Word of the Day

I began “Word of the Day” on November 1, 2017 as help for those participating in #NANOWRIMO — National Novel Writing Month — an international organization of people endeavoring to write a novel of 50,000 or more words entirely during the month of November. It’s been going on for many years and I’ve participated in three. One project I’m currently expanding began as a NANOWRIMO story written in 2012.

I take liberty with regard to WORD of the Day, as many are thoughts, concepts, and even warnings. I post them in writing groups on Facebook and twitter, and choose to consolidate them on this page so interested parties can check on entries they’ve missed. I will update with each daily addition.

As always, your constructive criticism and comments are welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Essential Strategies for Backing Up Your Work

For some, it’s just a matter of uploading to the cloud. However writers have a number of challenges unique to their trade.

Let me start by reminding you that the “cloud,” regardless of whose cloud, is just someone else’s computer. They spend gazillion of dollars making sure that nothing is ever lost by providing multiple back-ups at numerous locations around the country, perhaps the world. It’s still just someone else’s machine. Your novel is about a bicycle race, upload to the cloud, and the next day Facebook is displaying ads by on-line bicycle accessory shops on your feed. If they’re not there yet, they will be soon.

Making a copy of our work is different for writers because of the creative nature of our product. We can bring into existence a person, a family, an entire universe one day, and decide to erase it the next. What happens to that universe, a full day’s effort that just didn’t pan out for the plot, after it’s deleted? Seems demonic to just eradicate it.

Here’s what I suggest. By the time I’m finished, you’ll understand why I say that simply backing up your file is not sufficient.

You wake up at 3:00 a.m. with an idea for the great American novel. You throw yourself at the computer, start with a fresh page on a blank, yet unnamed file. You pound away for 3,000 words until you see daylight poking its way through the drapes. Time to rest.

Clicking on the Save icon, you’re prompted to give the file a name. In Microsoft Word, it grabs the first sentence from your file. For me, that’s usually something to effect of, “Slowly she unbuttoned her blouse.docx.”

You may invent a working file name, or are sufficiently inspired to have the perfect title already on hand. “GreatAmericanNovel” you type, and every time you add to the work, you save it, upload it to the cloud—or another device—and put it away. The next day, open “GreatAmericanNovel.docx” with 30,000 words, add another 5,000, and keep going. Rinse, lather, repeat. 40,000 words, 45,000 words, 50,000 words.

“Damn,” you say, “I had that chapter with Zorba’s universe a while back, but I deleted it. A lot of that would fit in great here. Do I remember it all?”

But you don’t. having deleted that scene weeks earlier, the upload to the cloud, or overwrite saving it locally replaced the file. Those perfect turns-of-phrase are gone forever.

Here’s my strategy.

Initial save: GreatAmericanNovel_001
Next save: GreatAmericanNovel_002
Next save: GreatAmericanNovel_003
Deleting a major scene, I save before I do the deletion: GreatAmericanNovel_004_deleting Zorbas universe
Do the deletion, then immediately save again: GreatAmericanNovel_005

Alternatively you can create a separate Word document in which you track scenes… a record of which files have a person or thing erased from existence; this can be appended to an outline if you do them.

Just to be clear, I don’t save only at the end of a session’s work. I save the document, without renaming it, every few minutes, then save under a new number every few pages written. If I’ve completed a passage or chunk of dialogue that I think is remarkable, I’ll save again, just to be sure. Then, at day’s end, I save both as the old number and a new number. Think I’m being excessive? You should have seen what Dickens wrote before, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” You really think he wanted to do a sing-songy, it was this, it was that? What he had first was a lot better until his Commodore 64 crashed, so he just zipped off what he could remember.

Recently, I’ve been having issues with Microsoft Word… actually, I’ve had problems since 1990; I’m convinced whoever created Office, never actually worked in an office. By I digress. When Word does an automatic back-up, occasionally it fails and crushes the last named file of that work. So, I save often. It’s not unusual for me to get to GreatAmericanNovel_400 and higher, that’s why I use 3-digit numbers.

