The more I write, the more I become a grammar Nazi. I'm realizing one of my biggest pet peeves are misused words. To the point where if I'm not sure of a word myself, I look it up in a dictionary to confirm I'm using it correctly in speech. Wow. What a nerd I am. It's a good thing my husband loves me…although I don't think he loves it when I correct his speech…
Anyways, I've started to compile a list of words that drive me crazy. Feel free to add your own in the comments! (And look forward to more posts on incorrectly used words.)
1. anxious vs. eager
She was anxious that something could go wrong during her pregnancy.
I am eager to see my wife after six months' separation.
Anxious: 1 experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome
• (of a period of time or situation) causing or characterized by worry or nervousness: there were some anxious moments. 2 wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease
Eager: (adjective) wanting to do or have something very much
• (of a person's expression or tone of voice) characterized by keen expectancy or interest
2. peak vs. pique
The novel piqued my interest so I bought it.
I climbed to the highest peak.
Peak: (noun) the pointed top of a mountain
• a mountain, esp. one with a pointed top
• a projecting pointed part or shape
• a point in a curve or on a graph, or a value of a physical quantity, higher than those around it
• the point of highest activity, quality, or achievement
Pique: (noun) a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one's pride
Pique: (verb) 1 stimulate (interest or curiosity)
2 (be piqued) feel irritated or resentful
What grammarian isn't annoyed by this all-too-common slip-up?
That is their sleeping bag.
They're coming over today.
I'm going over there tomorrow.
their: possessive pronoun
they're: contraction for "they are"
there: a place
4. irony vs. coincidence
This can be a difficult one.
How ironic that Sarah moved from Texas to New York to get away from Texans and ends up marrying a Texan cowboy.
Coincidentally, I met my husband in New York and we are both from the same, small Texan town.
The difference is that irony is deliberately the opposite of what is expected or planned for, while a coincidence is an often similar event that appears unrelated to another.
Irony: noun ( pl. ironies ) the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect • a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result • (also dramatic or tragic irony) a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.
Coincidence: (noun) 1 a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection
2 correspondence in nature or in time of occurrence:
5. literally vs. figuratively
I literally ate five Double Stuf Oreos.
I figuratively could have eaten a whale.
Literally: (adverb) in a literal manner or sense; exactly • informal used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true: I have received literally thousands of letters.**
Figuratively: (adjective) 1 departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical 2 (of an artist or work of art) representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.
*Definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary
**The fact that this definition is now included in the dictionary drives me figuratively insane.
Forbes published the annual top-earning authors list last week, and it got me thinking. (Always a dangerous thing...) But most of the authors on the list write books which I a) cannot stand, b) have no interest in. Oddly, the only people on the list whose works I have read and enjoyed are J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. (Yes, I admit that the only thing I've read by Stephen King has been his book titled On Writing. I've not read George R.R. Martin, and I don't really enjoy James Patterson.)
List from highest earning is: E.L. James, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, Bill O'Reilly, Danielle Steel, Jeff Kinney, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and George R.R. Martin.
Regardless of my feelings on these authors, each of them has hit the big league. So what is it that makes their work appeal to the masses? These are the multi-million dollar question every writer (and many a reader) asks. And I don't think there's any real answer. But based on my knowledge of these authors, I've thought of these reasons.
A best-seller must have:
1. A good story.
Maybe this is obvious, but the most successful books tend to be well-plotted books that are easy to read--not necessarily the most well-written. The average reader doesn't like to work as they read, and they don't care about pretty prose. They read for escape and pleasure, which equals quick reads and easy to follow sentences. Literary fiction (my personal favorite genre), takes a bit more effort from a reader. Their plots tend to be slower and more drawn out, with more personal reflection of the character and reader required. I guess the majority of people don't like that. Instead of being concerned with the quality of writing, readers are only concerned with the plot itself.
Don't get me wrong, a good plot is essential to a good book. I just wish that some authors put more stock in writing well, instead of just churning out poorly written, but well-plotted stories. It would only help sales... of course, I guess the authors on this list don't need extra sales at this point.
2. A familiar plot structure.
It's generally accepted that there is a limited number of plots. Several of the authors on the Forbes list are writers of romance books. The romance genre is the #1 selling genre of books. Personally, it's not a genre I enjoy. However, there are millions upon millions of readers that do enjoy it. Why is this? Well, it tends to be a happily-ever-after ending, its plot revolves around love (which encourages happy feelings in the reader), there's a general familiarity about them (boy meets girl, conflict occurs to keep boy and girl apart, boy and girl end up together). Why does someone essentially reread the same plot over and over again? Because they enjoy that plot structure, its familiarity, its comfort. It's easy to read and understand, and they are usually rewarded with a "happy" ending.
