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Sunday, March 27, 2016

About Writing in Venacular versus Dialect

What is the difference between dialect and vernacular? Mostly it is readability, but also the decision to write in dialect versus vernacular can reflect poorly on a writer's skill. Here are some definitions:

Dialect: nonstandard spoken language; a regional variety of a language, with differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation

Vernacular: the distinctive vocabulary or language of a profession, group, or class

Conventional wisdom and today’s creative writing instructors discourage the use of dialect, yet creative writing has few absolute rules. Some writers get away with using a little dialect here and there. As writers we must remember, however, that dialect is substandard English. Do we want our writing to be substandard?

If we must, we can sprinkle one dialectical word here and there in dialogue, but I have a better suggestion. Instead of writing in dialect, the wiser choice is to write in vernacular. Vernacular uses word choices and word order to show that a speaker is not speaking standard English. When we write dialogue in vernacular, readers clearly see the shift and understand when someone is speaking with a foreign accent or a regional twist. 

As an example of vernacular rather than dialect, you might write this: "She wasn't no angel, if you ask me." Write in vernacular, and readers know the speaker is not speaking in standard English. In contrast, the same sentence written as "Sha warn't no anjel, iffen you ass me" would make readers stop and reread, to understand the sentence. We never want readers to have to back up and reread something, to understand it. When I read dialect, I often have to stop and read it aloud to understand it, and I'm therefore not a happy reader immersed in a story. Dialect loses readers, and we don't want to lose our readers.

If writers feel the urge to write a character’s dialogue in dialect, here’s the one immutable rule they absolutely must follow. They must not misspell words that would be pronounced the same if spelled correctly. In a one manuscript I edited, among some somewhat acceptable dialect, I also saw several misspelled words. For example, and I'm changing this entire sentence, so the author's work is protected, I might have seen a sentence that went like this: "I ain't cleer on whut choo want frum de sto, cos I cain't remember nothin'." As an editor, I repaired the incorrect spelling, but I left the use of the word "ain't," because that word is considered vernacular. The corrected sentence then went like this: "I ain't clear on what you want from the store, 'cause I can't remember nothing." As a reader, don't you still get the complete idea of how the reader spoke? Of course you did, and without a bunch of misspelled words.

Incorrect spelling does not equal dialect; it equals incorrect spelling. Period.

If you decide to use dialect, which is difficult to write well and even harder to read, at least remember to spell words correctly that have the same pronunciation whether spelled either correctly or incorrectly.

When we write in vernacular, however, readers have an easier time reading our books while still hearing the dialect in our heads.

How do you feel about writing in dialect? Do you like to read books with dialogue written in dialect? Do you have tips for other writers about dialect versus vernacular? Let me know. I may share them with other readers.

For more editing and creative writing tips, order Purge Your Prose of Problems here:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

'Twas the Day after Christmas

After I moved to metro Atlanta in 1992, I started a new tradition in my family: Christmas Day at the Christmas House. For days in advance I cooked and prepared for an onslaught of friends and relatives who often numbered as high as twenty-five. Time marches on, though, and friends have passed away, family members have other obligations, and children have grown up and lost interest. Last year I changed my party to the day after Christmas, rather than Christmas Day, hoping to earn back some of the people who were unavailable Christmas Day. I did the same this year.

 Regardless of my plans, the universe takes its own path. By the end of the evening about twelve friends and family members had dropped in. On the bright side, because the group was small, we all fit in one room, all had seats, and we could have group discussions that are impossible in larger crowds. Even more than usual, my heart swelled with love and pride as I glanced around at the people who took the time to come by for a few hours. I might add that my house is a little out of the way; none of those folks live closer than a half hour, and most live much farther away. Three cousins live in Columbia, but still drove to Atlanta for the day. That’s love. That’s family commitment. Of course I felt love and pride and joy.

 Joy. I’ve had discussions with friends about the difference between joy and happiness. My opinion is that happiness is long term, because it dwells within us. We can decide whether to be happy or not, based on our reactions to life. Even the sickest of people can still feel happy for things, events, and people separate from their sickness.

 Okay, so happiness is long-term and internal, in my opinion. Joy, however, is caused by external factors, and joy is short-lived, which makes joy an even greater delight. I felt joy most of the day, yesterday, and then when two friends who had said they probably couldn’t make it called to say they were on their way, I experienced joy again. Certainly Christmas can bring joy to children who receive gifts they want. In our family and among my friends, we no longer exchange gifts, but we still give the gift of joy by sharing our time, space, and love.

