Short or Long? Which Way to Post…

I follow several blogs on blogging. I’ve read the advice—write short posts, readers want short posts, keep your word count below 300—and I’m not 100% convinced.

words TerryJohnston

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Yes, when I’m searching for information on the Web, I’m more likely to skim than read pages in-depth, and shorter articles are good for that. And I’ve read many great blogs where short posts are the norm. Shorts posts can be funny and succinct while still being informative.

However, I’ve also found that my some of my favorite bloggers write longish posts several times a week.* For example:

Why do I read these writers’ posts even though they take a bit of time to digest? Because they provide real information, not just brain ticklers. I like to think that’s why my “information” posts tend to be on the longish side. Even when I went to a list format—theoretically, list posts would be shorter and quicker to write, right?—I ended up adding examples and explanations, so those posts are long, too. And yep, they take a while to write.

What do you like to read, short or long?** Where’s your “overload” point—the point where you stop visiting the blog because you can’t possibly keep up with all the terrific content?** Please share!

*There are many, many other wonderful bloggers out there who write long posts, but I’ve limited the list in the interest of keeping *this* post short

**FYI, this blog weighs in at an astonishing 360 words.

***Yes, I have blogs like those in my blog reader, and no, I’m not telling which ones, because they’re FANTASTIC blogs. I just need to figure out how to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater…or find another few hours a day.

Grammar Byte: It’s vs Its and Four Other Confusing Word Pears

If you had to read that title twice, kudos to you–you’ve got a bit of the right-brained copy editor angel (or demon, depending on your point of view) whispering in your ear. And that’s a very good thing. At least, that’s a very good thing when you’re in the revision and review stages of writing, preparing to submit your manuscript, because editors, in my experience, have very LOUD copy editor angels (or demons) that can get irate over details like dangling participles, serial commas, and the misuse of it’s/its.

 typewriter rahego 

Before you submit, click publish/send, or otherwise send your writing into the world, check for these bad boys…because seriously, how can an editor fully appreciate your writing with that copy editor angel shrieking at her?

Its/It’s: Don’t you love how the English language is full of exceptions? If we went by the rules, both of these would contain apostrophes.

  • The first (its) is possessive: Its hair flashed purple.
  • The second (it’s) is a contraction: It’s Monday already?

I remember the difference because it is gets an apostrophe to replace the missing "i". Actually, I have this really cool animation that runs through my head of "IT" and "IS" ramming together and the "I" of "IS" turning into an apostrophe…but that’s probably just because I’m way too visual a thinker.

Pair/pear: Okay, this is not the prime duo of word mix-ups, but I figured I’d better include them, since they’re referenced in the title.

  • Pair: two of something, "a pair of Nike Air shoes" (Get it? Pair. Nike AIR? Um, never mind….)
  • Pear: the fruit, "I love a juicy, ripe pear"

Affect/effect: Does anyone else get this confused? I’m pretty good at language—not that I ever excelled at diagramming sentences, but I read enough that I gained an intuitive feel for correct vs incorrect grammar. Somehow, this word duo passed me by. I still have to look them up (often on Grammar Girl’s excellent web site). I remember which is which because their alphabetical order is the same as their order in a sequence of events:

  • Affect (Cause) The ants adversely affected the picnic.
  • Effect (Result): The effect of the ant invasion was a much shorter-than-anticipated picnic.

Grammar Girl provides mnemonic illustrations, so check her out if you have trouble with this one.

Their/there:

Alright/all right: You know the whole contraction thing? It doesn’t work here. Even though “alright” is commonly used, many consider it grammatically incorrect. According to Merriam-Webster online: “Since the early 20th century some critics have insisted alright is wrong, but it has its defenders and its users. It is less frequent than all right but remains in common use especially in journalistic and business publications. It is quite common in fictional dialogue, and is used occasionally in other writing <the first two years of medical school were alright — Gertrude Stein>”

That said, you’re safer spelling out “all right” as two separate words. Trust me. Those who care about this difference care deeply.

