Thursday, February 25, 2010

Do Bloggers Need to Worry About Grammar?

Today we welcome guest editor, Sigrid Macdonald, who visits us to talk about good blogging and her latest publication, Be Your Own Editor: A Writer's Guide to Perfect Prose.
If you're a consummate blogger, you may wonder what the point is of polishing your writing skills. The medium is so quick and instantaneous. Updates are frequent and going back to edit a post that you wrote yesterday or last week seems laborious. Is it important? Don't your readers understand how time consuming blogs can be — won't they cut you some slack?

Not necessarily. It depends on the goal of your writing. If you have a personal blog that acts as a diary and is only read by family or friends, don't think twice about what you write and how. Likewise if you are simply chatting with old friends on any social networking site.

However, if you are seeking traffic or if your blog is commercial, then you want your writing to be as good as anything in the newspaper. It's embarrassing to have typos or grammar errors on your blog, and can seriously undermine your readers' confidence in you. You could be brilliant and your posts could be provocative, dense with information, or highly entertaining, but it won't matter if readers are laughing because instead of saying that you wanted to "attach" a JPEG, you said that you wanted to "attack" one.

And if you're selling something, potential buyers will click away in a heartbeat if they see that you don't know the difference between its and it's, or CD's and CDs. On your blog, e-zine, website, e-mail or social networking, you need to watch your language — and I'm not talking about sounding like Eminem or Denis Leary. I'm talking about using proper grammar and spelling.

Is it safe to rely on your spell-check? Not always. It's not 100% accurate like a calculator. It will miss all kinds of homonyms or any word that is spelled properly but misused. And the spell-check in blogger or other blog software is nowhere near as good as that in Microsoft Word. I recommend writing your blog post in Word, spell-checking it there, and then cutting and pasting it into your site. That's a hassle but you're far more likely to have a polished product that way.

I'm a book coach, an author, and an editor; out of the 50 full-length manuscripts that I've edited, I've noticed a common thread.  Most people make the same mistakes.  They write run-on sentences, not knowing when to use semicolons, colons, periods and dashes. (They also don't know the difference between an em dash and an en dash — do you?) They stumble over word usage, becoming confused about when to use loath and loathe, further and farther, or lesser and fewer. Almost everyone misuses apostrophes and puzzles over the plural or the possessive.

My latest book, Be Your Own Editor, addresses all of these issues in an informal style.  It has three pop quizzes so that you can test your knowledge along the way.  It's fun and it's packed with information.  Most importantly, it will prevent you from making the most egregious mistakes that are so easy to do.

Be Your Own Editor is available at as a 6 x 9 paperback for $17.99 or as an e-book for $8.99.  Read more about it at my blog.  Leave me a comment and I'll respond back.  I love to hear from people.  Or send me a friend request on Facebook and read my regular writing tips there.

Here's to writing the right way.

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Ask the Editor: Do Edits Change Style?

This question comes from Chris Stevenson, who is a member of Morgan Mandel’s Book Place on ning. Book Place

Chris’s latest book is Gate Walker and it can be purchased here on If you'd like to know more about Chris and her latest book, visit her on her Web site

Question: I’ve just spent months going over tedious track-change editing from my publisher. We were allowed little or no adverb/ly words in our manuscript. My question is: Just how much of my unique voice/style did I lose with this very thorough edit? I’m known for being a pretty good stylist, so it concerned me a little.

Answer: Ah, the old “ly” debate. My initial response to your comment is that I am leery of editors who issue absolutes: You must remove all adverbs. You must remove all uses of “was.”

There are legitimate uses of both, and to strip a manuscript of them entirely is a mistake. The problem is that many new writers use adverbs and passive writing to an extreme and that is what can cause an editor to screech and throw down an edict.

That said, it is going to be hard for me to answer your question without knowing how extensive the edits were. If it was a matter of just getting rid of a few pesky adverbs, that should not alter the style significantly. A good editor will not mess with style, even if it goes against his or her preferences. For instance, I am not a huge fan of some common romance phraseology, but if I am editing a romance for a client, I do not ask her to change wordage I don’t like, unless it is a matter of craft.

It would also be helpful to know who the publisher is and the genre of the book. Some small publishers have some guidelines that are not industry or genre standards.

My suggestion is to talk to your editor about this, if it is something you really are concerned about. But before you do that, read through a section of the book now that it has been edited and see if you still feel the same way about it now as you did when you first wrote it. If so, the edits probably did not alter your style significantly.

Hope this helps and good luck with the book.

Posted by Maryann Miller, who believes that an editor's job is to edit, not rewrite the book. Visit Maryann's Web site for information about her editing services and her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little ranch in East Texas.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Social Media: Doing Your Homework

The definition of social media is evolving. The Wikipedia version is constantly under discussion and is dynamic, changing as fast as the various components of social media change. To get to the bare bones, however, we can say that social medial consists of internet-based applications accessible to a variety of content producers and a wide audience of consumers/readers. You, as producer or consumer, can participate in social media and social networking in a variety of ways (blogger, Wikipedia contributor, photo sharing exhibitor, podcast producer, internet forum contributor/reader, corporate marketer, and so on).

