Web Search FAQ: 2015 Edition

A long time ago (long enough ago that we missed 2014), I did a blog post on the various search terms people have used to find my website, singling out those searches that I suspect my content was unable to help with. I decided it was time for an update. Because I’m a giver.

why people under the age of 21 shouldn’t enter talent shows

Because they are young and spry, and how can the rest of us old people compete with that? I mean, how can we?! I had a karate grading on the weekend, and there were these young’uns who were doing kicks above their heads, when I could barely kick above my knee. (Of course, their heads were down around my knees, but still*.)

Seriously, I have no idea. Still, if it’s an all-ages talent show, maybe you should just get over it and move on?

*That is a lie. I am very short.

subject of books written in past

There … were rather a lot. I think we need to narrow this down a little. I mean, how far in the past are we talking? Early on, religion featured rather heavily, but subjects have broadened out somewhat in modern times. And by somewhat I mean that if you can think of it, there’s a book that’s been written on it.

martha jones love

HELLS YES. She’s the most maligned of the Doctor’s companions, but I loved her so much. Not as much as Donna, but, you know, a lot. I really felt for her. She was fiercely intelligent in her own right, stubborn and brave. Sure, she fell in love with Ten, but have you seen David Tennant? Besides, he swept in, saved the day and pashed her in the course of the adventure. My ovaries would explode on the spot!

Eyebrow Doctor

sexy adverbs

I can see where you’re going here, but if you’re considering writing erotica, maybe steer clear of too many adverbs? Still, here are a few to get you started:

breathily, firmly, tightly, softly, hard (but not hardly; that’s not very sexy), lusciously, moistly

Okay, maybe not moistly. Still, you do you.

how to research a city for a fiction novel

I used Wikipedia a lot. And Google Maps. Seriously, that thing is a gift — when I was writing a scene in Melpomene’s Daughter that takes place in London, I actually found the street that the characters were standing on, and then used Google street view so that I could describe it properly. Google Maps is a gift to writers.

And stalkers.


I’m so flattered and pleased that you asked. I never asked for this honour of supreme lordship over you, and it’s a heavy burden, but of course I will accept.

Now: clean your room!

FAQ: Search Term Bingo

I was just browsing the various search terms people have used to find my blog. I suspect many of them went away without knowing the answers they were seeking, so here is a post that attempts to remedy that for at least some of them.

isla vs cassandra

In a battle between myself and the main character of Isla’s Inheritance, she would win. As well as having Powerz (TM), she’s also seventeen and spry. I am not seventeen. Nor am I spry.

will kiya hope of the phraoh be available on amazon uk

I checked with the author and it already is. Here ya go!

“Love Bomb”

cassandra’s lazy style

How kind of you to notice. My hair is brought to you by bobby pins and a pony tail. My clothes are courtesy of “whatever jeans I can find that fit my epic shortness”, and “the internet for cool geek t-shirts”. Currently I’m wearing a Minecraf t-shirt courtesy of Threadless (see right).

girl smoking sexy

I’m unclear due to the lack of grammar, but if you’re asking me if I think girls smoking is sexy, the answer is no. Eau de ashtray is not for me.

If you’re looking for a picture of a girl smoking something sexy, or the abstract notion of “sexy” itself, I can’t help you … but I doubt it’s hygenic. Just saying.

summer heacock twitter

Here she is.

grammar joke

“The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.”

That’s my favourite. What’s yours?

when writing dialogue is there a comma after said when an adverb is used?

No. But may I urge you to reconsider using the adverb?

poem about a me and my dog with adverbs

Here you go:

I quickly walk my dog
He swiftly jumps a log
Hurriedly fetching a stick
I carelessly gave the flick
It’s covered in his spit
He doesn’t give a–

Ok, and that’s my daily allocation of adverbs consumed. I’ll have to finish it another time.

i follow the rules

Me too. Mostly.

words to edit out of a novel heard

That’s a pretty good suggestion to add to my list of words to be wary of, actually. Why say,

“I heard an eagle shriek.”

when you can say:

“The eagle shrieked.”

