Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Regionalisms, or how to make your characters more authentic


Writing good dialogue is one of the most important things you can master to improve your storytelling, and I have a few different posts planned on the topic of dialogue. The first, though, is something I was fascinated by long before I was an editor, just because I think people and all of their differences are cool.

Many people who know me know I used to have a severe Dr. Pepper addiction. And many people know that Dr. Pepper is a very Texas kind of thing. But did you know that if someone  from my home state offers me a soft drink, even if they know I am going to want a Dr. Pepper, the conversation is likely to go something like this:

Friend from Texas: “Hey, you thirsty? Want a Coke?”
Me: “Sure”
Friend from Texas: “Great! What kind?”

Now, those of you from outside the South are probably scratching your head and asking yourselves what’s up with that? Your friend clearly just offered you a Coke, didn’t they? Well, yes, and if I had wanted a Coke, they would have given me one (if they had one to give). But in Southern parlance, a Coke is simply any carbonated beverage. Other parts of the country call it pop, soda, or even soda pop, we call it Coke. Go figure.

Paying attention to these types of regional word choices are part of what is key to making your characters more authentic. And when I say regional, I mean regional as in regional within parts of the US or regional as in parts of the world.

Some of the differences are obvious. Another classic within the States is how your character would address a group of people. Is it you all, you guys, y’all (note apostrophe placement!), or something else? But what about something more subtle? Did you know that what most of the rest of the US calls a frontage or service road, we in Houston call a feeder street? Or that a lot of the South tend to say towards, forwards, backwards (much like the Brits do), even though “proper” US English tells us it should be toward, forward, and backward.

National differences can be both obvious and subtle as well. The Oxford English Dictionary has a nice list of some of the major British English to American English “translations,” things like car park to parking lot, jumper to sweater, biscuit to cookie. But there are some very, very subtle differences beyond just the words themselves. For example, in US English, coffee is generally treated as a mass noun. This means we treat it as something that can’t be counted. Whereas British English treats coffee as a discrete noun, meaning (you guessed it) something that can be counted.

Compare the following two lines from a possible conversation:

Friend in the US: “I’m going out. Do you want me to get you some coffee?”
Friend in the UK: “I’m going out. Do you want me to get you a coffee?”
 
Of course we want coffee DUH!

Other subtle differences in British English are places they drop the article the, in front of the word hospital in certain instances, for example. (Don’t ask me all the rules for that one. I still haven’t figured them all out.)

Obviously, I can’t tell you everything there is to know about every regional difference in one post. We are such a connected society these days that I would encourage you to reach out to your network. Surely if you don’t already know someone who can help you with the area you are writing about, then someone knows someone who can. Also remember that regional words are just one thing to think about. Education level also is also a strong predictor of word choice.

I’ve included a couple of links below to some research that was published in 2013 about regional differences in the US. Whether or not they are useful in your writing, they may be interesting.

Happy writing and see you next week.




Erika Orrick wanted to be a writer when she grew up, but detoured into computers when she realized she actually wanted to eat. Financial stability established, she eased her way back into storytelling by fixing other people’s words and discovered she had a knack. An admitted geek, she is constantly distracted from resuming her quest to be a writer by all the shiny. Luckily, since she hasn’t yet grown up, no one can say she hasn’t met her goal. She has tried (and failed) to escape Texas twice and in fact now lives on the north side of Houston, less than 100 miles from where she started.
Erika can be found on Twitter at @erikaeditsbooks or email at

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday - T.A. Chase

Today I'm going allllllllllll the way back to August 2010. I discovered T.A. Chase's books that month and what wonderful books they are!!  Check out some of my favorites!!

Two cowboys fall in love. It's as simple and as complicated as that.

Tyler Newsome is heading home to the Lazy N, tired of the rodeo and tired of always being his charismatic twin's shadow. It's time he gets a life of his own--and maybe the man he's always dreamed of, too. Ren Alston's always been attracted to Tyler, but never made a move because of his own mental and emotional baggage. But after years spent taming his demons and gaining control in every aspect of his life, Ren sees the younger man's return as a sign of good things to come. But first, they have to deal with Tyler's twin, past indiscretions and Ren's brothers. Will these cowboys manage to build a strong foundation of trust and love? Or will their problems be too much for them?


 Six years ago, a hoof to the head ended Leslie Hardin's show-jumping career and his relationship with the man he loved. Broken, hurt, and rejected, Les has focused his energies on rebuilding his life. Les's accident has shown him that the most valuable treasures are usually found under an imperfect surface, and his reputation for taking in strays starts to grow. But it's one of these strays in particular, injured rodeo cowboy Randy Hersch, who captures more than just his compassion. Between his disapproving father and his chosen career path, Randy has always felt the need to deny his passion. But when Les takes him under his wing, Randy begins to realize that he is truly strong enough to admit his true self-to himself and the rest of the world. But in the arms of a broken man, can he find acceptance.and love?
 Tony Romanos is searching for a place to lay his hat and his heart. Traveling on the professional bull riding tour is tough on relationships. He’s never found a man he’s willing to settle down for, or even a home he’s able to call his own.


Brody MacCafferty owns a bodyguard company which has a few perks. Being in Hawaii and picking up a handsome cowboy for a hot one-night stand is one of them. Brody doesn’t expect to see the gorgeous man again.

