To be or not to be ….

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The verb “to be” has been causing trouble since Shakespeare’s time and possibly even longer.

I became aware of the potential damage this verb could cause when I joined the local writers’ club, many years ago. The authors in this group provide mutual help and support. Part of each meeting is devoted to readings. Writers may read a sample of their work and have it critiqued by the other members.

I had worked on a little story that I thought was not bad, so I volunteered to read it. My hands shook and my face turned bright red as I stammered through two pages of writing. Nervously, I awaited the critiquing. I was shocked to hear that all my writing and rewriting and polishing was still lacking, and, swallowing lumps of misplaced pride in my work, I began to learn how to write.

I will never forget that first critiquing comment. “Right at the beginning, you used the words ‘there were.’”

Yes, I thought. What’s wrong with that?

“You should avoid the verb ‘to be’ if at all possible.”

This was new to me. Wasn’t “to be” the most basic of verbs? Why not use it?

I didn’t volunteer to read aloud for the group again for a long, long time—it took a while to regain my confidence—but I listened carefully and made notes when others had their work critiqued. I learned SO much! I am still learning every day.

Today, I’d like to share with you what I found out about using “to be.”

It’s not that there is anything wrong with “to be” in all its forms and tenses; the problem is that when you use it, you’re not using anything better. “To be” is rather static, inactive, and boring. Most sentences using this weak verb can be rephrased to become much more interesting, and, if not action-packed, at least not comatose.

Let’s take some examples:

Before:

There were about a hundred people in the street.

Now, imagine the scene. Surely these one hundred people were not simply standing limply in the street. I have to come up with a good strong verb; one that is active, or makes us feel that action is imminent.

After:

In the street, one hundred people … milled around, shook their fists, threw rocks (choose one of many possibilities)….

Or maybe: One hundred people shouted for justice in the street.

Before:

A cat was in the yard.

After:

A stray cay slunk across the yard.

In each case, by shuffling the words around, we added action and interest.

Naturally, we sometimes need to use the verb “to be,” but when you are writing, be aware of it in its many forms and, if possible, try to substitute a stronger, more active verb.

Here are some of the variations of “to be”: is, are, am, was, were, have been, has been, had been, will be, was being, were being.

Next time you’re writing, look back at a section of your work and mark all the cases of the verb “to be.” Then see if you can find a way to improve the text by exchanging “to be” for a stronger verb. You may have to do some re-arranging of words and phrases, but in the end, it will probably make your story sing where previously it only droned.

 

Desert Camping, Hot Love

While camping in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, I noticed a woman sitting alone in a van parked near the beach. I never saw her get out of her vehicle. She sat in the driver’s seat most of the time, listening to audio tapes and chain smoking cigarettes.

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The beach was beautiful, the sun shone every day, the water was clear and inviting, the place was a paradise. Why would she not get out and inhale that fresh air, go for a walk or a swim, or enjoy this little bit of heaven? I certainly did.

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It puzzled me and I wondered what her story was. Her plates said San Diego. I mulled over many scenarios. Why was she alone? Why did she never get out of her van? Was she trying to kill herself with the first and secondhand smoke in the enclosed vehicle?

The seeds  of a novel were germinating in my head. A California girl comes to Baja alone. But why? I would make her health-minded, young, and beautiful. Yes, the character was taking shape in my head.

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She would need to find a love interest, but who would be down here on his own and why? Men come to Baja alone, looking for … something ….

Each of the characters had good reasons for being on the run, but would that interfere with them starting a new relationship? What if the attraction was so strong, they couldn’t resist?

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But what if their past troubles are coming after them? Will the new lovers stick together? Will they panic, split, and run to escape their pursuers? And what about that drug runner who is out for revenge for a slight on the road?

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Life could be so perfect, if only those nasty people from their past weren’t coming after them.

For a gripping story of love and suspense wrapped up in a Baja adventure, why not spend a big $2.99 and download Orion’s Gift from amazon.com or smashwords.com today?

Cover design for Orion’s Gift is by Anita B. Carroll. Thank you, Anita for a great cover image. You can contact Anita at anita@race-point.com

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Why Hire a Copy Editor?

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You have an amazing story to tell. Aunt Mary says, “Why don’t you write a book about it, dear?” So you do, and you rush to self-publish your first book just the way thousands of authors are doing these days.

But, wait!

You may feel you’ve just written the next bestselling novel, but the truth is, most first novels are full of errors.

When you rewrite the first draft (and the second and third, and so on) except for small improvements your work will still have weak sections. You can’t fix something if you don’t know what is wrong. At some point you will need outside help. Even experienced authors benefit from an impartial eye, so that help should not come from your loving Aunt Mary. Support, yes, but writing advice, no. Not unless she’s a successful author herself.

