Today’s Writing Tip

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Holiday themes work well for plotting a story. They provide a familiar backdrop to build upon and are likely to be popular around that time of year. Not so much at other times, however, so bear that in mind.

halloween5Nonetheless, if you write a best-seller, that’s another story (pun intended). I remember years ago someone wrote a short story called “The Christmas Box” and it was a best seller. Write something like that and you might make enough money off that one story a few weeks of the year to finance your other less lucrative endeavors.  Counting on that, however, is a bit of a long shot.

If there’s anything about your story that you can exploit in connection with holidays, do so. Halloween is obviously good for zombie, vampire, and paranormal stories. Don’t forget those lesser known holidays such as Global Cat Day (October 16), World Vegan Day (November 1), and STEM Day (November 8) and be sure to use their specific #hashtags. You can find more holiday ideas here.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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If you plan to include an “Acknowledgements” section to thank those with whom you’ve consulted while writing your book, start a file early where you can list each person and what they did. That way you won’t forget someone when you finally finish up.

People to mention include your editors, proofreaders, book interior designers, cover designers and artists, technical consultants, beta readers, and anyone else who has helped along the way. I remember years ago before I had any of my own books in print it meant a lot to at least see my name in a book for helping out.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Interruptions are often the author’s worst enemy. The real question, however, is how many do you invite or cause through poor planning? The next time you’re distracted from your writing schedule, figure out how you allowed it to happen, either by checking your email or phone too often or some other disturbance.

You have more control over these things than you may realize. It’s a matter of setting priorities and then sticking to them. Most emails aren’t emergencies that require immediate attention, the same with phone calls.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are as many styles of putting together a novel as there are for writing it. Some authors will do so methodically from a carefully designed outline, others piece by piece as their muse directs. There’s no right or wrong way as long as your finished product is seamless. Creativity comes to each author in a different way. Don’t stifle it by trying to force yourself into a methodology that isn’t comfortable. Go with the flow.

Today’s Writing Tip

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It’s not always easy to come up with a fatal flaw for your characters, especially your protagonist if s/he’s a genuine hero type. This illustration may be helpful, providing ideas based on Jung’s archetypes. Remember, a fatal flaw is not necessarily some inclination to evil, but rather a self-defeating behavior or some other characteristic that undermines what s/he wants.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Words are an author’s tools of the trade. Expanding your vocabulary is important for mastering your skill.

If you’ve ever watched the popular TV show, “The Big Bang Theory”, you have probably seen one of Sheldon and Amy’s episodes of “Fun with Flags.” Well, here’s an author’s variation on that I’ll call “Fun with Words.”

I do have an ulterior motive, however. An expansive vocabulary opens up a world unseen; one that’s inaccessible without the words to express it. I’m one of those crazy people who will occasionally read the dictionary. I swear I’m not making this up. Besides, if I look up a word, I always read several other definitions while I’m in there. My dictionary is within arm’s reach whenever I’m on the computer, notwithstanding the availability of a spellchecker. Old habits die hard.

Another book of words that I found charming, as it brought me numerous laughs as well, is “The Superior Person’s Book of Words” by Peter Bowler. This book contains many words that have been dropped from the conventional dictionary for lack of use or no longer applicable. However, if you’re an Anglophile, you can have a tremendous amount of fun discovering words you didn’t know existed, many of which have hilarious definitions.

Bowler’s premise is that baffling people with unfamiliar words makes you superior, reinforcing the idea of vocabulary and intelligence being related. Furthermore it’s useful for insulting people in such a way they don’t recognize a slam for what it is and will often even thank you. There’s even a name for that:

Charientism n., An elegantly veiled insult.

Words are the tools of my trade. I value them, but also find them entertaining. Here are a few more from Bowler’s book:

hebetate v. To grow dull or stupid.

rejectamenta n. Things that have been rejected.

lucripetous a. Money-hungry.

acerebral a. Without a brain.

gerontocracy n. Government by old men.

virago n. A fierce, bad-tempered woman.

You have to admit, if you were in 5th grade and given such words to use in a sentence that it would be tremendous fun. Even as an adult, I’m sure you can think of numerous circumstances where having such words on the tip of your tongue would have come in handy.

Finding humor in words not only makes expanding your own vocabulary a blast, but is a way to encourage youth to do so as well. Even kids in elementary school can have fun in this way, a discovery that could make a difference in their appreciation of language for the rest of their life.

