Stonecoal English

The Dutch call it Stonecoal English. In English, this form of broken English is sometimes referred to as Dunglish. When two languages seem quite alike, like Dutch and English in this case, it can be difficult to learn both of them. This is something many Dutch people “walk against” (which is a monstrosity and should be read as “have trouble with”).
I have come across this problem many times, especially since Dutch and English words often sound alike without sharing their meaning. “False friends” is what these words are called. For instance, the Dutch word “eventueel” does not mean “in the end”, like the English “eventually”. Instead, it is used to indicate a possibility. This is one of the words I struggled with for ages, until I finally realised that maybe I should look it up in a dictionary. After all, all those English sentences sounded very strange to me…
As a writer, this is something I’ve had – and probably still have – to overcome. I cannot just drop my native language like it’s nothing and start over with a blank slate. It is easy to make the same mistakes over and over. It is easy to slip up and ignore all rules of the English language. I am not going to do that, but at the moment I’m not even sure anymore if what I am saying is actual English or yet another instance of “Stonecoal English”.
However, this is not to say that Dunglish is all that horrible. It has its positive sides. For example, back in the early 1900s, it allowed the Dutch harbour workers to communicate with the English merchants who came to their harbours. Although they did not speak English, both parties were able to understand this cross-breed, no matter how strange it sounded. Nowdays, most younger people are able to speak English relatively fine, but the problem can still be seen, especially in the older generation. It may be a stupid, crude example, but almost everyone knows the tale of the two politicians. “What are your hobbies?” president Kennedy supposedly asked the Dutch minister Luns, to which Luns replied: “I fok horses!” (“Fok” means “to breed” in Dutch). “Pardon?” Kennedy said. Luns enthusiastically said: “Yes, paarden!” (“Paarden” are horses.) I am not sure how much of this is true, but it is one of the most quoted examples of Dunglish, albeit very humiliating.
As a student of the English language, this shouldn’t happen to me. I know what English sounds like and I usually know what not to say or write in order to avoid confusion. It is still stresful, though, as writing a novel in a language that’s not your own feels slightly unnatural. I have to “let on” (“opletten”, “to keep an eye on”) both the language diffences and the cultural ones. For instance, I’ve learned that cursing in English is almost unforgivable, whereas in Dutch words like “shit” are hardly offensive at all. Having a kid in my story use the word “crap” felt like a sin. I’ll probably have to remove it, although it seems a little overbearing to me. Don’t even try to use “funny” curse words in front of Dutch kids – they will mock you. Knowing the difference is an important aspect in avoiding to speak Dunglish. While this is not a case of broken English but a cultural difference, it still is one of the mistakes often made by the Dutch.
All in all, learning a second language is quite difficult, especially when the two languages are as alike as Dutch and English. It can be dealt with, though. Some people like to make fun of their Dunglish. Others just have to work hard in order not to embarass themselves.

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Breaking the Rules of the Writers’ Blog

Supposedly there are several rules for keeping a writers’ blog in order to keep it valuable to both other aspiring writers and publishers. Now, I definitely am not aiming at publishers when writing this – the other writers, and possibly readers, are the ones I would like to reach. However, I am getting the feeling that I break those rules too often.

First of all, every blogger needs to be cautious of their amount of posts. To be honest, if I notice people are posting their musings about ten times a day, it is doubtful that I am actually going to take a look at them. I am sorry for that, but such an amount becomes bothersome to keep up with. I try to make sure I don’t do that – in fact, I am pretty sure I don’t do that, as I am sadly in the opposing category of bloggers: those who post way too less and way too irregularly. In order to keep a steady base of readers, one must make sure to actually post to their blogs. While I try to make sure I do that, sometimes my enthusiasm just falters. Suddenly, I lose all inspiration and don’t even want to write a thing anymore. As soon as I stop for a few days, those few days quickly turn into weeks. This is something I should try to avoid, just by keeping up the stream of ideas.

Secondly, the main goal of a writer’s blog should be to either help other writers or to get help for themselves. However, my posts definitely don’t consist of any helpful tips. Yes, there may be some hidden in my posts, but they generally are not the main point. I doubt anyone actually sees them in there. Strangely enough, I am getting the feeling that my posts that aren’t focussing on writing tips are the most well-read. Maybe people just enjoy reading about my musings more, or it may be because I am not an expert, but it still strikes me as odd. I am defying the entire point of the writers’ blog by posting all of this nonsense, yet it appears that people enjoy that nonsense. At least, it is what I seem to get the most responses to. This is still a writer’s blog; I am going to keep it that way, but I am not afraid anymore of breaking the rules.

