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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!


May 2013 prove a great ***New Year*** for you!

Grammar Yammer has come to a halt. I hope you enjoyed my blog and profited from it. 

Thank you for being my reader, for your kind comments, and very special thanks to those who participated as critique winners.

                                                            Blessings to you!
                                                            Steph










Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!


May the blessing and joy
of God’s greatest Gift be yours.

Merry Christmas!









Thursday, December 20, 2012

Critique Winner's Revision


Our usual guest blogger, Carrie L. Lewis, is sick, so December’s crit winner kindly agreed to share his revision.

(Scroll down to December 13 for his entry, and back up to December 14 for my critique.)

You will see a big difference in the pace of the opening 1,000 words. In 1212RS’s initial entry, his 1,000 words end with Benny starting his journey. In the revised 1,000 words, Benny reaches his destination.

Chapter 1

The jangle of the bedside phone jarred Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting, angry words hissed from the receiver.
“I suggest you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat myself.”
Crank call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
“I’m calling on behalf of an old friend. He has information you need and wants to meet with you immediately. I assure you, it’s very important that you attend this meeting.”
“Wrong number, bub.”
“Your friend Tommy wishes to discuss events that happened in Chicago, many years ago.”
Benny’s thumb halted before it reached the “end” key. Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his throat. “Who is this?”
“Don’t interrupt me, Mr. Wilks. We have no time for questions. Consider this call an invitation–and a warning. Be at the corner of Crichton and Emerald at 1:20.”
The line went dead.
For a moment, Benny couldn’t breathe. He blinked, trying to clear his head. But the call still made no sense.
There was no way Tommy wanted to see him. Because Tommy died fifteen years ago.
There had to be a mistake.
But one word from the call plagued him, preventing his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.
Chicago.
Sweat beaded on Benny’s face despite the cool air.
After his best friend’s death, he’d left Chicago behind. Left his life behind. Sworn never to return.
Was that a mistake?
Worry rolled in, a storm of long-ignored memories that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No, he hadn’t made a mistake by leaving. Because yes, Tommy was dead.
Benny no longer knew anyone in Chicago. No reason to worry about anything going on in that city.
Yet, how could he ignore the phone call?
He rolled out of bed and padded to the dresser to grab some clothes. On the way out he snatched up a shoulder bag crafted from a single piece of weathered walrus hide and covered with hand-tooled designs. Then he opened the door and scanned the hallway.
It was probably nothing, but as he looked over his shoulder, a line from one of his favorite childhood TV shows came to mind: “My Spidey senses are tingling.”
One deep breath later, he reached the back stairwell and started down the first of three flights. He passed his weathered Honda Accord without slowing. No need to drive. He could walk the eight blocks to Crichton and Emerald with time to spare. And on his terms. The caller may know Chicago, but Seattle was Benny’s turf.
A gust of cold air slapped his cheeks. Physical shock dissipated the effects of the earlier mental one, leaving him sensitive to every sound, every hint of movement on the darkened streets.
A cold drizzle began to fall. He resisted the temptation to turn up his collar, embracing the slight sting of the droplets on the back of his neck. Eyes and ears adjusted quickly to the night.
As he continued east on Campbell, Benny raked his memory. Had he heard that hiss on the phone before? It didn’t sound familiar.
But he had to be sure. So he forced his mind through the past, dredging up memories of men with whiny voices. By the end of the third block, he was certain. He did not know the caller.
Two more blocks passed before he saw another soul in the darkness. At the corner of Campbell and Garnet, a beefy man stood under the awning of a closed restaurant, sending a text message.
Their eyes met with the wary acknowledgement common to men who cross paths at night: I’m not looking for trouble, and you won’t get any unless you start it.
Trouble. Can’t shake that thought.
He was headed somewhere dark and nasty. Delridge was not a bad neighborhood. But danger lurked late, even in the nicest places.
Was he being foolish? Inviting trouble? Probably. Yet curiosity and an indistinct sense of dread pushed him to keep walking.
His hands trembled in anticipation and anxiety. With some effort, he stilled their movement and quashed the urge to walk faster.
No need to hurry. He would reach the intersection several minutes before the deadline without rushing. Plenty of time to plan his next move.
He would calmly observe, then decide, then act.
At the last apartment house on the sixth block, the rain stopped. The air, thick with moisture despite the cold, warned that the precipitation had not ended. Just wandered away for a while and would return.
Two blocks from the rendezvous, Benny felt a pull in his gut–-instincts pealing a warning.
Something wasn’t right. But what? After five years in this neighborhood, didn’t he know the fastest route to the intersection?
Yes. And that was the problem.
Was he taking the best route? Fastest and easiest, yes. But the best? What if he was walking into a trap?
The simplest path lay one block east to Emerald, which blazed with lights, and one block south to Crichton.
He liked simple solutions. They worked.
But not tonight. A part of his brain that hadn’t spoken up in years would not allow him to take the obvious route.
So now what?
He turned south on Ruby, a residential street that even in bright sunlight did not warrant its namesake. Benny crept down the middle of the tree-choked lane with no street lamps, navigating by the chancy landmarks of a porch light on one side of the street and a TV in a window on the other.
In less than a minute, he stood behind a tree on Crichton, about ten yards west of Emerald. Eight minutes early for the rendezvous.
Bark scraped his cheek as he snuck a glance toward the intersection. Lit by four streetlamps, the scene held no secrets. But it still made no sense.
A musk ox sprawled in the center of the intersection.

