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Distinctions: ‘Hear’ and ‘Here’

Posted by CW64 on December 31, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on ‘hear’ and ‘here.’ These two words, though pronounced the same, bear obvious distinctions in meaning; yet many people, including writers, misuse them. .


“Hear” is a verb that refers to the ability to perceive and decipher sounds through the ears. Sometimes it refers to mental comprehension of something relative to sound. In addition, the word denotes giving someone or something due attention as well as approval. (Se here)

Verb (transitive or intransitive)


Danny could hear the battle hymn a mile away.
“I hear you,” Max” told James, reassuringly. “Getting mugged sucks big time.”
Judge Gentry was preparing to hear the case regarding the man who allegedly murdered his wife and child; such a circumstance required due care.
“Hear, hear!” the governor concurred during the meeting. “We need to allot more funding to education. Our children need it.”

The first instance relates to the most common reference for “hear,” and that is the ability to perceive sound, which Danny can do quite well, since he catches the battle hymn from such an extreme distance. The second, though similar, refers more to comprehension, as Max offers sensitivity and support to his friend by acknowledging that he is listening and understands how it feels to get mugged. In the third example, Judge Gentry is about to officiate over a legal case as a judge, so “hear” infers more than merely hearing it; he is also giving the issue his professional attention and will apply his objective assessment in accordance with the law. Similarly, the governor is acknowledging the fact his attention is active during the meeting consisting of his board, but he also contributes his agreeable feedback on the issue regarding funding for education, which is important to him. All relate to perception of sound but in different ways: the first is auditory (physical, through the ear), the second is emotional, the third is professional and the fourth is intellectual.


This term serves in most cases as an adverb and is generally the opposite of “there” (see “Distinctions: ‘There,’ ‘Their’ and ‘They’re’ on this blog) and refers to being situated in or moving towards a present location, as in “this spot, location or place.” It also indicates an achieved stage of a process, as at a particular point in the present time. Finally, ‘here’ is used to apply attention through possession or discovery. (See here)



“We’re here,” Nick pointed at the map. “We need to go another fifty miles before we reach San Francisco. “I’d say that will be about another hour at least.”
Here, Debbie raised her hand to ask a question to the teacher regarding the math lesson written on the chalkboard.
“Here are the documents for the case,” Doug Marville acknowledged, handing the folder to his female colleague. “It’s all-inclusive, so you shouldn’t have any problems.”

Nick informs his fellow travelers were they are situated geographically compared to the location of San Francisco, and then he specifies the distance between these two points by clarifying how much time is remaining in their trip. Debbie’s hand-raising, on the other hand, denotes a particular point within the process of events pertaining to her classroom lessons. Doug, who apparently is in a position of authority and delegating assignments, identifies the contents of the folder he is passing to his colleague who is expected to complete it. In the end, “here” establishes the comparative proximity of someone or something in relation to another. The first is geographical in nature, while the second is temporal and the third is that of ownership or possession.


“Here” is also used as an adjective, denoting emphasis as a means of identifying a noun and its demonstrative adjective. The adjectival role is similar to all three references in adverbial form above, but rather than point out location, it describes or specifies, as in the sentence: “These tickets, here, are for you,” John said to his friend Margaret.


The purpose of “here” as a noun is essentially to identify the place of present location without specifying the name of said place. More universally, however, “here” refers to the world, life and the present and future times.


“We begin from here and proceed forward two hundred yards,” the hiker directed to his charges. “Remember to meet back here in five hours.”
“The here and now,” the orator put forth boldly; “this is where the future begins.”

The hiker, who is supposedly a leader or instructor of some sort, uses “here” twice to indicate the present location of him and his followers; the orator, however, speaks in a philosophical sense, presumably to inspire her or his audience. In the first sentence, “here” is geographical, while the latter is, again, temporal; both usages refer to a place that is in close proximity of the speaker and those to whom she or he is speaking.


As an interjection, this word “here” commands the attention of or to offer comfort to the listener. It is quite often used in casual or colloquial speech, but its inherent reference is approximately the same as before: to denote, albeit indirectly, an issue or concern in the present time or location.


“Here, let me help you,” Dave said, assisting Suzy as she picked up her spilled books.
“Here, now, you don’t mean that,” the senator said, caught off-guard by the lobbyist’s refusal to support the cause without explanation.

The uses of “here” in these two instances are general, but they allude to a present time-place situation with an unspecified or abstract sense of importance. The “here” in the first sentence acknowledges the circumstance of spilled books necessarily taking precedence in that point in time. The second sentence, likewise, does the same regarding the refusal by the listener that stirs apparent concern in the senator who needs the support.


Hear: referring to the act or ability of perceiving sounds (physical) and comprehension (intellectual and emotional)
Here: referring to the present location or time period (geographical/temporal)



1) Choose the right word:

hear, here

Amplify ________________________________________
Binary _________________________________________
Clang __________________________________________
Clock __________________________________________
Current _________________________________________
Eardrum ________________________________________
Earth ___________________________________________
First ___________________________________________
Guitar __________________________________________
Modern _________________________________________
Music __________________________________________
Near ___________________________________________
Observant _______________________________________
Reverberations ___________________________________
Roundabout _____________________________________
Song ___________________________________________
Still ____________________________________________
Twang __________________________________________
Urgency _________________________________________
Vibrations _______________________________________

2) True or False

• Jamie could here the bus approaching four blocks away.
• “Hear, There and Everywhere” is a famous song by The Beatles.
• “Here you go,” mother said as she handed her daughter a napkin. “Don’t make a mess.”
• “Hear me now!” The mayor raised his hand as he spoke directly into the microphone to hush the crowd “I firmly believe in equal pay for men and women!”
• As Michael walked down the deserted hallway of the abandoned hospital, he could here buzzing voices nearby. Damn—the place is haunted! He thought, stunned.
• “This deaf mute, hear, can read sign language,” the policeman explained to his partner. “We need to wait hear for an interpreter.”
• “Donald arrived here this afternoon,” the head mistress said. “He feels so alone now that his parents are gone.”

3) Fill in the Blanks:

hear, here

• “I’m _________ now, so you don’t have to worry,” mother said, embracing her infant. “I could _________ you crying all the way downstairs.”

• “I hope I _________ from you soon,” Jesse said to Maggie before hanging up the phone. “I want to spend more time with you.”

• “The drink was left _________ before I sat down,” Stephen explained to the waiter. “I can _________ the band and I am already thirsty.”

• _________ was Janie, tall and proud, waiting for the bus to take her home. She would _________ no more of Tom’s nonsense regarding how he’s never cheated a day in his life. She knew better.

• ________ or there; it made no difference. Mick knew he’d catch her either way.

• “To ________ me is to understand me,” Rebecca said on stage before singing. Everybody clapped and gathered around the stage. She smiled. “Thanks for being _______ tonight.”

• “Hearing is one of the most important senses,” Alfred said at his podium. “But with the visuals we have _________ this semester will rely on sight more than anything. Your tests will depend on observation.”

• Music is one of the greatest pleasures in life. That’s why it is necessary for us all ______ in the world to listen and enjoy as much as we can before we are gone.

• “’________’ and ‘_________.’ Which one is preferable to a deaf man who doesn’t know where he’s at?” The comedian thought he’d get the audience to think as well as laugh.

• ________, the birds sing all day long, so the place is a pleasant place to relax for those who can _________.


Posted in Editing, Teaching, Tutoring, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 3 Comments »

Distinctions: ‘Moot’ and ‘Mute’

Posted by CW64 on December 18, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on “moot” and “mute,” two words that are different but quite often confusing to and misused by a lot of people, including writers.



“Moot” serves as an adjective, verb and noun, and in all parts of speech renders similar meaning and usages. (See here)


As an adjective, “moot’ refers to a state of being questionable, doubtful or debatable. In terms of academia, the word denotes something impractical or theoretical rather than factual or useful.


The issue of whether or not Matt was a murderer became moot after the witness testified that he was with her during the commission of the crime.
Many people today say that print books have become moot in the age of the internet

In the first instance, “moot” shows how Matt’s legal case is questionable in light of the witness’ testimony. In the second, the word is used as a means of indicating how many people now believe print books are no longer practical or necessary since publications occur via the internet.

Verb (transitive)

As a verb, “moot” serves two purposes: (1) introducing a topic for discussion and (2) renders something theoretical or academic for the sake of considering possibilities. In all cases, this verb is transitive (requires an object).


Eli mooted the subject of divorce more for venting over his own than for the sake of eliciting the opinions of others.
Jenny mooted her concern over her mother’s abuse towards her to see how her cousins and close friends would react.