Each iteration has a date and time stamp, too. That comes in handy as well. You may remember a passage that you deleted like this, “I was working after dinner that night. We had lasagna. HEY HONEY… WHAT NIGHT DID WE HAVE LASAGNE?” And you find the file by date and time.

Of course, you need to get those files off your computer in the event of a hard disk crash, fire, or theft. I back up on thumb drives. Recently, I got a pack of 5-16Gb drives for about $25 from a vendor on Amazon. I use two drives at a time. One I keep in a bedroom in my house away from my work-space and back up almost every day I work—that is, every day. On the other, I do a backup whenever I think of it—each week or so—and keep that one in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, NOT the freezer.

Like most writers, I have more than one project going at a time. I share the thumb-drives, separating projects by folders.

When I complete a project, I copy all my files, which may include extensive research files, onto one of these inexpensive drives, label it, and give it to my brother to keep at his house.

Of course, if you trust them, you can still use the cloud, but I strongly suggest, if you do, have a copy of all your files off your computer, but nearby on reliable media. Murphy has a sense of humor: that night you need to access your files from the cloud will be the night they’re doing routine maintenance.

As always, any and all creative suggestions and comments are welcome.

Posted in Writing

The Memoir in Your Closet – Part 2 – Old Photos

Some of you may have an advantage being in possession of a family Bible with the name and birth date of every member of your lineage going back generations. Perhaps you have them from both your paternal and maternal sides.

Others may have done some legwork, gotten on Ancestry.com, filled out their family tree builder and made progress in this direction.

A few may have already started on composing a memoir, but got hung up on how to proceed.

Whether you fall into one of those groups, or are intrigued by the possibility having seen our previous blog post, the place to start is with the hard information you have on hand. Most often, those are photographs.

I was overwhelmed by the number of photos, slides, and negatives my parents had squirreled away. Apparently, they never threw anything out—likely my mother’s doing. There must have been fifty 3”x4” snapshots of my 3-year-old brother on a swing in Brooklyn and a hundred of an infant me being bathed in the kitchen sink; they haven’t, I bet, been looked at since they were taken. He’s 71 and I’m 67 now. Might my folks have skimmed through them and kept the best few and discarded the rest… half a century ago?

The Challenges:

  • Sorting the images. Classification was a challenge. Separate them by generation or decade or family group or featured individual? I may have gotten to my fifth photo when I understood the overlap of those categories was insurmountable.
  • Many of the photos, especially those early color shots had already faded. Temperature, humidity, and time all take their toll on the chemical images.
  • Volume: I had about eight cubic feet of photos. I didn’t want to store them forever and—on a personal note—I planned to move out of my 98-year-old father’s home when the inevitable happened, and I had no intention of carting all this stuff along with me.

The solution was simple: I needed to scan every image creating a digital representation that would—at least might—last forever, freezing any degradation to the images before it got worse. That would work for the prints, but what of the slides and negatives? And was my 3-in-1 printer-fax-scanner sufficient to the task? On that last point: not even close.

One-time Investment in a Solution:

With all the fiscal responsibility of a drunken sailor shooting dice, I went to Amazon.com ready to spend whatever it took to get a high-resolution scanner. $500? $700?

Surprise: I found the Epson V600 scanner, at that time for $199.95. [Note: If you put it in your cart, but don’t buy it for a few days, they often drop the price a few dollars to motivate you to close the deal.] There’s also the Epson V550 which has slightly lower resolution, but still more than adequate for this job. I would have purchased it and saved a few dollars had I seen it. Alas.

BONUS: These scanners digitalize photos, slides, B&W and color negatives. Every challenge solved for two-hundred bucks. With a platen large enough for legal-sized documents, I can tell you with the wisdom of experience—6,000 scans later—the device worked perfectly.

There is a learning curve and I had to suffer through it myself, but I’ll be presenting a full user’s manual of the Epson V600/V550—applicable specifically to this project—later on.

Where to Start?

