Monday, July 20, 2015

How to Recognize, Edit and Compose "Crystal Clear" Prose

by Guest blogger Vince Mooney

Hello, Seekerville! I'm thrilled to be here today to talk to you about one of my favorite topics -- language philosophy!  Now, before you run for the hills, please note that language philosophy is by far the funniest branch of Philosophy.

For example, just wait until you see the 'Crystal Clear' Headline Writing Quiz.' This quiz is fun to take and it can help you learn how to edit your writing for 'crystal clear' clarity. As a language philosopher, my training emphasized crystal clear writing. As a professional advertising copywriter writing crystal clear copy was absolutely essential for success. 

The following post was written by a philosopher

"Crystal Clear" Prose Defined

Crystal clear writing expresses the exact meaning and only that exact meaning which the author intended to convey.

If a sentence expresses the exact meaning the author intended to convey but it also expresses a second or third alternative meaning that the author did not intend to convey, then that sentence is not crystal clear.

Many find it very difficult to write crystal clear prose because a lot of words have multiple meanings. These different meanings can create substantial misunderstandings. They can also be quite humorous.

"Write What You Know"
"Write Like You Speak"

Most writers have heard the saying, "Write what you know."   In advertising copywriting there's also a saying that goes, "Write like you speak".

Writing like you speak may sound easy. Just dictate into a recording machine and have the computer's voice program print it out. The problem is this won't work. At least it won't work if you want reasonably clear copy.
We can know what each word means in a sentence but still not know what the sentence means.

In fact, writing like you speak is almost impossible -- if your goal is to produce crystal clear prose. It's also nearly impossible even if your goal is simply to write reasonably clear copy.

Ruth Logan Herne had this to say in one of her emails:

"I rarely encounter sentences I don't understand in stories, but I know lots of folks do. And I know when I'm using conversational English, sometimes folks will be like "What?????"

What Ruth was saying in the above email was that while what you say to someone may be perfectly clear to you, it can still be almost unintelligible to the reader once it is written down.

Communication can go anywhere. Do you know which way yours is going?
Why Is Spoken English So Fuzzy?

The reason it is so hard to write like you speak (and still make yourself understood in a crystal clear manner) is because when you speak to someone in person, your body language can be seen by the other party. Body language provides real time feedback to the speaker on how what is being said is being received by the listener. The listener in turn can observe the speaker's body language.  This two way feedback greatly helps improve spoken communication.

There was a joke going around when I lived in Italy that Italians had so much trouble making themselves understood over the telephone because they couldn't see each other's hands. Given the advantage of body language both parties to a conversation get continuous feedback. This valuable feedback is not available to a reader. For this reason many languages have developed both a book language and a spoken language.

The problem:

In English individual words can have several different meanings. Sometimes more than one
Is this sign crystal clear if you don't speak 'writer talk'?
of these many meanings will make perfect sense. In these cases a question can arise: "Which meaning did the speaker/writer intend and which meaning did the listener/reader receive?"

Some words can even mean the opposite of themselves. These are called “contronyms". For example, in British English 'to table an offer' means to present an offer but in American English it means 'to withdraw an offer'.

"Crystal Clear" Headline Editing Quiz

It's time for the quiz. All the below headlines actually ran. Each headline got by the writer, the copy editor, and the page editor and/or layout person. None of these people 'saw' what was wrong with the headline. If you want to write crystal clear prose, then you must train yourself to 'see' alternate meanings.

As you take this quiz ask yourself these questions:

Is the headline funny? If not, try to discover the alternative meaning that makes the headline funny.

If you find the headline to be funny, try to determine the original intent of the author.

Please rewrite these headlines so that their meaning becomes crystal clear.

1. "Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter"

When a reader called the editor about this, the editor read it twice and said, "What's wrong with it?"
"It's impossible to do. That's what's wrong with it."

Crystal Clear version: 
"Man Kills Wife and Daughter before shooting himself."

2. "Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says"

While the above sentence is clear -- it is not crystal clear. The real meaning intended by the author seems to be missing. Crystal clear writing should not cause the reader to wonder where the rest of the sentence went.

Crystal Clear version: 
"Birds Flying Into Jet Engines Was Cause of Crash, Expert says."

Has anyone seen our cow?
Has anyone seen my cowboys?
3. "Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers"

Even without the funny alternative meaning, the words 'run down' are not a very clear. This headline could mean that jaywalkers, who have already been ticketed but have failed to appear in court, are now being pursued by the police.

Crystal Clear version: 
"Police Begin Campaign to Ticket Jaywalkers"

4. "Miners Refuse to Work after Death"

Those lazy miners! They won't work after they've died.

Can you even imagine of what was intended by this headline? I had to think about it for a long time before I could come up with what might have been the intended meaning.

Crystal Clear version: 
"Miners refuse to work in a mine in which a miner was killed."

5. "Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant"

This may seem perfectly clear if you didn't think of the alternative meaning.

Crystal Clear version:
"Accused Suspect in Jones Shooting will be Tried in Juvenile Court"

 6) "War Dims Hope for Peace"

This may seem to have been intended to be funny but it was not. Can you figure out the intended meaning?

Crystal Clear version: 
"War in Crimea Dims Hope for Peace with Russia."

7) "If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile"

This is not too bad. I think we all can figure out what it means.

Crystal Clear version: 
"If strike is not settled by Sunday the opportunity for a quick settlement will be lost -- Experts say it could then last for many months."

8) "Enfield Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide"

What did the writer have in mind here?  
It may come down to a question of 'can someone be slain by mistake and it not be a homicide'?  I'm not sure.

Crystal Clear version:  
"Enfield Couple found dead; Police Suspect Homicide"

9) Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

This one is not that bad either. I think a lot of people would never even think of the alternative funny meaning. But it's not crystal clear.

Crystal Clear version: 
"Regulations Delay New Bridge Construction"

10)  "Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors"

Crystal Clear version:  
"Seven Podiatrists Sue Hospitals"

After taking this quiz you should be more prepared to look for alternative meanings in everything you write and read.

However, not all failures to achieve crystal clear prose are the result of alternative meanings.

