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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Writing in Past Perfect Tense

Naturally occurring iron springs in Telluride, Colorado.

First off, look at the gorgeous picture. I took that a few weeks ago in Telluride, Colorado. It’s naturally occurring iron springs. Stunning.

Okay, now we get into the fun stuff.

Regardless if your book is written in present tense or past tense (also referred to as simple past), there are times in your story when you’ll probably refer to something that has already happened. Sometimes a flashback is necessary to the story. When going into a flashback, or describing something that has already happened in the past, you’ll want to use the past perfect tense.

Well, when/how do you use past perfect?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for past perfect: (had + past participle = past perfect). I’m not sure about you, but I learn better when I have an example in front of me, so here we go. I’m going to start off in past tense, go into a past perfect to describe something that has already happened, and then transition back to simple past.

Sebastian meowed over and over, trying to get my attention. He either wanted food or love. (Notice this first sentence is in simple past. The reader knows it’s in past tense, all the events that are happening in the story are told in the past.) I’d just graduated from college when I’d made the decision to get my very own cat. I’d always wanted a pound kitty. (Going into a flashback, switch to past perfect. Make sure your reader knows you’re talking about something that has already happened.)

Sebastian picked me as much as I picked him. (Here’s where it gets fun. When you go into past perfect, once you establish that it’s in the past, you switch from past perfect to simple past tense, because the word “had” becomes quite cumbersome, even when used in a contraction. The thing to remember is, when we come out of the flashback, make sure the reader is aware by, and the transition to “now” is clear.) He was such an energetic kitten. He played with my roommate’s cat and loved sitting in my window seat. Now (I’m establishing that the flashback is over, making the transition from past perfect to simple past tense), he’s (notice this is in present tense. That’s because it’s an absolute. Sebastian is still alive and kicking, therefore we use the present tense. I’ll have to do another blog post on absolutes, if you’re interested) fat and lazy, but full of personality. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hopefully that wasn’t too painful, and yes, I do love my animals an absurd amount.

The key to using past perfect is transition. You have to clue your reader in on the timeline. Make sure it’s smooth. This will eliminate confusion, and it allows you to tell more aspects of your story by using things from a character’s past.

If you have any questions, ask away, and I’ll answer in the comments.

Useful links:

This is a great article about writing effective flashbacks.

Visit this page for more past perfect examples.

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Digging around a boulder called writer’s block

Image courtesy of Beast from the Bush (wiki commons)

Writer’s block. *insert horror music here and maybe a picture of Jaws* It happens and we deal with it as best we can.  Your methods are undoubtedly different than mine so I though I’d share my thoughts on it, thoughts I had while trying to fall asleep for two hours last night.  The one might have something to do with the other but I’m wearing my denial hat today so let’s skip that one.

So while trying to fall asleep I thought how apt it is to compare being a writer to being a miner.  Or now that I really think about it in the light of day, a prisoner digging a tunnel from his cell to the outside world.  Freedom = The End.  Yeah, I like this analogy better.  Let’s stick with this one(this is not written with a negative vibe at all, despite the comparison I’m drawing here).

So you’re a prisoner, the bars keeping you locked up are the thoughts and ideas that you have to get down into words.  You’ll finally be free once you’ve typed the words The End at the end of it all, but unfortunately some of us have to deal with that wonderful obstruction called writer’s block.

There’s nothing that can stop your digging rhythm more than  when you suddenly encounter a massive boulder in your path(read writer’s block).  Depending how big your boulder is, it’s proportional to the amount of time it’s going to take you to get rid of it or dig your way around it.  I once encountered a boulder so big that it took me three weeks to get around it.  Those were three very long weeks.

My suggestion for getting around boulders:

Take a step back.  Maybe I’ve been too focused on what I working on.  Actually, no maybe about it, I am too focused on it.  My blocks come in the form of knowing exactly what is supposed to happen, just not finding the right words to get it across.  When you have a story to tell but you’re stuck for three weeks, it gets frustrating.  So just take a step back, take a breath, and get your head straight.

Work on something else.  I highly recommend this.  If you’re anything like me, you have a side project or two that you pay attention to every now and then.  Maybe being blocked in one project means that you should spend some time with the other one, even if just for a few days.

