Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014

Well, we start a new year today. To many, this can be used to restart their lives.  That is what I plan to do.  There are a few items on my list of goals that need to be restarted.

As for my resolutions, I hope to post my 2014 resolutions later this week or the beginning of next (Friday or Sunday).  I built the basic outline for them this morning but I intend to tweak them a bit more.

I know that Wednesday is supposed to be about writing, yet today, I find that I don't have anything prepared to post.  I ran out of time, and for some reason, I could not get my fingers to cooperate with the keyboard to produce the words to put up on my blog.

Next week is a different story.  I've written several lines, but I also need to do additional research on the topic.

That's all I have for now.  So, I hope you've had a Merry Christmas and are looking forward to a Happy New Year. 

Just keep writing.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Cheat Sheet - Fragments, Splices, and Run-Ons, Oh My.

Today I am covering three different items from my "Cheat Sheet" that I use: Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and comma splices. 

In high school, as well as college, my instructors informed the class that one would get an automatic 'F' on any report, term paper, or other papers if any of these three items appeared in the work.

Today, I will cover their definitions (at least the ones I use) and give an example of each sentence type.  In future posts, I intend to expand on them a bit.

Sentence fragment: Is a sentence that is not complete independent clause.  In a sense, it is a phrase. 

1. Not a good idea.
2. Covering three different items.
3. If any of these three appear.
Run-On Sentences: This is where one places two or more independent clauses together with out proper connection.  One way is to make one long sentence using a connector (and, or, but, yet) but not using the proper punctuation with it.  Another way is to have them spliced together with a comma without the connector (The comma denotes a spot where one is to take a breath if reading aloud.).

1. Martin's agent made all the arrangements for the jig from New York yet he felt discouraged when treated as if he walked in off the streets of Berlin for this audition.
2. Joseph did not care for the humidity that accompanied the southern heat but he preferred the heat over the cold weather of the north.
In both cases, there should be a comma behind the word that appears before the connector (York, yet; heat, but)

Comma Splices: This is where one connects two or more independent clauses with just a comma. 


1. She did not believe she was capable of writing the story when she sat down, the words flowed onto the screen as her fingers dashed across the keyboard.
2. Bertha belted out the three songs that she knew from heart, everyone in the vicinity covered their ears to filter the woman's screeching voice.
 In this case, a connector is needed after the comma (, {yet, but}; , {and, but, yet)

There is more to come later.  I hope to have some simple exercises ready for this Friday.

When I "free write," I will find some of these problems, but more often, I find more commas that there should be when I check my work. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cheat Sheet - Was/Were

Another item that shows up quite regularly when I judge/critique others' works is the passive voice using 'was' and 'were.'

Again, there will be times that one should use these words when writing but I recommend eliminating them if possible.  When 'was/were' appear in a sentence, the story is being told and not shown.

Thus, Passive voice is telling and we need to show.

In most cases, one needs to rewrite the sentence in order to change it from passive to active.

     Passive: All patrons were enchanted when he played
     Active: He enchanted all those listening when his fingers tickled the ivory keys.

     P: He was now leaning on a car casually.
     A: He leaned against the car.

     P: … an airman was escorting her best friend to the dance floor.
     A: … an airman escorted her best friend to the dance floor.

Granted, these may not be the best examples. I will look for better examples to post in the future.

If you have any examples, please post them in the comments.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cheatsheet - Had

Last week I referenced my "cheatsheet" that I used when I critique and judge manuscripts. Today, I will cover the over use of the word "had" and its contraction "'d" in manuscripts.

This is a problem I deal with in my writing as well.  My first draft will have them dotted throughout the manuscript.  On one count, I found over 12 of them on a single page.

When I freestyle write, I can easily place 10 to 15 of them on a page before I know it.  But in freestyle writing, anything goes. I come back later and remove most of them. (It is the first thing that sticks out when I check my work.)

When used in the construction of "had" and another verb, one produces passive voice sentences.  Passive voice is telling.  Active voice is showing. Active is better

Passive: He had shared a couple burritos and a soft drink with the hungry boy.
Active: He shared a couple burritos and a soft drink with the hungry boy.

P: A single squeeze of the trigger had erased the life of the man who came to kill her.
A: A single squeeze of the trigger erased the life of the man who came to kill her.

