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Among vs. Amongst

Among vs. Amongst

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Summary: Among and amongst are interchangeable terms. Americans always use among, while in the UK both among and amongst are used.

Although we’ve covered the difference between Among/Amongst in another post on Daily Writing Tips (spoiler alert: there isn’t one), you might still be wondering which word would work best in a particular context.

One of our readers, Tania Botha, asked:

“When (if ever) must one use “amongst” – I systematically use “among” in my own writing and change it when editing other people’s texts, because “amongst” seems so old-fashioned. Is there a rule?”

You can use among and amongst interchangeably, but as Tania pointed out, among is more common in modern writing.

If you’re American, you may find that you pretty much never hear “amongst” – in the UK, where I live, it’s a little more common. (I often heard it in school from teachers instructing us to “talk amongst yourselves” while they prepared the next bit of the lesson).

To answer Tania’s question: there’s no situation where you must use the word “amongst”, but there are contexts in which it might make sense to use it.

If you’re writing a medieval fantasy story, or a piece of historical fiction, “amongst” could fit well with your tone. For instance:

  • As Tarquin stood amongst the great trees of the ancient forest…
  • In the depths of the castle, amongst the detritus of the feast…

But if you’re writing a news or feature article, or a piece of modern fiction, “among” is probably a better fit. For instance:

  • “Australia’s cheap, dirty petrol ranks among the worst of the OECD nations” (The Guardian)
  • “Six hotels in Llandudno have been named among the best in the UK.” (BBC News)

So yes, amongst can seem old-fashioned – but it’s still grammatically correct as an alternative to among.

It’s up to you to select which you prefer: if you’re British or Canadian, “amongst” is unlikely to stand out as especially unusual; if you’re American, it’s almost certainly going to seem oddly old-fashioned unless you’re using it in an appropriate context.

Examples of “Amongst” and “Among” in Literature

In 19th century literature, there are plenty of examples of the use of the word “amongst” – both from British writers and American writers.

Here are a few examples from Jane Eyre, by the English writer Charlotte Bronte. “Amongst” appears quite frequently:

  • “I heard a wild wind rushing amongst
  • “Flowers peeped out amongst the leaves; snow-drops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and golden-eyed pansies.”
  • “I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank crimson and clear behind them.”

But “among” is also used fairly often:

  • “She peered at me over her spectacles, and then she opened a drawer and fumbled among its contents for a long time, so long that my hopes began to falter.”
  • “The company all stared at me as I passed straight among
  • “I trode on an edging of turf that the crackle of the pebbly gravel might not betray me: he was standing among the beds at a yard or two distant from where I had to pass; the moth apparently engaged him.”

American writers used “amongst”, too. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses it frequently:

  • “Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the dark amongst the trees—something was a stirring.”
  • “Tom poked about amongst the passages, and pretty soon ducked under a wall where you wouldn’t a noticed that there was a hole.”
  • “My heart jumped up amongst my lungs.”

Again, you’ll also find “among” being used (though surprisingly infrequently – there are only two instances of it in the whole novel, compared with 37 of “amongst):

  • “I struck for the light, but as soon as he turned the corner I went back and got into my skiff and bailed her out, and then pulled up shore in the easy water about six hundred yards, and tucked myself in among some woodboats; for I couldn’t rest easy till I could see the ferryboat start.”
  • “Then I slipped down to the ground and crawled in among the trees, and, sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.”

Ultimately, then, it’s entirely up to you whether you use “among” or “amongst”. If, like Tania, you’re editing someone else’s work, you might want to draw their attention to the fact that both words mean exactly the same thing – but that “amongst” can sound old-fashioned (particularly to American readers).

Otherwise – choose whichever word best suits your context and, perhaps, the rhythm and cadence of your sentence.

Among vs Amongst Quiz

For each of the following sentences and contexts, choose whether “among” or “amongst” would be a better fit.

  • 1. Once [among/amongst] the top companies in America, Widgets Inc is now facing bankruptcy.

    among
    amongst
  • 2. These tips should help your website rank [among/amongst] the best in the world.

    amongst
    among
  • 3. Johannes huddled [among/amongst] the fallen bodies, praying that he wouldn’t be seen.

    among
    amongst
  • 4. Erica swore. Surely her car keys had to be somewhere [among/amongst] all the clutter on the kitchen counter.

    among
    amongst

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When to Use a Colon: Rules and Examples

When to Use a Colon: Rules and Examples

colon

The colon can be a tricky punctuation mark. You’ve probably grasped periods, question marks, exclamation points, and commas – but the rules surrounding colons may seem a bit trickier.

There are two main ways to use colons:

  • To introduce an item or a series of items.
  • To replace a semi-colon between two independent clauses: the second clause should explain or expand on the first in some way.

As you can see, I’ve used both types of colon above.

Colons can trip writers up, though. Perhaps you’re not sure whether to use a capital letter after a colon, or you’re unsure how to structure a list of items that follows a colon.

We’re going to go through some key rules that will hopefully clear things up.

Rule #1: Use a Colon to Introduce One or More Items, When Punctuation is Required

Here are some examples of colons being used correctly, preceding an item or multiple items when the sentence requires punctuation at that point.

I needed just one thing: courage.

(Not “I needed just one thing courage.”)

Bring the following equipment: a torch, warm clothing, and waterproof boots.

(Not “Bring the following equipment a torch, warm clothing, and waterproof boots.”)

However, you should not use a colon if the sentence does not require punctuation.

For instance, the following sentences are correct without a colon:

I needed courage.

(Not “I needed: courage.”)

You should bring a torch, warm clothing, and waterproof boots.

(Not “You should bring: a torch, warm clothing, and waterproof boots.”)

Rule #2: Use a Colon Before Listing Items with Bullet Points

It you’re listing items line by line, you should use a colon to introduce the list – even if that same colon wouldn’t be required for a list in sentence form. Here’s an example:

You should bring:

  • A torch
  • Warm clothing
  • Waterproof boots

Rule #3: Be Consistent With Punctuation of Bullet Points

When using a colon to introduce a list in this way, capitalization and ending punctuation aren’t always necessary.

If each item on the list is a complete sentence, you should always capitalize the first letter and finish with a period (or question mark or exclamation point, if appropriate). In other cases, though, it’s up to you whether or not you want to capitalize and use periods – just be consistent.

You should bring:

  • A torch.
  • Warm clothing!
  • Waterproof boots.

This example is consistent because each item ends with a punctuation mark: either a period or an exclamation point.

Rule #4: Carefully Consider Capitalizing a Complete Sentence After a Colon

Some editors believe that it’s always best to capitalize a complete sentence that comes after a colon, like this:

He asked for help: He got it.

Others believe that you should generally avoid capitalizing in this way, instead preferring:

He asked for help: he got it.

Some would say that you don’t need to capitalize if the clause after the colon bears a close relationship to the clause before the colon, but would capitalize a general or formal statement, such as:

Remember what your mother taught you: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

In these cases, it’s best to either consult the style guide for the publication you’re writing for, or to create a consistent style guide for your own work.

