All posts by Steve Mathisen

I am a retired man who is a husband, father and grandfather. I love Jesus and try to follow Him. I fail at that regularly. He keeps picking me up, dusting me off and encouraging me to follow Him. I am going to keep doing that until I die. In the meantime, I edit for others and try to write. :)

Gray or Grey?

grayorgrey

Google and Vocativ recently paired up to investigate which words people have trouble spelling. They released a list of the most problematic terms by state based on search data, and the word grey appeared a staggering twelve times. So is grey incorrect?

Grey and gray are both accepted in the English language. They refer to a color of a neutral tone between black and white, and can also be used metaphorically to convey gloom and dullness. However, gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK. For centuries, the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings.

Both spellings evolved from the Old English termgrǣg and have retained their primary definition as a color, but many people have sought to assign grayand grey to slightly different shades. For instance, in his work Chromatography; or, a Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of their Powers in Painting published in 1835, the chemist George Field wrote that gray “denotes a class of cool cinereous colours in which blue predominates,” while Field reserves grew to describe a more neutral shade. However, such nuanced distinctions are not observed in popular usage today.

EL James’s best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey, along with the blockbuster film of the same name released earlier this year, may have contributed to increased uncertainty about how to spell the term in recent years.

Rest assured that when it comes to the tones between black and white, both grey and gray are acceptable spellings in the English language. If you do find yourself trying to remember which side of the pond uses which spelling more often, keep in mind this mnemonic trick: England begins with an e, while America begins with an a.

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Self-Publishing: My Journey

Faith Blum

Sel-Publishing Post 1

Today begins a five-week blog series on independent publishing how-tos and tips. Today, I will start with my reasons for choosing the independently publishing route vs. the traditionally publishing route as well as share a little bit of my journey along the way.

Indie vs. Traditional

Duel

The indie publishing and the traditional publishing worlds have both changed a lot even since I first seriously looked into getting published in January 2013. For one thing, indie publishing is much more popular and for another, it isn’t that much different than traditional publishing anymore.

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A Study in Omniscient POV: Part 2

Continuing with Linda Yezak’s A Study in Omniscient POV

Linda W. Yezak

Billy CoffeyWednesday, I introduced the validity of the omniscient point of view as the perspective of choice for authors who are “after the kind of insight that comes from contemplating events rather than participating in them” (Characters, Emotions, & Viewpoint, Nancy Kress, p. 207). Billy Coffey used the POV in his newest release, In the Heart of the Dark Wood, and it took me a bit to get used to it.

Omniscient fell out of favor years ago, particularly in genre fiction. Authors today cater to the readers’ wish to engage in the story from under the character’s skin. But that doesn’t mean omniscient is “wrong” or a “bad choice,” particularly for literary fiction, which Billy’s novel is, and particularly when done well–which is the point of this post. Did Billy do it well?

I can’t find a list of points that make a good omniscient piece, so I’m going…

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What About the Other Guy? by Robin Patchen

Continuing resources for learning how to write in the POV of your choice and doing it well.

Linda W. Yezak

Thoughts and Emotions of the Non-POV Character

When I was a new writer first learning about Point of View, it seemed unconscionable to me that my readers might miss the nuances of what the non-POV character was thinking and feeling in a scene. I thought maybe my book was one of the few that really needed to be written from the omniscient viewpoint. I desperately wanted to embrace head-hopping as a valid literary choice.

Years have gone by, and I’ve seen the error of my ways. As an editor, I hear similar arguments from my clients. Unfortunately, the arguments don’t fly for them, either. It doesn’t matter that your favorite classical writer employed omniscient POV, and nobody will be swayed by the fact that some bestselling author head-hops all the time. When you’re a bestseller, you can break the rules, too. And maybe in a hundred years, your book will…

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A Study in Omniscient POV, Part 1

From my friend Linda Yezak

Linda W. Yezak

Billy CoffeyBilly did something in his new release that isn’t done much these days: he used the omniscient point of view. I haven’t seen it in modern works in so long that I had to study it again to find out what marks it as different from head hopping. I came to the conclusion that the only difference is intent.

Tom Clancy was the king of head hoppers, but since he was also the king of international/political suspense and intrigue, he could get away with it. Omniscient POV was once common in this genre, but latter authors, like Vince Flynn and Brad Meltzer, opted for distant third person instead. They tended to stay in one head throughout the scene/story, but focus remained more on actions than thought/emotion/intention, though they could reveal their POV character’s internal processes. Clancy revealed all the characters’ thoughts, emotions, or intentions within the same scene–sometimes the same paragraph.