Photos lie directly on the glass, however, whatever kind of scanner you acquire, there are slide-holders and negative-holders for the other images, so scan one kind of original media at a sitting. Just prints, just slides, just B&W negatives, or just color negatives.

I told my brother about the endeavor I was about to undertake, and the scanner I had just ordered. He brought me an additional carton of slides in projector cassettes containing a lifetime of images; the earliest from the 1940s. He dropped them on my desk, and said, “Do these first.” They were on top, so I did all the slides first, but you attack your stack any way you wish.

You would be wise to contact your relatives, especially those in your nuclear family, and ask them to contribute. You don’t need to scan their stacks of pictures of your niece on the swing or your nephew in the bath, but family photos from before WWII or any time of transition in your lives are to be treasured.

So start sorting your photos, separating by the type of media. Have a few antique photos you’ll want to keep even after they’re scanned because of their age? Keep them separate, there are reasons.

I’m proposing—and I practice what I preach—that you’ll discard most of the originals you scan. I’ve saved the very old photos, such as this one of my paternal grandparents in 1917, and a few others such as the slide, above, of my mother in 1948. Just because. But most of the scenery-only snaps you’ve taken on vacation just take up room and will go into recycling.

If cell-phone photography had existed back then, ALL your photos would be digital anyway, as will be our children’s photohistory. We’re just catching up.

One warning before we quit for now. Avoid the lapse of judgment that caught me. There were many orphaned negatives in my stash: negatives not associated with prints. Mindlessly, I also separated the prints from the negatives when I found them together in envelopes. Down the road, the images I was making from the negatives, scanned last, began to look familiar. I realized I was scanning the negatives of prints I had already scanned and wound up with two of each image. Occasionally, that worked to my advantage, the print had faded, but the negative had held its color. Otherwise, it was a lot of duplicate work.

Next time I’ll talk about gathering your family folk lore, the first of several such discussions. My intention is to post at least one chapter per week, perhaps two. If you’ve stumbled across this post and would like notification of new additions, please follow the blog.

As always, let me know what you think through your comments. Constructive suggestion and criticism is always welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Memoirs, Writing Tagged with: ,

The Memoir in Your Closet – Part 1 – Introduction

You don’t want to write a memoir, you can’t write a memoir, nothing exciting enough has ever happened to you to write a memoir, nobody would be interested in your memoir. It’s likely at least three of these four alibis are accurate. The one that isn’t true is the last one: someone would be interested, though that person may not yet be born.

Why, “The Memoir in Your Closet?” Because the boxes of old photos you have stored away there are the backbone of your memoir. You just have to add some meat to it.

What I refer to as the “Ancestry.com industry” is a multi-million dollar business. There are apps at the Apple store and pages on Facebook. Many want to just find out where people are: Obituaries.com, GraveLocator.com, Findagrave.com. People want to know about where they came from to the point they’re giving blood and spit.

Let me explain why this is important to you.

A year ago, my mother died leaving me as the sole caretaker to, and drinking buddy with, my 98-year-old father. The old man drinks, the old man talks. Within days I understood there was a vital history of our family, a century of experience, that exists only in his memory and it could be lost in an instant.

Further, I unearthed cartons of photographs in his home, frozen moments of time that only my father could identify: who, what, when, where, and in some cases, why: My great-grandparents born in the 1870s. My immigrant grandparents. My mother and father as newborns, toddlers, adolescents, teens, newlyweds, parents, business people, world travelers, retirees, and finally as aging members of the greatest generation. My mother two weeks before her stroke, and passing.

The memoir I compiled was not a wrenching tale of freedom from slavery, or the trials and tribulations of war, or of the rise to political power, or accumulation of fantastic wealth. It was the story of an all-too-ordinary family that I pieced together the best I could from the thousands of photographs, slides, and negatives I resurrected from cartons, drawers, and shelves, with a narrative written from hours of just chatting with my father, asking questions, and hearing the same stories more than once, which, by the way, indicates the importance to your elder relative of the tale itself.

