Monday, June 10, 2013

My Two Cents: Worth Every Penny

Janet here. My opinion may be worth only a couple of pennies, but with the price of copper these days that two cents could be worth far more, maybe a whole nickel.     


Seekerville’s resident poet, philosopher, romance devotee and writer, Vince Mooney, has called my prose crystal clear. I didn’t pay Vince to say this so naturally I appreciated the compliment. Vince and I have talked about the topic. He compared crystal clear prose to a lake so crystal clear we can see the bottom. In today’s world that’s rare.
Crystal clear makes me think of fine stemware. When you run a damp finger around the rim of crystal, the glass will hum. Even sing. Good stories sing. Clarity is one reason a story sings.


I’d considered writing a post about the subject long before this, but I hesitated.
Why?


First, I’m not sure how to write with clarity so how can I teach others? I decided the topic was important enough to try.  
Second, what if my post is confusing and I look like an idiot? I opted to take that risk. After all, this is Seekerville, a safe place to share our thoughts.   


Why should writers try for crystal clear prose? On the flipside, what’s wrong with ambiguity? 

 ·         When readers must reread a sentence or passage to figure out  what the author meant, they’re ripped out of the story.
·         When words and descriptions are vague or farfetched, readers lose interest and set the book aside.


·         When our words don’t reveal a clear-cut point for the scene, the stakes won’t rise for the reader.
  
We writers want to make sure our style is easily understood, orderly and logical. How to achieve that clarity is harder to pin down. Here’s my two cents.  


·         WRITE EVERYTHING YOU WRITE WITH CLARITY. I’ve followed that advice for years.


Write that email, note or memo with clarity. Put your thoughts in sentence form. Write as if the reader is someone you want to impress, like an editor or Grammar Queen. I’ve even learned the importance of clarity on the grocery list since my retired husband does the shopping. Rice doesn’t work, not when wild rice, converted rice, brown rice and minute rice are on the shelves. When I’m not clear about what I want, I deserve what I get. That applies to far more than grocery lists. But I digress.   
I hear groaning. Do you think writing everything with clarity is a waste of valuable time? Perhaps rereading and, if necessary rewriting messages, will waste time at first. But, practice makes perfect. When you make sure your words convey the meaning you intend, you develop the habit of writing with clarity until crystal clear prose comes naturally.


·         WATCH THOSE LITTLE THINGS THAT CAN CONFUSE THE READER. To learn more about revising for clarity, read here.

     BEWARE OF IT. When undefined, IT can be vague and clutter up   your prose.


Example: He entered the dark house. It was scary.
What was scary? The house? The dark? The sound of the creaking floorboards beneath his feet? Replace generic “it” with rich details that illicit emotion and clarify events. When you can, rewrite sentences to eliminate “it.” You will write tighter and with more clarity.
BEWARE OF PRONOUNS. Use names when pronouns might confuse the reader. Or give the character an action that makes his identity obvious. This is especially important when a character thinks about someone of the same gender.
BEWARE OF DOUBLE WORDS. Double words stop me every time. Example: Though he’d hurt her her heart would mend. Adding a comma between the two hers helps. Or use her proper name. Though he’d hurt her, Julie’s heart would mend. Or reword.
BEWARE OF USING WORDS FOR WORDS SAKE. Long convoluted sentences bog a reader down. Straightforward words chosen with care read smoothly. Simple, short sentences can carry a wallop. The reason suspense writers use them.
BEWARE OF IMPROPER GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION. A missing comma, a poorly constructed sentence, a dangling participle can confuse.


·         GIVE CHARACTERS EXPLICIT GOALS, MOTIVATIONS AND CONFLICTS. When those important story elements are absent or vague, readers won’t connect with and root for the characters. Show and tell the reader what the character wants early on.   


·         WRITE SCENES THAT FORWARD THE PLOT. When we write a scene without a point or without a character goal, the scene doesn’t advance the plot or raise the stakes. Pointless tea scenes add nothing to the story and leave the reader perplexed. Or scenes that take forever to get to the point slow the pace.  
·         DO YOUR RESEARCH. When writers don’t know what they’re describing sometimes they try to cover a lack of research with vague descriptions that confuse the reader or worse, leave her dissatisfied, even angry.


These suggestions for crystal clear prose range from word choice to sentence structure to plot elements, even research. If that wide range is overwhelming yet you want to work on clarity, tackle one.
If clarity is your strength, share your suggestions for crystal clear prose.
I brought eggs, bacon and toasted bagels for breakfast. The eggs are over easy, not scrambled. The bacon is straight and crisp, simple to handle. The bagels are crunchy, easy to chew. Our menu is rich with clarity. LOL
Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of The Bride Wore Spurs. If you bought my novel, thank you from the bottom of my heart! Still, why not put your name in the hat. If you win a second copy, you can share the story with a friend.     

131 comments:

Helen Gray said...

Hi Janet,

I enjoyed reading The Bride Wore Spurs. And, no, I didn't buy it. You sent it to me. But I would have. :)

The coffee pot is set.

I'm sure we all try for clarity, but the tips are great helps.

Helen

Melissa Jagears said...

I already read my emails like 3 times over!!!

I run a word search for "it" as part of the revision process and change out as close to 100% as if changing "it" would turn into a convoluted mess.

