Wednesday, October 28, 2015

image by http://wallpaper222.com/
William Shakespeare is considered a key transforming force in the English language. There are hundreds of words and phrases, particularly colorful idioms, he is believed to have coined. While scholars may squabble over which terms he invented and which ones were simply the slang of his day that he recorded for the first time, there's no doubt that his plays have hugely influenced our language.

Ask a teen to read Shakespeare, and they'll say his work is full of cliches, mostly because terms he first penned continue to be used so widely today. "Break the ice," "fancy-free," "in a pickle," "live long day," "neither rhyme nor reason," "night owl," "play fast and loose," "primrose path,"  "seen better days," "set my teeth on edge," "tongue-tied" are but a small sample of idioms we now use every day thanks to Shakespeare. (A comprehensive list is available here.)

But there are a number of his famous idioms that linger in our language with meanings and spellings that aren't particularly obvious in 2015, because they include archaic words one never hears outside these Shakespearean phrases. With each term, I give  the "eggcorn" version, a misheard or misunderstood incorrect variation. (For more on eggcorns, see The Eggcorn Database.) I also explain the phrase's meaning, giving special attention to the odd word you are likely to misspell.

bated breath (eggcorn: baited breath)
To hold one's breath in anticipation. Bated is a form of abate, to diminish or reduce.

much ado about nothing (eggcorn: much adieu)
Fuss, overreaction to something unimportant.

one fell swoop (eggcorn: one foul swoop)
Quickly arriving doom. Fell is an archaic term meaning deadly. The image is of a bird of prey attacking.

short shrift (eggcorn: short shift)
To make quick work of something or have little regard for it. Shrift is an archaic term that comes from shrive, to serve penance. The image is of being given an easy task to atone for sin, like reciting the Lord's Prayer once.

shuffle off this mortal coil (eggcorn: mortal toil)
To die.  Coil/coyle in this era meant trouble, strife. The image is of drifting away from the struggles of life.

Other archaic idioms you might be misspelling

Shakespeare was neither the first nor the last to give us lasting idioms that include archaic words. Here are some others to be aware of, some first appearing as early as Chaucer (1343-1400), some only a century and a half ago.

damp squib (eggcorn version damp squid)
Something that flops or fails to work as expected. Literally, a dud firework because it got wet.

derring do (eggcorn: daring do)
Heroic daring.
Possibly coined by Chaucer. More on origins here

high dudgeon (eggcorn: high dungeon)
Resentment.
Might come from Welsh, or might derive from the term for a knife handle first recorded decades before Shakespeare's plays. More on origins here.

on tenterhooks (eggcorn: on tenderhooks)
In suspense. The image is of woolen cloth stretched on a special rack (tenter) after washing to prevent shrinkage.

vale of tears (eggcorn: veil of tears)
Deep suffering. Vale is a derivative of valley.

Which of these idioms have plagued you most? Do you try to coin idioms in your work? Any favorite Shakespeare quote you'd like to share? 
Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Laurel Garver
image by http://wallpaper222.com/
William Shakespeare is considered a key transforming force in the English language. There are hundreds of words and phrases, particularly colorful idioms, he is believed to have coined. While scholars may squabble over which terms he invented and which ones were simply the slang of his day that he recorded for the first time, there's no doubt that his plays have hugely influenced our language.

Ask a teen to read Shakespeare, and they'll say his work is full of cliches, mostly because terms he first penned continue to be used so widely today. "Break the ice," "fancy-free," "in a pickle," "live long day," "neither rhyme nor reason," "night owl," "play fast and loose," "primrose path,"  "seen better days," "set my teeth on edge," "tongue-tied" are but a small sample of idioms we now use every day thanks to Shakespeare. (A comprehensive list is available here.)

But there are a number of his famous idioms that linger in our language with meanings and spellings that aren't particularly obvious in 2015, because they include archaic words one never hears outside these Shakespearean phrases. With each term, I give  the "eggcorn" version, a misheard or misunderstood incorrect variation. (For more on eggcorns, see The Eggcorn Database.) I also explain the phrase's meaning, giving special attention to the odd word you are likely to misspell.

bated breath (eggcorn: baited breath)
To hold one's breath in anticipation. Bated is a form of abate, to diminish or reduce.

much ado about nothing (eggcorn: much adieu)
Fuss, overreaction to something unimportant.

one fell swoop (eggcorn: one foul swoop)
Quickly arriving doom. Fell is an archaic term meaning deadly. The image is of a bird of prey attacking.

short shrift (eggcorn: short shift)
To make quick work of something or have little regard for it. Shrift is an archaic term that comes from shrive, to serve penance. The image is of being given an easy task to atone for sin, like reciting the Lord's Prayer once.

shuffle off this mortal coil (eggcorn: mortal toil)
To die.  Coil/coyle in this era meant trouble, strife. The image is of drifting away from the struggles of life.

