Orange You Glad? Autumn Colors

Green in Arizona

Since Halloween is marching its way to our doorsteps, and my books have slight “green” tint, I thought I’d share a bit of lore about “green,” and a very bad joke that mentions that other autumn color, orange.

“Knock-knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Orange.”
“Orange Who?”
“Orange you going to download my free book on Amazon and give it a stellar review?”

Foul Wind, the second in my Havoc in Hancock humorous suspense series, is now free on Amazon Kindle from October 19th – October 23!  I changed the cover, making it a bit more menacing.

In Foul Wind, when former activist Feather finds the brutally murdered body of her sister’s lover but can’t find her sister, she rushes to discover what’s behind the foul wind from a new energy plant in North Idaho. Why rush?  Her meddling mother could become the next victim. Or Feather could become the prime suspect. 

 

Download it here.

 I promise it’s better than my joke!

Now on to the green, the word and the political movement.

The word green has its roots in the Old English grene, meaning young, immature, or raw, and possibly, from Old High German, meaning to grow. According to some of my sources, grass has the same roots. (Language-wise.)

A green as a grassy field comes from Old English, and its reference to someone of a tender age, youthful, and hence, gullible has been in use since the 15th century.

Any discussion of the green movement and where it has its roots can fast be made murky by politics. Many agree that Henry David Thoreau, who pled, in his book Maine Woods, that we preserve our virgin forests, was one of the first Americans to make an environmentalist statement. Others cite Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a 1962 book that warned of the dangers of pesticides and environmental pollution, as the key factor launching the green movement.

The first Earth Day, a grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment, was held April 22, 1970, the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson. The 1970s saw the worldwide beginnings of green parties, formed to promote grassroots democracy, environmentalism and social justice.

The season of harvest and Halloween led me to consider something else green: the maze. Given the many corn mazes that we see at this time of year, I wondered if the word maze had any relation to maize. It doesn’t.

Maize is corn, from the Spanish, maiz.

Maze comes from Middle English and means bewildered or stunned. It is the root of the word amaze, to astonish or stun. Maze was formerly a verb meaning to confuse or bewilder, but generally today is only used as a synonym for a labyrinth, a network of interconnecting and confusing paths, a warren; a puzzle.

What’s not a puzzle is  the beauty of Arizona’s fall and my delight in knowing it won’t be followed by snow and ice.

Don’t Needle Me: The Words We Use

While traveling a while back, I saw a woman toting a sewing machine as her carry-on luggage. No one stopped her.

What is the matter with the Transportation Security Administration? Don’t they realize the dangers inherent in sewing machines? Consider the terminology.

A needle is a small, slender, pointed implement used for sewing or surgical suturing. Have you never punctured yourself while attempting to attach a button or stitch a hem? I inevitably bleed on my blouse or skirt. It’s no wonder the verb needle also means to goad or provoke. I’m often provoked when attempting to sew.

This line of thought led me to consider the analogies used in business and wonder for a moment why sewing analogies don’t show up as often as sports. I assume it is because until recently the majority of business strategists were male, and the majority of sports enthusiasts were also male. “Let’s figure out our game plan so we’ll be in the catbird seat.” I’ve wondered where the catbird seat is and where the phrase came from. It apparently was used in the south to mean an advantageous position, high up where the group of birds that includes the mockingbird choose to sit to sing their tunes. The term was popularized in a story by James Thurber, who cited its frequent use by sports commentator Red Barber.

When things are going well, the company is batting a thousand, perhaps with the assistance of a cleanup hitter.

Although these terms are easily understood by most Americans, even those who aren’t fond of sports, the full court press utilized by basketball teams and business strategists may be more obscure. Any of these could be misconstrued by those not familiar with the sport.

Some years ago, former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, urging patience to critics of a plan to shut down North Korea’s nuclear program, assured them we were only in the first quarter, with a lot of time left on the clock.