Eli introduces a topic more for the sake of getting it out of his system, although he is sure it will stir up a discussion that is likely to provide some comfort. Here, the object of the verb is “the subject of divorce” because that is what was mooted. Jenny, however, raises an issue that is more of conjecture or personal belief than fact for the sake of gauging the reaction of those around her. The belief she has might be based on reality, depending on the others’ reactions, but that is not known yet. The noun clause “her concern over her mother’s abuse towards her” is the object here because it is what she mooted.


As a noun, “moot” denotes the subject or issue to be discussed. The word can represent both the subject and the verb. “He mooted the moot” might sound strange, but is it grammatically correct? At this point, the conclusion is moot.


The moot on rape didn’t go over very well at the last meeting; it erupted into an all-out argument that disturbed the people in the next room.
Jerry brought up the moot regarding funding for the homeless, an idea to which all others unanimously agreed would be a wonderful and necessary venture to take.

In these instances, “moot” fits as both the subject and object of a sentence. In the first, the word serves as the subject with “on rape” providing clarification as to (1) the nature of the moot at hand and (2) why the moot would stir up an argument. Rape is an extremely sensitive and controversial issue. As an object, “moot” signifies Jerry’s action, with “regarding funding” offering the same two functions it does as the subject. In this way, “moot” is consistent when taking on the role of a noun.


“Mute” is also an adjective, verb and noun, so it works in the same way as “moot,” only that it carries a different meaning. (See here)


“Mute,” as an adjective, has to do with the inability to produce sound, especially verbal utterances. The word is synonymous with “silent’ in that context.


Harry Clemens was a mute since birth; he couldn’t utter a word, but he could write very well.
The CD player suddenly went mute as lightening struck; apparently, the electrical lines were hit.

The word “mute” works as a descriptive modifier in both examples: sentence 1 acknowledges Harry Clemens as a mute, which is a person who cannot speak; sentence 2 uses “mute” to label a CD player without sound. These examples also have another important feature: to illustrate how noun functions as an adjective by describing their respective subjects (see ‘noun’ below).

Verb (transitive)

When used as a transitive verb (requiring an object), “mute” simply refers to the act of muffling or removing the sound from someone or something.(i.e. silencing).


Sarah muted the sound of her stereo when she realized it was keeping everyone in the house awake.
The crowd’s cheering at the concert was muted to a hush as the musicians took a break between sets.

The difference between verb use here is that the former example uses “mute” as a preterit (a simple past tense), while the second forms it as a past participle (an ‘-ed’ verb that follows an auxiliary “was” or “were” or “have/had”). Sarah assumes the role of the actor, whereas the cheering—the object of the preterit in an active sentence—is that which takes on the action to descriptively show how the sound transformed. This sentence also shows how a verb can simultaneously work as an adjective with the use of auxiliaries.


“Mute” as a noun has several references. In summation, however, a mute is anything that produces no sounds whatsoever. This can be a person or a thing. A person, as a mute, is unable to speak, usually from birth. In the case of a thing, this also includes anything that silences something else, such as a sordino, which is a mechanical apparatus that stifles or muffles the sound of musical instruments.


Harry Clemens was mute since birth, although he could write wonderfully.
The mute stood before the judge waiting for his sentence after being found guilty.

As illustrated in the adjective form above, Harry is a mute. The noun here describes him, but it also identifies him in distinctive fashion as a person incapable of speech. The second instance of the noun is a special application: a “mute” is also a term for a person who remains silent during court proceedings (unless otherwise addressed), while the legal officials take the floor to discuss said mute’s case. As can be seen, “mute” can and quite often does function as an adjective and a noun at the same time.


Moot: debatable, questionable; impractical/theoretical. (intellectual)
Mute: to silence, to be silenced; someone/something incapable of producing sound. (physical)



1) Choose the right word:

moot, mute

• Argumentative ______________________________
• Cessation __________________________________
• Conjecture _________________________________
• Disagreement _______________________________
• Doubtful ___________________________________
• Erase ______________________________________
• Fade_______________________________________
• Gag _______________________________________
• Hush ______________________________________
• Speculative _________________________________
• Uncertain __________________________________
• Wane ______________________________________

2) True or False:

• “The issue is mute;” the judge said emphatically, “The evidence is conclusive in this case.”
• When the music went moot, Nick thought he suddenly went deaf.
• The moot went on for hours without a resolution.
• Jan muted the TV when the phone rang.

3) Fill in the blanks:

moot, mute, both

• Michael was indeed a _____________since birth, but he learned how to write to compensate this condition; his extraordinary writing skills serve to ___________ the skepticism of anyone one who has ever doubted his abilities.

• What kind of ______________ would create a controversy so heavy that ongoing debates would turn into bouts of mud-slinging?

• Steve began to _____________his case with a voice so full of charm that he captured everybody’s attention right away.

• The situation is _____________; the entire place was quiet, so no one was there.

• Terence remained ____________ as the judge spoke about the specific details of his case and the charges incurred. Hearing such a ___________ would have been discouraging for anyone in that position.

• As the painter gazed upon his canvas, she noticed the green __________ the blue underneath, resulting in a softer hue, which is what she wanted.

• The deaf man was _____________ as well, but he was still able to form words with his lips.

• Many ghost stories are so farfetched they are ____________ as far as credibility is concerned; yet many mysteries of the paranormal still remain unsolved.

• Many topics that are _____________ in their conclusions are usually the most intriguing and worth the debate, just for the sake of intellectual stimulation.

• To _____________ voices simply because they speak undesirable opinions is unconstitutional, but many people do it all the time, even within the arenas of government and law enforcement.

• Ideals and dreams are quite often _______________ as far as the real world is concerned.

• Sometimes book knowledge is ______________ when it comes to actual survival, including any book that covers a ______________ on how to survive.

Posted in Editing, Teaching, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 7 Comments »

Distinctions: ‘To,’ ‘Too’ and ‘Two’

Posted by CW64 on December 10, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on “to,” “too” and “two,” three words that are spelled in a similar fashion and are pronounced identically, but have different meanings.



This term is a preposition (and adverb) that indicates motion or direction toward something or someone, as well as to show contact applied between two entities. (see here)

Preposition (and Adverb)


Gina went to the store for more milk
Tom applied pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding.

In the first sense, the preposition “to” identifies Gina’s intended destination, as in the clause “from here to there,” whereas the second denotes the contact between Tom and a wound and the reason behind his action.

Another use of this word points out a limit in or a termination of a certain span of time, as in “the pep rally is scheduled to five-o-clock.”


The “to” form is also an incorporated feature of infinitive phrases. Infinitives are noninflected verbs. Look at the following examples:


To love
To stir
To sing
To dance
To work

All of these are infinitives because they are general references to certain actions. They quite often follow conjugated verbs as in the sentence “Michael wanted to go to the circus this year.”


This adverbial term is synonymous with “also” and “as well,” and refer to an inclusion. The form also infers a degree of excess or shortcoming. (See here)



Jason wound up going to the movies, too
“Too little, too late,” she told her ex-boyfriend and slammed down the receiver.

The first example is straightforward: Jason’s decided attendance adds to the group of those who are already going to the movies. The dismissive “too little” uttered by the upset woman in the second instance, however, alludes to her ex-boyfriend’s lacking as far as his efforts to save their defunct relationship. In short: the former is inclusive, the latter a case of degree.


“Two” is both a noun and an adjective, depending on how it is used. This is indicative of the number and is quantitative in nature and use. (See here)

Noun and Adjective


Two heads are better than one.
Two birds landed on the telephone wire.

The word “two” takes a verb in the first example, asserting that a pair of heads (i.e. brains) serves better than one. The subsequent “two” describes the birds on the wire in terms of quantity.

Food for Thought:

If a writer is having a conundrum and knows that neither “too” nor “two” fits, the solution is “to.” Both “too” and “two” have specific uses; the “to” form is a bit more varied. If in doubt, writers can and should use the process of elimination in this way.



1) Choose the correct word to use: ‘to,’ ‘too,’ ‘two’

• Indicating quantity ________________________________
• Indicating direction ________________________________
• Indicating inclusion ________________________________

2) Which of these three words refers to an excess or lacking in amount? ___________

3) True or False:

• Danny went two see his dying grandmother at the hospital
• “I want too be there when she opens the present,” Cathy said excitedly.
• Jamie grew to a full 5’5 in height by the time she was 13.
• Marty had to go to summer camp last year.

4) Fill in the Blanks:

To, Too, Two

“______ be or not _______be; that is the question” is a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s plays. The significance of that thought has resonated throughout the world for some time and has become a dominant consideration in many forms of philosophy.

Why is this case? The purpose behind existence has both plagued and inspired humanity for centuries, even _________ the extent that many people have striven _________ find an answer ________ what is considered a riddle in the midst of life.