One of my father’s greatest regrets is that he didn’t ask his father about life in the Europe and how he got to the United States and how he met his wife, my grandmother, who died when my father was just eight-weeks-old. My father never asked his father how he met his new wife four years later—a wonderful woman who my father still calls his mother to this day. Her story is lost, too.

Even I have memories at the fringes of my mind, questions that only my 91-year-old mother could have answered about her childhood, about which I should have asked before she passed last year. However, in putting together a memoir, I was gratified by how much I could contribute from my own recollections—memories that I may lose as I get older. Gotta be real about that possibility.

The “Memoir” I encourage you to compose is not—should not—be a statistical reference filled with every date of every event. It should be a flowing recollection of anecdotes, little stories that show the character and personality of your family members. A paragraph, a line break, and another paragraph. Something your grandmother would always do… how your mother would always react… how you would laugh. Christmas traditions that aren’t practiced any longer, but the memories of which bring warmth to your heart and a tear to your eye.

There will be a time when the youngest members of your family (our three are 4yrs, 6mo, and -2weeks) will ask about their ancestors. It may be in response to a classroom assignment, or a period-movie they see, or a friend whose family has a written record of their generations. You’ll want to have one, too.

The following chapters of The Memoirs in Your Closet will take you step by step through the process.

 

The next installment speaks to the photos. Whether you have them in a disheveled pile like the photo at top, or have kept every image catalogued in an album, you have to deal with them before you pass and your kids just throw them out—yes, they will.

Let me know what you think through your comments. Constructive suggestion and criticism is always welcome.

Posted in A Writer's Life, Writing Tagged with: ,

Everyone Cries…

…when they finish the first draft. You’d be unusual if you didn’t. Writing is a highly personal, even intimate exercise. So much of what we write, even if science fiction or fantasy is really about us. You’ve undoubtedly included—albeit hidden—your personal traits in the characters, from how the main protagonist scratches an itch, to the getaway car running over a cat: you hate cats.

BabyCryingHowever, if you’ve ever seen a baby coming into this world, you know that the new, perfect, adorable, newborn who makes us cry for joy is actually a bloody mess. We clean them up a bit, swaddle them in a soft pastel blanket, and cuddle them. Then there’s that first poop. For those not familiar, Google “meconium,” but don’t click on images!

For at least the first year, every feeding has a burp and half of burps are throw-ups. There are diapers and runny noses. You’re thrilled when they start to crawl until you realized that puts everything in their reach. When they begin the walk, we rejoice, then cower in fear.

As they get older there are abrasions and lacerations, blood and torn skin. Childhood colds, stomach upsets and upchucks… and for the girls… womanhood.

Driving. (I think that gets its own paragraph.)

While you’re going through it, you’re not focused on the final product. You want each stage to go smoothly, though it doesn’t. You grin—or drink—and bear it. At some point, often at departure for university, the military, or into the work-force, we trust that we accomplished the best we could. We let go.

So, is this a massive metaphor, or an allegory?

If you’re punching through your first manuscript, know that the newborn in your word processor is a bloody mess and there are a dozen tasks to accomplish before it’s ready to go out in the world.

Self-editing. An alpha-reader. Rereading and more self-editing. Rewrites. Addition or deletion of characters. A beta-reader or two. A professional editor. Rewrites, revisions, rethinking the message, self-doubt, screaming into the night. More self-editing. Rinse, lather, repeat.

The first draft is no more a readable novel than a newborn is a functional person. As fed up as you may get with a project, you can’t publish it until it’s able to house, clothe, and feed itself. Take a rest if you must, but abandoning it isn’t a viable option. It will haunt you. If it doesn’t, or if you didn’t cry when you finished that first draft, perhaps your heart and soul weren’t into it. Or maybe you’re writing steam-punk.

In closing, here are the advantages a writer has over a biological parent:

  • If your work fails, no one gets hurt. Your ego may be bruised, but there’s no substantive downside.
  • You can put a writing project on hold, leave it for a month or a year, and come back to it when the muse returns; you can’t do that with a child, as tempting as it often is.
  • There is no penopause. You can give birth to a new novel, novella, short story, or haiku at any time in life and bring it into the world hermaphroditically.

