Archive for September, 2010

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.


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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I’ve been looking forward to this day all week. It’s National Punctuation Day, which gives all us grammarians a reason to chat about little things like commas, periods, colons, and exclamation marks, without feeling like nerds.

Last year I celebrated by discussing commas. You can read that post by clicking here.

This year, I did a little research for tidbits of information on punctuation that you might find interesting. Here are my favorites: Did you know that the exclamation mark was originally the letter I placed above the letter O, representing the Latin word io, meaning exclamation of joy? Do you know how many punctuation marks are used in the English language? (14)

For those of you who write poetry, there’s a Haiku contest over at http://nationalpunctuationday.com/ to celebrate this year’s Punctuation Day. Entries must be submitted by September 30, 2010, so check it out today!

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What’s your favorite punctuation mark—or least favorite?  Are you celebrating anything today? 



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While waiting in line at the gas station to pay for my coffee, I got a terrific idea for a new character. My inspiration was a towering hulk of a man wearing a black t-shirt, jeans, motorcycle boots, and a silver bangle in one ear.

I never got a look at the guy’s whole face as I was standing behind him and could only see his profile. He must have been at least 6’6″ tall, so I had an excellent view of the inside of his nose whenever I looked up. That meant I spent most of my time staring at his belt, which held a chain with a fascinating wad of keys and plastic rewards cards. I suspect he doesn’t care about fashion or cleanliness, and yet he was attractive in a macho kind of way.

This potential character was buying lottery tickets, and the machine was so slow that we were there at least 5 minutes waiting for his transaction to process. He chatted with the cashier, and I took mental notes of everything he said. I was sorry when he left as I still needed to know a few things. Someday you’ll read about him, or someone very similar, in one of my stories.

In case you haven’t met any characters today, here are a few sites that might give you ideas for developing your own:

http://hollylisle.com/index.php/How-To-s/how-to-create-a-character.html Holly Lisle reveals how she creates characters.

http://kayedacus.com/2009/02/17/creating-credible-characters-refresher/ Kaye Dacus has a series of posts on characterization.

http://www.suite101.com/content/three-step-method-of-character-development-a160199 Suzanne Pitner gives tips on developing believable characters.


Where do you get inspiration for characters? How much background information do you need before a story idea develops around a character? Or, do you come up with the story first, then the characters? What is it that generally makes you notice a stranger and sparks your imagination or interest?

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On my way to do errands yesterday, I stopped at Dairy Queen for a chocolate-covered-strawberry Blizzard. I sat in my car and enjoyed the breeze blowing through the windows as I savored the ice cream and admired the waving fields of corn across the street. My thoughts drifted from one topic to another as I relaxed for the first time in days, alone and loving it.

Out of nowhere, a big ole SUV pulled into the parking spot next to me. The wind blew snippets of conversation, laughter, and exhaust fumes into my car, and the peace I’d felt moments before flew out the window. Though I’m usually a sociable person, it annoyed me that the other driver had parked right beside me when there were plenty of empty spots in the lot. It felt like an intrusion on my personal space.

Author intrusion in a story feels the same way. It pulls a reader out of the fictional setting and makes her notice something else. There are several ways this can happen:

The narrator makes a comment or observation that isn’t consistent with what the reader has been led to expect from the viewpoint character.

Dialog seems directed toward the reader as a way of explaining backstory, or as a means of inserting the author’s personal views, rather than being a natural part of the story.

Details regarding the setting or characters aren’t consistent, causing the reader to pause and question what the author has written.

Holes in the plot, outdated information, or factual errors can confuse or annoy readers, pulling them out of the make-believe world the author created.


What other ways does an author intrude on a story? What things annoy you when reading a story?

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