriate point, but you fly through it in two pages. 

Consider your genre and age category when evaluating your pacing. For instance, middle grade and YA novels typically start and end quickly, with early inciting incidents and late climaxes, so your pacing will feel off if you have a long introduction or resolution. If you’re writing romance, you have a problem if you haven’t introduced the love interest in the first 50% of the book. In a murder mystery novel, readers expect to encounter the crime early, not 25% of the way into the book.

Numerical data can help you identify potential trouble spots, but it should not be prescriptive. If your figures slightly differ from the recommended standards for your market, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem. If you can justify the choices you’ve made and your beta readers don’t notice a problem with your pacing, then you’re probably fine. 

2. Break It Down

Once you have a solid draft, figure out the composition breakdown of your manuscript. With a set of highlighters (use a different color for each category), identify dialogue, world building and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. Approximate the percentage of your total word count that you have written in each of these categories. (The computer can give you more precise information. Highlight in different colors on your screen and calculate your percentages easily. The printed version, however, may have an advantage in making a visual impact, and approximations will work for this, so pick your preference.)

Is one category dominating your story? If so, can you justify this? There may be an excellent reason your novel is 80% dialogue, so long as it is an intentional one. 

Conversely, is one category lacking? Adding passages to enhance that category may give your novel more balance.

3. Remember the “Comp” in Comp Titles

“Comp” is short for comparison. A comp title is a book like yours, often sharing genre, market, and style. Comp titles demonstrate your novel has an audience. 

Choose a comp title you admire. Break down its composition, as described above. If you’re daunted by tackling a full novel, then try a few choice chapters, including the opening and closing chapters, the inciting incident, and the climax. Determine the percentages spent on dialogue, setting and description, action, character interiority, and backstory. 

Then take a literal approach to the word “comparison” by comparing your novel’s composition to that of your comp title. They probably won’t be exactly the same, but you should pay attention to big discrepancies. This is how you learn from published authors. 

Link to the rest at diyMFA

5 Reasons to Write Your “Taboo” Stories

From Jane Friedman:

Writing memoir is always a vulnerable experience, but some stories are especially difficult to tell. Topics like mental illness, sex, and violence are often branded “taboo” and can be among the most challenging material to write about. In many cultures, we’re taught to avoid these topics, and that sharing them is TMI (“too much information”).

But at their best, these narratives speak to our darkest truths and teach us what it means to be human. Despite the challenges of writing about stigmatized topics, sharing our vulnerable, deeply personal stories can be incredibly healing. And not only that, but these stories can make for the most compelling writing for readers.

1. Writing about taboos can give our stories heat and urgency.

Emotionally charged, vulnerable experiences lend themselves to high-stakes storytelling. In memoir, we are challenged to answer the question of: “So what?” Why would a disinterested reader, who doesn’t know us from Adam, care about our lives? Taboo topics tend to be rife with conflict and dramatic tension, among our best tools for engaging readers in our stories. What’s more, when we lean into stigmatized topics, we invite readers to wrestle with the same complexities we’re examining in ourselves—this gives our storytelling urgency and nuance, which keeps the reader turning the pages.

2. Vulnerability can make us more trustworthy narrators.

In memoir, readers want us to tell the truest, most candid versions of our stories. If they sense that we are holding back, being evasive, or trying to present our lives and ourselves as rosier than the reality, we risk losing their trust. Not shying away from the thorny, messy truths of our lives sends a powerful message to the reader. It shows them we are willing to lay bare our most difficult truths—even when, and perhaps especially when, these are unflattering. Readers respect writers who come across as honest and authentic—facing challenging material head-on, without sugar-coating it, shows our ability to grapple with complicated memories. This kind of honesty can help build our credibility as narrators, while establishing a more intimate connection between the writer and reader.

3. Writing the “unspeakable” allows us to reclaim power.

Often, what is categorized as “taboo” or “unspeakable” has a lot to do with power dynamics. For instance, topics like sexual assault and racism have long been stigmatized; this is a way of silencing voices of dissent, those that might disrupt the established social order. Writing about taboos helps jumpstart conversations about some of the most important topics of our day. We can break through the forces that attempt to silence us, instead using our stories as a way of speaking truth to power. This is especially the case in marginalized communities, where voices have been systematically shut out—writing the hard truths can be empowering for the writer, and illuminating for readers.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

5 Productive Forms of Procrastination for Writers

From A Writers Path:

Though we call ourselves writers and take pride in our work, sometimes it’s hard to get it done. We clean the house or walk the dog, leaving our manuscript reproachfully languishing as we procrastinate working on it.

This can happen for any number of reasons, from being bored with the story to simply feeling blocked. Facing the problems head on definitely has its merits, but if it feels like your procrastination is in for a long stay, it can be useful to work with it rather than fight it.

In this post, I share five ways you can make your procrastination productive — and hopefully get yourself back on track to writing your next big hit.

Do some research

Whether you’re not sure where your story’s going or you feel like you don’t know your characters very well, going down a research rabbit hole is the best kind of diversion. It may not be actively writing your book, but if you look into something related, it still counts towards building your story.

The research can be related to writing topics or strategies if you feel like that’s where your problem lies. It could involve looking into story structures you haven’t used, like the Save the Cat Beat Sheet or the 7-Point Story Structure so you can get excited about writing again. Or it can just be a good way to while away the afternoon so you have something tangentially related to tell your writing group.

But it doesn’t have to be directly related to writing either. Look into any historical events or famous people you’ve been curious about. The truth can truly be stranger than fiction and many authors draw inspiration from real world events for their own stories. There’s nothing wrong with simply learning something new, as making new connections in your mind may lead you back to your story and give you things to ponder.

Who knows? Whatever you find out might give you some new ideas for a character backstory or an interesting aspect to your world. The excitement might be all you need to nudge you out of procrastination mode and back into writing.

If you think research involves too much heavy lifting though, there’s plenty more low-key activities you can try.

Make a Pinterest moodboard

If you haven’t already made one as preparation for your novel, making a dedicated Pinterest board for your book can be a great way to procrastinate while still feeling like you’re getting something done. It’s not limited to the planning stage, either. Whenever you’re feeling like you can’t work on your book, turning to the endless variety of Pinterest can be a fun (yet helpful) distraction.

As you look for images that remind you of your story, characters, or world, it also helps you get to know it better. The pictures you choose can give you an idea of what your tone is. For example, if you’re going for darker pictures, maybe you’re discovering that there’s an eerie undertone you haven’t explored. You might stumble on some nature photography that gives you inspiration for a scene that more deeply examines your character’s emotional arc, or world architecture that helps your worldbuilding.

And if it doesn’t do that much for you, it’s still a fun way to spend the day.

Experience another story for inspiration

Fantasy author V.E. Schwab believes in the importance of keeping your “creative well” filled to make sure your inspiration never dries up. The best thing you can do for that is read a book. The format doesn’t matter — it’s more important that you in some way consume a story.

It’s easy while you’re writing to get a little obsessed with your book. Especially if you don’t have a lot of time, more leisurely pursuits, like watching TV, might fall to the wayside in favor of your writing project, but you can’t stay motivated in a vacuum. Experiencing the works of others, especially the ones that speak to you, can remind you why you’re writing in the first place and reignite your creative fire.

So go back to an old favorite or pick up that new release you’ve been meaning to read. Get excited about storytelling again by experiencing a character’s journey rather than plotting it out yourself. This might not happen after one chapter or even one book if your well has gotten too dry, but sometimes we do our best work while distracted.

Link to the rest at A Writers Path

Learning In Writing Not Like Other Skills…

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This came from a fun conversation with other writers today at lunch.

When you learn something in fiction writing, you can’t just take that learning and apply it like learning how to fix a pipe or do something in Photoshop. I wish sometimes it worked that way, but alas it does not.

So when you learn something from a writing book, or another writer’s work, or a workshop like we teach, you must do your best to understand it while learning it, then go back to writing and forget what you learned.

That’s right, forget it.

When you learn something about a craft area of writing, your creative voice already knows how to do it because it has been reading and absorbing story for your entire life. But your critical voice suddenly understands that skill, so the critical voice gives the creative voice permission to use it.

That is how fiction writing is learned.

But the hard part is getting the critical voice out of the way. It wants to use that new skill and that will freeze you down faster than anything.

So assure the critical voice that in the coming writing, at some point, when that new skill is appropriate to use, it will be used, and get the critical voice to forget it. You will notice you are using the skill stories or books later, often when some reader points it out.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Taken Advantage Of

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

. . . .

Fear of Someone Taking Advantage of Them

A character with this fear may worry about potential situations where they might be taken advantage or exploited. These could be serious crimes, such as sexual abuse and identity theft or a simpler occurrence, like being used by a friend for some larger gain.

  • What It Looks Like
  • Questioning people’s motives
  • Believing that other people can’t be trusted
  • Highly valuing privacy
  • Not volunteering information
  • Being very independent
  • Living self-sufficiently
  • Doing extensive research (to avoid scams, find out if someone is reliable, etc.)
  • Avoiding vulnerable situations, such as walking at night or being alone with someone
  • Setting boundaries that keep others at a distance
  • Avoiding situations where the character has been burned in the past, such as dating, shopping online, or sharing their creative work with others
  • Not trusting certain types of people (politicians, salespeople, women, etc.)
  • Pulling away when people try to get too close
  • Seeing exploitation where there is none
  • Taking careful security measures (locking up documents, changing passwords frequently, giving a false name, etc.)
  • Demanding payment up front before offering services
  • Difficulty working with a team
  • Resisting new technologies or advances that carry an element of risk
  • Being standoffish with strangers and new acquaintances
  • The character being reluctant to help someone outside their inner circle who asks for help
  • Common Internal Struggles
  • The character worrying about a person’s trustworthiness, then wondering if they’re being paranoid
  • Second-guessing the motives of others
  • Living in a constant fear of betrayal
  • Feeling unnoticed and underappreciated
  • The character doubting their own judgment (because they’ve been wrong about people before)
  • The character mentally warring with their body’s fight-flight-or-freeze instincts

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Why We Don’t Need “Heroines”

From Writer Unboxed:

A recent WriterUnboxed column argued that a fictional character doesn’t have to win a big, loud, violent battle at the end of the story to be a “hero or heroine.” It’s an important discussion, within which the use of the word “heroine” may seem a minor point.

And yet, to me, it mattered. Because the word “heroine” creates an unnecessary and potentially harmful gender distinction in the idea of a “hero.” I had to wonder: Why can’t all of our fictional characters be “heroes”?

I might’ve written a comment. I needed to write a column.

The word “heroine” has no meaning other than “female hero.” That might imply strength, like “girl power,” or it might be perceived as cutesy, frilly or worse, patronizing. But those implications don’t matter as much as the fact that the category of “hero” doesn’t need this gender division any more than the categories of “male nurse” or “female Supreme Court Justice.” We do not need “mailmen” when everyone can be a “mail carrier.”

There are, of course, many other examples of such pointless and outdated gender distinctions: waitress, stewardess, lady doctor, lady Realtor, comedienne, manageress, landlady, headmistress, chairwoman, hostess—need I go on?

Like “heroine,” these unnecessarily gendered terms divide people into binary categories when we should all know by now that human gender is not binary. If gender exists–some experts say it does; some say it doesn’t–, at the very least it includes people along a spectrum as well as people who don’t fit on that spectrum. And it isn’t necessarily a defining characteristic of anyone’s personality or ability.

These unnecessary gender labels may seem benign. They aren’t. Code words in job descriptions, bias and discrimination in hiring, promoting and firing decisions, and unequal pay for equal work have been well documented. So, too, has the “pink collar”-ing of certain fields of work. Is a “heroine” entitled to the same career opportunities and compensation as a “hero”? Or will she have to fight for her equality in the workplace and the world?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences preserves its practice of awarding Oscars in Actor and Actress categories, one each for Best and one each for Best Supporting. With four categories, rather than two, the Academy can recognize more nominees and winners, but the additional categories unnecessarily insert gender differences where, it seems to me, they shouldn’t be relevant. Some female actors find the term “actresses” not only objectionable, but offensive.

. . . .

The Problem with Female Superheroes” was well-documented in Scientific American in 2015:

“…new research by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri suggests that, at least for women, the influence of superheroes is not always positive. Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire. Exposure to this, they show, can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.”

That was eight years ago. Today, Dear Hollywood, we still need more positive images of non-traditional, non-gendered and non-hypersexualized superheroes on the big screen.

Please, bring it on.

Why does this problem of “heroines” matter to writers and authors?

For writers, it matters because our characters reflect the real world in which we live. That’s true even of speculative fiction. Or perhaps even more so of speculative fiction. By forcing protagonists into gendered categories of “hero” and “heroine,” we impose a false structure of gender in our fictional worlds and perpetuate the idea that these categories are fixed in the real world, as well.

The protagonist of my novel-in-progress has a superpower, but as she says herself, she isn’t a superhero. She’s a “Wind Lord.” Not once in seven years of writing and revising ten drafts have I called her a “Wind Lady” because no such term is necessary for her or any of my other characters. They are all “Wind Lords,” regardless of their gender.

For authors, there are real-world considerations for how novels and short stories are selected for publication and then categorized, packaged, marketed and sold to readers.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG notes that “positive” and “negative” influences seem to be proliferating over the last 10-15 years. Such “influences” invariably apply disproportionately to various genders, races, classes and national origins.

PG posits that there have always been “positive” and “negative” influences on humankind going back to Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden, surely a negative influence if PG has ever seen one. (But PG acknowledges that Eve was likely chosen for temptation because Adam was off somewhere doing guy things or maybe zoned out watching football on TV.)

However, “positive” and “negative” influences entered their golden age with the rise of the subconscious in the 20th Century. The subconscious was a never-ending source of books, articles, rules and powered the rise of “experts” who could super-humanly discern what was happening in the subconsciousness of others.

Therefore, it was up to everyone to clean up their subconsciousness or be an outcast from polite society.

As subconscious studies abounded, it soon became clear that people in positions of power (whatever that means), especially the maleish people in such positions, required quite a lot of studies to reign in the nasty bits floating around their male brains without any proper regulation. Even the male gaze was different and more offensive than the female gaze or the gazes of dogs, horses, sparrows and all other members of the animal kingdom.

PG just realized that it is likely time for him to swallow some of the prescribed medications that do something or other to regulate his mind and, perhaps, keep his subconscious in line as well.

Difference Between “Quote” and “Quotation”: What Is the Right Word?

From ThoughtCo:

Often the words quote and quotation are used interchangeably. Quote is a verb and quotation is a noun. As A. A. Milne put it in a humorous note:

“A quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.”According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word quotation is defined as, “A group of words taken from a text or speech and repeated by someone other than the original author or speaker.”

The word quote means to “repeat the exact words of another with the acknowledgment of the source.” In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, 

Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.

“Going Back to Roots: Origin of the Words “Quotation” and “Quote”

The origin of the word quote goes back to Medieval English, sometime around 1387. The word quote is a derivation of the Latin word quotare, which means “to mark a book with numbers of chapters for reference.”

According to Sol Steinmetz, author of the book, “Semantic Antics: How and Why Words Change Meaning,” 200 years or so later, the meaning of the word quotation was expanded to include the meaning, “to copy out or repeat a passage from a book or author.”

One of the most frequently quoted American personalities is Abraham Lincoln. His words have proved to be a source of inspiration and wisdom. In one of his many famous writings, he wrote,

“It is a pleasure to be able to quote lines to fit any occasion.”

Link to the rest at ThoughtCo

PG admits that he doesn’t like the word “quotation.” If he were grammar king for a day, he would permit “quote” to be used as a noun or a verb.

People started to be noticeably nervous when they were coming near a description of my disability

From Hacker News:

What was it, 10 to 20 years ago, people started to be noticeably nervous when they were coming near a description of my disability. It used to be so simple. I am 100% blind, and guess what, I prefer the term blind because it is pretty descriptive and relatively short. But all of a sudden, people external to the community started to fumble around with “visually challenged”, and all the nonsense variations of that in my native language. It is so weird, because it adds yet another layer of distance between “us” and the “normal” people. You can almost feel how the stumbling-word is making communication even more awkward. I (and almost all of my friends with a similar disability) make a point of letting people know that we actually prefer the word blind over everything else, and not even that does put people at ease. It sounds a bit provocative, but it feels like that: The language terror they were subjected to has made them so unsecure that they actually dont want to hear that blind people have no issue with being called blind. They somehow continue to argue, sometimes not wanting to accept that and going on to use weird language.

