Why English is so hard to learn

An old language book titled: Correctly English in Hundred Days

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1. The bandage was wound around the wound.

2. The farm was used to produce produce.

3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4. We must polish the Polish furniture.

5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert and soldier on.

7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10. I did not object to the object.

11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13. They were too close to the door to close it.

English can be so tricky—and funny! I don’t know who wrote that list, but here’s another one I came up with: She likes to read, but she already read that book about the common reed.

Can you come up with any others?

My writing favorites

Stationery store in Japan; many rows of pens for sale

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I thought it would be fun to list my favorites when it comes to writing. These may not be the best by other people’s standards, nor even MY favorites overall, but they’re the ones I like or gravitate toward when it comes to writing (vs drawing, etc.).

My favorite:

Pen

My current favorite is the Pilot Frixion ball knock retractable gel pen in size 0.5 mm. Mine were purchased in Japan, not on Amazon, but the link should take you to the same thing. I love the bright colors and the smooth flow of the ink—and the best part? They erase! There is a plastic nub on the end that produces friction, and the heat from the friction erases the ink. So, you get the permanence of a ball point pen but with the edibility of a pencil. No smudging! I use these for writing in my journal as well as editing my work.

Pencil

I don’t actually have a favorite pencil at the moment, but I tend to prefer mechanical pencils for writing since they don’t need resharpening. A couple of clicks and I can write with a sharp point every time.

Eraser

Hands down, Mono erasers are the best erasers ever (they’re even cheaper if you buy the ten pack). I will never willingly use those awful pink rectangles that are standard in American schools ever again. The Monos erase cleanly and thoroughly without damaging your paper—even thin paper.

Notebook

Anything pretty that lays open enough to write. No spiral please. A ribbon to mark my place or a loop to hold my pen are bonuses.

App to write/type in

Plain, no frills TextEdit (like Notepad or WordPad, but for Mac, since I don’t use a PC). Once I’m done with my rough draft and the first round of major edits, I put the entire thing into Microsoft Word and format it to publishing standards. I don’t like all the bells and whistles of Word distracting me while I write, so I keep it as simple as possible at the beginning.

Word counter

Since I use TextEdit for writing, which doesn’t have a built-in word counter like Word does, I like to copy/paste my text into WordCounter.net. It does more than just count the number of words or characters used. It can also count the number of sentences or paragraphs you have, as well as the approximate time it would take to read the work silently or aloud. It also calculates the approximate reading level and keeps track of your keyword density, which means it shows you how many times you’ve used certain words or phrases. This comes in handy when you realize you have a bad habit of overusing words like “suddenly” or “he looked at her.” The site also lets you set goals for yourself or track your writing activity, to help you get your projects done. Pretty handy for a free tool!

Character naming site

I talked about this in my last post about naming your characters, but I like to use BabyNames.com and BabyNameWizard.com.

Music

None! That is, while I’m writing. I am easily distracted by noise, so it’s very difficult for me to write unless it’s quiet. I can do it (such as in a coffee shop or with my kids playing nearby with noisy toys), but I don’t produce my best work that way.

Place to write

In a quiet room, in a comfy chair. Our home is too small to have a dedicated desk for me, so I use my laptop on the couch for now. I’m in the process of seeking the perfect overstuffed armchair to claim as “my spot” in the living room. The place I plan to put it is by a corner window, since I love to look at trees to destress.

Motivator

I’ve participated in almost every NaNoWriMo since I read about it in a newspaper in 2002. Even if I don’t “win” or complete the story after “winning,” it is a great motivator to get writing! Plus it’s hard to find another group of writers so excited to work on their craft outside of professional writing conferences, and NaNoWriMo is free. Another good motivator to write is to have a writer’s group or friends who write, to keep each other accountable. My current writing group is comprised mostly of those who attended a local NaNoWriMo write-in last November. We just kept meeting even after it was over, and it’s been great fun, as well as a great motivator to keep plugging away at my current novel. Before I had a writing group I relied heavily on Critique Circle.

