Wednesday, April 26, 2023

What Do Plants and Writing Have in Common?

 This morning, a friend shared how frustrating writing our first novel can be. He said he had listened to a podcast where the author spent nine years writing her first book. So let’s talk about the frustration first. We spend hours in front of the computer typing nonstop (that’s on good days when we’re inspired and have no interruptions). Sometimes, we get tempted to go back and tweak the manuscript. This can be counterproductive (I’m speaking from personal experience and what peers have shared). When we stop to edit previous chapters or paragraphs if we’re working on a short story, we hinder the writing process and sever our muse. And let’s not even talk about writer’s block or computer malfunction (that’s for another blog post).

How can we fix this issue? Years ago, one of my mentors advised me always to pick up where I left off. If we go back to earlier chapters, we’ll most likely start deleting parts that could be important in the storyline because we’re not being objective. Leave this job for the beta readers or the editor. Our job is to finish the book.

Writing a book can be likened to a plant’s growth. Let me share an analogy. I planted bell peppers seeds in pots. A patch of three-inch shoots didn’t make it because my kitty cat thought she had hit the catnip jackpot. The ones I was able to salvage started growing strong. They started flowering, and one day, I caught a wild peacock red-handed feasting on the leaves and flowers of one of the pots. But he was too handsome to deny him that joy. So I moved the pots to my kitchen window, and now safe from felines and fowls, they are in full bloom: I have two peppers! Patience and dedication paid off.

So what’s the point, you might ask? I didn’t give up. The growing process of the peppers continued despite the merciless attacks. The plants themselves did the growth process; I only provided watering and nurturing. We, writers, start with an idea, develop it, flesh it out, and improve it. Then, once the book reaches maturity, we ask peers, beta readers, and editors to help us refine it.

How do you nurture your writing? Are you guilty of revisiting earlier chapters?

Photo by Claudia Zurc
                                            Photo by Claudia Zurc                      


 Photo By Claudia Zurc

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Writing Style: A Writer’s Fingerprint

In the same way, a brushstroke is unique to an artist, so it’s a writer’s writing style. If you love books as much as I do, you’ve probably noticed that each book has its own personality. I am not talking about grammar and syntax (that applies to all books). I’m talking about how the words flow on the page; some are more lyrical than others. Some are simple yet captivating. A writing style is the fingerprint of each author. Although there might be some similarities, there won’t be two identical ones (unless it was plagiarized, and that’s another subject).

According to Literary Terms, “In literature, style is the way in which an author writes and/or tells a story. It’s what sets one author apart from another and creates the “voice” that audiences hear when they read.”

Let’s take a few examples from twentieth-century writers. Many authors, professors, and pundits have said that Hemingway’s writing style was concise, direct, and realistic. His simplicity and directness were a breath of fresh air. Unlike other authors, he steered clear of verbosity and embellishment.

Another example of minimalism is Raymond Carver. He didn’t pepper the story with unnecessary details to describe his characters or setting.

John Steinbeck was careful in how he used his words, especially in dialogues. Some say that although he was straightforward, he was also descriptive. An interesting combination, I would say. Also, because he was curious about the human psyche, his style tended to be realistic. 

George Orwell’s style, like Steinbeck’s, is effortless and rather journalistic. Like Carver, one of his writing traits was avoiding unnecessary imagery or ornate descriptions. Instead, he narrated so precisely, making each word weight while describing his characters and settings without the verboseness.

Do you have a unique writing style? Do you emulate your favorite author(s)?

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

The Subtleties of a Language

 We all have good friends who are trustworthy and dependable. I bet none of us would like to hang out with fake friends. But what if those fake friends are part of your vocabulary when learning a second language? You don’t want to have to depend on them. 

Have you ever read an email from a friend whose mother tongue differed from yours and realized that the word used meant something else? I’m talking about false cognates or “false friends,” which are words in different languages that sound or look the same but have entirely different meanings. False cognates can cause novice language learners to misuse words.

