I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
Tag Archives: speech
Fine Detail behind the Scenes
All of us perceive and interpret information predominantly in one of three different ways. They are seeing, hearing and feeling.
If you’ll notice the speech of others, three people may receive information and respond to it differently.
I see what you mean.
I hear you.
I feel I know that.
When having your story characters use any of those three verbs, it is advisable to have them stick with the same one throughout the story unless a particular situation demands else.
If your character first says, “I see what you mean,” try not to have him or her later say something like “I feel I already know that.”
When being told something, the sight-minded person will respond, “I can see that. Yes, I saw that.” They may not have actually seen the action being described but they visualize it in their mind and respond with sight-related words.
The hearing-related person perceives better through hearing, as in a lecture as opposed to quiet reading. Have you ever told a person to do something without saying why? Then that person’s response is “I hear ya’.” That person is actually telling you that he heard the unspoken meaning.
When someone feels something, they are kinesthetic. That is, they feel the effect of what is being said or shown. Whatever they perceive causes a “felt sense,” albeit known only to them at the moment, unless they say something like, “I feel you’re right about that.” Or, “I feel it in my gut.”
All of us use any of the three senses at different times, but we specifically use one most of the time. For example, I can listen to a lecture or read a text and understand, but I will better understand what is being taught if it comes with pictures and diagrams. I am visual.
If you did not realize these habits about yourself, you may be creating all your characters in your likeness. When reading your work, look for these traits in your story people. Did you use only feeling words for your characters? Or hearing words? Or seeing words? Where these characteristics are concerned, you may have passed on the predominant way you perceive the world to ALL your characters. However, all characters should be different. One may see, one may hear, one may feel.
When you establish your characters predominantly using one of these three traits, see that you carry this usage throughout the entire story. This is yet another bit of fine detail behind the scenes that helps add cohesiveness not only to your characters but to your prose as well.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
When a Book Signing Fails
Many reasons exist for having a failed book signing event. Some reasons given below should prepare you for what is needed to be successful. Ways to save a failed book signing when no one shows up are also given.
1) The store did not advertise your event.
2) You did not take posters or advertising materials to the store to help with their promotion. This ties with #1.
3) Whether or not the store advertises widely, you should notify local papers and other venues that advertise events in that town.
4) If your event takes places in your hometown, you failed to advertise widely and on the Internet too.
5) You did not plan to give a presentation, speech or lecture that would draw people in. Most of us do not have an advertising budget that will draw lines of people out the doorway waiting for an autograph. It’s sad to see someone walk up to a table and hand the author their book. The author signs and says “Thank you.” The buyer walks away. No real connection was made.
6) Your table is not decorated appropriately. A table with your books is not enough. Have a nice table cover. Have a table sign or two; one with your Bio and photo, another with a photo of your book cover and the Synopsis printed on it.
7) Do you have post cards? Bookmarks? Business cards?
8) Are you sitting there reading while waiting?
These are some of the reasons book signings fail. Some things you can do if you have all the essentials in place but, still, no one comes.
1) Especially if the store is not busy, walk around the store offering your book marks. Do this if it looks like no one will be attending your signing.
2) The store should voluntarily announce that you are in the store and having a signing. If they have no PA system, ask how they might tell their customers that you are there.
3) If they have a way of making announcements and it looks like few will attend, ask the store to announce that you will have a drawing for a free copy of your book for all those who attend. You should always carry a brown paper bag for putting little slips of paper into with attendee’s names to be drawn after the signing.
4) Make sure your table attracts lookers. Even add a small bit of flowers if it helps make it look pleasant.
5) Have some items on your table that apply to the book. In the case of my Egyptian novel, The Ka, I had a small bowl of hand-carved scarabs waiting. Those who bought books were allowed to pick through and find two that matched.
6) If you can be an actor, dress the part. That is exciting! Do you write sword and sorcery? Dress in a costume of the time period. If the store is big enough, pre-plan a duel with someone. Of course, you will have permission from the store beforehand. Is your book about belly dancing? Wear that costume. Be daring, you wrote the book. A hard core crime writer whose signing I attended had herself carried in inside a body bag! Talk about getting people’s attention!
7) So you’ve sat there and no one attended. Get up and walk around the store carrying your book. Pass out your book marks and business cards. It may seem like a feeble last resort gesture, but at least you will have placed something into the hands of potential readers.
8) Stand at the entrance and hand out your book marks to buyers exiting with their packages. If not your books, use every moment to get something of yours into the hands of book buyers.