Rice’s language was familiar to others on the Bush White House team, but less to the Asians she was addressing. But that’s okay. Ms. Rice took one for the team and kept her eye on the ball. A good thing, else her gaffe might have become a political football for Democrats to kick around.

Let’s level the playing field and consider the other endeavors and hobbies that we employ to add spice to our words. Want to postpone making a decision? Put it on the back burner. Let your ideas simmer for a while. But don’t stew about the problem and by all means, don’t cook the books. However, if the issue rises to the top of the list, consider your opportunity to curry favor with your manager by putting some heat under it.

The phrase curry favor has nothing to do with Indian cooking. It comes from an old French morality poem about a vain donkey named Fauvel that deceived the leaders of the court and rose to power. Those who wanted to please him and gain political power stroked and curried Fauvel. A later English moralist changed the term and it evolved to currying favor.

Let’s end where we began, with sewing. Two basic stitches in knitting are the knit stitch and the purl stitch. Is it possible the word purl is related to purloin? Purloin, meaning steal or misappropriate, has its origins in Middle English, meaning to put away or set aside. I’d love to hear from knitters out there if there’s any sense in my thinking. One website referred to the purl as the opposite of a knit stitch. The purl stitch is yin, the dark, shady hillside, to the knit stitch’s yang, the bright, flat open space.

Or am I merely missing a stitch?

Remembrance: How to Write an Obituary

A week ago my husband and I, along with our daughter, flew to Missouri for the celebration of the life of my beautiful, loving mother-in-law, Jeri. Jeri was born in Oklahoma but was raised and spent much of her life in Cabool, Missouri (really), a tiny town east of Springfield. It was a wonderful tribute to a woman who lived her life dedicated to her immediate and extended family and her community. The many relatives who’d enjoyed her kindness through the years spoke of her graciousness. She did the right thing, even when others wondered why. I was lucky to have her as my mother-in-law. She showed her love for me and my daughter (who came into Jeri’s life at age seven) in many acts of kindness in her life. One other writers will enjoy is that she was so proud of my having a book published that she bought copies for each of her siblings, whether or not they read much or appreciated humorous mysteries.

Jeri's memorial flowers
Jeri’s memorial flowers

Jeri spent her last years in a memory care center here in Tucson, not her happiest move. She’d had a stroke and couldn’t be independent any longer, so my husband and his sister decided she’d have to move here. Even though she was legally blind and couldn’t read anymore—her favorite pastime— or listen to music—another lost joy—she was always kind to the staff of the center and always welcomed me with love. She introduced me to the staff (many times!) as her daughter-in-law, the author. Not much more you could hope for in a mother-in-law.

Jeri’s death reminded me of an article I wrote some years back about how to write an obituary, so I’m including it here. Now I realize it would be easier to write one after friends and relatives share memories of the departed loved one. For example, a cousin talked about how Aunt Jeri always had lemon drops on hand in her home, something I’d forgotten.  A good obituary provides memories for the bereaved to cherish.

Here’s that article:

What to say in an obituary or other tribute

Writing an obituary for a relative or a dear friend or delivering a eulogy are tasks likely to fall to many of us. How can they be done successfully?

The Obituary

To be certain your obituary includes what you want others to remember about you, write it yourself. Only you know what you hold most dear and which accomplishments and amusing stories about your life should be shared after your death. Doing it yourself also saves loved ones the pain and anxiety of writing your obituary.

Writing an Obituary for Someone Else

Funeral homes will provide assistance in writing an obituary, but their employees did not know the deceased and will include only the essential facts – birth, date of death, a list of surviving family and family members who predeceased the person. They may include other vital information, if you provide it, such as military service, education, honors and awards.

It’s your responsibility to assure all information is correct. Include the full name of the deceased along with any nicknames. Double check the spelling of survivors’ names and cities of residence.

Most newspapers charge by the line for publishing obituaries, so length is a consideration. Given lower circulation, newspapers are desperately seeking new revenue sources, so check before you blithely send off a lengthy obit.