What does it mean ______ or not ________be?

Each person has a different interpretation based on individual life experiences. Therefore, the answer will vary from person ______ person; there is no single answer _______ that question. Then again, maybe there isn’t supposed ______ be. In fact, the chances are likely Shakespeare never intended for and solid or universal solution to the conundrum. That would be _______ difficult _______ achieve with something as complex and diverse as life. The idea of being alive, or existing, refers _________ many different schools of thought: physiological existence, intellectual enlightenment, emotional fulfillment and happiness, career and work success, recognition from other people . . . The possibilities are endless. Whatever idea of existence any one person conceives is, by default, a correct one. _________ many viable possibilities render mute any justifiable debate over the subject because everyone would win.

No ________ people are exactly alike, and, _______ that end, neither are any _______ lives. That serves as a key point _______the entire riddle of life and ______ the question.

“_______ be or not ________ be” is the primary question. If one thinks well enough, one will discover that just might be the answer as well. The riddle solves itself.

Posted in Teaching, Tutoring, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | Leave a Comment »

Distinctions: ‘Than’ and ‘Then.’

Posted by CW64 on October 31, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on ‘than’ and ‘then,’ two words of similar (but not exact) spelling but vastly different in application and part of speech.


The word ‘than’ is a conjunction used to: (1) express a choice or preference, (2) show the temporal relationship between two points, and (3) demonstrate unequal alternatives, such as in the diversity between types (i.e. locations, manners, identities, descriptions, etc.). (see here)

Conjunction: Choice and Preference


If you’re afraid of heights, you are better off taking the train than flying.
Mary would rather go to college than work at the store for the rest of her life.

In both examples, the conjunction “than” illustrates a choice based on individual preference, although the reason for the choice in the first reflects a fear of flying, whereas the reason in the second suggests a desire to succeed career-wise.

Note: Readers should keep in mind both alternatives are equal in significance in this instance. This sense of equality denotes the importance of the choice involved.

Conjunction: Point in Time


We had barely arrived than we had to leave again.

This usage reflects the temporal relationship between two actions. The group arrived at the unmentioned location at a point in time when they were forced to leave again.

Conjunction: Unequal Alternative


Patti is larger in size than Debra, although they are both well-proportioned.
Rob had no way to know where Cindy was other than ask her sister.
Jim could not find better quality sushi anywhere than at Y’s restaurant.

This is a comparison of the physical description between two women. Here, ‘than’ sets off the distinction of inequality: Patty is larger than Debra.

As for the second example, “than” relates unequal states: either (1) Rob either knows by means of asking Cindy’s sister or (2) he doesn’t know at all (Conversely, two equal alternatives might be: knowing one way vs. knowing another).

the third line is a comparison regarding the quality of sushi at one restaurant as opposed to another or others. “Than” promotes the distinction.



He is a person than whom I can imagine no one more courteous.

As a preposition, “than” allows the subject-noun to appear as someone with a quality greater or different than other individuals. Here, the distinction is established by describing one person, the one with the uniqueness, instead of comparing two or more.

By the way, as a preposition, “than” always precedes “whom” and “which.”


The word ‘then’ can serve as an adverb, adjective and a noun:

Adverb – a time reference (past or future) and a position in the order of succession.
Adjective – a state of being related to a point in the past.
Noun – a temporal reference taking on the role of main subject.

(See here)

Adverb: Time – Succession


Tom had a better outlook on life then.
Instructions are to be followed in chronological order, such as ‘1,’ ‘2’ and then ‘3,’ if they are to lead to success.

In the first instance, ‘then’ refers to an earlier time point than that suggested in the rest of the sentence. Tom had a better outlook at some time in the past than in the present.

The second usage is the more common—that of succession: first this, THEN that. This is the step-by-strep process required to lead to a state of completion and/or success.

Adjective: State of Being/Existence:


Dan, the then vice president of the council, was a rogue for equality.
The then forest was filled vastly with Redwood trees until it was leveled to make way for a new housing community.

The use of ‘then’ in both cases describes the subject-noun’s state at a certain point in the past. Dan was a rogue when he was the VP of the council, just as the forest was filled with Redwoods prior to the building of the housing community.

Noun: Reference of Time


Till then, farewell

As a noun, ‘then’ places emphasis on the time point itself as a distinct noun-reference, a central point.

The sign-off, “till then,” signifies a particular point in future time when two people are destined to meet again. It serves as the central focus behind the address, so it takes on the role of subject.


Generally speaking, ‘than’ and ‘then’ bear a simple distinction:

Than: comparing alternatives, equal or unequal. (“this rather than that”)
Then: comparing points in time (“not now, but then”) or points of order or succession (“first this, then that”)



1) Which of the two references a position in the order of succession?

• Than
• Then

2) With regard to ‘than,’ which of the three categories above does each of the following fit? Categories: ‘Choices and Preferences,’ ‘Points in Time’ and ‘Unequal Alternative’)

• Actions speak louder than words ___________________________________
• Bark is worse than one’s bite ______________________________________
• Better late than never ____________________________________________
• Better safe than sorry ____________________________________________

3) Use each word in a sentence:

• Than _____________________________________________________________
• Then _____________________________________________________________

4) True or False:

• If Matt wants to get ahead on his daily schedule, than he better get up early.
• Tammy finished her homework and then went with her friends to the movies.
• The than president of the university, George Wilson, felt pressures from all sides of the conflict.
• Rather then taking his vacation during the summer, Mike decided to wait until the winter when he could get away from the cold.
• Mexico is a place than which no person can feel more relaxed while on the beach.

5) Fill in the blank:

Dorothy Whitaker was an extremely organized person; she couldn’t do anything without a sense of order or a plan of action. First she would decide what she wanted to do and why, and _______ she would draft up a plan to carry it out. Without doing this first, she felt confused and lost.

One spring day, Dorothy decided to clean out her garage. The space was cluttered with everything from old magazines, a fleet of bicycles, torn furniture, dented paint cans and an endless array of various other items from years-gone-by. Rather __________ jumping right in, however, she sat down with a notebook and made a list of all the items contained within her garage, and _______ she would decide what she wanted to do with each. She felt more secure doing this ________figuring everything out along the way. The garage was a place ________which required the most care, especially since she had decided to rent out the upper floor, and the stairs were on the inside. Access was imperative!

Dorothy finished her detailed list, and _______ set out to draw up a plan of action for cleaning out the space in question. She’d obviously have to start at the front and _______ work her way to the back. In order to do this with the greatest degree of accuracy, she guided herself through the site, pen and pad in-hand, carefully taking note of everything and exactly where each item was, and ______visualizing the entire organization process. This was better to her _______ working it out along the way. The former wouldn’t take nearly as long; the latter alternative would be messy and confusing. Her first potential renter would be coming the following day, and she needed to get this done quick.

After she completed her plan from beginning to end, to her satisfaction, she got started on her job. Just inside the door was a wall of boxes. This wall was shorter _______ the one on the other side of the garage, but it was deeper. She pulled them out and stacked them in four separate areas according to content: books, old knickknacks, clothes, and music records and tapes. _________, she came to the bicycles, which were in a tangled mess. Only one was usable, so the others went to the garbage rather _______ salvaged or sold. The paint cans came next. They formed a sprawling piled along one wall. She had just picked up her first two cans _______________ the rest came tumbling downward. One can with a jarred lid spilled its contents on the cement. How aggravating that was! Rather _______continue moving cans, however, she took mop in-hand and cleaned the mess so she wouldn’t spread it on her shoes. Luckily, the spill was slighter ________ she would have otherwise feared. When the floor was clean, she resumed her job on the cans, this time being more careful. Fifty cans in all! Of them, she decided to keep only seven or eight, which remained unopened. These would go in the cupboards along the rear wall.

That completed one side of the garage, and it took her only two hours! First she would take a break for lunch, and ________ she would proceed on the other side.

This time, however, instead of tackling the high wall of boxes at the front, she decided to work sideways toward the opposing wall to that which had bore the pile of paint cans. This was strategic; she had a plan in mind for doing this. She pushed the old couch to where the paint had been to create some moving space, and _______ wound up her hoses one at a time. These would eventually hang on the wall, but temporarily rested on the couch. The barbecue grill had wheels, and so she pushed it to the other side of the garage as well. The only thing that remained was the picnic table on which rested a stack of laundry baskets and an old microwave, the latter of which went to the curb. As soon as she moved the picnic table out of the way, allowing her access to her ladder which leant over the side window, she dusted and cleaned the back counter and inside the cupboards. No other part of this job required more time and care _______ this, for silt had collected everywhere. When the entire area was clean, she went into the driveway and brought in the eight paint cans, four at a time, and, using the ladder, slid them inside the shelves of the one cupboard, and ______ locked the door when she was done. The other cupboard had contained old rusted tools, which were discarded, but she filled it with knickknacks. Those boxes were now empty. The boxes of records and tapes went underneath the counter, along with those containing books. The boxes with clothes would go to charity.

