Monthly Archives: May 2013

That nasty apostrophe

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Ah, apostrophes. The thing we most love to hate. Why is it the people who thought up apostrophes used them to denote both possessive and plurals as well as contractions. This tiny piece of barely there typing is very important.

 Here are some of the more common apostrophe errors:

It’s/Its: This is one of the exceptions to the rule for making a noun possessive. The possessive of it is its, without an apostrophe. That is in order to distinguish it from the contraction of it is (or sometimes it has), which is it’s.
It’s not the apostrophe’s fault that its usage is so confusing.

Let’s/Lets: Let’s is the contraction for let us; it is not a possessive. Lets is a verb meaning permits or allows; it is not a plural nor possessive form.
Let’s go to the library, if your mother lets us.

 They’re/Their: They’re is the contraction for they are. Their is a possessive pronoun.

They’re going to their place.

Until: The contraction of until is ’til, not till (and never ’till).

You’re/Your: You’re is the contraction of you are. Your is the possessive of you.
Your house is where you’re most comfortable.

Other apostrophe tips:
Never use an apostrophe to make a noun plural. The Smiths have a new house, not the Smith’s have a new house.

No Grammar Day

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This post will be a little different today. Instead of giving you editorial tidbits, I’m going to talk about an event that’s going to take place this week for myself and my friends. We will all be jumping in our cars and driving 3-4+ hours to reach an incredible place where we will spend the next three and a half days at a writing retreat.

This is a time of fun, getting together with like-minded friends who also happen to be writers – and writing. Lots of writing. Or editing. Or brainstorming. Or outlining. If it has to do with writing, we do it. There are no workshops to attend, no agents or editors to impress, no schedules to adhere to (well, almost none, but I’ll get to that.) It’s just an intense time of writing and is something we look forward to all year. This will be our tenth year of doing this.

When we first started the retreat, it went from Friday evening to Sunday morning. So actually, we only had one full day of writing. It was fun and we got a lot done, but still… one day. That wasn’t much. So we expanded it to now include Thursday to Sunday right before lunch (though most of us do leave right after breakfast because of the distance involved).

Now you may think that two days isn’t much time to get anything done. But you’d be wrong. You’d be surprised how much you can get done when you have nothing else to worry about. We stay in a hotel-like establishment. Our meals are provided for us as well as snacks. For those who need breaks, there are hiking trails (though at least two of our members are no longer permitted on them without a GPS – a story for another day), exercise and activity rooms, and a small museum on site. The only schedules we adhere to are meal times. And we do take some time both Friday and Saturday evenings for a little relaxation and time with each other (but those are optional – if you’re in the middle of an intense scene – keep on writing!).

We go full of excitement and anticipation; we work hard, play harder and return exhausted and brain dead, but usually satisfied with what we accomplished.

So my suggestion to you is… plan your own writing retreat. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as ours. Can you get away for a weekend? Or even just an hour? Yes, you can have a retreat for an hour. You go into your room/office/place of writing – turn off the internet and other distractions and concentrate on nothing but your writing.

You might be surprised what you can get accomplished – even in just an hour.

Vicky

Books: Paty Jager!

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MAYAN MOON 1 (733x1100)Misty, Thank you for having me on your blog today!

What genre do your books fall into or is it a genre blended?

My books fall into many genres and subgenres: historical western romance, contemporary western romance, historical paranormal romance, action adventure romance and soon mystery.

What inspires you to write?

Everything! It can be something I hear on the radio as was the case for a contemporary western, Perfectly Good Nanny, or find something interesting while researching for one book that brings up an idea for another book.  A line in a song can conjure up a premise for a book.  A request from an editor is what made me come up with the Spirit trilogy about Nez Perce Indian spirits. They were looking for historical paranormal books. Or the case of me complaining a book didn’t fit the genre it was under and a writer friend challenged me to write what I thought the book should be and that was the beginning of the Isabella Mumphrey Action adventure series.

Do you listen to music or set the mood somehow to get writing?

Yes. I’m just like Pavlov’s dogs.  If I listen to the same music every time I sit down to write a specific book, I can get back into the story quicker. I use certain music for each genre I write and each book. I listened to Native American music while writing the spirit trilogy, Mayan while writing Secrets of a Mayan Moon and Aztec and Mexican while writing Secrets of an Aztec Temple.

Do you come up with the plot or characters first?

