Tag Archive | Grammar

Chasing the ‘WAS’ Monster

I’ve been thinking about this post for some time now and kept asking myself if I’m qualified enough to write it. I decided that even if I haven’t fully learned how to wrangle this beast, I’m still going to pass on what I’ve learned.

Every time I release a new book, I hope it’s better than the last. Not saying that my first releases weren’t good, but I honestly believe that the more I write, the more I grow as an author.

So, what’s a WAS monster? If you’re a writer, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you. If you’re not a writer, then maybe I shouldn’t be telling you! I risk having you go back to my older books and look for ‘was.’ You’ll find it. Frequently. Was isn’t such a bad thing, (especially in dialog), but what I’ve learned is that it can be improved on. For the most part, taking was out of the equation brings more action to a sentence.

For instance, instead of saying: The man was walking down the street, I’d simplify it to: The man walked down the street. It goes from being passive to active. Simple, but effective.

And here’s the funny thing…once you start tackling this monster, you’ll find really creative ways to dig deeper into your character’s point of view.

I’ve been working on a rewrite of my first manuscript. I came to this ‘was’ sentence: When Reverend Brown announced their engagement and upcoming wedding, it was no surprise to the congregation.

Not a bad sentence, right? Well…when I looked at it, I thought, that’s kind of flat. Besides, this is an important part of the plot. I needed to make an improvement. That simple sentence became this:

When Reverend Brown announced their engagement and upcoming wedding, the congregation stirred with instant chatter. It didn’t surprise Claire. They’d expected it for some time. If they only knew the truth. Now that would create real chatter. The kind of gossip they’d love to share.

In my opinion, a HUGE improvement. I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having doing a ‘was’ word search. I believe that little trick alone will substantially improve my work. Let me know what you think!

I don't care about 'was' I just want a cookie!

I don’t care about ‘was’ I just want a cookie!

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Thank You, Teachers

I have great admiration for people who dedicate their lives to educating children. It takes a special heart to have that passion that burns deep within, creating the desire to pass on knowledge.

Sometimes I think that teachers don’t realize the impact they make on lives. Or, maybe they do. But whatever the case might be, I want to share a few stories about how my life has been impacted by a number of teachers, but especially one in particular.

First I want to say that sometimes their influence can be negative. But luckily, that’s rare! My example is an experience from grade school. I had a PE teacher tell me that I was uncoordinated. Of course I believed him. Prior to that revelation, I loved to run. (I have very long legs!) After he said what he did, I essentially gave up on athletics. Even in high school when I grew to a height of six feet, I refused to go out for basketball. The basketball coach urged me to try, but I gracefully declined. Instead, I focused my energy on music and drama. And honestly, I was happy. I didn’t feel my life was cheated by not being in athletics. But I often wonder if I would have had a different attitude if that PE teacher had told me that I just needed to try a little harder and I would succeed.

So, enough about the negative.

My young mind begged to be filled with new ideas. I thank God for Mrs. Banks. She was my fourth grade teacher at Sherwood Elementary in Edmonds, Washington. Maybe someone else out there reading this was lucky enough to have her for a teacher. She encouraged me to push myself a little harder in every subject. From math to writing, and everything in between.

I moved away from Washington after fifth grade, but never lost touch with her. Every year we’ve exchanged Christmas cards and letters. When I wrote my first children’s story, I sent her a copy and she encouraged me to publish. I should have listened to her, but at that time I didn’t pursue it. Maybe I was a little scared. Still, she never gave up on me. Yesterday I received a wonderful note from her telling me that she can’t wait to read my novels. I wonder if she knows how much her encouragement pushed me to keep writing?

Thank you, Mrs. Banks, for being that incredible gem who genuinely cared about her students. Your heart is golden.

I want to also mention my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. McPeak. I was the new girl in town and she welcomed me with open arms, and warm hugs. She introduced me to my friend, Diane, who is still one of my best friends. Mrs. McPeak wasn’t afraid to tell us that God loves us. I know that’s frowned upon nowadays, but back then it was part of who she was, and something she felt compelled to share. She looked after us and even opened her home to us for a pool party during our summer break. Thank you, Mrs. McPeak, for being a bright light in my young life.

My love of history was impacted in high school thanks to Mr. Batchelder. He wasn’t the kind of teacher who stood in front of us and told us to read such-and-such a chapter. He brought history to life by telling us the stories. He put so much enthusiasm in his teaching that it made me want to learn more. It was obvious, he loved history. He passed that on to me. So, thank you, Mr. Batchelder, for inspiring me to write about what I love.