A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center
A butterfly at the Springfield Conservation Nature Center

As with any communication, consider the audience. What do you want those who read the obituary to remember about the deceased individual? How would he or she wish to be remembered? Include previous residences in the obituary and consider placing it in a newspaper in that city.

An obituary is not a biography, not a listing of all major life events as they occurred. Sometimes it is better to begin with the person’s distinctive character traits or contributions, or to an event that changed the direction of the person’s life.

If you are not a family member or a very close friend, consider spending a few moments with the family, interviewing them about what to include and what to omit. Try to add something of the deceased person’s personality to the obituary. Someone who went through life with optimism and a sense of humor wouldn’t want to be recalled in a totally sorrowful obituary. Someone who found frivolity a waste of time might not appreciate your amusing anecdotes. Use simple language, short words and sentences. Don’t be flowery or overly formal.

If you wish, include clubs and service organizations the person belonged to, his or her hobbies, and passions. If a woman took joy in teaching her grandchildren to bake, share that. As in any communication, avoid acronyms or other phrasing readers won’t understand.

Include information on where memorial contributions or donations may be made. Also include funeral or memorial service information.

As with any important document, proofread and have someone else proofread it.

Cobbler, Slab, Crisp or Slump?

Some might consider the various terms used to describe fruit desserts as jargon, “insider” language to be avoided. I consider their colorful names words to ponder, and the dishes delicious treats to savor.

We all know what a pie is, but why all the other creations and the many names? A 2013 article by Kim Severson in The New York Times, “Sonkers, Grunts, Slumps and Crumbles: What You Call Your Pie Depends on Where You Live,” begins with the search for an authentic recipe for a sonker and ends with a helpful glossary.

Many of the dishes were created to stretch the use of fruit that wasn’t ready for display in a tart. Food author Amanda Hesser maintains that the various names disguise “plain desserts that have been well marketed with good names. Who doesn’t want to try a slump?”peaches-869386_640

A slump? A sonker? Give me a pinch of patience and I’ll describe them. Let’s start with the ubiquitous cobbler. Severson said that what you call a cobbler depends on what you grew up with.

Here in the West, pioneers brought their recipes with them, so a cobbler may be interpreted in several ways in the same state. A 1984 fundraising cookbook from the Owyhee County, Idaho,  Senior Citizens, Country Cooking, shared a recipe for a cobbler with a crumbly top, while a cobbler in a 1970 cookbook by The Idaho Historical Auxiliary had a pie crust-like topping. Some cooks top their cobblers with biscuit dough; others consider that an outrage and stick to batter or pie crust toppings. My stepfather made a great peach cobbler, notable because I believe it had more sugar than peaches. Pandowdy is another colorful name for the cobbler, so named perhaps because of its dowdy appearance.

4969-3-large
Gluten-free Cobbler from King Arthur Flour

Some say the biscuit toppings resemble cobblestones and give the dish its name. Others say it is cobbled together.

Fruit crisp or crumble: In this Northeastern favorite, the fruit is topped with oatmeal and brown sugar. Again, however, the 1970 Idaho cookbook sprinkled flour, cinnamon, margarine and brown sugar over apples and called it a crisp. The same cookbook contained a Rhubarb Crunch. Rhubarb, a plant in the buckwheat family, that is neither fruit nor vegetable, is covered with an oatmeal crumble and baked.

Brown Betty: made by layering fruit and buttered bread crumbs.

Apple slab: A pie made in a 9 x 13 rectangular pan, easier to divide and serve than a round pie.

Buckle: Made with more batter, a buckle is more cake-like. Some top it with streusel.

Slump: Similar to a grunt. In these American cousins of British steamed puddings, stewed fruit is topped with batter or biscuit dough, which is then steamed into dumplings.

