Alan Greenspan once said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
To me, the quote describes the biggest issue in communication—written or oral.
An obstacle that’s brought home to me every week with my critique partners. The way critique groups work is pages are shared weekly then participants meet – pre-COVID-19 in person, now via video chat – and discuss what was sent.
Greenspan’s quote becomes reality when we discuss what we’ve sent.
Way too often what my critique partners read is not what I wanted to convey. Sometimes it’s the way I wrote something or the words I chose. Other times it’s a total fail because my critique partners didn’t get what I meant.
It’s no mystery why this happens. Each of us brings a distinct perspective to our critiques. We’re all from unique backgrounds and geographic areas and grew up during different time periods (age span of our members is over thirty years).
Misunderstanding what’s on the page can be the kiss of death for a writer because a reader will stop reading. It’s the reason fiction writers spend hours scrambling for the perfect word and rewriting a sentence a gazillion times to capture the perfect nuance.
Reading an incorrect meaning into words–whether written or spoken–happens too often.
Finding, and using, words—spoken or written—that are mutually understood is critical for effective communication, especially in this tense, trying time with COVID-19 hovering, hurricanes lining up, and important elections on the horizon.
So, let’s disprove Mr. Greenspan’s quote and make what we say, or write, match what we mean to eliminate misunderstanding.
I recently read a blog for writers discussing disembodied body parts. It got me to thinking. Do readers even notice such minutiae?
For example, do you stumble over sentences like these?
Their eyes locked across the room.
His eyes zeroed in on the man lurking in the shadows.
The man eyed the chocolate cake with the longing of a starving man.
In the first two sentences, I don’t picture actual eyes flying across a room to collide or zoom across space. I guess some people might and do according to the blog I read.
In the third, eye is being used as a verb, which it can be, and should cause no issues.
Some writers would substitute gaze for eyes in the first two sentences. And that’s the writing communities’ preferred word.
Sometimes, I will use gaze too. Other times I go with eyes. It depends on how the sentence reads. Consider this sentence:
The softest green eyes he’d ever seen rambled from his head down to his toes and back again.
I picture eye movement (something you’d see) traveling downward then back up. To substitute eyeballs which is actually what’s moving would sound ridiculous. Using gaze instead of eye would work but, in my opinion, decrease the subtle tension.
Eyes aren’t the only body part that roam.
Fingers fly: Her fingers flew to his cheeks.
Jaws drop: His jaw dropped to the floor.
Arms get shot: She shot her arm out to catch him.
Hands get thrown: He threw up his hands.
Faces fall: Her face fell.
Flying or roaming body parts don’t trouble me. If I read the character “swims through the crowd,” I don’t see splashing water. Or if someone writes “a lump of ice settled in her belly,” I don’t picture actual ice. Describing a character’s eyes with “pools of molten chocolate,” I don’t think he’s got Godiva eyeballs, just deep brown eyes?
A writer’s job is to provide a satisfying experience for the reader by creating a vivid movie in their head. One that combines the richness of language with remarkable stories. I believe being too literal can destroy the richness of language.
So, what’s your take on flying body parts? Do you cringe when you read those sentences? Are you pulled from the story?
My blogs generally focus on my writer’s life with stories about things that strike my fancy. Today I’m sharing a fun video aimed primarily for writers.
I first saw the video many years ago on the blog of The Steve Laube Agency. Fridays on his blog are FUN day and he shared this great video by James Andrew Wilson titled The Five Emotional Stages of Writing a Novel.
If you’re not a writer, I’m hope you can relate to some of the same stages in projects you undertake. And, it’ll help you understand your writer friends better.
Book titles and covers are important because the old adage — Readers do judge a book by its cover — is true. So, how can an author know beforehand what’s going to resonate?
Wiser people than me have come up with three criteria.
A great title needs to create an image that synthesizes the story and suggest the story’s meaning or theme.
The cover must also grab the attention of a casual book searcher.
A title must describe the contents while being so piercing and articulate that readers will take notice.
