- by Judy Griffith Gill
Last month we learned a lot of Important Writing Terms Every Author Should Know. Now, we are going to learn more. (Oh, in case you noticed, I was lying when I said there’d be pop quizzes. That was my Holiday Season* gift to you all This month, there will be a pop quiz. So be prepared.
*Note: Political correctness demands I not say anything about Christmas because it might offend someone. Why, I have no idea. I mean, it’s not as though I’d have been demanding that everyone should celebrate it. Heck, I don’t even celebrate it. If I did, I’d have to buy gifts for a whole bunch of people. Instead, I let all my friends, family, and neighbors celebrate it and give me gifts. I like it that way.
Editor*-This is the person you most want to please (after making sure you, yourself are pleased with your work). Your editor can be your best friend, your cheering section, can take your precious, priceless words and characters, fall in love with them and demand at the very next editorial meeting that your book be accepted and that you be paid a humongous advance. He or she, once having fallen in love with your prose, action, dialogue, and exposition, is the one person in the world (other than your mother and your uncle Charlie) who believes you are a genius. Treat editors with great respect, nay, even reverence, because without them, several million of us would still be sitting in trees scratching lice in our armpits in between poking randomly at keyboards and eventually, as a group, finally recreating all the words Shakespeare ever wrote. Only that would be plagiarism (which we will examine later). Oh, yeah, before I forget. Editors can also, once in a long while, say “No.” Accept it gracefully and don’t forget to thank each one of the ninety-three who did say it, for their valuable input and for taking the time to read your work-and for failing to notice you put pages 30, 57, 58, 211, and 300 upside down. We will scrutinize that strange habit of some, usually beginning, writers when we get to manuscript formatting.
*Not to be confused with Copy Editors, a few of whom are often so confused themselves, they make a hash of your work and it takes you days to sort it all out by a process known as “stetting.” That, too, we will discuss at a later date.
Exposition- One happened in Chicago about a zillion years ago, leading to another in Seattle, for which they built the Space Needle. This was tall enough to transmit the germs on the prevailing westerlies, where they found a weakened host in Montreal. After lying dormant for some time, the bacteria hopped a westbound freight and migrated to Vancouver in 1986 where it infected most of the province of British Columbia. Again carried over the mountains by those pesky little westerlies, it next tried to settle in Calgary, Alberta, which, fortunately, had been vaccinated in time, leading it to migrate to some unpronounceable place in Japan, (how, we don’t really know, except maybe the jet stream was the vector and it swooped the bacillus around the globe) which had not yet received its inoculation, getting the disease which leads to massive crowds in the streets, shabby down-town hotels getting face lifts and minimum roach control and undergoing rapid price-shifts from something like $9.00 an hour to $900.00 a night. The infection can lead to susceptible authors creating run-on sentences, another subject for further debate. Hey, we’re following the alphabet here, in case you hadn’t noticed. The other meaning of exposition is less often used, but it has to do with nasty little men wearing raincoats and we don’t want to dwell on that, do we? Oops, there is yet another one-it’s something like narrative in which the author explains things to the reader, or “expounds”. This is handy for filling those uncomfortable little spots between action and dialogue and giving the reader information about why Your People are doing what they’re doing at any given time. And believe me, you will need to use exposition. Editors are prone to asking “Why did Your People (or Your Person do that? What was the motivation behind the action?” and “Because I said so,” is not considered an adequate response.
Fatal & Fateful– Words all too often used in place of each other. Fateful means having momentous significance, being vastly important–e.g. “On that fateful day, I received that long awaited call from my editor. She loved my book.” or example for fatal, “My computer flashed an ominous message on the screen: Windows has encountered a FATAL ERROR and is about to die.” Hence, use fatal only in reference to something or someone dying. “On that fatal day, Esmerelda stepped off a cliff and fell to her death 900 feet below, into an icy, raging sea that bashed inexorably against sharp, jagged rocks and never was seen again.” Poor Esmerelda! I told her to stay away from the cliffs, that her editor would be sure to call any day now. And sure enough, she did. I pretended to be Esmerelda and accepted a fantastic, 10 figure advance because she’d already written the whole book. Besides, my publicity shot is much better than hers was. Push her? What are you talking about? I did no such thing!
Flashbacks- This is what happens as a result of your editor not wanting all that background stuff in the beginning of your book. You take it out, put it back, take it out again and finally, in frustration, drop a tab and for eight more years, suffer flashbacks that tend to crowd into your successive books. e.g. “Morgan, you’re here!” Jennifer flung her self into Morgan’s strong, brawny arms (flashbacks can lead the author to use too many adjectives and adverbs as well), felt him lift her off the ground and spin her rapidly, dizzily, delightfully around in a circle of teenagers, each one with his or her gaze following the bottle as it spun, slower, slower, s-l-o-w-e-r . . .and finally stopped, pointing directly at Kevin Sunderson who had big, pus-filled ZITS! oh, gag! and she had to kiss him! Flashbacks are often found in novels, however, and not necessarily because of editorial interfer-er, let’s make that, “input”. They can be used to bring the reader up to date and explain just why Scarlett had to make a ball gown out of curtains.
Girl- AKA Heroine. Hah! You almost bit on that one, didn’t you? Wrong again! Female protagonists are not girls unless you’re writing books for children or are a dirty, rotten male Chauvinist swine who thinks they carry their brains in their boobs just because he carries his in his . . .oh yeah. Almost forgot. Men are no longer the enemy. That was way back in the last century. They’re good guys now who know that female protagonists prefer to be referred to as “women”, strong, self-sufficient, self-supporting, and quite capable of opening their own car doors and alighting unassisted. A real Woman, of course, can also gracefully accept it if a male person chooses to open the car door for her and assists her in getting to her feet because she’s wearing four-inch spike heels and it’s icy on the sidewalk. But if any male person thinks she’s incapable of performing such an action without him, she just might smack him over the head with her little pink purse and then burst into tears. Girls are like that, you know.
Hero- One of the two main People in a romance story. He has to have big shoulders, great pecs, hard thighs and a huge . . . um, ego. Yeah. Okay. Ego will do. They seem to be one and the same, anyway, don’t they, though seldom equal or justified. Heroes often suffer from a total lack of realism when it comes to their own- Oh. Wait. That’s real-life men. Heroes are what we’d like real-life men to be if we could go out and create them, which we do, to the delight of many of our readers. (Upon which, see more, later.)
Heroine- Another of the two main People in a romance story. She’s usually lissome and beautiful and has hair she can toss farther than a Scotsman can toss a caber, whatever that might be, and would probably, realistically, never toss her cookies even if the deck on which she was pacing restlessly slanted beyond a forty-five-degree angle. Heroines are all what we’d like to be if we could recreate ourselves, which, in effect, we do, to the chagrin of some of our readers who frequently ask plaintively, “Why can’t heroines be fat and have facial hair-problems? Don’t fat, hairy women deserve love?” the answer to which is “No!”
In non-romance novels, both male and female protagonists might actually fall in love or lust with each other or someone else and act upon it, but it’s not a requirement. However, they both (assuming there are two main characters in your novel) be upright, kind, strong, self-sufficient, self-supporting and all the rest of that good stuff. They can even be Navy SEALS and go around killing bad guys, but they must do it with honor and for love of country. Otherwise, they’d be villains, which comes much farther down the alphabet. Or is it “up the alphabet” I can never get that straight. All I know for sure is “Up the Irish!”
Home-Home is a particular place, be it a cave, a mansion, or a cardboard box in the park. It is where you live, or where you want to be, or what you are aimed at. Hence, you “home in” on something, as in “zero in” the way a bullet finds its target, or a rock finds a window, or a. pigeon finds its nest. It homes in. Remember that. It might be on the quiz.
Hone-Hone is a verb meaning to sharpen. You do not, Your People do not, your characters do not, “hone in” on anything. To write “hone in” when you should write “home in” is bad, bad bad! I have to wonder why more Copy Editors don’t know that and fix it. Maybe their knowledge of English (assuming that is your language of choice for writing) is not up to standard. Or they’re too busy changing your male protagonist’s name to Phil, from Bull because they think Phil sounds more civilized and they believe Navy SEALS are civilized because, in a way, they are civil servants.. But remember, you can stet Phil every time it occurs.
Huckleberry Finn - He was one of Twain’s People, not a character. Becky Thatcher’s aunt was a character. However, in Tom Sawyer, Huck was a character. I think. But it’s been a long time. I only re-read books with really, really good, graphic se-er-love scenes.
Here it is! Pop quiz-What is your favorite kind of soda-pop? What do you like about it, and why? Not less than five, double-spaced pages, please, formatted in Times New Roman 12, in essay form. One inch margins all round. Due tomorrow.
Next month, we celebrate not only the fact that it will be February, the shortest month of the year, but several more Important Terms Every Author Must know, including-Ta-da!-Intimacy. Yeah. That. Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy!