Things are looking up on Dictionary Day

dictionary

Today is Dictionary Day. It takes place each year on the birthdate of lexicographer Noah Webster.

When my grandmother died in 2012, I inherited her dictionary and its stand. The dictionary is Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, published in 1961. It’s in my office at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Although I usually go to Merriam-Webster’s website to look up a word, I occasionally scan the pages of the print dictionary, thinking of my grandmother and her love of words and language.

You can read more about the history of Merriam-Webster dictionaries on the company’s site. If you want a deeper look at lexicography, I recommend “Word By Word” by Kory Stamper and “Founding Grammars” by Rosemarie Ostler.

Happy Dictionary Day!

Guest post: How to prepare for NaNoWriMo success

erin-servais

Erin Servais is a book editor, author coach, and founder of Dot and Dash, an author-services company. In her decade-plus in publishing, she has helped to bring hundreds of titles to publication, including books that went on to be USA Today and Amazon best sellers. Servais has developed specialties in romance and women’s fiction, and she focuses her business on women author-entrepreneurs who self-publish their books. 

Hundreds of thousands of people are signing up for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year, just like they do every year. And like every year, most people won’t hit the 50,000-word finish line they’re supposed to reach from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30. Almost 90% won’t, if you tally up the scattershot figures.

The biggest reason why is because people don’t plan ahead. That’s the main thing that separates the “winners” from the “losers” (it’s called “winning” if you reach the word count). One group spends hours deliberately planning their novel, and the other plops down on Nov. 1 with a pot of coffee and a couple of vague ideas, thinking 50,000 words will magically pour out.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic, folks. But you can finish in time, with a solid first draft, if you spend the time now preparing.

There are three main areas to plan: plot, characters and setting. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to think about for each section.

Plot

You can get as detailed as you want with your plot planning, but there are some areas you will want to figure out for certain:

  • Genre
  • Premise
  • Beginning
  • Ending
  • Key events in between

Some people will make a scene-by-scene outline that includes all kinds of details and even the position of the moon. They’re called “plotters.” The writers who recoil at the previous thought are called “pantsers,” as in “fly by the seat of their pants.” They sit down and write what comes to them as it comes to them.

Under normal circumstances, I tell writers to do what feels best. Either way can be successful. But when you’ve been writing for 20 days in a row and your last three lines have come from you falling asleep on the letter Z, you’re going to be thankful you at least outlined your key events.

Characters

For your story to feel believable and not one dimensional, you’ll want to have thoughtful, fully realized characters. This is why you’ll want to create a character profile for most of them. (The waitress with only three lines gets a pass.) Your profile should include:

  • Physical characteristics: (eye color, hair color, build, etc.)
  • Life basics: (job, hobbies, etc.)
  • Strengths & weaknesses (physical, mental or emotional)
  • Fun facts (favorite movie, favorite food, etc.)

You won’t need to include every detail about every character in your book, but knowing so much about your characters will help you better assess how they will react in any given situation.

As you create your characters, be sure to invent an antagonist (bad guy) for your protagonist (main character) and at least a few side characters. You’ll also want to think about their relationships with each other. Who is your character’s best friend? Who’s their love interest? Who do they have a positive relationship with? Who do they have a negative relationship with? Who do they tell their secrets to?

Setting

Setting is important to establishing the feeling and mood of a scene. A scene taking place in a shopping mall cafeteria would have a starkly different feeling than one happening in a darkened cave, for example. Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself about your settings include:

  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?
  • Does it take place in many settings or in one setting?
  • How do characters travel from one setting to the next?

You’ll also want to consider your characters’ relationship to settings. A king would have different feelings about his castle’s throne room than the person who is plotting the king’s death, for example. Characters’ relationship to the setting may influence their behavior in the scene.

Organization

One way to organize all of these details is to use a workbook. I have created one called “The One-Month Novel Workbook.” It includes 64 pages of worksheets covering all of these topics and more, along with writing-success guides and self-care ideas.