Finding resource materials on the use of social media seems easy when you take a look at booklists. I’ve consulted:

Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day by Dave Evans (Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2008)

Blogging for Dummies by Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley (Wiley Publishing, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2008)

The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein (O’Reilly Media, Inc., Sebastopol, CA, 2009)

A search on “social media” at one of the online bookstores will return a long list of recently published books on these topics and more. Buying a book to learn the basics is fine, but be aware that books go out-of-date quickly as the sites they cover add new features, redesign old ones, and install new profile and security features. There are up-to-date internet articles that can help you learn as you go. I watch these blogs for articles of interest:

Mashable: The Social Media Guide
Mashable has guidebooks on Twitter and Facebook



cnet News

Inspired Mag has a list of 10 Essential Social Media Blogs

Here’s a list of 200 Social Media Blogs from NOOP.NL

There’s the Facebook blog
And the unofficial Facebook blog

The Twitter blog
And Twitip: Getting More Out of Twitter

Reading books for the basics is fine. There will be a steady flow of new titles, many of which will be added to your local library. But it makes sense that the most current support for your social media questions is online. Try the sites listed above, or conduct your own search on a variety of topics. To work on this blog post, I searched on “social media,” “social media marketing,” “social media blogs,” “Twitter blogs,” and “Facebook blogs.”


Patricia Stoltey is a mystery author, blogger, and critique group facilitator. Active in promoting Colorado authors, she also helps local unpublished writers learn the critical skills of manuscript revision and self-editing. For information about Patricia’s Sylvia and Willie mystery series, visit her website and her blog. You can also find her on Facebook (Patricia Stoltey) and Twitter (@PStoltey).

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing as an Art Form — Continuity

Learning to write is a lifelong course. Word art—the ability to create stunning imagery or exert desired influence with clear, concise information—might be compared to painting a sunset or composing a song. Words come in many shades and hues, notes and tones. Combining them into a specific “sight” or “sound” involves careful mixing of “colors” and “chords.” This series of articles examines the elements of writing that set the artist apart from the ordinary journalist.

Let’s consider continuity. Continuity involves connections. Effective writing needs to “connect” all the parts so that flow is not interrupted by mismatched colors or discord. How?

Careful attention to details—hair or eye color, location, timeframes, and so forth—eliminates confusion and contributes to a cohesive whole. Whether writing a business proposal or authoring a fiction or nonfiction book, a writer must make sure the reader not only understands what’s being said, but also follows the reasoning or the storyline to its logical conclusion.

One way to assure continuity involves manuscript readers. Have another person read your material. Ask that person to tell you what it says. Does the response match your intent? Also, read your words aloud and listen carefully. If you have a recorder, read your work into that and play it back. Combining the senses of sight and sound doubles your ability to assess what you’ve written.

For fiction pieces, outlines and character sketches help to maintain continuity and keep story progression on track. For example, action should never veer down a divergent path unless coherent development permits that to happen. Or if Mary has brown eyes in chapter three, they’d better not be green in chapter seventeen unless the reader knows she’s wearing colored contacts.

In nonfiction works, the use of an outline reduces the opportunity for error or confusing/conflicting information. Are you writing a proposal or speech, an editorial or how-to book? Make sure of your facts. Then be sure those facts are consistent throughout your work. Use chronological order and/or logical development for clarity. Focus on your purpose and don’t digress.

Just as colors blend to produce varying shades and musical notes combine to form major and minor chords, continuity overlaps with other writing elements—flow and coherent development, for example. We will discuss these and others in later articles.

Next time: Let Your Characters Tell Their Story – Don’t You Tell It.


Linda Lane, fiction writer and editor, will be co-presenter of a 50-minute segment on editing at Colorado Independent Publishers Association’s annual seminar (CIPA College) on March 26, 2010. Owner of Pen & Sword Publishers Ltd., she has edited two national award winners. Her latest novel will be released at the CIPA College event.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Sole of the Writer

Recently, my husband and I collaborated on a silent auction contribution for the Story Circle Network Conference held in Austin, Texas. We called it the Sole of the Writer Sock Box and here’s a picture of it.

He carved the conference logo on a wooden box styled to look like an old library card catalog, and lined the three compartments with aromatic cedar. Tabs on the three divider cards had Dewey Decimal System numbers related to the three stages of creating a book. What are the three stages you might ask? Let me tell you my thoughts as I knit the three pairs of socks that went into the box.

The first stage in any writing project is getting the words down on paper, without regard to form, grammar, punctuation, or anything your inner critic might find to pick apart. This is where the writer dreams with reckless abandon – or in the case of a memoir - remembers without reservation. The sock yarn I chose was a bright multi-colored self-striping yarn, and though we don’t necessarily write only happy, playful stories, the process itself should feel unfettered – like child’s play, never knowing where exactly the story will lead. I call the socks Beautiful Dreamers with a mantra knit into each stitch that said, “wake unto me”.

The second major step in writing involves revising and editing. This is where we examine the holes in our stories, and as editors, poke in a few more before the author hunkers down to the business of repairing the flaws. I chose a lace pattern for the socks, because it’s not my favorite sock to knit. In fact, it can be downright frustrating, much as editing one’s own work can be maddening. But even with a few mistakes when finished, the end result is usually quite beautiful. The socks, of course, had to be red. What else for a queen of editing?

