Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Literary Terms You Should Know


Swashbucking adventure stories with a scrappy, ne’er-do-well scamp of a protagonist are a beloved narrative staple. Known as "picaresques," they’ve heavily influenced a diverse selection of authors and spawned some of the world’s most lauded works.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Story Writing

Story Writing
by Ali Hale

Since prehistoric times, when tales were told around fires and painted on cave walls, stories have been an essential part of our human experience. But what exactly is a story – and how can you write a great one?

A story is simply a tale of events that are linked by cause and effect. It can be true or it can be a work of fiction. We expect stories to have a beginning, middle and end; they involve at least two characters, and some events take place.

In this article, I’ll take you through three major contemporary types of written story:

  • The short story
  • The novel
  • The life story (biography or autobiography)

For each, I’ll explain what it is, and how to write it successfully. I’ll end with tips about story writing which will help you improve your writing, whether you’re a beginner or a published author.

Three Types of Story

1. Short Stories
A short story is a piece of fiction under 20,000 words. More typically, a short story will be 1,000 – 5,000 words. (Pieces under 1,000 words are “short short stories” or “flash fiction”, over 20,000 and they’re novellas.)

Short stories are published in magazines, newspapers and book anthologies. Short stories need:

  • A small cast of characters, with one main character
  • A compact time frame, with the story taking place over the course of a few days or weeks
  • A single plot without subplots, though longer short stories may have a subplot

The majority of writing competitions are for complete short stories, rather than novels or novel excerpts. If you do enter competitions, don’t be put off writing if you don’t win – judges have different likes and dislikes.

How to Write a Great Short Story
Like any story, your short story needs to have a beginning, middle and end:

  • The beginning is where we’re introduced to the characters, especially the main character and his/her problem
  • The middle is where the action and plot develops. The main character will face difficulties such as opposition from other people or a challenging environment.
  • The end is where the main character triumphs over his/her biggest challenge (or fails, in the case of a tragedy). The resolution should be satisfying and conclusive for the reader.

Even in literary and experimental short stories, it’s important that something should happen. Much of the action might take place inside the characters’ heads, but there should be a real change as a result.

By the end of your short story, your main character should have experienced an internal change. This means that they’ve grown and developed as a person – perhaps overcoming a fear, or recognizing an unacknowledged truth about himself or herself.

2. Novels
A novel is a piece of fiction that’s 60,000 words or longer (shorter books are novellas). The typical novel is around 80,000 – 150,000 words, depending on genre.

Novels and short stories share similar structural features, but novels give the author a much wider scope. A novel might have:

  • More than one main character (though attempt this with caution!)
  • A large cast of characters
  • A long time frame – potentially covering several centuries and several generations
  • Multiple subplots

Novels tend to be much more popular than short stories with the reading public, and almost all full-time authors are novelists rather than short story writers.

How To Write A Novel
A novel is a much bigger undertaking than a short story. Even if you are able to write short stories without much planning, you’ll need to plan out your novel in advance. There are a number of ways to do this, but whichever you choose, ensure:

  • You have enough plot to meet your word count target
  • Your main character (protagonist) is sympathetic – readers of short stories will put up with a dull or unlikeable character, but novel readers are stuck with the character’s viewpoint for much longer. As the writer, you’ll need to be able to become your characters.
  • You have an escalation of events throughout the plot. Things need to get worse and worse for your characters, until they finally overcome their problems or enemies.

3. Life Stories
A life story is a true story – though it shares features with fictional stories. Life stories are either “biography” (when you write about someone else) or “autobiography” (when you write about yourself).

Most biographies and autobiographies are book length, similar to a novel. Many writers draw on their own life experiences for newspaper columns and magazine articles, though. There is also a market for “true life” stories in magazines, which are told in a story-like way: writing about your own life is a simple way to write about what you know.

How To Write A Life Story
A life story needs to be engaging and interesting for the reader. Don’t include boring details just because they’re “true” – the reader doesn’t need to know everything that happened. In many cases, details of childhood or dull years can be summarized – or told through a few vividly-drawn incidents.

