Tag Archives: Mignon Fogarty

Using Voice to Set Yourself Apart

As my fellow Fictorians are showing you so far this month, there are many ways to set yourself apart as a writer. In my mind, the most memorable way to set yourself apart is voice, to the surprise of no one. In past posts, I’ve highlighted how you might create tension with narrative voice, and used well-known authors with distinct voices as examples. In this post, I’d like to dive into what voice is, the many ways one can use it, and highlight some examples that will hopefully give you plenty of ideas.

First, what is voice? Voice goes by many names. Style. Point of View. Vernacular. Narrative voice. Language. It is all of these things. For the sake of clarity, I defer to my friend Mignon, whom many of you may know as Grammar Girl. Julie Wildhaber writes on the Grammar Girl website:

Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work. Voice is what Simon Cowell is talking about when he tells “American Idol” contestants to make a song their own and not just do a note-for-note karaoke version. (read more here)

It’s the thing that makes a reader say, “Ah. I can tell Kristin wrote this, because there are many f-bombs, and she ends every chapter on a cliffhanger,” for example.

If Socrates fermented goods, this would be his beer label.

Letting your voice shine is all about one important rule: “Know thyself.” This is not only my own personal credo for just about everything, it’s an important practice that will inform you of your strengths.

Are you funny, or at least have great confidence that you are? Can you translate or work on translating that humor into written form?

Are you good at calculating out the worst case scenario? When friends tell you their darkest fears and worries, are you able to take it another shade darker? Do you have no problem screwing with your characters and making their lives miserable?

Is your writing structure unique? Are you aware of grammatical rules and structures, but can’t help but twist and/or ignore them?

Here are some examples of authors using those very strengths and turning them into voice.

Maria Semple is one funny lady. She wrote for the television show Arrested Development, which banked on candid, awkward family dynamics to amuse their viewers. When it comes to her writing, Maria translates the same odd, character-driven situational humor into fiction. Her second novel, Where’d You go, Bernadette? may be a shade more sophisticated than Arrested Development, but you can expect the same wit and brand of humor that her television writing is known for.

Robert Kirkman doesn’t mind making a character suffer. He doesn’t mind making all of his characters suffer. As Robert has his hand in more and more projects, the common thread between all of them is his signature move: make the character(s) suffer. While reading The Walking Dead, one panel completely floored me. It was too dark, in fact, to be translated to the television version (though I dreaded I’d see it when the time came). If you’d like to read the comic books, skip to the next paragraph. For those of you who’ve read a good chunk of the comic books, you may already guess which part I’m talking about. It’s the Red Wedding of The Walking Dead. Instead of just Laurie taking a bullet, the bullet travels through her baby girl in her arms as well. The worst case scenario, one darker than I would ever dare to think up, becomes a reality in the blink of an eye. When I read it, I thought for sure I felt my heart drop.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out an author I’ve mentioned many times in my Fictorians posts who is, in my mind, the king of grammatical voicing: James Frey. If you’re currently in the beginning stages of your career and trying to get published and you’ve read James’ work, he might make you a little crazy. And it’s not because he isn’t good – oh he’s good. It’s because you’ll wonder how he was able to get away with his style and still get published. An example, from the first page I opened up to just now from A Million Little Pieces:

I stare at him.
Trying can’t hurt, Kid.
There is truth in his eyes. Truth is all that matters.
And trying’s nothing to be scared of.
Truth.
Just try.

Where are the quotation marks? Dialogue tags? Adjectives? And yet, from this short section, we can tell this is a conversation, or at least one person talking to another person. We can make very good guesses as to who is whom (given more context). This is James’ style. While different at first, it grows on you very quickly, and your eyes ease from one word to the next until, before you know it, you’re flipping the last page of the book. His style was unlike anything I’d ever seen before (Hemingway would be jealous of his brevity), and I immediately adored the rock-solid voicing.

The bottomline is this: you don’t have to be the next Maria Semple, Robert Kirkman, or James Frey. You just gotta be you! It’s as easy and as difficult as that.

First: know thyself. Next: write.

Five Facts Every Business Owner Needs To Know About The Law

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Welcome to Legal Month at the Fictorians!

Writers are business people. We own our enterprises and are responsible for them. While we often focus on the craft of writing on this site we felt a walk on the business side was necessary. We’re going to spend much of March looking at issues writers, and all business owners in fact, need to know about the law such as taxes, necessary record keeping, agents, contracts, indemnification and reversion clauses, copyright, creating your business, creating publishing company, and much more. An important note about this month: We’re not providing legal advice and if you have specific questions about the law and how it applies to your situation, please contact an attorney where you live.

Five facts about the law every business owner needs to know:

FACT 1 – Anyone can sue you. 

Legal disputes are part of the cost of doing business. For the fiscal year ending September 20, 2012 (the most recent one I could find statistics on), the United States Federal Courts had 278,442 new civil law suits filed. http://www.uscourts.gov/Statistics/JudicialBusiness/2012.aspx While this number represents a decrease in filings from the previous year it’s still a respectable number. Keep in mind too that this figure doesn’t take into account new cases filed in a state court. While there are rules against frivolous or harassing law suits it is often difficult to show that any specific case was completely baseless and the other side should have known that their claim wasn’t legitimate when they filed.