The 'Intrinsically Un-Clear' Problem

Here are two examples sent by Ruth that are attributed to Ben Franklin:

"At the working man’s house hunger looks in but dares not enter."     

"Trouble springs from idleness and grievous toil from needless ease."  

The above statements may be unclear on purpose so as to seem profound. However, I would think that hunger would enter the working man's house quite often. In fact, I think both statements are clearly wrong as I interpret their meaning.

The 'Lost in Pronouns' Problem

“Did you pick up that Henry said he'd been gone for so long? I got the impression he'd been in the states for only a few days.”

Who is 'he'?  Is 'he' Henry or another man? I had to read several pages ahead into the story to find this out.

The famous damned Colorado river
 The 'Alternative Meaning That Makes Perfect Sense' Problem

"With hundreds of slot canyons and waterways lining this section of the damned Colorado River north of the Grand Canyon, it could take weeks to search the whole lake."
"Where the eagle flies", Sandra Leesmith

Did the author mean 'dammed' or 'damned'? I think we know but both make perfect sense in the context of the story.

The 'Did You Really Mean to Say That' problem

"There is no right way to write a novel."

Really? Then why try? If there is no right way, then every way is wrong! 

Crystal Clear:
"There are many right ways to write a novel."


The 'The Asymmetrical Nature of the First Page' Problem 

Crystal clear editing is done using the mind's eye
The problem here is that things on the first page of a book can make perfect sense to the author and all her CPs but still be unintelligible to someone reading the page for the first time. I've read first pages of novels which made almost no sense to me.

Here's why: the author and CPs have read the first page many times. One author told me she'd rewritten the first page over fifty times! Since the author knows what happens in the rest of the book, everything the author writes appears to be in perfect context. Unfortunately, the reader does not know what is going to happen in the future or who the characters are.   

To uncover these first page problems it is important to have someone who knows nothing about the story read the first page and then stop reading!  Warning: these first page problems tend to disappear immediately once more of the story is read. You won't spot them on a second reading. Only fresh eyes can 'see' these unique first page problems. 
I found the second meaning

Developing the "Mind's Eye"

To obtain crystal clear clarity requires a special kind of editing. Looking for mistakes with your eyes, as you would look for typos, will not work. You must 'look' with your mind's eye. You will need to evaluate each word and sentence seeking alternative meanings.

Reading Crystal Clear Prose

I believe the best way to learn how to write crystal clear prose is to read writers who write that way. The best examples of crystal clear writing that I have found are in Janet Dean's romances. I've read all her books without ever having had to read a sentence twice because I stumbled on an alternative meaning. Reading Janet Dean's writing is like tapping a heavy crystal glass with a finger and hearing a clear distinctive ping -- a sure sign of genuine crystal.   

Thanks to all and please note: I make no claim that I can always write with crystal clear results.
I'm on holiday and my writing is crystal clear

Bio Vince Mooney is a friend of Seekerville. He’s a retired marketing creative person and college teacher who now runs a distant learning real estate school. He was university trained to be a philosopher but advertising paid better. Between his copywriting and nonfiction works, Vince has put over 3,000,000 words into print. His old boss once told him he should write a book on "How to Write Advertising That Swells". Vince has also given over 3,000 three-hour real estate and motivational seminars -- but it took 30 years!  Vince in married and lives in Tulsa.

Janet here. I've brought crystal clear foods to accompany Vince's post. There's beef and chicken bullion, yellow Jell-O, and 7-Up. Sound too much like tests have been scheduled? Don't worry those clear foods are just here to clean your pallet before a scrumptious brunch of breakfast and lunch items from smoked salmon to prime rib with side dishes galore and my favorite dessert cream puffs,

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the Seeker novella sets: With This Spark, a collection of historical romances or Coffee Shop Romances, a contemporary collection. Winner’s choice.


  1. Well, Vince, you did it again.

    Which is why I asked three Villagers to read my first pages. You are so right. You totally lose perspective after so many revisions.

    Excellent, excellent post.


    If you find any examples of unclear or funny alternative meanings in the books you are reading, please share. Such examples are easy to see when you first encounter them but they are hard to go back later and find. Once you know the intended meaning, these sentences will often tend to look perfectly normal.

    I want to thank Seekerville for the wonderful job they did with the layout of this post. I could not be happier with the placement of the photos and all the copy elements. Great job!


  3. Great post, Vince! Clearly I need to work on clarity in my writing. I've had my editor return a set of revision notes in which she pointed out an unintentional but rather embarrassing double entendre. I was too close to the story to spot it.

  4. Vince,

    Thanks for this terrific post!! We writers want to provide an emotional ride with a story that lingers, changes, inspires. But a lack of clarity can take readers out of the story. That mind's eye you talk about is kind of like being the writer and the reader at the same time. Two hats can get heavy. LOL

    Your images rock! Thanks for being here today!


  5. Thanks, Vince! Clarity of thought in my writing is something I'm really working on. This post helps. I enjoyed reading the headlines. Some of which are too funny to be real!:-))

    I'm with Keli Gwyn—sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees!

  6. Vince, wonderful post!

    When I wrote for Advance for Administrators of the Laboratory, I had to be very, very careful about my words to ensure the meaning for absolutely correct. It taught me to weigh each statement and revise if there was any confusion about the meaning.

    Thanks for reminding me about the importance of CCP (crystal clear prose) in fiction as well!!!

    BTW, I agree with your comment about Janet Dean's writing. It is crystal clear. Love her prose and her stories!!!

    Heading to the airport in about an hour. Waving to everyone as I fly to NYC! Hope to see some of the Seekerville community there. Be sure to snag my attention. I sometimes walk in a daze! :)

  7. Great post, Vince!!! I'm very guilty of convoluted writing. lol And you are right on about first pages and fresh eyes. Thanks for the morning chuckle with the headlines and best wishes to you!

  8. Great post Vince! As a reader I THANK YOU for striving to convey your story as crystal clear as possible. I wish I could achieve this in my every day communications.

  9. Hi Vince,

    Thanks for sharing today. I enjoyed the headlines that are not crystal clear. You've challenged me to write more clearly.


