New Style Guides Are Coming


Things have been quite busy here recently, so the A, B, C Guide to Characterization will be back soon. In the meantime, here’s some news that will be of use to writers and editors. (And you’re seeing this mostly because the computer just ate two blog posts, including a much wittier version of what you will read below.)

Both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook will issue new editions later this year. These are THE manuals for writing, word usage, grammar rulings and more in the writing/publishing world. They dictate everything from how and when to italicize to when to add a hyphen in a word that starts with the letter “e” as in email, but e-commerce.

For writers, editors and those who make their living around the English language these changes can sometimes make like easier. Take, for instance, when the word style gurus (whoever they may be) decided that the singular “they” would be OK to use. This made copy much cleaner, if a little less precise.

For example:
If either Jack or Jane wants to go they can.
Nice, neat and simple, right? But consider how it would have been written before the use of the singular they:
If either Jack or Jane wants to go he or she can.
This is more clunky and takes up more space on a page, though it is a bit more precise. 

The Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition is expected out this fall and will include many changes that will trickle down to the books you write and read, and the copy you write. 

The AP Stylebook (officially The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law) is the the guide for reporters and the media. It will release the 2017 edition in mid-June and is expected to contain more than 200 new entries.

It’s always fun to see the things that change from one style guide to the next, which new words are included and what spelling has been changed. I remember how excited I’d get when I was working at a newspaper full time and the new style guides would arrive. I would take a few moments to peruse the new edition (a more thorough read came later) and share my excitement about the changes with my colleagues. (Truth be told, only one editor shared my enthusiasm and, hopefully, she knows who she is.)

I may not call out across the office to share the latest style changes anymore, but I’m still excited to see how language continues to evolve and how the word style gurus try to make our writing clearer.

So I’m wondering, if you could change any one thing in the word/grammar rule universe what would it be?

One Inspiring Magazine


When Friendship Circle New Jersey gave the go-ahead to a once-a-year magazine, I don’t think anyone knew what we were getting into. Now in our third year, The Circle magazine continues to highlight amazing people and companies, and it inspires all who read it to do their best and never take no for an answer. Thanks to everyone who helps make this magazine a reality!

Word Play Wednesday: And, But & Words I Use to Often



I got some feedback the other day on a novel I wrote and while most of it was quite positive (Yay!), the reviewer did take me to task for my use of  the words “And” and “But”.

It was interesting feedback on a number of levels, firstly because I am aware that I use them way too often as a crutch, I just never thought others would notice. Also, like many people I say words like “uh” and “like” way too much. 

I think we all have words that we default to in different circumstances. Take, for example, words like “epic” or “beast” which are being used by some elementary school kids I know or for those of a certain age “totally” and “rad”. 

Our word choices can not only effect the way we talk but it can also seep into, and influence, our stories. Sometimes all it takes is a single word and a writer has set the scene and established a time and place for readers.

For instance, a child going to middle school in 1982 may have been influenced by the Valley Girls craze at the time and said “Grody to the max,” while a child of the 90s may have copied Full House’s Michelle Tanner with “You got it, dude.” 

“Y’all” might evoke a reader to imagine a southern belle or a person living on a ranch, while “Jolly Good” might conjure up a British gentleman at the pub.

So what does it mean for my stories that I use “and,” “but” way too often? It means I need to slow down and find a better way to rephrase my sentence or scene. The result will be a richer narrative for readers.

Your Homework: Take a look at what you’ve written. Do you have a word or phrase that you use too often? Can you use a word or phrase to indicate place or time? What impact would using that word have in your story? If it will make the story richer, go for it! If it will sound too cliche, skip it. And if you do choose to use the word try not to follow my lead and overuse it! 

For Pay or Not for Pay …


No one would go to work day in and day out without knowing how much they were getting paid or when they would get paid and working writers shouldn’t do that either.

Professionals are compensated for their work. Period.

OK, now that I’ve said that, the truth of the matter is that when you are just starting out as a writer you will, more than likely, write things on speculation. Writing “on spec” means you do so with no guarantee of payment. This is true for aspiring novelists who may complete 4, 5 or even more manuscripts (completed novels) before selling a single one. It’s also true for screenwriters, freelancers and more. 

So how do I justify my suggestion of writing with for no guarantee of payment and my belief that professional writers must get paid? 

Here’s where I see the distinction. Those who are regularly writing and submitting and perfecting their craft are well on their way to being working writers. Like any other field, a professional writer needs on-the-job training and the more novels or screenplays you write the better you will get. The better you get, the more likely you are to sell your work and get paid. 

Similarly, I see nothing wrong with someone who has never written anything other than school essays trying their hand at writing some very short items for a local community newspaper or newsletter. I know that there are others who will disagree with me, but I think this is a great way to learn: how to build a story, how the writer/editor relationship works and how the actual “writing part” of the dream of being a writer works. (Let’s face it, there are many, many people who “dream” of being a writer, until they actually try and write something!)

I do, however, have some caveats:
1. These assignments should not require a large commitment of time. 
2. These assignments should not be more than a few hundred words at most (figure 300 words or less).
3. These articles should be of a standard story style for the publication.
4. You should also not be writing for free for a long period of time. 

Once you get a handful of clips, you are ready to market yourself to other publishers or periodicals and show them what you can do.  (BTW, if you are approaching a local paper, do try and get some form of compensation –even if all it is is a couple of extra free copies of your article.)

