30 March 2014

Righting the Write Words - Part 1

I've been running into plenty of these situations lately where writers are ignoring the rules of grammar or just not proofing their work as diligently as they should. I've made these same mistakes, so don't go all whiny on me about my being some sort of snot for posting this. Grammar is very important to me, and as a reader, if we're going to have an intimate relationship, please learn to keep it clean.

It's okay with our drafts, because our spellcheckers don't always alert on these commonly mistaken words. This is more a simple reminder for myself. The more I preach it, the more likely I am to pay attention when selecting my words. I'll start with the obvious, and I'm providing some more words toward the end of this post, those I had to look up to remind myself of the meanings.

So here they are!

Contractions examples:

Who's is the contraction of who and is and shouldn't be confused with the other.

Whose is the same as asking who will take ownership of something.

"So, whose idea was it to put the goldfish in the toilet?"

It's is the contraction of it and is and shouldn't be confused with the other.

Its is actually the possessive pronoun like his and hers and indicates belonging.

"When were you going to tell me about the new dog and its seven puppies I found in the garage?"

There, their, and they're examples:

  1. I ran like hell and I left my keys over there.
  2. The looks on their faces tell me I shouldn't go back.
  3. They're bound to come after me at some point.

To, two, and too examples:

  1. I'm heading to the store.
  2. I'm buying two loaves of bread.
  3. Would you like to come, too?

And more confusing words

Whether - used to introduce an alternative.

"I didn't know whether to laugh or cry."

Weather - it's what two boring people talk about when they have nothing interesting to say.

"Yep, looks like rain. Been some nasty weather around lately."

Affect - is a verb meaning to have an influence on.

"Her stupidity is affecting my ability to do my job."

Effect - is a noun meaning a cause of change brought about by an agent.

"He had a major effect on the outcome of that game."

Loose - is an adjective meaning not fastened, contained or restrained.

"Your dress is too loose. Maybe try a smaller size?"

Lose - is a verb and has many meanings such as not to win, to mislay, etc.

"Check mate, you lose."

Accept - is a verb and has many meanings among which are to receive something.

"I accept your apology."

Except - is a preposition meaning 'with the exclusion of'.

"You can have all the Eagles albums except their greatest hits."

Elicit - is a verb meaning to bring or draw out/gather information.

"Don't try to elicit a confession from me. I told you already, I didn't do it."

Illicit - is an adjective meaning not sanctioned by custom or law.

"She performed illicit sexual acts on the stage."

Passed - this is the past tense of the verb to pass.

"He passed me the ball and I ran it in for the touch down."

Past - the time before the present, no longer current.

"In the past, we would just draw straws and the person with the short straw was shit out of luck."

Complement - to complete, make whole, or bring to perfection.

"That blue color complements your eyes."

Compliment - an expression of praise, admiration, or congratulation.

"She's always fishing for compliments."

Dependent - relying on or requiring the aid of another.

"My schedule next week is dependent upon my mother's arrival."

Dependant - one who relies on another, especially for financial support.

"As my dependant, my daughter will remain enrolled in my health care program until she finishes college."

And, to avoid any confusion in the future, remember this:

A councillor is a member of a council (noun), which is a deliberate body of people.

A counsellor is a person who counsels (verb) others.

Are there other words you find yourself looking up to ensure you're using the write one? Affect and effect are my problem ones. I look them up every time I want to use one or the other, because I never remember which is witch.

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24 March 2014

Learning Natural Dialogue From Your Text Messages

My daughter and I had this conversation while text messaging last evening and it got me thinking about my characters and how I distinguish them from one another. If taken out of context, one could easily claim I am a bad mother for insinuating my daughter is a pig or a whale. Hello, Alec Baldwin.

However, this conversation takes place between two very confident women who are definitely comfortable in their own skin.

Knowing my daughter as well as I do, I can allow my own personality to surface while having this conversation. My daughter's personality is also very much present in the text dialogue, at least to me. The dancing lady and the bikini are on her mind these days because an upcoming pool party lurks around the corner and she is preparing to step out in her amazing new bathing suit!

If you're having problems distinguishing one character from another, or a critique partner has mentioned your characters are blurring together, my suggestion would be to spend some time texting with friends and family members and pay particular attention to each personality, including your own. Save your text messages and read back through them the next day.