Okay, that the garage was nearly clean, except for the large wall of boxes at the front. She shifted her ladder and ________ climbed . . . Those boxes at the top, of course, were light and half-filled with outdated bills and other documents, which went right to the curb with the microwave. Somewhere along the line, she found some Christmas ornaments. A few bulbs were shattered, and a Santa figurine was faded in color, but the rest was in good condition. Of the wall of boxes, half went out to the now-cleared driveway. The boxes at the bottom were larger ______ those at the top, but she managed to sift through them without having to even move them. These items, among them a coffee maker, an old radio that still worked and a tiffany lamp, went to the back counter. She crumpled the cardboard and took it out front, and _______ stacked the remaining few boxes against the wall in a single pile three-high. She _______ draped the hoses on hooks overhead and situated the couch underneath the stairs, which ran up the back wall to the upper level. After she swept out the entire space, she beamed over a job well done.

“I see you keep your garage clean,” the man said, striding through, glancing here and there. He was a bit shorter ______ his host, but his voice boomed. “I like cleanliness.”

Dorothy smile. “Oh yes,” she said. “I liked to keep things organized all the time. So, you’ll take the apartment, _______?”

The man nodded. “Of all the places I’ve looked at over the past two weeks, I’ve found none more spotless ______ this. That’s very important to me.”

“Well ______,” Dorothy finally said after a pause. “Welcome to your new happy home. Come on in. I’ll make us some coffee,” and ______ they turned and headed for the house.


Please let me know if any part of this is not clear enough. Each word takes on a number of roles, so flooding the article with a multitude of different definitions was unavoidable. I tried to simplify each one for the benefit of those readers who seek basic meanings and references, but it still might be too much. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share. Thanks.

Posted in Editing, Personal Experiences, Teaching, Tutoring, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 1 Comment »

Distinction: ‘There,’ ‘Their’ and ‘They’re’.

Posted by CW64 on October 14, 2012

In my education and experience as a writer and editor, I have noticed many misuses of words, especially common words. Such erroneous practices have become prevalent in the writing community and continue to stand out in my mind as something both serious and disturbing. For that reason, I have decided to write an ongoing series of articles, called simply “Distinctions,” which will explain the differences between the featured terms and how they are or should be used in writing. At the end of each article, I will provide either a quiz or set of exercises for readers to test their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, this ongoing effort will allow said readers to gain something to help them be better writers.

In this post, I focus on ‘there,’ ‘their’ and ‘they’re,’ three words that are similar in pronunciation but whose respective meanings are quite unrelated.


The most misconstrued of these three is ‘there,’ a term that writers apply generically for in cases requiring any one of the three in question.

This particular form has two viable uses: (1) an adverb indicating general location or calling attention to something or someone, and (2) as a pronoun in a sentence where the verb precedes its subject. (See here)

Adverb: Location Reference


Becky is at Dean’s house; she spends all of her time there.
The book is over there.

The term ‘there’ serves as a means of indicating without stating specification, which is sometimes considered lazy but is acceptable if its reference is clear because it avoids repetition. In the first example above, the term ‘there’ has a particular reference: Dean’s house”; in the second, the location of the book is unknown without further information. Perhaps the object in question is lying on someone’s bed, on a desk or table, on a shelf, in the garbage can or even being used by someone else at the time the speaker points out its location. In any case, ‘there’ serves the same function and purpose in both cases: as an adverb establishing the whereabouts of a noun discussed in the sentence in which it is mentioned. In the first instance, that noun is the object; in the latter it is the subject.

Adverb: Attention-Getter


“I am right, so there!”
“There you go!”

In these instances, ‘there’ serves as a verbal reference that functions as a means of emphasizing a point made by the speaker and/or the end of a discussion.

Pronoun: ‘There’ Sentences

As common as they are, ‘there’ sentences are generally considered weak and inadvisable. Still, ‘there’ can be used to introduce a sentence in which the verb precedes its subject.


There is no hope.

In this case, ‘hope’ is the subject-noun to which the verb ‘is’ refers.

Yes, people DO speak this way, but grammarians and editors alike suggest revising the sentence so that the subject is concrete and the meaning of the sentence goes unaffected and/or unaltered, as in:

[All] hope is lost.

The above revision is clear and concise, and the subject is specific and identifiable.

As a general rule, writers are to employ minimal use of ‘there’ sentences for reasons given above; concrete/active sentences are usually the strongest to use. Readers prefer direct statements with a well-defined subject, as in The picture remains uncolored or The film is black and white as opposed to There is no color in the picture/film.

The exception to the above rule is dialogue. As said, people use ‘there’ sentences (“there is/are/was/were”) quite often in everyday speech, and so dialogue should reflect that. Of course, fiction and creative non-fiction are distinct in style from non-fiction, such as news reporting and research. Still, ‘there’ sentences are usually but not always a big no-no in formal compositions; ‘concrete/active’ form is routinely preferred here as well.


This form is a possessive variation for the plural pronoun “they,” nothing more. (See here)

Possessive Pronoun


Their house
Their yard
Their studies
Their term papers
Their rights as citizens
Their music style

As seen, each of the instances above clarifies ownership of something, usually concrete but always specific. Possessive expressions can serve as either the subject or object of a sentence:

Subject: Their house caught fire last week.
Object: I really love their music style.

In the first example, the possessive expression serves as the subject of the sentence; in the second, the object.

This term (possessive pronoun) is formally referred to as the ‘attributive adjective’ and used to place an entity in a particular context or reference point. Take the following examples:

Their arrival in Paris
Their yard work leaves much to be desired.

This instance (i.e. function) doesn’t sound possessive, but it is in the sense that it refers descriptively to a condition applied to said entity. Hence: the term ‘attributive adjective.’

One application as denoted at the link above serves as a source of contention for me, and that is the use of “their” as a neutral correlative for single references:

The group is in their last phase of study.

The word “group,” though implicitly comprised of several members, is a single body of individuals and is therefore a single noun (others include ‘committee’ and ‘Republican Party’). IT should take a singular pronoun-reference so that number, as the grammar rule (and common sense) dictates, remains consistent. Which singular pronoun-reference should IT take, you might ask? Hmm, let me think a moment. . .

Apparently, however, this form is acceptable now, especially in casual speech and when gender is not specified, as in . . .

That person has stripped all of their clothes in the middle of winter. They must be thick-skinned..

Composing sentences clearly enough will allow writers to avoid this conundrum. For example, all one has to do is simply restate “that person” as “that man,” which in turn changes “their clothes” to “his clothes” and “they” to “him.” The revised sentence would then read:

That man has stripped all of his clothes in the middle of winter. He must be thick-skinned.

Now, the sentences are consistent in number and grammatical in form.


This form is self-explanatory, yet is always botched. Why? I have my theories, but I don’t wish to generalize or offend, so I won’t venture there.

Simply put, ‘they’re’ is the contracted form of “they are” and “they were,” and is the only one of the three that takes on a verb status (i.e. doesn’t require a verb). (See here)



They’re going out tonight.
They’re in the semi-finals this year.
They’re Asian.

Enough said.

Combined Forms

Writers can combine these three forms in single sentences, but the distinctions must be understood before doing so, otherwise sentence(s) will appear and read awkward.

Consider this conundrum:

John and Jenny renovated they’re home this summer, and despite the added expense, they enjoy living their; there pretty much living the dream they always wanted.

Obviously, this is wrong. What is the correct form?

John and Jenny renovated their home this summer, and despite the added expense, they enjoy living there; they’re pretty much living the dream they always wanted.



1) Fill in each of the blanks with the correct form:

• Contraction = __________________________________________
• Location Reference =_____________________________________
• Possessive Pronoun=_____________________________________

2) What form has a verb incorporated into it?

• There
• They’re
• Their

3) True or False:

“They’re wonderful people. I am glad I met them.”

4) Use each form in a sentence:

• There _________________________________________________________
• Their __________________________________________________________
• They’re ________________________________________________________

5) Fill each space with the correct form:

There, They’re, Their

Maggie and Jim were a wonderful couple, despite the fact that each one had a personality totally opposite of the other: she a free spirit with no concerns in life whatsoever; he a well-disciplined and overly protective man with a professional career as a district attorney. __________________ life together was so complete that __________________respective differences didn’t matter.

“_______________ are perfect,” _________________ friend Carny has said. “_______________ so much in love that they focus only on the good things.”

That perspective would prove foolish, however, as ________________ distinctions eventually caught up with them, and _________________ blissful marriage turned into instant turmoil.