Finally, and particularly in today’s publishing environment, comes the third major component of the writing life – marketing. One cannot get around it. If you’ve ever attended a writers conference, you’ll know what most suitcases contain – dark mix-and-match basics that are wrinkle-free and can be dressed up or down with ease. I thought about knitting socks in black or navy wool, but then found a lovely dark money-green yarn with a few specks of color. The color of money was just too hard to resist, and truly there is nothing wrong with working a healthy payback into your writing equation. The mantra as I knit these? Sell, Mel, Sell. Okay, maybe that could be more poetic. How about “I am a money magnet”? No. Perhaps the words from Fiddler on the Roof: "If money is a curse, may God smite me with it, and may I never recover!" Yes, now that has a nice ring to it.

May whoever wears these socks enjoy all the joys of the entire writing process including fame and fortune. What about you? Are there any special talismans you wear in your writing life to give you that little extra edge at every step?

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil, and when she isn’t knitting, drawing, reading, or writing, finds time to edit a couple of mystery or history novels each month. If you need an affordable edit on your book, contact her for pricing and details.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

She aims the gun as she edits

Last night I was reading a self-published book that—ahem—could have used some more editing. Immediately apparent was the insidious use of the word “as.” Even if the typical reader wouldn’t pick this up right away, I assure you these two little letters have a way of undermining a reader’s confidence in an author.

This is true for a few reasons.

1) Any word overuse is a problem. In a medium comprised of words, overuse suggests a limited lexicon and a dull imagination. The reader catches the stale whiff of laziness. Be cognizant of the choices you make.

2) The repeated use of this particular preposition sets up a lulling rhythm. You want to open your readers’ eyes to new thoughts and ideas, not close them. Here is one paragraph from the book I read, with nouns and verbs changed to protect the guilty:
He unbuttoned his coat and tucked his long hair behind his ear as he sat down on the leather couch. The secretary ignored him as she tapped away on the keyboard for another minute until the mailman arrived. He set the mail on her desk as he delivered a weather report. The secretary drummed her fingers on the desk and glanced at her watch as the mailman droned on.
Every sentence is bent the same way, hinging on the word “as.” There is a reason lullabies aren’t syncopated. *Yawn.*

3) The reader will suspect—rightfully so— that the author is flailing around for the true conflict that will drive the scene. Flail on your own time. By the time your story reaches print you need to command the material. Publish any sooner and it’s like rambling around outside in your underwear—we’d rather you decide what you are going to wear first! Once you weigh the significance of your story events and order them properly, dole them out one at a time so the reader can sense the significance of each. Due to the complexities and uncertainties of modern life, your reader is already surrounded by impotence: she doesn’t need to invest her time and money to watch it in action. She trusts you to tell your story more effectively.

With most writers this problem lurks in the “stage directions,” as in the “action” above. Since nothing of any import was happening in this scene, the author had the bright idea to make two dull things happen simultaneously! Um—no thanks. How about telling us only the good stuff, one important event after another?

Sometimes the use of the simultaneous construct becomes so rampant the author taps it for major events as well: “As I opened the door I heard a gunshot.” Now, which is more important, the door opening or the gun going off? This is out of context; a case could be made either way. Maybe the character has been trying to pick the lock on that door for weeks. Point being, it is not your reader’s job to know if you don’t.

My money is on the gunshot. If you strip this sentence down to its basic and most important detail, you can even evoke the shocking event with your prose style: “A gun fired.” Such a sentence does not flail. It is confidant, evocative, and on target.

Will using word search to remove all instances of the word “as” solve the problem? Probably not. But it will signal the fact that this type of multi-tasking, conflict-ramping sentence structure is a problem for you. So once you’ve ridded your manuscript of most instances of “as,” search for “while” and “-ing” constructs that attempt to achieve the same thing:
“The secretary drummed her fingers on the desk while the mailman droned on.”

“Drumming her fingers on the desk, the secretary listened to the mailman drone on.”

Think texting and driving, blow-drying and bathing: it’s dangerous to do more than one thing at once. Oh never mind, the results of that kind of multi-tasking could be pretty riveting. In this case, the greatest danger is that “as” you ramp up weak prose by making more than one thing happen at a time, over and over, your baffled and lulled reader will fall asleep.

And your book will fall to the floor, where it is likely to stay.


Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at While "astounding multi-tasker" was once a proud bullet point on her resume—and she still serves on two writing organization boards, gives talks on writing, edits, writes women's fiction, and hosts writing retreats—she no longer tries to do all these at once.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Diagramming for Grammar

How many of you remember diagramming sentences in elementary school? Where you shuffled, with great trepidation, to the chalkboard to draw a straight line and bisect it to show the “subject” (noun) and “predicate” (verb). And then the diagonal line(s) underneath one or more of those words to show “modifiers.”
I have to make a confession—I liked diagramming. Although some have likened it to a mathematical equation, I see it more as putting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle (I’m not mathematically inclined, but I do like puzzles).
It is easy enough to figure out “The horse galloped” or “The cat hissed.” But what about “John’s horse galloped around the paddock and then ran into the woods.” Oh my. Now you’re getting into lines underneath the lines beneath the subject/predicate line. And where does “around the paddock” go? OK, maybe that’s easy enough (under the verb galloped seems logical). But where does the rest of it go? And why do we care? Do we need to know how an airplane is designed before we fly? Do we need to know the terms and parts of a sentence before we write?
Well, yes and no. You don’t need to know the terms “participle,” “gerund,” or “appositive” to write well. But sometimes you need to know the rules before you can venture into breaking them.
According to Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, diagramming was introduced in 1877 in the textbook, Higher Lessons in English, by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg to “reform the cold-blooded murder of the English language.”
Florey writes, “By promoting the beautifully logical rules of syntax, diagramming would root out evils like ‘him and me went’ and ‘I ain’t got none,’ until everyone wrote like Ralph Waldo Emerson, or at least James Fenimore Cooper.”
Florey also asks a teacher who is presently teaching diagramming to her seventh graders, why?
“‘It just makes grammatical ideas clearer,’ she says. ‘It’s a tool for teaching them how to construct a sentence correctly.’”

“Does it make them better writers?”

“She dismissed the idea. ‘Maybe it will make them better editors, but it does not improve their writing.’”
Aha. Maybe that’s why I’ve ended up as an editor! And as for making my writing better, maybe something subliminal in the back of my brain helps me draw upon my diagramming experience to decide questions like whether to use “he” or “him” as the object of “who.”
Who knows?
What are your experiences with diagramming and what did you learn from it?
Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog... is a fun and quirky read that brings back memories of grammar school and learning to piece together the language puzzle.
A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel published novel is Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series, and blogs.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ask the Editor: Strong Female Characters

Darden North sent in this question:
It seems that some agents and publishers are looking for fictional works that feature strong female characters. Can you define a strong female character?
Hi Darden.

Not only are publishers looking for strong female leads, readers (both women and men) are as well. Readers today tend to want characters they can relate to and who are realistic. Of course, we’re not talking fantasy, erotica, or other genres where characters, both female and male are intentionally “over the top.”

A “strong female character” can be different things. There are many characteristics, but no one character would have them all. If you want your female lead or supporting character to be “strong,” then see if you can incorporate some of these (in no particular order):
Quick witted
Sense of self
Decision maker
Not perfect, has flaws
Strong in her femininity
Not rigid
Doesn’t do stupid things
Doesn’t belittle others
Can have a tragic weakness
Not black or white, but shadows of gray
Can change and grow
May or may not be in a committed relationship
Will most likely have women friends
Has a backbone

Look around at the women in your life - at home, at work, your neighbors, in your extended family - and decide what it is about each one that you like. Find a woman whose judgment you trust and ask her to look at the women in her life and tell you what she admires or respects about each.

Keep in mind that situations you put your characters in can change the way she behaves. Let’s say, your female character is asleep. She’s awakened by a strange noise. Her heart quickens. She eases down the hallway until she locates the source of the noise - the basement. Easing open the door, she reaches for the light switch, but it doesn’t work.

What does a woman do?

If she’s in the movies, she tiptoes down the stairs and gets clobbered over the head by an axe toting serial killer.

If she’s a strong, realistic, female character, she may whip out her cell and call the police. She may divert to the kitchen for a flashlight, especially since she’s probably already tried to turn on lights and thus knows the electricity is out. Or she may hesitate, pondering her options, hear the voice of her four-year-old crying, “Help me, Mommy,” and she forgets all caution and thunders down into the darkness.

Being a strong female doesn’t mean she free of weaknesses. Just like any character, to be believable she must have a flaw or two.

The strength of a female character seldom comes via muscles. It comes from within.

Thank you, Darden, for your question.

Darden North writes medical thrillers and murder mysteries. To date, he has authored and published three novels, which have been awarded nationally. In his third and current novel, Fresh Frozen (October 2008, hardcover), someone wants to steal a movie star’s embryos as the boundary between good and evil medicine blurs and reality replaces science fiction. Under the eye of an Internet voyeur, a policeman and his tormented wife discover that human reproductive tissue can lead to murder.

The late Helen Ginger was a freelance editor and writer, and former mermaid. You can view her archived blog, Straight from Hel, with posts dating back to 2006.   

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ideas for Writing

So you've decided you want to try this writing thing, huh? Great!

Now that you've decided to write, you have to find out what you want to write. Below are several suggestions to kick start story ideas:

I suppose you've heard this adage. GREAT idea. We know more than what we think we do. Take a pad and pen or park yourself in front of your computer and do some prewriting. Ask yourself, "What do I know?" Write down the skills you have, write down the characteristics that would describe you, write down the jobs you have had, the experiences you have had, the failures and successes you have had. It's a long list, isn't it? Maybe you realized that you don't have the best of luck in relationships. Why not write a story about a person with the same trait and try to figure out why? Maybe you realized that you're an extremely giving person and often times, you don't give enough to yourself. Write a story about that character. The point is that everyone has something interesting to write about, and it usually takes just looking inward to find that interesting topic.