Each book is different. Sometimes it’s the plot sometime sit’s the characters. In the case of the Isabella books it was the character. With the spirit trilogy it was the plot also with Perfectly Good Nanny. The Halsey brother books came from the characters and the titles.

Do you have a favorite book of yours?

Hard questions to answer. Each book is a favorite for different reasons. If I’m not passionate about a character or a premise for a book, I can’t write it. So, each book is my favorite as I am writing it.

PJ Promo shotWho would you consider an influence on your writing?

Many people. The mystery writers whose books I read one right after the other. Nora Roberts and LaVyrle Spencer who made me love romance books. The NY editor who introduced me to RWA(Romance Writers of America).  Author Nicole McCaffery who saw the potential in my writing and helped me hone my craft.  My critique partners who help me make every story the best I can. My family who has been behind me 100% since I decided to become a published author.

Tell me something quirky about yourself.

Quirky…I’m an introvert and have a hard time talking to people in a group setting, yet I enjoy getting up in front of a group to teach them how to be better writers.

What do you aim to make people feel when they read your books?

I want them to be entertained and if they learn something whether historical, cultural, or geographical along the way all the better.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on the first book of what I hope will be a long running mystery series. The protagonist is a woman potter who grew up away from her Native American roots. She’s a potter and after her Nez Perce grandmother dies, is visited in her dreams by her grandmother who helps her solve the mysteries.

Do you sing in the shower?
Nope. As a kid my brothers (both musically inclined) told me to never sing. And so, I only sing quietly with the radio up loud.

The first book of Isabella Mumphrey adventures, Secrets of a Mayan Moon is available for $.99 from May 1-12th as part of an Anniversary Special.

Blurb: What happens when a brilliant anthropologist is lured to the jungle to be used as a human sacrifice?

Child prodigy and now Doctor of Anthropology, Isabella Mumphrey, is about to lose her job at the university. In the world of publish or perish, her mentor’s request for her assistance on a dig is just the opportunity she’s been seeking. If she can decipher an ancient stone table—and she can—she’ll keep her department. She heads to Guatemala, but drug trafficking bad guys, artifact thieves, and her infatuation for her handsome guide wreak havoc on her scholarly intentions.

DEA agent Tino Kosta, is out to avenge the deaths of his family. He’s deep undercover as a jaguar tracker and sometimes jungle guide, but the appearance of a beautiful, brainy anthropologist heats his Latin blood taking him on a dangerous detour that could leave them both casualties of the jungle.

Secrets of a Mayan Moon is available at Windtree Press, Kindle, Nook  Kobo .

Bio:

Award winning author Paty Jager is a member of national and local writing organizations. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. With sixteen novels and several short stories published, she continues to have characters cavorting in her head. 

You can learn more about Paty at her blog; www.patyjager.blogspot.com  her website; http://www.patyjager.net or on Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/#!/paty.jager , Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005334.Paty_Jager  and twitter;  @patyjag.

Word Choice: The last bits…

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I’ve gone over a lot in the last few weeks. Here’s the final matter on word choices, including “show don’t tell”, cliche’s, similes, metaphors, motifs, and more.

Show Don’t Tell

We’ve all heard this phrase, but exactly what does it mean? Basically, it means showing the reader what a character is feeling through the character’s actions rather than telling the reader how he or she feels. For example: Natalie shredded Dean’s letter without even opening it. How dare he! She picked up the nearest pillow and slammed it against the sofa. He’d sat there in that spot and lied to her about his affair. She glanced around the room, needing something, but not sure what. Then she spied the letter opener on the coffee table. Beyond coherent thought, she drove the point into the pillow. The pillow bled white stuffing over the sofa.

Think how much more effective this paragraph is than a sentence like: “Natalie was angry.” Even if you use a synonym for angry, it is still a weak sentence. By showing us her actions, we know how she is feeling. We are drawn into her world, into her actions. Telling us keeps us on the outside, uninvolved with the emotions.

Beware, though, of using too much showing. Don’t become so enamored of showing the reader what is happening that you turn the passage into a long narrative. Break up the narrative with dialogue – poor Natalie can be screaming invectives at the TV or send her cat into hiding with her tirade. The dialogue breaks up the narrative, but keeps us in the emotional action.

