Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Body Talk

(You Say It Best) When You Say Nothing At All
by Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz

In the real world, human communication doesn’t depend exclusively on the spoken word. On the contrary, the non-verbal aspects of communication in any conversation entail a whole range of signals – both voluntary and involuntary - including vocal inflexion (pitch, intonation, changes in breathing), facial expression, and body language (posture, gesture, manner of movement). Consciously or unconsciously, these non-verbal aspects of communication bespeak our moods, intentions, personal likes and dislikes, social attitudes, and responses to any given situation.

Playwrights have the luxury of being able to rely on their actors to supply all the relevant details of intonation and body language to bring a scripted scene to life on stage. In fiction writing, however, the writer has to inject occasional descriptions of body language into the text to show us how characters are reacting to circumstances. This kind of detailing enriches the tone, atmosphere, and texture of the story overall.

This is especially true in passages of dialogue. Take for example the following very basic four-line script.

Scene: two people meet at a bus stop.

Speaker One: Nice morning, isn’t it?

Speaker Two: Beautiful.

Speaker One: Do you think it’s going to last all day?

Speaker Two: Your guess is as good as mine.

Pretty flat, huh? Ok, let’s recast this exchange as fiction, adding in aspects of intonation and body language:

A man dashed across the street and ducked into the bus shelter. Shaking the rain from his jacket, he remarked, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

Maisie backed up to avoid getting splattered. “Beautiful,” she muttered.

“Do you think it’s going to last all day?” the newcomer asked chattily.

Maisie made a show of studying the bus timetable. “Your guess is as good as mine.”


The addition of these extra features sets up the contrast between the two characters: the man is good-humored; Maisie is in a bad mood. He’s inviting further conversation; Maisie attempts to rebuff him. This raises our interest: Why is she so grumpy? Will her mood prevail over his and make him shut up? Or will he persevere and talk her into a better frame of mind?

Of course, given the original script, simply tweaking the body language of the participants will completely change the tone of the scene. Let’s try it again:

The man dashed across the street and shouldered his way into the bus shelter. Pushing his way past Maisie, he growled, “Nice morning, isn’t it?”

“Beautiful,” Maisie agreed with a rueful chuckle.

The man adjusted his collar. “Do you think it’s going to last all day?” he demanded irritably - as if Maisie would know.

Maisie sighed inwardly. “Your guess is as good as mine.”


Now the situation is completely reversed. For whatever reason, the man is behaving very boorishly. Will Maisie’s temperate responses to his snappish remarks make him aware of his behavior and alter it? Or will she leave the bus shelter and walk on to her destination in the rain just to get away from him?

In fiction, as in life: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Make this precept work for you!


Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hifalutin' Hyphenation


Cheerio, duckies! Orange is everywhere, and pumpkin spice has our flavor options in a death grip. It is decidedly fall.

It is also decidedly easy to fall prey to sneaky little style slipups. Luckily, we have our faithful CMOS to finesse any faltering. Today’s case in point: the hyphen. That teeny little line can bewilder the best of writers, but the Manual is quite forgiving with regards to hyphen usage.

In section 7.77 of the Sixteenth Edition, the CMOS acknowledges the mental gymnastics required to decipher compound mechanics. It also offers an easy out: by consulting the dictionary. Webster’s provides a substantial, though not exhaustive, list of hyphenated compounds. Section 5.91 of the CMOS goes further, providing an especially helpful rule of thumb. Look for substantial alterations in meaning when deciding to apply hyphens. Is it a small shoe shop, or a small-shoe shop? Hopefully, the size of your feet does not range into square footage, and you’ll easily see the difference.

With common usage, many open or hyphenated compounds close over time. While both the CMOS and Webster’s dictionary may encourage hyphenated spellings, it is becoming more and more acceptable to use closed compounds where “pronunciation and readability are not at stake.”

Essentially, it all boils down to clarity. If your well-dressed businessman character requires a tie and a hyphen to be obvious to your readers, by all means, include both. If your description makes it all clear without the clutter, you may skip the hyphen if you are so inclined.


