Save the Troy Public Library!

This picture was taken from the Troy Public Library's website (there's a link to it at the bottom of this post). If you are eligible to vote YES on August 2 to save the library, please do! If you can't vote but know people who can, please tell them to vote!

I felt the need to write this post because I don’t think many people in Troy understand how dire the library situation is. Even if you don’t live in Troy or can’t vote, I think this post will still be worth your time.

Personally, I can’t imagine life without a library, and I’m sure most other writers feel the same way. Even people who don’t like writing probably feel the same way! I know that a lot of my friends hate writing but still love to read.

Even if you aren’t a bookworm like me, I’m sure you have set foot in a library at least once in your life. People use it for everything- just to relax and read a book, to have study groups with their friends- I know I go there just to work on my manuscript sometimes. And even if people don’t physically hang out there, they still rely on the library so that they can check out books or movies or whatever.

It would be such a shame to live in a city with no library. I would be heartbroken, and I know there are others who would be as well. I also know that there are people who love the library with all their hearts but don’t even realize that it’s in danger of closing! So please, tell anyone you know who lives in Troy, Michigan and can vote to please vote YES on August 2 to save our library- and our city.

Troy Public Library’s website: http://troylibrary.info/

Also visit: http://www.savetroy.org/

Said is Dead?

My drawing here is just to help visualize the whole "said is dead" thing. But remember, you ARE supposed to use "said"!

Yikes. It’s been  a while since my last post. And now that it’s summer, I don’t have much of an excuse. So from now on, I will try to update this blog at least every other day, if not every day.

Anyway, I figured I should do a post on this topic because I know that a lot of people think they should avoid the word “said.” Well, they shouldn’t. And neither should you.

I’m sure you’ve been told not to use “said” at least once in your life, somewhere along the way. You were probably told that because you weren’t using enough strong words, like “scream” or “cry” or “whisper.” In fourth grade, I was told NEVER to use “said.” And it was probably the biggest lie I have ever been told.

The reason you use “said” is because it’s natural. It doesn’t jump out at the reader and make him/her go “whoa.” Gail Carson Levine had a really good way of saying it in her book, Writing Magic. The way she put it is that “said” is invisible. It disappears. In other words, it doesn’t interfere with the actual story. Same with words like “ask.”

Example: “Where is the peanut butter?” he asked.

Versus: “Where is the peanut butter?” he questioned.

Eek. “Questioned” sounds so awkward. If you can’t really tell, it’s probably because it’s a single sentence. It’s not in context. But imagine if you were reading a paragraph, and all of a sudden a word like “questioned” popped out at you. Part of writing- actually a big part of writing- is about finding your voice and letting the words flow. To do this, you need to write naturally. And that means avoiding words that make your writing sound awkward.

Obviously it’s different if you’re writing a formal essay. The rules of writing are completely different. But this blog is dedicated to writing fiction, so that’s what I’m talking about right now.

Most of the time, when you’re writing dialogue, it might even be better to let the writing speak for itself. You don’t even need to use words like “said.”

Here’s an example:

“Hey, what’s up?” She had that assertive look on her face, like she was trying hard to be confident.

He looked up at her words, stopped playing around with his phone. “Hi.” He tried not to sound too surprised, but this girl never spoke to anyone; she was so shy. Why did she speak to him?

In this exchange of dialogue, the characters’ thoughts and actions drive the  story more than the actual words they say. And that’s fine. Notice how I didn’t use anything like, “she said” or “she mumbled” after the speaker’s words. I just jumped right in with the actions or thoughts or whatever.

Obviously, you can’t do that all the time. And you can’t use “said” all the time. But don’t ever think that you can never use it. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you need to use words where they go. When a character is actually shouting, say “he shouted.” But don’t say that just because you’re avoiding the word “said.” Because when you do that, your writing sounds awkward. Write what feels natural. Write what’s right.

Reason#1: Family

The picture only shows (from left to right, obviously) my brother, my mom, my dad, and me, but my family is much larger than that. Unfortunately, though, I don't get to see them very often because most of them live on the other side of the world.

I’m sure most people have heard the quote, “When life gives you 100 reasons to cry, show life you have 1,000 reasons to smile.” Not sure who came up with it, but I was sitting in the garden today, thinking… maybe philosophizing… but anyway, this is one of the quotes that is taped to the wall in my room. And I thought… what if I made that list?

I’m sure I’m not the first to think of it, but so what? Not everyone’s list is going to be the same. And 1,000 is a pretty big number. Especially if you’re doing a post for every reason, as I have decided to do. 🙂

Don’t worry; I’m still going to keep up the writing tips and all of that; not every single post is going to be a reason to smile. But this is sort of a little project to do on the side. I’m sure there’s more than 1,000 reasons, but let’s see how far I can get.

They’re not going to be in any sort of order, so don’t be surprised if I put something random like hot chocolate before friends. Still, the first couple will be pretty obvious- the first one that most people probably think of being family.

