Jul 26

Writing Tip 181: “Bemused” vs. “Amused”

Muse - Bemused vs Amused

And speaking of the writing muse, I’ve been pretty psyched about some progress with my fiction lately. Stay tuned for details!

Some speak of the Muse, when discussing their writing. Today, I’m going to ask which one.

No, we’re not talking about Calliope, but we are discussing two words that have the same derivation in the French word muser, which back in the 15th century meant to stare blankly. Here’s the tip you should know just in case Calliope hasn’t whispered it in your ear:

  • Bemused (adj) means to be confused or puzzled.
  • Amused (adj) means to be entertained.

Sure, “bemused” is used to a lesser degree, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a fancy way of saying “amused.” It’s not cute, eloquent, or quaint. It’s just wrong.

The Writing Muse, if you believe in such things, would surely not approve.

Jul 19

Writing Tip 180: Dialogue Tags – 3 Tips

We talk to people all the time. We listen and interact, because that’s what people do. Then why is it that writing dialogue can be so tricky?

Dialogue Tags-Giraffes

And then, he said, “I’ll show you whose head is in the clouds.”

I’ve discussed the power of using dialogue to differentiate characters and not over-using character names, but today, let’s just focus on dialogue tags, the “he said,” “she said,” or similar phrases surrounding a character’s spoken words.

3 Tips for Stronger Dialogue Tags

Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 12

Writing Tip 179: Pronoun Clarity

The pronoun and the drinkIf Eleanor Roosevelt and Wonder Woman walked into a bar (stay with me, folks), and she drank a beer in an iced-tea glass, do you know who “she” is? How’s that for a grammatical riddle with some feminism on the side?

Besides the fact that I really wish I could join this duo and be the mysterious “she” in that sentence, the pronoun remains confusing. There are two women here. Which one is the “she”?

I bring up this fabulously fictional scenario to illustrate a point. Be careful with your pronouns. Yes, we could discuss personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, relative, reflexive, indefinite, and even their antecedents, but I’m not going there.

He, him, she, her, it, you, they, them, who, whom, etc.you know them; you love them; you use pronouns all the time. Just make sure you always use them with clarity. These little words can cause confusion far beyond any scenarios that begin with walking into a bar.

Oh, and speaking of that bar… Read the rest of this entry »

Jul 05

Writing Tip 178: “Tortuous” vs. “Torturous”

Tortuous vs Torturous mountain road

Watch out for that curve! (And that pesky letter R, apparently)

If you’re on a long car ride through the mountains, you could call it tortuous, or if you’re prone to getting car-sick, maybe it’s even torturous; however, it’s essential that you know the difference. Look closely. Did you notice that I used two different words? Yes, these are in fact two different words.


  • “Tortuous” means either full of twists and turns or excessively complicated, lengthy, and complex.
  • “Torturous” (the word you probably think you’re always using) means involving or causing great pain and/or suffering.

You might feel like grammar lessons are tortuous, or you might think they are torturous. But it’s my goal to avoid either. (How am I doing?)

Jun 28

Writing Tip 177: “Queue” vs. “Cue”

Queue vs Cue

Will this queue move on cue when the Starbucks opens?

You know what’s cool about the word “queue”? You can remove its last four letters, and it’s still pronounced the same way. Of course, it’s also pronounced the same way as the word “cue.” Are you spelling the word you intend to? (I’m looking at you, American writers.)


  • “Cue” (noun) means either a signal prompting an action (e.g., she entered the stage after her cue) or the long stick used in the game of billiards.
  • “Cue” (verb) means to act as a prompt or reminder (e.g., my writing tip cued you to write “cue” correctly) or to ready a piece of audio/video for play (e.g., he cued up the movie).
  • “Queue” (noun) means a line of people waiting. It also has definitions when it comes to computing, but those are a bit too technical to define here.
  • “Queue” (verb) means to get in line.
  • “Que” is not an English word.

“Queue” vs. “cue” does get a bit confusing, because both can be used with the preposition “up.” One can cue up something, and one can queue up. Taking your time to remember is important, though.

Brits seem more comfortable with the difference between these words. In the U.S., people often use the “cue” form for everything. But let’s be better than that, Americans. I have faith in you.

