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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Real Life Improves Writing

I always say, “If you don’t learn something new every day then that say is wasted.” Not literally wasted, of course, as every day has a purpose, but expanding your knowledge by learning one new thing about the world, yourself, or a topic is a magical thing.

The things we learn in real life can also improve our writing. If you’ve ever been punched in the face, I bet you could describe the pain and healing process pretty well. I had spine surgery when I was fifteen and I tend to mention the spine a lot because it’s something that is intimate to me. I’ve also come face-to-face with fire and can describe fires good enough that you might feel the heat of the flames on your skin.

I’m not just talking about big experiences though. I’m also talking about the little random things you may learn from day-to-day and brush away as unimportant.

Here are two instances off the top of my head when something I learned from real life improved my writing:

I was reading an article in a fashion magazine about Jennifer Lawrence when she randomly mentioned how her dad would lecture you if you confused cement for concrete. She went on to explain that cement is an ingredient in concrete. I took that new knowledge and checked my series for the word “cement” to see if I used it incorrectly. I did. I changed “cement” to “concrete” and now I know I won’t upset her dad, or anyone else.

Thank you, Jennifer!


The second example happened when I was reading “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green and came upon the scene when Lindsey teaches Colin how to shoot a shotgun. She tells him to squeeze the trigger, not to pull it. After I read that I recalled all the times I heard that in movies or on shows. For some reason it never stuck with me, but that time it did. So once again I checked my series, and all of my thriller stories, for “pulled the trigger”. Luckily, I only had to change a few sentences.

Before I close this, I want to mention one last thing:

I read two stories where the word “dumpster” was capitalized. I was confused, decided to look it up in the dictionary, and learned “Dumpster” is a trademark and the "D" should be capital. Well, call me silly, but I didn’t know that! It’s too late to fix anything that’s published, but I will fix my future works.


QUESTIONS: Have you learned something odd that improved your writing? Did you know Dumpster was a trademark?


36 comments:

  1. I knew about Dumpster from taking a copyediting course. It's actually in the AP style book.

    I'm sure there's a ton of these sort of instances that I can't even remember! Ok, this may actually be the opposite--there's a scene in my book where my characters are making cookies and one asks why you use salt when you're baking. Then one time at my work, a coworker and I were learning how to make this marshmallow topping, and she asked why there was salt in it. And I knew the answer because I had researched it for my own novel! (It just enhances the flavors, by the way. Anything sweet would be too sweet without a little salt thrown in).

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    1. That is the opposite, but it's neat when something we learn for our writing comes in handy in real life. I love it when that happens! :D

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  2. Hmm the cement and concrete one I might have done a time or two. Nothing really jumps out at me now, but sure I've learned plenty.

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    1. Cement and concrete is something many people mix up.

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  3. Yes, I've learned the difference between hangar and hanger. The hard way.
    Didn't know Dumpster was capitalized though. Now I have learned something new.

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    1. I'm so glad I could teach you something new, Alex! ;)

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  4. Blogger ate my comment again. -_-

    Didn't know about Dumpster. Very interesting. I had learned about cement and concrete from when my husband was building my pond though.

    I'm reminded of The Princess Bride when Vizzini shouts, "Inconceivable!" and Inigo Montoya responds, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." :)

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    1. Jeez, I don't know why it always does that to you! I'm sorry. :(

      That quote from The Princess Bride is cute!

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    2. It's not just your blog. I open a lot of blogger blogs when I get into work. Pretty much all of them eat my comment the first time around, unless I refresh the page first. I just get in the habit of Ctrl+A and Ctrl+C.

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    3. I'm relieved it's not just my blog. Coping comments before clicking "publish" sounds like a good idea. I should do it, too, from now on because a couple of times I have the same problem.

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  5. Now I can say I learned something new today. :) I didn't know this about cement and concrete. Thanks!

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    1. That's awesome, Kelly! You're welcome! :)

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  6. Geez, you learn something new everyday! I had no idea that "Dumpster" was supposed to capitalized, and I better give my apologies to Jennifer Lawrence's father right now because I'm sure I'll still mix up concrete and cement. Thanks for sharing these! I'm sure they'll be useful for me in the future.