  10. Fresh eyes are an amazing tool for a writer!

  11. As one who has confused folks on a regular basis, I love this!

    Usually it's folks online and not readers, but occasionally I've flummoxed folk!

    I've gotten e-mails and messages requesting interpretation.


    And it's usually on urban slang stuff, terms heard on East Coast and not mentioned in PNW or Southwest.

    Vince, I love this! Go you!!!!

  12. Great examples on how to write crystal clear prose. I laughed out loud at the cow who'd lost her cowboys. And make sure you read Janet's parting comments!!! lol

    Pass the Jello and the 7Up please!

  13. Vince, I love this picture of you. Seekerville needs to gather in such a gorgeous beach spot!


  14. Pam, love that your game for colon prep. LOL


  15. Heading for the airport and RWA. Excited to get back to the Big Apple! :-) And see the World Trade Center memorial/museum before the conference starts.


  16. Great post, Vince! You reminded me of the joke that asks, "If a plane crashed on the Can/US border, where would the survivors be buried?" :D

    Thanks for the tip on showing the first page to fresh eyes. I'll have to start that one.

    As for CP's, I have to send out a bouquet to Deb Marvin because she seems to be on a different wavelength than my other CP's and she catches things the others don't. And if Deb questions it, then readers will too, so I value her assessment.

  17. Great post, Vince!

    I've found that reading things out loud helps me find where things aren't so crystal clear.

  18. Anita Mae, kudos to Deb M!


  19. Good Morning!

    First a Special Notice for those in NYC --

    The Yankees Play Baltimore at the Stadium
    Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:05 pm.

    After that the Yankees leave town. The Yankees are the most valuable baseball team in history! You haven't seen New York until you've been to a Yankee game.


  20. Anita Mae, I'm thinking I need another cup of coffee because I had to read the plane crash line twice for it to sink in.

    Yes, more coffee is in order...

  21. Hi Janet:

    If you like that beach Missy has three videos of it on a past post here:

    I saw those videos in 2011 and they sold my wife on going to the same condo project and getting in the same building with the same views. We haven't missed a year since.

    Missy could make it big in sales!


  22. Tina is right. Revisions are killers.

    I have to go through usually 3 separate versions in my head and adjust based on which one I think I'm working on. Not so bad in chapters 1-5, but by chapter 15 I have to remember what I've deleted, what I've added, and tie up threads.

    But I've learned that I'm better revising at hard copy, that I can make notes at the end of manuscripts (e-copy) on anything I question, and find and replace have helped me to find and smooth rough areas.

    But that editorial last read is CLUTCH to me. Those fresh eyes. For our novellas, part of our contract is that each story is vetted by an editor.

    This is important because it is so easy for authors to miss things, and Vince, that crystal clear ideology should be our goal, even for conversational English tinged with poetic lyricism writers like me.


    How crystal clear is that???? Laughing!

  23. Vince, one of my favorite NOT crystal clear headlines of all time appeared in the Omaha World Herald.

    Gross Girls Win State

    The unfortunately named School in Omaha is Gross High School. And apparently their girls basketball team is top notch.

  24. I love Yankee baseball!

    Wanna talk iconic NYC?

    Yankee Stadium, Chelsea Market, Seaport/Pier, Times Square, Highline Trail, Battery Park, Ellis Island, Liberty, Midtown anywhere!!!!, St. Patrick's Cathedral, St. Paul's Episcopal chapel at Ground Zero and the 9/11 Museum.

    You can't turn a corner in NYC without encountering history. I am constantly amazed at the ever-changing, never-changing facts.

    Philly is like that too, but not on as grand a scale, but for those of you going this week, oh mylanta, grab a Metro card and see this city.

    And Amazing Grace on Broadway???? New musical!

  25. Hi Hallee:

    That reminds me: my boss used to like to read copy out loud. In fact, whenever I would write a really bad alternate meaning line in an ad, he come out of his big office and read it to the whole advertising department. He'd use great body language and voice inflection to make me seem like a complete idiot! Every one would have a great laugh! And would have just had one of many lessons in the school of hard knocks.

    That's why I'm very sensitive to double meanings. It is also why I became very proficient at spotting crystal clear writing.

    Thanks for you comment. It brought back some old memories. :)


  26. One of the reasons I like to finish a book, then set it aside for a while, then revise, is that I often will re-read it and hit sentences and just wonder what in the world did I mean by that?

    It's a great idea to leave it long enough to forget what you THINK you said and only read what you actually said.

  27. Vince, always listen to Missy. Our Southern Belle knows her beaches.

  28. I was cracking up over those crazy headlines, Vince! I've seen a few in our local paper that have made me cringe. Thank goodness I constantly have Grammar Queen editing over my shoulder while I'm writing! She keeps me on my toes, especially about misplaced modifiers.

  29. Hi Keli:

    The double entendres are so hard to spot because they make perfect sense when doing a normal edit. It does not even help in finding alternative meanings when you read the text backwards. That's why it is important to do a separate CC edit. My approach is to look at each sentence and try to make a joke by misinterpreting that sentence. This can take a lot of time. It is so much more fun and easy to do if it is not your own writing you're CC editing.

    Thanks for your comment.


  30. Hi Mary:

    Love your comment about, "I can't see the forest for the trees!" It is so true and here's more: once you see the trees it is very hard to see that picture without the tree.

    Consider a very abstract painting. You look at it for the first time and it makes no sense. Just a lot of different colors splattered on the canvas. Then an art expert tells you that it is a picture of Don Quixote on his horse about the attack the windmill in the distance.

    Presto! You see the whole thing for the first time. Problem is: can you ever see it as the non-windmill picture again? It would be hard.

    Great comment. It made me think and I love that!


  31. Vince!!! Great to see you again! I need to perfect that "mind's eye" view as I dive into edits this week. Awesome post with fabulous examples! Clear as crystal. :)

  32. I know my most cringe worthy thing that ever got into a book is from Deep Trouble.
    Here's the line (btw I had to open the book and read it a while. I LOVE THIS BOOK! Moving on....)
    "Didn't the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock in 1492?"

