Empty adjectives

We learn at school to use lots of adjectives to add depth to our descriptions, but when we leave school and pursue the creative craft of writing stories, we are told that we should avoid adjectives like the plague. In time, I have learned that we still need adjectives but not just any adjective – ones that are specific and not generalised and ambiguous. I call these lazy adjectives ’empty’ because they don’t show the reader what the author really sees. Take the adjective ‘beautiful‘. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The reader does not see the golden rays and red reflections off the clouds when a writer says ‘It was a beautiful sunset‘. Similar adjectives include ‘majestic‘, ‘awesome‘, ‘bad/good‘, and so it goes on. The author may use these adjectives but until he or she describes what they actually see or experience, then it is purely subjective on the part of the writer. The reader misses out on what the author means. Therefore, in order to fully connect with the reader, the author needs to elaborate on exactly what they mean when they say it was a ‘majestic scene‘, ‘an awesome concert‘ or a ‘bad person‘. Yes, it will mean more words are used, but they will not be wasted words.

On the other side of the coin, we have beneficial adjectives that add to what the author is trying to convey. We need to know the colour of a character’s clothing, whether they are tall, short, fat, wiry; their hair is curly or straight, long or short. There are lots of adjectives that do the work to convey a clearer picture to the reader. This also applies to adverbs, but that is another story.

Beneficial adjectives do the work of ‘showing’ the reader what the author wants them to see, while ’empty’ adjectives merely ‘tell’ the reader what the author claims is ‘beautiful, bad, awesome …’ The reader is blindfolded in the author’s landscape. What is beautiful to one person may be mediocre or perhaps ugly to another. A hippopotamus is beautiful to some, ugly and bloated to others.


## Do you have a story that needs an editor’s eye. Visit my web page http://paulvanderloos.wixsite.com/editor and see if I can help.

Tips on using MS Word

I recently helped out a senior friend who was having trouble with formatting her poetry in a number of documents that she had created in Microsoft Word. She had copied some of her own poetry from a website that she contributed to, and that was the major cause of much angst on her part. It also caused me some consternation until I realised that she had copied from a website, and inadvertently brought in elements that forced whole sections of poetry to lump together and defy any effort to divide it into neat separate pages. The page break tool would not insert a page break, but instead sent me back to before the section I was working on. The answer was to create a fresh document and ensure only the text was copied over and not all the elements from the website. I also noticed that my friend had put in numerous tabs and spaces to align her text where she wanted it. Multiple returns were also used to push text onto the next page rather than using page breaks.

These are among the common things that people struggle with using MS Word and similar word-processing software. I showed her some of the simple things you can do with MS Word that will make life a whole lot easier, and thought that I could create some tutorials on YouTube to help others tackle the mysteries of this software.

Therefore, I invested in some screen recording software and have already made three tutorials in what I plan will be a series. The links for you to watch them are as follows:

Righting Your Writing

Points to ponder about our changing language.


Don’t feel confident about your word choice? Steven Pinker’s book, The Sense of Style, provides writers with useful advice about language and punctuation choices now acceptable in modern English.

Unfortunately, his early chapters, on structure and grammar, are hard going and not that useful if your interest is in knowing what’s OK and what’s not in modern language use. These chapters provide the logic behind language choices. But it’s like expecting someone to memorise the whole grammatical structure of a language when all they want to do is order a cup of coffee.

He lightens up the text a little by adding cartoons about language and punctuation, plus comical examples to illustrate how writers may unintentionally mislead. What we write is not always what we mean:

  • I enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.
  • After the governor watched the lion perform, he was fed 25 pounds of raw meat.
  • Guilt, vengeance, and bitterness can be emotionally…

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Lyonizing Word: Shifting Styles

I admit that I don’t want to lose this MS Word advice, but many writers would find this useful information as well. Thanks to An American Editor.

An American Editor

Shifting Styles

by Jack Lyon

In its undying efforts to be “helpful,” Microsoft Word can cause no end of problems. Among the worst of these are what I call “shifting styles,” which can change the formatting of your document without your consent and sometimes without your knowledge. Yow! I know of five ways this can happen. Here’s how to identify and fix each one.