Have you taken the time to go to a writing conference or join a writers’ group? If you have ever had your writing analyzed by an expert, you were most likely shocked by their comments. You had no idea there was still so much to learn about writing. Taking a course in creative writing, joining a local writers’ group, going to writing conferences, and reading some of the many books on writing can teach you techniques for making your novel a success. You will pick up writing tips and learn how to structure a novel.

After you’ve rewritten your novel employing all your newfound knowledge, you may think you are ready to publish. Not so. This is the most dangerous stage, where many writers become impatient and “just want to get it published.”

Take a step back. You have a wonderful plot and you’ve told the story in a way that makes the reader want to turn the pages, but you can ruin it all by publishing before it is ready. Some people say poor editing doesn’t make them stop reading. Does that mean they don’t care about the fine craft of writing? If they will read anything, regardless of quality, perhaps they will write without quality too. Not something worthy of much respect.

Imagine you are going to a job interview. Would you present yourself before the interviewer  with your hair scraggly and unwashed, wearing a beautiful brand new outfit and dirty old sneakers? Would you think it doesn’t matter because you know you’re a great person inside?  I can guarantee you won’t make a good impression. The interviewer will have nothing good to say about you. He is judging you by what he sees.

And so it will be with your book. If you want the readers to love it and recommend it to others, don’t publish it if it hasn’t been cleaned up. And I don’t mean a quick read through by Aunt Mary who declared it the best thing she’d ever read. Even that friend with a college degree who pointed out some grammatical things and a spelling mistake is not going to catch everything. Get your book professionally copy-edited and publish quality work confidently.

If you have not worked at shaping your novel with the help of books, courses, critiquing groups, and workshops, you may need a substantive editor for putting the scenes and events in the best order. Chances are that you are past this stage and feel the book is ready. Don’t hire a proofreader. That won’t do you much good unless you only want spelling, punctuation, and typos fixed, but a good copy editor will check all these things. You pay once and get the benefit of having any mistake or problem pointed out to you.

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Here are some of the things a copy editor will draw your attention to.

  • poorly phrased sentences
  • lack of balance in the sentence (perhaps where the verb at the beginning does not match with the clause or phrase you have added onto the main sentence frame)
  • overused words
  • repeated words within two or three sentences
  • incorrect grammar usage
  • incorrect capitalization
  • misuse of possessives and plurals
  • wrong word meaning
  • punctuation mistakes, especially in the use of dialogue
  • typos, missing words, and repeated words (the the)
  • incorrect information (fact checking)
  • consistency throughout the work (does Jane become Jayne later in the work?)
  • misspelled words (breath or breathe, loath or loathe)
  • misuse of homonyms (peek, peak, or pique)
  • incorrect verb tense (lie, lay, laid, lain, etc.)
  • boring repetition of the same sentence pattern
  • incorrect use of pronouns after a preposition (between him and I? or him and me?)
  • use of clichés that are not part of the dialogue

These mistakes and many more will be drawn to your attention. It’s well worth spending the time and money to have the errors corrected. A good copy editor will help make your writing shine.

 

Dance When the Brain Says No

This is Leslie Doyle, math whiz, poet, creative seamstress, beautiful young woman, and daughter of my friend, Kathleen Price.

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My guest today is Kathleen Price.She taught human development and family studies courses in Prescott, Arizona, while also maintaining a private practice in marriage and family therapy. She authored the course manuals that were used in a community parent education program. Kathleen lives in Salt Lake City now, retired from teaching, but still writing and publishing.

I’ve asked her to tell us about her book and how it came to be published.

Welcome, Kathleen.

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During my daughter’s illness, I kept a journal as a way to sort out and put words to my feelings. After Leslie died I knew that someday I would write a book about her, so I began putting down other memories I hadn’t yet recorded about her childhood and adolescence, and that became a way of resolving my grief.  Once I retired twenty years later, with greater objectivity about that experience, I returned to all those writings and began to put them in some logical and coherent order. That became the memoir that I published in 2009—Dance When the Brain Says No. 

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This is a story you just have to read.

Find it at: amazon.com

Don’t Always Believe What You Read Online

I reblogged this from Luanne Castle’s site with her permission. It deals with an aspect of writing that is important to me both as a writer and a reader. Thank you for writing this post, Luanne!

 

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When I started writing creative nonfiction/memoir, the issue of dialogue tags rose its nasty little head early on. I’d never given them much thought in fiction writing, and they don’t exist in poetry. For some reason, nonfiction made me think and rethink what works best. Maybe it’s that more expressive word choices conveyed more information than plain old “said,” but in nonfiction it seemed like overkill to write “stammered” or “giggled” about oneself.

These “more expressive” tags look something like this:

Eventually I took courses online and learned that all the creative and imaginative tags I’d debated were worthless. I think these teachers were right, so I’m sharing what I learned from them.

The idea is to stay as far from “tagging” as possible.

That means that if you can write dialogue where it’s clear who is speaking each line, you don’t need any tags at all. Sometimes you can start…

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All Love is not Equal

Very often we see a pattern in novels that tell love stories. But besides the usual “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back,” there are other kinds of love stories and these are the ones I like to create in my novels.

