How To Be Sharp

I beg your indulgence today. I’m going to sound a little bit grouchy, so please forgive me, and assume it’s all because

(1) Johnny Depp, Amy Ryan, and the green dress didn’t win the Oscars they deserved;

(2) I spent so long caring for my sick husband (days! maybe even a week!) that my mind has irretrievably gone;

(3) I’ve secretly been a grump all along, and have finally lost my ever-so-thin veneer of niceness due to normal wear and tear;

(4) I’m suffering from severe lack of tea; or

(5) I’m currently being forced (by a secret government agency) to read a book lacking in either proper grammar or any respect for history, and am the worse for it.

My post today is, you see, on how to be sharp.

SHARP WRITERS:

SHARP WRITERS don’t develop a pathological fear of either adverbs or the past perfect tense. And if they do, they don’t start using the simple past tense in place of the past perfect, or adjectives in place of adverbs.

SHARP WRITERS never write any of the following: alot, alright, “he drug her down the stairs” (believe it or not, I’ve seen this nonexistent verb tense several times recently, in published books!), Jane Austin, Lizzie Bennett (Austen spells it “Lizzy Bennet”), or “here here!”

SHARP WRITERS find out what words actually mean before using them. (Yes, words like literally, embark, pigtails, castle, and unique do have actual meaning.)

SHARP JANE AUSTEN MOVIE FANS

SHARP JANE AUSTEN MOVIE FANS may enjoy learning that the following actresses, all of whom have appeared TV or film versions of Austen’s works or of other Regency-interest works, were all just nominated for Olivier Awards (the most respected award for London Theatre):

Kelly Reilly, who played Miss Bingley in the 2005 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, was nominated for playing Desdemona in OTHELLO at the Donmar Warehouse.

Anne-Marie Duff, who played Louisa in the TV miniseries ARISTOCRATS (1999), was nominated for playing Joan in SAINT JOAN at the National Theatre.

Penelope Wilton, who played Mrs. Gardiner in the 2005 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, was nominated for playing Ella in JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN at the Donmar Warehouse.

Fiona Shaw, who played Mrs. Croft in the 1995 PERSUASION, was nominated for playing Winnie in HAPPY DAYS at the National Theatre.

Speaking of Austen adaptations, please join us next Tuesday (March 4) to discuss the Olivier/Garson version of PRIDE & PREJUDICE, and March 24 to discuss the Kate Beckinsale EMMA!

There you have it!

Question for the day: What would you like to add to my “Sharp Writers” list? (All answers welcome!)

Cara
Cara King, who once saw Fiona Shaw play Richard II

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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26 Responses to How To Be Sharp

  1. Oh Cara, how I agree with your thoughts on Sharp Writers! Also, Sharp Writers are NOT afraid to stand up and admit (no, not admit, declare) they write ROMANCE!

    Just discovered your blog and will be back!

    Melinda Hammond

  2. Yea to Amy Ryan (and I’d hazard that Tilda Swinton — a woman of wit, intelligence, and good politics as well as unearthly beauty — was as astonished as we were). You could see her, as she made her way to the podium in her eccentric dress, making the decision to accept graciously.

  3. Cara, I’m tempted to print your tips for sharp writers and enclose a copy with each contest entry I judge! I’d love to give whoever started the “had/have/has=passive writing” meme a hundred lashes with a wet noodle, because I’m so sick of dealing with time confusion in narrative because some earnest, rule-bound writer fears to stray out of simple past.

    And as for adverbs, I believe that used in moderation they enrich an historical voice. I adverb proudly.

    Also, can I add my own peeves to your “here, here” and “Jane Austin”? I’m regularly annoyed by “free reign,” “tow the line,” and “shoe-in.”

  4. Cara King says:

    Welcome, Melinda! Great to have you here!

    Also, Sharp Writers are NOT afraid to stand up and admit (no, not admit, declare) they write ROMANCE!

    Hear, hear!!!

    And I try to look folks straight in the eye when I do it. 🙂

    “free reign,” “tow the line,” and “shoe-in.”

    Oh, yes, Susan — shoe-in! I’ve seen that too. 😮

    And bobbed wire. (Or bobwire).

    And (though not in published books, yet) things like congradulations, predjudice (or predjudism), walla, etc… Though I should give people a break online, because it’s so easy to type the wrong thing without noticing!

    I am currently reading a published book that has exactly the “had” problem Susan’s talking about — it’s written in the past tense, but the stuff-that-happened-before is also past tense, so it’s totally confusing!