  • Alright: Nope, alright isn’t (technically) all right.
  • All right: Yep, this is the correct version.

What grammar/word use rules keep you on your toes? Any tips to share?

Tuesday Ten: 10 Ways to Craft a Sense of Place

You know the basics of setting creation: describe the who, what, when, and where of your character’s surroundings. But how do you move beyond a mere list of details to a setting that draws the reader into your story? 
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Setting can—and should—accomplish far more than simply setting a visual backdrop for plot. Setting can:

  • Create a visual image specific enough that the reader isn’t confused by the characters’ actions and movements
  • Support the plot and action
  • Enhance the mood of a scene
  • Draw the reader into the story, making it more real and immediate
  • Reflect the story’s theme
  • Assist in character development
  • Deliver clues for later use

Thanks to Maureen for suggesting that I create a Tuesday Ten as a more doable alternative to the Thursday Thirty list posts that have been such a success. I’m kicking off the Tuesday Ten as a new blog feature this week with ten tips for how you can craft settings that resonate. Enjoy!
Present the Right Details

  1. Choose the specific: When you’re writing (or rewriting) setting, avoid the vague and non-specific.
    Vague: A red car
    Vivid: A candy-apple red station wagon
  2. Choose sensory images: When choosing which details to include, make your setting more vivid by appealing to your reader’s senses—and move beyond the sense of sight. What does your character hear, feel, smell, and taste? 
    Flat: he saw the ocean
    Multisensory: the taste of salt and smell of rotting kelp rose from the waves
  3. Choose the unique: Look for details that are unique to your particular story’s time and place. Does your story take place in particular era? In a specific location?
    Generic: The train pulled into the station
    Unique: The steam locomotive pulled into Liverpool Station
  4. Choose details that reflect culture: Differences in culture can help you identify unique details for setting creation. Find details that stand out because of location, such as customs, dress, dialect, and traditions.
    Hum-drum: a man practicing Tai Chi in public, in shorts, in the U.S.—no one would give him a second glance
    Surprising: a man practicing Tai Chi in public, in shorts, in Afghanistan, where men don’t usually wear shorts in public—onlookers would react with surprise, amusement, or disgust.

    Choose Character-Specific Details

  5. Choose details that reflect point of view: What would your point of view character notice?
    Ignores character: a 12-year-old boy observes the sunset’s beauty (unless said 12-year-old has a particular reason to be interested in the sunset)
    Builds character:  a 12-year-old boy observes the way the sun reflects off the face of his watch, and the fact that he can make his teacher squint by flashing it in her eyes
  6. Choose details that reflect emotions: Color your characters’ observations with their emotional state.
    Normal: a teen girl notices the room is rectangular in shape
    Gloomy: the teen girl notices that the room is shaped like a coffin 

    Choose How You Present Details

  7. Show details through character response: Avoid static description by implying information about setting by how your characters behave.
    Cliche: she stepped into the dark and stormy night
    Novel: she pulled her hood lower, cursing the wind and rain
  8. Weave setting specifics into action: Provide details—but avoid lists.
    Static: she saw a set of marble steps leading to the door
    Active: she mounted the curved marble stairs with mounting trepidation 
  9. Season your scene: Use simile and metaphor to evoke an in a few words an image or mood that would take paragraphs to describe or explain.
    So-so: the sun hung low on the horizon, a dark red color, and shot beams of golden light through the surrounding clouds
    Vivid & surprising: the sun sat on horizon like a fat red spider on a web of gleaming gold

    Select the Best Details

  10. Be profligate, then prune: How do you come up with great details in a first draft? By coming up with lots and lots and lots of details, most of them crappy. When you start with a laundry list of what your character might see, hear, feel, taste, and smell, you can go back and choose only the best. Ultimately, the best scene-setting is the result of a few, carefully chosen details that evoke a sense of place, not an exhaustive description.

How do you craft a setting that is tight, yet evocative? Share your tips below!