Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Emotions and Thoughts

Most readers read for emotion, to satisfy an innate desire to feel as the characters in the novel. Too much attention to thoughts will weary the reader, but consideration of feelings will draw the reader in.

Thoughts are for the most part abstract and hard to pin down because thinking is an individual phenomenon, while feelings are universal. Everyone has experience and knows anger, frustration, elation, happiness, and all the other sentiments of the human condition, while thoughts, opinions, views, beliefs, and faith are personal and private.

Writers should concentrate on the emotions of the reader since they are easier to understand. Choose the right words to connect with those feelings is the author’s greatest obstacle. Great writers have that ability or have developed it. The classics are just that because they activate and generate our deepest passions through the choice of words.

Thoughts and ideas because of their ambiguity and uncertainty should be used sparingly. The views, beliefs, and opinions of the author must be transmitted through the emotions portrayed through the writing rather than by way of a simple statement of concepts and outlook.

Think of the great fiction books that one has read and the vision of the author comes from the emotions and sentiments portrayed because the focus is on feelings rather than thought. Why is Dicken’s A Christmas Carol still as popular as the day it was published?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Making the Reader Squirm

Words that are not ordinary sound academish and snobby.

When writers spend too much attention to the words, they appear erudite and elitist; they make most readers uncomfortable and uneasy.

The best writers compose simply and plainly. They prefer the common word to the little known one; they choose the obvious to the obscure. In most cases this is the Anglo-Saxon derived word rather than the Latin originated word.

When writing, the writer must always keep in mind the intended reader. For the general populace that means simplicity, the common rather than the exceptional, the familiar rather than the unusual, the well-know rather than the strange. Of course this not mean the trite of hackneyed. It means a well-turned phrase, an appealing metaphor or simile.

This brings us to the concrete rather than the abstract; the exact rather than the approximate; the specific rather than the academic; the common sense rather than goobledygook. Simplicity reigns; complexity ‘sucks’.

What does all this mean? It means that the old adage “KISS” should be kept in mind at all times when writing. Keeping the choice of words simple and uncomplicated will keep writing powerful and potent. Good writing should not require the reader to run to the dictionary to find out what the writer meant.

Words that are not ordinary sound academish and snobby. They draw attention the words and make the reader squirm and uneasy.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Meaning and Value

Concrete words of themselves are static and almost valueless; it is the connotations associated with words that give them meaning and significance. It is words’ connotations that the writer must be aware of and thus choose them carefully to pass on accurately and logically the import and gist of the writer’s notion.

Therefore, it is the implied meaning of the concrete word that must be considered and evaluate as the writer expresses the message to be delivered. In fiction, this can be subtle and clever as it impinges on the reader’s feelings and emotions. This is not to say that these choices are not important in non-fiction writing as well.

It is this intrusion and effect on the reader’s sentiments that give the writer’s ideas value and effect. Since each individual has a different connotation for words, the writer must choose them with care and circumspection so that the reader and the writer’s connotation have something in common.

Thus the concrete words must be chosen to express connotation as well as denotation. Denotation is, of course, the static sense of the word while connotation is concerned with all the peripheral meanings that only come by individual’s experiences and practices with the word.

It is the nuances of the words that give true meaning and sense to what the writer has written although this exchange can never be completely accurate as no two individual’s connotation of words is the same.

Great writers have this innate ability to choose words, particularly concrete words, that connect with the reader’s emotions. Of course, practice and thought can be developed.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Engaging the Senses

Words can be classified into two categories: concrete and abstract. All writers use both type of words and both are appropriate depending on the writer’s purpose.

Concrete words are specific words that refer to definite persons, places, or things. The word ‘church’ refers to a general type of building, but ‘St. James Catholic Church’ indicates a certain edifice and thus it brings to mind a church that one can see.

Abstract words, on the other hand, are used to discuss general ideas as in the above example. The word ‘church’ does not bring to mind a specific building nor does it create an image in one’s mind. It is a common word but does not picture a particular image in the readers mind. Other abstract words generate an idea, an impression, or a concept that has no specific or tangible existence, so some words are more intangible than others.

Of course, all words have their use. The job of the writer is to use the words appropriate to the message to be sent. If a writer wants to engage the senses, then the choice is concrete words; if the author wants to deal with broad ideas, then abstract words are more suitable.

In today’s writing, fiction or non-fiction, the use of concrete words rather than abstract words is preferred, especially in literature or articles. Since concrete words deal with the senses, they are more fitting for fiction.

Strunk and White in The Elements of Style state “Use definite, specific, and concrete language.” because these words call up pictures that use the senses.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Slippery Part

Writing is the process of expressing thoughts into words. Since a thought is that which is in the one’s mind and not necessarily related to words, that is the writer’s difficulty because words are not feelings. Therefore, the writer must choose words that will create emotions, sentiments, and passion in the reader.