To me, I think if you want to get down to natural dialogue, you should study your text messages. It is hard to recall conversations from memory, so texting is probably the best way to show the contrast between two personalities without all the fluff of trying to develop your characters, which can sometimes come across as a bit trite with dialogue.

I'll share another conversation between me and my daughter. We love to communicate via emoticons. You can't tell? Her favorite television show when she was nine years old was Pokemon, and we had learned the Team Rocket chant together.

When Tim was on his way home from Chicago, he had a layover in Charlotte, NC where he observed two very different types of people. These are actual conversations people have. Sure, it seems a bit racy, but it's natural dialogue, and that's why when readers see it in fiction, it resonates with that semblance of truth we're always discussing.

I drink Redbull! 

Young people knit, too! (but not many)

Yes, behaviors speak for themselves. Even my daughter understands Asians prefer rice over potatoes and we have higher I.Q.s than the average Neanderthal. It's not wrong to include this sort of dialogue in your fiction. It's truth. Sort of.

Not dialogue, but a form of communication. This is a picture of the form Tim filled out at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL. They have to expect this sort of thing from people. The form screams, "Please do it, please!"

 when you see it.

They should put "memory loss" as the first option so you don't have to waste your time filling out the rest if you don't want to.

Okay, back to conversations and dialogue. Texting doesn't always produce natural dialogue between son and mother. My son Cameron likes to abbreviate, and Lord knows you can't get away with that in your novel. You also don't have auto-correct issues, and hopefully you proof your writing before sending on to your editor?

In this next snap shot, pay particular attention to the dates and times. Notice I respond immediately to each inquiry and/or comment, so the last communication is a bit ironic.

That was texting between two people who have been married for 26 years. Go figure.

This is typical mother daughter discussion in my family. We own our stereotypes, good and bad, and we can laugh about them. It is natural.

Do your characters discuss fashion at all? I can tell you, a nineteen year old has different taste than someone two and half decades older. Natural dialogue should reflect those age differences.

My daughter and I had breakfast at Village Inn one day for lunch and when I woke up in the morning to go to work, this was the exchange we had.

I helped my son update his resume for a tech job. Can you tell which personality trait of his is demonstrated in this ongoing dialogue? 

Chelsey worked a late shift on a weekend, but she didn't get a chance to come over and pay her rent. Her personality sure does resonate in this exchange.

Chelsey had a minor fender bender and lost her side passenger mirror,  so we had to coordinate our busy schedules to get it fixed.

Saving text messages is just something I like to do. It seems to have replaced the urge to pick up a camera in order to capture moments in time. Instead of pictures, I capture dialogue. It has worked out as a great tool when fleshing out my favorite characters.

What tools do you use to ensure your characters stand out as individuals or keep them from bleeding into each other?

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14 March 2014

Lucille Ball - The Day We Broke That Mould

I saw this photo circulating on Facebook today and it made me think about my marriage. Every character has their moments and Lucy certainly had hers. I loved that woman.

She is my character of the day because I've made her into another picture story on a few events which took place way back when. Thus, these photos capture the nature of my dilemma as it occurred.

Yes, all marriages, especially new ones, are chock full of potential pitfalls if you do not do this one thing which is necessary for any marriage to succeed, and that thing is called compromise. Even when you fight and your feelings are hurt, it's important not to make the other person the one who is always apologizing. You must, at times, concede you were half wrong.

Mistake number one I made was while at my girlfriend's house I mentioned this argument Tim and I had had and how furious I was with him, because now I was on the hook for giving daily updates. I think my words to her were along the line, "I'm sick of his shit. He's going to have to suck up to me." Okay, I was 20.

When Vicky's phone rang, she answered, and handed it to me, "It's Tim." She had this cheesy grin on her face and I took the receiver cautiously.

"Yes?" I could feel the tightness in my lips and the cold, harsh tone of my voice slapped at the silence which ensued.

"We need to talk."

My heart skipped and jumped into my throat. I knew at that moment, he wanted a divorce. "Really?"

"Yes. Can you meet me at the house during my lunch hour?"

"Sure," I'd said.

