Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Verbally Insane

Verbally insane--that's what we writers are. This was posted today by Rachel Smith over at ACFW and I thought you might enjoy it. I know I did. So here goes. Thanks, Rachel.

Asylum for the Verbally Insane
uthor unknown

We'll begin with a box, and the plural is boxes,
But the plural of ox becomes oxen, not oxes.
One fowl is a goose, but two are called geese,
Yet the plural of moose should never be meese.
You may find a lone mouse or a nest full of mice,
Yet the plural of house is houses, not hice.

If the plural of man is always called men,
Why shouldn't the plural of pan be called pen?
If I speak of my foot and show you my feet,
And I give you a boot, would a pair be called beet?
If one is a tooth and a whole set are teeth,
Why shouldn't the plural of booth be called beeth?

Then one may be that, and three would be those,
Yet hat in the plural would never be hose,
And the plural of cat is cats, not cose.
We speak of a brother and also of brethren,
But though we say mother, we never say methren.
Then the masculine pronouns are he, his and him,
But imagine the feminine: she, shis and shim!

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in
eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
English muffins weren't invented in England . We take English for
granted, but if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings
are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don't fing, grocers don't
groce and hammers don't ham. Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make
amends but not one amend. If you have a bunch of odds and ends and
get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian
eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all
the folks who grew up speaking English should be committed to an
asylum for the verbally insane.

In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a
recital? We ship by truck but send cargo by ship. We have noses that
run and feet that smell. And how can a slim chance and a fat chance
be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your
house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by
filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.

So if Father is Pop, how come Mother isn't Mop?

And that is just the beginning--even though this is the end

This was followed up with a couple of really funny quotes.

"The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary. "
­James Nicoll

"Modern English is the Wal-Mart of languages: convenient, huge, hard to avoid, superficially friendly, and devouring all rivals in its eagerness to expand."
­Mark Abley

Rachel Smith- writing as Rachel Wilder

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What's up at THE OFFICE

I hate to admit this but I schedule my evenings around NBC's THE OFFICE. It's not as bad as it sounds since I don't watch TV any other night except Fridays when they are showing new MONK episodes.

I won't recap the show's premise in case you've never seen it or don't care to. Love it or hate it, there are some examples of good writing on the show that are worth paying attention to. Character development, romantic tension, bad jokes that are so bad, they're funny. Most of all characters that aren't that loveable if you knew them in real life, but you can't help rooting for them anyway.

The only blatant inconsistency in the show is what writers are doing with the character Jan Levinson. (Incidentally, Melora Hardin also plays Trudy on MONK, which offers examples of just plain good writing, but that's for another blog.)

In season one, Jan Levinson was introduced at Michael's boss from the corporate office. She was all business, newly divorced, and determined to advance in the New York office. There were chinks in the armor, most notably that she was attracted to Michael. A little out of character, but food for the OFFICE mill.

After Jan and Michael end up together, her character mutations advance at a dizzying pace. All along it seems she's been online shopping and making a nuisance of herself at the corporate office. She's fired, moves in with Michael, won't lift a finger around the condo, won't get a job, shops all day and drinks. Fights with Michael, buries him in debt, and now she's pregnant from a sperm bank.

Come on, already. I know it's a stupid sitcom, you say. I'm not arguing that. They are supposed to be ridiculous and over the top. But I think they should also give us examples of good writing.

Who is this character? The writers keep reinventing her at every episode. All the other characters on the show are relatively consistent. We've watched them for several years and pretty much know what to expect out of each of them. These characters make us laugh while continuing to grow.

So what's up with Jan? Why can't they decide what to do with her? They've managed to create an endearing, frustrating, funny cast. Why can't they do the same thing with Jan?

More on how to avoid mistakes in character development tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cliche in Character

You wouldn't think this will still be an issue with writers. We should have mastered it long ago. None of us enjoy watching TV shows or movies that cliche certain groups. It is soooooo politically incorrect, unless you are bashing Christians. Then it's humorous or done as a statement against the narrow minded masses who occupy pews every Sunday.

But it's still done. Maybe not so much with political or ethnic groups, but it happens. So how do we keep from it in our fiction while keeping our writing real. I noticed after my 5th or 6th book that they all contained domineering, intolerant, often self-righteous, older female characters. These characters were usually mothers, grandmothers, or aunts to my heroine. The heroine couldn't just tell these characters off or walk away from them because they were an integral part to her life. She had to endure as we all do with these characters in our lives.

I'm sure you've noticed that more movies have capitalized on this theme than probably any other. Why? Because we can all relate to these moments.

Not to mention it's downright funny. Creating these characters is one of the things I enjoy most about writing.

Can we create a strong mother figure or precocious child without annoying the socks off the reader? We want the reader to relate and empathize with our beleaguered heroine, but we don't want our antagonist to look like every other Mommie Dearest ever written.

