Category Archives: Love your language

Find tips on how to make your writing sparkle.

Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents, and she’s giving away a copy of A Lily Among Thorns to one lucky commenter!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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Simply Inflatable – and other romance titles

“What’re you reading now?” my husband asks. “Buggered by the Butler?”

Yeah, yeah. Everyone who reads romance knows the titles can earn them some raised eyebrows and a few sniggers.

They don’t embarrass me, and I’m happy to see some of my favorite authors having fun with them too. Sound quality’s not great on this, but how cool is it to see so many greats enjoying themselves?

And, it includes author Jill Shalvis, whose novel Simply Inflatable, er, Simply Irresistible I’m giving away this week!

Make sure you watch the outtakes at the end!

Can you think of any romance novel titles you could improve on?

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My wordy Valentine

I might be making a huge assumption here, but as writers we must all be fond of words, especially their ability to evoke a certain feeling or express an idea that’s formed in our heads.

Where would we be without words?

I’m a week late for Valentine’s Day, but this post is my public declaration of love for words. And I have one particular favorite word: serendipity.

Serendipity refers to the accidental discovery of something good. I love it for its meaning and its sound. It also reminds me of the first time I heard it applied to life.

When I was 14, I started my first day of high school eager for more challenging and interesting classes. I walked into my biology class full of a love of science and a desire to one day be a doctor. Written across the white board in massive letters was the word SERENDIPITY. Our teacher started the year by explaining that most of our scientific knowledge was based on serendipity. She illustrated the point by telling us the story of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

I also love the story of how the word was coined. There is an old Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip – ‘Serendip’ being an old word for Sri Lanka, meaning “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.  Horace Walpole called it “a silly fairy tale…as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” This story led him to coin the word serendipity in a letter in 1754.

See? Great stories are made of great words, but great words also are made of great stories.

What’s your favorite word? Do you like it because it evokes a memory, a feeling? Is it the sound you like? Is it the etymology? The meaning?

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Differences in British and American English (for writers)

Pop quiz.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

1. The Ireland rugby team are playing today, so my husband will be glued to the TV.

2. If I hadn’t got up so late, I would’ve got the bus.

3. I’m going to work at the weekend.

Answers

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Speaking of accents

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the difficulties involved in writing characters who don’t have the same accent you do. In that post, I wrote that one of my biggest pet peeves is “dialecty” words, which especially seem to plague Scottish characters.

Yesterday, Jane at Dear Author prompted a great discussion on the same topic – go read “Dinna Fash Yerself Lassie (and Other Dialect Crimes)”. Part of the discussion in the comments was about the incredible number of British accents, compared to American ones.

Today a friend forwarded me this video, which is pure genius.

Warning: Contains naughty language. If watching at work, for the love of puppies please wear headphones.

How many of these accents could you write?

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Save the words!

Here’s a little language quiz for you.

1) How many words do you think the English language has?

KexyI lost count at 157, so fortunately I was able to put my Googling skills to the test and discovered the Oxford English Dictionary has full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

But if you add derivitive words and words that have multiple uses (like words that can be a noun and a verb), then they estimate English has at least a quarter of a million distinct words (find out more about how they counted).

2) How many of those words do we actually use?

Being from southern California, there are three words that form the bulk of my communication: awesome, cool, and brill.

According to my new absolute favoritest website EVER, (savethewords.org), we only use 7,000 words to communicate 90% of everything we write.

What tragedy! How boring! And repetitive!

Save the Words says:

Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language.

Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.

Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.

You can change all that. Help save the words!

So I’m helping spread the word. The word for today is pregnatress (n.): female power that generates or gives birth to something

I want to be the pregnatress of language, so I urge you to learn a new word today. Their website is chock-a-block with words – some gorgeous, some silky-smooth, and some so repugnant you’ll feel nauseous (mingent and gleimous, I’m looking at you).

Here are some I’ll be able to slip into my everyday speech:

crassulent – very fat, overweight, grossly obese
viliorate – to become less good; to deteriorate
boreism – behaviour of a boring person
snollygoster – shrewd, unprincipled person
lubency – willingness; pleasure

Go visit their site and then come back here to tell me your favorite new words.

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Prune your prose

Speaking of being overly wordy, here’s an online workshop that my RWA chapter is running soon.

It’s as if they’ve been reading my blog and came up with the class just for me. Thanks, guys.

***** Permission to Forward Granted *****

RWA® Online Chapter presents:

PRUNE YOUR PROSE! Ten Tips to Tighten Your Fiction Writing
Instructor: Linnea Sinclair
August 16th – 29th, 2010
Registration Period: August 2-15, 2010
Fee: $15 Non-Chapter members. RWAOL Chapter #136 members; free.
Payment method: PAYPAL is recommended!

