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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Don’t: Throw Grammar to the Wind


I realize that times are constantly changing and the ways that we speak and write aren’t immune to these changes. It’s a sad truth and it makes me die a little on the inside when I see that people don’t have time to type “you” instead of “u”. However, as with most things in life, there is a time and place, I suppose.

Personally, I prefer to be the grammar nazi who goes around Facebook correcting people and if you’re dumb enough to send me a text that I have to hire my little sister to translate, I sure hope you don’t expect a response from me. I’ll send the extra text message (or 3) to make sure that my grammar is in tact.

Social networking aside: Your writing is no place for bad grammar. Your characters may be modern and use slang, but you should never ever EVER make your dialogue look like a Facebook post.

For example:

The dude walked up to me and said, “Maaaaaaaaaan, I dunno wut yer thinkin talkin to me like that, but you betta git on out of hear before I buss a cap in u!”

Instead, try:

A young man approached me and said, “Man! I don’t know what you’re thinking talking to me like that, but you better get on out of here before I bust a cap in you!”. The words were so heavily accented and distinctly “hood” that I had to slow them down and consciously dissect each of them in order to understand their meaning.

This not only leaves your readers free to give the character a voice of their choosing, but it’s also easier to read, process and retain. Overall, proper grammar is a better, more professional way to handle your dialogue.

There are very few exceptions to this. One of them being a character with a pronounced speech impairment. If you have a character who pronounces their “V”s like “W”s, then it MIGHT be acceptable to type them as such. However, you could also just inform the reader that the character has a pronounced Slavic accent. If you are writing a character with a disability, it may be best to type the words out exactly how they sound.

The character, Duddits, from Stephen King’s “Dream Catcher” comes to mind here. He carries around his “Oobie Doo” lunch box in several scenes from the book and Mr. King chose to type it out just like that and then have one of the other characters in the book translate it over to “Scooby-Doo” for those of his readers who may not pick up on the pop culture reference.

Beyond dialogue, you have all the usual rules of grammar and punctuation to follow as well. As far as I can tell, there is never an instance where punctuation and sentence structure should be forgotten. The flow, or “voice”, you give your book can make or break you. Following the simple rules lain out for us in Elementary school and built upon throughout our academic careers can and WILL give your work the professional “sheen” it needs in order to land an agent and, eventually, a publisher.

So dust off your grammar, take a crash course on Google if you must, practice good grammar on your social networking sites and dive head first into the world of grammatically correct literature! Your readers will thank you for it!

Happy writing!

D

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Literary Dos and Don'ts

 

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Do: Self Edit


For those of you that know me and have been around me during the beginning stages of my creative process, this may make you laugh. However, if you’ve been around for the later phases of the process, you understand.

For those of you who don’t know me (which will probably be most of you) I’m not a fan of editing as I write. I refuse to read a single word that I’ve already written until I have an entire first draft laid out and ready for edits. Once I start editing that first draft, I fight it every step of the way. Simply put, I HATE to edit. It drives me crazy.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, won’t my publisher have an editor for me?” and you’d be right. Assuming you can get a publisher. Generally, the way it works is, you write a manuscript, you edit the manuscript until you can’t anymore, you edit it 2 or 3 or 5 more times anyway and then you send it off to about a billion literary agents and pray that one of them likes it enough to ask to see more. Once they’ve read the whole thing, sent you a rejection letter and told you to try again, you sit around and wait for another agent to express interest and repeat the process. Once you land an agent, it then becomes their job to land you a publisher. They will peddle your wares to publishers all over the country and try to get you the best deal they can, after all, the more money you get, the more money they get. But having an agent doesn’t guarantee you a publishing deal. If your work isn’t polished and gleaming you will just see rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter.

So yes, I hate editing, but I do it. You’re not going to send out hand written resumes to potential employers with scratched out words and spelling errors all over the place… Why would you do that with a manuscript? It is, after all, your resume.

Chances are, if this is your first rodeo, you’ll probably go through at least 5 revisions before your work is ready to be submitted. That’s a minimum. I wouldn’t recommend any less than 7, just for good measure. If you’ve gone through the whole process a time or two, your work is probably of a higher quality as it comes out of your fingertips, so you might be able to get away with 2 or 3 edits. There really is no way around it. We all have to edit.

So throw your manuscript on a jump drive, take it to Office Depot, print it out, put it in a three ring binder and buy a pack of red pens. It’s all part of the experience and once you get into it, it’s really not as bad as it sounds!

Okay, it IS as bad as it sounds, but it needs to be done!

Happy writing!

D

 
 

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Guest Post: Mark David Gerson


“Mark David Gerson is a screenwriter, award-winning author and creator of The Q’ntana Trilogy of fantasy novels and films. The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, the first book in the trilogy, has won multiple national and regional awards, as has his book on writing and creativity, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write.”

Not only is he all of the above, but he is also a personal friend, a HUGE inspiration, an endless well of advice and an AMAZING motivator. I’ve read his book, The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy, FOUR times and every time it sucks me in like it’s the first! I’m anxiously awaiting the release of the movie AND the second and third books to the trilogy. (See his personal blog for more details and links to more information on those projects.) Be sure to drop by his online bookstore to pick up a copy of The MoonQuest: A True Fantasy and The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write! Enjoy his post!

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You don’t have to know how your story will end before you begin. You don’t even have to know how it will start. All you need to do is begin. All you need to do is place one word after the other…and trust…

It’s March 1994. I see The Celtic Tarot in Toronto’s Omega Centre bookstore and it so seduces me that I can’t not buy it. Days later, I use the deck in a writing class I’m teaching: With eyes closed, each student draws one of the major arcana cards and then, with eyes open to the chosen card, is led through a guided visualization into writing.

Generally when I teach, I don’t write. I watch the students and hold space for them.

But this night’s group is different. These five women are a subset of a larger University of Toronto class that I have just led through ten weeks of creative awakening. They don’t require my usual overseeing and so, once they’re settled into writing, some inner imperative has me draw a card of my own: The Chariot.

That same imperative has me pick up a pen and push it across the blank page. What emerges is a surprise: the tale of an odd-looking man in an even odder-looking coach that is pulled by two odd-colored horses. I know nothing about this man and his horses. I know nothing about this story. All I know is what emerges, word by word, onto the page.

Next morning, I’m drawn back to the story. I add to it. I keep adding to it daily, almost obsessively, rarely knowing from one day to the next (some days from one word to the next) what the story is about or where it is carrying me. A year later in Amirault’s Hill, Nova Scotia, on the anniversary of that Toronto class, I complete my first draft of The MoonQuest.

It’s May 2007, many drafts and years later. I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few weeks from seeing the first printed copies of The MoonQuest in book form.

I open my email to a message and image from Courtney Davis, the British artist who created the Celtic Tarot deck, now sadly out-of-print. The image is The Chariot card, which I haven’t seen since I gave away my copy of the tarot deck in 1997. Davis has sent me the image so that I can write a caption for an upcoming retrospective of his art.

When I see The Chariot for the first time in a decade, I’m startled. Even though the cover designer never saw the tarot card and knows nothing of The Celtic Tarot or how it inspired me, there’s a definite connection between the two. Not only are the horses identically colored, they are identically placed. There’s even a tiny chalice just above the wording on the card. Apart from that, the two images just feel the same.

Today, The MoonQuest is an award-winning book on its way to becoming a movie. And although the story’s opening has changed since that 1994 writing class and although the odd-looking man has been superseded in importance by other characters, The Chariot‘s inspiration is still evident throughout The MoonQuest‘s story — a story that knew itself far better than I did…a story that knew me better than I knew myself…a story that insisted I trust it to reveal itself to me, moment by moment, word by word…a story that never let me down.

• How can you trust your stories to reveal themselves to you?

• How can you surrender to the mystery of the blank page? Can you do as author Ray Bradbury suggests: jump of the cliff and trust that you’ll sprout wings on the way down?

• Can you write the story that wants to be written by you, even if you don’t yet know what it is?

• Can you start? Now?

Art Credits: The Chariot tarot card by Courtney Davis; The MoonQuest cover by Angela Farley.

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2012 in Guest Posts

 

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Do: Write From Within


I realize that everyone has their own way of telling a story, and by no means am I saying that this is the only way to write, however I AM saying that this is what I have found works best for myself and several others. When you can get so caught up in the world you’re creating and the lives of the people in it that you don’t even realize you’re writing, your readers will have a hard time realizing it as well.

Time and time again I find myself wondering why a character in a book is doing something that just doesn’t seem to fit their overall persona. Then I realize it’s because the author is forcing them to do it just because they want them to. I’m not an iron-fist kind of overlord. When I write, I’m just a tool for the people inside of my own little world to tell their story through. Sure, I may have created them and the world surrounding them, and even given them purpose and direction. That doesn’t mean I control every little move they make. More often than not, it’s the other way around.

During NaNoWriMo every November, I spend countless nights lying in bed trying to shut out the cries of my characters, each vying for attention and begging me to let them continue to tell their stories.  Once I sit down in front of a keyboard, sip my coffee and let my fingers do the work for me, their cries are silenced and a flood of words come pouring forth onto the screen in front of me. Almost like magic.

Once I learned to do this and stopped trying to force my characters along a path that I had predestined for them, page after page, chapter upon chapter, my book started coming together. I was finding myself writing between 5,000 and 10,000 words on an almost-daily basis. (For those of you who have nothing to gauge this on, a 2,000 word day is a productive one!) 10,000 words is something close to 25 pages, depending on spacing, page size, margins, font, etc… So compare that to the papers you wrote in school and you’re probably beginning to see how exciting that was for me to see.

Another thing I found while I was stumbling along through my first draft of my first manuscript is this: Writer’s block is a myth. Your characters aren’t going to just stop doing their things. If you have writer’s block, stop and ask yourself if it’s your story that is stopping you or if you’re stopping yourself. Chances are, you’re trying to force your characters to do something that makes no sense and they’re fighting you tooth and nail. The cure? Relax, close your eyes and let it go. Let them walk the path they want to walk and, again, they’ll do the work for you.

So the next time you sit down to write, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and let the words flow out of you from a place buried so deep that it seems to be outside of you all together. I think you’ll be surprised at how much of yourself you find in your world and your characters even without trying to force them to fit your exact specifications. You might even learn a few things about yourself!

Happy writing!

D

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Literary Dos and Don'ts

 

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