Enjoy writing. Revel in the journey knowing you’ll reach the inn in time.

Posted in A Writer's Life, Editing, Writing

Time Management – Part I: There’s No Such Thing as Multitasking

Before all you high-power business people join forces with soccer moms to march on my home with pitchforks and torches, let’s first define multi-tasking. It’s performing more than one functionally related, non-interdependent action at the same time. These actions may be mental, physical, or both.

Walking and chewing gum at the same time is not multitasking. These two actions have no relation and are not interdependent. They use entirely different parts of the brain with no cross-over.

Driving, however, is doing many things simultaneously: adjusting speed, staying in lane, watching for changes in the lights, road signs, cars pulling from driveways, pedestrians. Once driving has been mastered, these are a series of very closely related skills that become a single task: getting to one’s destination without incident. By the number of poor drivers, perhaps I overstate this integration of actions; there are over five million collisions each year in the U.S., and those are just the ones that are reported.

Ever turn down the car radio as you approach someplace you’ve never been before? Locating an address on a house façade while the radio is blasting tugs at closely related parts of the mental processing machinery, and that’s why we often turn the volume down as we close in on our destination the first time we navigate there—but don’t on subsequent visits.

Here’s the problem: scientists researching brain function and cognition have demonstrated through many studies that the brain can pay attention to only one thing at a time. Further investigations has shown that memory has only four boxes in which to temporarily store information relative to your tasks. That is, if you try to do five things at a time, something’s gotta give. How many times have you scurried around the house getting ready to leave and realized that, once you were in the car, you forgot one obvious thing? That was number five.

Best to show rather than tell. You have one pen—your focused attention, and four mental notebooks in which to keep track of the tasks you are performing.

Once out of bed in the morning, you begin doing things—tasks. “Go to Bathroom” may be the first.

Pee

You realize you’re out of toilet paper. So you have to close the black book:

Notebooks

Then open the blue:

BlueOpen

Write in it:

ToiletPaper

On the way to the cabinet to get T.P., you see that you left a bottle of soda out on the kitchen counter. Close blue book:

Notebooks

Open red book:

RedOpen

Write in red book:

Soda

Urge is getting stronger:

Notebooks

Pee

Update note:

Pee2

But:

Notebooks

ToiletPaper

Dog is scratching at the door:

Notebooks

GreenOpen

Dog

Notebooks

ToiletPaper

Damn…Tissues

Task complete. Erase task:BlackOpen

What next?Soda

But then this has more priority:

Notebooks

Dog

Finally,Notebooks

Soda

That’s the first five minutes of your day… and you still didn’t get the toilet paper.

This is the way the mind works and these switches between notebooks is certainly done with miraculous rapidity, but is there any wonder why you’re exhausted by the end of the day? Your friend who digs ditches for a living scoffs when you say how tired you are, but he only has to do one task; he can’t possible understand how trying multifaceted living is.

Replace these menial tasks with more important ones. You’re driving, picking up one kid at day school, gotta get him to his play date, get another from elementary, rush her to soccer practice—will I make it?, decide what’s for dinner, you’re still driving, any book sales today?, check the website, gotta place a call to an ailing friend and make those phone calls for the church group, what was that idea I had in the middle of the night for a plot twist?. “Did I really say ‘Sure’ when you asked me to pick of flowers for Sunday dinner at your folks instead of screaming, ‘Get the damn flowers, yourself?’, I don’t get any consideration… car running stop sign, HIT BRAKES!”

JugglingAt work, you’re similarly called upon to keep too many proverbial balls in the air which adds to those obligations to yourself and others you at home.

Attempting to do so many things “at the same time,” the quality of your work slips. Your performance is not up to par, and some tasks are forgotten entirely. Nerves fray. You over eat. Now you’re fat, jittery, unfocused, and miserable, but you can brag to all your friends what a great multitasker you are.

 

Part II of Time Management

will describe the best tact forHOW to get organized.

Posted in A Writer's Life Tagged with: ,

What Does “Think Out of the Box” Really Mean?

