Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reading Like A Writer

Before I start: Our Realtor called and said he wants to hold an Open House both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. In addition, there's another DUI stop that starts Saturday night and runs through about 4 AM Sunday. Looks like it'll be a busy weekend. And a lot of prep work beforehand.

On Monday, we'll be celebrating our anniversary with "Victoria & Albert" at the Grand Floridian.

Back on topic: Reading like a writer. Once you start learning the craft of writing, the entire reading experience changes. All of a sudden (a phrase one of my editors did NOT like), you start noticing things like speaker tags. Point of view. And word usage. Sometimes they'll clunk; sometimes they'll trigger an, "I've got to borrow that one," moment. Sometimes both.

Keep Reading...

One author seems to love the phrase "blew out a sigh." Or there's the dialogue tag that says, "Mary said to John," and then "John said to Mary." In a crowded scene, I can see where that comes in handy. I've used it myself. But when there are only two people in the scene, it's obvious who each is talking to. After the second time, it starts leaping from the page. And, strangely enough, it seemed to predominate in only one or two chapters, as if the author meant to change it but forgot. Was there another person in the scene in an earlier draft? Curious writer-readers want to know.

I also noticed the use of someone who 'angled a chair' to face another character. That was one I thought I might borrow. (Hey, it's a word in the dictionary, so it's not stealing). Then I noticed a whole bunch of 'angling', which started to be conspicuous. But I did like the word, and went through my manuscript to see if it would be a better word than 'turned.'

I did a Find on "turned" and found far too many of them. Another word to add to my ever-growing checklist. Checking my Synonym Finder yielded a full page of variations on the word, broken down into 44 sub-categories. You'd think a few of them could replace some of my eighty-something 'turneds'.

I didn't find any "angleds" when I searched, but there are a couple of them now. The caution is that when you replace a word with a better one, you're likely to find that you've used it already within a page. Or a paragraph. I don't know why we tend to keep using the same words over and over.

Sometimes, there just aren't any decent synonyms that make sense. Or that don't sound contrived, or like you just looked them up in a Thesaurus. It's important that the word choices match your writing voice as well as the character's. If you have a teen-aged boy locked in a dark basement, he's not going to be looking for a point of egress. So poor vocabulary choices can also slow a read.

Which segues into today's fun. I haven't shared many of my words of the day in some time. So here's a list of recent words that probably will never make it into anything I'm writing:

And here's one from Susan Wiggs, which doesn't mean what you probably think it does

I've finished (I hope) finding all the "real life" stuff in my manuscript. As far as I can tell, the only one that might require permission is the name of a restaurant chain where I've set a scene. I called their company, and the girl who took my call thought it was 'really cool' that I wanted to use the name in a book. She directed me to their PR firm, and we'll see if I get a response. The passage, taken out of context, might look like there's a problem with the food, although that's definitely not the case. If they don't like it, it'll be a 'coffee shop.'

Tomorrow, I'm finally back to working on my new manuscript. Not only did I finish the Tip Sheet, but I also managed to get a good draft of my contest entry. The challenge: a 7200 word limit for the beginning of a manuscript PLUS a synopsis. The manuscript pages had a perfect ending point at about 7600 words, so that wasn't going to work. The synopsis I'd been using was almost 2000 words. Balancing what to include in each so that the synopsis covered the major plot points, turning points, and GMC, while still leaving enough room for a good chunk of manuscript was an ordeal. I'll look at it again in a day or two, but now, I'm eager to get back to dealing with my newly discovered villain. Once I've got his back story figured out in more detail, and filtered in a few more clues, I can start moving forward.

And don't forget – Homicide – Hussey is back tomorrow. This week: "The Littlest Cop."


Ray said...

After looking in fourteen dictionaries and some commentary it is easy to see the transformation from its original meaning of a "thingamajig" to a folk gathering usually with audience participation. One commentator thought the combination came from a mix of sounds like those produced by an owl and a nanny goat.