The workbook comes as a digital download and in print. You can learn more about it — and the book-coaching program I have created for this contest — here: https://www.dotanddashllc.com/shop

Learn more about Erin Servais on her website and follow her on Twitter.

How to prepare for the Dow Jones News Fund editing test

dowjonesnewsfund
College students attend an editing session at Temple University. The week of training is part of the Dow Jones News Fund internship. (Photo by Margo Reed)

It’s Dow Jones season. That’s when journalism students apply for editing internships with the Dow Jones News Fund. Interns will work at news organizations across the country in summer 2020.

The application includes a one-hour test that assesses skills in story editing, headline writing, word choice and current events. Here are some tips on how to get ready for this closed-book test:

  • Review news for the past year, including deaths of noteworthy people. Sports, business and entertainment may be included along with national and international news.
  • Know the terminology of journalism such as search engine optimization.
  • Study word pairs listed in the AP Stylebook: who/whom, affect/effect, flounder/founder, etc.
  • Memorize the state locations on a U.S. map. You’ll need to connect  news events to the states they took place in.
  • Be able to brainstorm ideas for digital storytelling, including links and story formats.
  • Watch math carefully. You can expect math errors in the stories you edit.
  • Practice headline writing for print and digital media. Know how to tweet.
  • Take tests from past years.

The deadline to apply is Nov. 8. Good luck to all of the students taking the test this year.

Celebrating our freedoms under the First Amendment

firstamendmentday2019

The 11th annual First Amendment Day at UNC-Chapel Hill is Tuesday, Sept. 24. It’s sponsored by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy. Here is what the day is all about:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression deserves a day of recognition and celebration. The events this year include:

  • A reading of banned books and exhibit of work by an imprisoned artist
  • A discussion about hate speech that will be recorded for “The State of Things” radio program
  • A trivia competition and selfie contest

All sessions are free and open to all. I’d love to see you there. You can also follow the fun on social media with the hashtag #uncfree.

Express yourself!

Q&A with Sam Oches of Food News Media

QSR-magazine-covers

Sam Oches is editorial director at Food News Media, a B2B communications company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Oches discusses how the company covers the restaurant industry and what he looks for in candidates for jobs and internships.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My job is very much spinning a lot of plates.

I oversee editorial direction and strategy for both QSR and FSR magazines, which are trade publications for the national restaurant industry. That includes overseeing the production of monthly print issues for both magazines along with our ever-expanding digital presence, managing our five-person editorial team and maintaining a pool of a couple of dozen freelance writers.

But increasingly the job is oriented toward innovation and new products, as well as being an ambassador for the publications. So I’ve rolled out a new podcast for QSR called “Fast Forward” (which I also edit, produce, etc.) and launched a networking-event series for restaurant owners called Fast Casual Meet Ups, of which we’re doing 10 this year and 12 next year. Then I’ll also moderate panels, give speeches and talk with consumer media whenever appropriate.

My typical day depends on the timing of the month and deadlines we have on the horizon. Usually I’ll have a week where I’m mostly assigning stories and working with writers, then a week where I’m copy editing first drafts, then a week where I’m proofing the books and maybe a week where I’m doing more content creation, including writing and podcast editing.

In and among all of that I’m conversing with restaurant owners, executives and experts; researching trends and new restaurant concepts; and developing a plan and RSVP list for our next event. Then, of course, every day includes lots and lots of emailing.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Food News Media’s magazines?

A. Every piece of print content usually has three or four sets of eyeballs on it before it gets published. Each editor here has sections they manage, and they give each story a first pass in editing. Then another editor will give it a second pass before it gets laid out by design.

After the design team has laid out the entire issue, two editors proof each book, and we also have a freelance proofer who gives it a careful read. Then we have a 24-hour window right before publishing when each editor gives the book one final pass. Suffice to say, we rarely have typos or mistakes.

As for headlines, print headlines are usually established in the first or second pass at editing. We ask that the writer suggest a couple of possible heds.

Our digital process, of course, is a little different. Due to time demands, stories get much less editing attention, and so we have to trust our digital writers to create content that is as clean and quality as possible. I’ll often give our premier digital content a read just after it’s been published, to try to catch any mistakes that might have made it through.