Sonker: Specific to Surry County, North Carolina. Some cooks in the county insist that sonkers are made only with sweet potatoes and buttermilk, but others allow it can be made with fruit. The sonker is made in a large, deep pan, ideal for feeding big farm families and their crews. Some cooks insist it be covered with a pie crust, others opt for batter.

Severson quoted Alma Venable, one of the cooks who believe that a proper sonker is made with a crust. On what separates a sonker from a cobbler, Venable said, “You have the violin and you have the fiddle. The sonker is the fiddle.”

Tears, Joy and Awe in Africa

Ever walk out of a movie, chuckling at the same time you’re wiping tears of emotion from your eyes? That’s what it was like for me when my husband and I visited Africa this summer. And each time I tell someone about our marvelous adventure, I fight back tears. It was without doubt the most memorable, rewarding and moving trip in my life.

We spent ten days in Kenya, visiting the staff, students and directors of Caring Hearts High School, in Nguluni. The school is about a ninety-minute drive on bumpy, crowded roads from where we stayed in Nairobi. Our host was Dr. Vincent Kituku, president of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, the force behind Caring Hearts High School.

Dr. Kituku grew up in nearby Kangundo, Kenya, and now lives in Boise, Idaho. I met Vincent in Boise through Toastmasters and later edited many of his articles and two of his books.

Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School
Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School

A visit to his native Kenya in 2010, where he saw the horrendous toll AIDS and poverty were taking, prompted him to take a hiatus in his career as a professional motivational speaker and become a fundraiser. When he realized that providing scholarships for girls and boys still didn’t help those most in need, he began the quest to buy a boarding school for girls. There they could be safe and nourished.

Kenya is a country of social and economic inequities. According to Unicef, 42 percent of its 44 million people live below the poverty line. Access to basic services such as health care, education, clean water and sanitation, is a luxury for many people. Yet everywhere we visited, we were greeted with warmth and food and entertainment, and usually left bearing gifts.

On our first afternoon at Caring Hearts, the students thrilled us with a remarkable display of talent and energy—singing, dancing and

Welcome to Africa!
Welcome to Africa!

recitations. We heard from their formidable, live-in principal, Miss Pamela, and from other local board members. They,

CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela
CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela

and of course, Dr. Kituku, had inspiring and encouraging words for the girls.

We were amazed at how hard the girls work and by the sheer volume of their course load—11 subjects a day. They rise at 4:30 a.m. to work on personal studies (homework) and are in class or other structured activities, including sports, drama and music, until

Dr. Kituku on dreaming big
Dr. Kituku on dreaming big

lights out at 9:30. They may even sneak in a few minutes for TV, but I’m not sure when.

Despite their rigorous schedule, these girls are happy—they smile and giggle a lot! One day I served them lunch and couldn’t believe I needed to dole out the entire pot of Githeri, a yummy staple of

lunchtime-2
Githeri: yum!

beans and corn, for one table of hungry teenagers. They set me straight.

We spent a morning working in the garden with the students and another collecting trash with them in Nguluni, the nearest community. There the conversation was more relaxed and we got to chat about the

Me, delivering manure!
Me, delivering manure!
trash-pickup-2
Collecting trash in Nguluni

differences between our country and theirs. And laugh a lot. When Mark and I asked one girl to summarize a story she’d told in their opening entertainment—we had a little difficulty hearing and understanding it—she recited it again. When Mark said, “Wow. You’re only a sophomore. Imagine when you’re a senior—you’ll be a star! She smiled with pride and said, “I’m already a star!” And indeed, she, and the other young women we were fortunate to meet, are stars. Stars that represent hope for a country mired in corruption and poverty.

 

giraffes-4-small

eland
Eland, zebras and buffalos

Later our group trekked six long hours by van over yet more bumpy roads to visit the Maasai Mara. The bumps were forgotten as soon as we began to see animals. Lots and lots of them

One day our adventure may be fodder for a novel. Today, it is food for my soul. If you want to learn more about Caring Hearts High School, visit their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/CaringHeartsandHandsofHope.

