English is considered a difficult language to learn. Even our grammar rules are confusing. (That’s the reason I’m driven to write these short writing tips.) To add to the difficulty, there are many words that can also mean a seeming opposite.
Here are a few examples:
1. Custom refers to both the usual and the special:
My custom (usual) is to order pizza with anchovies, garlic, and jalapeños.
My custom (special) Jaguar has a built in pizza oven.
2. First degree can mean least severe or the most severe:
A first-degree burn is not a serious as a third-degree burn; but being charged with first-degree murder means the perp is in big trouble and will probably bust rocks in the hot sun for the rest of his life.
3. Strike means making contact with something, or missing or eliminating something:
A storm blew in with lightning striking the right fielder. If a batter swings at the ball but misses, he made a strike.
4. Handicap can be an advantage or a disadvantage.
If you study the Daily Racing Form and learn to handicap, you have a better chance of your horse winning.
If a jockey falls and breaks his leg, that handicap would keep him from riding.
5. Left refers to what is no longer or to what remains:
Elvis left (no longer there) his fans in the casino. His fans are now left (remain) alone.
6. Garnish means an addition or a subtraction:
My Bloody Mary, garnished with olives, asparagus, celery, and onion, stimulated my appetite.
Irresponsible Ira had his wages garnished (money subtracted) for failure to pay his taxes.
7. Transparent means visible or invisible.
The politician decided to be transparent (make visible) and open her records to the public.
When people don’t notice me, I feel transparent (invisible).
8. Fix can mean you’ve restored or mended something broken, or that you broke something: the stopped clock can function again if you fix it.
An angry thug might fix your clock, meaning you might end up with a broken nose.
9. Screen means to show or eliminate:
I attended the screening of Zombie Meets Godzilla and left after ten minutes.
An undesirable job candidate is screened and not interviewed.
10. Dollop can mean a small amount or a large amount:
If you order a cup of Earl Grey at a diner in Sandusky and ask for a dollop of cream, a small portion is added to your cup; but if you’re drinking tea in a little shop on the Cornish Coast and ask for the same, you’ll get a large amount. Americans and the Brits define dollop differently.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director
“Scanning” is for Official Documents, in other words, READ and share, don't just scan.
I once belonged to a book group when I lived in Austin. We took turns recommending books. When it came my turn, I recommended a then-recently released book by Pat Conroy, one of my favorite authors. I looked forward to the discussion and wrote down a list of stimulating questions. While waiting for the rest of the members to arrive, one woman pulled me aside and asked if I’d ever skipped over parts of a book. I wasn’t sure if her question was sincere, or if this was her subtle way of telling me she thought the book was boring. My answer was no and that I read every word. If the book is not to my liking, I just don’t finish it. I’m not sure if that is the writer in me, or if I’m an obsessive reader. When I read, I hear an inner voice reading the words aloud to me. If a sentence or paragraph does not sound right, I reread it until it does; until I hear the voice clearly. But skipping over parts of a book seems sacrilegious. What if you were reading a mystery and missed a vital clue? What if character planned to dress in drag as a joke, and you missed that part?
You might not write like Pat Conroy or Anne Perry, but here are a few clues to keep readers engaged:
Hook them immediately. Don’t bog them down in unnecessary background information. If you’re writing a biography or memoir, start with a compelling anecdote. There’s no rule that says you have to write the story in chronological order. The day your subject was born is usually not significant unless she was born in the middle of the Kalahari Desert and her mother left her to the jackals.
Everything you write has to move the plot forward. Sprinkle in bits of background info or humor, but keep it short. A writer friend who was in my critique group went on a ten-page tangent about searching for a buried treasure on some forested mountain even though the book was about sailing through the Panama Canal. I asked how this section fit the plot. He said it didn’t—he just thought it was exciting and he needed to increase his word count and he was serious.
Connect with your reader by developing a voice that tells them you are on their level and you have an exciting story to tell. Don’t try to impress them with expert knowledge or big words. Once I questioned a writer’s overuse of medical terms. His response was that he wanted his lazy readers to look up the definitions. My response was that I also hated footnotes.
Don’t editorialize. Writing about a topic you’re passionate about is one thing; lecturing your readers is not. Allow them to contemplate your views, even sympathize, and come to their own conclusions.
Make ‘em laugh, even if you’re writing a sad, fearful, or thrilling story. Comic relief adds balance and keeps your reader from becoming emotionally exhausted.
Finally, end each chapter with a cliffhanger. The best compliment a writer gets is that the book was a page-turner.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director