Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Story Questions

Suspense is uncertainty, a state of being undecided or undetermined. So, at bottom, suspense is a question.

For example, a person on trial hears the verdict — guilty. Sentencing will be in three days. For the next three days the convicted criminal is left in suspense about what her sentence will be. In other words, the story raises the question What will her sentence be?

Therefore, to create suspense, just raise Story Questions and leave the reader hanging for the answers.

Story questions are simply questions you plant in the reader's mind. They give the reader reason to read on. For, when you plant a story question in the reader's mind, she reads on with a purpose — to learn the answer. The desire for that answer compels her.

A story question might be a problem: it plants the question of how your hero will solve it. A story question might be a mysterious statement: it plants the question of what it means. A story question might be an ominous event: it plants the question of what will be the outcome.

Story questions may be either short-range or long-range story questions. Short-range story questions will soon be answered. Long-range story questions will be answered much later, and they include the story questions about the core conflict, which will be answered in the end.

Just as there are many types of story questions, there are many ways to plant them. In the trial-and-sentencing example above, the story question is inherent in the situation. No need to state it. Indeed, story questions are usually planted by the power of suggestion, not stated directly as questions in the text.

Plant story questions throughout the novel in every scene. They should renew suspense about the core conflict and create suspense about the conflict at hand in the scene.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Role of Decisions in Conflict

As I tell tennis players, the best way to pressure people is to confront them with choices. That's because they fear making the "wrong" one.

If a person's fear of making decisions is greater than his desire, that fear extinguishes desire.

Have you ever known a person who cannot make a decision? I knew a woman once who couldn't even decide how she wanted her coffee. I kid you not: before ordering it, she had to play everyone at the table for their opinion on the matter.

Have you ever seen a group of people that cannot make any decision on how to deal with any problem? No matter how harmless that decision might be? And no matter how much they whine about the problem? I had the psychedelic experience of being caught in one once. You couldn't force those people to make any choice, any decision. The moment anybody proposed a solution to a problem and asked them to adopt it, the problem was suddenly "no problem." They found innumerable ways to indefinitely postpone voting on a proposal. In short, they couldn't make a decision to save their souls.

Don't put such pathetic characters in your novel (except perhaps as cartoon characters fit for a walk-on role in comic relief). Nobody finds them interesting = worth knowing.

They either want nothing enough to lift a finger to get it or they don't know what they want. As Lajos Egri says, you can't achieve anything but static conflict with characters who cannot make a decision. Result: no story. He goes on to say, "You cannot expect rising conflict from a man who wants nothing or does not know what he wants." All you can do to move such a "plot" is introduce jumping (unmotivated) conflict. Which still doesn't result in a story.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Milieu Stories

In some stories the milieu is sketchy, while in others it is presented in great detail. A milieu story is a story about its milieu.

Examples of milieu stories are:
  • Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through a Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
    The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
  • Canyon Walls by Zane Grey
  • Bullet Park by Jonathan Cheever
  • The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
A milieu story could focus on the moral sphere of action within that milieu. Some literary fiction does so. Such a story might explore the inner landscapes of suburban life. But most milieu stories are set in a strange world. Then again, some milieu stories are pure milieu stories, and some emphasize milieu but develop other elements of the story as well. In the latter there's also a strong story line, and the reader absorbs the milieu indirectly through it.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Engage your reader -- Part 2.

Step 2 in the process of engaging your reader is to organize your writing to meet your reader's needs.

People read to get answers. Anticipate the questions your readers bring to the work, and organize your material to respond to those questions. Also think through the questions your readers are likely to ask while reading, and further organize your material to answer each question immediately.

When appropriate, consider using a question-and-answer format in which you write the section headings as questions. This format assumes the reader is the one asking the questions, so write them in the first person (using "I").

Unless a section is brief, summarize it at the top or state the bottom line at the top. Then your reader sees what the section is about and knows what you're getting at. Writers often do the opposite, saving the conclusion or summary for the end.

Teachers, for example, have learned that the way to teach people is to:
  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
  2. Tell them it.
  3. Tell them what you just told them.

