Thursday, April 14, 2016

Don't Make Your Editor Cringe

Wilma Acree
Our illustrious leader Sandy Tritt asked me to share thoughts on usages that cause us to cringe. 
Good vs. well Good is used as an adjective to modify a noun or pronoun. It may appear before a noun, after a being verb (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been), or after a linking verb such as smell. (Hint: If smell is a linking verb, you can substitute a form of be for it.) 
  • This is a good book.
  • This book is good.
  • This book seemed good at the beginning.
In all of these examples, good is an adjective describing book. Well is usually an adverb but can be used as an adjective in reference to health. Although the issue is still debated, most sources agree that I am well means I am healthy and advise its use in manuscripts and other formal writing.
Between you and I vs. between you and me Between is a preposition and requires an objective pronoun such as me. An easy test: Leave off the first noun or pronoun and the conjunction and. Between I? Definitely wrong.
Less vs. fewer These words are not interchangeable. Use less for uncountable items or values and fewer with numbers or anything that can be counted (fewer dollars, fewer jobs, but less money, less work).
Loose vs. lose Loose is an adjective meaning not tight. Lose is a verb meaning to misplace. I should tighten this loose screw before I lose it.
Awhile vs. a while A while is a noun phrase. Awhile is an adverb modifying a verb. In a prepositional phrase, use a while (for a while, in a while, etc.) The children will play awhile. After a while, I will call them in.
A lot vs. allot A lot is always two words meaning many. Avoid it in formal writing. Allot is a verb meaning to distribute. Alot is not a word. Would you write alittle?
What errors cause you to cringe? Share them and I will be happy to address them.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Verbosity Cure

Charlotte Firbank-King

We all know how to tell a story. But just because anthropologists say Homo sapiens (Latin: wise man—but that’s debatable given the state of our planet) are storytelling apes, doesn’t mean we know how to transfer a story to paper. An articulate person with a mellifluous voice can make a good story sound great. But once we put pen to paper, we must follow the rules of the craft.


Creative writers are allowed some license to tweak and reshape the content to convey a meaning, but we need to learn the rules and correct use of grammar before we get the badge allowing us to modify those rules. If you don’t have a solid understanding of grammar, take a class or do some studying on your own. Nothing will kill a story faster than poor grammar or punctuation.


Use the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Examine each sentence with the diligence of a hobo sifting through a garbage can. If a paragraph uses five words, cut it down to two or three. If you’ve taken half a page to convey an image, cut it down to ten or fifteen words. If absolutely necessary, you can add a few more words later.

Read a section aloud. Do you trip over words? Or did you use rhymes or alliteration that draws the reader’s attention away from the story?

Then ask someone to read it aloud to you. If he stumbles or has to read a section again, there’s probably a problem with how a sentence or paragraph was constructed. Then listen carefully to how he reads it and take note. People often, subconsciously, translate written words from how they are written to how they are said comfortably or smoothly.

Examine every sentence in this manner. If even one sentence doesn’t pass muster, the whole scene could fall flat.

Words should be chosen because they express a meaning, not because they impress readers. Readers don’t care that you spent hours going through a thesaurus looking for the most impressive word to show how literate you are. Individual words should never draw attention to themselves or be more important than the story. Your reader JUST WANTS A STORY that doesn’t require a dictionary to decipher the words used to tell it.

Make every word count, and I mean EVERY word. There is no such thing as, “Oh, that will do.” Edit and edit again, making sure you’ve said what needs to be said using the exact right words to say it.

When conveying an emotion, again, brevity is the key.

His eyebrows dipped, and his eyes flashed as his mouth tightened to a hard line.

We get it. He’s angry.

His mouth tightened or His eyes flashed or He glared will convey the same message and we’ve cut our description from fifteen words to two or three. It may not sound as impressive, but that’s where creativity comes in. Find your own way to say it using as few words as possible.

Conjunctions are invisible words, but even those can exhaust a reader.

The old man walked along the road, and every step seemed to jar his body, and he was also weary to the depths of his disturbed soul as his rheumy eyes shifted back and forth across the verge.
Instead, say:

Shoulders slumped, the old man shuffled along the road, his rheumy eyes searching the verge.

Let your writing speak for itself. If the old man’s shoulders are slumped, then he’s despondent. Shuffling indicates possible pain or weariness. It’s not that difficult to cut this sentence from thirty-eight words to fifteen—and we could even dump “his” if we wanted.

Edit. Then edit again and again. Eliminate as many unnecessary words as possible, especially the easy ones like “that” and “had.”

Test yourself—pick any paragraph from your manuscript, count the words, then see how many you can remove and still convey your meaning. Go one step further and take out all the adjectives and adverbs. Then put one or two back. In other words, slim the paragraph to an anorexic state, then fatten it slightly to perfection.

Verbose means using more words than needed to express something. Don’t let your precious story suffer from verbosity.

Remember, we have professional editors on staff who can help you recover from a severe case of verbosity. It’s what we do.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sneaking in Exercise

The IFW Editors

Want to eavesdrop on our Inspiration for Writers’ editors? We asked our editors to tell us how they sneak in exercise during their work day. To protect the innocent—or the guilty, as the case may be—we’ve hidden the contributors’ names. Here’s what happened:

Intern J: Remember when we talked about exercises you can do at your desk (in addition to other healthy writing habits)? Can you guys respond to this email with your desk exercise suggestions? Thanks!

