Tag Archives: writing tips
by Fred Rayworth
Sunday morning, early. Easter Sunday. No big deal to me since I’m not of that persuasion, not since I was a little kid (and not even then, because my belief system wasn’t formed and I was lucky enough to have parents that let me make up my own mind). To me it’s just another Sunday morning with the usual self-imposed deadline for my Tuesday web site article posting. Or, as some of you might call it, my blog posting. I don’t really like to call it a blog because that implies a quick three-times-a-week smidgen of thought. At least that’s the impression I retained when I first dove into this game over a year ago. On the other hand, a lot of my fellow bloggers can be quite prolific several times a week. I just don’t have the time like I used to.
My once-a-week, Tuesday posting usually comes out of my head every Sunday morning as I’m sitting here by myself, with a quiet house. Everyone else is asleep, even the dawgs. Woof… or, lack of woof, to be more precise.
There’s no real reason for my self-imposed deadline except I like to post on Tuesday because that’s the day I picked when I started my web site. Monday is the Henderson Writer’s Group meeting. Tuesday is the first evening of the new week where I get to spend time on the computer, after nightly news, and before NCIS comes on. I have a span where I can check my e-mails, maybe do a bit of work on updating the Observer’s Challenge and even add to the forums on Cloudy Nights or watch some heavy metal vomit band on YouTube. Or, at least watch part of a video. For some reason, I don’t often watch them all the way through as of late.
THE OBSERVER’S CHALLENGE
My second deadline, which is a bit looser, is the Observer’s Challenge. My friend, Roger Ivester and I compile observations from other amateur astronomers around the country. I put it all together in Microsoft Word and then .pdf documents, then send it to our web master at the Las Vegas Astronomical Society (LVAS), Rob Lambert. He posts it on the club web site. Besides that, Roger and I both post the .pdf files on our own web sites, mine here on my Observer’s Challenge page. This process takes about a month and a half. A much looser deadline than my weekly blog. However, it is still a very important process that does take time and effort, but time and effort I enjoy immensely, just like these articles I write every week.
These deadlines, while self-imposed, provide enjoyment, though no profit. The Observer’s Challenge involves other people so I’d be letting down someone besides myself if I didn’t come through. If I slipped and didn’t post my weekly article, a few of you might wonder what happened after a week or so. Most would probably forget about it for a while then all of a sudden wonder what happened to good old Fred. Then you might shrug and go on about your lives, if that.
THE BIG KAHUNA
When and if my books (Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure of the Umbrunna & Lusitania Gold) ever reach the publishing stage, I’ll most certainly have deadlines. The publisher will go through them and red-line the daylights out of them. Send them back to me with a date of expected return for a second run-through. I’ll be given a deadline to fix those edits. If not, my book will be delayed in publication or they might even drop me from the list. That could be real pressure except I’d be on it like… well, I don’t want to say the unprintable cliché. I know all about deadlines. When I worked as a technical writer, I used to deal with deadlines all the time. With my books, we won’t be talking about work-related deadlines. This has to do with my writing, what I do for a calling, what I do for fun and profit. My self-imposed deadlines because I want others to see my work.
Do you have any kind of deadlines? Do you not only set them, but do you meet them? Or, do you let them slip, over and over again and just go on, never quite finishing what you started? On the other hand, do you set a deadline, or get one for something you wrote and freak out then lose all your writing skill and turn into a blubbering mass of insecurity?
Remember, we’re not talking about the making a living type deadlines, but what you do for fun and profit. This is supposed to be a calling, what you do because you love it, because it’s what you have to do, not something you must to do because someone has a gun to your head.
WHEN IT’S NOT SELF-IMPOSED
If you’ve turned in a manuscript and an editor sends it back all redlined and says “Fix it. I need it back in three weeks.” What do you do? That’s a deadline. Are you going to get right on it and fix it and run to the post office and get it back to them, or are you going to freak out, sit on it until the last minute and make a few quick changes then throw what’s left in the mail and hope for the best? Or are you going to blow the deadline and take your sweet time and hope they didn’t notice?
There’s a deadline for submission to a periodical and you want to submit a short story. You have a great idea but keep procrastinating. Either do it, or move on (See? I avoided the obvious censored cliché here).