Writing blog

My favorite blog to read about the craft of writing is Gail Carson Levine’s blog. It’s targeted toward readers of Middle Grade fantasy (since that’s who she writes her books for) who like to write their own stories, but I’ve noticed in the comment section that I’m not the only adult there. I’ve found that a lot of writing blogs are very technical or focus on the process of preparing for publishing. But Gail’s blog not only answers the technical part of readers’ questions about writing, but it also dips its toes in a bit of whimsy while doing so, making her posts fun to read as well as educational. Sometimes I’ll read the question and think I already know the answer, but Gail always has a fresh take on it that I hadn’t considered.

Agent blog

It is well worth the dive into the archives of Miss Snark’s now defunct blog, as there are loads of advice that are timeless in there. But my favorite agent blog that is active is Janet Reid’s blog, where she answers questions from those seeking representation about the process of gaining an agent and about the publishing industry. She seeks clients in the mystery/crime/thriller categories, but her advice applies even to those who write outside of those categories. The comment section is extremely active and friendly, which is always a bonus.

Authors

My favorite authors to read are—in no particular order—Gail Carson Levine (MG fantasy), Robin McKinley (YA and adult fantasy), Sherwood Smith (YA and adult high fantasy), and Shannon Hale (YA fantasy). I love a good fantasy romance, which all of these women do excellently, particularly if it’s spun from a fairy tale. A runner-up would be Janette Rallison, whom I’ve only learned about recently through her Fair Godmother series. She writes mostly contemporary YA romances, which are fun and light hearted.

Who are your favorite authors? Your favorites to any of the above? I love good stationery, so if you have some recommendations I’d be happy to hear them!

Tips for naming your character

Many layers of name tags on a wall

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So, the odds and ends in your brain have mashed together into a new person for your story, and you’re ready to give them a name, huh? Here are some tips for picking the best name for your character.

Consider the first name that pops into mind


Sometimes your gut is worth listening to. When you’ve developed a character enough that you can picture them in your mind, a name might come to you with little effort.

Try using a common word by changing a letter or two


If “windy” can become “Wendy” (or some sources say, a child’s mispronunciation of “friendly” as “fwendy”), then other words can become a name too. How about “rain” becomes “Tain,” or “bluster” becomes “Xustar”? Admittedly, this works better for fantasy names than contemporary ones.

Use baby naming sites


My go-to sites for baby names are babynames.com (because you can search by meaning) and babynamewizard.com (which provides interesting statistics on a name), but any name site will do. If you search names by meaning, try to avoid really obvious examples, like searching “cruel” and landing on the name Cruella. If the success of 101 Dalmatians has taught us anything, it can be done, but generally it’s a good idea to have more faith in your readers. They’re smart enough to figure out who the bad guy is even without obvious clues.

Try Google Translate


A friend of mine likes to plug in an attribute into Google Translate to see if an appropriate name comes out the other end. For example, “warrior” is translated as “Guerreiro” in Portuguese. You could use it straight (but risk being too obvious for your bilingual readers) or make a name based on it. Perhaps Guerro? But if you go this route it’d probably be a good idea to run the name past someone who speaks the language to make sure it’s not inappropriate or rude to do so in their culture.

The chubby bunny method


This tip is for fantasy names. Another friend of mine likes to stuff her mouth as full as possible with Oreos (crackers or marshmallows would work, too) and then say a normal name. Whatever it sounds like, she writes down phonetically. (It’s similar to the chubby bunny game.) For example, when your mouth is full Jocelyn sounds like Jorshwin, so that’s what she could name her character.

Things to watch out for


Any of these would produce a fine name, but here are a few additional tips on what to be careful of. I strongly recommend that you avoid naming your characters after someone you know. There are exceptions, such as if it’s a story based on their true experience and you have their permission, but generally speaking, it’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. Even if you mean well, they may not take it well.

Once you’ve picked a name, no matter your method, Google it. You need to make sure you’re not naming your character after a real person, as I said above, even if you don’t know them. An example from my own life: I had to write a short story for a college assignment. I had a minor character who was kind of sporty but I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to him. So, I picked a common first name—Bob—and made his last name the mascot of my high school. That’s how I ended up reading my story aloud in class and getting the side eye for naming a character Bobby Knight. I don’t follow sports, and I had no idea that was a real person, let alone a famous one. When I explained my thought process everyone had a good laugh, but I learned a lesson!