Many ways exist to prevent a failed book signing. Likewise, many ways exist to redeem the moment. If you have had a failed signing, you should see it as a valuable lesson in how to prepare for your next event.
More Words to Lose
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.
The letter S
Drop the s. If you believe that one letter couldn’t possible cause you to receive a rejection, I encourage you to think again, especially if the same mistake recurs throughout your manuscript.
Incorrect usage comes from the lax attitude about our English language. Most people speak in jargon or a brogue that comes from a certain locale. I also call it family hand-me-down language. Truth is, no matter from where you hail, your written grammar must be correct for a broader audience.
I’m speaking of the letter “s.” Check out these sentences:
She ran towards the garage.
The ball rolled backwards.
These sentences are all incorrect. That is, the use of the letter s is incorrect.
The letter s denotes something plural. In the first sentence, if you move toward something, you can only go in one direction. Toward.
If the ball rolled backward, it can only go in one direction. Backward.
If you look upward, you can only look in one direction. Upward.
Strangely, an example of an exception is:
She leaned sideways.
The rule here is that when leaning, you can lean sideways in more than one direction, therefore the use of the s.
You’ll find many other words that are incorrectly used with s endings. When you find these, make note of them, maybe a running list. You’ll have the list to refer back to when you question your own writing.
This is but one of the finite idiosyncrasies of producing better grammar when writing stories and books that you hope to sell. Study your own language and speech. Watch how the s is used or omitted in books that you love to read. Get into the habit of listening to the speech patterns of others. Be critical of what you hear, but never critical of a person who speaks that way. Instead, mentally analyze what you have heard. Learn the right from the wrong of speech and your writing will reflect your knowledge.
Proper use of “said” and the use of “beats” will keep a story flowing smoothly.
Books and articles turn up touting the value of replacing the use of the word said. She said. He said. Many claim said is overused and tiresome. They supply an endless plethora of verbs, nouns and adjectives to use instead. But my opinion is that, in most cases, there are no substitutes, given what said does when used properly.
Said is acceptable enough to hide in the background and not call the reader’s attention to dynamics of speech that would best be shown with proper punctuation. Said is simply a speaker attribution and tells us who said what in the course of conversation.
However, said can become grossly overworked. This is why many people have tired of it. This is an example of overuse:
“Hola, Papi,” Pablo said. “When do we eat?”
“About ten minutes,” his father said.
“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said. “I’m winning all the races.”
“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”
“Si, Papa,” Pablo said.
Taken from my novel, The Tropics, this conversation flows much better when written this way:
“Hola, Papi,” he said, eyes eager and smiling. “When do we eat?”
“About ten minutes.”
“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said, starting to run away. “I’m winning all the races.”
“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”
Each sentence, both dialogue and narration contains slight variations. The description of actions included with dialogue is referred to as beats. The characters are not only talking. They are involved in doing something at the same time they speak.
When the actions of characters are included, the writer must be careful not to overuse beats. They serve the purpose of avoiding dialogue with a running string of “saids” or speaker attributions.
I wholeheartedly agree with Renne Browne and Dave King. In their book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” they say:
“If you substitute the occasional speaker attribution with a beat, you can break the monotony of the ‘saids’ before it begins to call attention to itself.”
A beat is not necessary in writing, but it makes for smoother reading and understanding of the characters.
For example, if you are speaking in live conversation with someone, you hear their words and watch their body language, or watch what they direct your attention to. The beats are their gestures.
In reading, beats allow for a silent pause; a moment to digest what is being said and the action emphasizes the dialogue.
On the page, a speaker attribution identifies who is speaking. The word said is accepted because it remains in the background. It does not make us pause to visualize or try to understand the way that the character speaks. Here’s another example when said has been replaced:
“What more?” Ciara questioned. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”
“Senorita,” Lazaro interrupted. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”
“You know about her?” Ciara quizzed.
“Si, si. She had breast cancer,” Lazaro sympathized.
Now the same conversation from The Tropics, written another way:
“What more?” Ciara asked. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”
“Senorita,” Lazaro said. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”
“You know about her?”
“Si, si. She had breast cancer.”
Another aspect of smooth writing is that when only two characters speak, you need not identify each by name each time they say something. You also need not include any speaker attribution at all, unless the dialogue string is too long. Simply establish who spoke first, who responded, and the reader will follow along. Also, a good place to insert a few beats is in any string of dialogue where speaker attributions are not used.
