Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The other day, a well-meaning writer on Twitter tweeted, "I've found that if the story isn't easy to write, it's because you're telling the wrong one."

Once in a while, that might be true--some stories do practically write themselves in a blaze of white-hot inspiration. But most writers I know don't have that experience every time, only once a career, or sadly, on and off as they get in the grips of a bipolar mania.

Image source: www.metrolic.com
I think the myth that easy = right is a creatively crippling one that will lead you to make bad decisions about what stories to write.

When I was younger and as naive as they come, writing came very easily. And those easy-to-write stories were pretty terrible, cliche filled, amateurish homages to other books and films. More than anything, my easy stories didn't require me to stretch or grow. I wrote what I knew, and at 12 and 13, I didn't know much.

Having the expectations that the only good ideas are the easy ideas goes against everything we know about creativity and invention. The good ideas are ones like the light bulb, that went through over a hundred prototypes until Edison got one that actually worked well. If every inventor who ever hit a hitch immediately dropped the idea because hard = wrong, we wouldn't have cars or computers or yes, even light bulbs.

There are a number of reasons a story might not be easy to tell that don't make it "the wrong one." The best ideas take more than a momentary zap of inspiration. They take time and energy, prototypes that fail, revision, more prototypes, outside input, encouragement, yet more prototypes, testing, more revision, until the brilliant final product emerges.

Expecting ease means bypassing craft, because craft always involves a learning curve. Learning curves are not easy. They kind of suck. They make you feel like everything you do is wrong, until one day you're over the curve. And then you realize that the hardness and the suckiness were just what you needed. The slog made you stronger and wiser. Your ideas got better because you didn't settle for easy.

Here are some signs you might indeed be telling the wrong story:
~You heard this genre was hot, even though you never read it
~You're following the usual tropes of a genre for lack of better ideas
~You're trying to write a genre because you think it will make you look smart, cool, or sexy
~You love reading a sci fi/fantasy/historical but don't enjoy world building
~Your characters seem to rebel against every plot decision
~You've had absolutely no moments of fun and enthusiasm while writing


Here are some reasons that the right story might be hard to write
~You have to dig deep emotionally, and it's scary
~You'll have to take a side on a divisive issue, and fear you'll offend people or lose friends
~You fear being judged for your genre choice
~This story is unlike anything you've ever written and you fear you'll lose fans.
~The amount of research needed will take years or involve expensive
~You'll need to talk to experts to get accurate information, and you're super shy.
~Your research will require talking to victims and you worry about the emotional toll on them and on you.
~Writing multiple points of view is something you've never done before.
~You're scared people will think this story is too weird.
~You worry that your take on a hot-button issue will thrust you into the limelight, and that kind of attention is way too scary.

And finally, here are some signs that your "wrong" story is salvageable, and possible remedies

I was having fun for a while, but can't seem to fix plot holes
~Set aside the manuscript for a few weeks or months
~Get beta readers to help you
~Research more aspects of the plot or setting to get better ideas

A secondary character keeps stealing the spotlight
~Reassign the role of protagonist
~Shift the narration style ala The Great Gatsby, so your former protagonist is a narrator
~Write in alternating points of view so both character 1 and 2 can speak

My story feels too much like an homage to my favorite author
~Try a change of milieu, setting it in a radically different time or place. (For more, see THIS post).
~Try reassigning roles in your cast, so the kinds of people who are your mentor author's villains are your heroes.
~Experiment with point of view. If your mentor author writes first person for example, try third
~Experiment with timeline narration. If your mentor author writes linear stories, try multiple time streams, unfolding the story from the past to the future and from the future to the past, meeting at a crisis moment.
~Mix elements of other genres into your story, such as literary, mystery, romance, or comedy

I'm bored with this story
~Research aspects of plot or setting to get more exciting ideas
~Assess who in the cast is dragging down the story's movement and give them a makeover, or the boot
~Ask beta readers to pinpoint where in the story their interest lags, and cut or revamp those scenes
~Revise for pacing, removing as much stage business as possible and tightening up the dialogue. (See Janice Hardy's pacing posts for more ideas)
~Look for opportunities to raise the stakes or add complications

What do you think friends? Do you believe the mythos of easy = right, hard = wrong? Why or why not?
Wednesday, September 30, 2015 Laurel Garver
The other day, a well-meaning writer on Twitter tweeted, "I've found that if the story isn't easy to write, it's because you're telling the wrong one."

