Category Archives: commentary

Eight Steps to Become Noticed

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Hello everyone, I have been away from my blog for what seems like forever and I have missed it and my online friends.  Today I want to share with you an article I read by Pete Croatto, on how to get noticed by the editors. If you want an editor it will take some work to get noticed.

  1.  Take Initiative:  In an ideal world, our talent would be a siren song for editors far and wide.  In a world of tight budgets and staff meetings, editors need story ideas and good ones.  That means writing a pitch letter that shows you know the publication and what it wants. “What gets me to notice someone is I can notice immediately if they have a familiarity with the magazine,” says Mark Rotella, senior editor at Publishers Weekly.  “They might have mentioned an article they had read or a review that they read.  Usually, people are pretty specific about what section of the magazine they want to write for.  Basically, if they’re pitching me about the magazine, I want to see that they’ve read it.”
  2. Make the job Easier:  Sara Benincasa, author of Real Artists Have Day Jobs ( And Other Awesome Things They Don’t Teach You in School), says it’s key to do as much work for the editor as possible without overstepping.  “Don’t expect that your editor has a comprehensive knowledge of the television show or trend or book or political issue that you would like to discuss in your writing,” she says.  “Provide links, easy explanations.  Provide assistance without the legwork to show your editor that your pitch is for a story that will bring in views, and readers attention in a positive way.”
  3.  Follow Up:  This isn’t tennis.  The ball keeps moving only if you keep hitting it.  If you haven’t heard back after a week or two, politely inquire so you can either start writing or send your idea elsewhere.  Rotella, who has written for the New York Times and American Heritage, says the delay worked or the pitch came at the wrong time.
  4. Try, Try Again: An editor’s disinterest or silence should not be taken as an affront.  That even applies to repeat clients. “I follow up and pitch more stuff without being annoying and contacting the editor too much,” Benincasa says.  “If they liked my work the first time, they will respond.  If they did not like my work they will not respond.  I do a pitch, I follow up once and if I don’t hear anything, I move on.”  In other words, our confidence in your idea should drive you.
  5. Look Beyond Big Names:  Chances are you’re not going to make it into The New Yorker and not every profile will land in GQ. (But don’t be afraid to try.) Get published, get paid and use the clips as a down payment for more desirable venues.  Write Always.  That’s the only way you get better and pay your bills.
  6. Proofread A Lot:  Once you get an assignment, it’s easy to get noticed for the wrong reasons.  Rotella has an aversion to writers who can’t meet deadlines or follow directions, but says, “Nothing is worse, for me than if I have to spend too much time editing because of sloppiness.  That is a real discouragement.” Be professional. Proofread, fact-check and make yourself available to address any concerns your editor has.
  7. Play Nice with Others:  Veteran freelance journalist Jen A. Miller got a big assignment from a new publication when a fact-checker there remembered Miller’s work at another publication.  “Sometimes that can be an incredibly tedious process,” she says. “You’re already done with a story, you don’t want to deal with it anymore, you don’t want to deal with the fact-checker, but you don’t know where that fact-checker is going to end up.”
  8. Finally, Be Easy to Find:  That comes courtesy Miller, author of Running: A Love Story and a regular contributor to The New York times and Runner’s World.  She believes every writer must have a website. “It sets you up as a professional,” she says.

I do hope this article was helpful and it gave you some incite on what you need to do to snag that elusive editor.  Have a blessed week.

USA Only: My opinion on what could Happen with Our Country.

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It has been a long time since I have written a word on my blog but I feel this issue is important enough that I wanted to give my opinion. This will be my one and only online opinion about the upcoming election.

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Good Morning everyone. Those of you that have known me a long time know that I’m not very political but as everyone else in this country, I do have my opinion. I was listening to the television yesterday, and there was a young college age) talking that got my attention. She was talking about how even knowing his issues she was going to vote for Trump just because there hadn’t been any change in Washington and she was going to encourage all she could to do the same.

It got me to thinking about what could happen to this country if he is elected and it scares me. On one side we have Hillary who has made poor choices in some areas but has worked who entire life for the public. Her husband was the President and not a bad one in my opinion. She already knows all of the foreign leaders, and they know both she and her husband. In my mind, we are getting Bill’s experience also if she is elected.

