It's almost time for the 2014 "30 Days, 30 Stories" Project!

Look for details for this year's project soon!

Last year's project was great! We had a fabulous selection of work. To read (or reread), click HERE for the first story.

And remember to leave a comment! We *LOVE* comments!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ready, Set, Go! NaNoWriMo!

So, it's October 31st 11:55 pm . . . for most people, that means you are doing one of 2 things - recovering from an onslaught of candy gobbling gouls, or you are out on the town dressed like a piece of sushi, or cat woman, or any number of other things. . . but October 31st means something entirely different for writers - it's 5 minutes until - yes, that's it - NaNoWriMo!
If you are chomping at the bit to get going on your National Novel Writing Month entry to write a novel of 50,000 words in 30 days, or if you are like me - tentatively dipping your proverbial toes into the water for the very first time, here are 5 tips to help you make NaNoWriMo a success:

1. Start November 1st.
2. try to write at least 1,700 words a day - this gives you a little bit of a buffer so if you don't make 1,667 words on a few days, you will still end up with 50,000 words by the end of November.
3. Ignore your internal editor and save the edits for later.
4. block out a set time for writing every day and let your family know that you are going to be writing and to keep distractions to a minimum!
5. stick to the basic plot - you can fill in sub plots and complicated foreshadowing and flesh out minor characters later.
6. (OK - so I said 5 earlier - so sue me!) make sure that you reward yourself for hitting the benchmarks.

I know I am one of those NaNoWriMo newbies, so maybe it will help you to know that all of these tips were gleaned off of other blogs from people who have actually finished NaNoWriMo :) and besides, I have been thinking about doing this for a few years now - doesn't that count for something?

OK - 1, 2, 3, Break!

Link to Great Post About Writing for YA

If you haven't seen this excellent blog about writing YA, written by young YA readers, check it out. We should all read this one.

http://t.co/ssLniGd

Act and Dress the Part with VS Grenier-Part I


There is an invisible side to marketing yourself, which is just as important as strategies and well-timed campaigns. It involves a softer and sometime invisible approach that is not as technical as other methods, but yields long-lasting and fruitful results. This type of strategy is rooted in your look, behavior, your attitude and the rapport you create with everyone around you. You never know which person you meet today is going to connect you to that key media contact tomorrow or line you up for an interview with a mover and shaker.

This is going to be one of the hardest things to do in your writing career . . . walking up and talking to someone about your writing, but it's important to put your fear a side and show you have a great idea to share with the world and that you love being a writer.

Another thing you will need to know is that first impressions are lasting impressions. Part of selling yourself is not only what you say, but also how you look. I know what some of you are thinking, "You can't judge a book by its cover." Guess what . . . people do even if they don't admit it. For one thing, if we were in a face-to-face workshop, I am sure most of you would have judge me right off on the first day. Some might have thought of me as being a snob or standoffish. Others might have found me open and willing to talk. When I'm standing in a room and not actively talking with people I tend to give off an air of high self esteem. I don't mean too. It's just the way I am. However, I have to keep this in mind when I visit schools, bookstores or do speaking engagements because I do not want those I am interacting with walking away with the wrong impression. Luckily, for me . . . I use to work in stores as a salesperson and later as a Store Manager. I learned over those years in selling how to change my body language to make me appear more approachable. The reason I sometimes give the wrong vibes is because when I'm nervous I tend to put up a wall and my wall makes me look standoffish and judgmental. Not good if I want my fans to like me. Therefore, I have learned to smile, not cross my arms and stand where I slightly lean towards those I am talking with.

So let's talk about selling ourselves in those first impression situations today.

FACT: A sale is often made or lost in the first seven seconds!

People need to trust in you before you can talk to them about your idea or product. Many people walk around in conventions, conferences, workshops and stores looking for a person who they can identify with. We all size people up looking for those possible threats. So let's learn how to put those walls down and let people feel comfortable around us.

Proper behavior begins with making the best possible first impression. You need to look the part, act the part and say the right things. That's it! Sounds easy doesn't it. I don't know about you, but most of the time, I realize after the situation has past . . . I think about how much more I could have said or did to make the first impression much better.

