I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
Tag Archives: grammar
I am excited to post — with permission, of course — an article that Mary Deal has put together with her perspective on foreshadowing. I told her when she sent me the article that I love this particular literary device, and I’m pretty good at spotting it when I read. Because I can spot it so well, when I write my own stories, I try to use it with great subtlety. In fact, I like to sprinkle foreshadowing dust in my books, and then pull the foreshadowed hints together like a bunch of threads at the climax to the story. Read More
When you write your first draft, perhaps you simply write whatever comes out just to get the ideas onto the page. You know you’ll go back time and time again to get it polished just right. Maybe you polish your sentences or paragraphs before going onto the next one. Then, after all your editing, you feel something is still lacking. Maybe it’s the way you phrase the action. Maybe it’s a simple matter like your choice of words.
To help you make your prose as descriptive as possible without sounding flowery, read your composition again and look for specific words that could be replaced with descriptive VERBS that zero in on the exact action taking place.
I’m no stranger to getting the first word out that comes to mind and then needing to go back and clean up my grammar. Here are some samples from the novel I’m presently writing. I first wrote this:
Afterward, she went on her way.
If you write a sentence like this, ask yourself, How did she go? Instead of went describe her movements or gait:
Afterward, she sauntered away.
Afterward, she slipped away
Read this phrase:
Danced across the floor
Danced is a descriptive word, but it’s also a little common and could refer to many, many ways of dancing. How about…
Did a two-step across the floor
Waltzed across the floor
She felt around the floor of the car, trying to find the cell phone
Felt is also quite common.
She groped around the seat and on the floor of the car…
She slid her hand between the seats
Although a lot of emotion can be stirred just reading certain words they, too, can be made more descriptive. Replace this:
The thought of dying came to mind.
…with something like this:
The thought of bleeding to death came to mind
The thought of succumbing to coma, never to wake again, came to mind.
The above has two words to watch. We could have used:
The thought of slipping into a coma… instead, succumbing is more dramatic than gently slipping into a coma. Slipping hints at the character gently fading. Succumbing tells us she would put up a gallant fight to stay alive until, perhaps, more powerful forces overtook her. It’s more dramatic.
Here’s another sentence with two words:
The fireman holding up her head managed to get his upper body through the open windshield space.
The fireman supporting her head managed to squeeze his upper body through the open windshield space.
All of the words replaced above, and many, many more, are common words. The actions need to be exactly defined, made more exciting with better, more descriptive verbs and adverbs if your grammar is to stand out.
Your prose must sing and dance off the page. Anytime you describe what a character does, always check to see if a more descriptive word might apply. Using words that better show the exact actions that your character performs helps your reader become the character. That’s exactly what great prose does.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: Today I will change up my format a bit. Instead of a series of Q & A with my guest authors, I am going to let them tell their story in their own words. All the way from England, please welcome Carol and Bob Bridgestock!.
Carol and Bob Bridgestock have spent almost half a century between them working for the West Yorkshire Police in the North of England. The force is the fourth largest in the Country.
Bob was born in West Yorkshire in 1952. He attended local schools – the last one being Morley Grammar School. He had a weekend and holiday job working at the local butchers, and when the offer of an apprenticeship came he left school and commenced work before the exams. The apprenticeship was for five years after which he became qualified and competent. Bob decided after a while that the career wasn’t the one he wanted to pursue and took up a job in a dye works, only because of the money and he had a young family. This, however, was a complete contrast to what he had done before and over the next two years he considered his future.
The next 30 years he spent as a Police officer, working as a detective at every rank and spending less than three of them thirty years in uniform. During his distinguished and exemplary career he received recognition for his outstanding detective work by way of ‘commendations’ from judges and chief constables. A total of 26 is an unusually high figure. As well as being a senior detective for over 17 years, he was also an on call negotiator for kidnap, hostage and suicide intervention incidents.
He achieved the rank of Detective Superintendent and became one of a very small number of Senior Investigating Officers in the force. As ‘the man in charge’ in his last three years alone he took charge of: 26 murder investigations, 23 major incidents including attempted murder and shootings, over 50 suspicious deaths, and numerous sexual attacks.
