Books

Writers: Be Blessed To Do The Research!

No matter what you know or think you know about a subject, there is always more to learn. One of the most embarrassing situations to have happen is being called out because what you thought was true was incorrect. Always make sure you have the latest information available on your subject. If there are differences of opinion in the area you are writing about, recognize the other side. You will come across more strongly if the reader knows you have taken the time to learn both sides of an issue. It is amazing but true, that once you write something most of your readers are going to believe you. You owe them accuracy.

What if you are writing your autobiography or maybe your family history. Who better to I know the story then you? It’s true, but others may have different perspective. Memories, even yours, can be faulty. Checking your facts can lead to the perfect tale. I was editing a memoir the other day and the author made a reference to an event that took place during World War II. The problem was that it never happened. It was related to a post war event and had to be moved. A little research could have solved that problem. If you’re not sure check it out.

What if you are writing fiction? Surely doing research is not needed is this case. After all you are making things up as you go along. The truth is that the details of fiction need to be as accurate as the details of nonfiction. There is always an element truth in fiction and those details need to be correct. For example if you are writing about a sword wielding maniac and you call his blade a rapier, there is a problem. Even when you invent your own universe, it has to be understood by earthlings. If you are going to have impossible things happening, you need to offer some explanation that will make sense.

I myself love to do research. I look to facts to build my stories and locations on. It gives your reader a starting reference and will make them feel comfortable with the subject matter.

 

Books

Do I really need to have my book edited?

Over the past few weeks I have been getting a lot of requests to review books to see if they are in need of being edited. I have no issue with doing this, but I want to point out that any writing you do should be edited. Then review your edit, check it again, read it out loud and then edit it again. I know that seems like a lot, but the truth is writers and editors will never find everything that is wrong in the first pass review.

On a side note you should always have any work you plan to publish looked at by a professional. Having friends or family helping you is fine. However, mistakes in grammar, point of view, timing and time-lines are all something that an editor is trained to catch. You want people to buy your book, but the hard truth is they will not spend a dime on something that lacks attention to detail.

-Ron

 

The Proper Use of “Lay” and Lie”

I received an email from a reader asking me to clarify the usage of “Lay” versus “Lie”.  For some reason people have trouble with these two pesky words. In truth it is simple to keep them straight if you remember one rule.  We will get to that later.
The main difference between the two words is that lay is a transitive verb, while lie is an intransitive verb. Now, I know that those may seem to be big words, but let’s break them down just a bit. A transitive verb is one that takes action on an object (Example: Please lay the book on the table). However, an intransitive verb is the complete opposite and therefore does not take a direct action on an object (Example: Why don’t you lie down?).
The only reason these verbs present a problem for anyone is that the past tense of the verb “lie” is identical in appearance to the present tense of the verb “lay.”  Now it is time for some English 101.  Every verb has three parts:  Infinitive, Past Tense and Past Participle.  Let’s take a look at a table that shows how our two combatants shake out:

Verb Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle
Lie Lie Lay Lain
Lay Lay Laid Laid

Now, I will admit that it is easy to get confused after looking at the table.  So, let’s get to that simple rule I promised to help solve your dilemma.  So here’s the how to do it:

1. Today you need to lie down.  Yesterday you lay down.  In the past you have lain down.
2. Today, you lay the book on the table. Yesterday, you laid the book on the table. In the past, you have laid the book on the table.

I hope this helps you figure out these two words.  I don’t know why people are so picky about them.  I can’t count how many times I have been corrected on their usage.  Does it really matter if I lie on the floor or lay on it?  Do you know what I mean?

Why We Tell Stories

Throughout history and across the globe every known society has produced stories. Whether it is told around a campfire in a primeval jungle or in a bus bound for Cleveland, we have told tales to keep our culture strong. In contemporary society the resources dedicated to storytelling is astronomical. Think of how much time, money and effort is spent on movies alone. Tales are truly central to our lives.

In the book The Seven Basic Plots, Christopher Booker outlines seven basic plots of a story. Booker suggests that all successful stories utilize at least one of these basic plots.

Overcoming The Monster – One great example of this is Jaws, the famous Steven Spielberg film of the 1970s. Spielberg’s enduring shark-tale tour de force addresses many of the key factors that make monsters, well, monsters. Numerous other examples of this basic plot type are found in myths, folklore, fairy tales, religion and film. Again and again, in different forms man is forced to face his demons and overcome the odds to kill beast.

The Rags to Riches Tale – This one really needs no explanation. However, if you think about it this is very similar to the overcoming the monster. The lack of money is the beast and it is killed when the main character makes good. This simple plot is used through all known history and in the most diverse of cultures. After all who did not cheer for Cinderella when she finally got her prince charming?

The Quest – This is my personal favorite. The best example I can come up is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The idea of man searching for answers and doing what it takes makes for great storytelling. We see this being used for thousands of years to create stories that are as fascinating to us as they were to our ancestors.

Voyage and Return – While almost Identical to the quest it differs in one very important way. The quest takes you from point A to point B and resolves itself. In this plot type the main character makes a journey only to find out that he must return to beginning and face whatever it was he was running from. Homer’s Odyssey is a prime example of this and gives credence to the ageless ability of tales to be told, retold and kept for generations. The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus (or Ulysses, as he was known in Roman myths) and his long journey home following the fall of Troy.

Comedy – Stories of this type are highlighted by misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and disguises. Only in the end are the true identities of the characters and their intentions revealed. I have never been a big fan of the comedy. I will admit though in literature it does have its place. Finding examples of this is not hard to do at all. I guess if I had to pick a favorite I would have to go with a movie that I watched quite recently. Mel Brook’s smash hit, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, fits the bill. Very funny stuff and it follows the characteristics of this plot type to a T.

Tragedy – Who doesn’t love a good tear jerker once in awhile? Shakespeare’s Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet are two of the best examples of this. We see this plot type being used again and again in so many different ways. I think we like to hear about the trials and troubles of others so we can say, “Well at least I didn’t get poisoned or run trough with a saber”.

Rebirth – Again this is one of my favorites. This plot type is best illustrated in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. An evil man gets a second chance in life and makes the most of it. Stories of hope, change and rebirth are a cornerstone in all great tales.

What these fundamental plot types share in common is that it’s all about human development and what is involved in becoming a mature person. Needing to tell a story is not a sign of creativity, but a measure of how we have become estranged from our own basic nature and what we need to do to go back. The purpose of stories is to tell us how to grow up and this is what these seven simple plots do.

 

Books

Editing Response: A Client’s Email

I received this email a few days ago from a client and was quite blessed by it. I asked for permission to reprint it here and to use it as a testimonial. I have to say I have not worked on this type of project before and it was a real learning experience. I want to send my thanks to Suzette for picking me to edit her card game and support material. I look forward to see it published and made available. I do believe that it will help many troubled relationships.

Thursday, September 13, 2012 10:36 AM

Ron,

Thanks so much for editing my books. I really appreciate your honesty, knowledge, and encouragement. I need that in order to make this collection the best it can be without spending thousands of dollars. I love your ability to teach, your flexibility, and that these books are not your typical subject. I think if someone who only read self-help were editing, they couldn’t give me the best input due to their familiarity. Writing can be such a grueling process that I wanted to give up, but after hiring you it was like an angel strengthened me. Finally, I feel the confidence I needed to be proud of my work.

Thank you,
Suzette, author of the Rock Talk Collection

Books

Writers: Eliminating Wordiness

I recently did a blog post on being wordy and word choices. I found this great article buried over at the Ball State University JD Writing Center. Although very simple, I think that ties into my orginal post and completes the thought. I was unable to determine the author of the work, but I thought it worth a re-post here. Whoever wrote thing did us a great service. Thank you!

-Ron

ELIMINATING WORDINESS
By Author Unknown

Do not repeat a word unless you need it again for clarity or emphasis.

WORDY: When I was a child, my favorite relatives were the relatives who treated me like a grown-up.
REVISED: When I was a child, my favorite relatives treated me like a grown-up.

Avoid redundancy. Don’t say the same thing twice using different words or phrases.

WORDY: The hero begins to behave strangely and in odd ways following his tryst with a witch he meets secretly at midnight.
REVISED: The hero begins to behave strangely following his midnight tryst with a witch.

In general, don’t start sentences with There is, There are, or There were.

WORDY: There are many ways in which we can classify houses.
REVISED: We can classify houses in many ways.

Avoid cluttering sentences with nouns.