For your reader, this approach makes the difference between wandering and going somewhere. If she doesn't know where your argument is headed, following your explanation is much harder. That's because, at many points, she won't know what to make of something you say. Similarly, if she has no idea what your main points will be, she must work to organize the information you give, and she is much less likely to grasp those main points.



Monday, November 21, 2005

Engage your reader.

Reading your words is spending time with you. So, make the persona you project engaging.

To engage your readers:
  • Speak to them directly and clearly.
  • Organize your message in a structure that reflects their interests.
  • Use an appropriate tone.
And, before you even begin writing, identify your audience. You must grab and hold your readers' attention if you want to get your ideas across. They aren't interested in your information for its own sake: they want only news they can use. The best way to grab and hold their attention is to figure out who they are and what they want to know. Put yourself in their shoes. It will give you a new perspective.

To identify your audience, think about what kind of person will read this book or document and why. Keep in mind the average reader's level of technical expertise.

Tell your readers why the material is important to them. Say, "If you want ___, here's what you have to do." Or, "If you want ___, here's what you should know."



Friday, November 18, 2005

But aren't character-driven stories the best?

Tell me who's fit to be the judge of that, and I'll go ask her or him.

The literati describe fiction as either character-driven or plot-driven. They lump Milieu Stories, Idea Stories, and Events Stories into the plot-driven category. They regard plot-driven fiction as inferior, lowbrow, preferred by the uncultivated masses and therefore "transient" because it isn't worthy of a hard cover.

The only fiction good enough for them is character-driven. Hence they call it literary fiction. It's subtle and about a character. They say character is more interesting than any other element of fiction. They say readers desire intimacy with a specimen they consider "worth spending time with" — to get inside her, to see what makes her tick, to participate in her life and choices, to live vicariously through her.

If impressing the literati is important to your success, consider their opinion. But placing value judgements on literature according to your personal preferences is no more valid than saying that, because you prefer country music, it's superior to classical music. Both judgements just flatter the judge.

J.R.R. Tolkien, himself a professor at Oxford University (a philologist and linguist), addressed the issue in his forward to the second edition of The Fellowship of the Rings (the first part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy), a milieu story:
The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving, and for many the guide was inevitably often at fault. Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.

True, character-driven stories are timeless, but they aren't the only timeless stories, and timelessness alone doesn't make a story superior. True, all humans have an instinctive natural interest in character, but it's just an adaptation for survival in a species that lies and cheats and preys on its own kind. So, it doesn't make everybody itch to get inside other people just because they're there. For the most part, it moves us only with regard to those who perplex us or are in a position to hurt us.

People whose interest in character goes further — people fascinated with human nature — are those who make their way in the world through knowledge of it. For example, if the reader is a personnel manager, a fiction writer, an advertiser, a psychologist, a politician or political campaign manager, an athletic coach, a negotiator, a marketing executive, a corporate executive, a religious pied piper, or a con artist, being an initiate into the mysteries of human nature is key to success. But if the reader owns the local print shop or body shop, it is not. Nor if she's a veterinarian, an auto-mechanic, or a farmer. Also, the young generally find character less interesting than people over thirty.

So, many people find character inherently no more interesting than plot. They just prefer the kind of story they prefer. For the most part, people are most interested in whatever is most mysterious in a story.

Moreover, overdoing character development in a story that isn't a character story can wreck your novel.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Importance of the MICE Quotient

To demonstrate something about the MICE Quotient, I'm going to use an an example of a story's opening. Here it is...

I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother's place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

"The mater will be delighted to see you again--after all those years," he added.

"Your mother keeps well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?"

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John's father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now.

Now, judging from that opening, what's this story about? Clearly, it's about the characters and/or events referred to.

Woops! I forgot something. Here is that opening again with the missing part included:

The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as "The Styles Case" has now somewhat subsided. Nevertheless, in view of the world-wide notoriety which attended it, I have been asked, both by my friend Poirot and the family themselves, to write an account of the whole story. This, we trust, will effectually silence the sensational rumours which still persist.