The email debacle with Hillary is not too different than President Bush’s teams problem with their lost emails. You can watch this short clip and find out what happened. http://www.pbs.org/…/w…/web-video/missing-white-house-emails
It happens on both sides of the isle.

It seems that the so-called Millenials and others in this country could be cutting off their nose to spite their face just for the sake of change right now. Donald Trump is a disaster waiting to happen for this country. He is unstable and the thought that because of his inability to keep his temper in check can through this country in necular war. There are some things he can do as president that congress or the senate can’t stop. Is the change in the white house for the next four years worth all the instability and potential hazards that can happen if Donald Trump is elected? I think not.

I am old enough to have followed Trump throughout his life and witnessed the choices that a spoiled rich man made. He didn’t let anything get in his way. If he wanted it to happen, whether good or bad it happened. I don’t want this man held up as an example of someone to follow to my great-grandchildren or anyone’s child as far as that goes.
I will be glad to discuss my opinion with anyone that can keep it civil and clean. Twice I have written what I thought, and I won’t be doing it again, but I thought maybe this might give someone reason to stop and think about what can potentially happen to our country. Thanks for reading.

The Workaholic (Short Story)

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Hello, everyone, I wrote this a couple of days ago and thought I would share it. It is a story about a man who let work rule his life. I hope you enjoy it.   Shirley

 

The Workaholic

 

James stood by the large picture windows, gazing over the open fields, to the purple-tinged mountains beyond. Darkness would be coming soon and with it a storm. He flinched as a crack of lightning split the murky sky. He turned and threw another log on the open fire, sending a flurry of ash into the air. He refilled his whiskey glass and took a deep sip. He savored the taste as it warmed his throat. He was trying to build up the courage to make that phone call he had been putting off all day. He reached for the phone just as it started to ring.

His heart began to pound as he grabbed for the receiver. The tentative nature of his voice was heard clearly as he murmured, “Hello.”

“Hello, James, this is Edmond from Buying Direct and do I have a deal for you.”

“What, oh hell, don’t call again,” he shouted as he slammed the receiver down. I’m not calling her. She is the one who left. His mind immediately went back to a week ago when he came home after being gone for two weeks and found her and the kids were gone. He was expecting his two-year-old daughter to start screaming “daddy” as soon as she realized he was home, and his five-year-old son starts asking to go out back and play catch. So much for expectations. What he got was an empty house with a note left on the dining room table. He’d memorized every word since he’d read it so many times.

James, I’ve taken the kids and moved out. I’ve tried to talk to you many times, but you kept putting me off or not listening at all. You can’t stay away from home for weeks and expect me to handle the house, the kids, the bills and that dog of yours. Don’t bother calling Mom’s because I’m not going there. If I want to talk to you, which I doubt. I will call you. April

After reading the note, James made his bar area his most favorite spot in the house. The drinking began the day he got home and has only stopped when he passes out on the couch. Normally he is fastidious about his appearance but not this week. He looks like a drunk on skid row. His facial hair now has six days’ growth, not to mention the hair on his head is greasy. He’s not removed his clothes since he walked through the door. They smell like body odor and wet dog scent and are very wrinkled.

The storm rumbling outside enhanced James’s angry mood. He couldn’t believe, after all, the years they’d been together, and as hard as he worked, she left. She can stay gone. I don’t need her, and I will fight for custody of the kids. She’s not going to get away with doing this to our family. James picked up his glass from the coffee table poured himself another glass of Crown Royal over rocks. He’d lost count of the number of times he’d filled his glass.

“Come here, Brutus. You will be my family. Won’t you boy? You love me don’t you? We don’t need her.” The Mastiff shook his head slinging saliva on the coffee table before he jumped up to lay beside James on the couch. James began to rub Brutus’s head and ears. “You’re such a good boy. You won’t leave me, will you?”

 

“You know, Old Boy, I have to go back to work on Monday. I don’t think I can go back to Raleigh and leave you here. I’ll give my boss a call tomorrow and tell him I can’t abandon you. I’m sure he’ll understand. There’s no way I’m leaving you here. She’ll be sorry she left us. You wait and see.”

