Sunday, August 28, 2011

Not much going on here lately. Check out YA Stands, where I blog every Monday on YA themes, symbolism, and writing tips.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tells of a Liar

Ever want to hint to your readers that one of your characters is lying without blatantly telling them? Throw in those tiny details that may be unnoticed at first, but when readers think back they’ll scream Why did I not catch that?
I present to you the tells of a liar. The following techniques are used by police, forensic psychologists and security experts.
Body Language:
~Physical expression is limited and stiff. Hand, leg, and arm movements are toward their own body (the liar takes up less space)
~Avoid making eye contact
~Hands touching face, throat, mouth. Scratching the nose or behind the ear
~Facial expression is limited to the mouth, the entire face isn’t involved (forced/faked expression)

Emotional Gestures:
~Timing is off between emotional gesture/expressions and words (Example: someone saying “You’re the best!” and then smiling rather than smiling at the same time the statement is made.)
~Timing of emotion and emotional gesture is irregular. Emotions are delayed, stay longer than natural and then stop suddenly.

~Subconsciously placing an object between self and another person
~Becomes defensive
~Uncomfortable facing accuser. Will turn head or body away

Verbal Clues:
~Using part of the question in the answer. (Example: Accuser asks, “Did you take my book?” The liar will answer, “No, I did not take your book.”)
~Responses with contractions are more likely to be truthful. (“I can’t go with you tonight.” Instead of, “I cannot go with you tonight.”)
~Words may be garbled/spoken softly. Grammar and syntax may be a bit off. In other words, sentences will be muddled instead of emphasized.
~A truthful statement will emphasize the pronoun as much or more than the rest of the sentence. Liars sometimes leave the pronoun out altogether and speak somewhat monotonously.

Have fun sneaking these into your scenes!
Any other tells of a liar? Post them below. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is She Interested?

Recently, I was watching Millionaire Matchmaker — don’t ask me why, it’s a train wreck of a show. Anyway, on the show a body language expert explained to one of the millionaires signs to look for in women to gauge their interest level. Some of the tips regarding first dates might be useful in your writing. So I’m sharing.
Signs of insecurity:
grooming, playing with hair/clothes/etc., talking about self, nervous laugh, unable to maintain eye contact, tripping over words, blushing, sweating
Signs that she IS interested/physically attracted:
leaning forward, regular eye contact, touching, making excuses to touch, legs crossed and pointed at the other person, toes pointed in the direction of the other person**, torso squarely facing the other, eyes lingering on particular details of the face including the mouth and sweeping the hair, lips parting slightly, slight nostril flare, hair flipping, moistening lips, running palm over neck gently
Signs that she is NOT interested:
shoulder turned away from other person, leaning back in chair, arms folded
 **This one is my favorite. I’ve never heard this before.
These are just a few. A fantastic place to find more body language examples is The Bookshelf Muse where Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman name body language cues to their associated emotions.
Happy writing!

Any other links you use for body language? Leave them in the comments below.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Writers: The future of "YES"

This past month, two of my closest friends tied the knot, and amidst the whirlwind of vibrant flowers, elegant dresses and flutes of champagne, I started thinking about the vows. Well, not actually the vows themselves, but the traditional response to them: “I do.”

Out of the copious ways to say “yes,” why is it most couples say “I do”? I understand saying I do answers the question, “Do you take…,” but I think what bothers me most is that several of my friends — my husband included — sounded…funny saying it.

It didn’t fit their personalities.

What are we waiting for? or Hell, yes! or Let’s do it may have been a more fitting answer. My husband tells me he would’ve responded, “What do we have to lose?” or “F— yeah, bitch!” (The latter for shock factor, of course, which tells you oodles about his character.)


The way a character pronounces avowals can add dimension and personality to him/her. For example, the word affirmative in many cases can imply a more commanding and authoritative quality whereas alrighty and totally are words a younger, bubbly character may use.

Many times, yes, sure or certainly can be omitted altogether or replaced with more stimulating dialogue which will move the characters’ conversation (and ultimately the plotline) faster along. For instance, if I had two characters chatting about what movie to see it might sound something like:

ALEX: Why not see Zombie World? You like zombies, right?
LISA: Yes, but I like mermaids better and Angelina Jolie plays a kick ass one.

In this case, “Yes, but” falls into the category of Unnecessary Words. Now try the same conversation without them. Improved, right?  Sometimes, though, affirmations feel necessary but can easily be replaced with something more creative: my thoughts exactly; I was born for it; aye, aye, sir.

Writers: I challenge you to go through your current work in progress and find a few yeahs, of courses and okays to change or omit. Did you notice a difference? Did the dialogue seem tighter?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Strengthening Your Fiction Part 1

Assuming you’ve already accomplished a strong plot, strong characterization (with believable and flawed characters readers can empathize with), realism, dialogue that counts, etc., there are a few smaller areas that, when tightened, can strengthen your fiction.

Filter Out Those Filter Words

A few months ago I kept hearing the term “filter words” and while I somewhat understood what these were, I never really knew they had a name. Filter words are those that needlessly filter the reader’s experience through a character’s POV (point of view).

Let’s look at an example: Lisa felt cold. Here, a filter exists between me (the reader) and Lisa which ultimately decreases immediacy. When I’m reading, I don’t want to feel like a narrator is telling me about Lisa; I want to be in Lisa’s shoes, seeing/feeling/hearing everything she does. Lisa pulled her coat tight, shuddering against the cold. Now without that filter, or layer, blocking me from the action, immediacy returns.

It’s natural to include filter words. From the moment we start reading and writing, we use them (Sam sees a cat. The cat looks sad. Sam hears the cat purr.) and often those habits are the hardest to break. I’ve come to accept that filter words will sneak into my first draft (admittedly, a lot of them), but I’ve made it part of my editing routine to get rid of them.