Deadlines can work in our favor if you are one that can write under pressure. If you can’t, never let one get that close. Start early so you can finish early.
by Fred Rayworth
How long have you been at this game, this passion, this ahem… business of writing? It’s of course, all of these things, yet when you break it down, looking back at where you likely stand right now, it’s basically either a bunch of effort for a: nothing or b: a great deal of fun with tentative results.
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. What will you resolve to do in 2014 with regard to your writing? Perhaps 2013 brought the hoped-for success but if you didn’t get the contract for your latest effort or can’t seem to finish a project, your outlook will make all the difference as to which choice you make.
Things to consider
Do you have goals? This one’s a bit more difficult. Is it to get published? Or, is it to write? More than likely it’s both, but if you’re a true writer, it probably leans more toward the writing part. It should, because that’s where all the passion is, where your prime motivation should be or there would be nothing to take to a publisher. However, if you want anyone else to ever see what you’ve written, the next logical step is, of course, to get published.
It can be said that a true writer can just write for writing’s sake, and be happy. Yet there’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be able to enjoy the stories real, or unreal that you’ve created. You have the passion and creativity and are constantly developing your skills as a writer. However, the most difficult thing is getting it out there so someone else can read it.
All the passion for writing makes no difference to the outside world unless you can break into the world of publishing. There are hundreds if not thousands of others with the same idea, trying their best to do the exact same thing. We, as writers are flooded with advice on how to break in. I’ve heard it all. It never ceases to amaze me how many variations on the same thing come from different experts on how to break into the game.
The basics are simple
It takes writing talent, a great story, face time, perseverance and just plain luck.
Talent and a great story go without saying. Unfortunately, there are literally thousands of talented writers with great stories.
Sure, there’s dumb luck, but the only way to make your own luck is with plenty of face time. To do that, you need to go to conferences and meet agents and publishers face-to-face. If you think query letters work, I’ve got a drawer full of them, mostly ignored. If you think sending the full manuscript works any better, I’ve got a bin full of returned, mostly unblemished and unread manuscripts.
Numbers make a difference
The only thing left in making your own luck is the numbers. Like they say, if you don’t play the Lotto, you have zero chance of winning. I started querying agents in 1995. My first attempt was The Greenhouse. I’ve pitched many different manuscripts since then and have accumulated 669 rejections as of last count. Perseverance.
You’ll get nowhere if you don’t try.
In eighteen years, I’ve actually nailed two book contracts. Publication is tentative right now, but it’s a start. Many people would’ve given up long before that.
Do you have perseverance?
I’m not exactly sitting around waiting for a publisher to find my great novels, either. I’ve had multiple short stories published, a newspaper article as well as several astronomy articles in a national magazine. I also publish a monthly astronomy observing project that’s been ongoing since 2009. I’ve written 787 reviews on Amazon, so far, and am a continual contributor to the Cloudy Nights astronomy forum. On top of that, I’m always working on the next novel, which right now is number twelve (is it?). I’m also editing constantly as well as occasionally editing for friends. My world, when not working is mostly about writing. I keep busy.
Right now, even though I have two books tentatively under contract, I’m still gearing up for the next Las Vegas Writer’s Conference. More face time with agents and publishers and everyone else involved in the industry. You can’t win the Lotto if you don’t play. Perseverance!
Writing and trying to get published is all about keeping at it. You have to make your own luck. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try. Perseverance.
NOTE: Thanks to Morgan St. James for the special formatting of this page and the 2nd paragraph. You rock!
Preliminary Explanation: This is the first article the author ever published on a blog, and it was before the word had been coined. It’s here as a lesson in writing humor, for inspiration, and because what the heck, we all need a break from serious study once in a while.
By Steve Fey
I went out this morning –
My Lexus was flat –
I been retainin’ water
And I’m feelin’ pretty fat!
Oh, Lord, I tell ya,
I don’t know what I’m gonna do:
I got the Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Big kitchen in the back blues!