There are a couple of cases in which you should always capitalize the sentence after a colon, though.

When it’s a Complete or Full Sentence Quotation

The chair made an announcement: “This meeting will have to be postponed.”

In that example, “This” has to be capitalized because it’s the start of a full sentence quotation.

When the Information After the Colon Requires Two (or More) Sentences

The rules were inflexible: No running in the corridors. No shouting. Always walk on the right.

In this case, it makes sense to capitalize the first “No” because it’s the first of three full sentences.

Rule #5: Use a Colon to Introduce an Extended Quotation

Whether you’re writing an essay, a non-fiction book, or a blog post, there’ll be times when you want to quote someone else at some length (more than a sentence or two). This means using a “block quotation” that goes in its own standalone paragraph. This should normally be preceded by a colon, and should be indented from the left margin – some style guides also indent from the right margin.

 In 26 Feel-Good Words, Michael wrote:

Some writers neglect the power of emotion when communicating their ideas, valuing logic more than others do, and assuming that everyone thinks like they do – that careful reasoning is enough to convince readers and make points. But even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was no enemy of reason, taught that stimulating emotion in your audience can be the key to persuading them.

Rule #6: Use a Colon After the Salutation in a Business Letter (Depending on Where You Live)

In American and Australian usage, the salutation (greeting) should be followed by a colon in formal correspondence – this applies whether you’re using someone’s surname or first name:

Dear Mr Richardson:

Informal or personal correspondence uses a comma in place of this colon.

In British English, though, you should use a comma after the salutation – never a colon – for formal business letters as well as for informal letters.

Colons can take a bit of practice, so try using one (or more!) in the next piece that you write. You’ve probably already used them to introduce lists, but how about structuring a sentence that has two independent clauses joined by a colon? Drop us a comment below to share your examples.

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Affect vs. Effect

Affect vs. Effect

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Among the pairs of words writers often confuse, affect and effect might be the most perplexing, perhaps because their meanings are so similar. Affect, derived from affectus, from the Latin word afficere, “to do something to, act on,” is easily conflated with effect, borrowed from Anglo-French, ultimately stemming from the Latin word effectus, from efficere, “to bring about.”

What’s the difference between affect and effect?

Affect is usually a verb, meaning to influence or act upon. Example:

The loss of his father affected him profoundly.

Effect is usually a noun, meaning the result of an action. Example:

What will be the effect of closing Main Street?

Below you will find less common meanings and related or derivative words.

Affect

The various senses of affect, each followed by a sentence demonstrating them, follow:

A noun meaning “mental state”: “In his report, the psychiatrist, noting his lack of expression or other signs of emotion, described his affect as flat.”

A verb meaning “to produce an effect, to influence”: “I knew that my opinion would affect her choice, so I deliberately withheld it.”

A verb meaning “to pretend” or “to put on”: “She tried to affect an air of nonchalance, though she was visibly agitated.”

Words with affect as the root, followed by their use in a sentence, include the following:

Affectation: A noun meaning “self-conscious behavior”: “The girl’s affectation of sophisticated maturity was undercut by the relentless snapping of her chewing gum.”

Affection: A noun meaning “kind or loving emotion”: “Her grandfather’s deep affection for her was obvious in his heartwarming smile.”

Disaffected: An adjective meaning “discontented, rebellious”: “Disaffected youth dismayed by the poor job market and the larger issue of a society that does not seem to value them have been joining the protest movement in ever greater numbers.” (This word is a case of an antonym that has outlived the original term from which it was derived in counterpoint; writers and speakers no longer express, in the sense of “favorably disposed,” that a person is affected.)

Unaffected: An adjective with two distinct senses: the literal meaning of “not influenced or altered” (“They seemed disturbingly unaffected by the tragic news”) and the surprisingly older, figurative meaning “genuine” (“The youth’s candid, unaffected demeanor appealed to her after the stilted arrogance of her many suitors”).

Effect

The various senses of effect, each followed by a sentence demonstrating them, follow:

A noun meaning “the result of a cause”: “The effect of the lopsided vote was a loss of confidence in the chairman.”

A noun meaning “an impression”: “The soft, gentle tone has a calming effect.”

A noun, usually in plural form, meaning “personal property, possession”: “Among the effects found in the deceased man’s pockets was a small book with his name self-inscribed.”

A verb meaning “to accomplish”: “His newfound sense of responsibility effected a positive change in her attitude toward him.”

Words with effect as the root, followed by their use in a sentence, include the following:

Aftereffect: A noun, usually in plural form, meaning “something that follows a cause”: “The aftereffects of the decision are still being felt years later.”

Effective: An adjective meaning “successful”: “The insect repellent was effective at keeping the mosquitoes at bay, which made for a pleasant outing.”

Effectual: An adjective meaning “able to produce a desired effect”: “Our conclusion is that mediation is an effectual strategy for obtaining a mutually satisfying outcome.”

The noun efficiency and the adjective efficient, though not based on the root effect, share its etymological origin and mean, respectively, “productivity” and “productive” in the sense of accomplishing something with a minimum of effort in relation to outcome. Efficacy (“the power to produce a desired effect”) and efficacious (“able to produce a desired effect”) are also related. Another, unexpected word of related origin is feckless (“weak, worthless”), which is rare and has lost its antonym, feckful, through long disuse. Feck is a shortened form of effect developed in Scottish English.

Quotations from newspapers

…Tariff winners and losers: How Trump’s trade spat could affect shoppers. President Trump’s imposition of tariffs on imported … (www.usatoday.com)

… 405,000 years, gravitational tugs from the planets Jupiter and Venus gradually affect Earth’s climate and life forms, according to a new study.”… (www.usatoday.com)

… he says. “You can eat as much as you like, you can slob about, you can drink as much alcohol as you like – the effect is very modest compared with these other two factors.” Human beings are biologically engineered for … (www.theguardian.com)

…European Union tariffs take effect in Trump fight: How they will hit American productsThe Europe … (www.usatoday.com)

Video Recap

A Quick and Easy Way to Know Whether to Use Affect or Effect

Remember, a general rule of thumb is that “affect” is usually a verb (a “doing word”) and “effect” is usually a noun (something you can put “the” in front of).

This doesn’t apply all the time, of course – as we’ve seen above, there are lots of ways in which the words “effect” and “affect” can be used. It’s a good place to begin, though, if you’re unsure which you want.

Here’s a sample sentence:

I don’t think this will [affect/effect] the budget.

Which word, affect or effect, is correct?

An easy way to figure this out is to replace “affect” with the verb “alter” and see if the sentence works:

I don’t think this will alter the budget.

Yes – it still makes sense, so “affect” is the word you want.

Here’s another sentence:

We haven’t yet experienced the full [affect/effect] of climate change.

Can we use “affect” here? Try replacing it with “alter”:

We haven’t yet experienced the full alter of climate change.

No, that doesn’t make sense at all.

How about “effect”? Try replacing that with the noun “end result”:

We haven’t yet experienced the full end result of climate changes.

It’s a slightly inelegant sentence – but it does work grammatically. So “effect” is the word you want here.