For some people, just seeing their name in print is payment enough. These may be very talented men and women, however, they are not professional writers. They are at best very talented writing hobbyists.

If, however, your goal is to be a published, working writer and you never see any profit from your work, you need to rethink your business model. That may mean finding new outlets for your work or trying a different form of writing.

Word Play Wednesday: Walk 10 Ways


When I’m working on a first draft of a story I’ll default to a “basic” word to describe a scene or action in my story. During the revision process, I’ll often pull out my thesaurus and start looking for a more definitive word for what I am trying to convey. It is at that point that “green” may become “fern” or “emerald” or “mint.” I don’t do this for every entry of a ” basic” word, in fact there are times when “less is more” and in which case the basic word, like “said,” works perfectly. 

If you try this exercise, keep in mind that just because is a word is a synonym for a basic word does not mean that it is the right word for your scene, story and setting. 

To get you started consider the word “walk,” here are 10 other ways you can say “walk” but keep in mind that some of these words conjure up very specific images.

  • walk
  • stride
  • run
  • skip
  • race
  • hop
  • chase
  • gallop
  • stroll
  • wander

YOUR HOMEWORK: Find a basic word in your current WIP (work in progress) and see if there’s a synonym that would better illustrate what you are trying to convey. 

Motivational Monday: Take a Writing Break (It’s not what you think)


It’s the second Monday of a new year, the second week to make writing a priority in your day. I know you’ve got a lot on your plate so here’s a challenge for today, pick two different times today when you will work on your writing, even if you are only writing for five minutes.

When you take your lunch break (and yes, I know some of you are thinking “what lunch break?” but that’s a whole other problem), set aside 10 or 15 minutes to write.

Similarly, spend 5 minutes before bed jotting down some thoughts. 

Many fitness gurus say that exercising in small increments can have an impact on a person’s overall health. Now, I’m not saying you’ll see similar results from writing. But, exercising your writing brain will train your body to get into writing mode and be more productive in chasing your writing dream. 

Registration Open: Writing Workshop for Kids


Hi Everyone, I’m offering a writing workshop for kids on Sunday, January 22.

Are you going to be home this winter break? Looking for something fun for the young reader or writer in your life? 

I’ll be hosting a 90-minute writing workshop for kids ages 8 to 11 who want to know more about being an author. Together, we’ll learn the basics of storytelling, plan out a story that the kids will be able to take home and complete on their own. 

The workshop will also feature a hands-on craft project, and every child who participates will receive an autographed copy of either “The New Girl” or “Trouble Ahead.”

This will be an exciting program for any child who dreams of being a writer or wants to explore how stories are created.

The cost for the writing workshop is $40, and includes the book and all the necessary materials. 

The workshop will be held on Sunday, January 22, mid-morning.

To register, contact author Faygie Holt, 

Workshop to be held in Northern New Jersey, exact location to be given after registration.

3 Tips for Finding Interview Sources


One of the benefits of being a nonfiction writer with a “beat,” meaning a specific area of coverage, is that you tend to make contacts and stay in touch during the year looking for potential story ideas.

What about those of us who aren’t on a specific beat? Or, perhaps, those of us who are hoping to branch out to other topics of interest or maybe we are just getting started? Where should we go for more voices?

I asked my editor and longtime friend Carin for her 3 best tips for looking for sources and here are her suggestions:

1. Go to sources you know and see who they recommend.
2. Do your online research.
3. Read other stories about a similar subject.

I think No. 1 is pretty relatable. Find someone you know who may know someone else, who may know someone who fits your topic. In other words: Network. This is true for most things in life and certainly true in writing. (BTW, this does not mean you can use your best friend’s personal story for your gain!)

Online research is a bit more complicated in this day and age of anyone can blog and be an “expert” on anything. Here are some of my criteria when I am looking for an expert or for resources:

  • Are they affiliated with a verifiable reseach institute or university?
  • What qualifications make them an expert? Have they written a book on the specific topic? Do they run a major organization or nonprofit dealing with the issue you are covering?
  • If they seem too good to be true, and you can’t verify their background and find someone to vouch for them, move on.

Read others stories. I do this all the time. It’s called research and background information. I want to hear what someone else had to say on the topic I am working on. Sometimes, this will help me see an angle that I didn’t think about before or clarify a point I may be misunderstanding.

However, let me be very clear on this point, all of my reporting is my own. I do not use what was in other people’s stories unless I am crediting them directly. If I know that Mr. Z is interviewed for a story on the new street sign, I’ll try and track down Mrs. P and get her take.

Reading others’ stories just helps you get a handle on what might be there, it also might lead you to take your story in a different direction as you strive to be as original in your reporting and writing as possible.


Word Play Wednesday


Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I love word games. I love finding small words hiding in bigger words, I love guessing the letters to create the right word in Hangman and Wheel of Fortune.

But my love of words extends beyond just puzzles and games, I love finding the right words for my stories.

For instance, I could simply write:

“The boy ran down the narrow lane.”

Or, I could have the same idea, but write: 

“The boy sprinted down the narrow spit of gravel that separated the row of houses on First Street.”

Which story would you rather read? I’m betting it’s the story with the second sentence. As writers we look for the perfect word, as readers we want to pulled in and see the writers vision. That’s what the second sentence does.

YOUR HOMEWORK: Take a look at your work in progress and pick one sentence where you have a simple sentence structure and see if you can increase the depth and vibrancy of your story.