I wrote this song about the world I’m living in. It’s a philosophical song. So, that makes this a column about music and philosophy. It’s a sad song, really. Most comedy is. You think Mark Twain wasn’t consumed by guilt over that cat and medicine incident? Yeah. That’s the was it is in the humor game. You feel pain. You ache. You belabor a point but it doesn’t help. It’s ugly. Comedy.
I went out last Wednesday –
Took a look at my lawn –
Crabgrass just took over:
All my bluegrass was gone!
All that poison fertilizer!
Who knew what it was gonna do?
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Badminton ‘round the back blues!
I feel guilty all the time. I’m guilty that I’m who I am. I confess. I’m me. I had an ancestor who landed in Virginia with Captain Smith. True story. And he was an idiot, looking for gold in a swamp. Think my ancestors ever supported the slave trade? Of course not. That’d make me feel guilty. Or maybe they were nasty to the natives? Never! Too much guilt. I can’t stand it. His name was Powell. Ever hear of an African American named Powell? Who got that name how? Life’s hard. Comedy is harder.
You think comedians have it easy? You think Chris Rock is kidding about growing up on the floor? Or Bill Cosby was kidding when he used to talk about his crazy father? No, they aren’t. If only you knew. Oh, we laugh and enjoy their pain because we don’t know. We don’t know. The blues may be the ultimate in comedic composition.
‘Bout a month ‘go last Tuesday –
I was feelin’ pretty good –
‘Til I saw who was movin’
Into my neighborhood!
They’re gonna lower
All the standardized scores down at my school!
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Covenants front and back blues!
But, it’s OK. I don’t need your sympathy, even if I am funny. Heck, funny people are tough! You try putting up with years of ridicule from schoolmates without laughing about it. Try being told by your teacher that you are “too much talk, not enough action.” See where that leaves you. Who’s talking now, fifth grade teacher George Kingsmore? Not you anymore, I’ll bet! So there! Life has its compensations. Scott Adams, who draws Dilbert, is nowhere near as rich as, say, Bill Gates. But he says what he means and wants to say, and he’s probably a lot richer than you or me. That’s compensation. That’s revenge. Yeah. We get what’s ours. Because it’s comedy. Because comedy is tough and dirty.
You may laugh at my story –
You may smile at my song –
But if you’re payin’ attention,
You won’t be smilin’ long!
There’s just no tellin’
Where this old world is goin’ to.
I got those Suburban Cul-de-sac,
Bad times are comin’ back blues!
The song quoted herein is Suburban Cul-de-Sac Blues, by Steve Fey, copyright 1998. Don’t even think of reprinting it without permission of the author! I’m a humor writer. I can be nasty. We all can be. See what I mean? I live in the suburbs. I’ve got a lawnmower, and I know how to use it. Life is tough. Guilt is everywhere. Comedy. It isn’t pretty.
Want more of Steve? You can check his blog at stevefey.com, or look for him on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
By Tami Cowden
I once attended a workshop that focused on sharper, clearer writing. The speaker discussed many common grammatical and word misuses, and offered lots of strong advice to improve writing. But there was one bit of advice to which I took exception, even though this advice has practically become a mantra among romance writers.
It had to do with the dreaded flying body parts.
I can’t count the number of times I have heard speakers tell a roomful of nodding writers “Eyes don’t drop, they don’t meet, they don’t fly across the room. Gazes drop, meet, fly, etc.” Everyone gets a good (embarrassed) chuckle at the exaggerated images painted by the speakers, and rushes home to removed the offending phrases from their own work.
Now, literally, these speakers, and their agreeable audiences, are correct. These things don’t really happen. Or, if they do, we certainly don’t want to be there to see it.
But why do we care about literal meanings? We write in the English language – why shouldn’t we use it in its entirety? In the English idiom, eyes DO meet. They do drop. They fly, dart and shoot across rooms, and sometimes even bug out of heads. What’s more, other body parts fly, rove, wander, and so forth, metaphorically, if not literally.
According to Merriam-Webster, an idiom is “an expression that cannot be understood from the means of its separate words.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with using one. Or even, in moderation, more than one. In fact, writers who write in English ought to have command of the language in all its richness.