One day, Maggie got into an accident with ______________ BMW. No one was hurt, but the car was totaled. She was so much in a daze that she hadn’t noticed the tow truck delivering _________________ automobile to the city impound. ____________ the vehicle sat until the arguing couple decided what to do. Not only were ______________ repair expenses high, but _____________ insurance company refused to pay the entire bill due to the fact that the accident had been Maggie’s fault. On top of that, the impound storage fees accrued daily.

“What’s the matter with you?” Jim exploded in anger. “That car cost plenty, and YOU had to go and wreck it! _______________________ is no excuse for that!”

“Hey, at least I didn’t get hurt,” Maggie came back defensively. “These things happen. ____________ is no need to get so uptight. We can afford the damages.”

Jim’s eye’s glared white. “That’s not the point!” he finally said. “You need to be more responsible. Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Maggie didn’t respond, but she growled under her breath. How dare he show blatant disregard for her well being; he cared more about that stupid car than he did her. He always put money before the value of human life.

______________ attitudes became so divided at that point that they never agreed on anything again—except for one thing. . .

They eventually divorced and wound up living separate lives. She decided to join the Peace Corps and help the poor in a third-word country. He married his high school sweetheart and became an appellate judge for the state.

In the end, they both realized ________________ differences played a direct role in each of them finding ________________ own lives. ________________ far happier than they’ve ever been.

Posted in Editing, Personal Experiences, Teaching, Tutoring, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 40 Comments »

Show, Don’t Tell: The Difference between Life and Text

Posted by CW64 on August 24, 2012

Another major issue I encounter while editing manuscripts is the excess of descriptive and explanatory narratives that produce flatness in character and the world in which that character lives (and quite often involves redundancies in many forms). This annoys me more than impresses me, but I am always understanding and patient with beginning writers.

For one thing, ongoing explanations of text offend intelligent readers; such continuous tirades deprive readers the opportunity to use their own minds during the reading process. A story means nothing without the reader’s cognitive input, which includes interpretation and query-making among other things. As I state in an earlier post, writers are never to underestimate the intelligence of the readers; doing so drives away an audience that sums up the experience as nothing more than an aggravating slap-in-the-face.

The point: quality writers get on with the story and let the readers figure things out for themselves. The rule is to stick with the action, dialogue and minimal description, sharing casually the essential information necessary to facilitate the flow and flesh out character development to the point of promoting a sense of realism. This practice refers to the ever-mentioned notion of “showing,” and it isn’t always easy to do. With experience and reasoning, though, writers develop the skill quite naturally.

Let’s start with the two sentences below:

Frank moves slowly
Frank drags along like a slug in the mud

Which of these two describes the concept of moving slowly? If you don’t know the answer, chances are you haven’t done enough reading and writing.

The concept of “showing” is both a fuzzy and distinct one, and an understanding of said concept will help readers and writers discern why. This might sound like a contradiction, but it is not; “showing” in literature—any kind of literature, whether it be fiction or non-fiction—is extremely complex.

Firstly, the assertion of “fuzzy” refers to the idea that each person has her or his own idea what “showing” means and what it entails to be executed appropriately. A nice example lies in the above illustration. One person might say that the first line is simple and clear and therefore more appropriate than the second. Another would likely say that the second is longer, but it “fleshes out” out the concept in question and conveys more information about the character and what he is doing than what is merely stated. Finally, a third might concur that both, in fact, are showing the reader what is meant by “moving slowly” but in two different acceptable ways. In the end, however, the particular perspective to which one wants to adhere is dependent on that person’s ideals and style preferences.

Conversely, the idea that “showing” as distinct follows through the obvious: to convey imagery so that it “jumps” from the page and appeals to the reader’s senses. In this light, the imagery comes to life in vivid color, sound and motion so that it appears and feels real to the reader. Not everything written can do that. Do the two illustrations above satisfy the requirement necessary to consider them “showing”?

Let’s take a closer look…

Frank moves slowly

According to the first person mentioned above, this one is sweet and simple and therefore most adequate to convey the idea, which shouldn’t take extensive passages and countless adjectives and modifiers to express. This, indeed, makes perfect sense. The sentences contains three common words—a noun, a verb and an adverb. The noun tells who is performing the action, the verb clarifies what that action is and the adverb—the keyword necessary to establish the overall idea—describes how the action is carried out. What more is required? Nothing is, apparently; the entire idea is complete.

Still, the second person can jump in and say that this sentence, though simple and direct, is cliche and therefore not fresh or unique at all; the character and the action are both flat and contain no life beyond the three words used to write the sentence. From an artistic perspective, this point is extremely valid. The better writer stands out by not expressing ideas the same as any other; she/he captivates the reader’s attention and has a greater potential for achieving a larger and wider audience than the writer who employs the use of the first line. Creativity demands individuality and non-conformity, and that quite often means breaking away from conventions, no matter how common.

Frank drags along like a slug in the mud

This line, according to the second voice, consists of four extra words than the first line, so it isn’t really excessive in length. The action word “drags” and the simile “like a slug in the mud” together paint a vivid picture that appeals to the reader’s senses and emotions by allowing said reader to feel Frank’s slow movements. In addition, this line implies something regarding Frank’s personality, that he is, perhaps, a sloth by nature. Simply put: the sentence shows the reader who Frank is, at least in part, and therefore does more than just tell. The reader is much more likely to be drawn into characters that seem real than those whom the writer merely dictates in sprawling descriptions and explanation.

Another point to be made here is that although the first sentence is terse and direct, the fact that it expresses nothing more than the three words suggests that the writer will require longer passages to express the same amount of information that the second one does, so it isn’t really shorter in the end. By using a greater number of words in a single sentence, as in the second line, the writer conveys more about the character and her or his situation by using fewer words overall.

An example: a sunshiny day encapsulates the same information, impressions and characteristics as a day full of bright sunshine and warmth filled with smiles and laughter; everything mentioned in the longer version is implicit in the shorter one.

Then, of course, there is the third speaker, who takes a neutral stance and insists that both perspectives are equal yet different. In this view, individuality is still promoted, as both lines offer a unique form of expression compared to the other. As long as all of the points and/or premise are clear and the information discernible, the words shouldn’t matter.

This attitude makes sense as well and is worthy of consideration. After all, intelligibility and clarity are two major cornerstones of good, quality writing. Both lines are intelligible and clear in their delivery, so one form should not necessarily be superior to the other.

In the end, however, the writer needs to know her or his characters and their lives well in order to “show” them effectively. This fact is quite often associated with the context…

Showing in Context

Context makes a substantial difference when it comes to how, where and if a writer “shows” something. By this, a writer uses the means, if necessary, the appropriate elements to effectively bring something to life.

The case of a story on a World War II aviator requires imagery relevant to that particular scenario, such as the use of metaphors like “dust” and “shattered metal” and fireball” as opposed to, say, “rag doll” or “lollipop,” for instance. The words employed should hold some type of relevance to the subject matter at hand if the description is to be applicable and effective.

Take the following passage for instance:

Young James Claybourne heard the hellish squealing bursting through the crackling and the grinding of twisting metal. His heart slammed against his ribcage as he scanned the smoking windows. Vile fumes of cinders burned his nostrils.

“Where is it coming from?” he muttered, spitting ash to the cracked sidewalk. The grime on his skin felt sticky under his coat, but he pushed that out of his mind. “Wh-where?…”

Then she appeared suddenly, jutting her reddened face from the top floor. The building shook violently. The girl’s eyes flamed white in terror.

“Help me!”

James sprang forth amidst the crumbling walls and smothering heat from the eruptions around him. He held his helmet tightly with a glove while gripping an axe with the other. Water swelled in his eyes and his head spun and swayed like a loose light fixture, but he forced himself onward stair after stair after stair after stair. . .

Here, no explanations are given and descriptions are minimized and limited to relevant references. No mention of the particular situation is stated because it isn’t necessary for the reader to realize that the scene is about a burning building and that James is a fireman. The narrative stays on the action and keeps pace all the way through. The words and phrases used belong in this scenario and paint a vivid picture that appeals to all of the senses: “hellish squealing,” “bursting,” “crackling” and “grinding of twisting metal” (audio); “vile fumes burning his nostrils” (olfactory); “swelling water” and “spinning and swaying” (visual); “spitting ash” (taste) and “grime” and “sticky” (textural). The reader can sense what he is experiencing, and so he seems real as a result. Other words, like “redden face” and “flaming eyes of terror” not only describe how the girl feels, but also enhance the overall tone of the scene and contribute to the description of the fire and the sense of urgency prevailing. The “swaying like a loose light fixture” simile isn’t really necessary here (“spinning and swaying” would be enough), but its inclusion demonstrates the use of an appropriate reference that serves two purposes: (1) to illustrate James’ mental state, and (2) to offer a suggestive detail that sharpens the overall descriptive image of the shaking building that plays in the reader’s mind while reading.

