Preying on the Weak (Verbs)

felt, looked, seemed…

They’re the most basic of verbs–the ones used to identify a state of being. We sometimes need them in our writing, and a story without them might well be florid and over-the-top. But an excess of weak verbs sucks the energy from a story. A good writer learns to stalk those weak verbs like prey and cull them from the literary herd.

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I Am a Human Comma

I love StumbleUpon. While it turns up a lot of inane (though still sometimes funny) gobbledygook, nearly just as often I come across something that makes me think. Robert J. Samuelson’s Newsweek article, “The Sad Fate of the Comma,” was one such thing. While punctuation articles don’t normally intrigue me–anyone who knows me and my writing knows that my understanding of grammar is more practical than academic–this one caught my eye because it was not only engaging and well-written, but a treatise on modern life. About the disappearance of the comma from today’s writing Samuelson said:

If all this involved only grammar, I might let it lie. But the comma’s sad fate is, I think, a metaphor for something larger: how we deal with the frantic, can’t-wait-a-minute nature of modern life. The comma is, after all, a small sign that flashes PAUSE. It tells the reader to slow down, think a bit, and then move on. We don’t have time for that. No pauses allowed. In this sense, the comma’s fading popularity is also social commentary.

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What’s it All About?

Originally published in Fiction Fix Newsletter, November, 2001

Do you know the difference between a story and an anecdote? Unless you plan on selling little “slice of life” vignettes toStorytelling magazines like Reader’s Digest and Woman’s Day for the rest of your writing career, you’d better. Merriam-Webster defines an anecdote as “a usually short narrative of an interesting, amusing, or biographical incident.” Sounds similar to a story, right? Stories are narratives, and they certainly should be interesting. They can be amusing or biographical. Sometimes they’re even about a single incident. In fact, you could wrap the word anecdote around just about any piece of fiction and tug at it until it fit. But as a fiction writer, you might be wise to consider the etymology of anecdote, which comes from the Greek anekdota, meaning “unpublished items.” Continue Reading »

The following was originally published in Fiction Fix Newsletter in January, 2002.

We talk every day. We hold conversations wherever we go–at work, outConversation shopping, or at home with our families. You could say we’re all experts at casual chatter. Why, then, do many writers find dialog so difficult to write?I’ve always been a whiz at making characters converse. But when people ask me how I do it I find myself stumped. How can I explain something that comes naturally? It wasn’t as if I ever had to learn it; I just do it. So I started thinking about how I write dialog, trying to bring forth some of the techniques I subconsciously use, and rules I instinctively follow. This is what I came up with.
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Here Goes…

I start blogs a lot like I started diets back in the days when I thought dieting worked. with lots of enthusiasm that eventually tapers off into procrastination. I probably shouldn’t tell the world that I’m a notorious blog slacker, but really, what’s the point of blogging if you’re not going to be honest?

If you really want to know more about me, click the “Who Am I?” tab and learn up. I’m ordinary (again with the honesty), but I have a way with words and a few things to say, so perhaps you’ll visit again and hear me out. I think I’ll start off by posting some short and short-short fiction I wrote several years back. Maybe you’ll care enough to comment. Maybe you’re a literary agent and you’ll offer to make me famous. (Hey, it could happen!) For whatever reason you’re here, enjoy. And please leave a little of yourself behind in my comments. Just be a good guest and don’t make me clean up after you or, worse yet, kick you out.

Welcome to my blog! Here goes.

This post originally appeared in an older, abandoned blog of mine on January 19, 2006. I thought it was worth reposting here.

My little girl is an expert compliment-giver. And although we often joke about the way she seems to suck up to peopleDiversity (after Shayla issues a compliment, Peter’s been known to say, “Did anyone else hear that giant sucking sound?”)…she’s really very genuine about it.

Last weekend we went on an excursion to the mall. I hate malls, but I endure them occasionally when Shayla decides she needs to make a pilgrimage to Build-a-Bear Workshop to spend her Christmas money. And my daughter, ever the charmer, was striking up conversations all over the place. “I like your braids!” she said to a beautiful brown-skinned woman with plaited black hair.

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Short fiction by Karen Hertzberg

“I thought I told you to leave,” he says. Slow. Steady.

He sits on the wide sill of his apartment window, watching the afternoon parade of cars, taxis, bikes and pedestrians three stories below. He hears her make a soft noise behind him–that same jagged sigh, almost like crying, almost like the sobbing sound she makes at orgasm. But she doesn’t answer him, of course, and he doesn’t bother to turn around.

Finally, he hears her slow footfalls tick on the hardwood, receding, marking time to the rise and fall of his chest. He inhales the faint contrail of her aroma—not perfume, but some amalgamation of cherry vanilla body lotion, baby shampoo and the kitten scent of her breath. He wants to turn and pull her to the floor, penetrate, fuck to absolution. But he can’t be absolved, and he always hears the cadence of her heels as she goes. She is never gone for long.


At breakfast the next morning, he fixes pancakes and eggs. He is reminded of the feelings of disgust and longing that always mingled inside him as he watched her fork food between her dainty lips. She would eat with tiny rabbit bites, miniscule chewing motions that drove him nuts. Today, however, he will toss the morning’s feast down the garbage disposal. Though he doesn’t eat much lately, he always overdoes it.

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