The phone rang again but this time, James was too inebriated to care who was on the phone. He picked up the phone and slurred “Hello.”

“James, it’s April.”

“Yeah, what do you want?”

“The kids want to talk to you, but I can hear in your voice this is not a good time.”

“Why in the hell would you care what kind of time it is. You’re not here. You took them and ran away.”

“Sober up James if you want to talk to the kids. Goodbye”

The phone clicked, and she was gone. He didn’t even bother to hang it up before he laid down on the couch and passed out.

Who Is That Character?

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I’ve been told you must know your characters.  Your main characters desires should be known.  If you want your character to gather the sympathy from your readers, then give the character a strong desire.  What is being strived for, a new job, romance, riches, and knowledge?  If your character doesn’t have a need, do you think your readers will find excitement in your book? How do you say “boring?”You have to make your character multidimensional, and not leave him flat.  What creates the most vivid picture, 3D or regular television?   It is a matter of contrast in your characters.  As humans, we are very complicated, and you have to show that complication in your characters also. That way your reader can get interested in your character.

Your contrasts should be worked into your story, so they do not become roadblocks for the reader.  You want your story to keep moving forward.  You can have your character step out from the usual character portrayed as long as the tendency has been shown before.  That way it is not a stopping point.

Gotham’s “Writing Fiction” states,” your characters should have the ability to change, and the reader should know it.  Change is particularly important for a story’s main character.  Just as the desire of the main character drives the story, the character’s change is often the story’s culmination.”

This doesn’t mean your main character has to change, but the reader should always know change is possible.  Predictability is created if you do not give the character the potential to change.

I have covered a few ways to help you create a character that your reader can get to know.  The video today on creating characters.

PS this video gives lots of good information, but there is cafe noise in the background.

6 Steps for Writing a book Synopsis

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snopsisSince Princess Adele’s Dragon has now been published I have to write a synopsis of the story.  I decided to look for some help and found this blog by Marissa Meyer. It broke the synopsis down into easy to handle pieces. I hope you find it helpful.  Shirley    http://amzn.to/25lUOYM
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Confession: I enjoy writing query letters. I know that most writers loathe them, but I always thought the query letter was a fun challenge. The challenge of trying to distil your novel down to its essence, giving just enough information to draw the agent or editor into the story, but without giving away so much that the manuscript loses all sense of mystery.

However, I feel quite differently about the second-most dreaded item of many submission packages: the Synopsis.

The book synopsis is that three- or four-page snapshot of the book, that essentially tells your story from beginning to end while seemingly stripping it of any intrigue, humor, or emotional resonance. To me, writing a synopsis that could leave a reader still wanting to read the actual manuscript always seemed like a much bigger challenge than the query letter.

Unfortunately, it turns out that getting published does not necessarily mean we don’t ever have to write a synopsis again.

Last January, when it came time to my agent and me to start talking with my publisher about My Next Book (which was the Super Secret Project I wrote during NaNoWriMo last November), the submission package we pulled together was remarkably similar to the package we’d used to sell the Lunar Chronicles:

– A pitch letter (similar to a query), illustrating the concept and major conflict of the book.

– The first 50 pages, edited and polished to a glowy sheen.

– The synopsis of the book (although some plot points are subject to change).

So rather than whine and complain about how much I hate writing synopses, I decided to take the opportunity to embrace the synopsis writing challenge, and figure out a process for writing the synopsis that didn’t seem quite so painful and intimidating and, in the end, left me with something I was pleased to show my editor.

I’m not allowed to really talk about my new project,* so I’m going to use examples from the synopsis I wrote for CINDER way back when.

Step 0: Write the book!

If the book isn’t written yet, I feel like you’re writing an outline, not a synopsis, and I’ve talked about outline writing at length in previous blog posts. For the purpose of this synopsis-specific guide, let’s assume you have the book drafted out, or even completed.

Step 1: Skim through the manuscript, noting the important events of each chapter.

Try to boil every chapter down to just one or two sentences. What is the point of this chapter? What is the most important thing that happens?

Some chapters will be significantly longer than a sentence or two, particularly the opening chapters (as they tend to introduce a lot of information about the world and the main characters) and the climax (which could revolve around lots of complicated reveals and twists).

