Emotion in Writing

When I read a book, I often base my opinion of whether it’s a good story or not, by the emotion it brought out in me. If a book made me laugh or cry it was usually a good one. Of course there are many other emotions besides happiness or sadness. Fear, paranoia, depression, sympathy, worry; they are all part of our emotions. It is the writer’s job to draw the reader into the story by making him care about the characters. As a reader, if I feel that I am emotionally drawn in, that usually means I’m enjoying the book.

I would like to share with you an excerpt from my novel, Julia’s Violinist. I hope you’ll feel some kind of emotion as you read it.

Excerpt from Julia’s Violinist

Three days later the POWs gathered their few possessions and lined up at the Stalag gates to have their passbooks stamped on their way to freedom. The last distribution of mail was done as the soldiers passed through the gates. Only a handful of POWs had mail. Karl thought he must have heard wrong when his name was called. The Russian guard tossed a tatty bundle of letters to him and read the next name. Karl was stunned. Not a single letter for over a year and now, on the last day, a bundle of … thirty-one, he counted. All from Julia.

He was frantic with wanting to open them, but nothing, not even these special letters, could make him lag behind in the POW camp. Out! Out! Just get out first, and then I can look at them.

As soon as he was out of sight of the prison camp, he sank down on the ground beside the road. His hands trembled as he opened the first letter. Through tears he saw her lovely handwriting, so perfect and neat; words that spoke of loneliness and longing. Each letter contained a small anecdote of Julia’s home life and ended with the hope that they would see each other again. Around the edges of the pages his name was written over and over in a border design, “KarlKarlKarlKarl. I miss you, Karl.”

He wasn’t sure how long he sat there. Other recently released POWs walked by. No one stopped. They had seen it all and there was nothing unusual about a man sitting in the dirt crying his eyes out as he read his mail.

Front Cover  jpg (1)(2)

Julia’s Violinist is available at all amazon sites in paperback or Kindle and at smashwords.com in paperback and all e-reader formats. You can find out more about my books on my webpage:  http://www.anneli-purchase.com

Like, You Know

I’ve been posting about writing tips – things to avoid in writing, correct grammar, and word usage. But what about the way we speak? Writing is just another way of recording our speech, just another form of communication. The two forms often overlap.

Young writers, especially, are guilty of letting their chatty colloquialisms and bad language habits creep into their writing. The two are closely related, but today I want to talk more about oral language than written.

Probably one of the first things people learn when they take lessons in public speaking is to get rid of the habit of filling dead air with “ah … er … uh ….” Listen to one of our top politicians speaking and you’ll find it hard to concentrate on whether he is saying anything worthwhile between the many “ah”s.

Filler words allow the speaker to keep control of his turn to speak, a subconscious ploy to prevent someone else from interrupting, while he buys time as he searches for words or ideas. My own preference would be for the dead air.

When I listen to an interview on the TV news or a podcast, I often hear meaningless words interjected as fillers.

One of the speech habits that drives me crazy is the use of “like” when it doesn’t mean “like” at all. This word is thrown into every second sentence whether it needs it or not, thus saving the speaker from having to think of other words to explain what he really means. When I hear, “I was like, wow!” I think, “What does that mean?” Grammatically, it’s nonsense.

We expect some stupid language habits from teens, but it seems to me, that adults are beginning to get lazy too. It’s not unusual to hear a person use “like,” hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of times in an hour-long interview.

“You know” is another meaningless expression thrown into conversation far too often. Just listen to any interview on the news and you’ll hear it repeated.

I had a history teacher who basically lectured, and had little interaction with the class once she began to speak. I didn’t learn much in that course. I was so focused on her habit of interjecting, “of course,” and “of course you know,” that I whiled away the time making tally marks every time she said either. One day, at the end of a one-hour lecture she had used “of course” 137 times. I was torn between wanting to help her by letting her know, and making sure I passed the course. “Of course” I chose the passing grade.

And then there is profanity. We each have our own level of tolerance for the use of the F word, but I think I speak for the majority who realize that once in a long while, it is the only word that fits the situation. However, it is not a word that should have a place in our regular conversation.

Excessive use of the F word seems to be more popular with men who work in jobs requiring physical labour. Maybe they run into more injuries. I think most people who hit their thumb with a hammer might say F—! But it has become the norm for some segments of society to throw in the F word as if they are punctuating a paragraph. I do admire their knowledge of grammar though. I would find it a difficult act to follow, to tell a story with the addition of the F word in front of every noun and every verb. How do they do it? It is also often placed in front of the word “right.” So just remember that. It goes in front of every noun and every verb, and usually when you are agreeing with someone you say, F’n right. Do all of that and you will be admired by others of your ilk, ye of little brains. This includes that group of 15-year-old girls who were waiting for the school bus outside their high school, swearing as loudly as they could, to show that they were all grown up now. Lord help us!