Thank you, 1212RS, for sharing your revision. I like how you quickly moved Benny out the door in your new beginning, and then built tension by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out his journey to his rendezvous.

Blog reader, did you catch some of the other changes 1212RS made?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Critique of December's Winner


Scroll down to yesterday’s post to read December’s winner, 1212RS (to preserve anonymity). Today I’m posting my critique. Since my opinion counts as only one person’s perspective, not to mention that I can’t possibly cover everything, please—BIG PLEASE!—add your comments to extend the benefits to 1212RS.

HOOK: Your hook happens to consist of two components. The first is your sentence, “Maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough to find out who was trying to kill him.” It immediately spotlights the intrigue—who is trying to kill Benny, why, and will he escape?

The second component is the promise held out by the opening 150 words that end in the scene break (###), when Benny falls asleep. The promise is that something really is going to happen--a sort of To Be Continued--once the reader gets through all the backstory of the next scene. Oh dear, is that enough to entice the reader to hang in there?

That brings up the question as to why you chose to structure the story this way. In other words, why format it as backstory with an opening current-time hook instead of just jumping into the story with the telephone call as the opening event?

Most editors will stop reading as soon as they see the story has segued into backstory. They will tell you to not ask the reader to hold her breath while she wades through past events. Instead, they want you to tell all your story in current time.

In addition, your segue into backstory has another problem. When you are in a character’s point of view (POV), you can present only what that character consciously experiences. If the character falls asleep, he’s unconscious and therefore nothing should happen from his POV. Yup, that includes no segue into backstory while he’s snoring.

There is a way to deal with this. Simply keep Benny awake and have him tell his story into his recorder. Then everything is in current time—i.e., he’s on the train, awake, making a recording. However, what he records is still backstory; it doesn’t get around that editorial no-no!

Unless there’s a really good reason to format the story as it currently stands, I suggest you eliminate the first 150 words and begin in current time with the telephone call (or some other opening). Um, sorry to say, but that means coming up with a new hook …

SCENE GOAL: In the opening 150 words, the scene goal is clear: Benny is going to record his story “before it’s too late.” Only, as it stands now, he doesn’t. He falls asleep.

In the next scene (which hopefully will become the first scene), it would be good to clarify that Benny’s goal is to get rid of the caller so he can go back to sleep. This keeps the reader from getting impatient with the phone call (minimal story action) and also sets up the obstacle to Benny’s goal, the invitation/threat that leaves him wide-eyed and sleepless. It’s not a problem to have the scene goal change to a new one (meeting the informant), but it is a problem to not identify the goal when the scene begins. Give the reader guidance so she won’t have false expectations as to where the story is going.

By the way, a scene goal is always an external action, and it can be as simple as answering a ringing phone.

CONFLICT takes place when the character’s scene goal runs into obstacles. Your first 1,0000 words contain two scene goals—first, getting rid of the phone call so Benny can sleep, and, second, meeting the informant. The first goal encounters two obstacles, the disturbing invitation and then the alarm set off by Benny’s memory at the word Chicago. Uh-oh, no way he’s going back to sleep.

The obstacle to the second goal is (or so we assume with the little information we have) Newt’s hidden observation of him, perhaps compounded by the fact that Newt is a cop. Benny doesn’t want anyone following him, but how can he be sure when he can’t see Newt? As Benny walks to the meeting, he should form some kind of goal for what he will do when he meets the informant. That goal, in turn, should run into obstacles.