Its a weird phenomenon. The longer I watch all of this, and I also mean the gender-language-hacks, I feel like this move has added to the distance between various groups, not made it smaller.

It is so condescending to believe your own language-police more then the person you are talking to. Yet, the peer pressure seems to be so high that this actually happens. Sad.

. . . .

I see it as unintentional discrimination. It’s treating the people they are relabeling as children that need the kind progressives to step in and save them. It’s so condescending. Minorities don’t need white Knights to save them, neither do the disabled. If an individual wants me to not refer to them as x because they find it offensive, no problem. But a group of academics should not be able to sit around and decide that a group as a whole needs saving. It very much forces otherness on people and to your point furthers the divide. it forces us to see them as different.

Side note, and this is completely off topic and I really mean this in the most positive way but you typing here has completely altered my perception of the need for following web standards for accessibility. I don’t know any blind people in real life so really just assumed that accessibility standards really weren’t worth the effort as they wouldn’t make a difference. But here you are reading and responding in a manner that’s probably better than I do. I am 100% on board now. You opened my mind today, thanks for that.

Link to the rest at Hacker News/Ycombinator

The Moral Case Against Equity Language

From The Atlantic:

The Sierra Club’s Equity Language Guide discourages using the words stand, Americans, blind, and crazy. The first two fail at inclusion, because not everyone can stand and not everyone living in this country is a citizen. The third and fourth, even as figures of speech (“Legislators are blind to climate change”), are insulting to the disabled. The guide also rejects the disabled in favor of people living with disabilities, for the same reason that enslaved person has generally replaced slave : to affirm, by the tenets of what’s called “people-first language,” that “everyone is first and foremost a person, not their disability or other identity.”

The guide’s purpose is not just to make sure that the Sierra Club avoids obviously derogatory terms, such as welfare queen. It seeks to cleanse language of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion. In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. Urbanvibranthardworking, and brown bag all crash to earth for subtle racism. Y’all supplants the patriarchal you guys, and elevate voices replaces empower, which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The poor is classist; battle and minefield disrespect veterans; depressing appropriates a disability; migrant—no explanation, it just has to go.

Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits. The American Cancer Society has one. So do the American Heart Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Recreation and Park Association, the Columbia University School of Professional Studies, and the University of Washington. The words these guides recommend or reject are sometimes exactly the same, justified in nearly identical language. This is because most of the guides draw on the same sources from activist organizations: A Progressive’s Style Guide, the Racial Equity Tools glossary, and a couple of others. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense. The new language might not stick in broad swaths of American society, but it already influences highly educated precincts, spreading from the authorities that establish it and the organizations that adopt it to mainstream publications, such as this one.

Although the guides refer to language “evolving,” these changes are a revolution from above. They haven’t emerged organically from the shifting linguistic habits of large numbers of people. They are handed down in communiqués written by obscure “experts” who purport to speak for vaguely defined “communities,” remaining unanswerable to a public that’s being morally coerced. A new term wins an argument without having to debate. When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors replaces felon with justice-involved person, it is making an ideological claim—that there is something illegitimate about laws, courts, and prisons. If you accept the change—as, in certain contexts, you’ll surely feel you must—then you also acquiesce in the argument.

In a few cases, the gap between equity language and ordinary speech has produced a populist backlash. When Latinx began to be used in advanced milieus, a poll found that a large majority of Latinos and Hispanics continued to go by the familiar terms and hadn’t heard of the newly coined, nearly unpronounceable one. Latinx wobbled and took a step back. The American Cancer Society advises that Latinx, along with the equally gender-neutral LatineLatin@, and Latinu, “may or may not be fully embraced by older generations and may need additional explanation.” Public criticism led Stanford to abolish outright its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative—not for being ridiculous, but, the university announced, for being “broadly viewed as counter to inclusivity.”

In general, though, equity language invites no response, and condemned words are almost never redeemed. Once a new rule takes hold—once a day in history can no longer be dark, or a waitress has to be a server, or underserved and vulnerable suddenly acquire red warning labels—there’s no going back. Continuing to use a word that’s been declared harmful is evidence of ignorance at best or, at worst, a determination to offend.

Like any prescribed usage, equity language has a willed, unnatural quality. The guides use scientific-sounding concepts to lend an impression of objectivity to subjective judgments: structural racializationdiversity value propositionarbitrary status hierarchies. The concepts themselves create status hierarchies—they assert intellectual and moral authority by piling abstract nouns into unfamiliar shapes that immediately let you know you have work to do. Though the guides recommend the use of words that are available to everyone (one suggests a sixth-to-eighth-grade reading level), their glossaries read like technical manuals, put together by highly specialized teams of insiders, whose purpose is to warn off the uninitiated. This language confers the power to establish orthodoxy.

Mastering equity language is a discipline that requires effort and reflection, like learning a sacred foreign tongue—ancient Hebrew or Sanskrit. The Sierra Club urges its staff “to take the space and time you need to implement these recommendations in your own work thoughtfully.” “Sometimes, you will get it wrong or forget and that’s OK,” the National Recreation and Park Association guide tells readers. “Take a moment, acknowledge it, and commit to doing better next time.”

The liturgy changes without public discussion, and with a suddenness and frequency that keep the novitiate off-balance, forever trying to catch up, and feeling vaguely impious. A ban that seemed ludicrous yesterday will be unquestionable by tomorrow. The guides themselves can’t always stay current. People of color becomes standard usage until the day it is demoted, by the American Heart Association and others, for being too general. The American Cancer Society prefers marginalized to the more “victimizing” underresourced or underserved—but in the National Recreation and Park Association’s guide, marginalized now acquires “negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid ‘the marginalized,’ and don’t use marginalized as an adjective.” Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not. The most devoted student of the National Recreation and Park Association guide can’t possibly know when and when not to say marginalized; the instructions seem designed to make users so anxious that they can barely speak. But this confused guidance is inevitable, because with repeated use, the taint of negative meaning rubs off on even the most anodyne language, until it has to be scrubbed clean. The erasures will continue indefinitely, because the thing itself—injustice—will always exist.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG suggests there is nothing inclusive about a new set of invented terms that the large majority of the population, regardless of race or class, doesn’t understand.

It smacks of dividing the intelligencia from the peasants. It creates divisions not unity and amplifies forces that separate people rather than draw them together.

PG was reminded of the elaborate behaviors and circumlocutions required of courtiers in Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV.

How to Get Emotion on the Page: 2 Most Critical Tactics

From Jane Friedman:

The great Maya Angelou once said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

It’s a saying that applies well to fiction: people often don’t remember the plots of the novels they love, but they absolutely do remember how those books made them feel.

I think this is such a huge part of what makes us readers—and writers—to begin with: as James Michener put it, “the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”

Okay, but…how do you do that, exactly? Meaning, how do you actually generate strong emotions in the reader—and how do you get the reader to feel what your POV character is feeling in the moment?

In another one of my posts for Jane, I detailed the sometimes mysterious ways that seemingly disparate elements of story, when handled right, conspire to achieve this alchemy of emotion: The story’s stakes. The backstory of the characters, and the closeness of their relationships. The protagonist’s thoughts, actions, and dialogue.

But beyond all that, there are some very specific points in your story where the rubber meets the road, as far as emotion goes, and these are the points where you’re actually writing the character experiencing emotion in the moment.

And this is something that even many otherwise excellent writers get wrong, I find, by slipping into a distanced POV—an issue that can occur whether you’re writing in first person or third.

Here’s an example of an emotion written in a distanced way from the third person:

She felt angry. “Stop that!” she shouted.

And here it is from the first person:

I was stunned. “I’m leaving,” I announced.

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with either of these little snippets—but the fact is, neither is likely to generate any real emotion in the reader, even if the author has set up those other key elements of the story in such a way as to predispose that reader to care.

So what will?

I’ll get to that, I promise. But first, let’s address why overt statements of emotion don’t work.

Think back to a time when you really were angry, or really were sad.

Did you realize, in the moment, that you were feeling angry?

Did you realize, in the moment, that you were sad?

Chances are, you didn’t. Not right away, at least. Because those words—angrysad—are the sort of labels we apply to our feelings after we’ve had a chance to process them. The feelings themselves are much more immediate and visceral.

To speak in the terms of brain science: Emotional labels like anger and sadness are generated by the frontal lobe, that advanced part of the human brain that can think about what it is thinking, and think about what it is feeling as well.

To truly put your reader in the emotional position of your POV character, you have to dig deeper, to the more primary thing, the feeling itself, which doesn’t occur in the frontal lobe at all, but rather in the older, more primal parts of the brain associated with our physical and social survival.

And that is best accomplished by body language and internal narration.

Tactic #1: Body language

Body language is generally the easier tactic for most of us to get a hold of, because we’re all quite familiar with the physical manifestations of emotion.

For anger, for instance, that might mean:

  • your hands balling up into fists
  • pursing your lips
  • clenching your napkin
  • feeling your jaw tighten
  • shoving something out of the way

Those are all physical manifestations of an emotion that tells us we may need to fight, to defend ourselves or others.

For feeling sad, that might mean:

  • feeling tears well up in your eyes
  • feeling heavy
  • needing to sit down
  • closing your eyes
  • taking a deep breath

Those are all physical manifestations of an emotion that tells us we may need to reveal our vulnerability to others, so we can get help—or that we may need to go to ground, conserve energy, and nurse our wounds.

Fiction is full of the physical manifestations of emotions, and writers can often go too far with it, having their characters leapfrog right from bad news to outright sobbing, with no pitstops in between for glassy eyes, a tear escaping down a cheek, and so forth.

But even so, this sort of “body language” is indispensable when it comes to really translating the emotion of the POV character to the reader. Because it’s this sort of language that the reader maps onto her own body, via the magic of mirror neurons, when she reads it.

Meaning, this sort of thing actually helps your reader feel the emotion of the character, physically.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Connotation vs. Denotation: Definitions, Examples, and the Difference

From The Write Practice:

If you’ve ever called a friend or partner “cheap” instead of “frugal” and found yourself paying the bill, you may have made a critical error noting the difference between connotation vs. denotation.

What’s the difference between connotation vs. denotation? And more importantly, how can you use each one to your advantage as a writer?

. . . .

So the writer’s problem then becomes how to choose the right word to get your ideas across. One way to work toward more precision in language is to understand the difference between a word’s literal definition and the hidden emotional meanings that attach themselves to the word. Let’s break down connotation vs. denotation.

Denotation Definition

Denotation comes from the word “denote” which means to “to mark out plainly” or “to represent or signify.” When the word denotation is applied to the definition of any specific word, it means the literal meaning of a word, the specific, primary meaning of a word.

In short, the denotation of a word is its dictionary definition.

Denotation Examples

Let’s look at some examples of denotation. The words beautifulhandsomeattractive, and pretty essentially all mean the same thing: good-looking or aesthetically pleasing to the senses (especially visual).

That is the dictionary definition or denotative meaning. Straightforward, right?

Connotation Definition

Connotation is the idea or feeling a word carries, in addition to its literal meaning. Connotation is heavily dependent on a shared understanding of a hidden or implied meaning, so connotation can change from region to culture to language.

Connotation Examples

Let’s look at some examples of connotation to help you become more adept at using language in writing.

Types of connotation

There are three types of connotation, and luckily their names denote their actual meaning. (Handy, right?)

Positive Connotation

Let’s return to the example in our introduction. The word “frugal” means economical with money, but it has a strongly positive connotation. When you can someone frugal, the hidden meaning is that they are wise and savvy with money. It’s a good thing, a positive attribute.

Negative Connotation

In contrast, if someone is called “cheap,” the denotative meaning might be economical, too. But the connotation is negative—the feeling associated with “cheap” is that someone is miserly or tries to save money in negative ways.

Neutral Connotation

The last type of connotation is neutral—when a word has no positive or negative implied meanings. The word “economical” is pretty neutral unless the context changes. And context is always important when determining the connotative meaning of words.

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

Genre Tips: How to Write Mystery

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Following closely on the heels of romance, mystery is one of the most popular fiction genres of all time. At its simplest, the genre is a puzzle for audiences and characters to figure out together. At its most complex, mystery offers a deep-dive into humanity’s most pressing existential questions and threats. Populated by manifold subgenres, mystery offers room for many expressions, but its intelligent and experienced audience expects specific details in its execution. Learning how to write mystery stories is, as it turns out, about so much more than “just the facts, ma’am.”

Mystery can be divided into several categories, including but not limited to:

  • Thriller (focusing on dangerous stakes for the characters caught up in needing to solve the mystery, such as The Fugitive)
  • Procedural (focusing on the techniques used in solving the mystery, such as in CSI)
  • Whodunit (focusing on the solving the puzzle, such as Sherlock Holmes)
  • Crime (focusing on professionals from both sides of the crime, which may be a murder or may be another type of lawbreaking, such as in The Departed)

There are many other subgenres, and many of these can overlap or be included in other subgenres that are primarily focused on evoking a certain milieu or atmosphere, such as:

  • Cozy (focusing on a “cozy” setting, low-key stakes, little gore or violence, and usually a citizen “detective”, such as Miss Marple)
  • Noir (focusing on a “dark” and gritty urban setting, such as The Maltese Falcon)
  • Comedy (focusing on a comedy of errors, again usually with little graphic violence and a bumbling hero who solves the case by happenstance as much as anything, such as The Man Who Knew Too Little)

Like romance, mystery often crops up as a subplot within stories that would primarily be classed as other genres. Or the story may be set entirely within the milieu of a different genre, even though it still follows the mystery structure. For example, mysteries may often take place in a fantasy setting, as with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series or Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers,oops, Helping Writers Become Authors

Retiring to Write or Writing to Retire

From Writers in the Storm:

Can authors ever really, truly Put-Down-the-Pen? While many dream of spending endless mornings writing the next Great Novel, others eyeball-deep in edits and deadlines count down the days until they can just sleep in.

Whether you are starting out in writing or embarking on your fiftieth publication, it is uncommon for writers to officially retire. At some point authors find an equilibrium with their craft, energy, and ambitions levels, the question is when these tip towards losing their creative passion, should they stop writing?

Is your writing career just ahead of you? Waiting for you begin once life allows you the time, energy, and better focus? When is it a good time to begin a career as an author? Regardless of your writing status, we can look at common considerations people have when making a big career change.

Writing is a career open to anyone with a pen and a desire to continuously improve their craft. When to start is a personal decision.

3 Considerations to begin or end a writing career

Here are 3 considerations when contemplating an entry or exit from the work of being an author.


The muse can strike at any age. Started at late age can make a difference on the longevity of a writer’s career, but it doesn’t have to impact the amount of total writing or influence those words have.  Many writers have started writing later in life and have become very prolific. 

One example is of an older man, who after ending a failed career, wrote one of the world’s most notable books.  Arguably the worlds first published modern novel, a satirical response to the decades of picaresque stories of knights saving damsels in distress flooding the bookshelves his time, this Spanish author wrote a masterpiece from his prison cell while serving time for his incompetence as a military leader.

Miguel de Cervantes published The Man of La Mancha in 1605, when he was 58-years-old.  In the middle ages, a person’s life expectancy was near 35 years. According to the World Atlas, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, is the world’s most best-selling individual novel ever with around 500 million copies sold. In modern terms, the Harry Potter series is the only set of novels to come close, with the group of books selling near the 500 million mark.

Cervantes didn’t retire when he found success, he continued writing. His second novel in the series was published in 1615. And in 1620 in English. Cervantes wrote in many genres and had his works published in several languages over the next 10 years. In a dedication he bade farewell to the world, and with grace and competence said he was “with a foot already in the stirrup” only 3 days before dying. He passed away with a clear mind in April of 1615, with many posthumous works published after his death.