Other habits of language we may have, include the use of certain words that we use to wrap up a conversation. You’re telling the other person, often on the phone, that it’s time to wind it up. You put on a singsong voice and sing, “Anyway,” or worse yet, “Anyhoo,” or “Well,” or “So.” Be sure to sing it in a wavy “up, down, up” sequence.

Lastly, there is the kind of speech that requires reassurance every few words. You’ll find insecure people telling their story with each phrase rising at the end as if they were asking a question.

“I was driving into town?… and there was this man?… he was standing on the corner?…” By this time I’m already going mad! No question mark needed here.

I think we all have some language habits that we should probably work on correcting. It helps if we’re aware of them. Then we can catch ourselves and eventually break the bad habits. If you happen to be Canadian, you might want to check if you use “okay” a lot, “eh?”

Emphasis

One of the problems I run into when I’m copy-editing someone’s work is the overuse of various efforts to emphasize writing.

An obvious one is the overuse of the exclamation point!!!! I’m sorry to say that I’m guilty of overusing it too, but hopefully, not in published work. Oops! I just realized that a blog post is a published work. Okay, I’m going to exclude blog posts.

When we use exclamation points (or, as I call them, exclamation marks), we are taking the lazy way out. Rather than finding better, more precise words to describe the emotion we wish to portray, we stick an exclamation mark after some ordinary words. Sometimes we even put in two or more exclamation marks, mistakenly thinking that this shows the emphasis. No! Please don’t do it. One is enough.

Exclamation marks are meant to be used sparingly, and usually only after very brief expressions (like Oops! and No!) If you use exclamation marks liberally, you will sacrifice good writing. The reader will soon tire of the smatterings of unnecessary punctuation they find throughout your work.

Another bad habit that prevents good writing is the use of the passive voice. It de-emphasizes, where the active voice would lend more urgency to the expression.

For example, here is the passive voice:

The ribbon at the finish line was broken through by the exhausted runner.

Here is the active voice:

The exhausted runner broke through the ribbon at the finish line.

Using generalizations like abstractions, euphemisms, and circumlocution, also takes away the emphasis you might have shown by using more precise words to show meaning in detail.

He gave up the ghost last week.

He died on Friday.

He minimized his exposure in oil.

He sold all but 100 of his shares in British Petroleum.

Using vague expressions like “kill two birds with one stone” and “let the cat out of the bag,” dilutes your work. Get rid of this kind of verbiage and you will improve your writing.

Now we come to one of the most common, yet misguided forms authors use in aiming for emphasis in writing.

Throwing these words into sentences is supposed to add emphasis, but it waters down the writing into a boring assortment of overused words.

Instead of saying, “He was an awfully good friend,” why not tell why that was so, and say something like, “You could always count on Bob to be there if you needed help.”

Here is a list of words that most of us use without even thinking about it much. If we left them out of our sentences, we would be forced to write something better.

amazing

awfully

beautiful(ly)

certainly

exciting

extremely

fantastic

highly

perfectly

really

richly

so

such

super

swell

terribly

too

tremendous(ly)

very

wonderful(ly)

If you find yourself using these words, ask yourself, “Do I need this word? Does it improve my writing? Can I come up with something better?”

I will save the last tip on overused words for next time, as it merits a page of its own.

Meanwhile, think of these suggestions as coming from one who is guilty of making these very mistakes and, like you, is learning along the way.

Awareness is a good place to start changing our writing for the better.

Dang Those Dangling Modifiers

This post was published almost four years ago, but it merits another appearance here, and it may entertain you while it provides tips for better writing.

You don’t have to be an author to know how important parts of speech and grammar rules can be. I wasn’t doing anything writing-related one day, when I saw the importance of sentence structure.

Not having seen rabbits eating up my garden for several months, I was sure the owls had taken care of my problem. I realized that I was not going to be that lucky when the Captain came home and announced, “I saw a rabbit driving down the road.”

The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist saying, “Oh, what was he driving?”

You see how easily we leave parts of our sentence dangling, making the meaning unclear. Dangling modifiers are more common than you might think. They make our writing look bad, but they certainly provide some entertainment for the copy-editor.

Very often, phrases that modify a noun or pronoun are placed carelessly into a sentence. When they contain verb forms and are left dangling, without a definite indication of what they are modifying, the results can be disastrous to our writing.

Here are some examples of dangling modifiers.

