Categories
Writing craft

How’s Your Vocabulary?

Dave Fessenden, CAN board member at large
Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, with a suggestion for writers. Have you been developing your vocabulary lately?

Usually when I ask people that question, I get a mixed response. Most writers realize that a healthy vocabulary is helpful, but they worry that their writing is going to sound like a thesaurus, fraught with obscure, many-syllabled words. But that is not at all what I mean.

I mean that we need to learn the exact definitions of words, along with their connotations, so that we can be sure to use them precisely. Let me give you an example with two words which are synonyms for look: leer and ogle. What would you think if a man was leering at you? What would you think if a man was ogling you? In both cases, you probably would think he had sexual intentions.

However, the definitions are definitely different. Leer means “to look at someone in an evil or unpleasantly sexual way.” In other words, it may be sexual, but not necessarily, but it is always in an unpleasant way. Ogle, on the other hand, means “to look at (someone) with strong sexual attraction,” which means looking at someone sexually, and it may (or may not) be unwelcome. A second definition for ogle is “to look with strong interest or desire.” So you can say, “The hungry man ogled the banquet table,” and it might work. You cannot say, “The hungry man leered at the banquet table,” because it always means something evil or unpleasantly sexual.

Also note the other difference between leer and ogleleer requires the word “at,” but ogle does not, similar to the difference between look (at) and see. When you are writing poetry, the necessity for that extra word may cause problems with the rhyming scheme or cadence, so it can be an important distinction.

Do you see how being more precise in your knowledge of word definitions can be critical? That is why you should look up the definitions of words more often—including words you think you already know. I did that myself in this post. I looked up fraught (used in the second paragraph) and found that its precise definition (“filled with or destined to result in [something undesirable]”) did indeed fit the context in which I intended to use it. Life is good.

The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy by David E. Fessenden
The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy by David E. Fessenden

David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and two decades of editorial management with Christian publishers. He has written six books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. His first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, was published in the fall of 2013. His blog on writing is www.fromconcepttocontract.com.

Categories
Inspiration for Writers

“The Emperor Has No Clothes!”

Dave Fessenden, CAN board member at large
Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, with some advice to Christian writers from one of my favorite children’s stories. In “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” a great ruler is hoodwinked by two charlatans who claim to have made him a set of clothes from material that is invisible to fools. The emperor cannot see the nonexistent clothes, of course, but he does not want to be considered a fool — and neither do all his subjects — so they join in the pretense that the outfit is the most beautiful they have ever seen.

Their self-deception is shattered at the royal parade, when a small child, who neither knows nor cares if he is considered a fool, laughs at the emperor appearing publicly in his underwear, and shouts, “The emperor has no clothes!”

Categories
Writing craft

Death by Publishing Contract!

Dave Fessenden
Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, to talk about writing issues, and today I’d like to discuss the issue of legalese, specifically in publishing contracts. I recently had to explain to a friend that the phrase “place of physical execution” means the physical location where the contract gets signed, and does not place the author’s life in danger! (Well, she knew that it couldn’t mean that, but it never hurts to ask!)

Categories
Writing craft

“Just the Facts, Ma’am”

Dave Fessenden
Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, to tell you what I’ve learned about writing from Detective Joe Friday, on the old TV show Dragnet.

Sergeant Friday was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He didn’t let crime victims go on and on about their feelings; his motto was “Just the facts, Ma’am.” And that’s the attitude you need to take when you want to put more description in your writing.

Categories
Writing craft

A Baker’s Dozen of Anthologies

Dave Fessenden
Dave Fessenden

Hi, Dave Fessenden here, to talk with you about writing, and here is something to consider:

Do you have editorial skills? Have you ever considered doing a compilation or anthology? This is the art of choosing, organizing and showcasing the works of other authors. Such books can be very successful and have a significant ministry.

A compilation project involves finding sources for material, copyrights, reimbursing authors, and editorial discernment. But first you need to decide what type of anthology you want to do. Here’s a baker’s dozen:

Categories
Writing craft

Jump-Starting Your Creativity

"Dave

Hi, Dave Fessenden here for a discussion on creativity and idea implementation.

There’s an old story that a beginning writer once asked a veteran author how he kept coming up with writing ideas. The veteran grabbed the young man by the shoulders, shook him fervently, and said with a tone of desperation, “How do you stop coming up with ideas?!”

Categories
Writing craft

Are You Stuck? Be Counterintuitive!

"Dave

Hi, Dave Fessenden here to talk to you writers out there for this Friday’s blog. One of the most painful experiences a writer can have is the feeling that your writing instincts have betrayed you. You encounter a writing problem, such as a nonfiction concept that seems to defy explanation, or a fictional character that is hard to describe. All your standard, tried-and-true writing techniques seem to fall flat, leaving you frustrated.

While it often helps to set this kind of problem aside for a few days, if you are on a deadline you may not have that luxury. Even worse is when you have set it aside, and still cannot make it work. At that point it is probably time to be counterintuitive.

Categories
Writing craft

What to Do with a First Draft

"Dave

Hi, Dave Fessenden here to talk to you writers out there for this Friday’s blog. If you have completed your first draft, let me be the first to say it: Congratulations! Go ahead and celebrate. Bask in the glow of accomplishment. Take the tribe out for a nice dinner.

Are you done celebrating now? Good, because you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you!

Categories
Inspiration for Writers Writing craft

Are You a Scribe of the Kingdom?

"DEFessenden_Headshot"Hi, writers! Dave Fessenden here to ask you a question: Are you a scribe of the Kingdom?

Tucked away in the last chapter of Romans is a seemingly obscure verse: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord” (16:22).

Tertius was a scribe, and the ministry he performed was an important one. Though his function was little more than that of a secretary, Tertius stands as an example to Christian writers: he faithfully committed to paper the things he heard from the Apostle Paul.

Categories
Writing craft

The Safire Principle—or, How to Avoid Head-Scratching

"Dave&books"Hi, folks, Dave Fessenden here with a bit of writing advice, brought to you by my friend Steve Dunham.

A brilliant veteran of the publishing world, Steve has edited books, magazines, newsletters, and even technical manuals, bringing a fresh wind of clarity into the morass of modern verbiage. I often consult him when I am stuck on an editorial issue, and he never fails to help.

I recently brought the following conundrum to him, a problem that (surprisingly) I had never encountered before. An author had just sent me a manuscript with this phrase: “Matthew 6:14–16 define . . .”