Other genres represented on the list are thrillers (for the sake of argument Stephen King is included in this, along with Koontz, Brown, Patterson, Grisham, Evanovich, and Baldacci), fantasy (Martin, Riordan) and young adult (Collins, Kinney, Riordan, and Rowling). Thrillers, despite their many twists and turns, may be said to follow a general well-known structure, but I think fantasy and young adult have more variety in their plots. The fantasy and young adult genre success stories tend to be unique ideas with everyday characters (think Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter). However, the main similarity I see in all these non-romance genres is usually a theme of good triumphing over evil. And who doesn't like to see the underdog (good) triumph?
3. Write genre fiction.
Interestingly, only one non-fiction author is on the list, that being Bill O'Reilly. And having read his Killing Lincoln, I can only say that it was hardly written like non-fiction. It appears clear to me that most people read to escape real life. (But again, non-fiction tends to be written in a more complex manner, thus appealing to fewer readers.)
4. Be prolific.
Most of the authors in this list are prolific writers, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steele...some of them publish three or more novels a year! Others, like George R.R. Martin, are known to take a great deal of time on their novels. However, Martin didn't hit the list until recently, when his HBO series, Game of Thrones, took off.
5. Write a successful series.
Who says kids don't read anymore? J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games series), Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series), Jeff Kinney (Diaries of a Wimpy Kid) are all authors of wildly successful children or young adult book series. Several of these are series that not only children or young adults enjoy, but adults.
Not only kids like series though--look at Janet Evanovitch and her successful series. O'Reilly's recent assassination books, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, etc., could be considered a series in the similar subjects and styles. Patterson has several successful series going at all times, with several popular characters. Dan Brown has his Robert Langdon series... you get the idea. If you get a good character and don't kill him off in your first book, take him on to a second.
6. Have a lot of luck.
The main thing all these authors have in common is luck. From Rowling to King to James, each author had their share of luck (and perseverance) in getting their work published and noticed.
To be honest, there are a million different reasons that one author hits it big while another flounders on the bottom of the list. I find myself constantly in the minority, steering clear of the best-sellers and striking out off the path to discover those lesser-known books and their authors. I find those to be the most rewarding, the most enriching reads.
7. Get your book made into a movie.
It seems that nearly all the authors on this list have their books or series made into movies. Obviously, although there is money in books, there is more money if you get a movie made out of your book.
What about you? What is your favorite genre? Why? What keeps you reading that genre?
This isn't a new lesson. It's an old one. Quite old. Ancient, perhaps. There will always, always be someone better than you. Even if you're the world champion in the Track and Field 400m dash, there will always be someone to challenge you. More so, there may be someone who is better than you at the 200m, or the 100. Switch sports, and you may lose all your advantage. You are then no one special. I find this humbling. And rightfully so.
I think writers must be competitive at heart, or else it's too easy to give up and let go of your writing dreams. Even so, when you find yourself pitted against a near-equal, or someone who is obviously better than you, or even someone that you don't perceive as better than you yet beats you in a competition, jealousy is the natural emotion.
I don't like to think of myself as a jealous person. I don't like to give in to envy. But is some of it useful? Does that envy teach me a lesson? Absolutely.
Writing is a subjective art. Just like painting, what one person considers a masterpiece, another considers a waste of space. In writing, what one person loves, another may hate.
I find that I am an atypical reader. I don't like commercial fiction very much. I prefer slower paced literary novels. In fact, I cannot remember the last best seller that I read and enjoyed like the masses (Hunger Games, maybe? Although I thought that could have been done better). Am I too critical? Maybe. But I like to think it's because I know what I like, and only a few people deliver that. I not only want a great plot, but above average (okay, excellent) writing and grammar. I want good structure and surprising plot twists, lovable characters and surprising depth. I want it all. If it doesn't check all the boxes, then I'm not a satisfied reader. But I'm like one of those first-time home buyers who goes in with a list a mile long, expecting not to compromise. And I won't compromise, darn it!
So why should I compromise in my own writing? I am also one of those writers stuck in perpetual edits. It is never, ever good enough. I'm not a perfectionist in everything, but I am with writing. Because why, oh why?, would I put anything less than my best work out there? The only problem is that I am constantly learning and improving. It's almost like the newest iPhone (to use yet another metaphor). As soon as I finish one edit of a WIP, I know exactly how I could improve it--because the last edit taught me so much about writing, I can see new errors in old work. (You know, like as soon as you buy the new iPhone, the newer one comes out, showing you all the things you didn't know you needed?)
Yeah. That's me. So I guess I need to get okay with the fact that there will always be a book better than mine out there. There will always be readers that prefer someone else's writing over mine. There will always be improvements that I wish I could make to my novel. There will always, always, be someone better. That's not their fault. It's mine. Not only do I need to keep striving and keep writing, but I need to accept something as finished, even when I still think it's not "perfect."