  1. Gerund phrase:

After finding out about the actors, the movie did not seem as appealing to us.

(It sounds as if the movie found out about the actors.)

  1. Elliptical phrase (where some words are omitted and meanings presumed to be understood):

Weapons ready, the duel was fought.

(Did the duel have the weapons ready?)

  1. Participial phrase:

John heard an owl walking through the woods.

(Was the owl walking through the woods?)

  1. Infinitive phrase:

To drive a car a licence must be held.

(Does this mean I have to hold it in my hand while driving? Or does it mean that if I don’t have a licence I won’t know how to drive a car?)

  1. Prepositional phrase:

With only a dollar in his pocket, it seemed useless to try to go far.

(Who is “it”? Does “it” have a dollar in “his” [whose?] pocket?)

  1. Appositive

A magnificent mansion, the door opened to show a grand ballroom inside.

(Is the door the same as a mansion?)

Misplaced Modifiers

Other problems with modifiers happen when they are misplaced, as often happens with qualifiers such as “only” or “almost.”

Some examples follow. Note the difference in meaning when the word is placed in various locations.

  1. Her cousin only drives their car. (He doesn’t wash it or fuel it up.)
  2. Her only cousin drives their car. (She has no other cousins.)
  3. Her cousin drives only their car. (He doesn’t drive anyone else’s, or he doesn’t drive their truck or van.)
  4. Her cousin drives their only car. (They have no other car except that one.)
  5. We almost saw ten whales. (We saw none because we got to the spot too late.)
  6. We saw almost ten whales. (We saw eight or nine of them.)

Placement of modifiers matters a great deal.

Squinting Modifiers

One more type of modifier causes ambiguity in a sentence. Often it is placed between two possible elements, and we have no way of knowing which it is meant to describe. We call it a “squint” modifier, perhaps because it seems to squint and we can’t tell which way it is looking or which element it is meant to modify.

Some examples:

My mother told me sometimes to watch where I’m going. (Did she tell me sometimes, or should I only watch where I’m going sometimes?)

She said every day to wash my face. (Did she say it every day or should I wash my face every day?)

The squint can also appear at the end of the sentence.

My dogs chased each other in the yard when I called them for a good reason. (Did the dogs chase each other for a good reason, or did I call them for a good reason?)

The fisherman was smiling when he caught the fish without even knowing it. (Did the fisherman not know that he was smiling or that he caught the fish. OR, was it the fish who didn’t know it was caught?)

While dangling, misplaced, and squinting modifiers can be a source of amusement, they do not provide the kind of entertainment we strive for in our writing. They can be very sneaky and are sometimes hard to detect. Be watchful and try to avoid them.

And while you’re being watchful, keep an eye out for that rabbit driving down the road. Most likely he was driving a brown VW Rabbit.

For more about my copy-editing services, please visit my website www.anneli-purchase.com

Gimmicks that Work

Let me begin with farther and further, since these were mentioned in a comment recently. I’ve struggled with these myself, but when I have trouble remembering something, I find that a gimmick works well for me.

Farther is used for distance, so I think of “far.

Further is used for expanding on an idea, so I think of the word “furthermore.” You wouldn’t say “farthermore” so that narrows it right down.

Desert and dessert

I like to have my dessert in the desert. That’s all very fine, but how do I know which one has one “s” and which has two?

I think of a resort in a desert. Both words have one “s.”

Once I’m in the desert, I think of what a blessing it is to have a dessert there. Two “s”s in each of these words.

Ah, but there is trouble on the desert horizon. A disgruntled soldier is going to desert (pronounced like “dessert”). All I can think is that he is going to leave the resort (one “s”) and if he does that, he will NOT get dessert (two “s”s).

Bear and bare

For a start, my gimmick is for “bare,” and I think of part of the word (bare), because if you are bare, you ARE naked.

All the other meanings are spelled bear.

Bear is an animal. Bear means to carry or to withstand an ordeal. I imagine a big strong bear who can carry the load and put up with a lot. He can bear it. You can even have him marching along on two feet with a shotgun over his shoulder and a sign that says, “The 2nd amendment says we have the right to keep and arm bears.”

Stationary and stationery

These two words gave me trouble in elementary school already. I came up with a gimmick way back then and it has worked for me ever since.

The spelling difference is the “a” and the “e.”

Stationary means not moving from a place, so I think of the “a” for “at” a place. Stationery means letter-writing material, so I think of the “e” in “letter.”

I would bet that you have gimmicks that work for you. If you care to share them, please do. It might make someone else’s writing life easier.

Troublesome words

Some words give us more trouble than others.