Once in a while, that might be true--some stories do practically write themselves in a blaze of white-hot inspiration. But most writers I know don't have that experience every time, only once a career, or sadly, on and off as they get in the grips of a bipolar mania.

Image source: www.metrolic.com
I think the myth that easy = right is a creatively crippling one that will lead you to make bad decisions about what stories to write.

When I was younger and as naive as they come, writing came very easily. And those easy-to-write stories were pretty terrible, cliche filled, amateurish homages to other books and films. More than anything, my easy stories didn't require me to stretch or grow. I wrote what I knew, and at 12 and 13, I didn't know much.

Having the expectations that the only good ideas are the easy ideas goes against everything we know about creativity and invention. The good ideas are ones like the light bulb, that went through over a hundred prototypes until Edison got one that actually worked well. If every inventor who ever hit a hitch immediately dropped the idea because hard = wrong, we wouldn't have cars or computers or yes, even light bulbs.

There are a number of reasons a story might not be easy to tell that don't make it "the wrong one." The best ideas take more than a momentary zap of inspiration. They take time and energy, prototypes that fail, revision, more prototypes, outside input, encouragement, yet more prototypes, testing, more revision, until the brilliant final product emerges.

Expecting ease means bypassing craft, because craft always involves a learning curve. Learning curves are not easy. They kind of suck. They make you feel like everything you do is wrong, until one day you're over the curve. And then you realize that the hardness and the suckiness were just what you needed. The slog made you stronger and wiser. Your ideas got better because you didn't settle for easy.

Here are some signs you might indeed be telling the wrong story:
~You heard this genre was hot, even though you never read it
~You're following the usual tropes of a genre for lack of better ideas
~You're trying to write a genre because you think it will make you look smart, cool, or sexy
~You love reading a sci fi/fantasy/historical but don't enjoy world building
~Your characters seem to rebel against every plot decision
~You've had absolutely no moments of fun and enthusiasm while writing


Here are some reasons that the right story might be hard to write
~You have to dig deep emotionally, and it's scary
~You'll have to take a side on a divisive issue, and fear you'll offend people or lose friends
~You fear being judged for your genre choice
~This story is unlike anything you've ever written and you fear you'll lose fans.
~The amount of research needed will take years or involve expensive
~You'll need to talk to experts to get accurate information, and you're super shy.
~Your research will require talking to victims and you worry about the emotional toll on them and on you.
~Writing multiple points of view is something you've never done before.
~You're scared people will think this story is too weird.
~You worry that your take on a hot-button issue will thrust you into the limelight, and that kind of attention is way too scary.

And finally, here are some signs that your "wrong" story is salvageable, and possible remedies

I was having fun for a while, but can't seem to fix plot holes
~Set aside the manuscript for a few weeks or months
~Get beta readers to help you
~Research more aspects of the plot or setting to get better ideas

A secondary character keeps stealing the spotlight
~Reassign the role of protagonist
~Shift the narration style ala The Great Gatsby, so your former protagonist is a narrator
~Write in alternating points of view so both character 1 and 2 can speak

My story feels too much like an homage to my favorite author
~Try a change of milieu, setting it in a radically different time or place. (For more, see THIS post).
~Try reassigning roles in your cast, so the kinds of people who are your mentor author's villains are your heroes.
~Experiment with point of view. If your mentor author writes first person for example, try third
~Experiment with timeline narration. If your mentor author writes linear stories, try multiple time streams, unfolding the story from the past to the future and from the future to the past, meeting at a crisis moment.
~Mix elements of other genres into your story, such as literary, mystery, romance, or comedy

I'm bored with this story
~Research aspects of plot or setting to get more exciting ideas
~Assess who in the cast is dragging down the story's movement and give them a makeover, or the boot
~Ask beta readers to pinpoint where in the story their interest lags, and cut or revamp those scenes
~Revise for pacing, removing as much stage business as possible and tightening up the dialogue. (See Janice Hardy's pacing posts for more ideas)
~Look for opportunities to raise the stakes or add complications

What do you think friends? Do you believe the mythos of easy = right, hard = wrong? Why or why not?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


I'm a verbal/auditory thinker. My stories usually begin with a character talking to me. I actually get pretty confused by assembly instructions from Ikea that are nothing but images. I NEED words to understand the world. So it was a real eye-opener when my last post, with seasonal writing prompts, garnered this comment: "I find I 'freeze' when given a written prompt. But visual prompts...get me writing."