WORDY: The reason for George’s refusal to be a member of the secret society was his dislike of its elitism.
REVISED: George refused to join the secret society because he disliked its elitism.

Remove adjective clauses like who are, which was, and that were.

WORDY: The antique dealer who is on Allen Street has a pair of silver candlesticks that were designed by Paul Revere.
REVISED: The antique dealer who is on Allen Street has a pair of silver candlesticks designed by Paul Revere.

Replace prepositional phrases with single adjectives or adverbs.

WORDY: She regarded me in a stern way.
REVISED: She regarded me sternly.

Remove “to be” whenever possible.

WORDY: Vince Lombardi was considered to be an excellent football coach.
REVISED: Vince Lombardi was considered an excellent football coach.

WordsToConfuse

Writing is a series of Choices

Writing is a series of choices. As you work on your manuscript you choose your subject, your approach, and your sources. Then when it is time to write you choose the words that will express your ideas and decide how you will arrange those words into sentences and paragraphs. As you make revisions you make more choices. You might ask yourself, “Is this really what I mean?” or “Will readers understand this?” or “Does this sound good?” Finding words that capture your meaning and convey that meaning to your readers is challenging. When editors write things like “awkward,” or “wordy” on your document, they are letting you know that they want you to work on word choice. Keep in mind that it can sometimes take more time to “save” words from your original sentence than to write a brand new one to convey the same meaning or idea. Don’t be too attached to what you’ve already written. If you start a fresh sentence you may be able to choose words with greater clarity.

Sometimes the problem isn’t choosing exactly the right word to express an idea. It is the usage of the words or being “wordy”. Also, using words that are “extra” or inefficient can be the problem. Take a look at these:

1. “I came to the realization that…” why not say, “I realized that…”
2. “She is of the opinion that…” why not say, “She thinks that….”
3. “Regardless of the fact that…” simplify to, “Although…”

Be careful when using words you are unfamiliar with. Look at how they are used in context and check their dictionary definitions. Be careful when using the thesaurus. Each word may have its own unique connotation or shades of meaning. Use a dictionary to be sure the synonym you are considering really fits what you are trying to say.

Don’t try to make your work sound impressive or authoritative. In the end you will come off as pompous and will lose your reader to boredom. Take a look at these two sentences and decide which one you would rather read.

1. Under the present conditions of our society, marriage practices generally demonstrate a high degree of homogeneity.
2. In our culture, people tend to marry others who are like themselves.

Whenever we write we make choices. Some are less obvious than others, so that it can often feel like we’ve written the sentences the only way we know how. Read your paper out loud and at slow pace. You can do this alone or with a friend. When read out loud, your written words should make sense to both you and other listeners. If a sentence seems confusing, rewrite it to make the meaning clear.

 

Books

Writers – So you want to write a short story?

As an editor I don’t get to write many stories, but I sure love to read them and I also to get to edit them. However, I have taken quite a few creative writing courses and one word can sum up how to write a short story: RELAX.

First Step – Make an outline

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to sit at the computer and try to write a tale from beginning to end. You have to plan out your story. Rather than spend hours staring at the computer screen, humbled in frustration, make a simple quick outline. They’re easy to understand and you can even find templates for your word processor to help you organize your thoughts. Write out the plot and use that as a basis to make up the rest. It may be help to write out some of the more complicated scenes

Second Step – Develop your characters

Who is your main character? Knowing a name and that she has blond wavy hair is not as important as real fears, wants, and desires. Remember that the life you breathe into character will not only carry the story, it was also lets your readers know that you have a stake in what you have written.

Third Step – Set the scene

Use a lot of detail in the introduction of your story. You want your reader to feel the environment and see it in their minds eye. While there may not be space for this in every short story, some writers can still do it in a successful way. Here are some things to keep in mind when you creating your scene.

  • Walk yourself through the scene. Be your character as they walk through it. What do you say, think, do, and feel?
  • Know where things are. You want the area to be consistent so that your readers will always have a feeling they know where they are.

Step Four – Simple tips to get the story flowing

  • If the story has a principal narrator, that character can start off by rambling into the setting, relating everything to the reader in a kind of nonchalant, casual way.
  • Write the parts of the story that you know. If you can’t begin the story, why not start in the middle?
  • Get to some action quickly. Many seasoned writers are finding that the attention span of the average audience has changed over time, getting quick action into the beginning of a story is more important than ever to keep reader interested.
  • Let the words flow as you write an early draft of a story. Type your heart out. Don’t go back and edit. Type what comes to mind and then read it. You may be surprised how much you like it.

