Wednesday, January 25, 2012

THIS IS A TEST: Polish Your Writing

Solid grammar and sentence construction skills are extremely important. They make your manuscript look more professional, and can make a difference in whether or not an agent or editor acquires your work. If you are weak in this area, either utilize a freelance editing service or find a critique partner who excels at it.

Can you find the errors in the following sentences? There is 1 error per sentence; the answers are below. Don't peek! Give yourself one point for each correct answer.

1. He looked all over, but couldn't find his violin or it's case.
2. As far as Diane could tell, their wasn't anything wrong with this sentence.
3. I squint, and notice that a ribbon and a sweater dangles from her hands.
4. I thought the person who left their sweater in the hall picked it up yesterday.
5. Jogging at a leisurely pace, the lake appeared in Mara's sights long before she expected it.
6. The squeals and laughter of my sister spills across the room like auditory sunshine.
7. She should of gone to the dentist last week.
8. Nick ran toward the old woman, who's basket of flowers was about to fall.
9. He was the same person that yelled at me last week on the bus.
10. Everyone started talking all at once, their hands waving in the air.
11. Joan could have went to the party last night, but she didn't.
12. He got a much needed haircut yesterday.
13. The ladies coats hung in the hall closet.
14. After her trip to town, Gramma needed to lay down.
15. Your really not going to go to school dressed like that, are you?

These are all common mistakes, some more insidious than others!
1. Its, not it's. An apostrophe tells you something is missing--the i in "it is."
2. Their vs there. Their is a pronoun that describes the noun "case"; there is a location.
3. Dangle. A ribbon and a sweater are 2 things, so the verb must match. If you're not sure, substitute the word "they" for your items: They dangle (NOT they dangles).
4. Person is singular: The person who left his (or her) sweater, not their sweater.
5. Dangling modifier. Immediately following the comma of the intro phrase "Jogging at a leisurely pace," you need the person doing the action. To reword: Jogging at a leisurely pace, Mara saw the lake appear in her sights long before she expected it.
6. Spill. Squeals and laughter are 2 things, so the verb must match. Tricky, because "of my sister" makes spills sound correct. Ignore prepositional phrases when you're trying to figure out your verb tenses.
7. Should have is the correct usage. NOTE: it's okay to use poor grammar in dialogue.
8. Whose. Who's means who is. The apostrophe indicates the i is missing.
9. A person is a "who," not a "that." The person who yelled.
10. Everyone is singular. Use his or her rather than their. And since that sounds odd here, you'd probably have to rephrase or avoid using that sentence altogether.
11. Could have gone. Not could have went.
12. Much-needed is hyphenated; both words are an adjective unit to describe haircut.
13. Ladies'. The coats belong to the ladies; this is possessive, so you need an apostrophe.
14. Lie down. Don't you just want to stab this verb? I know I do.
15. You're. The apostrophe means something is missing: the a in you are.

How did you do--did you find all the mistakes? Care to share your score?
Can you think of any other common grammar or sentence construction mistakes?
Did you learn anything new?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Twitter and Facebook

Note: I'm posting this a day early, since Wednesday I'll be at the hospital with my poor hubby, who's having surgery for a stubborn kidney stone estimated at 5x3 mm (whoa!). Not fun.

Twitter and Facebook
I joined the ranks of Twitter in January of last year, and joined Facebook in July. I was reluctant to do both, but quickly found I enjoyed Twitter, connecting in 140 characters or less to writers all over the country/world. I only joined Facebook at the request of my agent, who said I would need an author page at some point. Somehow I created a personal page at the same time (go figure--the mysteries of the universe), so now I have both. It's great to get to know my writer friends better and connect more easily with relatives.

Time suck?
Yes, it certainly can be. I think you have to have writerly determination made of steel in order to spend only 10-15 minutes on Facebook twice a day (my goal--don't laugh). I'm starting to try to spend less time there these days, and more time WRITING. It's a tricky balancing act, because I do enjoy making connections. These are social networking sites, and I believe they're there for purposes beyond simply spreading the news about one's book or blogposts.

At first I liked Twitter better, but Facebook grew on me. Now, I use Twitter for connecting more to people I don't know as well, to expand my range of acquaintances. It's also great for askagent or #YAlitchat or #amreading discussions or pitching sessions. I use Facebook for connecting to the friends I already know, to deepen those relationships and get to know those people better. My author page will get more use once I have a book out in the world, I'm assuming.