We use many idioms in our speech and in our writing, with nary an objection from our zealous critique partners. For example, I have never literally “taken” a walk down the street – that would require me to somehow pick up a walk and transport it. But no one objects if my heroine takes a walk or ride across town. If my hero takes a plane to New York, I am not chastised for having my hero steal things that don’t belong to him. But just let me mention that his eyes traveling up the heroine’s legs, and boy, oh boy, will I get pounded by some well-meaning critiquer.
Sorry, folks, but the flying body part rule is one of those rules that really isn’t a rule – because frankly, it doesn’t make any sense. These expressions would make it past any grammar teacher, and, more importantly, past any reader who hasn’t been tainted by having someone sneeringly point out the literal meaning of the words.
Don’t believe me? Okay, I can understand your not wanting to take my word on this. But how about taking Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s words? Here’s a line from one of my favorites of her books, Nobody’s Baby But Mine: “He saw that Jane’s eyes were glued to his mother’s face, and he took in her stunned, happy expression.” (p. 322) When I read this story, I was caught up in the emotion of the moment. A horrific vision of the heroine’s eyes being removed her head and pasted to the face of the hero’s mother just did not enter my mind. And that’s true even though I read that book after my mind had been polluted by the dreadful flying body part rule.
Still unconvinced? Maybe Nora Roberts will be more persuasive. Here’s a line of hers from Homeport: “His eyes held hers, and were a dark, rich brown that took little drifts of gold from the sunlight.” (p. 70). You don’t really think anyone is going to read that and imagine one pair of eyeballs clutching another pair, do you?
If bestselling authors can having flying body parts, so can the rest of us. In fact, I am sure one reason (out of many!) that Susan and Nora are bestsellers is because they employ our language in all its rich forms.
When self-editing for clarity, the question to ask yourself is this – “will my reader misunderstand my words?” If the answer is yes, then change what you’ve written. But if there won’t be a misunderstanding, don’t change your words just because you worry that other writers will laugh at the literal image. After all, you are writing for readers, not writers.
So, in future, if you discover the line “their eyes met across the crowded room” in your work, go ahead and flinch at the cliché, but don’t worry that readers will imagine two pairs of eyeballs hovering just under the ceiling. That only happens when you’ve had the idea pointed out to you at a writing workshop. Most readers haven’t had that experience.
Like this stuff? Read more of Tami’s articles on her blog!
by Eric James Miller
Writing can be a solitary, even isolating endeavor. Carving out a set amount of time per day (or week) to write isn’t always easy and feeling “inspired” to write during that precious time is a gamble any casino odds-maker would bet against.
Plus, let’s face it, writers can be a prickly bunch.
Most of the time we just want to be left alone.
But a writer waiting around for inspiration to strike is idle folly. I know that I’ve been guilty of using the slightest excuse for not keeping my butt in the chair and hitting my daily word count goal. We all have our rituals and pet-peeves that we wrestle with as we struggle with our doubts and insecurities to get those pretty words on a page. Letting anyone into our sanctified, creative little worlds is a big deal.
Sometimes, to make progress we need to force ourselves out of our shells and find comfort in community.
It’s a hurdle every new writer must face. It’s a hurdle that can prove daunting even for seasoned pros.
One of the changes this fragmented, modern age has brought about is that if you’re a writer looking for a little compassion, a little support, advice, or yes, honest, constructive criticism, you may not find it at your local library, coffee shop or in your local Meetup group. However, there’s a real good chance that with a little digging, you’ll be able to find a robust and active online community of writers that not only has similar interests and goals as yours, but one that also synchronizes well with your particular (sometimes prickly?) personality.
If you’ve been to a writers conference or event that you connected with, even if it’s out of state and not near where you live, look to see who sponsored it. Many times they are sponsored, or at least co-sponsored by one or more writers groups. Shoot the organizer or contact person an email. Ask to join. If there’s a membership fee, ask if they offer a trial membership. Check it out. Give it a try. If you don’t like it, stick with it but start looking for a different group. Try not to quit one group until you’ve found another.