Jun 23

Enter to Win a 50-Page Substantive Edit of your Novel!

Jack Kerouc - Writing quoteKris Spisak’s editing clients have gained literary agents and become Amazon best-sellers. Are you ready to elevate your story?

Click here to enter!

Contest runs June 23 – July 1, 2016

What is a Substantive Edit of your Novel?

A Substantive Edit (heavy edit) involves an examination of clarity, logic, structure, and pacing, as well as plot, character, and setting development. More than a basic proofread, a substantive edit focuses on word usage, tone, style, voice, and total writing strength. Notes will be given on a page by page basis, and overall project commentary will also be included.

The Substantive Edit for this giveaway will also include the identification and correction of typographical errors, punctuation errors, and grammar flaws. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 21

Writing Tip 176: Please Don’t Write “Please RSVP”

Please RSVP fairy dropping dead

Oh, the poor thing…

At this moment in history, I almost can’t bear to tell you to be less politein fact, I beg you to consider your words through a lens of respect and kindnessbut one way to be considerate is to get your words right. Please stop writing “Please RSVP”!

Do you know the abbreviation “RSVP” stands for “Répondez s’il vous plaît”? This translates to “respond if you please” or, more simply, “please respond.”

Every time someone writes “Please RSVP,” there is a French fairy somewhere that drops dead. That’s what Peter Pan said after all, isn’t it?( Okay, maybe that’s not quite how it went, but doesn’t it sound silly to write “please please respond”?)

I’m all for etiquette, but the “please please” is a bit over the top.

Save the French grammar fairies, folks. Next time you send an invitation, get this one right.

Jun 14

Writing Tip 175: “Elicit” vs. “Illicit”

Elicit vs. Illicit - with garlic

I know how your mind works, Indiana pranksters. I’m onto your tricks.

If you cook a garlic-heavy dinner for your friends in Indiana and insist after a few drinks that they take public transit home, you would be eliciting something illicit. (It’s illegal in Gary, Indiana to use public transportation within four hours of eating onions or garlic.)

If you told your lovey-dovey friend in Idaho to steal her heart all over again by buying her a gigantic box of chocolates, you might be eliciting something illicit. (It’s illegal in Idaho to give a gift of candy if it is more than 50 pounds.)

If (a few years back) you told your friend to parallel park an elephant next to a parking meter in Florida without paying, you’d have been eliciting something illicit. (If one put an elephant in a parking spot with a meter in Florida, elephant parking used to have to be paid.)

I really want to go on here, but I won’t. Long story short, this is a fun pairing of near homonyms. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 07

Writing Tip 174: “Horde” vs. “Hoard”

Horde vs. Hoard

Uh oh. Is someone hoarding this horde?

Think fast. How do you spell the name of the television show where people have collected (or refused to throw away) mountains upon mountains of stuff?

Answer: The show’s name is “Hoarders.”

The decision of using “horde” vs. “hoard” often isn’t a matter of thought but rather a matter of whatever spills out onto one’s keyboard, but that ends here. It’s time to pick up after ourselves and put everything in its proper place—including our vowels in these two words.


  • “Horde” is a noun, meaning a crowd, and it’s usually used with a negative connotation (e.g., a horde of angry shoppers on Black Friday).
  • “Hoard” can be a noun, meaning a collection of something amassed for later use, or a verb, meaning the act of collecting and storing the aforementioned belongings.

Yes, they sound the same, but clean up your act, folks. Edit yourselves to get “horde” vs. “hoard” right.

May 31

Writing Tip 173: “Online” vs. “On-line”

Online vs. On-lineThere is a trend that new terms often begin as two words (e.g., “electronic mail”) evolve into a hyphenated form (e.g., “e-mail”), and then finally are accepted and commonly used as a single word (e.g., “email”). “Online”—yes, one word—has a similar story.

Stylebooks have evolved on matters of “e-mail,” “e-commerce,” “web-site,” and “on-line” as these terms have become a part of our everyday lives. Capitalization is lost, and hyphens are thrown out with yesterday’s floppy disks. Now, “email,” “ecommerce,” “website,” and “online” are the recommended forms of these words.

Unless you’re still printing your words on your dot matrix printer, I highly suggest you follow suit.

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