It’s also important to make the name not too hard to spell or pronounce. Have someone else read it aloud. Did they pronounce it right? Does it bother you if they get it wrong? If they read a paragraph or two aloud that has the name in it several times, do they hesitate each time? If so, you may want to make some adjustments.

Perhaps it isn’t the spelling, but that there are multiple names that are similar tripping your beta reader up. A famous example is Sauron and Saruman. Yes, they are different names for different people, and die-hard fans would argue there’s no problem. But the alliteration and similar sounds can make it tricky for the rest of us to keep them straight. Perhaps you have three siblings and they all start with “Far” because of your invented world’s culture. Farwin, Farlad, and Farrent. It can be hard to keep them straight! Try avoiding similar names unless the characters are significantly different in personality and role to help differentiate them.

Finally, remember to take cues from the era and genre. It wouldn’t make sense to have an assassin in a medieval world named Tiffani. Nor would it make sense to have an Caucasian high schooler in an American suburb named Sakura, even if you love the name from anime.

Those are all the tips I have! But perhaps you have some good tips to share too, like my friends did with the Google Translate tip or the chubby bunny method. Let me know in the comments how you name your characters. Ever accidentally make a naming gaffe, like I did with my Bobby Knight?

Only nine plots exist

Stacks of books in a store

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As of this writing, Google tells me there are 129,864,880 books in the world. Mentalfloss tells me there are 134,021,533. The actual count is probably higher since neither figure was calculated this year and it’s impossible to accurately count self-published books, since not all of them have an ISBN.

So, how can I be so brazen as to say there are only nine plots—only nine basic stories—in this world?

Here’s an example:

An orphaned child is abused by relatives. The child dreams of different life but cannot fight against their fate. A person wielding magic steps in and gives the child a chance to be whisked off to a castle, where the child is able to see their self-worth. They are eventually forced back home and the relatives fight hard to keep the child from returning to the castle, but thanks in part to good friends and a bit of magic, they are able to make it back and leave behind their abusive childhood home.

Am I talking about Cinderella? Or Harry Potter?

Obviously that is a simplified example, but you get my meaning. A better example would be all the novels based on the same fairy tale, such as Cinderella. They are all so unique and different (and there are plenty more than I’ve just linked to), and yet they follow the same plot.

And that’s just ONE plot!

But there are nine, and it is the writer’s job to choose one and make it unique with their own characters, details, and voice.

The only nine plots in existence

Character vs Character
Character vs Him/Herself
Character vs Culture/Society
Character vs Setting
Character vs Situation
Character vs God(s)
Character vs Fate
Character vs the Unknown
Character vs Machine

All stories have their plot based in one of these conflicts. So, if you’re wrestling with your story because it sounds tired and overdone, consider how you might make it fresh and exciting. Every plot has been done multiple times, and when stripped to its bones, yes, your story may sound familiar.

But you are the only you that there is. Only you can make your story different than all of the others, because no other writer has your voice. What changes can you make to reenergize your plot and to give it a beat of its own to march to?

Finish that story and up the total count of books released into the world. I know you have it in you!

Do you tend to gravitate toward a certain plot for most of your stories? Or are each of your stories different from the others? I really like character driven stories with lots of interpersonal conflict, so I tend to write Character vs Character or Character vs Culture/Society stories. What’s your favorite to read? Is it different than what you like to write?

Why I write

Hiker walking a path in the mountains

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A person with a clear purpose will make progress on even the toughest road. A person with no purpose will make no progress on even the smoothest road. –Thomas Carlyle

Why do you write? If you don’t know the answer to this, you will have a hard time completing your stories.

I write to quiet the stories in my head. They won’t leave me alone—they haunt both my dreams and my daydreams—until I spill them out onto paper. I also write because as a teenager I desperately needed the escape books offered me. I’d like to offer a safe place to escape to for someone else who needs it.

So, why do you write? Share your purpose in the comments!