Here’s a list (which I compiled from various writing websites over time) that I use during the editing process:

v     felt/felt like
v     thought
v     watched
v     saw
v     realized
v     heard
v     sounded/sounded like
v     seemed/appeared
v     could
v     decided
v     wondered
v     touched
v     looked/noticed

(I tend to write in past tense, but if you’re writing in present simply change the tense then spend a day with your FIND button.)


Echoes, according to K. L. Going in her book Writing and Selling the YA Novel, are “words unnecessarily repeated in close proximity.” Generally, echoes are easy to spot and fairly effortless to remedy. An example would be this: “The dog barked incessantly. Megan shouted at the dog from her window.” The dog is an echo so you’d want to come up with another way to creatively reword the sentence(s). Here’s the example again without the echo: “The barking made it impossible to sleep. Fatigued, Megan shouted from her window, “If I fail tomorrow’s test, dog, it’s your fault!” (Not only was the echo eliminated, the dialogue brings the sentences to life.)

Are there other filter words you look for when editing? What else do you do to strengthen your fiction?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Might Vs. May

A lot of times when I’m editing, I think to myself: Am I using this correctly? And while most of the time I simply research the answer then apply it to my writing, I’ve decided to share my findings with you all.

Like today…may versus might. I think the majority of people use these two modals (fancy word for a helping verb that tells you more about the mood of the action verb) interchangeably, but there actually is a rule. Both words show something is potential, however something that may happen is more likely than something that might happen.

Mignon Fogarty, host of Grammar Girl, puts it this way, “use might when something is a mighty stretch.”

So while I may do a load of laundry today (something I do almost every day), I might scrub the tile grout in the bathroom (something my husband claims I haven’t done in years).

As with most rules, there are a few exceptions:
  1. One should never use the word "may" in a negative hypothetical because it could be read as “one does not have permission.” For example, saying “I may not go to the party” could be misread as “I’m not allowed to go to the party.” In this case, “might” should be used.
  2. Might is the past tense of may. So regardless of the mood implication, if the event is in the past, you always use might. I might have done laundry today. I might have scrubbed the grout.

Have these two words troubled you in the past? What other words trip you up?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Which One??

Sometimes I feel like the English language was created by a prankster who thought it'd be funny to confuse as many people as possible (not really, but sometimes). It's no secret a good portion of the American population can't even decipher your/you're or they're/there/their, but since the majority of you reading this are writers, I thought I'd cover a few others that are not often talked about.

Whose vs. Who’s

Whose = possessive form of who
Whose book is this?
I can’t remember whose umbrella I borrowed yesterday.

Who’s = contraction of “who is” or “who has”
Who’s driving the car?
I don’t know who’s been in my room.

A lot vs. Alot

A lot = a two word phrase used to mean "many" or "much".
I like you a lot.

Alot = this is not a word. Although a common mistake, don’t use it. Ever.

Affect vs. Effect

Affect = a verb most commonly meaning to influence or have an impact on someone or something.
How will this post affect your writing?

Effect = a noun most commonly meaning a result or something brought about by a cause.
I hope this post will have an effect on your writing.

Into vs. In to

Into = has to do with motion from outside to inside. Direction implied.
She went into her house.

In to = the two-word phrase combines two meanings—direction AND purpose with going “in” somewhere “to” do something.
She went in to grab her sunglasses.

Hope this helps. Happy writing!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Dreaded Semicolon

So I heard someone say the other day that the semicolon is the most feared punctuation on the planet, and while I don’t think we need to be overly dramatic about the use of it I would agree that the majority of the population either doesn’t understand and/or incorrectly uses the semicolon.

Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I felt the need to give a little mini-lesson. So here it goes:

~  The most common way to use a semicolon is to combine two independent clauses (independent clause is just a fancy word for a simple sentence that contains a subject and a predicate). And here’s the trick…(dramatic pause)…the two independent clauses MUST be, well, independent, meaning they could each stand alone, meaning if you covered up the second independent clause, the first would read as a complete sentence and vice versa.

~ But you can’t just plop a semicolon between two complete sentences because you feel like it; a semicolon should be used when you want to form a bond between the two ideas or statements. (Like I just did.) This is usually done when the two sentences are related to or contrast with one another. Like these:

His eyes flicked to the hold he had around my wrist; his fingers overlapped with ease, encircling around once and a half as if the point needed to be beaten in further.

Call me tomorrow; I’ll tell you everything then.

I told Ryan to run for the hills; I wonder if he knew I was joking.

~ Now if you have a conjunction (and, but, or, yet, nor, for, so) between the two, leave out the semicolon. In this case, the conjunction is what ties the two independent clauses together so there would be no need for our lovely little friend the semicolon. (See how I did that?)  

~ For those of you who want to go one step further, a semicolon can also be used between an independent clause and a semi clause which are linked with a transitional phrase or a conjunctive verb. (I know, it’s a little wordy, but look at the examples.)

Everyone knows Shaun spray painted the locker; of course, it will never be proven.

Bill is Canadian; however, he lives in the United States.

I have paid my tuition; therefore, I expect a full year’s stay.

~ You can also use a semicolon between items in a series that contain internal punctuation. Like this:

He saw three girls: Sara, who was in his English class; Lisa, the coach’s daughter; and Megan, the one with the long blond hair.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions or ideas on what you’d like me to cover next, post them below. Until then, happy writing!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


My intention for this blog is to provide/clarify/comment on any and all things related to writing and the writing process. I'm a stickler with grammar and punctuation (trust me, you did not want to be one of my students) so if you have any questions, send them my way.