Also: James’ actions say something about him: pushing discomfort out of his mind and springing onward into the firetrap to save the girl and forcing himself onward despite his dizziness all attest to the man’s persistence and dedication to helping others in need. This message comes through the actions, NOT any drawn out and tiresome explanation.

In Conclusion. . .

Whatever means of “showing” a writer employs, the objective is to bring the characters and their situation to life so they can interact with the reader. As said, a story’s value is nothing without the reader’s reception and interpretation of said story’s contents. Publishers know this all too well, which is why their evaluations revolve around how riveting a story is. If readers are drawn into a story/book/novel, it will surely sell. The “show” aspect, or the degree of vividness and/or realism a story projects, often makes a difference between high-quality and substandard quality writing, and it ultimately determines failure or success.

Posted in Editing, Fiction, General Commentaries, Novels, Publishing and Publication, Reality and Realism, Short Stories, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 2 Comments »

Lexical Redundancies: A Need for a Cleaner, Easy-to-Read Text

Posted by CW64 on July 16, 2012

As an editor, I have come across a variety of redundancies. Beginning writers especially tend to harbor these ongoing no-nos when laying out their drafts.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against beginners—I was one once as well—but my experience as both a writer and an editor have honed my skill of observation. I am patient and extremely open to those who are just starting out in their careers. This is exciting for me, just as it is for them. For that reason, I always look forward to sharing my insights, as I am doing now through my blog.

One of the most common forms of repetition I find is, what I call, the lexical redundancy. This phenomenon denotes the overuse of words, especially in close proximity, as in the same sentence, passage or paragraph.

Take, for instance, the following example:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then from there went to the grocery store to buy groceries. The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

Okay, this passage includes more than one type of redundancy, but the one in question—the lexical redundancy—is quite clear. The reuse of the same words flattens the text and makes the writing uninteresting. Therein lies why this phenomenon is deemed a writing weakness.

Some writers (i.e. beginners) are likely to read this and say “Well, the passage is clear and makes sense, right? That’s all that should matter, so what’s the problem?”

On the level of intelligibility and coherency, that’s exactly right. However, when one is writing fiction, creativity is crucial, and that deals with language, among other things. The characters and worlds we conceive are dependent on how we write them, on the language we use to express descriptions, actions and dialogue within a story. In light of this, the words we use are extremely important.

A “policeman in uniform” is not as descriptive or as dynamic as “the blue knight,” the latter of which offers more than the merely description provided by the former. For that reason, variation brings forth color and depth that not only allow the characters and their worlds to stand out, but also makes for interesting reading.

So how do we improve the above example? Well, first off, determine which words are overused and why. Here, we have a few: “store” (3 times), “went” (2 times) and “grocery” (4 times). Their purpose is, evidently, to clarify, or ‘spell out,” the character’s actions. That’s noble enough, but that can be done through text-condensing and word change. The first technique alone might solve the redundancy problem by simply eliminating unnecessary words.

Okay, let’s take a look at that passage again. I will repost it here so you don’t have to scroll back up to read it:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then from there went to the grocery store to buy groceries. The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

Now, we can work on it. The first sentence has two “stores” and a reiteration of the action verb “went”. How can we cut that down? Well, the first “store” fits because it is part of reference (to say only “convenience” is an incomplete thought), so it stays, as does the initial verb “went” because it let’s us know right away about Mary’s action.

The second half if the sentence (i.e. the subordinate clause), however, can drop those words because they aren’t necessary. First, the second “went” is not required, and the two “grocery” references can be omitted altogether. “Market” replaces “grocery store,” which hits two birds with one stone by eliminating one “grocery” and one “store”. The phrase “to buy groceries” is a content redundancy because we already know what Mary is going to buy at the second stop.

So here we have a revised first sentence:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then to the market.”

As you see, not only do the word repetitions fall away, but the entire passage is economized with regard to word count. The sentence gets right to the point and reads better in a clear and simple form of expression.

How about the second part of that example?

Here it is:

“The only store in town that sold the kind of groceries she wanted was Maverick’s Groceries.”

What can be done here? Let’s see …

Well, the first form of “grocery” can be thrown out because we already know that this is a given with Mary. The instance in the market title can go, too. Although it is part of the business name, the first word can stand alone clearly. As for the “store” at the beginning of the sentence, what other word can we substitute to cancel out the redundancy and ensure that the sentence remains coherent and intelligible? How about the simple and everyday “place”? This will work. Take a look at the revised version of the sentence:

“The only place in town that sold what Mary wanted was Maverick’s.”

Yet, again, we have a simple statement that is right to the point. Now, let’s put the two sentences together and see how the new passage reads:

“Mary went to the convenience store and then to the market. The only place in town that sold what Mary wanted was Maverick’s.”

Does this example contain any further lexical redundancies? Is the passage clear and understood? Does it make sense?

With a bit of deductive reasoning and some careful and objective editing, a piece of writing can read easy and clean, and this will always impress editors and publishers.

The Reality of Public Perception

The closing statement in the previous section touches on an issue that continues in many debates between writers and editors. That issue serves as a universal contention for many reasons.

Public perception can either make or break a writer’s chance for success. This is an obvious reality. The ideal that a writer’s opinion of her/his own work being all that matters is a logical fallacy. Even though that notion does make sense (to a degree), it is not consistent with the way the writing and publishing industries really are.

Lexical redundancies can directly affect a writer’s level of vocabulary. A short range of terminology, as seen by the ongoing reuse of words, leaves writers appearing limited at best. That does not attract the confidence of either publishers or readers, both of whom seek wit and sophistication to stimulate their minds. Readers won’t buy materials exhibiting overwrought terms and expressions, and publishers won’t take a chance on them because they know such works appear dull and unprofessional and will likely not sell.

Does this sting?

If it does, that’s good.

This is why editing is so important and why a broad cache of words and expressions is necessary for writers to improve their work. As demonstrated above, the removal of all lexical redundancies rendered the example passage easy-to-read while maintaining proper grammar and syntax. Loquaciousness (a state of being long and wordy) quite often renders writing drawn out and confusing, and that turns off even the worst readers.

To come: Show, don’t Tell – Another common issue in writing.

Posted in Editing, Fiction, General Commentaries, Personal Experiences, Publishing and Publication, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | Leave a Comment »

Redundancies: Reflexive Pronouns Used to Clarify Internalized Communication

Posted by CW64 on January 4, 2012

One of the most common mistakes I encounter when proofreading manuscripts is the inclusion of self-reference as the object to internal dialogue. Although the indication of such a tag is true, signifying the thinker as the object within the text is redundant.

Take for example the following sentence:

How I wish I were going to Hawaii this coming summer, Jack thought to himself.

In this example, the narrative speaks in the third person as it describes what Jack is thinking with regard to a desire he has. Since his dialogue is internalized, he is the only one who knows of it, so the identity of the object receiver goes without saying.

Let me put it this way: Can a person ever ‘think’ to anyone other than oneself? No, not unless she or he is psychic, but that is beside the point, since most people do not possess this proclivity, and the reader would have to know about that personality trait beforehand. In any case, due to the obvious fact that a thinker’s audience is always oneself, the reflexive pronoun is overkill; the sentence Jack thought to himself is redundant because he can only think to himself in the first place, and so the “to himself” modifier is both grammatically incorrect and unnecessary.

This rule is so simple, yet it slips by so many people, among them writers. This both annoys and saddens me. Why do people think and write this way?

One added note: This involves any intransitive verb that suggests internalization: ‘thought,’ ‘contemplate,’ ‘wonder,’ ‘consider,’ ‘ponder’ . . . The notion of private dialogue (i.e. thoughts) collectively encompasses all of these and other like words.

The simple rule when expressing internal dialogue is this:

Subject + intransitive verb

That is it.

In other words: “Jack thought” is perfect; this says it all. No indication of receiver needs to be added because it is implied, much like the ‘you’ subject in questions.

This, however, is different than openly talking to oneself:

“Damn, why couldn’t you have left well enough alone?” Jill mumbled to herself on her way home from her ex-boyfriend’s house.

Since verbalized comments can be directed toward anybody, the inclusion of the personal pronoun here is both acceptable and necessary to indicate to the audience the idea that Jill is, in fact, speaking to herself and not to someone else. On the other hand, one can argue that if the audience knows beforehand that Jill is alone, the comment is implicitly self-directed. This is why the context of the scene is important for dialogue clarity.

