Friday, December 30, 2011

Common Problems (Part 18 of 50)

In English, adjectives modify only nouns and pronouns. To get beyond that rule of grammar, we use the hyphen, which makes both words function as a single adjective.

  • He walked along the wrought-iron fences. Without the hyphen, it properly reads, He walked along wrought, iron fences. 
  • His oft-spoken words echoed through my head. 
  • He held his four-by-six-inch device. All four words modify device
  • He whispered a soft-but-fervent prayer. By hyphenating, all three words function as a single adjective to modify prayer

Serious writers make reading easier by 
remembering simple punctuation tips.

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Cec's new book, Unleash the Writer Within, is now available.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Common Problems (Part 17 of 50)

Watch those dialog attributes. Creative writing teachers tend to urge their students to avoid using the boring word said. Professional writers, however, give exactly the opposite advice.

We do it for two reasons and the first is because said is invisible. So are asked, answered, and replied. Because they are so common, readers scarcely notice.

The second reason to avoid strong attributes is because they take the emphasis off what and put it on how.

  • "You will never take me alive!" he yelled.
  • "You must never do that again," Ellen remonstrated. 
  • "I want my money," he demanded. 

If we write dialog well, readers don't need an attribution to know how to interpret the words.

If you want to emphasize how someone speaks, you do need the right attribute: "I hate you," she purred.

Said is a good dialog attribute; 
it's good because it's invisible.

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Cec's new book, Unleash the Writer Within, is now available. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Common Problems (Part 16 of 50)

Avoid name calling in dialogue #1. We rarely use others' names when we talk, especially when there are only two people.
  • "Honestly, Savannah, I’m having trouble believing it." 
  • "Mom, you realize we are officially in the middle of nowhere." 
  • "You know, Marion, that I go…" 
  • "But, Bill, do you think…?" 

As long as it's clear who is speaking and to whom, 
we don't need to add names in the dialog.

* * * * *
Cec's new book Unleash the Writer Within is now available. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Common Problems (Part 15 of 50)

Use the natural sound. During the past few years many writers have begun putting the verb (said, replied, answered) before the speaker. "What do you want?" asked Mary.

It's not wrong, but it's not a natural way of speaking. I enjoy children's stories because of the rhythm.

For example, the Little Red Hen asks who will help her bake the bread.

"Not I," barked the lazy dog.

"Not I," purred the sleepy cat.

"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck.

This works in the read-aloud story "The Little Red Hen" because it propels the story and listeners get caught up in the rhythm. But as the great theologian Paul wrote, "Now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11b CEB).

"What do you want?" Mary asked.

"I don't know," Kelly answered.

Sounds natural and it flows. Good writing is natural and keeps readers focused on the dialog and not on the writing style.
The more natural my writing, the easier it is for readers.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Common Problems (Part 14 of 50)

Distinguish between this and that. In recent years, writers have tended to use this in relating an account and should instead use that. Use this when you refer to the present or something physically near; use that when you refer to the past or something far away.

Here are examples of the misuse of this.

• Write a brief summary of the ways you could show this person's selfless love. (Unless the person was physically present, use that.)

• Nothing in our conversation prepared me for this question. (The context was past tense, as shown by prepared, so someone asked the question in the past.)

• On this particular day my intuition kept tugging at me to turn the car around. (That is probably better. If the author uses this to make it what we call present continuous tense, the sentence should read: On this particular day my intuition keeps tugging at me. . . Or she could have shifted it to the past tense: On that particular day, my intuition continued to. . .)

In each of these four examples, that is probably the better word choice.

Because I am a growing writer
I'm careful to distinguish between this and that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Common Problems (Part 13 of 50)

Insert beats (actions or gestures) #3. Adding too many beats makes the writing tiresome and destroys emotional emphasis.

"You know I've always loved you." Carrie laid her hand on Bruce's arm. "If you leave me now, I don't know what I'll do." Her eyes moistened. "I've never known anyone who makes me feel the way you do." She stared into his pale brown eyes. "Don't send me away." The tears cascaded down her cheeks.

In this paragraph the constant insertion of gestures jars readers away from her words. I thought of the word overwrought. Carrie is moving so much the words bear no impact.

Too many beats destroy the emotional impact.
One beat to a paragraph is usually enough.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Common Problems (Part 12 of 50)

Insert beats (actions or gestures) #2. When we insert beats appropriately we make the dialog stronger or produce a dramatic effect. Too many sentences without a break give each of them the same emphasis.

Marcus said, "Everyone will die if we stay here. There is no place of safety. The enemy will surround us within the hour and shoot us without asking questions. None of you will have a chance unless I go alone to meet them."

Marcus says four things and there's nothing significant, but here it is again with a beat inserted.

"Everyone will die if we stay here. There is no place of safety," Marcus said. "The enemy will surround us within the hour and shoot us without asking questions. None of you will have a chance," he said, and took a deep breath, "unless I go alone to meet them."

By inserting Marcus said later in the paragraph and adding a beat, the end of the dialog gives readers a few seconds to absorb Marcus's words before the powerful final statement.

Carefully inserted beats
adds drama to my writing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Common Problems (Part 11 of 50)

Insert beats (actions or gestures) #1. Beats, when used well, make your dialog stronger and your prose more readable.

It also avoids what we call talking heads. That phrase means two or more people speak but we have no idea where they are, the time of day or year, or whether it's in the present or past.

Here's one piece of dialog from a student: "There’s no place to anchor a tent here and the slope is much too steep. And the snow will continue at least through the night. Too much danger of blowing away! We have to find Kregor and move on. If we don’t find something better, we’ll have to make a serious decision about pitching camp. In the meantime, seconds count." (This went on for four more sentences.)

Here it is again with beats added.

"There’s no place to anchor a tent here, and the slope is much too steep. And the snow will continue at least through the night." He brushed the snow off his face and shook his head wearily. "Too much danger of blowing away. We have to find Kregor and move on."

New paragraph: While the other four people stared at him, their bodies already trembling from the cold, Evan said, "If we don’t find something better, we’ll have to make a serious decision about pitching camp. In the meantime, seconds count."

The second version does two things. First, it gets us out of the talking heads. We now have a sense of the bitterness of the weather. Second, it breaks up the lengthy dialog. I call that breathing space. Readers feel as if they're in the scene by the insertion of brushing off snow, shaking his head, the others trembling from the cold.

When I insert beats into my writing
I add life and energy to my prose.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Common Problems (Part 10 of 50)

Don't filter #3. Don't filter by shifting to you. Some writers filter by switching to the second-person point of view. That's like a scene in a film where a man is ready to ring the doorbell to pick up his date. After he got to the door, before he could ring the bell:

Heather opened it and smiled. You know that warm, tender smile that makes a man know she was the woman he wanted to marry.

Shifting to you is like that ploy actors use when they're in the middle of a scene and turn, face the camera, and talk to the audience. It spoils the scene. It pulls us out of the mood and the action.

• When you live in California, you’re not quite sure which scenes are for real or which could be performances.

• If you have ever been to an Itzack Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him.

Are the sentences understandable? Yes, they are. But they're stronger if you stay in the POV that goes before it:

• Those of us who live in California are not. . .

• It's no small achievement for Itzack Perlman to. . .

Because I am a good writer,
I avoid shifting to you.