“Why do you think you should be used to this by now? We’re all beginners at this,” Masten told me. “This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s expecting a lot to think we’d be managing this really well.”
An author I work with wrote a blog post this weekend that I had to share. We’re watching the world change at a rapid rate, and all the uncertainty is overwhelming. But there’s something beautiful inside all the chaos that’s important to remember:
That we will get through this, I have no doubt, but it is up to each of us to decide what we will take from the COVID-19 assault on our pristine shores. Taken all together, the events of this year have changed my life permanently. What I have learned is that the most precious thing we have in life is each other—not just our relatives and friends, but our whole community, and that includes the weakest, the strongest, the youngest, the oldest, and all those in between.
But what about when you’re writing without the use of a specific source, condensing the knowledge you’ve gained from books, articles, films, etc. into a piece with your name as the author? That’s when it’s time to learn about the connection between “common knowledge” and plagiarism.
Broadly speaking, common knowledge refers to information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up. This includes:
Information that most people know, such as that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit or that Barack Obama was the first American of mixed race to be elected president.
Information shared by a cultural or national group, such as the names of famous heroes or events in the nation’s history that are remembered and celebrated.
Knowledge shared by members of a certain field, such as the fact that the necessary condition for diffraction of radiation of wavelength from a crystalline solid is given by Bragg’s law.
However, what may be common knowledge in one culture, nation, academic discipline or peer group may not be common knowledge in another.
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For the past two months, I’ve been working with the author of a noir-style 1940s suspense novel. The timeline of events in the 300+-page book is complicated—even down to exact minutes.
How do authors keep such intricate details straight? Plot them out in the beginning and keep track of them as you go along.
There are so many ways to do this:
- dry-erase markers on a whiteboard,
- sticky notes on a wall,
- index cards on a corkboard,
- an outline in a word processing document,
- a detailed spreadsheet (like Microsoft’s Excel), or
- even a dedicated program (like Aeon Timeline).
Plotting out the events of your novel not only makes its timeline clear but can also help refine its story arc. How? As you coordinate what happens, you’ll inevitably find places where the action drags or a scene doesn’t fit (a lengthy but unnecessary stop at a grocery store, for instance). Seeing everything laid out will tell you exactly what needs to be rearranged, shortened/lengthened, or removed entirely.
The time to make sure the details of your timeline are straight is before you start writing, but if you’re in the middle of things and find yourself more and more confused, it’s never too late to get organized.
Write down the details, type them out, or even draw them—anything that helps you clarify where your characters have been and where they’re going.
Leech and leach are two words I don’t run across very often as verbs, but when I do … well, let’s just say that sometimes, even an editor needs a little help.
“The verb leach means to empty, drain, or remove.
“The noun leech refers to a bloodsucking worm or to a person who preys on or clings to another. As a verb, leech means to bleed with leeches or to act as a parasite.”