You will need to be careful when writing a biography or autobiography to:

  • Structure your piece as a story, focusing on interesting events and incidents.
  • Show the personality of the subject (yourself or the person you’re writing about), and making sure the reader will find them at least partly likeable.
  • Be conscious of the other people involved – try to be sensitive to how they might feel (and avoid getting sued for libel – make sure you’re certain of your facts).

There is often a fine line between life writing and fiction. If you are writing the story of your life, you will need to make decisions about whether you will alter or make up lines of dialogue, for instance.

General Story Writing Tips
Whatever type of story or stories you’re writing, and however experienced you are, there’s always room for improvement…

Share Your Story Writing Efforts
It’s hard to write in isolation, and sharing your work with other writers is a great way to get feedback and suggestions. Look for a local writers’ circle, or join an online forum. You want to find somewhere that’s supportive but where people aren’t afraid to offer advice about things that aren’t working in your story.

Keep Learning
Writing is a craft that you can learn, like any other. There are hundreds of books on all aspects of writing, from the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation to writing in specific genres. You can also find free advice on the Internet (on blogs like this one). You can even take a degree or post-graduate course in creative writing.

Keep Practicing
As well as learning about writing, you need to practice. That means writing regularly – ideally daily. As you write more, your stories will get better – your characters are more “real”, your plots are convincing, and your endings are deeply satisfying to readers. You’ll also find that writing itself becomes easier: you’ll spend less time struggling to find the right words, and more time enjoying seeing the story spill from your fingers.

Always Revise
All authors need to revise their work. Your first draft might have a lot of problems – inconsistent characterization, scenes which don’t really fit, holes in the plot, incorrect pacing or tension. Don’t worry if this is the case: most published authors have to extensively rewrite their first drafts too. Always allow time to revise your story, and if possible, do several rewrites. Most authors recommend letting your story sit unread for a few days or weeks when you complete a draft, so that you can come to it with fresh eyes.

Good luck with your story writing!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Creative Writing: Fiction

Creative Writing: Fiction
Writing Tips

Fiction Writers
Fiction writers learn to write by writing. Although writing is an art, there are skills, tools, and techniques that can be learned in order to develop talent. And constructive criticism and feedback can help this process.

To be a good writer you need to read a lot, listen and observe everything about you carefully, and write a lot. Writing a lot takes discipline, because writing can actually be hard work- but very satisfying. Setting up a routine for writing is important; it is very easy to find something else to do besides writing. A compulsion to write is very useful.

Fiction writers should have a good grasp of the language, but most of all they must bestorytellers. A really good story can compensate for less-than-brilliant writing, but brilliant writing will not save a bad story.

Readers of fiction want very much to find the writer's work to be believable. It is the task of the writer to produce a story that does not jolt the reader into recognizing that the narrative is just the writer talking, just fiction. The writer should write about what he or she already knows through experience or can learn about through research. The narrative should read as if the writer really knows what he or she is writing about.

Major Components of Stories
  1. Plot is the organization of events that will take place in the story.
  2. Characters are the people or animals who will be in the story.
  3. Setting is the physical time and place in which the story takes place.
  4. Dialogue is the spoken words of the characters in the story.
  5. Point of view is the relative identification of the narrator with the characters.
  6. Theme is the main idea or meaning behind a story.
  7. Style is the writer's use of the language.


Plot (and characters) carries the other elements of the story. The plot must be believable, plausible, and interesting. It is a sequence of events connected in a cause-and-effect manner. Generally the plot consists of a series of increasingly more intense conflicts, a climax (the most intense part of the story), and a final resolution. The plot must be advanced as the story unfolds. Usually the closer to the end of the story the climax is placed the better.

Long works like novels can have many subplots and secondary climaxes and resolutions. Avoid using subplots in order to have cliché characters. Avoid too many coincidences.

Flashbacks have been overused. A story is stronger when it runs chronologically.

The reader should be able to identify with and care about the characters in the sense that the characters seem real to the reader. The characters must do something, and what they do must seem reasonable for them to have done it.

Characters should be introduced early in the story. The more often a character is mentioned or appears, the more significance the reader will attach to the character. Also, the main character should be introduced before setting, so that the setting can be introduced from the point of view of the character.

The nature of characters can be brought out through minimal description and the actions, thoughts, and dialogue of the characters. The writer should allow the reader to make judgments about the characters; the writer should avoid making the judgments for the reader. The feelings of the character should be demonstrated rather than told by the narrator.