SPOILER ALERT: The solution to the puzzle appears farther down, so don’t scroll until you’re ready.

The concept of Think Out of the Box was created by Mike Vance over 30 years ago, and stems from a simple pencil and paper game.

The objective is to connect all nine of the dots shown with just four straight lines without lifting your pencil from the page. Begin at any dot, but once the point touches down, you can’t lift it until all nine dots are covered. 4 straight lines.Outside the Box Puzzle

Hint: Think out of the box

The cover of my guide to live young and sexy as long as possible, available in Print and Kindle from Amazon, is place here as a spacer so you don’t accidentally scroll down to the puzzle’s solution. It’s also an unabashed advertisement. Did I mention it’s available at Amazon?

Nutritional Leverage

 

Okay, back to the point at hand. Here’s the solution. Place your pencil at point (a) and follow the arrows.

Solution to Thinking Outside the Box

And from this simple mind game, grew Mr. Vance’s greatest notoriety, although, having been privileged to attend one of his lectures back in the ‘90s, he had a lot more to contribute than just this thought.

However, if I can be so bold, let me point out something that may be lost in the model.

Mosst of outside the box is the box

Of the space within the new figure created by the four lines, 80% is still within the box.

Thinking “outside” does not mean that well established writing principles—this is a blog about writing—can be abandoned. Grammar, punctuation, character development, description, plot synthesis must all prevail. Meandering outside the lines to experiment with new methods is where you grow.

Harry Potter and Fifty Shades are wildly different. Rowling is a consummate story teller, and James, well, not so much. Both reached out and garnered broad readerships and commercial success by experimenting in areas that had not been tried. Candidly, I think Fifty Shades is an abysmal and poorly written book that’s a sociological fluke, but by comparing how many people know her work versus mine… who’s the fool?

I admonish you to learn your trade, understand the tools, and master conventional writing first; you can’t break the rules until you know them. Still, got a wild idea? Work on it. Work it hard. Maybe you can get a million women to read your book in the bathtub.

 

Posted in Writing

Much, Many, More, Fewer, Less, Little

Dressing CarrotsSimple rules:

  • If you can count them or assign a number to them, MANY and FEWER are correct.
  • If you can’t reasonably count them, use MUCH and LESS.

This salad has too much dressing, and too many carrots. How much dressing did you put on? How many carrots did you add?

You couldn’t reasonably count the number drops of dressing added, use much. However, you could say, “How many teaspoons of dressing did you add?” because the number of teaspoons can be counted. You can, and probably did count the carrots; the use of many is appropriate.

You could say, “This salad has too little dressing.” Little, like much, is non-countable.

The movie had too few/many big-name stars [quantifiable], and I wish it more/less nudity [unquantifiable].

This register is for ten items or fewer.

In dialog, using these words improperly is acceptable if your intent is to present the character as someone of lower education or class, as is the use of other misapplied verbiage. That’s a topic for another post.

If you can remember these few constructs and play them in your mind as you’re writing—or speaking, for that matter—you should get it right 99.9% of the time. Where’s the other 0.1%? Somewhere out there the English language has an idiom that is the exception. It always does.

Feel free to comment when you find it.

Posted in Writing Tagged with:

Don’t Stage and Block

DanceStepsI’m reticent to say “all,” but the vast majority of you are picturing each scene played out on the screen as you write it. Some may have the Hollywood stars already selected so when Spielberg asks you who’d you like to play the part… you’re prepared.

There’s a chasm between novels and screenplays, the discussion of which I’ll defer to another post. The short version of what I’d like you to take away from this presentation is that you don’t have to describe every movement of your characters. Doing so blocks the flow of action, makes the task of reading more cumbersome, and bulks up word count in ways that are not productive to quality writing.

There was a knock on the door. He stopped. The sound was repeated. He dropped his pen on his desk and walked the ten steps to the time-worn slab of oak. Twisting the knob he wondered who could be on the other side at this time of night. He felt the latch uncouple and pulled the door wide.
“Did you order a mushroom pepperoni?”
“No. I think that’s one flight up.”