Francine Rivers…

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Get to the core of the story quickly…

I had occasion, recently, to look over a few chapters of an unpublished book. After reading the first two chapters, I still was not sure where the story was going. Some interesting foreshadowing had been included. We had been introduced to a rich palette of characters. The story was told from a single character’s point of view. But, something was missing. No clear direction had appeared for the story to go. The first chapter was essentially backstory. It was interesting, but it gave background. No story was really started there.

The first chapter was essentially backstory. It was interesting, but it gave background. No story was really started there.

The second chapter was in a different setting from the first and a host of new characters arrived on the scene, which is not always bad if their presence somehow invokes or gets the story rolling. That did not happen.

In conversations with the author, I found out that the main story line was going to involve one of the main characters. It was not, however, the character whose POV was being presented in the first two chapters. It was another one.

It seems like the first two chapters suffered from a personality disorder.

The main crux of the story (according to the synopsis provided) was not to come until much later in the book.

Readers want to know the core of the story quickly. Unless they are drawn in from the beginning, they will put your book down. That action results in bad reviews if you get any reviews at all.

Modern readers want to be grabbed by the lapels in the first chapter and convinced that this book is worth reading. They want to be motivated to continue reading. Each page needs to propel them to the next. Chapter endings need to shout out, “Read the next chapter to find out what happens next!”

Don’t fall so much in love with your characters and your settings that you forget to start the story right away. That is what the readers are looking for, they can fall in love with the characters and the settings along the course of the book. Hook them first. Show them around later.

Today’s quick and easy Odd Sock writing tip.

A free service that you can use to do a quick check on your writing is Grammarly. Download the free add-on for your browser and it will always be there in the background anytime you are writing on-line. It is not foolproof and it is not right all the time. But, it does check a lot of common errors including misspelled words and punctuation errors.

I use it as an additional backup check for my proofreading and editing. It checks all my Facebook and Twitter posts. It’s even running right now as I write this and caught a few typos from my fumble-fingered hands.

There is also a Word add-on for those who subscribe to the service and online checker that will allow you to cut and paste text from your word processor into an on-line Grammarly window to check for errors.

It will not make you a better writer. But, properly used, it can keep you from making your embarrassing errors public.

And, for people like me, that is a very good thing. 😀

Backstory & prologues

I had a long, unfruitful discussion with a potential client about a touchy subject—backstory. This person likes to write books in the old style where the author writes chapter after chapter setting the story up, building your characters and their world and then beginning the story. I tried to explain that is not really what readers want now, but they could not be dissuaded. While people like Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey got away with it, they did so because that was what the style was when they were writing. It does not work now. If you are going to write, you have to decide whether you prefer writing books to selling them.

Why do I say that? Let me explain. When you open a book, you are interested in what the story is about, who the characters are and the setting. But, you don’t necessarily want to meander through three chapters of taking a tour, hearing the local history and having coffee with the characters before the story begins. You want to get into the story straightaway. You want to meet, briefly, the chief characters and get introduced to their world and their struggle right away. If not, I can imagine you sitting, fidgeting and tapping your toe saying “get on with it!” When I writer takes that long setting the story up, I think they started their book at the wrong point. All the peaceful stuff that went on before the start of the story is fine as background. But, it is only that, background. I don’t really need to know all that stuff to begin with the story. Leave it for later. Tell me only when and if I need to know it to understand the story or the stakes for the characters.

Prologues are much the same thing. They, usually, take the reader back to a time before the story begins for some cogent piece of information. If the story does not rely on the reader knowing this information to get the plot or understand the world of the story, then the prologue is only delaying the start of the story. Leave it out.

Self-Editing Tips and Tricks

Almost a year ago, I was privileged to attend the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal conference. One of the sessions I attended was taught by Diana Savage. Her topic was Self-Editing Tips and Tricks. Here are my impressions from that session.

Diana Savage taught about Self-Editing Tips and Tricks. She has spent years as a writer and in the editing business, and I could tell that she was teaching from the heart of that experience. Some topics included:

  • Types of Editing.
  • Info on Copyright law
  • Style Manuals
  • Books on Grammar and Editing
  • Finding an editor

She emphasized the importance of using strong action verbs and avoiding the use of adverbs that end in -ly. Good advice. She also stressed the importance of using active rather than passive voice and careful proofreading. She also pointed out that the gold standard for dictionaries is the Merriam-Webster as is the Chicago Manual of Style for other things.

Both the Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style are available in print and have online subscriptions as well.

My takeaway from this session was a reinforcement of the need for excellent editing. You can avoid a lot of editing issues by taking care while you write.

This year’s conference will be May 15-16, 2015. There is still time to register and attend. Here is a link.