I am naturally very wordy, so I work hard at condensing, but I have a great CP whose main strength is to find when I use 20 words where I could have used 3. He's very handy that way. :)

Emma said...

The Bride Wore Spurs sounds like a great book. Please enter me in contest. Thank you for the opportunity to win.

Virginia Carmichael Munoz said...

I love this cover and loved this book! Which reminds me, I need to leave a review.

This was a great review post. I should re-read this every time I sit down to write.

Jenny Blake said...

Hi Janet I understood what you said.
As a reader one thing I struggle with is an author who has swallowed a dictionary! I read a book where the author was highly educated and used intellectual words I had no idea how to pronounce let alone understand. I found it very distracting and it made me feel dumb.

I have your book Thanks so much for sending it. Its on my TBR book. Now I am finally sleeping I am making up for lost time I tend to go to bed tired by 9pmish and and sleep. Hoping that soon I will be able to read again at night but I am happy just to know I am sleeping well. I did tend to wake occasionally but go back to sleep even been sleeping in, today it was almost 7am when I got up. I got over 9 hours sleep with only waking a few times and going back to sleep. This is so exciting after sleeping so little for 9 or so months.

Jackie said...

Hi Janet,

What a great post. When I crit a piece for somebody, I always try to point out a sentence that takes more than twice to read. I agree that it's important to make things clear the first time to not frustrate or lose your reader.

I'd love to have my name tossed in the drawing.

Thanks for sharing today. Lots of good advice.

Mary Curry said...

Good morning, Janet.

Great post! My husband always accuses me of being unclear when I'm speaking because of overuse of pronouns. I'm careful with them when I'm writing, but when I get caught up telling a story, apparently I litter with pronouns.

Happy Monday.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Helen! Thanks for the coffee, a must on what's a rainy morning here. I'm delighted you won and enjoyed The Bride Wore Spurs! A win-win for us both.

Yes, we all try for clarity. My windows are in dire need of a different kind of clarity.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Melissa, fun to find another anal email writer. :-) Sometimes rereading saves me from foot in mouth, too. LOL

Good idea to search for "it." Though I can barely write the word. It is like a nail on a chalkboard for me.

Aren't CPs the greatest? They see what we don't.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Thanks for your interest in The Bride Wore Spurs, Emma. We appreciate readers!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Oh, Virginia, I'm so happy you loved The Bride Wore Spurs. If you have time, I'd love a review. Not sure how much reviews help sell books, but they are a lovely morale booster. Or not. :-) Depends on the review.

Thanks for your kind comment about the post. I always hope my posts help writers.

Janet

Connie Queen said...

Janet, I start editing my ms today. I so need this.

And like Mary Curry, my husband (and everyone else) gives me the deer-in-the-headlights looks, followed by a WHAT??? Don't know if it's what I say or that I talk too fast.

JENNY,using big words is a pet peeve of mine. One or so per page I can handle. But if I feel like the author is just trying to impress me w/her voluminous vocabulary or that she wore-out her thesaurus to use idiosyncratic words, I get annoyed.

Connie Queen said...

Oh, and Janet, please throw my name into the hat. I'd love to win the Bride Wore Spurs.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Jenny! I'm with you. When an author puts uses lots of words that make readers feel dumb, why would readers want to buy their books? By the way, the image you painted with your words--authors who swallowed a dictionary--is terrific writing.

I'm happy to hear you're sleeping well. The books can wait.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie,

You make a great point. Often we writers know what we're trying to say so we don't see the lack of clarity.

Thanks for your interest in The Bride Wore Spurs!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary Curry! Not sure pronouns are the culprit when my dh doesn't understand what I'm saying. I was hoping he wasn't a good listener so the fault was his. :-)

Janet

Kav said...

Clarity is not my strength. I'm clear as mud most days. :-) The her hers and he hes get me all the time. I thought I was being clever by give my hero a female dog. That way it's all he/she and no confusion...until he hooks up with the heroine. Oy. I just wrote a riveting scene with the heroine and the dog. I was very proud of myself until I read it over and discovered it read as if the heroine was howling and the dog was sipping tea. Oy. Oy.

No need to enter me in the draw Janet, I loved The Bride Wore Spurs!

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Connie! I've had that reaction too. I wonder if we're trying to speak fast before our friends and family stop listening. LOL I find I can't interpret others words as quickly as I once could so maybe others are struggling with the same. I'm trying to slow down when I speak.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Thanks for your interest in my book, Connie! Your name is in the hat.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Oh, Kav! Spew alert!!! Helen's coffee is all over my keyboard! LOL Thank goodness for second chances--commonly known as revisions--so your dog will howl and your heroine is sipping tea.

Your sweet words about my book have blessed me. Thank you!

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Janet, can you post next about a crystal clear mind?
I'm sort of foggy here lately.

Sherri Shackelford said...

Wonderful advice! Timely since I think readers are less tolerant of purple prose - the long, flowery descriptions. (It's fun to pull out some of my favorite books with publishing dates from the late 70's and 80's)

Mary Hicks said...

Wow, another great post! Seekerville is like attending a mini-workshop each morning.

Clarity is something I've been wrestling with. That worrisome 'it' sneaks into my writing. I know what 'it' is, so I expect my reader to know too. Not fair.