Just be prepared for Spellcheck and Webster’s to argue the point.

There are naturally many more considerations and rules to take into account, but it's time for all of us to be about our day. Have a lovely week, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!
Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew 
Tired of fishing walnuts out of the ornamental pond, the Style Maven has threatened the local squirrels with a steady diet of boring bread crusts instead of their usual cake tops. Whether this tactic works remains to be seen; if it does, you can read about it at KOFO's Procraftinator page.


Monday, October 20, 2014

The Chicken Story

When she was around four, my granddaughter Ellie once stayed with me for a weekend while her parents were off gallivanting. What a great time we had! Ellie is into making up stories, so my grandmotherly ambitions went soaring – another writer in the family! She told me her stories while I scribbled them down. We wrote quite a few about Rapunzel, Tinkerbell, MuLan, and other heroines. (My favorite was the one in which Rapunzel went to San Francisco to buy a pretty dress and finally have her hair cut, leaving the Prince behind.)


We also wrote a “round robin” story in which Ellie told a piece of a story, then I told a piece, then Ellie, then me, and so on. We called it “The Chicken Story” and here it is:

Ellie: The chicken went to the park and he slid on a bumpy slide.

Grandma: Then he fell off the slide and hit his head on the ground at the end of the slide.

Ellie: Then he goes on a tire swing, and he fell off and he bumped his head again.

Grandma: The chicken said, “This park is too dangerous, maybe I should go home.”

Ellie: No, he said “I’m going to find another park.” But then he was hungry, so he said, “I’ll go home and have lunch.”

Grandma: But when he got home, there was no food to eat. He said to his mom, “Where is all my food?”

Ellie: His mom said, “We ate it all up. So the chicken said, “Okay I’ll wait while you go to the grocery store.” But then he remembered he was a big chicken and could go to the grocery store himself. So he did.

Grandma: At the grocery store, the chicken looked at all the food. He couldn’t decide what to buy, there was so much.

Ellie: He waited too long in the aisle and then everybody else bought up all the food, and then there was none left.

Grandma: So the chicken thought, “Maybe I can go outside and see if there’s any chicken food I can peck up. He went to the parking lot to find food.

Ellie: Some kid spilled his McDonalds french fries in the parking lot so the chicken ate them. They were good. Now the story is all done.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 8 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Place At the Table

There has been a lot of talk on one of my writers’ loops about the disrespect given to self-published and small-press authors. Are they good enough to be included in one of the big writers’ organizations? That organization just sent out a questionnaire to its members to ask for their opinions. I gave up my membership in that group a while back because, as a self-published author, they didn’t support me, so why should I support them with my hard-earned money?

If self-published authors are to be included in these organizations as “active” members, then by what criteria? Should we be accepted on the basis of how much money we’ve earned? And if that doesn’t guarantee acceptance, what does? How about the quality or quantity of our work? Who is to judge which writers are acceptable and which are not? What about rankings or reviews on sales outlets? Should that be a method of evaluation? By what calculus should we be judged?

I have two friends, one self-published and one published by a small press, who were bluntly rejected to guest on a writers’ blog because my friends weren’t “traditionally” published, which by the bloggers’ standards meant published by a major publisher. Both friends are avid readers, supporters, and blogging hosts, and both were embarrassed and hurt by the put-down. I understand bloggers want to draw in readers by hosting big name authors, but we all know the big guys. We want to learn about good writers we haven’t heard about. Not too long ago the same writers making these judgments were searching for publication acceptance themselves.

That’s not the only example of the caste system snobbery within the writing community. Self-published authors want an even playing field. A seat at the table, so to speak. The possibility of representation on the panels of major conferences. How that’s decided is up to the organizations who host these conferences, but how long can they pretend that so many good self-published and small-press authors don’t exist?

I recently attended a conference where I was barred to be on a panel. I witnessed first-time authors participate while I, who at the time had six well-received and highly ranked books, could not. I knew this before I went, so I accepted it.