We all have fears. We all worry about things. Why not conquer your fears, at least in your writing? Create a character that encompasses one or more of your fears and allow him or her to overcome those fears. Writing is extremely cathartic, and I bet that part of your own fears will decrease once you finish your character's story.

Is there something you always wanted to learn about? Is there an occupation, or a procedure, or a time period you've always been interested in learning about but never had the time or the gumption? TAKE the time now. A novel series I'm working on now centers around police investigations, detective work. I've always been a fan of whodunits, but I didn't know much about the specifics. I bought books on mystery writing and police procedures. I scoured the Internet. I kept a file on my laptop. I immersed myself into something new so that it would sound like I knew what I was talking about. You can do that, too.

I know, I know. Some of us turn the TV off as soon as the 5 o'clock news begins. We only check out the newspaper for sports and the classifieds. By doing so, you're missing a great source of information for potential story ideas. Take the time to flip through your local newspaper. Clip out stories of interest and place them in a shoebox. Keep a running list of topics on your computer. Jot down stories you hear about on the news. One night, you're sitting in your living room, watching the news, and you hear about the man who comes home and kills his girlfriend. All the neighbors swear they were a loving and devoted couple. They were planning their wedding. Horrible real life event and somewhere inside, you might be thinking, why? Why did he kill her? What could have been going on in their relationship for things to end so tragically? Answer your questions through storytelling. Besides, we can't let the Law and Order franchise keep the "ripped from the headlines" strategy all to itself now, can we?

I placed this last because it's a biggie. Because I am a writer, everything I encounter in the world becomes a potential source for a story idea. Sometimes, I just don't know it yet, but I feel it in my gut and in my heart. Example: in March 2004, I was suffering from a bout of writer's block, and I had a story due for workshop in like two days.

I was riding the transit home from school, and we passed a playground. There was a colorful swing set there, and I noticed one particular swing was swaying though there was no one near the set. Instantly, I felt a pang in my heart, then my stomach. I became sad. I was emotionally distraught. The first thought that ran through my mind was, what if I had a swing set but no child to push in the swing? I didn't know what that meant, but it pestered me for the rest of the day.

The following morning, I got up and got back on the same transit to go to school. During the ride, I noticed how the bus took the same route, every 45 minutes. The town I lived in was small; it only had four bus routes. The bus I rode to school drove the circle down around the school and back, from 5 am to 5 pm. I thought to myself, what if I had to drive this route every day and be reminded of "landmarks" that represented happy times in my life when I had a family? My mind was abuzz. The whole day I couldn't function as a teacher or a student. I knew why I had the feelings the day before. I knew that I would write a story about a bus driver whose family died (how, I didn't know until I began writing), and she was forced to drive a route that held memories of her life back when. Oh, and there was also a swing set in her yard that had been attacked by growing grass and weeds because she just couldn't go near it anymore.

I ended up canceling a class and rushing home and within a few hours, I had the short story, "Empty Swings." I had one of my best workshops (the last workshop before I graduated), and I had a story that I knew only I could write because it affected me emotionally, mentally, physically, and in some respects, spiritually. In fact, that story never really left me. About a year ago, I returned to it and developed it into a Christian fiction that I'm currently pitching to agents and editors.

Where do you find your ideas for stories?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Poetic Examples

I was asked to present some of my poetry as examples of narrative, lyric, and dramatic—all dealing with a valentine theme and all about a similar subject. It was suggested that I do this in four lines apiece, but it is very difficult to write a narrative or a dramatic poem in only four lines. Lyric, however, no sweat—so here they are.

The narrative and the dramatic could have had a rhyme scheme if I’d had longer to work on them. The lyric is free verse. The dramatic is sort of an unrhymed cowboy style. Note that “blush” is the key to all three. I hope you enjoy them.


Maggie sat straight yet nervous
at the interview,
left hand
smoothing out her skirt,
balancing her pen, point to tablet.

Her blue eyes smiled when
the chairman
welcomed her,
but I, from then on
noticed only the smile in her blue eyes.

when they rested on me, I blushed.


Well, the stuffy chairman welcomed
the bright new prospect gal
after we had gathered in the stuffy room.

“Well, y’all introduce yourselves
to Maggie,
one of our prospects for the music position
here at Rio Grande High School?”

Well, when my turn came I blushed
as her blue eyes smiled at me.

The stuffy chairman interjected
before I could speak.
“Well, I guess we know your vote!”
Her blue eyes smiled again
and the room was no longer stuffy.


To Maggie

As dawn blushes
upon the valley mist,
your smile blushes
upon my misting heart.

The lyric is quite concise. No words are wasted, yet the image is clear. This poem appears in my new book, Each Month I Sing, for the month of June. Maggie is my wife.

L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA Colorado Independent Publishers Association) EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at

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Dramatic Poetry

Dramatic poetry most often refers to the poetry used in writing stage plays such as tragedies and comedies. Poets who created works in this form include Aeschylus (Agamemnon), Sophocles (Oedipus Rex), Euripides (Medea), and Aristophanes (Lysistrata)—all Greeks who utilized a specific poetic line. Shakespeare employed blank verse in his plays, and T.S. Eliot used verse in Murder in the Cathedral.