This group seems to belong together in the troublemaker group. I will try to use each example in a sentence to help explain how they should be used.

altogether or all together

The child received altogether too much attention for her own good.

Altogether it was a good weekend.

It was a wonderful time because the family was all together at Thanksgiving.

anytime or any time

Please visit me anytime you like.

Do you think you will have any time to do that mending?

anyplace – colloquial, better to avoid it

Use anywhere instead.

anyway or any way

I know you don’t want to take the gift but I want to give it anyway.

Is there any way you can make it work?

anyplace and someplace – use anywhere and somewhere instead. Putting “s” on these words to make anywheres and somewheres, is a no-no! Bad, bad, bad! Same goes for anyways, everywheres, and nowheres.

everyday, every day, everyone, every one

Everyday means ordinary. Every day tells when.

Sunshine was an everyday occurrence. It happened every day.

Everyone means all people in a group or category. Every one means each person.

Everyone came out to hear the actor reciting Dickens’ work. It ended with “God bless us every one.”

Sometime and sometimes or some time and some times.

I will visit you sometime in February, but sometimes it snows and the roads can be bad. I hope we can spend some time together. We’ve had some times together, haven’t we?

someday or some day

Someday we’ll have a picnic in our backyard. We did it once before, some day in July, I think.

maybe or may be

Maybe it’s not a good idea to drive the car on icy roads like this.

It may be that you’re a good driver, but that may not be enough.

Horrors in Time for Halloween

I’ve told you how I feel about seeing and hearing “regard(s),” amount,” and “less” misused. After I opened the door to discuss those horrors, I noticed many more horrifying misuses lurking in the back of the writing closet.

When these words somehow make it into published writing, I shudder as if a tarantula crept across the page of my book. I groan as if a skeleton had snuggled up beside me as I read. I moan helplessly as the careless author is vampiring my blood for as long as it takes for me to read the book.

Without a clove of garlic handy, I’m at the author’s mercy if he/she has not hired a copy-editor to clean up the freaky expressions that set any reader’s teeth on edge.

Here are some of the latest horrors I’ve come across.

“Have to” is often used to mean “must,” especially in dialogue. When we say these words, the “v” sounds like “f.” It sounds like “hafto,” but for heaven’s sake, please don’t spell it like that. It is still two words (“have to”).

A similar situation happens with “supposed to” and “used to.” The correct form is not “suppose to,” “suppost to,” or even “s’post to.” Neither is it “use to,” or “useto.”

Another common mistake that makes me prickle is the use of “of” when “have” is meant. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Could of, should of, would of — these are meant to be could have, should have, would have.

While we’re at it, let’s throw in “gonna,” kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna.” These should say “going to,” “kind of,” “give me,” and “want to.” Yes, in dialogue you may want to write “gonna,” “kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna,” if that’s how the characters are speaking. Do it if you must, but only in dialogue.

Don’t laugh! Adult authors have published books containing these travesties of writing. These expressions live in published works even outside the borders of Transylvania.

Relationship Security

Have you ever had someone say to you, “Why are you like that?” Or maybe you’ve asked yourself that question about others. There are reasons for our behaviour. Some of them we don’t understand; some we are not even aware of, and never will be.

In her book, Relationship Security, author Kathleen Price shows us that, along with some other factors, our experiences, even those we have as young children, shape us into the adults we become. They influence our responses to nearly every situation we deal with as we go through life.

Most of us seek a loving, caring relationship in which there is mutual trust. As young adults, we are optimistic about finding the right person who will fulfill that expectation. If we haven’t witnessed an example of a secure bond in our parents’ relationship, marriage may bring disillusionment when we perpetually need to protect ourselves because we don’t feel secure. At the same time, we may discover that we are blaming our partner for faults we don’t want to see in ourselves.

Using her own experiences Ms. Price analyzes how events in her life have affected her relationships. She uses an engaging method of bringing the reader in, alternating the narratives of parts of her life with passages from psychologists and other professionals.

Each chapter features an “insight” section containing the reliable concepts and theories, which she applies not only to her past, but her present challenges. With this understanding, she is better able to let down her defenses and embrace her relationships more fully in a calm, trusting, and optimistic way.

In reading Ms. Price’s book, we can see why some of her early experiences have caused her to react in certain ways as she encounters situations in her adult life. We may be able to identify with many of the conclusions of professionals, and possibly find them helpful in our own daily living.

          In Relationship Security Kathleen Price records her experience growing up in a family in which two committed parents were not able to establish a trusting relationship. The same problem repeats itself in her first marriage as she and her husband grapple with the challenges of parenthood without a secure bond. A divorce and remarriage follow, but this time she and her new husband, who is also disillusioned by a first marriage, are determined not to make the same mistakes again. Both acknowledge they shared the responsibility for the failure of their first marriages, but they don’t yet understand how or why.

