Showing, Not Telling, Personality Through Speech and Thought

You know the fiction-writing dictum “Show, don’t tell.” But how does it apply in practical terms when it comes to communicating characterization without exposition? People in different eras have unique speech and speech patterns, but restrain yourself from indulging in periodization in your historical novel; if your Elizabethan-era characters talk like Shakespeare’s, people 1) won’t … Read more

A Writer Lept to a Wrong Conclusion

While reading an otherwise well-written and well-edited book, I was bemused to note that the number of high school students in the United States had “lept” from one total to another over a given span of years. How was it, I wondered, that the fact that lept is not a word escape a writer, a … Read more

Palette vs. Pallet vs. Palate

Palette, pallet, and palate are three similar words sharing (in most senses) a common etymology that can trip writers up. Here’s a guide to the distinctions in meaning, plus a look at other distantly related words: If you were to describe a traditional image of the artist at work, you and I would likely note … Read more

7 Military Ranks Common in Popular Culture

1. Captain This all-purpose title, originally identifying the leader of any band of warriors but later formalized to refer to someone holding a specific military rank, is used in civilian contexts to refer to a sports team’s most prominent member, a successful businessperson (“captain of industry”), or any leader. The rank originated with land-based forces … Read more

Farther vs. Further

Is there any difference between farther and further? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary notes in a usage discussion that as an adverb, farther and further are used indiscriminately when literal or figurative distance is involved: “How much farther do we have to go?” “It’s just a mile further.” “How much further do you want to take this … Read more

A Writer’s Best Friend

I was bemused recently to read in the acknowledgments section of a book the author’s expression of gratitude toward someone who had read the manuscript before publication. The writer thanked the other person for “doing great proofreading,” but he followed that comment with “Not copy editing [sic]; we were both cautious about that, as our … Read more

60 Synonyms for “Trip”

Going somewhere? Consider being a bit more specific about what type of experience you’re going to experience: 1. Adventure: a trip involving some risk 2. Boat trip: see cruise 3. Business trip: a trip to another location for the purpose of conducting business 4. Campaign: a trip involving stopping at more than one destination to … Read more

Narrative, Plot, and Story

What’s the difference between narrative, plot, and story? Not much, but enough that it matters. Here are the distinctions, explained with aids of analogy, plus some details: Narrative is the structure of events — the architecture of the story, comparable to the design of a building. Story is the sequence of events, the order in … Read more

A Quiz About Semicolons in Run-In Lists

Replacing a semicolon functioning as a weak period (one separating two independent clauses that are so closely related that dividing them into distinct sentences weakens their impact) with a comma is a grammatically indefensible error known as a comma splice. But various strategies for replacing a semicolon deployed as a strong comma (one separating items … Read more

Flier vs. Flyer

Whether you post a flier or a flyer depends on whether you’re assigning a pilot to an air base or tacking a piece of paper to a bulletin board. Flyer, first attested hundreds of years ago, was the original agent-noun form of fly, with the obvious meaning of “something that flies.” Later, however, it came … Read more

Agent Nouns

Why singer, but actor? Why doctor, but dentist? Why customer, but client? There seems to be no logic to the variation in endings for agent nouns. An agent noun, a word that identifies a person’s occupation or profession, place of origin or residence, or other association, or a device that performs a task, generally signals … Read more

The End of an Era for “The Encyclopaedia Britannica”

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, for two and a half centuries considered in the public eye the reigning resource for scholarly research, recently announced that it was ceasing publication in print and would henceforth be available only in electronic form. As usual, the doddering dinosaur is behind the curve. The company had had the chance to go … Read more