In the end, I am not entirely sure what the benefit of keeping a blog as a writer is. Nobody is going to find me this way. I am not going to posts my manuscripts on here, as that would cause publishers to never want anything to do with me. I do it, though, because it is fun to me. Keeping this blog is not so much a job as a nice activity to keep me writing. That is all that counts.

The Perfect Chapter

A question I see quite often on writers’ forums is that of the perfect chapter, or to be more exact, the question of what the perfect chapter looks like. To be honest, it’s one that has been bothering me a lot lately. Nobody seems to have the actual answer to this question, as it is very personal for both the writer and the reader, but I’ve found the ones below to be used most often.
Some say a chapter should read like a short novel; it should contain a beginning, a middle and an ending, including a climax. This works if your novel contains lots of long chapters. In this case, the entire story would be in perfect harmony – even better if every scene is built up the same way. However, I am not so sure about this technique. Do readers really want to read these novel-like sections? In a way, it takes away the anticipation of the next chapter, especially if the chapter ending is rounded off perfectly.
Some say a chapter should be nothing but a scene. It does not have to contain an actual build-up – it could start right in the action, in medias res, although the same goes for novels. This one seems to be the most useful in action-packed novels, which require a steady pace and the readers’ anticipation of what is going to happen next. I personally prefer this one, as it is not as demanding and longwinded as the first idea. However, the concept of longivity is relative in this case.
Some say a chapter should be long, as not to disrupt the novel’s flow and pace. This goes hand in hand with the novel-like chapter; it can be a nice read, but the writer needs to keep in mind that it could become tiresome for the reader not to have a break in there. I don’t see this one often in adventure-packed novels, but I may be mistaken.
Some say a chapter should be short, compressed and not contain any unnecessary information, in order to force the reader to keep reading and anticipating the next chapter. This may or may not work, though, as chapter breaks have several possible outcomes. While they allow the reader some breathing space, they may also cause the audience to stop reading then and there – just because they can. In that case, the writing probably is not interesting enough to grasp the reader’s attention, and the chapter may need to be longer to be interesting. Many chapter breaks also may cause the novel to appear overly simplistic or annoying to read. However, I still believe this is a great technique in order to keep the readers’ attention, as long as the writer actually knows what they are doing.
There are many answers to the question as to which is the perfect chapter. The only actual answer I can give is that the writer needs to figure out for themselves what works for them. Only they know their flaws and strengths, and only they know how to present their story in the most interesting way. The opinions above, whether they are valuable or not are just what they are: opinions.

Please Don’t Look At My Writing

As a writer, this may be one of the strangest statements I have ever made. “Please don’t look at my story, I’m ashamed of it.” No writer should be ashamed of their thoughts and ideas, yet I am sure most of us have to deal with this often. At the moment, I have to share a study with my roommate. He is just one person, and his desk is at the opposite of the room. However, whenever he is sitting there, whether it is playing games or talking to people on Skype, I get this horrible feeling I am being watched. I am afraid that he will turn around and look at my screen while I am writing and see what my story is about. I can’t write unless he’s gone.
It is terrible, actually. Why can’t I write when there is someone in the same room? He isn’t even looking at my screen, yet I always feel he is going to judge me for it. It may be because I like children’s stories and he prefers epic fantasy, but I don’t think he would mock me. Sure, we often joke around about my strange imagination, but he is never mean about it. I should want people to read my stories, right? Then why am I so afraid of it?
It is because I am afraid of being judged. It is because I aspire to become a writer in the English language, although it is not my native tongue. I am afraid that everyone will pick up on it and mock me. It is actually petrifying – but it shouldn’t be. As writers, we will always face criticism. We will always face mockery. We shouldn’t let it stop us, though. My dream isn’t gone. My will is returning. Even better, I finished the second manuscript in my nine-part series about three days ago. Maybe this will go away one day. Maybe I will be able to let those I know read my work. Yes, publishers are not that terrifying to me. What’s worse is the judgment of those we love and care about. But if they are worth it, they won’t judge.