 

7 Great Websites for Writers

Here is a reprint of an article I thought people might find useful.  Some of the entries are obvious, but a couple were new to me a thought it was worth a reprint.  It was orginally published on http://www.dailywritingtips.com/ 

7 Great Websites for Writers

by Mark Nichol

From usual suspects to obscure gems, from grammar guides to usage resources, here are some websites of great value to writers:

1. Amazon.com 

You may have heard of this website — a good place, I understand, to find books (or anything else manufactured). But what I appreciate even more is the “Search inside this book” link under the image of the book cover on most pages in the Books section. No longer does one need to own a book or go to a bookstore or a library to thumb through it in search of that name or bon mot or expression you can’t quite remember. And even if you do have access to the book in question, it’s easier to search online (assuming you have a keyword in mind that’s proximal in location or locution to your evasive prey) than to try to remember on what part of what page in what part of the book you remember seeing something last week or last month or years ago. And then, of course, there are the site’s “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” features — but the book search can be a writer’s salvation.

2. Banned for Life 

Newspaper editor Tom Mangan’s site lists reader contributions of clichés and redundancies.

3. The Chicago Manual of Style Online

My review on this site of The Chicago Manual of Style notes that buying the bulky book, despite its abundance of useful information, is overkill for writers (but not editors), but editorial professionals of all kinds will benefit from the CMOS website’s Style Q&A feature, which responds authoritatively, sensibly, and often humorously to visitors’ queries.

4. GrammarBook.com 

The late Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book on Grammar and Punctuation, created this site to promote her book, but it also features many simple grammar lessons (with quizzes), as well as video lessons, an e-newsletter, and blog entries that discuss various grammar topics.

5. The Phrase Finder 

A useful key to proverbs, phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare, nautical expressions, and American idiom (the site originates in the United Kingdom), plus a feature called “Famous Last Words” and, for about $50 a year, subscription to a phrase thesaurus. (Subscribers include many well-known media companies and other businesses as well as universities.)

6. The Vocabula Review 

The Principal Web Destination for Anyone Interested in Words and Language

Essays about language and usage; $25 per year by email, $35 for the print version.

7. The Word Detective 

Words and Language in a Humorous Vein on the Web Since 1995

This online version of Evan Morris’s newspaper column of the same name (some were also published in the book The Word Detective) features humorous Q&A entries about word origins.

 

 

So, you want to write a good paragraph

Most authors write a paragraph and really don’t think about it. The bottom line is that is how it should be (Automatic, to the point, clear and complete). But, what are the characteristics of a good paragraph? That is what we will talk about in this blog.

A good paragraph should include a topic sentence, supporting ideas (usually 3 – 6) and of course RENNS (reasons, examples, names, numbers, senses). An optional concluding sentence can be added, which expresses the importance of the information in the paragraph. It may summarize the supporting ideas if the paragraph is long, or provides a transition to the next paragraph of the essay.
When you are writing a paragraph remember the word, “unity”. Basically this means that all sentences in the paragraph directly support the topic sentence. If you flood your reader with excess or misplaced information you will lose coherence. Always make sure that all the information of the paragraph is well-organized, logically ordered and easy to follow.

Process of Writing a Paragraph:

    1. Compose your topic sentence. Think of a topic that will fit well into one paragraph. If you have a broad topic break it into two or paragraphs and use a concluding sentence to transition between them.

 

  • List your supporting ideas. Choose 2 – 6 that do a good job supporting your topic sentence.

 

 

  • Write a topic outline. Don’t actually write sentences in the outline simply list the items you plan to talk about. Put them in the best or logical order.

 

 

  • For each supporting idea you have, go through select and list the RENNS that further explain the idea. For the perfect paragraph each supporting idea should have about the same number of RENNS.

 

 

  • This probably obvious but, you are now ready write your paragraph using real sentences.

 

 

  • Create a concluding sentence if needed.

 

Well, that is it in a nutshell. Everything you need to write the perfect paragraph for essays, technical works or just about anything. Oh course fiction writing and storytelling in general is a bit different, but mastering a good paragraph is still a fundamental skill that all writers must have.