But it’s wrong.

The insult is that “traditionally published” authors aren’t held to the same standards we are. I understand that bestselling authors bring more money to the publishers’ coffers. They’ve worked hard and earned their places. Many self-pubbed authors are also writing terrific books and making tons of money. They’ve been great advocates for the rest of us. We appreciate them and hope more of us join their ranks. But when will we have a seat on a panel at a big writers’ convention? When will we be considered “real” authors?

If I wrote the same books for a big publisher, would my books be any better? Some would argue that they would. They’d say I’d have first rate editing and outstanding covers. I admit that at the beginning of my writing career, I made mistakes, but I and others learned quickly what we needed to do. We hired editors and cover designers. Even books edited and published by The Big Five have glaring mistakes and typos. I’ve seen them, and so have you. As for covers, the books represented in the collage on this page are all self-published books. I think they look pretty darn good.

A friend went to a romance conference this past weekend in Atlanta, Moonlight and Magnolias, and told me that three of the eight category winners were self-published. Romance seems to be ahead of the curve. Three cheers to RWA. I may even renew my membership.

Are there some bad indie books? Yes, but we’re working harder and getting better collectively all the time. In all fairness, there are some less than great books in the traditionally published market too. I forecast that a self-published author will win a prestigious award in the near future, and more will follow. There have already been a few indie writers nominated. I hope I’m there to cheer their win.

Stay tuned.


Polly Iyer is the author of six novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and two books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games and Goddess of the Moon. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alright Already?


First, a  quick followup to my last post about pre-orders, and Windswept Danger.
Since someone near and dear to me was recently diagnosed with MS, I'm donating ALL royalties from pre-orders of the book to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Pre-order price of 99 cents, a $3 savings, is good through Oct 26th. You can find buy links here.

And now, on to your regularly scheduled posting.

Language, as everything else, is constantly changing. But what constitutes a legitimate change? When does something that was previously "wrong" become acceptable?

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in school, we were taught that already was an adverb that had to do with time. "When I got to the mall (although there were no malls back in those Dark Ages of my school years), Mary was already there."

This was not to be confused with all ready, which means that everyone was prepared, or someone was completely prepared.

Likewise, there's altogether and all together, which have different meanings as well. Altogether means wholly, or entirely, whereas all together means everyone was in a group. (This omits the idiomatic use of altogether, meaning nude, and I'm not going there with this group.)

And, perhaps because already is a word, it was easy to get confused and carry that over to words like "alot" instead of the correct a lot. Another major No No, resulting in Miss Cook leaving big red marks on one's paper, was to use the word alright. Again, our teachers insisted, there was no such word.

But recently, I've been running across "alright" in published books. And, although I hate to have to qualify this, because publishing is changing, too, I'm talking "traditionally" published, not indie published. For some reason, people assume that what they read in traditionally published books is "right" and indie books are full of mistakes. But since reading alright makes my teeth crawl, I had to go look it up.

What I found in my online dictionary:
alright - adverb
1. all right.
Can be confused (see usage note)
Usage note
The form alright as a one-word spelling of the phrase all right in all of its senses probably arose by analogy with such words as already and altogether. Although alright is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, all right is used in more formal, edited writing.

So, it would appear that alright is slowly gaining acceptance. In fact, as I write this post, there are no red squiggles under the word alright. At what point do we take what used to be wrong and consider it correct? After all, new words are cropping up all the time. Google is a verb now, isn't it? And will readers understand what we mean if a character "MacGyvers" something together to get out of a tight spot? The word might not be in standard dictionaries yet, but it's out there in some of the slang ones. However, I'll say this. I'll use MacGyver long before you'll catch me using alright in my writing. I do not want Miss Cook turning over in her grave.