This requires insight, which is the keen discernment or understanding of an idea, an impression, a concept, a belief and/or an objective, that is a thought process that does not require words because it expresses feelings that do not need language but require experiences. Of course, these experiences are different for each individual and certainly different for the writer and the reader. Words must be used to describe this insight. This sounds difficult and it is. This is always the writer’s quandary, choosing the appropriate words to express the thoughts or feelings that the writer wishes to convey.

Thoughts and feelings are interconnected, but they do not require a vocabulary to exist. To express a thought or a feeling adequately with words is the complicated part of writing since words can never completely convey all the nuances of a thought. Thus the writer’s effort is always inadequate although good writers have the ability to almost reproduce the insight that started the communication evolution.

Insightful writing almost approaches the complete understanding of the thought or feeling the author is attempting to evoke but it never achieves complete agreement. The reader can experience more or less than the writer intended due to interpretation of the experience the writer intended to communicate.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Mysterious Factors

Most authors write because they must; their need to communicate is a deep-rooted instinct that they neither understand nor even realize. The writer that possesses this quality is a born writer.

What are the factors that are involved in such a writer? They are many and mysterious, hidden somewhere in the individual’s psyche. One is a need to express oneself in a way that is satisfying and fulfilling; another is to release the tension that is present when expression is constrained—writing releases that pressure; another is the search for the meaning of life, its physicality, its philosophy, its spirituality, and its psychology.

In some writers all of these needs are present which makes for a great writer. If one studies their writing these desires are apparent, but more important is their understanding of their readers and the reason why they read.

Thus, the most significant feature is sensitivity for the inner quality of people, places, and things as well as the fleeting essence of ideas, thoughts, and feelings that circulate through an inquisitive mind. This ability to express this empathy gives the writer a connection with the reader.

Writing intuitively is an aptitude and a talent that is the soul of the writer. For some it is instinctive; for others is can be acquire by effort and analysis of their own work as well as that of other writers. But most important is to develop a deep feeling for the nature of things. This, then is the writer’s soul and his or her raison d’étre.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Continuing the first chapter

The first chapter of my latest novel is coming along well. the first chapter is The Decision, and my protagonist, sixteen-year-old Peter O'Liam has decided to quit school and join the work force although his parents, his teacher, and his friends advise against it.
My quota of a thousand words a day has been adhered to so the chapter is well on its way. Although this is the first draft and will require re-writing, it feels exhilarating to be writing a novel again.

Vivid Nouns and Verbs

Although adjectives and adverbs are indispensable part of speech, they should not be substituted for strong, exact, and precise nouns or powerful, animated, and specific verbs. The English language is replete with nouns and verbs that do not need adjectives and adverbs to embellish the language. Certainly, adjectives and adverbs have their place in writing, but they should be used sparingly for maximum effect.

Nouns have several forms: singular and plural, compound, possessive, and gender. Most singular nouns form the plural by adding “s” but there are exceptions: some add “es”, others change the “y” to “i” before adding “es”, while still others change the ending entirely as in “phenomenon” that becomes “phenomena”.

Compound nouns are two words written as one, as two, or hyphenated. Examples are football, pine tree, and father-in-law.

Possessive nouns are usually written with an apostrophe “S”, but plurals ending in “s” have only and apostrophe added.

Nouns often indicate gender with a different word such as “actor” and “actress” although today usually one word is used for both genders.

As well, nouns belong to several classes: proper, nouns, concrete, abstract, collective, mass, and count. Proper nouns are the name of a particular person, place, or thing and always have a capital letter while common nouns indicate a general person, place, or thing and are written in lower case letters.

Concrete nouns name objects that can be seen or touched; abstract nouns name qualities, actions, or ideas that are perceived mentally. Collective nouns name groupings of individuals, but mass nouns masses not defined as individual units. Finally we have count nouns that name things perceived as individual units such as “car,” “shelf,” or “pencil.”

An exact, precise noun does not need a supporting adjective; it provided the picture on its own. This is where the concrete noun rather than the abstract shines although abstract nouns are needed to indicate qualities, actions, or ideas, but they must be chose with care and precision.

Similarly with verbs, the choice of an exact verb in the correct tense is important for strong writing. Many writers have no trouble with the present tense or future, but the past and the past perfect do cause trouble. For immediacy in writing avoid the frequent use of the past perfect. Usually the simple past can be substituted to make for more powerful writing. Verbs are probably the most difficult words to choose for a variety or reasons; one, of course, is the tendency to convert nouns into verbs. Like the noun, an exact verb does not need a supporting adverb to express ideas adequately.

So the best advice is to edit writing so that it is mostly nouns and verbs and uses adjectives and adverbs sparingly.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Expository Prose

Expository prose is meant to expound, explain, or appraise analytically. Thus it should be concise, precise, and clear. It should use language that does not rely on qualifiers such as rather, little, pretty, very and others to make its meaning exact and meticulous.

Qualifiers are adjectives or adverbs added to another word to qualify or limit its meaning, but the common ones weaken the writer’s work. In the sentence “It was rather cold,” the qualifier does little to tell us how cold it was. ‘Little’, ‘pretty’, or ‘very’ are others that tell us nothing about how cold it was. So, writers should eliminate such qualifiers from their work, especially in expository prose.

As these common qualifiers do little to illuminate and clarify the author’s intended meaning they make the writing trite, commonplace, and dull. Of course, clichéd writing does not encourage the reader to appreciate what the author is trying to expound or illustrate so one must be careful not to go too far the other way and appear superior or snobby.

Well chosen nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs do a better job. They make the writing more precise, more vital, more original, and more unique. Like all good writing, the choice of words is paramount. Since more exact adjectives and adverbs do not require qualifiers, they reduce the verbiage making a style that is fluid and graceful.

Thus avoiding qualifiers improves the author’s style and reasoning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The First Chapter

Today, I start the first chapter of my latest novel. Friday I wrote the first paragraph that turned into the first scene of over one thousand words, but today I will review that and continue with the beginning of a new book and the first chapter.
My protagonist is Peter O'Liam, a young Irishman who on his sixteenth birthday makes the momentous decision to quit school, leave his family, and seek his fortune elsewhere. The time is 1936 and the place is his parents' farm in central Alberta near the small hamlet of Evansburg at the height of the Great Depression.
That's what happened in the first scene.
Today his story continues.

No Bureaucratese

More and more in today’s writing one sees what is known as bureaucratese, the use of obscure and pedantic vocabulary. It can be found in government, corporation, and academic reports where it appears to be to impress rather than to inform. Pick up any government report, corporation memo, or academic thesis and one will find this kind of writing.

It would appear that this kind of writing is meant more to confuse, to befuddle, and to avoid clear, concise, and precise writing. Often known as ‘gobbledygook’, it rarely does little to clarify, to illuminate, and to elucidate the writer’s thoughts.

Perhaps it is not meant to.

If a writer wants to tap into the greatest readership, one must stick to the simplest word, the uncomplicated sentence, the plain paragraph, and shortest composition to get the idea, the point, or the action across. Writing for the Internet has made this design more prevalent than ever before because it is for the masses, the common reader so it must be exact, specific, and clear; readers today do not have time to decipher bureaucratese.

As always, good writing is simple and clear; if a simple word can replace an obscure word it should be used; if a simple sentence can substitute for a compound-complex sentence, then it should; if a simple paragraph can supplant a convoluted one, then it must. Wordiness and long-winded sentences and paragraphs should be avoided.

The old adage “Keep it simple, stupid” should apply to all writing.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A New Novel

During the past two week I have planned a new historical novel based on the history of the Province of Alberta covering the period from 1926 to 1950, a period in which the province saw an unprecidented growth in its economy, culture, and life style. This period takes in the Great Depression, World War !!, Oil Exploration and Discovery, all of which impinged on the daily life of its citizens.
As usual, I start with the historical events and then the characters that were a part of these happenings. After the characters, the plot and story line were developed and now comes the big decision of how and where to start the story.
That is today's challenge.

Colloquial Qualifiers

Colloquial qualifiers should never be used in writing for emphasis. Strong words—nouns and adjectives—are available. Using qualifiers such as very, real, rather, and little in phrases such as “very good,” “real cold,” “rather clean,” and “little early,” or similar phrases indicate laziness on the part of the writer to choose a stronger noun, a stronger adjective, or strong adverb.

These and other common qualifier used in colloquial speech weaken writing, making it trite and commonplace. Although these words have a place in writing, they should not be used for emphasis. They should be used for their genuine meaning and not as a crutch in place of a more meaningful and stronger word.

Use the word ‘very’ sparingly and seldom. Its overuse, both in writing and speaking, should be avoided as much as possible. There are better words to use.

Strunk and White, in The Elements of Style, say that these mundane qualifiers are like leeches that suck the blood of words. They even say we are ‘pretty’ sure to violate that rule, and they do so with tongue in cheek.

Every writer should check his composition for these qualifiers and make the necessary changes. This is always a part of re-writing and revising. Remember that good writing is precise and exact, avoiding the trite and mundane.