Thoughts on many little writing-related things

You know how sometimes the premise of a novel seems intriguing, but something tells you to take a look at the available sample before clicking the BUY button?

I saw this phrase on the first page of a science fiction/near-future medical techno-thriller novel: forehead furled with concern.

No, dear author, I think you mean furrowed.

Seriously, forehead furled? I think that’s anatomically impossible for a human.

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Writing advice seen on a blog:

Don’t ever have your POV character know what other characters are thinking. She’s not a mind reader!

You seem… very certain of that, O dispenser of writing wisdom. Too bad you’re wrong, at least in some cases.

I don’t think head hopping is good, either. I was prepared to agree with you. If you’d stopped with the basic “Don’t head hop” advice, all would have been well. Then you went and declared — as if it were an irrefutable fact for every character, all the time, in every story — that the POV character lacks the ability to read minds. That, O dispenser of writing wisdom, shows that you’re a muggle, or as we said back in my day, a mundane. You’re assuming fictional people cannot have abilities real people in the world you inhabit don’t possess. You’re clearly not a frequent reader of speculative fiction, because SFF readers are at least aware of the possibility that some characters, in some stories, some of the time, are telepaths. Y’know, mind readers.

Better general advice would be, Don’t allow your POV characters to know things they cannot know. Don’t let them know what the inside of someone’s house looks like if they’ve never been there and have never been told about it, either. Don’t let them be an expert on a topic they’ve never even heard of before the scene when they have to repair the jumbo jet’s engine or bake a perfect torte to save the Prime Minister’s nephew’s wedding reception. And, unless they have some ability to read thoughts, don’t let them know what the other characters are thinking.

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 Now, let me tell you about synonyms…

First of all, synonyms are not words that mean the same thing; those are homonyms. Synonyms are words that mean almost the same thing. (Similar vs. same — it’s right there in the terms themselves.) The English language is rife with synonyms, but true homonyms  turn up far less often.

Occasionally, when you want to use a common expression without it coming across as a cliché, you may be tempted to replace one word or another with a synonym, just to change things up a bit. There’s nothing wrong with this. You’ve got to pay attention to what those words mean, though.

Some words have more than one meaning, and you shouldn’t cross streams pick a synonym from one meaning to replace one from the other. (Yes, there are occasions when doing this deliberately works; I am not denying the possibility of clever plays on words. I do love a good pun.) Context matters.

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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10 Responses to Thoughts on many little writing-related things

  1. I’ve been browsing through some online dictionaries. I think you’re probably right about synonyms, but most of the dictionaries now seem to say “the same OR nearly the same”, so the definition may have shifted. Your point is valid, though, you can’t just plug in words from a thesaurus without reading a sentence for meaning.

    It turns out I may have been using the term homonym incorrectly on my blog. I’ve technically been meaning homophone. Some definitions of homonym seem to indicate it must be a homophone and a homograph, others say either one of those qualifies the word as a homonym. But, I think a different meaning is part of all definitions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That… makes no sense to me.

      It must mean the same thing AND be spelled the same way AND be spelled the same way but not be the same word? Or it can be said to mean the same thing if it doesn’t mean the same thing but is pronounced that same way? *turns head upside down, looks again* Nope. Still doesn’t make sense.

      If this is what grammar rules typically look like to most humans, it’s no wonder they say it’s difficult to understand. (I hate jargon emphasized over practical usage. I TRY to use jargon as seldom as possible, but sometimes I can’t find a non-awkward way of explaining a concept without the short-hand. *sigh* Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t have told you what a “gerund” is to save my life, but I could explain all about correct usage of -ing words as nouns.)

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      • I’m definitely not an expert on this, but everything I’ve browsed indicates that homonyms have different meanings. One example that was given was bear, as in “to bear arms” vs. the large animal “bear”.

        I didn’t research it fully, but there may be some disagreement as to whether a homonym has to be both a homophone and a homograph, or whether each of those are subclasses of homonym.

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  2. Normally I don’t have much use for Venn diagrams, but this one may actually be useful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homophone#/media/File:Homograph_homophone_venn_diagram.png

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m was reading a book recently where the author used a synonym for a homograph at one point. The book was already showing a serious case of thesaurus abuse — lots of big words used in ALMOST correct ways, like the author had replaced more mundane words with them but didn’t actually know what they meant — but that was just too much for me and I had to quit reading it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hannah G says:

    My narrator jumps POVs all the time. It’s a thing. I DO WHAT I WANT.

    Liked by 2 people

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