My writing is so much better than it was, and after this timely post I know it'll get even better.

Thanks Janet, glad you went ahead and put in your 'copper'!

Mary Hicks

Piper Huguley said...

Janet,

Clarity is an issue of mine, so I appreciate your list of "crystal clear" suggestions. I have your book and loved it so someone else's name can be pulled out of the---what do you use cat dish, Mason jar or Stetson?

Piper

Jill Weatherholt said...

I love this, Janet! This post will certainly go into my Seekerville notebook. I'm all for expanding my vocabulary, but I'm with Jenny, not while I'm reading.

Janet Dean said...

LOL, Mary! Blame that fogginess on your rich inner life. Or allergies. Whatever works better for you!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Sherrie! So true! What once worked no longer does. We need to be chamelions, able to change our writing styles with the times. Today's readers want fast paced, quick reads. Makes me wonder what stories will look like in the future. Maybe they'll be scanned into readers heads.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary Hicks! Thanks for your praise for Seekerville! I totally agree. Everyday I learn something new. Sometimes something said in a comment.

I've seen in my own writing that when I identify a problem I'm well on the way to resolving the issue. Isn't it encouraging to see that improvement? Proud of you!!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Piper! Thanks! Ruthy uses the cat dish. I'm pet allergic so usually put names in a wide brimmed Victorian hat. But the Stetson works far better for The Bride Wore Spurs! I'm so glad you enjoyed my first western setting!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jill! My Seekerville notebook is covered with doodles and filled with reams of writing tips. I tend to like hard copy, but then can't find what I need. LOL The archives are easier to access.

Janet

Bridgett Henson said...

Janet, I loved The Bride Wore Spurs. No need to enter me in the contest.

"It" is a pet peeve word of mine as a reader and a writer. Like Melissa I search and replace most if not all.

Another vague phrase that drives the reader in me up the wall..."the task at hand." Mostly thought by female characters when she is daydreaming about the hero and then turns her attention back to the task at hand.

What is the task at hand?
The world may never know.

Karen Kirst said...

Hi Janet, I'm glad you went with this topic. When I read a book that uses interesting, specific details and clear prose, I know the author has done her research and it inspires me to tighten my own writing.
I have The Bride Wore Spurs and am half way through! I'm really enjoying it. :) Catchy title, btw.

Julie Lessman said...

JANET!!! THIS IS FLAT-OUT OUTSTANDING!! What a GREAT post with absolutely GREAT nuggets for every writer and everything we write -- from those novels to that confounded grocery list.

You said, "I’ve even learned the importance of clarity on the grocery list since my retired husband does the shopping. Rice doesn’t work, not when wild rice, converted rice, brown rice and minute rice are on the shelves."

OH. MY. GOODNESS!!! This could be in the Bible, it's SO true!! When I used to send my daughter to the grocery store, all I would have to do is say the item and she KNEW what brand, size, etc. to get me.

My husband??? Uh, not so much. In fact, not at all. :| For him, I have to spell out size, color, brand, flavor and consistency along with color of the package and exact wording. For my Walmart list, I actually tape the type of bobby pins, paper clips, and package labels on the list itself to make sure he gets the right product and even then, it's iffy.

BUT ... I am NOT complaining (at least not to him), since I am BEYOND grateful that he runs these errands for me, which I HATE!!

THIS is definitely a keeper, Janet -- GREAT JOB and GREAT writing!!

Hugs,
Julie

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post JANET. Crystal clear. Yep, you made it clear all right. That is exactly why you need editors and crit partners. In my head the scene is clear, but then I discover I didn't get what was in my head on the paper.

Good points.

Loved The Bride Wore Spurs. CLEARLY a terrific romance. smile

Julie Hilton Steele said...

Yep, clarity. I am thinking about the last time I gave directions to Man O. Epic fail.

Thanks for the suggestions to help me on foggy Mondays like this one.

Loved the book! No need to put me in.

Peace, Julie

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh yes, So related to the list for hubby. JULIE and JANET, I een have to put the color of the label. lol

Janet Dean said...

Hi Bridgett. I'm delighted you enjoyed The Bride Wore Spurs. I hope Hannah didn't turn to the task at hand. LOL

Seriously over use of anything irks readers. I've been guilty of too many lurching stomachs, locked gazes and lumps in the throat. Writers need fresh eyes to see what we're overdoing.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Karen! Good to see you this morning! I enjoyed your April LIH, His Mountain Miss. Fun to see how two people from very different worlds find happiness.

I suggested the title to my editor, along with a dozen other possibilities, but one of the Seekers thought of it. Brainstorming titles with the Seekers is hilarious.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Julie, I'm giggling at your enthusiasm. Obviously like me, you've had your share of grocery list blunders. Aren't you clever to attach an example of what you want to the list? Carried to the extreme that list could get your dh arrested for shoplifting. LOL But like you, I'm grateful my dh handles that chore. I wonder how well we'd do at the hardware store? LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Sandra! If only our brains could spill onto the page and bypass our fingers. A new medical procedure for writers--finger bypass. :-) At least we can write a terrific grocery list. Thanks to our husbands.

Thanks for your sweet words for The Bride Wore Spurs!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi peaceful Julie! Directions? Now there's another topic. Like a terrific hook, epic fail makes me want to know more.