Carol was also born in West Yorkshire in 1961 and the majority of her schooling was also in West Yorkshire, although for four years she lived in Milford-on-sea in Hampshire. She ended her school days, however, at Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. On leaving school Carol became a hairdresser and opened her own salon before going on to College to teach the subject. Later she worked in the Police in a number of support roles and was ultimately a supervisor in the administration department. During this time she also was commended for her work with the community, inspiring children to highlight crime prevention work.
When Bob completed his service Carol also retired from the force and they both headed to the south of England where they now live on the Isle of Wight. They had often holidayed on the Island and fell in love with the way of life and the tranquillity of the Island. The Police service behind them, they got on with enjoying life without a pager or a mobile phone. Carol had always told Bob he should write a book, but he had no incentive to do so. Their new group of friends on the island with no police connections also suggested that he write due to the fact he relayed so many stories about his career; some happy, others sad, many macabre. He resisted until a cold damp morning in 2008 he saw an advert in the local paper advertising a college course ‘Write your first novel’. As sudden as it was out of character, he booked them both on it to Carol’s amazement.
Thereafter their new joint career as co-authors took off.
Crime fiction was the answer to Bob’s reluctance to write. This way he could use his real life experience in a way that would not be connected to the original events.
Deadly Focus, the first novel, introduces Yorkshire Detective Inspector Jack Dylan and the clandestine love of his life Jennifer Jones. This is a fast moving story that allows you to travel with Dylan to a series of murders, seeing through his eyes the stark reality of death and its fallout. It allows the reader to feel as he does the highs and lows of an intense murder investigation. The reader through the ‘eyes’ of Jen also gets to know how it feels to be the partner of the ‘man in charge’.
Dylan’s strengths lies with his persistence and experience, but will the pressure have a dire affect on his health? Jen is his ’norm’ a safety net for his turmoil of emotions after the distressing sights he has to endure. Deadly Focus continues to receive 5 star reviews on Amazon, WH Smith etc. In May it was resurrected as the first crime novel in the RC Bridgestock series published by Caffeine Nights Publishers. It is also live on eBooks via Smashwords and Amazon as well as many other e Book outlets.
People often ask the question, ’How do you write together? Does one of you write the odd, the others the even?’
We enjoy working together at last! Our police ‘working life’ often meant spending hours apart. Bob writes the plot and the storyline from start to finish. Carol then takes this first draft and develops the scenes, the story line and importantly the characters. Carol teases out of Bob the true feelings of what it is really like to deal with these gruesome crimes. The novel is then passed back to Bob for the re-write to be checked. Then they both sit down together and go through every word, sentence and chapter to ensure it works. Then and only then is it ready for the publishers to scrutinise the draft.
As we said before, May this year sees the resurrection of the original Deadly Focus and it is also being published this time as an eBook. We have been fortunate to be taken into Caffeine Nights Publishers stable of authors who will also publish book two in the series this summer. We have called this book ‘Consequences.’ The third book in the series is ready for scrutiny by the publishers and book four is ready for the re-write stage. Others in the series are also being penned.
As can be seen, the writing is industrious, as well as being addictive and enjoyable. Both Carol and Bob are members of a local writing group called Wight Fair Writers’s Circle that Carol chairs. This group evolved from the college course and we remain a group who also runs competitions to inspire others to write, especially children. All proceeds go to local charities. Bob and Carol also do talks about Bob’s career for schools and colleges as well as other adult groups to raise money for the local hospice which they support. Certainly exciting times and a new career which they never considered when they retired,
To learn more about Carol and Bob and their writing visit their website. www.rcbridgestock.com. A must is also www.caffeine-nights.com. On both these sites you can download the first two chapters of Deadly Focus FREE! Carol & Bob are also on Facebook – Carol Bridgestock and RC Bridgestock and we Twitter – RC Bridgstock
The support from our readers around the globe is extremely satisfying and spurs us on. Read More
MA: Please welcome my guest today, author Debra Chapoton. Debra spent over 30 years teaching English and Spanish. She began writing fiction before retiring and now has 6 books published. She is currently working on a non-fiction project as well as another young adult fiction book. So, Debra, how did you get involved with writing?
DC: I have always been an enthusiastic reader and a lover of words. My profession of teaching grammar, writing and language skills in two languages was the perfect background for easing into a post-retirement career of writing.
MA: What made you want to write novels in particular?
DC: I love to tell stories that kids and adults would enjoy. I want to leave a legacy.
