The hero in my WIP, Cody, has a tendency to use big words and shrink-speak when he’s upset, angry or flustered. (There’s a reason he has a T-shirt that says “I’m fluent in psychobabble.”)

It turns out Cody and I have that in common. Now that I’m writing fiction fairly regularly, I notice myself trying to flaunt my vocabulary in the articles I write for the newspaper, too.

When I was in journalism school (way back in the dark ages … the early 1990s), we learned the average reading level of the newspaper audience was eighth grade. (I think I’ve heard it’s since dropped to sixth grade, but I might be mistaken there.)

I analyzed my writing style with a computer program once (way back in those same dark ages) and it told me I wrote at a 10th-grade level. That has more than likely changed the farther I’ve gotten from college (where everyone used big words in an attempt to show off what they thought they knew) and the more deeply entrenched I’ve become in journalistic style.

We journalists are trained to use simpler words. A school bus is just plain “yellow,” not “canary” or even “that shade of mustard peculiar to school buses.” Don’t use “growled” or “yelled” when a simple “said” gets the point across without embellishment.

Sometimes I wonder if that training has affected my fiction writing. In first drafts, I often go with the most expedient word. Then I scramble to change it later on.

But now that I’m shifting my focus to making a good impression on agents and editors, I find myself choosing words with a little more razzmatazz … well, like razzmatazz. 😉

That’s not a bad thing at all — unless I’m writing a story for the newspaper. When I’m in journalist mode, I have to catch myself before I use words like “eschew.”

At least I haven’t tried to throw “bifurcated” into a sentence. I stumbled across that one while editing someone else’s story one night and spent much time complaining to whoever would listen that “bifurcated” was unnecessary when “forked” meant the same darn thing — and didn’t send readers scrambling for the nearest dictionary.

How about you? Ever catch yourself using words that make you feel like a big fish in a small pond?

I don’t often do this, but after I wrote this post for my other blog, I realized it’d be a perfect fit here, too. Here goes:

Sign me up for the Vince Vaughn fan club

Has anyone else seen “The Dilemma” yet? In it, Vince Vaughn plays a guy who discovers his best friend’s wife is cheating on him. Then he has to deal with his dilemma: To tell or not to tell.

Am I the only one who thinks Vince Vaughn is a great leading man?

“The Breakup”? Hilarious. “Wedding Crashers”? Heck, yeah. “Couples Retreat”? I could watch it over and over. “Four Christmases”? Yes, please — and I’ll take a couple more while we’re at it.

I love the fast-talking, mistake-prone, so-smart-yet-so-dumb, sweet, funny type of guy Vaughn seems to excel at portraying.

He may not be Brad-Pitt beautiful or Gerard Butler gorgeous, but he’s adorable in his own way. He’s more guy next door … the one the girl doesn’t realize she’s in love with until he’s dating someone else. Then she kicks herself ten ways to Sunday and embarks on a campaign to steal him away from the other woman who is, of course, clearly wrong for him.

Hmm … did I just come up with a story idea? I can work with that.

You never know … maybe I can talk Vaughn into playing the hero in one of my novels someday.

You’re nothing without your dreams, right? 😉

(Speaking of Gerard Butler, the movie trivia playing before the film started said he had a law degree. I did not know that … but I bet Kristan Higgins did. She’s always posting “Gerard Butler Grammar Quizzes” on the RWA newsletter editors’ loop.)

I was out on a walk Saturday morning, listening to my iPod, when a song by my favorite band came on and it hit me: This could be Mike James’ theme song.

Mike, you might remember, is the hero in Bree & Mike’s story (the one with the crappy title). He’s the one who wants everyone to think he’s a playboy so he can avoid romantic entanglements with nice girls like my heroine … the one who doesn’t think he deserves a nice girl to love and love him.

The song that seemed to fit him to a T is Depeche Mode’s “Wrong.”

I reached the wrong ends by the wrong means

It was the wrong plan
In the wrong hands
The wrong theory for the wrong man
The wrong eyes on the wrong prize
The wrong questions with the wrong replies …

I was marching to the wrong drum
With the wrong scum
Pissing out the wrong energy
Using all the wrong lines
And the wrong signs
With the wrong intensity

When it comes to Mike, all true. Well, he does say the right things (at least the right things for an outrageous flirt), but for the wrong reasons.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Depeche Mode has been my favorite group since high school, and I often find ways to apply their lyrics to life. In college, I quoted “New Dress” (about how changing a vote can change the world) in some political science paper.

