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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tips for Sharpening Your Writing Skills

Don’t be Duped! 10 Commonly Confused Words
Take this quiz to determine your befuddled quotient (answers are below):

1. Capital or Capitol Indianapolis is the _____ of Indiana.

2. Defuse or Diffuse "Gossip is a sort of smoke that comes from the dirty tobacco-pipes of those who _____ it: it proves nothing but the bad taste of the smoker." (George Eliot)

3. Formally or Formerly 
"Home computers are being called upon to perform many new functions, including the consumption of homework _____ eaten by the dog." (Doug Larson)

4. Gibe, Jibe, or Jive "
"Do you promise to jump, _____, wail, groove, rock steady, and at all times lend a helping hand to your fellow music lovers?" (The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning)

5. Hurdling or Hurtling 
"The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour. The entire planet is _____ around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour. And I can feel it." (The Doctor in Doctor Who)

6. Loose or Lose "The best way to find yourself is to _____ yourself in the service of others." (Mohandas Gandhi)

7. Peak, Peek, or Pique "The man who unified China in the third century B.C. conquered six other feudal states to do it, built the first version of the Great Wall and in a fit of _____ may have buried hundreds of scholars alive." (Time magazine, May 18, 2008)

8. Regretful or Regrettable The movie is beautiful, luscious, and elegiac, but it has the _____ drawback of being dreadfully boring.

9. Suit or Suite "I'd walk through hell in a gasoline _____ to play baseball." (Pete Rose)

10. Troop or Troupe In the end, the plucky yodeler lost out to a dance _____.

1. Capital (Capital has multiple meanings: (1) a city that serves as the seat of government; (2) wealth in the form of money or property; (3) an asset or advantage; (4) a capital letter. Capitol refers to the building in which a legislative assembly meets. Remember that the o in capitol is like the o in the dome of a capitol building.)

2. diffuse (Defuse means to remove a fuse or to make a situation less dangerous; diffuse means to spread out or scatter.)

3. formerly (Formerly means at an earlier time, whereas formally means in a formal way.)

4. jive (Jive means to dance, talk, or mislead. Jibe means to be in accord or consistent with something, and is also a nautical term that refers to the shifting of a sail. Jibe can also be used figuratively for any sudden shift of direction. Gibe refers to a taunting or derisive remark. In this sense, jibe is considered an acceptable alternative to gibe.)
5. hurtling (Hurtle means to move with great speed or to throw with great force, whereas hurdle means to leap over or overcome an obstacle.)

6. lose (Lose means not to win or not to keep. Loose means not tight.)

7. pique (Pique refers to a sense of wounded pride, or, as a verb, to excite, arouse, or irritate. Peak refers to a pointed end or top of a hill or mountain; as a verb it means to reach a maximum; as an adjective it means being at the maximum. As both a noun and a verb, peek refers to a glance or brief look.)
8. regrettable (Regretful refers to people and means full of regret, whereas regrettable applies to incidents or situations and means causing or deserving regret.)

9. suit (Suit [pronounced "sewt"] means a set of garments, a claim in court, or a set of playing cards bearing the same mark. Suite [pronounced "sweet"] means a musical composition, a staff of attendants, or a set of things, such as pieces of furniture, that form a unit. In parts of Canada, suite is also used as a synonym for apartment or flat.)
10. troupe (Troupe refers specifically to a group of theatrical performers, whereas troop refers to a group of soldiers or a collection of people or things.}


Monday, November 26, 2012

To Comma or Not To Comma?

When should a comma be used after an adverbial phrase at the beginning of a sentence?

GRAMMAR RULE #1: A comma usually follows an adverbial phrase placed at the beginning of a sentence.

In the old days, youngsters spoke only when spoken to.
From this time on, you should avoid using my nickname.
Because of his mother’s love, the boy grew up to be a noble man.
After all the fuss and bother, he dropped the lawsuit.

GRAMMAR RULE #2: A comma may be omitted if the adverbial phrase is short.

At evening we cease work to eat and rest.
Inside my blog you will find helpful grammar rules.
After breakfast the old man took a nap.
Up till now you could go where you pleased.

GRAMMAR RULE #3: If the adverbial phrase is immediately followed by the verb it modifies, no comma is required.

Over the hill galloped a herd of stunning horses.
In my imagination appeared more admirers than I could handle.
Out of the house emerged the one person I dreaded meeting.
After the first tornado came a second and then a third.