Some writers wait until they have retired from another line of work, holding off on their dreams of publication and waiting to have time to focus solely on the story that burns within them. They benefit from having a story build over time, working it over in their mind subconsciously, and ideally, making it easier to write down. But what about writers who begin at an earlier age?  Those who started in a different line of work or are considering a change mid-career?


Some writers begin their author journeys slowly in piecemeal bites. They may chunk off a writing career between breast feedings and/or budget meetings. They may find their first job a misfit for their creative ambitions, one they need that may simply pay-the-bills.  Or they may have found jobs requiring skills that revolve around words only to yearn for time to craft their own novels. Writers who heed the call of the muse concurrently with another line of work can also find success.

See these famous examples:

  • Amy Tan “made-up” astrology for a hotline service, later wrote ad copy, and became a technical writer before becoming a published author. She was 37-years-old when Joy Luck Club was published.
  • David Baldacci worked a couple of years as a lawyer even after getting a big contract. He wasn’t sure his career as a writer would pan out.
  • JK Rollings was a single mom and financially broke when her career broke loose. After college, she worked at various jobs including working as a bilingual secretary and teaching English in Portugal.  She reportedly wrote her ideas for the iconic novel on scraps of paper while commuting to work via train.

We can all dream of the success these household name branded authors have become, but they all worked in other venues before becoming fully invested in their writing. Deciding to move on to writing is a complex decision that can only be made on a personal basis.  Factors like dependent family members, access to important benefits like health care, lifestyle changes that occur with what is likely to be less income, stability of future retirement options, and current job satisfaction all play a role in deciding whether becoming an author full time is for you.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

The Psychology of Personality – Bringing your Characters to Life

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

When you meet someone for the first time you may notice certain things about them: how they look, how they speak, what they say. These are the things we see and hear that tell us something about the person and help us form an impression of what makes them tick. But what sits behind this? 

Psychologists who study personality have identified 5 key ‘traits’  that can distinguish one person from another. Traits are the building blocks of personality; fairly consistent ways of thinking and behaving that can help us describe a person.

These traits have been named The Big Five: 

  • Openness to experience
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Recent research has suggested a sixth:

  • Honesty-humility.

We are all somewhere on the continuum for each of these traits. Some of us are at the extremes of high or low. Others somewhere in the middle, without a strong preference varying our responses depending on the circumstance. 

We can use these qualities to help us think about ourselves and the characters we create in our fictional works. Let’s look at each trait in turn. (You may wish to tick off the descriptors that describe your protagonist as you read.)


People who are high on this trait are curious and enjoy exploring new experiences and ideas – think Sherlock Holmes or Alice in Wonderland. They ask questions and show a wide range of interests. At the other end of the continuum are those who are less interested in new ideas and cope less well with change, taking security from the familiar. At the extreme think of Miss Haversham in ‘Great Expectations’.

Creative, artistic, inventiveWide range of interestsEnjoys change and varietyOpen-minded, questioningCurious, inquisitiveIntellectual, philosophicalSeeks new experiencesUnconventional, originalDown-to-earth; groundedFocused range of interestsFinds it hard to adaptSet ways of thinkingTakes things at face valueLiteral, factualLikes stability and routineConventional, traditional


Those high on conscientiousness will be reliable, doing what they promise when they say they will. They are organised and good time-managers. Think Mary Poppins. At the other end of this quality, the low scorers are unreliable, fail to meet their commitments and let others down. Think Billy Liar.

Organised, orderedPlans aheadDependable, conscientiousSelf-disciplined, persistentThorough, attends to detailsNeat, tidyPunctual, reliableDisorganised, unstructuredLives in the moment, impulsiveDoesn’t do as promisedDistracted, inattentiveCareless, overlooks detailsMessy, misplaces thingsLate, misses deadlines

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Fear Thesaurus Entry: One’s Genetics

From Writers Helping Writers:

To varying degrees, every person takes steps to stay healthy because no one wants the discomfort and inconvenience of being sick or injured. But not all maladies are created equal. Imagine a character with a genetic predisposition towards a debilitating physical or mental condition. Not knowing if it’s going to crop up for them, or when it will show itself…that uncertainty and fear can create a host of issues that impact the character’s thoughts and how they approach life and the future.

What It Looks Like

  • Frequently visiting the doctor
  • Requesting tests and bloodwork to look for earmarks of the condition
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding potential triggers (alcohol, being in the sun, etc.)
  • Heavily researching the condition
  • Conducting genetic testing to see if the character is at risk
  • Taking vitamins and supplements
  • Quizzing family members about their health
  • Doing frequent self-checks for symptoms associated with the condition
  • Participating in research studies
  • Deciding not to have children
  • Hypochondriac tendencies; believing the condition is presenting when it isn’t
  • Difficulty developing long-term relationships (because the character doesn’t want people around when/if their health deteriorates)
  • Being uncomfortable around people who have the condition
  • Participating in fundraisers to find cures for the condition
  • Avoiding doctors and testing
  • Ignoring any symptoms of the condition
  • Becoming irritated or angry when the subject is brought up
  • Hiding signs that the condition is developing
  • Pretending things aren’t as bad as they are
  • Not making long-term plans for the future

Common Internal Struggles

  • The character feeling like their body or mind has betrayed them
  • Being plagued with visions of what the condition will do to the character
  • Constantly worrying that the condition is starting
  • Worrying about what will happen to the people in the character’s care if the condition develops
  • Wanting to start a family but being too afraid of passing the condition to them
  • Being afraid of the future and what it might bring
  • Wrestling with depression
  • Being angry at God

. . . .

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life

  • Overspending on genetic testing, supplements, experimental treatments, etc.
  • Being unable to enjoy the present because the character is so worried about the future
  • Not preparing adequately for the future (because the character doesn’t see the point)
  • Making life decisions (about marriage, having kids, the pursuit of a dream) based on the condition presenting itself though there is no guarantee that it will
  • Taking drastic measures to ensure the condition doesn’t develop (such as having a hysterectomy to prevent ovarian cancer, though there is no guarantee it will happen for the character)

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

How Writers Fail Part 11: They Want To

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I know, I know. The title is harsh. Because the topic is harsh.

Remember, I have decades worth of experience watching and trying to help writers. And I have learned, to my chagrin, that some writers are beyond help.

Or rather, the help those writers need is beyond anything I or any other writer/mentor can provide.

The writers who are beyond help often ask for help, especially early on. They take classes. They try a few things. They talk a great game. They might know everything that there is to know about writing/publishing/agents or whatever holds their interest.

But when you actually look at what they do, the one thing they do not do is write.

Let me amend that.

They do not write for publication, whatever publication might mean.

There are a handful of these writers who actually write a lot and put it all in a drawer. This has been the behavior of some writers since the dawn of time. Ever hear of Emily Dickinson’s sister? Her niece? Well, they’re the ones who got her work published after she died. (Even that is a long sad story, filled with anger and lawsuits and tampering with the poetry.)

In her lifetime, ten of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published, and some speculate that she had nothing to do with the publications. She wrote the poems, handbound them, and sent them in little booklets to friends and family. Speculation is that some friend or family member had the poems published—anonymously, mind you—because someone believed that Dickinson’s voice should not have been silenced. When asked if her work could be put into a charity anthology or even an anthology of anonymous work, she dithered and ultimately, through dithering, let the opportunity pass.

Does that sound familiar to any of you? That dithering is often the subconscious, worrying about what might happen if something is published.

Whatever fears the writer has—a fear of failure, a fear of success, a fear of being “revealed” for who they really are—mount. The writer simply can’t overcome them, and so, rather than publish, the writer dithers or fails to mail things or indie publish things.

The writer often guarantees their own failure.

I’ve watched so many writers do this. If you don’t try, then you can’t fail on a large level. If you don’t put your work out there, then you won’t have to see that the world won’t fall at your feet just because you published something. If you don’t put your work in print, then you won’t have to see what readers or critics or your friends will say about it.

These fears are paralyzing for many writers (heck, for many creatives in all disciplines). I still run from singing, mostly because singing in public brings memories of my mother. The last time I sang with a group, when I was around 40, we participated in a competition at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

We performed on a riser, and I was toward the back. After I climbed to my position and turned around, I could see the front rows of the audience. And there, for a moment, was my mother. She sat in one of the chairs to the side, a frown on her face. I figured I was seeing a woman who looked like my mother.

We started singing, and the woman who looked like my mother started shaking her head. Then she sighed and rolled her eyes, just like my mother would have.

I made myself look away.

When I looked back, the seat was empty. I doubt anyone had been sitting there. Or maybe I had been right; a woman who looked like my mother sat there briefly.

It didn’t matter. My throat closed up, my voice failed me, and I couldn’t wait to get off that stage.

I haven’t sung in public since.

What would it take to get me to sing in public? I’m not sure. I’ll probably find out in the next few years. I’m hoping to muscle my way past it. But if I can’t, then I know what I would need to do.

Therapy. Talk therapy, focused on exorcising that woman from my brain so that I can enjoy an art form I’ve loved since I was little.

What happened to me on that stage (and on most stages where I had to sing) happens to writers too. Something terrifies them on a deep level about either writing or publishing.

So those writers do what they can to guarantee the failure.

The problem that we creatives have when they have this kind of paralyzing fear is that the fear encompasses success as well as failure. Success—singing on stage in a competition that we were winning—is just as hard if not harder than bombing.

I always expect to bomb when I sing. When I realize that I’m not bombing…well, then the throat seizes up and the voice quits.

It’s not conscious.

Nor is it conscious for a writer who needs to fail to protect themselves. They don’t get to the writing. Or they don’t publish their work. Or they don’t mail it (if they want to be traditionally published).

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

What Actually Makes You a Better Writer?

From Writer Unboxed:

We’re passionate about writing, and that passion makes us want to grow, to get better and better at our craft. Fortunately—or maybe not—there are whole industries devoted to helping us do that.

There are workshops, webinars, courses, programs. Craft books, editing services, conferences, support groups. Some, like the craft essays here on Writer Unboxed, are free.  Others can have price tags of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

It seems reasonable to ask which, if any, of these classes and services actually help people improve their writing. To put it another way: is it “worth” signing up for all those programs and buying all those books? Or, in the end, is it a combination of talent, voice, and persistence—an elusive something that doesn’t lend itself to generalization?

I can’t possibly answer the questions I just posed, of course. But I can offer some reflections to help us explore them together.

First, let’s take a look at the ways that people try to improve their writing. For simplicity, I’ll divide them into two categories: those that focus on turning to “expert” sources outside oneself, and those that focus on turning inward, toward oneself.

External sources: Seeking knowledge and guidance from others

These “writing improvement strategies” are based on the assumption that there are people with more experience, wisdom, and objectivity who can teach us what they know—and thus, by the diligent application of what they advise, we can become better writers.

Sometimes this takes place indirectly—through craft books, courses, workshops, programs, and articles that offer guidelines, templates, lists, pointers.  I call them indirect because the authors and instructors may never see your actual pages; it’s up to you to absorb their advice and figure out how to apply it to your own work.

At other times, the instruction takes place directly when a professional—a teacher, coach, developmental editor, or other experienced mentor— reads your pages and explains what you, specifically, need to do to make it better. Because this kind of assistance is more personalized, it tends to be costlier than the generic advice offered in webinars and books.

Note: Direct advice can also come from non-professionals or semi-professionals, like beta reading services and critique groups. This kind of feedback is not necessarily meant to teach the author how to be a “better writer,” however.  As I wrote in my December 2022 article on this topic: “Unlike editors, there’s no expectation that beta readers will have advice about how to fix whatever weaknesses they find. They’re civilians, proxies for our future readers.”

Internal sources: Cultivating personal qualities, behaviors, and beliefs

Other strategies, in contrast, are based on the assumption that knowledge alone won’t produce better writing; vision, confidence, and perseverance are the fuel, the key to going beyond “technically correct” writing to discover one’s true voice.

This can mean changing one’s habits and behavior—for example, by creating a dedicated writing space where distractions are minimized, or committing to a disciplined, daily writing practice. Sometimes people undertake a structured routine like writing a minimum number of words each day, attending a weekly writing group, keeping a notebook of writing prompts, or making themselves accountable in some other concrete way.

The approach can also be internal, through developing inner qualities like confidence and determination. Belief in oneself can be strengthened by practices such as positive affirmation and meditation, or by participation in a support group.  Inspiration can be strengthened—and resistance or doubt can be overcome—by going to places or engaging in activities that are likely to evoke or renew that special spark.

These two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, of course; many people partake of both.  But there’s also a third way—an approach that’s advocated less often, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps it seems too academic or old-fashioned. Yet I think it has much to offer.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

What readers hate most in books

From The Washington Post:

A few weeks ago, I asked readers of our Book Club newsletter to describe the things that most annoy them in books.

The responses were a tsunami of bile. Apparently, book lovers have been storing up their pet peeves in the cellar for years, just waiting for someone to ask. Hundreds and hundreds of people responded, exceeding my wildest dreams.

Dreams, in fact, are a primary irritation for a number of readers. Such reverie might have worked for Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” or Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but no more, thank you very much. “I absolutely hate dream sequences,” writes Michael Ream. “They are always SO LITERAL,” Jennifer Gaffney adds, “usually an example of lazy writing.”

Laziness may be the underlying cause of several other major irritants.

Historical anachronisms and factual inaccuracies are maddeningly distracting for readers. Karen Viglione Lauterwasser despairs over errors “like calling the divisions in a hockey game quarters or having a pentagon shaped table with six chairs.” Deborah Gravel warns authors that taking a cruise to Alaska is not enough to write a novel about the Last Frontier. Kristi Hart explains that when your characters are boiling maple sap to make syrup, they should not be stirring it. “You just boil it until the sugar content is correct, and then you’re done.”

Sharp-eyed readers are particularly exasperated by typos and grammatical errors. Patricia Tannian, a retired copy editor, writes, “It seems that few authors can spell ‘minuscule’ or know the difference between ‘flout’ and ‘flaunt.’” Katherine A. Powers, Book World’s audiobook reviewer, laments that so many “authors don’t know the difference between ‘lie’ and ‘lay.’”

“If those who write and publish the book won’t make the effort to get it right,” says Jane Ratteree, “the book doesn’t deserve my time and attention.”

And — quelle horreur! — those copy-editing problems aren’t confined to English. The only things readers find more aggravating than untranslated foreign passages are foreign phrases that contain mistakes. “How is it difficult for authors, editors or publishers to find someone who can proof other languages?” asks Irma V. Gonzalez. “I’m fuming as I type this.”

A few words need to be retired or at least sent to the corner of the page for a timeout. Andrew Shaffer — a novelist himself — says no one should use “the word ‘lubricious’ more than once in a book (looking at you, James Hynes).” And don’t get that confused with “lugubrious,” which Wanda Daoust is equally tired of. Meanwhile, Cali Bellini finds that the word “preternatural” is “overused, abused and never necessary.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

What’s your story?

From the London Review of Books:

Forty years ago​, Peter Brooks produced a pathbreaking study, Reading for the Plot, which was part of the so-called narrative turn in literary criticism. Narratology, as it became known, spread swiftly to other disciplines: law, psychology, philosophy, religion, anthropology and so on. But a problem arose when it began to seep into the general culture – or, as Brooks puts it, into ‘the orbit of political cant and corporate branding’. Not since the work of Freud, whose concepts of neurosis, the Oedipal and the unconscious quickly became common currency, has a piece of high theory so readily entered everyday language. The narratologists had given birth to a monster: George W. Bush announced that ‘each person has got their own story that is so unique’; ‘We are all virtuoso novelists,’ the philosopher Daniel Dennett wrote. What Brooks glumly calls ‘the narrative takeover of reality’ was complete.

It isn’t just that everyone now has a story; it’s that everyone is a story. Who you are is the narrative you recount about yourself. Whether the life history of someone forced into sex work reflects their true self, or whether self-narration might also be self-deception, are questions that seemingly don’t trouble this line of argument. What if someone tells contradictory stories about themselves? How do you decide which tales are true? You can’t resort to standards of evidence, coherence, plausibility and so on because these, too, are no more than a fable. Facts, Brooks argues, always come to us embedded in a narrative, which makes it hard to see how they can be used to verify or falsify it. The Russian commentator Margarita Simonyan says that all we have by way of truth is a host of competing anecdotes. This wouldn’t matter so much if Simonyan weren’t the director of the Kremlin’s TV channel. Reports that Vladimir Putin murders his opponents, according to this logic, are no more true or false than stories that he is the reincarnation of Peter the Great. If there is no way of adjudicating between conflicting accounts, those that are backed by the greatest muscle are likely to win out. Brooks rejects this ‘that’s just your story’ relativism, insisting on the difference between what actually happened and the way it is represented.

