Margie Lawson

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14 08, 2017

Are you writing tight?

By |2017-08-13T16:00:06-05:00August 14th, 2017|Writer's Corner, writing, Writing Craft|1 Comment

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.

30 Filler Words You Can Cut Out of Your Writing (Infographic)
Source: www.grammarcheck.net

20 03, 2017

44 Words That Can Weasel into Writing

By |2017-03-03T08:18:06-06:00March 20th, 2017|Make Me Think Monday, Writing Craft|0 Comments

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.

44 Overused Words & Phrases To Be Aware Of (Infographic)
Source: www.grammarcheck.net

26 08, 2013

Eight Writing Mistakes that Will Kill a Contest Entry

By |2013-08-26T06:03:57-05:00August 26th, 2013|Make Me Think Monday|3 Comments

I’ve been a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America) for years and I frequently judge chapter contests.

I’ve discovered I see the same writing mistakes repeated-contest after contest, year after year.

Most are small blunders, but unchecked these errors tip an editor or contest judge that you’re not a pro and frequently result in rejection by an editor or a low score from a contest judge.

I decided to share a list of those writing mistakes.

  • Word repetition.

All writers have little words we tend to overuse — weasel words, I call them after Margie Lawson’s classes. Words like really, just, could, would, it, were and very to name a few.

Create your personal weasel word list and be on the lookout for overused words. Then use search and replace to cut them out before submitting.

  • Extra prepositions.

Too many prepositions in a sentence make the writing choppy. There’s usually a way to reword and eliminate some of the prepositional phrases.

  • Word use

Words like affect/effect, like/such as, your/you’re, hearty or hardy, baby’s or babies can easily be confused.

If you aren’t sure which word meaning you need, find out.

  • Comma confusion

This simple piece of punctuation is the curse of all writers. We tend to insert commas where they don’t belong, which can change the sentence’s meaning, or omit needed commas.

Learn the rules — and when in doubt, ask an editor what their publication’s style demands.

  • Subject/verb disagreement

You can’t say, “A box of chocolates were on top of the table.” or “They is ready to leave.” A singular noun needs a singular verb.  A plural noun needs a plural verb.

  • Pronoun use

When using a pronoun such as he/she, make sure there aren’t two people in the sentence and the pronoun creates confusion about which one you mean.

  • Misplaced modifiers/words

This one is a personal demon of mine. I guess that’s why I spot them so quickly.

Example of a dangling modifiers and the revision from Purdue On-Line Writing Lab

INCORRECT: After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.

REVISED: After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.

      Example of misplaced words/modifiers and the revision from Towson University On Line Writing Support:

INCORRECT: The three bankers talked quietly in the corner smoking pipes.

REVISED: The three bankers smoking pipes talked quietly in the corner.

Having keen-eyed critique partners can catch this mistake. Reading to yourself out loud also helps.

  •  Manuscript format

Most RWA chapter contests do not penalize for manuscript formatting. Editors and agents might. Two areas to watch:

  1. Underline/italics. Be aware that underline usually denotes a clickable link. If you use it for emphasis, you confuse your readers.
  2. Spacing after a period. Generally accepted manuscript format is one space after a period, not two. Check the Chicago Manual of Style if you don’t believe me.

Seven little mistakes I see repeatedly. Don’t let your submission to an editor/agent or a fiction writing contest be guilty of these mistakes.

Especially not when the fixes are so easy.

17 09, 2012

Texas talk, colloquialisms, and weasel words – in my writing?

By |2012-09-17T10:53:11-05:00September 17th, 2012|Writing Craft|12 Comments

I wish I could say NO WAY!

Can’t.

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

  Not understanding that my POV character’s internal thought meant he found himself in trouble, she thought I had put him in a swimming pool and forgot to put that detail on the page.

Frequently what’s playing in my head fails to come across on the page in early drafts. Thank heaven for CPs who call me when that happens.

Not this time, though. This time I was using Texas talk.

She’d never heard the expression “in deep water” used that way. 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.

In Texas, we have a whole slew of vocabulary that has folks scratching their heads. I just used one—slew, meaning a whole bunch. We’re always y’all-ing and gonna and fixin’ when we talk. Non-Texans do sometimes need an interpreter.

 Some more phrases:

come hell or high waterproceeding, regardless of the problems, obstacles, etc.

conniptionsget upset and raise a ruckus

hissy fit – kin to a conniption a state of extreme agitation and not a pretty thing to see

hot as tin toilet seat – in Texas we know that’s HOT

screaming bloody murder or banshee scream – not a pleasant sound at all

bone tired – yep, been there

slow as molasses – visualize black syrup oozing out of the jar

keep your pants on – meaning not what you think, but to be patient!

When I’m being lazy with my writing or rushing, Texas terms and phrases naturally flow into my first drafts. 

I also have favorite words that pop up. Words like: had, that, could, was, felt, knew, thought, saw, walked, come. Margie Lawson  calls these “weasel words.”

 I learned in Margie’s deep editing class, The EDITS System, to keep a WEASEL WORD CHART listing colloquial phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés, and opinion words.

 Unfortunately, my chart populates too easily. I’m my own worst copy editor. that’s why I always pay a professional before my books are published. The words I overuse stand out like sore thumbs to others.  (Sorry, Margie had to use a cliché to prove my point.)

 During the revision stages, the chart helps eliminate such weasel words and phrases using my word processor’s search and replace function.  

BUT characterization can need slang and colloquial regional dialogue. Texan talk has a function if the protagonist is a Texan or the setting is Texas.

Are you working on a Texas setting or character? Here’s a great resource: http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Texas/talk.html

Other times, overuse in novel narrative becomes a stumbling block, pulling readers from the story.

 When that happens, the reader does what no writer wants a reader to do—QUITS reading!

 If colloquialisms are your writer’s voice, I caution you to be sure your reader can understand what you’re saying. Always remember what I learned in a Susan Wiggs workshop.

In the battle of words, the story reigns.

 Our word choices should always move the story forward.

In case you’re wondering what I did about my CP’s question, I decided the reader could discern the meaning from the rest of the scene and left the phrase “deep water” in the manuscript.

 How about you…

Do colloquialisms, local slang and weasel words slip into your novels?

Are you guilty of using expressions you grew up with that might confuse a reader? Care to share some and explain their local meaning?

5 03, 2012

COLLOQUIALISMS and WEASEL WORDS

By |2012-03-05T09:00:29-06:00March 5th, 2012|Uncategorized|6 Comments

 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?