Friday, April 30, 2010

Read Aloud

I plotted and didn't get much written. One sentence is all I produced and that defines "didn't get much written."

Writing Tip: Actually, I worked on an article to submit to a homeschooling magazine. The article is on the importance of reading aloud to emergent readers. The sound of story is very important in developing that part of the brain that craves reading.

And that brings us to this writing tip. Not only do I read my chapters aloud, I have them read aloud to me. Hearing your story reveals two important things. The author hears mistakes in vocabulary, grammar, and syntax easier than when reading the material silently.
Second, the cadence of the language is more apparent. People say that "the narrative flows." This is akin to that nebulous thing people call "The Author's Voice." Largo, allegretto, messo di voce, and crescendo all describe dynamics and tempo for music. The dynamics and tempo of a written piece are important in the delivery of story. This integral part of emphasizing mood in your writing is there in print, but more easily recognized, and thereafter, fine-tuned when you hear the words.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Okay, all right, alright

Finished Chapter 2; 4,121 word count

Writing Tip: Which word is correct for your story? Okay? All right? Alright?
I have no idea when people started saying okay. I could look it up, but never have because I use it in contemporary and not in historical. My fantasies tend to take place in a pre-industrial society, so I don't use okay in my fantasy character's speech.
There are dictionaries that tell you when a word began to pop up in a culture. So if you are writing a historical, check to see if words (not just okay) were being used back in the time which is part of the setting of your story..

Alright is colloquial and is okay for use in informal speech because we speak with less formality in most situations. The visual alright cues the reader of the relaxed nature of the interchange.

I can't bring myself to use alright, even in speech. Just fussy, I guess.

All right should be used at all times in narrative. (That's the bit between the bits of dialogue.)

Now how do you feel about the distinctions between the three words? Are you okay with this? Does it seem all right? "Alright, I guess you're good to go."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Language vs. Words

Still on chapter 2

Writing Tip: As in most things in our lives, our writing must be balanced. The difference between journalistic writing and purple prose needs to be understood. Neither is suitable for storytelling. One is too stark, the other is too extravagant.
Words lined up to convey meaning is where we start, but the simple sentence is just the jumping off point. When creating literature, we stretch and create language expressive of mood and emotion. Language can compel change. Language can assuage guilt. Language can motivate or release an individual from striving, giving peace.
Language lifts the story rather than just relays the facts. Many people will tell you that the mastery of language is the accomplishment that infuses the narrative with voice.

Language that reveals life, truth, and beauty moves an ordinary piece of writing to classic stature.
Literature that sheds light on life exposes the relationship between the comparatively small package of one man's experience to the vast "big picture" of the universe.
Literature that simplifies a universal truth expands the understanding of the reader.
Literature that clarifies beauty amplifies what can be seen to what can be felt.

Words can convey a set of facts, but language interprets facts and raises the reader's awareness. Language speaks to the soul as well as the intellect.

And in the end, language that brings the reader to the point of sharing in the common experience of mankind (themes like love, hate, loss, faith, innocence and the loss of innocence) has a unique role in reminding God's creation that there is something beyond the here and now.

The story is important. The theme is important. The expression of your Christian worldview is important. Expressed in mere words, your rhetoric falls flat. Painted with the brush of masterful language, your message has wings.

"Press on."
Philippians chapter three

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The $365 Writing Tip

finished editing Chapter One of Dragons of the Watch. Plowing into Ch 2

Writing Tip: Some time ago, I went to a writers conference. It was a good writing conference, but honestly only one thing stood out as something new and startling in the realm of improving my craft. So I call this tip my $365 writing tip. That was the price of the conference.

We were going through a critique, and the instructor noticed a grammar error on one of the submissions. The sentence was something like this:

She ran through the underbrush avoiding the thickest tangle of vines that would trip her.

That sentence needs a comma. Where? Look for the first -ing word.


What does the phrase beginning with avoiding modify? As it stands, avoiding modifies underbrush. Now here comes the $365 writing tip. I hope you have two thumbs, because you need them. Taking your thumbs and placing the left thumb before underbrush and the right thumb after avoiding, read what is in between. Between your two tumbs is "underbrush avoiding." Does it make sense? No. So you have to put a comma there. The comma signals the reader to apply this modifying phrase to a noun further back in the sentence, usually the subject. The sentence makes sense if "She" is the one "avoiding."

New sentence:

She saw him struggle to hold on with the rope slipping through his hands.

One thumb in front of rope and the other behind slipping.

rope slipping

Does the author really mean to say the rope is slipping through his hands? Yes! no comma!
If the words are meant to go together then don't separate them with a comma.

He ran into the station hoping to find one more person to help rescue the boy.

Thumbs in place?
Is the station hoping, or the subject "He" hoping? Building and hoping don't go together so separate them with a comma.

Several years later this thumb trick is the only thing I remember clearly about what I learned. I don't often forget the comma when it is needed, and I rarely put it in when the comma is not needed. I still think the writing tip was overpriced.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More "seemed to"

finished edits on Two Tickets for a Christmas Ball. Working on chapter two of Dragons of the Watch

Writing Tips: If used in moderation, "seemed to" can be used in first person. But avoid using it because it is really telling.
He seemed dislike the flavor of the pudding.


He put a big spoonful of Granny's bread pudding in his mouth. His eyes popped, his mouth screwed into a funny-looking twist, and tears flowed down his cheeks. Someone should have told him about the jalapenos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Started to . . . Really?

Still working on edits for Two Tickets to a Christmas Ball.

Writing tips: started to, began to, seemed to are all over used.
With started to and began to, you are implying that the action will be stopped.
He started to wash the car, but a a cloudburst put a stop to that.
If the action is not going to be interrupted then use the subject and the past tense of the verb.
He washed the car. The day was sunny and perfect.

Example: He began to explain why he was late, but his date shut the door in his face.
He explained why he was late and his date understood his dilemma.

Seemed to. Really? He seemed to grow in appreciation of the arts.
Well, did he, or didn't he?

She seemed to understand what had held him up.
Did she, or didn't she?

He seemed to be listening to her theory about microbionic soil, but then he poured his coffee into a bush.
The last one is acceptable, but don't pour your leftover coffee on plants. It will seem to kill them and they will begin to rot.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Just as I got started on Dragons of the Watch, I got the edits for Two Tickets to a Christmas Ball and Dragons of the Valley back from the editor. That means you go line by line and approve or disapprove of changes made. (Usually the changes are minor like caps and punctuation.) and there are some places where you actually re-write a paragraph or sentence for clarity. I always know what I mean, but sometimes the reader doesn't.

Writing tip: Avoid there is, there was, there were at the beginning of a sentence in your narrative. You can let them ride in dialogue, because people talk like that. But outside of dialogue, using there+to be verb is lazy writing.

Most often this blunder occurs in description:

There was a flowerpot teetering on the windowsill .

A flowerpot teetered on the windowsill.

There was a curl dangling over one ear.

A curl dangled over one ear.

There was an old sofa in the room, centered against the opposite wall.

Centered against the opposite wall, a sofa squatted as if it had been mashed into the floor by a hundred elephants.