Tag Archives: sentences

Jun 22

ACTION WORDS! An Article by Mary Deal

Action Words
by
Mary Deal

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

And this:

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.

More exciting:

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

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Feb 09

So How Do You Lose Words? Just Ask Mary Deal

More Words to Lose
by
Mary Deal

Have you ever really listened to people talking? We writers should do that all the time. It’s one of the reasons we love to people watch, not to eavesdrop but to learn about fascinating accents, jargon and colloquialisms that could add zing to the characters in our fiction.

In becoming aware of how people talk, on a daily basis I hear words and phrases that make me cringe. Call me a purest. Call me obsessive compulsive. I shake my head when I hear anyone say, “I told him, I said…” What is the purpose of being redundant? “I told him” and “I said” mean exactly the same thing.

“I told him, I said, be careful.”

“She told me, she said she didn’t like my cooking.”

I sigh when I hear a person saying “basically” before starting each new sentence they speak.

“Basically, what you need to know is where to start.”

“Basically, the mystery started with a nondescript clue.”

As you can see in the above two examples, the sentences do not need the word basically at all.

Dislikes such as these are at the top of my list to get hit with the delete button in my compositions.

Language takes on a different aura in dialogue if you have established that one of your characters actually speaks this way: “Basically, ma’am, I’m here to learn the truth and that’s all.” Still, it would be very off-putting to the reader if your character started all or lots of his dialogue with that dreaded word. Correctly portrayed, you would have set up the character’s speaking personality as, perhaps, slow and as being a methodical thinker and that one word used once or twice would then enhance his speech mannerisms.

However, my writing is not yet perfect either. I must continually be vigilant for sentence starters like: “She thought….” or “He said….”

She thought she wanted to go along.

He said he didn’t want to go.

When writing from the main character’s point of view, the reader will be in that character’s mind, seeing the story action from his or her point of view. The reader will be thinking the character’s thoughts. At least that’s what happens if our writing is good enough to draw the reader in. Starting sentences with phrases like “She thought” is, again, redundant. All a writer need do is state the character’s thought: She wanted to go along. Immediately, we feel or sense the character’s desire without being told it’s a thought.

Deleting unnecessary words and phrases helps greatly when word count matters and it really does, not to mention cleaning up a manuscript.

If in a case like “He said…,” instead of saying “He said he didn’t want to go along,” put what the character said in actual dialogue: “I want to go too,” he said. That’s unless you’re relating a past experience. Even then, you would simply say: He wanted to go along.

Any time you catch yourself telling what this or that character said, most of the time what the character said should be put in dialogue, instead of the writer “second-hand” telling the reader what was spoken.

I continue to be amazed at how people in my own circle of friends and family use these incorrect phrases. But then, they are not writers who need be astute at the verbiage they commit into stories. They are just being themselves, and that’s just fine with me. They give me a lot to think about and I am grateful that they can just be themselves with me and not worry that I am going to correct their every spoken word.

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

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Feb 02

That Pesky Letter “S” As Only Mary Deal Can Tell Us

The letter S
by
Mary Deal

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.

Look upwards.

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

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Jan 05

One of My Personal Pet Peeves: Fewer or Less!

Fewer or Less
by
Mary Deal

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.

Or these:

~ 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

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Nov 03

Mary Deal Dishes on Dead Words

Dead Words
by
Mary Deal

Write lean!

When I began to scrutinize my writing for words I could cut and still keep the story together, I was surprised! In the interest of keeping my stories lean and to the point, I found I could drop modifiers and make my sentences more professional.

Sometimes we want to add a word or two, seemingly to deepen the meaning of an act or some bit of dialogue. This is where many writers ruin their stories. For example:

She was so very ecstatic!

“So” and “very” are modifiers that needn’t be used in this sentence. The word ecstatic is the height of elation, the nth degree. The word needs no modifiers.

She was ecstatic!

Three little words that say exactly what I meant it to say without being verbose and taking up word space in the story that could be put to better use.

Another word is “just.”

– It was just that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

– The problem was that he wanted to go and she didn’t.

Drop the modifiers even if you must rewrite the sentence. Notice, too, that the corrected sentence doesn’t begin with “it,” which has no meaning when used this way. “It” has no meaning at the beginning of a sentence until we know what the sentence is about.

“It” can begin a sentence, usually inside a paragraph, when what is being referred to has already been mentioned.

Another example of dead words or overuse is the word “had.”

When writing in 3rd Person or past tense, it’s appropriate to use the word early in a paragraph. The rest of the paragraph should not contain the word “had.” Had sets up the paragraph in past tense. Only occasionally will there be no way around it and you must use it twice. Used early in the paragraph it sets up the tone of the action, even through subsequent paragraphs.

More dead words appear at the beginnings and ending of sentences.

-Where are you at?

-Where are you going to?

-That they could not have known, they took a chance anyway.

-They came running around the corner.

In some cases, your characters may speak like this, but sentences such as these should not be part of the narration. Unless we know to what or to whom these particular words refer before using them, they are out of place and make the subject of conversation obscure.

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

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Sep 22

“Reader Empathy” An Article by Mary Deal

Reader Empathy

A rejection that I received for a short story caused me to take a look at the beginnings of all my stories, short or book length.

Your reader needs to make a connection with your main character. Your heroine or hero needs to have at least one strong quality with which a reader can empathize. When your readers make such a connection, they experience the story through that character’s senses.

Reader empathy must happen at the top of the story. When your reader cannot find anything about your story or characters to like, interest quickly wanes. Then they may not read deep into the story; if they get so far as to finish, the lack of connection will leave them asking “So what?”

I received a rejection from a magazine editor for my fantasy story about a woman’s experience with a UFO and aliens. While I thought it was one of my best fantasy stories, he said,

“I don’t know what to make of the protagonist’s experience. On one level, I don’t need to know whether they’re real or imaginary, but I didn’t learn enough about her to feel much empathy. Although I can’t use this story, please feel free to submit another.”

This editor didn’t say that I should tell more about my protagonist at the top of the story. Placing additional information at the top is my idea for the re-write. After all, how far into the story will a person read when they cannot find rapport with the main character? This editor, most likely, read or scanned the story all the way through because that’s an editor’s job. A reader is not obligated to do the same.

Another possibility of building rapport exists with the reader learning about the main character as the story unfolds. But again, how far into the story will the reader pay attention in order to build empathy? In the case of my story, I see that I can add two sentences at the very beginning of the story that should solve the problem.

Building reader empathy can happen by revealing anything about the main character that will draw the reader to them. The characteristic may be something that elicits any type of emotion, be it love, pity, admiration, or anything else that helps the reader feel connected to that character.

When your main character is the villain, you must still build a trait into her or his makeup to keep the reader’s eyes glued to the page. In a case like this, it might be someone we love to hate and will keep reading just to see that the villain gets a comeuppance. Yet, how many people write stories from the villain’s point of view?

Usually, stories are written from other than the villain’s POV. Not too many readers want to identify with a villain.

Test this advice next time you read a story or, specifically, when you are looking for a new novel to read. Usually readers test the story by reading the beginning paragraphs or pages. How soon do you make a connection to the main character, or even a secondary character? What was the connection made? Was it strong enough to keep you reading, even purchasing the book?

Clues, such as I received in the rejection, help so very much. If I must receive one, it’s the type of rejection I welcome. I’ve already fixed my story and sent it elsewhere. You can bet I will be sending other stories to this very generous editor. And I’ve already rewritten the beginnings of two of my future novels. Read More

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Sep 01

“Drop the Words” (Put Your Hands Up! Back Away from the Keyboard!) by Mary Deal

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.

Consider these:

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.
Read More

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Feb 17

Mary Deal Pens “The Muse” Another Great Article For The Child Finder Trilogy

The Oxford dictionary defines Muse as: 1. (in Greek and Roman mythology) each of the nine goddesses who preside over the arts and sciences, and, 2. a woman who is the inspiration for a creative artist.

Evidently the ancients saw the muse as feminine.

I recently read a blog post and responses that said the writer of the post, a male writer, did not believe in such things as muses; that he and only he created what he did and one day he would write something that would be published. Others agreed saying that no outside person influenced anyone’s creativity. Read More

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