Litigation is VERY expensive. A bit of prevention (and expense) can save you thousands on the back-end. A business lawyer’s job is to anticipate what could go wrong and try to give you the best possible protection in case the worst happens. Nothing is perfect though, and the more successful you become the bigger the target on your back. Which brings me to my second point…

FACT 2 – Becoming a Corporation is Inexpensive and Provides You with a Level of Protection.

You are almost always better off operating under a corporate umbrella rather than being a partnership or a sole proprietor. Corporations are considered separate “people” from their owners under American law. As a general rule a person suing a company can only collect their judgment from the company’s asset, not the owners’. Incorporating also allows you to keep profitable ventures separate from more experimental ones or ones losing money. It is fairly common practice for a real estate developer, as an example, to form a new company for every project that way if project X fails the business does not have to use its revenue from successful venture Y to pay off X’s debts. The owners merely pay off as much of X’s debts as they can with whatever assets X has left without jeopardizing their or that of their other ventures’ financial health. Is it necessary for a writer to have a new company for every book? Not generally. Writing is not generally considered a high risk enterprise.

Another advantage to operating through a company is the ability to give yourself a salary and issue yourself a W-2. Being a W-2 employee has several tax advantages. It also means you qualify as an employee and not self-employed when the time comes for you to get a loan, whether business or personal.

FACT 3 – You Are Responsible For The People You Hire. 

Employees are a mixed blessing. They are fabulous because they let you do the things you love doing about your business – like writing – and delegate the things you like least or take too much time away from your main focus – for example, maintaining a website or social media presence. The also present their own special set of legal challenges. But I’m to not going dwell too long on theses since that’s a several post long discussions. Let me point out two though.

Your employees are part of your public face. Their acting badly reflects on you. Choose your agents, publicists, editors, lawyers, accountants, and employees with care. In this highly visible world a stray (or not so stray) comment on a social media site can bring down an empire. After all, it only took the Doctor six words to bring down an administration.

Ensure you classify the people who work for or with you properly. While it might be tempting to classify your helpers as independent contractors spend time with a lawyer to make sure they qualify under the IRS guidelines. Understand that all exempt (from United States Federal Overtime requirements) employees are salaried, not all salaried employees are exempt. There are also state laws governing when an employee must be paid overtime. Again this is a classification issue and some up front time with a lawyer can save your business.

FACT 4 – You Will Be Deemed to Know the Law and What Your Contracts Say Even if You Don’t. 

Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Don’t sign any document you haven’t read. If litigation results a court will deem you to have known and understood a contract’s terms. Lots of nasty upsets can be avoided simply by reading a contract. Know what you’ve agreed to. If you don’t understand, I mean really understand, what you are being asked to sign, DON”T SIGN IT and seek legal advice first. Renegotiate the unacceptable terms. Sometimes walking away from a bad deal is the best you can do.

FACT 5 – Words Matter.

This last one shouldn’t surprise you. After all, who knows that words matter than a writer? Fellow Superstar Attendee Mignon Fogerty aka Grammar Girl once asked me if it was true that lawyers litigated over the placement of a comma. The answer is “sometimes” as comma placement can change a sentence’s meaning. I’ve litigated the meaning of “unique”, and “exclusive” and, yes, exactly what a clause modified (i.e. did the comma mean anything?).

Do not accept a word you do not understand. Contracts, especially older ones, use the word “witnesseth.” When I’ve struck the word and asked the other attorney what the term meant…well, let’s just say I manage to get it struck most of the time. Why? Because it’s unnecessary. “Witnesseth” means “to take notice of” rather than to “witness” a document. Since the word comes before the signature lines it’s a bit obvious that the person signing has “noticed” the document. We’re going to have posts focusing on specific words in indemnification and reversion clauses so I won’t belabor the issue about the meaning of words here.

Keeping these principles in mind won’t guarantee that you’ll never have a legal dispute. But they just might let you know when to seek professional help from lawyers or tax professionals.

I hope you enjoy the upcoming month, and come back for more great information.

Disclaimer:

 The materials available at this website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney
to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. No attorney-client relationship has been created. Legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.

Mignon Fogarty: “OK,” “Okay,” and How to Deal with Other Troublesome Style Choices

A guest post by Mignon Fogarty

 

Since becoming Grammar Girl six years ago, I’ve gradually come to the realization that English is a troublesome language. We do have some hard-and-fast rules: “A lot” is always two words, and we use semicolons a certain way. But a surprising number of words and punctuation marks swirl around us like rowdy schoolchildren shouting “Except when…!” and “Style choice!” When even language mavens disagree, what’s a writer to do?

We’ll figure it out by looking at an example.

Recently, Robert M. posted this question on the Facebook page for alumni of the Superstars Writing Seminar:

“Attention all you grammar aficionados: Do you have any objections to using “OK’ instead of “Okay’? Opinions please.”

