Category Archives: writing craft

Considering Cliché: A Writer’s Unforgivable Sin?

The very first piece of advice that I remember anyone giving me about writing was, “Avoid cliché.” I was ten. I had to look up “cliché”. So now I have a question.

Dickens father of clicheA cliché is a word or phrase so worn out by overuse that it has deteriorated until it is meaningless. It may once have been striking. Today it is white noise.

The gentle reader ignores it. The ungentle critic berates the writer for laziness and lack of originality.

Dickens got away with “It is a far, far better thing I do, than I have ever done,” because he thought of it first. After that it became popular, then heard widely, then untouchable by any writer with pretensions to respectability.

Cliché, the Reader’s Friend?

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Pedantique-Ryter: Less is More. Or Is It Fewer?

Less? Or fewer? This Pedantique-Ryter post is dedicated to that Disgusted of Chelsea (no names, no pack drill) who had this exchange on Twitter recently, after shopping in Marks & Spencer:

exclamation mark in fire for less or fewerDisgusted of Chelsea:
My faith in @marksandspencer is shattered, I tell you, shattered. Their ad at checkout:
“Less worries. More sandcastles.” AAAARGGH.
M&S
Is there anything we can do to help?
DoC
Very kind but am in shock. Civilisation tottering.
Ideally change wording to “fewer worries” or “less worry”?
Probably not cost effective?
M&S
We’re sorry you don’t feel we’ve got our ad right.
We’ll share your comments with the team. Thanks
DoC
It’s like a needle under a nail to me.
Team could try Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage?

Civilisation tottering? Well, maybe DoC’s irony went a bit far there, but Pedantique-Ryter admits to feeling the needle under the nail, too.
Fewer? Less? Are they interchangeable? If not, how and when should they be used?
Read on to find out the Pedantique-Ryter answer. Continue reading

Magic Moment and Creative Chaos

Mysterious woman in magic moment

I’ve always been fascinated by the chemistry of the magic moment and the creative chaos out of which it so often emerges in works of the imagination. And I mean always.

Long before I analysed A-Level texts or read any of the learned works on story structure, I knew there was a point in my favourite fantasies where time seemed to slow. Everything became both more meaningful and more mysterious.

They were the places in the book which I re-read, again and again. The moments I went back to in the CD. The words I waited for, breathless, in the theatre.

 Amid Nonsense

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Collaborator and Writer, First Steps in Doing it Together

Collaborator…

Collaborator with colleagueBy temperament, I’m one of nature’s collaborators. Show me a team and I’m spitting on my hands and doing my bit. With enthusiasm.

In my various day jobs, I’ve loved the sense of shared enterprise. OK, I could get a bit testy when we had meetings about meetings. But mostly interaction with other people buoyed me up when I was tired, focused me when I was floundering and made laugh a lot.

And I work a whole lot better than I do on my own.

…or Loner?

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Suspend disbelief? Unancounced ghost

Disbelief and Our Willingness to Suspend it

Coleridge author of Suspension of Disbelief It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he of Ancient Mariner fame, who coined the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in 1817 in his Biographia Literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions. He did so referring to his contribution, more than twenty years earlier, to  the Lyrical Ballads. Published in 1798, these are generally taken to mark the start of the romantic movement in English literature. William Wordsworth wrote most of them, of course.

Suspending Disbelief to Embrace Marvels

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Pedantique-Ryter: Exclamation Marks Shriek

Do you use exclamation marks? Often? Maybe too often??!!!

pen in razor shape, text critic, for exclamation marksSome readers HATE exclamation marks

Exclamation marks used to be all the rage. Once.

But tastes change and, nowadays, some readers count exclamation marks and scream abuse on all the social media platforms if they think an author has used too many. Quite a few of my clients — including bestselling authors — have suffered at the hands of the exclamation mark police. And many have sworn, as a result, never to use an exclamation mark again.

Ever. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: may or might?

May or might? Many writers (and journalists who should definitely know better) have been flummoxed by that one. It seems, increasingly, that may is used all the time, even when it’s actually wrong.

Queen Elizabeth with Mounties. Who may or might she have married?Try this for size:

 

The Queen may have married someone other than Prince Phillip.

Stressed Woman Pulling Her Hair

 

Right? Or wrong? Or something in between? Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: who or whom?

Last time, I gave you four whom examples from the sainted Georgette Heyer. I said the number of mistakes was somewhere between zero and four.

And the answer? ONE. But which one? And why? Read on to find out.

Do I have to use Whom in written English?

who or whom in written English can matterWritten material can pose difficult questions. If you’re emailing your mates, no one will care. If you’re writing your thesis or a letter to the pedantic godmother who will (you hope) leave you money in her will, you probably don’t want to make mistakes. They could distract your reader from what really matters, like giving you the top marks you deserve. So follow my tips if you want to be sure you can get it right when it matters. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter: English Daftisms

Occasional Writing Tips from Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter :
#2 English Daftisms: Do I practise in my practice?

Of course, as I type this, the spell-checker — in American English — is giving me a loud red underline to tell me that practise is wrong.

star prize for English daftisms?Well, no. Not in British English it’s not. And, funnily enough, on this side of the pond we tend to think that English is OUR language and that Brits make the rules and get the shiny star.

If pushed, though, Brits would usually admit that some British English is plain daft.

I’d say that the distinction between practise and practice is one of those daftisms. I’d add that license and licence are daftisms, too. (“Daftism” is one of my own words, by the way, a Pedantique-Ryterism! It can’t be any dafter than practise/practice.)

American English is much more sensible on this kind of distinction and just uses practice/licence all the time. That being so, American visitors are at liberty to skip to the puzzle at the end — unless, of course, they’d like to have a laugh at the daftness of Brits. If so, feel free to read on.

English daftisms: when is it S and when is it C?

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Beware the Apostrofly! says Pedantique-Ryter

grocers apostrophe

Occasional Writing Tips from Dame Isadora Pedantique-Ryter : #1 The Apostrofly

The apostrofly is a nasty but industrious little insect. She can lay her eggs almost anywhere — she’s not picky about nest sites, though she is rumoured to be fond of the greengrocer’s veg display — and her eggs hatch out into little black maggots that try to crawl all over a writer’s perfect pages.

apostroflee beats apostrofly

 

There is, sadly, no easy solution. Wouldn’t it be great if we could use a can of insecticide and kill them all off?

One quick spritz of Miracle Apostroflee and all the incorrect apostrophes disappear from the page while any missing ones are inserted in exactly the right places.

 

 

Not a chance. Continue reading