Try it–you’ll like it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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As an author, it’s in your best interest to encourage reading. Literacy is critical, not only to find readers, but for the betterment of our world. What are you doing to encourage it other than writing?

As a serious writer and author, it concerns me that written expression is not being encouraged as it was for my “Baby Boomer” generation. Sure, we passed notes to each other in class while today kids text, but what else has changed since then? What about the mixed (and often humorous) blessings of Autocorrect and text to speech? Is there any incentive to learn how to spell? Are dictionaries now passé? And what about emoji’s? And memes? How handy is it to find one that expresses what you’re feeling versus using actual words?

Related to this is the fact various studies have shown correlations between intelligence and vocabulary. It follows that the more expansive a person’s vocabulary, the more “literate” they will be. While some statistics claim the US has a literacy rate of 99%, others state that 50% of adults cannot read a book written at the 8th grade level. Technically, being able to read at the 8th grade level may be literate, but what does that say about intelligence? The illiteracy rate of the prison population is such that 70% of inmates can only read at the 4th grade level. Clearly, literacy is a game-changer. As an author and word aficionado, I find this rather alarming. Here are a few more statistics courtesy of the nonprofit organization Literacy Inc.’s website:

  • Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
  • One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
  • 43% of adults at level I literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at level V.
  • Three out of four food stamp recipients perform in the lowest two literacy levels.
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
  • 16 to 19-year-old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average reading skills, are 6 times more likely to have out – of – wedlock children, who in turn will have below average reading skills or none at all.

There are no simple answers to why or what to do about it. However, since literacy remains a huge problem, it further implicates the failure of the current education system, much of which is aimed at getting pupils to pass standardized tests. Many kids are bored out of their minds in school. Why? Because they’re not taught to think, reason, or discover the joy of learning, which has traditionally been done through reading.

Yet, some kids today are smarter than ever. What makes the difference? Is electronic media helping or hindering learning? My opinion is that it relates to content, whether a child spends mindless hours playing video games or watching TV versus using electronic media to expand their knowledge. Parents, are you listening?

When I was growing up as an only child, books were my greatest joy. Most of my grown children still love to read, something they brought with them from their respective childhoods. The majority of my young grandchildren have Kindles, so I gift them books on a regular basis. One of my granddaughters had a full-length novel she wrote on her phone and published on Wattpad when she was in middle school. Is that cool or what? Proud grandma? You betcha!

That begs the question, is a love of reading and its side effect, literacy, genetic? Much has been speculated about genetic memory and what is passed on to our progeny. It’s easy to see both a nature and nurture side to this, since children of readers are more likely to have been read to as a child and encouraged to read.

As authors trying to sell books, the more readers we have out there, the better. But the bottom line is what can authors do to help this situation? How can you encourage reading and literacy? Think about it. There are literally millions of books on Amazon. The impact if every author did something, no matter how small, to encourage literacy the effects would be awesome.

What can YOU do? Literacy Inc’s website has numerous ideas. Find something you can do to help. Then, to quote Yoda, “Try not–do. Or do not. There is not try.”

Today’s Writing Tip

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Man vs. Nature is one of fiction’s basic conflicts. This is taken to an extreme when it involves a natural disaster. Which ones occur in your area? Few areas don’t have some geological, meteorological, or regional disposition to such events. How much have you studied the details so you could use such an event in one of your stories? Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts can all add drama to your story as a backdrop to other plot action.

Each one has its own characteristics, warning window, emergency response, preparedness, and aftermath. Knowing the details is what brings them to life in your story whether it’s the sound of wind and raging water, the smell of an approaching wildfire, evacuation shelter logistics, or gridlocked escape routes. If you experience one, yet don’t have a place for it in your fiction, write up the experience for practice as well as inclusion in your personal history for your children and grandchildren. And you may actually use it eventually and be glad you preserved those details that bring it to life.

P.S. If you know me, you can probably guess that as I write this, my area of Central Texas is undergoing record-breaking floods. I’m safe but waterlogged, my septic tank on strike, if you know what I mean. 🙂

Today’s Writing Tip

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If you’re writing a series, be sure to remind your readers what your characters look like. This also pertains to any key plot elements that happened in the previous episode(s). To you as the author, it’s all one story. To the reader, however, weeks, months, or even years may have passed since they read the first book. Thus, they may have forgotten numerous details, like what the characters look like, or other important details.

