Today’s Writing Tip

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Watch for proper subject-verb agreement. This may seem obvious, but beyond the basics, such as “Writing skill IS important” vs. “Writing skill and grammar ARE important”, it isn’t always so clear.

This is often the case if there’s a prepositional phrase somewhere between the subject and verb. It’s really easy, and I’ve done this a lot myself, to take the subject of the prepositional phrase as the subject for the verb. I’ve even seen such things slip past editors from time to time. For example, “The mother of the kittens IS grey and white”. To get rid of the troublesome prepositional phrase you could say “The kittens’s mother is grey and white.”

I think everyone hated diagramming sentences, but this is a good example where having those skills helps. Too many people think because they can talk that they can write. Thus, they “may be talking as they be speaking”. Correct grammar is important if you want to build a solid reputation as a professional writer.

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Today’s Writing Tip

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Every now and then a short story contest comes along that has a tight deadline. Thus, if you don’t already have an idea in mind, you’re stuck. There’s one formula to come up with a story that is fun and can help you put something together quickly. It’s as easy as filling in the blanks.

This involves using the classic “What if?” premise: What if a ____ and a ____ went to _____ and ______.

The wackier your answers, the better and more original it will be. For practice, fill in the blanks based on your favorite sit-com or movie. You can sometimes get an idea rolling with no more than the “What if” portion. For example, the old sit-com ALF was based on “What if a space alien crashed into someone’s house and couldn’t leave because his ship was damaged?”

Today’s Writing Tip

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If a paragraph is too long, it’s hard on the reader’s eyes. Break them up for visual appeal, even if in a technical sense it’s only one thought. I don’t know about you, but when I come to a paragraph that takes up an entire page, there’s something daunting about it. Sometimes they’re even hard to read, depending on the font size and spacing.

There are so many ways to distract a reader it’s pathetic. Long, run-on paragraphs are one of them. Even if it’s the same thought, be sure to break it up if it takes up half or more of the page. If it happens to be dialog, you may want to break it up with some action. Otherwise, remember that when the same speaker continues to the next paragraph, you don’t use a close quote on the previous one.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Paragraphs should contain connected thoughts and have an introductory and closing sentence. Of course, this is not always easy to do when writing a novel, but essential for nonfiction.  However, they should have some degree of coherence. If the subject or thought line changes, then start a new paragraph.  More on this tomorrow when I’ll talk about paragraph length.

 

 

Today’s Writing Tip

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Using correct punctuation in dialog is essential, yet it is one thing I see done incorrectly as much as anything. For example, when someone asks a question, be sure to punctuate with a “?” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen dialog that was clearly a question, yet didn’t employ a question mark.

Admittedly, there are times when this is not 100% clear.  “He wondered whether the police had all the evidence” is a statement, but “Did the police have all the evidence?” is a question. One way to figure it out, if you’re in doubt, is to say it out loud.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are several ways to say “said”, but don’t overdo it; that gets annoying as well. In other words, if you get too creative, that’s another distraction. These should also be commonly used/familiar words such as “replied”, “answered”, “stated”, etc. Using a word like “opined”, while perhaps correct for the dialog, may be unfamiliar to your average reader. Depending on the story, there could be exceptions, but how many times have you seen that word at all, much less in a novel?

Using the correct synonym for “said” can also help you avoid adverbs. It’s much more efficient to say “he yelled” or “he hollered” or “he bellowed” than to say “he said loudly.”

Today’s Writing Tip

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There’s a place in your story for description and there’s a place for action. When something intense is happening, such as a chase scene, you don’t want to slow down the pace by stopping to describe the locale. This is not to say the imagery isn’t important. However, one way to avoid interrupting the flow with descriptions is to tell your reader what that area looks like BEFORE the action begins, perhaps in a much earlier scene.

Then all you need to do is include a couple brief reminders, then let fly with the action.

Today’s Writing Tip

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The appearance of your book’s interior is every bit as important as the cover.  It should be formatted for readability. This involves the cover page, copyright page, font, font sizes, spacing between lines, headers and footers, pagination, and chapter headings to name a few.

If you’re formatting the book yourself, there are numerous “How To” documents available that you should read and follow. At the most fundamental level, the main body of your story should be in a text that’s easy to read. These are usually a serif font such as Times New Roman or a similar one. Sans serif fonts such as Arial are not as easy to read.

For fiction, the first paragraph of a chapter or section is NOT indented, but subsequent ones are. Nonfiction often uses block paragraphs that are not indented, but have a double-space between them.

The space between sections is more easily identified with a divider of some sort whether it’s * * * or even a small graphic that represents your story. You can simply use a double space if you like in a print book, but for an ebook that doesn’t work due to the fact the pagination is not static, but adjusts to the ereader. This means that sometimes the new section will also be the next page and the reader won’t have that clue that it’s a new section. Remember that one of the worst faux pas’s is confusing your reader and throwing him or her out of the story.

Print books need, as a minimum, to have page numbers. Headers and footers with the title, chapter title, or author name are options.

The main thing to remember is that poorly formatted books lose readers and will also label you as unprofessional. This can be a tedious and frustrating job in which case you might want to find someone on Fivver or some other service to do it for you. Just make sure they know what they’re doing and thus do it correctly.

“The Making of a Healer” by Russell FourEagles

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5stars

I hardly know where to start expressing my impressions of this book. Let’s just say that it is clearly in my list of the Top Ten Most Influential Books I’ve ever read. I was actually sad when I finished it, yet know this is one of the few books that I will read many times.

Probably the most powerful message I received was the highly spiritual nature of indigenous American teachings. Interestingly enough, it comprised everything included in my own beliefs, which I’ve collected from various sources. These include organized religions, my own experiences, scientific research, meditation, as well as the teachings of various yogis and motivational speakers. It was clearly a revelation to find my own belief system, which I’ve assembled over a lifetime, expressed in a single book.

The philosophies expressed are nothing short of profound and beautiful. The respect for Mother Earth and all her creatures, including those of other cultures, is such a powerful concept that has been blatantly ignored by western cultures. Living in harmony is essential to our health and well-being. The concept of the “heart box” where we store and build up the various hurts, disappointments, and traumas of our lifetime rang true. The Oneida Fire Ceremony used to clear those issues is one I’d heard variations of before and it works.

Bottom line, we must live with an attitude of love, not fear. The author’s personal experiences illustrate these principles in a humble and powerful way, from being taught these things by his grandmother, to being a soldier in Vietnam, to becoming an inspired healer.

If you’re looking for some genuine inspiration that dates back hundreds, possibly thousands of years, then read this book. If you need to know what actions you can take to rid yourself of old issues lurking in your subconscious that you want to release, then read this book. If you want a touch of wisdom that has been lost, yet is exactly what the world needs today, then read this book.

I can’t praise it highly enough. If you’re looking for answers, it’s highly likely you will find them here.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

 

“State of Fear” by Michael Crichton

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I always enjoy a good Michael Crichton book. While this one wasn’t my favorite, considering some of his other titles such as Jurassic Park or Timeline, it was nonetheless excellent. This hardback had been sitting on my shelf for literally years; given the book’s copyright is 2004, no telling how many. I live in a house that was once my family’s vacation home, so I have no idea who may have left it here. One day recently, its dust-covered binding caught my eye from its position on the bottom shelf and I decided to read it.

It’s rather amazing how the story and premise really haven’t gone out of date in fifteen years. Essentially, it’s an exposé of the science (or lack thereof) of global warming. We’re still obviously hearing about this today. It has changed names a few times, now currently referred to as “climate change”, but it’s one and the same. Clearly, Crichton was expressing strong, well-substantiated opinions regarding how science and politics are a very bad combination, which he presents in the form of a gripping, conspiracy techno-thriller.

One thing that really irritates me as a reader is when an author doesn’t do his or her homework as far as research is concerned. When I encounter scientific inaccuracies in a story they are a major turnoff. They throw me out of the story immediately and scream “amateur” on the part of the author, who clearly didn’t respect his readers enough to do the research. No one can ever accuse Crichton of this faux pas. This book took three years to research and, believe it or not, has twenty pages worth of bibliographic material as well as footnotes to scientific journals throughout that are real. I’m afraid that few readers appreciate that as much as I do, which is a shame.

Even though this book has been around for a decade and a half, it’s still worth reading. I suspect that little has changed scientifically. It should be read with an open mind, considering all sides. Crichton’s opinions regarding the volatile mix of science and politics are definitely worth noting; nothing has changed there, either. I, for one, have grown weary of everything being about money and corporate profits.

I want to point out that I am not “Red” or “Blue” in a political sense, but rather some shade of purple; there are elements of both platforms with which I agree. I don’t believe in blatant handouts at the expense of hardworking people, but I also believe in treating Mother Earth and all her creatures with respect. I also believe people’s health and well-being are more important than greedy corporate giants who place whomever they want in political office with their campaign contributions to assure maximum profits.

I love a novel that not only entertains, but informs and educates the reader, something Crichton did in spades. I am so sorry he is no longer with us, turning out these well-written, well-researched page-turners. I suppose in some ways this story is overshadowed by the issues it exposes, making some conversations a bit pedantic. However, 20 pages of bibliography deserves considerable respect. This is a very thought-provoking story that highlights an issue that is as relevant today as it was in 2004. Whichever side of the argument you may espouse, you should read it. The bibliographic material–count it, 20 pages worth–speaks for itself.