Monday, February 27, 2012

Clutter the Disease of Good Writing

William Zinsser, in his book On Writing Well, says, "Clutter is the disease of American Writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompus frills and meaningless jargon."

We especially notice this in an election year--political retoric and hype. Nothing is as it seems. There is no such thing as straight talk.

"Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefenseible...Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemismns, questions-begging, and sheer cloudy vagness."George Orwell

Not just a nusance but a deadly tool, the English language. Eliminate the clutter disease and your work will sparkle like all good writing should.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Finding Ideas to Write About

Sometimes it seems finding ideas to write about is hard, but if we open our minds up there are things to write about everywhere.
"Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything." Says William Shakespeare.
Many an enchanted forest has been fodder for a book or several. Imagine what a tree with a big nurl in the side of it looks like. My Willow tree outside my office window is such a tree. In different light, the time of day, the weather conditions that nurl looks like a million different things that could wind up as printed words on the page somewhere.

Running brooks in many ways sounds like a story teller. Listen, sit quietly at the side of a brook and listen. What message does it sing. What words does it bubble forth?

Sermons in stones - Peter the rock, comes to mind but their are others . Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me. Pet rocks. The Rolling Stones, musical group.

Good in everything?  Nothing happens without a reason. We need to test the skills we've been given to find the good. Imagine those people who were late for various reasons that probably stressed them out and started their day in a miserable mood when they were late to work in September 9 of 2001, they surely see the good, their blessings in that day. We may have to linger over the seeming obstacle before we see the good...but if by chance...imagine.

Did Shakespeare know something we didn't? or that we don't regularly think about?
What do you think? Comment here please.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Do Lawyers and Authors Have In Common

While I was preparing my non-fiction trial guide, SEE YOU IN COURT! for publication, it came to me that it was a good reference work for writing fictitious court scenes. It is full of nuances and quirks that could lend credence to a narrative. And that got me to wondering what, if anything, lawyers and authors have in common. Go to the mystery and thriller section of a bookstore (if you can find one of those) and you will see that a lot of authors are actually lawyers who write novels. I came to the conclusion that there must be something they have in common. But what?

Of course, they both need to know how to write. But what you write about and the forms that you use to convey your message are completely different. To begin with, lawyers tend to want to tell. And they use funny words you could never get by with in a novel; words like “notwithstanding” and “submit” (not the kinky kind) “quash” and “subsequent.” Authors like to show and be omniscient. Sometimes they don’t even write sentences, or whole ones. You’d never get away with that in a legal brief. So, “no” authors and lawyers don’t really have writing in common.

Unless they’re extraordinarily successful, authors don’t dine where lawyers do. They don’t go business class. And they don’t usually dress in suits. Authors often need day jobs. Authors sometimes need lawyers. Lawyers rarely need authors. Lawyers practice civil or criminal law. Authors are civil or uncivil. Lawyers need a license to practice. Authors have license.

So what accounts for the plethora of lawyer/authors? What accounts for, John Grisham, Erle Stanley Gardner, Scott Turow, Lia Matera, John Mortimer, Richard North Patterson, Henry Fielding, Marissa Piesman and Studs Turkel? I think I have an answer: observation. Authors and lawyers are in the business of paying close attention to human behavior, body language and the physical surroundings in which events occur--- good ones, at least.

Now you are saying, “Wait a minute, other occupations rely on observation too. What about cops and doctors, for example?” The difference though between those other occupations and lawyers is that the observations are generally used within the profession. More often than not, doctors report to other doctors and cops work with cops. They both tend to use lawyers when they want to translate their observations into language for public consumption.

Trial lawyers, especially, are trained to closely observe jurors' responses to their questioning during a selection process called voir dire. We scrutinize documents for evidence of forgery or late creation. We examine forensic evidence. We size up witnesses in pre-trial depositions. And our task is to communicate those observations to jurors, a judge or the public in general. Authors who have that skill can ascribe to their characters behavior from nuances and quirks to more definitive conduct. Authors can make their characters sweat, blush, pull their arms across their chests or stare. These kinds of descriptions can show the reader a characters’ personality. Readers will come to empathize or despise, based on the behavior described. Readers can pick up on these descriptions to draw their judgments, rather than having the author tell us how the character feels. Likewise the physical environment can be shown, rather than told about. The gun can still be hot to the touch but the show would be inability to hold onto it, and then perhaps licking some burnt fingers. A stiff wind can whip clothing into knots or cause a wayward piece of trash to wrap around a leg. If I were to write: “As he walked, sheets of newsprint swirled about the sidewalk and the front page of the morning rag decided to wrap tightly around his leg,” the reader might guess that it was wind that caused it.