I will therefore briefly set down the circumstances which led to my being connected with the affair.

I had been invalided home from the Front; and, after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home, was given a month's sick leave. Having no near relations or friends, I was trying to make up my mind what to do, when I ran across John Cavendish. I had seen very little of him for some years. Indeed, I had never known him particularly well. He was a good fifteen years my senior, for one thing, though he hardly looked his forty-five years. As a boy, though, I had often stayed at Styles, his mother's place in Essex.

We had a good yarn about old times, and it ended in his inviting me down to Styles to spend my leave there.

"The mater will be delighted to see you again--after all those years," he added.

"Your mother keeps well?" I asked.

"Oh, yes. I suppose you know that she has married again?"

I am afraid I showed my surprise rather plainly. Mrs. Cavendish, who had married John's father when he was a widower with two sons, had been a handsome woman of middle-age as I remembered her. She certainly could not be a day less than seventy now.

By omitting the first two short paragraphs the first time, I sent you off on a wild goose chase, didn't I? You had no idea what this storyteller is talking about. I had you thinking the narrator was talking about this story's characters or events. Subconsciously you thought that since this first-person narrator doesn't reveal his inner feelings, this story is probably more about its events. So, you expected exciting action and wondered what was going to happen.

Thus, off you went off like a bloodhound on a false trail. Missing all the clues. For, this isn't a character or events story; it's an idea story, a whodunit. It's a Hercule Poirot murder mystery by Agatha Christie — The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

That changes everything, doesn't it? Now you know that the events aren't consequential and that the details don't foreshadow: they are evidence, clues to the solution of a puzzle.

A storyteller directs the reader's attention. What you direct most attention to should be what readers should focus on. In fact, it is what readers focus on. So, don't mislead them on what your story is about. In the opening, the reader has nothing yet to go on, so you must give your bloodhounds the scent: open with material on the predominant element, as Agatha Christie does above.

There's another reason why you should open this way. One can't always judge a book by its cover. Potential purchasers judge it by the first page. What if you bought this book because the opening made you mistake it for mainstream fiction? You wouldn't be happy to find (in Chapter 3) that it's a murder mystery.

Moreover, since this is a murder mystery, character is unimportant. We learn nothing about the characters except what's necessary to solve the crime. Hence they are flat characters. Even Detective Hercule Poirot is but a caricature with eccentricities that make him stand out. If Agatha Christie had developed the characters into deep, three-dimensional characters, all this characterization would be superfluous and distracting, blurring the story's focus. In fact, readers quickly tire of a story with extraneous material — that is, anything that doesn't contribute to proving its premise.

Again, since this is a murder mystery, events are unimportant. Murder mysteries have no plot in the usual sense of the word, because the only events that happen in them are the murder in the beginning and the discovery of whodunnit in the end. The rest of the "plot" is just the detective gathering information to figure it out.

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Monday, November 14, 2005

The Elements of a Story

Stories are comprised of four elements. If one predominates, it shapes the story.

The elements that comprise a story are:
  • milieu
  • idea
  • character
  • events
A story's milieu is its world, the environment of its characters. It encompasses both the material and moral spheres of action. That is, it encompasses both the inner and outer landscapes/spaces surrounding the characters, as well as the surrounding culture they emerge from. Such story material includes the physical locations and settings, the sights, sounds, smells, foods, climate, weather, and all other sensations emanating from the environment. It also includes the social and cultural setting: the customs, folkways, mores, traditions, history, social institutions, social roles, laws, technology, public expectations and every aspect of society that affects the personality, motivations, and attitudes of the individual to limit and shed light on what he thinks, feels, says, and does.

The idea of a story is the problem or question the story poses, which is solved or answered in the end. In other words, a story's idea is what you read it to find out. For example, you may find out whether the hero achieves his goal. Or you may discover the solution to some mystery or puzzle.

The character of a story is the nature of one or more principal players in it. A story's character is expressed by what its characters do and why they do it. This element usually stems from or arrives at some truth about human nature.

The events of a story are its actions, the things that happen in it.



Saturday, November 12, 2005

Put statements in positive form.