Clear goal + obstacle(s) = conflict. A simple, effective formula, but it’s easy to skip the scene goal and thereby water down or even obscure the obstacles. A phone call tends to be boring reading material, but knowing Benny wants to dismiss it and can't puts some zing in it.

TENSION: You do a great job of building tension through how you “show” Benny’s reactions to stress. Some of them are mental (“Was he dreaming? Not a chance.”), some are action (“Benny’s thumb halted before it reached the ‘end’ key.”), and you have a nice variety of visceral ones (“Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his throat.” “… preventing his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.” “Sweat beaded on Benny’s face despite the cool air.”). You slip the reader right inside Benny’s skin with your descriptions so that she picks up on the mounting anxiety. Again, great job!

Your CHARACTERIZATION of Benny is so minimal that it might be your biggest deterrent to keeping your reader interested. The problem is that we don’t know who in the world Benny is. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Is he a victim of whatever happened in Chicago, or is he the perpetrator of a crime there? While it’s good to make a reader curious enough to read on, it’s not good at the cost of confusion. If the reader knows Benny is a victim and all of a sudden he’s in trouble, she’ll probably care enough about the poor guy to keep reading. Or if Benny is the perp, she probably will care enough to want him brought to justice. Curiosity about what happened in Chicago is salty enough without the uncertainty of who this guy is and where the story is going.

I pretty much assume a novel will open with the protagonist, a good guy, so that’s what I assumed Benny was. But what do I know about him after a thousand words? He lives alone, there’s some unresolved incident from his past that threatens him, and he has a cop spying on him. It would be easy for me to shrug my shoulders and say, “Ah, what do I care?” and put the book down.

Demystify Benny with a simple clue or two so the reader can orient herself to his basic identity. If he’s a cop, for example, one of his first thoughts after being jarred awake could be a reference to his having just completed his beat, and he needs sleep.

PACING: Your story starts off at a good trot, but since it’s a thriller, you’d do better to crack the whip and change the pace to a breath-taking gallop. In this scene, Benny is pretty introspective—save most of that for later. What you want now is to capture your reader through fast-paced action and tension. Cut everything you can and hurl Benny into his encounter with the informant.

GRAMMAR: A track document will be sent to 1212RS on grammar corrections. There were very few.

I’ve suggested a lot of overhauling here, which can be taken as a real bummer. However, your story concept is good—I’d read it!  Work on your opening scene to remove its stumbling blocks, and Benny will be off and running, reader in hand!


BLOG READERS: PLEASE ADD YOUR  INSIGHTS AND OPINIONS! I will run this post until December 20, when guest blogger Carrie L. Lewis will give yet another of her insightful critiques. So pitch in, keep coming back, and let’s give 1212RS a lot of take-away!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December's Critique Winner


Opening one thousand words of an untitled thriller/suspense novel (critique will be posted tomorrow):