    Now, I wrote that.
    I revised that.
    An editor read and revised.
    I was sent galleys which I read and revised.
    When it was published and came in the mail as a real live book I sat down to read it, as I do all my books and BAM 1492 for the Pilgrims.

    Now the real question is WHY did I miss it, and the editor miss it over and over and over. And yet on that final read I saw it. I'D MISSED IT SO MANY TIMES! WHY COULDN'T I MISS IT ONCE MORE?????????????

    In addition I have gotten letters over the years saying, "The kind of gun you mentioned didn't load that way...." or some such correction of history.

    For this one ... NOTHING.

    A sad commentary on our educational system.

  33. PS for the historically challenged....
    Columbus reached America in 1492
    the pilgrims landed in 1620


    I even know a SONG.

  34. Hi Debby:

    You wrote:

    "When I wrote for Advance for Administrators of the Laboratory, I had to be very, very careful about my words to ensure the meaning for absolutely correct. It taught me to weigh each statement and revise if there was any confusion about the meaning."

    I think there is a Murphy's law for CCP that goes like this: "If there is a possible alternate meaning to any sentence, someone will always read it that way."

    How about "Debby's Dictum". : )

    Also from Debby:

    "I agree with your comment about Janet Dean's writing. It is crystal clear. Love her prose and her stories!!!"

    Let me tell you this: as I was reading, "Courting Miss Adelaide," for the first time, after I figured out its CCP nature, I got real frustrated for the second part of the book trying to fine one sentence I could make a joke out of by giving it a second meaning. I couldn't do! It made me feel like the time I was a new copy editor and I had to train this young girl how to write advertising copy. Well, I did a good job because within a year she got better than me and then took a much better job in Dallas! That's life. :)

    Thanks for the comments. It seems today is sending me down memory lane.


  35. Hi Jessica:

    Thanks! It was so nice to wake up and read your kind comment. Enjoy the day.


  36. Good morning, Vince! Yes, having a fresh set of eyes to read through a manuscript helps immensely. Things that you think are perfectly clear may not convey what you intended. As authors, we're always under a deadline, going as fast as we can. And sometimes things slip through the cracks--even with additional readers!

  37. Hi Caryl:

    You wrote this about being crystal clear: "I wish I could achieve this in my every day communications."

    That's a great goal for everyone in every walk of life and line of business. It's also why I think it is so important to develop a mindset where you can 'see' alternate meanings.

    Thanks for your comment and may you read only crystal clear fiction! :)


  38. Oh my gosh, Vince. Now I'm wondering if I should comment. I mean, what if something I write isn't crystal clear? Gulp.

    Then again, it wouldn't be the first time my writing confused people.

    I giggled at every headline you shared. One of my favorite headlines: "Stolen Painting Found by Tree."

    Awesome post, Vince! Thanks.

    Nancy C

  39. Sound too much like tests have been scheduled?

    Funny, funny line, Janet :-)

    Nancy C

  40. Hi Jackie:

    You Wrote: "You've challenged me to write more clearly."

    Thanks so much. That is one of the best compliments an old teacher like me could receive.


  41. Hi Sarah:

    You wrote: "Fresh eyes are an amazing tool for a writer!"

    And I immediately read your comment with a second meaning! 'Fresh eyes' on the part of the writer will empower that writer to write a cliché scene in a completely fresh way.

    This makes me think of K.C. Franzen's
    "May Finds a Way: Peril in Paris" (May the K9 Spy Book 2), in which the reader gets to 'see' Paris, with so many famous landmarks, from a foot off the ground and mostly with her nose!

    Paris will never be the same for me! Now a writer could do something like that without having to have a dog's POV. That's why I think that the more different kinds of books an author reads, the better author she can become!



  42. Hi Ruth:

    You wrote:

    "Vince, I love this! Go you!!!!"

    So here's today's questions: 1) Which Yankee game are you going to? 2) Which Seeker(s) is(are) coming with you?



  43. Good morning Vince and welcome to Seekerville. What a great post. Very informative and definitely something we need to consider when writing. Obviously I didn't in Where The Eagle Flies. LOL

    Those headlines are a scream. I love to look at the announcements of weddings also. Sometimes the combination of last names can be really funny.

    Taking a screenwriting class helped me with some of my clarity. However, I am afraid I still need more work on that. I tend to be way over wordy.

    Have fun today. Looking forward to more comments.

  44. It's okay, Pam. The first time I heard it, I automatically said it depends on where they live. :)

  45. Hi Pam:

    I bought that cow picture over a year ago for future use. I saw that picture and as I always do I tried to give it a caption. First thing I thought of was Mary talking about her cowboy. Then Mary's annual cow pictures as the calves were born came to mind. What possible thing could that cow be saying? Since she was looking into the scene, she had to be looking for something. What would be better than looking for her cowboys? Then I saw the three cowboys with the same background and I had to buy that picture, too. Of course, they had to be looking for their cow!

    It seems all things are connected!

    As far as Janet's parting comments: just two words PRIME RIB!



  46. Hi Anita:

    You wrote:

    "Great post, Vince! You reminded me of the joke that asks, "If a plane crashed on the Can/US border, where would the survivors be buried?" :D

    I had a fifth grade teacher ask that question over 50 years ago and she let the class debate this for over a half hour before telling us it was a joke.

    She had it crash on the border between France and Germany. We poor students were saying it depended on the laws in the different countries or the citizenship of the passengers or on which airline the plane belong too.

    She played us like a violin!

    Thanks, I have not thought of that teacher since the 1950's! : )


  47. Vince, I'm not a conference girl. I love to go to the city, but on my terms. :) I am a "Bossy New Yorker", and I tend to skip classes so that's a no-brainer, right?

    We're going in September because the boys were just home for a visit. (Notice how their mother still calls the Legal Beagle and the Finance Boy "boys".... Poor guys!) So it will be me and ol' Dave, two sons and maybe the beautiful and smart new girlfriend?????

    We'll see!

  48. Hi Ruth:

    You wrote:

    "But that editorial last read is CLUTCH to me."

    What does that sentence mean? Is "CLUTCH" an acronym like GMC? Are you taking about switching gears? Is it like being a clutch hitting in baseball? Ah, I bet it's baseball related. My third try. You see, it is not impossible to understand Ruth. (As long as you get three strikes!) : )


  49. Hi Mary:

    Thanks for sharing:

    Gross Girls Win State

    I have a strong feeling that headline was written that way on purpose just to be funny. They probably would not write the headline that way in the hometown newspaper.


  50. Hi Ruth:

    To me NYC means dinosaurs and the planetarium! Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes, poetry readings by beat poets in Greenwich Village, The Polo Grounds, Ebbets Field, and the House that Ruth Built with the short right field porch! I caught a baseball hit by Hank Bauer while sitting in the first row of that right field porch! May 8th, 1955! I still have that baseball. The ticket price was $3.50! (That was the pay for carrying a golf bag for four hours in the hot summer sun!)

    I asked Rocky Colavito if he was going to hit four homeruns today as it was a double header. Rocky said "No, I'm only going to hit two."

    And he did!!!


    Yes, the outfielders would actually come over and talk to the fans in the first row!

    I'm waiting for "Damn Yankees" to have a revival on Broadway!

  51. Hi Mary:

    I know it is best to let copy cool for a few days before proof reading it. In advertising, with daily deadlines, that is a great luxury. It's funny but the longer you wait, the better you get!

    Here's a quote from Alan Greenspan I just read:

    “ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”

    How could Greenspan possibly know this? But it's a great quote.


  52. VINCE Ruthy is speaking NEW YAWK when she says Clutch.

    It means VITAL.

    We have no idea where she got it, but I've decided it's part of her charm. :)

  53. Vince, I worked at a newspaper for years and my degree is in Journalism so I get the whole NO TIME thing. It's alllllllllll about the deadline.

    Yes, getting a chance to reread with some SPACE between you and your finished draft is a luxury.

  54. Hi Janet:

    How right you are. It's so nice to have a Southern Belle who knows her beaches and a Yankee Belle who knows her lakes. But then I always listen to all the Seekers.


  55. Hi Myra:

    How fortunate you are to have your own Grammar Queen and how fortunate Julie is to have her own Drama Queen.

    All I have is Dairy Queen -- the poor man's Panera!


  56. Hi Vince,

    Loved your encouraging post. But, if everyone wrote with such clarity, we'd be deprived of some good laughs!!

    Raising my cuppa's to improving!

  57. Hi Dora:

    Thanks! You made me a happy man!

    You wrote:

    Awesome post with fabulous examples! Clear as crystal. :)

    I'm so glad you've seen the light! : )

    It's been a long time since "Small Town Treasure" -- too long.

    I just downloaded, "When Love Triumphs" (Pure Amore: Sweet Romance, Pure Enjoyment)

    Love the theme of a Navy SEAL and a police woman -- one with a fear of water! Irresistible. I can see some great conflict ahead. And "Pure Amore" -- that alone would sell me. I'm in the mood for this romance theme!

    Don't be a stranger now!


  58. Hi Mary:

    That is so funny about 1492 and Plymouth Rock. I visited Plymouth Rock as a little kid and I kept looking at it down in its deep hole and I asked my father, quite perplexed, "How did their boat ever hit that thing?" I actually believed they landed on the rock!

    I had a similar experience to yours. I wrote a full page Sunday ad for a furniture store that in 2" headlines said "Giant Sale -- Sunday - 7 - 11".

    At least ten people from all the different departments proofed that ad including the President of the company. Not one person noticed the hours should have been 11 - 7.

    At six am on Sunday I got a phone call from the president of the company ordering me to walk the sales floor and become a salesman for all those hours. No commissions either! It just so happened that I sold a motel owner a complete model's worth of bedding and was the high salesman for the day. I would have won a lot of money -- but got nothing except I kept my job!


  59. So ANITA MAE and VINCE what is the answer to the question? I don't see the joke? But then my hubby always laughs at me cause I never get jokes. sigh.

    But you have me curious.

    Oh dear, I'm probably opening myself up to some major grief here.

  60. Mary I saw a roving reporter last week asking people on a beach who the U.S. fought to gain independence.

    So many wrong answers. :(

    From grown-ups.

    Real, live grown-ups.

  61. MARY and VINCE I am laughing at the Plymouth Rock discussion. Hubby and I grew up on the West Coast where there are really big rocky cliffs on the coast. So after all the hoopla about Plymouth Rock, we were astounded at how small and insignificant it was. I mean just a rock sitting in the sand. I was expecting some gorgeous cliff dropping into the water.

    Oh well. Even though it isn't significant geologically at least it was a significant moment in history.

  62. Okay VINCE besides the wrong date what is wrong with a GIANT SALE? Were you actually selling giants???

    Oh this day is fun.

  63. Hi Chill N:

    Loved your comment that:

    "Oh my gosh, Vince. Now I'm wondering if I should comment. I mean, what if something I write isn't crystal clear? Gulp."

    This reminds me that one of the biggest reasons readers do not write reviews is that they are afraid that they will be embarrassed by their lack of writing skills. I've often thought someone needs to develop a 'review writing' program where all you do is click on a few sentences and it writes a clear, grammatically correct, review the reader can post all over the web. Each review should be different so they all don't seem to be alike. All should make the reviewer look smart.

    Great example you gave:

    "Stolen Painting Found by Tree."

    Jay Leno used to have funny headlines every Monday. This shows the extent of the problem.

    Thanks for sharing.


  64. Dairy Queen sounds pretty good in this summer heat! I could go for a Dilly Bar!

  65. Hi Sandra:

    Thanks for being a good sport! How did you like the photo? Strange that I bought the rights to that photo of Lake Powell over a year ago. I think this post was meant to be. : )


  66. Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

    Okay, so my New Yawk vernacular is a challenge.

    And trying to talk "cool" which makes my kids laugh.... sigh.... :)

    BUT, yes, you can take that clutch hitter, and work it in the clutch, or be in a clutch situation, and if you're good in the clutch, everybody wants you on their team.

    It all comes back to baseball.

    "Put Me in Coach... I'm ready to play, today!" John Fogarty's Foot-tappin' "Center Field" a favorite with Ruthy and her tribe of short people!

  67. And I think trees find things all the time.

    Prove they don't, my friend!

  68. Hi Ruth:

    A bossy New Yorker
    in New York City
    is not an anomaly.

  69. Hi Sandra:

    I hope you're kidding. The answer is they don't bury the survivors! : ) Not one kid in a class of 40*+ students got this in a half hour.

    About the sale, it was not about selling Giants, it was about making over 100 people come to work at 7 am on a Sunday morning!

    That was my worst proof reading error. Ever!


    BTW: Every department head initialed the bottom of that proof and I had that proof. But it was still my fault. I wrote it.

  70. Hi Kathryn:

    You wrote:

    "if everyone wrote with such clarity, we'd be deprived of some good laughs!!"

    I bet that's what they were thinking when they created language. I can just hear one of the language founders saying, "Yea, but clarity is overrated, anyone can create crystal clear writing. It's putting in all those different shades of meaning into words that takes the real talent."

    Thanks for your comment.


  71. Hi Tina:

    Are you the Seeker who can tell us all who is going to NYC to the RWA?

    Inquiring minds would like to know.


  72. Vince, true words. Not an anomaly. We bossy New Yorkers are a dime a dozen. :)

    But they get things done, and ya' just gotta love that!

    One of my fave bumper stickers seen all over North Carolina: "We Don't Care How They Do It In New York".


    Gotta love a land of transported New Yorkers!

  73. Hi Vince
    Love this post and the examples you shared. Having fresh eyes for quality assurance is invaluable. I deal with this in my job creating graphics/animation for training purposes. It's amazing how mistakes can make it past multiple sets of eyes without being discovered.

    I don't have any examples, but I know I've seen plenty. My older brother excels as seeing the alternative meanings to words/phrases/sentences. Most of his friends think he's the funniest person they've ever met.

    p.s. laughing about the non-anomaly of a bossy New Yorker in NYC.

  74. Very interesting post, Vince. It is fun to read those ridiculous headlines and I often wonder how so many people miss the problem.

    My husband would agree with you on the Yankees. It is his favorite team. We went to New York in 2008 so he could go to a game in the old Yankee Stadium. His dad had been a huge Yankee fan and my husband had always hoped to go to a game there with him. That did not happen, but at least he was able to go with our son. Now we have to go back to see a game in the new stadium.

    Please enter me for the drawing.

  75. Hi Ruth:

    You wrote:

    "One of my fave bumper stickers seen all over North Carolina: "We Don't Care How They Do It In New York".

    That reminds me that the most common phrase I can remember hearing on any military post or base was, "This is not your last base (post), airman, solidier, Marine."

    We used to say in the old days that North Carolina had so many military instillations that if they added one more the whole state would sink!

    BTW: If you want NYC paranoia watch this Buck Owens video "I wouldn't live in New York City if they gave me the whole dang town!"

    Buck Owens was like a country Woody Allen.


  76. Hi Sandy:

    You wrote:

    "That did not happen, but at least he was able to go with our son."

    It is a wonderful thing to bring a child to a big league baseball game. One of my most vivid memories from childhood is when my father and grandfather took me and my brother to the old Polo Grounds to see the Giants and Willie Mays play baseball. I will never forget that day. I've been to over 50 Yankee games but I always went alone. The Polo Grounds will always stand out as 'the' baseball game of my life.


  77. Hi DebH:

    You wrote:

    "my job creating graphics/animation for training purposes".

    OMG! Our graphics people were the worse proof readers of all. Time after time, when doing a layout, they would leave letters out of words so that the headline would fit just right for the space available. That was the days of press type so it was not easy to fix this problem.

    The artists saw what they wanted to see. Of course, writers do that all the time with copy.


  78. I think I shall never see
    a thief as tricky as a tree --
    for trees find things all the time
    and hide them in their trunks just fine.

    Trees are always dropping leaves
    to cover all their sneaky deeds.

    But you'll never prove
    that trees are thieves.
    That's just not something
    anyone believes.
    So if it's the proof you want
    don't come to me
    and beware their friends:
    only God makes a trees.

  79. I LOVED some of those examples!! LOL Wow, it's so true we should look for alternative meanings. The wrong interpretation can be damaging! LOL

    Thanks for being with us today, Vince. I love the photo of you at the beach. I recognize that view! :) :)

  80. Hi Vince,
    I love to laugh, so some of these one liners lacking in crystal clear clarity are so funny. Thanks for posting them. Some of the best I can think of come from church bulletins. They are cranked out weekly and often not proofread making for humorous reading. Here are a few good ones:

    *Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

    *There will be an ice cream social Tues at 4p.m. All ladies giving milk will please come early.

    *Don't let worry kill you-let the church help.

    *For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

    *Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again" giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

    And last but not least:

    *The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

  81. Tracey, some of my favorites are church bulletin bloopers. :)

  82. OMG TRACEY, I haven't laughed this hard in ages. Those are hysterical. The first one is a killer. ROFLOL tears running down my eyes.

    I can't wait to hear what VINCE has to say about those.

  83. Love those, TRACEY! Here are a few more:

    Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.

    Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM - prayer and medication to follow.

    The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the Congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

    Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

    At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be 'What Is Hell?' Come early and listen to our choir practice.

    The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

  84. AND yes VINCE I was totally impressed with the photo. How opportune of you to have it and use it. YAY. That Lake Powell/Colorado River area is so gorgeous.

    btw I too really like your photo on the beach. Great shot. You look so relaxed. Vacations are the best.

  85. Oh, and I just found more!!!

    Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

    Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

    Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

    The Fasting & Prayer Conference includes meals.

  86. MYRA, stop. I can't laugh any more. This is toooo funny.

    I'm going to print these and take them to Rita. That ought to cheer her up. LOL

  87. Interesting post, Vince, for a reader too! I like to see how books come together from beginning to end! Thanks for enlightening me in another aspect!

  88. Hi Tracy:

    Thanks so much. Those bulletin items are funnier than a professional comedy writer would likely come up with.

    I've already emailed them to my sister who does her church newsletter.

    I think these items prove that comedy is best done by those who are not trying to be funny.


  89. Hi Valri:

    So glad you like the post. I think that the more you learn about writing, the more enjoyment you can get from very well written books. There is just more to appreciate. My brother just got me into NASCAR and the more I lean about it, the more enjoyment I get out of each new race.

