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Archive for the ‘Terminology Explained’ Category

Whether writing or speaking, the words we use convey images to our audience.  The literal, dictionary definition of a particular word is its denotation; the implied meaning or perception associated with it is its connotation.  Selecting the right words for the thoughts we want to communicate requires knowing both their literal meaning and the emotional context surrounding them.

Many words have positive, negative, or neutral connotations that add color to their literal meanings. For example, calling someone a chef will generally imply more skill and prestige than saying they are a cook, even though both words denote a person whose job is preparing food to eat. Saying a woman’s hair looks nice can have a neutral, or perhaps negative, connotation even though the word “nice” is generally considered complimentary. Seeing the name of an inner-city gang scrawled across the wall of a building might make a gang member feel pride, but the same sight might incite anger or fear in other people in the community. Factors such as age, culture, education, and life experiences will affect how a person perceives certain words. 

Using words that connote more than their literal meaning can affect the tone and mood of what we write, and adds depth to both fiction and nonfiction by stimulating the reader’s imagination and invoking an emotional response.

 

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What are some words you react to based on their connotation more than their denotation?  What type of words do you view as “neutral?”  Do you think about the meaning of the words you are using more when you are writing than when you are speaking?

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When I was in high school, our English teachers encouraged us to use lots of descriptive words in our writing. Adjectives and adverbs were our friends, making us sound educated and interesting. Flowery prose was admired, and many of my favorite stories spent more time describing the scenery than the action.

Times have changed.  

The type of writing I was taught is now considered “purple prose.” That means it’s writing that calls attention to itself by being excessive or exaggerated. The writing itself becomes the focus rather than what is written.

Though the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, clichés, similes, metaphors, and alliteration is no longer in vogue, it doesn’t mean these literary devices shouldn’t ever be used. Sometimes they’re effective in clarifying what we mean, and they can add to characterization. They can be used to grab the reader’s attention or adjust the pacing of a story. In dialog, they add a sense of realism as real speech is generally full of description and clichés. The key is—don’t overdo it.

Today’s readers are less impressed with flowery writing than those of yore. Choose words that say what you mean and are appropriate for your target audience. An occasional adjective or adverb can spice up a sentence, but too much of a good thing can get old quick (like clichés). Limit your use of them to those that are essential to the image or thought you’re trying to convey.

So, how do we know which ones are essential? They’re the ones that make what we’re describing come alive for the reader, or clarify an important noun or verb. They’re the ones that, when missing, make the sentence feel incomplete or unclear.

For those of us who could use a refresher course, here are excellent references for understanding some important points of grammar.

Adjectives  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adjectives.htm 

Adverbs  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/adverbs.htm  

Verbs  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/verbs.htm  

Nouns  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/nouns.htm

Another helpful site for grammar info is: Purdue OWL  http://owl.english.purdue.edu/   

 

 

   

Did your high school English teacher tell you adding lots of adjectives and adverbs made your writing more interesting? Do you use lots of them in your writing or deliberately limit them? What criteria do you use for determining whether words, phrases, or sentences are essential to what you’re writing?

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In general, mysteries follow the typical story structure of an enticing beginning, a middle building tension to the climax, and a satisfying ending. Sometimes these stories feel more like a circle, though, as they may open with a crime (often a murder) or other event that needs investigating and end with that mystery being solved. Many of them are part of a series of books that have the same protagonist. Those books may end with an event that leaves open the possibility of a new mystery.

Mysteries tend to be somewhat formulaic, with subgenres that have characteristics readers can rely on. The protagonists range from hard-boiled detectives to amateur sleuths and can be any age. Though characterization and setting are important elements, the plot is always the central focus of the story.

Clues are interspersed throughout the story so readers feel involved in solving the mystery along with the protagonist. An occasional red herring to throw the detective—and readers—off track is fine, but the twists and turns of the plot must make sense when the outcome is revealed. Mysteries must be solved using logic rather than supernatural means or deus ex machina.

This is a genre that’s popular with readers of all ages. Some mysteries involve elements of romance, fantasy, or suspense, and the degree of danger to the protagonist varies. Factual accuracy is important, and certain types of mysteries require extensive research to create a believable story.

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Some common types of mysteries are:

The Cozy: usually involves an amateur sleuth in a small-town setting, with little violence involved

—For more on cozies, check out http://www.cozy-mystery.com/Definition-of-a-Cozy-Mystery.html

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Private Eyes: a hired investigator follows clues to solve the mystery       

—A good site for more info is http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/PI.shtml

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Hard-boiled Detectives: police investigate crimes involving violence, with a gritty feel to the story

—If you’re interested in crime fiction, you might enjoy http://www.crimeculture.com/

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For a more complete description of subgenres, check out http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/genres.shtml  or  http://ticket2write.tripod.com/id29.html

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For more tips on writing mysteries, here are a few helpful sites:

http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/genrefiction/tp/mysteryrules.htm  General mystery writing tips

http://www.right-writing.com/child-mysteries.html  Writing mysteries for kids

http://www.writing-world.com/mystery/floyd.shtml  Writing short stories

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What type of mystery stories do you enjoy? Who are some of your favorite mystery authors? Who is your favorite fictional detective?