She's not alone there. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was born from a single image: "a scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard" (wikipedia). In a guest post here, Michelle Davidson Argyle mentioned that her novel Out of Tune began with the the simple image of "a girl and a guitar."

So today's post if for you visual thinkers. I've gathered some nonverbal prompts to stir your imagination.




Photo credit: BBoomerinDenial from morguefile.com


Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com


Photo credit: EnriqueRodriguezSantamaria from morguefile.com


Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com


Photo credit: phaewilk from morguefile.com


Photo credit: krosseel from morguefile.com


Photo credit: jamsheed from morguefile.com


Photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com


Photo credit: kconnors from morguefile.com


Photo credit: wintersixfour from morguefile.com


Photo credit: JANYLEE from morguefile.com


Photo credit: nasirkhan from morguefile.com


Photo credit: kconnors from morguefile.com


Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

Have your stories started with an image, a phrase, a voice, or a premise? Which of these images is most evocative for you?
Wednesday, September 23, 2015 Laurel Garver

I'm a verbal/auditory thinker. My stories usually begin with a character talking to me. I actually get pretty confused by assembly instructions from Ikea that are nothing but images. I NEED words to understand the world. So it was a real eye-opener when my last post, with seasonal writing prompts, garnered this comment: "I find I 'freeze' when given a written prompt. But visual prompts...get me writing."

She's not alone there. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was born from a single image: "a scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who did not know he was a wizard" (wikipedia). In a guest post here, Michelle Davidson Argyle mentioned that her novel Out of Tune began with the the simple image of "a girl and a guitar."

So today's post if for you visual thinkers. I've gathered some nonverbal prompts to stir your imagination.




Photo credit: BBoomerinDenial from morguefile.com


Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com


Photo credit: EnriqueRodriguezSantamaria from morguefile.com


Photo credit: taliesin from morguefile.com


Photo credit: phaewilk from morguefile.com


Photo credit: krosseel from morguefile.com


Photo credit: jamsheed from morguefile.com


Photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com


Photo credit: kconnors from morguefile.com


Photo credit: wintersixfour from morguefile.com


Photo credit: JANYLEE from morguefile.com


Photo credit: nasirkhan from morguefile.com


Photo credit: kconnors from morguefile.com


Photo credit: clarita from morguefile.com

Have your stories started with an image, a phrase, a voice, or a premise? Which of these images is most evocative for you?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Photo credit: ali110 from morguefile.com
In this post, I discussed using warm-ups as a means to break through your initial reluctance to start a writing session.

Sometimes seasonal prompts can be helpful in your routine, to get you paying attention to your immediate environment and the sensory experiences you can collect. It can also get you thinking about story potential in everyday events. Consider how to spin theses prompts for different genres or milieus. "My earliest school memory," for example, could be memoir, historical or sci fi. Some could be humor or horror, or dark comedy, a mix of both.


I know summer is over when...

My idea of a perfect fall day is...

It must be September (October, November) because...

What a retiree to Florida misses about autumn up north.

Smells I associate with autumn.

Fall foods I have been craving for months.

How my protagonist's neighborhood changes in fall.

After dropping their youngest at college, parents return to their empty house and...

The foreign exchange program has a mix up and sends your character to...

A college freshman struggling with homesickness misses...

Three enemies are forced to create a group presentation for a class.

My earliest school memory.

What my protagonist likes most and least about autumn.

If I were at Hogwarts, what classes would I take?

A new teacher faces the third grade from hell.

Kids collecting leaves for science class discover something in the woods.

Back-to-school night goes horribly wrong.

A struggling cross-country runner finds a pair of magical shoes and...

What clubs did or would my protagonist join in high school?

The soccer moms go to war because...

How I discovered the head cheerleader is actually a witch.

Why squirrels are really collecting all those nuts and berries.

Photo credit: Schick from morguefile.com 
A Halloween prank takes an unexpected turn.

A football fan discovers his/her magical power during a game.

What happens in the corn maze stays in the corn maze.

A booking mix-up switches the acts for the Fall Family Jamboree and Slasherfest

Something strange appears in the wood pile.

How the marching band saved homecoming.

The newest guy on the football team turns out to be a girl in disguise.

A cider tasting goes horribly wrong when...

Thieves execute an elaborate heist in an elite neighborhood on Halloween.

A soccer team bus is hijacked.

A recent arrival on the frontier has two months to prepare for winter.

How the pumpkin festival was saved.

A horror film extra gets lost in Amish country.

Leaf color changes in autumn are actually...

