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Jan's Writing Basics--Three Mini-Lessons

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Jan's Writing Basics--Three Mini-Lessons

Postby glorybee » Mon Mar 22, 2010 10:54 am

No full-sized lesson this week—we leave for vacation soon, and I’m still sorting out several personal and family issues. But I’ve been keeping a card file on possible “Quick Takes”, which don’t take me long to write and which don’t require homework on your part. So here are three mini-lessons—enjoy, and mark your calendars for April 12, when I’ll have the next real class.

1. Take a look at the following sentence—do you see anything wrong with it?

That cat is definitely staring at me, I thought to myself.

Did you find it? Avoid using the phrase “I thought to myself”. Who else could you think to? This is better:

That cat is definitely staring at me, I thought.

OR…since you’ve got it in italics anyway, get rid of the tag altogether. You’ve just saved yourself two (or four) words. Now--go feed the cat.

2. Here’s another one for you—what’s the problem with the following sentence?

Hold on, because I’m about to literally knock your socks off.

It’s the word “literally”, which means “really, actually, truly”. If I literally knock your socks off, your feet will be chilly soon.

What I meant was “figuratively”, which means “symbolically, metaphorically”. But people don’t say...

Hold on, because I’m about to figuratively knock your socks off.

…unless they’re even nerdier about words than I am, and truly insufferable to be around. Just leave out the literally entirely.

There’s a blog about the misuse of “literally” here.

3. One more sentence for you to evaluate:

I was about to drowned my sorrows in a vat of dark chocolate.

Caught it right away, didn’t you? Everyone knows that milk chocolate is the solution to sorrows.

No, I’m kidding…it’s that word drowned. I see (and hear) it used incorrectly all the time. The present tense is drown.

That’s it for now—see you in three weeks. Feel free to respond here--I'll be in occasionally until Thursday, and then a few times while we're on vacation.

In the meantime, read like a writer!
Jan Ackerson

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Re Literally

Postby philippa » Tue Mar 23, 2010 7:56 pm

Ach! If the words were not coming from such a wonderful mentor I'd ignore them. I love the word 'literally'. It is lavish yet empathic and ...I agree --we must find a better home for it than amongst my sentences. Cheers. Philippa

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Postby glorybee » Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:21 pm

Philippa, I was thinking about this today, and I should have added this to my first post--there are times when it's great to use 'literally'. This is what inspired me:

I went to a candy store yesterday, and I bought a pecan turtle literally the size of my hand.

...and it really was. Putting 'literally' in the sentence emphasizes the size of the candy. The natural response on hearing 'literally' in such a context is "Really?" And then I can demonstrate just how big that candy really was. HUGE. And delicious.

So if you have something to write about that's extraordinary in some way--literally--then go ahead and use it as an intensifier.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby choosingjoy » Mon Mar 29, 2010 8:29 pm

I am literally bowled over with this mini-lesson. In fact, I might just drowned myself, I thought to myself. :helpwobble

Thanks for all these, Jan. Guess it seemed so easy to comment that I couldn't help it. :sorry They are all too familiar to me.

Your lessons are great, but I don't usually try to do the homework because I'm still on dial-up internet, and have to leave our phone free most of the time. I certainly could learn a lot and benefit from them, I know, and hope to be able to do so soon.
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Postby choosingjoy » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:23 pm

Hi again, Jan,

I thought of a couple of "local" expressions that, like drowned, are heard often, but quite incorrect, I guess. :oops:

We talk about doing a task or having to learn something, but say: "We still have a ways to go." I tried to find it's use anywhere in the dictionary, but couldn't. :book2

Also, I hear, especially among older people, the word "anyways" instead of anyway. Interesting how we accept a lot of words until we try to write them down. :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

Another fun thing about writing.

Hope you've had a nice break. You surely deserve it.
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Genia

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Postby glorybee » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:49 pm

Good one, Genia--one of those was actually going to be my next "Quick Take"!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Shann » Mon Apr 05, 2010 7:54 pm

My grandmother used to play the card game Solitary. I misused it for years until I was old enough to understand my mom's explanation that it was Solitaire and it wouldn't be right to correct Grandma. The vegetable rutabaga was always pronounced rootabaggie. It didn't stop me from eating them but I'm glad I pronounce it correctly.

The drown mention made me think of people saying I was drown today by a huge wave. OR I was electrocuted by that bare wire. I always laugh when I hear that as the definitions are death by water and death by electricity and if they are telling me about it, then it likely didn't happen!
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Postby CatLin » Mon Apr 05, 2010 8:51 pm

I've never heard the "drowned" example used. We do have some unusual colloquialisms in my neck of the the woods tho.

"Will you carry me to the store?" means, "Will you give me ride?"

"I had my picture made" means, "I had photos taken of me."

"Where do you stay?" means, "Where do you live?"

The one I have yet to figure out a reason for - "I got my (drivers) licenses renewed." Yet they only have one license. For some reason, "licenses" is singular in Georgia. :roll:
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Postby swfdoc1 » Tue Apr 06, 2010 5:24 pm

CatLin wrote:I've never heard the "drowned" example used. We do have some unusual colloquialisms in my neck of the the woods tho.

