Posts Tagged ‘Dragon’

Every writer I know has a different perspective on just how good grammar needs to be.

Some are sticklers who insist on adhering to the highest standards of the literary order. Others are comfortable taking creative liberties and believe that breaking the rules is an art unto itself and a practice that should be embraced.

Me? I’m somewhere in the middle. I believe that a writer who is dedicated to the craft will take the time and invest the energy required to master the most basic tools, grammar being foremost among them. But I also believe there are situations in which it’s best to break the rules — as long as you know which rules you’re breaking and why.

Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar, saying they’d rather focus on plot or character, they’d prefer to use a natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply hire an editor to do the dirty work.

I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more than hobbyists.

10 Good Reasons to Pursue Good Grammar

Why should writers should embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it? Here are ten reasons why good grammar should be a central pursuit in your writing efforts:

1. Readability

If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.

2. Communication

Some musicians learn to play by ear and never bother to learn how to read music. Many of them don’t even know which notes and chords they’re playing, even though they can play a full repertoire of recognizable songs and probably a few of their own. But get them in a room with other musicians and they’ll quickly become isolated. You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar.

3. Getting Published

How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work into the trash without thinking twice.

4. Working with an Editor

I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor. How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the heck the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.

5. Saving Money

Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so far when correcting a manuscript. It’s unseemly to return work to a writer that is solid red with markups. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because she’s breaking a sweat just trying to make it readable.

6. Invest in Yourself

Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature and you will have become a first-rate writer.

7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority

As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.

8. Better Writing All Around

When you’ve taken the time to learn grammar, it becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.

9. Self-Awareness

Some people don’t have it. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are. It’s almost indecent.

10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar

There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: you’re just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse. Like I said, I’m all for breaking the rules when doing so makes the work better, but how can you break rules effectively if you don’t know what the rules are?

No matter what trade, craft, or career you’re pursuing, it all starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.

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People are pretty familiar with what first person and third person types of writing are.  However, second person is a mysterious unused writing style.  So what is it?

You use the second-person point of view to address the reader, as I just did. The second person uses the pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours.” We use these three pronouns when addressing one, or more than one, person. Second person is often appropriate for e-mail messages, presentations, and business and technical writing.

Here are two examples with the second-person point of view.

 

This is a singular second-person sentence:

Grandma,

Before you go to London, remember to leave your keys under the doormat. I’ll miss you. Sincerely yours, Anna

This is a plural second-person sentence:

Class, you need to be in your seats when the principal arrives. Tom and Jerry, I’m speaking to you as well. By the way, are these comic books yours? (Regionally speaking, in the American South you might hear a teacher say, “Class, y’all need to be in your seats….” “Y’all” is a contraction of “you all.”)

 

As you can imagine, it is probably good for letters, but may not be so successful with writing a book.  Very few authors have successfully used it.

Here is another example: You’re late. Heart pounding, you race up the stairs as the train enters the station. You weave around the slow-moving people milling on the platform and dash towards the train, throwing your body through the doorway with only a moment to spare.

One way to experiment with second person is to write as if the story is a letter from the narrator to “you,” reflecting on past events and current feelings, asking questions. (It doesn’t have to be in an actual letterform; the idea of a letter is simply a way to describe the intimate tone.) This technique isn’t necessarily “pure” second person, as it pairs “you” with the narrator’s first-person point of view, but it allows you to dip a toe in the second-person perspective. At the same time, it gives readers a peek into a relationship, a memory, and a character’s emotions.

Here is an example: You told me to meet you at the bar. Things hadn’t been going well, but I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Did you plan to break my heart that night? We locked eyes as I walked through the entrance, and I knew things were coming to an end.

Second person stretches your skills and surprises readers.  Because it’s not often used, the second person point of view feels fresh to readers. And for writers, it means a new way of telling a story, a different way of revealing character. In this way, it offers a new perspective for writers and readers alike.

If you want to be different, you may want to try it some time.  Like I mentioned at the beginning of the post, it is rarely used.  If you want to see it successfully used, try these books:  Bright Lights, Big City.  Ten. The Leftovers. Aura.

There are many writers who seek inspiration in different areas and a question I am asked occasionally is do I write with music? It got me thinking on how music inspires my writing and I wanted to start a discussion around that. I have to be able to hear my own thoughts so it is difficult for me to write with any music going on, however, I absolutely need music to inspire my writing.  Here is a trick I learned that may help those out there with similar challenges.

I psyche myself up before writing by listening to music that is relevant to what I am writing. For example, if I am writing a huge action scene with heroic efforts, maybe I will listen to the theme song for Superman.  If it is a touching moment between a father and child, maybe Butterfly Kisses, and my go to for most everything else is a hit from the 80’s.  I am a huge fan of 80’s music and I find that many songs pull on the original emotions to when I heard the tune.  If I was sad and heard Losing my Religion, then when I need to write about sadness, I will put on that song.