Title Trouble

This may not be a problem for those whose works are getting published by a regular publisher, but for those who are not, it may be the cause for some massive headaches: coming up with the perfect title. After all, titles are what draw in readers, together with the cover and the blurb – the latter is not going to be read, though, if the cover and title do not stimulate the reader’s imagination. Earlier, I talked about the importance of a fitting cover. Now it is time to talk about the importance of the right title. How do you come up of that?

The kind of story and it’s genre usually determine what style of title would be fitting. I am only a writer of children’s fiction, so that is what I’ll stick to – plus maybe some YA novels.

Firstly, are you writing a series? If so, what is that series really about? If it is about a character, implementing the character’s name could work. Examples of this are the Harry Potter and the Junie B Jones series. In the case of the former, all titles in the series start with “Harry Potter and the [fill in phrase]”. In the case of the latter, Junie B.’s name is usually used somewhere in the title, although those are not as formulaic. Using a character’s name in a title is a good way to let young readers know to what series a book belongs. However, this does not only work for series; character names in titles often bring the fictional world a little closer to the reader, even when they haven’t read the actual story yet. You could also use a place name instead of a character name; as long as it is important to the story, it can be used.

Secondly, you could use an actual sentence from the story as a title – or at least part of it. Is there any sentence in your work that really stands out? Does it capture the theme of your story? You could tweak it a little if it’s too long. An example of this is To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been derived from the quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” In other words, don’t kill innocent beings that are only around to sing. The title is not clear by itself, but it still captures the heart of the book in only a few words. Poetic sentences make for nice titles; so do witty ones.

Thirdly, and this is the case for many YA books nowadays, you could use only one word. This is probably the most difficult to do, but it could be really rewarding. Ally Condie’s Matched does this, for example, by using the one word that sums up the main dilemma of the story. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight is another case of a one word title, and while I am not going to judge the story’s value, the series’ titles are great – they all refer to phases of the night and darkness, as befitted for vampires. This might work the same as an entire phrase or sentence, though; is there one word that really captures the essense of your story? Use it.

This may or may not have been useful, but it is something I personally struggle with. Coming up with the right title is important, yet it can also be a lot of fun. In the end, it is also important to enjoy the entire writing process.

Children’s Books That Should Not Be Written

Children's Books That Should Not Be Written

Of course the list of children’s books’ titles I just posted is merely a joke of which I do not know the original source – it is all over the Internet, so it was impossible to trace back its origins. However, there still is a point to this list. Some children’s books should not be written; period. Although the limits may be vague, I believe standards should be set.

Firstly, no children’s book should actually encourage children to act inappropriately. By that, I mean acting in ways that is harmful or dangerous, either for the child themselves or for the others around them. This is not to say that nothing can happen. Children’s books should be filled with fun, adventure and danger – why would any child otherwise want to read them? Reading is about knowing about the unknown, which is why it is such a good passtime. Stealing candy from a candy factory is a great example of something that could definitely happen in children’s fiction. It is adventurous, but it is also dangerous and illegal. Does that mean that it should not happen at all? No, that is not what I am trying to say. Still, the characters should not just get away with their crime – which is what this is. Breaking in in factories is illegal. The main characters should be caught, one way or the other. They might be seen, or they might feel remorse. They should not run home laughing without trouble and then eat candy for the rest of the week without anyone ever finding out. The example may not be all that realistic, as there are not that much fun factories around, but the point still stands.

Secondly, children’s books should not be about actively making the reader feel bad about – about themselves or in general. “Your parents just don’t love you” may happen in the real world, and it sometimes does happen in books, but I am not sure if I agree with this. Should children really be reading those depressing close-to-home stories? While they might be comforting, they could also be a powerful trigger, whether the reader actually experienced this or not. Another example about making children feel bad is the title “The Monsters in your Closet are Real”. This is great for older children who don’t believe in monsters anymore – not for the little kids for whom this title seems to be intended, although it is just a joke.

Lastly, children’s books should not be age inappropriate, no matter how straight to the point this advice may seem. If it doesn’t come up in children’s minds yet, it probably isn’t a good idea to write a story about it. Chances are the readers won’t enjoy it or otherwise get ideas that may be harmful. Romance does not occur often in children’s fiction for the reason that most children do not care about it. They may have crushes on each other, but they do not go around groping each other – or at least, they should not be. Middle Grade fiction may include a kiss, but that’s it. The same goes for topics such as abuse. The level of it should be age appropriate. The higher the intended audience, the more severe it can be, but it still should not cross those lines.

