Oct 07

Wednesday Writing Tip #139: “Hunger pangs” vs. “Hunger pains”

Hunger pangs vs hunger painsGrowing pains are legitespecially when they star Kirk Cameron and young Leonardo DiCaprio—but “hunger pains” are less so. Have you been saying and writing this idiom correctly?

The proper phrase is “hunger pangs.” What is a “pang” you ask? Why a brief feeling of emotional or physical pain, of course. Confusing? Absolutely.

The muddle over the “hunger pangs” vs. “hunger pains” is understandable, but when there’s a correct answer, you’ve got to go with it.

You might have back pains, growing pains, or pains in the neck, but you don’t have “hunger pains.” Unless there’s major malnourishment involved, “pang” is the word you need.

Happy writing and bon appetit!

Sep 30

Wednesday Writing Tip #138: Doing a 180 (not a 360)

turning 180-physically-metaphorically

Be careful with your walking and your writing with this one.

When someone makes a drastic direction change, they are not turning in a full circle. If you miswrite this common phrase as “doing a 360” or “pulling a 360,” you would be metaphorically going 360 degrees around to face in the exact same direction—turning in a circle, which is 360 degrees.

To turn and go the opposite direction, either physically or metaphorically, you would turn 180 degrees.

Tap into those old geometry recollections and remember what you heard there—it was more than just the squeaky leather shoes of your teacher. Now let that basic math knowledge wash over your writing, and you’ll be all the better for it.

Happy writing, everyone!

Sep 23

Wednesday Writing Tip #138: Cutting Sensory Verbs in Description

Cutting sensory verbs in descriptionWhen we have a clear image of a place or a moment in our heads as writers and we want to convey this picture to our readers, multiple challenges arise. How long should our descriptions be? How do we make sure description doesn’t kill the momentum of the story? How much is too much?

What should we leave up to our readers’ imaginations?

Yet in all of the questions about description, one stylistic choice can dramatically improve the end result: cut the sensory verbs that introduce your description.

Let’s take a look at two examples to showcase my point. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 16

Wednesday Writing Tip #137: “Flare” vs. “Flair”

Flair vs FlareKatniss Everdeen might have costumes with “flare,” but unless flames are leaping from someone’s clothing, perhaps the word “flair” is what you might be looking for. Confused? Read on.

I’ve caught this typo a few times lately, so I wanted to pause and spend some time with it.

  • “Flare” can be a noun or a verb, most commonly referring to the display of fire, a sudden burst of flames, or the action of the erratic burning. It can also refer to a sudden burst of emotional heat or a spreading outward (e.g., flaring tempers or a flaring skirt).
  • “Flair” is a noun, referencing unique style or a natural talent.

You’ve got flair? Awesome. I really hope you don’t have flares. That’s not a good thing.

Be careful when writing with mood lighting, folks.

Sep 09

Wednesday Writing Tip #136: Character Realizations

Writing realizationsIf you’re writing a story and the light bulb just flashed over your protagonist’s head, you really want to tell your readers all about it. “He suddenly realized…” you might write. But before you do, pause for a moment. Let’s talk about that realization and how you can show it to your readers.

Sure, we’ve talked about “showing versus telling” before, but the word “realized” deserves a conversation all to itself. There are a lot of words and phrases that writers over-use—another big one on this list is “suddenly,” for examplebut becoming aware of how you use these words and why is the first step in bringing a story from okay to awesome. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 02

Wednesday Writing Tip #135: “Tick” vs. “Tic”

Tick or Tic

My intention was to include a picture of a tick here–as in the insect variety–but have you seen how creepy those things look up close? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Thus, I present to you… a ticking clock. Perhaps still stressful but not nightmare inducing.

When the exterminator comes around, you might have a “nervous tick,” but if you’re referring to a sudden muscle spasm, you need the word “tic.” There are a few definitions to be aware of with these homonyms actually.

Specifically, a “tick” (noun) can be:

  • a bloodsucking arachnid (related to spiders, who knew?),
  • a recurring beat or click (as in a clock),
  • a small dot or check (perhaps marking something off of a list), or
  • a movement in the price of a stock on the Stock Exchange.