A similar point can be made regarding laughing and smiling, both of which are open, externalized expressions of thought and feeling. The reflexive pronoun is appropriate here as well. The sentence Jill smiled is different than Jill smiled to herself because the two have distinct implications: The former suggests that she is smiling openly and/or outwardly; the latter indicates discretion with regard to a smile she has no intention of sharing with others in the scene. That being the case, the reflexive pronoun is used only in the second example. This rationale applies to laughing for exactly the same reason.

Of course, the “to oneself” modifier is sometimes unnecessary to indicate a private laugh. The simple use of other words or cues does the job nicely: Jill laughed under her breath. This sentence suggests that Jill is keeping the laugh to herself. Alternate words or phrases apply equally to all forms of expression, internal or external. This is where writers exercise creativity.

This is a simple rule that marks the difference between the seasoned writer and amateur. Although clarity is important in writing, nonsensical redundancies and unnecessary modifiers annoy readers who quickly lose confidence in the writer and that writer’s abilities. As a matter of fact, overkill in written expression destroys the communicative process for both writer and reader because it quite often impedes clarity by creating ambiguous or unintended references.

A writer should NEVER underestimate the reader’s intelligence; the latter is quite capable of deductive reasoning. One should remember that a writer can convey more by saying less, IF she or he chooses the right words or phrases to use in the first place.

Coming Soon: more on redundancies…

Posted in Editing, Fiction, Logic and Illogic, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 4 Comments »

Getting Published Is ALWAYS Possible!

Posted by CW64 on September 15, 2011

Hey there! Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, but I have been busy dealing with some other demanding obligations (i.e. life), but I haven’t forgotten in the least.

I just received notice that a writer-friend of mine from graduate school is on the verge of publication with regards to a draft he had been working on back in 2007. Here is the link to his blog: Fuzzy Ergo Sum Review. He is excited about it and so am I.

And so should YOU be.

This goes to show that getting published is not impossible for ANY writer who keeps working at her or his craft. Knowing the market is essential as well. The point is: Don’t give up, even when you are discourage–especially when you’re discouraged. Writing is a challenging and competitive field, but there is room for everybody with talent and persistence.

In the end, getting published is all up to you. Be prepared, be in the know, and keep writing at ALL costs.

I will be posting some new articles soon (“soon,” meaning within the remainder of the year), so please keep watch.

Posted in Advice, General Commentaries, Publishing and Publication, Reality and Realism, Uncategorized, Writing Development Issues, Writing Topics | 21 Comments »

Research: a Tribute to Titanic: a Century’s Struggle to Learn the Truth

Posted by CW64 on April 14, 2011

This is Titanic Week, marking the ninety-ninth anniversary of the sinking, and so now the time is right to include a post about researching the Titanic. Flocks of enthusiasts and student researchers continuously seek information on that tragedy and the many people involved in it, so let’s hope that this post finds them drawn to read.

Whether rational or not, Titanic has attained the status of legend of sorts that stands out from many other ships and shipwrecks. The continuously growing community of experts and enthusiasts holds Titanic in its collective heart and keeps the stories as fresh and alive as they were nearly a century ago.

What more can be said about the ship and those on board her? Believe it or not, the stories haven’t yet finished unfolding. That’s the beauty of Titanic—it is limitless in her treasure trove of knowledge. Our long struggle to discover and learn more about her has continually brought forth a plethora of new insights not only with regard to the ship and her time period, but also how we conduct research. This process has not stopped.

When it comes to researching Titanic, the process has been life-long for me. As a boy, I found myself intrigued by the great ship and all the mysteries that abounded: How big/long was she? How many funnels did she have? What did she look like? Where, when and how did she sink? How many people were on her? Who were they and where were they from? Who died and who survived? Why did so few first-class perish compared to those in steerage? These and other questions drove me on.

The answers to these questions were at one time unknown, but continuing research has unearthed much of that information. Not surprising, such information has created a bit of controversy and debate among many: Was there a three-hundred-foot gash or was the damage nothing more than a series of tears and rivet pops? With regard to this damage, what developments caused the Titanic to sink within two hours and forty minutes? What efforts were employed to render safety to passengers and seek help? Why wasn’t that enough? What could have been done differently to change the outcome?

And the questions keep on mounting. Ironically enough, this happens when one conducts research; the deeper we look into the subject and discuss it, the more questions arise. This serves as the natural cycle of ascertaining and building knowledge. The more questions we have, the further we go. There is never an end and likely never will be. That’s what keeps researchers like me interested—the game is in a constant shift, but it persists, and the mystery and intrigue remain throughout. As long as there are questions, people will push to find the answers.

One place to start would be obtaining a library’s worth of essential documentation: the transcripts (there are two—American and the subsequent British Board of Trade), birth/death certificates, passenger/crew and cargo manifests, ticket purchase receipts, diaries, personal letters, and deck plans, all of which are primary sources; and eyewitness testimonies, books, documentaries and discussion boards fall in second place due to their subjective nature (even though researchers obtain their information from primary sources et al., personal biases are likely to affect their accounts, and quite often conjecture is made [remember the ongoing questions?]).

Field experience, which I have discussed in earlier posts, is extremely important in Titanic’s story. In order for us as researchers to determine where Titanic went down, what condition she was in and how she sank, we had to get to the wreck of the ship and study it up close. The problems were multiple: (1) we didn’t even know where the ship was (Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall’s calculations put the sinking at 41/46N-50/14W, but that has since been proven false); (2) the wreck was at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, some two and a half miles down, which wasn’t easy to reach, much less to find in the first place; (3) the reliable technology needed to find and reach Titanic, wherever her location, was scarce, in its infant stages or untested; and (4) the costs required to develop the technology, let alone mount a mission to find Titanic, would be unbelievably and staggeringly high. Several attempts have been made over the years to find her, but all failed. One millionaire, Jack Grimm, invested large amounts of money, but the research just wasn’t there to assure success. This is/was the Catch-22 of field investigation: the research requires money, but the money requires research. Which one would have to come first—the chicken or the egg? This was the unsolvable conundrum.

In the meantime, all we could do was speculate. This stirred the imaginations, but it did little as far as finding the desired answers and facts. This failure and our limitations motivated us; ironically, both served as a benefit in the research. We assessed the situation and its complexities and strove about to rectify the issue.

One area on which we focused was the development of technology. Specialists in a variety of fields, from marine salvage to history to ship-building to naval architecture and oceanographic engineering, contributed their insight as to what would be necessary to safely find and reach the Titanic. Among the innovations that came about in this process were the use of sonar and the underwater submersible. Sonar was limited in its scope and detection capabilities, but it was enhanced to discern the differences in mass size and composition. The latter, submersibles, were already being used, but they never made a safe or successful descent to that extreme depth; these vehicles were able to go to a certain depth, but none had ever gone two and a half miles down. That was risky, not only with regards to air pressure, but also to equipment function (lights, gauges, camera and video), water pressure (at that depth, it was relentlessly strong and dense), and communication (would those at the bottom be able to communicate with those at the surface, etc.?). These technologies needed to be developed or enhanced further and tested as well before any attempts could be made. The cost would be in the millions.

See how important and involved and expensive field research can be?

During the summer of 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard and his team of the prestigious Woods Hole Institute in Massachusetts, grouped with French underwater exploration, headed by Jean Louis Michel, set out to find Titanic. The area was vast and comprised of a large triangle established by three coordinates (Boxhall’s calculation, the Mount Temple’s estimation of Titanic’s location and the Carpathia). This would take several days, if not weeks. In late September of that year, while the night shift scanned the ocean floor, a large mass of metal triggered the signals. On closer inspection, the hulk of a huge ship came into view. It was the Titanic’s bow! Finally, the behemoth was found. What shocked the crew and Ballard was the fact that the ship abruptly ended around the region of the third funnel; everything aft of that point was gone. This confirmed the ongoing query—the ship had indeed broken apart on the night she sank. They found the stern a half-mile away, lying in a debris field; its shattered remains a sad sight to behold (most of the people who died were either on or inside the stern. This fact has caused many onlookers to weep silently while gazing upon this heap of splayed and twisted metal). Other discoveries included: (1) a third middle “section” was missing, which showed that the ship did not simply crack in two, but crumbled away as it broke apart, top-down and in a twisting motion, at the point of the aft expansion joint situated just aft of the third funnel (the aft-grand staircase was completely gone, leaving an exposed first-class smoking room and a set of reciprocating engines); (2) the decks were compressed flat, suggesting that the stern slammed hard into the bottom; (five boilers from BR #1 rested nearby, confirming that the break went through that room); (3) the hull was splayed out on the starboard side and the poop-deck peeled back over the docking bridge, indicating that the stern section first imploded and then exploded on its way down (the trapped air inside burst outward through the third-class stairwell and cargo hold #4, obliterating the well deck and sending the poop-deck backwards); and (4) the presence of five more boilers at the end of the bow section substantiated the theory that the boilers, in fact, did NOT blow up that night and were still embedded on their moorings. These findings are/were valuable, and would not have been possible to know had we not traveled to the bottom of the ocean to take a look. Field research, as said, is not only essential, but crucial, to gaining knowledge that would be inaccessible through any other means.