    As in (I’m making this quote up, of course, and it has nothing to do with the book):

    Jody stared in shock at the dog’s two heads. Bertie gave the dog a green potion. Perhaps the potion caused the two heads? Then again, Sarah was a witch. Did she perform an enchantment on the dog? The dog growled, from both its throats. Thaddeus warned her about the dog.

    And Susan, I agree with you on adverbs — they have their use — though what really bugs me is when folks (this same book again) use adjectives as adverbs (in the midst of a quite formal narrator voice. Where’s the copy editor???)

    Cara

  5. Elena Greene says:

    I loved that green dress too though some commentators said it was boring. They said that about a lot of the looks–what did they want, every actress covered in bling and bows or something? I thought most looked lovely and that Tilda Swinton’s eccentric gown suited her androgynous style.

    To add my own peeves:
    – unnecesary apostrophes to pluralize words
    – “bonified”
    – “sensibility” used to mean the state of possessing/using good sense, by Regency authors who ought to know better.

    Cara, please give Todd all our wishes for a quick recovery!

    Elena-who-misses-Todd-and-wishes-she-could-be-wittier-about-it

  6. Cara King says:

    Pam, I think the supporting actress race was so odd! In early days, Amy Ryan was winning every critic’s award (and deservedly, too, IMHO), and then she was called the frontrunner.

    Then Cate Blanchett won the Golden Globe, and all of a sudden some folks were calling her the frontrunner.

    Then Ruby Dee won the SAG Award, and there were three frontrunners.

    Then TV Guide (IIRC) actually suggested that Tilda Swinton would win — guess they were smart! (Or even, one might say, sharp.)

    I think TV Guide’s argument was partly that not all Academy members would have seen Gone Baby Gone or I’m Not There (each of which, IIRC, only had one nomination). But Michael Clayton was seen by all (due to its many nominations) which put it over the top.

    Anyway, all four were excellent performances! (Though I think they really should stop nomination children…but that’s another discussion…) 🙂

    Cara

  7. I didn’t see any of the movies, but I thought Ruby Dee would win in the ‘Alan Arkin is Old’ category.

    Sorry you’re grouchy, Cara. Me, too. I need tea. I have no excuse, though, I just am grouchy most of the time.

  8. “I need tea. I have no excuse, though, I just am grouchy most of the time.”

    I must join the Grouchy Club, too! These days I just want to lie on the floor wailing “When will it be springtime??? I need sun!!!” And tea, too.

    Susan, hear hear on the “passive voice” thing. And everything in Cara’s post, actually.

  9. Oh, I like Tilda. I really like Tilda. Really, really like her. My daughter refers to her as her “other mommy.” I hadn’t seen either movie so apparently my adulation only extends to watching her on cable.

    Sharp writers also do not refer to pebbled nubs or bridal paths. (Although aren’t we also talking about sharp copyeditors here?)

  10. Jane says:

    Anne-Marie Duff is a lucky lady. Not only is she nominated for an Olivier, but she’s married to James McAvoy from “Atonement” and “Becoming Jane.”

  11. Diane Gaston says:

    Yikes. I’ve probably made all these mistakes.

    My recent copy editor changed every “toward” and “forward” to “towards” and “forwards”

    One of my pet peeves are too many “had”s Once you’ve established the past perfect tense you can switch to past and your passage reads more smoothly. In my opinion.

    Cara, I hope for your sake as well as Todd’s that he is all better and can be about the business of pampering YOU.

  12. Eliza Knight says:

    Excellent post! And since I’m as equally cranky due to lack of sleep bc a certain toddler of mine is now out of the crib and finds great enjoyment in visiting me 400 times during the middle of the night, I want to add to your sharp writers…

    SHARP WRITERS do not use the word “that” ever other word, in fact they use it so seldom, the prose just flows off the page…

    SHARP WRITERS don’t use the word “had” before every other word, she had had, she had this, she had that, had he done…

    Okay I need a nap 🙂

    Cheers!

  13. Cara King says:

    They said that about a lot of the looks–what did they want, every actress covered in bling and bows or something?

    So true, Elena! And I read one site online which called a lot of lovely gowns “misses,” constantly commenting that the gown didn’t show off the actress’s figure enough. Talk about having a one-track mind! 🙂

    And Elena, I agree with all your additions! (“Bonified” indeed!)

    I thought Ruby Dee would win in the ‘Alan Arkin is Old’ category.

    Sad but true, Megan — that’s seems to be far likelier to happen for men than women. After all, Juliette Binoche beat Lauren Bacall; Marisa Tomei beat Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Plowright; Kim Basinger beat Gloria Stuart; and Jennifer Connelly beat Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith.

    But with men, the nominees to start with tend to be a lot older; and the winners are much likelier to be seniors (Jack Palance, Gene Hackman, Martin Landau, James Coburn, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin.)