    Along with Janet Dean, another author who writes exceptionally fine, crystal clear, prose is Shirley Jump. She writes secular romances and is a great choice if you read regular Harlequin line romances.


  90. Hi Sandra:
    You are so right about the beach being relaxing. My wife looks forward all year to our time in Orange Beach. It is the best thing she does for herself all year. Each year we try to stay a day or two longer.


  91. I'm in NYC!! Good flights. Good cab ride. Nice cool room on a hot day.

    Vince, I'm thrilled but not surprised by the terrific job you're doing as guest host. I've just read the comments and the delightful stories you and others have shared.

    Myra is Grammar Queen. Julie is Drama Queen. Tina is Queen of Everything. Anyone else besides me want a title? A tiara?

    Vince, Have you tried that $5 DQ special that includes a sundae with a burger and fries? I love how the hot fudge slips off the cold ice cream and puddles at the bottom of the cup. Yummy!


  92. Hi Missy:

    We both know what it is like to have a room with a view. (This year on the 8th floor!) However, praising the view to me is like preaching to the choir. : )

  93. Hi Janet:

    Glad you're in NYC and have a cool room. Let the fun begin!

    Chutzpah Queen -- now I wonder who that could be?

  94. Hi Vince,

    Wonderful post. I read some of it earlier while awaiting the stove repair man. I just came back to finish reading.

    I'm particularly curious about your first page section. I wonder if you'd agree that there's a difference between confusing and raising questions that keep you reading.
    I recently had a friend who knew nothing about my story read the first scene. She raised some questions she had. Ironically, almost all of them had been answered in my original draft, but I edited to get to the action faster. ;(

    Anyway, she and I had a discussion about which questions needed answers immediately to avoid annoying the reader and which ones kept the reader reading.

    The discussion called to mind an interview with Lee Child. He said the key to a successful novel was to ask questions on the first page and not answer them until the last.


  95. Hi Janet,

    Welcome to NYC. Glad you have a cool room. We've got a heat index of 97 today. Bet I didn't have to tell you that. I just got back from walking my dog and he's still recovering.

  96. Hi Mary:

    I've read two best selling authors who said they give maximum story context in the first chapter to fully invest the reader in their characters and story adventure. They hook the reader on reading the entire book and not just the next few pages. They believe they can make a story interesting without teasing the reader by dribbling out crumbs of backstory. I'm with them.

    I believe your story should be so rewarding to read, page by page, that you don't need the artificial stimulate of keeping vital information from the reader. I found that with Lee Child and David Baldacci you don't even need any backstory. The forward story does not depend at all on the backstory. The reading is self-rewarding.

    The big question is: Can you write that well that there is no need for backstory? When Child says ask questions on the first page you don't answer until the last page, he's talking about the biggest story questions: will Jack Reacher be successful? Dozens of questions will be asked and answered within a few pages with Child. These are what I call AE's -- anticaptory events -- the reader will look forward to. There are very short term AEs, short term, medium term, long term, and story term. The writer needs to keep all these different terms going page by page. There should be a very good reason why a question is resolved when it is in the story. It is not a good reason to reveal backstory simply because it is the only way to keep the reader turning pages. I resent that in a story.

    That's my view. If you really know how to write and tell a great story, then you don't have to use backstory bread crumbs to get a reader to follow you deeper into the story. In short, the reader needs to be pulled into a story by the force of the story, like an iron filing to a magnet, and not be coaxed along with bread crumb bribes.

    This is not a popular view except with mega selling authors! : O


  97. Vince said...
    I think I shall never see
    a thief as tricky as a tree --
    for trees find things all the time
    and hide them in their trunks just fine.

    Vince, I think you have the premise for a children's book!

    Nancy C

  98. What a wonderful, laugh-filled day. Thanks to everyone for sharing the headlines and church bulletin bloopers.

    Nancy C

  99. 'Red tape holds up new bridge.'

    I could see a shiny new bridge held by heavy duty red tape!

    Vince, I completely agree about Janet's CCP. Her writing puts me right in the setting with her characters! The sights and sounds all around me.

  100. Hi Chill N:

    Thanks. I really like children's books especially ones that tell one story to children and a second story to adults -- all with the same words. Mark Twain could do this to perfection.


  101. Hi Donna:

    Great to see we're both Janet Dean fans. Hope to see more books but never want to hurry the master. Thanks for commenting today.


  102. Vince, you have a unique way with words, crystal clear or not. I love it. Is there anything you don't analyze?? But, on the flip-side, you have such a profound way of peeling apart the written word, I'm almost afraid to leave a comment in the event I say it wrong (or foggy meaning, at best, LOL!)

    Seriously though, you offered so much information in your post, I couldn't absorb it all the first time around. I'm going back to re-read.

    AND, there are so many comments, it'll take me a while to wade through them as well.

    Always such a pleasure to have you on either side of the posting in Seekerville, Vince!

  103. Hi Audra:

    No hurry to read everything. This post may be up for many years. Seekerville has a wonderful index and search engine. And no worry about not be crystal clear -- if we could all do that, there would be no need for this post.

    How do you like my cowboys? I think they may be up in your neck of the woods.

    Great to see you and thanks for your comments.


  104. hahaha! I love that Vince is questioning Ruthy's use of CLUTCH. That's her new buzz word. Leave it alone. She's had worse. I can live with that one. She used to say something that Festus from Gun Smoke said. I wanted to strangle her every time she said it. I purposely erased it from my memory or I would tell you.


    I promise to buy a dozen copies.

    But I want that book!

  106. Hi Tina:

    Funny thing about 'clutch' because I was visualizing a woman's high fashion purse that didn't have a strap and always seemed to make no sense to me as there never is a place to put it when wearing an evening gown. I seem to visualize a white one with pearls sewn on it.

    Anyway, I've had lots of fun today. I imagine that by now all the New York Seekers have turned into Sleepers. So goodnight.

    BTW: I'll get back on RPP after I finish the beta read I'm doing. Love doing that, too.


