One word or two?

The English language can make your head spin sometimes. Or is it some times? There are a lot of words that make writers go hmmm.

headspin

Is it onto or on to? Awhile or a while? Everyday or every dayMaybe these words are no brainers to you; or you may be fooling yourself.

If you can replace maybe with the word perhaps in your sentence, then it’s one word.

Back to the word sometimes. It means now and then.

  • Sometimes, I just want to throw up my hands and forget it all.

Sometime means some unspecified time.

  • Sometime maybe can get together and talk about life.

Some time means a while. You can replace some time with phrases such as a little while or a long time.

  • It took some time before he realized he was driving the wrong way.

How about onto versus on to?

Use on to when on acts as an adverb, and to acts as a preposition.

  • Estele grabbed on to his arm as if afraid she’d fall.
  • Harold logs on to his computer, hoping there’s free wi-fi.

Onto is a preposition meaning upon or on top of or in position of. If you can put the word up before on in the sentence and it makes sense, onto is correct.

  • He jumped onto the rock in the middle of the creek.

Onto is also used to mean in a state of awareness:

  • I’m onto your evil plans for world domination.

Everyday or every day?

Everyday is an adjective:

  • Irvin used his everyday dishes when his boss came over.

Every day:

  • Are you going to nag me every day about this?

Awhile or a while?

Use awhile as an adverb:

  • I hope you can stay awhile.

But if you add the preposition for or in, then while becomes a noun:

  • I hope you can stay for a while.
  • My father hadn’t been home in a while.

Then there’s a lot. That one is easy because there is no such thing as alot. It lives out there among the unicorns and leprechauns.

We could go on, but … If you see a word and you’ve got a funny feeling about it, look it up. Or you can contact me at I Spy Edits.

Punctuation gone wild

wild punctuation

!!! Have you ever ended a sentence with two or more exclamation points because you wanted to show your character was really, really excited?

?! Have you ever ended a sentence with a question mark and an exclamation point because you wanted to show your character was questioning and emotional?

……… Have you ever ended a sentence with ……………..? Uhm, why would you do that? Because you wanted to show your character drifted into a coma?

If you have committed any of these heinous acts against punctuation, cease and desist.

Descriptive writing, not the misuse and abuse of punctuation is the way to get your point across to the reader. You know, that whole “show don’t tell” thing? Telling it with punctuation should never be an option.

Read to better writing

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And for us writers, the best is waiting for us at the library and the bookstore.

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Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

It’s not just about reading books that teach you how to improve your craft. It’s about reading books you love and immersing yourself in the kind of books you want to write.

In The Magic Words, editor Cheryl B. Klein writes, “If you want to write well, you must get good prose and story structures into your brain so they flow naturally onto the page. You can only do that through massive amounts of reading.”

Klein shares Newbery Medal-winning author Linda Sue Park’s suggestion that aspiring children’s writers need to read at least 500 books in the age range they hope to write for before they begin.

Read, love, learn

Study the books you love. Why do you love them? What is it about the writing, the plot, the characters that make you want to turn the page and keep reading?

One writing exercise is to rewrite a chapter of a book or an entire picture book to study and absorb the prose of a well-written story.

“Massive amounts of reading” may sound like a daunting task, but if we look back on our reading history, I bet most can honestly say, “Yes, I’ve already read a massive, walloping, humongous amount of books. And it was my pleasure.”

Now all we have to do is add purpose to that pleasure.

So, treat yourself, dear writer. Turn off the TV and delete that Solitaire app on your cellphone. Linger instead among the stacks of great books—a writer’s best friends and teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do writers need a muse?

Merriam-Webster defines muse (noun) this way: a source of inspiration; especiallya guiding genius.

Meet my guiding genius:

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Since I write children’s fiction, I always considered my own kids—or sometimes that random kid on the playground—my primary source of inspiration. They still are, but this green-haired troll has become a fixture next to my keyboard.

Inspiration

Trolls were popular when I was a kid and I had several. When I saw this tiny troll at my kids’ school book fair a number of years ago, I had to have it. He reminded me of my childhood—a time when the chasm between the kid and adult worlds seemed wider and deeper. No helicopter parenting then. If you were a kid on a bike, you were free … for hours … until the streetlights came on. When you sat down to dinner and your mom asked you what you did all day, the answer was always, “Nothing.”

Nothing, but you did everything. You explored, you navigated, got dirty, skinned your knees, made your own rules, maybe caused a little trouble or fled from it. You got lost in your own little world or in a herd of other kids. You did so much, but to recount it … to a grownup? They would think it was nothing.

But it was never nothing to a kid, and that’s what my little troll reminds me.

Dreamy thoughts

Another definition of muse (noun): a state of deep thought or dreamy abstraction. Dreamy abstraction. I like that. Preoccupied with thoughts—dreamy thoughts. What a nice way to think about writing. What a wonderful state of being.

So, whatever it takes to transport you to that dreamy abstraction … why not?

Writers write. Period.

I’m an emotional eater. Something goes wrong in life, and the next thing I know, my head is buried in a bag of chips. I don’t even bother scooping the ice cream into the bowl. I just eat the whole thing right out of the bucket.

ice cream 2

You, too? When things go wrong in life, do you feed your face but let your writing starve?Do you tell yourself: “I’m just not up to it now” … “How can I write a funny scene or an inspiring story when I’m feeling gloomy?” … “I’m too stressed to write”?