This rule won’t work for every single situation, but in most cases, it’ll help you quickly select the word that you want.

What About Affect as a Noun and Effect as a Verb?

It’s fairly rare to come across “affect” used as a noun: as we saw above, when it is used in this way, it means “mental state”. You might encounter it in some older works or fairly scientific ones about psychiatry.

It’s a little more common to come across “effect” used as a verb, though this is still fairly rare and it can seem a little old-fashioned in this context. It’s used to mean “brought about” or “accomplished” – e.g. “The rapid changes she made after she got the job effected a complete turnaround in the company’s financial position.”

In any case where you’re uncertain, though, it’s likely that affect is a verb (replace it with “alter” to check) and effect is a noun (replace it with “end result” to check).

Affect vs Effect Quiz

For each sentence, select which word should be used:

  • 1. The budget cuts will inevitably [affect/effect] our department.

    affect
    effect
  • 2. The [affect/effect] of getting up early is that you can make a great start on the day before most people are out of bed.

    effect
    affect
  • 3. Smoking will seriously [affect/effect] your health.

    affect
    effect
  • 4. Many people find that regular exercise has a positive [affect/effect] on their mental health.

    effect
    affect

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How to Create a Character Profile

How to Create a Character Profile

Character-profile-2

Have you created character profiles for the main cast of your novel?

While not all authors use character profiles, many find them a very handy tool for keeping track of their characters – and for developing and fleshing out those characters in the first place.

Done well, a character profile can help you harness your creativity and really dig into who your characters are. 

Sometimes, though, writers treat character profiles as a form-filling exercise, coming up with their character’s eye color, hair color, first job, etc without investing any of this with a deeper meaning.

They might diligently complete character profiles for every character in their novel – even the bus driver who only has a walk-on part in chapter five – but they’re not any closer to having any real insight into their characters.

So what should go in your character profile … and how should you use it?

What to Include in a Character Profile

Firstly, not every character in your novel needs a profile at all.

Characters who have a minor role (like your protagonist’s mother, who only appears briefly a couple of times) don’t need to be fully fleshed out. Of course, you might want to make some brief notes about them … but this definitely doesn’t need to be an entire profile.

Your main characters, though, should have individual profiles. That probably includes any viewpoint character. If you have an antagonist then it’s worth creating a profile for them too (after all, even if your main character just doesn’t “get” where the antagonist is coming from, you should).

It’s entirely up to you how you structure your character profiles. In general, though, I’d suggest that:

You don’t focus too much on physical details. You may want to include things like hair color and eye color if you’re ever likely to mention them – but you can leave them out if they’re not going to be relevant. The same goes for height and build: unless they’re unusual and significant, you don’t necessarily need them at all.

If you are including physical details, think about how they relate to deeper aspects of your character. For instance, in Harry Potter, the fact that Harry has green eyes is significant because it’s the physical characteristic that links him to his mother.

You spend some time exploring deeper questions about your character: things like “what’s the mistake they regret most?” or “in what situations would they lie?” or “what false beliefs do they hold?” These sort of questions will result in a much richer, more real character than a simple list of physical characteristics.

The first ebook I ever bought online, back in around 2007, was Holly Lisle’s Create a Character Clinic. This is still one of my favorite resources for character creation: it goes far beyond the typical “character questionnaire” to dig deep into what really makes characters tick (and it includes lots of examples, too).

If you’re using a template or questionnaire that you’ve found online, don’t feel that you need to complete every single part of it – especially if it’s a long one! Focus on the bits that are most impactful or that help you to imagine your character more fully: if you do decide to fill in the rest, you can simply do it at a later stage.

Don’t get hung up on creating the “perfect” character profile before you begin writing – because it’ll almost certainly change as you go along.

Which brings me on to…

Why Your Character Profile Will Need Updating Regularly

If you create your character profiles during the pre-writing phase of your novel, you’ll almost certainly find that your understanding of your character shifts as you write the first draft.

Perhaps the thing you thought they sincerely regretted from their past turns out to be something they’re actually quite proud of – at least initially.

Perhaps you realize that it makes much more sense for them to have grown up somewhere rural, not in a city.

Perhaps you change them radically: maybe you merge two characters together, or you change a character’s gender or age. (Or their name: a lot of my characters end up changing names part-way through the writing process as I figure out a name that’s a better “fit”.)

Your character profile definitely isn’t set in stone. It’s fine to change your mind and rework it – but do make sure that you actually update it to reflect the changes you’ve made during the writing process.

Otherwise, it can be very confusing several chapters later when you want to bring a character back in but you can’t now remember if they’re supposed to be 35 or 25, or whether they’re tall with dark brown hair or short with strawberry blonde hair.

Character profiles can be a great tool for creating and fleshing out interesting characters for your novel; they’re also a useful working document that you can use to help you stay on track and keep things consistent during the writing process.

If you’ve never created a character profile before, why not give it a go today?

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Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass Review: A Course on Creative Writing

Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass Review: A Course on Creative Writing

Margaret-Atwood

I wrote about MasterClass a couple of months ago in my review of James Patterson’s course on Writing – and this month, I’ve been enjoying Margaret Atwood’s course on Creative Writing.

In case you don’t want to head back to that post, I’ll quickly recap the basics of MasterClass itself here:

What’s MasterClass?

MasterClass is a well-established brand with a website that offers courses from many big names in the writing world. (There are also loads of other courses on topics from cooking to tennis, also from some household names.)

All the courses are structured as a series of short video lessons, usually roughly 10 minutes long, though this does vary from course to course. Most courses have about 20 lessons.

MasterClass is priced at $90 for a single class – which gets you lifetime access – or $180/year for the All-Access Pass.

If you want to take several classes within a year, then, it’s definitely worth going for the All-Access Pass. You’ll also get two extra months added onto your subscription if you persuade any of your friends to sign up.

For more about the pricing and about MasterClass itself, take a look at my previous review here.

Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass

This time round, I picked Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass to listen to. I’ve enjoyed many of her novels over the years – particularly The Blind Assassin, for a literary take on SF – and I also really enjoyed Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing, which is a compilation of a series of lectures.

You might well know her best as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, recently adapted into an award-winning TV series.

I was confident, then, that Atwood would have some valuable advice to dispense in the MasterClass course, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Overview

Like all the MasterClass courses, this one had high production values. The video and audio quality were again superb – and I found it very easy to navigate between lessons using the website interface. The whole thing felt polished and professional, which you’d hope for, at the price.

The lessons cover similar ground to Patterson’s, but from a more literary and creative perspective: this is the sort of material you might find on a university course about creative writing. There’s discussion of story and plot, structure, point of view, creating characters, dialogue, and much more.

Atwood comes across as authoritative and very knowledgeable – but not at all stuffy in her approach. There’s a sense of a real depth behind her advice, but she talks in a friendly way (comparing, for instance, the building blocks of story to “a giant Lego set”).