A type of “show don’t tell” is called “Beats.” These are little bits of action thrown into a scene usually in the form of gestures that help a reader see the action and also reveal something about the character. “He wiped his hands on his pants, leaving greasy streaks behind.” Be careful when using beats as they can slow the action down. Fewer beats increase the tension and pace, more slows it down. Try to find a balance that keeps the scene moving without bogging the reader down in unnecessary information. It’s not necessary to show every move a character makes. When too many are used, your writing can look more like you are trying to put on a play and telling the actors what their moves should be.

 Cliché’s

You should avoid cliché’s like the plague. All right, that’s an old one – but it’s valid. Cliché’s are those little phrases that are so old and worn that everybody knows them and nobody wants to see them.

Cute as a button

Gentle as a lamb

Dumb as a doornail

Weak as a kitten

Quiet as the grave

There are hundreds of others. Do a search on “as a” and you’ll probably see a cliché surrounding it. Try to rewrite using stronger verbs or adjectives. “Drunk as a skunk” could become “reeled across the room and smelled worse than a lazy jock’s locker.” Get out your red pen and go after those weak cliché’s. Your readers will thank you.

Similes, Metaphors, motifs, symbols

A simile is a figure of speech where two very different things are compared to each other, usually denoted by the word “as.” For instance: She had a heart as big as Texas.

A metaphor is similar in that it compares two things, but utilizing the word “like”: He was shaking like a leaf in a windstorm. These can both be used effectively to describe character, setting or other parts of the story, but be careful not to overuse them. A few sprinkled judiciously throughout the story can enhance. Too many will bog the story down.

A motif is something that recurs through the story. I wrote a little on this earlier. It can be a word, an object, a setting, or character that has particular meaning to the story.

Finally, there are symbols. A symbol is similar to a motif, but may occur only once in the story. For instance, in “Planet of the Apes”, the final scenes have two symbols – the talking doll and the Statue of Liberty. Both powerful symbols of humanity broken.

Logic Order

When you have your characters doing things, they should proceed in a logical order. Your heroine can’t have a baby, then get pregnant. March does not follow April and 10 a.m. does not follow 8 p.m. – unless you’re talking about the next day – which should be clear to the reader. Consider the following:

She jumped out of the way, realizing the car was going to hit her.

This is awkward because our heroine is realizing that something is going to happen after she has already reacted. Unless you’re writing a paranormal story in which she can tell the future, you don’t react to something before it has happened. A better way to write this is:

Realizing the car was going to hit her, she jumped out of the way.

Or: She realized the car was going to hit her and jumped out of the way.

You should also look for and rewrite adverbial phrases. These may or may not be physically possible, but they make for weak prose.

Weak: After setting his coffee on the top of the car, he keyed open the lock.

Better: He set his coffee on the car roof and unlocked the door.

Go through your story and double check sentences for logical progression and adverbial phrases. Rewrite those that seem weak or illogical.

While we’re talking about logic, think about your story in general. Have you checked your story for consistency? Does A follow B follow C? Is your time line correct? Have events occurred when and where they should?

I edited a manuscript some years ago where a character was lighting a match to see where he was. It was 8 p.m. and full dark. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been December and in the north, but this story took place in late June in northern Texas. Oops – it’s still light outside, not full dark.

Watch your facts. Don’t have the hero pulling down a zipper before the 1900’s and, please, don’t have him eating Baked Alaska before Alaska has been discovered. If your heroine has green eyes at the beginning of the story, she’d better not change them to blue or brown ones by the end.

In the same vein, keep a timeline of your story. If the story starts on Monday morning and they do enough action to get through two nights, don’t have them wake up on Tuesday morning when it should be Wednesday. Check your timelines, facts and attributes. Your readers will – and they’ll let you know if you goofed.

Style Questions:

  1. Have you checked for redundancies, repetitions, homonyms and other word choice issues?
  2. Have you used all the senses?
  3. Is the writing more active than passive?
  4. Have you over-used modifiers?
  5. Have you checked for malapropisms and Tom Swifties?
  6. Have you used the proper language for the time period and geographic area in your book?
  7. Have you used the correct customs and manners for the time period and area?
  8. Is your history correct? Don’t invent or discover something before it’s been done in reality and don’t misplace actual historical people or places.
  9. Have you check the housing, transportation, food, dress, etc. for the time period?
  10. Have you kept a time line so your scenes follow a logical path?
  11. Have you checked for consistencies not only in time line, but also with characterizations?
  12. Have you used or overused similes and metaphors?
  13. If you used a motif, did you use the same one consistently throughout the story?
  14. If using a symbol, is the meaning of it clear?