I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

aid174983-v4-728px-Stop-Saying-the-Word-_Like_-Step-4-Version-2On more than one occasion I have declared my love affair with the word ‘had’. When you use a word so many times it jumps off the page, you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if the word is used correctly or not. You need to find another way to write the sentence without using ‘the word’. In my case that word is ‘had’.

What’s wrong with using the word ‘had’ over and over, besides making it an awkward read?

  • If you are using ‘had’ a lot, odds are you have a lot of backstory/info dump, because it specifically details things that happened before the current action. In some circumstances, that can seem dull, or like the focus is in the wrong place. Why spend so much time on something that’s not happening right now?
  • Using ‘had’ too much can also indicate you are telling vs. showing.
  • ‘Had’ is also rather formal. People rarely say ‘he had put on weight’- you say ‘he’d put on a bit of weight’ or ‘he was looking fatter’ something to that effect.
  • If it’s overused to the point that it becomes noticeable to the reader. It is bad.

For this blog, I’m focusing on ‘had’ because it’s a problem word for me. Most of us have them. They could be words like but, although, because, however, that, and if you’re writing dialogue–so(another one of my favorites that I know to look out for 🙂

To a certain extent, this is a matter of style. Plenty of writers have these little tics. You may find a turn of phrase that you fall in love with, or it may be a word that carries over from the way you speak. As I stated above with ‘had’, only if a word or phrase is overused to the point that it is noticeable to the reader, does it become a bad thing.

Noticing that you use a particular word frequently, is the first step to improving your writing. If you realize you are in the process of abusing a word while you are writing, make some adjustments, but don’t get bogged down for a half an hour trying to decide if ‘your word’ is really necessary.

The best time to work on these tics, is after you’ve written a chunk of prose. Go back through and look for your problem word. You can use the find feature on your computer (Usually ctrl-F or command-F). As you edit, double-check to see if the word is really necessary, or if it can be changed. If you have to, rewrite the entire sentence.

Food for thought. I bet I’m not alone in my love affair with certain words 🙂

-Jan R








I’m Having a Love Affair With ‘Had’!

Are My Words Qualified?

untitledThis past weekend I picked up a copy of “The Elements Of Style” at a library book sale for a dollar. If you’ve never heard of the book, I would highly recommend it. It’s one of those books that every writer should own.

It is filled with tips on how to write and make every word count, or every word tell, as the authors like to put it.

One of the tips offered, that I am guilty of, is avoiding the addition of qualifiers to your words. Qualifiers are words like rather, very, pretty, big, and little. My favorite one to use, or misuse I should say,  is very 🙂 These words are described as leeches that take hold and suck the blood out of your words.

Because ‘very’ is my nemesis, I thought I would share a picture that I found on Google Images. As you can see, it provides alternatives to using ‘very’ and gets you to thinking about what you are really trying to say.  I love it, and it has been very helpful (invaluable) to me. I hope it helps you as well.


-Jan R


Are My Words Qualified?

Words, Words, and More Words

fullsizerender-1After writing Tuesday’s  blog, I got to thinking about all of the words we misuse. The one that I misuse the most is to instead of too. I know the correct one to use, but because I’m on a roll with the words flowing, I’m not always as careful as I would normally be. I have also mixed up it’s/its and pique/peak/peek.

I pulled this list together from various sites on the internet. All of these words resonated with me, and I could see how easy it would be to misuse them.

I hope this helps, or at least makes you think about the word you are about to use.

