Tag Archives: punctuation

Jun 17

Historical Fiction Writer Ellen Brazer Visits with Mike Angley

MA: I’m joined today by author Ellen Brazer. Before getting published, Ellen did just about everything but write. She was in business. She worked for the State of Israel, and she was involved with the community. She actually did not begin to write seriously until she was in her forties. So tell us, Ellen, with no real writing background, how was it that you came to pen novels?

EB: I was waiting for some medical test results to come back. I was extremely successful in business when I was very young and while waiting for that phone call I asked myself what mountain had I yet to climb. The answer for me was writing a book. I have a dear friend who is a Pulitzer Prize winner. When I wrote my first draft of Hearts of Fire I pressed the Caps Lock key on the computer and wrote the entire first draft in capital letters with almost no punctuation. It was my writing friend who said, there is something here and you must keep going. That first book took me 10 years to write. The manuscript went from under the bed to the closet and then back under the bed again. A doctor friend took it on a ski vacation and he was the one that finally got me to become serious about getting the book published.

MA: I can’t even imagine going more than a full sentence with the Caps Lock Key on! Tell us about what you write.

EB: I write historical fiction. Let me tell you about Clouds Across the Sun. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. Steeped in fact and impeccably researched, Clouds Across the Sun is the story of just one of these children.

From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.

MA: How did you develop your characters? Was there a great deal of research involved into the lives of people from this era?

EB: I am not sure as writers that we develop our characters. I think they are born to the page and then they develop us. Whenever I have a new character I find myself sitting back and watching their personality emerge. Sometimes I have to rein them in when it feels like they are doing something out of character but most of the time they are in control of me. In Clouds Across the Sun I have more than one protagonist and I was always amazed that they each had their own distinct voice.

MA: More than one protagonist? Tell us about one of them.

EB: I will focus on Jo for this question. She is very independent and self-assured. As the first woman Senator from New York she is intelligent and opinionated. Her greatest weakness is that she falls prey to her family’s influence over her.

MA: Any unique antagonists, other than the obvious?

EB: I think I do bad guys really well and in this book there are some really evil people. When creating an antagonist in the Holocaust time period it is challenging to show all sides of the personality. My antagonist is a Nazi doctor from the Concentration Camps. We see him as a dangerous monster but we also see him as a loving father. The danger is constant when he comes to America after the war with one goal: placing someone under his influence as President of the United States

MA: Do your novels ever fool people into thinking more of the fiction is actual fact?

EB: I write historical fiction that is so based in fact that when people finish my book they tell me that they are chilled and always ask themselves: Could this happen? Is it happening? I talk about IBM, The Red Cross, Hitler and Henry Ford’s close friendship and how the U.S. allowed thousands of known Nazis into the U.S. in exchange for information about our new enemy, Russia.

MA: Interesting…so what’s next?

EB: I am writing an historical novel that takes place in the year 135 of the Common Era. It was a time period when the Jews believed that Shimon Bar Kockba was the Messiah. Following him, they managed to defeat Rome and for a three year period Israel was under the control of the Jews. And So It Was Written is the story of two brothers, one who becomes a famous physician in Rome and the other becomes a commander in the Jewish army. There are some very unique and controversial elements to this book that I am keeping close to the vest so stayed tuned. I am in the process of rewriting and I hope to be finished within the year.

MA: Well thank you, Ellen. I encourage everyone to visit Ellen’s website for more information: http://ellenbrazer.com/Home_Page.html Read More

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Feb 23

So How’s Your Subconscious Creativity? Listen to What Mary Deal Has to Say About It

Subconscious Creativity
by
Mary Deal

Years ago, I took a couple of weeks of oil painting lessons. The instructor, a world-renown artist, always said that I worked from the subconscious.

That was a compliment because she always said it in the same breath when saying I had talent. But after a while, she would pick up a brush, dip it into a color I wouldn’t think of using, and commence to leave her telltale marks on my painting.

I never understood how she could compliment me and then enhance my work with her touches and still call it my art. Soon, I left her and went on to produce paintings that sold in spite of the lack of professional input.

Yet, after all these years, her words about working from the subconscious stuck with me.

In recent times, as a writer instead of a painter, I hear writers being told to write from the subconscious. Sometime during the last two decades that I’ve written seriously, I’ve come to fully understand the meaning of that advice.

When I write, I type as fast as I can to keep up with my thoughts. I ignore any mistakes. Hand writing is much too slow for me. Those little squiggly red or green lines that pop up under words and incorrect punctuation drive me nuts, but I’ve learned to live with them because they help in the editing phase later. I just wanted to get my words and concepts committed, but it wasn’t always like that.

Several times, I also tried to create by slowing down and perfecting every paragraph, every sentence and every word before going on to the next.

Writing this way seemed very cumbersome. It stops my creative flow. If I must censure everything that comes out of my mind – correct it before I actually get the complete idea or premise written – it seems my creativity is put on hold while I detour to perfect only a portion of an idea. The whole scene needs to be gotten out of my mind so I can see it written and relate any changes to the whole.

When I know my story, even have a chapter or paragraph firmly fixed in my mind, my thoughts sometimes wander. When I look again at the screen and read what I produced, I find myself asking, “Did I write that?”

To write this way is to allow my mind to free-flow. This method allows creativity to create, without censure. This is what writing from the subconscious is all about. After all, it is the conscious mind, the left-brain that censures, edits, tears apart and reforms what it thinks we should write to suit some future reader or publisher. Creativity, from the right-brain, never cares about those aspects. It just wants to kick out the important details, the major threads, while they are hot and felt in all their strength and emotion. Once the story is written to first draft, creativity is free to do the one and only thing it should, and that is to conjure another scene, maybe another story. The conscious left-brain then perfects the written piece.

You may be one of those people who need to perfect one line before going on to the next. This may be where your strength lies, but it is all left-brain work, logical and, to me, requires little of the creative Muse.

If you wish to put your Muse to work, try it sometime. Just sit and write your story without looking at what you’ve written. If you must keep your gaze on the keyboard (I have to watch my hands a lot), then do so. You’ll find your story flowing faster than you can keep up with. Or should I say you’ll find yourself writing as fast as your mind can think. Editing after the fact is not bad at all when the whole idea smiles back at you from the monitor screen.

Writing from the subconscious definitely gives full rein to creativity to get the story out, and can cut down on unnecessary rewriting of any work you thought you had already laboriously perfected.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.
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Jan 14

A Return Visit by Rocky Mountain Writer, Linda Faulkner

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

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Dec 15

“Sentence Structure” does not mean “20 to Life,” but it does mean …

Sentence Structure

We’re all told that when we write to simply let the words flow uncensored. Never mind punctuation and sentence structure, just get the words and ideas out. This method works for me and many other people. Still others plan out their sentences in their minds before writing or they edit each sentence written before going on to the next. With any way you choose to write, you will find yourself editing your sentences to make them grammatically correct and to fit the pace of your story.

In order to write the correct sentence for the “moment” of that part of the story, a writer must understand the differences between simple, compound and complex sentences. When I talk about a particular “moment” in a story, a writer needs to know how to use those sentences to pick up the pace of the action or slow it down. Sentences can make a reader breathless and keep turning pages, or they can cause the reader to read more slowly in order to understand a more difficult passage.

Simple Sentences

These are also known as independent clauses and are short and to the point. When we first learned to read, we read sentences that, to an adult, seemed more like bits and pieces. “Jack ran away.” “The ball rolled away.”

As we advanced in our reading skills, sentences became longer, though probably remained simple: “See where the ball rolled into the pasture.”

Simple sentences need to be paced, that is, interspersed among compound and complex sentences. Simple sentences can have a staccato effect between absorbing the action and meaning of a story.