Furthermore, it’s also possible that someone will start reading in the middle of your series. These new fans definitely need this information! If they’re lost, then what? Best case, they’ll buy the previous book(s) and read them in order. Worst case, they put it aside and you’ve lost a potential reader.

It’s best if each book in a series has it’s own independent plot, even if it’s part of a larger picture. Flashbacks or character dialog covering previous events are ways to sneak in information they missed. Descriptions of their appearance and perhaps the setting itself should include reminders at least. Your readers will thank you for it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are dozens of ways to say “said!” Here are 154 of them!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–in other words, back in 1977–my mom gave me a copy of the Readers Digest “Family Word Finder.” As you’ve probably figured out from its title, it’s a thesaurus and its age certainly a witness to how long I’ve been writing. I recently had that book out and discovered a typewritten (yes, typed, like in manual typewriter) list. It contained alternatives (but not quite synonyms) for using “said” in dialog. (BTW, I wrote my first novel on a manual typewriter.)

I remember having a lot of fun creating this list. However, there’s a caveat, especially if you’re addicted to words like myself. Granted, using these appropriately can contribute to imagery, emotion, and clarity. However, using them too frequently can be as grating as having “he said” or “she said” on every line.

In other words, like adding herbs and spices to a soup kettle, use them sparingly, as spicesflavor enhancers, if you will. Be subtle, not glaring, which makes them all the more powerful. Used improperly or excessively, you could wind up with the literary equivalent of adding cinnamon instead of cumin to your chili. Properly administered, they’ll help create dynamic and convincing dialog, a critical component of outstanding fiction.

Without further ado, here we go. Feel free to add any I missed in the comments!

  1. accused
  2. acknowledged
  3. added
  4. admitted
  5. advised
  6. affirmed
  7. agreed
  8. announced
  9. answered
  10. apologized
  11. argued
  12. asked
  13. asserted
  14. assured
  15. avowed
  16. babbled
  17. barked
  18. bellowed
  19. begged
  20. blubbered
  21. blurted out
  22. bragged
  23. breathed
  24. burst out
  25. cackled
  26. called
  27. cautioned
  28. challenged
  29. chattered
  30. chirped
  31. choked
  32. claimed
  33. chortled
  34. clipped
  35. coerced
  36. complained
  37. conceded
  38. concluded
  39. confessed
  40. confided
  41. consoled
  42. continued
  43. cooed
  44. corrected
  45. cried
  46. croaked
  47. decided
  48. declared
  49. demanded
  50. denied
  51. disclosed
  52. divulged
  53. drawled
  54. echoed
  55. emphasized
  56. estimated
  57. explained
  58. exploded
  59. figured
  60. gasped
  61. greeted
  62. groaned
  63. groused
  64. growled
  65. grumbled
  66. grunted
  67. guessed
  68. gulped
  69. hissed
  70. hinted
  71. hollered
  72. implied
  73. inquired
  74. intimated
  75. insisted
  76. instructed
  77. interjected
  78. interrupted
  79. iterated
  80. joked
  81. laughed
  82. lied
  83. maintained
  84. mentioned
  85. mimicked
  86. moaned
  87. mumbled
  88. murmured
  89. mused
  90. muttered
  91. offered
  92. ordered
  93. panted
  94. parroted
  95. pleaded
  96. pointed out
  97. pouted
  98. prayed
  99. probed
  100. proclaimed
  101. prodded
  102. promised
  103. proposed
  104. protested
  105. purred
  106. quipped
  107. rambled
  108. ranted
  109. recounted
  110. reiterated
  111. related
  112. relented
  113. retorted
  114. reminded
  115. repeated
  116. replied
  117. reported
  118. resolved
  119. returned
  120. revealed
  121. scoffed
  122. scowled
  123. screeched
  124. shouted
  125. shrugged
  126. sighed
  127. smirked
  128. snapped
  129. sneered
  130. sniffed
  131. snittered
  132. snorted
  133. sobbed
  134. speculated
  135. sputtered
  136. squeaked
  137. stammered
  138. stated
  139. stipulated
  140. suggested
  141. teased
  142. theorized
  143. threatened
  144. uttered
  145. vocalized
  146. volunteered
  147. vowed
  148. wailed
  149. warned
  150. whimpered
  151. whispered
  152. wished
  153. wondered
  154. yelled