  1. Affect/Effect – Affect is to pretend or influence and it’s  a verb. Effect is a result and it is a noun.
  2. Your/You’re – Your shows possession. You’re is a contraction of the words you and are or you and were.
  3. It’s/Its – It’s is a contraction of the words it and is or it and has. Its shows possession and does not require an apostrophe.
  4. Literally – This one isn’t so much misspelled as it is misused by those that don’t understand the definition. If you’re not sure, literally means something that actually, truly and in all reality happened. In most cases you want to use the word figuratively.
  5. Irregardless – is technically a word…even if most English majors refuse to accept it as one. It is considered an improper word, as is ain’t and conversate. To keep from sounding uneducated, just use regardless instead.
  6. A Lot/Alot –  Alot is not a word. It is two words…a lot.
  7. e.g./i.e. – When you see e.g. think ‘eggsample’. On the other hand, in essence is represented by i.e.
  8. Insure/Ensure/Assure – Insure means to purchase or have insurance. Ensure is to make certain of something. Assure is comfort or lend confidence, as in the word reassure.
  9. Mute/Moot – Mute is to make quite or without voice. Moot means something has little to no practical value. Note which definition is used in the phrase, ‘a moot point’.
  10. Disinterested/Uninterested – Disinterested means you don’t have a stake, claim or interest in something. Uninterested is when there is no interest…as in unconcerned or unenthusiastic about something.
  11. Lay/Lie – This one is kind of tricky because lay is also the past tense of lie. Any time you move an object you lay it down. Lie means to recline. A good rule of thumb is to use sit and set. If sit will work in its place, use lie. If set could be used, go with lay.
  12. Pique/Peek/Peak – Something may pique your interest…or you might peek at a present…or reach a sort of peak.
  13. Stationary/Stationery – Stationary, with an a, refers to something immovable or fixed…like a stationary bike. Stationery, with an e, is pretty paper.
  14. Then/Than – Then refers to time.  Than is used when making a comparison: I like chocolate more than candy.
  15. Invoke/Evoke – To invoke is to call upon a higher power for aid or assistance. To evoke is to recall a memory or feeling.
  16. Continuous/Continual – Continuous is something that continues without cease. Continual happens over a long period of time.
  17. Accept/Except – To accept is to receive. Except means to exclude.
  18. Chronic/Acute – Chronic is long-term and usually debilitating. The use of acute implies a sudden on-set of symptoms. Chronic and acute are also used to classify pain. Acute would be sudden, like stubbing your toe, while anyone who’s suffered recurring back pain knows the first-hand definition of chronic.
  19. Allusion/Illusion/Elusion – Allusion is a reference to something. Illusion is a misconception and also refers to magic and illusionists. Elusion is to escape. The writer alluded to the famous illusions of Houdini, who was famous for eluding death by narrow escape.
  20. Assent/Ascent – Assent means to agree, while ascent refers to a journey upward.
  21. Borne/Born – Borne means to bare or carry, born refers to the birth of something.
  22. Canvass/Canvas – Canvass is when you spread the word about something or hand out fliers. Canvas is fabric.
  23. Complimentary/Complementary – Complimentary is something given for free (complimentary breakfast) or something said as a matter or praise, or compliment. Complementary is when things complement, or support and benefit, each other.
  24. Disburse/Disperse – Disburse usually refers to funds or money and means to pay out. Disperse is to scatter or spread over an area.
  25. Reign/Rein – Another two commonly misused words are reign and rein. To reign is to lord over. Reins are the straps you use to steer an animal.
  26. Imply/Infer – Here are another set of words that are commonly confused. To imply something is to hint at it. It isn’t said directly but there is an implied meaning. To infer is to find meaning in what was left unsaid.
  27. Set/Sit – Use set when placing an object. Use sit when you are relaxing at a picnic table or on a log…or in a reclining pool chair in the sun.
  28. Pallet/Palate/Palette – Pallets are wood shipping bases. The palate refers to your sense of taste. A palette is the board an artist uses for holding and mixing paints.
  29. Site/Sight/Cite – Site refers to an area. Use sight when seeing with your eyes or referring to vision. To cite is to refer to the work or accomplishment of another.
  30. Whether/Weather – Whether is when one thing relies on another or there is a choice. Use weather when talking about the conditions outside.
  31. Everyday/Every day – The meanings of these commonly misused words are subtly different. The difference in choosing between them will be your intention as a writer. Everyday (one word) means average or common. Every day (two words) means each day, separately. That was redundant.
  32. Won’t/Wont – Won’t is a loose contraction of the words will and not. Wont isn’t used much anymore but refers to a likelihood or accustomed behavior. When we say that someone is wont to do something, we mean that it is usual.
  33. Vain/Vein/Vane – Vain can mean concerned with one’s appearance. Veins are the blood highways in the body. Weather vanes are vanes.
  34. Pored/Poured – Here’s another subtle difference that results in misuse. When you use the word pore, you mean you carefully studied or meditated on something. When you write the word pour, there’s usually liquid involved.
  35. Suit/Suite – Obviously a suit is an article of clothing but the word can also be used to describe a legal matter, the courting of a woman, or something appropriate or beneficial. A suite on the other hand refers to a collection. A collection of rooms becomes a hotel suite. Computer programs come in collections called suites. Even a personal staff of attendants is described as a suite.
  36. There/Their/They’re – Use there to describe a place. Their is the possessive of they. They’re is a contraction of they are or they were.
  37. To/Two/Too – To is when you send a letter or give a gift. Two is how the number is spelled. Too means in excess or in addition or also.
  38. Lose/Loose – These commonly confused words are just plain similar, like chose and choose.
  39. Faze/Phase – Faze is to be affected.  Phase describes a step in a plan or development.
  40. Counsel/Council – Counsel is advice or legal assistance and can be used as both a noun and a verb.  Council is a group of people brought together to exchange ideas and make decisions and is always a noun.
  41. Who/Whom – Who is the subject of the sentence and whom is the object.
  42. Bare/Bear-Bare means naked. Bear is to carry something or a large furry animal that you want to avoid.

So what words do you mix up?

-Jan R





Words, Words, and More Words

Choose Your Words Wisely!

seo-content-writing3-1024x458I have been accused and rightly so of on-the-nose-writing, over writing, redundancies, and throat-clearing. I’ve also had a close relationship with the words “that” and “had”. I blame it on inexperience and just not knowing any better.

Novelist and editor Sol Stein says the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Less is more. Which would you choose?

When editing your draft, remember that every word counts. Every word should have a reason for being and not just added fluff. “It sounds good,” won’t cut it.

  • Avoid throat-clearing- This is a literary term used to describe a story or chapter that finally begins after two or three pages of scene setting or backstory. You may write beautifully but nobody wants to get bogged down in description. I could care less the dutchess wore a gown with six gold buttons encrusted with diamond dust running down the back, unless it was found at a crime scene. Get on with the story.
  • Choose normal words– When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary, think reader-first. Get out of the way of your message.
  • Avoid subtle redundancies– “She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. When you nod, it’s your head and if you nod, you are agreeing. You don’t have to tell your reader this. “He clapped his hands.” What else would he clap? “She shrugged her shoulders.” What else would she shrug?
  • Avoid the words Up and Down-unless they are really needed.
  • Usually delete the words ‘that’ and ‘had’. Read the sentence with them in it and then without. Are they really necessary? You will be amazed how many times these words are used incorrectly.
  • Give the reader credit- Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to repeat it. Another one I’m guilty of 🙂
  • Avoid telling what’s not happening. “He didn’t respond.” “She didn’t say anything.” If you don’t say things happened, we’ll assume they didn’t.
  • Avoid being an adjectival maniac.- Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use them sparingly.
  • Avoid Hedging verbs-…smiled lightly, almost laughed.
  • Avoid the word literally-when you mean figuratively. I was literally climbing the walls, My eyes literally fell out of my head–really?
  • Avoid on-the-nose-writing.-You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.

I hope this information helps you to be more aware of the words you use. Choose your words wisely, they do matter.

I would like to end this blog by giving credit to Jerry Jenkins for the information I’ve shared. He has a great blog for writers and provides not only invaluable information, but free tools to assist writers on their journey. If you haven’t visited his site, I would encourage you to do so 🙂

-Jan R



Choose Your Words Wisely!

The Anatomy Of A Scene

UnknownAnybody that has read my work, knows that most of my blogs spin off of my own weaknesses. And there are many. I figure if I’m having problems with a certain aspect of writing, there are probably many others who are too.