In his Elements of Style, William Strunk wrote,

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

Here are examples to show the difference ...

John was not very often on time. >>> John usually came late.
Lisa did not think that was a very nice thing to say. >>> Lisa thought that a mean thing to say.

Not is a weak word. Your readers want to know what is.

Certain uses of the negative help though. Placing a negative in opposition to a positive makes a stronger, clearer statement. Here is an example...

Your tone should be friendly and engaging, not distant or intimate.

And yet another…

Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.



Friday, November 11, 2005


Writings' readability is its ease of understanding. Under-standing is mental weight lifting and requires effort. As tested, understanding therefore requires two things: the ability to understand and the effort to understand. So, readability is a function of both complexity and the average reader's willingness to make the required effort to understand.

Readable writing is considerate of the reader, writing that communicates effectively with minimal reader effort.

Most American fiction is readable at a 6th-to-8th grade level. Most nonfiction books for a general audience are readable at a 7th-to-9th-grade reading level. Occasionally the subject matter requires a 10th-grade reading level because of the terminology (as in books on health). That's what your competitors are achieving. And that's what American readers expect.

The facts don't say Americans can't comprehend writing above an 8th- or 9th-grade level: they say Americans don't comprehend writing above that level. Some can't, but most just find it tedious, declining to spend the required time and effort.

In other words, their eyes may pass over the words, but they aren't bothering to actually under-stand anything they'd have to pause to under-stand. If a sentence doesn't make sense to them, they don't pause to reread it. In the end they have a foggy idea of what the writing was about and little comprehension. People only dig into writing at high reading levels in something they must read or in something of special interest to them.

So, if you want to communicate effectively, communicate efficiently: make your writing as readable as possible.

Outside the United States there's less competition for publication, so the readability standards aren't so rigorous.

The chief enemies of readability are:

  • words some readers don't know
  • abstractions (chiefly in words of three or more syllables like abstraction)
  • unnecessary words (fog)
  • sentences too long to easily follow
  • complex constructions that confuse readers and throw them overboard so that they must keep reanalyzing and rereading sentences to make sense of them — if they can



Thursday, November 10, 2005

The President's English

On a forum of technical writers a Brit once corrected me, as though Americans are ignorant and making grammatical errors by using American English, which he arrogantly viewed as somehow "incorrect."

Thinking he would surely have to hear himself if I dropped a subtle hint that 400,000,000 people throughout North America say different than instead of different from, it made no dent in his obtuseness. He just had no idea why 400,000,000 people are so ignorant of the right way to speak "the King's English."

As I've said here, the language we use doesn't belong to any monarch or pedant: it belongs to the entire population of its native speakers. They do with it what they will.

No form of English is inherently any better or more correct than any other. But one form is becoming more prevalent by the day -- American English. (See The President's English by Prof. Paul Brians, University of Washington.)

That's largely because of the Internet and the sheer number of native speakers of American English. Also, today, most people who learn English as a second language learn American English, and it's what they come in contact with every day.

This is no moral issue and devious plot to impose American culture on the world: it's just a natural change. A hundred years ago, British English was the international standard. Who knows? In a hundred years, Australian English may be.




Omit needless words - Part 2

I could give you a mile-long list of wordy phrases to avoid, but that wouldn't be as helpful as giving you some important patterns to watch out for. The left side of the list below shows examples of the main patterns of phrasing that result in wordiness. The right side shows potential alternatives.

  • the question as to whether >>> whether or the question whether
  • there is no doubt but that >>> no doubt or doubtless
  • used for fuel purposes >>> used for fuel
  • for safety purposes >>> for safety
  • for the purpose of >>> for
  • he is a man who >>> he
  • in a hasty manner >>> hastily
  • this is a subject that >>> this subject
  • Her story is a strange one. >>> Her story is strange.
  • the reason why is that >>> because

Let's look at some examples of sentences that follow these patterns and how you could revise them:

The question as to whether we should recall our ambassador is being debated.
We are debating whether to recall our ambassador.

There is no doubt but that he is the guilty party.
Doubtless, he is the guilty party.