And yes, include the ending! From who wins the final battle to whether or not the protagonist hooks up with the love interest in the end. One of the main purposes of a synopsis is to show the full arcs of your plot and subplots, so don’t leave out those all-important resolutions.

Step 2. Embellish the beginning.

Just because you can’t use pages and pages to set up the world and protagonist’s character in the synopsis doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give the reader a little bit of foundation to stand on. The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?

xample: LINH CINDER is a cyborg, considered little more than a technological mistake by most of the society and a burden by her stepmother, ADRI. But her brain-machine interface has given her a unique skill with mechanics, making her, at sixteen, the best mechanic in New Beijing.

Step 3: String your short chapter summaries together, using standard synopsis formatting.

Here, it will begin to look like a story, but an incredibly sparse and drab one. Don’t worry about that. Just focus on getting all the technical formatting stuff figured out, so you don’t have to re-write it all at the end.

Standard Synopsis Formatting

– Written in third person, present tense, regardless of what POV or tense the book is written in.

– The first mention of each character’s name is put in all-caps (so that they can be easily spotted).

Example: When she arrives home, she discovers her two stepsisters—arrogant PEARL and vivacious PEONY—being fitted in ball gowns.

Step 4: Read through, with a focus on plot.

Distilling each chapter down into just a sentence or two can lead to lots of apparent plot holes and lost information. Read through what you’ve written and check that every event in the story naturally leads into the next. Imagine beginning each sentence with a Because / Then structure, and insert further explanation or character motivations as necessary.

Example: Cinder is worried that if she doesn’t fix the hover, Adri will sell off IKO to pay for the repairs herself. That night, Cinder goes to the junkyard to find replacement parts…

(Could be read as: Because Cinder is worried . . . then she goes to the junkyard…)

Step 5. Read through, with a focus on character arc.

Now that the plot makes sense from beginning to end check that you’re adequately showing how your protagonist evolves as a result of the events in the story. Do readers get a sense of who they are at the beginning and how they’ve changed by the end? Look for those Big Moments in the story that change your protagonist’s attitudes and goals. Indicate how those moments effect the protagonist emotionally, and show how their goals and motivations change as a result.

 

Example: Without Iko and Peony keeping her tied to Adri, Cinder vows to fix up the abandoned car she saw in the junkyard and run away.

 

Step 6. Trim and edit.

Now that you have all the necessary information read through a few more times and trim it up as much as you can. Be ruthless when it comes to removing excess words and phrases that don’t help you tell the story. Choose your descriptive words carefully, ensuring that you’re using words that carry a lot of weight. My book synopses for CINDER and New Secret Project both came in around the 1,500-2,000 word range, and that’s not a lot of room to work with! So edit, edit, edit.

I’m Having a Celebration

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Princess Adeles Dragon3It’s done and finally gone live on Amazon.  My new ebook Princess Adele’s Dragon. It has taken me a little over a year to get it completed. If you like fantasy and Gothic times you will like this book.

Princess Adele sets out to save her and her brothers Kingdom from a beast that threatens their way of life. What she encounters is totally unexpected and sets her on a new path. If you like gothic times with Kings, Princess’s, Castles and bad guys then you will like this young adult fantasy. You will fall in love, hate the bad guy and fight a war.

There is a read inside option on Amazon. Click on this link and it will take you right to it.

http://amzn.to/25lUOYM    If your Kindle Unlimited you may read it for free. Be sure and leave a review even if you didn’t like it, but I know you will 🙂

Have a totally blessed day and let me know what you think.

Shirley

The Right Decision (I Hope)

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Hello everyone and happy Sunday. I’ve been busy this morning trying to write my Amazon description for Princess Adele’s Dragon. It’s not the easiest thing to do.
 
