Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Knowing What Your Words Mean

One of the easiest and fastest ways to tell whether or not I'm interested in reading an author's manuscript is to simply look at the first paragraph and see whether I've been insulted.

Now, I do get my share of intentionally insulting e-mails, which is fine and goes with the territory. But that's not what this post is about.

I receive a surprisingly diverse array of backhanded compliments, unintended insults, and unintentionally aggressive "praise" from authors who stuck their thumb in the Thesaurus and pulled out a recrimination.

If you're going to be a writer it's imperative you know what words mean. And not just what they mean, but what they connote.

This is one reason why queries are such a window into the soul of a book. An author who calls me "savage" or who praises my "abrupt" blogs (those are made up, btw, but very close to real life examples) probably doesn't make the best word choices in their novel. It's a serious stretch to think that they can mess up a word choice in the first paragraph of a query and still have the ability to write a publishable novel.

And let's start with what you're reading. It's a blog, or, if you want to get fancy, a weblog. It's not a Blogger or a bloglines or a bloge or a blogjournal, all of which I see on a regular basis. You gotta know this stuff. You're supposed to be a word person! You have to know what jargon the kids are using!

Now, I'm not saying that someone who struggles with grammar or word choice or who struggles with a learning disability can't write a good book. Storytelling is storytelling, and it's a gift possessed by many different types of people.

But if you are someone who struggles with word choice and grammar you must must must 1) know who you are and 2) have someone check and double check your query and manuscript for word choice issuances.






111 comments:

Ink said...

Nathan, I love your turgid bloge.



I joke, I joke... Really, I don't love it at all.



Oh, okay, that was a joke too. It's been a long couple of days, I admit.

Mira said...

Oh, how I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I'd love to see some of those queries.

Savage? You? Really?

Is there any possiblity, though, that the queries are 'in voice?' For example, maybe the writer has written an angry novel, and they are trying to capture that feeling?

Just a thought.

Marilyn Peake said...

Currently writing the part of my novel where the plot is coming together and unfolding nicely, I'm finding myself concentrating on word choice more than ever - finding words that connote the exact meaning of the story, and sometimes symbolic meanings as well. I feel that much of the real power of writing comes from the correct use of words. Words have power.

I think that one of the reasons your blog is so popular is because you can really write. Your choice of words delivers the message; and, when you try to be funny, you succeed.

Irish B said...

I agree with Marilyn. Why aren't you writing books? (I typed it the way I meant it.)

Marilyn Peake said...

Dear Literary Agent,

I understand that you are flushing out new talent. I'm fresh, really fresh, and have a bright new manuscript. Are you interested?

Just havin' fun. :)

Marilyn Peake said...

I agree with Irish B. Why aren't you writing a book, Nathan?

Jo said...

Would a cleverly inserted malapropism catch your attention? If it was intended? Or would it grasp through your slip?

Bija Andrew Wright said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one who gets frustrated with imprecise word choices. My students (in college writing classes) should learn to be careful, because one bad word choice can sabotage my confidence in their skills as writers.

Martin Willoughby said...

What about the different meaning of words across nations?

In the UK, 'nick' can mean 'steal', 'cop' and 'copper' can mean policeman (among other things).

We also have different meanings for words in different regions.

Is there an allowance for 'regional' usage with some words the writer uses...not including bloge of course, unless that's how it spelt in some areas.

Mercy Loomis said...

@Martin
I think if you are writing a query letter, it's best to stick to plain old chancery English as much as possible. Avoid slang. As for novels, I personally prefer to avoid a lot of slang. A little in dialog adds voice, and usually people can figure it out from context even if they don't know the particular word or phrase. (And make sure that the word or phrase MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS!) But you always risk kicking your reader out of the story if you use too much, and slang really has no place in a professional communication, in my opinion. And query letters written "in character" have got to be incredibly annoying after awhile.

Mercy Loomis said...

And I must say I find it VERY odd that the spell-checker here counts "dialogue" as miss-spelled. Stupid spell-check.

Mira said...

On the other hand, although I completely hear what you're saying - it's important to be careful - but it's also good to give a bit of latitude.

Communication is hard. It's hard to know how someone will take things. Obviously not something like: You're not as (insert word here) as the other agents. That's not pretty out there.

But savage. Maybe someone really thought you'd like that. It conjures up an image of he-men by the fire, ripping meat off the thighs of giant boars with their teeth. Maybe someone liked the idea of an agent who will savagely promote them, and thought you would too. I don't know.

Dearth of Reason said...

Many of the advice points highlighted by Nathan in his helpful blog can be boiled down to, "Stop being lazy. Put in the work and you improve your chances in a harsh marketplace."

Being lazy myself, I like to sit back and resent this sentiment. But if you catch me in a rare moment of perspective, usually occurring somewhere between a large meal and an empty bottle of wine, I agree I should not expect to be published if I continue my indulgent ways. I would do something about it but right now I need to find the corkscrew... can't remember where I put the damned thing.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

I find people's *connoting skills* vary immensely. Some see subtext everywhere, (conspiracy types) and some can't feel it with a 2X4 boink on their frontal lobe, (like a cave man sayin' "I love you!)"

I remember fighting a 65 lb catfish in blazing hot sun for 45 exhausting minutes. When the fish was tired, I shouted, "Get the net!" Whereupon my 14 yr. old nephew hands me a 3X5 inch minnow net as he leans against the secured 6 foot landing net which surrounds his head like a hair-net. (Meaning... what you're sendin' is only good as what's receiving')!

Haste yee back ;-)

Aubrey said...

My favorite was an e-mail I received from a published author that wanted to be featured on my blog. It looked like their fingers were on the wrong keys when she was typing and didn't bother to fix it when she hit send.

Needless to say there were some really odd words in that e-mail.

Sherin said...

"...from authors who stuck their thumb in the Thesaurus and pulled out a recrimination."

Genius.

Litgirl01 said...

Nathan...you always have a diplomatic way of putting things! ;-)

Rachel said...

I'm not sure what surprised me more about this blog...that people don't know the difference between a blog and a blogger, or that someone would insult an agent at the same time they are seeking representation from him. Bizarre. Oh, well...Nathan, I love your blogger!

Jen C said...

This just reaffirms to me that your query letter is an extension of your novel, not something entirely different.

(How's that for a short post! See, I can do it!)

Word Veri - Sulsidan. How cool does that sound?

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Nathan, please... Do you really think someone's inability to keep up with technical jargon--which changes every 15 minutes--really indicates a lack of literary talent? If so, imagine what you're passing up!

Kristin Laughtin said...

Wow. Of course, after a blogjournal like that, I'm morbidly curious to see more examples of this phenomenon. (And I find myself liking "blogjournal" a bit too much...)

I wonder if a majority of these people might be writing the intros (at least) to their queries on the fly, in an attempt to personalize each one. A worthy effort, of course, but still, let your draft rest for a night! I feel I have a good grasp of semantics, but occasionally I'll revise something I've written and realize I used a similarly spelled word in place of what I really meant, and the results are more often awkward than hilarious. Somehow these things can escape our notice in the first draft.

Jen C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mister Fweem said...

@ Vegas Linda Lou

Blogs -- and this basic terminology -- have been around for a while now. Some technical stuff changes, but most of it remains the same. And if you're communicating with an agent who uses a blog, you'd better know how to spell it.

Jen C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. Andrew Smith said...

I'm always amazed at how many people say they want to write a book, but they don't read, have a lousy vocabulary, and don't understand grammar.

What's even scarier is that some of these people actually do write their books, and try to get them published, if agent bloggers can be believed. While I'd love to spend a few days with a slush pile, just to see what I'm up against, I can't imagine having to deal with it day in, day out, sorting through hundreds of queries a week, trying to find traces of publishable writer.

Word verification: tieddis. Tedius, maybe? Seems fitting.

Nathan Bransford said...

VLL-

As I've said before, there's no such thing as an automatic rejection. If the only problem with the query was that the author didn't know what a "blog" is, I'm not passing it up.

But that never happens -- if they mess up "blog" the rest of the query is usually not very strong.

"Blog" isn't some crazy technical jargon. It's in the dictionary. It was Miriam Webster's word of the year in 2004. A writer who reads newspapers and magazines or... pretty much anything should have absorbed it by now.

Chet said...

Someone who struggles with word choice and grammar - especially someone who knows they have such a struggle - will make the effort to make sure every word is the right word, or as close to the right one as possible.

The one who is comfortable with words and writing - that's the one who'll be less careful.

BTW, greetings from Malaysia. :-)

Jen C said...

A bit OT, but Chet, what is your pic of? Is that one of the portable word processing thingys for writers?

Word Veri - Crock. What are you trying to say?

Jen C said...

Vegas Linda Lou said...
Nathan, please... Do you really think someone's inability to keep up with technical jargon--which changes every 15 minutes--really indicates a lack of literary talent? If so, imagine what you're passing up!


I think the point is that, if one doesn't know what it means then one shouldn't use it. If someone doesn't know what a blog/bloge is, or know what the right term is, then they shouldn't really be using it as part of their query.

(OMG I had to delete the erroneous comment, I'm that OCD I just couldn't stand looking at it...)

Anonymous said...

simply look at the first paragraph and see whether I've been insulted.

Oh, please. First it was writers employing rhetorical questions. Then it was writers not following your query formula. Now it's writers offending your sensitivities. When are you going to realize it's about the book, not you?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

What I'm saying is that these were clearly UNINTENDED insults. The authors didn't know what the words mean/connote. They're free to do that if they want, but if I didn't take poor word choice into account when reading a query I'd be really terrible at my job.

I really don't care what people think of me. You could secretly hate me and still query me. I'm not worried about it. As long as we can work together and you're talented and you can suppress the fact that you hate my guts, go for it.

Trashy Cowgirl said...

I'm playing with Flash Fiction a lot recently. Talk about letting it all hang out. It is definitely giving me a respect, not only for the correct word, but for the MOST correct word.

And, here's something I've started doing, may be of help to others. When I have trouble with a chapter, I pick a very conservative number of words (usually around 500) and strip the chapter down to it. Makes everything quite clear. Also helps me focus on the main point of the chapter. Then, I build it back up from there.

Ranielle said...

Re: "a 2x4 boink" because I honestly couldn't resist, given the post's topic.

boink, verb - to have or engage in sexual intercourse

bonk, verb - to hit, strike, collide, etc.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

OK, I agree writers should know what a blog is; I was more concerned with Nathan saying, "You have to know what jargon the kids are using!"

Keeping up with the kids' jargon is a full-time job in itself! Oh, damn... I hate it when my 8-track flips over right in the middle of a song.

Nathan Bransford said...

Ohhh, yeah, VLL you don't have to know what jargon the kids are using unless you're trying to write modern kids into your book.

I was more trying to poke fun at the fact that blog isn't really a new word. But I can see how you read it the other way.

Jen C said...

Nathan, you have so much patience with people you put me to shame.

Anonymous said...

Anon here again.

I have no reason to doubt your ability as an agent. It's refreshing to find someone in this corner of the industry who can write. But I'm disturbed by what I perceive to be a growing trend among agents to be overly sensitive to how they're approached.

Mercy Loomis said...

Ranielle,

Semantic drift, baby. Gotta love it.

Word verification: prosesse. A snobby procession?

MaLanie said...

Nathan- thanks for the heads up! It is always great to hear your advice. Have a nice evening!

Anonymous said...

While majoring in Journalism in college, it amazed me to see how many kids couldn't pass the GSP (Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation) exam and had to take it over and over. If I was that bad at something, I think I'd be looking for a new major--if not a new career. Not all writers can be their own editor, but they should know enough to ask for help.

Sandra G. said...

Anon - I think agents have every right to be sensitive about how they are approached (and no, I'm not an agent...not even close).

Using spell check and having someone look over your query before you send it off is not difficult, and if you want to try and get ahead in this game you must have basic vocabulary and grammar skills.

That said, I'm with K. Andrew Smith - I'd love to spend a day wading through a slush pile to see what I'm up against.

Sally Apokedak said...

Nathan, You come across as a genuinely nice fellow.

Anonymous said...

Different anon here. Wondering about the unprovoked agent hate that seems to pop up now and again. It must be part of the job, and kudos to you for not taking it to heart.

I've read your blog for a couple of years now, and am really impressed that you've kept my attention for so long. You're an entertaining writer, for sure, but I think mostly what I like about your blog is that you keep things so civil.

Scott said...

After recently looking over lots of stuff by aspiring authors, I really get the impression that many are simply rushing the process. The writing even feels rushed. Maybe they're trying to get through the story before they feel too much doubt about what they're doing. I don't know.

For some, writing––query withstanding––is very frightening. The frustration and confusion it causes can be emotionally crippling, so instead of taking their time with a pinch of faith and working through it, they force it out. I can see how a lot of poor word choices can result from such a tack.

The Kamikaze Process rarely produces gold, so I say "take your time". New writers shouldn't be afraid of writing those first five to ten "bad" books. There are no shortcuts, unfortunately, so stay simple, choose wisely, and learn every step of the way.

other lisa said...

@anon - I really think you're missing Nathan's point. If an author's query contains words that don't mean what the author thinks they mean, odds are, the book sucks too. Because said author lacks a really basic skill for a writer - knowing how to use words correctly.

m clent hall said...

This is a very interesting subject and I offer an experience from the other side of the fence.
Attending an excellent conference, I paid money to have an agent look at my manuscript, a story in a field in which she professed interest. I don't use fancy language, I adhere to the Mark Twain dictum of five dollar versus ten cent words. But, she marked two words on the first page, said, "I don't know what those mean. OK I have a dictionary, but why should I look them up?"
Clearly I was wasting my time, but I didn't waste my money. I learnt, to be very simple in the words I use when trying to get an agent or editor to read my work. It's as easy to put them off with good English as it is with bad.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@4:03-

I'm not trying to create another hoop for writers, just pointing out the importance of recognizing word choice throughout the query. I just used unintended insults as an example.

Although even if the insult thing were the thrust of this blog post the advice would boil down to "don't insult the person you're querying," which... well, if you have trouble with jumping through that hoop you're probably going to have quite a bit of trouble finding an agent who wants to work with you.

It's also kind of ironic that these are the same people who tend to be most sensitive to perceived sleights.

Colorado Writer said...

Vizzini: HE DIDN'T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE.

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

jimnduncan said...

You would think, given the state of queries lately, that people would try to avoid anything extra at all in their queries. Agents probably appreciate the succinct queries even more now than ever. While I'm sure it's nice to know writers have found you through the blog, does that really have any influence at all on the query? Do you care or want anything more than title, genre, and word count before reading the blurb? Do you just read the blurb first and worry about the other stuff after the fact if you have any interest in it? Just thinking outloud here, but seems people could just avoid the worry of what to say by not saying anything. Obviously you have to say 'something' but you know what I mean.

Nathan Bransford said...

jimduncan-

I appreciate when people personalize because it shows a higher level of dedication/professionalism and bodes well for the manuscript.

But I think sometimes people let their guard down in those sections because they're not part of the query they sweated over. I'm looking at everything. Sometimes the way someone personalizes is more revealing than the body of the query because chances are they didn't have help on that part.

m clement hall said...

To Sandra G:
If you want to see what a slush pile looks like, join Authonomy.
You'll get an idea of what the agent has to see.
You'll also meet some good people.

Barb said...

Sleight - manual dexterity.
Slight - intentional disregard.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Allison said...

Stepping out of my usual lurkdom (don't care if that isn't in the dictionary, this isn't a query :) )
to heartily agree with Nathan's post.

I judge writing contests. Every time, I see proof that there are people who think they can write, but clearly have a limited grasp of the language they are writing in. In competitions, I try to convince myself that these people are beginners, and will improve. But finding it in your slush-pile day after day? From people who must believe they are at a publishable standard?

Do they make alcohol strong enough?

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Ranielle,
I really didn't think anyone would catch the subtlety... I caught it on my spell check before I post, but thought it was a decent joke. Good on ya!

I mean, the topic was POOR CHOICE OF WORDS!

Haste yee back ;-)

pjd said...

Do you get many misplaced modifiers, such as Having read all your blog posts, my book really fits what you're looking for!

Those are my favorite.

Though I don't think I'd mind if someone called me "savage." In the right context, of course. Heathen, however...

jil said...

Choosing the right word to evoke the feeling the author wants to create in the reader is so critical it saddens me that readers' vocabularies are becoming smaller and smaller.

Lewis Carroll chose such wonderful non-words in The Jabberwoky!

An aside: Why does sentence structure become higgeldy-piggeldy when I send manuscript pages over the internet?

Chris Bates said...

@Irish B said... Why aren't you writing books?

You obviously didn't read Publishers Lunch this morning. New six figure deal: The Best of Bransford - 'Agent - A Gent'

Released next fall by 'Shaman & Shyster'. :)

Ink said...

Dear Colorado Writer,

You killed my father. Prepare to Die.

ryan field said...

Knowing what your words mean...it's important. The wrong word choices could alter the original intention. And sometimes it only takes one word to do this.

Annalee said...

This is tangential, but boy do I hate the "but I'm dyslexic!" excuse. Blaming external factors just seems to me like a way to give up an awful lot of power over one's own success (and I say that as a dyslexic. One who can put a sentence together, thankyouverymuch).

To Anon: I think the point is not that these submitters are insulting Nathan. It's that they don't command the language well enough to know how to choose words that will best convey their meaning. If they can't manage that in a single paragraph, it bodes unwell for their ability to manage it over the course of an entire manuscript.

Jen C said...

Annalee said...
This is tangential, but boy do I hate the "but I'm dyslexic!" excuse. Blaming external factors just seems to me like a way to give up an awful lot of power over one's own success (and I say that as a dyslexic. One who can put a sentence together, thankyouverymuch).


You're right, plenty of writers with dyslexia have gone on to have successful careers. My personal fave author, Piers Anthony, struggled with the problem for years, and then went on to be a best selling autor, with well over 100 books to his name. It just takes determination and a lot of hard work.

Griffin Asher said...

Whenever I hear about people who are lazy with their words/spelling/grammar/etc. I always get a little bristly. They wine that it's hard and takes too much time.

All I can say is: suck it up. I've lived with dyslexia my whole life. Writing is always hard work for me, but I stick with it because I love it.

There's really no excuse for laziness. If I can do it, then anyone can.

Colorado Writer said...

Ink,
Stop saying that!

lotusgirl said...

Wow! Write about correct word choice and hopeful authors parse your every word. For the love of blogdom and jelliquaria, leave the nice, helpful, kind agent be. He's just saying that authors (who work in words) should know what they communicate.

Lady Glamis said...

Great advice, Nathan. I'll leave you with a lovely quote by Stephen King:

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. -Stephen King

L.C. Gant said...

Excellent post, Nathan. I'm not bold enough to ridicule other writers for being guilty of this; I have more socially awkward moments online than I'd care to admit :-P

Anyway, good advice for anyone to follow, not just writers. Written words are hard to get right because you don't have things like body language and voice inflection to help get your meaning across.

That said, misusing words like "blog" and "blogger" is just ridiculous...

susan said...

Great bloge. Do you also tweet?

Seriously, that blog was a classic. Thanks.

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jil said...

As to Stephen King's words - doesn't it depend on who "you"(the reader) is? Are we to write for the lowest denominator? Personally I like to come across unfamiliar words - as long as they're not just being used to be pretentious.

Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vancouver Dame said...

Thank you for getting back to writing topics. (I'd say let the authonomy discussion stay where it belongs, on that site.)

This post about understanding words and their meanings is why I follow your blog, not for sensational news about the latest publicity stunt.

Using the correct word is a skill, and can be learned. Using it to bring more life into what is being said along with all the nuances is an art. Along with the current desire for immediate gratification comes an unwillingness to do the research on what a word actually means.

I find it amazing that a writer would take a chance on insulting a prospective agent by being careless in how they approach that agent. Professionalism is the image the writer should aspire to, and the choice of words is very important.

Words speak for us, so we must be cognizant of what they say.

Great post.

Rick Daley said...

Thank you, that was an alarming post, I here what your saying.

Christine H said...

Sorry for the deleted comments. I keep forgetting that I can't edit myself on these bloges once I've posted something. I can't help it... I have CED... compulsive editing disorder.

Advice from C.S. Lewis:

Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

Dorinda Ohnstad said...

One of my favorite words that folks misuse constantly is "infamous." I'll never forget when someone told me I was infamous to my face, thinking they were paying me a great compliment!

Then my daughter had to correct her fourth grade teacher with respect to this word. He had to look it up, then had to acknowledge that she was right. Now how sad is that, when the person charged with teaching her English is telling her the meaning of words that they don't know themselves.