Which prompts appeal to you? What's your favorite thing about autumn?
Wednesday, September 16, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: ali110 from morguefile.com
In this post, I discussed using warm-ups as a means to break through your initial reluctance to start a writing session.

Sometimes seasonal prompts can be helpful in your routine, to get you paying attention to your immediate environment and the sensory experiences you can collect. It can also get you thinking about story potential in everyday events. Consider how to spin theses prompts for different genres or milieus. "My earliest school memory," for example, could be memoir, historical or sci fi. Some could be humor or horror, or dark comedy, a mix of both.


I know summer is over when...

My idea of a perfect fall day is...

It must be September (October, November) because...

What a retiree to Florida misses about autumn up north.

Smells I associate with autumn.

Fall foods I have been craving for months.

How my protagonist's neighborhood changes in fall.

After dropping their youngest at college, parents return to their empty house and...

The foreign exchange program has a mix up and sends your character to...

A college freshman struggling with homesickness misses...

Three enemies are forced to create a group presentation for a class.

My earliest school memory.

What my protagonist likes most and least about autumn.

If I were at Hogwarts, what classes would I take?

A new teacher faces the third grade from hell.

Kids collecting leaves for science class discover something in the woods.

Back-to-school night goes horribly wrong.

A struggling cross-country runner finds a pair of magical shoes and...

What clubs did or would my protagonist join in high school?

The soccer moms go to war because...

How I discovered the head cheerleader is actually a witch.

Why squirrels are really collecting all those nuts and berries.

Photo credit: Schick from morguefile.com 
A Halloween prank takes an unexpected turn.

A football fan discovers his/her magical power during a game.

What happens in the corn maze stays in the corn maze.

A booking mix-up switches the acts for the Fall Family Jamboree and Slasherfest

Something strange appears in the wood pile.

How the marching band saved homecoming.

The newest guy on the football team turns out to be a girl in disguise.

A cider tasting goes horribly wrong when...

Thieves execute an elaborate heist in an elite neighborhood on Halloween.

A soccer team bus is hijacked.

A recent arrival on the frontier has two months to prepare for winter.

How the pumpkin festival was saved.

A horror film extra gets lost in Amish country.

Leaf color changes in autumn are actually...

Which prompts appeal to you? What's your favorite thing about autumn?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Photo credit: Prawny from morguefile.com 
Last year, a handful of authors began an initiative called "We Need Diverse Books" to raise awareness about  the lack diversity in traditionally published children's books. Librarians and educators have joined them. In their mission statement, they clarify what they mean by diverse:

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization. 
(Source: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/mission-statement/)

Whether or not you agree with their assertion that the types of people listed above are underrepresented, and whether or not you like their language for describing the issue, the group certainly has statistics on their side, at least when it comes to kidlit. And you don't have to look far in our world to see the problems created when various groups misunderstand and mistrust one another. Literature can be a bridge for building cross-cultural understanding and empathy.

Perhaps you don't write kidlit. But do you write nothing but characters who resemble you in most ways? If so, it might be time to rethink that.

It's true that some communities are fairly ethnically homogeneous. But even they will naturally contain some of the  groups mentioned above. (I'd note WNDB doesn't discuss the ageist bias against elderly characters).

So how does one go about building fictional worlds that aren't Mayberry or Stepford?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Learn what the stereotypes are

It can be easy to think we're successfully diversifying our casts by including a brainy Asian best friend or a wise wheelchair-bound mentor. But both of these characterizations are based on standing stereotypes about these groups--that Asians are naturally top scholars and that disability brings magical powers of wisdom or observation. Stereotypes can be hard to identify in our own thinking because they are ingrained expectations and ways of interpreting situations that are constantly reinforced by majority culture. They are the "beam in your own eye" that prevent you from seeing correctly (to quote from Matt 7:3).

A good place to start educating yourself is the TV Tropes "Magical Minority Person" page, which describes numerous stereotyped depictions of diverse characters often shunted into supporting roles.

Read diverse books

You very well may have to go outside your genre to find work by authors of other ethnicities, or at least to bookshops outside your neighborhood.

Listen to the cadence of books translated from other languages. Look for diverse thematic concerns. What values are rewarded and vices punished in communities unlike your own?

Expand your study

Do you find yourself drawn to particular cultures and subcultures? Read all you can about them, and seek out all their modes of creative expression. Learn all you can about historical shaping forces and how those play into a culture's self-concept and dreams for tomorrow.