MA: Tell me about your stories.
DC: After writing a children’s series of adventure and fantasy books I tried my hand at writing a thriller: Edge of Escape. Emotionally impaired yet clever, Eddie obsesses over pretty Rebecca. He drugs her, abducts her and locks her away. She escapes, but that is part of his plan as he pretends to be her knight in shining armor. Will she accept his special devotion or reject his fragile love? Stalking gets a sympathetic twist in this story of fixation and fear.
MA: How did you develop your protagonists?
DC: Most of my characters, probably all, are based on people I know. The protagonist was easy to develop since the former students I modeled the main characters after were fresh in my mind; I had just had them in class for two semesters.
MA: What are your heroes’ strengths and weaknesses?
DC: First, it’s up to the reader to decide who the hero is, so I don’t want to slant things . . . but the character who is my personal favorite is idealistic but naïve.
MA: What about an antagonist…is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
DC: Again, the reader has to decide who the antagonist is. For me the worst character is actually Eddie’s mother, who shaped his pathetic life in a most pitiable way.
MA: What projects are you going to work on next?
DC: I plan on writing more children’s novels and I currently have another general fiction novel a third of the way finished. I also have a non-fiction project ready for publication this summer. It is based on a year-long Bible study that I taught.
MA: Will you continue to feature the same protagonist in future stories? Will any other characters migrate over to future books?
DC: The characters in my children’s books will appear again, but my adult and young adult characters are specific to each book.
MA: Thanks, Debra, for visiting with me today. Folks: check out Debra’s blog here: http://www.edgeofescape.blogspot.com
The letter S
Drop the s. If you believe that one letter couldn’t possible cause you to receive a rejection, I encourage you to think again, especially if the same mistake recurs throughout your manuscript.
Incorrect usage comes from the lax attitude about our English language. Most people speak in jargon or a brogue that comes from a certain locale. I also call it family hand-me-down language. Truth is, no matter from where you hail, your written grammar must be correct for a broader audience.
I’m speaking of the letter “s.” Check out these sentences:
She ran towards the garage.
The ball rolled backwards.
These sentences are all incorrect. That is, the use of the letter s is incorrect.
The letter s denotes something plural. In the first sentence, if you move toward something, you can only go in one direction. Toward.
If the ball rolled backward, it can only go in one direction. Backward.
If you look upward, you can only look in one direction. Upward.
Strangely, an example of an exception is:
She leaned sideways.
The rule here is that when leaning, you can lean sideways in more than one direction, therefore the use of the s.
You’ll find many other words that are incorrectly used with s endings. When you find these, make note of them, maybe a running list. You’ll have the list to refer back to when you question your own writing.
This is but one of the finite idiosyncrasies of producing better grammar when writing stories and books that you hope to sell. Study your own language and speech. Watch how the s is used or omitted in books that you love to read. Get into the habit of listening to the speech patterns of others. Be critical of what you hear, but never critical of a person who speaks that way. Instead, mentally analyze what you have heard. Learn the right from the wrong of speech and your writing will reflect your knowledge.
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
MA: I’m pleased today to welcome back a fellow Rocky Mountain author as my guest-blogger, Linda M. Faulkner. Linda first “guested” with me on January 29, 2010, just about one year ago. During that interview, she talked about her mystery novel, Second Time Around. When you finish reading today’s blog star with Linda, I’d encourage you to go back and read the first interview I did with her: Fellow Rocky Mountain Mystery Writer Linda Faulkner Rappels Down To The Child Finder Trilogy
Linda has written both fiction and non-fiction. She also pens a column, Business Sense, in The Weekender, a monthly entertainment newspaper (Orlando, FL) and articles for both regional and national magazines such as Three Rivers Lifestyle and Rough Notes. A tremendous body of Linda’s work appears in the insurance industry, where she has developed, written, and instructed numerous continuing education workshops and seminars. Visit Linda’s web site at: http://www.lindamfaulkner.com.
Your first published novel was a mystery. What prompted you to write a non-fiction business book?
LF: Actually it was a combination of two things. I’d been doing a significant amount of freelance writing in the insurance industry and it seemed an extension of that. Also, my husband (who loves gory science fiction movies and TV series but believes fiction will rot your brain) suggested it. Between my freelance writing and the fact that I’d founded several businesses, he felt I was more “qualified” to write business books than fiction. It sounded like a good idea, so I tried it.