 Assuming the interruption of whatever the character was doing is germane to the plot, we have two issues. There are always at least two issues.

First, the melodrama. Barring some Edgar Allen Poe rip-off, the distance to the door and its description is just over the top.

The second is the point of this post: If there’s a knock on the door, the character is likely to stop whatever he’s doing and shift his attention to the door. Without any reason not to, he’s going to go to the door and open it. All this is unnecessary staging, most of which would not appear even if this was a screenplay. As director, Steve will tell them how to move.

There was a knock on the door.
“It’s ten o’clock. Who the hell could that be?”
The knock came again.
Annoyed by the interruption, he flung the door open.
“Did you order a mushroom pepperoni?”
“No. I think that’s one flight up.”
He pulled a slice from the box and sunk his teeth in.
“Tell them this is the third time. They’re 301 not 201. This is my toll.”

Two words shorter, the revision eliminates the bad melodrama, is more active, and gives a reason the delivery boy got the apartment wrong. It provides a sense of the character’s state of mind the previous version did  not. And unless the old oak door is plot-necessary, why mention it? As Oscar Wilde said, “If there’s a gun on the table in Act I, someone better get shot in Act II.” Perhaps a heavy oak door will protect our pizza thief from the brutes upstairs who come down to enact revenge. If not, lose the description.

 

My personal demon is “turned.” As discussed elsewhere, I have the habit of having my characters turn every time someone speaks or anything happens.

“When did you get here?” Allan asked.
Betty turned to him. “An hour ago.”
“Hi guys,” Charlie said, entering the room.
Allan and Betty turned to him and greeted him in kind.
The scream from the hallway was surely Deborah.
They turned and ran toward the door.

I won’t rewrite that. You know how.

Eliminate all natural motions. If a character is sitting, you don’t have to have them stand up before leaving.

Alexander lounged in the wing back chair by the fire, unaware his lover’s husband had returned early.
The door burst open. The muzzle of a gun appeared.
Alexander disappeared into the fog that settled across the moors.

Here we assume that he got up, ran out of the room, fled to the front door, down the drive and away into the night. We didn’t need a step by step.

Review your writing. What stage direction do you include that is superfluous to the action?

Posted in Writing Tagged with: , ,

The Final Word on Semicolons

SemicolonDeep down in the bowels of English syntax there are convoluted, academic applications of semicolons; there are just two that you will ever use.

An independent sentence is a complete, stand-alone sentence. The first use of semicolons is to connect two independent sentences where the second sentence enhances or closely relates to the first.

It looks like it’s going to rain. The picnic will be ruined.

These are two independent, complete sentences that stand alone just fine. However, reading them in tandem, don’t they kinda sound like they should be together?

It looks like it’s going to rain; the picnic will be ruined.

They’re a single thought and are better written with a semicolon than a period, and, consequently, with a lower case start to the second sentence.

Some grammartarians will note that semicolons can be used between independent clauses that are connected by conjunctive adverbs—whatever the hell that is.

But those people have a hard time explaining what they mean; as a result, they are largely ignored.

Sorry, but those look like two sentences to me. I’d call it a push.

At one time, an accomplished author wrote, “It is improper to ever write a sentence fragment. Ever.” The ironic illustration is that practicing writers—authors—can take liberties, but wait until your sufficiently recognized that you can quit your day job before striking out as a rebel.

  • Never use semicolons as commas
  • Never separate dialogue from attribution with a semicolon

 

The second legitimate and common use of semicolons is in lists where some of the elements of the list have commas themselves.

There are two ways to publish your book: entice an agent, sell your manuscript to a mega-publisher, and get pennies per copy; or work with a boutique publisher, personal editor and cover artist, and make half the proceeds of each sale.

Normally, a comma would separate each item on a list. In this case, the semicolon makes it clear that there are two groups of linked items.

 

Bottom line: After familiarizing yourself with these two uses of semicolons, if you’re not sure, don’t use one.

 

Posted in Uncategorized