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Romance novels consistently represent one of the most popular genres, with over a billion dollars in sales each year. There are two basic types of romance novels—category, and single-title books.

 

Category Romance:

Some publishers release several books in a particular line each month, with strict guidelines as to their word count and structure. This format must be followed for every book in the category, regardless of the author.

Single-Title Romance:

These books are sold individually rather than as a group. The page length is not fixed, and the author has more control over the structure of the story.

 

In every romance novel, the growing relationship between the heroine and the hero is the most important element of the book. There must be believable conflict causing them to change and grow closer, but subplots must not take on more importance than their romantic relationship. Conflict, both internal and external, should increase emotional tension, but readers expect things to end with the hope of the couple living happily ever after.

The setting and time period can be anywhere, anytime. There can be elements of suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc., but the couple in love must be the main focus of the book. If it isn’t, it isn’t a real romance.

 

 Resources for the Romance writer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Romance Readers:

Harlequin ebooks 16 free category romances

 

Reviews and News for Romance Readers

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Why do you enjoy/hate romance novels? Do you prefer the category romances or single-title books? What’s your favorite romance author or book?

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If you’re planning to give a pitch to an agent or editor at a conference, you may want to take a one sheet, or pitch sheet, with you. Some resources use these terms interchangeably, but some say a one sheet covers all of your work while a pitch sheet is designed to help you present just one book or series. Regardless of the term, a one page summary comes in handy when you get a chance to present your work.

In addition to your full contact information, this page should include a professional-quality photo of yourself, and an author bio. Also write a short blurb about the book or series you’re pitching. Make it enticing, like the short summaries you see on the back cover of books in a store.

These sheets should showcase you and your work. Although you should use white paper and black text, it’s acceptable to use photos and some simple graphic design elements, including colored ink, but don’t let those features overpower the story. A template for a flyer or newsletter may help you get the look you want.

If you’re more comfortable with a simple document, go with that rather than trying to create something fancy. Their purpose is to give you one more tool to use in your effort to entice an agent or editor to ask to see more of your work, and an amateurish one sheet will probably not do that.

Author Kaye Dacus goes into more detail than I have, and also give examples:

http://kayedacus.com/2007/08/28/beyond-the-first-draft%E2%80%94the-pitch-sheet-and-one-sheet/

Another helpful reference is by Tracy Ruckman:

http://www.tracyruckman.com/downloads/One%20Sheets.pdf

Amy Wallace has an example that includes different books:

http://www.amywallace.com/pdfs/One_Sheet_Sample.pdf

Although I’ve seen one sheets recommended on several agents’ blogs, they seem to be optional. 

EDIT AUGUST 9, 2011: Agent Rachelle Gardner discusses one sheets on her blog today, and has links to several excellent examples her clients submitted. 

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Have you ever prepared a one sheet/pitch sheet? What’s the first thing you’d say to an agent if you were going to pitch something to them? What would you talk about with a conference faculty member who wasn’t an agent or editor if you were given the opportunity of a one-on-one meeting?

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While tone reflects an author’s attitude toward what she’s written, mood refers to the reaction, or feeling, that readers get from the written work.

In fiction, the tone, theme, plot, setting, and characterizations all help set the mood. Each scene should reflect the point of view character’s emotions, and focus on details or actions that help readers relate to them. For example, a scene may feel suspenseful, romantic, mysterious, or humorous, depending on what’s happening to the characters.

Even though the mood can change from scene to scene, one mood should be dominant throughout the story. There can be elements of romance or humor in a suspense novel, or suspenseful moments in a romance novel, but each genre requires a particular element to be emphasized.

Even though nonfiction books and articles are based on facts, readers will react to the mood they create. The subject, the details that are focused on, the author’s tone, and the style of the writing all work together to create a particular mood.  

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So, what was your mood after the last book you read? What do you do to put yourself in the mood to write, or to make your reading experience more enjoyable? Do you ever get angry while reading a story?

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When we speak, the words we use, the details of what we’re saying, our body language, and the inflection of our voice lets listeners infer how we feel. If we’re being sarcastic, feel angry, happy, or bored, it will usually be evident by the way we express ourselves.

Readers infer an author’s attitude by the way a story or article is written. Word choices, sentence length and structure, imagery, and other stylistic clues convey the attitude, or tone, of the writer. The tone can change with different scenes, helping readers to understand how the author intended them to be interpreted. For example, a suspenseful scene will have a different tone than a romantic or humorous one.

In nonfiction, the tone may be affected by the subject matter and intended audience. A research paper will usually have a very different tone than a how-to article or memoir. An article about computers will have a different tone if it’s intended for consumers than it will if it’s written for technicians.

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Does the author’s tone affect your enjoyment of a book? Do you think about what tone you’re projecting when you write? Is the tone of the writing something you notice or think about when you’re reading?  

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