GRAMMAR CHALLENGE—Your Turn! Which sentences are correctly punctuated?
1. Once upon a time a fairy decided to become a human.
2. At lunch you can have my sardine sandwich.
3. Out of the shadows, leaped a snarling wolf.
4. In another minute or two or three this will be over.
5. Down the lane strolled unexpected guests expecting coffee and donuts.
6. At Starbucks I always buy a latte.
(Answers are below.)


1. Better to insert a comma after time (Rule #1)
2. Correct (Rule #2)
3. No comma after shadows (Rule #3)
4. Insert a comma three (Rule #1)
5. Correct (Rule #3)
6. Correct (Rule #2)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Guest Blogger, Carrie L. Lewis

Please welcome back Carrie Lewis as my guest and valued fellow critter. I always look forward to her insights and good advice.

(Scroll down to November 15 for 1112’s entry, and back up to November 16 for my crit.)

An excellent first 1,000 words. I don’t read tween/youth stories as a rule, but I found this scene engaging and intriguing. It is a well-written and thought out scene with a natural pace and flow that invites the reader into the story.

Story Questions
The opening scene/chapters have a variety of purposes, primary among them generating enough reader interest to convince the reader to read the book. One of the best ways to accomplish that is to present a story question strong enough to compel the reader to read the rest of the book to learn the answer to the question.

1112CP has very successfully raised not one, but many story questions.
·      Is Tom guilty or innocent?
·      Will he be railroaded or proven innocent?
·      What will happen to Iris and Maddy?
·      How will Maddy cope?
It’s wonderful to see not one, but four strong story questions.

All of them matter directly to the lead character, Maddy. No matter how each question is answered (favorably or not), Maddy will be affected personally.

The questions impact Maddy and those around her on a variety of levels, too. There is the legal question (did he or didn’t he?), the question of justice (will he be rightly or wrongly convicted?), and an economic question (what will happen to his family if he’s convicted?).

I also see the possibility of other questions arising from these. Questions of reputation for Tom and his family, including Maddy, for example.

The author has done an excellent job of hooking the reader by presenting the obvious questions and laying the groundwork for additional story questions and conflicts as the story unfolds. These ever-changing dynamics will keep the reader engaged in the story.

The biggest problem is with what I refer to as ‘dead wood’ words. Dead wood occurs in one of at least two ways. Pet words and redundancies.

Pet Words
Every writer deals with pet words. Words that creep into the story under the radar. For me, the word ‘that’ is a personal favorite. Other frequently used words are ‘then’, ‘will be’, ‘have been’, ‘at least’, and ‘almost’.

Personally, I wouldn’t worry about these in the first draft. For most of us, the first draft is when we’re writing for all we’re worth. We’re not editing.


It’s a prudent writer who learns what her favor pet words are and conducts a search and destroy mission in the second draft. Why? Because pet words are filler. They add nothing but bulk. In fiction writing, every word should carry its own weight. Most of the time, pet words carry no weight at all.

When you start the rewriting process, search for favorite pet words. Let your word processor find and highlight those words, then decide whether they go or stay when you rewrite.

Redundant Words
Redundant words happen when the same idea is expressed two ways or when unnecessary or implied information is written out. For example:

I crossed the living room and sat down in the chair when I reached it.

Both examples of redundant words appear in this sentence. The phrase “sat down” is redundant because the act of sitting and the action description ‘down’ say essentially the same thing. The word ‘down’ isn’t needed. It is possible to sit up (as in ‘sit up and take notice’), but ‘crossing the room’ and ‘in the chair’ tell us we’re not sitting up and taking notice.

The phrase ‘when I reached it’ is an implied statement. A character can’t sit in a chair until they reach it (I have tried sitting in a chair without quite reaching it, by the way. The results were not pleasant).

When those two redundancies are removed, the sentence becomes:

I crossed the living room and sat in the chair.

A 15-word sentence is reduced to a 10-word sentence with no loss of meaning. Make enough such changes and a bulky, overweight manuscript can be trimmed by 20-30%.

Again, don’t worry about these in the first draft, but keep a wary eye open for them when you do the revisions.

Overall, this is a great beginning. As mentioned, the problems I found with redundant and pet words are typical first draft problems. I don’t consider them problems at all unless they survive past the first draft.