Yet, there are some very good stories in which much of the narration is about a character's feelings and thoughts or in which the narration goes into great detail and analysis of a character's feelings and thoughts at some point. So one rule about writing is that there are no rules, or maybe: If it works, it works.

Setting includes the place and time in which the story takes place. The setting should be described in specifics to make the story seem real, to set the atmosphere and mood of the story, to place limitations on the characters, or to help establish the basic conflict of the story. Weather can be an important part of setting.

The setting can be used for contrast, having something taking place in an unexpected place. Also, the more unfamiliar the reader is with the setting, the more interesting the setting.

Dialogue makes fiction seem real. However, dialogue that copies reality may actually slow down a story. Avoid unnecessary or repetitive dialogue.

Dialect in dialogue can be difficult to read. A small amount of it can be used to establish the nature of a character, but overuse will intrude on the story. The level of use of language by the characters- pronunciation, diction, grammar, etc.- is often used to characterize people in a story. Most often the main characters use the best English.

Profanity and vulgarisms can be used where they seem appropriate. Overuse amounts to author intrusion and can interrupt the reader's belief in the story.

Too much exposition through dialogue can slow down a story. Characters should not repeat in dialogue events which have already happened in the story.

Also, one character should not tell another character what the second character should already know just so the writer can convey information to the reader. The conversation will sound implausible: author intrusion. The information can be conveyed in simple narration or by having a knowledgeable character explain something to another character who reasonably should not know the information already.

The form of dialogue should be varied to keep the reader interested. However, don't try to find too many different ways to say "said."

Interior dialogue is what a character is thinking. Dramatic dialogue is a character thinking out loud, without response from other characters. Indirect dialogue is the narrator telling what a character said.
Dialogue should be used to develop character or to advance the story. It should not be used just to hear characters talk.

Point of View
First person point of view has the main character telling the story or a secondary character telling the main character's story. Everything that happens in the story must be seen or experienced by the character doing the narration. The reader's judgment of other characters in the story will be heavily influenced by the narrator. This can be very limiting. Also, a story written in first person usually means that the main character won't die in the story. However, first person point of view gives a sense of intimacy to the story.

Third person point of view can be objective or omniscient. An objective narrator describes actions but not the inner thoughts or feelings of the characters. An omniscient narrator can describe all the actions of all of the characters but also all of their inner thoughts and feelings as well.

The theme of a story is often abstract and not addressed directly in the narrative. It is imparted to the story by the concrete events occurring in the story.

Style is the way the writer uses language. The longer the work the less important language becomes. Above all, the writer's work must tell a story. The writer should not be more concerned with the words used than with the story the writer is trying to tell. Don't be a fanatic about words. The language is less important than character and plot. However, a combination of a good story and good English will be a delight to read.

Mistakes in English amount to author intrusion and detract greatly from the story being told.
The most effective writing uses the active voice. Shorter, concrete words tend to be stronger. Long words tend to be abstract. Avoid wordiness. Write in a concise, precise, concrete, and specific manner. However, recognize that English has an enormous number of words in it, and the words can have very precise meanings. Sometimes no other word will do. And be specific. Don't mention just a tree; say what kind of tree it was.

The choice of words can help set the tone of the story.

Beginning writers may get defensive and touchy about their style. When offered constructive (or maybe destructive) criticism about their style, beginning writers may tend to say something like,"Well, that's just my style." The implication being that the reader must like whatever style the writer chooses to use. But that is backwards. It is up to the writer to please the reader, not the other way around.

Other Tips

In no particular order.

Be specific in your writing. The more specific the detail, the more real the story will seem to the reader.

The best fiction can come from the preposterous imaginations of writers who are good storytellers.

Becoming a skilled typist (on a word processor) is extremely useful to a writer.

Very few people make a living at writing fiction.

Revision is important. A writer can always do one more revision. At some point the writer has to stop revising and get the work published.

Show, don't tell.

Avoid starting a story with dialogue.

Don't use clichés.

The more detail in the story, the more interesting the story.

Revise, revise, revise, revise, . . .

Avoid author intrusion.

Write what you like to read.

