Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing tool #1

Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at Poynter Institute HERE or HERE writes a seriies of fifty tips aimed at improving your writing skills. I'm going post some highlights from his articles here. Refer to the above links for more.

Writing Tip Number 1

Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch to the right. Even a long, long sentence can be clear and powerful when the subject and verb make meaning early.

A reporter writes a lead sentence with subject and verb at the beginning, followed by other subordinate elements, creating what scholars call a "right-branching sentence."

Rebels seized control of Cap Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, on Sunday, meeting little resistance as hundreds of residents cheered, burned the police station, plundered food from port warehouses and looted the airport, which was quickly closed. Police officers and armed supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled.

That first sentence is 37 words long and rippling with action. The sentence is so full, in fact, that it threatens to fly apart like some overheated engine. But the writer keeps control by creating meaning in the first three words: "Rebels seized control..." Think of that main clause as the locomotive that pulls all the cars that follow. Master writers can craft page after page of sentences written in this structure. Consider this passage by John Steinbeck from "Cannery Row," describing the routine of a marine scientist named Doc:

He didn't need a clock. He had been working in a tidal pattern so long that he could feel a tide change in his sleep. In the dawn he awakened, looked out through the windshield, and saw that the water was already retreating down the bouldery flat. He drank some hot coffee, ate three sandwiches, and had a quart of beer.

In each sentence, Steinbeck places subject and verb at or near the beginning. Clarity and narrative energy flow through the passage, as one sentence builds upon another. And he avoids monotonous structure by varying the length of his sentences. Subject and verb often get separated in prose, usually because we want to tell the reader something about the subject before we get to the verb. When we do this, even for good reasons, we risk confusing the reader:

A bill that would exclude tax income from the assessed value of new homes from the state education funding formula could mean a loss of revenue for Chesapeake County schools.

Eighteen words separate the subject "bill" from its weak verb "could mean," a fatal flaw that turns what could be an important civic story into gibberish. If the writer wants to create suspense, or build tension, or make the reader wait and wonder, or join a journey of discovery, or hold on for dear life, she can save the verb until the end.

I hope this helps a little. It gave me something to think about. Tomorrow, or soon, I will write more. If you want the whole fifty tips, click on the links above.

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Monday, October 1, 2012


This is an excerpt from That Girl. It's still a major work in progress.


We’d drifted apart after middle school, rather, she sank my boat when she sold her soul to the school elite and became the queen of King City High. Even now, years after I’d scampered away with my tail between my legs; Halle Winters will always be that girl for me. You know, the untouchable one little boys dream of and then grieve over for the rest of their lives.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012


Rule number one: Check your own stuff before complaining about something.

In my previous post I was complaining about the word verification process you have to go through to post a comment on some of your blogs, the CAPTCHA. I'm a little embarrassed to say, I had it set up on my own blog. I don't remember doing it but I vaguely remember blogger sending me a message about security and spam. I may have ignorantly affirmed it without first checking it out. My bad. Suffice it to say, I have corrected the problem and hope my friends come back to me.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

CAPTCHA-- the bane of my existence

"Capture" and standing for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart," CAPTCHA.

Why oh why won't these things work for me. I'm not sure if it's some security things on my computer or if I'm really so stupid, I can never get these things to work for me. I've tried to comment of some of your posts, out there in blogsville, but am forced to give up after twenty or thirty tries. It's frustrating. So that's why I haven't been able to communicate with some of you.

Recently, I accidentally installed some security thing. I didn't realize it until it was too late and I didn't notice what it was called so I can go in and delete the program from Control Panel. Still working on locating it.

So, that's my Wednesday complaint. I may coin Wednesdays "Whining Wednesday" from now on.

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Monday, September 24, 2012


Good Monday to you all. I don't have to work. Those words are a gift I give myself every Monday morning. I've been retired for almost two months and Monday mornings are the best now. I hope your Mondays are as pleasant, even if you aren't retired. Here's my Monday morning thoughts.

