Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Simple Words for Simple Actions

As writers, sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we need to describe everything that our characters are doing down to the tiniest detail. We want our readers to be able to "see" the action, but we forget that our readers are already familiar with the actions we're describing.

For instance:

Tammy climbed into the shower stall and checked to make sure the water was just how she liked it by holding her hand in the stream. Then she reached for the shampoo bottle, squirted some in the palm of her hand, and worked up a good lather. She rinsed carefully, then followed with conditioner. After that, she used body wash.

vs.

Tammy took a hot shower to clear her mind and was ready to call Tom and give him her answer by the time she toweled off.

This is, of course, an exaggerated example (mine generally are). But the point is this - your reader knows what goes into taking a shower. They don't need to have each step explained. Unless there's something unusual about this shower - maybe she reaches for the conditioner and there's a black widow on the bottle and it kills her dead - we don't need so many details. Just get to the point you're trying to make.

Remember - simple words for simple actions.

She can drive down the street without us seeing her put the key in the ignition and turn it.
She can make a phone call without punching buttons.
She can order her meal without reading all the menu options.

The reader will know that each of these things happened, and you can save precious page space by skipping over them.

Now, one warning about this - don't show her standing up unless we knew she was sitting down. That's one thing that will throw a reader off - physical positioning of the character. So use a little judgment, but see where you can cut the fat in your manuscript by deleting the things that the reader will know automatically. This will pick up the pace of your story and keep the reader more engaged.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Styles of Grammar

When I was a little girl and in school, I could have sworn that my teachers presented grammar as set-in-stone rules. The way they showed me how to do something was the only way to do it. I graduated from high school and moved on to college, and no one ever said anything different.

Well, guess what? I moved into the business world and attended a training session that provided me with a "Duh!" moment.

Latin grammar never changes because Latin is a dead language. Dead? Yes. Because there's nowhere in the world where people actively speak it, so it never changes.

That doesn't work with English. English is a vibrant, ever-changing language. It's the official language in several countries, and each one manages to tweak it in their own way. For example, in 2007, the word Woot was the Merriam-Webster Dictionary word of the year. If you follow the link you'll see what it means. But do you know where it came from? We Owned the Other Team. It's a gaming term that's now being used by people who aren't gamers.

Snarky is another word I like. I heard it for the first time when I became a moderator at the Leaky Lounge. Many of the other moderators are British, and that's been mostly a British term, according to Dictionary.com. But I'm hearing it a lot now, both from people I associate with and on American television and in American books.

But everyone needs to know there are different styles of grammar. And the rules are different, depending upon the style you're using. When I teach classes on grammar, I suggest that my coworkers choose one style and be consistent. At work, we use the Gregg Reference Manual. This is business oriented, but it's still a good resource about grammar rules. They update every five years to keep up with trends.

Notice in the following (hilarious) video the reference to the Chicago Manual of Style. They aren't talking fashion.


So where are your grammar strengths? How about your weaknesses? What resources do you prefer to use?