Okay, so let's talk about how you should act. The answer of course is professional, but you do not want to seem overly so. I think some people take this too far and then they become unapproachable. Not a good thing. By smiling and taking deep breaths to calm those nerves you will be more relaxed and ready to invite open conversation. You need to feel comfortable in your skin about what you are talking about. If you're not, then you'll come off as unprofessional. The other side is of course feeling so strongly about something that you become overly confrontational. A problem I tend to fight with within myself. Even if you think you are right, sometimes you need to back down or you will chase the person away you are trying to share your idea with. Remember we each have our own opinions and we all need to bend a little. How we act at school visits, writer’s conferences, book signings and everywhere we touch our fan base or support is the intangible side of marketing. It is something to be cultivated in your daily actions and practices. It radiates from within and sets into place the energy to attract incredible opportunities. With this in mind, here are a few things to note:

  1. Be nice to everyone you meet. You never know who will connect you to your next big break. Practice being nice to everyone you meet from the grocery store clerks and food servers to the event planners and media connections. You never know who is watching you and remember Word of Mouth marketing can have a down side if someone is offended by you.
  2. Be gracious to your peers and colleagues. Show kindness and warmth to those around you. The more visible and known you become, the more you need to practice this. Do not develop the superstar ego; remember to show warmth to everyone. It’s good marketing!
  3. Support rising new talent and ride the wave with them. We all know there are people out there who want to be our friend just because now we are famous. However, my advice is to spot the rising talent around you and ride the wave to fame with them. Look around you for people who are as ambitious and dedicated as you are. Befriend them, support them, form a mastermind group with them. You may not know which one of you will make it to the top first! And since you're rooted first in friendship, it's easy and authentic to lend each other a hand up.

Author Jill Evans said, “Even if you have a great publisher, publicist or agent, you still need to sell yourself and impress for success. The only reason Barnes & Noble awarded an Author of the Month in October 2002 status to myself and my unheard of how to craft title - "Creative Containers", was because of how I sold my book in their stores during book signings the month before. If I were to do it all over again, I would utilize the royalty advancement payment toward a marketing fund for the book. The industry is a highly competitive field for new authors, illustrators and even for published veterans. You need to make yourself stand out "tastefully" and consistently sell, sell, sell yourself and your book.”

Selling yourself is as much about your presence as it is about the strategies you employ to be known. The ultimate task to walk your talk and sell yourself is based on your credibility and good reputation. Work your PR from the inside out and you will see what I mean: when others know, like and trust you, they will want to do business with you!

Make sure you come back next Sunday for the second part . . . dressing the part. Knowing how to talk the part is only half of making a great first impression!

To learn more about VS Grenier visit http://vsgrenier.com.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Affect/Effect of the Right Word" by T. Lynn Adams


Have you have ever wondered about the affect/effect of certain words?

Let me assure/ensure/insure you that the proper word has the power to attain/obtain great influence.

The question often is, which one is proper?

I have an entire list of oft-confused words: capital/capitol; complement/compliment; defuse/diffuse…and my list goes even farther/further.

Even with the list to help, I still struggle at times to decide which word I can/may use.

Now, thanks to a great FREE Web site, all I have to do is type in that daunting/taunting sentence and get council/counsel.


A white box, surrounded by gold and blue, will pop up with no instructions. All you have to do is cut and paste your text into that box and click the “Spell Check” button located BELOW the text box. (The Spell Check words are written in gold.) Do not click on the tabs at the top; they will take you to advertisement links.

A new page pops up which will display tabs across the top that say “SpellChecker,” “Grammar,” “Thesaurus.” Click on the one you want and the nifty site will go to work for you. It will underline your errors and then give you options to correct them.

 So, let’s plug in the start of this article and see what it says…

Have you have ever wondered about the effect of certain words?

Let me assure you that the proper word has the power to attain great influence.

The question often is, which one is proper?

I have an entire list of oft-confused words: capital/capitol; complement/compliment; defuse/diffuse…and my list goes even farther.

Even with the list, I still struggle at times to decide which word I can use.

Now, thanks to a great FREE Web site, all I have to do is type in that daunting sentence and get council.

Wow! With that ingenious/ingenuous Web site, all your writing troubles are passed/past!




Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Rule of Two

I've argued that writing is fundamentally about creating a model. A model, as you may recall, emphasizes some aspects of the thing being modeled while suppressing others. More than simply an interesting theoretical observation, understanding a novel as a model in prose makes the author's responsibility very clear.