I've noticed lately that it's hard to know when too much word-painting is, well, too much. I'm working on a particularly emotional scene in my novel, That Girl. How much crying is too much? Where do you draw the line? Thinking over my own experiences, I can't say I've experienced any long term crying gigs. So where do you draw the line? I don't know. I guess my characters, at some point, pony up and get a grip, but when and how long will it take?

Crying isn't my only problem. What do my characters do with their extremities when they are distressed--cross their legs, fiddle with a pencil, bounce their leg in a nervous twitch. It's hard to come up with different ideas; I'm not exactly the most observant person in the world. Probably because I'm always thinking about my writing.

Do you have an inner voice that nags at you in subtle ways when something you've written seems not right? I do, God bless it, it's relentless. For example: You've worked so hard to get every word in a scene just the way you like it. You move on. The next time you read it, that little inner voice pulls your strings. No matter how you try and preserve the words you've slaved over, you finally have to admit defeat and cut the words out of the story. I give it three passes before I say, "Okay, okay already, I'll fix it." It's always better afterwords and I always wonder why I doubted and tried to second guess that little inner voice.

Any thoughts? Dose anyone else have that annoying inner voice?

Okay, take care and enjoy your Monday.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Procrastination and doubt

Hi again. It's good to be alive, isn't it? I've run across a website for cat lovers. I have had cats in my life and loved them, but when my last cat died, I said enough. It broke my heart. But I love looking at pictures of cats. They are so innovative and entertaining. Below is an example of what you can find on the site.

My husband and I have bought our retirement home. We actually bought it last December. Last month was the first time we'd spent any time enjoying it. We're not ready to move there full time yet. We have our old home to prepare for market. That's where we are now, half way across country from our new home. Confused yet?

That's not the subject of this post, it's the reason I've been procrastinating. I'm also crippled by doubt. We've all been through it. Some days you're flying with enthusiasm, the next, not so much. When this condition hits, It always amazes me how quickly I become distracted. Yesterday, however, I spent a half hour writing. Today I'm going to spend some time writing. Everyday I need to force myself to write. On those days I don't quite get there, I mustn't fall back into the habit of procrastination. That's my new mantra.

How do you guys fight doubt and procrastination? Any ideas?

Source: via Pol on Pinterest

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012


While cruising for inspiration, I came across a website that had me drawing a stick man. When I finished that little task, I hit the done key and the stick man went into action. He came upon a box with a lock. "Hmm," he says, "draw me a key." Let me summarize, he came across a curious box, the box became the goal, the key the solution. Problem solved. Except the box popped open and a dragon popped out. You might call the dragon an antagonist. Now we have a compelling situation. The stick man has a dragon to slay. Stick Man's priorities have changed for the moment.

Solution: Stick Man wants a sword. I draw him a sword and he fights the dragon, but the dragon fights back by breathing fire and setting everything aflame. Stick Man finally slays the dragon. Problem solved. Except the dragon dissipates and a box with a balloon attached replaces the dragon and floats away out of Stick Man's reach. Grrr. Before Stick Man can wrap his head around this new development, he must extinguish the fire. Stick Man wants a rain cloud. I draw him a rain cloud and, predictably, rain falls on the fire and puts it out. Problem solved. Except it keeps raining and floods.

Stick Man floats upward with the rising water, thinking he could now reach the airborne box. That's when the sharks show up and surrounded him, threatening to eat him. Stick Man implores me to draw a drain, which I do. The water drains, the sharks go away and the balloon breaks. The man lives happily ever after. The End.

That's a story. It's simple, compelling, full of drama. It got me to thinking. Stick Man is the hero, he has a goal, there's a problem, an obstacle (antagonist)and in the end, Stick Man will be a better person for it.

It's a bit simplistic, but it's got the framework for an interesting story. It would make a great child's story, don't you think. I was thinking it might be grounds for a basic outline. What do you think?

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