What about you? How receptive are you to change when it's not something new, but something that contradicts what you were taught? Do you have any hangups about the language? Any words you confuse?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Halloween Tale: I Am Alone

I am in bed, alone. Sleep doesn't come easy. There are creaks and groans in this old house and I am fourteen weeks pregnant. I lie awake, listening to the voices in my head and whispers from the past. I was in my crib when I first heard the ghosts whispering. Over the years, I've given the ghosts names: Saliva, Tick, Catie, and Drool. There are others, but they rarely speak to me.

Once they are all gathered around my bed, the temperature drops. Even with two blankets, I am cold, shivering. "Go away," I plead.

They move closer, bending low. Their faces waver only inches from my nose. "We have come for you."

My teeth chattering, I manage to whisper, "It's not my time."

Tick's face floats forward. Sharp metal teeth drip saliva onto my cheek. "When I say it's time, it is time."

"You don’t control me."

"Ah, but we do. We have been with you since you were born."

I turn my head and look into her eyes. "Since I turned eight, I have researched the Ghosts of Death. You cannot take me. If you so much as touch me, you will be returned to hell. You will be forever gone."

The four ghosts laugh.

Catie pushed Tick aside. "We took your mother. We will take you."

"Go ahead. Try."

Both Saliva and Drool reach for me. The moment they touch me, they are thrown backward, their heads crashing against the wall.

"I have had twenty-four years to plan for this moment. I knew you would come for me. I am ready. That was just a warning." I push the covers off and stand up.

I didn't know ghosts could growl, but that's what Tick did.

I stepped forward until I was only inches away from the ghosts. "As you now know, you can't touch me. And I can't kill you." With one sweep of my hand, I throw Tick and Cat once more against the wall. "But the child inside of me can."

I walk across the room to look at the four ghosts as their images melt away. Once they disappear, I sit back down and rub my mid-section where my daughter grows.

I am not alone.

Helen Ginger is an authorblogger, and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel SometimesDismembering the Past and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book,Deadpoint, is due out in 2015.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Using PR and Advertising to Grow Your Writing Career, Part 2

In yesterday's post here at the Blood-Red Pencil, I talked about how writers can use PR to grow their writing career.

Today, we're moving on to advertising, a totally different beast.

As mentioned yesterday, PR tends to have a long-term goal in mind, that of building a relationship with its public so that the public grows to trust the company, to have loyalty with that company. In the end of all that relationship building, the company hopes that the relationship is strong enough that the public will buy their wares, support their causes, etc.


Buy Now image by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Buy me now!
Advertising typically has a short-term goal in mind. You are attempting to lure your audience into buying your products/services or support your causes NOW, not later.

Being able to communicate in a concise way the availability and benefits of your products is vital in advertising. What is your product? Why does your audience need this product? What can this product deliver that no one else can? How will your audience feel after partaking in your product?

In advertising and marketing, the acronym AIDA is often used.

AIDA means
  • Attention (or Attract) – Using powerful, engaging words and/or pictures to quickly grab audience’s attention
  • Interest – After grabbing the attention of your audience, here, you need to keep their attention and make them interested in your full message. How do you focus on your audience’s needs to keep them interested?
  • Desire – Desire may sound like Interest, but here, you want to focus on FEATURES & BENEFITS. What does your product/service feature and how do these features connect with benefits to the audience?
  • Action – What do you want your audience to do? Don’t leave this vague. Let them remember your product/service, the slogan, and what they should do: BUY… GIVE… DONATE… etc.

Because a major goal of advertising is to get your audience to buy your product or service, you want to make sure you think about AIDA as you develop your advertising activities.

Some of those activities include
  • developing flyers for your products;
  • buying radio, TV, print, and online ads and/or commercials;
  • creating and/or buying Web banners;
  • designing a shopping cart for easy purchase;
  • creating infomercials on your products;
  • encouraging current fans to create customer-generated advertising; and
  • using email and mobile devices to advertise products.

Again, the purpose of activities such as these is to seduce your audience with the awesome benefits of your product(s) so that they will run, not walk, to buy your product NOW.


What PR and advertising activities have been successful in your writing career? Share them below!


Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator, whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

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