Saturday, October 29, 2016

When to Use the Word Literally

Literally has become a popular term that many people use without understanding its true meaning. Literal means exact or actual as opposed to exaggerated or fictitious, which is something that is not real.

Writers use literally in two different ways. The first way is for emphasis. "The strangler was literally 5 feet away from me." In this instance, the term is unnecessary. The strangler is either 5 feet away from you or he's not. There is no need to add the word literally; it's redundant. If you want to emphasize how scary it is to have a criminal right next to you, find other ways to show us how frightening that is. Make your heart beat faster, perspire, or gasp for breath due to the proximity of this strangler, but don't use the word literally.

The second instance is always wrong. It's when writers say something like, "My heart stopped—literally." Or "I had butterflies in my stomach—literally." If you have real butterflies in your stomach, you should be on the way to the emergency room. Ditto for no heartbeat. In these examples, the writer is trying to convey how serious an issue is. Better to strengthen your verbs by saying something like, "My heart raced" or "My stomach danced." Or use a metaphor; "I felt like my heart stopped beating." That's accurate. Using literally is not.

So, when is a good time to use the word literally? Almost never.

Friday, October 21, 2016

When to Use Imply and Infer

When to Use Imply and Infer

Many people are uncertain when to use the word imply and when to use infer. It's easy.

To imply is to insinuate or suggest that something is one way or another. It's not usually something people say out loud; to imply is to make a subtle reference and hope that the other person catches it. "Jennifer asked if I was going to eat all my french fries. Was she implying that I needed to lose weight?"

To infer is to deduce or conclude something by what somebody else said. Inferring is not something that we say out loud either; it's usually something that we think to ourselves. "Jennifer noticed that I didn't eat all my french fries. She inferred that I was trying to lose weight." Note that Jennifer did not ask her friend for clarification. She just drew her own conclusion based on the evidence.

In both instances, it's easy for people to be wrong. If we think that a person is implying something, we are making a guess, which could be incorrect. Ditto for inferring a comment. But these words are not used interchangeably, and they do not mean the same thing, so double check to make sure that you are using each one in the right context.



Monday, October 10, 2016


Wordiness is a common problem for writers. One of the best ways to catch our wordiness is to go back and reread our material. Usually, when we are writing, we are in creative mode, and we say whatever comes to mind. It's only when we go back to carefully revise that we catch problems like wordiness.

Here are some examples of saying too much:

1. "Maria went back to the apartment she was living in." Unless you are trying to emphasize that Maria has five apartments and tonight, she decided to stay in the one that she was currently using, it's much more clear to say, "Maria returned to her apartment."

2. "Monique appeared in a bikini bathing suit." Bikini says it all. No need for the term bathing suit.

3. "That's where we sent the kids to university when they were ready to leave home for higher learning." The fact that the kids were ready to leave home can be implied. Obviously, you're not going to send your kids away if they're not ready to go anywhere. So the simplest way to phrase this statement would be, "That's where we sent the kids to university" or "That's where the kids went to university."

Writing shorter, clearer, more concise sentences and paragraphs is easier on the reader. It allows readers to get right to the point of your material so that they are not bogged down in unnecessary detail.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

What's the Difference between Writing and Editing?

Although there is quite a bit of overlap between writing and editing, there are also some major distinctions between the two. Writing is essentially a creative process whether we are writing fiction or nonfiction; we let our minds roam freely, particularly during the first draft of a document, so that we can get down everything that we are thinking. Then we often rewrite our material to look for mistakes or parts of our story or report that are clumsy or confusing or we just don't like. Some people rewrite a number of times before they are satisfied, particularly with long documents, but even journalists who are writing eight-hundred-word articles are prone to revising their material before submitting the final product. After people finish writing, they usually do a spell-check, and their material may or may not go on to an editor.

If it does, the editor will play a completely different role than the writer. Let's say that the writer has written a novel and submitted it to a developmental editor. The editor will examine the manuscript very carefully to assess character development, background setting, conflict between and within characters, and the resolution of the plot. A developmental editor may recommend many changes in the story to make it more clear, consistent, or less wordy. A newspaper editor may look for potential legal problems, and the editor of a charitable foundation may look for inaccuracies in the monthly report. After the author has implemented some of these recommendations, the manuscript goes for copyediting.

Copyediting involves going line by line in the document to make sure that everything is correct. The copy editor will remove errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and typos. The editor will also establish a style. For example, the author may be Australian, and the book may have been written using Australian spelling. The copy editor will then ensure that none of the spelling appears using standard American terms, which would not fit. The copy editor will also stylize punctuation: the editor and the author will decide if the author wants to use serial commas, commas linking coordinating conjunctions (e.g., "The sun was setting, and it was beginning to get cold."), and commas after introductory clauses (e.g., "After midnight, the concert hall was almost empty.").

So, editing is similar to rewriting, but it takes into account many other factors such as consistency. If the word okay is spelled as such fifty-two times in a manuscript, we don't want it spelled as OK in three instances. Consequently, copy editors have a fine eye for detail whereas developmental editors have a keen ability to look at the larger picture. Writers are mainly concerned about getting their story down on paper and doing it as grammatically as possible, but after spending hours, or in some cases years, on a manuscript, writers may lose their objectivity and may benefit from using an editor to provide an independent assessment of their work.

For more information about Evaluating Fiction please visit