Five dollars per month will grant me access to all of the articles on Beacon Reader. Five dollars! An argument has been made that people can access many online articles for free, and shouldn’t have to pay for this service. I suppose that a brief recitation of the facts might be considered a service, but true journalism, that which involves research, perseverance, and style, is not a service; it’s a craft. Why are people willing to invest hundreds of dollars into the latest communication devices, but unwilling to invest five dollars to support informative journalism?
A monthly fee is not going to turn me away. I think a little exploration is in order.
No matter the format, journalism is journalism.
Commas: we either love them or hate them. Unfortunately, comma use is not a ‘take it or leave it’ issue. Although some people would love to litter their sentences incessantly with commas and others would love to never see a comma again, accurate writers do not usually have the luxury of choice. Commas serve specific purposes; to disregard those grammatical purposes for the pleasure of our personal desires only invites confusion.
The comma battle–it doesn’t have to be like this!
Happy New Year! What better way to start the year than to make sure that those nasty little grammar missteps are banished for good? (I suppose that there are some better ways to start the year, such as striking it rich or finding your true love, but this is a close runner-up.) For this special New Year’s Day (or day after…), I wanted to offer something special that could relate to a variety of writing disciplines and be applied throughout the year. So this blog is devoted to the parts of speech—not the boring basics, but the annoying little particulars that plague people who want to get it right.
Defeating your grammatical worries can be cause for celebration.
To cite or not to cite? That is the question. (Or something like that!) Many people feel that citing too much makes the paper look like a cut-and-paste. Others feel that citing too little takes the research out of research paper. The real question here should not be how much or how little to cite. Instead, ask yourself when you should cite. Are you actually citing everything you should be? If not, toil and trouble might be in your future!
Don’t be a copycat!
Whether they love to love them or love to hate them, readers connect to characters. If you want your fiction to shine, your characters must be believable. You can’t accomplish this while you’re writing, though; you have to do some homework first! Before you start writing a novel or short story, you need to know your main characters through and through. I’m not referring to the basics: good guy or bad guy, hair color, best friend, goal in life, and so forth. That’s just fluff. You should know where your character has been, and why he does what he does. If you take the time to know your characters on a very real level, that intimacy and depth will show in your writing.
Get to know your character. Continue Reading
Write what you know—we’ve all heard this advice, for good reason. Some people are able to write helpful how-to books that provide needed guidance for readers. Others write memoirs that captivate audiences. What they knew was useful and enticing.
Regarding novels, however, sometimes a writer’s knowledge base, although fascinating to some, does not draw a large audience. In that case, the what you know theory can lead authors down one of two unfortunate paths: the path of failure or the path of fear. The first path is taken by the person who adheres to this advice completely. This person writes a novel filled with information about something she knows. Sadly, that “something” does not interest anyone. When the agencies do not reply or the self-publishing sales are non-existent, this author is baffled. “What happened?” the author might wonder. “I followed the advice; I wrote about what I know.” The other path is taken by the person who is fearful of the failure path. This person is fully aware that writing about what she knows would lead to a boring book that no one would want to buy. So she does nothing at all.
Sometimes what we know seems rather mundane.
It doesn’t have to end this way! With some adjustments, these misguided writers could journey down a new path, the path of a successful storyteller. Continue Reading
You have done your research, created a solid outline, and written an impressive draft. The information is solid, the organization clear. And yet, something’s not quite right. Deep down, you know what is missing. Living by the familiar expression, “If I don’t see them, they don’t exist,” you have convinced yourself that, if you don’t write it, it isn’t necessary.
Don’t live in fear of the big bad concluding sentence. Your time and effort deserve more than a highly organized list of facts. You need to bring your writing full circle and wrap up those loose ends. You need to write effective closing sentences.
Concluding sentences are like book ends. Continue Reading
This advice is very dear to my heart, for as an editor I find myself suggesting it to nearly every writer I meet. It is age-old wisdom, handed down from teacher to student since the dawn of time (or thereabouts).
“Show, don’t tell.”
The essence of this advice is that, wherever possible, you should focus on creating illuminating description (show) rather than flat-out explaining things (tell). The main reason behind it is that it helps the writer to engage with the story in such a way that encourages realistic moments and characters and a consistent perspective; these cradle the reader inside the story world so that they feel like an essential part of it—almost as if they are living the story.
“Tell” can occur through use of a single word or a series of sentences.
Many students are required to purchase—and perhaps even read—an invaluable writer’s tool known as Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” Possibly the most important of the 22 rules that make up the first half of this wonderful guide is number 17, which simply states, “Omit needless words.”
I think there are two primary reasons why so many students tend to go overboard with unnecessary words in their papers: They haven’t done the research and are trying to hide the fact by over-writing; or they think that the paper will sound more scholarly if it is filled with obscure, big, or a high volume of words. To the former group, a tip: Your professor is reading for content and will notice if you don’t know the material. To the latter group: If you know your topic, you’ll sound far more scholarly by discussing it simply and accurately—don’t force your reader to dig out a dictionary.
My favorite piece of writing advice is this:
When my creative writing professor first recommended it to our class, I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from my chest. I had been in the habit of listening in on other people for years, and always felt pretty guilty about it. As he spoke, I suddenly realized that there was nothing to feel guilty about. It wasn’t eavesdropping, after all. It was research!
So, why spy?
Listening in on other people’s conversations can give you inspirations for new stories and new characters, for one thing. More importantly, it gives you a better understanding of natural speech cadences and dialog progression. There is nothing like listening to two people having a real conversation to make you realize three key elements of writing interesting dialog: