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Homophone of the Month: Rein vs. Reign

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

As one of my monthly features, I cover homophones. I’m going to explain the different meanings, and whenever I can, I’ll give you little tricks to help you remember the difference between them. If nothing else, you’ll at least realize going forward that these two words might be confused, and you’ll know when to look up the correct meaning.

(If you missed the first installment, homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things.)

Today’s homophone comes courtesy of J’aime: rein vs. reign.

According to Merriam-Webster, rein is used in three ways. Below are some examples of the word:

I pulled back on the reins, easing Max to a stop (a strap fastened to a bit by which a rider or driver controls an animal—usually used in plural).

The officials calling the Raiders game kept a tight rein on the action (a restraining influence).

The election will determine who will hold the reins of power for the next several years (controlling or guiding power).

Reign means something different. For example:

Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has been marked by unprecedented prosperity for the British people (the period of time during which a king, queen, emperor, etc., is ruler of a country).

These two words are often confused because, not only do they sound alike, but they also both have the idea of control or power behind them. The difference is that rein refers to an act or an item, and reign refers to a period of time.

These two words can also be confused with rain, which is the wet stuff that falls from the sky.

What words do you have trouble telling apart? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to feature them later.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next is Misplaced Modifiers.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Creating Single-Author Box Sets: Part Two

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy's Fiction University

I’m a fan of box sets because they’re an easy, affordable way to get additional products out into the marketplace. And from the perspective of a reader, if I think there’s a good chance that I’ll like the series, I always prefer to buy the box set as opposed to having to buy the books individually.

Last time in my regular guest post slot at Fiction University, I talked about these and other benefits of putting together a box set. This time I’m digging down into what we need to think about on a practical level once we’ve decided that a box set is a good idea.

I hope that you’ll join me for “Creating Single-Author Box Sets: Part Two.”

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Using Ellipses and Dashes in Fiction

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Today’s post comes from a request. In a comment, Kassandra Lamb wrote, “I am a tad lost on the subject of dashes. Could you do a post on them, Chris? When to use each…”

So this one is for you, Kassandra, and for everyone else who is also confused about how to use dashes. Because they’re so similar, I’ve also added ellipses.

Ellipses are the three dots (…) that you see in place of omitted text (nonfiction) or at the end of sentences (fiction). In nonfiction, ellipses are used, as indicated above, to show that a certain amount of text has been omitted from a direct quote. In fiction, ellipses are used to show that a thought or bit of dialogue trails off. For example:

My brain whirled through the implications of what she was saying. She claimed that she was the heir to the throne, but that meant…

There are three types of dashes that you can use: hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.

A hyphen simply connects two or more words that form a compound adjective. Here’s an example from a novel I edited for a client. I’ll bold the hyphenated words so you can see what I’m referring to.

I straightened my already-straight jacket and plastered what I hoped was an I’m-not-at-all-affected-by-how-good-looking-you-are smile on my face. I wasn’t here to date. I was here to bury my uncle. (From Emily James’ A Sticky Inheritance)

An en dash is used to indicate a range or a relationship.

student–teacher relationship

An em dash is used to indicate a parenthetical phrase. A parenthetical phrase is an aside or an added thought or piece of information.

The windows were too small to climb out—a protective measure against people climbing in—and that left her only the front door as a means of escape. (From Marcy Kennedy’s upcoming Scottish historical fantasy Cursed Wishes)

It’s also used to show that a piece of dialogue has been cut off midstream.

“But you said you wouldn’t—”

“But Chris,” you might say, “how do I know when I’m looking at these types of dashes?” The answer is pretty simple. Below are the types of dashes.

Hyphen: – (the hyphen/dash key on your keyboard)

En dash: – (CTRL + minus sign in Word)

Em dash: — (CTRL + ALT + minus sign in Word)

Do you have any questions or any other aspects of grammar for fiction writers you would like to see discussed? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is my Homophone of the Month (rein vs. reign).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Five Reasons Genre Matters

fictiongenresfinalBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’ve heard writers argue that genre mattered back in the days where the only path to publication was going through a traditional publisher. With the rise of self-publishing as a viable option, they say, we don’t need to understand genre anymore.

Here’s why that’s not true.

Reason #1 – Traditional publishing is still the right choice for some writers. If you pitch to an agent, they want to know genre because most of them represent certain genres, and most publishing houses publish only certain genres of books (or they have lines devoted to particular genres). If an agent reps only urban fantasy, for example, and you send them your epic fantasy, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

Reason #2 – Genre matters even if you plan to go indie. If you self-publish and upload your book to retailers, what category are you going to put it in? If you manage to get into bookstores or libraries, what shelf will it belong on? It has to go somewhere. Also, readers do look at the top 100 lists on their retailer of choice. They might love your book if they found it, but if you don’t put it in the right category (aka genre), they might never find it.

Reason #3 – Genre helps you find your ideal reader, the people who are most likely to turn into diehard fans, because people who read books similar to yours may enjoy your books as well. This knowledge allows you to better target any ads you might run, and gives you an idea of who would be best to partner with for joint promotions.

Reason #4 – When the average person asks you what your book is about, they’re really asking first to know what genre it is. They want to know if it’s a mystery or a fantasy or a romance. Only after that do they want to know the plot. Because if you give them the plot before the genre, the first thing you’re going to hear is “So it’s a mystery?” or “So it’s a fantasy?” People need to categorize to make sense of the world around them.

Reason #5 – If a reader comes to your story expecting one thing, and you don’t give it to them, they’ll be disappointed. If you’re craving chips and someone tricks you into eating a piece of cake instead, you’re probably not going to feel satisfied. You need to know what readers expect so you can meet (and exceed) those expectations or so you can help them adjust their expectations. As well, if you plan to write to market (selecting a genre niche and writing a book that you know will hit the expected tropes), you can’t do so without first knowing your genre.

Genre still matters. Genre will always matter.

If you’re confused about genre or simply want to gather some inspiration for what genre you might want to try writing in, then you’re in luck.

Fiction Genres: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

This mini book will demystify genre so we can better understanding what we’re writing and who might want to read it. In Fiction Genres, you’ll learn what qualities make a book one genre rather than another, and you’ll discover the smaller “genres” that fall under the larger umbrellas of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, thriller, and romance. For each, you’ll also see examples of published books or authors whose books exemplify the genre.

Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

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Commonly Confused Words of the Month: Emigrated To

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Welcome back to my Commonly Confused Words of the Month feature. It’s the spot where I go over words and phrases that you might want to use in dialogue to show something about your character, but you never want to use elsewhere.

This month I’ll be looking at the phrase emigrated to.

The correct phrase to use is actually emigrated from. This is because emigrated is an intransitive verb that means “to leave one’s place of residence or country to live elsewhere.” So to be correct, you would pair emigrated with from.

Chris emigrated from the United States.

Immigrated to, on the other hand, is what you do when you go to another country. Immigrate is an intransitive verb that means “to enter and usually become established; to come into a country of which one is not a native for permanent residence.” So to be correct, you would pair immigrate with to.

Chris immigrated to Canada.

Now to apply this to your fiction writing.

If you have a character that is educated or savvy with the English language, you could have them talking about emigrating from the United States to Canada or immigrating to Canada from the United States.

If you want to show that a character is less sophisticated or less knowledgeable about the language, you could have them talking about emigrating to Canada or immigrating from the United States.

Is there a word or phrase that you often hear that bothers you? Share it in the comments below and I’ll be sure to address it.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Using Ellipses and Dashes in Fiction.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Overusing Names in Dialogue

overusing-names-in-dialogue

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I wanted to go back to one of the basics today because this topic seems to be one that every new writer struggles with. (And those of us who are veterans could always use a reminder.)

Overusing names, titles, and pet names in dialogue is one of the fastest ways to make our dialogue sound clunky.

Titles are things like doctor or mom. Pet names include sweetheart, dear, love, you get the idea. For the rest of this, I’m just going to say “names” but it includes all of these.

Let me give you a little example of what this sounds like…

“Hey, Maggie, you have to see this.”

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“I’m not going to tell you, Mags. You have to come look.”

Yes, I’ve exaggerated slightly for this example. Most writers wouldn’t use names in every line of dialogue, but I’ve seen some come close.

I have a few guesses for why writers fill their dialogue with names. Some are probably trying to avoid overusing dialogue tags. Some probably think it sounds more realistic. Some are probably trying to minimize confusion about who’s talking to whom in scenes with multiple characters.

Whatever the reason, it immediately makes our dialogue sound artificial and awkward. It doesn’t sound like the way a real person would talk.

You can test this out. Keep track of how many times in a day you call someone by name (and, if it ever happens, note the circumstances around it). Pick another day and track how many times someone else calls you by name (and when that happened).

You’ll find that if it happens at all, it happens extremely rarely and in specific types of circumstances.

  • It’s the beginning or end of a conversation, and we’re saying hello or goodbye.
  • We’re trying to get someone’s attention.
  • We’re angry or upset and using their name for emphasis, almost as a weapon.
  • We’re trying to establish premature intimacy – this last one is one you’ll often hear from conmen or salesmen.

If we’re going to use names in our dialogue, these are the only times we should use them, and those uses should be strategic. For most writers, a good guideline is to avoid using names in dialogue at all.

So my editing tip is to go through your current manuscript and hack out the names you’ve used in dialogue, rewriting what’s around those sentences as necessary to make sure the speaker stays clear. You’ll find your dialogue sounds better almost instantly.

How do you feel about direct address in dialogue? Is this something you’ve struggled with?

Interested in learning more about writing great dialogue? You might be interested in Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.

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Image Credit: blogmonkey/www.freeimages.com

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Vocative Commas and the Vocative Case

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Today’s topic, vocative commas (and, by extension, the vocative case), comes from a request from Marilynn Byerly.

Let’s start with a definition of what a vocative comma is and what the vocative case is.

The vocative case sounds like something made up, but it’s actually a real thing—and it’s pretty straightforward, too. Basically, when you’re addressing a person by name, you’re using the vocative case:

Marcy, have you seen my pen?

What time is dinner tonight, Mom?

Those are pretty straightforward. Most people get tripped up when the name comes in the middle of the sentence:

As you know, Bob… (sorry, a little writer humor there)

Here’s the real example:

 You need to stop, Frank, because you’re going to ruin your liver if you keep drinking like this.

You need to separate something in the vocative case from the rest of the sentence, using a comma. This is known as a vocative comma.

But how do you know when something is NOT in the vocative case and therefore doesn’t need a vocative comma?

Again, this is pretty simple.

I went to the Brigden Fair with Marcy and her mom.

Notice that I’m not addressing Marcy or her mom. I’m saying something about them. Here’s one more example for you:

Mom and I went to the Redskins game on Sunday. We had a blast.

I’m saying something about Mom. I’m not speaking to her.

Have any other grammar questions for me? Just leave a response in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them in a future post.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Commonly Confused Words of the Month (Emigrated To).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Avoiding Pointless Conflict in Our Stories

conflict

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As part of my mini-series on goal, motivation, and conflict, we’ve already talked about the antagonist’s role in building conflict in our story. This week I want to look at good conflict vs. bad conflict.

Alongside the antagonist standing in our character’s way, our character is also going to face other challenges in reaching their goal. It could be other people, it could be physical obstacles, it could be puzzles they need to solve or clues they need to gather. We call these challenges conflict.

Here’s the tricky part for many writers. As Dwight Swain said in Techniques of the Selling Writer, “conflict for conflict’s sake” is useless. It hurts our story rather than helping it.

To put this another way, not all conflict is created equal. The best way that I know to help writers understand good conflict that turns their story into a page-turner is to explain bad conflict that annoys the reader and makes the story feel pointless and slow.

So here are the top three offenders when it comes to bad conflict.

Bickering

There’s a difference between characters disagreeing over how to handle a real problem that they need to solve and characters that seem to be arguing simply for the sake of arguing.

If our characters bicker over minor differences, this is bad conflict. (I’d argue it isn’t even really conflict.) If you want an argument to have any chance of working as conflict, it needs to stem from deep, fundamental differences in your characters’ belief systems, morals, or end goals. Petty squabbling isn’t interesting, and it can make our characters seem childish and stupid.

Another expression of this type of bad conflict is a character that argues or disagrees even when doing so isn’t in their self-interest. A character shouldn’t randomly pick a fight if doing so hampers reaching a much more important goal. 

Our characters should get along at least some of the time.

When you’re thinking about adding an argument for conflict, consider where what they’re fighting about sits on each character’s personal value scale. Is achieving the goal more important to them than the particular thing they’re fighting about? If so, delete that argument.

If the content of what they’re arguing about is more important than the end goal, then the argument works as conflict (e.g., a character whose moral compass says I won’t kill for any reason vs. a character who believes killing in pursuit of their goal is a time where the end justifies the means).

Misunderstandings

If our characters could sit down and resolve their misunderstanding with an adult conversation, we don’t have conflict. What we will have is annoyed readers.

Misunderstandings only work if there’s a strong reason these two characters can’t talk it out. By strong reason, I mean something like one of them is a POW and can’t communicate with the outside world.

Rabbit Trails

Rabbit trails are conflicts that are unrelated to the goal. These conflicts might be fascinating in a different story where they actually matter to the long-term goal, but when they only serve as a detour, they actually slow the story down and cause readers to lose interest.

Here’s an example. Let’s say we have a pair of archeologists who think they’ve located the hiding place of the Holy Grail.

Good Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that plans to torture him for information because they also want to find the Holy Grail and sell it to the highest bidder.

Bad Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that is kidnapping random people will the plan to force them into becoming drug mules to smuggle their product across the border.

Do you see the difference? One roadblock is random and unconnected to the larger goal. This type of conflict will frustrate the reader because they’ll want to get back to the real story. The other roadblock increases tension and keeps the story moving because the conflict is intimately connected to the larger story goal.

Do you have any questions about conflict? I’d love to answer them either in the comments or in another post.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Homophone of the Month: Fair vs. Fare

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

For one of my monthly features, I will be covering homophones. I’m going to explain the different meanings, and whenever I can, I’ll give you little tricks to help you remember the difference between them. If nothing else, you’ll at least realize going forward that these two words might be confused, and you’ll know when to look up the correct meaning.

(If you missed the first installment, homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things.)

Today we’ll look at fair vs. fare.

Fair has a number of meanings. Below are some examples of the word:

My wife is a very fair young woman (pleasing to the eye).

After the devastation of Hurricane Matthew, the Carolinas are now experiencing fair weather (not stormy or foul).

Judge Thompson has a reputation for handing down fair judgements (marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism).

I have a fair complexion and burn easily (not dark).

I went with my wife and her mom to the Brigden Fair (an exhibition with rides, competitions, and handmade items for sale).

On the other hand, fare means something entirely different. For example:

The restaurant’s fare was delicious (food).

We got an excellent deal on round-trip airfare to Australia for our honeymoon (the price of a leg of commercial travel).

This is one of those times when the important thing is to know that two options exist, and that you should look up what the words mean. There are too many meanings for the words to have a simple mnemonic device.

What words do you have trouble telling apart? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to feature them later.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is Vocative Commas.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.

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Dialogue, Description, and Point of View Box Set

howtowritebox2By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’d hoped to release my second Busy Writer’s Guides box set months ago, but it’s finally available! I’ve put together Dialogue, Point of View in Fiction, and Description this time.

Dialogue, point of view, and description are foundational skills you need to master to create vivid fiction that balances your character’s internal life with the external story world in a way that keeps readers turning pages.

The books in this set put writing craft techniques into plain language alongside examples so you can see how that technique looks in practice. In addition, you’ll receive tips and how-to exercises to help you apply what you learn to the pages of your own story. Most importantly, every book in the Busy Writer’s Guide series cuts the fluff so that you have more time to write and to live your life.

In this box set you’ll find…

DIALOGUE

To write great fiction, you need to know how to write dialogue that shines. You know the benefits strong dialogue can bring to a story—a faster pace, greater believability, increased tension, and even humor. But you might not know how to achieve it. In Dialogue, you’ll learn techniques and tricks for making your dialogue shine, as well as practical editorial steps you can take to polish your dialogue.

POINT OF VIEW IN FICTION

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall. In Point of View in Fiction, you’ll learn how to choose the right POV for your story, how to avoid POV errors, how to choose the right viewpoint character, and much more.

DESCRIPTION

Description in fiction shouldn’t be boring for the reader or for the writer. Description will help you take your writing to the next level by exchanging ho-hum description for description that’s compelling and will bring your story to life, regardless of the genre you write.

Grab your copy at your preferred retailer:
Amazon
Apple
Kobo
Smashwords

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