Take a look and consider whether any of these kinds of love have happened to you or someone you know.

We read of unrequited love in the love triangle in Julia’s Violinist. Being “torn between two lovers” is as heartwrenching for the reader as it is for Julia. Add the setting of postwar Europe with events that will have you thinking about them long after you read the book, and you have the ingredients for a worthwhile read.

Another kind of love develops in The Wind Weeps and its sequel, Reckoning Tide. Here we have the misguided love between Andrea and the handsome Robert, whose attentions take an abnormal twist. You’ll find yourself wondering how Andrea ever could have thought this was love. But is love that turns into a manic obsession really love?

Then we have the love that happens by the slimmest of chances. Perhaps it came about because of the alignment of the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach that day, as seems to be the case in Orion’s Gift when Sylvia meets Kevin in a Baja campground. Can such a love, that happens purely by chance, withstand the test of time? Can it survive when their former lovers are on a “search and destroy” mission?

What better time to load up on these love stories than on Valentine’s Day! You’ll be glad you did, once you lose yourself in the lives of Julia, Andrea, and Sylvia, and their significant others.

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You can find my novels on amazon.com (click on link) and other amazon outlets by typing in my name or the titles of my novels.

 Do you have recommendations of novels with unusual love stories? Why not leave a comment and share them?

One of my recommendations for more love stories is the Em and Yves Series by Darlene Jones. Click on the link to see her books on amazon.

The Seamless Web

My guest today is Joe Eliseon. He is looking at you over his glasses because he wants to make direct eye contact with you, dear readers, as he is about to share his interesting history with you.

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The well-seasoned old codger looked at me sideways, stroking his clean-shaven chin.  “You know, if we hire you, you’ll be the only lawyer in the firm with a beard.”

“What is it?” I asked. “Some sort of hormonal problem?”

Honest to God, I thought it was something in the water.

Times have changed since I was in law school, interviewing for jobs. I grew my beard back then, wanting to do something women couldn’t do, at least not well. Recruiters described a law firm as “casual” and “relaxed” if they allowed you to take off your suit coat on a hot day. The constant, staccato beat of secretaries’ typewriters told the partners they were making money. Big clients like insurance companies were pushing hourly billing as a cost-control measure.

Today, most law school graduates are women and scraggly beards pass unnoticed among the surviving but otherwise emasculated males. Suits and ties are reserved for court appearances, as if they were the wigs worn by British jurists. There are hardly any secretaries; lawyers do their own typing on keyboards that click quietly rather than clack loudly. Consultants and accountants tell you whether or not you’re making money. Big clients like insurance companies moan over the fact that hourly billing is bankrupting them.

And I don’t practice law any more. I write novels.

Why is that?

There’s no simple answer to the question. It’s like asking me why I became a lawyer in the first place. I’ve given simple answers to the latter question, but I find they change over time. The more I think about it, the more I remember little things that contributed to the decision. Some of them seem more important at one point, others at other points. They rattle around in my head and jostle for position. Figuring out your own motivations is damned difficult. It’s so much easier to figure out other people’s.

Maybe that’s why I write novels. Or I may just have stories to tell.

Let’s talk a little about my books.

I had written a number of short stories before I wrote my first novel, The Seamless Web: A Legal Comedy. In fact, SW started out as a short story about a young attorney who discovers how to manipulate the electronic records of legal cases and starts writing his own cases.  That’s the core of the novel, but the characters took over and ran off with the story. My protagonist, Pete Roselli, turned into the legal equivalent of Everyman, having to face the consequences of a little lie that keeps getting bigger and bigger. He finds that a lie, even a little one, leaves you at the mercy of all manner of liars.

My second novel is still a work-in-progress. It’s called D.P.W.: A Political Fantasy. It’s about politics as seen through the eyes of a low-level public employee, a snowplow driver in the Department of Public Works, who finds himself the target of a federal investigation into municipal corruption. Wondering why he has been singled out as a target for his pitiful nickel-and-dime graft, he consults his retired mentor in the Department. This mysterious character, who lives in a broken-down shack in the far reaches of the Department’s equipment yard, explains to him that he’s been targeted precisely because he is a small-timer. Our hero thereupon resolves to fight back by becoming the biggest crook he can be.

DPW’s almost done. I’m finishing up the third draft. I’ll need to do a fourth. But it will be ready for release by summer 2016. Of course, that’s what I said last year.

While you’re waiting, I really do recommend my short story collection: Five Minutes More and Other Stories,  in which I skip from haunted law firms to time-travel to ancient Sicilian legends to science fiction to gods new and old.

And visit my Google+ page, where you’ll find links to a baker’s dozen of free short stories that I ought to be charging for.

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Visit Joe’s website:

http://joeeliseon.com/

There you will find all his book information, and if you click on “Contact” on the menu at the top, you can find all the links to his wonderful sites and podcasts.