Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Be My Guest: Terry Odell

Many thanks to Terry Odell for stopping by The Blood Red Pencil to share some tips for writers.

On The Cutting Edge

Our language evolves, but at glacial speeds. Also, usage varies depending on where we live. I think if you're pursuing a traditional writing path (by that I mean, not trying to break ALL the rules, like omitting all punctuation or capitalization), you should consider what you put on the page.

One pet peeve: The use of "alright" to mean "all right." I was taught that there's really no such word as "alright", at least in standard usage. And although I'm finding a few places that say it's becoming an "acceptable" alternative to all right, I'm not convinced it's smart to use it. Not until those glaciers show up in your neighborhood.

Perhaps the confusion arises because we're used to using already as well as all ready. However, these have totally different meanings. If we have a group of people and we're trying to gather everyone together to leave on a trip, we might say, "Are we all ready?" meaning, "Is everyone ready to go?"

On the other hand, "already" means previously. "I've already eaten dinner."

Or  maybe it's because we've seen "all together" and "altogether." However these words also have different meanings. "All together" means everyone at the same time. "We went to the movies all together."

"Altogether" means "entirely", as in:  "I'm altogether fed up with grading grammar papers."

But back to alright. According to The American Heritage Dictionary, and the Macmillan Dictionary, "alright" hasn't made it into acceptable usage yet. In other references, where it is listed as a 'real' word, the definition is always given as "all right." Unlike the above examples, we're not talking about words/phrases with two separate meanings. We're looking at two usages meaning the same thing. And that means we're actually looking at alternative spellings.

And another one that sets my teeth on edge: leaving off the "to be" infinitive. I first noticed this when I was transcribing reports for a temp job, and it seemed to be a regional thing. Where I would say, "The dishes need to be washed," some will say, "The dishes need washed." Yet I'm starting to see it in published fiction. I did read one book where the character called attention to the usage, joking about it, and explaining it was because of where she was from, but if it just sits there, it jumps off the page.

Should you use these sorts of things? I'd say avoid them. Wherever possible, the most common, more universal usage is the smarter one to use. As long as you have readers who think it's wrong, they're going to think less of you as a writer. Because, ultimately, it's going to pull a reader out of the story, and anything that pulls a reader out of the story is "wrong, wrong, wrong."

What are some of the words that you see used improperly?

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Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense 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. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who is so glad that Terry cleared up this business about alright.

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  1. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last week.

  2. Thanks for another helpful post, Terry. Sometimes these words can hang us up and it is good to have this clarification with the examples you gave.

  3. I've also gotten pulled out of a story or even a comment when someone used alright. Then I started to wonder if the rules had changed as they sometimes do.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. A personal pet peeve is, "Could you borrow me some money?" I say, "No, but I'd be happy to lend you some money."

  5. Great article Terry. As always, you give me plenty to think about!

  6. Thanks, all. We have houseguests this week and have been out of the house almost all day. I appreciate that you stop by and take the time to leave a comment.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  7. My Dad is in his eighties and always wrote "alright" which makes me wonder if that's on older convention that is just now gaining a foothold. He probably started it, the scamp! :D

  8. Thanks for the thoughts, helpful article.

    I'm looking for some insights to this writing technique if anyone can help.

    Some authors like to repeat a character's name in consecutive sentences. For instance, "John had lived in the house for twenty years. John loved that house. John hoped to finish his days in the humble dwelling, which had become so important to him."

    Can anyone share their thoughts about the use of this technique. Whar is it supposed to offer, and accomplish?

  9. Dani - maybe he did!

    Frank - I don't see any reason to repeat a character's name unless you've referred to another character in between. Your pronouns should refer to the most recent name, so if "Bill" was in there and there was any chance of ambiguity with "he", then it's wise to repeat "John" but I try to avoid using character names too often--it tends to call attention to it, while pronouns are invisible.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  10. I agree entirely with your comment and the use of pronouns like you explained. I've come across this in books more than once, and have re-read the passage with, 'John loved the house. He had been in it for twenty years. He hoped to end his days in it,' for instance. And it came across better.

    I suppose this still leaves me on my quest to understand why some authors, like Koontz and Wodehouse, just to name two of them, used the technique. Everyone brings their own style to their writing, and emphasis is always used when needed, but I'm a bit miffed as to what this is supposed to accomplish. In my feeling, it comes across much better with the use of pronouns, like you explained. Otherwise, there is a resemblance of a youngster speaking out to his class in a route manner, which you'd expect, the way the sentences are written. I'm sure that's not what the authors intended, which is why I'm curious to find the rationale behind it.

  11. Oh, you're all welcome to have a peek of my sample writing of my novel Legend Station: http://www.scribd.com/doc/65889950/Legend-Station-Upload-Sample-Writing

    It's not my best novel writing, my debut novel received a good review from a professional book review group. But it was a fun exercise in creativity. The writing posted hasn't had its final editing.

    *If I shouldn't put this kind of post up, let me know.

  12. I wonder whether "alright" has actually fallen out of usage. I learned this word in elementary school many, many moons ago, and was taught that it was the correct word, not "all right". But that was generations ago. Perhaps that's no longer the case?


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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