Neither man can forget that night in Hawaii and fate steps in, connecting them together in ways deep and true. Can Brody convince Tony that Brody’s arms are the very home Tony’s been looking for?


CHECK OUT THESE AND OTHER GREAT TITLES BY T.A. CHASE

Happy Reading
Jo

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Giving your characters control


Before you run off, this is not a post about BDSM. No, this post is about something truly sinister. I'm talking about Autonomous Body Parts. What's an Autonomous Body Part, you might ask? Or maybe you are scratching your head and thinking those sound vaguely familiar. Either way, ABPs are another of those Bad Habits Your Editor Warned You About. (As an aside, you'll also hear these referred to as Sentient Body Parts and Animate Body Parts, among other things.)

So what do I mean by Autonomous Body Parts? An ABP occurs when parts of a character's body seemingly act on their own. It generally happens when an author associates the verb of the sentence with a body part instead of the character themselves.

Check out the poorly written sentences below:

"My hands explored John's chest."
(My feet were checking out Dan instead.)
"His eyes wandered around the room."
(I'm sorry, this one always makes me picture eyeballs roaming around the room. Can't help it.)
"My tongue licked his teeth."
(Um, I'm just going to move along to the next one.)
"His fingers crawled up my spine."
(Disembodied fingers crawling anywhere = shivers)

And the rewritten versions:

"I explored John's chest [with my hands]."
(A good number of things you say your character is doing with their hands, you can switch to them doing themselves.)
"He looked around the room." or "His gaze wandered around the room."
(There are some that would argue that "His gaze..." is still an ABP. Yeah, maybe. It's still better than the wandering eyeballs.)
"I licked his teeth."
(You don't need to include the tongue since there isn't much else you can use to lick something with.)
"His fingers crawled up my spine." or "He ran his fingers up my spine."
(Wait! You are thinking to yourself that I didn't change the first option. And you'd be correct. Hold that thought for, oh, about 200 words.)



"But why do I care?" you might ask. "The reader knows what I mean."


Well, maybe. And like epithets, I get that it is an easy trap to fall into when you are trying to vary your words and your sentence structure. But if you look around at why manuscripts get rejected, this is on a lot of the lists. And for a couple of good reasons:

1. You've lost the emphasis on the characters.
I'm not reading the story to find out what happened to Lee's arm. I want to know what happened to Lee. ABPs interfere with your ability to put Lee front and center as much as possible. It's the same reason your editor yells at you about passive voice. (What, your editor doesn't yell? That's just me? Ahem. Moving on.)

2. It just looks and sounds silly.
Even if the readers do know what you mean, we sometimes can't help but get some very bizarre mental images of hands and feet and arms and--well, you get the idea. Your story just lost some of its integrity.


But wait!

As with epithets a few weeks ago, context is important. Sometimes ABPs are acceptable or even correct. Two main contexts where this occurs are reflexive actions and actions undertaken by non-POV characters.

Actions that are performed reflexively are correctly written as ABPs as, well, the body part really is in control in that case. And actions undertaken by non-POV character can sometimes be written as seeming ABPs depending on the perception of the POV character; for example, if the POV character cannot see the non-POV character well enough to establish which character the body parts belong to or if that if the only body part of the non-POV character the POV character is currently aware of.

"His head turned."
(Possibly acceptable if trying to convey a reflexive action, such as an attractive character.)
"His jaw dropped."
(Correct, jaw dropping is a reflexive action.)

"His fingers crawled up my spine."
(Acceptable. Depending on author voice, context, I might let you get away with this one since it is the POV character talking about a non-POV character. But we'd talk about it.)
"Finally they reached the top of the ridge and hands reached over the edge to grab them."
(The character's back is against the cliff so he can't see whose hands they are to assign agency. He just sees hands. From Ariel Tachna's Conquer the Flames)

And thus concludes my short lesson on Autonomous Body Parts. I'd like to publicly thank the rest of the Monkeys for helping me out this week and last (and, frankly, in the future, since they loaded me down with ideas). They even keep me marginally sane most days.

Happy writing and see you next week.



Erika Orrick wanted to be a writer when she grew up, but detoured into computers when she realized she actually wanted to eat. Financial stability established, she eased her way back into storytelling by fixing other people’s words and discovered she had a knack. An admitted geek, she is constantly distracted from resuming her quest to be a writer by all the shiny. Luckily, since she hasn’t yet grown up, no one can say she hasn’t met her goal. She has tried (and failed) to escape Texas twice and in fact now lives on the north side of Houston, less than 100 miles from where she started.
Erika can be found on Twitter at @erikaeditsbooks or email at erikaeditsbooks@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Essence of the Challenge just $0.99


With too many relationships ending in heartache under her belt, the new and improved Symone Adams is loud, proud and on the prowl. She has removed the heart she’s normally worn on her sleeve and tucked it safely behind lock and key. What she wants now is to explore the appeal of meaningless, mind-blowing sex. After six months of self-imposed celibacy hell, she heads to Menjo's and directly into the path of two very determined players.

Zander and Marco are pros when it comes to seduction, yet each has grown bored with the conquests. When these two strangers set their sights on the same stunning beauty, the competition is on. Both embark on a full balls-to-the-wall effort to win, not only Symone's body, but her heart as well.

Warning: Book may contain Pissing Parrots, Male posturing, Flipping of coins, Hot Sex, MMF situations and a whole lot of Shenanigans.