    I think most of the voters are older men, and IMHO they do like to see pretty young women — both on screen and winning Oscars!

    Cara

  14. doglady says:

    O Divine One, “towards” and “forwards” are Britishisms. I use them and have editors switch them to the American versions. LOL And Susan, you may rest assured I AM going to print those tips and stick them up next to my computer!

    I know I have fallen into the trap of believing all of these ‘forbidden’ things must be purged from my manuscript!

    Hey, Cara, I am grouchy most of the time, so hang in there. I don’t like most of the people I see and work with on a daily basis and they really get on my nerves. That may be why I have always surrounded myself with animals. I LIKE them. They don’t get on my nerves!

    I hope Todd gets to feeling better and tell him I concur – friends don’t make friends into boots and belts and my pets have always been my friends.

    I DO tell people that I write historical romance with a great deal of pride. I’m still working on the t-shirt!

  15. Cara King says:

    I must join the Grouchy Club, too!

    Glad to have you, Amanda! 🙂

    Janet, it actually took me a few seconds to figure out that “bridal path” didn’t mean the middle aisle of a church! 🙂

    (And, yes — in the published works, the copy editors are at fault, too. But IMHO authors still should know the difference between an adjective and an adverb. Just for, you know, their own spiritual betterment and all that.)

    Jane wrote:

    Anne-Marie Duff is a lucky lady. Not only is she nominated for an Olivier, but she’s married to James McAvoy

    Ooh! Yes, yes. Talented, lovely, married to James McAvoy — and getting fantastic roles (and awards) to boot! What’s not to envy???

    My recent copy editor changed every “toward” and “forward” to “towards” and “forwards”

    That’s so funny, Diane! I used “towards” in all my early manuscripts, until one contest judge (who really seemed to know her stuff) convinced me that it was considered less acceptable, and less desirable, and I finally taught myself to write “toward” instead. Now your copy editor says the opposite??? So confusing!

    One of my pet peeves are too many “had”s Once you’ve established the past perfect tense you can switch to past and your passage reads more smoothly. In my opinion.

    I totally agree, Diane! (What I’m complaining about are passages in past tense, in which both the “present” and the “past” are told in the same tense, in the same paragraph, back-and-forth. Very confusing.)

    Thanks for your additions, Eliza! And I hope you have a good nap!

    O Divine One, “towards” and “forwards” are Britishisms.

    Okay, now that’s just frustrating, Doglady! Because I suspect the ms I was using “towards” in was a Regency, so I guess I shouldn’t have listened to whoever it was, way back when! 🙂

    Cara (who obsesses way too much over one “s”)

  16. Cara, you get an award for 2008’s Most Devoted Wife. In two months, your husband’s been sick twice. Todd, wishing you a speedy recovery, for heaven’s sake. 🙂

    Cara asked, “Where’s the copy editor?”

    And I ask: Where are the developmental editor and the two proofreaders?

    My pet peeve: I would’ve went.

    Language is not static, but bad grammar is bad grammar.

    As far as typos and poorly constructed sentences go, shoot me, for I have sinned many times here.

    For being married to James McAvoy, I must say, Anne-Marie Duff is a very lucky lady indeed, despite that huge glass flower on her tacky dress.

  17. Diane Gaston says:

    O Divine One, “towards” and “forwards” are Britishisms.

    Okay, now that’s just frustrating, Doglady! Because I suspect the ms I was using “towards” in was a Regency, so I guess I shouldn’t have listened to whoever it was, way back when! 🙂

    Cara (who obsesses way too much over one “s”)

    I considered that possibility, O Doggie and Reptile One, but those words have never been changed in my manuscripts before and this is my 6th Mills and Boon. And if it was a Brit copy editor, she changed my “Her Royal Highness” to “her Royal Highness”

    There was one instance where I said something like “She acted in a forward manner” and she changed that one, too.

    I haven’t heard back from the editor yet, but I’ll let you know what she says about “forwards and towards”

    P.S. she also changed my “townhouse” to “town house” I was able to cite several period writings that used “townhouse”

    and—-I have clips of phony newspaper articles, in italics, before each chapter. So she changed the dates to the modern 27 February 1818. Accckk.

  18. Diane Gaston says:

    For being married to James McAvoy, I must say, Anne-Marie Duff is a very lucky lady indeed, despite that huge glass flower on her tacky dress.

    Keira, I loved that dress! What a refreshing change from all the strapless, slipping down gowns.

  19. One of the worst, most egregious error I have ever seen, which I think must have been the result of an innocent child copyeditor, was in one of the Mary Russell/Holmes books, where a character counted out change in modern British decimal currency.

    Yikes.