In this discussion, however, I want to show how poetry forms can overlap by addressing the dramatic aspects that appear in both narrative and lyric poems. For example, when the poet speaks through another person or persons—that is, when he expresses his emotions through characters—we have drama, especially when the characters interact with one another. An application of this technique can be found in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” where the Duke as narrator speaks to another person about the painting of his last Duchess. This is known as dramatic monologue. Another option is for the narrator to address himself, as in William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” In this work, the bard reflects on his reflecting. In yet a different variation, the poet as narrator may address a person in his own mind (as in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall: to a Young Child).

Other forms of drama appear in many lyric and narrative poems. Ballads, for instance, tell a story, and the characters in them may speak to others or to themselves. The Scottish ballad “Bonny Barbara Allen” provides an example of this technique. The narrator depicts two people speaking to each other throughout the poem. The dramatic result well demonstrates the effectiveness of this method.

In my final article on poetry, I will present the same original poem in each of the three forms—lyric, narrative, and dramatic. This comparison will show how each can be utilized to create a different “atmosphere,” a different response from the reader.

L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lyric Poetry

Most poems express emotion, but lyric poetry expresses personal emotion. It may convey feelings of pain, fear, grief, love, anger, or joy. These emotions are communicated by using an economy of words worked into a number of possible patterns. The poet chooses the pattern that best fits his or her message. If the poet wants to write a love poem, for instance, he or she might opt to use the sonnet form, which contains fourteen lines divided into three quatrains (four line stanzas) and a couplet. An abab or abba end rhyme pattern may be used for each quatrain, and a cc end rhyme pattern for the couplet. Rules then dictate the progression from quatrain to quatrain.

All patterns have basic rules, which must be learned by the fledgling poet and should be appreciated by the reader. These patterns include the ode, the triolet, the pantoum, blank verse, terza rima, ballad form, eulogy, elegy, and so forth. The poet may choose one or another pattern because of specific meter (iambic for the sonnet), length of line, or particular end rhyme scheme.

In addition to pattern, the poet will utilize various forms of figurative language such as similes, metaphors, symbols, and images constructed from the five senses. A novice reader may wish to study these patterns to enhance the reading experience. On the other hand, one may simply enjoy particular poems without having knowledge of the various forms.

While the poetry forms discussed above have specific characteristics, some poems have no discernible form. Is such a poem still a lyric? Yes. We call it free verse. Free verse confuses many readers because there are no rules (at least there don’t seem to be). It was invented by poets who wrote “formed” verse (poems) because they wanted to express their ideas and emotions in different ways. Free verse may do away with line measurement and old rhyme schemes, but a poet who writes free verse should be able to justify line breaks, lack of punctuation, rhyme schemes that skip from line to line, and unusual blank spaces between words and lines. Poets who have successfully used this non-form include Whitman, Pound, Eliot, Stevens, Williams, Lowell, and many others.

It’s essential to realize that the first reading may not reveal a poem’s message. Often, the reader has to work at it, perhaps even copy it off the page and spend some time with it before it makes sense. Every good poem has a key to its message that will reveal a trajectory to meaning. The reader who loves poetry will search the words until that key is found and the hidden message unlocked. Then the time and effort spent is rewarded with understanding.

L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Narrative Poetry

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A narrative poem, like narrative prose, tells a story. The earliest narratives were poetic recitations sung or told by bards about heroes and gods, and all delivered in specific rhythms and measured lines to aid the memory. Later—after these narratives were written down—they began to morph into different types.

The earliest narratives are epics: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. They follow particular rules, such as a call upon the muse to help the poet recite or write. Usually a chief character struggles against foes, sometimes the gods, but who is also helped by the gods. The actions of the hero often have great consequences for a people or a nation. For example, in the Iliad, Achilles’ refusal to go into battle causes great harm for the Greek army.

Other forms of narrative poetry include legends, tales, and fables, which may or may not follow specific formulaic rhythms. Legends are a mixture of fact and fiction, tales are purely fictional, and fables employ animals or inanimate objects to present moral truths. In addition, narratives are usually told by an unidentified third person, yet some, like Dante’s Divine Comedy, are told in the first person. Of course, legends, tales, and fables are also forms of prose.

Ballads and cowboy poems employ the narrative and are sometimes put to music. If they are long, they may be considered narrative poems, but the shorter ones are often listed as lyric because they contain strong emotional qualities. The division between poetry types can be murky, as will be seen when we discuss lyric and dramatic poems.

L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Poetry?

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It has been said that it is much easier to appreciate poetry than to define it. I believe that is true, but I will try to point out the distinctive elements of each.

Perhaps it is best to first consider the reader’s point of view. The reader must realize that someone with great imagination (the poet) wants to communicate with him or her. The poet is attempting to reveal the world in new ways, to give the reader a fresh view, perhaps an unexpected view. To do this, the poet carefully selects his words, uses them in unique ways, and arranges them in subtle and complex manners.

The words and their arrangement take on new qualities through rhythm, rhyme, symbol, repetition, meter, and image—all appealing to and revealing the five senses. This means the poem will look different from prose on the page. Its appearance is important, for the arrangement often relates to its meaning. The reader may have to work hard to find that meaning—but once he or she discovers it, wow!