          Her book reveals a progression of awareness as the author strives for security and nurturing, not only with her spouse, but her children, siblings, in-laws, and close friends. Each chapter features an “insight” section containing the reliable concepts and theories, which she applies not only to her past, but her present challenges. With this understanding, she is better able to let down her defenses and embrace her relationships more fully in a calm, trusting, and optimistic way.

I was deeply moved by Ms. Price’s autobiographical writings. Her story is bravely told. She faces her shortcomings honestly with a view to discovering why she has made some of the decisions that have shaped her life. Relationship Security is very readable and will give you a lot to think about after you close the book.

You can find this great book at amazon.com

Kathleen Price

Kathleen Price began her professional career as a family life educator and marriage and family therapist. Since her retirement she has published two books, both based on her personal experience. She lives with her husband in Las Cruces, New Mexico and can be reached via her website: www.kathleenprice.org.

Two Misuses That Drive me Crazy

Regard/Regards

This one drives me crazy.

Two of the main uses for this word are when it means “about” and when it means “greetings.”

You can correctly say, “I haven’t seen your aunt for a long time. Please give her my regards.” (Notice the “s” on the end of the “regards”?) Used in this way, it means to tell someone that you are thinking of them.

When you are referring to some topic, you can correctly say, “With regard to (the topic)…” or you can say, “Regarding (the topic) ….” But you should NEVER say, “With regards to (the topic)…” unless you are asking someone to say hi to the topic or to give the topic your greetings.

Several news anchor people on CTV News regularly say, “With regards to …” when they mean, “With regard to….” The anchor person says, “With regards to the rioters…” and I immediately roll my eyes, groan, and say, “Yes, please give the rioters my regards too, while you’re at it.”

Many people make this mistake in word usage, and that is not so bad in personal speech or in emails or private communications, but I draw the line at publishing. By that, I mean anything that you write for the public to read. I include signs in the grocery store that tell you the price of broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower, for example. They are not brocolli, pepers, and callaflower.

Especially, if you are publishing a program on TV, it is your duty to use the correct form. Otherwise we would soon have news anchors reading the news with all sorts of bad grammar habits. (I fear it may be too late already).

While I’m ranting about news anchors and their mistakes, here is another one that I hear frequently.

Amount/number, less/fewer

This one drives me almost as crazy.

News Anchor: “The amount of people who came to the meeting was overwhelming.”

Me: “So about how many pounds of people would you say were there? Three thousand pounds? Four?”

It should be the number of people.

News Anchor: “There were less people at the meeting this year.”

Me: “Oh? About how many pounds less would you say?”

It should be fewer people, not less people.

If the quantity is something you can count individually, you say, the number of people or fewer people.

If those people were just so much hamburger all in a lump, you could say, “The amount of hamburger  was overwhelming,” and “There was less hamburger at the meeting.”

Amount and less are words used for measuring something that could be a mass or something that could be weighed as a whole (if necessary).

Now I’m shaking in my boots that I’ve made a typo in this post. After all, I’m publishing it, and to the best of my ability, it should be correct. I should probably hire a copy-editor.

More Troublesome Words

Troublesome words fill the English language. Here are some more to add to your list of words to watch for.

pear/pair/pare

She preferred the pear to the apple. She loved pears so much that she took two from the bowl and ate the pair of them. They had some blemishes so she decided to pare them first.

peel/peal

Just as she took the peel off the pears, the church bells began to peal.

aural/oral

Her aural senses told her that the church bells rang twelve times. Since that meant it was lunch time, she gratified her oral senses by biting into the pears.

recipe/receipt

“I must get the recipe for that pear cake,” she thought. “But is it too expensive to make pear cake? I’ll check the receipt from the store to see how much I paid.”

continual/continuous

The sound of phones ringing was continual in the call center, but when the fire alarm rang, the shrill sound of it was continuous for several minutes.

principle/principal

The principles of gravity are fundamental truths. Isaac Newton learned of one of them in 1666 when an apple hit him on the head as he sat under an apple tree.

He went to the principal’s office to report this revelation about gravity. No one believed him at first, but he was determined and stuck to his principles as he minded his manners and insisted that he would be famous one day.

weary/wary

We walked for miles through the forest, and although weary we kept our eyes open and were wary of any strange rustling sounds in the bushes.

conscious/conscience/conscientious

I was conscious of the subtle pressure from my employer, but my conscience would not allow me to go along with his suggested illegal action.

At this point I think you have all been very conscientious if you are still with me.