For every emotion, you have or want to write about, there is a song that can be used to put you in the mood.  Music is wonderful in this way.  The challenge is to find that. I have a friend who writes and his emotions are ties to rap songs.  You would not think that listening to a rap song could put you in the mood for love, but it does for him.  I have another friend that has to listen to heavy metal before writing a love scene.  It is bizarre to me, but works for them.  The key is to find the tune that is your muse.  If you have not used music to inspire your writing, give it a shot, it might just help you pour more emotion into your craft.

This is a bit longer than my other posts, but trust me, there is needed information here.

Recently, I read an article on publishing a book in today’s world.  As a writer, you probably know all of the ways to be published such as self-publish, e-book only, print on demand, through a brick and mortar publisher, and several others.  By the  way, e-books  own  20% of the market today. With so many ways to be published, how can you expect to compete?  The answers today are the same as in 1950, good writing and tell a good story.  Don’t get depressed by the brutal facts of the industry, write well.  Stay away from words like really, very, just, and that.  Write well!

To put this in perspective from a publisher point of view, there are currently close to 90,000 registered publishers.  In 1947 it was 357, in 1973 it was 3000, in 1980 it was 12,000, and  in 1994 it was 53,000.  Amazing growth means more books.

  • The number of books being published in the U.S. has exploded. Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009, which is more than triple the number of books published four years earlier (2005) in the U.S. (April 14, 2010 Bowker Report). More than two thirds of these books are self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books, which is where most of the growth in recent years has taken place. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year in other countries.
  • Book industry sales are declining, despite the explosion of books published. Book sales in the U.S. peaked in 2007 and then fell by nearly five percent between 2007 and 2009, according to the Association of American Publishers (April 7, 2010 AAP Report). Similarly, bookstore sales peaked in 2007 and have fallen since, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (Publishers Weekly, February 22, 2010). The major bookstore chains have been especially hard hit, with a 12 percent sales decline between 2007 and 2009 (Publishers Weekly, April 12, 2010).
  • Average book sales are shockingly small and falling fast. Combine the explosion of books published with the declining total sales and you get shrinking sales of each new title. According to Nielsen BookScan – which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books (including Amazon.com) – only 282 million books were sold in 2009 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined (Publishers Weekly, January 11, 2010). The average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.
  • A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore. For every available bookstore shelf space, there are 100 to 1,000 or more titles competing for that shelf space. For example, the number of business titles stocked ranges from less than 100 (smaller bookstores) to approximately 1,500 (superstores). Yet there are 250,000-plus business books in print that are fighting for that limited shelf space.
  • It is getting harder and harder every year to sell books. Many book categories have become entirely saturated, with many books on every topic. It is increasingly difficult to make any book stand out. New titles are not just competing with a million recently published books; they are also competing with more than seven million other books available for sale. And other media are claiming more and more of people’s time. Result: investing the same amount of effort today to market a book as was invested a few years ago will yield a fraction of the sales previously experienced.
  • Most books today are selling only to the authors and publishers’ communities. Everyone in the potential audiences for a book already knows of hundreds of interesting and useful books to read but has little time to read any. Therefore, people are reading only books that their communities make important or even mandatory to read. There is no general audience for most nonfiction books and chasing after such a mirage is usually far less effective than connecting with one’s communities.
  • Most book marketing today is done by authors, not by publishers. Publishers have managed to stay afloat in this worsening marketplace only by shifting more and more marketing responsibility to authors, to cut costs and prop up sales. In recognition of this reality, most book proposals from agents and experienced authors now have an extensive (usually many pages) section on the author’s marketing platform and what the author will do to market the book. Publishers still fulfill important roles in helping craft books to succeed and making books available in sales channels, but whether the books move in those channels depends primarily on the authors.
  • No other industry has so many new product introductions. Every new book is a new product, needing to be acquired, developed, reworked, designed, produced, named, manufactured, packaged, priced, introduced, marketed, warehoused, and sold. Yet the average new book generates only $100,000 to $200,000 in sales, which needs to cover all of these expenses, leaving only small amounts available for each area of expense. This more than anything limits how much publishers can invest in any one new book and in its marketing campaign.
  • The digital revolution is expanding the number of products and sales channels but not increasing book sales. We are in the early stages of an explosion in digital versions of books and digital sales channels for books and portions of books. However, early indications are that the digital revenues are replacing traditional book revenues rather than adding to overall book revenues. The total book publishing pie is not growing, but it is now being divided among even more products and markets, thus further crowding and saturating the marketplace. And although some digital costs are lower, other costs are higher while price points are lower – making digital profits even slimmer than print profits thus far.
  • The book-publishing world is in a never-ending state of turmoil. The thin margins in the industry, high complexities of the business, intense competition in a small industry, rapid growth of new technologies, and expanding competition from other media lead to constant turmoil in book publishing. Translation: expect even more changes and challenges in coming months and years.

STRATEGIES FOR RESPONDING TO THE BRUTAL FACTS

    1. The game is now pass-along sales.
    2. Events/immersion experiences replace traditional publicity in moving the needle.
    3. Leverage the authors and publishers’ communities.
    4. In a crowded market, brands stand out.
    5. Master new sales and marketing channels.
    6. Build books around a big new idea.
    7. Front-load the main ideas in books and keep books short.
    8. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, WRITE WELL!