MA: How is writing non-fiction different from writing fiction? You don’t get to make up stuff, do you?
LF: Actually, writing non-fiction has seriously improved my fiction—for several reasons. First, because non-fiction needs to be tighter than fiction, and because it’s not jazzed up with dialogue, it’s essential to use words that will make the greatest impact. Using those skills is definitely transferrable.
Having said that, the rules of grammar and punctuation and spelling don’t change with the genre. Neither do the rules of outlining and plotting, although it’s MUCH easier to outline (or plot) a non-fiction book. When I analyzed exactly how I outlined in non-fiction, and applied the technique to my fiction, it actually made the process easier!
And as far as making stuff up goes, sure you can make stuff up. You just can’t change facts or figures or statistics. I tend to teach by using examples and, while most of the examples I use in my business book are true stories, some of them are … fiction.
MA: Can writers benefit from the lessons in Taking the Mystery Out of Business?
LF: Absolutely! Writers are independent business people. They’re responsible for marketing, sales, building and retaining relationships, customer attention, and all the other things that people who have “real” jobs have to do.
MA: Well, Linda. I know you have a plane to catch, so we need to cut this off here, but I wanted to thank you for joining us today. Once again, Linda’s website is: www.lindafaulkner.com. Read More
Fewer or Less
These two words are not interchangeable. I see many incorrect usages but the rules about how they are used can be easily explained. Can you tell which of these sentences is incorrect?
~ I’ve written less books than some authors I know.
~ I’ve written fewer books than some authors I know.
Or how about:
~ I spend less time writing than I do editing.
~ I spend fewer time writing than I do editing.
~ There were less pencils on his desk.
~ There were fewer pencils on his desk.
In some sentences, you can tell when it doesn’t sound right. Here again is when the rule “write how you speak” does not apply. We all use colloquialisms and never notice our poor grammar, maybe till we become writers. But keep in mind, an avid reader knows when a sentence is incorrect and will make mental note of it. Too many of these errors and the reader will become frustrated and, perhaps, not read another story or book by that author.
The rule is:
~ The word fewer applies to individual quantities.
~ The word less applies to items in bulk.
My Oxford dictionary offers this:
“Make sure you distinguish between fewer and less. Use fewer with plural nouns, as in there are fewer people here today; use less with nouns referring to things that can’t be counted, as in there is less blossom on this tree.”
Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More
Preparing Your Manuscript for an Agent
Being aware of what agents look for will help you prepare the type of manuscript they will read. Keep in mind, these same rules apply once you have an agent and the manuscript is being sent out to publishing house editors.
All agents hope to find that one manuscript that is unique above all the others. It’s been said that all stories have been told. What makes them different is each individual writer’s slant on the topic, providing they have written a solid story.
When an agent begins to read, after years of experience, they are keen to grammar flaws. This is one area that could cause an agent or editor to reject a manuscript without consideration of any of its other merits.
Too, how long is your manuscript? Paper books presently should be 60,000 to 80,000 words. Anything more than that, since it’s the requirement, the agent will believe the writer too verbose, lacking control over their adjectives and adverbs and overall sentence structure.
With the advent of hand-held readers, entire books are now converted to ebooks. There may or may not be word count restrictions. Still, your story must be good to merit the higher-end costs of ebooks as well.
If the agent or editor reads on, they do so with one motivation. They need to decide if this book, when published, will sell enough to make back their commission and any advance royalty paid to the writer. And still, the book must make a profit for the publishing house beyond that point.
The agent or editor will also be judging the writer’s overall presentation. Is it neat? Was the cover letter professional? Did it follow standard form? Did the writer seem to know what he or she talked about. What they look for is how you, the writer will perform after the book is published. Are you going to be difficult to work with? Are you going to go out of your way to make this book a success? Or do you believe that’s the publisher’s duty?
Professionals know immediately if they want to spend the time to read all the way through. They are also concerned if a reader will want to spend hours with the story and author. They scrutinize to see if the writer’s descriptions are fresh and different. What the agent looks for is individual voice. It was once enough to say “the trees had greened up after the last heavy rain;” another to say “the morning sun reflected in the raindrops on the new green leaves and made the trees sparkle.” Your voice shows in how you describe scenes and action. Your description must be different than anything else you’ve read.