So glad you enjoyed the book!

Janet

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Janet,

Great post. Something I don't think of consciously but hopefully do anyway.

The part about the clarity of the character's goal and a purpose for the scene got my attention. Need to do that more.

Thanks for the tips. And loved your book, btw. Still have it so no need to add me to the draw. I will share my copy eventually!

Cheers,
Sue

Julie Lessman said...

LOL ... Hardware store??? Sorry, but that would drive me nuts ... and bolts!! :)

I thought of a writing pet peeve of mine that goes hand-in-hand with clarity. It drives me absolutely CRAZY when the author doesn't clearly describe or at least hint at the looks, personality of a character RIGHT AWAY (within the first page is great, but within the first chapter is a MUST). I'm one of those visual types who HAS to see the character in my mind, so I constantly flip to the cover when I'm reading a book to see what a particular expression from a scene might look like on the character's face. Sometimes I find myself rifling through pages just to find a description when one isn't given or it's buried somewhere.

Also, you said, "When I’m not clear about what I want, I deserve what I get."

LOL ... that's my husband's pat answer when he gets me the wrong thing. ;)

Great post!!

Hugs,
Julie

Cindy Regnier said...

Janet - I am not finished reading yet but I love The Bride Wore Spurs. Thanks so much for writing it and writing it with fabulous clarity!

Great post - if only I could follow your advice with more clarity:) my problem (more so than "it") is the "he" and "she" thing. But I', working on it.

Thanks so much, Cindy

Jan Drexler said...

Great post, Janet!

I was just polishing my first three chapters (again) last night and had to read a sentence twice. I figure if I have to read it twice, it needs rewriting!

And I'm learning a lot from the comments this morning, also. So when my husband retires, he becomes my assistant? Running errands, etc.? That sounds good to me!

The Bride Wore Spurs is on my TBR pile, but I'd love another copy for my church library :)

Myra Johnson said...

Great post, Janet! Clarity is why I have my hubby read my "almost-final" draft before I do final revisions. He will tell me if he finds anything confusing.

And believe me, I know how easy it is to confuse him with a grocery list! Blueberries--frozen, dried, or fresh? Green tea--decaf or regular; plain or Earl Grey Green? Couscous--regular or whole grain? Ground turkey--lean, or very lean?

I could go on . . . and on and on. Suffice it to say I have learned to spell out my shopping list requests in CLEAR and explicit detail!

Heidi said...

I totally agree with you! Little things that can be confusing are distracting and pull me out of the story briefly. Clarity is a wonderful attribute!

Thanks for a great post, and looking forward to reading your new book!

colorvibrant[at]gmail[dot]com

Walt Mussell said...

Wonderful tips, Janet (though your books are still better).

I have a real problem with the pronoun issue and I struggle to make sure, using action, that people know who's talking.

Love the comment about "IT," though I did have flashes of Monty Python jokes running through my head as I read it.

The Grammar Queen said...

Janet, dear, such a sweetheart for encouraging writers to try to impress me.

Some of you need to try a little harder.

YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!

Sherida Stewart said...

Excellent post, Janet! I'll be watching my writing for those clarity points. Your ideas will help me when I critique someone else, as well. I just bought The Bride Wore Spurs and will enjoy your "crystal clear" western. Thank you for sharing your "two cents" which were worth far more than two pennies! :)

CatMom said...

Thank you Janet---excellent post for my Keeper File (in fact, I have a feeling I'll be re-reading this very often for important reminders).

I won your book a while back, and LOVE it (and yes, if I hadn't won it, I'd certainly have purchased it--you are one of my fave LIH authors!).
Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

Debby Giusti said...

Janet, great post.

Waving to The Grammar Queen. Nice to see you, your majesty!

Must have a heart-to-heart talk with hubby over lunch about husbands who grocery shop. Oh my goodness. How lucky you ladies are! Not that my hubby isn't wonderful. He is. But he doesn't shop for groceries. Period!

So, Jan, it's not necessarily a given about hubby helping once he retires. I thought mine would take over the housework. I'm still laughing at my foolishness.

Trying to be clear...

Hope I made my point about hubby and shopping. :)

Amber Perry said...

Hi Janet! This is a fabulous post--I love when I get simple, yet vital gems of writing advice. And this is just the kind of thing a novice writer like me needs. I'd love to be entered to win!
historicalchristianreview(at)gmail(dot)com
Thank you and God bless!!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sue! I understand. I can't count the number of tea scenes I've written before I finally learned to give the character a scene goal right off the bat. I'm frustrated when I know better but catch myself making the same mistake.

Glad you enjoyed The Bride Wore Spurs!

Janet

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Reading this makes me see Vince's point about the cleanness and clarity of your writing, Janet! Crisp, clear, clean and concise.

What a great lesson in looking at each word, thinking how phrases and sentences sound. Lovely, Janet-O!!!!

Cookies here today: M&M/Chocolate chip to welcome summer!!!!

I've finished edits on one book... editing first 2/3 of wip before I move into the last third of the book, making sure things are solid... so Janet this is the perfect time to refresh my mind on/with your excellent advice. Thank you!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

GQ is here?????

She sensed my disobedience to all things grammar and punctuative.

I'm DOOMED!!!

Janet Dean said...