Further advancements were also set in place with regard to marine protocol. International Ice Patrols (ICPs) now constantly monitor the north Atlantic for icebergs. Of course, modern-day ship communications operate via computer systems, so reporting dangers is quicker and much more efficient than at the time of the Titanic, so the vigils underway are a combine effort. Another innovation—or law, to be more precise—was that all passenger ships MUST have enough lifeboats for everyone on boat (Titanic had only enough for approximately 1,200 people, a little over half of the 2,200 people the ship carried on her maiden voyage. The owners of the White Star Line placed luxury over safety, figuring that any dangers or threat to human well being would likely be minimal or non-existent. She was the largest ship in the world at the time, after all, at 883 feet in length. What could possibly happen? No one at that time ever said that Titanic was “unsinkable,” but it was likely assumed by many). Her sister ship, the Britannic, would later be redesigned with bulkheads going up to B-deck (Titanic’s only extended as high as E-deck, but it wasn’t high enough—the incoming water spilled over each bulkhead in “ice tray” fashion until the imbalance of weight created an excess of stress that caused the break). Unfortunately, the Britannic sank in 1916, as a hospital ship during World War I, but the damage incurred there was severer than that inflicted on Titanic. Still, the raised bulkheads gave the crew time to disembark before the ship sank. Had the bulkheads not gone as high as B-deck, the death toll would likely have been greater than the 30 it was).

As far as research goes, the Titanic and her demise have spurred on new forms. The technological developments one could argue as added research capabilities, since the Titanic would not have been found without it. Indeed, what was achieved pushed research capabilities at that time of the ship’s discovery. Jacques Cousteau had found the Britannic wreck only nine years prior, but that wasn’t the same—the hospital ship lies nowhere near the extreme depth as that of the Titanic, so its access was easier and less costly. Even then, in 1985, the idea of looking for something that deep was considered as somewhat risky—only a desire, a hope and a dream that, with ongoing diligence and persistence, paid off. This shows that success in research is due just as much to human ambition and ingenuity as much as it is to capability. The drive creates the need(s), which, in turn, brings about research insight and the advancements that reflect it.

My research methodology has expanded as well. When I was younger, looking up info was considered the extent of broadening one’s knowledge, but I have always been the one to ask questions, generate queries, to think critically about things. Only this way can we increase the scope of learning. Don’t settle with what is told to you, even if it is based on current findings; think for yourself and form your own conclusions. Diversity adds to the research and the growing body of knowledge. This doesn’t mean one should disbelieve or disregard the knowledge that’s out there, but, don’t accept that as the “all and the end” of what can be learned. That serves as a necessary base, that’s it. Always go further, and what I have discovered as a Titanic researcher is that there IS no end.

Titanic Research and the Media

The media has contributed to Titanic’s legendary status. This is especially true in the industry of entertainment. No other ship has generated as many books, documentaries or movies as the Titanic. New authors emerge all the time with fresh insights. The number of Titanic experts is still growing, and that would include James Cameron, a filmmaker by trade, who researched, produced and directed the latest incarnation in 1998, which is merely the latest in a series of seven movies (eight, if one considers survivor Dorothy Gibson’s 20-minute reel from 1912. No copies are known to exist, but it was made). The film won eleven academy awards, including Best Picture. This reflects an unwavering interest in Titanic. Although most viewers weren’t concerned with details, they were curious and became inspired by the great ship and her story.

That said, these movies do not reflect one-hundred percent accuracy, nor are they meant to do so; instead, they are products that (1) showcase a filmmaker’s perspective or beliefs, and (2) entertain. No movie made is factual to the detail, but more commercialized than anything else; that is, the purpose is to garner high numbers, both in ratings and in dollars, than to teach history.

A couple of examples revolve around the suicide of First Officer Murdock and the Californian’s role in the tragedy. Several eyewitnesses from the Titanic recall hearing gunshots and seeing an officer slumped on the deck during the later hours when chaos reigned. Yes, a few named First Officer Murdock, but it has not been confirmed whether those individuals actually knew Murdock personally, and the limited lighting and excitement pounding at that point in time leave the question open as to the identity of the officer—or whether or not an officer actually shot himself. People have made mistakes before, and others have even mentioned Chief Officer Wilde in connection with this. No one knew for certain, except Murdock’s family who knew better than to believe he would commit suicide. His body was never found. We will never know. Still, the argument that he felt guilty over the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg during his shift is a compelling one, but it doesn’t confirm anything. Everything here is conjecture, and so the depiction of Murdock’s suicide in both Cameron’s film and the TV miniseries that preceded it a year before can only attest to the filmmakers’ respective beliefs, nothing more.

The Californian’s role in the story, too, is a continuous debate between those who believe this was the ship within visual distance during the sinking and those, called Lordites, who insist it wasn’t. The Californian never appeared in the “official” movie depiction, A Night to Remember, released in 1958 but Walter MacQuitty, who, as a boy, had actually witnessed the Titanic being launched back in 1912. That inspired him to no end. He knew better than to include such a controversial issue as that of the Californian’s questionable involvement in the sinking. Most other movies leave this account out as well and likely for similar reasons. Although many people believe it was the Californian there that night, no evidence exists to substantiate the claim one way or another. Stanley Lord’s log for that night places his ship at a set of coordinates considerably farther away from Titanic, so no one knows for sure. Yes, the nighttime crew saw a ship in the distance that shot rockets, but they couldn’t tell what ship it was and it could very well have been another. Again, nothing has been determined conclusively either way. As a researcher, I must remain objective and weigh all arguments evenly; without evidence, I cannot form any definite assessment. That would be irresponsible.

Art is a wonderful thing (I am an artist and creative writer myself), but the built-up drama and suspense for the sake of art cannot serve as a viable source for showcasing fact when expressing fact is not an objective of the movie. These movies, though, DO add a visual depiction of the Titanic and her story that inspires one to imagine what it was like being aboard her during her voyage and her sinking. That’s the extent of how far research goes.

The media has always sensationalized Titanic. But though the story warrants recognition, the hype it receives serves to excite readers for the wrong reasons. One must remember that magazines and other commercial publications are in the business to first sell. People are drawn out of interest, are intrigued, but they gain a superficial impression of the ship and her story that is based on little sensibility and is more legend than reality so that all, or most, credibility is either minimized or lost. The truth about Titanic is enough to give it strength; when that truth, whatever it might be, is approached with a sense of rationality and sensitivity, the legend stands up for what it actually is and acquires its rightful stance.


As the Titanic fades off into the past upon its centennial anniversary (coming up next year), its light remain strong and steady. The great ship won’t let us forget who she was and why she existed. So many stories ring continuously through our minds non-stop. . . The band playing “till the end” (which is true, depending on what one means by “the end.” If it refers to the point where the ship took a perilous slant and chaos reigned, then yes; if it refers to the point when the stern went under, then no); Molly Brown quipping about going out and retrieving ice on the deck for her late-night drink; Ida Straus refusing a seat in lifeboat #8 in order to stay behind with her husband, Isador (she was one of only five first-class females to perish that night); W.T. Stead reading his book in the first class smoking room all during the sinking; Benjamin Guggenheim casting his lifebelt aside and insisting on “going down like a gentleman,” along with his valet; P. Fletcher charging his bugle before every meal; John Phillips, the head wireless operator, persisting the calls, even after the captain released him and water began flooding the room; the battle between Molly Brown and Robert Hitchens (who had been at the wheel at the time of Titanic’s collision with the iceberg) in lifeboat #6 as they argued whether or not to go back and rescue people from the water; Fifth Officer Lowe forming a flotilla with lifeboats 4, 10, 12 and Collapsible D, then returning with a few volunteers in lifeboat 14 to rescue people in the water after the Titanic sank, only to find most dead (he saved a handful of people, including a first class man, an Asian man who had been strapped to a door, and a steward); the multitude of people who screamed into the night as they died horribly, among them several third-class families such as the Goodwins and Sages . . . There are countless stories, too many to mention here—many of them true, others skewered over the years—but the spirit of the Titanic shines through and penetrates us. We continue to reflect, yearn to know what really happened, long after every survivor has passed on. Its allure doesn’t weaken as long as her story is shared—her real story.

That’s where the research comes in . . . .

Posted in General Commentaries, Historical Accounts, Personal Experiences, Reality and Realism, Research, Uncategorized | 19 Comments »