Everyone these days is on a journey, which can lend some provisional shape to lives without much sense of direction. Humanity was also on a journey in medieval times, but it was a collective expedition with an origin, well signposted stages and a distinct destination. The Enlightenment notion of progress was more open-ended: to imagine an end to human self-perfecting was to deny our infinite potential. This creed was inherited by some 19th-century thinkers – ironically, since the dominant model of development at the time was evolution, which is random, littered with blind alleys and lengthy digressions and heads nowhere in particular.

If you can carve your own path to the grave these days, it is because grand narratives of this kind have crumbled and can no longer constrain you. Journeys are no longer communal but self-tailored, more like hitchhiking than a coach tour. They are no longer mass products but for the most part embarked on alone. The world has ceased to be story-shaped, which means that you can make your life up as you go along. You can own it, just as you can own a boutique. As the current cliché has it, everybody is different, a proposition which if true would spell the end of ethics, sociology, demography, medical science and a good deal besides.

Self-authorship, an idea Shakespeare denounces in Coriolanus, is a fantasy of self-governance in a world where the markets decide who shall starve and who shall grow fat. Brooks’s complaint, however, isn’t only that the idea of narrative has been trivialised, but that some of the tales are malevolent and oppressive. If this is a bleaker, more disenchanted book than Reading for the Plot, it is largely because of Donald Trump, even though the former president isn’t granted the dignity of a mention. It begins with a quotation from Game of Thrones: ‘There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it.’ One assumes that the story Brooks has in mind is a chronicle of America Lost and America Regained, a stolen election and a deep state, paedophile conspiracies and the storming of a citadel. Life-giving fictions have yielded to noxious myths – myths, the book warns, ‘may kill us yet’.

The distinction between fiction and myth is discussed by Frank Kermode in The Sense of an Ending. Roughly speaking, myths are fictions that have forgotten their own fictional status and taken themselves as real. Liberals like Brooks fear being imprisoned by their own convictions, or oppressed by the convictions of others; the ideal is a cognitive dissonance in which one believes and disbelieves at the same time, rather as Othello thinks Desdemona is faithful to him and also thinks she is not. Since reading fiction involves a suspension of disbelief, it can show us how to attain this dual consciousness. The problem is to distinguish this ambivalence from simply feeling lukewarm about something. Can you really be passionately anti-sexist yet sceptical of your own anti-sexism?

Brooks also refers to myths as ideology, but makes the classic liberal mistake of overlooking his own. Along with most Americans, he probably believes in Nato, the free market and private education, but it’s unlikely he would call this an ideology. Like halitosis, ideology is what the other guy has. Perhaps ideology is a more ‘extremist’ creed than one usually encounters, which is the way the state viewed the suffragettes and slave-owners the advocates of emancipation. Or maybe ideology is a more systematic form of discourse than one overhears on the bus, although geometry could also be described as a system of ideas and nobody thinks it’s ideological.

Link to the rest at London Review of Books

PG notes that the author of the OP has written the following book:

A Newspaper Taught Hemingway to Write

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ernest Hemingway worked at the Kansas City Star for less than seven months—between graduating from high school in 1917 and driving a World War I ambulance in 1918—but the job launched him as a professional writer, and he knew how much he owed to the newspaper’s style guide.

“Those were the best rules that I ever learned for the business of writing,” he said in 1940. “I’ve never forgotten them. No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them.”

Style guides provide publications with standards of grammar and usage. They often correct common blunders, such as mistaking “who” for “whom.” They also settle disputable questions: Is it “French fries” or “french fries”? A good style guide will offer an answer, encouraging consistency across sections, editions, and, nowadays, webpages.

Trouble can arise when a style guide turns sanctimonious. The Associated Press, which maintains perhaps the most influential style guide in the U.S., recently recommended against using such terms as “the French” and “the poor” because they are “dehumanizing.” Online mockery compelled the AP to revoke the bit about “the French,” but it held fast on calling for the elimination of “the poor,” even though the King James Bible insists that “ye have the poor with you always.”

Hemingway’s spare prose sometimes is said to reflect the simple words and concrete images of that famous version of the bible, but the style guide of the Kansas City Star probably played a larger role in shaping his writing. Its opening instructions are both excellent advice for writers and a good introduction to Hemingway’s technique: “Use short sentences. Use short paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.”

That’s the first of 110 precepts, printed in small type on a single sheet of paper. “They gave you this to study when you went to work,” recalled Hemingway. “After that you were just as responsible for having learned it as after you’ve had the articles of war read to you.”

Some of the Star’s edicts are broad and familiar: “Don’t split infinitives.” Others are precise: “Be careful of the word ‘only.’ ‘He only had $10,’ means he alone was the possessor of such wealth.’ ‘He had only $10,’ means the ten was all the cash he possessed.”

A few are antiquated: “Indorsement of a candidate, not endorsement” and “Motor car is preferred but automobile is not incorrect.” The Star also had a sense of humor: “He died of heart disease, not heart failure—everybody dies of ‘heart failure.’ ”

One of the Star’s pronouncements sounds like a forerunner to the AP’s recent dictum: “Say crippled boy, but not a cripple.” Perhaps, as the King James Bible puts it in Ecclesiastes, “there really is no new thing under the sun.” And editors always will have to make judgment calls.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG sees no problems with “the poor.” Even applying his most extreme lawyerly nitpickery, he can’t see that “the poor” is dehumanizing.

When an individual refers to “the poor,” she/he/they are not referring to poor oak trees or poor Cocapoos. They are referring to poor human beings, those with limited money who are unable to afford to care for themselves.

If you were to ask a thousand native English-speakers who or what “the poor” is referring to, every one of them would reply that the term refers to poor people.

PG just double-checked his much-faded memories of college French to confirm that les pauvres is how Parisians refer to the poor and everyone knows that Parisians are the most refined, discerning and sensitive people in the world so that term must be correct.

Ergo, The Associated Press Style Guide and its ideas about what is dehumanizing is full of les haricots.

Genre Tips: How to Write Fantasy

From Writers Helping Writers:

Genre is an important consideration for any writer. Not only can identifying your story’s genre (and perhaps subgenre) help you create cohesion and resonance amongst your plot, character arcs, and theme, it will also be a crucial piece of information when it comes time to market your story to readers. Today, I’m opening a five-part series examining major fiction genres, beginning with, “How to write fantasy?”

Last fall, I asked you to tell me what topics you’d most like to see featured here on the site. One that was repeatedly mentioned was that of genre tips. I haven’t written much about genre before, in part because most of the tips and techniques I teach here are not genre-specific and can be directly applied or modified to fit any type of story. Also, I do not consider myself a genre expert. There are some genres I read hardly at all (such as horror) that I can’t comment on. There are other genres (such as romance) that are so specialized that their guidelines are often much more specific than for other genres. And there are, simply, many genres (such as mystery) that, although I may read or watch them, I do not personally write them and therefore don’t have a great depth of experience or knowledge about their inner workings.

That said, because genre is an inevitably important topic for writers to consider and because so many of you asked for my take, I thought it would be fun to go on a whirlwind tour of five major genres: Fantasy, Romance, Historical, Mystery, and Literary. In each installment, I will be looking at unique considerations for the Big Three—plot, character, and theme—as well as any other particular pitfalls or pointers I’ve gleaned from my own experience with these stories.

5 Tips for How to Write Fantasy

We begin with one of my personal favorite genres: fantasy. Three out of five of my published novels have some element of fantasy, and the WIP I am working on at the moment is my second full-blown fantasy. The genre is broad with many subgenres but always includes some fantastical element—something magical or foreign that does not exist in reality. This fantastical element may be inserted into our own world (as in subgenres I’ve personally explored, such as portal fantasy, dieselpunk, or gaslamp fantasy). Or, more strictly, the entire world and premise may be based on a fantasy world. Classically, this fantasy world is often medieval in nature, but in recent decades fantasy worlds have become much more diverse in source inspiration.

Fantasy is a milieu genre, which means the genre trappings can provide the backdrop to many types of stories. For example, beats of a romance or mystery can take place within fantasy milieu. More traditionally, fantasy is known for its epic stories of quests and conquests in the style of myths and legends or archetypal journeys (such as the Hero’s Journey). In this post, I will be primarily talking about this more traditional type of epic fantasy. Other fantasy subgenres will draw upon classic fantasy tropes, but will blend them with those of other genres.

Beginnings in Fantasy: Do You Need a Prologue?

Back in the day, it seemed like a prologue was almost a required trope for a fantasy novel. Mostly these prologues were used to explain some of the world lore or perhaps ancient backstory, in order to get readers up to speed with the rules and history of the story. I feel like we’re not seeing quite as many prologues these days, and on the whole I count this as a good thing, since fantasy stories often seemed particularly prone to all the pitfalls of a prologue.

The most common pitfall is the prologue functioning as a prettified (and sometimes not-so-prettified) info dump. In a huge fantasy story, sometimes there is no good way around this. But usually there are much more artful ways to share information. One thing to keep in mind is that the readership of fantasy has evolved greatly over the past 70 years or so. This is now a mainstream genre with highly familiar tropes. Readers understand they are entering a new world, and they know how to pick up cues about the setting and the world as they follow the characters around. They won’t need to have everything spelled out for them in the very beginning; doing so can, in fact, harm your story’s subtext.

That said, many successful prologues exist to hook readers into the story, rather than to exercise the author’s self-indulgence or insecurity about the world details. The same rules apply to prologues as to the beginning of any story, but the chief thing to keep in mind is that whenever you include a prologue, you are asking readers to begin your story twice, since they will have to start all over with the story’s “real” scenario in the first chapter. Just make sure you’ve hooked them in both the prologue and the first chapter.

For Example: The prologues in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles function solely as hooks, showing readers the mysterious and compelling contrast between the teenage protagonist in the main part of the book and the legend he grows into.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers Become Authors

5 Tips for How to Return to Writing After a Long Break

From Helping Writers Become Authors:

Making a return to writing after a long time away can feel overwhelming or even bewildering. Depending on the reasons for your break, you may be confronting a wide array of emotions—everything from anticipation and excitement to trepidation and confusion. If you find yourself worried or uncertain about how to proceed, the first step is simply to acknowledge those feelings.

As you may know, I recently returned to fiction writing after a lengthy break. My break was precipitated by the stress of difficult life circumstances, combined with writer’s block from a complicated story. The first few years of my break were filled with lots of fighting with myself about the fact that I should be writing; the last few years were spent in what I called a “conscious sabbatical.” Needless to say, rediscovering the desire to write was a long and arduous journey, full of unforgettable vistas and plenty of plot twists.

By the time I knew I wanted to write again and knew I what I wanted to write, I had lived through four years and two moves. I wasn’t the same person as when I last set down the pen. So much difficulty and pain had surrounded my writing during those years that even though I now wanted to write and was ready to write, I knew I would have to carefully reintroduce myself to the process. I would have to be willing to not just remember how I used to do things, but also to discover and invent brand-new approaches.

I share this post today not just because it is pertinent to where I am in my own writing journey, but because I received a request from Annette Taylor on the same subject:

My question is, how to start writing again after time away? I took care of my mom and was too exhausted to write. Now I work and still have no time but an hour or two on Saturday. Where do I start? I forgot half the knowledge I learned when I first started. I am writing but something is missing. Should I give up?

For starters, I will say that only an individual can determine what is right for his or her circumstances. But if you decide the time isn’t right (or may never be right) to return to your writing, this isn’t giving up. Rather, I would say you are choosing to embrace change. You are choosing to be present with who you are now and to nurture that person—until it is time for the next change.

However, the resistance and confusion you feel could also just be the result of returning to a place you have not visited in a very long time. Couple that with the weight of all the reasons you needed to take a break, as well as the pressure of regathering all your ideas, skills, knowledge, and discipline—and… it’s a lot. When you’re first dipping your toe back in the water, it’s important to take it easy and to make sure you’re avoiding any piranhas.

1. Start Slow and Easy

As I geared up to return to a regular writing practice, I knew I needed to be both gentle and strategic with myself. I needed to make plans and create systems that would set me up for success. When we think about “writing,” most of our focus often goes to the finer points of theory and technique—to getting the story “right.” But the process of writing deserves just as much of our attention. If we haven’t set up a process that encourages our own individual creative flow, we can sabotage ourselves before we even get to technique. For me, I knew I needed to at least temporarily dial back my own natural intensity by starting slow and easy.

Partly, this meant choosing a story that felt “easy” to write—one I was excited about but also one that was not too complex or outside my comfort zone. One of the final turning points out of my writer’s block was my decision to write an idea I had for a fantasy story that was more in the style of a “fairy tale.” Really, this was just personal semantics, but it helped me zero in on a less complex version of the story’s plot, geography, and magic system. This was particularly important for me, since I’d burned myself out on all of these things in the story I’d been working on previously.

More than that, I didn’t want to throw myself into a difficult writing schedule right off the bat. An anecdote: years ago, I used to skip rope for ten minutes every morning. When I first started, I felt like there was no way I could keep going for that long. So I didn’t even try. Instead, I started the first day by skipping for just one minute, which was totally within my power. Every day, I added just one minute. By Day 10, I was skipping for ten minutes with little to no mental resistance. Ever since then whenever I’m feeling resistance to the time or effort involved in a new undertaking, I always try to apply some variation of this approach.

In the old days, I disciplined myself to write two hours a day, five days a week. When I was first getting back into my writing, that just felt like too much. I decided I would write for an hour, since I knew from experience I generally need at least that long to really get into my writing and feel I’ve made progress. But an hour isn’t so long that I feel resistance or the urge to procrastinate whenever I sit down. From there, I knew I could build up to lengthier spans of time with much less resistance.

Your Takeaway: Each person’s “easy” amount of time to start off with will vary. For some, an hour may seem way too challenging or even unavailable. If so, start with half an hour or ten minutes. Start with one minute! If you add a minute every day, as I did with my rope skipping, you can up your time relatively quickly with little resistance.

Link to the rest at Helping Writers to Become Authors

PG speculates that many people who are their own bosses, as all writers who don’t receive a paycheck every couple of weeks are, may be of particular risk for burning themselves out.

Lawyers are certainly at risk of burnout if their earnings are based upon how much work they do and how good that work is. Ditto for many physicians.

PG doesn’t know if dentists are a burnout-endangered group or not. All of PG’s dentists have seemed pretty mellow, which may be a side-benefit of talking to patients who can’t disagree when their mouths are populated by various dental tools.

From PG’s vantage point extending over thousands of years, some people can work all the time, at least for awhile, but eventually, they either become impossible to be around because they have spent their lives focused on a single thing or they have some sort of collapse.

Neural Imaging Reveals Secret Conversational Cues

From Wired:

STUDYING HUMAN CONVERSATIONS isn’t a simple challenge. For instance, when humans start to talk to one another in a conversation, they coordinate their speech very tightly—people very rarely talk over one another, and they rarely leave long, unspoken, silent gaps. A conversation is like a dance with no choreography and no music—spontaneous but structured. To support this coordination, the people having the conversation begin to align their breath, their eye gaze, their speech melody and their gestures. 

To understand this complexity, studying research participants in a lab looking at computer screens—the traditional setup of psychology experiments—isn’t enough. We need to study how people behave naturally in the real world, using novel measurement techniques that allow us to capture their neural and physiological responses. For instance, Antonia Hamilton, a neuroscientist at University College Londond, has recently used motion capture to identify a pattern of very rapid nods that listeners make to show that they are paying attention when someone is speaking. Hamilton shows that the interaction is improved by these subtle signals, but what’s also fascinating is that although the speakers can actually perceive this information, these body signals are not discernible to the naked eye.