A simple sentence contains a subject and a verb. Simply, a person or thing and the action they perform. Use simple sentences to quicken the action. However, too many short sentences, one after another, can make your story seem juvenile.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences contain two independent clauses which are joined by:

for – a preposition
and, but, or – conjunctions
so, yet – adverbs
nor – a conjunction and an adverb

A comma always precedes the word that conjoins the two independent clauses making them a compound sentence.

An example:

~ I went to the store, and my friend went to the Post Office.

Complex Sentences

Where a compound sentence contains two independent clauses, a complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A dependent clause completes the action, but cannot stand alone as a whole and complete sentence.

A complex sentence always uses one of these words to join the two parts of the sentence: after, when, although, because, since, or the pronouns who, whom, which, that, they.

When a sentence begins with any of the words from the first group, a comma is inserted at the end of the dependent clause before the sentence finishes. Note this example:

~ After Rita helped me with the dishes, she and her boyfriend went out.

When one of the connecting pronouns is used, no comma is included. Example:

~ Rita and her boyfriend went out after they helped me with the dishes.

It is advisable to study the choice of words used to connect parts of a sentence. In some cases, the insertion of the wrong word can change what you imply with the sentence.

Short sentences can quicken the pace of the story for the reader. Longer sentences can slow down the pace and offer a lot more information. It is important that you have a balance of each as you write.

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Apr 14

“Let the Dialogue Speak” by Mary Deal

Proper use of “said” and the use of “beats” will keep a story flowing smoothly.

Books and articles turn up touting the value of replacing the use of the word said. She said. He said. Many claim said is overused and tiresome. They supply an endless plethora of verbs, nouns and adjectives to use instead. But my opinion is that, in most cases, there are no substitutes, given what said does when used properly.

Said is acceptable enough to hide in the background and not call the reader’s attention to dynamics of speech that would best be shown with proper punctuation. Said is simply a speaker attribution and tells us who said what in the course of conversation.

However, said can become grossly overworked. This is why many people have tired of it. This is an example of overuse:

“Hola, Papi,” Pablo said. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes,” his father said.

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papa,” Pablo said.

Taken from my novel, The Tropics, this conversation flows much better when written this way:

“Hola, Papi,” he said, eyes eager and smiling. “When do we eat?”

“About ten minutes.”

“I’m going back to the street then,” Pablo said, starting to run away. “I’m winning all the races.”

“Hey-hey,” Rico said. “Be on time for dinner.”

“Si, Papi.”

Each sentence, both dialogue and narration contains slight variations. The description of actions included with dialogue is referred to as beats. The characters are not only talking. They are involved in doing something at the same time they speak.

When the actions of characters are included, the writer must be careful not to overuse beats. They serve the purpose of avoiding dialogue with a running string of “saids” or speaker attributions.

I wholeheartedly agree with Renne Browne and Dave King. In their book, “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” they say:

“If you substitute the occasional speaker attribution with a beat, you can break the monotony of the ‘saids’ before it begins to call attention to itself.”

A beat is not necessary in writing, but it makes for smoother reading and understanding of the characters.

For example, if you are speaking in live conversation with someone, you hear their words and watch their body language, or watch what they direct your attention to. The beats are their gestures.

In reading, beats allow for a silent pause; a moment to digest what is being said and the action emphasizes the dialogue.

On the page, a speaker attribution identifies who is speaking. The word said is accepted because it remains in the background. It does not make us pause to visualize or try to understand the way that the character speaks. Here’s another example when said has been replaced:

“What more?” Ciara questioned. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro interrupted. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?” Ciara quizzed.

“Si, si. She had breast cancer,” Lazaro sympathized.

Now the same conversation from The Tropics, written another way:

“What more?” Ciara asked. “I know what I have to do. Rico also had a sister he never talked about. Help me find her—”

“Senorita,” Lazaro said. “There’s a reason why he never spoke of her.”

“You know about her?”

“Si, si. She had breast cancer.”