It is still very possible to be successful.  Knowing the challenge is the first step in overcoming it.

If you are starting to write a new book or maybe in the middle of it, you may be struggling with determining what perspective to use, first person, third person, second person, or maybe a hybrid.  The challenge we have as writers is the most popular fiction out there does not follow the rules.  If you look at Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or even James Patterson you will see perspective changes throughout their stories, mixing peoples point of view, and trying new story telling techniques because they can.  Most of us are not at that level and need to be concerned about our perspective.  More importantly, concerned with what editors are looking for.

Here is a quick cheat list to help you. Things to keep in mind when it comes to the perspective of your story:

  • First person is very personal and keep in mind that if you use this, you will be limited in your ability to show information you may want to convey. The bonus you get is to show your character at a very personal level. For example, if you want the reader to know that John’s Dad is watching him and John does not know. If you are telling from John’s perspective and he does not know he is being watched, then your reader won’t.
  • Second Person. Just don’t do this.   It is not popular, hard to follow, and the acceptance from an editor is very tough unless you are already famous.
  • Third person is the best way to not paint yourself in a corner in conveying information to your reader. The challenge here is to ensure you can convey and show your character in a way that the reader can identify and feel they know them without being in their head as you would in the first person.
  • Combining the different styles is okay and done often in storytelling. It is important to make the transition clear as to not confuse a reader.  Typically, you would want to break it at the chapter levels.  If you break within the chapter, it will get very confusing.  Just don’t do this to yourself.

Hope this helps.

 

A few authors have reached out to me about all the negatively they feel towards their writing and not believing in their work.  It then translates into not trusting their skill.  Whether they have the skill or not, you have to practice it to improve, but if you stop developing it, then you will never get better.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is an absolute fact that the human brain is designed to believe whatever we put into it. The brain does not care whether the information be fact or fiction, it will still accept it. The brain is like a huge computer-programming database that will take in whatever we feed it, be it positive or negative. Our brains are a mental computer. A computer programmer creates, writes, tests and debugs software so that the computer can perform specific operations or designated tasks. Our mind works the same way. We are our own computer programmer, the computer being our mind and the mental programming we allow to affix to our minds are our mental software. Whatever you store into your mental computer, the brain saves it’s permanently. Also, whatsoever you tell your mind the most, the brain will automatically accept it as a truth.

If you think your writing sucks or that you will never be successful as an author, then your mind will believe it and eventually it will become true.  You may have heard this in sayings like “Perception is reality” or “Eventually you believe your own lies.”  “Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet.”  This may seem a bit new age for you, but please focus on the positive side of your writing.  Recently, at DragonCon, I asked an author how were they successful.  Their answer, “Failing a lot and learning from them, not letting them consume me.”  Stay positive on your skill.

Our minds may not accept something that is heard consciously at first but our mental data-bank is still taking it in. This is mental programming. What we think, feel, believe and accept as truths are the byproducts of the programs we have. This just simply means that all the negative and positive messages that we have when we were children up until now were programs that are still stored in our minds. A lot of us adults still wrestle with some of the old programming that was instilled in us as a child. If you are having issues struggling with challenges, patterns of negative self-talk and messages that you received in your youth or adult life, it is time for you to debug and repair your mental software.  At one point of time or another, we have all been subjected to negative messages whether they were verbal or non-verbal. Sadly, it leaves many good folks with scars they carry along with them throughout their adult lives.

Think about how many times you can recall someone around you or maybe even yourself being told that they were not smart enough, they were no-gooders, they could not achieve certain goals that they had set in their minds to accomplish and etc. I can guarantee you have heard more negative messages in your lifetime than positive. This is just the way the average human being conducts themselves through words, deeds and body language. Negative thoughts and messages have been ingrained in us so long that our minds end up getting the message and accepting it as a truth although, it is not. We do not even have to recognize that we received the message to internalize it. This is how the human brain works. Our brains just program it into our mental data-bank and goes about its business.

Next post, we will dive into the skill of point of view.

 

This week I attended Dragoncon and specifically, the panels set up for writers. I had the opportunity to meet some very famous authors and found some very helpful tips that I will continue to share in my future posts here.  We will talk about voice, living life, perspectives, and a myriad of other topics. I took copious notes.

TIP: ABOUT AUTHORS

Starting at the bigger picture, the thing I learned is that not all authors are created equally.  Everyone does things just a little different for themselves.  Several of the authors were NY Times Best Sellers and you would think that they all had access to some secret sauce that you just need to acquire to be good at it.  But not so much.

The big message was every person had to find what worked for him or her.  Whether it be your voice, your perspective (first or third person), and how you start a sentence.  Everyone is different.  The message for today’s post is, don’t pretend to be someone you are not and do not emulate what you think you should be as a writer.  If it does not feel right, then don’t do it.

On an interesting side note, several of the Best Selling writers, still do not write for their job 100% of the time.  They each had a different position, hell one was a lawyer.  Those who dream of someday writing as their only job just know that it may take a bit to get there.  Especially, if Best Selling authors are still working their day job.  J