  107. Hi Ruth:

    Looks like the Yankees had a great off night. Tampa Bay lost their game and Boston lost both games tonight! That's the best possible outcome that could have happened today. Bring on Baltimore tomorrow!


  108. Goodnight to All

    Today was a lot of fun. I'll check in tomorrow for any late comments.


  109. Vince
    I'm laughing about your graphic artist comment. It is very true that proofreading is not our forte - we're artists trying to communicate the message visually... who needs those pesky words? *heh*
    The team I work on is a small one, so I wear multiple hats. This has groomed me to be a better proof-reader since we try to NOT pass mistakes on to the customer. My goal is to have an alpha return from the customer with nothing on the discrepancy sheet. Hasn't happened yet - but got pretty close once. Only two small things that time. Ah well...

    LOVED your visit. I echo Tina - I want RPP!!!! I learn so much each time you visit, be it post or in the comments. I also enjoy your sense of humor.

  110. Yay for "our" Mr. Vince!!!

    I'm late late late but here!

    You were crystal crystal clear.
    As always, I learn best from examples and the ones you chose are pawfect. Thank you for a great post!

    Are you running a distant learning school? Is Janet cleaning a pallet before the next course?
    I'm thinking this is more an auto spell-check issue though... Oh wait... Do cars now come with those?


    I'm unable to compose a crystal clear blog post response.
    Better get back to working on my WIP's first page again!!!

    Would love to win a copy of the latest Seeker release - and historical too, my fave!

    Write on everypawdy!!

  111. (And I've not made time to read the majority of the comments, seem to be working my way backwards...
    But Mary Curry's question and your answer is the reason we continue to read the comment section of Seekerville. There's as much here, or more at times, than the post itself. Excellent!!!

  112. OH. MY. GOODNESS -- I'm late, I'm late to a very important date -- Vince Mooney's blog!!! How could this happened??? Well, suffice it to say that two out-of-town kids, grandkids, and a DIL and SIL coming to the Lake to visit us had a lot to do with it because weekends suddenly become longer than two days, throwing one's clock off. Please forgive me, Vince and Janet, because I am WAY more than a day late and dollar short. Especially after THIS weekend ... :)

    EXCELLENT post, my friend, but I expect nothing else from one of the most articulate people I know. I loved your examples above, which reminded me a lot of the ads Jay Leno used to do and now Jimmy Fallon does with typos and double meanings. Soooooooo fun!!

    You said: "The reason it is so hard to write like you speak (and still make yourself understood in a crystal clear manner) is because when you speak to someone in person, your body language can be seen by the other party. Body language provides real time feedback to the speaker on how what is being said is being received by the listener. The listener in turn can observe the speaker's body language. This two way feedback greatly helps improve spoken communication."

    You know, I never thought of this before, but you are absolutely correct!! Which may be one of the reasons I absolutely HATE the phone because I can't gesticulate like I want to. And, of course, body language is also critical in crystal clear prose as well, those very important "beats" or body language that helps clarify what's going on for the reader, so GREAT POINT, Vince!

    You also said: "Some words can even mean the opposite of themselves. These are called “contronyms". For example, in British English 'to table an offer' means to present an offer but in American English it means 'to withdraw an offer'."

    Okay, I just KNEW I was going to learn something I didn't know today because I always do with you, my friend, so that is VERY cool!! I never heard of a "contronym" before, so thanks for the ongoing education!

    Again, my apologies for being late -- since we have moved to the Lake of the Ozarks, Mondays tend to be like that for me ... :|



  113. VINCE SAID:
    "How fortunate you are to have your own Grammar Queen and how fortunate Julie is to have her own Drama Queen.

    All I have is Dairy Queen -- the poor man's Panera!"

    LOL ... ah, yes, but at least you won't go hungry, Vince, while I'm afraid all the GQ has to eat are words and all I have to eat is my pride ... :)


  114. That was fun! I do see these kind of comments & wonder, who edited & approved that?

  115. Hi Deanna:

    You're so right!

    How could anyone miss these headlines?

    The editors missed these headlines because they already knew what the story was about and what the headlines meant. They just didn't bother to 'see' the alternate meanings with their 'mind's eye'.

    Isn't there a saying that there is no one so blind as the person who can see but won't? They just would not 'look' with their mind's eye! That should be a lesson to all writers.

    Thanks for you comment.


  116. Hi KC:

    All your comments always make me feel better after I read them. A lot of smart people leave comments here and they are a big part of the 'learning to write' value of coming to Seekerville.

    I'm looking forward to May IV. You know my wife and I have been on several cruises. We'd sure like to take one with May.

    What does a cruise look like fron 12" above the deck? And with so many places to eat food on a ship, won't that keep a little K9 nose running overtime. (Notice alternate meaning for 'running' -- that was intended. : ))

    Send a telex when four is out the door!


  117. Hi Julie:

    Lake of the Ozarks!

    That's just 4 hours and 15 minutes from Tulsa! Are you doing any book signings or seminars up there? I'd love an excuse to visit the Lakes for a weekend! So would Linda. We just love lakeside cabins for a getaway weekend.

    I know the local WIN group (ACFW) in Tulsa would love to have you as a guest speaker! What better place to talk about 'Edgy Christian Fiction' than inside a Lutheran Church where WIN meets? The members have published over 80 books so you'd fit right in. : )

    Thanks for your comments. It is so much fun to get to be "King for a Day"! Just loved it.

    BTW: There have only been two Diary Queens in the whole Tulsa area but they just announced this week that 7 more were coming soon! Life's good!

    Thanks, as always, for too generous comments. : )


  118. I've been caught by my critique group of being less than clear in some of my passages. Especially, it entails who is really speaking. Writing with clarity is an art and I'm going to check out the romance novels by Janet Dean to get a grip on how to write in a concise and meaningful way. I enjoyed your examples and gave me insight on the topic.

  119. Hi Kat:

    Thanks for stopping by. I believe half the battle is knowing what crystal clear writing is and then trying to achieve it. I think many writers settle for simply clear writing and that causes some problems now and then.

    Janet Dean not only writes the best crystal clear romances I have found, she also writes some of the most enjoyable romances I've ever read. Good luck with your writing.