Writers of Southern Nevada has been a effective, though behind the scenes organization here in Las Vegas for the past three years. We have sponsored a writing conferences each year since 2011, one on memoir writing, one on the business of non-fiction and last year’s very robust two-day fiction writing conference at the Plaza. This year the WSN is changing it’s corporate bylaws and becoming a membership based organization (more on that coming soon!). Aside from sponsoring local author meet and greets, thematic readings, and co-sponsoring writer-friendly events with other organizations in Clark County, we’re inviting guest bloggers onto this blog to share their advice, thoughts on writing or the writer’s life. By expanding its presence and reach on the internet, the WSN is seeking to enhance, enrich and work collectively to bring attention to the local writing community.
As a big fan and supporter of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I also personally recommend a small contingent core of writers from that conference that I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago. Aaron Brown and Chris Mandeville formed Delve Writing [http://www.delvewriting.com/] to help writers set realistic goals for themselves. They have established a versatile, interactive framework for not feeling alone and you don’t even have to live in Colorado to benefit from joining their group. Delve Writing, like many other online groups of writers helping other writers, is worth looking at whether you’re searching for inspiration, accountability, or how-to advice.
Another great resource is the Goodreads author program. [http://www.goodreads.com/author/program] There are over 100,000 authors that contribute to this forum in varying degrees. Fish around on the blog, the monthly newsletter archives and the Featured Author Groups, or be proactive and create your own author group if you can’t find what you’re looking for. You’ll be amazed at what you find and in a group that large you might even tip your hat to serendipity, because you may find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.
Another good group is the Google Group APE: Authors, Publishers, Entrepreneurs which centers around the eponymous principles outlined by Guy Kawasaki, Shawn Welch, Barry Eisler and others. You’ll need a GMail account to get started, but it’s worth setting one up even if it’s just to check it out. (note: please don’t ask me about Chrome!)
There are literally thousands of virtual writing groups online, and by virtue of Skype, You Tube, instant messaging and other handy electronic social media touch points, it’s easy to find one (or two!) groups that will probably work for you.
Gone are the days of writing in isolation, sending your unedited manuscript to a stranger in New York and having them turn you into a literary superstar. Newsflash: those “old days” only exist in myth and legend anyway. (Sorry J.D. Salinger and Jack Kerouac — I love your books, but role models for success you ain’t!
The beauty of this electronic interweb we’re all connected to is that if you’re willing to look for something, you can probably find it.
But, choosing to participate is the first step and it’s purely up to you.
If you want to engage with other writers, interact with readers and reading communities, share your voice, learn and grow with other people that share the same interests as you, online writing communities want you!
They just leave it up to you to find them. As Lao Tzu said, “Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer of westerns, said it even better “There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning. ”
As a writer, who do you turn to when a new question, one you didn’t anticipate or think of before, pops up? If you can answer that in five seconds or less you are fortunate. If not, you may want to consider searching for and participating in an online writing community that’s right for you.
(Eric James Miller works as a freelance journalist in Las Vegas and is the President of Writers of Southern Nevada. He is the author of “The Metaphysics of Nudity” and the For Rent Mystery Series. Book 1 in the series, “For Rent: Dangerous Paradise” was released in 2013 and is available in bookstores and various online retailers. Book 2, “For Rent: Haunted Neon” is due out later in 2014.)
By Richard Warren
Over 1300 years ago a man tended the animals of a monastery located in Northumbria in what is now northern England or southeastern Scotland. His name was Caedmon and he would later go on to become a monk himself. Though thought to be illiterate, he created a nine-line hymn that was later recorded by an English monk known as the Venerable Bede. Caedmon’s Hymn is the oldest known work of Old English writing. The Old English period spanned about 700 years and approximately 400 literary works from that period have survived. Today that many books are published every 10 hours ‒ and that’s just in the United States.
Caedmon’s name may have been known but the vast majority of works in the medieval period were penned by authors who remain anonymous. Could you imagine pouring your heart and soul into a book and then not putting your name on it? Seems inconceivable today, but that’s how it was. That didn’t change until the mid to late 14th century. Geoffrey Chaucer ‒ considered the father of English literature ‒ probably did the most to change that. He is famous for his Canterbury Tales written between 1380 and his death in 1400. Writers from that time onward were rarely anonymous because writing had become a commercial venture that could actually be profitable.
