“Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer

EnglishLooking to crack open a good grammar book? Then I am happy to recommend Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, which warmed the cockles of this grammar geek’s heart. My husband was a little concerned (read: irritated) that I laughed aloud, with a literal LOL, in so many places, but indeed, I did—and over a grammar book.

I’m sure it helps that I commit some editing myself on occasion, but even if I did not, I would have great admiration for the role of those like Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House. I say he’s doing the Lord’s work by making the world a better, more readable place. I happen to like and even enjoy grammar rules, but I don’t believe fussy editor types are the only ones who will enjoy this book. Not by a long shot. Do you know the word “faffing,” for instance? I didn’t, but his use of “faffing about” made me look it up, and now I’m a fan.

Dreyer shares my fondness for the serial comma, and he states his case rather simply: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.” (He says “series,” I say “serial.” To-may-to, to-mah-to.)

His writing is irreverent and occasionally self-deprecating, and how lovely it was to read that even a man in his position doesn’t quite know what all these blessed grammar things are called. “Even now,” he writes, “I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what a nominative absolute is, I think that the word ‘genitive’ sounds vaguely smutty, and I certainly don’t know, or care to know, how to diagram a sentence. I hope I’m not shocking you.”

And if I’m ever asked to play grammar-themed trivia one day—and my goodness, I hope I am—I will know that  the capital “G” in LaGuardia is a “medial capital.”

Many of the rules (and a few preferences) he discusses are simply things I’ve already learned and internalized from The Chicago Manual of Style, but Dreyer sure makes them fun to read and consider. I simply can’t think of a writer or editor who wouldn’t benefit from reading this charming and helpful book.

Character Development Journal from Sweet Harmony Press

IMG_6769If you’re going to build something, you need to have the right tools. Right? As a writer, I can think of lots of tools that I find indispensable: a computer, a word-processing program (or two), pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, style guides, grammar books. And to that list, I am now happy to add the Character Development Journal from Sweet Harmony Press.

I received mine as a Christmas gift from a thoughtful girlfriend, and I absolutely love the simplicity of this journal. It’s the same two-page spread repeated about fifty-something times (and I don’t imagine they’d appreciate me sharing a photo of it since then you might not want the journal). It lets you list things like the character’s name and nickname, age, other physical characteristics, jobs, beliefs, people the character loves and hates, pets, and much more. There’s even a bulleted list of dozens of character traits for you to check off, ranging from A (“accountable”) to Z (“zealous”), and I’m looking forward to going deeper with the characters in my first novel as I continue to work on book two in the series.

I’d read before that an author needs to keep a “character Bible,” but I hardly knew where to start other than jotting down a few disjointed lists in one of my many brainstorming journals. As I continue to build an imaginary world for my characters, I now have a handy journal that will (hopefully!) help me create characters that, as the book cover says, “readers will love.”

How do you convey emotion to readers?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00058]Recently, I was reading a manuscript when I came across a particularly atrocious line about a character who was experiencing “a new emotion that was roiling within—anger.” What a perfectly dreadful bit of writing! And I can say that because the writer was myself. As an editor, I’ve trained myself to spot the lazy writing in others’ work, those occasions where an author is telling the reader that a character is angry rather than showing the character being angry. How did I miss it in my own work? All I can say is something that every editor-turned-writer already knows: everyone needs an editor.

In my case, I also needed some inspiration to help me imagine ways that a character who was in a car, and by herself, could show her anger. And so I turned to a useful book I purchased last year, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I had a feeling the word “anger” would be in there, and it was. And on the list of some thirty-six physical signals of anger, there sat number five: “Handling objects or people roughly.” Eureka! My character could hold her steering wheel in a death grip, and that was merely one way I could begin to show her anger rather than my lazy attempt at merely telling the reader she was angry.

The Emotion Thesaurus is not the sort of craft book that a writer will sit down and read cover to cover, unless perhaps he or she has an unhealthy fondness for lists. But someone might like to know that rubbing the back of the neck is a sign of embarrassment or that massaging the temples can be a sign of impatience. Those are just two more of the seventy-five “emotion entries” in the book, which I’ve already found to be quite useful in helping me describe my characters’ emotions. Perhaps you need a copy as well?