Just relax, will ya?  You’re probably stressed out, it happens.  Just about all of us have full-time jobs and we try and squeeze in as much writing time as we can.  I take my writing and revisions with me to work and whenever I have free time, I add some words or rewrite/edit what I’m working on.  This is something I probably shouldn’t put where a boss can see it, but she’s cool and more importantly, doesn’t read blogs. But I digress. Go take the dogs for a walk, spend the day next to the pool with a good book, sleep late.  Whatever.  Take some time to just chill out and give your mind time to gather itself again.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Don’t push yourself to finish.  The industry isn’t going anywhere and even if you finish, there’s still rewrites, editing, editing, critiquing, and more editing to do.  You novel isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  Breathe.

Set goals for yourself.  I say goals instead of targets because I separate the two in the way that where targets are what I have to achieve, goals are what I want to achieve.  It’s not so bad not making your goal as opposed to not making your target, which just sounds worse. Even if you don’t reach the goal you’ve set for yourself, at least you did something and worked toward it.  That’s a great feeling.

Stop thinking about it as writer’s block.  If you keep on telling yourself that you have writer’s block, you’re going to have it.  It’s a state of mind, in my honest opinion.  Keep on thinking that you have an itch when you actually don’t, you’ll get one.  So stop scratching. Stop it.

Remember why you started writing.  Go back to what initially inspired you.  Think about all the reason you started writing in the first place.  This might be just what you need so take your time doing it.  Whatever it was that spurred you in this direction, go and spend time with it.

If it takes you a week or two to dig around your boulder, so be it.  You might just come out the other side with so much to write that the only problem you’ll have now is finding the time to get all the words out of your head.

Do you have any advice for getting over writer’s block?

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 26, 2012 in Writer's Block

 

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It Takes a Village

Back when storytelling first began, it took a community to write a tale. One person started it and told it to another, to groups over a fire. It got passed on to friends and family members, generation after generation. Each time the story met new ears, the telling got smoother. Each person augmented it with their own knowledge, improved it with their own experiences. And now, those timeless stories are the flawless fairytales and legends we know today. The ones that still speak to our hearts, even after all this time.

Today, it seems we’re pulling away from that connection and group mentality. We hide our writing lives from our families, we’re cutting out editors and publishers, and getting critiques is such a blow to the ego. We’re holding so tightly to the idea that somehow, the art of writing will be compromised if we allow others to give their input. We fear being “commercialized.”

When I first started writing, I hoarded it. I chicken-pecked it out on my parent’s computer, which I think ran Windows 97, and saved it on a Floppy Disk so they wouldn’t find it on the hard drive. I was terrified that if they found it, they would think I was silly, writing these unbelievable love stories. They’d point out everything wrong with them and I’d never want to write again. But it didn’t matter. They were just for me and my girlfriend to giggle about in class. Nothing more.

As I became an adult and began to write more in-depth stories, I wanted them to reach more people. But when I started to share them with others, their comments quickly taught me that my reality was not the same as others’ reality. My experiences and views were completely valid, but if I wanted more people than my best friend (who grew up in the same neighborhood I did) to relate, I had to open myself up to understanding other people’s realities and experiences and knowledge. I had to embrace the fact that writing a great story–one that would last through the generations–wasn’t just about me and my own thoughts.

I joked with my critique partners a couple of weeks ago that I would have to put their names on the cover of my novel next to mine, and while I doubt they or my future publisher would feel it necessary, I did mean it. They add more to my story than they will ever know. Every week we get together and tear our stories apart. Yes, willingly. I love nothing more than seeing them as deep into it as I am. I’m filled with such hope for my novel when they have conversations about my characters that don’t even include me, and then tell me how they think it should end. I have an outline but I always take their thoughts into account and, more often than not, I do make changes based on their suggestions. Not because I’m not an artist that values her own work, but because I’m an artist that values her own work…all ego aside.

As our culture becomes more isolated by the decade, I think it’s even more important to have a community for your story. Not just people cheering you one to get it written, but people who believe in your story, people who put pieces of themselves into it. I think that’s what makes stories whole. What creates a writer is the desire to change someone’s mind with our words. Maybe even change the world. How else can we do that if we don’t understand the struggles of the people we’re talking to, or let them have a say?