The basics of hook, action, and story question are much more important and all have been very well handled in this excerpt.

Excellent work!

About Carrie
Carrie's favorite genres are mystery, suspense, and political thriller, with manuscripts in the works in each of those categories. She also is an active crit partner for other authors, both published and unpublished. You can find her at (Drop by and enjoy her lovely horse paintings too at


Thursday, November 22, 2012


A special wish to all my readers for a happy Thanksgiving with family and friends. Among my many blessings, I count you as one, and am grateful for your visits to my blog.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Critique of November's Winner

(This is the last of the winning entries from August.)

Scroll down to yesterday’s post to read November’s winner, 1112CP (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 1112CP.

HOOK: The opening sentence is one of those zingers that immediately snags the reader: “Something was off.” Those three words (eeek!) raise the question what?, and with it, the hair on the back of your neck. You just hafta get the answer! Curiosity and emotion wrapped up and delivered right smack at the doorway of the story. Good job! And perfect for the age of your readers, who might not be long on patience to discover whether they want to read this book.

The SCENE GOAL follows right on the hook’s heels: “I knew it as soon as I started down the hall.” The reader knows exactly where the action is headed: the character is going to tiptoe down that hallway and (hopefully) find out what’s wrong. Expectations are set up for the scene, and the curious reader is stimulated to keep reading.

The SCENE SETTING in the next two paragraphs postpones the answer to what, but fills in the important information of who, where, when, and why: the character is a middle-schooler at home after bedtime, who wakes up thirsty and wants to get a drink of water. The information is smoothly presented and flows naturally from the characterization of the tween narrator.

CHARACTERIZATION gets off to a great start from the very first sentence. By the end of the fourth paragraph, the reader has a fairly solid idea as to what the main character is like: your basic good kid who doesn’t push the boundaries but is observant, has a quirk or two, and addresses life with a sense of humor. Tween readers will be comfortable with this person, but at the same time the “familiar and ordinary” may cause them to set the book aside if something beyond the normal doesn’t entice them.

I’m curious as to why the tween’s gender is not revealed until halfway through the scene. Is the intent to “show” and not “tell”? I assumed the main character was a girl. My husband assumed it was a boy, even after hearing the name “Maddy,” since “Madison” is not gender-specific. Do you want to risk this confusion in the reader? And, eeek!, the Yorkie’s name is Maggie—too much of a sound-alike unless it’s crucial to the plot!

STORY GOAL/QUESTION: I anticipate Dad getting sent to jail/prison, and Maddy and her (his?) mother going to live with Grandma Wilson until Dad is exonerated. Will Maddy be involved in clearing her father’s name? I imagine the tween reader will expect this. However, there’s no hint that Maddy has the kind of plucky character that would resolve to do this. Instead, she retreats to the bed covers and dissolves—absolutely normal in real life, but the reader is looking for the abnormal. I suggest you clarify Maddy’s story goal by the end of the scene.

TENSION, both external and internal, is especially vital to this scene since Maddy is snooping and doesn’t want to get caught. From the first sentence to the last, you do a good job maintaining a feeling of anxiety.

Some of it comes from Maddy’s actions (“I put on the brakes,” “I smashed my body against the wall,” “I vaulted onto my bed … and yanked the covers up”), some of it from Maddy’s mental responses (“Something was off,” “Oh, yeah, something was very wrong,” “Guilty?” “my brain continued to replay the whole thing”), and two visceral reactions at the end of the scene (“My heart pounded in my ears” and “My whole body shivered and jerked from nerves.”) You can ratchet up the tension by adding more visceral responses throughout the scene, perhaps replacing some of the physical actions and mental observations to avoid overload.

CONFLICT is raised through obstacles that hinder the scene goal. Is Maddy deterred from discovering what’s wrong? No. Tension is raised, yes, but tension is not the same as conflict. I suggest that instead of having Maddy say “I couldn’t listen to any more” and run back to bed, you make the floor squeak so her parents are interrupted in what she very much wants to hear. Her father rises to investigate the noise, and she has to flee. Doggone, both Maddy and the reader really wanted to hear the rest of that conversation (= the “black moment”)! Do you see the difference? Choosing to not listen is not an obstacle. Being forced to stop listening is.