An agent is keenly aware whether or not they will turn from the first page to the second. Agents read thousands of stories. They know by the end of the first page if the book will stack up against others in the same genre.
Have you written characters that an agent will appreciate? Your characters must stand out from all the rest. For character development, see my articles Faces and Quirks and Character Sketches. Everyone, from agent, to editor to publisher to avid reader must like your characters. Make them likeable or make them the kind of characters we love to hate, but make them memorable.
The overall plot must be about something the characters need to attain or obtain. They must want it desperately or the reader simply will not care enough to follow the character through whatever conflict arises.
Not only in nonfiction but in fiction as well, your facts must be right. In nonfiction it can be no other way. If you wish to make your fiction true to life, which helps the reader suspend reality and keep reading, get your facts straight too.
Dialogue moves the story. It must be written in such a manner that enhances the character’s personality. Dialogue exchanges between characters must propel the story. Ordinary conversation is never written into books. It is boring and says nothing really. Consider this:
“Good morning, John.”
“Good morning, Jim. What’s on the agenda today?”
“Guess we’re supposed to take the plane out for a test run today.”
They went to leave immediately.
“Morning, John,” Jim said, rushing in. He thumbed toward the sky. “Let’s get upstairs before the boss sees the plane still sitting on the tarmac.”
Ordinary conversation has no place in good writing. Dialogue and beats move the action. Oh yes, see my article titled Let the Dialogue Speak.
The above could easily be included in the instruction we’ve all heard: Show, Don’t Tell. Simply, what this means is that the reader must see the action happening. Dialogue promotes action. Any time the writer begins to tell what a person thinks, how they interact with others, that should raise a red flag in the writer’s mind. See the two examples above? The first version contains dead dialogue and stalls the action. The second example not only contains dialogue that moves the story, but shows us what these two people are doing. Shows, doesn’t tell.
* * *
Most of the information in this article applies to both agents and editors. You must find an agent before you can approach a publishing house editor. The agent does that for you. In rare instances I’ve heard about someone submitting directly to an editor, but it usually turns out to be a small start up publishing house. If you wish to approach the big houses, get an agent.
To help you find an agent, try the site which does not charge a fee. In my experience they have been totally reputable:
The agents listed on this site tell you what types of manuscripts they will accept and in which genres. It’s very thorough.
These are the people who publish those real thick volumes about everything you need to know as a writer. The book is expensive. However, if you sign up for their online edition, you get new listings and updates as new information come in all year long.
You can double check the credibility of an agent or editor you wish to contact by finding them on Preditors and Editors at:
Preditors and Editors tell you who is legitimate and who is a scam. Yes, there are scam artists in the writing industry. You knew that, right?
I’m sure other sites have additional information but these are great places to begin your search.
Drop the Words
Colloquialism and slang have their place in diction. That applies to both fiction and nonfiction. However, it doesn’t fit in proper grammar usage when attempting to make your story or book, fiction or nonfiction, the best that it can be.
Eat it up
Where are you at?
Read these sentences again, only this time, substitute the word “down” in place of “up.”
In the first example, how can you “eat it up” if you can’t “eat it down?” Simply put, you “eat it.”
In the second sentence the words “where” and “at” are synonymous as to location. You may as well ask, “Where are you where?” Properly asked, it’s “Where are you?”
When writing, in proper grammar usage, some words need to be dropped from sentences all together. However, if you develop a story character who speaks using these colloquialisms, then his or her diction must be established the first time that character speaks. And further, the character’s language must follow through with similar jargon anytime his or her dialogue is included.
Written dialogue allows for misusages of grammar. It enhances drawls, brogues, and general linguistics found in varying regions and among groups of people. However, in writing narrative, drop the words that make your writing look amateurish and you, the author, unprofessional. Dropping the poor grammar in the narrative portions of stories sets the dialogue apart, which is a must. and draws attention to the uniqueness of each character.
An exception is when the narrator intends to make the narration sounds like the storyteller speaks that way. An example would be when a person from the deep south is telling his life story. We know it’s about him in his own words. We allow for his dialect in both the narration and dialogue. Or a person with a foreign accent tells his or her story; then the narration and dialogue will have great similarities.
With the exception of the above example, and particularly in the editing stage, drop the words that do nothing but distract from the value of the sentence.