I also made a decision today. I’m going to rewrite and retitle The Tower. That was the first book I wrote back in 2010. I can’t believe what a terrible job I did. It’s a great story but it’s poorly written. The nice thing is I can actually go back and read it and pick out all the mistakes.
I’m not kicking myself around because I like to.  It’s nice some people can put out their first book and it be wonderful from the start. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people. When I first wrote the book I made the statement about what a learning experience it was from beginning to end. The nice thing is I can now look back on it and continue to say it was/is a learning experience.
When I was writing The Tower, I think I fell into every pit other others said to be careful about. I was one of those people that I knew what they said but apparently I didn’t know what I was looking at. With practice, the writing skill grows and I’m happy to say mine did.
I’ve learned over time that people are not always honest with you about your work. It does great things for your ego when someone says they read your story and it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s what they think you want to hear and apparently it is.
I can’t tell a soul bought the book from Amazon or if they did they kept it a big secret. Now you know why I made the decision. I want to put out a better product and I would like to sell some copies.  Am I making the right decision?Thumbs up

Let Me Introduce

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Hello, everyone. Today it’s my great pleasure to introduce to you a fellow writer from Rave Review Book Club, Gordon Bickerstaff. We are both members of this great club and today he is their “Spotlight Author”. It’s my privilege to be part of his Blog tour. He is introducing you to his main characters and providing you with a short synopsis of his book.  Enjoy

The Black Fox cover

Gavin Shawlens and Zoe Tampsin – DoomWatchers

 

Who is Gavin Shawlens?

Gavin Shawlens is an academic in his mid-thirties. He’s not a fitness freak but he keeps trim with occasional visits to the university judo club and jogging up the three flights of stairs to his top-floor flat. He has a thick mop of hair has a light straw colour in summer that darkens in winter. He is single, and has had on/off relationships, but he’s haunted by a previous relationship that ended badly.

He has a secret part-time job. Gavin has gained a great deal of experience over the past six years on a number of major investigations for the Lambeth Group. In fact, Gavin has a UK security clearance of Top Secret Level D, which means he has knowledge of the highest category of official state secrets. He knows where some of the nastiest Government skeletons are buried. He’d been present at the burial of two of them.

Who is Zoe Tampsin?

Zoe Tampsin, Senior Field Officer with the Security Service. On temporary secondment to the Lambeth Group. Based here in London,  Zoe is five-eight, slender, athletic-looking, intelligent and ambitious. The forty-three-year-old ex-army captain had joined the OTC at her university and went on to receive the coveted Sword of Honour at Sandhurst as the best officer cadet.

Captain Tampsin had served with the SAS in Bosnia and more recently on Special Forces operations for MI5 and MI6 at home and abroad. Her CO wrote about her – Zoe Tampsin protects her troop like a lioness protecting her cubs, powerful, determined, and completely ruthless.

Zoe had proved herself in combat, and she was accepted as combat hardened. She was powerful in dealing with the stress of imminent danger, and her concentration over long periods was second to none. Many times her troop had faced the white of the opposition’s eyes, and she had led them through hell and back.

Zoe had smashed the hardest glass ceiling, and showed the pencil generals the unique skill set that women have to offer, in the multi-dimensional fight against 21st century terrorism. She formed and led a special operations unit of women, W Troop. Still a small attachment, compared to the number of men in Special Forces, but against a strict background of no drop in standards, her select group of female troopers had proved themselves worthy of the badge.

Who are the Lambeth Group?

The Lambeth Group is a covert organisation formed when a group of twenty-six university vice-chancellors from elite universities met secretly with Home Office mandarins at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London. After prolonged discussion, they agreed on the need for a doomwatch strategy to discover and manage research and technology disasters that can happen when top researchers push past the boundaries farther and faster than they should.

Working with CPNI (Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure) a branch of MI5, and the Home Office, the Lambeth Group had successfully prevented the most damaging university and private research disasters from becoming public knowledge.

The Black Fox

Synopsis

 Zoe Tampsin is resourceful, smart and Special Forces-trained, but she has been given an impossible mission. She has to protect scientist, Gavin Shawlens, from assassination by the CIA, and discover the secret trapped in Gavin’s mind  the CIA want destroyed.

As the pressure to find Shawlens escalates – the CIA send Zoe’s former mentor to track her down, and her fate seems sealed when he surrounds Zoe and Gavin with a ring of steel. With each hour that passes, the ring is tightened, and the window for discovering Gavin’s secret will shut.