Even jokes can hold an important message: some children’s books just should not be written.

What do you think of that?

Writing for Children – The Fun of Grade Calculating Devices

The stories are write are meant for children of the ages between eight and ten years old. However, while I can say that they are meant for this group, this does not mean that they would be actually appropriate. Figuring out the right style has always been difficult for me. Back when I used to write for teenagers, my language always turned out to be too difficult and prententious. No kid would want to read it, I am sure of that. That is why I am not going to try that ever again. Still, now that I am writing for younger children, I keep running into the same problem. What style is age appropriate? Am I really just dumbing it down, which is the most horrible mistake to make, or am I so afraid of doing so that my texts are too boring or difficult for the average eight-year-old?

I know that there are a few tools out there that could be helpful in this case. I tried the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level technique, and according to that, my stories should be appropriate for children in the third grade. However, at the same time, either the Gunning-Fog Score or the Coleman-Liau Index (I cannot remember which) indicated that my writing would be more appropriate for sixth-grade readers. Apparently the words I use are too long of difficult. Now I am left wondering if I should take those out or try to ignore these scores. Do they really mean as much as they appear to? The problem is that I do not enjoy writing for older audiences. Even a story for actual sixth-graders demands more depth and more emotional problems… and while I love creating backstories, deep, emotional problems are not something I want to deal with. My stories should be short, fun and a little scary, in my eyes.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing for children is hard; much harder, in fact, than writing for teenagers – but only when it comes down to style. I am not saying I am going to give up. That would be a shame. I am just going to keep writing, try to ignore the problem and finish my job. It will be hard, as I will be moving out in a couple of days, but the holidays are near and I will have a lot of spare time. I will also be joining Camp NaNo, so let the writing commence. I will not let those horrible grade calculators stop me!

Cover Drama

Covers are like a book’s trailer. Together with the back cover, they form the story’s trailer – that is, if there is no actual trailer available. Even if there is one, most, if not every, potential reader(s) will look at the layout of the printed book itself, as that is supposed to give away at least part of what is to be expected. A great cover gives away its genre and possibly part of its actual subject, created to fit the actual story inside.

However, not all covers fulfill their function. Sadly, my very first own cover was an example of this. If only I had known what it was going to turn out like, I would never have said “yes”. It all started when I decided to send my manuscript to a so-called publishing house, at the age of twelve or thirteen. I was incredibly proud of it – rightly, I’m guessing – and the publishing of my first book all went so fast. That was when I found out I hadn’t submitted it to an actual publishing house, though; it was merely printing-on-demand, and they demanded for me to send them a cover image. There was not much time left. My parents decided to go look for someone to do the job. They knew a lot of artists, mainly because we were not from a big town. Around here, everybody knew everybody. Soon enough, my parents found an artist willing to draw my cover for free. I was a kid without money. There was no way I could refuse that offer. My cover image was finished soon enough. The image itself was not bad… It clearly showed its genre, and the publishing company wrote the title on it in big, orange letters. It was beautiful… Except for what was actually depicted on the cover itself. There were characters on there, who were supposed to be my main characters – a man, a fourteen-year-old boy and a sandy coloured horse. On the cover, they had turned into a man with a young child and a black horse. It may not have been the worst thing in the history of publishing, but I was upset without doubt. It was as if my characters were gone, together with the story they belonged to. This image was going to be stuck to my own book for the upcoming five years. There was nothing I could do about it – the artist had volunteered to create this for me, so I couldn’t complain. I didn’t even know her! My manuscript was turned into a book, and yet, I never felt completely happy about it. Part of it may have had something to do with the story’s actual content, but that does not matter at this point.

All in all, I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Covers are important, both to the reader and probably also to the authors themselves. The images should depict the story in a fitting way – and in my case, I considered it a failure. That’s what you get when you try to get published in the printing-on-demand way. To be honest, I doubt I would ever pick one of those books from the shelves myself. I hate to admit it, but most of the time they just don’t seem right – or professionally made, for that matter.

The Tale of Coven’s End – A Short Explanation of my Series’ Story

This is not really a blog post in the sense of what I normally write. It is a short introduction to my series, complete with its own fairy tale.