Good job, you!

play your cards right hashtag

May I suggest #PlayYourCardsRight?

grow out your hair

I tried but it didn’t work. Really, I tried for about ten years! I just had it cut back to shoulder length and it’s much healthier and more managable. Thanks for the advice, though.

fantasy book with isla as a character

Mine comes out in the (northern) fall of 2014. 😉

How to use a semicolon…

I noticed yesterday that some poor soul on the internet had been directed to my site via the search “how do I use a semicolon”. Presumably Google thought my poem about semicolons contained some jolly good advice. Which it does. But for any future random arrivals, here is a plain text explanation of correct semicolon use.

There are two ways (excluding emoticons) to use a semicolon.

The first is in complex lists. Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a simple list.

My dog likes running, scratching himself and digging holes.

(As an aside, you’ll note I didn’t put the comma before the “and”. That type of comma is called an Oxford comma—some people always use them, others regard them as optional. I personally only use them if the sentence would be confusing otherwise.)

Here is a complex list about the same dog.

My dog likes running, especially after the neighbour’s cat; scratching me, himself and the furniture; and digging holes in my flower garden.

In this example, one or more items in the list contains internal punctuation. If we were to use a comma after “cat” and “furniture”, it would be difficult to figure out where each part of the list ended. The semicolon therefore takes the place of the serial comma.

You can put a colon at the start of the list to flag it’s coming (so, in this case, after “likes”), but it isn’t required unless the list breaks out over several lines. That’s not the sort of thing you’ll be doing in a novel, but you may do it in a minute or academic text.

My dog likes:

* running, especially after the neighbour’s cat;

* scratching me, himself and the furniture; and

* digging holes in my flower garden.

(Bloody dog.)

The other time a semicolon is used is to join two clauses that could otherwise be written as complete sentences (“independent clauses”). You might want to do this if the two ideas are linked in some way—either contrasting or supplementing each other.

I say aluminium; you say aluminum.

My dog has no tail; we call him Stumpy.

Semicolons are awesome; I use them a lot.

If one of the clauses is a fragment, a semicolon is not correct. Likewise, you don’t need a semicolon if the second clause begins with a conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, yet, so), even if the clause is otherwise independent. Use a comma instead.

Stumpy smells bad, but we still love him.

I love coffee, so I cried when we ran out.

But (and bear with me here) if the second clause starts with a conjunctive adverb such as however or therefore—or a transitional phrase such as of course—a semicolon should be used before it and a comma after.

(Interestingly, Wikipedia says not to use the comma after a conjunctive adverb if the adverb is only one syllable, like thus. Ok, maybe that’s only interesting to me. Wake up, you!)

Stumpy smells bad; however, we still love him.

I drank all the coffee; of course, she’ll never prove it!

I am allergic to cats; thus I don’t mind when Stumpy chases them away.

Now, I had someone on Twitter (who shall not be named) tell me he’d been told semicolons were a redundant form of punctuation, and that therefore he doesn’t use them. It’s true that, outside of complex lists, there’s nothing a semicolon does that a full stop doesn’t achieve—if all you’re after is a correctly punctuated sentence. But, to my mind, being able to link ideas gives a writer an additional tool to add nuance to their work. Unless you’re writing picture books or instruction manuals, why wouldn’t you embrace that?

And thus endeth the lesson. I hope this makes sense, random Googler, should you ever return.

My editing process, and words to be wary of…

I've made this all blurry, so you can't read my shame.

I’ve made this all blurry so you can’t read my shame.

I mentioned here that I like to let a completed manuscript sit for a month before I do my first edit on it. I have one very good reason: to give myself a bit of distance from the draft, so I can start to see issues with the text, pacing, plot, characters—everything. This month, between reading and thinking about my next book I’ve started re-editing Isla’s Inheritance (my first MS).

One of the other tricks I use to give myself some impartiality on my work is to edit a hard copy printout. I draft on screen (well, duh), usually in a san serif font like Arial or Calibri. Then I convert it to Times New Roman, a serif font, and print it. Some studies claim san serif fonts are easier to read on screen and serif fonts on paper; it works for me, at any rate.

I love Word track changes when I’m editing other peoples’ work. It saves me (or them) having to enter in the edits, which is great. But if I read my work on screen I tend not to see things that need fixing. Incorporating all those hard copy edits onto the electronic manuscript is tedious, but I have yet to find a better way that works for me.