Recently, I rebranded three previously published individual titles into a series. I considered coming up with new titles for each book, but each book already had an ISBN and the content was not changing. It wasn’t necessary.
Instead, I used a branding tagline or blurb (below) and a graphic — the ribbon — to link the books.
PROMISES seriesTwo men and one woman met at Eighth Army Headquarters, South Korea in the turbulent Vietnam War years and found their lives linked together forever. The PROMISES series tells their stories through the decades that follow.
In making my decision, I examined my titles based on the expert’s criteria.
Book 1 is Love in the Morning Calm, Prequel to the Pendant’s Promise.
With love in the title, a reader gets the story will be a love story. The picture of Headquarters, Eighth Army identifies the setting as a military. A knowledgeable reader may also recognize that another name for South Korea is Land of the Morning Calm.
Conclusion: I may have I tried too hard.
Book 2 The Pendant’s Promise
The cover design with the Pendant, the Vietnam Wall, and the word promise signal another love story. I love this cover because my very talented daughter designed it. With the rebranding, my current graphic designer, Jim Peto at Petoweb.com, enhanced the graphics.
Conclusion: The title and the cover artwork make a reader notice.
Book 3 Until He Returns
The old Army green color clues a reader of the setting and time frame. The title suggests whoever needs to return is in the military. (Those who have read the first two books will know the character has been MIA since book 1.) Close examination reveals the character’s name on the dog tags.
Conclusion: Unsure whether this title hits the mark the mark or not. While the dog tags are clearly visible on the paperback cover, the tags are not readable on the eBook thumbprint.
Book 4 Promises to Keep
This is the final book of the series, which will be out next month. The title ties back to the second book’s title and the series title. The couple clues the reader it’s another love story. The sunset background suggests the end of the day and the last of series.
Conclusion: It synthesizes the story and suggests the story’s theme.
Overall, I give myself a generally good grade for my titles. What say you?
Should you want to read any of the books, simply click on the buy links on the sidebar. The buy link for book 4 will be added next month.
Our genres are different, but our process to a finished book is much the same. I also start with a seed. There’s no telling where a story idea will come from, but I rarely have a plan for the story. Except I do know there will be a satisfying ending.
I greatly admire those who can plot with colorful sticky notes and checkerboard graphics designating scenes. I envy the ones who know the percentage of each portion of three act structure or hero’s journey. I can’t do that hard as I try.
I begin with my happily-ever-after seed and watch it sprout and grow into a full-fledged story like a gardener. Sometimes I have to do a lot of pruning along the way to keep the story working. That is precisely what gardeners do for their plants.
If you’re a writer, what’s your writing process like? Do you garden or follow a blueprint?
These days we live in a fast-paced world. People can be impatient, especially about reading long-winded posts, emails, and texts. I’ve noticed that even fiction books seem to be shorter.
Our written communication should be clear and concise. Still, extra verbiage can slip in and most often, eliminating those words will not change the meaning.
How do we eliminate words that are simply filler that don’t add to the susbtance?
Personally, I use a weasel word list – an editing help I learned in a Margie Lawson editing workshop. It’s simply a list of words I know creep into my writing. Words like just, that, very, really, etc. Then, when I’m editing, I eliminate or replace those words.
Below is a great infographic that can help you catch extraneous words in your writing.
Today I’d like to introduce a writer friend, who also happens to be a fabulous teacher and excellent editor—Alicia Rasley. She’s going to offer advice on how writers can decide which character’s POV to use.
All fiction books are written from a particular character’s perspective (POV). As readers, you probably aren’t aware of POV specifics, but we writers can struggle with it. That’s why I invited Alicia to help.
Thanks, Judythe, for inviting me to guest blog!
I know I’m not the only writer kind of obsessed with point of view, so I thought I’d talk about one aspect of POV — which character should narrate a particular scene.
Often this is an easy decision, but if you’re having trouble making the scene as dramatic or deep as you want, consider changing the point-of-view character.