Today's blog brings another cliche to mind, FOOD FOR THOUGHT.


Mona Risk said...

Great post Terry. As a writer, I pay a lot of attention to the writing style. Shift of POV, cliches, and he said/she said hit me like a pebble in the face. On the other other, new ways to describe a love scene or a kiss delight me. I'm also very sensitive to the pace. A slow-paced book will be put aside before the end for sure.

Fingers crossed for your house.

Terry Odell said...

Ray -- Wikipedia had the information.

Mona - I know what you mean. Writing really changes how you read.

Sheila Deeth said...

Sometimes I use Word's synonyms to change a word, then realize I've used almost the same word in a previous sentence. I guess Word's not ready to write its own books yet.

Terry Odell said...

I agree, we have our favorite words. And they do crop up like dandelions, don't they?

Delia Latham said...

Great post, Terry! I have buried and continue to mourn my old habit of reading for pure pleasure. I simply don't know how to do it anymore. As a writer, I can't not catch the cliches and repetitious words and wonderful turns of phrase in another writer's work.

A recent book I read (with a great storyline, I might add) had me pulling my hair out by the end. The author repeatedly used the word "something" in a particular way. (Ahem ... allow me to adumbrate with a copycat phrase of my own.) He wanted marriage and everything that went with it, something she had no intention of giving him. Annoying? Not at all - at a single read. But when an entire book is sprinkled liberally with similar turns of phrase, they begin to jump out and choke the reader - especially if the reader is also a writer whose inner editor doesn't know when to go night-night! lol

Terry Odell said...

Ah, Delia -- the ubiquitous "thing" words.

I know I overuse them in a first draft simply because I'm not always sure exactly what that 'thing' is. I do try to go back and make them specific wherever possible.

I know what you mean about repeated expressions. Mine was "for a moment." Or, "for a long moment."

I had eons of moments. It's on my kill list now.

Joyce Henderson said...

Unfortunately, part of the price one pays as a writer is the loss of reading purely for pleasure. That's true whether we want to admit it or not. I find myself seeing more repetitions than I probably would as a fan reader.

What really tickled me was finding a grammatical error in the editing section in the manual sent out by the publisher. Re: POV. "This bonds the reader to the character, making them care."

Au contraire. "...the reader" is singular, so it should be
...making her care. Or, if you're gender sensitive, you may prefer him. :-)

Terry Odell said...

Joyce, it sounds more like the character is doing the caring!

Ray said...


I read the Wikipedia comments. I have what is called which is a program called One Look Dictionary. On one of the other sources that came up is where I got the information for my last post. The Wikipedia article was informative, but didn't have the crazy thoughts about goats and owls.

I still remember the TV program named Hootenanny.


Terry Odell said...

Ah, yes, Ray. I'm familiar with one look. My editor insisted on it when we got into our discussions about usage (since she spoke Aussie, and I speak American.)

Debra St. John said...

Sometimes it is tricky being a reader when you're a writer. I often thing, "Hey, how can she do that when I wasn't supposed to?" Once I turn off the "internal editor" it's a lot more enjoyable to read a book!

Terry Odell said...

Debra, it's great when the writing is good enough so the internal editor takes a nap. Some days mine refuses to shut off.

Mary Ricksen said...

Yup, I looked them up too. (grin)

Rebecca J. Clark said...

Right after I'm done here, I'm going on to look up those words. Never heard of 'em--except for hootenanny.

The thing my characters tend to overdo is blinking. "She blinked," "he blinked," etc. Funny how you don't catch those until someone else (thank you, my dear editor) points them out.

Thanks for a fun post.


Terry Odell said...

Gee, thanks, Rebecca -- another word to check! Of course, if your character has some oft-repeated mannerism, it's hard to avoid it. I recall one author saying her editor told her she'd used one of those types of things -- stroking his mustache, I think it was -- the author said, 'but it's one of those distinctive mannerism'. The editor said, 'no -- it's a tic'