Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Meet Author Donn Taylor, Guest Blogger

Donn Taylor portraits 12/7/07Donn Taylor led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. Afterwards, he earned a PhD in English literature (Renaissance) and for eighteen years taught literature at two liberal arts colleges. He was chosen by faculty as "Scholar of the Year" at one and by students as "Professor of the Year" at the other. His poetry is collected in his book Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. In addition to his historical novel Lightning on a Quiet Night, he has published two suspense novels and a light-hearted mystery. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences and groups. He lives near Houston, TX, where he writes fiction and poetry, as well as essays on writing, ethical issues, and U.S. foreign policy.

I am so happy to welcome author Donn Taylor to Whispers in Purple today. Donn has written a special article—along with some tongue-in-cheek chuckles—to share with us.

So, take it away, Donn!

 

Avoiding Misuse of Words


by


    Donn Taylor


One of the frustrations of being a writer of fiction or essays is the fact that we have only words to communicate with our readers. Novels and essays have no pictures or diagrams to clarify relationships, and gesturing with our hands or counting on our fingers does not help. The poet W.H. Auden went so far as to describe a poem as a "verbal contraption," a machine made out of words, to convey the poet's vision to the reader. Consequently, it behooves us as writers to respect words and their meanings, and to use them both correctly and appropriately. Here I will list some that are frequently misused in published writing, and then I will mention some that have become trite through overuse.

Let's begin with a heavy error (pardon the pun): The past tense of the verb to lead is led, not lead. This one slips through the proofreading to appear in quite a few novels. I am not immune to this kind of error: In a recent novel I wrote that a character's complexion was "unusually pail." (No, that didn't mean she would kick the bucket.) Fortunately, a proofreader caught my error before publication.

Another common error is confusion of the two verbs lie and lay. (They were separate verbs as far back as Middle English.) The forms of lie are lie, lay, lain, while the forms of lay are lay, laid, laid. Forms of lie never take a direct object: "I will lie down." Forms of lay always do: "I will lay the book on the desk." Confusion arises because the past tense of lie and the present tense of lay appear identical. The solution is to select the correct word in present tense and then convert to the appropriate tense. When all else fails, remember that we can only lay down if we are carrying duck feathers.

One frequently misused (and overused) word is incredible. Its first meaning describes something that can't be believed. The second describes something so unusual as to be beyond belief. A problem arises when the writer intends the second meaning when the first meaning is also possible. One writer recently wrote that she belonged to "an incredible church." Who would want to belong to a church that can't be believed?

Certain modifying words are "absolute," meaning that they cannot be modified as to degree. The most misused of these is unique, which means one of a kind. Something cannot be very one-of-a-kind or somewhat one-of-a-kind, yet one often hears the expression very unique or somewhat unique. Examples of other absolute words are equal, impossible, eternal, unanimous, square, round and perfect. (Yes, the US Constitution speaks of "a more perfect union." When we write a Constitution of the United States, we're entitled to use the same expression. Meanwhile, we must refrain from modifying absolute words.)

Some irritating usages occur when the writer attempts to sound sophisticated rather than write for plain meanings. One is using the term escalate for the more direct increase. (That is a cliché held over from the intellectuals of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.)

Next comes the attempt to sound sophisticated by using exacerbate when one means simply make worse. When we’re tempted to preen our sophistication, we should not rise to the exacer-bait.

Other words to avoid are those that have become clichéd through being overused. One such offender is Excuse me. In using it, the writer sarcastically feigns politeness while pretending to be victimized by a powerful but wrongheaded opposition. So many writers use this crutch that the victims apparently outnumber the oppressors.

Then there is using the word sure to introduce a sentence. (“Sure, some people still think the world is flat, but….”)

And there’s using the word Hey! as an attention-getter. (“Hey! Why do you want to use a cliché?”)

I suggest the following rules: 1. There is no excuse for excuse me. 2. Sure should be consigned to the sewer. 3. Hey should be fed to livestock. (They’ll never notice the difference in spelling.)

Ultimately, however, attempts to stamp out trite expressions are doomed to failure. One fundamental rule always applies: Whenever a writer can’t find his Pegasus, he’ll hitch old Dobbin to the cliché.

To summarize: For clarity, we writers should make it our business to know the meanings and accepted usages of words. For originality, we should avoid expressions that have become clichéd through overuse. As Auden said, each of our writings is a verbal contraption, our only means of conveying our vision to our readers.