In 2023, we will also finally be able to start capturing neural data while people are moving and talking to each other. This isn’t easy: Brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) involve inserting participants inside 12-ton brain scanners. A recent study, however, managed that with a cohort of autistic participants. This paper represents a terrific achievement, but, of course, until fMRI techniques become much smaller and more mobile, it is not going to be possible to see how the neural data relates to the pattern of movements and speech in conversations, ideally between both participants in a conversation. On the other hand, a different technique—called functional near infrared dpectroscopy (fNIRS)—can be used while people move around naturally. fNIRS measures the same index of neural activity as fMRI via optodes, which shine light through the scalp and analyze the reflected light. fNIRS has already been deployed while people performed tasks outdoors in central London, proving that this method can be used to gather neural data in parallel with movement and speech data, while people interact naturally.

. . . .

These breakthroughs will represent great strides in the scientific study of human conversation, one of the most fascinating areas of cognitive neuroscience and psychology. Of course, I’m slightly biased: I have studied human speech perception and production for decades, and I think conversations are where our linguistic, social, and emotional brain processes come together. Conversations are universal, and they are the main way that humans use to manage social interactions and connections. They matter hugely to our mental and our physical health. When we can fully crack the science of conversations, we’ll have come a long way to understanding ourselves.

Link to the rest at Wired

As PG commented about an earlier post on this topic, he wonders if ultimately, this sort of research will influence the writing of dialogue.

Just the Facts? Not in Historical Fiction.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When I pitched One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny in October 2020, I had no idea that Operation Mincemeat, a movie about the same subject matter, would be released in early 2022, just a few months before One Woman’s War was due out.

Both fictional works are based on a real British Naval Intelligence operation of World War II, where a corpse dressed as a royal marine was left in waters off the coast of Spain. The deceased marine carried papers suggesting that the European invasion would take place via Greece, rather than the true landing point of Sicily. Spoiler: German spies got hold of the documents and Hitler fell for the ruse, diverting troops from Sicily to Greece. Many thousands of Allied lives were saved as a result.

There have since been several retellings of this eccentric operation. The truth has all of the trappings of a good, old-fashioned spy story, perhaps because the mastermind behind it was destined to become one of the best-known thriller writers of all time: James Bond author Ian Fleming. When real events unfold like fiction, it becomes the task of the fiction writer to make those real events seem plausible. But do authors of historical fiction have a greater duty to readers not to stray too far from the truth than filmmakers have to their audiences?

Avid readers of historical fiction seem to demand historical accuracy in every particular—or at least in the particulars in which those readers, themselves, happen to be experts. Yet even the keenest historical pedant has low expectations of anything out of Hollywood. These movies exist to entertain not teach.

However, people do expect greater adherence to the facts in novels. They want to experience history. Readers of historical fiction want to see events unfold through the protagonist’s eyes and feel the characters’ emotions. Whether they are conscious of it or not, historical novel readers crave a narrative that has conflict, meaning, and some sort of dramatic arc, even though real life might have a lot of the first and none at all of the second and third.

. . . .

In the case of Operation Mincemeat, fortunately for screenwriters and authors alike, the bare facts of the strategic effort provide a strong plot. Still, a little creative intervention was needed at certain points to turn those facts into a novel.

A common problem I see in war novels occurs when a significant part of the action takes place in theaters in which none of the main characters are present. This is particularly difficult when writing from a first-person or close-third-person point of view.

There were two aspects to this problem for Operation Mincemeat. The first was a lack of direct, active conflict with the enemy when all of the planning for the operation took place in London. The second was that the events unfolding in Spain and Germany needed to be conveyed to the audience somehow, even though the main characters didn’t witness them.

Both the filmmakers and I chose to depart from the facts here and create a story thread that brings the enemy to London in some form—mine is in the guise of another point-of-view character, an Austrian double agent based in London, who is given the task of verifying the intelligence from the corpse and reporting back to German high command. In the movie, the enemy comes to London in the form of the bartender at the Gargoyle Club who claims to be working for a disaffected group from German military intelligence.

As for the action that takes place in Spain and Berlin, in the film, the story briefly shifts to Spain and is told from the point of view of a character we haven’t seen much of until that point—a technique a novelist would find far more difficult to get away with. I decided to convey the same information in an active—though not historically accurate—way, sending my Austrian double agent first to Portugal, then to Berlin, where she could be privy to Nazi intelligence gathering and analysis.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy

From Grammarly Blog:

The foundation of any logical argument is at least one credible, logical source to support it. You use a logical fallacy when you support your claim with an illogical source. There are a lot of logical fallacies out there, all of which fail to support their arguers’ claims. However, while many rely on inadequate or irrelevant reasons to support their claims, one of them relies on the lack of any evidence that disproves the claim. This fallacy is known as the appeal to ignorance fallacy. 

What is the appeal to ignorance fallacy?

The appeal to ignorance fallacy is the logical fallacy of claiming that a statement must be true because there’s no evidence against it. It can look like this: 

  • There are ghosts in our attic; nobody’s been able to prove they aren’t there. 
  • Masha’s doing a great job as team captain since nobody complained about her. 
  • There’s no way to prove the lost city of Atlantis didn’t exist, which is a reason to believe it could have existed. 

With the appeal to ignorance fallacy, the arguer doesn’t provide evidence to support their claim. Instead, they shift the burden of proof to the other party, implying that a lack of proof to the contrary means their claim must be true. 

The burden of proof is the obligation one has to prove their claim is true. It’s a legal concept used in both criminal and civil courts. In criminal law, an individual accused of a crime is considered innocent until they are proven guilty. The burden of proof here is on the prosecution to demonstrate that the individual committed the offense they are accused of. In civil court, the burden of proof is on any plaintiff making a claim, such as an individual claiming they slipped and suffered an injury because of a property owner’s failure to maintain a safe environment. 

In discourse, the burden of proof applies in a similar way. When you make a claim, you’re obligated to support it with credible sources—it’s not your opponent’s job to prove you wrong. 

The appeal to ignorance fallacy, along with other “appeal to” fallacies like the appeal to pity fallacy, is an informal fallacy. That means the claim’s content, rather than its structure, renders the claim illogical. Other informal fallacies include the bandwagon fallacy, the sunk cost fallacy, and the slippery slope fallacy

How is the appeal to ignorance fallacy used?

Speakers and writers use the appeal to ignorance fallacy in just about every type of writing and nonwritten communication. You’ve likely encountered it in conversations, blog posts, online discussions, and even from high-ranking officials. Sometimes, it’s used to defend an action, rather than to support a claim. Here is an example: 

  • I’ve never fallen off my bike before, so there’s no reason for me to start wearing a helmet when I ride. 

Although the appeal to ignorance fallacy is often used to support claims (sometimes in bad faith), this isn’t the only way it’s used. Sometimes, it’s used in rhetoric to sow seeds of doubt about an idea in readers’ minds. This is similar to the strategy of raising doubts, which can sound like this: 

  • Although I was the only staff member scheduled to be here, we can’t rule out the idea that somebody else entered the building last night and ate all the cookies. 

It can also be used in a nonfallacious manner. Think back to our discussion about the burden of proof and the idea that an individual who is accused of a crime is innocent until they are proven guilty. It hinges on the same concept as an appeal to ignorance argument—that unless a fact can be proven, we must accept that the opposite at least can be true. 

Whether an appeal to ignorance is fallacious or not, as with other fallacies that also have nonfallacious applications, depends on how and where it’s used. While the idea that somebody is innocent until they are proven guilty is a key component of our justice system, that same logic wouldn’t hold up in a research paper. In a research paper, like other types of academic writing, the burden of proof is on the author to support any claim they make. 

Appeal to ignorance fallacy examples

The university never sent you a rejection letter, so you’ve probably been accepted. 

I always leave my car unlocked, and nobody’s ever broken in. It’s fine to leave your car unlocked. 

Doctors can’t explain how he recovered. It must have been through our prayers. 

Student 1: Why should I join your organization?

Student 2: Why shouldn’t you?

Link to the rest at Grammarly Blog

The worst sentence structure on the planet

From Nathan Bransford:

David Owen of The New Yorker and I should absolutely go bowling together because he has written an exhaustive screed against front-loaded, somersaulting sentences, which has a surprising history with roots in journalism and misguided “elegant variation.” David my man, tell it like it is:

The awkwardness is obvious if you imagine hearing one in conversation. No one has ever said to you, “A sophomore at Cornell, my niece is coming home for Christmas,” or “Sixty-six years old, my wife is an incredible cook.” Either sentence, if spoken, would sound almost comical, as though the speaker were struggling to learn English. (You wouldn’t use one in an e-mail or a text to a friend, either.) Yet, if you were writing an obituary for your college’s alumni magazine, let’s say, you wouldn’t hesitate: “A standout schoolboy athlete, he ran his family’s door-and-window business.”

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child—the kind who could hum a Bach concerto but couldn’t (snip)

Were you moved to want more?

. . . .

I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for January 22, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus compelling?

My vote: Yes-ish.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Once again, an inviting voice lured me into turning the page. This character reads like an interesting person, and she does have a trouble—feeling that her life was over. But she takes good care, as far as we can see, of an exceptional child, her daughter. Much to admire in this character, and plenty of interest for me. I wanted to learn more about how she would handle her emotional distress. And, having been a child who read early much like Madeline does, in finding out more about her, too.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Would You Turn the First Page of this Bestseller?

From Writer Unboxed:

Trained by reading hundreds of submissions, editors and agents often make their read/not-read decision on the first page. In a customarily formatted book manuscript with chapters starting about 1/3 of the way down the page (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type), there are 16 or 17 lines on the first page.

Here’s the question:

Would you pay good money to read the rest of the chapter? With 50 chapters in a book that costs $15, each chapter would be “worth” 30 cents.

So, before you read the excerpt, take 30 cents from your pocket or purse. When you’re done, decide what to do with those three dimes or the quarter and a nickel. It’s not much, but think of paying 30 cents for the rest of the chapter every time you sample a book’s first page. In a sense, time is money for a literary agent working her way through a raft of submissions, and she is spending that resource whenever she turns a page.

Please judge by storytelling quality, not by genre or content—some reject an opening page immediately because of genre, but that’s not a good-enough reason when the point is to analyze for storytelling strength.

How strong is the opening page of this novel—would it, all on its own, hook an agent if it was submitted by an unpublished writer?

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big wars were over and the secret wars had just begun and people were starting to think fresh and believe everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Despite that certainty, she made her way to the lab to pack her daughter’s lunch.

Fuel for learning, Elizabeth Zott wrote on a small slip of paper before tucking it into her daughter’s lunch box. Then she paused, her pencil in midair, as if reconsidering. Play sports at recess but do not automatically let the boys win, she wrote on another slip. Then she paused again, tapping her pencil against the table. It is not your imagination, she wrote on a third. Most people are awful. She placed the last two on top.

Most young children can’t read, and if they can, it’s mostly words like “dog” and “go.” But Madeline had been reading since age three and, now, at age five, was already through most of Dickens.

Madeline was that kind of child—the kind who could hum a Bach concerto but couldn’t (snip)

Were you moved to want more?

  • Yes, I want more of this character and her story. (79%, 116 Votes)
  • No, didn’t take hold of me. (21%, 30 Votes)

Total Voters: 146

. . . .

I’ve found this to be a great way to evaluate a narrative that is borderline on the first page and see if it’s worth my coin.

This novel was number one on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list for January 22, 2023. Were the opening pages of the first chapter of Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus compelling?

My vote: Yes-ish.

This book received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Once again, an inviting voice lured me into turning the page. This character reads like an interesting person, and she does have a trouble—feeling that her life was over. But she takes good care, as far as we can see, of an exceptional child, her daughter. Much to admire in this character, and plenty of interest for me. I wanted to learn more about how she would handle her emotional distress. And, having been a child who read early much like Madeline does, in finding out more about her, too.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Just the Facts? Not In Historical Fiction.

From Publisher’s Weekly:

When I pitched One Woman’s War: A Novel of the Real Miss Moneypenny in October 2020, I had no idea that Operation Mincemeat, a movie about the same subject matter, would be released in early 2022, just a few months before One Woman’s War was due out.

Both fictional works are based on a real British Naval Intelligence operation of World War II, where a corpse dressed as a royal marine was left in waters off the coast of Spain. The deceased marine carried papers suggesting that the European invasion would take place via Greece, rather than the true landing point of Sicily. Spoiler: German spies got hold of the documents and Hitler fell for the ruse, diverting troops from Sicily to Greece. Many thousands of Allied lives were saved as a result.

There have since been several retellings of this eccentric operation. The truth has all of the trappings of a good, old-fashioned spy story, perhaps because the mastermind behind it was destined to become one of the best-known thriller writers of all time: James Bond author Ian Fleming. When real events unfold like fiction, it becomes the task of the fiction writer to make those real events seem plausible. But do authors of historical fiction have a greater duty to readers not to stray too far from the truth than filmmakers have to their audiences?

Avid readers of historical fiction seem to demand historical accuracy in every particular—or at least in the particulars in which those readers, themselves, happen to be experts. Yet even the keenest historical pedant has low expectations of anything out of Hollywood. These movies exist to entertain not teach.

However, people do expect greater adherence to the facts in novels. They want to experience history. Readers of historical fiction want to see events unfold through the protagonist’s eyes and feel the characters’ emotions. Whether they are conscious of it or not, historical novel readers crave a narrative that has conflict, meaning, and some sort of dramatic arc, even though real life might have a lot of the first and none at all of the second and third.

In the case of Operation Mincemeat, fortunately for screenwriters and authors alike, the bare facts of the strategic effort provide a strong plot. Still, a little creative intervention was needed at certain points to turn those facts into a novel.

A common problem I see in war novels occurs when a significant part of the action takes place in theaters in which none of the main characters are present. This is particularly difficult when writing from a first-person or close-third-person point of view.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Not Writing? Have You Ego-Trapped Yourself?

From Writer Unboxed:

If you’re in a non-writing phase and frustrated, several recent Writer Unboxed posts might speak to your lack of production. They address the seasonal nature of writing careers, the need to respect creative limitations, and how to cope when life gets in the way.

This is all well and good. I support this advice one hundred percent.

But what if, as per Kelsey Allagood’s recent post, some part of you knows fatigue and overwhelm aren’t your issue? What if somehow, despite a calendar that could be cleared and an express desire to write, your efforts can best be described as lackluster? What if encouragement doesn’t help but only deepens your shame and guilt?

Part of you knows you’ve been pulled into a self-destructive and self-sabotaging loop, yet you can’t figure out how to stop.

I’ve been here. It was a nasty experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Thankfully, I worked myself out of it and learned some Jedi mind tricks that have thus far prevented a recurrence. Knock wood.

But recently I stumbled across an evolutionary psychology podcast that might have spared me a good amount of suffering. It explained:

  1. the psychological dynamic at work, dubbed the Ego Trap by Dr. Doug Lisle
  2. why certain circumstances turn self-sabotage into a very sensible strategy, and
  3. potential methods to escape it, or avoid entrapment altogether.

Today, I’d like to paraphrase Dr. Lisle’s theory, then describe how I see it applying to the writing world.

So This Hunter Walks Onto a Plain…

Let’s begin with a story set back in the Stone Age, when evolution shaped humanity’s current brain structure.

Imagine you are an able-bodied male and you’ve just reached the age of sexual maturity. You’re familiar with hunting implements and tactics, and you’ve participated in endless hunting parties with the other men of the village. Until now, between your size and talents, you have served in a supportive role.

Then one day, your spear flies true. You bring down the biggest, baddest beastie of them all.

Tradition demands that your contribution be honored. During tonight’s feast, you are served first, even before the village potentate. And your portion is enormous. Easily the biggest of your life.

Further, your social situation has improved. When you look around the fire, meat juices dribbling down your chin, men eye you with hitherto unfamiliar respect. And a whole cadre of previously inaccessible females are suddenly willing to flirt.

Why the change? Well, from an evolutionary perspective, today’s success signifies you might carry valuable genes their offspring can inherit, and that you’ll be a capable provider to your family and your community.