The publishing world has always been changing. Back in the days of Bede books were duplicated by monks who were working by hand. In 1476 William Caxton brought the first printing press to England and set up shop. The first book he produced? Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The works were hugely popular and placed books in the hands of the common people rather than just the elite. English literature flourished and many writers such as Shakespeare, Milton, Coleridge, Locke, Marlowe, Dryden, and others made their mark.
The next major technological advancement occurred almost 400years after Caxton’s printing press with the 1860s invention of a commercially viable typewriter. This meant increased speed and productivity as well as the end of cramps from writing by hand. The next jump didn’t take as long and happened about 100 years later with the introduction of word processors that used floppy disks ‒ remember those? Of course, it was the introduction of the PC a short time later that allowed just about anyone to try their hand at writing.
The birth of the internet heralded the arrival of the digital age. The speed of change today is absolutely mind boggling. Watch a ten year old movie and you can marvel at the technology that isn’t there. Just as the printing press made the transcription of monks obsolete, the internet is causing a cosmic shift in the world of publishing. In the last decade many publishers have gone out of business, others have merged, yet many new ones are being born. Like a meteor killing off the dinosaurs, the publishers that don’t adapt to a drastic change in the environment will fall by the wayside. However, in any time of upheaval there is significant opportunity. That opportunity is there for the large presses that can adapt, for the mid-size house that can capture a greater market share, and the small presses that can prosper from new technology and the ever-growing pool of writers seeking to become published.
Lastly you have those who have chosen to take matters into their own hand and join the brave new world of indie publishing. That means you will not only be a writer, but an editor, marketing guru, promoter, and PR person. Whichever route you have chosen there are a host of new realities you need to deal with. Actually writing the book has become the easy part. Even if you are with a major publisher you are expected to do the lion share of the marketing. Your manuscripts also need to be clean and well edited because you can no longer count on a publisher taking care of all that. Let’s not forget social media. Caedmon didn’t have to deal with Facebook and Twitter, he didn’t have to maintain a website, and he certainly didn’t spend time updating his blog. But you have to do all that.
And you just wanted to be a writer!
“You must know the rules like a professional in order to break them like an artist.”
That quote is from Pablo Picasso. I figure that if he doesn’t know art, nobody knows art, so it is obvious from that sentence that the rules are important. But, what are those rules, exactly? And how do I go about breaking them?
Let’s start with what the rules are. I have a set I follow. I’ll bet you do too. Tell you what I’ll do. I’m about to list my rules, so I’ll list yours as well. There is a link at the bottom of this post. Click it to send me a copy of your rules. No joke here, I intend to post other people’s rules here as well, with whatever attribution you provide. That’s at the end. Right now, on to My Rules.
- Only write stuff that you want to read. This seems obvious, which is why it took me a lifetime to figure it out. Plenty of others have said the same thing, in so many or more words. Trust me, this truly is Rule #1. But it begs the question, why do you want to read something?”
- Know why you like a story. This is obvious even to me. Here’s what I think, generally, makes people like a story.
- Because it’s a good story
- The protagonist is likeable, a regular decent sort of person.
- The protagonist wants something, not something unreasonable in the grand scheme of things, just something, anything really.
- The protagonist goes after what he or she wants.
- The protagonist gets into unbelievable trouble trying to get it, almost killed, maybe.
- The protagonist almost goes under, but in the end he or she triumphs and there’s a happy ending.
- Just because you like that sort of story
- Show, don’t tell your story.
- Feelings, goals, motivations, conflicts, actions, history, well everything.
- If you don’t get that, read more. A lot more. And get a critique partner or three.
- The use of passive voice is to be avoided at all times.
- Superfluous modifiers are just really very bad.
- Everybody is an expert on comma use, so you don’t have to be.
- One, two, three, and four is how a proper Brit would write a list. That third comma is the famous “Oxford comma.”
- One, two, three and four is how Americans list. No Oxford comma.
- Every other rule about commas has advocates for and against its use. So, see above.
- Always observe proper grammar, spelling and syntax. Or perhaps I should write that it is perfectly to know proper grammar, spelling and syntax. The last sentence adheres exactly to conservative rules of English construction. It sucks, as you can see. So I break that rule virtually all the time and write line such as “the rule is to perfectly know . . .”. Because, of course you can split an infinitive! It consists of two words, you twit! But I know the rule about split infinitives, and how to avoid them, well, perfectly? Okay, as closely to perfect as my sloppy self can get.