This gets more complicated when you have three or more people sharing conversation. A few more speaker attributions are acceptable, and a beat both aids in showing us the characters actions and prevents a string of attributions each time a new voice is written in dialogue. Here’s another example of over-use:
“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.
“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said.
“Not that tight,” Ruby said.
“Guess we all had it wrong,” Denny said.
“You guys and your assumptions,” Ruby said.
Here’s a better example:
“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.
“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said, as he pressed a hand against the gun inside his jacket.
“Not that tight!” Ruby looked around the room, all the while feigning nonchalance and looking like any other customer in the bar.
“Guess we had it all wrong,” Denny said as he took another sip of his drink.
“You guys and your assumptions….”
In the revised example, when a speaker attribution is not included, we still know who is speaking. Using a beat makes it easy to know to whom the dialogue belongs, so leave off the attribution.
Notice, too, that “chimed in” or “quipped” or “volunteered” or “whispered” and such other attributions did not substitute for the word said. What really happened among the “saids” in the second example is that the word said receded into the background and allowed us to fully comprehend the urgency of the conversation. Because of the punctuation, we didn’t have to be told about voice inflection or any other way that the speaker spoke, which would have made us stop and visualize the action or the tenseness of the conversation.
The choice of words and punctuation in the dialogue did that for us, with the help of said, which quietly did its part, as it should. Our eyes read the important words, while said registers only subconsciously. All we need to further the action is to read on.
Attributing dialogue to certain characters need not be overdone. Proper punctuation does that for us. For example:
“You klutz!” he exclaimed.
The exclamation point tells us the remark was an exclamation and not a quiet statement or a question. It is not necessary to repeat to the reader that it he exclaimed. Readers do not like redundancy. It’s very off-putting; as if the writer is sure the reader won’t get it. In that incorrect assumption lays the erroneous motivation for writers to use attributions other than said. An experienced reader comprehends the first time through with proper punctuation.
Many writers make the mistake of thinking they can add impetus to dialogue by including many and varied attributions. This is as bad a practice as using your hands and arms in front of your face when you speak. When talking, words and intonation speak for themselves and most hand gestures, at best, are rude. So, like hand gestures, a writer may irritate a reader through redundancy.
Yet another incorrect usage of attributions has become quite common:
“I hope you like it,” she smiled.
“It’s way over there,” he pointed.
“I’d like to take you home with me,” she lilted.These are unemotional sentences that do not need further modification. “Smiled,” “pointed” and “lilted” did not speak those words. Such verbs have no place as speaker attributions. Only in a few instances can said be replaced correctly. One way those sentences can be written properly, and sparingly, is given below. Notice the punctuation:
“I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled.
“It’s way over there,” he said, pointing.
“I’d like to take you home with me.” Her voice was low and lilting.
Here are two last examples of incorrect punctuation and attributes that just don’t convey what they were meant to:
“Fire…,” she exclaimed.
“Fire,” she screeched.
And correctly written if we already know who is speaking:
“Fire!” he said.
With many other places writers can get creative, speaker attributes are best left to the time-tested said, accompanied by proper punctuation in the dialogue.
A child living as prey to an opium-addicted father, drowning in a gene-pool of lowest expectations, feels shackled for life to the tobacco farms and cotton mill poverty of 1920’s western North Carolina. Some of the only beauty he knows rises in the eyes of a girl, surviving times harder than his own. Emerging from their adolescent love, the narrative rises far out beyond that opening milieu of violence, ignorance, and language-literal religious fundamentalism. It branches toward likely the least expected figure ever in a Southern novel. Her mystery begging the question — what might have been, had an African-American infant born of scandal been placed on the arms of one of the grandest American fortunes of the early 20th Century? Raised utterly cloistered in the clefts of Appalachia, steeped in her adoptive mother’s Vassar education, classical piano, the refinements most mountain people considered as distant and alien as the stars. When that son of an opium addict happens upon her — each in uniquely desperate times — they set off the beginnings of seismic change to the worlds they’ve known. Driven by what Faulkner might call human hearts conflicted deep within themselves — the feel of it terrifying and beautiful at once. What overflows them distills to ways of life that melt the hard rocks of racism, classism, the self destruction of living down to the worst human expectations. By its contemporary end, the telling of this story has moved readers of both genders to tears of our best human possibility. I’m deeply humbled by this, and by how the story entertains with humor, the grit of real adventure, and forms of love least expected. Read More