Other archaic idioms you might be misspelling

Shakespeare was neither the first nor the last to give us lasting idioms that include archaic words. Here are some others to be aware of, some first appearing as early as Chaucer (1343-1400), some only a century and a half ago.

damp squib (eggcorn version damp squid)
Something that flops or fails to work as expected. Literally, a dud firework because it got wet.

derring do (eggcorn: daring do)
Heroic daring.
Possibly coined by Chaucer. More on origins here

high dudgeon (eggcorn: high dungeon)
Resentment.
Might come from Welsh, or might derive from the term for a knife handle first recorded decades before Shakespeare's plays. More on origins here.

on tenterhooks (eggcorn: on tenderhooks)
In suspense. The image is of woolen cloth stretched on a special rack (tenter) after washing to prevent shrinkage.

vale of tears (eggcorn: veil of tears)
Deep suffering. Vale is a derivative of valley.

Which of these idioms have plagued you most? Do you try to coin idioms in your work? Any favorite Shakespeare quote you'd like to share? 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Photo credit: JulesInKY from morguefile.com
I have a somewhat embarrassing habit when it comes to using Goodreads. I really love to read negative reviews of books that are extremely popular. At first I focused on classics, because their haters are quite hilarious. Then I began branching out to books others raved about that just didn't do it for me. It was gratifying to hear others describe problem after problem.

It's also a bit small minded to be wasting time hunting for another dose of schadenfreude. So I've been looking for ways to reform this vice into something more constructive.

One thing that's pretty clear--you can learn quite a lot about what story elements drive readers batty by listening to their harsher critiques. Some comments will, of course, tell you a lot more about an individual reviewer's biases and hobby horses than about general reader expectations, but others can be quite educational. If you write genre fiction, it can be especially helpful to know what elements readers are sick to death of, or feel cheated if they aren't there.

Here are some writing tips I've gleaned from insightful "mean" readers of popular young adult books:

Characterization no-nos

Protagonist who is


  • Whiny 
  • Self-serving
  • Mean-spirited
  • Indecisive and dithering
  • Thoughtless
  • Foolhardy
  • Bland
  • Flawless
  • Skilled only at being attractive
  • Instantly in love after one smoldering glance
  • Unchanged by the story events

Sidekick who is


  • Only comic relief
  • Hateful
  • Jealous
  • Clone of protagonist
  • An ethnic or racial "type"
  • Deeply stupid
  • Foolhardy
  • Disloyal

Love interest who is


  • Instantly in love after one smoldering glance
  • Narcissistic
  • Abusive
  • Stalker-ish
  • Controlling
  • Prone to jealous rages
  • Boring
  • Too dependent
  • Lacking personal goals
  • Lacking outside interests
  • Flawless
  • Constantly pursued by rivals

Other hated character tropes


  • Cheerleader mean girls
  • Athlete bullies
  • Self-absorbed, uninvolved or dead parents
  • Love triangles with bland, flat love interests
  • Romance based only on physical attraction


Plot no-nos


  • Pacing that drags
  • Pacing that races
  • Abruptly dropped subplots
  • Actions aren't motivated
  • Actions aren't realistic
  • Episodic plots
  • Repetitious actions
  • Melodramatic responses


World building no-nos


  • Bland small towns with no character
  • Cookie-cutter suburban settings with no diversity
  • Unrealistic, movie-set settings
  • No clear origins for a society
  • No sense of how society is organized
  • Unclear social strata 
  • Unclear economic system
  • Unclear food sources
  • No one seems to do essential jobs
  • Unexplained divisions among groups
  • Lack of age diversity

Look at another genre, you'd likely gather a different list. But there's no doubt that you can learn a lot about reader expectation by taking a gander at some less than glowing reviews. Just resist the urge to gloat. Instead, use the information to grow.

 What writerly foibles drive you batty? Have you even gleaned writing lessons from online reviews?
Wednesday, October 21, 2015 Laurel Garver
Photo credit: JulesInKY from morguefile.com
I have a somewhat embarrassing habit when it comes to using Goodreads. I really love to read negative reviews of books that are extremely popular. At first I focused on classics, because their haters are quite hilarious. Then I began branching out to books others raved about that just didn't do it for me. It was gratifying to hear others describe problem after problem.

It's also a bit small minded to be wasting time hunting for another dose of schadenfreude. So I've been looking for ways to reform this vice into something more constructive.

One thing that's pretty clear--you can learn quite a lot about what story elements drive readers batty by listening to their harsher critiques. Some comments will, of course, tell you a lot more about an individual reviewer's biases and hobby horses than about general reader expectations, but others can be quite educational. If you write genre fiction, it can be especially helpful to know what elements readers are sick to death of, or feel cheated if they aren't there.

