Word choice matters.
If you are a writer, choosing the wrong word at the wrong time could land you in a mess.
When Alice tells the Mad Hatter that she has said what she's meant because she meant to say it, he scolds her: "You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see.""
Words matter, and so does the order in which we use them.
Today is Leap Day, a perfect time to review the use of verbs. Let's start with leap.
Synonyms include: hop, jump, spring, vault, bound, hurdle.
However, those words refer to the act of leaping, such as: I leapt over the boulder. An equivalent sentence could be written using any of the aforementioned synonyms. Not true if you wrote this sentence: The company leaped at the opportunity to raise production. You wouldn't say The company vaulted or hurdled at the opportunity. You could say they jumped or sprang.
Say what you mean.
My esteemed critique partner, Gwynne Jackson, reminds me often that the best word to use is the simplest. If the frog hopped onto the lily pad, say so. Don't get fancy by saying it vaulted onto the lily pad. Do frogs vault?
Varying words and sentence helps your writing flow, but don't get overzealous. If the shoe fits...
When your vocabulary needs a boost or the word you've written doesn't sound right, take time to research the right word. For that, there are many resources.
Scrivener If you use this amazing writing app, you know all about its dictionary and thesaurus. Double tap the word in your document and bring forward a dictionary page to examine.
Etymolonline I use this in the classroom with my students. Type in a word and learn the word origin, common usage, synonyms, antonyms, or more.
OneLookDictionary Another creative site that offers up loads of suggestions to help you find the right word.
Whatever you are working on right now, take the time to choose the right words.
Every writer working on a story can tell you about the time she woke at 3AM with the key to fixing a failing plot. Or maybe it was a brand new story idea that interrupted a peaceful slumber. Perhaps, it was just before sleep took over, and he was distracted with that scene in chapter whatever about the guy and that situation...
Whatever it may be, a writer's mind thrives when it's quiet, and it's no quieter than the middle of the night.
If you want to tap into the midnight creative juice pool, take the time to quiet your mind.
As we are sensory input and output machines, there are a variety of ways to discover your inner peace. Here are my two favorites.
Tune Out. Do your best to create a silent world around you. Buy some inexpensive squishy earplugs used to drown out snoring partners or spend more money on sound-reducing headphones. If they sound of your own breathing is too much. Plug yourself into the music of someone like LIQUID MIND.
Black Out. I'm not suggesting typing with a blindfold--but if you can do that, try it! At the very least, place yourself in a space with no art work, no windows to the outside world, and no Internet. Rid your outer mind of external visuals and fall deep within your own imagination. Remember when you were little, and you would hide under your bedcovers to read or draw? Recreate that child's world if you can.
Try both of these suggestions for a week or more and share your results. Is your writing any better? Any easier? Any different at all?
Sometimes, we need sensory input. If you are seeking that help, try these previous blogs:
Employing the senses
My father swears like a sailor, and my mother cringes every time. My own household takes after my father. So it makes sense that I pepper my own writing with a few salty words.
The question remains for writers of all genres: when is it OK, and when is it not OK to use the f-bomb?
Since I cater my blog to young upcoming writers, I'll try not to swear. This will be a serious philosophical discussion about the uses of profanity in our writing.
I have been known to mislead.
Proceed with caution.
Before you decide whether to infuse your writing with bar-room language, you must consider the topic and the audience. More importantly, you need to know what kind of writer you are.
Answer yourself these four questions:
1. Do I want to tell a story that simply makes readers laugh and cry?
2. Do I want to shock readers out of their complacency and draw their attention to the worlds outside their windows?
3. Do I want to introduce characters to aspire toward?
4. Do I want to introduce well-rounded and fallible characters?
Before you get all judgy on me and say I'm pigeon-holing writers, take another ponder around those questions. Now recall your favorite books as a child, teen, adult. What stood out for you? Which questions would those authors answer yes to, which ones no?
I do use profanity, including the f-bomb, in my YA stories. However, it is used with intention, just like every other word I write on the page.
I don't use it to shock but to inform readers about the emotional intensity of a situation or the anger or loss of control in a character. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it's used for levity.