What Great About the Course

While the lessons are short, Atwood packs a lot in. Compared with the Patterson course, the material felt like it had been well considered in advanced – there’s loads of great advice here. As with that course, too, the videos are handily divided into individual lessons, with each lesson broken into chapters.

I particularly liked that Atwood gave lots of concrete examples along the way. For instance, when she talks about ways to start a story, she uses the example of Little Red Riding Hood, and explains several ways in which that story could be told (one option, for instance, is starting with the grandmother’s perspective inside the wolf).

Again, as with MasterClasses other courses, you can leave comments below the lesson videos to talk with other course members. These looked like they came in sporadically, though – with often several days between comments – and didn’t tend to be answered. If you’re looking for a course that involves plenty of interaction with other students, this probably isn’t the one for you.

The PDFs supplied with each lesson had quite a different format from the ones that come with the Patterson course: I definitely preferred these ones, as they had a detailed summary of key points that Atwood made. You could read these instead of listening to a lesson and still get a fair amount of value out of the course.

I also liked that Margaret Atwood wasn’t at all afraid to speak her mind and to call out things that she disagrees with, like what she describes as a “false distinction” between character-driven and plot-driven novels.

What’s Not So Great About the Course

I’m not a huge fan of video courses (I like to be able to skim read – and easily go back to bits I want to re-read), so I’d really have liked transcripts for the course. To be fair, though, the PDFs do contain good summaries.

The format itself is a bit limiting: in many cases, I’d have liked to hear more from Margaret Atwood on a particular topic. When a big subject like “structure” has to be covered in a 10 minute video, there’s obviously a limit to how much advice can be given! A lot was packed in, though, and even if you’ve read a fair few blogs and books on writing, you’ll pick up some great ideas and tips here.

Should You Give MasterClass a Try?

If you’re going to pick only one course to go for, the Margaret Atwood one is a great option. It covers a lot of ground, the PDFs are really clear and helpful, and Atwood is a pleasure to listen to as she talks about craft.

The $90 price tag does seem quite a lot to pay for a single course. When I looked at the amount of material provided, though, I found that the total run time of all the lesson videos came to about 3 hrs 45 minutes. That means you’re paying about $24/hour for Atwood’s advice, which is comparable to many writing courses or conferences.

It’s definitely best value, though, to opt for an All-Access Pass if you’re planning to watch more than a couple of courses within a year. That way, you can have as many courses as you want.

button

There is a 30 day money back guarantee, so if you try MasterClass and decide it’s not for you, you can get a refund.

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15 Groovy, Awesome, Swell and Cool Words

15 Groovy, Awesome, Swell and Cool Words

cool-words

What’s your favorite word of compliment or admiration? How do you express approval? These are important questions for each generation of young people, who want their vocabulary to distinguish them from previous generations. It’s not fool-proof: a slang expression of approval is often fashionable in one place or time but not another, and may even coming back into fashion later. A word that is fashionable in one school might be considered outdated in another.

Perhaps the longest reigning compliment is “Cool!” – after an unusual run of popularity among several generations of young people, it remains fashionable in 2019. But in the last century, dozens of similar words have come in and out of fashion.

  1. ace – Meant “top quality,” as in the highest playing card in a standard deck. A “flying ace” in World War I meant a pilot who had shot down five or more planes in combat. A student who gets an A on a test can say, “I aced it!” But once upon a time, it was used as a positive exclamation: “Ace!” meant “Great!”
  2. awesome – typical of GenX youth (those born roughly between 1961 and 1981), but also used by American preteens in 2019. Example: “This popcorn is awesome!” One of several contemporary uses of a stronger word in a weaker sense, awesome originally means “producing terror,” then “full of awe” or “awe-inspiring.” Example: “The volcano erupted in an awesome shower of fire.” More recently, it has been used for anything that’s moderately interesting (such as rocks, socks and clocks in the Lego Movie song “Everything is Awesome.”) Perhaps this usage expresses a hope for a life that’s more than moderately interesting, or else, youthful enthusiasm.
  3. bad – An example of contrarianism in youth slang (bad means good), but still with the original connotation of “rough” or “evil.” That is, a girl would not say, “Oooh, that’s a bad bouquet of flowers! Thank you! I’ll put them in a vase right now.”
  4. bully – One of the favorite adjectives of U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, meaning “grand” or “excellent.” Used in this sense in Great Britain by 1680 and revived in popularity America around 1844 (“Bully for you!”). Its meaning changed from the Middle Dutch boele, meaning “lover” or “boyfriend,” later probably used similarly to “Ooh, your boele is really bad! I like him!” to the current sense of someone who is cruel to those weaker than himself. But when Roosevelt was President (1901 to 1909), it was probably as popular as cool is today, and meant approximately the same thing.
  5. cool – This word has also kept its Old English meaning of “low temperature.” Someone with a cool head is not hot-headed or easily angered – he has control of his passions. But a dispassionate person might also lack compassion for others, an implication of cool in the 1957 musical West Side Story. In the 1940s, tenor saxophonist Lester Young popularized the word as an expression of calm approval and satisfaction. If you ask teens in the Teens if they need anything, maybe something to eat or drink, they may respond, “No, I’m cool” or “No, I’m good.” It has been spelled “kewl,” but that’s now dated or ironic.
  6. crack – Used in the phrase “crack shot,” an accurate marksman, but it means good or skilled in general. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary definition involved “quickness or smartness.”
  7. epic – Frequently used by young gamers but common among many young male Americans, meaning “very cool and exciting,” Originally used for important events or great objects worthy of long works of heroic poetry such as the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Aeneid, Beowulf, and Paradise Lost. Political campaigners like to refer to the “epic accomplishments” of their candidate, if any, the last time her or she was in office, if ever.
  8. groovy – Popular in the 1960s among surfers and hippies. It even became the title of a Los Angeles television show in 1967, live from the beach in Santa Monica. But it originated in the Jazz Era of the 1920s, from the phrase “in the groove,” referring to the groove on vinyl records. If you were in the groove, you were part of the latest music scene.
  9. gucci – From the high-quality clothing line, used by YouTuber Matt Smith to mean “high quality” or “good.” When a former enemy becomes your friend, you can say about your relationship, “It’s all gucci.” In a 1999 magazine interview in Harper’s Bazaar, singer Lenny Kravitz calls his bedroom “very Gucci.”
  10. hep – According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “hep” was first used in 1862 to mark the cadence of a march, like this: “HEP 2 – 3 – 4… HEP 2 – 3 – 4…” The words “Left… left… left-right-left” served the same purpose and also made it clear which foot you should put forward when. By 1900, it had already begun to mean “trendy.” decades before it was adopted by beatniks and hippies.
  11. hip – Originally spelled “hep,” this word referred to the most current-conscious residents of the 1960s. Someone who was hip knew all the latest jargon, wore the latest fashions, and understood the latest ideas. To say “I’m hip with that” meant “I know what you’re talking about and I agree.” So a hippie at the time was someone who was very hip. Of course, being trendy is a moving target – the word was first used in this sense in 1904, and trends have changed substantially since then.
  12. mod – Beginning about 1958, the mod youth culture was typified by young sharp-dressing, scooter-riding working class Londoners, but spread around the world. So in the early 1960s, if something was mod, it was trendy. Long after mod stopped being a common compliment, an American TV series called The Mod Squad debuted in 1968 and ran until 1973. Its young undercover detective stars were more hip than mod, using solid and groovy as their compliments. The word was revived effectively later – according to a middle-aged GenXer, “That word was so 80s.”
  13. sick – Another example of contrarianism in youth slang. Being ill is disagreeable, but something that is sick is attractive. In other words, calling a skateboard sick is an expression of admiration. On Mark McCrindle’s list of the most annoying youth phrases in Australia, “fully sick” is number 2.
  14. swell – By 1786, a swell was a dandy, a fashionable person with a swollen sense of self-importance. But it became an exclamation of admiration. In the musical The Music Man, set in 1912, Professor Harold Hill warns parents against sinister influences on their sons: “Are certain words… creeping into his conversation? Words like… like swell!” But it was too late: by 1930, expressions such as “That’s just swell!” had become common in the United States.
  15. wild – The theme song of The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966) says about the two main characters (both played by Patty Duke) “What a wild duet!” Perhaps a 1960s reaction to the staid 1950s, where wild behavior was not acceptable.