Think about how what you learned could press against or defy certain stereotypes about that group. Consider what traits might marginalize a person even in that minority, and what traits would mark him/her a "winner" or leader.

Listen and ask

If you're able to get to know individuals that belong to the minority group you'd like to depict, be genuine and vulnerable. Don't treat them like lab specimens. Ask them questions you would any friend you'd want to know more deeply and be equally willing to share your own stories.

Where did you grow up? What was that like?
What did you love and hate most about your childhood?
What do you like to do for fun as a kid?
What careers did you aspire to?
Who were your heroes?
How did you fit in or stand out in your family, school, neighborhood?
What "borders" have you had to cross in your life? What has that been like?
What bugs you about mainstream media portrayals of your neighborhood?
What do you wish outsiders knew about your community?

If you develop a character based on your friend's stories, let the friend beta read before you finalize your manuscript, to ensure your depiction isn't off base.

Encamp

It's difficult to do another culture justice until you've inhabited it yourself. There's only so much that reading books, watching movies, listening to music, and even interviewing can provide. If you find you want to take the big leap and write a protagonist from a group to which you don't belong (versus a supporting character), it may be necessary to live for a time among that group. Actually walking through a neighborhood, learning its smells and flavors, feeling your heart thump at its dangers or soar at its delights--those experiences will give you the most realistic details to use in your work. Otherwise, you're likely to resort to stereotype and trope.

The people you meet and observe day after day will provide the best characterization details, the most accurate lingo for dialogue, and the most compelling backstories. Just be sure to create composites of several real people, or disguise them by changing key details (age, gender, appearance).

Have you written characters outside the cultural groups to which you belong? What tips would you add?
Wednesday, September 09, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: Prawny from morguefile.com 
Last year, a handful of authors began an initiative called "We Need Diverse Books" to raise awareness about  the lack diversity in traditionally published children's books. Librarians and educators have joined them. In their mission statement, they clarify what they mean by diverse:

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization. 
(Source: http://weneeddiversebooks.org/mission-statement/)

Whether or not you agree with their assertion that the types of people listed above are underrepresented, and whether or not you like their language for describing the issue, the group certainly has statistics on their side, at least when it comes to kidlit. And you don't have to look far in our world to see the problems created when various groups misunderstand and mistrust one another. Literature can be a bridge for building cross-cultural understanding and empathy.

Perhaps you don't write kidlit. But do you write nothing but characters who resemble you in most ways? If so, it might be time to rethink that.

It's true that some communities are fairly ethnically homogeneous. But even they will naturally contain some of the  groups mentioned above. (I'd note WNDB doesn't discuss the ageist bias against elderly characters).

So how does one go about building fictional worlds that aren't Mayberry or Stepford?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Learn what the stereotypes are

It can be easy to think we're successfully diversifying our casts by including a brainy Asian best friend or a wise wheelchair-bound mentor. But both of these characterizations are based on standing stereotypes about these groups--that Asians are naturally top scholars and that disability brings magical powers of wisdom or observation. Stereotypes can be hard to identify in our own thinking because they are ingrained expectations and ways of interpreting situations that are constantly reinforced by majority culture. They are the "beam in your own eye" that prevent you from seeing correctly (to quote from Matt 7:3).

A good place to start educating yourself is the TV Tropes "Magical Minority Person" page, which describes numerous stereotyped depictions of diverse characters often shunted into supporting roles.

Read diverse books

You very well may have to go outside your genre to find work by authors of other ethnicities, or at least to bookshops outside your neighborhood.

Listen to the cadence of books translated from other languages. Look for diverse thematic concerns. What values are rewarded and vices punished in communities unlike your own?

Expand your study

Do you find yourself drawn to particular cultures and subcultures? Read all you can about them, and seek out all their modes of creative expression. Learn all you can about historical shaping forces and how those play into a culture's self-concept and dreams for tomorrow.

Think about how what you learned could press against or defy certain stereotypes about that group. Consider what traits might marginalize a person even in that minority, and what traits would mark him/her a "winner" or leader.

Listen and ask

If you're able to get to know individuals that belong to the minority group you'd like to depict, be genuine and vulnerable. Don't treat them like lab specimens. Ask them questions you would any friend you'd want to know more deeply and be equally willing to share your own stories.

Where did you grow up? What was that like?
What did you love and hate most about your childhood?
What do you like to do for fun as a kid?
What careers did you aspire to?
Who were your heroes?
How did you fit in or stand out in your family, school, neighborhood?
What "borders" have you had to cross in your life? What has that been like?
What bugs you about mainstream media portrayals of your neighborhood?
What do you wish outsiders knew about your community?