Whatever our mood, it shouldn’t determine whether we write or not. Writers write.

Writing can be the escape, the refuge, or even better, the cathartic release for whatever ails us. Instead of drowning our emotions with food, we should be releasing them through writing.

Admit it, writing gives you a sense of accomplishment, doesn’t it? More than that, writing can be euphoric. Writing is a happy pill. So, open wide and swallow it.

Think of writing as a sensible diet plan: A fat and happy writing life means you’re less likely to bury your head in a bucket of ice cream.

 

Writing when you’re not

Here is a writing tip I found: Set a timer for 45 minutes. Write. Even if you stumble and go blank, write about anything until the timer goes off. Then get up and do something else for 15 minutes: unload the dishwasher, walk around the block, watch the colors change in a sunset. Do something mindless.

brain wander

It works. Research has shown taking a little break can help you figure things out, maybe even get an aha! moment.

I have found that I do some of my best writing when I’m not hovering over my keyboard and staring at the computer screen. I’m usually watching my daughter’s softball game, driving, hiking, vacuuming the carpet, mowing the lawn. A story idea, a line in a dialogue, a scene, a character, a plot fix can suddenly pop up.

Creative stuff happens when I allow my brain to wander aimlessly. That’s why when a famous author insists her mega-hit series came to her in a dream, I kind of believe it.

Cracking the whip and demanding my brain perform on the computer screen does work, too—up to a point. Setting the timer, and then getting up to wander, that seems to be the work/play balance my writer’s brain needs.

Writing sound words

Can you hear what’s happening, dear reader?

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Sound words can draw your readers into a scene.

Quick tip: Italicize sound words in your stories. 

Whomp, whomp, whomp. The helicopter hovered over the crime scene like a giant vulture.

The pitcher fired the ball toward Casey. Crrraaack! The crowd watched the ball sail over the fence. 

Plop … Plop … Plop. If the apartment manager didn’t fix that dripping faucet soon, Marge knew she’d go mad. Plop … Plop … Plop. All day. All night. Plop … Plop … Plop.

 

Write like a bad boyfriend

How is it you can be totally infatuated one day, and then the next day, see the fatal flaws in the object of your affection?

 

If that’s you, embrace your superpower gift. Don’t fall in love with your own writing. Love it, and then leave it. How else can you look at it with a critical eye? How else can you rip out those seemingly perfect phrases or paragraphs, or even characters, scenes and whole chapters?

 

 dumped writing

 

Write like a bad boyfriend—the love ’em and leave ’em kind. Because what looks great one day, sometimes has to be highlighted and deleted the next.

 

“But you worked so hard on that scene,” whines one side of me. “See how catchy that phrase is? You found the perfect adjective there. That character is hilarious.”

 

Then my bad boyfriend side kicks in. “Forget it. It’s just not going to work. And by the way,” he adds with a sneer, “the problem is you, not me.”

 

Sometimes I don’t want to hear that bad boyfriend. That’s why it’s good to have good writer friends or a helpful instructor—someone who can let you down easy. All writers need that someone who can say, “Yes, it’s time to break up with your clever words, or showy sentences or pointless chapters.”

 

Breaking up is hard to do, but it has to be done. How else can you leave yourself open to something better?

Writing in an accent or dialect

Sigh … Try not to write in an accent or dialect, or at least not the entire story. The last thing you want to do is frustrate or exhaust readers who are trying to figure out what the heck your character is trying to say. Misspellings, made-up spellings—Yikes.

dialcet2

You can do a tad bit, though, to give readers a taste. Better yet, write in the grammar a character might use, or use slang and colloquialisms familiar to a region: He don’t know nothin’, She ain’t got no sense, He whooped him but good, I recken, I be goin’ now, I was gobsmacked.

Describe how the words sound:

  • Her words moseyed out of her mouth in a lazy, honey-thick drawl.
  • I had studied English in school, but I couldn’t understand this American vendor. He chewed up and snapped his words like a hard piece of gum.

There’s great information out there on this topic. Do your homework. Study authors who have pulled it off.

dialect

Apostrophes instead of letters

Here’s an example of what apostrophes should look like when using them in place of letters:

I’m talkin’ ’bout you, Larry. You are a stinkin’, rottin’, low-down skunk.

The apostrophe curls to the left whether it’s in front or back of a word with a missing letter. Also, since the apostrophe signifies a missing letter, the comma goes after the apostrophe.

Punctuation for pauses and interruptions

Is your character confused? Uneasy? Searching for the right word? Distracted? Drifting into thought?

thoughtbubble

You can show that emotion by using the ellipsis in your character’s speech:

  • “Well … I thought this was the right … I don’t … Maybe we should have turned at the light back there.”
  • “If it wasn’t him, then it must have been … Oh no.”

Interruptions

Maybe your character has an abrupt change in thought while speaking. The em dash can make your character’s voice come alive:

  • “I thought he—heck, all of them, really—would jump at the chance to help.”

Or interrupts herself with a strong point:

  • “No wonder Estelle—that witch—left in such a hurry.”

Or maybe your character’s dialogue is interrupted by her own action or emotion:

  • “I couldn’t”—Susan bit her bottom lip and looked down—“tell him the truth.”

Or interrupted by another character:

conversation

  • “I was at the office,” he said. “I didn’t think—”

“You never think, do you? Not about me.”

Note: The em dash goes outside quotation marks when related to an action. It stays within the quotation marks when the character is interrupted by someone.