COLLOQUIALISMS and WEASEL WORDS

 When I shared a recent chapter with my critique partners, one of them called me for this sentence, “He found himself in deep water.”

 She didn’t understand that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble. She thought I put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page. Another problem I have… getting what’s playing in my head accurately portrayed on the page. But that’s a topic for another blog.

Her stumbling over the phrase led to a discussion of colloquial language and how words, phrases, and even clichés vary from one geographical area to another.

 Being from Texas, we have a whole slew of regional words. I just used another one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Foreigners sometimes need an interpreter. Consider these colloquial phrases I’ve been known to use verbally and in my writing:

  •  hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT
  • screaming bloody murder or  screaming banshee– used to stop the  pleasant sound coming from a kid or grandkid
  • grumpy as an old sitting hen – gives a more vivid image than grumpy old men
  • bone tired – yep, been there
  • slow as molasses – can’t you just see that black syrup oozing out of the jar?
  • keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!

 Besides colloquialisms that slip into my first drafts, I have “favorite” words that pop up when I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come.

“Weasel words”  Margie Lawson,  editing guru, calls these words and colloquial phrases. I learned in her deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés and opinion words. The chart is easy to populate. The words we overuse stand out like sore thumbs. (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to make my point.)

Then, during the revision stages, I use the chart with my word processor’s search and replace function to eliminate them.

BUT sometimes using colloquial language fits characterization. Sometimes it has a function in dialogue especially if the protagonist is a Texan or the piece is written about Texas.

 Throwing such informal colloquialism into novel narrative, on the other hand, can be a stumbling block for readers by pulling them from the story. And, then they do what no writer wants—quit reading!

If using colloquialisms is your writer’s voice, okay. I caution you to be sure your reader can understand from the scene context what you’re saying.

 REMEMBER: Our writer’s responsibility is to always make sure in the battle of words that story reigns.

 What did I do with my CP’s suggestion? Eliminate the phrase or not?

 In this case, I believed the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water.”

Your turn:

What are your favorite colloquialisms and weasel words? Do they slip into your writing?

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It’s FRIDAY FREE DAY – Being a PURPLE COW writer

Friday blog days will be silly or stream of consciousness or who knows what will strike my fancy. The idea comes from the years I taught elementary school physical education classes. Great job compared to my years of teaching reading and language arts with all those papers to grade. LOL

I wore shorts to school and lesson plans were easy because every Friday’s plan read Free Day. The other P.E. teacher and I put out assorted equipment and allowed the kids to have supervised free time during class. Things may have changed as far as teaching P.E. goes, who knows? But Friday’s on the blog will be free, crazy, and definitely fun. 

Today’s topic is purple cows. I’m also testing a principal I learned from Kristin Lamb’s WANA class on social media–a snappy subject line. Did it grab your attention???

Why a purple cow blog? Because I’ve always been intrigued by the work of Gelett Burgess and especially his poem about the purple cow.

Burgess, a fascinating Bohemian, wrote other whimsical, nonsense poetry, but THE PURPLE COW is by far the most famous. I know I’ve quoted it a gazillion times. Though, like most people, I leave off the second line of the title: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least. Pity too because that’s where the essence lies.  Here’s the original the poem as published in 1895.

 

Purple cow is a metaphor for something that is out of the ordinary, something remarkable. Maybe Bugress didn’t personally want to be considered different.  In reality he was. Some say his works inspired Dr. Seuss. The Gelett Burgess Center for creative expression, organized to honor his creativity, gives The Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Awards yearly. It’s not the Caldecott, but still a prestigious honor for a children’s book.

Too many people do not want to take chances and be that Purple Cow, to stand out from the rest. To conform is to be comfortable, and many of us like to feel comfortable. But, is comfortable the place to be if you are a writer?

 I say no. Not with the publishing paradigm shift which allows anyone and everyone to become a published writer.

We have to be Purple cows. Different. Willing to stand out from the rest.Our stories need to be remarkable. Exceptional. After all, does the world need another ordinary writer, another ordinary story? I don’t think so.

Purple cow writers must be different at the same time consummate professionals. With the new reader-driven paradigm in publishing, we struggle to be noticed, to stand out in the pack. Often, we’re not traditionally published because our stories don’t fit the Big Six  genre boxes. Agents scratch their heads trying to pigeonhole our work. Which makes us half purple. To be a realio, trulio Purple Cow writer, we have to

  • create rich, absorbing stories  with emotional impact to grab the reader
  • know craft rules then break the ones that benefit our story
  • never stop learning
  • view every writing project as a stepping stone to something better
  • be devoted to KL’s social media theory for getting our name and our work noticed

What about you? Are you a PURPLE COW? Do you dare to step out of your comfort?

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ONE WORD WEDNESDAY

Today’s word is PROCRASTINATION

Dictionary.com defines procrastination as the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention

I really, really hate when a definition uses the word, don’t you? Still the meaning is very clear — putting off something.

Is procrastination deliberate or subconscious?

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art calls procrastination a form of resistance. He believes creative types face lots of resistance and offers inspiration to overcome that resistance. If you don’t own a copy of Pressfield’s book you should, it’s gotten me over more than one bumpy writing slowdown. Btw, I don’t get any kickback.

I’m not sure what to call procrastination, but I know it’s a disease shared by too many writers, myself included. And, procrastination is a clever enemy.

Half the time, Mr. P aka procrastination disguises himself as very worthy endeavors like
A writer’s meeting to get a writer fix
A computer game to “clear your head”
A movie for “research”
Social media is one of Mr. P’s favorite tactics. Who among us doesn’t find Twitter or FB or web surfing sucking precious time from our day?

My favorite delay is a power nap to refresh my brain’s hard drive. Naps may work, but am I really just giving in to procrastination’s subtle ways when fifteen minutes slides into an hour or two?

Writing is hard work. A solitary work. Those two facts alone stall too many of us and allow Mr. P’s power to succeed.

“Procrastination is one of the most common and deadliest of diseases and its toll on success and happiness is heavy.” ~Wayne Dyer

So how do we cure the culprit that steals our words from the page?

Ali Luke in her blog How to Stop Procrastinating and Start Writing suggests four steps.

Great hints are offered on How to Stop Procrastinating

For me, and maybe other writers, I shoo Mr. P away by putting my butt in the chair and W-R-I-T-I-N-G every day whether I feel like it or not, whether what I write is worthy of a Hemingway or not. It works for me. What works for you?

As part of One Word Wednesday, I want to play a game I used when teaching spelling—writing a sentence with the word. Leave your sentence in a comment. No grading involved just for fun.

Dictionary.com suggests: She was smart, but her constant procrastination led her to be late with almost every assignment.

How would you use PROCRASTINATION in a sentence?

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