The DIALOGUE between Maddy’s parents was well done. It kick-started the disruption to Maddy’s world, and formed the basis for the scene’s tension. Maddy’s narration as a tween was believable (and fun), although occasionally I questioned her vocabulary as being age-appropriate (would a tween think “drier than a chunk of plywood” or say “stoic,” “assaulted,” “compound their agony”? Maybe so …).

ADVANCING THE PLOT: The pace slowed in at least three places. The first was in explaining why Maddy wanted a drink from the kitchen rather than the bathroom. Unless her aversion to drinking out of her hand in, gasp, the bathroom contributes necessary information to the plot or to her characterization, don’t worry about giving her a further motivation than simple thirst.

Secondly, the backstory of who is dead among her grandparents requires some head scratching. Since Dad is consoling Mom, cut to the chase and simply focus on that grandmother.

Thirdly, most significantly, was her cheek-slapping, finger-ramming reality check back in bed. If you’re familiar with the book Scene and Sequel (one of my favs), you probably wrote this as a sequel. However, I suggest you liven the scene by having her leap into bed because she doesn’t want her father to discover she’s been eavesdropping. Make your reader’s heart skitter at the possibility he'll catch her. Once Dad leaves the room, then have your sequel. But make her fear for her family’s future motivate her determination to do something about it. Surely God wouldn’t let anything bad happen, but if He does, she’s not going to just sit on her hands.

Grammar: A track document will be sent to 1112CP on grammar corrections. There were very few.

BONUS: On Saturday, I will add my daughter’s interview of her two tweens after they finished reading these opening 1,000 words. You’ll love it!

BLOG READERS: PLEASE ADD YOUR  INSIGHTS AND OPINIONS! I will run this post until November 23, when guest blogger Carrie L. Lewis will give yet another of her insightful critiques. So pitch in, keep coming back, and let’s give 1112CP a lot of take-away!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

November's Critique Winner

Opening one thousand words of an untitled manuscript that is a Tween/Juvenile (critique will be posted tomorrow):