Zoe is faced with a decision that goes against all of her survival instincts. If she is wrong – they both die. If she is right – she will discover the secret, and become the next target for assassination. Run for your life…

 

Buy Gordon Bickerstaff’s Books

Amazon-UK

Amazon-USA

Follow Gordon Bickerstaff here:

Website: http://goo.gl/2in8SX

Twitter handle: @ADPase

 

8 Words to Seek & Destroy in Your Writing

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This is a piece previously posted by Robbie Blair that contains useful information that I want to share with you. Since I’m in the process of doing my final edit on Princess Adele’s Dragon I found this article helped me.  Maybe it can help you also.  Have a blessed week.  Shirley

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Creating powerful prose requires killing off the words, phrases, and sentences that gum up your text. While a critical eye and good judgment are key in this process, some terms almost always get in the way. Here are eight words or phrases that should be hunted down in your story and deleted with extreme prejudice.

“Suddenly”

“Sudden” means quickly and without warning, but using the word “suddenly” both slows down the action and warns your reader. Do you know what’s more effective for creating the sense of the sudden? Just saying what happens.

I pay attention to every motion, every movement, my eyes locked on them.
Suddenly, The gun goes off.

When using “suddenly,” you communicate through the narrator that the action seemed sudden. By jumping directly into the action, you allow the reader to experience that suddenness first hand. “Suddenly” also suffers from being nondescript, failing to communicate the nature of the action itself; providing no sensory experience or concrete fact to hold on to. Just … suddenly.

Feel free to employ “suddenly” in situations where the suddenness is not apparent in the action itself. For example, in “Suddenly, I don’t hate you anymore,” the “suddenly” substantially changes the way we think about the shift in emotional calibration.

“Then”

“Then” points vaguely to the existing timeline and says, “It was after that last thing I talked about.” But the new action taking place in a subsequent sentence or sentence part implies that much already. You can almost always eliminate your thens without disrupting meaning or flow.

I woke up. Then I, brushed my teeth. Then I, combed my hair. Then I , and went to work.

“Then” should be used as a clarifying agent, to communicate that two seemingly concurrent actions are happening in sequence. For example, “I drove to the supermarket. Then I realized I didn’t need to buy anything.” Without the “then,” it would be easy to mistake this as pre-existing knowledge or as a realization that happened during the drive itself. “Then” can occasionally be useful for sentence flow, but keep the use of the word to a minimum.

“In order to”

You almost never need the phrase “in order to” to express a point. The only situation where it’s appropriate to use this phrase is when using “to” alone would create ambiguity or confusion.

I’m giving you the antidote in order to save you.

And after ten minutes of brainstorming for an example of a proper time to use “in order to,” I haven’t been able to come up with anything. Legitimate uses of “in order to” are just that few and far between.

“Very” and “Really”

Words are self-contained descriptors, and saying, “Think of tasty. Now think of more tasty” doesn’t help readers develop a better sense of the meal or person you’re describing.

Her breath was very cold chill as ice against my neck .

Mark Twain suggested that writers could “substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Another strategy is to find a more powerful version of the same idea or give concrete details. To say “It was very/really/damn hot” does little, but saying “It was scorching” helps. Even better?: “The air rippled like desert sky as my body crisped into a reddened, dried-out husk.”

“Is”

Is, am, are, was, or were—whatever form your “is” takes, it’s likely useless. When’s the last time you and your friends just “was’d” for a while? Have you ever said, “Hey, guys, I can’t—I’m busy am-ing”?

The “is” verbs are connecting terms that stand between your readers and the actual description. This is especially true when it comes to the “is” + “ing” verb pair. Any time you use “is,” you’re telling the reader that the subject is in a state of being. Using an “ing” verb tells the audience the verb is in process. By using “is verbing,” you’re telling your audience that the subject is in the state of being of being in the process of doing something.

Take this example:

I was sprinting sprinted toward the doorway.

If the description is actually about a state of being—”they are  angry,” “are evil,” or “are dead”—then is it up. But don’t gunk up your verbs with unnecessary is, am, or was-ing.

“Started”

Any action a person takes is started, continued, and finished. All three of these can be expressed by the root form of the verb. For example, “I jumped.” The reader who stops in frustration, saying, “But when did the jump start? When did it finish?” has problems well beyond the scope of the content they’re reading.