So today I thought I would focus on writing scenes. As you may have guessed, I was shredded to pieces  in a recent critique, and rightfully so.

I presented a 3000 word excerpt from my novel for review, I did say 3000 words, and a friendly critique (she really was nice), pointed out that I had managed to squeeze 10 different locations/scenes into those 3000 words. It was overwhelming and the scenes were like flybys.

I have a very complicated novel, with many twists and turns, which could be a good thing. But, in my haste to get through them all, I’m not providing a cohesive story, and many of my scenes are lacking.

So how do I correct my mistakes? I put together a scene and a sequel. They work together to form one cohesive scene. A scene leads naturally to a sequel. At some point, you will end the cycle. The POV character will either succeed or fail. I would opt for succeed:-)

Scenes are as follows:

  1. Goal- What the POV person wants at the beginning of the scene. It must be specific and clearly definable.
  2. Conflict- The series of obstacles your POV character faces on the way to reaching their Goal.  There has to be conflict or your reader will be bored.
  3. Disaster- Is a failure of you POV person to reach his goal. This is a good thing in writing. Hold off on success until the very end. If you allow your POV to reach his goal to early, then your reader has no reason to go on.

***All three of these are critical to make the scene successful.***

Sequels are as follows:

  1. Reactions- Is the emotional follow through to a disaster. Show your POV acting viscerally to his disaster, but remember he can’t stay there. He has to get a grip.
  2. Dilemma- A situation with no good options. A real dilemma gives your reader a chance to worry. That’s good, you want them emotionally involved. At the end let your POV choose the least of the bad options.
  3. Decision- Your POV has to make a choice. This lets your POV become proactive again. People who never make decisions are boring.

Hope this helped. I pulled most of my information off of the ‘advancedfictionwriting’ web site. That’s hosted by Randy Ingermanson-“the snowflake Guy”.  He provides some great information for writers of all levels. You should check him out.

If you have any comments, I would love to hear from you. Happy Writing!

-Jan R



The Anatomy Of A Scene

Working With Beta Readers

So you’ve completed your manuscript and want to have a beta reader review it prior to sending it to an agent or editor. Having your work reviewed by a new set of eyes is a great idea! We are so close to our work that we don’t pick up on things that a new set of eyes would see. You might think it’s great and it might be but odds are, it still isn’t where it needs to be.

Beta readers are a great option. Unlike family and friends, they are impartial and will tell you the truth. Also if you find the right beta reader, they will be experienced in writing and reading manuscripts. They will know what to look for and what works and what doesn’t.

Warning! While most beta readers are great people who want to help you out, because they are in the same boat, there are those who will steal your ideas. Choose your reader carefully. If you choose someone you’ve developed a relationship with, they may think twice before pinching your content. Loyal readers of your blog, or previous books would make excellent beta readers.

In my last post Beta Readers, I  pointed out a few websites you could follow up on as well. Wattpad and Scribofile are probably the most popular. If you want a local group, try meetup.com.

So if you do decide to work with a beta reader there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Don’t give them a draft. Give them your very best work. Give them the manuscript you thought was ready to submit. You don’t want them bogged down in structural and grammatical errors. You want them to see the content.
  2. Ask them what format they would like it in (mobi, epubfile or pdf). They may want to print it out or read it on a kindle.
  3. Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you are looking for. If you create a list, they want spend their time punctuating sentences.
  4. Don’t take it personally. Your beta reader may not come back with platitudes. Thank them for their comments and move on.
  5. Return the favor. Most Beta readers aren’t being paid to read your book. They are offering input because they want to help or are interested in your books premise or topic.

Hope this helped you on your journey. I would love to hear from you. If you have any comments or suggestions please let me know. Also I would like you to consider following me. I post on Tuesdays and Thursdays of each week and you will receive an email whenever I enter a new blog or revise and existing one. Thank you for your consideration.

-Jan R

Working With Beta Readers