Automatically Update Document Styles

The Problem

You go through your document, fine-tuning its style formatting to the peak of perfection. Then you carefully save your document for posterity. A week later, you reopen your document. What the…? All of your styles have shifted back to their original formatting. You’ll have to do all of that work over again! And how can you be sure it will stick?

The Solution

  1. Open the document.
  2. Click the Developer tab. (If you don’t have such a tab, click File >…

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Literacy in the Internet Age

I was recently asked to do a talk at a Rotary meeting on the topic of literacy. I felt honoured, and decided to talk about the effect of the internet on literacy, especially the changes occurring with youth in their communication online, and even offline. Here is my presentation:


The Egyptians used various icons of animals, plants, people and other symbols to tell a story about their lifestyle thousands of years ago. It was a simple way for them to communicate however the ‘pictograms’ that are popularly associated with this ancient language are not literal but partly representative of letters in their alphabet.

Hey, but our English language doesn’t use iconic symbols, isn’t that right?



Many of you, especially if you utilise social media, will be familiar with emoticons. They are a product of the internet age; as young people especially can replace whole words, mostly communicating a feeling or emotion in just a few key strokes on their mobile phone or computer keyboard. The key strokes combination is translated into an icon, such as a heart or a smiley face, which tells the person at the other end of the communication that they love or like something, or are happy about something. Replace the colon in the smiley face combination with a semi-colon, and the result is a winking smiley face that suggests the person is joking about something or is telling the recipient not to take what is said too seriously.

So what has brought on this iconography on social media?

Before the internet, we all learnt how to read and write, and our communication with each other was mainly verbal face to face or we wrote a letter. Some of us may have learnt to type, but even then, we reserved typed letters for formalities such as job applications and business letters.  Most of us had the ability to write quickly and efficiently, and were unrushed as replies took weeks to get back to us. Perhaps we’d end a letter with a smiley face or a sketch, but that would be it. The phone was the most immediate communication available for contact at a distance, and again our verbal abilities had no need for icons and symbols.

The internet has only really being with us since the 1990s, but its impact has been enormous. Suddenly, people could communicate in writing with each other instantly, and many without keyboard skills had to search and tap with one or two fingers. Facebook only emerged 10 years ago, along with Twitter and other social media. Social media became available not only on computers but on smart phones and other devices such as iPods, iPads etc.

Young people wanted to keep in touch with their friends but their lack of keyboard skills made it a slow process. The answer was to create a kind of shorthand that used abbreviations and symbols to get the message across faster. A colon and a close bracket looked like a smiling face on its side, a less than sign and the numeral 3 combined to make a heart on its side. And thus the first crude emoticons took form. Social media saw the potential, and made it possible to transform the crude forms into proper smileys, hearts and a host of other pictograms.

Actually, the crude emoticon smiley face has been around since the 1980s, but its use did not come into its own until the internet age.

Now, the other side of this need to shorten social media texts is to abbreviate, and young people especially have created so many abbreviations that a not so social media literate person is left confused by what is almost another language.

Try this one for size: ‘OMG! M8 IDK cos YOLO. BTW GTG but BRB’.

Who knows what I said? It translates to ‘Oh My God! mate, I don’t know because you only live once. By the way, I’ve got to go but I’ll be right back’.

Some of the other popular abbreviations include:

ATM: Not a banking device for withdrawing money but ‘At the moment’.

IRL: In real life

BBY: Baby

Soz/sozza: Sorry

LMS: like my status

ILY: I love you. This is more a casual term for affection rather than something more serious.

LOL: Laugh out loud

ROFL: Roll over floor laughing

The act of abbreviation will even extend to verbal conversation. You will often hear teenagers now saying LOL, YOLO and shortened or re-invented words.

Young people have also invented their own slang terms that they will use on and off their online chat sessions. Here are a few that are gaining acceptance into the language:

Derp: Something that is silly or dumb, clumsy

Nek Minnut: Next minute

Troll: Someone who spans, tricks or deliberately insults and criticises others.