I won’t lie and say I don’t feel nervous every Wednesday night when I send my work to my critique partners. Who knows where it might lead? But come Saturday morning, after we’ve spent time hashing it out, talking about everything we know to be true, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing, falling in love with each other’s characters, hating each other’s characters, and scaring the poor people that work at Starbucks…that’s when I feel like my story has finally come to life.

Because my story is my baby. And everyone who loves it, and challenges it, and helps it grow, is my village. It takes all of them.

Photo by McKay Savage

 

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Pen, Paper, and Coffee Stains

Late nights, early mornings, and coffee stains

There are certain boxes I avoid when we spring clean. I know that if I open the boxes, I’m lost. Those boxes hold my dreams, poetry, and beginnings of stories. I’ve long since taken the dreams out, dusted them off, and turned them into work. But those notebooks and dog-eared loose leaf bits of paper still have a powerful hold on me.

Novelists Jackie Collins, Cecilia Ahem, and JK Rowling might understand. They are among many writers who do much of their work longhand. All of my characterizations, arcs, outlines, and endless brainstorming sessions are written old-school style.

It turns some inner valve in me, releases the pressure and I’m free to get jiggy with it. The coffee-stained, dog-eared notebooks, wrinkled loose leaf pages, and endless procession of note cards are ambrosia to my muse. I connect with the self that created this dream and held on tight. The self that, though she was petrified, couldn’t resist the lure of a notebook filled with clean, lined pages and a new package of pens.

Pen and paper don’t intimidate me. They don’t whisper “word count, deadlines, and look–Facebook!!! Yay!”.

When I feel like a spider monkey that’s hijacked a truck of Mountain Dew, pen and paper slow me down. I find the voice I’ve honed in all those boxes stuffed with paper. I still lose myself in make-believe worlds, and sometimes, characters are more willing to reveal their motives, quirks, and vices.

The picture above testifies to endless hours put into my debut novel, and all the long process of discovery. Doctors appointments, long car trips, and all those times the tot wouldn’t sleep- nothing holds me back. As long as I have pen and paper, I’m jamming.

It works for me. If you’re stymied or the shiny snares of social media beckon your inner spider monkey, close the laptop and do it old school.

Researchers found it’s good for your brain, too:

* It changes your writing style- you may tap that voice you didn’t know was there.

* Writing by hand is visual.

* Uses those rusty fine motor skills

* It’s a more cognitive process- you’re forced to remember the shapes of letters and this requires that beautiful brain to work differently.

* Longhand encourages you to work more slowly and plan your thoughts before you commit to them.
“I believe, as the Chinese and Japanese calligraphers believe, that there is a mystique between the brain, the hand and the tool, pen, brush or scalpel; sometimes a flow is established between them, bringing a strange power.”

~Rumer Godden

“The pen is the tongue of the hand, a silent utterer of words for the eye.”

~Henry Ward Beecher

Your turn:  Do you feel the call to write longhand? Some write only the notes and outlines by pen and paper, others write an entire first draft this way. Or do you feel more confident working by computer alone?

 
18 Comments

Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Craft, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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DIY Editing and Proofreading Part I with Karen S. Elliott

The indomitable Karen S. Elliott, known to many as the Word Shark, offers some tips and tricks to H&C readers. We know many of you story-tellers and alchemists of words and worlds need a little expert advice as you revise, edit, and drink too much caffeine. We will feature Part II October 3rd. For further information regarding Karen’s professional editing service, follow the links at the end of the post. Thank you, Karen, for throwing us a life line.  ~Tonia

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part I

With self-publishing comes great responsibility. Whether you self-publish or go the way of an agent/publisher, you want to be sure your manuscript makes it to readers as cleanly as possible and makes sense from Chapter One through to The End. This is the challenge of editing and proofreading.

Editing – getting the bugs out  

Editing- Getting the Bugs Out

Editing can cover everything from consistency, subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, to word choice or denotation; more in-depth editing might include substantive paragraph and chapter re-writes through developmental rewriting (overhaul).

Consistency – One of the biggest problems I see is lack of consistency. It’s not the story’s structure – it’s keeping that structure cohesive with consistent language, proper names, and characters’ personalities.

Character – Check for inconsistencies – where your characters live, where they work, their likes and dislikes, their phobias (don’t say your character is afraid of snakes and then have her holding a python in Chapter Ten), favorite foods/allergies (someone is allergic to shellfish and later eats a lobster), and so on.