 I hope you felt joy this holiday season, and I hope you always feel happy.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Loglines are Essential to Novelists

“Logline” was a term thrown around a great deal at the Florida Writers Association conference this past October. I’ve been editing books for decades, yet I’d never heard the term. Finally I found this description from the Raindance Film Festival website: “A logline is a one (or occasionally two) sentence description that boils the script down to its essential dramatic narrative in as succinct a manner as possible.”

Ah, so the word referred to scripts, yet FWA kept using it to refer to books. Yes, it has spread from the film industry to the book industry. Authors used to call our brief summaries elevator speeches, because each summary had to be short enough to be given in an elevator before floors. Today a logline can be part of an elevator speech, sometimes called an elevator pitch, but the logline must be able to stand on its own, as well. In simple terms, loglines tell what a story is about.

Loglines give the following information:

The main character—the protagonist

What he or she wants—the problem or goal

The villain or obstacle standing in the way of the protagonist —the conflict

The twist or unusual circumstance that makes the story unique

Some loglines include the setting, especially if it is essential to the story, as it might in in a science fiction novel that takes place on another planet, for example.

Here’s what a logline might look like for The Wizard of Oz:

In the 1950s a young girl on a drab Kansas farm from dreams of reaching a more colorful place, but when a tornado takes her to a mysterious new land, she has to fight evil witches, flying monkeys, and deceptive leaders, in her attempt to find her way back home.

Having a logline, a super-short summary, or elevator speech that describes your book helps you promote the book after it is written, keeps you on track while you are writing the book, and can help you come up with endless exciting ideas for new stories, before you even start writing. It can even help you discover the essence of your story, if you’re struggling to find it. In other words, loglines help before, during, and after you write a book.

For more information on loglines, sample loglines, and ways to create loglines for your own books (but ignore the many ads), see and here: For what a simple formula that can help you create your own logline, see this page:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Conference Recap

Last week, October 15 through October 18, 2015, I attended and presented at the annual Florida Writers Association conference. As usual it was one of the best and biggest conferences I attended all year, topping out with more than 800 people in attendance. FWA goes a few things that others conferences don’t, and I’m surprised no one else has thought to mimic this conference. The biggest difference is that speakers have the opportunity to send in their handout sheets in advance, and FWA prints and binds them into a notebook that every attendee receives. No one can attend every seminar—four or more seminars take place simultaneously—but everyone gets all the handouts. In this way attendees still obtain valuable information in the handout books, regardless of whether they attend a seminar. In addition, attendees can take notes in the handouts notebook, so all their notes are in one place. 

This year the Royal Palm Literary Award banquet had two new features. In the past presenters read the loglines—the quick summary—of each winning entry before announcing the title of the winning entry, but often attendees could not quite hear or understand what was being read. This year the loglines also appeared on two huge screens, so all in attendance could read along and understand the concept of each winning entry. In addition, the awards presentations were greatly speeded up, so that despite the long list of categories and winners, the awards portion of the evening went by quickly and maintained its excitement throughout. Way to go, FWA! 

With my twenty-five or more years of experience attending seminars, classes, and conferences for writers, and with my forty-plus years of experience writing and editing, it would be easy to think I know it all and having nothing more to learn. Not so. I attended new and informative seminars on subjects such as how real-life bodies and buildings react to bullets and explosions as well as how the human brain reacts to stimuli. Every seminar I attended taught me something new or inspired me to write new and better things.  

I also gave four presentations. One focused on how to avoid pitfalls when hiring an editor. One challenged attendees to a short editing test, and I followed it up with a thorough explanation and discussion of all the flaws intentionally built into the test. I read some funny errors I’ve found in manuscripts and then explained ways to avoid making the same or similar mistakes. One seminar revealed information on how writers can beat the competition and increase their chances of selling their work. What an honor it is to impart helpful information to fellow writers! 

One of my favorite events was a Gong Show-style pitch fest, where writers were given three minutes to pitch their novels to a panel of six agents. If any agent lost interest in the pitch or spotted a big flaw in the pitch, he or she could hit a gong. Presenters who received three gongs had to stop presenting, but regardless, all presenters got great feedback from the agents after each pitch. Best of all, at least one woman’s pitch had agents vying over who would get to see her manuscript first. How delightful! 

In the end I left the conference inspired to dust off an old manuscript of a novel I started writing more than twenty years ago. I want to apply all the knowledge I’ve learned since then and see if I can improve it to the point that perhaps I might be one of the writers who gets to pitch her novel to an agent or a panel of agents at a future writers conference. 