I am always afraid to be regarded as already being published. Posting an excerpt of my first chapter seems a little dangerous to me, so I decided to write a short fairy tale about the origin of my series’ little village called Coven’s End. It probably won’t ever appear in the story, as the level is already too high for my audience. This is not how I normally write, in all honesty. Just to be clear, my series concerns a cursed village, where portals to other worlds keep popping up. The main characters have to deal with all of these strange occurrences, until they figure out what causes all of them.

“Once upon a time, wise men and women ruled over these lands. They knew about the power of nature and spirits. They used that knowledge to create a better world. However, their own people started mistrusting them. They did not understand the magic, so it frightened them. Eventually, they were so scared that they drove off the wise ones. Angered, the wise people decided to flee and come together where no one could find them, so that they could use their powers in secret. They called these groups ‘covens’. Still, no matter how hard they tried, they were found every time. They had no place to go. Their last gathering was here, in these woods, where they decided that the people of this country did not deserve them. After all, they were called ‘witches’ now. When their attackers approached them during their last ceremony, the witches cursed them, their families and this entire village. Right after, they disappeared. That was the end of the coven of Coven’s End – and the reason for every single bad thing happening in this village. The power of the witches is still all around us.”

Now, I have a question: is it really that dangerous to post a small excerpt from an actual chapter?

Writing Tips, Part V: Telling versus Showing

During my time here on WordPress (which is not that long), I’ve seen this question come by several times. I typically try to explain, but it is difficult to do so in only a few lines. I am talking about the ancient debate between showing (mimesis) and telling (diegesis). I am sorry for throwing those terms in there; for some reason I felt compelled to show the one thing I remember from my past literary theory classes. Anyway, that is not the point. The point to this blog post is that I am going to try and explain the difference between showing and telling, so that hopefully the “Show, don’t tell” rule will become clear.

Firstly, telling often refers to describing emotions and conversations in such a way that the reader will have to come up with his or her own interpretations. It is not that horrible; however, a story that is written in this mode will come across as dull and lifeless. For example, you could write:

“She looked happy and surprised. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

That is not the most visually stimulating word choice, is it? Instead, you could also write:

“Her eyes glimmered in the moonlight and she smiled. ‘Would you really do that for me?’”

I know it is not the best example, but I hope you agree that the second instance is more interesting than the first. Another example, from a first-person point of view, is:

“I felt embarrased.”

Yes, the character feels embarrased, but there are ways to make it clearer. However, it is important to note that a character cannot see themselves. They cannot make observations involving their own bodies, unless it is what they exactly do or feel. They cannot see their cheeks getting red, but this would be fine:

“My cheeks started to glow and I looked down, trying to avoid her glare.”

I admit that this idea of showing is often overly dramatic and it may feel unnatural to some. However, from what I’ve gathered, these second instances are always preferred over their duller counterparts.

Secondly, do not give away information without any explanation to back it up. While you could say that a character is smart, it would be more interesting to have him work out a difficult mathematical problem or come up with a well thought-out plan. Do not say a character is brave if nothing in your story points in that direction – in that case, it would be completely unnecessary information. The most important part here is to let your readers draw their own conclusions about characters’ personalities. The same goes for descriptions of the environment; make your characters use the furniture, or, if you really have to, have them note one important detail. That is enough.

Thirdly, “showing” instead of “telling” is also about choosing the right words – the words that exactly fit the picture you are trying to paint in your readers’ minds. By choosing the right word, you won’t have to explain anything else. You won’t even have to use adverbs to clarify (and, as we all know, adverbs are our enemies). For example, there is the word “to walk”, which means “to move by using one’s feet”. It is one of the least descriptive verbs out there. Instead of “walking”, there are so many other words out there that could be used. “To stroll”, “to pace”, “to hurry”, “to scurry”, “to bolt”, “to dart”… None of these words describe plain walking. However, make sure not to overdo this. “To say” is generally just fine. While you could use other words to imply the way something is said, words like “to warn”, “to note” and “to comment” are not necessary. They are all literally about saying something, wrapped up in a fancy package.

All in all, “show, don’t tell” is all about bringing your story to life. Do not make random statement about characters and at the same time, stay clear from dull descriptions of situations. Show what you would see if you were actually present – unless you actually think in sentences such as “he was sad”, in which case you should not write down your natural observations.

What do you think? Is it indeed so important to “show” or is it fine to sometimes just “tell” something?