Readers, whether by intuition or training, understand that novels are models and are willing to treat everything the author chooses to present as significant. However, it takes effort on the part of the reader to keep track of all the details. Readers expect to be rewarded for their efforts, so the first thing to note is that:

Writer's who use throw-aways squander readers efforts and, by extension, their good will.

You've likely heard of "Chekhov's gun." Wikipedia defines it as "the literary technique whereby an element is introduced early in the story, but its significance does not become clear until later on." You've also likely heard of foreshadowing. I want to suggest something more fundamental that I call The Rule of Two:

Anything to which you call attention in your story must appear at least twice.

For example, if you were convinced by my call to do away with bullies in middle grade novels but you really need a bully, all you need to do is bring the bully back into the story a second time. That second appearance elevates the bully from set dressing to part of the story.

In another case, I wrote a story that involved monsters devouring someone's chickens at a key point. It was a fun scene, but it became much more meaningful after I added the chickens to an earlier scene during a revision.

This is a simple rule, in the spirit of little systems, so don't over-think it. Don't for example, try to work everything you mention during the course of the novel in to the climax and dénouement. The second appearance of something that comes up in the beginning can be later in the beginning or the middle just as well as the end.

And if none of that quite makes sense, think of it as being conceptually green: don't use an idea, character, or setting once and then throw it away in the landfill of squandered reader effort.


Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pitch It, Pitch It Good

Now that I've got a good 80s song in your head that you'll hate me for the rest of the day until Lady Gaga or Beyonce get stuck in your head when you hear them on the radio, I'll move on with my post. (Yes, that was a long sentence.)

Back in February, I attended LTUE. I took the opportunity there to speak to Lisa Mangum. (When you see someone with a job you want not talking to anyone, you take advantage of it to learn.) Something I asked about was what she would be looking for concerning pitches at the LDS Storymakers conference that April. My plan was to figure out what to say that would sound good for my book to get her interested in it in April. But instead, I learned, in general, what to begin with.

I spent the next day or so working on a pitch for my book. Really, I just didn't like it. And so, I thought about it for the next month. What is a pitch? It's a short one-two sentence description of your book. It's like the first sentence of your book because it's suppose to grab the agent/editor in and make them beg for more. But it has to avoid some simple principles. And over the last eight months, I have learned a few tidbits that I'll share with you.

1. Don't ask a question: What happens when you take an agent and ask him/her a question to get them thinking? The answer is simple, they'll usually move on. Do they want to think? No. An agent wants to read something and say "I liked that, it was good." When it's all done, maybe they'll think. But they don't want to sit there and say "Well, I've never thought about what would happen if the Rocky Mountains really were the homes to Dwarfs and Elves."

2. Avoid cliches: Seriously, people still think they're cute because they're the one using them. They're not. They're annoying. I suffer from this problem and have been trying to overcome my own 'intelligent pride' and realize that you may as well shoot yourself in the foot. (NOTE: Utah Children's Writers and I are not responsible if you shoot yourself in the foot. It was just an example of using a cute cliche.)

3. Two sentences: Seriously, two sentences. Mr. Arrogant Author: "But my book is so good that I couldn't do it justice in just two sentences." Miss Pitched Agent: "And your pride is so big it can't fit in this room with me." Find a way to be concise. I've read books that elaborated a beautiful scene into garbage. And heard a sentence that spoke a million words to me (that sentence would not be a million words either, or anything close to it.)

4. Pitch confidently: I've never pitched. I plan to soon. One thing I've learned is that I can get arrogant. However, if I pay attention, I can be confident. There is a HUGE difference between arrogance and confidence. In sports, I personally look at most quarterbacks as very arrogant. Seriously. However, unless he does something stupid, I will always look at Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams/Arizona Cardinals as confident.

5. Practice on Someone: You know what was so great about Lisa Mangum...I mean....what is so great about her (gee, that sounded bad)....she is always pleasant to talk to. I went to Storymakers and shared my pitches to her. She didn't like one and the other sounded interesting. Well, the one she didn't like was the book I actually wanted to pitch. Fail? No, that would be if I gave up.

See, I worked on it some more. I reworked it and tried to see how it sounded each time. I knew it very well and had it memorized. So I said "this is my pitch for when I get to use it." Randomly, my wife and I made a last minute trip to Vegas. And I saw that Lisa was signing at a nearby Deseret Book. (Literally, the closest one to where my brother lives.) So my wife and I went. Lisa and I had a good discussion. And my wife forced me to pitch to her, but only with Lisa's permission. No, I wasn't trying to sell it and my book had a lot to go. But I know my pitch. In the end, Lisa said "I like it." And it wasn't a "Yeah, I kinda like it, it's ok, you know you suck though" tone. It was with some enthusiasm.

I don't think Lisa's buying my book when it's complete. Maybe if it's on the shelf of a bookstore. But she did like my pitch. Does it matter when I did it? No. I just did what I could to get myself ready for the day that I really do pitch it to people.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Selling Your Novel

By: Julie Daines                     

Selling your novel can be harder than writing it.  So when it comes time to start sending your precious story off like a lamb to the slaughter, it pays to do it right.

Most agents request three elements: the query, the synopsis and the first chapter.  These are your tools to selling your book.

Here’s a basic guide that I’ve found helpful in preparing each of these elements.

The Query:  In the query letter you are selling the concept of your book.  It should identify the main characters and setting, and then a quick idea of the main themes, the conflict, and what’s at stake.  (I’m only referring to the paragraph or two about the actual book.  You’ll also need to show that you’ve done research about the agent, show some credentials etc.)

The Synopsis:  In the synopsis you are selling the story of your book.  The plot, what happens, the character arc, and how it all comes together in an exciting and wonderfully original, thought out way.

The First Chapter:  With the first chapter you’re selling the writing of your book.  This is where you let them see your amazing style, the original voicing, and the way you turn a phrase just right.  With these pages you convince them that they can’t possibly live without reading the rest of your novel.

This is, of course, a general guideline.  Ideally, you want a small overlap, letting each element carry a hint of the others. For example, the fact that you are a good writer should also be evident in the query and synopsis.

Good luck!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fear and Trembling

by Scott Rhoades

October seems like the right time to live in fear. Maybe that's why I decided to send out some more queries for my first book, and to start to prepare query materials for my second.

Even though I've done it fairly often, every query letter becomes an exercise in terror. I try to pretend I'm cool with it, and to take a fairly casual approach that I use to try to convince myself I'm being professional, that it doesn't matter and it's all part of the game. But once I send them out, my body begins to tremble with nervousness, and that old fear of rejection sets in. Even more terrifying, the fear of not being rejected wracks me for the next few days, as I hope (or don't hope) for a quick response saying I'm the Next Big Thing.

It takes a few days to settle down, but the fear stays there, niggling in the back of my mind. I try to forget it, to busy myself with other things, and above all, to not wait. To wait is to live forever in that moment when, in a horror movie, you know the baddie is going to work his badness, or that moment in a Halloween haunted house when you know something is about to jump out and get you.

It's a feeling that is simultaneously delicious and nauseating. Perfect, I guess, for the Halloween season.

Word of Mouth Marketing with VS Grenier


Let's talk about Word of Mouth Marketing for just a bit. How many of you know what Word of Mouth Marketing is? You all should know or have an idea because we all do it. It's when we read a great book or see a great movie and tell our friends, write a review and/or blog about it. It is also when we read something we really like on the internet and twit or link to the article or blog post. It's when we go shopping and share there's a sale going on with family, friends, and co-workers. Every day we help those counting on Word of Mouth Marketing spread the word about their company, services or products.

A Few Types of Word of Mouth Marketing:
Reviews
Testimonials
A blog post
Twitting
Posting on a social site like Facebook
Link backs
A phone call or email

Another great way to spread the word about you and your work is through banner ads. Here is a great place to create banners free. http://www.mybannermaker.com/ .

Exchanging links and banners is a great way to spread the word about you and your work.
There was a really great article in the Writer's Digest's December 2008 issue about Word of Mouth Marketing. If you have a copy of this issue, it is on page 67. If you don't, you might want to buy this issue or see if a friend has it. Besides this great article, you will also get great information about copyrighting pseudonyms and contractions, info on eBooks, a debate about print magazine and their survival, and many other tips. This was a great issue. Well at least I thought so anyway.