The Hijacked Brain

Evolutionary psychology says that your brain is an unsentimental cost-benefit calculator. In any given situation at any given time, it looks at available options and chooses the path which optimizes for survival and reproduction. (NOT for happiness, you’ll note, though sometimes happiness and evolutionary priorities can coexist.)

Q: So when the next hunting opportunity arises, how should you react?

A: That depends.

If you are confident in your hunting abilities, you’ll likely be eager to replicate your impressive performance. You’ll do this despite the risks of being trampled or gored because the extended mating and trading opportunities are too substantial to pass up.

If you’re less confident, you’ll be slower to pick up your spear—and perhaps more cautious in its use—but you’ll probably still abide by social norms and participate in the hunt.

But what if part of you thinks your success wasn’t earned? What if you tripped as your spear left your hand, or past athletic efforts indicate that you aren’t that coordinated or talented? Some part of you attributes your success to sheer dumb luck, and you hold little hope of a spontaneous recurrence.

What’s the smart response then?

From a happiness perspective, we should probably go on the hunt while acknowledging our limitations, and help out as we’re able. Then we can work on our self-actualization elsewhere, perhaps in an arena that proves useful to the village, like inventing a more effective spear.

From the evolutionary perspective, however, the only calculus that makes sense is to hang onto your unearned status for as long as possible, using that “stolen” time to gain extra survival resources or impregnate another high-quality female.

That’s why we carry genetic programing that will quietly suggest a delaying strategy. Be exposed for your mediocrity another day, it will urge you. Funnily enough, circumstances will often conspire to assist. (Important: It’s not necessary for this to be a conscious decision. In fact, it often isn’t.)

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Writing Insecure Characters

From Writers Helping Writers:

Angela Ackerman and I got our start telling anyone who was interested (and some who weren’t) what we’d learned about the importance of showing a character’s feelings. So I’ll start with a quote from The Emotion Thesaurus about why it’s so important for every author to get this right:

All successful novels, no matter what genre, have one thing in common: emotion. It lies at the core of every character’s decision, action, and word, all of which drive the story. Without emotion, a character’s personal journey is pointless. Stakes cease to exist. The plot line becomes a dry riverbed of meaningless events that no reader will take time to read. Why? Because above all else, readers pick up a book to have an emotional experience.

But they don’t want to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves. To make this happen, we must ensure that our characters express their feelings in ways that are both recognizable and compelling to read.

. . . .

How we convey a character’s emotional state is vital to the reader’s experience. They don’t want to be bashed over the head with this information, nor do they appreciate clunky methods that jerk them out of the story. This is where show-don’t-tell comes into play. Show the character’s emotion through their natural responses to it, and readers will figure it out on their own. Use universal responses, and you’ll have the added benefit of readers connecting to the character through a sense of shared experience.

Insecurity: No One’s Favorite Feeling

Personally, I’m not a fan of this emotion. It’s uncomfortable, embarrassing, and makes me feel weak. But I love it for my characters because it inherently builds empathy. Every reader on the planet has experienced insecurity—often at crucial moments—and they know how awful it is. Seeing someone they care about stumbling through it tugs at the reader’s heartstrings and makes them root for that character. 

Insecurity is also important because it often plays into the character’s arc. Maybe they want to reach for a goal but don’t feel worthy of attaining it. Or they desperately want esteem and recognition from others but they’re too scared of failure to make the effort. Typically, it’s this very insecurity the character will have to overcome if they want to win in the story, so you definitely want to include it.

If your character is going to struggle with this emotion, it’s important to be able to show it clearly. And the best way to do this is for them to respond to it with one of the following tells.


Insecurity is never comfortable. Your character would much rather be seen as confident and capable, so when they’re feeling the opposite, they’re going to try and hide it. One way they might do this is through overcompensating. 

We often see this with characters who fit the macho stereotype: bullies, jocks, divas, CEOs, world leaders, etc. For popular examples, look at many of Stephen King’s minor villains, who tend to throw their weight around to hide their weaknesses. Harold Lauder (The Stand) is condescending and off-putting, leaning on his intelligence to overcome his physical shortcomings. Percy Wetmore (The Green Mile) disguises his cowardice and inadequacy by becoming a corrections officer, where he can bully the death-row inmates, who are at his mercy.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

“Meaningless Buzzwords”?

From Daily Writing Tips:

I read that a political commentator, whom I will not name, asserts that five particular terms are “meaningless buzzwords.” Labeling these particular words “buzzwords” sent me to my language sources to discover whether my understanding of the word is faulty.

Here are definitions from my two main dictionaries.

buzzwordnoun, Originally and chiefly U.S. a keyword, a catchword or expression currently fashionable; a term used more to impress than to inform, especially, a technical or jargon term.—Oxford English Dictionary

buzzwordnoun, an important-sounding usually technical word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen. —Merriam-Webster

To my mind, buzzwords are of two kinds.

One kind—the most common—is a deliberately pretentious term used in place of a more obvious choice. The word is perfectly appropriate in another, specialized context. For example, “granular” for detailed or “optics” for appearances.

But residents thinking about future Sandy-like events need granular specificity.

Optics over ethics never ends well, and being a jerk doesn’t make you a leader.

The other kind of buzzword can be a new coinage, like metaverse. Whereas buzzwords drawn from professional terminology or jargon can be replaced by more familiar words, new terms like “metaverse” must be defined by the earliest writers using them. Nowadays, most readers probably take the word metaverse in stride, but in July 2021, authors of a tech article in the New York Times thought it necessary to explain it.

Remember hearing about “the internet”? Get ready for “the metaverse.”

The term comes from digital antiquity: Coined by the writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash,” then reimagined as the Oasis in the Ernest Cline novel “Ready Player One,” it refers to a fully realized digital world that exists beyond the analog one in which we live.

As a buzzword, the metaverse refers to a variety of virtual experiences, environments and assets that gained momentum during the online-everything shift of the pandemic. –NYT, 7 July 2021.

Buzzwords are a type of jargon. At best, a buzzword describes something new that requires a new definition. At worst, it is the unexpected use of a word out of its usual context with the aim of dazzling or intimidating listeners.

. . . .

Now for the words that prompted this post.

All the words listed as “meaningless buzzwords” by the political columnist are omnipresent in the media, but they are the usual words for what they denote: racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia.

racism: a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

bigotry: obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.

xenophobia: fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

homophobia: hostility towards, prejudice against, or (less commonly) fear of homosexual people or homosexuality.

Islamopobia: intense dislike or fear of Islam, especially as a political force; hostility or prejudice towards Muslims.

The Ngram Viewer reveals an interesting timescape for the words.

The word racism has been a significant presence in printed matter since 1960. It shows a marked plateau in the 1980s, a dip in the early 2000s, and a steady rise from 2010.

The word bigotry shows a decline from 1826 to 2013 and then an uptick in 2014.

The word xenophobia peaked in 2002 and again in 2018.

Link to the rest at from Daily Writing Tips

PG is not certain whether another online NGram Viewer exists, but Google has a lovely one.

Chaos and Creating Fiction

From Writer Unboxed:

Some fiction manuscripts read as if they follow something that in mathematics is called a linear equation.  A linear equation describes a situation that is ordered and predictable.  Cause leads to effect.  One thing follows another.  One or more elements in a linear equation (X or Y) may be unknown but they are discoverable.  Just follow the steps.

In a linear equation, the outcome is pleasing but not a surprise. The answer sought was embedded in the equation all along.  Once you’re locked into a linear equation, there’s only one way in which things can go.  Getting through the problem is a mechanical exercise.  You know that your effort will be rewarded.  In the end, you will be satisfied but no more than that.

Chaos Theory is different.  It’s nonlinear.  It deals with randomness.  Most of nature and pretty much all human activity is chaotic.  Everything from crowds to cotton prices to water wheels to organic chemistry to fish populations to migration patterns to political revolutions are chaotic in nature.  They are unpredictable but also—thanks to the massive data crunching now made possible by computers—at least mathematically describable.  We know a lot about how chaos works.

It’s funny, though.  True chaos is a crazier ride than you will get on even the most maniacal roller coaster.  It’s disorienting.  Undergoing chaos, we feel helpless.  Yet it turns out that chaos is not completely disorderly.  Chaos is subject to its starting conditions.  It has unpredictable outcomes but arrives at those according to certain influences.  When looked at up close, chaos is a mess.  When viewed from afar, however, the mess comes into focus.  Think fractals and coastlines.  Chaos, it turns out, can be quite pleasing and strangely beautiful.

I mention all that because fiction reflects life.  As John Truby asserts in his latest book The Anatomy of Genres, story formulas work because they mirror human experience.  Love.  Mystery.  Wonder.  Terror.  Tricks.  Healing.  Seeking.  Finding self.  That said, as durable and comforting as the patterns of plot can be, even in well-crafted manuscripts there is often a sense that something is missing.  When things turn out the way that they are supposed to we cheer and yet, strangely, we may also feel vaguely unsatisfied.

When we feel somehow cheated by a well-constructed story, chaos can help.  Without that element, the story deck is stacked.  A novel becomes more like a linear equation.  A bit of randomness not only wakes up us readers, it also makes the progress of a story both more realistic and more satisfying.

When chaos is at work, the protagonist’s positive outcome is not a foregone conclusion.  Success must be truly earned and the random, playing-by-its-own-rules universe isn’t going to make that easy.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Mustn’t Have Done and Couldn’t Have Done

FromDaily Writing Tips:

A reader has asked for a post on the difference between “mustn’t have + past participle” and “couldn’t have + past participle.” He gives these examples:

a) Ahmed failed the exam. He mustn’t have studied hard.
b) Ahmed failed the exam. He couldn’t have studied hard.

Before writing to me, the reader queried native English speakers of his acquaintance and received these answers.

• Some native speakers say that ONLY the first example is correct.
• Others say that both are correct.
• Some say that “mustn’t have + pp” indicates a conclusion based on evidence.
• Some say that “mustn’t have” suggests an 80% certainty, whereas “couldn’t have” provides 100% certainty.

Both a) and b) are correct.

The first statement is more likely to be spoken by a speaker of British English and the second by a speaker of US English. Either way, in this context, the speakers are merely speculating as to why Ahmed may have failed the exam. In this context, the constructions with mustn’t and couldn’t are interchangeable.

I have found numerous discussions of the mustn’t/couldn’t dichotomy in ESL forums. I don’t think I’d ever seen percentages of certainty applied to grammatical constructions before.

Degrees of certainty
Here is an illustration from an actual grammar book:

In answer to the question “Why didn’t Sam eat?”:

“Sam wasn’t hungry.” (The speaker is 100% sure that this is the reason.)

“Sam can’t have been hungry.” (The speaker believes – is 99% certain –that it is impossible for Sam to have been hungry.)

Sam must not have been hungry. (The speaker is making a logical conclusion. We can say he’s about 95% certain.)

“Sam might not have been hungry.” (The speaker is less than 50% certain, and is mentioning one possibility.)

Rather than assigning percentages of certainty to these constructions, it makes more sense to me to say that sometimes they convey certainty and sometimes they don’t. It all depends on context.

Here are examples in which mustn’t have and couldn’t have do indicate a conclusion based on evidence.

Link to the rest at from Daily Writing Tips

How to Write that Last Chapter: 8 Tips for Ending your Book

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Here we are reaching the end of another year. Some of us have reached our writing goals, and some even “won” NaNoWriMo. But a lot of us haven’t. You may have had trouble getting to that last chapter of the novel, even though you wrote the requisite 50K words. Writing a lot of words is hard, but writing a satisfying last chapter is harder.

I’m hoping these tips can help.

1) A Last Chapter is Dictated by Genre

Conventions in fiction endings tend to spring from the two classic forms of fiction: comedy and tragedy.

A comedy usually concludes with a party or a feast — often a wedding. A tragedy usually ends with death — then a resolution of some kind.

Jane Austen’s Emma ends with a wedding:

“But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.”

And A Tale of Two Cities ends with the doomed Sidney Carton going to his execution:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Here are Some Expectations of a Last Chapter by Genre

Romance requires that Happy Ever After (HEA) ending in the last chapter, preferably with a wedding or a betrothal. If it’s a more contemporary Happy-for-Now ending, there might be a gathering for toasting friends, or a happy couple kissing and fade to black…

Mystery: You don’t need to get Hercule Poirot to assemble all the suspects and dramatically reveal the murderer, but you need a modern equivalent that concludes with the discovery of the murderer. Then the detective and friends retire to a pub or cafe to tie up the subplots over a pint or a plate of scones — a form of the classic comedy “feast” ending.

As in the last line of the Hound of the Baskervilles

“Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour, and we can stop at Marcini’s for a little dinner on the way?”

Literary Fiction: You get to do whatever you like with your final chapter if you’re a literary author. But I advise not doing something that will make your reader feel cheated or angry. If you kill off a major character, make sure readers are prepared for it.

Thrillers need to end with the world not getting blown up by the evil mastermind.

Domestic Suspense: You want a twist, but it needs to be an “ah-ha” moment, not a “WTF?”

Epic Fantasy often ends with a detached historical overview, and other fantasies — especially MG or YA — will end with the protagonist safely home from the adventure, but perhaps a bit wistful, hoping for more adventures in the future. Here’s the last line of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

“And that is the very end of the adventures of the wardrobe. But if the Professor was right, it was only the beginning of the adventures of Narnia.”

2) Ending a Novel Is Way Tougher Than Starting One.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film The Wonder Boys is when Grady Tripp, the supposedly “blocked” writer, reveals his terrible secret: a closet full of thousands of pages of his work in progress. He’s not blocked: he simply can’t get the novel to end.

I can relate. I had a book like that. It grew and grew and never seemed to come to a climax or a conclusion. That’s because my novel was a series of episodes. They didn’t build to a climax or a resolution. I was writing something closer to a series of scripts for for a long-running sitcom than a novel.

So I know first hand that final chapter can be tougher to write than the first. (Not that first chapters are easy: see my post on writing your first chapter.)

But you want to do it right. That’s how you keep your readers. Not by leaving them hanging, but by satisfying them.

As Mickey Spillane said. “The first page sells this book. The last page sells your next book.”

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

4 Perennially Misused Words

From Daily Writing Tips:

Some word pairs will probably always continue to be confused. Here are five such, all of which have been mentioned on this site in the past. The examples in this post date from recent months.

pore: (verb) to examine closely
Confused with pour: (verb) to transfer water or some other substance from a container.

[Agents continue] to pour through the roughly 11,000 documents the FBI had obtained in its search. —CNN

In fact, the agents continued to pore through the documents.

rite: (noun) A prescribed act or observance in a religious or other solemn ceremony; a custom, habit, or communal practice.

Confused with right: (noun) Legal, moral, or natural entitlement.

The error occurs with the expression “rite of passage.” The term originated in the terminology of cultural anthropology to refer to such coming-of-age ceremonies such as the Bullet Ant ritual of Brazil and the face-tattooing of Inuit women.

The term now encompasses such adolescent life events as obtaining a driver’s license and graduating from high school.

The following quotation is from a comment about a locality where schools are closed on the first day of the hunting season so that children can accompany adults to the woods.

It was a tradition that became a right of passage for many.

In fact, the event was a rite of passage.

desert: (noun) Something worthy of recompense, either reward or punishment.
Confused with dessert: (noun) the last course of a meal.

Three English words are spelled desert, but they are not all pronounced the same:
desert: [DEZ-ert] (noun) an arid place
desert: [deh-ZERT] (verb) to abandon.
desert: [deh-ZERT] (noun) worthiness of recompense.

The error occurs with the expression “just deserts.”

Sadly it took all the years for Mr. Jones to get his just desserts.

Mr. Jones got his just deserts.

hardy: (adjective) Of a person or animal: capable of enduring fatigue, hardship, or adverse conditions; physically robust; healthy.

Confused with hearty: (adjective) Of a person: of kindly sentiment or goodwill; showing warmth of affection or friendly feeling; cordial, kind-hearted, genial. Of food or drink: rich or abundant so as to satisfy the appetite; nourishing, wholesome, strengthening.

The error occurs when the context refers to a situation in which the ability to endure hardship is understood.