Benny staggered into the train compartment and locked the door. Muscles shrieked with each motion as he folded the benches together into a bed, then fell into it.
Maybe, just maybe, he’d live long enough to find out who was trying to kill him.
Eyes closed, he lay motionless, waiting for his breathing to slow. For the first time, he felt safe enough to relax. Consciousness ebbed away.
No. Not now. Can’t sleep yet.
Benny shook himself awake. He grabbed a digital voice recorder from his bag and began: “It’s Thursday, Feb. 4. I’m recording this account from an Amtrak train compartment.”
The effort of speaking tired him, and his eyelids grew heavy.
Got to tell the story before it’s too late.
“It all started with a phone call at 1:04 this morning …”
Benny paused. In the moment it took to select the proper word, he lost consciousness.
***
The bedside phone’s ring had jarred Benny awake. Before he could mumble a greeting, a scared, angry man hissed into the phone.
“I suggest you listen, Mr. Wilks,” said a whining, sibilant voice. “I will not repeat myself.”
Was he dreaming? Not a chance. The call had ripped him away from a dream, and the afterimage of somewhere warm and humid was fading away.
“I’m calling on behalf of an old friend. He has information you need and wants to meet with you immediately. I assure you, it’s very important that you attend this meeting.”
Crank call? Yeah. That’s probably it.
“Your friend wishes to discuss events that happened in Chicago, many years ago.”
Benny’s thumb halted before it reached the “end” key. Air drained from the room, and dread tightened around his throat. “Who is this?”
“Don’t interrupt me, Mr. Wilks. We have no time for questions. Consider this call an invitation – and a warning. Be at the corner of Crichton and Emerald at 1:20.”
The line went dead.
For a moment, Benny couldn’t breathe. He blinked, trying to clear his head, but only came up with questions.
Who had found him here, 2,000 miles away?
He suppressed the urge to leap out of bed, instead replaying the call in his head.
Had he missed something? Misinterpreted the caller’s verbal signals? The voice quavered just a bit. Rushed from point to point without the subtle gaps most speakers inserted between thoughts.
No. The takeaway was subtle, but adamant. There was fear in the man’s voice.
Despite the call, sleep still beckoned. A trip loomed, several long days scouting real estate in Oregon, and he dreaded dragging his body into action this early.
Was he overreacting? Perhaps the caller really was a crank.
But one word from the call plagued him, preventing his pulse from settling back into its strong, slow rhythm.
Chicago.
Sweat beaded on Benny’s face despite the cool air. For 15 years he’d labored to forget that part of his life.
He traveled a lot. But no matter how promising the real estate deal, how hot the market, he would not return.
Could never return.
Worry rolled in, a storm of long-ignored memories that threatened to keep him awake all night.
No. Can’t allow that.
He expelled the memories from his mind, then sucked in a deep breath once, twice, three times.
Good, his pulse was slowing. He no longer knew anyone in Chicago. No reason to worry about anything going on in that city. Yet, how could he ignore the phone call?
Chicago. The word would not be dismissed.
Had the caller known him in Chicago? Had someone tracked him to Seattle?
He took a deep breath and rolled out of bed. From the dresser he grabbed suitable attire for a late-night prowl through the wintry streets of Seattle – jeans, a Seahawks sweatshirt, and hiking boots.
For the first time in years, indecision struck.
Should he call the police? No, not yet.
What could he say? Some weird guy called and told him to meet someone on a street corner? That wasn’t a law-breaker. Can’t mention the implied threat, either. This guy said he had helpful information. So why should Benny feel threatened?
Excellent question. With no good answer.
He snatched up a shoulder bag crafted from a single piece of weathered walrus hide and covered with hand-tooled designs, then opened the door and scanned the hallway. It was probably nothing, but as he looked over his shoulder, a line from one of his favorite childhood TV shows came to mind: “My Spidey senses are tingling.”
One deep breath later, he reached the back stairwell and started down the first of three flights.
He passed his weathered Honda Accord without slowing.
No need to drive. He could walk the eight blocks to Crichton and Emerald with time to spare. And on his terms.
The caller may know Chicago, but Seattle was Benny’s turf.
A gust of cold air slapped his cheeks, driving away the last of his lethargy. Physical shock dissipated the effects of the earlier mental one, leaving him sensitive to every sound, every hint of movement on the darkened streets.
A cold drizzle began to fall. He resisted the temptation to turn up his collar, embracing the slight sting of the droplets on the back of his neck. Eyes and ears adjusted quickly to the night.
A vibration from his pocket. The phone. The text from Newt read, “’Sup!”
He texted back, “Aren’t you a little old for that kind of slang? Cops should set better examples. Leave that to the kids at the Youth Center.”
“LOL! ‘Nuff bout me. Where u goin?”
How did Newt know he was on the move?
Benny looked over his shoulders and strained to peer around corners. Nothing.
Another vibration.
“I’m not much of a cop if you spot me. I’m under.”
Benny kept walking, careful not to change his posture. If Newt was watching, he would notice.
Another text.
“I’m workin. Got tip about robbery. Be under for awhile. So, where u goin?”




Monday, December 10, 2012

Semicolons Can Add Sizzle to Sentences


One job of semicolons is to join two or more related independent clauses.

Example: Lisa was embarrassed; she’d worn jeans to what turned out to be a formal occasion.


Although usually dull fellows, semicolons can add sizzle when they balance or contrast similarly constructed clauses.

Examples:
The bridge was too high; the tunnel was too low.

Days line up like ducks; nights lie down like dogs.

One enthusiastic fan raved over the author’s debut novel; another claimed it for sure a rising star; thousands clamored for a copy.

Readers will catch the sizzle. Try it ~ they’ll like it!

THURSDAY: DECEMBER CRITIQUE WINNER'S ENTRY
FRIDAY: THE CRITIQUE


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Grammar Yammer Schedule


Mondays: Grammar and punctuation

Thursdays: “Tips for Sharpening Your Writing Skills”

Quarterly: Win a critique and read comments from other writers.
         Critique Winners, 2012:
September 6-12: Critique of first winner
         October 11-17: Critique of second winner
         November 15-21: Critique of third winner
         December 13-20: Critique of fourth winner


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