One more thing, keep in mind that we all need to use Word of Mouth Marketing and knowing places to go to get it started is important. So think about websites and blogs that might have something in common with your book, short story, article or writing platform; you might want to contact and send a blurb to or should I say it . . . Media Release.

Linking with like sites, blogs and social sites is one of the best ways to build a fan base who will do what we all need . . . Word of Mouth marketing. What do you think the New York Best-sellers list is? It’s word of mouth marketing! We trust the source and therefore we go check out the books listed. Same with movie reviews and so on. So get out there and start spreading the word about your writing and your talents. Just make sure you are linking with sources and people you trust, and share your goals.

NOTE: Some words of advice first: “As writers, we should be aware of the power of words. Words linger. Words affect change in the minds of the reader. And the written word can be an excellent way to present your professional face…or an amazing way to self-destruct your career (or at least derail it for a bit).” Jan Fields, Editor of Children’s Writers enews.


To learn more about VS Grenier visit http://vsgrenier.com.

Would like to spread the word about your book or writing services? Stories for Children Publishing, LLC would like to help. Visit us at http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's A Mystery To Me. Or Is It a Suspense?


When someone says they just read the best mystery novel, did they? Or was it a suspense novel?

What are the differences?

Suspense: In a suspense novel you know more than the character. There are multiple points of view and there are hints throughout the story as to why the main character is in danger.

Mystery: These books are more about whodunit with clever twists that always brings the readers along in the story because they curious. The reader only knows as much as the character; there is only one view point. In mystery novels, there are clues and suspects and everyone has a secret.

Does it matter if you say you just read the best suspense novel? Or the best mystery novel? Probably not. But now you know more.

There are many, many mystery and suspense novels out in the world. Go forth and read!

What is your favorite suspense or mystery book?
I grew up loving Nancy Drew Mysteries!

Image by school.discoveryeducation.com

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patience and Readers

We hear, from a early age, that patience is a virtue. As we go through life we see that patience is a virtue honored more in the breach than the observance.

Publishing is an industry that, compared to shiny new web things, seems to move at a glacial pace. Exhibit one: the simple fact that you're generally looking at 18 months from the time you sign a contract until your book is released.

The work of writing itself is a patient undertaking. It's hard to maintain an average output of more than a few thousand words per day. And when you factor in revisions, it's not surprising that one novel a year seems to be the average output.

There are a host of other ways in which a writer must be patient. Critique partners need time to read. Building an online presence takes time. Promotion takes a lot of time.

I thought I understood all of these dimensions of patience and was prepared to develop the virtue.

But there's one dimension of writerly patience that I didn't anticipate. I underestimated the degree to which writers must be patient with readers. You see, as an author, you're always going to be ahead of your readers because you're working on the next book while they're enjoying the one that was just released.

That means you can't talk about the cool stuff on which you're presently at work and which occupies most of your attention. Instead you must try to match your reader's enthusiasm for something you thought was all kinds of awesome last year without succumbing to the temptation to spoil their fun and say, "Yeah, but you ain't seen nothing yet!"

(And you thought agents, editors, and publicists were the only ones who would school you in patience.)


Deren blogs daily at The Laws of Making.
Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Media Releases with VS Grenier


Let us quickly go over my last blog topic . . . Pitching Your Book. Knowing how to pitch something so it catches an editor or publisher’s attention is important. As you remember, companies use the five-minute commercial and/or signs posted on the road such as Billboards, Company Logo signs, etc. to pitch their goods and services to you the consumer. This is their calling card to get you to research them or visit their stories. You will also be using your pitch when you write media/press for the same reasons. The best part . . . you have already been using this technique in your cover and query letters, and in your book synopsis.

The pitch is the “WOW” factor that catches people's attention and we are going to use this in our media release. You will notice pitch in the first paragraph. You want to place it here to get the most POP for your release.

The best way to explain a media release is by showing you one.  I had posted this media release to the Stories for Children Magazine website about our Featured Guest interview with Laure Wellington last year. Use this as an outline for when you write a Media Releases in the future. (Note: I had two copy editors proof this and make sure the format is correct before I sent it out, so this release is pretty much what you should be sending for style purposes.) One more note: a media release should be no more than a page long. Okay, here is the SFC release.