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What Does [sic] Mean?

What Does [sic] Mean?

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Samm [sic] asks “What does [sic] mean?”

Sic in square brackets is an editing term used with quotations or excerpts. It means “that’s really how it appears in the original.”

It is used to point out a grammatical error, misspelling, misstatement of fact, or, as above, the unconventional spelling of a name.

For example, you might want to quote the printed introduction to a college catalog:

Maple Leaf College is well-known for it’s [sic] high academic standards.

Sic is the Latin word for “thus,” or “such.”

When John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and jumped from the balcony to the stage of Ford’s Theatre, he is said to have shouted “Sic semper tyrannis!” He meant “that’s what tyrants get;” literally, “Thus always to tyrants.”

Another common Latin expression you might come across is sic transit gloria mundi. It means “thus passes the glory of the world.” It’s a thought that might occur as one stands by a crumbling pyramid or where the Twin Towers once stood in New York City.

Where I grew up, people who wanted a dog to attack said “sic ’em!” I’ve seen it in a dictionary spelled “sick,” as in “sick him!” This use is first recorded in 1845 and may come from a dialectal version of seek, “to look for” or “to pursue.”

[sic] in newspapers

Bernheimer wrote: “Salonen isn’t one of those conductors who pretends ( sic ) not to read criticism.” And “Salonen is not one of those lofty musicians who believes ( sic ) that art can survive in a vacuum.” — LA Times

Remembr speling?

Neither does our president. In his first tweet as POTUS — posted at 11:57 a.m. on Jan. 21 — @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “I am honered [sic] to serve you, the great American People, as your 45th President of the United States!” (He later deleted the message.) — LA Times

In the handwritten letter, Corbett writes to Bullock: “You could of (sic) had me today however you choose other people over me. I’ll be around as you know. I love you.” — USA Today

Video Recap

Should You Use [sic] in Your Piece of Writing?

Since [sic] is designed to draw attention to something that may be misspelled, incorrect, or at the very least unusual, it may not always be appropriate to use it when you’re quoting someone. It depends on what you’re writing and on your relationship with the person being quoted.

If you’re writing an academic paper, then [sic] is almost always appropriate where necessary: it makes it clear that any error or mistake is not your own, or it highlights an unusual spelling that readers might otherwise assume is incorrect.

If you’re quoting someone in a newspaper report, you might consider it necessary to use [sic] to ensure that you preserve the accuracy of the quote whilst also making it clear to readers that you do, in fact, know that “would of” is ungrammatical.

In other contexts, though, you might seek an alternative to using [sic]. Perhaps you’re quoting someone you admire in a blog post, and you don’t want to inadvertently make them look or feel bad.

Another common situation where you might use quotations is in testimonials from customers or clients. Again, you’re unlikely to want to make these people feel that you’re pointing out their mistakes.

If you’re writing something that’s fairly informal, like a chatty opinion column for a website, you might also find that the use of [sic] could come across as a little formal and stilted.

Finally, if you want to introduce a quick, brief quote that doesn’t draw attention away from your own writing, you may feel that using [sic] is a little distracting for the reader.

Alternatives to Using [sic]

In any of the above situations, or in any other instance when you’d prefer not to use [sic], good alternatives include:

  • Ignoring the problem altogether, and using the quotation as-is – even if something is not entirely grammatical or correct.
  • Omitting the problematic part of the quotation (especially if it’s relatively unimportant) by using […] to signify an omission.
  • Lightly editing the quotation to fix the issue, if it’s a simple spelling mistake or obvious grammatical error.
  • Contacting the person you’re quoting to let them know that there’s a small mistake in a piece of their writing (if you’re quoting from a website, ebook, or something else that’s easy for them to fix). You could do this in conjunction with any of the above methods, if you want to use the quotation immediately.

Ultimately, there is no rule that you must use [sic] – so consider whether it’s appropriate for your context and purposes.

Also, of course, if you are going to use [sic] when quoting someone or sharing an excerpt of a piece of writing, do be very careful that you have the correct facts (or correct spelling). If you use [sic] because you’ve misunderstood an unusual word or a point of grammar, then that could look a little silly.

Using [sic] Correctly

Select the appropriate place for [sic] to go in each of these (fictitious) quotations:

  • 1. “The childrens were playing on the slide.”

    At the end of the sentence
    After “childrens”
  • 2. “On a better day, I would of liked to help.”

    After “of”
    After “would”
  • 3. “There are no trains on mondays or at weekends.”

    After “mondays”
    After “are”
  • 4. “The kids are Sarah, Samm, and Susan.”

    At the end of the sentence
    After “Samm”

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When to Use a Comma: 10 Rules and Examples

When to Use a Comma: 10 Rules and Examples

comma-use

Commas can be a particularly tricky punctuation mark. There are some cases where you know you should use a comma – such as when separating items in a list – but there are other times when you might be unsure whether or not a comma is needed.

While there’s some degree of flexibility in how commas are used, it’s important to have a clear grasp of the rules.

Seven Places Where You SHOULD Use Commas

Rule #1: Use Commas to Separate Items in a List

This probably the first use of commas you learned in school: separating items in a list of three or more things.

Here’s an example:

The cake mix requires flour, sugar, eggs, and butter.

Note that some style guides would not add the comma after the word “eggs”. For more on this, see Rule #8.

Rule #2: Use a Comma After an Introductory Word or Phrase

When a word or phrase forms an introduction to a sentence, you should follow it with a comma, as recommended by Purdue OWL.

Here are some examples:

However, she didn’t love him back.

On the other hand, it might be best to wait until next week.

Rule #3: Use a Comma Before a Quotation

You should always put a comma immediately before a quotation:

He said, “It’s warm today.”

John Smith told us, “You can’t come in after ten o’clock.”