Don't use exclamation points.

Use surprise and irony.

The shorter the story, the more important each word becomes.

Descriptions and technical details must be authentic; when the reader suddenly realizes that the writer made a mistake, the reader is jarred out his or her temporary acceptance of the story as reality, i.e., author intrusion.

Avoid overused words.

Success breeds success. The more published you are, the easier it is to get published again.

Every word can be used appropriately somewhere in some story.

Don't tell what happened; recreate what happened.

The beginning of a story must be interesting. Readers can be lost on page one.

Scorning the work of a writer does not make that writer a better writer.

A Final Observation
Whatever rules or tips you read about writing you will be able to find some published work that violates them. Sometimes the violation is glaring and amounts to author intrusion. Other times the violation may actually help the story. Usually the latter occurs when the writer actually is an excellent wordsmith and deliberately, with great specific purpose, violates some rule or tip.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

51 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid

51 Incorrect Pronunciations That You Should Avoid
by Maeve Maddox

Fred Astaire drew laughs back in the Thirties with his song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” in which the lovers can’t agree on the pronunciation of words like
 either, neither, and tomato.

On a personal level, I cringe when I hear someone sound the “t” in often or pronounce pecan with a short “a,” but I have to acknowledge that both these pronunciations are widely accepted alternate pronunciations that can be justified by the spelling.

Alternate pronunciations, however, are a different matter from out-and-out mispronunciations. The latter, no matter how common, are incorrect, either because of the spelling that indicates another pronunciation, or because of what is widely agreed upon to be conventional usage. Word of caution: I’m writing from an American perspective.

Here are 50 frequently mispronounced words. The list is by no means exhaustive, but provides a good start.

1. aegis – The ae in this word is pronounced /ee/. Say EE-JIS/, not /ay-jis/. In mythology the “aegis” is associated especially with the goddess Athene. It is her shield with the Gorgon’s head on it.

2. anyway – The problem with this word is not so much pronunciation as the addition of an unnecessary sound. Don’t add an s to make it “anyways.” The word is ANYWAY.

3. archipelago – Because the word is from Greek, the ch is pronounced with a /k/ sound. Say /AR-KI-PEL-A-GO/, not /arch-i-pel-a-go/.

4. arctic – Note the C after the R. Say /ARK-TIK/, not /ar-tik/.

5. accessory – the first C has a “hard” sound. Say /AK-SESS-OR-Y/, not /ass-ess-or-y/.

6. ask – The S comes before the K. Say /ASK/ not /aks/.

7. asterisk – Notice the second S. Say /AS-TER-ISK/, not /as-ter-ik/.

8. athlete – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /ATH-LETE/, not /ath-uh-lete/.

9. barbed wire- Notice the AR in the first syllable. Say /BARBD/, not /bob/.

10. cache – The word is of French origin, but it does not end with an accented syllable. A cache is a hiding place or something that is being hidden: a cache of supplies; a cache of money; a cache of drugs. Say /KASH/, not /ka-shay/.

11. candidate – Notice the first d. Say /KAN-DI-DATE/, not /kan-i-date/.

12. cavalry – This word refers to troops that fight on horseback. Say /KAV-UL-RY/, not /kal-vuh-ry/. NOTE: Calvary refers the place where Jesus was crucified and IS pronounced /kal-vuh-ry/.)

13. chaos – The spelling ch can represent three different sounds in English: /tch/ as in church, /k/ as in Christmas, and /sh/ as in chef. The first sound is heard in words of English origin and is the most common. The second sound of ch, /k/, is heard in words of Greek origin. The third and least common of the three ch sounds is heard in words adopted from modern French. Chaos is a Greek word. Say /KAY-OS/, not /tchay-os/.

14. clothes – Notice the TH spelling and sound. Say /KLOTHZ/, not /kloz/.

15. daïs – A daïs is a raised platform. The pronunciation fault is to reverse the vowel sounds. The word is often misspelled as well as mispronounced. Say /DAY-IS/ not /dī-is/.

16. dilate – The word has two syllables, not three. Say /DI-LATE/, not /di-a-late/.

17. drowned – This is the past participle form of the verb drown. Notice that there is no D on drown. Don’t add one when using the word in its past form. Say /DROWND/, not /drown-ded/.