Editor R: I don't believe I ever consciously think of exercising when I'm writing. I tend to have many interruptions, anyway (kiddo, cats, husband—Can you come hold the ladder for me? Where did you put my whatever?—telephone, dryer buzzer, doorbell), so I'm up and down fairly often, anyway. And then there's refilling my coffee cup, which is a frequent demand. When I'm writing my own stories, however, I intentionally get up and walk away after every scene. Whether it's a page, a chapter, or whatever, I walk away for a moment. I think about the scene, make sure it's what I want it to be, and then I think about the next scene—envision the setting, listen to the sounds there, consider the character's voice and how the tone should sound different than it did in the last scene. This may take five minutes or a couple of hours—which is likely why it takes me so long to write! I suppose I'm just too hyperactive to stay seated for very long, but at-the-desk exercise has never been an issue with me.

Editor S1: I sometimes use an exercise ball for a chair at my desk. If I swap it out for my chair even for an hour or two, I find I’m not only more comfortable, but I get more accomplished in that time. Active sitting is so much better for my lower back and hips.

Editor S2: I also sit on an exercise ball at work. And do forearm stretches to stretch those carpels by pushing one of my hands up or down with the other hand.

Editor D: Just last year, I started running around my building once an hour, and it has made a difference—and I might add it’s helpful to have a dog that could benefit from this type of exercise too.

Editor X: I do what I call “60-second exercises.” Every time I get up—which I try to do at least once an hour—I set the timer for one minute and do some kind of exercise for that one minute. It might be jumping jacks, toe touches, lunges, whatever, but those 60-seconds add up over a day’s time.

Editor D: Get those shoulders loosened up by reaching for the sky and performing a satisfying stretch. Lock your fingers together while you're up there and try to bring your arms behind your head as far as possible. I have a big thick rubber band (my massage therapist gives them out, about an inch wide and a foot in circumference) that I use to aid in this endeavor if I'm not too tired/lazy to reach for the rubber band. One simply hooks a finger into each side of the rubber band and does the same stretch only with the rubber band.

Editor X: I do a similar stretch. With my arms over my head, I bend from the waist to the left, to the right, forward and backward. And then do it again. And again. And again.

Editor D: One thing to perhaps add is the importance of stretching any which way you can—not only back and shoulders, but legs and arms. It can be hard to type while in a fancy yoga position, but sometimes I read while doing a simple one. One more thing I love to do: if one gets/has a big, thick rubber band, one can use it to aid in arm stretches and even muscle building while one sits (pulling the rubber band apart at chest level and also with arms straight up, or even trying to go back over your head). Also, I think people overlook the simple stretch of turning your head slowly to the side, as if you're trying to look over your shoulder, and holding that position for a few seconds (then, of course, do the other side). 

Editor X: Oh, yeah. That turning of the head feels great! Thanks.

Editor C: I have a parrot in my care who keeps trying to go for the cat, who is an ace bird catcher, so that keeps me leaping up to stop the parrot from testing the cat. Therefore, I recommend a ball chair, one parrot, one cat, daily exercise, children under the age of ten who constantly need attention, and a beagle who steals food off a kitchen counter—those few additional practices should keep muscles going.

Editor D: Editor C, except for the parrot, I'm right there with you. Oh, and instead of a sweet little beagle, imagine a Jack Russell-mix who eats everything from earplugs to bandaids—unless she’s burying them in the potted plants.

Editor C: Our beagle also steals cell phones and any other electrical appliance he can get his teeth on—oh and he loves unwrapping toilet rolls and dragging the whole unraveled roll around the house. He tears up used tissues—gross, and underwear from the laundry bin are his favorite—barf!

Intern J: Exercises, guys! Exercises! C’mon. Focus!

Editor D: Sometimes my exercise routine at the end of the day consists of twisting bathtub knobs and squeezing a bottle of Sage/Lavender/Take Your Pick Calm and Relax bubble bath.

Editor C: Okay, here is my exercise after a long day of editing or writing. I get up off my ergonomically designed PC chair and walk to a cabinet. I uncork a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, pick up a glass with my left hand, pour a Jack with my right, then down said Jack. If the day was filled with really bad/difficult writing, I down a second Jack—or more—gotta keep exercising those arms. Then I'll pour a third Jack, meander to the refrigerator, pop in some ice, wander back to my ergonomically designed chair, put up my feet and review the edit with new, somewhat tipsy eyes and finally get to have a good laugh, cry or laugh until I cry, depending on how many Jacks I’ve actually had. So I exercise my tear ducts as well—needed to do that all day.

Editor R: We have a similar exercise regimen, Editor C. Except my personal trainer is Jack's Latino cousin, José.

Intern J: Okay, you people are funny, and I hate to be a stick-in-the-mud, but does anyone have any other real desk exercises or stretches they do? We have a blog to get out.

Editor G: This may be a generational thing, Intern J. I think some of us “oldies” started this work before anyone decided we needed desk exercises. Whoever heard of such a thing? Now we’re the victims of old bad habits and don't even know any desk exercises. Except that elbow-bending one Editor C mentioned.

Editor R: I'm with Editor G. The only desk exercise I do is getting up when the dryer buzzer goes off, or to refill my coffee mug, or to let the cats in—and out—and in—and out—and . . . you get it.

Editor C: I’m with both of you. In the naughty corner.

Intern J: *sigh*