(The same is true with the contraction form of "had")

P: For months, she'd scoured the contents of her father's files until she stumbled across his magic watch.
A: For months, she scoured the contents of her father's files until she stumbled across his magic watch.

In many cases, one can correct the problem by eliminating the word "had" from the sentence.  One can find out that this does not change the meaning of the sentence and even makes it stronger.

In some cases, there may be a need to rewrite of the sentence to get rid of "had."

P:  … he'd thrown the game for the other team.  To even think he'd thrown the game in the first place, he …
A:  … he threw the game for the other team.  To even think he threw the game in the first place, he …

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Madness

Welcome to my Maddening Monday.  Actually, the whole weekend came to be a bit maddening for me. 

For one thing, I planned to write this blog for Sunday and now I am writing it for Monday.  My usual deadline for uploading my post is 7:00 in the morning.  Today, I will be doing good to finish this missive by noon.  So, please forgive the mistakes in grammar and other areas.

My problem: Allowing the task at hand to overwhelm me.  When writing, this can happen quite easily.  This is because I start thinking about other aspects of my story while working on one.  Before I know it, I'm seeking the refuge of Spider Solitaire – which is a major time suck in my mind.

Prevention of this sounds simple, but, in reality, it can be hard.  My method of prevention requires me to relax and focus. 

To relax, I sit back, take a few deep breaths and relax. When I sit back, I close my eyes and take five to ten deep breaths.  With each exhale, I allow the tension in my muscles to float away.  This tends to quell the anxiety that builds up when I feel overwhelmed.

Another way to relax is to get away from the project and walk or do some other activity for a short period.  I just make sure that I return after 15 minutes.

Toward the focusing aspect, I narrow my thoughts onto the material at hand.  Then, I will set a timer for 30 to 45 minutes or set a word goal of 400 to 650 words.  When I start the timer or begin writing, I just free write until the timer goes off or I reach my word count.

At this point, I can sit back and meditate for a few minutes while executing deep breathing exercises.  Then again, I may go for a short walk outside and look at nature t\o help clear my mind.  When I return, I am usually ready for another round. 

One other problem I tend to do is having too many documents open at once.  I only need the documents that pertain to the project at hand.  All others should be closed.  That way, I am not tempted to look into those files.

Now, my good news for today is that I reached my goal of the 50K+ words on my NaNoWriMo project.  Now, to keep working on the project to get it completed.

My question of the day: what do you do to relax and keep from being overwhelmed by the work at hand?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Judging and Critiquing

Today, I discuss judging and critiquing.  Why 'judging' and 'critiquing?  For me, doing either of these provided me with an excellent learning opportunity.

Though, I did not think so when I first started judging.  My judging (or critiquing) of others' manuscripts enriched my writing, and I believe can enrich any writer who chooses to judge or critique.

Granted, at times, I wondered if I truly qualified to judge someone else's work.  Due to the complex nature of the English language, I worried that I may not be giving the correct advice at times.  It seems that for every rule I use that there is a contradiction to it.

The two manuscripts I judged in the Suzannah Contest (Nola Stars*) did not help. They both grabbed my attention and kept me wanting more by the time I finished.  On one, I could not find any errors: neither in punctuation nor grammatical.  The second contained a few punctuation errors.

To get through this dilemma, I just followed my gut. Since I enjoyed reading the manuscripts and could not find fault with their synopses, they received the score that I thought they deserved.  One got a perfect score and the second got a near perfect score. 

Now, I still would be questioning my ability if all six came out the same way.  But the third one showed me what not to do when I write.  The flaws that I found glared out at me.  Yet, some of these missteps are the same ones that I would find in my own work.

Judging (or critiquing) a manuscript shows me how others do it wrong. Yet, this is important, I also see how others do it right.  Seeing both makes me a better writer.

I've judged from six to eight manuscripts every year for the last five or six years.  I learn something every time I step up and judge.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished judging six entries.  All of them are potential winners in my eyes.  All need a little work, but like before, some need much more work than others.

Two entries in this year's group of entries surprised me in that the authors wrote them in first person.  I love first person, but judging it came to be a bit of quandary for me.  I've never judged (or critiqued) a first person manuscript. (Another post subject. BG) Again, I relied on my gut.  One flowed well yet the other did not; thus, I scored one near perfect and the other did not.