And to all those other teachers out there, know this. You’re impacting lives. Maybe you don’t know it now, but one little individualized comment could be the thing that pushes your student to do something incredible with their life. And if you happen to have one that trips over her own feet, just tell her to try a little harder and she’ll succeed.

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I Just Have to Write!

For those who hate writing in any form, it’s hard to explain why I “have to” write. Sometimes I don’t understand it myself. It’s like an itch that must be scratched.

While brainstorming with a fellow writer last week, I asked her what I should do. Start a sequel to a book that I completed or write the story that has been haunting me and won’t leave my head?

She strongly suggested the head-haunting story. Since the sequel I’m considering is bare bones, and the other story has meat on it, what she told me made sense. She said that she learned a long time ago to jump on a story while it’s present in your mind and you’re passionate about it. Otherwise, it might trickle away and you’ll forget what it was that fired you up.

So, my sequel will wait and I intend to start the new manuscript today. It will be something very different from my other books. This one will be a contemporary love story written solely from my heroine’s point of view. And it will have a very unexpected twist. That’s all I’m saying. 🙂

For me, sitting down to write is like opening a gift at Christmas. I don’t know what’s inside, but I’m confident it will be something I like. And even though the wrapping paper is pretty, I don’t hesitate tearing into it. It’s not a drudgery. It’s an exciting gift!

I hope I never lose this passion. And I also hope that I can inspire other writers to follow their dreams and put their thoughts and feelings on paper–or laptop these days.

So, here I go…

WRITE ON!!

Never know what's inside the package...

Never know what’s inside the package…

 

To Capitalize, or not to capitalize?

Rules, rules, and more rules…

Why can’t we just write and not worry about them?

Well, in today’s market, with so much competition, I highly suggest that you polish your manuscript to a shine before submitting it to an agent or publisher. So, that being said, it’s important to understand grammatical rules.

I will say right now, that I’m still learning them. This goes right along with everything else I keep learning. You think you know it all, them BAM!, you find out you’re still doing something wrong.

So, today, I’d like to talk about capitalization. I’ve mastered the “mom, dad, father, mother” rule. That one is pretty easy. Here are some examples: “I love my mom.” (not capitalized). On the other hand, “Hey, Mom, I love you!” (capitalized). The difference is that in the second sentence I’m using “Mom” as her name or identity. Here is another example. “Have you seen your dad lately?” (general, not capitalized). “Have you seen Dad lately?” (by removing ‘your’ and making the sentence more specific, the word now needs to be capitalized).

It gets a little more complicated when you start writing stories about kings and queens. I’ve recently discovered this and had to do some research. But again it goes back to the “in general” or “specific” rule. It’s easy when you put king or queen with a name following. Such as “I’m off to see King Richard.” If you simply write, “I’m off to see the king,” the capital letter goes away.

I’m certain that I’ll still make mistakes, and all I can say to that is: “Thank God for editors!” It’s their job to find all those little nit-picky things that your readers will be happy to point out when they review your book. You’ve probably read books with typos that jump out at you, and halt your reading. They happen, but you should always try to keep them to a minimum. And if you self-publish, this is more crucial than ever. Before sending your work for publication, hire a reputable editor. It will be worth the money, and save you from embarrassment.

So now, I’m off to write about Prince Sebastian!

WRITE ON!!!

And they lived happily ever after...

And they lived happily ever after…

A Writer’s Acronym

Now that my most recent work in progress, “From the Ashes of Atlanta,” is complete, it seems that my mind is searching for new twists on creative thoughts.

Normally, while falling asleep at night, I think of my next scene, or perhaps my characters discover their dialog in the depths of my brain. Scary, huh?

Well, last night, my mind took a different direction. And yes, my husband thinks I’m slightly bonkers.

I’ve always loved acronyms, and some can be quite clever. So, here are my thoughts on what it means to WRITE:

What Readers Itch To Experience

Whatever Really Ignites The Editor

Watch Repetitive Ideas That Explode

Women’s Reactions Inadvertently Tell Everything

I had fun with this! If you come up with some of your own, please share them. And, thank goodness I’ve got them written down now. Maybe I’ll sleep tonight. 🙂

I’m still on that long, winding road to publication and the adventure couldn’t be more exciting. Well, that’s not exactly true. When I get my publishing deal, you will witness excitement like no other. I hope that you will continue to follow my blog and share your experiences with me.

