Thursday, January 31, 2013

Best Kept Silent

Why oh why are there k’s in front of words we say with n sounds? Knife, knee, know, knight, knick, dozens of others. Then there are g’s thrown in front of words like gnat and gnaw, and p’s not pronounced in front of s’s. There’s even the odd m in front of n in front of mnemonic, and don’t get me started on w or letters that pop up in the middle of words. Is there some simple, sensible reason for all this?

Answer: probably not.

Mnemonic is an easy one. It comes from the Greek mnemonikos, a word stemming from Mnemosyne, the titan of memory, and probably the Proto Indo European men, which means to think. So there’s no mystery there except why the Greeks dropped the e and please don’t make me research that. It’s hard enough to figure out English.

For kn words, it’s not our French heritage that makes the English language confusing but our Germanic ancestors. “Kn” is a sound in German, sounding exactly as it’s spelled: k’n. Instead of “nee” and “not” they have k’nie and k’noten. Although the k has disappeared in English, we did pronounce it in the days of Oldand Middle Englishand we can actually pinpoint the time we stopped pronouncing it as sometime before 1750. And before that? It was pronounced “pn”, then “hn”, “dn” and “tn”.

G and w are pretty much the same and yes, they’re Germanic in origin, too. Unlike k, they were generally dropped in both German spelling and pronunciation, while we in English kept the spelling and dropped the pronunciation. They reason why is most likely that the pronunciation changed after their spellings solidified (when the printing press made fixed spellings and grammar important).

The p in ps is another thing we can blame on the Greeks. They have that annoying letter “psi” and every word that begins with ps, like psyche, psalm, and pseudo, are all Greek in origin. Although they pronounce the pinstead of leaving there like a dead limb. There’s also pt and pn words like pterodactyl and pneumatic, although they don’t come from a letter but Greek digraphs. Again, they’re pronounced in other languages.

TL;DR: English doesn’t like to pronounce letter combinations from other languages.

Tony Jebson’s page on the Origins of Old English

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Good Enough

When is good enough (for your WIPs, I mean) not good enough? It’s something I’ve been pondering lately as my idea well for blog posts has run dry and I’m desperate for topics to discuss.

Things that I may have overlooked in rough drafts are no longer ignored. Poor phrasing, vague words, anything that went under “I’ll fix it later”…well, it’s later. Characterization must be consistent. Plot holes are filled. And overused words are hunted and destroyed.

I’ve not been published yet. The three books that I’ve been working on for the past three years have not reached that fabled status of “Final Draft”, although after over a year of edits, one is approaching it (it’s at least at the stage where it can’t get any better without outside input). This means that only recently has good enough become not good enough.

Not that I haven’t felt close before—key word being “felt”. There have been plenty of stories I’ve slaved over, several of which are now classified under “I had no idea what I was doing.” But this book is not one of those. Years of reading YA and publishing blogs means I’ve learned all the contradictory rules to writing a novel. I can’t say for certain that GLITCH will be the first thing I ever have published (I’m actually thinking that, for several reasons, it will not be), but it will be the first to reach the end stages as a fully realized work.

Special! Magical! Well, that’s how it feels to me. So what are your stories about “final” drafts? Have you ever reached the point where good enough isn’t good enough?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Horror

Sit back and hear tell of a tale so gruesome you will be compulsively washing your hands as many times as I have today.

While visiting with my mother yesterday we happened to be distracted by the antics of her cat, not an unusual occurrence by far but it did draw our attention to the bedroom the cat was racing back and forth in. She had found a toy to bat around, playfully racing under the curtains and then diving out at whatever object had captured her fancy. However, one thing gave me pause. “Why is your rug so dirty?” I asked my mother, speaking of the clumps of dirt scattered across the floor.

She was aghast. The rug was clean the last time she went in there, two hours before. I pointed out to her the dark chunks clearly visible against the white rug, but she was adamant. Doors and windows were all locked. No one had been out of the house all morning. There should be no dirt in there. Unfortunately, she was right.

We both went in to investigate, and were stricken by the odd nature of the filth. Truly it was not dirt. It was fuzzy, like cotton filling, but it was brown and who would ever bother to dye stuffing? I parted the curtains the cat was hiding under and found the source of the strange dirt, the toy she had been batting around. My mother has several cat toys in her house, some gray and covered with fake fur to make it look like a real mouse. But something was different about this one.

It is at this point I shall tell you that six months ago during high summer, I helped my mother search for the source of a foul odor stemming from that very same bedroom, the kind of odor that only comes from a dead animal left to rot in the heat. We never could find where it came from. Until, well, you should see where I’m going with this.

It wasn’t a toy. It was a mummified mouse.

Upon her realization of that fact, my mother ran screaming from the room. I’m fairly certain you know who had to clean it up. I took off my glasses so I wouldn’t have to look at it while I dumped it in the trash can, then vacuumed up all the fur. The next step was throwing the vacuum cleaner bag in with the mouse and emptying the trash can, and finally retconning that out of my life so I can pretend it never happened.

Why do I share this with you? A) to show that I can write in other ways than short, choppy sentences, and B) so you all hope I never run out of ideas for blog posts again.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Further Words that are Easy to Confuse

It’s been too long since I’ve done this. I don’t know how there aren’t more words that confuse me.

I’m terrible with these words. Sheer has a ridiculous variety of meanings. It can mean transparent, pure, utter, steep, and in reference to ships, swerve. On the other hand, shear always means something to do with cutting, like shear a sheep or another word for scissors. But it’s hard to tell them apart! I try to remember that shear always goes with sheep, which reminds me that it has to do with shaving. And anything else gets sheer.

Words with similar sounds but completely different meanings are the bane of my existence. Illicit means illegal, and it’s easy to remember if you remind yourself they both start with “ill”. Elicit is a synonym for evoke. Again, both start with e’s. Why are they so close in spelling? Well, it’s all about the prefixes. The ex- prefix often loses the x (think of emigration or the above mentioned evoke) and for the in- prefix loses the n and picks up an l in front of words that start with l (like licit and legal) []. And also because languages are confusing.

This one I’ve come across once or twice. I’ve also made the error myself a few times, but that’s more because personnel is one of those words that for some reason I can’t spell for the life of me (I always do one n and two l’s…really). The definition of personal is between you and me. The definition of personnel is a group of employees. Although “a personal” seems like a good name for a group of psychologists.

I’m mentioning this one because I totally mixed them up in one of my WIPs, and if you know the definitions, that’s kind of an issue. For those who don’t know (like the me from last week), breech means the rear part of anything, but more specifically humans. It means butt, is what I’m saying. And I used it when I needed to say breach, as in rupture. I tell you, “breeching the gate” makes for some awkward visuals.

Just brought up because it’s bit of a problem to read “plum the depths of my soul”. Plum means only one thing:
I plummed my soul once. Turned the entire thing into fruit.

It’s a fruit, for always and ever. If you’re talking about measuring the depth of water (or the human soul), perpendicular or vertical, or complete (in a colloquial sense), then stick that b on there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


I’m glad I was never arrogant enough to criticize a writer for a continuity error (well, at least not before buying it in the bookstore), because I’m starting to think they’re even more sneaky than I suspected. I can’t believe I used to think I was good at keeping continuity errors from invading my book. Yeesh. I’ll be lucky if there aren’t any continuity errors at the end of this blog post.

See, I edit in passes, looking for specific problems like word usage or plot holes or whatever. When I find an issue, I fix it, and like a butterfly flapping its wings across the world, it can bring with it disastrous consequences. For example, I redid one section where the main character’s purpose just didn’t seem logical. I was of course aware that this important plot point resonated throughout the rest of the book and made sure to fix subsequent chapters, but…did I get everything?

I think I did, but it’s easy to get versions of the book mixed up in your head. And it’s not something that can always be caught by a beta reader, either. As useful as they are, the story’s continuity is on my shoulders. That’s why I’m starting to make notes of every change I make, and any issue that might get mixed up in my head, in a list titled “REMEMBER”. Remember how she lost her bracelet, remember that he is left handed, etc. etc. etc.

Continuity errors: AKA I edited the book out of order, so sue me.

Writer question time! How do you keep details, major and minor, straight in your head? And how do you find continuity problems while editing?