**********************************************************
Stories for Children Magazine
Take an Adventure in the World of Ink
for children ages 3 to 12 
Web site: http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org
 
 
 
M E D I A   R E L E A S E
 
CONTACT: VS Grenier
Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Stories for Children Magazine 
Email: vsgrenier@storiesforchildrenmagazine.org
 
For Immediate Release
 
Meet Laura Wellington, creator of “The Wumblers”
 
Children everywhere are watching a new TV show called “The Wumblers,” and you cannot get any more real than their creator, Laura Wellington. She turned a devastating misfortune for her and her four children into an experience of inspiration and motivation for all. It’s an amazing story. 

Stories for Children Magazine’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief, VS Grenier, interviewed Laura for the October 2008 issue. Grenier wanted to find out more about Laura and her new kids’ television show “The Wumblers.” The two found they have a lot in common, primarily bringing children educational, yet fun, entertainment.  

In the interview, Laura shares how it all came to be. While her husband was dying of cancer, she turned some beloved drawings from her teenage years into a hit television show. “The Wumblers” is broadcast worldwide on Trinity Broadcasting Network, Smile of a Child, The Australian Christian Channel, and Sky Angel's KTV Block. Laura also shares how her artistic talents gave her a way of escaping her sadness, and that led to an all-out crusade to give back and make this world a better place. What Laura didn't realize was the impact her actions would have on others.  

Many news publications, magazines, radio talk shows, morning shows, and news outlets have embraced Laura's story along with Stories for Children Magazine. “Helping Laura Wellington with her mission to make the world a better place is something SFC would be crazy to pass up, “ said VS Grenier. “We welcomed the chance to support her by alerting our readers to this wonderful accomplishment. We were glad to let everyone know that smart television for children does exist, and that moms do have a voice and they can be heard.” 
To learn more about Laura Wellington and her hit TV show “The Wumblers,” visit Stories for Children Magazine at http://storiesforchildrenmagaizne.org
 
###
 
 Magazine cover art and more are available upon request electronically.
**********************************************************

Now you can use this format for emailing your contact list or you can use parts of it along with your pitch as an email blurb. However, if you are going to pitch the news media, a bookstore, or a company about your work . . . you will want to use this format. You should also use this format when sending your book out for review as well.

I also want to share with you some great places to use when sending a media release out across the internet. I use these places for my books and SFC Publishing releases. You can use them for free or if you have a book coming out . . . you can choose to pay for more visibility. This is always a good thing. Another great thing about these media release sites is they use a form that you fill in. This makes putting together a media release simple. Here are the links:

http://www.pr.com/

http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/login.php

http://www.pressreleasepoint.com



To learn more about VS Grenier visit her website at http://vsgrenier.com or her blog The Writing Mama. To learn more about Stories for Children Publishing, LLC visit http://storiesforchildrenpublishing.com.

Stories for Children Publishing is also happy to announce Stories for Children Magazine, SFC Newsletter for Writers, and SFC blog Families Matter are open for submissions.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Celebrations: Walter Farley

I remember being five years old and working my way through Little Black, A Pony by Walter Farley (June 26, 1915 - October 16, 1989). Up to that point, I had become an expert picture book reader. But this marked a new landmark in my progress as a reader. It was the first "real" story I ever read. I remember sitting on the couch with my mom beside me. She encouraged and helped like she did with the earlier Dr. Seuss stories and other picture books, but she mostly left it to me to figure out the words on my own. It was hard work, but I loved the story and I loved reading, and I felt like such a big boy by the time I finished. I was also excited to repeat the process with Little Black Goes To The Circus.

There's no way to know how many books I've read since then, probably far into the thousands, but I will always remember Hop on Pop as the first book I read by myself, and Little Black, A Pony as the first real story book.

It was a few years later when I discovered that Farley had written a whole library of books about horses, most notably the entire Black Stallion series. By then, I wasn't so much into books about horses. I read a few Black Stallion books, but none of them had the same impact on my life (as, in fact, few books since have) as Little Black, A Pony.