Rule #4: Use a Comma to Separate a Dependent Clause That Comes BEFORE the Independent Clause

A dependent clause, or subordinate clause, is one that can’t stand alone as a whole sentence. It should be separated from the independent clause that follows it using a comma:

If you can’t make it, please call me.

After the race, John was exhausted.

However, it’s normally not necessary to use a comma if the independent clause comes first:

Please call me if you can’t make it.

John was exhausted after the race.

For more on this, plus an example of an instance where a comma is required after the independent clause, take a look at Subordinate Clauses and Commas.

Rule #5: Use a Comma to Join Two Long Independent Clauses

Normally, you should put a comma between two complete sentences that are joined with a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, for, nor, so, yet) that creates a single sentence with two independent clauses:

Sue didn’t know whether she had enough money in her account to pay for the groceries, so she went to an ATM to check her balance.

John was determined to get the unicorn slime his daughter wanted, but all the shops had sold out.

You don’t need a comma if both the independent clauses are relatively short and similar in meaning:

Sue went to the shops and John went home.

Rule #6: Use Commas to Set Off an Nonessential Element within a Sentence

Sometimes, you might want to include extra information within a sentence that isn’t essential to its meaning. You should set this information off using a comma before and a comma after it:

John went for a jog, which took half an hour, before having a long hot shower.

Writing a book, if I haven’t put you off already, is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

The sections in bold could be removed from the sentences completely and it would still make perfectly good sense. You could also use dashes in this context:

John went for a jog – which took half an hour – before having a long hot shower.

Dashes are useful if you want to imply a longer pause, or draw more attention to the nonessential element of the sentence. They’re also useful if you have several other commas in the sentence, to help avoid confusion.

Rule #7: Use Commas to Separate Coordinate Adjectives

When you’re describing something with two or more adjectives, you can use a comma between them if those adjectives are coordinating. (They’re coordinating if you could place “and” between them.) You shouldn’t put a comma after the final adjective.

For example:

He’s a cheerful, kind boy.

A comma is used here, because it would also make sense to say, “He’s a cheerful and kind boy”.

There’s a blue bath towel on your bed.

Here, “bath” is acting as an adjective to modify “towel”, but it’s not coordinate with “blue”. It wouldn’t make sense to say, “There’s a blue and bath towel,” so no comma is used.

For more on coordinate and non-coordinate adjectives, check out this post.

One Place When You CAN Use a Comma

While commas are normally either required or not required, there’s one key instance when you can choose whether or not to use a comma – and either option is equally correct.

Rule #8: If You Use a Serial Comma, Use it Consistently

A list of items can be punctuated like this:

We need bread, milk, cheese, and eggs.

Or like this:

We need bread, milk, cheese and eggs.

In the first case, the “serial comma” or “Oxford comma” is used after the penultimate item in the list. In the second case, that comma is omitted.

Some writers have very strong feelings for and against the serial comma. In general, it’s more commonly used in American English than in British English, but you’ll find that opinions vary on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ultimately, it’s up to you (and your editor!) whether or not you use it. The only rule here is to be consistent throughout your piece of writing.

Two Places Where You Shouldn’t Use Commas

Sometimes, writers end up inserting unnecessary commas or using commas incorrectly. Here are two common issues to watch out for in your writing.

Rule #9: Don’t Use a Comma Between Two Independent Clauses (Without a Conjuction)

If you have two independent clauses, you can’t just use a comma to join them. You can use a semi-colon, or you can use a conjunction plus a comma.

Incorrect: There were no clouds in the sky, I went for a jog.

Correct: There were no clouds in the sky; I went for a jog.

Correct: There were no clouds in the sky, so I went for a jog.

The incorrect version is called a “comma splice”.

Rule #10: Don’t Separate a Compound Subject or Compound Object With Commas

If you have a compound subject or a compound object in a sentence that consists of two nouns, you shouldn’t separate the parts of it using commas.

For instance:

Incorrect: The rain poured down on John, and Sue.

Correct: The rain poured down on John and Sue.

Incorrect: The rain, and the wind battered the house.

Correct: The rain and the wind battered the house.

I hope this helps you make more sense of commas. They’re a tricky punctuation mark because they’re used in so many different contexts. Many writers do struggle with them, so don’t feel bad if you find them hard to get to grips with.

If you’re finding commas particularly tricky, though, you might want to use an app like ProWritingAid (reviewed here) to help check your writing. As well as helping you ensure your writing is correct, this will make you more aware of when you’re not using commas correctly.

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How to Write a Novel: 10 Crucial Steps

How to Write a Novel: 10 Crucial Steps

novel

Whatever you write: blog posts, short stories, client pieces – I suspect that, at some point, you’ve at least considered writing a novel.

Maybe it’s something you contemplate every November, when NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) rolls around. Or maybe you’ve had an idea bubbling away for years now, but you’ve been waiting until you have more time to write.
His response
Writing a whole novel might feel rather daunting, especially if you’ve only ever written shorter pieces before. You may well wonder where to even begin.

Whether you’ve always wanted to write a novel, ever since you started reading “chapter books” as a child … or whether it’s a more recent ambition, this post will take you step by step through what you need to do.

Step #1: Choose Your Genre

In fiction, “genre” describes different types of novel. For instance, “science fiction” is one genre and “romance” is another. Within big genres like that, there are also subgenres (e.g. compare “dystopian fiction” with “space opera”, or “steamy romance” with “Amish romance”).

Some authors know exactly what genre they want to write in: they enjoy reading, say, psychological thrillers and they want to write something similar.

Other authors aren’t sure. Perhaps they have an idea for a novel that doesn’t really fit an established genre. If that’s you, think about where your book could potentially be shelved in a bookstore. What other books are similar? What books are definitely not like it?

It’s important to pin genre down before going much further because most genres have quite specific requirements. Romance readers tend to expect short novels, for instance … and a happily ever after ending.

Step #2: Settle on an Idea

You might have a bunch of different ideas for novels, or maybe just one idea that you’ve been carrying around for a long time. Novels have all sorts of starting points – C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe stemmed from an image that Lewis had in his head of “a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.”

If you don’t currently have an idea that you’re interested in writing about, don’t force yourself to come up with something. A novel is a big commitment of time and energy – you don’t want to embark on it if you’re not feeling engaged with your idea from the very start.

Do, however, be open to ideas. They might come from anything – a hobby, a news story, a very different novel, a piece of art or music, a friend’s dilemma. Wait until your idea arrives.

If you have an idea that you’re unsure about – maybe it has mileage, maybe it doesn’t – then try writing it as a short story or a novel excerpt. See if it falls flat, or if you find that you want to continue working on it.

Step #3: Develop Your Characters and the Relationships Between Them

What’s more important, plot or character? It’s a trick question, really: you can’t separate the two. The plot of a story is driven by the characters’ actions; the characters’ growth (or “character arc”) is driven by the plot.

Personally, I find it easiest to develop characters first, then think about the ins and outs of the plot. If you’re working in a plot-focused genre (like action adventure) then you might prefer to start with the plot and then develop characters to fit it.

