Friday, November 11, 2011

Choosy Writers Choose What?

I receive an ezine from a local nonfiction editor named Barbara McNichol that I find quite enlightening. Called "Word Tripper of the Week", it highlights words that are often misused. It's interesting for instance, to see the difference between esoteric and eclectic explained. While I knew how to use each correctly, it's nice to see a clarification spelled out in layman's terms.

One of the Word Trippers I filed away to refer to often is the use of lie versus lay. I know people lie and objects lay, but the past tenses always mess me up. What is accepted in conversation locally isn't always correct, and then I get caught up in whether to have my character say what he would if he was standing in front of me or say what is right. Most of the time local custom wins out if the character is participating in a dialogue with another, and I try to use the proper form if it's in the narrative. But sometimes it just doesn't read right and I agonize about it for some time before giving up and finding another way to say they could have remained in a supine position on the sofa for most of a day.

This is one of the aspects of writing I find challenging. Which word will give my reader the most vivid image, the richest flavor, the most intensity? A thesaurus is wonderful, but it doesn't always give me the full nuance of usage I'm after. Should I use fewer or less, over or more than, further or farther?  When is it okay to bend or break the rules?

I know I'm a bit of a nerd about this but if you're interested in the Word Trippers ezine here's the link:

Happy wordsmithing!

~Jude Johnson
Author, Dragon & Hawk
Available from Champagne Books
My profiles: Facebook Blogger Blogger


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Looks like an interesting study. Lie and lay, past tense,is my biggest bugaboo. It's been misused so often/frequently that nothing sounds right. I keep fewer and less straight by yelling at the TV newscasters who seem to mess that up more than anything. Now I have my husband yelling fewer in concert.

"Ain't we got fun."

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Interesting, Jude - funnily enough, the UK RNA is currently disussing correct use of lie, lay, laid on their forum!

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Julie & Rosemary. It's rather like how many times you type a certain word repeatedly, it looks weirder and more wrong as you go on. The one that seems very odd to me is "lain". I don't think I have ever heard it in conversation.

It's nice to have someone to refer to (or blame) if you're called on usage though!


Anonymous said...

Thanks JJ

I bookmarked and will visit frequently cause I'm a big offender. TGF editors.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year, (2008 and 2009)

Dr. Laurence Brown said...

Really the choosy article. I enjoyed reading the blog posts. Have a great day.

Allison said...

I have a horrible time with affect and effect. I spend hours wondering if I'm using the right word in my sentences. I find I do the same as you and try to say it another way. Does your blog mistress say anything but those two words?

Jude Johnson said...

Hi Allison,

Please forgive me for responding late. I have had a terrible time getting to The Writers' Vineyard for some reason.

Anyway, yes, she did have an articel on affect and effect. One of the best ways to remember which to use is that Affect is a verb: To affect an accent is to put one on. Effect is the end result: "To affect a posh accent often leads to the disastrous effect of alienating people who know your origins were in the Bronx."

Hope that helps.