Julie, you're a hoot! I'm smiling at your comment: Hardware store??? Sorry, but that would drive me nuts ... and bolts!! :)

Thanks for sharing another pet peeve. Writers should describe the character's appearance and personality early on. If we hope for readers to see our story as if they're watching a movie, we need to describe each character that comes onstage if only with a phrase or line.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Afternoon Cindy R! I'm thrilled that you're reading The Bride Wore Spurs. Thanks!

Awareness is key. Before long those pronouns will no longer trip you up.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jan! I can't promise your dh will become your assistant. Not all men are. I'm guessing yours will look for ways to give you more time to write once he's retired. If not, remind him how much a personal shopper costs. LOL

Hmm, supportive spouses would make a good post.

Janet

Jeanne T said...

Janet, I love this post. I tend to be so literal I share too much detail. :) I'm working on that balance between RUE, too many deets and not being so vague that readers end up confused.

I loved your thoughts on "It." I hadn't thought about how confusing this word can be. :)

Also, before I write a scene I think through how it will move the story forward, what the character's goals are and what the obstacles are.

Thanks for the excellent tips on clarity!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Myra, Just proves the importance of details. In our stories and on the grocery lists!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Heidi!

Wonder what's harder for a writer to see? The little things or the big picture stuff? I can overlook something important, forest size while I'm focusing on the trees.

Anyone else care to weigh in with an opinion?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Afternoon Walt! Thanks!

Action tags are great ways to keep the characters straight. Excellent!

I avoid Monty. LOL Are his jokes shareable? If so, I'd love to see what he had to say about IT. I think.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Your Grace, I'm delighted you dropped in! Especially since you didn't call me out for bad grammar. :-) Really, who wouldn't want to impress you, Grammar Queen?

Janet

Chill N said...

Let's see if I can write a clear, concise comment without imploding.

Janet, thanks for the checklist. My two beta readers just returned a section of my story with "huh??" marking the same two paragraphs. Thankfully, the "huh??" doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to. (Rats, there's an it.)

My characters don't drink a lot of tea, but they do tend to walk too much.

And now I must recuperate from writing so many complete sentences.

Nancy C

Chill N said...

P.S. I've almost finished a Ruthy book. A Missy and a Debby are in my Seeker To-Read stack, but a Janet book would be nice to add :-)

Nancy C

Janet Dean said...

Hi Sherrida! You're sweet! Thanks bunches!

Speaking of two cents, I learned an interesting fact about pennies recently. Will add a trivia question in a comment.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Patti Jo, With all the fabulous LIH authors I love to read, you have made my day! Thank you!

Hugs from Indiana. Janet

Myra Johnson said...

Debby, it just takes proper training.

Like, hubby says: "Dear, what's for supper?"

You: "Whatever you fix, honey. Call me when it's ready. I'm on deadline."

Hubby: "Hey, sweetheart, I just wore my last pair of clean underwear."

You: "Oh, really? The washing machine instructions are in the filing cabinet. Help yourself. I'm on deadline."

Hubby: "Darling, we're out of my favorite chips & dip."

You: "The car keys are on the counter. Do you need directions to the grocery store?"

Janet Dean said...

Whoa, Debby, maybe you should keep the conversation general and avoid mentioning names. LOL

I'd hate to think what we'd eat when I'm on deadline if my dh didn't shop. I'm guessing peanut butter, canned veggies and soup.

Though I suppose someone here prepares and freezes food ahead and will make me look worse than I already do.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good afternoon, Amber. Thanks for your encouraging words! Seekerville is a great spot for learning craft. I'm guessing with all the posts in the archives, you won't be a novice long.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Wow, Ruthy's playing nice. ;-) Just kidding. I marvel at your work ethic. You edit and manage to squeeze in time for homemade cookies warm from the oven! Yummy!

Janet

Tina Radcliffe said...

Clarity is not my strength. Eating is.

I do have much hidden talent. I bring you large whole strawberries stuffed with cream cheese and sprinkled with shaved chocolate.

Just what the Clarity Dr. ordered.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jeanne T! You make a fabulous point! Detail is vital...if it's important. How's that for clarity? LOL Seriously, showing our character doing a host of meaningless actions is boring. I've heard this called Walking the Dog. We need enough details to ground the reader but those details work best when they reveal what the character is feeling. This is a simplistic example, but let's say the heroine notices her hem is unraveling then realizes that's exactly what her life is doing, you've shown her with details.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Nancy C,

Don't you love receiving verification that your writing is stronger? Congrats! I'm relieved your head didn't implode on my watch! LOL But you're so right. Making each word count is hard work. Just think, we're building brain muscles.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Myra, you have shown Goal and Motivation in a nutshell. So does this scenario carry any conflict? LOL You are a natural to write the post on dh support of writing wives.

Janet

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Janet,

Great post, and very timely! I think clarity is one of my stronger points, which probably stems from being a journalist for seven years! Tight writing, to the point, no guess work on the part of the reader- that's what I wrote for years. A lot of that has spilled over into my fiction writing, to the point that I remind myself sometimes to add in those rich details, those nice descriptions, the things that make the reader not just like a book but LOVE it.

I hope I can find that balance.

Have a great day!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Janet noticed I'm nice today!!!

Oh happy day!