(Note: This is the last of the planned Celebrations posts. What do you readers say? Should we continue this series? Is it interesting?)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Continuing Yesterday's Discussion: Can a Word Actually Be Bad?

by Scott Rhoades

I enjoyed yesterday's post about swearing in novels. I'm going to look at the same topic in a little different light today. Don't worry. This is not a blog extolling the virtues of swearing. In general, I take the same point of view as yesterday's post, although perhaps not quite as stringently (I did once, though, so I understand why many of you feel that way). But I do want to discuss the concept of bad words in general. I also want to apologize in advance for the length of this post. It touches on some of my favorite subjects, so it's likely to be long. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you at least find it interesting. And don't worry. You won't find any of the words here that are likely to offend some of you.

I love language in its various notes and tones, and tend to believe that there are no bad words, only words badly used. This view comes from my studies of language and language history. Many of the words we now consider taboo have perfectly innocent roots, and were commonly used, even in polite society, as late as the 17th Century, when some of them were already 1,000 years old.

Here's an example. Chaucer used a certain word, often considered to be The Big One, avoided even by people who drop F-bombs the way Hansel and Gretel dropped breadcrumbs. He spelled it differently, but it was still the same word. That word was not considered rude at the time, appearing in an infamous London street name in 1230, in several family surnames recorded as early as 1066, and in a medical textbook around 1400. It was merely an anatomical term, one that survives in many Indo-European languages as a term for woman or wife. We use it all the time in words like Queen, or names that contain gwen- or gwyn-.

It's interesting that, in Catholic cultures, blasphemies against deity are usually considered the most taboo, while in Protestant countries, it's body parts and bodily functions. In English, the most common impolite word that can legitimately be called a curse, the D-word, has blasphemous roots and is low in the swearing hierarchy.

Anatomical terms fell into hard times as the Puritans, once considered radical religious fanatics not so unlike the Taliban today, ceased power in England. With Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the Puritans were able to legislate a lot of matters that they had tried to influence for the preceding 50 years or so. One of these was language. Suddenly, words for body parts and functions that started out as neither profane nor impolite—they were just the words for those things—became “bad” words, and the subject of laws. Especially words of Anglo-Saxon origin, which tended often to be monosyllabic with hard sounds in them. You know which words I mean. In the meantime, words with the same meanings were allowed to be used, usually words from the softer-sounding French and Latin, many of which were several hundred years younger in the English language. “Manure” sounds much less harsh than its Anglo-Saxon counterpart.

Even the planet that sustains us became a bad thing. Certain words and behaviors were described as “dirty” or “earthy.” The substance in which food was grown, and to which our bodies return after death, and, in fact, from which our bodies are said to have been created, became a negative thing, something to be avoided, an adjective for unacceptable things.

The fact is, those words we're supposed to avoid have no power and no special meanings. They're just words, with origins and meanings no more offensive than acceptable alternatives. The only power they carry is the power we give them. That power doesn't come from the words. It comes from us. Many words that we use daily were once considered rude, but we've robbed them of any power we once gave them. For example, the word “girl” was originally a mildly insulting term for either a boy or a girl, a synonym of knave. The cognate “Kerl” is still used in German.

I found yesterday's comments about swear words taking the reader out of the flow of the story especially interesting. Not interesting in a negative way, interesting in that they interest me. They actually contribute to the point I'm trying make behind all of this rambling.

I am not a swearer. Or, I should say, it's a very rare thing when I swear, either in person or in writing. But when I do, it gets attention. It can stop a conversation cold. If I swear, my family and friends know I mean it. I have yet to use a serious swear word in any of my fiction for an audience of any age. But I refuse to rule it out. There might come a time, when there's no better word, when I want to really get the reader's attention, when I actually want to make the reader stop short and notice. When I use one of those words, I'll mean it, and the reader will know.

As I said at the beginning, I love words. I play with them, and I study them, and I try to understand connotations and denotation so I can use the right words in the right ways to create the right impression in the reader's (or listener's) mind. Knowing that sometimes the good old Anglo-Saxon word creates a different picture than its Latinate counterpart means that I can choose the right one for the image I want to create. They both have the same meaning, but they produce different results. Writers are supposed to choose strong words over weak ones.

I want to close by recommending a book to those who are interested in the meaning of words. Whether you want to learn what some of those taboo words really mean and where they come from, or you want to find “cleaner” or more interesting alternatives, Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms from Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present by Hugh Rawson is a useful resource, and it's fun to read if you enjoy word origins. Sometimes it's just plain funny. If you are sensitive to those words, though, be warned that they are in this book, discussed in linguistic terms.