Something was off. I knew it as soon as I started down the hall.
            In our house, everything shuts down by about ten o’clock. My Yorkie, Maggie, doesn’t venture a whimper. Not even the faucets dare to drip. It isn’t a law etched in concrete. It just kind of happens. Mom says good sleep is necessary to function better. And even though I’m in middle school and can stay up later, I’m pretty wasted by nine-thirty, anyway. So it works.
                 I wouldn’t have gotten up now, but I awoke with my mouth drier than a chunk of plywood. I’d planned to get a quick drink of water and then jump right back into bed. I could’ve just used the bathroom, but I have a thing about drinking water out of my hand. Especially in the bathroom. I made my way down the hall to the kitchen. I put on the brakes when I saw the light and the two shadows bouncing off the back wall. 
            Eavesdropping isn’t my style, but Dad’s shushed, intense tone drew me closer. That and drooping shoulders that formed an upside down “u.” This is bad.  He’s a fanatic about good posture.
            Now I wish I’d just walked away, swallowed my weird obsession about not drinking water in the bathroom, and returned to bed. Hanging around to listen proved that the old saying, “ignorance is bliss,” can be too true.
            I couldn’t see Mom except from the elbow down and that's because Dad held her hand, cuddling and stroking it like you would a frightened kitten. Mom would be considered stoic, holding back tears through the worst possible scenario and the toughest situations. But tonight she cried in soft mews. Oh, yeah, something was very wrong.
            Death was the first thought that assaulted my brain. Grandma and Grandpa Bradley were pretty old. Then I chucked that idea. If that were true, Mom would be consoling Dad. Mom’s father had died before I had even been born. But maybe Grandma Wilson? Something strained her and Mom’s relationship. And although she lived only a few miles from our place in Las Vegas, they hardly spoke. But if she died? Yes, that would be tear-worthy.
            Dad continued to pet the back of Mom’s hand. “Iris, it’ll be fine. Please, honey, don’t cry.”
            Mom sniffed up a serious amount of mucus. “What if it isn’t fine? What if they prove you’re guilty?”
            Guilty? That had nothing to do with death. Or Grandma Wilson. Now I really paid attention.
            “But I’m not guilty, Iris. You do believe that, right?”
            Mom pulled her hand away. In my book, she hesitated before answering, which made me feel weird. “Of-of course I know your innocent, Tom. You always see the positive side of people and situations, and that’s noble. But wake up. This time your gullibility could blow up in your face. It doesn’t matter if you actually did it or not. They’re saying you stole money. And a lot of it. If they can provide evidence that you did so, you are going to have to pay for it.”
            “It would be contrived. Somebody must know I’m about to blow the whistle on them.”
            When Mom stood, I smashed my body against the hall wall and tried to melt into it.
            “Contrived or not, you’d be looking at a jail sentence. Maybe a long one. Then what are Maddy and I going to do?” The last part came out in a squeak.
            “More than likely, if I were to be sentenced, they would send me to the Nevada Correctional facility close to Indian Springs. So, you and Maddy could stay here. The rent from our other house would continue to cover what we pay for this one. Or. . .”
            “Or what?”
            “You could consider the rental as income and move in with your mother for a while.”
            I couldn’t listen to any more. Why were they even having this conversation? Dad didn’t do anything. They couldn’t find him guilty of something he didn’t do.
            Tearing down the hall toward my bedroom, I vaulted onto my bed when I reached it and yanked the covers up to my chin. My heart pounded in my ears as I slammed my eyelids shut. It had to be a nightmare. Or I had sleepwalked and just imagined the whole scene. I’d will myself to wake up. I slapped my cheeks a few times and then launched my finger toward the headboard, expecting it to pierce it and run straight through like some shimmery, transparent jelly. Instead, my finger rammed into rock-solid wood, making a horrible cracking noise.
            I was wide awake.
            Deep in my gut, I feared the living nightmare had only now begun.  My whole body shivered and jerked from nerves. And fear.
               Even with my eyes closed, I knew it when a sliver of light jagged through my bedroom door. I unglued one eyelid, allowing a thin slit of vision. Statue-like, Dad stood for several seconds. Just staring at me. The door squeaked in mild protest when he closed it.
            I refused to pretend that I hadn’t overheard that disturbing conversation, but I’d never confess it to my parents. It would only compound their agony.
            Squeezing my eyelids shut, clueless as to how I would ever sleep again, tonight or any night, I pressed the pause button on my mind. But it rebelled, and my brain continued to replay the whole thing over and over.
            Dad, a guy incapable of lying or cheating, little less stealing, always played by the rules. He’d even correct the cashier at the grocery store when she’d give him the wrong change. He could have just pocketed it. But deception isn’t in his DNA. And anyone who knew him would back that up 100%. 
            My eyes roamed across the luminescent galaxy decals on my ceiling.  God popped into my head. He’s good. Right. He wouldn’t let anything bad happen to Dad. At least that’s what I thought.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Using Commas & Capitals When Addressing a Person

Grammar Rule #1: Capitalize the title and name of a person directly addressed.

         Please, Senator Smith, listen to me.
         Please, Senator, listen to me.
         C’mon, Coach Farley, let me play!
         C’mon, Coach, let me play!

Grammar Rule #2: Do not capitalize general terms of respect such as sir, ma’am, my lord, my lady.

         Yes sir, I will arrive on time.
         No ma’am, I’m not laughing at you.
         Sure, mister, I’ll show you the way.
         Please, my lord, don’t forget my request.

Grammar Rule #3: Do not capitalize terms of affection unless they are the person’s actual name (or nickname).

         Look, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.
         Hey, babe, your mom is here.
         Okay, dear, I’m coming, I’m coming.
         Good grief, honey, I was only kidding!

Grammar Rule #4: Always use commas to set off words used in direct address.

         Coach, let me play this time.
         C’mon, Coach, let me play this time.
         Let me play this time, Coach.

         Darling, we need to go.
         C’mon, darling, we need to go.
         We need to go, darling.

Grammar Challenge: Your Turn! Which sentences are correct?
         1. Hello Lorna, nice to meet you.
2. Listen to him, Honey, and you might learn something.
3. Come right this way, my Lord.
4. No Sir, Colonel, I did not interrupt you.
5. I think you’re the smartest one in the room, lady.
6. Hey there gent, you took my umbrella.
(Answers are below.)


         1. SHOULD BE: Hello, Lorna, nice to meet you.
2. SHOULD BE: Listen to him, honey, and you might learn something.
3. SHOULD BE: Come right this way, my lord.
4. SHOULD BE: No sir, Colonel, I did not interrupt you.
6. SHOULD BE: Hey there, gent, you took my umbrella. 
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