18. et cetera – This Latin term is often mispronounced and its abbreviation is frequently misspelled. Say /ET CET-ER-A/, not /ex cet-er-a/. For the abbreviation, write ETC., not ect.

19. February – Just about everyone I know drops the first r in February. The spelling calls for /FEB-ROO-AR-Y/, not /feb-u-ar-y/.

20. foliage – The word has three syllables. Say /FO-LI-UJ/, not /fol-uj/.

21. forte – English has two words spelled this way. One comes from Italian and the other from French. The Italian word, a musical term meaning “loud,” is pronounced with two syllables: /FOR-TAY/. The French word, an adjective meaning “strength” or “strong point,” is pronounced with one syllable: /FORT/.

22. Halloween – The word for the holiday Americans celebrate with such enthusiasm on October 31 derives from “Hallowed Evening,” meaning “evening that has been made holy.” The word “hallow” comes from Old English halig, meaning “holy.” Notice the a in the first syllable and say /HAL-O-WEEN/, not /hol-lo-ween/.

23. height – The word ends in a /T/ sound, not a /TH/ sound. Say /HITE/, not /hith/.

24. heinous – People unfamiliar with the TV show Law and Order: S.V.U. may not know that heinous has two syllables. (The show begins with this sentence: “In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous.”) Say /HAY-NUS/, not /heen-i-us/.

25. hierarchy – The word has four syllables. Say /HI -ER-AR-KY,/ not /hi-ar-ky/.

26. Illinois – As with Arkansas, the final “s” in Illinois is not pronounced. Say /IL-I-NOY/ (and /Ar-kan-saw/, not /il-li-noiz/ or /ar-kan-sas/). NOTE: Some unknowledgeable folks may still be trying to pronounce Arkansas as if it had something to do with Kansas. The pronunciation /ar-kan-zuz/ is waaay off base.

27. interpret – The word has three syllables. Don’t add one! Say /IN-TER-PRET/, not /in-ter-pre-tate/.

28. incident – Something that happens is an “incident.” Don’t say “incidence” when you mean a specific event. There IS a word “incidence,” but it has a different meaning.

29. “irregardless” – See the real word, regardless.

30. jewelry – The word has three syllables. Say /JEW-EL-RY/, not /jew-el-er-y/. The pronunciation /jewl-ry/ is common but not correct, as it removes one syllable from the word.

31. library – Notice where the R comes in the word. Say /LI-BRAR-Y/, not /li-ber-ry/.

32. medieval – The word has four syllables. The first E may be pronounced either short [med] or long [meed]. Say /MED-EE-EEVAL/ or /MEE-DEE-EEVAL/, not /meed-eval/.

33. miniature – The word has four syllables. Say /MIN-I-A-TURE/, not /min-a-ture/.

34. Mischievous – This is the adjective form of mischief whose meaning is “calamity” or “harm.” Mischievous is now associated with harmless fun so that the expression “malicious mischief” has been coined as another term for vandalism. Mischievous has three syllables with the accent on the first syllable: /MIS-CHI-VUS/. Don’t say /mis-chee-vee-us/.

35. niche – The word is from the French and, though many words of French origin have been anglicized in standard usage, this is one that cries out to retain a long “e” sound and a /SH/ sound for the che. Say /NEESH/, not /nitch/.

36. orient – This word has three syllables. As a verb it means to place something in its proper position in relation to something else. It comes from a word meaning “east” and originally meant positioning something in relation to the east. Now it is used with a more general meaning. Say /OR-I-ENT/, not /or-i-en-tate/.

37. old-fashioned – This adjective is formed from a past-participle: “fashioned.” Don’t leave off the ED. Say /OLD-FASHIOND/, not /old-fashion/.

38. picture – There’s a K sound in picture. Don’t confuse picture with pitcher. Say /PIK-TURE/, not /pitch-er/. Pitcher is a different word. A pitcher is a serving vessel with a handle.

39. precipitation – This is a noun that refers to rain or snow, or anything else that normally falls from the sky. As withprescription (below), the prefix is PRE-. Say /PRE-CIP-I-TA-TION/, not /per-cip–i-ta-tion/.