A good technique is to imitate something from these characters in your own life. Oh, come on. We all know you have at least one. Don't use this character to get back at your own mother. But what would it hurt if you gently incorporate a few characteristics of people you know into your character? It helps make your character more real and more unique. Everyone you know is going to accuse you of plagerizing them for your book anyway.

Even if we all have strong, often domineering women in our lives, no two are exactly the same. Focus on some unique qualities, no matter what the character, and avoid cliches. Have fun with these characters. We all know they are having fun with us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on Thomas Nelson

I am inserting a few comments from the blog FROM WHERE I SIT by Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson. This will enlighten a few who may be worried about the future of Christian publishing and what cutbacks mean for lesser known or midlist authors.

Thomas Nelson has pulled out from participating in the Intl. Christian Booksellers Association convention this year in Orlando, claiming that the cost of attending trade shows can be better used elsewhere.

Let's face it folks, that's why anyone goes into business. Every company, even ones ran out of a corner of your dining room must make a profit in order to stay in business. If we're having a hard time making ends meet, imagine what Christian publishers and bookstore owners are going through.

An article in Christian Retailing indirectly misquotes Michael. It says;

"...Nelson pointed out that less than 5% of Nelson’s total Christian retail revenue comes from retailers who attend ICRS.

Not exactly. The way it is written the article suggests that Christian retail channel only accounts for 5% of Thomas Nelson’s total revenue. By inference, it is therefore unimportant to us. But this is not what I said, nor is it how we feel. Christian Retail is still our single largest sales channel.

In an email to the reporter, Eric Tiansay, I (Mr. Hyatt) stated:

We personally visit our top 600 accounts [in the Christian Retail channel] four times a year. Those accounts represent 90% of our revenue in this channel. We phone the next 600 accounts 12 times a year. This takes the total up to 95% of our revenue in this channel. The remaining retail accounts—the ones that we would only see at ICRS—are less than 5% of our total Christian retail revenue. I am not saying they are unimportant, but no business can afford to structure its sales and marketing efforts around its smallest customers.

I don’t mind Christian Retailing summarizing my comments. I understand the space constraints of traditional media. But a more accurate summary would have been:

But Nelson pointed out that it connects on a regular basis with those accounts that represent 95% of its revenue in this channel. The remaining retail accounts—the ones that it would only see at ICRS—are less than 5% of its total Christian retail revenue.

The bottom line is two-fold: First, we honored our commitment to CBA by paying our booth fee, even though we will not be attending. Second, the Christian Retail channel is very important to us, but we believe we can reclaim the dollars that we spend at trade shows and do things that matter more to our best customers, like driving traffic and sell-through."

Driving traffic and sell-through. That's the desired outcome for all of us. I think it's more important than ever that an author not rely on her publisher to move books. We need to get back to basics if we're going to survive the coming economic crisis. Word of mouth, personal appearances, and networking on a small scale. It's tough out there, but we will survive.

The King of Glory knew all about this recession before the foundation of the world. All we can do is be obedient to the calling he's put on our lives and let him work out the details.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What's up with the CBA?

Thomas Nelson started all the whispering with the announcement that they would be publishing more copies of fewer books. With less shelf space available in the big chain stores and less money for producing books that might only sell a few thousand copies, TN is banking on the proven moneymakers. Times are hard everywhere; the big publishing houses are not immune to cutbacks. A few months ago my publisher told us there would be fewer books published in '08. We didn't think it was anything more than the usual belt-tightening of a weak economy. But when Thomas Nelson announces the same strategy, well, let's just say, it doesn't bode well for the industry.

So what's a little known writer who doesn't earn six-figure advances or see print runs in the 100 thousands, to do? Panic!

No, no, let's not have anyone going off the deep end. Things aren't that bad, yet.

Most of my writer friends are still unpublished or published through small presses--like me--or are of the lower to midlist variety. How do we keep our careers from tanking when all we hear are cutbacks, fewer releases, smaller print runs, and spending the money on the proven moneymakers?

Every Sunday my pastor preaches that now is not the time to fear. God knew before the foundation of the earth that the oil companies would decide around 2004 to take us by the throats and raise oil prices from less than $20 a barrel where they had been hovering for almost a century to well over $120 in a few short years. He knew the recession was coming, and he knows just how bad it's going to get.

I don't want to turn this into a sermon so I'll stop with that line of thought. Just know, dear writer, that everything is under control. It always has been and always will be. All we can do is be obedient to our calling--whether God mandated or not--and let the industry and whatever else is in charge take care of the details.

It has never been more important to submit a perfect manuscript. Don't assume an editor will fix all your mistakes. They have enough work to do. Don't assume the sheer brilliance of your writing will speak for you. There are plenty of brilliant writers out there who haven't gotten a contract. You must stand out.

Make your work shine. Think outside the box in terms of marketing. Keep writing. Keep growing in the craft and don't despair over the economy. People have always looked for escapism, especially in toughest economic times. There will always be a market for good books. Who says you can't write one?

Fasten your rear to the chair and don't worry about if what you're writing will sell. Just write it. Let tomorrow worry about itself.