Names, Proper Nouns – Did you call your main character’s boyfriend Allan in the first chapter and Alan in all the other chapters?

Electronic Age – The jury seems to be in a dead-lock over new language and emerging language terms that describe the electronic age and new gadgets. Whether you agree with the AP Stylebook or not, if you are going to use words like e-mail or email, web-site or website, on-line or online – each of these words needs to be consistent throughout your manuscript.

Who’s talking? – If your English-teacher character is talking prim and proper English in Chapter Three, make sure she doesn’t go all street in Chapter Twenty.

Know your props – If you have your police officer with a Glock in Chapter Four, he should still have a Glock in the final chapter.

Where are you? – I have often drawn my own maps on a large sheet of paper to maintain perspective. Or use Google maps. If you write Route 83 and Burdick Expressway intersect in Minot, ND, they’d better intersect. If the Sandia Mountains are east of downtown Albuquerque in one chapter, don’t put them west in a subsequent chapter.

Proofreading,an inch at a time

Proofreading, an inch at a time

I cannot define proofreading in finite terms – neither, it seems, can anyone else. I’ll stick my neck out and say “proofreading” is your garden variety punctuation, typos, and spelling. But it’s more than just having a dictionary handy. It’s more than what you think you know.

Adjust your mind set from “writer” to “proofreader.” Forget that you are looking at your baby, your pet, your sweat-stained manuscript. Once you are ready to proofread, it’s a whole ‘nother animal. It’s a project. You are looking for things that are wrong.

Spell check – Do not – DO NOT – depend on your computer’s spell checker.

Read out loud – Read the piece out loud. This will help you hear where there are stops and starts, what’s awkward. Take it a step further – read your MS or short story into a tape recorder, and then listen to it while looking at a printed copy.

Change the font – Seriously. If you have been looking at your MS in Times New Roman for a long time, change it to Palatino Linotype. It will look completely different.

Print it – Sounds silly, but it works. You’ve been looking at your project on the screen for a year or two – you need a new perspective – you need to see it on paper. Red pen at the ready!

Dictionary and Style Guides – Use the dictionary and style guides like The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style, and desk references for grammar and punctuation –
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus, Diane Hacker’s Rules for Writers, or the Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

First Reader – Do ask someone to look at your MS with a critical eye. If they come back to you and say they loved it, they are not critical enough.

Mom or BFF – Don’t ask mom or the BFF to proofread – unless mom was a proofreader for Merriam-Webster (my mom was!). Your peeps will probably tell you, “It’s wonderful!” or “Fabulous!” Not that you shouldn’t trust them, but you shouldn’t trust them with proofreading your manuscript.

Sounds like – Look at words like there and their, you’re and your, and its and it’s. If you know you have trouble with a certain word(s), search for that word throughout your manuscript. Labor-intensive – yes. But it works. Also check for words like wet and whet, rain, reign, and rein.

Take a break – Put the manuscript aside for a few weeks or a month or two. Then go back to it with fresh eyes.

Bio
Karen S. Elliott was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day. Their favorite expression was, “Look it up!” Karen is an editor and proofreader, blogger, and writer. Her short stories have been featured in The Rose & Thorn Journal, Every Child is Entitled to Innocence anthology, Valley Living Magazine, BewilderingStories.com, and WritingRaw.com. Connect with Karen on her website, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

*Photos from this Proofreading Two-Pack are courtesy of Gwen Dubeau. Please stop by and see some of her fabulous work at Gwen Dubeau.

 
 

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Pardon Me, Social Media

The theme this month is “Back to Basics” and I was having trouble thinking of something to write about it. Until I saw this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/15/pam-van-hylckama-vlieg-attack-agent-author_n_1886696.html

The article is about a literary agent who was attacked by an author after she rejected his manuscript. How did this author know where the agent would be? The agent used a social media site called Foursquare. which enables a person to check-in at different locations and is broadcast to the person’s followers.

I’ve wanted to write about social media usage for a while now. It seems to be one of the hottest building blocks in an author’s online presence. I’ve been on Facebook for three or four years now. It started off with just personal friends. Then I found Holly Black and Cassandra Clare on there. I held my breath and sent them a friend request. When they accepted, I clapped like an idiot and went on the hunt for more of my favorite authors, then YA authors in general, followed by other authors, agents, editors, publishers, bloggers and anyone else who had anything to do with the literary world. When I had a couple of hundred friends, I started getting friend requests from others who were starting out on their writing career. It was exciting.