As writers we should never become so tainted, self-confident, arrogant, or defeated that we stop attending gatherings of writers. Writers are the greatest folks, not only because they have such a big interest in all things, but also because they warmly and willingly share their knowledge with others. I strongly recommend that everyone look for meetings, seminars, and conferences in their area and then attend.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Peace versus Conflict

Today I saw the following lines excerpted from John Lennon's song, "Imagine," a song I deeply love:

"Imagine there's no countries, / It isn't hard to do. / Nothing to kill or die for, / And no religion, too. / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace."

While Lennon's concept strikes me as ideal, it would be far from perfect in a novel. Instead, novels thrive on conflict. If all the countries and characters in the book coexist in peace and harmony, readers have no reason to read the book, because they have no curiosity about how things will turn out. Obviously everything would turn out fine; nothing would change.


Aha! What if things began peacefully, as Lennon wished things could be, but something shifted. Perhaps one character discovers a reason not to trust another. Perhaps one country suspects another country wants to steal its land, people, or natural resources. Maybe one character becomes motivated to dupe, mislead, or even murder another. When things change, readers become interested.

Conventional wisdom says that the best novels start in the middle of conflict, when things are already going wrong, but creative writing knows no rules. I can think of at least one good novel that starts out with everything moving along swimmingly, but things slowly go awry. As a result I found myself captive by the book Scarlett Feather by Mauve Binchy.

A warning to fellow writers: imagine all you want, but be sure you imagine conflict in your novels, or you will be writing a saga, memoir, or biography, instead.

Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas, owner of Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm, is the author of an award-winning book on creative writing titled Write In Style. Order your copy today at or, or order a signed copy at  

Bobbie Christmas also writes a funny, sometimes creepy, but always interesting and true blog about her encounters with the opposite sex. To read and follow her blog titled "Neurotica: Stories of  Lust, Love, and Letting Go," see

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Most Memorable Childhood Book


Earlier this month I reported on the book that changed my life, Wayne Dyer’s first book, Your Erroneous Zones. Today I will tell of the book that made me enjoy a bit of history when I attended grammar school. I wish I could say that I continued to enjoy history after reading that memorable book, but few teachers taught it the way Robert Lawson did in the 1951 edition of Ben and Me: A New and Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin as written by his Good Mouse Amos.

When I was in the fourth grade back in the 1950s, the building predated me by some thirty or more years. The wood in the steps, paneling, and floors emitted a specific scent. When I smell old lumber today, I’m transported back to my first years in school. I can almost hear and smell the hiss of the old radiators under the large windows that sported wavy glass.

Let me digress and discuss wavy glass, sometimes called cylinder glass, a typical glass manufactured and used in buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s. To make cylinder glass, a glassworker blew a large tube of glass. After cracking the glass off the blowpipe, the glassworker cut off the ends and slit the tube down one side. From there the sheets of glass were put into an oven, where they wilted and unfolded into a flat sheet. The result was glass with imperfections and bubbles, and if you looked through the glass and shook your head a little, objects in the distance jiggled and bobbed.

As a child I did not like school. History lessons struck me as the worst of the bunch. During lectures I distanced myself, gazed through the wavy-glass windows, nodded my head, and made trees in the distance dance and quiver.

I might not have learned a thing, if not for the school library.

Once a week the teacher released us from the classroom and gave us an hour to spend in the old library downstairs, where the aroma of wood mingled with the bouquet of paper and glue emitted from hundreds of hardback books. My sister Sandi, two years older than I was, had read and recommended Ben and Me, so I searched for it in the musty library, found it, and checked it out.

That book changed my perspective. First, I loved animals, so a book written from the point of view of a mouse appealed to me. Next, it opened history to me in a way I had never before experienced it. For the rest of my educational experience, though, I hoped to find something that would make history come alive as much as that book did. Only as an adult, when I travel to places I studied in school, do I feel history finally come alive again the way it came alive to me when I read Ben and Me.

When I talk to people born after me, Baby Boomers and others, I hear their favorite childhood books were fantasy or horror stories that entertained them but did nothing to teach them anything. What a shame! When I read Ben and Me, instead of going into some fantasyland that could never happen in real life, I learned about an important man in history and an era in America that actually took place.

I looked on Amazon today and was not surprised to see that Ben and Me has been re-released many more times since 1951 and is still in print. Way to go, Robert Lawson, Benjamin Franklin, and Amos!