Here are a few examples of false cognates in different languages:

ITALIAN: camera = room
ENGLISH: camera = macchina fotografica

FRENCH: bras = arm
ENGLISH: bras =  brassiere

SPANISH: libreria = bookshop/bookstore
ENGLISH: library = biblioteca 

SPANISH: pronto = soon
PORTUGUESE: pronto = ready 

ITALIAN: burro = butter
SPANISH: burro = donkey 

Imagine an Italian tourist in a Spanish restaurant asking for some “burro” instead of “mantequilla.” I bet the server would be left scratching his/her head, thinking about how to bring a donkey to the table. How about a Frenchman complimenting the tone arms of his female anglophone friend, “Tu as de beaux bras.” But if her French conversational level is not so advanced, she might take it the wrong way. Or they could have a good chuckle. It all depends on the situation and who says it. 

False cognates, for instance, could be dangerous in a serious situation at the hospital or a police station. Just imagine a scenario for the following words.

SPANISH: intoxicado(a) = poisoned
ENGLISH: intoxicated = drunk 

SPANISH: molestar = annoy/bother
ENGLISH: molest = to assault/abuse someone sexually 

SPANISH: constipado(a) = to have a cold
ENGLISH: constipated = unable to defecate 

FRENCH: pain = bread
ENGLISH: pain = ache/hurt

False cognates are part of language learning. In a classroom setting, using them can be fun. For instance, children as early as preschool can be taught to use cognates because they can develop cognate awareness in their primary tongue to understand a second language.

And for adults, these false friends are a double-edged sword unless you’re ready to laugh it off while committing a faux pas. It doesn’t matter what level you are at in your target language; just be aware of these duplicitous friends, and you’ll avoid pitfalls while studying a new language.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Self-Publishing: Another Publishing Option in the 21st Century

Photo: Claudia Zurc. February 3, 2019

After grueling weeks, months, even years of writing your book, you’re ready to share it with the world. But, where do you go to have it published? Who do you contact? Should you publish the traditional way or self-publish? These and a myriad of other questions regarding the future of your book may keep you up at night.
A great number of new authors would rather get published with big-name houses; however, publishing houses are swamped with manuscripts every day. Let’s face it; they’ll just consider those who merit being published―the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King― in other words, those who’ll bring readership and big money.

As a new author, you have to ask yourself (and be honest!), am I seeking recognition, am I doing it for the money, or both?
Everyone has different motives for writing, but whatever the reason, you still have to do the legwork.

  • Have your book edited by a professional
  • Research all publishing houses in your genre
  • Edit once again (you don’t want to send a slapdash copy)
  • If you get some rejections, do not take it personally; it’s part of the process
  • Consider revising your manuscript as it may be lacking some elements that are not appealing to publishers
  • If anything fails, go the self-publishing route
  • Do not give up!
Being self-published does not mean that you can slack. On the contrary, you have to work twice as hard. You have to be involved from beginning to end. Moreover, you cannot sell yourself short. Self-publishing does not mean you’re less commendable as an author. You can see it as another option to get your book out and in the hands of your audience while waiting to get discovered by a big house. Even better, you can see self-publishing as getting acquainted with the industry while paving the way for your second book.

Note: I wrote this article with the new author in mind. I am aware that established authors already work with a publishing house.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Fiction: A Sliver of the Truth

Photo: Claudia Zurc
Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life". (Original source: Wikipedia)
I decided to write a blog post about this subject because I am working on a short story that takes a sliver of truth from an event that occurred to me. Although writing the story was cathartic, the inspiration was nonetheless painful.

When I asked my mentor if I could write fiction using real events, he said that most fictional stories originate from real life events.
So when you start writing your short story or novel, make sure that you’re objective about what you already know. If you’ve done some research and want to include it in your narrative, use a language your readers will understand. You’re not writing a thesis.
Facts add seasoning to any narrative, but no matter the genre, good fiction transports the reader into another world.
Another point to consider is being efficient on how you use the information from sources, such as magazine articles, newspaper reports, scientific books, etc. Don’t overwhelm your reader with unnecessary information or detour a colorful anecdote and turn it into a medical or police report.
Be true to your story. Facts can be fun if you do it right. If a detail doesn’t move the story forward by establishing the setting, advancing the plot or shedding light on the characters, get rid of it.
 “The reason we use truth in fiction is so we can tell a bigger, better lie,” says David Hewson, bestselling author of the Nic Costa thriller series. “It’s the lie—how big, convincing and ‘real’ it is—that matters.”