The author worded the sentence that way for the purpose of conciseness.
The author worded the sentence that way for conciseness.

The Congressman acted in a deceitful manner.
The Congressman acted deceitfully.

This example is a brief one.
This example is brief.

If you avoid these wordy constructions, you eliminate much wordiness in your writing.




Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Omit needless words.

I could have stated this advice as Omit unnecessary words, but that may not say to you exactly what I mean. I could have said Omit superfluous words, but superfluous is a big word and just vague enough to be interpreted as "Leave out any word you can." So I chose to state this guideline exactly as Professor William Strunk Jr. did nearly a century ago in The Elements of Style: Omit needless words:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

When an editor says something you wrote is "wordy," that just means you could have used fewer words to say the same thing. It might mean that you used two words where one would do. So, don't take it personally: it doesn't mean that your writing is wooly or verbose.

Expert writers go through their work multiple times, scrutinizing every sentence, looking for better ways to say what they mean and looking for ways to say the same thing in fewer words.

Why? Because look at all the words there are on a page. That's a lot of information to process. Anything extraneous contributes to "fog." It makes writing harder to process on the fly. You are selling a product, so make it reader friendly.



Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Core Conflict & Scenic Conflict

Look at the diagram below. It represents a story in five scenes, showing:
  • the relationship between the (overall) core conflict and the (particular) conflict in each scene
  • the relationship between a character's (overall) main goal and his (particular) purpose (a mini-goal, an immediate goal) in each scene.
In the begining your hero, confronted with the core conflict, sets a (main) goal to overcome it. He chooses a course of action and takes the first step. Achieving it is his immediate goal, or purpose. In each scene he comes into conflict with opposition. His purpose may be achieved, thwarted, or even defeated (set back). In any case, he is confronted with even greater opposition to battle in the subsequent scene.

In other words, the scene is the basic unit of the story. Each scene has its own problem, quest(ion), or dilemma; its own premise; its own opposition; its own conflict; its own purpose (goal); and its own outcome. That is, each scene has its own begining, middle, and end. Each scene contributes to proving the (overall) premise of the story. And each scene contributes to the rising core conflict.

Though friends and relatives can do more harm than good with feedback about your story, you can ask them to read it telling you the moment they feel tired or bored. Where this happens, the story lacks conflict and begins to drag.

The seed of conflict is desire. The spark of life.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

The Importance of Conflict

Perhaps James M. Frey puts it best when, in How to Write a Damn Good Novel, he says that story is struggle, and conflict is the "gunpowder" of storytelling. Conflict not only moves the plot, it brings characters to life. For, in the light of conflict, character is defined. That's because the way people respond to obstacles, resistance, barriers, and conflict sharply characterizes them, telling us who they are. This is largely because conflict forces them to make decisions and act. So, when you bring your characters into conflict, you breathe a soul into them.

A stretch of action or dialog without conflict — present or imminent — is, in a word, boring. Our fascination with conflict is the reason why news programs now devote so much time to having opponents on an issue square off against each other, whether or not they make sense. The more of this a program has, the higher its ratings.

So, every scene must be built around conflict.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005


A genre is often broken down into subgenres. For example, there are more than a hundred subgenres of romance.

Genre fiction defies any classification scheme you try to impose on it though. That's because classifying novels is like classifying living things: since they evolve, they don't fit neatly into artificial categories superimposed on their evolutionary tree. Therefore, just as you find animals that are intermediate forms, you find genre novels classed as belonging to more than one subgenre.

Fantasy fiction, science fiction, and westerns are principally milieu stories.

Mysteries are idea stories that have evolved into two main branches that don't seem related. But they are. They are idea stories that pose some question or problem to be solved. Suspense fiction evolved from earlier mystery fiction as a subgenre that carries the suspense in that question or problem beyond mere curiosity into maximum anxiety and apprehension. So, today mystery fiction has two main branches: crime fiction and suspense. Crime fiction includes the classic English whodunit, the American detective novel, caper stories, and so on. Suspense fiction includes psychological thrillers, spy fiction, techno-thrillers, and so forth.