What about you? Has a trip or a project changed you in a significant way?

Lions
Lions

 

 

 

 

Fit or Flat: Getting Your Novel in Shape Part II

Let’s chat about sagging middles. Pilates works at strengthening the body’s core, creating a taut, attractive, strong middle. That’s what we want in our writing, too.

exercising womanOne way to create that taut core in a novel is to strengthen the connecting tissue by applying tension and conflict. That strong line of tension and story question pulls you through to the end.

Throughout the story arc, your protagonist must face a series of obstacles. Things must get worse, then worse yet. Oh, and even worse, before she uses her wits and talent to resolve those problems.

But each chapter, each scene, also needs tension. An argument between the main characters isn’t necessarily conflict. Or at least not compelling, page-turning tension.

In each scene, the focal character wants something. You can create tension by making it hard to achieve that objective, by putting up obstacles and by showing the emotions created in your point of view characters as they struggle to achieve their objectives. Even better? Show the emotions created in the non POV character in the scene, as observed by the POV character.

Pacing creates tension. Taut, rapid fire dialog without tags and with lots of white space on the page moves the scene along. Contrast that pace by using telling details to stretch a physical act beyond what you’d normally expect, or by allowing your character a moment for reflection. A moment. A brief moment. Too much internal thought drains tension.

You want to make sure your protagonist is not getting what he or she wants from the scene. Nor is the reader. And that creates fat-30252_1280tension. And tension is like a girdle for a sagging middle.

Another cause of the sagging middle is including too much back story. We’ve learned that you need to delay back story until after the first 50 pages. That’s a good lesson. It doesn’t give you permission to dump back story, like a four cheese lasagna, into your middle. It will sag. Sprinkle the bits of essential back story throughout the middle and avoid the back story bulge.

Make things difficult for your protagonist, season lightly with the right details, show the emotion that each obstacle, each event, creates in your characters, and don’t drown your reader in back story. You’ll avoid flabbiness and achieve a tasty, toned tale.

How do you keep your writing trim? Please share your tips.

 

CONFLICTED ABOUT CONFLICT? A guest post from Conda V. Douglas, short story maven

Today I welcome Idaho writer Conda V. Douglas. Conda’s had more than 100 short stories published and has written a great book on writing short stories, Write Short to Succeed. Recently she mentioned to me how many stories lack real conflict, so I asked her to share her thoughts here. Welcome, Conda. And congratulations on The Mall Fairies: War winning the Epic eBook Award 2016 for children’s/young readers!

Now to the conflict.

Write Short to Succeed - Conda V Douglas front coverConflict: that most necessary element of writing anything and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to grasp. Conflict: often the easiest way to construct a story and yet sometimes the most difficult for authors to use. Conflict: a tool that every author needs to know how to use.

One way to learn what conflict is and isn’t is to deconstruct a story or article. For this post, I’m using common romance. Why? Because romances are one type of story that it’s easy to confuse the different elements, conflict with plot, for example.

Most romances are “Girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back.” This is not conflict. This is the plot. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Where is it?

Three questions can lead to finding the conflict:

“What’s the problem?”

“What’s the goal of the main character?”

“Are the stakes high?”

The problem is: Girl loses boy and wants boy back. This is the conflict. She wants what she doesn’t have. The conflict always raises questions. Will the girl be able to get the boy back? How? What will she do to accomplish that?

Her goal is to get the boy back. What she does to accomplish that is the action of the story. When the goal is thwarted—what the girl tries doesn’t work, that leads to more conflict. Now what will she do? Will that work?

The stakes are high because she’s lost the love of her life. It will be terrible if she can’t get him back. The higher the stakes the more conflict there is.

This is why writing coaches always advise to make it as hard as possible on your characters. The more problems, the higher the stakes, the bigger the goals and the harder to achieve those goals, the more conflict there is.

Conflicting questions? Conflicting answers? Let me know in the comments!

Here’s a little more about Conda V. Douglas:

CVD crazy photoConda glories in writing both short and long, always with oodles of conflict. She credits winning the Epic eBook 2016 award in children’s/Young Reader for her title The Mall Fairies: War to using conflict! (And no, it’s not the war that’s the conflict, that’s the action.) Her latest book, Write Short to Succeed, in which she devotes an entire chapter to the vagaries of conflict, is out now. On May 3, 2016, Conda will teach a class in Hows and Whys of Writing Short for Boise Schools Community Education, more details here.

Fit or Flat: Getting Your Novel in Shape: Part I

Just like the people who pen them, novels in progress (and some in print) are subject to several physical ailments:  flabbiness, sagging middles, lack of tension and tone, and just plain old flatness, no zip.

And as we do for our bodies, certain practices or exercises will help get them into shape. In today’s post, I’ll give my take on ways to control flabbiness. Possibly because flab has been on my mind (and above my waistline) of late. Next time we’ll tackle sagging middles.

sunset-163479_640Beware. While walking the dog can help tone you and the dog, what Margie Lawson terms “walking the dog” in your novel can lead to flabbiness and bored readers.

When you include every detail of your protagonist’s life, from the alarm’s pealing to the kind of shower gel he uses to the cracking of two free range eggs into a cast iron skillet, you’re walking the dog. TMI, too much information. And then…and then…and then….sounds like the report of an excited kindergartner, who assumes the listener wants to hear every moment of the day.

eggs-932189_1280Details are effective ONLY when they provide useful insights into your character’s personality or the problem he or she faces. Details mean more when they are specific, and have meaning to your character. Possibly some of the facts in that first sentence told you something about the character, but I would only include it if, say, I wanted my reader to know my protagonist uses iron skillets because he’s deathly afraid of using aluminum.

Telling details, as they’re often called, tell us something about the character or the scene. Showing the character cutting her food into tiny pieces and moving it around on the plate instead of consuming it provides more insight than her hair color, body type and facial characteristics.

In description, include details that are important to your point of view characters, details that evoke their emotions. Don’t just catalog the scenery because you like your setting. Make it count for your characters and it will compel your readers to keep reading.

How much detail do you think works in the books you read and/or write?

Blog Swap with J.Q. Rose: A fruitful undertaking!

Today I am fortunate to welcome the delightful J.Q. Rose to my blog. I read and enjoyed J.Q.’s Sunshine Boulevard and look forward to reading Deadly Undertaking. For heaven’s sake, how clever is the name of the funeral home? Staab and Blood? Love it. Let’s learn more about J.Q. and her latest mystery.

About the book:

200x300 Rose-DeadlyUndertaking-AReA handsome detective, a shadow man, and a murder victim kill Lauren’s plan for a simple life.

Lauren Staab knew there would be dead bodies around when she returned home. After all, her family is in the funeral business, Staab and Blood Funeral Home. Still, finding an extra body on the floor of the garage between the hearse and the flower car shocked her. Lauren’s plan to return to her hometown to help care for her mother and keep the books for the funeral home suddenly turns upside down in a struggle to prove she and her family are not guilty of murdering the man. But will the real killer return for her, her dad, her brother? Her mother’s secrets, a killer, a handsome policeman, and a shadow man muddle up her intention to have a simple life. Welcome home, Lauren!

About author J.Q. Rose:

Author J.Q. Rose

After writing feature articles in magazines, newspapers, and online magazines for over fifteen years, J.Q. Rose entered the world of fiction. Her published mysteries are Sunshine Boulevard, Coda to Murder, and Deadly Undertaking. Blogging, photography, Pegs and Jokers board games, and travel are the things that keep her out of trouble. She and her husband, Gardener Ted, spend winters in Florida and summers up north camping and hunting toads, frogs, and salamanders with her four grandsons and granddaughter.