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    1. I'm so glad I am teaching everyone at least one new thing today with my post. :D

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  7. I was run over by a car 11 years ago today, and the long healing process for my broken leg and learning how to walk again has been powerful first-hand research for writing characters with limps and leg injuries. Unless you've been there, you can't really know how terrifying it feels to try to walk again after many months or how it's easier at first to ascend stairs backwards, either seated or hopping up on one leg.

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    1. Something like that can only be written correctly with experience, just like with the spine surgery I had. I can't imagine how hard it was to learn how to walk though. You're a fighter, Carrie-Anne!

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  8. I'm diabetic, and have had too much experience with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar.) One of my characters becomes hypoglycemic when he pushes his esper abilities too far, and knowing what it feels like really helped those scenes.

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    1. That's a great example, Sue! Having experienced something like that gives you the leg up to describe it in a way that other's (inexperienced people) wouldn't.

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  9. Hi Chrys! Happy Tuesday to you. Yes I most certainly believe that our experiences improve our writing, and any art form for that matter, whether it be singing, poetry, painting. etc.

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    1. Happy Tuesday, to you!! Our experiences can help us with any art form. :)

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  10. Great advice, Chrys! I have a Q though, if you're writing fiction would you have to capitalize 'dumpster'? I mean, if you're writing about fictional places, people and things...?. If you're writing nonfiction however, I could see this being a problem. I love your JLaw reference. That's so interesting. WE can learn things from interviews and magazine articles, for sure.

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    1. I guess it would be your judgment call, Lisa, but I still would capitalize it because it's a trademark. It's just like using the words Kool-Aid or Band-Aid in a description for like a simile or metaphor. Although the world may not have Kool-Aid, if you use it, it should be capitalized. Unless you give details about what the dumpster looks like in a fictional place/world, so it doesn't sound like a dumpster from our world then you wouldn't have to.

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  11. Thanks for the educational post Chrys. I definitely try to learn something new everyday. For me, my kids are at the age where they ask tons of questions about everything. I have gotten to the point of saying, let me look that up to be sure--I am amazed at how few specifics I actually know about the world around me.

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    1. I love that! I don't have kids, but my nephews do the same thing to me. We can learn a lot through kids. :)

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  12. I totally agree with you that everyday happenings, even things we overhear, can teach us important things for our writing! :)

    I had heard the cement / concrete thing on a TV show, I think - maybe Bones or something? Or actually I think it might've been Life, one of my fave TV series ever.

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    1. I haven't heard of the show "Life". I'll have to check that out. :)

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    2. It's got Damian Lewis in it. And it's only 2 seasons. But I just love it so much!

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  13. Life is the ultimate teacher. =) I think the biggest lesson I've learned lately is that our energy is limited and should be used wisely. How to apply that to writing? Dunno. Probably my older characters understand that. The younger ones, they're running a million miles and hour.

    I had no idea about Dumpsters. Huh. Thanks for the heads up.

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  14. Cool post. I couldn't agree more. It's amazing what you can learn in every day life that will help with our writing. I'll have to look in my manuscript to see if my characters squeeze or pull the trigger. And no, I didn't know that about Dumpsters! :)

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    1. I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who didn't know about this Dumpster thing. :)

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  15. Neat post! I love the little things we learn every day. I didn't know that about cement and concrete, but I did know Dumpster was a trademark. Like Kleenex is a tissue and Ski-Doo is a snowmobile. Today I learned a little about making beer in Alaska watching a bit of a show with my husband. I'll never make beer, but maybe a character of mine might have an interest in it.

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    1. A character who makes beer for a hobby or a profession would be cool! :)

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  16. Thanks to this post, I won't mix up concrete with cement now or upset Mr. Lawrence, too! There really are things we can pick up everyday from articles, posts, documentaries, shows and books. This is the age of Information, truly.

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    1. It is the age of information. That's why it's easy to learn something new every single day. :)

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