When you’re thinking about characters, you’ll want to work out a core cast  for your novel. Don’t be tempted to throw in everyone – regardless of how “realistic” it might be. Yes, your characters probably have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, best friends … but you don’t need to include all those unless they actually have a place in your story.

One technique for working out your characters is to get a piece of blank paper and draw a mindmap. Put each character’s name in a circle and work out how they relate to the other characters. Think about their key characteristics. (Are they cripplingly shy? Dangerously hubristic?) This is a good point to start working out which characters might come into conflict.

Your story may not have a “villain” as such, but it’s likely that there’ll be some major characters who play an antagonistic role. They could be well-meaning (e.g. a bumbling office-mate), a bit unpleasant  (e.g. a glamorous and witheringly sarcastic mother-in-law) or downright nasty (e.g. a neighbour with serious anger-management issues).

Step #4: Decide How You’re Going to Tell Your Story

With novels, you’ve got some crucial choices to make about how you tell the story. You need to decide on whether you’ll write it in the first person (“I”) or the third person (“he/she”), and also whether you’ll use past or present tense.

(Technically, using the second person, “you”, is also an option, but I’ve never seen a novelist pull that off! It can work for a short story.)

There’s no “right” answer about whether to choose first or third person. With first person, present tense is fairly common (“I roll over in bed and reach for the alarm clock…”) but plenty of first person novels are written in past tense (“I rolled over in bed and reached for the alarm clock…”).

Third person present tense is seen as a slightly more unusual, literary choice (“He rolls over in bed and reaches for the alarm clock…”) but if it’s a good fit for your novel, go for it.

You’ll also want to think about how many viewpoints (also called perspectives) you want to use. With first person novels, it’s fairly normal to stick to a single viewpoint, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. With third person novels, it’s common to have more than one viewpoint, but to stick with one character’s perspective for each scene, only showing their thoughts and feelings.

If you’re not sure how best to tell the story, take a look at what other novels in your genre do.

Step #5: Think About Potential Sources of Conflict

Stories are driven by conflict – with no conflict, there wouldn’t be much story! Conflict comes in different flavours. Here are some key ones:

Internal – this is when a character’s struggles come from their own mind. For instance, they might be very anxious or shy, or they might find it very hard to connect to other people due to trauma in their past.

Interpersonal – this is conflict between characters. For instance, your character might get into a parking dispute with someone else in their block of flats.

Environmental – this is conflict that arises from an aspect of the character’s environment: for instance, it could be a physical limitation that they have, a financial problem, or a snowstorm that prevents them from getting to work.

Obviously, the different types of conflict can overlap – a financial problem might lead to interpersonal conflict (e.g. one spouse hiding difficulties from another) and to internal conflict (e.g. if the character needs to steal in order to feed their kids).

Look at your main character(s) and figure out what conflict you could throw in their path. Who might they end up arguing (or even fighting) with? What internal struggles are they trying to overcome? Is there anything in their environment that could make their life harder?

Step #6: Work Out a Rough Plot

Some authors write highly detailed outlines in advance … I’m not one of them! I do think it’s important to have a rough plot in mind, though; otherwise, you risk writing pages and pages that simply go nowhere.

Here are some good questions to ask yourself at this stage:

Where does your story begin? What kicks off the action? How do things get worse for your protagonist? How does it all end?

You can be as detailed (or not!) with your plans as you like. Keep in mind that you may find you want to change things as you go along, especially if this is your first novel – so don’t spend so long on planning that you’ll resist making necessary changes.

Novelist K.M. Weiland has some great resources on story structure that you might want to check out when you’re plotting your novel.

Step #7: Write the First Draft of Your Novel

This is a pretty big step! You might be surprised that it comes so far down the list – but there’s no point starting your first draft without any idea about your characters and plot.

Some authors like to write their first draft by jumping around between different scenes: they write whatever inspires them on a particular day, then they piece it all together at the end. I don’t think that’s a great approach for most novelists – it can lead to you leaving all the hardest scenes till last, for instance (and running out of steam altogether), and it makes it really tricky to have a natural flow of action and of character development.

So I’d recommend tackling your novel from beginning to end, drafting each scene as best as you can – whilst remembering that it is a draft that you’ll later be able to edit. Don’t aim for perfection at this stage.

Finishing your first draft will almost certainly take several months, and quite possibly a year or more. It’s easy to lose momentum partway, especially if this is your first attempt at a novel. If you’re struggling to keep going, there are some tips at the end of this article that will hopefully help.

Step #8: Read Through Your Whole Draft

Once you’ve finished your first draft, give yourself a huge pat on the back! This is the point in a novel where I like to break out some sparkling wine and celebrate having reached “the end”.

Of course, there’s still more work to do, but take a few days off first – not just for your sake, but also to give yourself the chance to return to your novel with fresh eyes.

After a break, read through your whole draft novel. I like to do this on my Kindle (you can send a Word document to your Kindle by following Amazon’s instructions here) – but you might want to print out your manuscript or even get it bound into a book by a print-on-demand service like Lulu. However you choose to read your novel, I’d suggest avoiding reading it in the same software in which you wrote it – you want to try to see it from a reader’s, rather than a writer’s, perspective.

As you read through the draft, jot down notes about any major changes that you think you need: chapters you might delete, scenes you might add, characters who aren’t really working, and so on. Don’t worry too much about little details at this stage – a clunky sentence here, a wordy bit of dialogue there. These might well get changed or cut during your revisions anyway, and you’ll do a close edit at a later stage.

Step #9: Redraft Your Novel

Redrafting is sometimes called “revising” which means “re-seeing” – this is your opportunity to see your novel afresh and shape it accordingly. You may well find that you need to make major changes – like cutting out big chunks of your story, fixing plot holes, removing or adding characters, and so on.

I know how frustrating it can be to cut thousands of words that you spent hours and hours working on – but ultimately, if those words are making your novel weaker rather than stronger, they need to go. The words you cut out aren’t wasted: they were an important part of the writing process, and they helped you get to this point.

(It’s very normal for novelists, even highly experienced ones, to make major changes at this point. Novels are complex, messy things!)

As with drafting, I like to approach redrafting sequentially: I start on page one and work forward. This means that I can incorporate major changes (like the removal of a character) throughout as I tweak other things, and I can make sure that the pacing and flow of the story still works.

Step #10: Do a Close Edit of Your Novel

The final step is to do a line by line edit of your novel. By this stage, you should be happy with all the major building blocks of your novel: your characters, the scenes, the key points in your plot. During this step, you’re not making major changes, just little tweaks.

As you edit your novel, line by line, look out for things like:

  • Awkward dialogue – maybe it sounds stilted, or it goes on too long.
  • Clunky sentences (you might want to read aloud to listen for ones that sound off).
  • Anything that doesn’t fit with your revisions – e.g. maybe you changed a character so they were much more decisive than before, but you have a couple of paragraphs where they’re dithering about a course of action.
  • Mistakes and typos – obviously check anything that your spell-checker has flagged up, but don’t trust it to have necessarily spotted all the mistakes. (Conversely, don’t blindly obey the spell-checker – sometimes its suggestions are wrong!)

