Some Thoughts on Writing Fiction, Part 3

In my previous two posts (here) and (here), I talked about setting up a structure and a process for writing fiction, and I mentioned that the details could be filled in at a later stage. So let’s look now at how one goes about filling in the details and what sort of details they might be.

Here are a few ideas and examples for bringing characters to life. Think about real people you know. What do you notice about them? What do you already know about them?

Marcia wears a ring that’s a little too big for her. She twists it around and around and seems to do it more when she’s upset. I think the ring used to belong to her mother, who died a couple of years ago. Maybe touching that ring gives her comfort.

Not only did I tell you something about Marcia that you can picture as you read, but I gave you some detail about her past and her state of mind.

How do you think your character would react in certain situations? And how do people in your story carry on their lives?

Jack was horrified when he heard that I’d bought myself a dress that cost three hundred dollars. It seemed like such an unnecessary extravagance to him. Jack is one of those guys who knows how to squeeze every penny’s worth out of a dollar. He’s always looking for bargains, and seems to consider it a major victory if he buys something at a deep discount. Maybe Jack is right. He never worries about how to pay the rent or whether he’s going to be able to retire when he reaches 65. Jack has peace of mind. But me — I’ve got the most perfect little dress I’ve ever seen. I’m the one smiling today. So what if I have to skip lunch for the next three years?

You learned something about Jack and you learned something about the “me” character. He’s very frugal and plans for the future. She’s more interested in instant gratification even if it means she ends up paying for it later. (This truly is fiction, by the way. In real life, I’m a lot more like Jack.)

What has happened in the past that helped build each person’s character? What experiences have influenced the events of today?

Melanie stood in her garden looking at the roses. The bushes were full of buds — the promise of bouquets that would soon grace her little house. Every summer, Melanie was overcome by a mixture of sadness and nostalgia. Rick had carefully planted each of the bushes and tended to them like a doting parent. After the divorce, her first inclination was to tear them out of the ground, one by one. But she never could bring herself to do it. And as time passed, she had come to love those roses, which now represented what she and Rick had shared in their early years. It didn’t last forever, but it had been very good.

Can you picture Melanie standing there? Can you see the garden? And now you know that she’s divorced, that it’s been a while, and that she’s mellowed about it. You’ve got lots of information about Melanie in that little passage.

I’m just writing these examples off the top of my head. They’re not Shakespeare, but I hope they show you the type of narrative that adds dimension and the kinds of details that paint a more complete picture for your readers.

What will you come up with?

Your English is Your Face to the World. How Do You Look?

The Earth is getting smaller. The internet has shrunk the entire planet down to the size of your computer screen. Businesses all over the world are going global, and, as the title of this blog says, English is the international language of business.

Whatever the language of its home country, a company that wants to attract customers beyond the limitations of geography must use an English version of its website to inform, promote, convince, and sell. But there can be a huge difference between English written by native speakers and the English written by people who use it as a second language. I have nothing but admiration for people who master a second language. It takes years of dedication. But no matter how much effort one puts into learning English, it is the rare person indeed who can write it like someone born to the task.

Companies who want to sell to English-speaking customers need to pay close attention to the quality of writing that appears on websites, in brochures, and in product literature. Language, skillfully used, has the power to make a connection between writer and reader. That’s a valuable asset in marketing. Well organized, error-free text, written in a pleasing style, will make potential clients feel well informed, comfortable, and confident – and more likely to buy.

But the opposite is also true. Text that is difficult to understand, or that contains distracting mistakes, will fail to connect with native English speakers. They’ll notice the flaws, such as misspellings and improperly used idioms, and their attention will be shifted away from your message. Most people will only give a website a short time before moving on. If understanding the text requires too much work, people will leave. Every time someone stops reading your site because of poor-quality writing, you’ve lost a potential customer.

Let’s look at some examples. The following are excerpts borrowed from the English versions of websites put up by companies outside the U.S. In these case studies, the first version is verbatim, the second version merely corrects errors and phrasing, and the final version is the transformation into a style that is designed to make a connection with English-speaking readers.

BEFORE (as written)
Talented people are our treasure
Producing the first-class brands and satisfying our customers are made only possible by people. If our employees are not capable to make such products or if they have no will to do so, not only such goal cannot be achieved at all, but also there can be no room for promise, growth and development. Therefore, management always need to remind itself that employees of XYZ with capable and enthusiasm are the asset of XYZ, and should always support development of employees’ ability and to inspire their enthusiasm.

AFTER (correction of errors and phrasing only)
Talented people are our greatest asset
Achievement of our primary goals – producing first-class products and satisfying our customers – is only made possible by our employees. If our people are not capable of making fine products, or if they haven’t the will to do so, then not only will XYZ fall short of our goals, but there will be no hope of growth and development. Management must always remember that capable and enthusiastic employees are our greatest asset, and must always support further development of their abilities and inspire their enthusiasm.

BEST (effective text for English readers)
Talented people are our greatest asset
Our talented employees make it all possible. They are the reason we can achieve our primary goals: to produce first class products and to satisfy our customers. Our people have the capability and the will to keep us on the right track and to ensure our continued growth and development. Management never loses sight of the vital contribution our employees make to our success. We work hard to inspire their enthusiasm and to support them in meeting the exciting new challenges they face every day.

