Writing Tip Tuesday: Get a Good Reference Set

I made on a mistake last Tuesday. I used a word wrong. I wrote the post and sent it live. Then something tickled in my brain that said maybe I should look a word up to be sure of its usage. I looked it up. I was wrong. (Hard to believe, I know.) I hurried to change it, but then I decided to leave it as is to see if anyone caught it. No one did—or at least, no one said anything.

The word? Sensual. Which means, "pertaining to, inclined to, or preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or appetites; carnal; fleshly." Yes, it can also be used the way I used it, but that's its fourth or fifth meaning.

The word I should have used was sensuous, meaning "perceived by or affecting the senses."

Which brings me to today's tip. Every writer should invest in a good set of reference books—dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide. Learn how to use them. Use them often.

Dictionary: The type of dictionary you need depends on the type of writing you are doing and the type of information you most commonly need. I found a great article on selecting a dictionary HERE. And what do you know? I must be brilliant because I've always preferred the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (which was rated as best in this article).

If you're writing historicals, particularly early Church history historicals, you might want to look at Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. It's a little pricey, but worth every penny if you want to get your usage correct.

Of course, there's always dictionary.com, which is better than nothing but I frequently cannot find the word I'm looking for there, particularly if its root is in a language other than English,. Also their definitions are sometimes incomplete.

Thesaurus: Mark Twain said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." A thesaurus can help you find the right word. I like Webster's New World (Roget's) but it's big and clunky, so I often use a little paperback Roget's. I've also heard good things about the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, but I haven't had a chance to check it out.

On line, there's thesaurus.com and Encarta. Both are good, but I usually use the first one.

Style Guides: The style guide you use depends upon the style of writing you're doing. My favorite, hands down, is the Chicago Manual of Style. I personally have the 14th edition, and I don't like some of the changes in the newer 15th edition. But either way, using a quality style guide keeps you safe and it's easy to change if your editor prefers things to be done differently.

If you're writing LDS books, you must have a copy of the LDS Style Guide to Publications. This is going to help you with capitalization, hyphenation and other style forms specific to the LDS Church. And it's cheap!

Once you have these guides, don't just put them on a shelf. Use them! If you have even a sliver of a doubt about the spelling, meaning of a word or the correct usage of punctuation, look it up. Become familiar with your deficiencies and always, always look them up. One of my weaknesses is the comma. I never can remember if I use one before the word "but"—as in, "I am pretty smart, but I forget when to use the comma." I know this about myself so I look it up. A lot.

The more clean-up work you do on your manuscript before you submit it, the better chance you're going to have of being accepted. And yes, I have rejected good stories before because the manuscript was going to take more clean-up time than I had in my budget.


jasnjan said...

Do you tell the author that their story was good but requires too much clean up so they have a shot at cleaning it up and resubmitting? I am a newbie so I am unsure of how this process works. Thanks.

Annette Lyon said...

Great advice, every bit. My dictionary is my best friend. I highly recommend getting the LDS style guide if you write for this market. I can't count how many times I've consulted it on things like capitalization rules.

Anonymous said...

What about the word sensory and its close family relations?

There is the word senseless for authors who have worn out the sensory nerves of the subcutaneous layers of their keyboarding fingertips.

Sensational for those who have the very keen sensory perception to know when they’ve got a winner story, and extra sensory perception for those authors clairvoyant enough to know when they don't.

Corporeal embodied sensory perception for those rejection letters days and mental for the zombies who don’t flinch when the rejections pile up.

Sensitive for authors who streak their computer screen with tears when their heroine finds true love.

Responsive for the authors who type faster while writing action scenes.

Reactive for authors who throw their computers across the room in a fit of writer’s block.

Perceptive for authors who know their fictional world is not real but talk to their characters anyone, and cataleptic for authors who answer their characters.

And finally, comatose for any author who read this far.

So many sensory words, so few ly adverbs.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Amen, LDSP! I can't tell you how often I come across incorrect forms of words either as I'm reading already published books (the agony!) or editing for others. And I really believe in the LDS Style Guide. A must in this market.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

I totally recommend the LDS Style Guide. It's awesome! I've been happy with a lot of the online resources for dictionaries and thesauruses.

Chas Hathaway said...

Is the Chicago Style Guide or LDS publication guide available to read online?

- Chas