But the classification of genre fiction ramifies into many more-specific categories. Crime fiction, for example, may be classed as hard-boiled, soft-boiled, innocent-at-risk, or comic — to name just a few of the many possibilities.

Some novels are hybrids. For example, a story that takes place in space ship or on another planet could be an idea story, not strictly a milieu story. The spaceship might be disabled, or the local star might be about to go nova. Then you have a problem to solve, as in a caper story. What is this novel? science fiction? or a subgenre of mystery? We will surely call it science fiction, but it isn't pure science fiction.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

Genre Fiction

Some examples of genres are
  • mystery
  • suspense (thrillers)
  • horror
  • science fiction
  • romance
  • fantasy
  • western
You can see from this list that milieu stories, idea stories, and events stories fall into the category of genre fiction. Since they aren't about a character, they aren't character driven.

These novels are conventional. Readers have many specific expectations of them. So many that, to fulfill the implied author-reader contract, some genres (e.g., romance) go beyond convention and are concocted according to a formula. Hence they are called "formula fiction."

A formula is system that forms a framework in which to build the plot and characters. In some genres (such as romance) the formula is a highly evolved, detailed and rigid system. Some publishers even offer tip sheets, spelling out the requirements — right down to the hero's age and eye color. These formulas are formulas for commercial success. They work so well that writing genre fiction is practically piecework for any decent writer with an imagination who knows how and why the formula works. Publishers seem to feel there is magic in the formula and don't entertain submissions that depart from it.

Not all genre fiction is so formulaic, however. In some genres the quality of the writing usually leaves much to be desired, but in other genres it is usually very good.

Because many look down on what they like to regard as "trash" fiction, you might find it hard to break into mainstream fiction if you start your career writing genre fiction. Notable successes, however, are Dean Koontz, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steel — genre authors who broke into the mainstream and have their books marketed as mainstream fiction.

Sagas and historical novels are sometimes considered genre novels and sometimes considered mainstream novels. Writing them is a good way to break into the mainstream market.

Some examples of historical subgenres are
  • historical romance (formular)
  • hot historical / bodice ripper (80,000 to 100,000 words)
  • blockbuster (250,000 words)
  • big adventure
  • family saga
  • straight historical (75,000 to 80,000 words with 5,000 to 10,000 more okay)
  • nostalgia

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nonsexist Language: The Pronoun Problem - Part 2

As I mentioned at the end of Part 1, he (a subject pronoun) is easier to avoid than him (an object pronoun), and both are easier to avoid than his (a possessive pronoun).

To avoid him, your options are:
  • Switch to the plural.
  • Substitute a noun for "him."
  • Reword the sentence to eliminate the need for "him."
  • Substitute "him or her" for "him."
Here are examples of all but the last method.

Eliminating the Object Pronoun "Him"
Original: The best way to pressure a person is to confront him with choices.
Revised:The best way to pressure people is to confront them with choices.

Original: By demanding a down-the-line return, you make him hit the very return he usually tries to not hit.
Revised: By demanding a down-the-line return, you make receivers hit the very return they usually try to not hit.

Original: If your partner often does a particular thing you don't like, simply tell him how it makes you feel.
Revised: If your partner often does a particular thing you don't like, simply say how it makes you feel.

Often, eliminating his is harder than eliminating he or him, especially if you have a he, him, and his in the same sentence. Yet, you have six ways to eliminate his.

To avoid using "his"
  • Cut the word his.
  • Use an article (a, an, or the) instead.
  • Switch to the plural.
  • Switch to the second person (using you).
  • Write in the passive voice.
  • Substitute "his or her" for "his."

Here are examples.

Eliminating the Possessive Pronoun "His"
  • A senator must use [his] good judgement.
  • Every player in this program must be prepared to spend [his] summers at camp.
  • Each player must bring a driver's license or other photo identification.
  • Players must bring their driver's license or other photo identification.
  • You must bring your driver's license or other photo identification.
  • A driver's license or other photo identification is required.
  • Each player must bring his or her driver's license or other photo identification.

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