Now I’m wondering if this makes Mike more of an anti-hero. Oh, he’s definitely not as dark as Gareth, the alcoholic since age 14 who’s trying to escape his abusive father by taking refuge with my almost-as-messed-up heroine.

But Mike at least fancies himself a “bad boy,” courtesy of his past.

I love this story. I hope I can find someone who likes it as much as I do.

There’s not much to report here. Despite having a wisdom tooth removed Monday, I’ve been keeping up with the writing.

Mainly, I’ve been busy exploring my hero’s reasons for stripping and my heroine’s motivations for wanting to be married by 25. (With one less wisdom tooth — I’m now down to one — I’m having trouble seeing any wisdom in either of their hangups.)

Bree & Mike’s story is now up to about 42,000 words, leaving me to add 13K more to get it to category length. It’ll probably take a couple more read-throughs to get there, but I’ll do it … and then all three of the stories in my “Women of Willow’s Grove” series will be ready for prime time.

I spent some time tonight reading through parts of Bree & Mike’s story, and I’ve come to the conclusion that he might be the best hero in my Women of Willow’s Grove trilogy.

Not surprising, considering he was going to be Erin’s hero (until Brad got in the way). He sprang, fully formed, from the depths of imagination … with a little helpful inspiration in the form of a guy I used to work with.

He’s Greek-god gorgeous (of course!) and he’s not afraid to use his looks to fuel his playboy reputation. He earns extra cash dancing at Willow’s Grove’s only male strip joint, has an aging cat named Augie and isn’t at all the playboy everyone thinks he is.

See? Already he’s more interesting than Brad and Dustin combined … No wonder I haven’t gotten many nibbles on my query for Brad & Erin’s story.

I have other heroes that I like, too. Matt is great and I love Damien best of all. But Mike James will always be my first. And as such, he’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Thanks, GI — wherever you are.

My time away from the day job, fortunately, has not meant a vacation from writing.

I must say I haven’t gotten as much accomplished as I’d hoped: A couple thousand words written in editing mode and three rejections received from agents.

Still, at least I’ve been getting something done. That’s no small feat when I can’t seem to settle to any single project. Not one of my stories is demanding my full attention.

I’ve been doing some reading, too. As I’ve mentioned before, it seems that when I’m reading more, I’m writing less. I read Jennifer Crusie’s “Faking It” and now I’m zipping through Vicki Lewis Thompson’s “Chick with a Charm.” (It’s the sister story for the one I read last month, “Blonde with a Wand.”) The hero and heroine are great. Can’t wait to see their happy ending.

In fact, I’m about to take myself to breakfast, where I intend to finish the book. Then I’ll camp out at Starbucks for a few hours and hopefully get some more writing done.

I’m trying to go back in and add a more substantial conflict to the second Willow’s Grove story. My hero and heroine, Cassie and Dustin, meet at Brad and Erin’s wedding and dislike each other immediately. Then they find out they’re working together (he’s an FBI agent assigned to a kidnapping case and she’s the police reporter covering the story).  I have the witty banter down cold, but they don’t have any deep-seated reason for their squabbles — yet.

I hope to rectify that situation soon. Her roller coaster moods remind him of his bipolar mother and she doesn’t want to get involved with someone who’s only in town for a short time. It should help me expand the story to the required length. Right now it’s at about 49,000 words, which means adding at least 6,000.

How is it that something I never thought much about before last week is now popping up everywhere?

I just checked out The Seekers blog, and their latest post is about “writing ‘guy.'”

Last week, after checking out another post, I found myself asking if guys really speak in shorter sentences. (It was something I’d never considered — guess that’s the curse of having a loquacious boyfriend.)

Apparently, most men aren’t so talkative … and they’re not as tortured by feelings as our heroines are. Who knew that while she’s torturing herself with a play-by-play of what went wrong on their latest date, he’s thinking about car repairs?

At least that’s Dave Barry’s take, as posted at Seekerville. I think I need to get his book … or some other one that’ll help my men sound more like men.

Hmm. Something else to worry about before I send off the manuscript to the Golden Heart contest. Aargh!

Well, at least I had a productive morning before our NARWA board meeting yesterday. And we had a great meeting. Now it’s time to get to work on the next issue of our chapter’s newsletter.

Oh, jeez … more stuff to do. Why’d I have to go and think about that?