Most importantly…

WRITE ON!

Civil War

 

Descriptive Words

Adverbs and adjectives are part of our English language, so why not have tons of them in writing? This is something I’m still struggling with. I could never understand why  I should limit their use, but I’m learning.

First of all, as a writer, you always want to find the best way to say what you mean, without rambling. (Unless you have a character who rambles as part of their personality.)

I tend to ramble, so that’s something I’m learning to overcome. Have you ever written a sentence that just rubbed you wrong? You knew that there was something wrong with it, but you couldn’t quite put a finger on it? My best suggestion is, highlight it, then walk away from it. Days later, revisit it. You may be surprised at how the right fix comes to you. Reading it aloud helps, too.

So, descriptive words, whether adjective or adverb are important, but try to find a better noun or verb to say what you mean. One of my fellow writers pointed out that one thing that has always bothered her when she’s editing is the phrase, “whispered softly.” Granted, sometimes whispers are loud, like a stage whisper, but most whispers are soft. There is no need for the adverb here.

“I love you,” Jake whispered.  What more needs to be said?

Or how about this example: The muscles on his arms were really big.

Yes, it paints a picture of a man with big muscles, but the sentence is dry. What’s another word for ‘really big?’ How about enormous, or gigantic, or gargantuan? You could change the sentence to: The muscles on his arms were enormous.  Still dry. So, paint a bigger picture.  His taut shirt sleeves encased his enormous muscles.  Okay…maybe that’s a little overboard, but you get the picture!

Back to the adverb. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with sentences in order to find ways to avoid adverbs. However, I must confess that sometimes I still use them.

I struggled with a sentence that I loved in one of my books, back before I learned that adverbs should be limited. So, I asked my fellow writers how I could rewrite the sentence: She walked stealthily behind him. I thought the sentence said all that needed to be said. And I loved the word ‘stealthily.’ But, being that I was trying to rid the ‘ly’ words, I tried to envision how she walked, and what made it stealthy. It ended up being: With the stealth of a tiger, she remained some distance behind him.

So, what do you think? Better?

Always remind yourself that you are an artist with a paintbrush creating a masterpiece. Each word you type is a brush stroke adding color and form to your artwork. Paint with vivid colors.

I would love your input! Because I’m constantly (yes an ‘ly’ word) learning new things, I’d appreciate having you share what you’ve learned about adverbs and adjectives. But whatever you do…keep writing.

WRITE ON!

 

The muscles on his arms were really big.

The muscles on his arms were really big.

Passive or Active?

One of the best articles I read recently, regarded writing in a passive or active voice.

Since I’m in the process of a major edit, I’ve noticed that I frequently write passively. That’s something I’m changing, and I’m amazed at the difference in the way my book reads.

Even though I’m writing in third person, and I use the word ‘was’ frequently, it’s easy to fall into the trap of always using it, and it’s not necessary. Let me explain…

Here’s a simple sentence: He was alone. Okay…that works. Cut and dry. (very dry) But, it paints a picture in my mind, and it’s alright.

But here’s what you don’t want to do: He was  walking down the street going to the grocery store. (passive voice). To make this sentence active, change it to: He walked down the street to the grocery store.  See/hear the difference?

Of course, these are made up, sample sentences, and not something I would put in a book. If I did, my readers would be bored to tears!

One of the first sentences I ever wrote in a book was: She had grown up there, and it was all she’d ever known. Learning what I know now, that sentence became: She grew up there, and it was all she knew. (But, to tell you the truth, I have completely removed that sentence, because it was in an ‘introduction’ to my book which has been completely eliminated!)

Here is another simple example: He was standing in the doorway.

The simple change: He stood in the doorway.

It’s always good to read aloud what you’ve written. If it flows off your tongue naturally, that’s a good sign. If it jolts you, and doesn’t feel right, then it will most likely jolt your

readers and you will need to look closely at what jolted you and fix it. It’s important to get your thoughts on paper, (computer), but remember that it can always be changed. It sometimes helps to walk away from it for a while. I’m surprised at how many times I can go back to something I wrote, and after re-reading, see exactly how I need to fix it and make it better.

If you’ve ever written a sentence that makes you wince each time you read it, it feels really good when you come up with a way to say what you mean in an “unwincable” way. (Yes, I know…it’s not a word!)

WRITE ON!!

 

He looked out the window.

He looked out the window.