Friday, September 18, 2015

A Truly Happy Birthday

Today is my birthday (September 18). My father used to say, “When you’re past fifty and nothing new hurts when you wake up, it’s a good day.” Nothing new hurt this morning, which means it will be a good day. Heck, every day is a good day in one way or another, although sometimes I have to search to find it. I usually need only a few seconds. You see, I am a happy person; it’s my nature to be positive. Yes, things hurt, and almost every day it’s something new. My philosophy, though, is that everything is temporary, and pain is too; at least it has been for me, thank goodness. I do know people who live with chronic pain, and I have sympathy for them, but I am determined that all my pains will be temporary.
Another philosophy of mine that gets me through many a difficult situation is that “If money can fix it, it isn’t a problem.” Yes, my air conditioner, furnace, stove, fridge, computer, or you name it always dies at the worst possible moment and sometimes puts me in a financial bind, but money can fix the problem, so soon it is not a problem at all. In contrast, the loss of one’s health or one’s loved one is a loss nothing can fix. I’ve lost many a loved one, but here I am, surviving every loss and setback

I know it sounds odd, but an acquaintance of mine once broke off our friendship because of my positive attitude. Her last comment to me was that I was not being honest or authentic, because I was always happy. She was a therapist who listened to problems all day long, and she often vented her own problems to me over lunch or dinner. Her “problems” involved disliking the color of the paint on her walls, resenting that her daughter’s mother-in-law got to see their grandchild more often than she did, faults she saw in the men she was dating or not dating, issues with her body image, and more. I watched her buy house after house, moving from place to place, trying to find her happiness, but of course nothing worked. Instead she complained. Eventually she complained about me. She said that if I were authentic, I would tell her what was wrong with my life.
Wrong with my life? I could find nothing wrong. I have followed a career path that I love. I have loving siblings and relatives and a few dear close friends. I live alone and love my privacy, yet I have experienced true love. Neither of my marriages worked for long, but good things came from both, including a handsome, intelligent son who practices veterinary medicine near D.C. and is married to a woman I love as if she were my own daughter.

I have accomplished almost all my goals. When I was in high school, for example, I knew that I wanted to write for a living, and eventually I wanted to write a book that would live on after me. In the 1960s I did not know the subject of the book or how I would get it published, but I have now written several books, sold one to a traditional publisher, and self-published others. The ones about creative writing go a long way toward helping fellow writers, and helping others makes me feel even better about achieving that goal.
When I was in my twenties and a young mother, I longed to travel. I used to say that I wanted to see Venice before it sank and the Grand Canyon before it filled back in. Now I have been to both places—Venice twice and the Grand Canyon three times.

Today I have traveled the world, but I have not yet seen it all. In fact my sister and I have planned two big trips for 2016 together. In the spring we are going to take a ten-day river cruise and see the Netherlands and Belgium during tulip time. In the summer we will tour through the Canadian Rockies together for another ten days.

I look back over my accomplishments and realize I would be impressed by someone who has achieved all that I have. I have been self-supporting for most of my life. I started my own business, Zebra Communications, and it has supported me since 1992. I bought a house all by myself without knowing what my income was going to be from my then-new business, yet I paid off the mortgage in sixteen years. I found someone to customize my brand-new Honda and turn it into a zebra car, and I drove that sweet automobile that I called Zebadiah for twenty-four wonderful years.
I find my work fascinating, as if I solve an interesting puzzle every time I tackle a manuscript, and best of all, my work helps fellow writers. I get to speak at conferences and meetings for writers, again helping them on their path.

Recalling when our family used to bowl together when we kids were young, I talked my brother and sister into bowling together, once we all landed back in the same area for the first time as adults. For some fifteen years or more, now, we have bowled together at least once a week and sometimes twice a week, enjoying love, laughter, and lunch, too.
I feel fulfilled. I smile often, even when I’m alone.

Oh, and about nine years ago I rescued a parakeet that landed on my deck starving and shivering. Today a plump and healthy Bruce Bird sings delightful tunes in my home every day. Shortly after rescuing Bruce Bird, I took in a dog that had been in the wrong home, and today he is a loving companion who adores being cuddled.

Most recently I've been writing my relationship memoirs, because my encounters with the opposite sex have been funny, odd, unusual, sometimes sexy, but always plentiful. Although my book proposal has met with a few rejections, I learn something with each one. The latest said there may not be a market for my book. Hm. How do you find out if there is a market for a book? You start a blog and see if people want to read what you have to say. A couple of weeks ago I started a blog with the working title of my book, Neurotica. See, and I hope you will sign up to follow that blog to see more stories when I post them.
Many people have read my new Neurotica blog entries and said they love my stories, and I have dozens more to write. The encounters in the blog may not appear in the book, because the book covers relationships with more depth, but if people like my stories, they will buy the book. Yes, there is a market, and I will prove it. If no publisher wants to invest in my newest book, I will self-publish it. I am a writer, and I will not be daunted or thwarted.

I have food, shelter, warmth, love, something interesting to do, and something to look forward to. Yes, happy birthday to me.
Happy every day to me!