Fan girl/boy: A girl or boy who is an excited fan about something or someone.

Facepalm: The act of expressing a sense that something/someone is foolish, hence slapping your forehead, but instead of doing it, you write or say the word.

Selfie: A photo of yourself taken by yourself (usually on a mobile phone or iPod)


Teens will also leave out words and punctuation in order to further shorten what they are texting or saying. For example, ‘Nek minnut trips over’ instead of ‘In the next minute he trips over’.

A number of existing words have been given new meaning or adapted for the internet and computer usage.

‘Text’ is now a verb used to describe the act of keying in text for a mobile phone message.

‘Hardware’ has been adapted from its common meaning of hammers, nails etc to refer to the physical parts of a computer.

Nobody’s in trouble when you ‘save’ on a computer. You are simply retaining the data and information on a digital ‘file’ to the computer.

You might still get caught in the ‘web’ but there is no spider to bother you. The web describes the visible portion of the internet that embraces web sites throughout the world.

You won’t catch fish or butterflies with this ‘net’, which is short for the internet or the network of computer servers that service the web.

There is no need to drive anywhere to go to these ‘addresses’ as they are the coding for finding web sites on the internet.

Friend has become a verb as ‘to friend someone’ or include them on your social media account, giving them access to your ‘posts’ that have nothing to do with letters but statements and comments you place on your social media account site for others to read.

There is no small rodent involved when the computer user talks about their mouse, which is the device used to ‘navigate’ around any computer program without keying in directions.

Just like finding your place in a book, you can use a digital ‘bookmark’ to mark websites that you use regularly, enabling you to find them easily.

When I talk about the ‘cloud’, you don’t have to look up or out the window. I’m not talking about those puffy things in the sky. The ‘cloud’ on the internet is a storage site online where you can place your documents and digital photos, and access them from any computer linked to the internet anywhere in the world.

‘Ports’ are no longer somewhere ships can dock, but digital pathways on your computer.

But the internet has also made it necessary to create new words to describe things that don’t exist in the physical world. Here are some new terms that have come out as a result of the internet and computers:

Software: Digital system that enable computer users to perform different functions such as wordprocessing, displaying and manipulating digital photos, keeping accounts and so on.

Browser: A software package that lets you view web pages, graphics and most online content.

Email: Essentially electronic mail. Email software enables users to send and receive messages, letters, documents and photos in digital format.

Blog: Short for ‘web log’ which is a modern online writer’s column. People can talk about anything or create blogs on specific topics that interest them, and others can read these blogs. The act of creating a blog is called ‘blogging’.

Download/Upload: The process of transferring a file from online to your computer or from your computer to online.

Malware: A malicious software used by hackers to gain access to your computer and files.

Phishing: Methods used to defraud people of their personal accounts.

Punctuation marks have also not escaped the impact of the internet on our language. People have adapted some punctuation marks to get around issues presented by this new medium for expression. At this stage, social media users cannot italicise words to place emphasis on words or phrases. Instead they use forward strokes before and after the word or phrase.

Similarly, the rarely used tilde (~) has been brought in to replace a dash for quotes and the author of a quote.

The asterisk (*) is used to indicate a corrected word or phrase and can be placed before or after the word or phrase.

The hash (#) has also been given new life as a hashtag that is used to highlight a topic in social media, allowing others to find comments and posts that are tagged as such.

The ‘at’ sign (@) has been given the job of linking to a person’s profile and in email addresses. It is also growing in use on signs, posters and advertisements as a contemporary sign for ‘at’ such as ‘come to the show @ 4pm’.

It is curious that these rarely used punctuation marks are now gaining new jobs while common punctuation marks – like commas and apostrophes – are being abandoned. Young people especially, don’t want to be burdened with applying traditional grammar rules if they can get away with dispensing with punctuation and spelling, to get the message across as quick and as efficient as possible. Social media has become a creative ground for a new kind of shorthand – Words and phrases are shortened or abbreviated, any ‘unnecessary’ words are dropped, and symbols used to convey whole words and phrases.