I work with teens, and I listen to them speak. Their conversations through the hallways are far more colorful than those heard inside a holy space. They are prolific purveyors of the f-bomb--and then some.
Here are three cases of my use of profanity in my stories:
In my first novel, THIS GIRL CLIMBS TREES, a literary middle grade coming of age story about life, death, family, and friendship, I don't use any profanity. The story is set in the 1970s, and its thematic focus is innocence. It's also my first novel, and my writing is not as adventurous as it is now.
In my second novel, BIRDS ON A WIRE, a contemporary young adult story about a teen's struggle to come out as homosexual to himself, his mother, and his friends, there is ample use of profanity. Searching my manuscript for the top three swear words (including the f-bomb), I found 107 uses.
Neither search through these books surprises me, and I find the use of the words appropriate and their absence equally appropriate for the characters and stories.
In my current works, I'm revising three young adult tales. The one closest to being finished is ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY, a teen's search for her father as she deals with OCD and a strained relationship with her mother. MARTY began as more of a middle grade tale, but during the course of revision, it has grown into a YA. Good thing because there are fifteen variations of the f-bomb, more than half a dozen uses of the b-word, and a variety of other lesser offensive expressions. The high-incidence of profanity in this story is appropriate as one of its central themes is bullying.
There you have some food for thought about the uses of profanity in your writing. I don't think there are rules (as in the movie and music industries), but I do believe how you use these words affects whether you will find a publisher and where they will market your story. Swearing definitely is a line-drawer between YA and MG.
So my advice: try it, leave it, or be creative.
Choose every word with intention. Make every word count.
Most importantly: Write fucking on!
Oscar Wilde said: Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
It's true, and that's why writers could gain much from reading the newspaper. You can't make up some of the real stories that happen every day outside our windows.
How about the tourist who took her Uber driver sightseeing because she had no one else? Fortunately, it's a heartwarming story, but imagine how it might have come to a ghastly end? Or perhaps they'd fall in love. So many possibilities.
Whether you want some writing practice or you need to infuse your story with new energy, the newspaper will not let you down.
Even ads can offer unique plot twists. Take the old one to the right. What if your MC stumbled across this vintage car at a salvage lot, bought it for a couple hundred dollars with the intention of restoring it but discovered something in the trunk: a body, a fortune, a bundle of letters, a map...
If you're looking for fresh ideas, consider these three ways the news can brighten your story.
1. Discover a new character. Flip to a random page and read the top story. Who's it about? What makes them interesting? What might they not be telling us? If there's a photo, even better. There's no better place to find real characters than in real life.
2. Create a plot twist. Take a story from the front page, add a weather forecast that would have created a real disaster. Maybe it's a presidential debate amidst a snowstorm. What happens when no one shows? Perhaps it's a fast food chain that shuts its doors for a safety training, but it's a heatwave, and people are thirsty. Will they open doors?
3. Update your setting. Turn to the Style section for inspiration on homes, landscapes, or modern neighborhoods. Then flip to the home sale pages and mash up a neighborhood with million dollar homes that can't sell.
What's happening to your MC right now? Look up tomorrow's weather forecast in Minnesota or take a quote from Peyton Manning after today's victory. How can use these news events to liven up your story?
I hope these ideas help. Please share your experiences or other creative uses of the news.
If you seek an agent, you must know about #MSWL.
However, beware its lethal lure...
There are many places to find what agents seek.
1. Agency sites.
2. Personal Twitter and Tumblr feeds.
3. The #MSWL.
Smart writers will check out the updates on the Twitter feed.
You might also be interested in two different websites.
This simple one.
This curated site with more info and archives.
If you are a serious querying author, you will want a free or paid account at Query Tracker. Don't forget to polish your query. Always seek a second (or third) pinion from critique partners or friends. Learn even more here about what makes a good query.
This week, I'm busy heavily revising ON THE ROAD TO MARTY MCFLY after an agent who requested the full manuscript suggested I tighten the plot.
I'll be busy with that for several weeks. As for the rest of you, write on!