But in the late 1700s, Catherine the Great, the Russian empress, colonized it [a wild part of Ukraine] with hearty souls from across the empire. —New York Times

Those folks may well have been hearty, but, considering the environment, they first had to be hardy.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

What Is an Acronym?

From Grammarly Blog:

We use abbreviations every day—in writing, texting, note-taking, and talking. There are a few different categories of abbreviations, and acronyms is one of them. When you shorten a phrase by using just the first letter of each word and then pronounce it as a new word, you’re using an acronym.

What is an acronym?

An acronym is a word created by combining the first letter or syllable of each word in a phrase to create a new, single word. Here are a few examples of popular acronyms:

  • FOMOfear omissing out
  • GIFgraphics interchange format
  • PINpersonal identification number

Some acronyms are a bit of both: They contain first letters and first syllables from the words in a phrase to create a new word. Radar is an example of this; it’s derived from the phrase “radio detection and ranging.”

In both cases, an acronym is pronounced as a word. Acronyms are often misinterpreted as the first letter of a phrase or company/organization. But if the first letters are pronounced individually, it’s called an initialism.

When are acronyms used?

Acronyms are used to make communication more concise. Generally, acronyms are used in casual verbal communication. For example, you might say to your friend, “I’m not feeling great, but I think I’ll go out tonight anyway because of fomo.” FOMO is an acronym of “fear of missing out”—the sense that if you don’t take a certain action, you’ll regret it later. It’s uncommon to use abbreviations in more formal spoken conversations, but formal written conversations are a different story.

In emails and other business communication, acronyms are frequently used to keep the message brief. For example, you might send an email to a client that says, “just log into the wysiwyg editor and make any changes you’d like.” WYSIWYG is an acronym for “what you see is what you get,” and it refers to editor interfaces that show how a finished project will look as the user makes changes. It’s pronounced “whizzy-wig.”

Acronyms often arise from slang and shorthand. Today, many of the acronyms and initialisms we use in spoken and written communication have their roots in internet slang. A few popular texting abbreviations that have made their way into other forms of communication as initialisms include lol for “laugh out loud” and idk for “I don’t know.”

Sometimes, acronyms are used as brand names. For example, FedEx is an acronym for Federal Express. This extends to governmental organizations like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa; this acronym refers to the five leading emerging economies).

Acronym vs. initialism vs. abbreviation

An initialism, also known as an alphabetism, is similar to an acronym in that it’s also a new word created from the first letter of each word in a phrase. But with an initialism, the speaker says each letter individually rather than pronounces them together phonetically. Take a look at these initialisms to see what we mean:

  • URL
  • FBI
  • UX
  • ATM

See? You wouldn’t pronounce “ATM” as “attem.” If it was an acronym, you would. In contrast, “BFF” is an initialism because it’s pronounced “bee-eff-eff” and not “bffff.”

In some cases, a word can be both an acronym and an initialism. ASAP is one of these words. You might pronounce it as “ay-sap,” using it as an acronym, or as “ay-ess-ay-pee,” using it as an initialism.

Acronyms and initialisms are both types of abbreviations. An abbreviation is any shortened word. Sometimes they’re pronounced as new words, like when non-Californians refer to California as “Cali.” In other cases, the full word is pronounced when it’s spoken aloud, like Dr. as the abbreviation for “doctor.” We often use abbreviations for professional titles, days and months, and units of measurement. Here are a few examples of abbreviations:

  • Mon.: Monday
  • Ft.: feet or featuring
  • Prof.: professor

Notice how the abbreviation ft. can be used for either “feet” or “featuring.” Some abbreviations can stand for more than one thing. To determine what an abbreviation means in a given situation, you might need to rely on context clues and/or do a quick internet search. In the case of ft., it’s typically followed by a period when it’s used to mean “featuring.”

Certain abbreviations can be written in more than one way. One example of this is the shortened version of “continued.” It can be written as cont. or cont’d, and the correct version depends on the context and applicable style guide.


Backronym is a portmanteau of the words back and acronym. A backronym is a phrase created from the letters in a word, often for humorous effect. One of the best-known backronyms in English is “together everyone achieves more” from the word team.

Link to the rest at Grammarly Blog

Do accents disappear?

From The Conversation:

In Boston, there are reports of people pronouncing the letter “r.” Down in Tennessee, people are noticing a lack of a Southern drawl. And Texans have long worried about losing their distinctive twang.

Indeed, around the United States, communities are voicing a common anxiety: Are Americans losing their accents?

The fear of accent loss often emerges within communities that face demographic and technological changes. But on an individual level “losing one’s accent” is also part of a profit-driven industry, with accent reduction services promising professional and personal benefits to clients who change their speech by ironing out any regionalisms or foreign pronunciations.

. . . .

But is it really possible to lose one’s accent? Linguistic researchers like us suggest the answer is complicated — no one becomes truly “accentless,” but accents can and do change over time.

To us, what’s more interesting is why so many people believe they can lose their accent – and why there are such differing opinions about why this may be a good or bad thing.

Is there a ‘standard’ accent?

It’s best to think of an accent as a distinct, systematic, rule-governed way of speaking, including sound features such as intonation, stress and pronunciation.

Accent is not a synonym for dialect, but it’s related. Dialect is an umbrella term for the way a community pronounces words (phonology), creates words (morphology), and orders words (syntax).

Accent is the phonological part of a dialect. For example, when it comes to the Boston dialect, a key feature of its accent is r-deletion, or r-dropping. This occurs most frequently after certain vowels, so that a phrase like “far apart” could be pronounced like “fah apaht,” with the “r” sound vocalizing, or turning into a vowel. This results in a longer vowel pronunciation in each word.

Many people believe that there is a single standard way of speaking in each country, and that this perceived standard is inherently the best form of speech. However, linguists often point out that the concept of a standard accent is better understood as an idealization rather than a reality. In other words, no one speaks “standard English”; rather, it is an imagined way of using language that exists only in grammar and style books.

One reason linguists agree there is no one true standard is that, through the years, there have been multiple supposed standards, such as Received Pronunciation in the U.K. and Network Standard in the U.S. – think of a newsreader’s cadence in a 1950s BBC newsreel, or Kent Brockman’s on “The Simpsons.”

The idea of a standard changes over time and place. There has never been a single standard that’s been fully agreed upon – and broadcast outlets across the spectrum have never consistently held to those standards anyway.

Even so, this idea of a standard accent is powerful. An episode of NPR’s podcast “Code Switch” tells the story of Deion Broxton, who in recent years applied for jobs as a broadcasting reporter but was repeatedly turned down because of his Baltimore accent.

Many other workplace and educational environments similarly perpetuate the idea that nonstandard accents are less appropriate, or even inappropriate, in certain professional spaces. Scholars have found that Southern U.S. accent features are more accepted in government, law and service-oriented workplaces than in the technology sector. The acceptability of nonstandard accents may correlate with differences in class and culture, with newer or higher-prestige industries expecting more standard speech in the workplace.

What is accent leveling?

The pressure to sound standard is one force that can lead to what linguists describe as “dialect leveling” or “accent leveling.” This occurs when there is a loss of diverse features among regional language varieties. For example, if a U.S. Southerner feels social or economic pressure to shift from pronouncing the word “right” with one vowel – sounding like “raht” – to make it sound like “ra-eeyt” with a diphthong (two vowel sounds), they may be diminishing their use of a common marker for Southern speech. This is technically not accent loss, but rather accent change.

But accent leveling can also be motivated by language contact, when people with multiple dialects come into regular interaction because of migration and other demographic mobility. Areas that have in recent decades experienced high levels of immigration have often pointed to the mixing of different languages and accents as driving the loss of traditional, distinctive speech patterns.

Link to the rest at The Conversation

The Making of The Silent Count, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

It is a truth universally acknowledged by the how-to-write-a-novel industrial complex that a thriller in want of a good plot must be in possession of a ticking time bomb.

I learned this the hard way while trying to write a novel after inspiration struck, anvil-on-Wile E. Coyote-style. I was obsessed with an idea that suggested a thriller, but clueless about how to turn it into a cohesive story. Moreover, I loved Jane Austen, not Tom Clancy, and majored in nuclear engineering in college, the antithesis of creative writing.

Enter the plot twist: those engineering classes ultimately inspired my literary vision. The book that changed my life, shook me to the core, rocked my world, was Introduction to Nuclear Engineering by the late John R. Lamarsh.

I’ll explain. During my undergraduate years, nuclear engineering was the least popular major in America (thanks, Chernobyl!), so much so that this particular textbook, released in 1983, wasn’t updated until 2001. Unlike subsequent Lamarsh editions, the first page of my 1983 volume said the following:

“…there are a number of ways in which nuclear explosives may be used for peaceful purposes…It should even be possible to alter unfavorable weather patterns in many parts of the world by removing mountain ranges which obstruct the flow of air.” [Emphasis mine.]

I was stunned. Why weren’t my classmates or professors talking about this? Why hadn’t anyone alerted the media? And most importantly, why had no one written an epic science fiction novel premised on these bonkers facts?

This was all I could think of for a long time. Geoengineering scenarios featuring nuclear weapons would come to me in the middle of the night, at work, in conversations with people clearly on verge of faking their own deaths rather than listen to me blather on.  And when global warming stories made the news, I wondered how these ideas might intersect.

Not in real life, of course – in fiction! (I was obsessed, not insane.) Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal reminded me that through satire, an outlandish notion could point out harsh truths about the world. Those ideas and harsh truths lived rent-free like dirty squatters in my head.

Alas, ideas do not a novel make. Indeed, three hundred pages of random assertions call to mind the Unabomber.

I needed to learn the nuts and bolts of novel-writing before I lost my momentum. Here’s where the aforementioned how-to-write-a-novel guides came in handy.  On Writing by Stephen King, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, Save the Cat Writes a Novel by, I dunno, Fluffy? I bought them all. Common elements emerged for theme, plot, character arcs, conflict.  Place the inciting incident and hook at the start, they said, followed by rising action leading to the climax in the middle; resolve the story at the end.  Kill your darlings, stay away from adverbs, don’t head hop…

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Returned to an Abusive Environment

From Writers Helping Writers:

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life.

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

. . . .

Fear of Being Returned to an Abusive Environment

A character who has escaped an abusive environment, whether as a child or an adult, and is determined to remain free will do anything to avoid going back to it. A fear of returning—voluntarily or against their will—to this place will trigger a host of physical, mental, and emotional reactions for the character, even if the event is unlikely to happen.

What It Looks Like
Becoming physically ill (nausea, headaches, stomachaches, hair loss, rashes, etc.) 
The character pleading their case to anyone who will listen
Threatening to harm themselves if they’re forced to go back
The character becoming desperately eager to please their current caregivers (to stay in their good graces)
Suffering from PTSD
Taking drugs or using alcohol to manage the fear 
Having nightmares about the environment or the abusive people there 
Pulling away from everyone
Becoming hypervigilant (watching for the abuser, whoever would bring news that the character has to go back, etc.)
Carrying a weapon
Becoming obsessed with self-defense
Creating an escape plan in case they’re forced to return
Hoarding money, travel supplies, and food so they can leave quickly if needed
Running away 

Common Internal Struggles
Having mixed feelings toward the abuser (especially if that person is a family member)
Trying and failing to stop thinking about abusive episodes
Wanting to fight the system that would return them to the abuser but feeling powerless to do so
Fantasizing about neutralizing the abuser
Feeling paranoid that the abuser or someone in his employ is watching the character
Feeling as if they will never be truly free
Struggling with suicidal thoughts

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Purposeful Thought Work for Ambitious Lawyers

PG Note: This is a description of a podcast episode for lawyers, but PG thought it might be adaptable to authors who don’t write legal documents as well.

In passing, PG notes that a ten-thousand-word legal brief written for a solvent client tends to pay better than a ten-thousand word short story does. But, in five years, no one will remember, let alone read, even a very well-written legal brief.

From LexBlog:

Ever sit at your desk thinking about what ifs?

What if you started your own practice?

What if you expanded your practice?

What if you made partner?

What if you started that blogging or podcast idea that’s been rolling around in the back of your mind?

This episode is for the dreamers.

The ambitious lawyers who have this nagging tug at their heart that they’re meant for more.

This episode is for lawyers who — even though they have this recurring dream — also aren’t taking action OR aren’t taking the action that produces BIG results.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • how to uncover and get awareness of thoughts stopping you from taking action
  • why our brains responds like it does with these thoughts
  • how to dissolve these thoughts by understanding what they really are
  • how to question these thoughts one-by-one, so when they pop up for you, you can counter them with the truth and take action

This last step is essential. It takes consistently showing up for yourself and questioning your thoughts. 

This is the process of rewiring your brain to take action on your dreams.

Link to the rest at LexBlog

More Words You’re Probably Using Wrong

From Writer Unboxed:

I see you, word nerds. I know who you are. You’re the ones who can’t drive by a billboard with a grammar mistake (“In a class of it’s own”) without visibly cringing. Who have memes like this as your screen saver. Who keep Dreyer’s English in your nightstand and regularly reread and analyze passages like it’s the King James Bible.

I see you, and I feel you.

As an editor I may or may not derive an inordinate amount of amusement from malapropisms, dangling modifiers, quotation marks misused for emphasis that call the author’s “authority” into question, and comically clumsily translated signs like these…but I know I am not alone.

A few posts ago I wrote about words you’re probably using wrong, and from the comments it seemed to hit a chord with my fellow word nerds, so here’s another ridiculous helping of word nerdery to delight you, enlighten you, and perhaps let you bask in superiority, chortling at those poor benighted fools who violate the vernacular. (Spoiler, though—judging from my 15 years at the beginning of my editing career as a Big Six copyeditor, that’s most of us at some time or another.)

Misusing our language commits a cardinal sin of writing, which is to muddy your intentions and the readers’ experience of your story. Knowing how to use the main tool of our business, language, allows you to be a more effective storyteller.

So with that lofty goal in mind…let’s get down and nerdy with it.

Picking Apart Parts of Speech

You don’t “feel badly” for someone, unless you’re trying to have a feeling for them and you just can’t swing it; you simply feel bad for them. (Probably because of their substandard grammar, I’m betting.)

And you don’t cap a list of progressively important things with “most importantly,” unless you’re saying it with the air of a self-satisfied douchebag—it’s just “most important.”

I might wonder hopefully if you already knew that, but I wouldn’t write “Hopefully you knew that” unless I’m referring to the optimistic quality of your knowing.

Something can be “on top of” something else, or “over it,” or even “over-the-top” (as this post, in fact, could be accused of being), but not “overtop” unless you’re using it as a colloquialism in a character’s point of view. “Overtop” is not a preposition, any more than “underbottom” or “throughmiddle” are.

While we’re on the topic, “any more” referring to quantity should be two words, not one, in usages such as the last sentence. “Anymore” is only for time, despite that for some philistines these usages are supposedly interchangeable (but never supposably).

My examples have taken a turn for the worse—which is a worst-case scenario for some readers, if worse comes to worst.

If you haven’t as yet tuned out (never “as of yet”—but you already knew that, didn’t you?), let’s move on to other troubling misusages.

Fallacious phraseology

If you’re offering someone an ARC of your book, it’s an advance copy, not an advanced one (unless you are distinguishing it from a remedial edition you give to your less erudite friends).

If you’re letting it all hang out you’re buck naked, not butt naked (no matter how intuitive the latter may seem, given the fundamental involvement of one’s derriere). And no judgments if you do like to get nakey­ on the regular—that’s perfectly all right (but never alright).

Less refers to amount; fewer to number. For that matter, “number” delineates the numeric quantity of something, and “amount” its volume. By this time, though, maybe you couldn’t care less (not “fewer,” of course)—not “could care less,” because if you can still care even less than you already do, there’s work to be done yet in getting you good and fed up.

If you’re lousy with cash, you may be flush, but you’re flushed only if you’re also feeling embarrassed about it, or overheated from earning it. (Or if the school bully has shoved your head into the toilet to take it from you.)

On that note, you may flush out something from your eye, but if you’re expanding on a topic (such as flushing), then you’re fleshing it out—even though that sounds like the scene of a grisly murder (but not a gristly one, unless the corpse is also quite tough to the tooth). That might land you in dire straits (not straights, unless you’re around a bunch of nihilistic heterosexuals).