40. prescription – Note the prefix PRE- in this word. Say /PRE-SCRIP-TION/, not /per- scrip-tion/ or /pro-scrip-tion/.

41. preventive – The word has three syllables. A common fault is to add a syllable. Say PRE-VEN-TIVE/, not /pre-ven-ta-tive.

42. pronunciation – This word is a noun. It comes from the verb pronounce, BUT it is not pronounced like the verb. Say /PRO-NUN-CI-A-TION/, not /pro-nounce-i-a-tion/.

43. prostate – This word for a male gland is often mispronounced. There is an adjective prostrate which means to be stretched out facedown on the ground. When speaking of the gland, however, say /PROS-TATE/, not /pros-trate/.

44. Realtor – The word has three syllables. Say /RE-AL-TOR/, not /re-a-la-tor/.

45. regardless – The word has three syllables. Please don’t add an IR to make it into the abomination “irregardless”.

46. sherbet – The word has only one r in it. Say /SHER-BET/ not /sher-bert/.

47. spayed – This is a one-syllable word, the past participle form of the verb to spay, meaning to remove the ovaries from an animal. Like the verb drown (above) the verb spay does not have a D in its infinitive form. Don’t add one to the past participle. Say /SPADE/, not /spay-ded/.

48. ticklish – The word has two syllables. Say /TIK-LISH/, not /tik-i-lish/.

49. tract – Religious evangelists often hand out long printed statements of belief called “tracts.” That’s one kind of “tract.” Houses are built on “tracts.” Then there’s the word “track.” Athletes run on “tracks.” Animals leave “tracks.” Don’t say /TRAKT/ when you mean /TRAK/, and vice-versa.

50. vehicle – Although there is an H in the word, to pronounce it is to sound hicky. Say /VEE-IKL/, not /vee-Hikl/.

51. wintry – Here’s another weather word often mispronounced, even by the weather person. The word has two syllables. Say /WIN-TRY/, not /win-ter-y/.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

6 Foreign Expressions You Should Know

6 Foreign Expressions You Should Know

Whether you like it or not, foreign expressions represent an integral part of the English language (and of many other languages, too). Knowing the meaning and usage of the most used ones is very important. First of all because it will enable you to understand pieces of text that include them. Secondly, because you might also need to use those expressions on particular situations (avoid using them just to sound smart though). Below you will find 6 foreign expressions commonly used in English, enjoy!

1. De Facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means “actual” (if used as an adjective) or “in practice” (if used as an adverb). In legal terms, de facto is commonly used in contrast to de jure, which means “by law.” Something, therefore, can emerge either de facto (by practice) or de jure (by law).
And what of the plastic red bench, which has served as his de facto home for the last 15 years and must by now be a collector’s item? (NY Times)

2. Vis-à-Vis
The literal meaning of this French expression is “face to face” (used as an adverb). It is used more widely as a preposition though, meaning “compared with” or “in relation to.”
It’s going to be a huge catalyst in moving the whole process forward and it really strengthens the U.S. position vis-a-vis our trading partners (Yahoo! News)

3. Status quo
This famous Latin expression means “the current or existing state of affairs.” If something changes the status quo, it is changing the way things presently are.
Bush believes that the status quo — the presence in a sovereign country of a militant group with missiles capable of hitting a U.S. ally — is unacceptable. (Washington Post)

4. Cul-de-sac
This expression was originated in England by French-speaking aristocrats. Literally it means “bottom of a sack,” but generally it refers to a dead-end street. Cul-de-sac can also be used metaphorically to express an action that leads to nowhere or an impasse.
But the code of omerta was in effect for two carloads of fans circling the cul-de-sac to have a look at the house. (
A cul-de-sac of poverty (The Economist)

5. Per se
Per se is a Latin expression that means “by itself” or “intrinsically.”
The mistake it made with the Xbox is that there is no game console market per se; there are PlayStation, GameCube, and Xbox markets. (

6. Ad hoc
Ad hoc, borrowed from the Latin, can be used both as an adjective, where it means “formed or created with a specific purpose,” and as an adverb, where it means “for the specific purpose or situation.”
The World Bank’s board on Friday ordered an ad hoc group to discuss the fate of President Paul Wolfowitz (CNN)