:)

I was nice last week, too. I believe it was Tuesday because I've developed a New York State of Mind for Tuesdays... with Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.

Where or where is Vince?????

Billy Joel and I are heading back to Allentown, big guy. Help the displaced miners.

Janet is shaking her head, but I brought cookies so she'll forgive me!

Janet Dean said...

Tina, these are fabulous. Do you pipe the cream cheese in? Cut those luscious strawberries in half first? I'll arm wrestle you for the last one on the plate!

Janet

Missy Tippens said...

Excellent post, Janet! This is something I'm still learning to do. I need constant reminders!

Missy Tippens said...

BTW, I am the queen of "It." I love the word.

Janet Dean said...

Good afternoon, Stephanie. Your comment is crystal clear. Journalism gives you an edge for writing with clarity. Since journalists are to report the facts, not color opinion, does being a journalist make writing with emotion harder?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, I'll admit I'm a tad confused, but that could just be me. :-)

But, I did understand your question about Vince. I need to let him know I'm talking about him. Surely that will bring him by.

Janet

travelingstacey said...

Great tips, Janet. I know one thing I struggle with as a reader is when an author uses complex vocabulary...almost like they're trying to amp it up by overusing the thesaurus. I love my thesaurus when I'm writing just to throw some variety in there, but I try not to use words that I have rarely...or never...heard of. Is there a general rule about using the thesaurus/variety of vocabulary when writing? I'd love to be in the drawing! : )
Thanks and God bless~Stacey
travelingstacey(at)bellsouth(dot)net

Janet Dean said...

Laughing Missy, Queen of It. Comparing that to Grammar Queen. We know what she's about. Sorry. Couldn't resist. Here's the last stuffed strawberry I was saving.

Janet

Debby Giusti said...

We had our talk. Hubby reminded me that he supports my writing in many other ways, which he does. :)

I agree with Vince, Janet. Your writing is crystal clear, which I love. A strength we should all work to enhance in our own writing.

I have my church writing group this evening, and I'm preparing my class topic. I'll mention your blog and the importance of clear writing.

Janet Dean said...

Hi Stacey! I don't know a general rule for using a Thesaurus. Writers should vary the vocabulary but not toss in lots of big words to impress. One general rule is with dialogue tags. Said is good. Too many variations of said sound pretentious.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Debby, glad the lunchtime conversation went well. Don't want to risk indigestion. Knew your dh supports you!

Thanks for your sweet words and mentioning the post to your church writers group. Do you take turns or are you the main teacher?

Janet

Janet Dean said...

I'M PUTTING THIS IN CAPS TO BRING ATTENTION TO THIS TRIVIA QUESTION. I LEARNED RECENTLY THAT THE PENNY WAS MADE OF STEEL. THE COIN WAS CALLED A SILVER PENNY. ANYONE CARE TO GUESS WITHOUT LOOKING ONLINE WHAT YEAR THE SILVER PENNY WAS ISSUED?

JANET

Walt Mussell said...

Janet, here you go. It's from Monty Python's "The Holy Grail." It's a 5-min-plus clip and you have to go to about 4:40 into the clip to hear what was said about "IT."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0e2kaQqxmQ0

Tina Radcliffe said...

You have mistaken me for Julie Lessman. She pipes things in. I shove them in.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hello again,

You know, it's kind of a funny thing with journalism: I wrote that way in my day job, but when I wrote for my own enjoyment at night, I wanted to do something DIFFERENT. Which is probably why my first novel is rather off-the-wall and goofy. I wanted to break out of that clear-cut mold.

However, you asked if it is hard to write with emotion. My answer is yes and no. I WANT to write with more emotion, and I've been working on it. I discovered in my first draft that I had lots of scenes that had no real point in the overall story. I didn't know it when I initially wrote them, but I was getting to know my characters, feeling them out, deciding how they'd react to different situations. As I'm editing the third draft, I've cut many of those scenes and incorporated their emotions into other parts. I needed those extra scenes to get to know my characters on an emotional level,especially as someone who doesn't naturally write that way. Overall, though, a reader wouldn't be that interested in those extraneous scenes!

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

TRIVIA (MAYBE?) ANSWER: Not sure what year, but I know they were issued during WWII, probably after 1942, when the U.S. entered the war. It's one of my favorite eras to read/write about.

Jan Drexler said...

Silver penny -

Without looking? I think it was 1943. I know it was during WW2, right?

Debby Giusti said...

Waving to Stephanie!
Your comment was right on! Often we have to write the extra scenes to better know or understand our characters. Smart you realized many of those scenes needed to be cut.

Didn't someone recently mention overwriting the first scene/chapter and then pulling out much of the info later? The first writing of the first chapter provides a get-to-know-your-character meeting on the page. Later, the author can dice and slice since, by then, she has a better understand of who her character really is.

Debby Giusti said...

Of course, all writing is done with clarity, as Janet pointed out so beautifully today.

Janet Dean said...

Oh, Walt, I'm snickering like a maniac and trotting in place. A time or two viewing that clip and no one would abide IT. :-)

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Shoved or piped, they're delicious. Thanks Tina! Know you work in the kitchen with clean hands. :-)

Janet

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Clean hands in the kitchen????

Pshaw.

Janet Dean said...