- Use a critique group, beta readers, whomever you can to read your work before you publish. If you write romance, have people who like to read romance do the work. If you write mystery, get mystery fans to read it and critique it. If you write, well, you can probably see where this is going. A group of professional writers, which includes professional writers who have never been paid for writing yet, doesn’t have to consist of people who all write one genre, or even all who write fiction or non-fiction. It should, however, consist of people familiar with the rules.
Those are my rules. But there is one overriding rule that trumps every single one of them. It is:
Write a Good Story or Article and People Will Read It
If you’re a writer, you’re an artist. Like Pablo said, an artist breaks the rules. So, what rules do you break? That’s a little vague. What I mean to ask is, what are the rules of writing according to yourself? You can click right here to email me your set of rules. A Word format document would be excellent, or a plain text document, but I can work with a PDF or anything that my computer can display (highlight, copy, and paste, don’tchaknow? I truly will post your list of rules, so make them good. And entertaining, if possible, since I am of dubious maturity. If you’d rather leave them as a comment, please feel free to do that as well.
Want more of Steve? You can check his blog at stevefey.com, or look for him on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
By Morgan St. James
The word “syntax” has several definitions relative to the English language and grammar, but the one that popped into my mind is from the Bing Online Dictionary.
Organization of words in sentences
The ordering of and relationship between the words and other structural elements in phrases and sentences. The syntax may be of a whole language, a single phrase or sentence, or of an individual speaker.
When things go wrong
I was listening to an audio book by one of my favorite authors—a New York Times bestselling author, no less. All of a sudden, there it was—the dreaded double-meaning syntax. The narrator said, “The two men sat down quickly in suits and ties.” Um, excuse me. Am I to picture these two fellows wandering through a men’s department in Nordstrom or Macys, then quickly plunk themselves down on a pair of chairs as they reached the Suits & Ties Department?
With apologies to an author whose following is huge, and an undoubtedly highly regarded editor, it seems it should have been something like “The two men dressed in suits and ties sat down quickly.”
The result of poor syntax or arrangement of the words in a particular sentence can definitely create confusion and in some cases are also quite funny.
Years ago, mixed up placement was something I was guilty of as an author. Then my sister Phyllice, trained as an editor, brought it to my attention when we began to write the Silver Sisters Mysteries. All of a sudden, misleading sentences jumped off the page and I found myself acutely aware of them in other author’s books as well.
Somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I recalled a song with the line “Throw mama from the train a kiss, a kiss.” The phrasing was such a good illustration of today’s topic that I looked it up on the internet. The song, actually called Mama From the Train (A Kiss, A Kiss) was recorded by songstress Patti Page in 1956 and reached #11 in Billboard’s Top 100. The songwriter, Irving Gordon, said the song was about memories of his deceased mother, whose Pennsylvania Dutch-influenced English lead to quaint phrasings. Playing on the misdirection, there was a movie with Danny DeVito called Throw Momma From the Train. However, DeVito’s character would really have liked to do what the title suggested and throw his shrew of a mother off a real train!
As I searched, I found some real gems.
- The dealer sold the Cadillac to the buyer with leather seats.
So was that buyer wearing leather pants or what?
- They saw a fence behind the house made of barbed wire.
Now that would have been a neat house for one of the three little pigs.
- The waiter served a dinner roll to the woman that was well buttered.
Except for the use of ‘that’ instead of ‘who’ maybe the woman had a unique way of wiggling into skin-tight jeans.
- Joan piled all of her clothes in the hamper that she had worn.
I wonder how much attention she attracted as she walked down the street.
Pennsylvania Dutch sentence structure also yields some winners. Here are two:
“Only people with cars that live in dorms should be allowed to park in those lots.”
“Where one parent would be quiet, polite and conservative the other parent would drive up in a black Trans Am full of arrogance and conceit.”
The point of all this
Make sure your sentences and phrases are ordered in a way that makes sense. You don’t want people secretly asking questions like the ones above.
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