If you develop a character based on your friend's stories, let the friend beta read before you finalize your manuscript, to ensure your depiction isn't off base.

Encamp

It's difficult to do another culture justice until you've inhabited it yourself. There's only so much that reading books, watching movies, listening to music, and even interviewing can provide. If you find you want to take the big leap and write a protagonist from a group to which you don't belong (versus a supporting character), it may be necessary to live for a time among that group. Actually walking through a neighborhood, learning its smells and flavors, feeling your heart thump at its dangers or soar at its delights--those experiences will give you the most realistic details to use in your work. Otherwise, you're likely to resort to stereotype and trope.

The people you meet and observe day after day will provide the best characterization details, the most accurate lingo for dialogue, and the most compelling backstories. Just be sure to create composites of several real people, or disguise them by changing key details (age, gender, appearance).

Have you written characters outside the cultural groups to which you belong? What tips would you add?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

For today's phonics fun, I'm going to tackle the semi-homophone pair, dual and duel. Most pronounce the words similarly, though one of the pair might have two syllables (dewl; DEW-ul). There may be significant variation here depending on your dialect. The two are most often confused in written contexts, because they sound nearly alike and are spelled nearly alike.

Their meanings, however, are nearly antonyms. Nearly because they aren't the same part of speech. The A version is an adjective, the E version, a noun and verb. But both involve twosomes, the former, friends, the latter, enemies.

Confused yet? Let's dive in to meanings, see the words in context and learn some handy mnemonics to keep them straight (not strait, that's a geography term).

A dual team. Photo by earl53 from morguefile.com

Dual 

(adj.) having two parts or aspects that are alike or complementary.

Examples

  • Geoffrey is a dual citizen of the US and Canada.
  • The dual speaker system makes the sound so rich.
  • Dual airbags keep both front passengers safe in a crash.
  • Maisie had a dual purpose for her trip--to relax and find a man.
  • We call our two-man  mime act "Dual Fools."

Mnemonic
Dual parts are always pals.

Fencers dueling. Photo by FidlerJan from morguefile.com

Duel 

(n.) a contest or battle between two opponents to settle a dispute or point of honor.

(v., intrans.) to battle, to fight in a duel.

Examples

  • Benedict challenged Roderigo to a duel for publicly embarrassing his wife.
  • Kate and Leo dueled all semester to become valdictorian.
  • Hal displayed his grandfather's épée, a light dueling sword.
  • The Ravens and the Mustangs will duel for the league championship.

Mnemonic
Enemies ever duel to the end.

Do these two words trip you up? What homophone pairs give you trouble?
Wednesday, September 02, 2015 Laurel Garver
For today's phonics fun, I'm going to tackle the semi-homophone pair, dual and duel. Most pronounce the words similarly, though one of the pair might have two syllables (dewl; DEW-ul). There may be significant variation here depending on your dialect. The two are most often confused in written contexts, because they sound nearly alike and are spelled nearly alike.

Their meanings, however, are nearly antonyms. Nearly because they aren't the same part of speech. The A version is an adjective, the E version, a noun and verb. But both involve twosomes, the former, friends, the latter, enemies.

Confused yet? Let's dive in to meanings, see the words in context and learn some handy mnemonics to keep them straight (not strait, that's a geography term).

A dual team. Photo by earl53 from morguefile.com

Dual 

(adj.) having two parts or aspects that are alike or complementary.

Examples

  • Geoffrey is a dual citizen of the US and Canada.
  • The dual speaker system makes the sound so rich.
  • Dual airbags keep both front passengers safe in a crash.
  • Maisie had a dual purpose for her trip--to relax and find a man.
  • We call our two-man  mime act "Dual Fools."

Mnemonic
Dual parts are always pals.

Fencers dueling. Photo by FidlerJan from morguefile.com

Duel 

(n.) a contest or battle between two opponents to settle a dispute or point of honor.

(v., intrans.) to battle, to fight in a duel.

Examples

  • Benedict challenged Roderigo to a duel for publicly embarrassing his wife.
  • Kate and Leo dueled all semester to become valdictorian.
  • Hal displayed his grandfather's épée, a light dueling sword.
  • The Ravens and the Mustangs will duel for the league championship.

Mnemonic
Enemies ever duel to the end.

Do these two words trip you up? What homophone pairs give you trouble?