Writing Tips

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go. Dr. Seuss

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Turning nouns into verbs

cj Sez:  Okay, it’s half-time in the Super Bowl and that’s all the time I have to get this post out. So bear with me if there are more than a couple of typos. (sigh)

Reviews and Sales:

Another InD’tale review excerpt:  “Bryn has been her brother’s savior many times. The choices she is forced to make will resonate with the reader long after the story is finished.”

Publisher Crimson Romance is having a Valentine’s Sale on Amazon for the whole month of February. Choosing Carter and Deadly Star are among the deals. There is a HUGE selection. And, both novels are Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. 

Now for the post:   

A couple of years ago friend sent me this quote from a fellow blogger, Sol Sanders:  “Perhaps the glory of the English language is that it so expressive. Its remarkable heterogeneous origins have given it an almost limitless vocabulary. And American English, particularly, has used that tool with an enormous flexibility to make it the international means of communication. One is able with a minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance.”

Mr. Sanders’s comments were part of an introduction to his essay on what today’s journalism and media do with the English language. The gist of his post is that journalists and media people overcomplicate their sentences with words that muddy their meanings rather than clarifying them—changing nouns into verbs and, perhaps, calling a shovel a “hand-held, earth-moving tool.” My take on this is that media and journalists employ an old trick of confusing the issue to persuade readers to their (the writer/editor) points of view

Turning nouns into verbs seems a clever way to uncomplicated sentences, but these may also confuse the issue (one I particularly dislike is “impactful;” a noun turned into a verb turned into an adjective by adding ful on the end. What the Sam Hill does that mean?).

The truth is, the English is a living language. It’s constantly evolving as we create new words and new definitions to compliment new technology. The caveat is that the generations cease to understand each other at an almost exponential pace. Many times I need an interpreter to understand teen-talk, and I think if I texted (a noun turned into a verb because of technology), I’d forget how to spell.  I sympathize with teachers who deal with this on a daily basis.

For me as a genre writer, the gloriously expressive English language is what makes my craft so fascinating.

Yes, I use nouns as verbs. Yes, I deliberately obfuscate . . . (adding the disclaimer that it’s for the sake of mystery). I am drawn to the syntax, symbolism, and syncopation of a well-drafted sentence that is the hallmark of successful mystery/thriller/suspense novelists. It’s using that “minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance” that appeals to me, and, I think, to readers of those genres. They want to try to decipher the code, find the clues, and solve the crime. I like trying to confuse the issue.

I’m still working on my craft. How are you doing with your genre?

Okay, back to the football game. You-all guys keep on keeping on and I’ll try to do the same. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Building Blocks of Story

cj Sez:  My latest novel, Choosing Carter, received a wonderful 4.5-star review from “InD’tale Magazine” that reads in part:  “The slow buildup of tension and the many twists and turns will have one racing through the pages . . . well-crafted and believable characters … If the reader is searching for an unputdownable read that will keep one up at night, look no further!”    (Isn’t that a great word…unputdownable?)

Today, I’m privileged to be able to reprint an article written by Carolyn Haines, a fantastic author- friend of mine. I think you’ll find this blog a worthwhile read (just like her stories).


Publishing is a crazy business these days, and the “rules” of what publishers like vary from country to country and publisher to publisher. I teach my students at the University of South Alabama that publishing rules are sort of like fashion trends. They come and go. I think I’m accurate when I say that, but remember, my ideas are based on my experience. So what’s true for me may not be true for every writer. So here’s what I know:

In America today in almost all genre fiction, stories are told in immediate scene. This wasn’t always the case, and it certainly isn’t the case in the rest of the world.

Most—and this is a big generalization—mysteries, thrillers, romances, fantasy stories move like a train. Immediate scenes are hooked together by a strong coupling of narrative summary. The brilliant Sol Stein says that writers have three writing ways to tell a story: immediate scene, narrative summary, and description.

Description is self-evident, and I have added another category called exposition, which is just description to the 10th power. It’s description with thematic elements, description that works twice or three times as hard as just painting a picture. Often, this includes the writer’s individual style. But what of the other two?

What is immediate scene? It is merely showing what is happening rather than telling. Here’s an example. The ball crossed the plate at ninety-five miles an hour, and Johnny swung with all his might. “Crack!” Wood met leather and the ball pulled hard to third base. Johnny shot toward first base, cleats digging into sod. His hip ground into the dirt as he slid to safety. The reader lives the moment with Johnny.

In narrative summary, that same little incident could be summed up more quickly, but it would be told rather than shown. For example: Johnny swung hard at the ball and hit it squarely. He ran to first and slid to safety. There is a distance here between the reader and the action.

Both ways of writing a scene are useful to an author, and it is knowing when to give the full scene and when to use the summary that is important. Not every scene deserves the “full” treatment. But key scenes must be shown, not told.

Many of my students read a lot of 19th Century writers. These books were written when narrative summary and head hopping were in style. The author essentially narrates a great portion of the story. This famous opening—“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” is the narrator of the story telling us these things.  Much 19th Century fiction is narrative summary. It is not incorrect, but it is out of fashion now. Will it return? Maybe. But now reading audiences, for the most part, prefer immediate scene so that they can live the action. They want to draw their conclusions and not be told what or how to think.

There are exceptions to every rule. You can go in any bookstore and find newly published novels that have vast sections of narrative summary. Many are by authors who have long established careers. For writers hoping to crack the door of traditional publishing, it’s always best to understand what publishers are interested in buying.

I’m a firm believer that the author serves the story, which means that the demands of each story have to be met. If the story dictates narrative summary, author narration, intrusive narrator or any other technique, then the writer has no option except to serve the story. I do believe that all “rules” of publishing are meant to be broken. As long as they are broken with such expertise that the reader/editors sees immediately that the story could be told no other way.

Writing is a joy and a privilege. I view each idea that I’m given as a gift. I try not to let my ego get in the way of the telling of the story. I listen to the story, and then I do my very best for it. But it is helpful to understand the techniques that catch an editor’s eye or interest. You have to know the rules to break them.

Carolyn Haines is the author of eighteen novels, including the acclaimed Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series. Haines is the author of more than 70 books in a number of genres. She has been honored with the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She also writes gothic chillers as R.B. Chesterton. Haines teaches the graduate and undergraduate fiction writing classes at the University of South Alabama, where she is an assistant professor and Fiction Coordinator.

Thanks, Carolyn, for allowing Lyrical Pens to reprint your article. ‘Preciate it. To check out Carolyn’s website and sign up for her newsletter, zip on over to http://www.carolynhaines.com

Okay, that’s all for today. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo