Friday, October 29, 2010

Definite or Indefinite Article

Something I find often editing my own work, as well as when I critique—when do you refer to an object with "the" or "a/an"?

We use the "definite article" THE to mean a sure, certain, particular thing.

If you just introduced the article in the immediately preceding sentence, THE fits.

If the object is key to the topic, not incidental, use THE.

We use the "indefinite article" A/AN to refer to a general thing.

If you haven't just referred or introduced the object, the indefinite works better.

If the object isn't important: He sat on any-old chair, not the chair—use A/AN.

When in doubt, I suggest:::A/AN

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Sunday, October 17, 2010

James Patterson -- RUN FOR YOUR LIFE

 I read my first James Patterson this week—RUN FOR YOUR LIFE (2009). It was an okay three star. I figure it's hard to be outstanding when you pump out a novel every two weeks. The technical polish of the writing was really the only thing that stood out.

I like to learn from every author. From RUN I think I absorbed how one poor element can wash out other aspects of a story. James and co-writer Michael never sold me a successful person could be such a sociopath. The antagonist was too good in the bad, and the premise fell apart.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Read Out load—Even Better, Record It

I've followed the advice for years of reading my work out loud. You benefit from the perception of your eyes, your mouth as you wrap it around your words, and the sound as you orate your work.

Take it a step further. Record it and play it back. Listen to your recorded words alone. Listen to your words as you read the piece. You'll be amazed at the nuances of meaning and tone you pick up, which you never contemplated before. (It's the next best thing to listening to someone else read your work.)

Don't have a mic for your computer? It's worth the nineteen bucks.

This works great on those tough-to-nail scenes, your query letter, and synopsis.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Monday, October 11, 2010

Learning from a Bestseller

I just finished Dean Koontz' 2009 BREATHLESS. I spent-busy studying every word. If you need help with your characterization, read Koontz. He can make you empathize with the dirtiest pond scum.

A simple thing I notice routinely in his writing, he likes to throw in vocabulary, and twists of expressions that exceed the seventh-grade reading we're encouraged to stick to. Me, I don't mind a three-syllable adjective when I mean to be sarcastic. Judge for yourself if Koontz uses too much.

BREATHLESS tramped on the centerline for my taste. What's the centerline? The focal storyline. The reader is two-thirds into the novel before it even bubbles up. It drags, with the characters' stories taking center stage. Then the centerline falls flat. It was weak and way out there. I like fantasy—don't know I would categorize BREATHLESS as fantasy. But it pressed my believability too far.

I prefer a single protagonist, with rich figures that come and go, serving to enrich the plot. BREATHLESS is all about a half-dozen central figures. For me, that weakens the centerline. It felt as though I was reading six different novels mingling within one book jacket. At least he waited to change point of view at chapter breaks.

Hope I didn't insult any Koontz fans. This was not a review—it was a learning experience :O)

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Critiquer from Hell?

I really don't like to see people cry.

This week I clubbed two individuals, and I was my most polite.

The issues I pointed out covered the gamut of writing—believability, point of view, sequence of events—take a list of literary elements, they were there. The red flowed. Each issue weakened the overall story a smidgen. No individual nit amounted to much. It is the collective impact.

I've been there, and still struggle. But looking back--the harshest critiques I've ever received did more to further my writing craft than any hundred others. It takes time to relearn the grammar we haven't used since sixth grade, understand the writing style used in fiction. We must edit the hell out of our work before we send it to anyone.

And if we aren't getting back red marks out the wazoo, we aren't sharing our work with people who care, or know what they're doing. We just can't catch our own mistakes. We aren't wired that way. It got written because it seemed reasonable in our head at the time—right?

Take every red mark as a gift.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pristine Dialogue

You must NOT cram two thoughts that have no logical connection into the same sentence.
For the same reason: NEVER cram dialogue, direction, narrative or exposition into the same paragraph that isn't logically tied together.
  • Keep your dialogue pristine.
  • Dialogue is the temple of your prose.
  • Separate into two paragraphs any dialogue of two different characters.
  • Separate dialogue and direction of different characters.
  • Separate any narrative/exposition that isn't specifically and tightly connected to dialogue.
  • Don't bury subsequent dialogue at the end of a long passage of exposition. Put the exposition in a paragraph of its own.
  • Do not bury your dialogue (after narrative/exposition).
  • Dialogue is your bullet. It is made impotent by your flack jacket of narrative.
Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Janet outdid herself with her goofy names. She pumped up the sexy-meter and kept the fun going—as always. Stephanie didn't destroy a car. Hmmm.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Monday, October 4, 2010

Yellow Sticky -- Direct Address

If you don't follow KM Weiland, scoot over to her blog. She addresses one of the items I've listed in "rules" several times...see so frequently in pieces I crit I could scream.

Write Every Day!

Regards, Mac

Friday, October 1, 2010

Guest Blogger--John Tate--The Conjunction

I live for the architecture of language: how the black sculpts the white paper and makes meaning.  The fine art of conjunctions is at the heart of this architecture, not verbs and nouns.  They are often the “Super Glue” that holds a paragraph together.  Heresy, you say!  Read on. 

Punctuating conjunctions show us how intimately ideas are connected.  In the paragraph above, notice in the first sentence, the colon.  Boom!  Full stop!  “You best pay attention to what comes next because it’s damn important.”  The second sentence, the tiny comma conjoins the antecedent phrase, subtlety, like a hair in one’s soup, both causing pause.  “Not” carries the weight, not the comma, yet the added, contrasting idea brings life to the otherwise dead (passive) sentence.

The reason “and” is a poor conjunction is that it implies that two ideas are of equal weight; they rarely are.  Note the semi-colon, the most intimate form of a punctuating conjunction.  It means that these two ideas are inseparable, not necessarily the same.

Back to the architecture:  I sometimes evaluate writing mathematically.  How many words in the average paragraph of this piece?  What’s the average sentence length?  Mean sentence length?  Number of passives to actives?  Number of sexy verbs to total verbs?  Weird, I know, but when something isn’t working for me, I consult the math.  Sure enough, he used thirty-seven conjoined sentences in the first thirty-nine.  Even without the count, you’d see something is wrong. It would sound wrong.    

The conjunction  “and then” is often sloppy writing, superfluous words:  “Samantha stabbed Betty several times and then wiped the knife clean on her skirt.”    Overlooking the fact that the stabbing is quite “stand alone” in meaning, wiping the blood on her skirt deserves a separate sentence.  “Look at this.  Thank you.  Now look at this. [two separate sentences].  These radically contrasted ideas belong is separate sentences to convey the bizarre quality of the event.  Conjoin them and you’ve made them equal, which, of course, they are not.  

This monologue challenged me to go back and examine where I used such rubbish.  Note the poor use of “and” in the previous sentence.  It would be much stronger to simply say, “The monologue challenged me to examine where I used such rubbish in the past.”  The “going back” is implied and superfluous.

In several examined circumstances, the writing was weak.  In others, the use of “and then” implies a certain fluidity: “The pitcher wrapped up, glanced to first and then uncoiled with a flamer towards home.”  Yeah, I could tighten that up, but the point of fluidity is clear.

I’m still not sold.  Okay, how ‘bout this:   “Josh got a flat tire and then had to change it.”  Duh! But there’s no implication it was done all at once, all in one motion?  It wasn’t a fluid thought or action.  Surely, some fender-kicking and cussing was involved before the tire changing.

These are poor examples, to say the least.  My point is that conjoining with “ands” should be a rarity anyway.  So many other options are available to us bring the reader along in a story and then keep him there. 

-- John Tate