What does this mean for literacy in our Brave New Generation? Literacy has become more visual and less about words and their construction. Ambiguity has crept in where words and misspellings, mis-punctuation can mean other things. The new generations don’t know the difference between the possessive itsand the contraction it’sfor it is. They mix up there, theirand they’re. And yourand you’re. They have no idea of past and present tenses.

However, the evolvement of a new form of shorthand visual language demonstrates how the Brave New Generation can adapt to a new way of communicating. Language is always evolving. English is a complex language with roots in German, Latin languages, French, Norse and older European. We don’t use the thee’s and thou’s of an older form. Literacy is about effectively been able to understand each other through our written and spoken word. Keep your hand on the tiller to explore the seas of the internet age.

In the afternoon light — phrases and sentences

Sunset over Sea of Japan

Sunset over Sea of Japan (Photo credit: paukrus)

In the afternoon light is a phrase that does not tell a reader much. The reader is looking around for more information, and some active element. Questions arise, such as what is in the afternoon light? Who is in the afternoon light (if anyone)? What is happening in the afternoon light? A sentence, on the other hand, can stand on its own.

Her face is reflected. This is a sentence because there is a subject and verb although no defined object as yet.  What is reflecting her face? A mirror?

If you add the former phrase to the sentence, the result is: Her face is reflected in the afternoon light. Now you know what is illuminated in the afternoon light (or rather reflected as a poetic inflection). You know it is a her and the assumption would be that she is a woman, but she could just as easily be an animal other than human. And you also know what is reflecting her face. The whole construction is now a sentence using a phrase as the object. You can throw in some adjectives to define things more, for example, Her smooth white face is reflected in the crimson afternoon light. Add a second phrase and you have a complete picture: Her smooth white face is reflected in the crimson afternoon light of the setting sun. 

Phrases are short snippets that lack a verb, but make sense when paired with a sentence.  A trap for the unwary is the clause that masquerades as a sentence, but in reality must also be paired to a sentence.

When she stands on the hill. This is an example of an adverbial clause of time. Clauses can be adjectival or adverbial and commonly begin with when, who, where, that and which. Whoa! Now things are getting complicated. Don’t worry too much about the terms; I get mind boggled as well sometimes. Returning to this example, because the structure begins with when, there must be some other action associated with it. I can actually attach this clause to the sentence I’m building. We now have: Her smooth white face is reflected in the crimson afternoon light of the setting sun, when she stands on the hill. 

You could also attach the clause to the beginning of the sentence although it may offend grammar purists. I’m something of a grammar nazi myself, but have come to appreciate that in some contexts, writers can bend and flex the rules a little. The result then would be: When she stands on the hill, her smooth white face is reflected in the afternoon light of the setting sun. 

I may risk adding just one more clause to this sentence – this time an adjectival clause qualifying an aspect about the sun. In this case I must add the clause directly after the word sun at the end of the latter sentence. Here is the clause: That hovers poised over the sea. I have introduced another piece of information – the fact that the location of the hill is near the sea. You also know that this is a western facing coast as the sun is setting over the sea.

The completed sentence then becomes: When she stands on the hill, her smooth white face is reflected in the afternoon light of the setting sun that hovers poised over the sea.

Phrases and clauses are an important part of sentences. They impart extra information that helps to paint a full picture for the reader.


Guest blog on Self-Publishing tips — Dee Doanes

Self-Publishing Tips: Book Editing. Book Covers, and Research

So many writers keep asking me how to self-publish books that I wanted to share Four Steps that will helping new writers out there. I had interest in my book from a great literary agent. I decided to self-publish when I thought about the things I could on my own since I had a background in marketing.