I don’t think I can really explain how thankful I am for my family; it’s just that when I read stories about orphans or think about other kids whose parents are divorced, I feel this wave of gratitude wash over me. It’s just that I’m so thankful that I have a family and that I’m not living alone in the world.

But once you get past that aspect of it, it comes down to the type of people they are. I can relate to them and can pretty much tell them anything. I know there are people who don’t get along with their parents at all, or they rarely talk to them. Or maybe their parents are rarely home. Ever read Matilda by Roald Dahl? I am so thankful my family is nothing like Matilda’s.

But I have got to say, I honestly feel like I couldn’t ask any more of my parents. And my brother- we have never fought. Ever. When I say this to my friends who have siblings, they don’t believe it. We have such a good relationship with each other… and he does so much for me. He was the one who started this blog for me!

I don’t mean to sound all mushy-gushy or teary-eyed or anything… it’s just that top of the list, before anything else, I have got to put my family. Obviously, I could go on and on about every single member, but that would make for a very lengthy post. So if any of my family is reading this, and I haven’t mentioned you, please know that I am infinitely grateful to you too!

Writer’s Block

Sorry I didn’t update my blog last week. I meant to, but finals are coming up and school has been  keeping me pretty busy.

Anyways, I have fallen victim to writer’s block countless times, so I figured I might as well do a post on it. When writer’s block strikes, there’s only one thing to do-

WRITE.

Seriously. There’s no other solution. It doesn’t matter if you’re spewing crap all over the page; it doesn’t matter if you’re writing “I have writer’s block and I don’t know what to do.” The simple act of writing and not staring into space will actually get your creative juices flowing again.

I think that the reason people are afraid to write when they get stuck is that they want it to be perfect right away. This is true especially for really strong writers, or anyone who has written something that (s)he’s remotely proud of. Think about it- if you’ve written something amazing once, it’s easy to feel that your writing after that one time isn’t living up to its usual standard. I’ve felt that way so many times- the way I describe it is that “I’m regressing.”

But I’m not. Because NO FAMOUS AUTHOR IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD HAS EVER GOTTEN IT PERFECT ON HIS/HER FIRST TRY.

That’s why your first draft is called your rough draft. You just have to WRITE and push through that first draft, no matter how painful it might be. Force yourself. Once you’ve written it, you should feel great- because the story’s down. Even if it’s written in crappy language and you hate it, still, rejoice! Because it’s been written down. And all you have to do is revise to make it reach the level of perfection that you want it to.

The quote in the picture is one of my favorites because it’s encouraging, but it’s not too cheesy. Whenever I feel like giving up on my manuscript, I look at this quote (it’s taped to my wall, along with a bunch of other quotes I love).


The Difference Between the Right Word and the Almost Right Word

One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post (More About Adverbs) is that when you use a thesaurus, you have to be really careful about changing meanings. No two words in the world mean the exact same thing- that’s why there are two different words. Even “he shouted” and “he yelled” have slightly different connotations. But more often than not, that slight difference in meaning doesn’t matter, and you can interchange those words throughout your writing.

But there are times when the thesaurus gives you a word that doesn’t make sense in your context, or, even if it does make sense, it chops up your writing instead of letting it flow.

Example: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she asked.

A thesaurus option: Her heart was pounding. “Are you sure?” she inquired.

Okay, so they mean the same thing. “To ask” is the same as “to inquire.” But “inquired” sounds so unnatural and awkward. Especially in this context. Her heart is pounding, right? That implies suspense. So, picture your reader, rushing through the pages of your book, wanting so badly to know what happens next- and then you throw in a word like “inquire.” What’s your reader going to think? What the heck? Yeah, that’s about right.

“Inquire” sounds so formal and awkward. It’s not right when you’ve got hearts pounding and action going on. The word jolts your readers and almost pulls them out of the world of your book. It reminds them that it’s not real. You do not want to do that to your readers.

Usually, it’s really easy to tell what sounds weird and what sounds right. When you let other people read your work, they will tell you as well. But here’s a general rule of thumb that I follow when using a thesaurus: If I’ve never heard the word in my life, I don’t use it. To me, when I use a thesaurus, I look at the words and think, Oh! That’s right! I completely forgot about those words! Or I think, Yes! That’s the word I was looking for! The thesaurus is really more to jog my memory than to learn new words. But I’m not saying that you should never use new words- it’s just that if you do, make sure you look them up in the dictionary and are completely sure about the meaning. Don’t pull them straight from the thesaurus. It also helps if you look at examples that use the word in a sentence.

Even the way a word sounds can determine whether you should use it or not, even if it has the meaning you’re looking for. Did you know that the word “pulchritudinous” means “beautiful”? If a guy had called me that and I hadn’t known what it meant, I think I’d have hit him!

Edit: The title of this post is part of a quote by Mark Twain. Check out the Quotes About Writing page to read the full quote!