If you’ve been doing yoga for six years, you could reasonably say, “I started doing yoga six years ago.” For you, yoga is an ongoing action with a concrete starting point. But when describing action in a story, there are few circumstances where “start” is effective.

Let’s take this case and look at the potential fixes:

He started screaming.

Is it a single scream? Use “He screamed.” Are you telling us his screams will be background noise for a while? Rather than clueing us in unnecessarily, show us the series of screams first-hand. Do you want to introduce a changed state, such as escalating from loud speaking into screaming? Show us the decibels, the gruffness of voice, the way the air feels to the person he’s screaming at, and the hot dryness in the screamer’s throat as his volume crescendos.

“That”

“That” is a useful word for adding clarity, but like Bibles on the bedstands of seedy motel rooms, the word’s presence is often out of place.

When “that” is employed to add a description, you can almost always move the description to before the term and make a more powerful image.

Ireland was nothing but flowing green hills that flowed green.

In many other cases, “that” can simply be dropped or replaced with a more descriptive term.

I was drunk the night that your father and I met.

Many other uses of “that,” such as “I wish I wasn’t that ugly”, can be enhanced with more descriptive language.

“Like”

I’m not just saying that, like, you shouldn’t, like, talk like a valley girl (though that too). Here’s the problem: “Like” is used to show uncertainty. And you. Should. Not. Be. Uncertain.

Be bold. When making a comparison, use force. Use metaphor over simile. Don’t let yourself cop out by coming up with a halfway description.

My eyes rested on the gun for a sliver of a moment. I snapped forward, grabbed it, and it was like the chill metal flowed from the gun into my veins.

One of the 36 articles by the infamously fantastic Chuck Palahniuk dives into the issue of like in great detail. It’s well worth checking out.


As always, Orwell’s final rule applies: “Break any of these rules before saying anything barbarous.” There are instances where each of these words fills a valuable role. However, especially among inexperienced writers, these words are frequently molested and almost always gum up the works.

Apply these lessons immediately and consistently to empower your words. Then, with practice, you will suddenly realize that you are starting to naturally trim the text in order to create prose that is very powerful.

Determining What to Write About

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One of the first and most important decisions for every writer is determining what to write about. Making this decision can feel overwhelming often because of long-held notions we have about what it means to be a writer. Many people believe that authors just have ideas that come to them or, worse yet, that authors are so intelligent that they are able to create something unique that has never been seen or thought of before.

In reality, neither scenario is entirely true. Most of the time, authors decide what to write about from examining their personal lives and interests or by examining the work of other authors and making parts of existing material into something new and different.

Writing about things you know and care about is important for several reasons. For one, it usually makes writing much easier: if you are writing from personal experiences, you can spend more energy on adding creative twists to a story that already exists.

Second, if you are writing about something you care about, you usually have a deeper sense of the subject and will have more information from which to write. Choosing topics or experiences that you care about will develop a sense of “you” which only you can create.

Here are some strategies for coming up with ideas for writing:

Make lists of topics or things that you are interested in—hobbies, issues, things, places

Draw a floor plan of your home and make a list of three memorable events that happened in each room

Make a list of problems that you have seen characters face in movies, TV shows, or books, and use one as the basis for your own story

Make a list of your most memorable experiences and determine which might be the basis for a piece of writing

Maintain a personal journal and collect thoughts and descriptions that might be used as the basis for a piece of writing

Think about “small moments” of life to expand and explore rather than creating large, involved stories Read and re-read the authors that you are fond of.

Look for places where you can pick up where they left off or think of how the story could be retold from a different character’s perspective

Take elements from an existing storyline from a book, movie, or play and work your own real-life or past experiences in to create a new story

Make a list of your favorite movies or books and look for patterns in the storylines or look for storylines that can be combined or changed

Read, read, read—all great authors are readers who constantly look for ideas from other authors For more information:

Developing Ideas for Writing (Prewriting): http://www.esc.edu/ESConline/Across_ESC/WritersComplex.nsf/3CC42A422514347A8525671D00 49F395/CE2B510E7D9975AE852569C3006ACCCC?OpenDocument

Originally published by NCTE (National Council Teachers of English) Date unknown