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Lightning Cover - 300dpiBook Title: Lightning on a Quiet Night


Author: Donn Taylor


Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas


Release Date: November 2014


Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery


Overview:  In the years following World War II, a town too proud of its own virtues has to deal with its first murder. Despite the implications of this crime, the town of Beneficent, MS, population 479, tries desperately to hold onto its vain self-image. The young veteran Jack Davis holds that idyllic vision of the town and tries to share it with Lisa Kemper, newly arrived from Indiana. But she is repelled by everything in town. While the sheriff tries to find the murderer, Jack and Lisa’s contentious courtship reveals the town’s strange combination of astute perceptions and surprising blind spots. Then they stumble onto shocking discoveries about the true nature of the town. But where will these discoveries lead? To repentance? Or to denial and continuation in vanity?


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Here’s what Publishers Weekly said about Lightning: “Taylor’s powerful historical romance is filled with passion and heart, spiced with mystery and a keen understanding of the human condition.”

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Where to find Donn:




 

Where to Buy Lightning on a Quiet Night:

♦Peg here: I hope you enjoyed Donn’s article as much as I did. I love his dry sense of humor. We would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts, or feel free to ask Donn some questions, in the Comments section below. Join the conversation!

36 comments:

  1. I always enjoy reading your thoughts on writing. Thanks, Donn.

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  2. Hi, Jennifer, thanks for stopping by. I agree. Donn always manages to instruct with wit and wisdom. He makes me laugh. :)

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  3. Hi, Linda, so glad you dropped in. Donn has a way of teaching while entertaining at the same time.

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  4. I agree, Kathleen. Thanks for visiting.

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  5. Donn, great post, as always! And Peggy, thanks for showcasing Donn and his brilliant humor (as well as wisdom).
    Blessings,
    Deb

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  6. Very good post. I mourn the recent abuse of "excuse me". It can still be the proper thing to say when sincerely begging forgiveness for a minor infraction like bumping against someone in the elevator, but is too often interpreted as sarcasm. I don't like the new "my bad" that seems to have taken its place.

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  7. Thank you all--Kathleen, Linda, and Jennifer--and of course, Peg for letting me bloviate on her blog. Blessings.

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  8. Thank you, Deborah. I'm still laughing at your good lines in your novel "Missteps."

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  9. Truly appreciate Donn's arrangement of the written word. To weave the words to make sense and still maintain the mystery of the story is a special talent. He will appreciate a saying from my files: "Editing is a rewording activity".

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  10. Thank you, Jenny. I agree about "my bad." Mildred particularly disliked that one, and I should have included it. (Don't say "my bad" to Germans, because in their language it means "bath.")

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  11. So winsomely written and informative, I'm bookmarking it to return to again. Going forward, will limit my use of the word incredible to its proper usage. And more. Thanks, Donn. You know I'm a fan. Of yours. Not an electrical device. (Was that clear?)

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  12. Great post, Donn. We need to be reminded of such. It's clear you taught English, while I taught math. Thanks for offering good advice to all of us.
    .

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  13. I so agree, Jenny. "my bad" is just silly.To me, it seems to be as worthless and insincere as oops, sorry, and excuse me.
    Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  14. Thanks, Deborah. Hosting Donn was my pleasure. He's welcome back any time!

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  15. My pleasure, Donn. You're more than welcome for a return visit anytime :)

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  16. Amen, Dudley! Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

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  17. Thank you, Dudley. Yes, that "rewording" is a good one. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Hi, Cathy, I enjoy Donn's word 'lessons' too. Thanks for dropping in.

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  19. I so agree, James. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

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  20. Donn, I'm always entertained by your posts, and they always include so much great information. Good advice, and delivered in an (ahem) absolutely unique style!

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  21. Thank you, James, and thanks for the good blog that you operate.

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  22. Thank you, Cathy. Love your puns.

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  23. \snort/ :) Wish I'd thought of that, Delia! Thanks for stopping by.

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  24. Thank you, Delia. I haven't never heard no nicer words. Blessings.

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  25. What an incredible post, Donn! Sure, you corrected our misuse of words, but Excuse Me, I was not offended by your corrections. I do want to lay down and take a nap, though.

    Well-written and entertaining, Donn. Thanks for sharing!
    Jen

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  26. Great response, Jeanette! Love it. Thanks for stopping by.

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  27. Thank you, Jen. I'm glad you warn't in no way offended. Don't forget the duck feathers if you lay down. Blessings.

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  28. There was "excuse me." Then "my bad." Now I'm hearing "Really?" Another attempt at sarcasm.

    Enjoyed the humor of the article...and learned something.

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  29. Oh, I forgot 'really?' My daughter uses it all the time, and, I confess,[sheepish smile] I've used it too. My bad.
    Thanks, Nike, for stopping in. So good to see you here. Hugs!

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  30. Good blog, Daddy! You could probably write a long blog on the over use and misuse of the word "Epic".

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  31. Now that's a good idea, Katherine! What do you say, Donn?

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  32. You're right, Katherine, every little tale seems to be epic these days. It affects me like epic-cac.

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  33. Thank you, Nike. I'll add "Really?" to the list.

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