Our house was directly across from Vicky and Carlos' house, with about half the length of a football field in between. I walked home and waited for Tim to arrive.

When he did, I tried everything to calm myself, agonizing over the words sure to spill from his lips. But, before he could say anything, I blurted out, "I'm sorry, Tim! It's all my fault. I shouldn't have been such a sensitive child. Will you please forgive me?"

"Of course I will. I love you." Awww.

We made grilled cheese sandwiches together and tomato soup. Then he was off to work. Funny thing about my friend is she couldn't help herself, the nosy gawker. She probably watched out her kitchen window to see when Tim left the house. No sooner than he let himself out, my phone rang, "Girl, so tell me what happened!"

I had to let my girl know I stood strong. "You know, Tim's a good man, but I got him so wrapped around my little pinkie. He apologized, we snuggled a bit, and then he made me a hot, gourmet meal for lunch!"

"Oh, how sweet!" Vicky's voice fell away.

"Is that so?" I turned and it was Tim in the doorway, and from the fury in his face I could tell he'd obviously heard every word which had sprung from my juvenile pie hole.

"Um, I'll call you back later," I whispered into the phone at my dear friend, as if the whisper would wipe away any of my previous words. Then I quickly hung up the phone.

"I can explain," I offered Tim, but I had no idea what I could possibly say at that point. It just sounded better than saying nothing.

Tim turned for the door, opened it, and walked out. "Tim!" I called out but to no avail. I couldn't help but wonder why my friend couldn't have remained at her kitchen window long enough to see that Tim had obviously forgotten his keys and had made his way back to the front door. Fine friend she was, that one.

I tell you what. Talk about the groveling I had to do to make up for that one. I certainly learned my lesson and that was almost 27 years ago.

I can laugh about it now because when I think about Lucille Ball and Ricky Ricardo, I smile a little, knowing inside, there was one more couple to make before they broke that mould and that would be us.

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10 March 2014

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

In 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the term the willing suspension of disbelief. Coleridge was a poet and philosopher who suggested that if a writer could weave in a semblance of truth in a fantastical tale, then the reader will suspend judgement concerning the plausibility of the narrative. This is true in a sense, but back then we didn't have the popular phenomena that is reality television. Who writes that stuff?

Today, the burden is placed on the reader or the audience and their willingness to push aside the notion that the narrative is preposterous, relieving the writer of any artistic or creative responsibility for providing the introspection necessary to make it seamless to the reader. Instead, they just write the story and you either like it or you don't. Forget researching crime scene triangulation, we have this fantastic device whereby its presence alone will determine from whence the trigger was pulled.

What about that show of surviving in the wilderness, Mountain Men? Oh the dangers that lurk. Oh my! In the solemn voice of  D. B. Sweeney, the narrator of Mountain Men:

The mountain man has become lost, and he is without any gear, food, or water. How could he have made such a costly mistake? This could be his last evening alive out in this ruthless, arctic air. 

Oh, but don't worry, I'm sure the camera man filming this scene will videotape mountain man's entire demise.

"Cut! That's a wrap. We'll film the trapping of food scene after lunch."

How can I possibly take this writing seriously given the medium of television? I might be willing to suspend disbelief if I read it as a fictional novel, but the effectiveness is lost in translation when it comes to reality television. You see, they have to mix in the drama or nobody would watch it.

How far are you willing to go before you're no longer entertained and wish to call bullshit? When does the fantastic leave you feeling duped?

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05 March 2014

Recommending Fool by Christopher Moore

I checked out the audio book, Fool: A Novel by Christopher Moore, from the county library and I was surprised by the amount of entertainment this experience provided. The vulgarity promised in the book blurb presented itself nicely, and there was enough buggery and shagging going on, but not too much so that it overshadowed the entire story.

It is the retelling of King Lear by William Shakespeare, yet told from the perspective of a character named Pocket, a Fool. The voice of Euan Morton was the perfect choice, as his English accent immersed me into the story quickly and I stayed there, not leaving until I had to eject a CD in order to insert another.

I highly recommend this audio book to anyone who might become enticed by such a blurb:

Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank.

You won't be sorry. If you are or aren't, please share your experience in the comments below if you've read it or heard the audio version. 

Or just say hello! =)

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