  20. Todd says:

    Elena wrote:

    Cara, please give Todd all our wishes for a quick recovery!

    Doglady wrote:

    I hope Todd gets to feeling better and tell him I concur – friends don’t make friends into boots and belts and my pets have always been my friends.

    Wow! I can feel the love tonight! Thank you all…I am really feeling much better, though I’m not completely recovered. I’m well enough, however, that I can no longer stay home while my long-suffering wife waits on me hand and foot, giving in to all my demented whims with grace and patience. (Hmm. I may have oversold that a bit.)

    Diane wrote:

    Cara, I hope for your sake as well as Todd’s that he is all better and can be about the business of pampering YOU.

    Ah, I clearly have my marching orders. FOR-WARD!

    Todd-who-must-begin-pampering-post-haste

  21. katescooby says:

    Hi ladies!
    I come to you from your mention of Fiona Shaw; my alert is set so I don’t miss any opportunity to see her perform. I have been lucky enough to have seen Fiona Shaw and Ann-Marie Duff on stage several times. Sadly, I missed Duff’s Saint Joan…but I digress…
    I very much enjoy your conversation! My tourism job includes the gift of living in both London and East Coast USA. Over half of my website hits are on mis-spelled keywords. I know of people who have built a profitable Ebay business selling on miss-spellings, can you believe it! I for one get lost in ‘am I writing in Britain or America?’ I must admit to occasionally using “it is a Britishism” as an excuse when I make a mistake. My company offers literary tours of England including a 3-day Jane Austen tour (if you’re interested, sorry, cheap plug!!) Anyway, many of our hits are generated from “Jane Austin” searches. One would think that people seeking information on Jane could at least spell her name correctly, don’t you think? That is my two cents.
    Thanks for the hospitality! Kate

  22. Diane Gaston says:

    Kate! At least give up your website url! Or a way to reach your tourism site. We love anything regency and I’d love to see what your 3 day Jane Austen tour entails.

    By the way everyone. My editor confirmed that “towards” and “forwards” are Britishisms. Sigh.

  23. katescooby says:

    Thanks Diane! We are on: http://www.specialgrouptours.com.
    I find it very interesting to visit the places that inspired great writers, artists and musicians. With the Jane tour, many of the places visited are quite recognizable (or should I say ‘recogisable’) from both the novels and also recent films. It is great fun! Thanks for the interest! We would be thrilled if you wish to join us! Cheers!!

  24. Cara King says:

    Thanks for the link, katescooby!

    As to your first comment — it’s great to meet another Fiona Shaw fan! I haven’t had the fortune of seeing Anne-Marie Duff perform, but I hope to sometime… One thing I love about London theatre is seeing the same great actors over and over — and then seeing them pop up in a movie or on television. And occasionally it turns out I saw someone back before fame hit…like when I saw Jennifer Ehle in a Restoration comedy, before P&P came out!

    It’s been a while since I lived in London, though, so I just catch random plays when I have a chance to go there. So I envy the multiple plays you’ve seen Fiona Shaw in!

    Speaking of searching on misspellings… I recall when I lived in New Jersey, searching on “Producer ticket” and such when looking for tickets to The Producers! 🙂

    Cara

  25. katescooby says:

    Cara,
    Hello and thanks for the ‘ear’! Yes, I must admit to being a huge Fiona Shaw fan! Most recently I was lucky to see her in NYC, Happy Days at BAM. Spectacular! In fact, her past two shows that I attended were captivatingly linked by both a literal and metaphorical sense of being trapped. In Happy Days, she is buried in a mound of sand (insomnia) and also Woman and Scarecrow, where she played a terminally ill bed ridden woman. What a presence to be stuck in one place for 2hours and not only hold an audience’s attention but still enchant everyone.
    Wow! I wish I had seen her Richard! Good for you!! I also missed the opportunity to see Jennifer Ehle on stage. I see the poster art every time I’m in the Donmar (a great venue for the next time you are across the pond!!)
    If you are interested, You Tube has some old Charlie Rose interviews with some great theatre actors and the National Theatre has put up some video promos which I find very cool. Also, the other week I happened to catch the film Catch and Release on cable; not the kind of film I would normally go for but it was cute. Fiona Shaw plays the mother and, I think, the first time I have seen her in a present day ‘everyday’ type of role. She was also in a small role of a judge in the recent Anthony Hopkins thriller (sorry, I can’t remember the name of it but Ryan Gosling was the other lead.)
    OK, I had better stop my babbling and get back to work. Thanks for the chance to take a break and chat a bit!
    Cheers! Kate

  26. Cara King says:

    Thanks for the info, Kate! I’ll definitely look for those videos online!!

    Cara

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