Part of judging or critiquing that is important is being able to tell the person who wrote the work what they could do to improve their writing.  I don't mean to change their story.  It is their voice and not yours.  Yes, I would have written some of the material a little differently.  That would make it my story and not the person who submitted it.

So, my job is to help find the flaws that could cause a reader to stop reading. While working on a manuscript, I try to denote material and techniques that I like along with my suggestions for improvement.

My problem with critiquing and judging is that it takes me so long to work on the manuscript.  These entries are limited to 7500 words.  Yet, I can still spend up to three hours working on them.  I am not a fast reader.

So, I built a cheat sheet that contained the most common mistakes crossed my path while judging or critiquing.  (A future blog post) This cut down the time I used trying to explain why something should be changed.  Especially when I came across the same problem over and over.

In short though, I recommend that everyone try to critique or judge anothers' work.  It can make one a better writer.  I believe I've improved due to my participation in these activities. 

Has 'judging' or 'critiquing' a manuscript helped you?  If so, in what way?

*North Louisiana StoryTellers and Authors of Romance, Bossier City, Louisiana

Monday, November 25, 2013

Assignment-20131122 - Example Two

As promised, here is my second example to Friday's post.  I will be using some of the same emails mentioned Friday to show a second story scenario. 

This example is targeted for the Sci-Fi market.  I did not know if I would ever use the first example, but I do intend on using part of this in one of my short stories.

  • Rholi Brede, Security Chief, Heywah Space Station
  • Checks his electronic communications. Finds his usual missives as well as spurious ones.
  • Receives his intelligence reports through the so-call trash messages (Spam to us in the Earth realm.).
  • The three messages containing the trustees hunting for potential heirs are actually reports from three operatives working in three different hostile governments.  They report possible problems that the regimes are to incur.
  • The two messages on meeting girls gave him the names of two space transports that managed to evade patrols and suspected of carrying human contraband.
  • Again, the video message is coupled with the separate 13-digit code to provide video intelligence on the two ships and the ships' markings.
Now, what can you do with this additional information?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Assignment-20131122 - Example One

Hello, I promised to provide one of my examples today. So, here it is.

Like I said yesterday, inspiration comes from almost anywhere.  From the 11 emails I referred to, there are six that I wish to use for this example.
  1. the two on meeting women
  2. the one on the video
  3. the 13 digit code number (3134231835667)
  4. one of the trustee emails
  5. the transfer of funds with no amount mentioned
How do I use these emails?  Good question.  First, I am increasing the number of the 'meeting women' emails to five.

Here are my ideas based on those emails selected.  Note, most of this material never showed up in the emails.  That is where not limiting yourself to just the information from the emails.  Expand on them.

First set of basic ideas:
  • Hero: Henry Moses
  • Heroine: Joan Davis
  • One is an agent for a secret society that searches for missing people.
  • The five emails on sexual partners gave the agent the names of five people who are missing: four women, one man.
  • They are suspected to be sold into slavery of various types.
  • The so-called video on how to make women fall for even the ugliest man has a hidden video showing the last known video of the five missing people being loaded into a van.
  • The thirteen digit code is the secret password to access the video.  It is also contains the code to access other bits of information.
  • The email on transferring of funds with no amount or location tells the agent that the five are to be auctioned off but no minimums.
  • The trustee email contains the name of a contact the agent needed meet for more intelligence on the five's location and condition.

As you can see, I did not use too much material from the emails. (The parts used are underlined, bold and the color blue.)  All the rest are what popped to mind when I worked on these items.

Now, the "What If" questions:
  • What if Joan was one of the four women taken?
  • What if Henry was the lone male taken?
  • How does this affect the heroine or hero to find their love in this position? 
  • What are the first things that the heroine/hero do to find the five? 
  • What kind of information can s/he pull off of the video recording?
  • What other bits of data are available to rescue the five?
  • What if the 'ugly man' pictured in the video email looked like the hero?
  • How would he feel about it?  How would she feel about it?  (Big Grin)
One can pull out an unending number of questions.  And depending on the answers, you can ask more questions based on those answers.

Does this give you ideas on a story to write? 

Assignment: Take the basics provided and expand on them.  Answer the questions and create new questions based on the answers.