On the other hand, a “tic” (noun) can be:

  • a sudden muscle contraction (as noted above) or
  • a personal quirk.

I know this seems complicated. Clocks “tick-tock,” and you can play “tic-tac-toe”; where Rikki-Tikki-Tavi falls in the midst of this, I don’t know.

One little letter can make all the difference. Make sure you know what you’re doing.

Aug 26

Wednesday Writing Tip #134: Recur vs. Reoccur

reoccur vs rocur

Do you have a reoccurring or recurring fear of heights? Does it happen at random or every Sunday when you hike in the mountains?

A reoccurring confusion appears over “recur” vs. “reoccur.” Sometimes it’s a matter of which one to use when. Sometimes it’s a matter of realizing that these are in fact two different words.

  • “Recurring” means that something happens regularly (on a schedule). A weekly meeting is a recurring meeting; a monthly bill is a recurring bill; my recurring writing tips are posted every Wednesday.
  • “Reoccurring” means that something will happen again, but it’s a bit more random or less scheduled. The springtime can have reoccurring thunderstorms; one might have reoccurring typos; your reoccurring reference to my new grammar book might improve your writing skills. (Alright? Not All Right: 100 Writing Tips for the Curious or Confused is now on sale!)

This word choice comes up a lot in corporate communications. I say, impress your supervisors, and teach your team all about it. Shouldn’t savvy language use be one more tactic to get ahead?

Aug 19

Wednesday Writing Tip #133: “Awhile” vs. “A While”

"Stay awhile" or "Stay a while"?

Stay awhile, won’t you?

The trouble with understanding “awhile” vs. “a while” is that their meanings are so gosh darn close that it’s easy to get it wrong. I hate explaining my writing tips by arguing purely about parts of speech, but that’s largely what’s at play here.

“Awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a short time” (e.g., they relaxed awhile by the water then made dinner).

“A while” is an article plus a noun referring to a length of time (e.g. It’s been a while since they visited the lake house).

If you’re stuck with which one to use, think about whether you could swap it out for another adverb (e.g., they relaxed happily/dramatically/ ridiculously by the water). If that doesn’t make sense, think about whether you could swap it out for another duration of time (e.g., it’s been a decade / a day / a year since they visited).

This adverb-noun conundrum baffles time and time again. But I have faith you can get it right. Understanding may take a while, but you’ll get there.

Aug 12

Wednesday Writing Tip #132: Complement vs. Compliment

compliment-complementI would like to give a compliment to you. Perhaps it’s your fabulous grammar know-how. Perhaps it’s your bravery to tackle the sometimes nonsensical English language head-on. Perhaps it’s your awesome earrings. (Where did you get them? Can I borrow them sometime?)

Whatever the reason, remember my first sentence: “I would like to give a compliment.”

If you are looking for the word meaning an expression of praise or admiration, you’re looking for a word with an “i” in it: compliment.

If you are looking for the word meaning something that completes, balances, or pairs well with something else, you’re looking for the form with an “e”: complement.

So if I just complimented you on your earrings, I could note that they complement the necklace that you’re wearing. Or perhaps the sparkle of sun on the Venice canals. Either way, you get the idea.

Aug 05

Wednesday Writing Tip #131: Hone vs. Home

Okay, sure, the ornithologists in the crowd might call me out on the fact that this is not a picture of a homing pigeon.

Okay, sure, the ornithologists in the crowd might call me out on the fact that this is not a picture of a homing pigeon.

Anyone else always call the carrier birds used as little avian messengers “honing pigeons”? No? Me neither. That would be silly.

Why would it be silly? Because while “hone” and “home” are commonly confused, they are two distinct words.

  • Hone – (verb) to sharpen, perfect, or make more acute.
  • Home – (verb) to aim toward a destination with accuracy.

You can hone a skill. A falcon might home in on its prey. One could hone a knife before whittling. A missile might home in on a target.

You shouldn’t ever “hone in on something.” There’s an implied target there, so “home” is the correct word you’re looking for. Pigeons or no pigeons.

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