Here are some writing tips I've gleaned from insightful "mean" readers of popular young adult books:

Characterization no-nos

Protagonist who is


  • Whiny 
  • Self-serving
  • Mean-spirited
  • Indecisive and dithering
  • Thoughtless
  • Foolhardy
  • Bland
  • Flawless
  • Skilled only at being attractive
  • Instantly in love after one smoldering glance
  • Unchanged by the story events

Sidekick who is


  • Only comic relief
  • Hateful
  • Jealous
  • Clone of protagonist
  • An ethnic or racial "type"
  • Deeply stupid
  • Foolhardy
  • Disloyal

Love interest who is


  • Instantly in love after one smoldering glance
  • Narcissistic
  • Abusive
  • Stalker-ish
  • Controlling
  • Prone to jealous rages
  • Boring
  • Too dependent
  • Lacking personal goals
  • Lacking outside interests
  • Flawless
  • Constantly pursued by rivals

Other hated character tropes


  • Cheerleader mean girls
  • Athlete bullies
  • Self-absorbed, uninvolved or dead parents
  • Love triangles with bland, flat love interests
  • Romance based only on physical attraction


Plot no-nos


  • Pacing that drags
  • Pacing that races
  • Abruptly dropped subplots
  • Actions aren't motivated
  • Actions aren't realistic
  • Episodic plots
  • Repetitious actions
  • Melodramatic responses


World building no-nos


  • Bland small towns with no character
  • Cookie-cutter suburban settings with no diversity
  • Unrealistic, movie-set settings
  • No clear origins for a society
  • No sense of how society is organized
  • Unclear social strata 
  • Unclear economic system
  • Unclear food sources
  • No one seems to do essential jobs
  • Unexplained divisions among groups
  • Lack of age diversity

Look at another genre, you'd likely gather a different list. But there's no doubt that you can learn a lot about reader expectation by taking a gander at some less than glowing reviews. Just resist the urge to gloat. Instead, use the information to grow.

 What writerly foibles drive you batty? Have you even gleaned writing lessons from online reviews?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Denouement can involve untangling and weaving
(photo by 
DodgertonSkillhause from morguefile.com)

I'm in currently in the midst of drafting the final chapter of my WIP, that this, the denouement section. I have the scenes roughed out, but my concern is how to handle weaving the threads without the chapter feeling like a series of info. dumps.

I realize that by nature, denouements have an info-dump-ish quality built in. Here are some of the ways the term is defined:

Oxford dictionaries:
The final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

Brian Klems at The Writer's Dig
The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up.

Merriam-Webster Word Central (the online kids' dictionary)
the final solution or untangling of the conflicts or difficulties that make up the plot of a literary work

The word's etymology is from the French, meaning "the untying." That term makes me think especially of mysteries, when the sleuth reveals how all the various plot elements you'd just read actually worked together, and s/he clears away all the false assumptions and red herrings to reveal just "whodunit" or perhaps, why the terrible crime happened. In many of the classic texts, like those of Agatha Christie, the sleuth monologues for pages, with occasional interruptions from his/her captive audience.

My fear is that some of these scenes could end up feeling like that. At the moment, I don't have tips, just questions for you:

How do you avoid info dumps in your final scenes? What books model well how to bring multiple threads to a satisfying conclusion without dragging or feeling too tell-heavy?


Wednesday, October 07, 2015 Laurel Garver
Denouement can involve untangling and weaving
(photo by 
DodgertonSkillhause from morguefile.com)

I'm in currently in the midst of drafting the final chapter of my WIP, that this, the denouement section. I have the scenes roughed out, but my concern is how to handle weaving the threads without the chapter feeling like a series of info. dumps.

I realize that by nature, denouements have an info-dump-ish quality built in. Here are some of the ways the term is defined:

Oxford dictionaries:
The final part of a play, film, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

Brian Klems at The Writer's Dig
The denouement is the final outcome of the story, generally occurring after the climax of the plot. Often it’s where all the secrets (if there are any) are revealed and loose ends are tied up.

Merriam-Webster Word Central (the online kids' dictionary)
the final solution or untangling of the conflicts or difficulties that make up the plot of a literary work

The word's etymology is from the French, meaning "the untying." That term makes me think especially of mysteries, when the sleuth reveals how all the various plot elements you'd just read actually worked together, and s/he clears away all the false assumptions and red herrings to reveal just "whodunit" or perhaps, why the terrible crime happened. In many of the classic texts, like those of Agatha Christie, the sleuth monologues for pages, with occasional interruptions from his/her captive audience.

My fear is that some of these scenes could end up feeling like that. At the moment, I don't have tips, just questions for you:

How do you avoid info dumps in your final scenes? What books model well how to bring multiple threads to a satisfying conclusion without dragging or feeling too tell-heavy?