I’ve taken a tortuous route to arrive at some of these metaphors…which might be feeling torturous to some of you. So shall we move on to a final lightning round?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Is PG alone in hitting a grammatical speed bump with phraseology?

For PG, the suffix, ology, implies the study of something or a discrete area of knowledge. Archeology, psychology, etc., etc.

If that’s correct, phraseology would be the study of phrasing. Improper Phrasing or Improper Use of Phrases would seem to PG to be a better option for the term as used in the OP.

PG decided to see what Grammarly thought about the OP.

Grammarly found 24 grammatical errors in the OP, written by an experienced New York publishing editor, but Big G expressed no opinion about phraseology.

It appears that PG’s attitude toward phraseology is incorrect, archaic, antiquated and/or superannuated. Apparently, the fog in PG’s brain is a bit thicker than usual today. He blames the aftereffects of the Covid shut-downs.

The Eighth Element

From Writer Unboxed:

[PG note: The OP is written by a long-time literary agent.)

As you can imagine, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  How many?  Many thousands, certainly.  Generally, they are good, just not ready.  Why not?  There are eight common lacks but the last one is the hardest to pin down.  It’s not so much a craft technique as it is a quality.

The missing quality is one that falls somewhere between insouciance and recklessness.  It has aspects of courage and authority.  It’s easier to say what it’s not.  It’s not safe.  It’s not careful.  Few writers believe themselves to be writing timidly but like I say, I’ve read a lot of manuscripts.  Most are quite readable or, looked at another way, unobjectionable.  Not that a novel should offend readers, but neither should it make few ripples in readers’ minds.

In writing fiction, the learning curve is long and the bar to leap over to print publication is high.  It’s understandable that over time many writers bend toward getting their fiction “right”.  Maybe not a slavish fit for a given market sector but at least one that will smoothly please finicky gatekeepers.  Not without art, no-no, and definitely with an original premise and solid craft but, in the reading, a product that dutifully shows high respect for everything from characters’ sensitivities to marketability.

It’s paradoxical, but the very values that would seem to make a manuscript acceptable can be the same values that produce a novel that isn’t particularly memorable.  The quality of being memorable or—let’s be ambitious—timeless, doesn’t come about by writing safe.  I don’t mean breaking rules, although there’s a lot to be said for that.  What I mean is writing without regard to “don’t”.

Timeless stories are written with high authority.  It’s authors who don’t apologize or wonder if they are worthy.  They assume that they are and not only that, they have been appointed to tell us who’s who, what’s what, and to do that in their own quirky way and if you don’t like it then go jump in a lake.  It’s as if those authors don’t care a damn who approves their novels but care like hell about the ache and joy of the human condition.

Proust, Woolf, Faulkner and Vonnegut did not write timidly.  Tolkein did not think small.  Bridget Jones, let’s be honest, is a drunk.  Neil Gaiman doesn’t give a damn if you think he’s borrowing heavily from myth or fairy tale.  Neither J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins care if you find their novels of derivative of others’ stuff.  Angie Thomas tells it like it is, so take that.  Mary Gaitskill, by no means alone, has no problem making you blush.  And then there’s that fattest of middle fingers to middle brow literature, Lolita, a jaw dropper first published in 1955.

I’m talking about fearlessness, being recklessly independent of all expectations and at the same time utterly bonded to all of us.  A lot of things get in the way of that, not just the intimidating standards of publishing—whatever those are—but authors’ inhibitions and influences.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Build Your Writing Self-Efficacy

From Jane Friedman:

Last year, Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist and giant in the field of education, passed away in his 90s. Bandura is best known for his pioneering work around the idea of self-efficacy—a concept that impacts you everyday and has powerful potential for your writing life as well.

Whether you realize it or not, your self-efficacy guides nearly everything you do. It’s why you feel completely confident as you stroll to the washing machine to do a load of laundry: because you’ve done it before, you know how it works, and you have total faith in your own ability to get the job done well. It’s what causes you to shy away from attempting some of the Olympic gymnasts’ routines in your backyard: because you (most likely!) don’t have the years of experience, the skills, and the proof from past success that you can accomplish them.

So what is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy is the degree to which you believe you can execute actions to control certain outcomes. In my laundry example above, you likely feel high self-efficacy because someone taught you and you’ve done it successfully many times. You believe in your own ability to successfully perform the actions needed to attain the desired result: a clean load of laundry. And on the other hand, as with the gymnastics, having low self-efficacy stops us from trying something we’re uncomfortable with, or even might expect negative results from (like a broken neck!). Bandura writes, “If people believe they have no power to produce results, they will not attempt to make things happen.”

Self-efficacy has a tremendous impact on our motivation to try something new. Even if you’ve never written a book, you might still have high self-efficacy around doing it if you have the right preparation, and you won’t encounter as much resistance to making it happen. It’s the essence of the perhaps cliché idea: “If you think you can, you can!”

Perhaps you’ve felt overwhelmed when asked to do something new at work, and you dithered a bit trying to figure out where to get started. Maybe you’ve felt stymied by your lack of knowledge about how to write a book proposal, and it’s stopped you from even trying. Contrast that to how you feel when asked to do something similar to what you’ve done successfully before. Trying a new bread recipe, when you’ve been baking sourdough for the last 18 months. Writing a limerick when you’ve been writing haiku. You’re likely not too deterred by the fact you’ve never done it before; you know you’ve got the basic skills and can figure it out.

Does self-efficacy really work?

The short answer is yes—increasing your self-efficacy can really help you learn and successfully accomplish more. In a summary of 8 meta-analyses on self-efficacy, education researcher Dr. John Hattie found that self-efficacy has a .71 effect size of students’ learning. If .4 is the average effect you would get just from living, then .71 means your learning is increased quite a bit when you add self-efficacy to the mix.

But does that mean we should go around believing we can do absolutely anything? No. I’m not recommending that you try out those gymnastic routines with the addition of a positive attitude. Self-efficacy isn’t blind belief; like I hinted above, it’s a belief born out of evidence, training, observation, and disposition.

How to increase your writing self-efficacy

Bandura’s work is so powerful because he showed that self-efficacy can be taught and developed. He wrote that there are four primary ways to increase your self-efficacy around a skill.

1. Finding small wins (mastery experiences)

The most powerful way to start building your confidence is to experience small writing wins—or mastery experiences. These small wins might look like meeting your word count goal, posting a blog, getting positive feedback on a writing sample, finishing a chapter or article, or perhaps even writing your manuscript. Each small win builds on the last, so that as you gain confidence and momentum, your wins get bigger and bigger.

2. Seeing others like you succeed (vicarious experiences)

If you’ve never written a book before, it doesn’t make sense to compare yourself to John Green or J.K. Rowling or Glennon Doyle. Instead, you should look for models who are in a similar situation as you—they have a similar platform (even if it’s none!), similar writing experience, and a similar drive to write, and they’re having some success. Seeing these people who are just like us succeed sends the message that if they can do it, we can do it, too.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

3 Action-Reaction Misfires That Flatten Your Writing

From Writers Helping Writers:

Cause and effect. Stimulus and response. Action and reaction. Everything in a story depends on what the characters do about whatever the story pushes them up against.

Stiff, disconnected, or missing character reactions snap the chain of cause and effect that constitutes your story. When readers can no longer see how and why the characters are doing what they’re doing, they lose the thread.

Let’s talk about the three most common action–reaction misfires I see in manuscripts.

1. Missing or insufficient reactions
2. Jumbled responses
3. Purposely obscured stimuli

Missing or Insufficient Reactions

When characters fail to react to what’s happening around them, it’s as if nothing is happening at all. A snappy line of dialogue goes nowhere if it doesn’t get under someone’s skin. The first glimpse of a long-sought clue builds no excitement if nobody notices it. A punch in the nose might as well not have landed if it doesn’t start or end a disagreement.

When characters don’t react to the conversations and events around them, readers will assume they don’t care. If the characters don’t care, why should readers?

Keeping your characters engaged in the story keeps readers engaged with it too. When writing viewpoint characters, you have access to both internal and external responses. For other characters, you’re limited to whatever visible manifestations of those responses that the viewpoint character or narrator can perceive.

Internal Responses

All but the last type of internal response, thought, are involuntary reactions.

1. Involuntary sensations—These include physical sensations such as feeling a lump in the throat or a stomach full of butterflies.

2. Reflex reactions—These are the so-called knee-jerk reactions, such as jerking away from the source of pain.

3. Emotions—Before you can reveal emotions using any of these reaction modes, you as the writer must know what the emotion or blend of emotions actually is.

4. Thoughts—What’s the uncensored commentary running in the privacy of the character’s mind?

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Coordinating vs. Subordinating Conjunctions

From Daily Writing Tips:

When I received not one, but three emails telling me that I’d punctuated a sentence with because incorrectly, I decided I’d better write a post about adverbial clauses of reason.

Here’s the example that drew the criticism:

Incorrect: The famous author lives in a small town, because she doesn’t like the noise of a big city.

Correct : The famous author lives in a small town because she doesn’t like the noise of a big city.

Here are the objections I received:

1. Number five conflicts with my 11th grade English teacher’s rule. Separate the two halves of a compound sentence with a comma. Was she wrong?

2. I disagree with #5. Two independent clauses should be separated by a comma.”She doesn’t like the noise of the big city.” is an independent clause. Remove the word “because” and you have two sentences that can stand alone.

3. ERROR. “she doesn’t like the noise of a big city” is also an independent clause, and the comma is required. This is a compound sentence with “because” joining two independent clauses.

The readers are perfectly correct about the rule for punctuating a compound sentence. Two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction are separated by a comma:

Polio would have stopped a lesser man, but Franklin was determined to follow his cousin into the White House.

The conjunctions used to join independent clauses in compound sentences are coordinating conjunctions. The most common coordinating conjunctions are: forandnorbutoryet, and so.

A coordinating conjunction used to join clauses has only one function: it joins clauses of equal importance. Removing the conjunction between two independent clauses will leave two simple sentences whose meanings remain unchanged. They can stand alone as complete sentences.

subordinating conjunction, on the other hand, has two functions: it joins, and it shows a relationship between the clauses that it joins. Removing a subordinating conjunction defeats the purpose for which it exists.

The subordinating conjunction because is used to introduce an adverbial clause of cause or reason. The fact that the author doesn’t like the noise of the big city explains why she lives in a small town.

Adverbial clauses of reason are also introduced by the subordinating conjunctions sinceas long asasinasmuch asinsofar as, and due to the fact that.

Reminder: When the adverbial clause comes first in the sentence, it is followed by a comma. When the adverbial clause comes after the independent clause, there is (usually) no need for a comma. For example:

Since you asked nicely, you may go to the library on Saturday.

You may go to the library on Saturday since you asked nicely.

Modern business style tends to reject lengthy conjunctions like inasmuch as and due to the fact thatBecauseas, and since are the least wordy choices. Some speakers object to using since to introduce a clause of reason because since is also used to introduce clauses of time. Ordinary attentiveness to revision ought to be sufficient to avoid ambiguity with since.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

Writing the Science Right

From Science & Fantasy Writers Association:

Getting the science right in SF can make the difference between writing cute stories and great science fiction. If you are a non-scientist writing SF and want to know how to do that, then this blog post is for you.

Doing Background Research

If science is critical to the overall plot, research before writing. In the movie Armageddon, a Texas-sized asteroid is discovered eighteen days before it will destroy Earth. The movie’s drama hinges on that time pressure. However, an asteroid that size would have been discovered years earlier. Researching first avoids creating such critically flawed stories.

In most cases, however, the science is not plot-critical, and your research will be more efficient if you write your story first. Now, I understand that sounds crazy, but you are not writing a technical manual. What is important is how the technology is servicing the story. For example, if you want to show your commander is technologically smarter than the captain, when drafting you write:

“Commander, we need INSERT INEFFICIENT OR SLIGHTLY INCORRECT SCIENCE to fix the engines.”

“Captain, Couldn’t we INSERT BETTER SOLUTION?”

It doesn’t matter whether the engine needs rubies or milkshakes. Later, when you figure out what’s plausible, you would re-write this as:

“Commander, scan for diamonds.”

“Our scans won’t detect diamonds, Captain, but I am detecting diatreme volcanic vents. Diamonds often occur in kimberlite deposits at such structures.”

By drafting this way, we create a focused list of science questions to research.

Once you have specific questions, your purpose is to learn key vocabulary and get a broad overview. Given that more accessible information is less precise, you’ll want to do the research in stages. Museum information and online curricula for children are simplified and curated for accuracy. Wikipedia has variable quality but is good for high-level overviews. Avoid googling or using tech company brochures. Though attractive, these sources are often rife with inaccuracies or hyperbole. With your overview, you then have the tools to go deeper using science-journalism sources like PBS and Scientific American.

Beyond this, the best sources are those reviewed by scientists, e.g. public information sites from NASA, the CDC, or national professional organizations, like the American Medical Association. Finally, reviews in professional scientific journals including CellScience, or Nature are usually in-depth and balanced; and more accessible than the original articles. 

If you still have questions, you can attempt to read the original scientific articles. These can be found using specialty search engines like or georef. However, these are often too technical for laypeople.

If at this stage you still have questions, then you need to speak to a subject matter expert.

Where to find your experts

In addition to authors, SF conference panels often contain well-qualified scientists. These scientists are often open to being approached and will understand what you need. Remember, however, that expertise is field-dependent, and you should target people based on their area of science (also remember this when writing fictional scientists, e.g. don’t have the physician know how to rebuild a nuclear reactor). If your question is not in their field, they may direct you to someone else. 

Alternatively, you can contact experts referenced in the papers you read. While companies may be hesitant to reveal industry secrets, academics are often excited to talk about their science. Being approached by a SF writer is often novel for them, and many will be curious to speak with you. However, it is important to be:

  1. Brief
  2. Professional
  3. Ask for a short time commitment
  4. Offer phone or email so they can choose
  5. Provide succinct questions up-front. The majority should require yes/no or one-word answers. 
  6. State at the end if you offer anything in exchange

If you are a high school student, tell them. Speaking as an educator, that fact alone would almost guarantee a “yes.”

I ask for a phone call, as scientists will often say more than they type, and it gives me an opportunity to clarify things, but never record without asking permission.

Providing the questions shows this is not a big ask and gives them the opportunity to prepare, answer by email, or re-direct you to a better authority. 

Link to the rest at Science & Fantasy Writers Association

Converting Direct Speech into Reported Speech

From Daily Writing Tips:

This post is in response to a recent reader request:

I would be grateful if you could write about these two topics: Reported Speech and Indirect Speech.

To clarify, “Reported Speech” and “Indirect Speech” are the same thing.

I’ll assume that the reader intended to ask about the difference between Reported Speech and Direct Speech.

Direct speech consists of the exact words spoken by someone.

“I am glad to be here this evening.”

Indirect or Reported Speech consists of a report made of what was said by another.

The speaker said that she was glad to be there that evening.

Direct speech requires opening and closing quotation marks. Indirect speech is written without quotation marks.

Rules for reporting speech

The report of what someone has said begins with an introductory clause and a conjunction:

The speaker said that . . .
The witness asserted that . . .
Robert Redford was overheard expressing the opinion that . . .

First person pronouns change to third person:

“I am glad…” becomes She or he was glad . . .

The verbs of the original quotation will change according to the sequence of tenses.

Present tense is changed to past:

“I am glad…” becomes she was glad . . .

Future tense is changed to conditional:

“I think that you will be glad too” becomes He thought the audience would be glad too.

Words that signify proximity in time or place change to corresponding words signifying distance away: now, today, yesterday, last week, here, these become then, that day, the day before, the previous week, there, those.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”


Lincoln said that the world would little note, nor long remember what speakers said there, but it could never forget what they had done there.

Sometimes explanatory words or phrases are added for the sake of readers who afterwards read the quoted speech. For example, the indirect quotation from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would be clearer with the insertion of additional information.

Lincoln said that the world would little note, nor long remember what speakers said at the Gettysburg battlefield commemoration, but it could never forget what the Union soldiers had done there.

Two other types of quotations require special handling: direct address and questions.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips