Tag Archives: colloquialisms

Feb 09

So How Do You Lose Words? Just Ask Mary Deal

More Words to Lose
by
Mary Deal

Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.

In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.

“I told him, I said, be careful.”

“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”

I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.

“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”

“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”

As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.

Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.

Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.

However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”

She thought she wanted to go along.

He said he didn’t want to go.

When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.

Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.

If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.

Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.

I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Jan 05

One of My Personal Pet Peeves: Fewer or Less!

Fewer or Less
by
Mary Deal

These two words are not interchangeable. I see many incorrect usages but the rules about how they are used can be easily explained. Can you tell which of these sentences is incorrect?

~ I’ve written less books than some authors I know.

~ I’ve written fewer books than some authors I know.

Or how about:

~ I spend less time writing than I do editing.

~ I spend fewer time writing than I do editing.

Or these:

~ There were less pencils on his desk.

~ There were fewer pencils on his desk.

In some sentences, you can tell when it doesn’t sound right. Here again is when the rule “write how you speak” does not apply. We all use colloquialisms and never notice our poor grammar, maybe till we become writers. But keep in mind, an avid reader knows when a sentence is incorrect and will make mental note of it. Too many of these errors and the reader will become frustrated and, perhaps, not read another story or book by that author.

The rule is:

~ The word fewer applies to individual quantities.

~ The word less applies to items in bulk.

My Oxford dictionary offers this:

“Make sure you distinguish between fewer and less. Use fewer with plural nouns, as in there are fewer people here today; use less with nouns referring to things that can’t be counted, as in there is less blossom on this tree.”

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Sep 01

“Drop the Words” (Put Your Hands Up! Back Away from the Keyboard!) by Mary Deal

Drop the Words

Colloquialism and slang have their place in diction. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. However, it doesn’t fit in proper grammar usage when attempting to make your story or book, fiction or nonfiction, the best that it can be.

Consider these:

Eat it up
Where are you at?

Read these sentences again, only this time, substitute the word “down” in place of “up.”

In the first example, how can you “eat it up” if you can’t “eat it down?” Simply put, you “eat it.”

In the second sentence the words “where” and “at” are synonymous as to location. You may as well ask, “Where are you where?” Properly asked, it’s “Where are you?”

When writing, in proper grammar usage, some words need to be dropped from sentences all together. However, if you develop a story character who speaks using these colloquialisms, then his or her diction must be established the first time that character speaks. And further, the character’s language must follow through with similar jargon anytime his or her dialogue is included.

Written dialogue allows for misusages of grammar. It enhances drawls, brogues, and general linguistics found in varying regions and among groups of people. However, in writing narrative, drop the words that make your writing look amateurish and you, the author, unprofessional. Dropping the poor grammar in the narrative portions of stories sets the dialogue apart, which is a must. and draws attention to the uniqueness of each character.

An exception is when the narrator intends to make the narration sounds like the storyteller speaks that way. An example would be when a person from the deep south is telling his life story. We know it’s about him in his own words. We allow for his dialect in both the narration and dialogue. Or a person with a foreign accent tells his or her story; then the narration and dialogue will have great similarities.

With the exception of the above example, and particularly in the editing stage, drop the words that do nothing but distract from the value of the sentence.
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Jun 23

Clichés and Jargon…Mary Deal Dishes the Straight “Skinny” on the Subject

Do you know how much of your day-to-day language contains clichés and jargon? The way you speak among your family and peers defines your roots and the person you are. However, in writing, clichés make your story stale and jargon needs to suit the time period of the story.

If you are writing a story that takes place, perhaps in the 1930s or any older time period, you’ll need to capture the language of the day. Whether you have your characters speak these lines or your narrator uses them, similar phrases of the early Twentieth Century may be something like:

A penny for your thoughts
The pot calling the kettle black
Putting the horse before the cart

To include such phrases in a modern-day story tells of an elderly author who has not kept up with language changes, or tells of a younger author bound in family colloquialisms. With the exception of writing a story in a past time frame, the language you use must be the most up-to-date as possible. Read More

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