Now there is no RIGHT answer to which character point-of-view to choose for any scene. It will vary depending on many factors, including the author’s own natural POV approach and of course the events of the scene.
But here are a few questions to help guide you in the choice. Each of these questions emphasizes a different approach to the scene. One might lead to a more action-oriented scene. Another might lead to an emotionally dramatic scene.
Let’s use as an example a hanging in some foreign land, a public execution of a man (call him Tom), with his wife there near the gallows (call her Sue). Very dramatic scene!
Whose head should we be in?
POV Choice Questions
Which character is there right now at the scene?
It’s often better to go with the eyewitness rather than the one who just hears about it later– the TV cameraman at the execution, not the anchorman back at the studio.
Which character has the most at stake externally?
The one in physical danger maybe? That would probably be Tom, the condemned man, about to be hanged, of course.
Which character has the most at stake internally?
Sue, who is watching the hanging despairingly from the crowd, knowing that her baby (due in three weeks) will never know its daddy?
Who has the most intriguing perspective, or will narrate the event in the most entertaining way?
Maybe the hangman? Or maybe Sue isn’t so despairing… maybe she’s furious at Tom and will be glad when he’s dead? <G>
Who will change the most because of this event?
Maybe the judge who condemned the man, as the hanging draws closer, comes to regret his vengeful decision, and decides that he’s got to save Tom. The judge might be a good POV character because we can participate in this great change.
Who is going to have to make a big decision or take a great action during this scene?
If Sue is going to storm the gallows, seize a sword, and cut Tom down, she might be the best POV character (then again, I’d love to be in Tom’s head as she comes charging up the steps and aiming that sword towards his neck… <G>).
Whose goal drives the scene?
Maybe Tom has decided to make a great emotional speech and rally the onlookers to riot and save him. He’s the one with the goal– good POV choice.
Whose got a secret and do you want the reader to know?
If Tom is actually an undercover superhero who can burn the noose rope with his x-ray eyes and fly away, but wants first to implicate the judge who condemned him, so he stands there patiently waiting for the hangman… it depends on whether I want the reader to know what he’s planning or his secret powers.
Yes, I want the reader to know, so I put the scene in his POV, and concentrate on how hard he has to work to keep the secret secret.
Or no, I don’t want the reader to know: I want the reader to gradually suspect, along with – or before– Sue and/or the judge, that there’s something a bit off about this guy and the way he keeps aiming his intense gaze up at the rope…. that might mean staying OUT of his POV.
Who is telling all already through dialogue and action?
If Sue is being completely open and upfront about what she’s thinking and how she’s feeling, why bother to go into her head? The judge or Tom might be a better candidate for our “mind-reading” then.
You can see that this is not a checklist– any one of these is sufficient to make a choice, and some are obviously mutually exclusive.
But you can also see how many different ways there are to analyze the choice, and it all boils down to:
What effect do you want to have on the reader in this scene?
And whose POV will best create that effect?
Bio: Alicia Rasley would rather write about writing than… well, write. Nonetheless, she has written many novels, including a best-selling family saga and a contemporary mystery novel.
She also wrote a handbook on the fictional element of point of view: The Power of Point of View. She teaches writing at a state university and in workshops around the country and online.
Writing’s hard work. Ask any writer. Good writing is harder. Sometimes weasel words can slip in.
Weasel words are “favorite” words that pop up when a writer is being lazy or rushing.
I first heard the term in a workshop with Margie Lawson. She expanded weasel words to include phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés and opinion words that might draw a reader from the story.
Her solution is to keep a personal weasel word list for every manuscript and when you do the edits, remove the weasels.
Grammarly created this infographic of frequently overused words to help writers eradicate such words. Margie and I would call it a weasel word list.
Grammarcheck.net recently posted this infographic of 21 frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing mistakes that everyone who writes should know.
How many do you know? How many do you ignore?
I’m with them on all but the serial comma and semicolon. I only use a serial comma for clarity in my writing. And, I think the semicolon is too formal for my voice. I only add it when my copy editor insists.