There are three types of poetry: narrative, lyric, and dramatic. The narrative tells a story; the lyric (it has many forms) expresses emotion; and the dramatic, similar to the narrative, makes more extensive use of dialogue. The finer points of these types will appear in separate articles.

L. Luis Lopez has written three books of poetry: Musings of a Barrio Sack Boy, winner of an Honorable Mention in the 2000 Writer’s Digest poetry competition; A Painting of Sand; and Each Month I Sing, which was granted the American Book Award 2008 and the CIPA (Colorado Independent Publishers Association) EVVY first place in poetry award 2008. Luis teaches Latin, Ancient Greek, and Mythology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He offers workshops in reading and writing poetry. In addition, he and his wife, Maggie, are owners of Farolito Press. Visit his Web site at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Writing for Wikipedia – Writing the Lead

So far, we’ve talked a lot about what Wikipedia is and is not, and about Wikipedia’s views on biographies. It’s time to address some of the mechanics of actually creating an article.

If you’ve been following the author links each day, you know all the articles have a similar look and feel. That’s because Wikipedia has a defined style for each type of article, including biographies.

Let’s take a look at today’s links: Steven Saylor, Andrew Vachss, and Amy Tan.

Each of these articles has a title and the title is the name by which we know the author. If you look back at the Sunday and Monday links, you’ll see all our sample biographies use the author’s name as a title.

The articles begin with leads – information that appears above the table of contents. The first sentence of the first paragraph in the lead section:

· Contains the article title (the author’s name) in bold, the date of birth, and date of death if appropriate–remember, verifiable facts not forecasts–and any titles (e.g. Poet Lauriat) bestowed on the author.

Examples from Wikipedia articles:

Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925 - October 26, 2008[1][2]) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels.

Dame Agatha Christie DBE (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976), was an English crime writer of novels, short stories and plays.

· Provides any other names by which a person might be known,

Examples from Wikipedia articles:

Amy Tan (Chinese: 譚恩美; pinyin: Tán Enmei) (born February 19, 1952) is an American writer of Chinese descent whose works explore mother-daughter relationships.

Janet Evanovich (born Janet Schneider, April 22, 1943, in South River, New Jersey) is an American writer.

· Might provide the person’s nationality
· Clearly tells why the person is notable

The rest of the lead paragraph should state the most notable facts about the author and be written in a way that makes the reader want to read more.

Have you selected an author and drafted a lead? Are you proud of your lead sentence? Would you like some feedback? Use the comments link below to show us what you’ve written.

For today’s reference articles, I searched for Steven Saylor, Andrew Vachss, Amy Tan, William G. Tapply, and Rosemary Poole-Carter. I managed to find Amy Tan right away, but none of the others. Luckily, they are all authors and we have handy online book stores to assist with correct spelling of authors’ names. When I changed Stephen to Steven and Vachs to Vachss, those pages came right up. After verifying the spelling for William G. Tapply, and Rosemary Poole-Carter, I searched again, but came up empty. Perhaps those two fine authors do not yet have pages, although it’s hard to believe that of Mr. Tapply who has published more than forty novels and a respectable number of non-fiction titles since 1984.

William G. Tapply holds a special place in my heart. He provided the first blurb for my first novel. I never met him in person, just exchanged a few email messages and the manuscript for Hacksaw. My experience was not unusual. By all accounts, he was an incredibly generous man who mentored many young authors. Wikipedia doesn’t have a place for biographies for those earning the title of Great Human Being, so I plan to write an article about Mr. Tapply’s writing career, and will use that article in my examples. My lead for William G. Tapply:

William G. Tapply (1940 - July 28, 2009), an American author also known as Bill Tapply, and best know for his Brady Coyne mystery novels, penned more than forty books during his twenty-five year novel writing career and nearly a thousand
magazine articles during his lifetime. He was a Contributing Editor for Field
& Stream and a columnist for American Angler. With his wife, author Vicki
Stiefel, he ran The Writers Studio at Chickadee Farm from which they mentored young writers.

Notice, I haven’t yet found his date of birth, but I provided the information I did have. Will I publish the article like this? Yes, if I don’t find the missing date. One of the great features of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit an existing article. So, if I write what I know and get it out there, others can fill in the missing pieces, expand the article to include knew sub-topics, correct any errors.

Are you ready to begin inside Wikipedia? No? Wikipedia provides a user-friendly tutorial and recommends new contributors practice by editing a few articles before creating their own. In addition, an article wizard is provided to assist with those first few articles. We’ll use the wizard to create our author articles.

But first, a few edits. When searching for a favorite author who does needs a wiki page, you’re likely to find several who already have pages. These are good places to try your hand at a few edits. Are the publication lists up to date? Are links missing? (E.g. If an author has won an award, is there a link to the award page?) Are sources sited?

After you’ve read the tutorial, practiced in the sandbox, and edited a few live articles, you’re ready to try your hand at creating your first new article. Chances are, you’ll make mistakes, most new contributors do. However, you can avoid a few of the more common errors. For example, before beginning a new article, search Wikipedia to make sure that article does not already exist. If you expect to find an article, and don’t, check your spelling or try different forms of the name.