Stephanie, you're not alone. Writers often write to discover what makes their characters tick. You are wise to see which scenes need cutting and which scenes need beefing up with a purpose. Love that you salvaged the emotional passages and have used them elsewhere.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Stephanie, you are right!! I'm impressed. I hadn't even heard of the silver penny before Friday. Copper was needed to supply the war effort. Anyone know the year? If you know when the war ended that narrows the possibilities.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

JAN! you're right! 1943. The silver penny was minted just one year. I've never seen the coin but a friend says he has a couple so I will.

Janet

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Janet, here's a secret: I learned about the silver penny when I was a kid, from reading the American Girl books. "Molly's" story takes place in 1944, and she mentions having a silver penny. Those books introduced me to a love of combining history and story at a young age.

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, silly me. What was I thinking?

Note to Janet: microwave anything Ruthy serves in Seekerville

Janet Dean said...

STEPHANIE! I love American Girl dolls. If I got one, I'd get Molly! The teacher who came up with the historical dolls sold the business for millions. I want to read those books! I'm a nut for history.

Here's a link to Molly.

http://store.americangirl.com/agshop/static/mollydoll.jsp

Janet

Vince said...

Hi Janet:

What a surprise to see your post on ‘crystal clear’ writing this morning! You covered both clarity and crystal clear clarity.

There is something magical about ‘crystal clear’ prose. The result is ‘music’ you can hear with your writer’s ear.

I enjoyed your crystal glass analogy. I use a second analogy as well. Consider two clear drinking glasses. One is all glass and the other is genuine crystal. If you ping the ‘glass’ cup with your finger, you’ll hear a ‘klunky’ sound that lasts about a second. If you do the same thing to the genuine crystal glass, you’ll hear a clear tone that may ring for up to a minute. This sound will have the resonant quality of a fine tuning fork.

(You can see this test done on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf5TDX2EnOU )

When I read your first book, “Courting Miss Adelaide” I ‘heard’ that clarity. At the time I thought you would only carry this through for a few pages. I know how hard it is to do this because doing so is essential in advertising copywriting. I was amazed to find that the entire book was written in crystal clear prose. I don’t know what I enjoy more: your stories or reading your prose to see how you do it. I always try to get your new book the day it becomes available for the Kindle.

I believe that crystal clear prose goes well beyond simple clarity.

Here are some hallmarks of ‘crystal clear’ prose:

If prose is ‘crystal clear’, then

1. the fewest number of words will be used.
2. the most appropriate words will be used.
3. the most appropriate situation will be chosen to express those words.
4. the words used will only carry the meaning that the author intended.
5. the meaning of the words will ring true in the reader’s mind.

This is a very hard way to write. After each sentence the author should stop and ask: ‘can this sentence also mean something else?’ If yes, it needs to be fixed so it can only mean what the author intended.

Advertising copywriters must always be on guard against alternative meanings. A famous mistake is made in this ad:

“Hurry in today because these chairs won’t last long.”

It’s not just the words that create ‘crystal clear’ prose. It’s also the situation. The writer must decide which is the best way to present the communication that is intended.

Here’s an example:

The setup:

A large army force has the enemy’s fort surrounded. The Army general asks the fort commander to surrender.

Simple Clarity.

The fort commander gives a very clear, ten sentence, one hundred word, explanation as to why he will not surrender the fort. The General then returns to his camp.

Crystal Clear clarity

The General asks the fort commander to surrender. The fort commander takes a cigar out of his mouth and lights the fuse on a nearby cannon sending a cannon ball into General’s front line of men.

The commander’s decision here is crystal clear. No surrender -- now or ever. Since the General was under the white flag of truce to conduct the surender talks, any fort defender who is captured will be executed. It’s clear: this will be a fight to the death of the last defender.

Crystal clear writing is a way of thinking. It is not just the selection of the right words. I know crystal clear prose when I ‘hear’ it but that does not mean I can do it for very long. That’s a talent.

Janet you have that talent. I always await your next book with double anticipation.

Vince

BTW: the silver penny was minted in 1943 and I used to collect them as a kid. I had a whole cigar box full of them. I never saw a profit on any of them. However, I did spend years looking for a copper 1943 penny which I was told was worth a million dollars! I never found it but I did see a few pennies where someone had converted the 2 on a 1942 copper penny to look like a 3 on the 1943 penny. It looked just like a 1943 copper penny!!! Seeing one for the first time could almost cause a heart attack.

Karen Kirst said...

Well this one's a winner! No wonder they chose it. Titles are hard for me to think up. You're lucky to have a creative group of ladies to help. :) Thanks for the kind words about His Mountain Miss!

Janet Dean said...

Vince, thanks so much for adding your two cents to this post. Loved your characteristics, analogies and examples of crystal clear prose.

I listened to the difference between glass and crystal on YouTube and heard that tuning fork quality of crystal. If we can make our words sing, our stories will remain with readers, even find a permanent place on their shelves.

I may have to pay you for your kind words...in silver pennies. :-)

Jan beat you to the answer. I learned about the coin at the Venice, a small family run restaurant. One wall is covered with plaques engraved with the names of diners born in 1943. They call themselves the Silver Penny Club. The owner is a member naturally.