Digital headlines are always crafted with audience engagement in mind — and yes, that means we’ve had to explore the more acceptable components of clickbait when possible. Our digital team is very good at walking right up to the line of clickbait without crossing it. Also, all of our print content gets new headlines when published online, because again, we have to consider audience engagement.

Q. You are a graduate of the journalism program at Ohio University. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use today? What new ones have you picked up?

A. I graduated from OU a decade ago, but it might as well have been a generation ago based on how much journalism and storytelling have evolved since then. We were just kicking the tires of social media when I graduated!

I learned all of the basics in school, of course, and copy editing and storytelling techniques were particularly important. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be good at copy editing. The world is filled with sloppy writers!

But the biggest thing I took away from my time at OU was learning about business-to-business journalism. During my junior year, my adviser pointed me toward a class she taught on B2B; I assumed it would be all about economics reporting and numbers, but it was far from it. We learned how you could take a niche subject and break it down into the nuts and bolts, then explore those nuts and bolts using reporting and writing.

To that point, I was hellbent on being the next Lester Bangs, but the B2B class helped me understand that the path to journalistic success was much more varied and had much more opportunity than I’d thought. That class led to an internship at an architecture trade pub, and that internship helped me land the associate editor gig at QSR when I graduated in 2009 — a big deal since we were in the thick of a recession.

Q. What do you look for in applicants for jobs and internships? Any advice for students interested in B2B writing and editing?

A. Believe it or not, the most important differentiating factors among applicants are usually passion, drive and curiosity. Your resume may be short and your clips may not be super sexy. But if you come into an interview demonstrating that you’ve researched our publications and that you’re committed to continuous learning — and *cough* you ask some good questions *cough* — then I’ll probably want to find room for you on my team. We can probably teach you the rest of it.

My advice to anyone interested in the B2B field would be to go out and find some publications covering subjects you’re interested in or know a lot about — there is a trade for just about every single subject, even in the arts (Billboard and Variety, anybody?). Read those publications and get a feel for how they approach content. Develop some pitches and send them to the editors.

Even if they don’t assign you the story, it’s great to have a foot in the door. Most editors will even jump on the phone with you to describe their process and how to get included in their freelance pool.

Follow Sam Oches on Twitter and learn more about Food News Media at its website.

How journalism students get their news

Each semester, I ask students in my editing course: How do you get your news? The answers have changed over the years.

In the late 2000s, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” was a frequent response. In 2015, The Skimm was very popular. One constant: The Daily Tar Heel, though less in print and more via its website and email newsletters.

This semester, the most frequently mentioned source of news is podcasting. Many of my students listen to The Daily from The New York Times and news podcasts from the BBC.

Others read news on the websites of their hometown newspapers, including The Charlotte Observer and Cherokee One Feather. A couple of students read the print editions at libraries on campus. Of the 40 students in the two sections of the course, none mentioned television or traditional radio broadcasts.

Will podcasts last, or will they go the way of “The Daily Show”? I’ll ask again in the coming semesters, and I will share any news here.

What I am teaching this semester

carrollhall
Carroll Hall is home to the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The fall semester at UNC-Chapel Hill has begun. Here’s what I am teaching this term at the School of Media and Journalism:

  • Two sections of MEJO 157, News Editing. This undergraduate course focuses on fact checking, story editing, caption writing and headline writing for print and digital media. Each section has 20 students; the class meets twice a week. Here is the syllabus for the course.
  • One section of MEJO 711, Writing and Editing for Digital Media. This graduate-level course is part of a certificate program and a master’s program, both of which are taught online. This course covers an array of digital writing, including headlines, newsletters and tweets. It has 20 students, and it meets asynchronously. Here is the syllabus for the course.

In addition to teaching these courses, I will chair a thesis committee for a master’s student. I’ll also serve on various committees in the journalism school, including the curriculum committee and the tenure/promotion committee.

Best wishes to faculty, staff and students on a successful semester!