"Will you carry me to the store?" means, "Will you give me ride?"

"I had my picture made" means, "I had photos taken of me."

"Where do you stay?" means, "Where do you live?"

The one I have yet to figure out a reason for - "I got my (drivers) licenses renewed." Yet they only have one license. For some reason, "licenses" is singular in Georgia. :roll:

So what’s the plural? :D

It reminds me of those parts of the South, where "y'all" is singular. "All y'all" is plural.

I love the peculiarities of Southern speech and sometimes wish I were still in NC or SC or even a different part of VA.

I think the "all y'all" thing is an example of what’s called reduplication, but I'm not sure. Whatever it is called, I worked in some areas where that "construction" occurred a lot. If someone said "whenever," they meant "when." If they really wanted to convey the meaning of "whenever," they would say "whenever when." Same with "whatever" and "whatever what" and with “wherever” and “wherever where.”

I've "carried" people to the store--and "toted" them, too.

Where you stay? Yep.

I used to hear things like this when someone would offer to drive an elderly neighbor around: "I'd be glad to tote y’all to the store whenever when y’all need me to so y’all can buy whatever what y’all need and then tote y’all back to wherever y’all stay."

My wife and I still say “fixin’” (= “about to” or “getting ready to”) which we heard in NC and SC and which she grew up with in TX. As in “I’m fixin’ to tote Sally to the store so she can buy whatever what she needs.” Sometimes you would hear “I’m fixin’ to commence to tote Sally to the store.” I think that’s some kind of reduplication too. My wife will still occasionally say “I’m fixin’ to start to . . . .”

A lot of the peculiarities would be limited to a few towns or counties. Sometimes if I heard something that was out of place for where I was, I would ask if they had grown up in such-and-such a place (where I had heard the peculiarity) and the answer would be yes.

I love this aspect of language. I catch myself listening for these regional variations whenever (whenever when :mrgreen: ) I travel.

I grew up with the “drowned” thing outside of Baltimore, although it was “drownded” with and extra “d.” I’m not sure how prevalent that was, but that’s what some of us said.

I could go on and on with weird Baltimore (Bal’mur) pronunciations, but that was not really Jan’s (or Cat’s) point. I’ll just mention my favorite. My grandmother always used to tell us to “wrench your hands off in the sink” when they were dirty.
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Postby glorybee » Tue Apr 06, 2010 5:35 pm

My grandmother always used to tell us to “wrench your hands off in the sink” when they were dirty.


Ow!

My dad (from Pennsylvania) used to say "make out the light" for "turn off the light" and "red up the room" for "clean the room". That last one might be "redd"; I've never seen it in print.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby CatLin » Tue Apr 06, 2010 11:15 pm

It reminds me of those parts of the South, where "y'all" is singular. "All y'all" is plural.


I think you mean "all y'alls"

:lol:

Someone asked my husband once, "So just where is 'yonder'?" (as in "it's ore yonder.") For the record, "yonder", according to Brad, is "Anywhere you ain't."
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Postby anna banana » Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:03 pm

If you want to know how "southern" you are, then you should check out this quiz
http://www.alphadictionary.com/articles/yankeetest.htmlI'm 71 percent....pretty amazing considering I've lived in Denmark for 5 years now! :D
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Postby honeyrock » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:16 pm

:lol: HAHA! I liked the "wrench" your hands off. When I moved to California I had mid-west and oklahoma-planted-in Colorado parental collequisms to translate (in a hurry.) I had to discover that nobody "worshes" their clothes, they do laundry. "Pop" is not something to drink.

Jan - what are your thoughts - teen talk is the outer limits. 8) I have a teen to translate thankfully right now, but words change overnight it seems. So, if you make your dialogue "hip" itll be out before publication and date your story (and you?). If you don't, then it's unrealistic. What to do? (Other than deciding their mouths are to remain shut.)
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Postby glorybee » Thu Apr 08, 2010 1:36 pm

Honeyrock, there's a whole thread about writing for teenagers here. Should be interesting for you to read it; there's a lot of current teen slang there, along with ideas of how to write for teens.

I have a few stories here that use teen protagonists with a minimum of teen slang:

Dad's New Hobby (narrator is college-age)
Seriously, Mrs. Kensington (probably the most teen slang of all of these)
Quirky
Stained -- Terrorizing Rachel (these are separate stories, but in my mind, they take place in the same high school, and Rachel is the same character in each)
On The Other Hand (boy's POV)
Obvious--combines teen narration with 3rd person stories

You can find those on my profile page (click my name on any comment I've left on a challenge entry, or do a search for "Ackerson".)
Jan Ackerson

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Postby CatLin » Thu Apr 08, 2010 6:29 pm

(My plan was to post this BEFORE Jan came back from vacation so she wouldn't think all we did was goof off while the teacher was out. Rats. :D)


The pollen was literally drifted in the gutters this morning.

or?

The pollen lay in literal drifts in the gutters this morning.
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