The law might call the dropping of the gun or the paper-wrapped leg “circumstantial evidence” that the gun was hot and the walk was windy. In See You In Court!, I explain that legally, circumstantial evidence is as good as a percipient narration, but in fiction, circumstantial evidence is better. It is those kinds of details that make the best narrative. Attention to detail, through relating these small clues makes the story. So just as a lawyer is shown evidence, the author can show the reader the evidence, whether it be a weapon, a room, or a document, paying attention to clues, which constitute the circumstantial evidence that makes for the best reading. The best of the lawyer/authors possess this ability to process the evidence and then to communicate it in plain, simple, easy-to-read language.
Guest Post by Barry S Willdorf, Attorney At Law
I was born in NYC and grew up in MA, where I was one of the earliest surfers on the North Shore. I graduated from Colby College in 1966 and earned a J.D. from Columbia Law School in 1969. I also attended the University of Manchester in England in the mid-sixties. In 1970, I founded the Southern California Military Law Project,dedicated to defending U.S. service personal. In 2001, I published Bring the War Home! fictionalizing my experiences representing anti-war Marines. I enjoys the highest attorney rating given by Martindale and Hubbell (AV.) During a legal career spanning four decades, I have been principal trial counsel in more than 100 jury and court trials. I draws on these experiences in crafting both my guide to courtrooms for laymen and my fiction. My historical novel, The Flight of the Sorceress, (Wild Child Publishing, 2010) recently won a Global E-Book Award for best historical literature and is currently a finalist for a 2012 EPIC Historical Fiction award. Burning Questions, the first part of my “1970s Trilogy was published in August 2011 by Whiskey Creek Press. Part 2, A Shot in the Arm will be published on April 1, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Kindle Formatting Made Easy

Kindle Formatting Made Easy ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Recently I published some quick tips on publishing articles and books on Kindle in my Sharing with Writers newsletter and got tons of feedback, some of it from folks who said they were still worried about "the learning curve."

They helped me to see that the little secrets I shared may have been too advanced; many writers need something that’s more A to Z. It’s so easy that I thought I’d take the worry out of for those who have been procrastinating.

Just remember, e-book readers don’t have page numbers. The pages change every time a reader changes the size of a font. If you keep that in mind, formatting is mostly intuitive. And if you want those extra little tidbits I published in the last newsletter, go to my Sharing with Writers blog ( where I posted it for your convenience.

OK. Here goes:

• Use Word. Save your copy as a .doc., not .docx or .rtf.

• Use a simple font, preferably Times New Roman or Verdana. 11 pt works nicely for e-readers.

• Single space your text.

• Make margins one inch all the way around.

• If your book is fiction, change the paragraph indent from .5 to .2 inches. If you write nonfiction, don’t indent at all. Put spaces between your paragraphs instead.

Remove any headers or footers you may have. That includes text of any sort and page numbers.

• Set justification. That’s the little section in the Word ribbon at the top of your screen that lets you move text all to the left, all to the right, centered, or justified on both right and left. Most suggest you use the latter so the copy looks even on both sides.

• Don’t leave lots of space between chapters or sections. A single space is all that’s needed. In fact, Nook won’t accept more than one blank line.

• You can use formatting in your chapter headlines. Make them bold or larger but don’t use fancy fonts (type faces). Some readers (like Nook and Kindle) don’t support the ornate ones. Arial, Verdana or Times New Roman are safe bets. You can use italics, but I see no reason for the clutter. People will be reading on a screen, after all. Chapter subheads can also be given some attention with bold or larger type face but, again, don't get too fancy.

• If your book is nonfiction, be sure you mark the headings so you can make a table of contents with them—all automated and courtesy of Word. You should be able to find the heading formatter in the Word ribbon at the top of your screen.

o Your Contents page should have live links so that readers can skip easily to the sections or chapters in your book they want to read. Use the “references” tab at the top of your Word screen to make a Contents page automatically after you’ve formatted each headline.

• You can also use caps for the first three or four words in every chapter. That helps cue the reader that he or she is in a new section or chapter.

• It is acceptable to add information about your other e-books or forthcoming ones to the backmatter of your book. Why not? Be sure to use live links to their sales pages. It's something I often suggest to my clients. Some authors even charge for a couple of ads in the back to offset the cost of publishing.

• The first page of your e-book is your title page (or the picture of your book cover—but Kindle provides an option that does that for you). Keep it simple. But include the ISBN. If you don’t have one, Kindle will provide one for you—f r e ^.

• Here is a tip that no one seems to tell those of us who love our front matter—you know—our acknowledgments, dedications, etc. Kindle eliminates them if you leave them in the front of the book. Your e-book must start with the cover image/title page/first chapter. So I cheat. I move selected pieces of my front matter to the end of my book. I think it’s important to thank people, and think it would be a shame not to put them somewhere!

• Just repeating here. Find a few additional tips at

• Be sure to proof read the whole book once it’s set up as an e-book. You’ve made a lot of changes, right?

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson is a multi award-winning novelist and poet. She is also the author of the HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers ( and was named Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment by members of the California Legislature.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Instructor for nearly a decade at the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program

Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books including the second edition honored by USA BOOK NEWS

The Frugal Book Promoter ( ) :



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