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Showing posts from February, 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&#

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. Thanks. 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

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 Mil

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

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

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 th

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 befo

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): Intelligent 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 Spunky Multi-dimensional Can have a tr

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: WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW 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. Th

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. Narrative Maggie sat straight yet nervous at the interview, left hand smoothing out her skirt, right 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. And when they rested on me, I blushed. Dramatic Well, the stuffy chairman welcomed the bright new prospect gal after we had gathered in the stuffy room. “Well, y’all

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 fo

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 son

Narrative Poetry

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 fict

What is Poetry?

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 thre

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

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

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-