“OK” or “Okay” Are Both All Right

“OK” is one of the words I wrote about in 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time, and Robert was on the mark when he asked for opinions because English has two acceptable spellings for “OK.” Which one you prefer is a matter of opinion, and of course, in response to his request for opinions he got some strong ones, including a comment about slang and losing battles. Oh, the demise of our language!

Fiction Writers: Use “Okay”

However, if you’re a professional fiction writer, you should be relying on the Chicago Manual of Style, not your friends’ opinions. Chicago requires “okay.” End of story.

News Writers: Use “OK”

On the other hand, the conclusion is entirely different if you write press releases or articles for you local newspaper. The Associated Press Stylebook requires “OK.” End of story.

Know Your Style Guide

I’m routinely shocked by the number of e-mail questions I get from people who claim to be writers but obviously don’t own a style guide (or can’t be bothered to open it). “I remember that my fourth grade teacher said…” and “I prefer…” don’t cut it in the professional world. Traditional publishers have designated a style guide, and you should use it. Chicago is the standard for fiction. “Okay” is the only spelling that is acceptable. The Associated Press Stylebook is the standard for news writing. “OK” is the only spelling that is acceptable. The solution for a struggling writer? Know which style guide your industry uses and buy it.

When You Get to Decide

The time for opinions is when you’re writing for yourself or someone who hasn’t designated a style-when you’re writing blog posts, e-mail messages, and so on. When choosing for myself, I like to look at a word’s history, its etymology. That’s why I prefer “OK.”

The best evidence available points to a newspaper reporter coining the term in 1839. It was an abbreviation for a jokey spelling of “all correct”: “oll korrect.” Apparently, for a few years, it was trendy to coin these kinds of misspelled abbreviations, but “OK” was the only one that survived because it was used in slogans for Martin Van Buren’s presidential campaign.

I confess that I’m so enamoured with the “OK” etymology that I insist on “OK” instead of “okay” in my books, even though my publisher follows Chicago style. I’m probably being foolish picking a fight over this one little word, but we all have our foibles. Since my books are about language, I feel like my publisher should give me some leeway on the language, and they seem to agree-or at least they don’t think it’s worth the energy to resist. But the advice I give to any other writer, especially writers who are just starting out, is to follow your industry’s style. It’s the safest, wisest choice.

Guest Bio: Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl and is the author of eight books on language, including her new book, 101 TROUBLESOME WORDS YOU’LL MASTER IN NO TIME.

Mignon Fogarty: Social Media Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Newbie

 

A guest post by Mignon Fogarty

Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ can be great tools for marketing your book, but you can also look like a tool if you make these common mistakes:

Don’t Jump in Without Exploring

Don’t join a network and immediately start posting. Take a couple of weeks to poke around, watch the experts, and see how things work. Every network has its own quirks.

In general, your goal should be to make friends genuinely. Answer people’s questions. Respond to their posts. Build relationships so people begin to recognize your name. If the first post I see from you is promoting your book, all I will remember when I see your name again is that you only care about promoting yourself.

Don’t Send Direct Messages to People You Don’t Know

Unless you have an exceptionally good reason, don’t send a direct message to someone you don’t know. You don’t need to thank people for following you, you shouldn’t send them an “introduction” link to your site, and for God’s sake, don’t ask them to check out your book or like your fan page.

What does it mean to know someone on social media? If I see your message and feel happy to hear from you, we know each other. If I see your message and wonder who you are, we don’t know each other.

Don’t Promote Your Book Without Giving People a Reason to Care

If you’re asking people on social media to take action (e.g., review your book, like your fan page), give them a reason. There are at least two reasons people will care:

1) Make it worth their while. Have a contest or give away a prize. A prize can have cash value (e.g., an e-reader), be something only you can provide (e.g., a personal thank-you video, a 30-minute critique, naming rights to a character in your book), or simply the glory of winning a contest of skill (e.g., a limerick contest).

2) Let them share your journey. Kickstarter works because contributors feel like they are helping you-joining you-on your journey. You can apply the same techniques to social media promotion.

To bolster people’s participatory feelings, you need to explain your purpose. In the book, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the authors explain that if you follow a request with a “because clause”-a reason you are making the request-people are more likely to comply. If you want people to review your book because good reviews increase online purchases, tell them that’s why you want the reviews. If you want people to buy your book this week because it will help you make the bestseller list, tell them that’s why it’s important this week.

It’s also helpful to give updates. Once you’ve made people aware of your goal, tell them how it’s going. Don’t go crazy and update Twitter every ten minutes, but when you’ve reached a significant milestone, announce it.

In the end, it’s simple: nobody likes the new guy who shows up at a party and immediately starts hustling everyone to buy his product; but if an old friend has an exciting new project he’s eager to tell you about, you’re happy to listen and help. Social media is the same. Become the old friend.

Guest Writer Bio:
Mignon Fogarty is the author of the forthcoming book 101 Troublesome WordsYou’ll Masterin No Time. Preorder the book now so bookstores see there is a healthy demand, and stock it when it launches in July.