I'm going to look through old copper pennies. If you thought you'd found a 1943, you must've come close to having a heart attack! Glad you survived. And share with us in Seekerville.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Karen, The Seekers toss out any title that pops into their minds. Some will be silly but often they contain a nugget to build on.

Fun to share the April shelves with you!

Janet

Pam Hillman said...

When you run a damp finger around the rim of crystal, the glass will hum. Even sing. Good stories sing. Clarity is one reason a story sings.

Really? Wow! I had no clue. If I ever get the chance to do this, I WILL!

And I love this comparison. Janet, you are an amazing author AND a truly a cultured woman, but I knew that the moment I laid eyes on you! :)

Pam Hillman said...

Wonderful post on clarity, Janet! All very straightforward and clear. Your two cents are worth MUCH more than that.

I can't say that I write my fiction with clarity, but since I deal with a lot of finances with bookkeeping and when I was in purchasing, I had to be very clear about what I meant. Hopefully, this trait has spilled over into my fiction!

Pam Hillman said...

Kav, you make me laugh! Just change your story to werewolves, and you'll be all set!

And you'll sell MILLIONS of copies!!!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Oh, good post, Janet. One of my critters caught me being unclear yesterday. It was Debra Marvin in fact, and she said:
"...although the storekeeper is the last referenced male, I was in Thomas's head enough that I felt it was THOMAS."

Good pick-up, Deb!

I'm also one of those who reads/edits emails/comments repeatedly to ensure there's no ambiguity. It usually works. Ha.

Janet Dean said...

Pam, I knew you had a heart of gold when I first laid eyes on you. I was impressed with your long list of Golden Heart finals! What surprised me was your adeptness with numbers and purchasing metals. Trust me your eye for detail and need for clarity in your day job spilled over into your writing!

Everything we are and experience impacts our writing. Not craft so much as themes and voice.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Anita Mae! Good for Debra for picking up on the need to clarify. Those pronouns are tricky.

Nothing is foolproof, but anyone who writes everything they write with clarity gets a gold star.
Vince might give you a silver penny. :-)

Janet

Melanie Pike said...

Not sure I should wait until 7 p.m. to read through 115 comments next time...

Not only will I need to print out your post, Janet, but Vince's comment as well!

You wrote "Hmm, supportive spouses would make a good post." That would be a very interesting post to read, not to mention all the comments that would be written! My husband has always been very supportive of my desire to write, and we've been married 33 1/2 years. (I'm just not so supportive of myself!) He also does grocery shopping, laundry, and is the one who taught me how to change a diaper nearly 30 years ago (came from having 2 younger sisters and 33 foster brothers and sisters over the years)! I have a gem and tend to forget it... (Oops, the dreaded "it"...!)

Please toss my name into the hat for a copy of your book! Thank you. :)

Blessings,
Melanie

Janet Dean said...

Hi Melanie! Bless your heart for plowing through all the comments! Your husband is a gem! You know I think some men have the heart of a servant and look for opportunities to help others. That's our husbands.

IT isn't bad when definable, which your IT is.

Thanks for your interest in my book!

Janet

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

This was such a great teaching post. I got much from it. I remember a creative writing instructor saying the ABC's of great writing were accuracy, brevity and clarity. Although I wonder about how well I learned the clarity part when I read my work. I agree if we get in the habit of writing everything clearly, it becomes an advantage in storytelling, too.
Since my TBR pile is so high, please don't put my name in for The Bride Wore Spurs. Thank you, Janet.

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

Excellent thoughts, Janet! Glad you took the risk and wrote this post!

Audra Harders said...

Janet, great post, my friend! You hit on so many "blurry" points I identify in my writing, I appreciate your definitions of clarity.

I had to snicker when you mentioned sentence length. I tend to ramble as I formulate the direction of my scene. I've written sentences with 50+ words before. Try reading those out loud without coming up for air, LOL!

The best piece of advice you mentioned was the point about scene goals. If you don't know what your scene goal is, how can you write with clarity??

Great post, kiddo. I'm glad Vince gave you this particular atta-girl : )

Janet Dean said...

Hi Pat Jeanne! Vince nailed your instructors points! Excellent. Have copied both what you and Vince said.

Keep on keeping on. Practice makes perfect!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Eva Maria. I wasn't too worried. At least no one has tossed rotten tomatoes my way. Yet. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Audra! You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself and condensing a post that delights me!

Fifty word sentences? Yikes, with my asthma I'd need an inhaler to read those aloud. Though one of my favorite historical writers could string a whole bunch of words together with clarity and emotion.

Janet

Mary Preston said...

It does take me out of the story when things are unclear. Most informative thank you.

Edwina said...

Janet,
This was such a helpful article! Thank you for sharing!

Blessings!

Marianne Barkman said...

Late to the party, but would love to win, Janet. Love the comments and the coffee, though it looks like the food I gone! Thanks

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

MANNNN did I need this!

My edits are back and I'm working through. In between some nice compliments is a thread... woven into a rope that you've addressed here, Janet.

THANK YOU so much.

EXACTLY what I needed today! :)
So appreciate you!!!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary P,

I can't scratch my head and turn the page. ;-)

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Edwina, glad you found the post helpful! Thanks!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Marianne, been wondering if you received the copy of The Bride Wore Spurs I sent you.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi KC, Don't you love God's timing? Hope the post helps with those edits.

Janet