Other tricks I’ve heard writers use to try and give themselves that mental space include changing font size; formatting it so it looks like a book (justified text, number of words per line, etc); reading out loud; or even using a text-to-speech function so their computer reads it out loud for them. Maybe one of these will work for you.

I waffle when I write. Unnecessarily passive sentences, wordy sentences—you name it. This time around, I’ve been especially brutal with dialogue tags. You know the things you put after someone speaks? Those. I try and avoid using them if it’s obvious who is speaking. Sometimes I can indicate who’s speaking by having them do something in the same paragraph as the dialogue. For example:

“Get stuffed.” He scratched his chin with his middle finger.

If I can’t avoid a dialogue tag, my first choice is “said”. Readers don’t even see “said”; they skim right over it without pausing, so it doesn’t slow them down (if they stop and notice a word, it’s usually the wrong word). The only time I use any other dialogue tag (whisper, grunt, gasp, cry, wail, snarl, growl) is when there is no way the reader could get the tone from the words. For example, I wouldn’t usually use “yell” or “shout” because you can convey that with an exclamation point and the words the character is using.

If you do decide to use a dialogue tag other than “said”, make sure you don’t go overboard. A conversation in which everyone is gasping, crying and growling is, well, silly.

I’m also a big fan of the find and replace tool as a supplement to a thorough read of my work; if I notice I’m overusing a word or phrase, I’ll search for it throughout the entire document.

Here is a list of words and phrases to be wary of; some of these I’ve added to my list after folks on Twitter commented on them. Thanks, Twitter. 🙂

Suspicious words

Adverbs (words usually ending in ly) – Stephen King describes adverbs as being like dandelions; one might be an unusual and attractive feature in your garden, but if you leave it, it will spread until you have no lawn, just weeds. I do a search for words ending in “ly” and see whether I need them. Sometimes I can delete them outright; other times I can write around them. I rarely leave them. (Note: “rarely” in the previous sentence is an adverb, which I decided to leave. So too would be “seldom”, which doesn’t end in ly. This is why a word search is a supplement to a proper edit, not a replacement for one.)

around – I tend to use this to qualify numbers. “I woke at around seven.” The reader doesn’t care about whether the number is that precise. As the Cyberman said to, well, everyone else: DELETE, DELETE, DELETE!

began to, started to – “She began to run” is a long-winded way of saying “She ran”. Sometimes “began to” can be useful—say, when a girl begins to cry halfway through an argument with her boyfriend—but not usually.

had – I’ve seen some people suggest you never need the word “had”. I don’t agree; in a past-tense novel it can be useful to flag that you’re talking about something that happened prior to the current scene. For example, “I had been to the shops”. If you say “I went to the shops” the way you would in a present-tense document (or life) then people will get confused about when the event happened. That being said, it’s not always necessary so use with caution.

of the – This is a typical indicator of a passive sentence, which is often unnecessary and always more wordy than an active sentence. For example: “The hair of the dog” vs “The dog’s hair”. Times you might want to keep a passive sentence include when the actor in the sentence is irrelevant or unknown; for example, “He was killed” versus “Bob killed him”. The latter is spoileriffic!

possibly, probably, likely, usually, almost, mostly – Do you need the qualification? If not, it should go.

seemed to – Because both my books are in the first person I overuse this phrase to describe my character’s interpretation of others’ feelings, thoughts or opinions. But nine times out of ten it doesn’t need to be there.

suddenly – I tend to include this one (when drafting) to give the reader that sense of shock. But really, “the house suddenly exploded” isn’t any more shocking than “the house exploded”. Roll out the Cybermen again.

that – Sometimes you need “that” in a sentence. There are quite a few of them throughout this blog post. But you can often delete it with no impact on the meaning. When I searched it in my first manuscript, I removed it 600 times! That was horrifying. (See what I did there?)

very, really, pretty (when it’s being used to mean “very”), just, simply, totally, finally, apparently, allegedly, supposedly, usually, awesome, fabulous, fantastic, incredible, wonderful – I keep these in dialogue and thoughts (because that’s how people talk), but at almost no other time. Note a lot of them are also adverbs?

What words do you try and edit out of your manuscript?