The Writer’s Lexicon: A Treasure Trove for the Editing Writer

I received a copy of Kathy Steinemann’s The Writer’s Lexicon last month in order to provide an unbiased review for it. Kathy must’ve broken into my schedule planner, because she offered it up right at the time I needed it most. I had four short story deadlines to try and meet by the end of September, and that meant a lot of editing.

For anyone looking for a cheat sheet when editing or for those who want to improve their overall writing during any phase of work, The Writer’s Lexicon is an asset worth having. The book is broken up into a few sections: overused words and phrases (Let’s nod, smile, and laugh our way through life), overused punctuation (Exclamation points!!!11!!), taboos, and even a section on sensory words and touching on all the senses can really add depth to the writing and better ground the reader.

While editing these four stories, the two areas that helped me most were the sections on overused words and phrases and the use of sensory words. Before I got my hands on this particular book, I’d already had editors who wanted to publish a story of mine point out how often my characters nodded, smiled, shrugged, and laughed. Way too much, but in my defense: one of my favorite trilogies is Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. Go back and flip through that first book and tell me how many times Kelsier does all four of those things in a single conversation, let alone the rest of the crew. He ain’t hurtin’! Then again, I’m not Brandon Sanderson and you aren’t, either, so it probably pays to adhere to at least some rules to better touch up your prose. I also haven’t read much of his more recent stuff just because I’ve been too busy, so it’s possible he’s changed his style since Mistborn came out many years ago.

With that said, this book isn’t just a collection of proverbs like “Hey, try to keep your characters from shrugging so much” or “You know, it’s probably a good idea to have your character smell something wafting through the air every once in awhile.” That’s in there, but the coolest part of The Writer’s Lexicon is the substitutes for some of those overused words and lists of the many ways one can touch the senses.

For example, have a character who clears his throat way too much? Is it as annoying to read as it is to hear over and over again in real life? There’s a way around it, but we need to figure out his motivation first. Does he do it because he’s agitated or anxious? Is it because he’s embarrassed or afraid? Maybe he feels a level of guilt over something? Depending on what his motivation is, there are other physical tells you can use to show that off aside from just clearing the throat or coughing out of turn, such as nail biting when agitated or grinding teeth when anxious, shuffling feet when embarrassed, or staring at the floor when guilty.

No matter what the word, phrase, or taboo is, Kathy has several substitutes for them, each dependent on the emotion or state of mind trying to be conveyed. It’s helped me quite a bit, and I plan to go back to this book every time I sit down to edit.

Overall, The Writer’s Lexicon is a 5.0/5.0 for me. For a reference book, it’s top-notch. My only wish is that I had a paperback version of it, as well. Guess I know what’s on my Christmas list this year.

Story Acceptance: On the Premises Guest Position

Last month I submitted a short story to OnThePremises.com’s 30th themed contest. The particular theme had to revolve around the word or concept of “Community.” I spent some time trying to see if there was a way I could twist the word around in some unique way, but then I decided on a more traditional plot, if in an outlandish setting: a clash of communities within a city, and how the city responds to it.

That’s where we get “A Salt on the Rise.” It is a fantasy story about a necromancer who has to resolve a dispute between the mummies and the ashlings before they tear apart the city of the restless dead. The story did well, but didn’t quite make it into the final ten submissions that go on to compete for the top three slots. But, editors Tarl Kudrick and Bethany Granger enjoyed it enough to want to feature it as a guest piece, after helping me to clean it up a bit first.

I’ve taken them up on the offer, and look forward to receiving their edits. Their criticism has already been invaluable: back in the spring I wrote a story tied to this same world and characters, and it placed close to the top 20 or 30 of 200 or so entries. It was a lot closer than I’d ever gotten in an entry for On the Premises, so I paid the $15 for constructive feedback. They wrote back with a two page breakdown of what wrong with the story, and also what went right. This allowed me to go back and evaluate that particular story, but it also helped me better nail down this particular setting, the characters, and my narrative voice.

I will post about the editing process with Tarl and Bethany either later this month, or after the story is released close to October 15th.