Buy the book:

Amazon  http://amzn.to/1OMmocd

Amazon UK http://amzn.to/22Kxumg

 Barnes and Noble http://bit.ly/1H72tvV

 Kobo https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/deadly-undertaking

Connect with J.Q. :

J.Q. Rose blog http://www.jqrose.com/
Facebook http://facebook.com/jqroseauthor
Google+ google.com/+JQRose
J.Q. Rose Amazon Author Page http://tinyurl.com/aeuv4m4
Goodreads- http://www.goodreads.com/jqrose
Pinterest http://pinterest.com/janetglaser/

Five Fun Facts About J.Q. Rose

  1. Fun fact. I like potato chips dipped in ketchup accompanied by a cold glass of chocolate milk.
  2. Fun fact. I kicked up my heels as a hobo from Hooverville in the chorus line of the community players production of Annie. So much fun and a dream fulfilled.
  3. Fun fact. I helped to build the ark. No, not THAT ark, silly. The ark is the centerpiece of the Ark Park, a playground for the community.
  4. Fun fact. In my bio photo, the red Mustang convertible was a surprise birthday gift from my hubby in 1995. Still drives like it’s new.
  5. Fun fact. My older brothers and I all played cornet/trumpet in the school band. They made sure to stand out on the front porch when I practiced at home so the neighbors could see they were not the ones tooting out those sour notes.

Again, thanks for being with us today, J.Q. We’re excited about your latest novel.

I’m at J.Q.’s blog today. Once you’ve read about Deadly Undertakings, hop on over to her blog and read about me.

Avoid Embarrassing Goofs

I’m working on a book that compiles many of the articles I wrote for The Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider when I lived in Boise.  I’ll be posting them throughout the next months and welcome your comments and corrections.

Before you hit “print” or “send” on any document, you need to be sure it is as free of errors as possible. This is most important when dealing with words with a longer life span, such as website copy, but mistakes weaken any communication.

First, for fun, let’s define grammar, punctuation and mechanics. Grammar is the way words are put together to make units of meaning. Punctuation refers to those symbols used to help people read sentences the way we want them to be understood.

Mechanics refers to the arbitrary “technical” stuff in writing: spelling, capitalization, use of numerals, and other conventions.

Usage is the way language is used. Usage evolves and changes with time and attitudes. Usage affects grammar, punctuation, and/or mechanics.  write-2400px

Let’s move on to ways to check our documents. The best proofreader is someone else, because it is hard to find our own typos. But if you don’t have that luxury, try these hints.

1.) Print your document instead of proofreading it on the computer screen. You’ll find more errors.

2.) Read the document backward. You’ll see words you’ve skipped.

3.) Pay attention to, but don’t blindly obey the spelling and grammar checkers on your computer.

4.) Use the auto-correct feature in your word processor to correct words you consistently mistype. Add your personal bugaboos to the program.

5.) Read your work aloud. If you are bored by your voice, consider trying a free program such as Text Aloud, which converts any text into spoken words. Standard voices are free, premium voices come at a fee. I don’t know exactly what a premium voice is, but perhaps sultry comes at a cost.

6.) Use the tip of a pen or pencil to physically touch each word (on the printed page) to force yourself to read each word. Try putting a ruler under a line. Or (idea thanks to Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing) cut out a small rectangular window on an index card and slide it over your copy as you read. I think the hole would be hard to cut. Maybe a notch in the top?

7.) Several automatic editing  programs may provide the help you need to  check your manuscript for style: overuse of words, unvarying sentence lengths, clichés, too many “ly” adverbs, passive voice, ending with a preposition (not always wrong), misused homonyms, repeated words (close together), common misspellings (such as mispel) and other flaws. Some are free; most give free trials. Google automatic editing for reviews and try them. I’ve tried a couple and they do indeed find errors. I don’t always agree with them or have the patience to use them. However, some people love these programs.

Error-free may be a dream, but these hints will lead to fewer typos and a better finished product.

How about you? What’s your best hint for avoiding those embarrassing goofs (the kind on the page)?

writer of humorous thrillers