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We interrupt this scene for…

I just finished reading a novel where every single scene followed a formula: a few lines of dialogue, followed by a paragraph describing the history of the building the conversation was taking place in, then some back story, then back to the conversation.

So it was something like this:

“What are you doing?” Hubby asked.

“Writing a blog about how to kill action dead,” Katrina replied.

They were sitting in their flat, in a brick building in East London. The building was in the Docklands area, which was redeveloped in the 1990s. The redevelopment was controversial and erased much of the area’s traditional character.

So far this morning, Katrina and Hubby had woken up, argued over who should make the coffee today, and spent the morning reading.

“So tell me,” Hubby said, “how do you kill action dead?”

“Haven’t you figured it out yet? I just showed you,” Katrina replied.

Pretty annoying, huh? Well, I can’t criticize the author too much, because it’s something my crit partner Suzanne pointed out that I did in one of my manuscripts. Fortunately, that manuscript was a draft, and I was expecting her to find things like that.

Looking at what this author did, and at my own ms, I realized we both wanted our reader to connect with the special location our story was set in. I made poor Suzanne read several pages of my heroine walking through Wapping in East London, just because I got carried away with my love for the place.

The description of Wapping was book-ended with my heroine preparing to meet my hero, and then actually meeting him. The Big Meet – not one you want to interrupt for several pages of guide-book-style description.

Instead of killing the action, here are some ways of working a description into a scene without getting in the way of your story:

1. Bring it out through dialogue.

Your characters should notice the setting they’re in and will probably have strong feelings about it. The comments they make about it could draw them closer together or create conflict between them. More than anything, you can give us insight into the characters’ dreams and backstory by what they say about their surroundings.

For example, history is very important to my heroine. In fact, she’s been running from her personal history for years. My hero lives in a converted warehouse, so it makes sense for them to talk a little about what may have happened in that warehouse over the centuries. It’s a shared interest that they bond over, but it also foreshadows the difficulties they face thanks to my heroine’s past.

2. Describe it in internal monologue.

Give us your character’s voice, not yours. It’s difficult for a narrator not to sound like a tourist board when describing a place. How many descriptions have you read of azure oceans, tranquil winds, swaying palms, and other phrases stolen from a Club Med brochure?

If you stay deep in your hero/heroine’s point of view, you can portray not just what they’re seeing but also their judgment on what they’re seeing. When was the last time you walked into your home and thought, “My house is tastefully decorated with varying shades of ecru”? You’re more likely to walk in and think “I’m freakin’ sick of beige – beige walls, beige carpet, beige job, beige boyfriend.”

3. Keep it short.

The best thing about doing the first two things on this list is that you’re unlikely to sustain them over several pages. It just doesn’t feel natural for your characters to talk about their surroundings for several paragraphs.

Enough from me. Do you have any other tips for describing setting without interrupting action?

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Reading like a writer, part two

I love close reading. There’s something about taking a short passage from a novel or poem and examining its parts that really appeals to the nerd in me.

So, last week I put up two passages from two very different novels (but both novels I love) that show dialogue between men. I’m pasting the passages at the very bottom of this post, so you can scroll down to read them. But here are my thoughts on why they work well.

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Reading like a writer: Dialogue between men

One thing I’ve learned in my very, very short time as a reviewer, is that it’s much easier to figure out why a story doesn’t work than why it does. Of course, this only holds true with reading other people’s work. I’m often blind as a bat when it comes to my own.

So I thought it’d be good to start looking at some of my favorite writers, novels, and scenes to try to dissect why they rock my world.

I’m going to start off with the way some writers use dialogue to reveal male characters’ relationships with each other. I’ll give you two scenes, each from a different book. The scenes are primarily made up of dialogue but have a bit of supporting action. When you read each scene, think about:

1) whether you get a sense of the relationship between these two men (not just father/son, etc, but adjectives – tense, close, etc)

2) what experiences in their pasts may have caused their relationship to be this way (even if you haven’t read the book, can you guess what they may have been like?)

3) what purpose(s) this dialogue might be serving.

Leave your ideas in the comments below. We’ll see if we can figure out how the author did that. I’ll put up post in a couple days with some thoughts on why these excerpts work so well. [By the way, anything in brackets is from me, not from the novel. Got it?]

You can also put a scene you like in the comments below. Just try not to make it too long (no full scenes, and make sure you credit the author).

Ready? Go!

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