These are the Four Detailed Steps I did, including the costs, to self-publish my book:


Step 1 Hire a Book Editor

After writing my book  the first thing I spent money on was hiring a professional book editor. Ann Kempner Fisher was my editor. She is absolutely the best!  She’s located in the U.S. It cost $1,300 and was well worth the money. Most good and experienced editors charge $4.00- $6.00 per page. If you’re located in the U.K. join a well-known writers group and get referrals from writers in the group. Spending  money on editing is a necessity and  not an option. Some self-published writers havn’t done this and say publicly that paying for a book editor is too expensive. They post on blogs that they wanted to publish books quickly on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).  Then I read complaints on Amazon reader forums and Good Reads forums, readers having to struggle to read books with bad grammar, misspellings, etc.  You only have one time to impress readers and won’t get another chance. Stephen King, James Patterson, and other professional writers always use editors. Self-published writers have to do the same thing to compete.


Step 2 Format Book for Publication

I formatted my book for Kindle. This was difficult to do myself so I went on  Fiverr.com to find someone to format my book per KDP requirements: set up the margins, table of contents, etc. This cost around $25. The people that do book formatting charge by the number of pages. Fiverr is a wonderful marketplace to find all sorts of inexpensive services for your book project including: website updates, social media marketing, book promotions, logo/ad design, graphics, etc. Just look for the highest rated vendor in the appropriate category and place your order via Paypal.


Step 3 Design Book Cover

I used 99 Designs to get a distinctive and low cost book cover illustration and design (for $299). This was a very good price since good illustration can  cost around $500-$1,000.  I heard about 99 designs from fellow writer Tim Ferriss. He’s written several best sellers: The Four Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body, The Four Hour Chef. He really knows how to market books!  99 Designs is a crowd sourced marketplace where several designers and illustrators submit work based on your specifications. You set the price and choose the winner.

A book cover is an important tool in attracting and selling your book to readers, especially for my genre which is paranormal mystery. I have seen some outstanding book cover artwork for established paranormal writers. Then I have seen some poorly designed book covers in the market place from self-published authors. If you want to compete with mainstream published authors you can’t look like an amateur!

Please note:  Illustration is different than design. (My cover is an illustration).I have many artists friends and know a lot about different mediums of art. Without getting too technical, an illustrator typically does art by hand.  A designer typically assembles pre-existing graphics, photos, vectors, etc. An illustrator can design,  but not all designers can illustrate. For new writers, you probably should illustrate your book if it is: children’s, horror, paranormal, fantasy, or sci-fi.


Step 4 Research the Book Marketplace

I researched my genre to see what types of books were in the market place. I checked Amazon bestsellers lists, Wall Street Journal bestsellers lists, and went to Barnes and Noble bookstore. This helped me prepare my market campaign for when I started promoting my book. I will discuss this in another post about book marketing. Questions to ask yourself are: How many books out there are like your book? Are you writing a niche topic?

Any writers interested in learn any more self-publishing tips  please check out my blog: http://www.deedoanes.com and join my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/deedoanesauthor

Should there be one English in the world?

English: Hypothetical flag quartering the Brit...

English: Hypothetical flag quartering the British and American flags. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world is becoming a smaller place in the sense that it is easy to physically travel to any part of the globe, but also the ability to communicate through the internet has had a huge impact. In separation, England, America and Australasia have developed along parallel but different parts in how each interprets the base language of English (which itself is a jumble of other languages) in its conventions of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Australasia and the UK would be closer in this interpretation, while America has moved away – adopting shorter forms that are more true to the phonics of how the word is pronounced. It is now just a matter of a few mouse clicks and key strokes to access thousands of books in electronic format from any part of the world. Social media also means that Americans, Aussies and British people are in close touch on the major platforms of Twitter, Facebook and more recently Google+, not to mention all the other platforms out there. Our forums betray each other’s origins as each one uses the English style adopted in  their part of the globe.

I believe the case is getting stronger for the standardisation (standardization) of English, and I would have to admit that the American form would have the votes as far as a practical evolution of our language goes. Mind you, growing up in Australia, I still cling to our style that is closer to the root forms, but if you go back to the English used in the writing of Beowulf, for example, you would have a hard time reading it as it is so much more Germanic in form than what we have today.