Another aspect of smooth writing is that when only two characters speak, you need not identify each by name each time they say something. You also need not include any speaker attribution at all, unless the dialogue string is too long. Simply establish who spoke first, who responded, and the reader will follow along. Also, a good place to insert a few beats is in any string of dialogue where speaker attributions are not used.

This gets more complicated when you have three or more people sharing conversation. A few more speaker attributions are acceptable, and a beat both aids in showing us the characters actions and prevents a string of attributions each time a new voice is written in dialogue. Here’s another example of over-use:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said.

“Not that tight,” Ruby said.

“Guess we all had it wrong,” Denny said.

“You guys and your assumptions,” Ruby said.

Here’s a better example:

“I haven’t seen Larry for months,” Ruby said.

“I thought you two were tight as thieves,” Brad said, as he pressed a hand against the gun inside his jacket.

“Not that tight!” Ruby looked around the room, all the while feigning nonchalance and looking like any other customer in the bar.

“Guess we had it all wrong,” Denny said as he took another sip of his drink.

“You guys and your assumptions….”

In the revised example, when a speaker attribution is not included, we still know who is speaking. Using a beat makes it easy to know to whom the dialogue belongs, so leave off the attribution.

Notice, too, that “chimed in” or “quipped” or “volunteered” or “whispered” and such other attributions did not substitute for the word said. What really happened among the “saids” in the second example is that the word said receded into the background and allowed us to fully comprehend the urgency of the conversation. Because of the punctuation, we didn’t have to be told about voice inflection or any other way that the speaker spoke, which would have made us stop and visualize the action or the tenseness of the conversation.

The choice of words and punctuation in the dialogue did that for us, with the help of said, which quietly did its part, as it should. Our eyes read the important words, while said registers only subconsciously. All we need to further the action is to read on.

Attributing dialogue to certain characters need not be overdone. Proper punctuation does that for us. For example:

“You klutz!” he exclaimed.

The exclamation point tells us the remark was an exclamation and not a quiet statement or a question. It is not necessary to repeat to the reader that it he exclaimed. Readers do not like redundancy. It’s very off-putting; as if the writer is sure the reader won’t get it. In that incorrect assumption lays the erroneous motivation for writers to use attributions other than said. An experienced reader comprehends the first time through with proper punctuation.

Many writers make the mistake of thinking they can add impetus to dialogue by including many and varied attributions. This is as bad a practice as using your hands and arms in front of your face when you speak. When talking, words and intonation speak for themselves and most hand gestures, at best, are rude. So, like hand gestures, a writer may irritate a reader through redundancy.

Yet another incorrect usage of attributions has become quite common:

“I hope you like it,” she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he pointed.

“I’d like to take you home with me,” she lilted.These are unemotional sentences that do not need further modification. “Smiled,” “pointed” and “lilted” did not speak those words. Such verbs have no place as speaker attributions. Only in a few instances can said be replaced correctly. One way those sentences can be written properly, and sparingly, is given below. Notice the punctuation:

“I hope you like it,” she said as she smiled.

“It’s way over there,” he said, pointing.

“I’d like to take you home with me.” Her voice was low and lilting.

Here are two last examples of incorrect punctuation and attributes that just don’t convey what they were meant to:

“Fire…,” she exclaimed.

“Fire,” she screeched.

And correctly written if we already know who is speaking:

“Fire!” he said.

Or simply…

“Fire!”

With many other places writers can get creative, speaker attributes are best left to the time-tested said, accompanied by proper punctuation in the dialogue.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre. Read More

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Feb 24

“When Editing Backfires” An Article By Mary Deal On The Child Finder Trilogy

About a year ago, I edited an accumulation of short stories for a client. Last week he contacted me and asked why his writing had not been accepted anywhere. I told him to bring his CD over and let’s take a quick look at the stories again. Maybe I missed something in my edits. He arrived this morning carrying a thick folder full of rumpled and dog eared paper manuscripts. Read More

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