However, I read an interview with an agent. She said the first thing she does when she’s interested in an unpublished author is Google them. In my mind, that meant I needed to have a platform. I needed to get my name out there. I added more friends on Facebook until I started receiving more requests than I sent. I was one of the first on Google+. I restarted my personal blog (don’t look for it, it hasn’t been updated in a while). I joined Twitter (though I never got totally into it, partly because I’m not crazy about cell phones. Ask Courtney how often I know where my phone is, the battery is charged and I’ve got it turned it on.). I loved Pinterest (until the whole thing with the copyrighted pictures came up). I joined LinkedIn ( and connected with most of the same people I’m connected with on Facebook.). I’m on something called Triberr (though I don’t honestly know what it is – I’m just in a tribe, I know that.). I’ve got a Tumblr account (not sure I like it. I feel old there). I’ve guest posted on blogs and have written regularly for several. I was pretty proud of myself. I had a platform. But, I didn’t have a book.

Social media can be a wonderful thing. I’ve met a lot of truly talented, smart and lovely people online. Yes, you know there’s a big “but” coming in soon, don’t you? Here it is: But, how much are you out there showcasing your talents versus how much of the time personal expression comes first? I’ll give an example of what I’m talking about. I’m very, very outspoken when it comes to politics and religion among other things. It’s exquisitely hard to suppress what I want to say versus what I think should say. There was a period of months where I was posting political things on a daily basis. I lost “friends” over some of the posts, but I eagerly defended my position. I got drawn into long, barely civil arguments with people I’ve never met. I spoke my mind. But, I didn’t have a book.

So, what does this have to do with getting “Back to the Basics?” I’m going to share with you some tips that I’ve learned along the way. Everyone who reads this has a goal: to write a book. Here’s my advice on how to get that done:

  • Social media can be your friend or your enemy. It’s up to you to decide how to use it. If you want to be political, religious or post only game scores or pictures of fuzzy kittens every five minutes, that’s your choice, but know that what you’re putting out there is how the online world perceives you. Am I a hypocrite? Absolutely, but I’m getting better at it (perception not hypocrisy, that is). Have fun and bring on the kitten pictures, just use common sense.
  • Do what you’re comfortable with, as in, don’t let social media take up your writing time. If you find that you’ve got 3000 friends and can’t remember the passwords to all the sites you’ve joined and you still don’t have a book – then you may want to consider a social media diet. I’m on one right now. It’s tough, but you can do it! Let me know and we can start a support group. I’ve heard Google Groups is a great place to meet! 😉
  • Be professional. Share the good news in your life, share anecdotes, show who you are. However, if you’re going to use social media as a non-stop commercial advertising your books, with a link to your book released every hour on the hour – you’re alienating people, not getting them interested in your book. Everyone you come in contact with is a potential fan – treat them that way.

What would you add to this list?

Whew! You made it through that long post. Here’s a reward for those of you who had the patience to make it to the end. This is from agent Jill Corcoran’s website. http://jillcorcoran.blogspot.com/2011/06/before-you-query-me-watch-these-free.html

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lobo235/75085378/

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Social Media

 

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What Topics Interest You?

I’ve been staring at this screen for far too long, so I thought I’d write this sentence down to get the words flowing. You see, there are so many things I’d love to blog about, but I don’t know what the community needs, so I’m asking for your suggestions and opinions…what topics would you like to see discussed? I’ve got grammar posts I could do, editorial posts, personal posts, controversial posts, industry related posts–pretty much anything you’d like to see, I’ll do the leg work and research and write it up. I love research. I’m a huge nerd that way, so take advantage of it. I promise I’ll deliver.

This post isn’t a copout for writing a blog post. I’m genuinely interested in what readers want to see discussed. I know the H&C gang would love to see more discussions in the comments and have more open dialogue about issues that affect all of us writers. It’s a crazy world out there as is. If I can put together an essay blog post that will inform you, then I’d love nothing more than to do that and make your life easier.

So, fellow H&C commenters: what would you like to see discussed? What posts would you like to read about? What do you want researched?

 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Uncategorized