T. Anne said...

Thanks Nathan, I hate getting backhanded compliments in real life so I can imagine they don't feel too good in a query either.

Chris Bates said...

"You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter."

Wrong.

But, oh, so right.

Sometimes the mishmash just works ... possibly not in a query letter, however.

Although I could give it a shot.

Hi Nathan,

Query attached. I'm using my pseudonym - Samuel Clem... er, Clemency. So please 'pardon' the unusual style.

Thanks
Chris

Kristi said...

I'm late in my blog reading tonight, but am actually most impressed with the fact that Nathan knew Miriam Webster's 2004 word of the year. Seriously, was this off the top of your head or did you google it? I can barely remember what I ate for breakfast today, let alone the year 2004.

Anonymous said...

"what jargon the kids are using..." its hard for us to keep up with it but you would know naturally since...

Anonymous said...

Who are these crazy morons who call you savage, abrupt blogger, some Crawford with syndrome. Pls go ahead and reject them - I'm with you. Really, I mean..

Lucy said...

Re: Anon 3:47

I quote:

"When are you going to realize it's about the book, not you?"

May I gently suggest to you that publishing requires the skills of tact, cooperation, and concern for the feelings of other people? If your book is so very important to you that you cannot use common courtesy in dealing with an agent, I consider it highly unlikely that a reputable agent, or editor, will want to work with you.

Reputable agents, and editors, know that literary brilliance and its cash payoffs are no real compensation for tolerating arrogance, hypersensitivity, incomprehension of human relationships, and just plain nastiness.

And yes, your comment looked very nasty in black and white.

Anonymous said...

Twas turdish
And in the bogish swamp did play
The agent and his tweedy putermouse.
"Nay, nay, nay!" would he bray
And with a pixelish click
Dash and destroy and bransfordly demolish
A quovishly quivering writer.

Richard Lewis said...

One of my Asian friends, educated in an American university, explained to me why he and wife had no children.

"My wife," he said, "she is inconceivable. No that's not the right word. What is it? Ah, yes. My wife is impregnable. No, no, that's not right. Oh, what's the word? Yes, yes, I remember. My wife, she is unbearable."

Lucy said...

Kudos to Richard!

Writer from Hell said...

O Richard that is so Racy!

Bane of Anubis said...

What bothers me more than misused words is the misuse, nay, the outright dismissal of the subjunctive and conditional statements by authors... sometimes they use 'em, sometimes they don't - if I were an editor, I'd be consistent (save for possible dialog colloquialism or ignorance); sometimes, I wish I were an editor.

Fiddler on the Roof - "I wish I were a rich man..."
gwen stefani - "I wish I was a rich girl" - JFC - it's not like you even needed to fail (ditch) your homework to get that one wrong.

austere said...

Abrupt blog? :)
Cut to the chase, do you?

Chet said...

Jen C - my picture shows the AlphaSmart Neo, which is a portable word processor that runs on 3 AA batteries for up to 700 hours. Thanks for asking!

Nathan - sorry for going OT on your blog.

Sarah said...

Thanks for this Nathan.

As someone who is getting ready to stick their head above the parapet and leap into into the exciting world of agents/publishers in the next year, this was absolutely, hilariously invaluable. I'd love to be a fly on the wall when you open some of the more 'interestingly written' queries!

Sarah

Jen C said...

Chet said...

Jen C - my picture shows the AlphaSmart Neo, which is a portable word processor that runs on 3 AA batteries for up to 700 hours. Thanks for asking!


Thanks Chet, I'm leaving you a comment on your blog regarding it!

Ego said...

'Savage' is a compliment in Limerick, Ireland. So is it still an issuance?

Prabhash said...

I must say that I agree with Nathan. I believe its human for a writer to not be comfortable with particular set of words, but someone not atleast doing these two things with his/her writing definitely is lazy (1) Spell Check. Although sometimes word processors act funny (2) Thesaurus Check - both for exact meaning as well as to check if a better word is available.

Onyeka Nwelue said...

Nice one. I think more agents should be closer home to writers, share experiences and all whatnot.

Do check my blogsite if you have time.

Thanks,

Onyeka
(Nigeria)

Ieva said...

I often find myself double-checking even the most mundane words just to make sure that I don't mess up, especially because the "natural" use of language often employs words incorrectly, be it intentional or not.

Writer is not just a creator of stories. Writer is a creator of language, from neologisms to sentence structures. There is an invisible border between "this works although it isn't really a word" and "this is constructed fairly well but just doesn't sound right". Funny thing being, it is almost impossible to tell why. You either feel it or you don't.

Also, _issuances_?

freddie said...

I think some of this problem can be fixed by reading a lot, and reading widely.

Stephanie Faris said...

Hahaha.

"I regularly read your blogger on my Internet machine and I thought I'd typewrite a letter and electronically mail it to you because my novel is wonderful."

I understand some people don't get the jargon but what decade are we living in? I sure hope these people aren't writing young adult novels!

Anonymous said...

I contracted with a freelance editor to help polish my first novel. I had no idea about things like word choices, echoes, fantasy rules, etc.

My favorite comment my editor left me was in the prologue. I had written a line that read "his eyes sparkled with relish." My editor wrote a comment off to the side that read "hot dog anyone?"

I learned so much from the words that were surrounded in a ink box (annotating that I had made a poor word choice). You really have to work with someone to truly see what 'poor word choice' really means.

Plus, I think there's not enough publicity about echoes. Every five pages I would use a word three times...one time I used it six times on a single page! Wow, I had no idea about echoes. No one ever told me about them.

Melanie said...

I am an editor of academic and government writing. I love getting manuscripts from people who have clearly made indiscriminate use of a thesaurus in their writing. I call a writer like that a "Thesaurus Rex" -- the king of the thesaurus is a sharp-toothed eater of meaning!

Lupina said...

Getting unintentional slurs in a query is sad enough, but receiving intentionally insulting emails is just wrong! Must it really go with the territory? I'm sorry there are so many clods in the world.

And ahem, I believe I mentioned last week already that you should write a book, Nathan. Then people could quote you instead of D. Maas (who is also very good).

There's a topic idea. What is everyone's favorite book on writing, and why?

Anonymous said...

Those brazenly brusque writers
needed demolishing. I'm sure they aren't quovishly quivering
(what whackjob thesaurus is being used there?). They are hackin away
at the next one on the assembly line! They are the real demolition men!

same anon as 8:14pm

Writer from Hell said...

lupina i second that!

Melissa McInerney said...

Ahh...Nathan This stuff is so good I know you can't be making it up. For the first time I didn't like VLL comment, but then she redeemed herself with her next one. Seriously, if you don't love words, get irritated when people use the wrong word, you shouldn't be a writer. Is that savage enough?I can't wait to meet you at the Pikes Peak Writer's Conference. Hope you live up to your blog, dude.

swati said...

You're a class act, Nathan, not using real examples....

Nona said...

The guy who said "boink" meant "boink." After all, he was talking about a cave man . . .

As for "savage," they probably meant "gnarly." That's surfer slang for "terrifying but beautiful."

L.L. said...

Hello Nathan,

I'm new to your blog, but wrote the following entry this morning @ http://soulechoes2.blogspot.com/2009/03/thesaurus-101.html
, after reading your post.

It reminded me of a time or three when I inevitably had to ask, "You've been reading the Thesaurus again, haven't you?"

mare said...

yikes! nathan, will you please share some examples? i've queried you before, and i vaguely remember saying i loved your blog, and that's about it...I hope!

Emily Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Cross said...

Ego: aw its not just a limerick thing! Think its nationwide now (apart from from dublin, surprise, surprise)

best be watching me slang so!

*cue david attenbourgh voice*


aw what a wonderful place to live, where an insult could be a compliment

Anonymous said...

Do any of you know what Stephen King's first query letter was like?

I think mine must be effing bad. Or at least the 5 pages I sent. It seems they are never quite what the agent is looking for. So what the blazes is he looking for?

PurpleClover said...

How in the world did I miss this post?

Dang! Now I have to run through the query I just sent this morning to be sure I didn't unintentionally insult the agent!

Janny said...

Actually, it's MERRIAM-Webster...not Miriam Webster. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

OTOH, Miriam Webster's gotta be a girl with a great vocabulary!

JB

Nathan Bransford said...

janny-

Ha. Good catch.

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