Next Friday we finish our drafts. For more ideas on the kinds of information to include, check out these examples:

Mark Twain, Truman Capote, and Stephen Hawking

Other articles in this series include:
• January 15 – Wikipedia Registration
• January 22 – Background on Biographies
• February 5 – The Rest of the Story
• February 12 – Creating an Article in Draft
• February 19 – Benefits
• February 26 – Odd and Ends

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

News, Views and Reviews Blog

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Pull to Write

Recently, a fan of CLG Entertainment and The Write Life for You articles I write contacted me. The fan, a writer, asked, "How do you know if you have the talent to pursue writing? Words have always had a powerful pull on me, but I don't know if I can actually write ... Do you have medicine for my affliction?"

I wanted to share my response because I think it might be beneficial to those of you out there feeling, thinking the same thing.

You know, the need to pursue writing often comes before one even KNOWS if he or she has talent. It comes from a desire, a need to express something. The fact that you're pulled to write is BIG. For me, writing was always a NEED. Started writing when I was 10, and it was all about looking at the world and writing what interested me, and then that moved to what I didn't understand, and then that moved to what I hated, and then that moved to what I wanted to be made right, and on and on.

That pull to write is important because it will warm your heart when you're rejected, it will urge you on when you receive criticism, and it will move you to want to learn so that you can better your craft.

First and foremost, I think you need to KEEP the pull. Recognize it. Communicate with it. Nurture it.

Allow the pull to keep you writing.

As you write, think about what you seem "called" to write about. This calling isn't set in stone, but it's a great place to begin to think about who you are as a writer and what you hope to convey in your writing.

As you write, READ. Read works you deem "good," and be able to illustrate to yourself why they are good and what you can glean from these findings for your own writing.

As you write, READ. Read works you deem "bad," and be able to illustrate to yourself why they might be bad and what you can glean from these findings for your own writing.

As you write, READ. Read works about writing, especially those books that delve into the errors you find you make consistently in your work. You want your problems to become tools to fill your writer's toolbox.

Connect with other writers, especially those willing to read and critique your work. It's important to know what you want to get out of a critique group and what you can bring to that group; you do not just want to jump into a group and wallow within it. And be open to constructive criticism.

And almost as important as your writing these days is your platform - who you are, what you stand for, how your writing reflects this, who you connect with, network with, how you BRAND yourself.

But ultimately, I think it is about the PULL. If you don't feel moved to write, who will be compelled to read WHAT you write?

Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically, and her debut solo novel, Death at the Double Inkwell, will be released June 2010; you can read an excerpt here. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, promoting her debut project, writing screenplays, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just For Fun

For those of you who were following the plotting tips from Dud, I thought you might like an update on how he is doing with his book. Dud is the creation of humor columnist and author, Slim Randles, but he has become very real for the many followers of Slim's column, Home Country. I, for one, had to know if the truck driver and the duchess were ever going to get together....

“You know what we forgot to do?” Anita asked. Dud shook his head. “We forgot to dig out those promises we made to ourselves on New Years last year.”

“Right,” Dud said. He was trying to remember what he’d written down as a promise to himself. Right after dinner is a bad time to be disappointed. “I can’t remember where we put them,” he said, picking up the Weekly Valley Miracle.

“They’re in my desk, silly,” Anita said, brightly. “I’ll go get them.”

Dud put the paper down and looked out the window at the snow where the lawn should be. He felt a little dread coming on. Not a big one, just a regular shrug-of-the-shoulders kinda dread. Do we always promise ourselves the moon and deliver a light bulb?

“Here we go,” Anita said, tossing Dud’s envelope in his lap. “You want me to read mine first?”

“You mean out loud?”

“Of course.”

He grimaced and watched as she opened hers.

“Okay,” she said. “I promised I’d learn to bake sourdough bread this year and I did. And I promised I’d join the Ladies Literary League and I did that. In May I think. And I promised I’d straighten out the filing system down at the office. Took me until August, but I got that, too, Honey. Okay. Your turn.”

Dud opened the envelope. He unfolded the paper carefully.

“Do I have to read all of them? You sure? Well, I promised to memorize the Julida Polka on my accordion.”

“And you did.”

“Yes. Yes I did. And I promised to build that birdhouse by the window.”

“Yep. There’s number two.”

He sat quietly. “Well, Honey, I promised I’d finish writing that murder mystery. You know … ‘Murder in the Soggy Bottoms’?”

“The Duchess and the Truck Driver? Sure.”

“I’m nowhere near getting that thing done.”

“Some people take years to write books. I read the other day it took Max Evans more than 30 years to write ‘Bluefeather Fellini.’”

Dud smiled sadly, and nodded. “That’s true I guess.”

Yes, he thought, but this book of mine isn’t ‘Bluefeather Fellini.’

Maybe by next year.

Brought to you by “Sun Dog Days,” Slim’s latest novel. Available at Slim Randles Web site

Posted by Maryann Miller who is grateful to Slim for sharing his work with Visit Maryann's Web site for information and pricing for her editing services, as well as information about her books. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play farmer on her little place in East Texas.

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