Do you find yourself spending inordinate amounts of time on Twitter or Facebook?
Do you have a preference for either Twitter or Facebook?
Do you have an author page on Facebook?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Award + Favorite Writer Words

A new bloggy award has been bestowed upon me by Elizabeth Varadan--it's for those who make regular/great blog comments. Thank you, Elizabeth! And as per the "rules," I will pass this on to 20 blogbuddies who are kind enough to comment on my blog:

THANK YOU, all! Click to visit them--they are great bloggers to know. I dearly appreciate the rest of ya'll, too, but I had to stop once I reached 20. :)

When I write, I seem to have favorite words. Have you ever noticed this with your writing? I think these words resonate with me or something--they keep cropping up! Interestingly, most are verbs. (These are different from the "pet" words I overuse like just, only, but, still, etc.)

Here are the faves I've noticed in my novels:


1. careen
2. ricochet
3. yelp
4. bellow
5. skid
6. chuckle
7. kaleidoscope
8. thrash
9. duck
10. slide
11. thunk
12. warp

1. powdery
2. velvety
3. pathetic
4. barrage
5. eerie
6. breath
7. darkness
8. raucous
9. freaky
10. rhythm
11. stench
12. grainy

My "word cloud" is courtesy of that site out! It's fun, and also informative to plug in your manuscript. The most-oft used words come out bigger, so you can see if you've overused certain words, and see if your words are nicely balanced.

Do YOU have favorite words that you love to include in your writing?
Have you noticed certain words or phrases that published authors repeat in their books?
Have you ever used Wordle to make a word cloud from your manuscripts?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Page Critique: SAMSARA

This is an excerpt sent to me for critique, from a YA fantasy/alternate history by Ronnisha Lewis. Please add your additional comments and thoughts below!

Part I: Samsara

Another village is before me. I tuck a loose strand of hair neatly behind my left ear and tie a rope around my waist, in order to strap a basket full of clothes to my back. My toe curls into the land with the thought of freedom. Moisture from the night lingers upon me like a wet rain. I am alone. Tears flow like streams that leak out of me. I never knew being poised for a new life could hurt so much. I embark on a journey that only I know. A journey far away from home. My mouth holds an unspoken dream or lie it seems. My life moves upon a gossamer thread that binds me to my slow, muffled heart. In spite of pain, I breathe. I am the stuff of legend. The stuff of memory. And somehow it seems that my only enemy is time.

My heart pounds like a drum. My feet slow, before they quicken to a strong rhythm of urgency. I am free. I am free and yet I don’t want my will to crumble. I want to move. I want to continue to run as fast as I can until there is a place I can no longer be found. I am crackling energy. Still, I move with stumbling feet as if they have never known the earth. There is a fire in the hearth of my heart. My stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest inside of me. Pain has made a mess inside of me.

I tell myself I can go on even though my knees are bruised and weak, but something says to me that I must stay strong in spirit; it says that soon it will be dawn, but I must hide under the night sky like a fugitive.

Character versus Plot
As a reader, I got a good sense of the character's emotions, but I was wanting to know more about the plot. I'm wondering if some action can be integrated for a better balance. Storywise, I'm not sure what's going on beyond the main character's pain/inner turmoil, that she's a refuge, and she has a basket on her back.

Consistency and Clarity
1. Is it night or day? Initially it says "moisture from the night lingers" and the village seems to be visible/before her, which led me to believe it was already early morning. But the end line says soon it will be dawn and she must travel like a fugitive in the night. I found this confusing.
2. No true contrast? In the last line says she tells herself she can go on, which is contrasted by a "but" to say that she must stay strong in the spirit. These two things don't seem truly contrary to each other; perhaps "but" shouldn't be used? (And there are also two "buts" in this quite lengthy sentence; are both needed?)

There are a lot of figures of speech in this short excerpt. It might be good to reduce the number and/or strengthen some. Also, I noticed two descriptions about the MC's heart; perhaps omit one? Here are just the similes:

1. Moisture from the night lingers upon me like a wet rain. Is the adjective "wet" really needed? Rain is always wet. To me, this would sound fine without the comparison--the moisture could linger, but omit "like a wet rain."
2. Tears flow like streams that leak out of me. This seems to be circular or unclear, and "flow like streams" is fairly cliché. Is the phrase "that leak out of me" really needed? Maybe it could even be phrased: My tears flow like streams, or more concise: My tears stream from me.
3. My heart pounds like a drum. This is pretty cliché; can it be made more unique?
4. My stomach knots like butterflies have made a nest inside of me. Pain has made a mess inside of me. Both say "inside of me," which feels repetitive. Omit or change one?

The first line is fairly hooky/catchy--"another" village means there's been a village in the past that the MC has left. That piques curiosity about why, and what's going on. There is a lot of raw emotion and lyricism in this piece. My favorite line: I am crackling energy.

Do you have any helpful feedback to add to this critique?
Have you ever written alternative history fiction; are you familiar with the genre?
Do YOU have a 250-word excerpt to send me for a free public critique?? If so, send to artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com. It can be anonymous if you wish.