Here’s another example:

BEFORE (as written)
Without using any chemical agent or tooth pest just water treated brush will eliminate all harmful bacteria inside mouth which cause bad odor, gingivitis, different type of gum desease, infections etc, ,
No need any kind of tooth paste, ,
Good for health, specially good for chemical sensitive person also good for enviorment, ,
Our product has been tested and certified by dentist but dentists do not want to see the brush on the market, , simple reason, less dental patients to treat, ,
We have a live salaiva test video under microscope to satisfy all of our skeptical customers,

AFTER (correction of errors and phrasing only)
Without using any chemical agent or toothpaste, just adding water to our treated brush will eliminate all harmful bacteria which cause odors, gingivitis, gum diseases, infections, etc.
There’s no need for toothpaste.
Good for your health – especially for chemical-sensitive people. Also good for the environment.
Our product has been tested and certified by dentists. But dentists don’t want to see this brush on the market because they’ll have fewer patients to treat.
We have a live saliva test video showing microscopic proof that will satisfy all our skeptical customers.

BEST (effective text for English readers)
Throw your toothpaste away! Just add water to our Magic Brush toothbrush, and eliminate all harmful bacteria which cause mouth odors, gingivitis, gum disease, and infections. People who are sensitive to chemicals will love this toothbrush. It’s good for your health, and the health of the environment too.

Our product has been tested and certified by dentists. But dentists don’t want to see this product on the market because they’ll have fewer patients to treat.

Are you skeptical? Let us send you our saliva test video showing microscopic proof.

Many people can learn to take text from the first stage to the second. Very few can create the third stage, but this is what companies should strive for. When someone translates from a language that is structured differently from English, the resulting version may still sound “foreign.” If you or your in-house people aren’t capable of producing natural sounding, effective English writing, then get help from somebody who is. It’s a worthy investment.

The type of transformation illustrated above is what I do professionally, and what I promote as part of my philosophy regarding the importance of good writing. Let the text on your website or brochures carry your reader along the path you set for him, and keep him on track. Good writing has the power to do that, and more. It has the power to convince, and to encourage action. And in this case, the translation of ACTION is SALES.

*****

Could your business use my services?

Visit my website at www.jlrco.com or e-mail me at rose@jlrco.com.

When Do You Need a Writing Fixer?

Take this test

  1. Did you write your own website text just to save money?
  2. Do you have sales and marketing copy that’s dry, boring, or confusing but you don’t know how to make it better?
  3. Do you have employees who use English as a second language whose job responsibilities include writing?
  4. Are most of your employees under 35 years old?
  5. Are you located outside the U.S. and want to do business with English-speaking customers?

Bonus Question

Do you care about the image your company is projecting?

If you answered YES to any of the first five questions, and if you got the bonus question right (there is only one right answer), you need the services of a writing fixer.

It’s what the boss thinks that counts

Through this blog, I’ve met lots of ambitious individuals, living in the U.S. and all over the world, who are working hard to improve their writing skills. They ask me questions, send me samples, and express a desire to achieve excellence. They are hungry for improvement and strongly motivated. But the reality is that very few of these people will ever produce a level of English writing that meets high professional standards – and these are the ones who are really working at it. What about the great majority who think that whatever they write is good enough as long as people can understand it? Or those who excuse poor writing because English is their second language? Or those who attend a writing workshop but never improve enough to make much difference? Some of them may be working for you, and maybe they think it really doesn’t matter. But if you’re the owner of the company, or the manager of the department, what do you think?

If you don’t care, then you’re reading the wrong blog. But if you do care, and if you’ve been searching for the answer to a problem that’s hurting your business either locally or in the international arena, then welcome – you’re the person I’m writing this for.

Another test

  1. Do you notice mistakes in other people’s writing?
  2. Do writing mistakes influence your evaluation of the author or organization?
  3. Have you ever read something a few times, yet still had to guess at what it meant?
  4. Have you ever stopped reading something you thought you were interested in because the writing was putting you to sleep?
  5. Do you have any writing pet peeves?

If you’re saying YES, YES, YES as you read these questions, you’ve got the point.

Do something about it

I’m a big fan of my own approach: Writing Repair. I know it works. Clients send me text they don’t like and get back effective writing that says what they want to say – but better. The original may be awful and need a complete overhaul. Or it may be close – almost there – just needs a little something… What I do is more than editing or correction of obvious mistakes; it’s the application of creative polish that brings about the transformation. As one client said when he compared the original and revised versions of his copy, “It’s magic!” (That was a bit dramatic, but it was fun to hear.) Whether you come to me or use somebody else, the goal is to eliminate bad writing in your business. If you get the right kind of help, it’s a lot easier than you think.

If you’re thinking that Writing Repair is just what your company needs, you can contact me at rose@jlrco.com. Be sure to mention “Writing Repair” in the subject line. And visit my website at www.jlrco.com.

More information

Here are a few articles that may be of interest.