In this blog post, I am going to display some of the common spelling convention comparisons between Australian/British English and American, with some assistance from Wikipedia.

Let’s start with the easiest first: our and or

This is said to be a convention to try to imitate the pronunciation of Old French words after the Norman conquest of England. Some examples include colour, flavour, honour, harbour, humour, labour, neighbour, rumour. America has simply dropped out the ‘u’ to produce color, flavor, honor, harbor, humor, labor, neighbor and rumor.  There is a lot of discussion about exceptions to this rule, including words with ‘our’ that have a different origin than French, such as glamour (Scots).

Next comparison is -re and -er endings

Some words from French, Latin and Greek with -re endings but pronounced -er and thence converted in American to the phonetic form. These include (UK) calibre, centre, fibre, goitre, litre, lustre, manoeuvre, meagre, metre, mitre, nitre, ochre, reconnoitre, sabre, saltpetre, sepulchre, sombre, spectre, theatre, titre become (USA) caliber, center, fiber, goiter, liter, luster, manoeuver, meager, meter, miter, niter, ocher, reconnoiter, saber, saltpeter, sepulcher, somber, specter, theater and titer

One of the examples here, metre/meter, assumes an ambiguous meaning in American English as it can also mean a device for measuring rather than a metric distance of 100cm. But in context it should be clear what meaning is applicable.

-ce and -se endings

This is an interesting one, and I will get to that in a moment. We are all on the same page when using the noun/verb forms of advice/advise and device/devise but differ in this rule for licence/license and practice/practise. In British English, the nouns in the four examples all end in -ce while the verb form is -se. However, in the latter two instances, the US uses license and practice as both noun and verb forms. This is probably one area where there would need to be some discussion as to what forms to adopt internationally. This would also apply with the use of defense and offense (US) to defence and offence (UK), and to add insult to injury, all of us say defensive and offensive as derivatives.

Greek roots

-ise and -ize (-isation and -ization) endings

Examples here include realise, recognise, organise (UK) to realize, recognize, organize (US) and their derivatives realisation, organisation (UK) and realization, organization (US).  An interesting note is that while Canada usually defers to the UK spelling conventions, it prefers -ize endings along with the US.

-yse and -yze

UK — catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse

US — catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze

-ogue and -og

There has been some importation of American form -og in this comparison, especially in the electronics and technical area.  Examples include analog(ue)catalog(ue)dialog(ue)demagog(ue)pedagog(ue)monolog(ue)homolog(ue)synagog(ue), etc. Analog is one word that has taken on worldwide usage in electronics but I believe further movement towards the short form of all these words will eventually take place.

ae and oe 

The Australian regional newspaper network I work for has already adopted the American form here, with words containing this vowel combination leaving out the ‘a’ and ‘o’ to retain just the ‘e’. Examples include  anaemiaanaesthesiacaesiumdiarrhoeaencyclopaediafaecesfoetal


orthopaedicpalaeontologypaediatric, Oenology with the unstressed letter in bold being left out.

These are the main comparisons but there are many more spelling variations such as quay/key, mould/mold, grey/gray, plough/plow, kerb/curb, sceptic/skeptic, tyre/tire with second of each couplet being the US version.

For detailed notes from Wikipedia here is the link where I derived most of the examples used here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences



I have come across many ‘atomic typos’ in my job.

Ruth Davies: centrEditing


Malapropisms, the topic of my last post, can occur in writing but most often you hear them in speech. As an editor, I am  usually correcting writing not speaking (although you’d be amazed at how many garrulous people become carefully articulate once I tell them my job), so I thought I should give some real-world examples of errors I see. Most of these are examples of typos, rather than malapropisms (where the person genuinely believes they’ve used the right word) or of spelling mistakes (where the person knows which word they want, they just don’t know which letters need to go in it).

This is a list of examples I’ve seen that the authors (and spell check) would have missed because they are actual words, just not the words that were wanted, and they are words that come up all the time in the corporate/academic writing that I’m working…

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