Don't limit yourself to these email subjects when building your story. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday's Fancy - 20131122

Hello, today, I wish to introduce a feature of my blog that I hope to put up every Friday.  I call it Friday's Fancy (Thought to call it Friday's Story Starters but like the other one better.).  When I looked up the synonym for 'idea,' one of the words that my word processor popped up was 'fancy.'  Thus, welcome to Friday's Fancy. (This is a word I may use in a future blog.) 

The purpose of this fancy of mine is to introduce ideas to help those interested in writing to develop a story.  It does not matter that everyone has access to this particular idea, because when it comes down to it, we all have our own take, so that we will write different stories using these basic ideas.  Now, the first "Fancy."

Inspiration for my stories comes from unusual as well as common sources.  That is when one starts playing the 'What If' game to see where the story goes.

An example of one of my usual sources would come from newspapers and magazines that I come across.  Take four or five headlines from unrelated stories and put them together to see what comes out.  One note: I also use some of the material contained in some of the stories to add some guidance for the story building.

An example of an unusual source for my story ideas came from a visit to my online Spam filter on Gmail. You see, I check my Spam filter to all of my major email accounts twice a week so that I do not miss any important emails that may have ended up there.  (This week, I found two emails that were not Spam).

But all the rest were Spam.  I consider this Spam fair game for ridicule or anything else I can think of.  Today, my thoughts found that these emails can be used as the basis of a story.

As for the emails, I've selected the basic information from them. There were 11 total. They are
  • An offer for a "free energy generator." A process which violates the laws of physics.
  • Three emails hawking luxury watches/replica watches.   From 3 different people-used the same web address.
  • Do you wish to meet women? 2 emails.  There are hundreds of women in my area who want to meet me. (Yea, right.  Big Grin)
  • A video that shows mind control tricks that would allow a person to make any girl swoon in their presence.  Guarantees that 'the women will never reject you no matter how ugly you are.' 
  • An email that offers a thirteen digit 'code number' and an email address to contact.  By the way, the code number is 3134231835667
  • A barrister (lawyer) from Ghana wants a trusted beneficiary to transfer money to from a $68 million trust he controlled.
  • A 3 percent business loan, respond to the email.
  • Three other emails on transfer funds.
  1. The first – no amount mentioned, no destination or origin. Just respond.
  2. The second – A secretary of the Oil and Gas Trust Fund Committee in Nigeria.  This trustee controls $140 million and wants a business proposition.
  3. The third – a regional auditor in the Philippines and a trustee of $30.2 million that belonged to an American who died back in 2003.

Now, the fun parts begins.  Select the email that subjects interest you.  After picking several, then see how you can connect them to build a story.  You do not need to limit yourself to these particular subject for your story.  But try to integrate at least three of them in your assignment. 

Alternate Assignment: Go through your own Spam filters to see if anything in them jump out at you.  Let me know what you came up with. 

Note: I will post examples of what I came up with tomorrow and Monday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update - 20131120

Well, it's time for another NaNoWriMo update.  This week I wish to discuss what is called a "write-in" – a group of NaNoWriMo's get together to inspire each other to write.

In the past, I traveled to Shreveport to attend these write-ins.  (About 3 to 4 years ago since my last visit.)  Of the times I participated, I pumped out enough words to meet or beat my 1667 word daily requirement. 

This year, I did not know if they still gathered for them.  The reason I stopped is that the interest in them died. On my last trip, I found that I was the only one to show up.

At the time, there were only three regions in Louisiana.  I found out this year that several more have started and one of them encompassed the Shreveport area.

So, I joined that region on the NaNoWriMo site as well as the Shreveport Region's Facebook page.  I found out that they restarted the Saturday write-in.

Three people showed this past Saturday and we worked on our projects. I brought a tablet and external USB keyboard.  (How that worked out will be the subject of a different blog.  Big Grin)

We held three sets of sprints along with some free time to write without being timed.  As I gained familiarity with that new keyboard, I increased my word count.  My first sprint produced 249 words.  The second (360 words) and third (460 words) faired better.

My companions did so much better.  They reported entering anywhere from 600 to 800 words during each of those 20-minute sprints.

In total, I wrote over 1600 words during the 3 hours I sat in the Barnes and Nobles cookbook section.  I would have gotten more if I would have stopped talking during the breaks and wrote. BG.

If you have a chance to attend a write-in, take it.  You might find that 'push' one needs to write those extra words you might need for your manuscript.