Whew! You should now have – after probably a year or more – a finished, polished novel. This is the stage at which you could start thinking about submitting it to literary agents, or looking into self-publishing it.

I wanted to finish, though, with some key tips that fit across several of the different steps – I hope these will help you stay on track and produce the best novel you can.

Five Key Tips for Writing a Novel

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Tip #1: Set Aside Regular Time for Your Novel

Whichever step of the plan you’re working on, you need to put time aside for it. (Even planning takes time – sometimes a surprising amount of it.) You don’t need to work on your novel every day, but if you want to see steady progress, I’d suggest finding 3 – 4 hours per week for it. That might mean 30 minutes a day or 2 hours every Monday and Thursday evening.

Tip #2: Get Feedback and Support

Most towns will have a local writers’ group (or several) – ask around! If nothing exists, talk to your local library about starting something up. A supportive group of writers will be invaluable in so many ways: you’ll meet likeminded people who “get” writing, and you’ll be able to get feedback from them on your work in progress.

Tip #3: If You’re Self-Publishing, Hire an Editor

If you plan to self-publish your novel, I’d strongly recommend hiring a professional editor. This won’t come cheap (you’re probably looking at $1,000 or more to edit a whole novel manuscript) – but it’s an essential part of publishing something of a professional standard. If you can’t afford to get your whole novel edited, at least pay for an editor to read and review your first few chapters – any issues they spot with those might well be repeated elsewhere in your novel.

Tip #4: Each Scene Should Have a Point

Every scene — in fact, every sentence! — in your novel should have a point. Avoid scenes where characters sit around drinking coffee and chatting, or even scenes where they bicker – unless there’s an actual purpose to it. It’s worth asking yourself, as you edit, “Does this scene advance the plot?” (If a scene reveals character, that’s important too – but there’s not much point showing us more about a particular character unless something is happening as a result.)

Tip #5: Keep a Writing Journal or Record

Every time you finish a writing session, make a quick note of what you achieved (or not)! This could be as simple as logging your wordcount for the day – but you might want to go further and include notes on how you felt about it (e.g. how focused you were, how much you enjoyed writing that scene) as well as anything you want to remember later on in the novel (e.g. that you’ve established a character has a brother, for instance).

Writing a novel is a major undertaking, but one that I hope you’ll find very rewarding. I think it’s something that every writer should attempt at least once. Work through the steps above, and this time next year, you could have a finished draft … and perhaps even a complete, edited novel. Best of luck!

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What is the Difference Between Metaphor and Simile?

What is the Difference Between Metaphor and Simile?

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The terms metaphor and simile are slung around as if they meant exactly the same thing.

A simile is a metaphor, but not all metaphors are similes.

Metaphor is the broader term. In a literary sense metaphor is a rhetorical device that transfers the sense or aspects of one word to another. For example:

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas. — “The Highwayman,” Alfred Noyes

Here the moon is being compared to a sailing ship. The clouds are being compared to ocean waves. This is an apt comparison because sometimes banks of clouds shuttling past the moon cause the moon to appear to be moving and roiling clouds resemble churning water.

A simile is a type of metaphor in which the comparison is made with the use of the word like or its equivalent:

My love is like a red, red rose. — Robert Burns

This simile conveys some of the attributes of a rose to a woman: ruddy complexion, velvety skin, and fragrant scent.

She sat like Patience on a Monument, smiling at Grief. — Twelfth Night William Shakespeare

Here a woman is being compared to the allegorical statue on a tomb. The comparison evokes unhappiness, immobility, and gracefulness of posture and dress.

Some metaphors are apt. Some are not. The conscientious writer strives to come up with fresh metaphors.

A common fault of writing is to mix metaphors.

Before Uncle Jesse (Dukes of Hazzard) did it, some WWII general is reputed to have mixed the metaphor Don’t burn your bridges, meaning “Don’t alienate people who have been useful to you,” with Don’t cross that bridge before you come to it, meaning “Don’t worry about what might happen until it happens” to create the mixed metaphor: Don’t burn your bridges before you come to them.

Many metaphors are used so often that they have become cliché. We use them in speech, but the careful writer avoids them: hungry as a horse, as big as a house, hard as nails, as good as gold.

Some metaphors have been used so frequently as to lose their metaphorical qualities altogether. These are “dead metaphors.”

In our own time we have seen the word war slip into the state of a dead metaphor: the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on AIDS. In these uses the word means little more than “efforts to get rid of” and not, as the OED has it:

Hostile contention by means of armed forces, carried on between nations, states, or rulers, or between parties in the same nation or state; the employment of armed forces against a foreign power, or against an opposing party in the state.

In a sense, all language is metaphor because words are simply labels for things that exist in the world. We call something “a table” because we have to call it something, but the word is not the thing it names.

A simile is only one of dozens of specific types of metaphor. For a long and entertaining list of them, see the Wikipedia article on “Figure of Speech.”

Are All Cliches Metaphors?

No. Many metaphors (some of which are similes) have become clichés through overuse – think of things like “dead as a doornail”, “blue sky thinking”, “plenty more fish in the sea”, and “he has his tail between his legs”.

So many clichés are metaphors. But there are also some clichéd phrases that aren’t metaphors at all, such as:

  • To be honest…
  • Let’s face it…
  • It goes without saying…
  • Been there, done that.

(For a long list of clichés, many of them metaphors, check out 681 Clichés to Avoid in Your Creative Writing).

Should You Use Similes and Metaphors in Your Writing?

All types of metaphor, including similes, can be appropriate in writing.

Even clichés can be used in some circumstances – for instance, you might use them in dialog when writing fiction, either to help give the impression of realistic speech, or to assist in characterisation (perhaps one of your characters has a tendency to speak in clichés).

When you’re using similes and metaphors, you should:

  • Pay careful attention to any worn or tired phrasings you use. Phrases like “fishing for compliments” or “bubbly personality” are metaphors that you might barely notice. They’re fine if you’re chatting to a friend, but not necessarily appropriate in formal writing.
  • Be careful with extended metaphors. While these can be used to great literary effect, they may come across as overdone or forced in modern writing. (An extended metaphor is one that runs with the comparison over several sentences, e.g. Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages.” From As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII.
  • Check you haven’t mixed two different metaphors. Again, this is easy to do with metaphors that have become part of everyday language. However, you’ll want to avoid writing sentences like “We need to think outside the box and sow the seeds to drive us forward” or “It might feel like we’re out of the frying pan and into the fire, but once we’ve crossed the next bridge, we’ll be able to get a bird’s eye view of the situation.”

Summing Up

  • “Metaphor” and “simile” don’t mean quite the same thing. A “metaphor” is a rhetorical device that transfers the sense or aspects of one word to another. A “simile” is a type of metaphor that uses “like” or an equivalent word.
  • You should avoid mixing metaphors (unless you’re intentionally striving for a humorous effect).
  • You should also avoid using clichés, except in dialog. In some cases, dead metaphors (such as “war on…”) will be appropriate shorthand – particularly in journalism or in informal writing.

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