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Posts Tagged ‘grammar’

What is PUG?

* Punctuation

* Usage

* Grammar

Some of us are detail fanatics, who lie (not lay) awake at night because somewhere someone is misspelling something on Facebook. Others will write their stories and ask a grammarphobe to correct the mistakes. Either way, we need to be aware of the importance of proper PUG in our writing.

Punctuation is a bit of a stickler, as rules change over time and differ between publishing houses. The Chicago Manual of Style is usually considered the final word.

My rule of thumb is to read my work aloud and use punctuation at pause or breath points. The aim is effective communication.

Consider these sentences without punctuation:

“Slow kids at play.” That’s a nasty attitude.

“Woman finds inspiration in cooking her dog and her family.” Dark. Very dark.

As writers, we must make sure our words communicate our intent.

My personal plea: Do not use more than one exclamation mark at a time! Ever! Instead, use strong words and appropriate action tags to add power to the sentence.

Usage: “the customary manner in which language is written or spoken.” (Dictionary.com) There are times when rules overshadow meaning. An old rule stated that a sentence should not end in a preposition (to, with, in, of, etc.). The following sentence applies the rule but sacrifices clarity: “This is a rule up with which I will not put.” (Ascribed to Churchill, but unsubstantiated.) We must be accurate and clear in our meaning.

The most important tips on word usage:

– use strong words in all parts of speech

E.g. “chartreuse” instead of “a shade halfway between green and yellow.”

We should aim to use as few adjectives and adverbs as possible, replacing them with strong nouns and verbs. E.g. “She hurried / dashed / trotted / slipped away” instead of “She walked quickly away.”

A rule of thumb is to use the simplest words to convey our meaning.

Use action beats with dialogue. E.g. “Stop!” She pointed the gun at him.

Grammar doesn’t have to be boring. We can find answers in entertaining and informative books such as these:

Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Conner

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

Spunk & Bite by Arthur Plotnik

An option is to trade skills with someone who is more competent in grammar than we are.

Proper use of PUG has always been a priority in any writing contests I’ve entered or judged. Offering up our stories without attention to the details of PUG is like showing up at a party in a gorgeous outfit sporting ketchup stains. We may have a fascinating storyline, but poor grammar will reduce credibility and professionalism.

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It’s all in the details.

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blog-hop-for-writers imageThe writing tools I use can be divided into several categories:  those that are essential, those that are convenient or beneficial to efficiency, and the extra things that are nice to have.

Essential Tools:

  • My MacBook Pro – my first introduction to computers was to Apple, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
  • Paper and Pen/Pencil – of course a writer needs a scratch pad nearby.
  • The World Wide Webhttp – my connection to the internet is always on (thanks to changing technology that took me from one phone-line and dial-up to designated line and wi-fi).
  • Resource books – my Webster’s Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus.
  • Words – my love of words is why I write; without them I could not communicate what’s on my mind and heart. I discovered a cool website while researching for this blog which reinforces the importance of our basic word-tools: http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/writing-tools/76067/fifty-writing-tools-quick-list/
  • My Day Planner – I found a lovely, thin, coil bound planner this year with each month day plannerdisplayed on a two-page layout. It’s not for the detailed hour-by-hour details (which I don’t do) but for the daily and weekly and monthly reminders and commitments in my writing world. I’m a visual person, so it helps to see my calendar in larger format than on my iPhone.
  • Quiet – I’ve tried the coffee shop thing but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I end up staring and get no work done. My small balcony office at home is best for this introvert.
  • Social Media – Not that long ago I would have consigned these to the extras list, but with forced introductions to some of these I have begun to see the important and even essential nature of social media. If we want our writing to be read, we must make it accessible. In this area, I include:

My Website / Blog

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

Pinterest

Amazon Author Page

Convenient Tools:

– series of writing books from Writer’s Digest Books:  Plot & Structure by James Scott     Bell, Scene & Structure by Jack M. Bickham, Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott   Card, and many more.

  • Scrivener Scrivener Logo– my favourite writing software (there are inexpensive courses online—see Gwen Hernandez—as well as Gwen’s book, Scrivener for Dummies). Scrivener is a reasonably simple and effective way of keeping all elements of a project in one virtual unit that includes scenes, summaries, organizational tools, research files, picture/internet files, conversion tools, etc.
  • Online photo sites like iStockphoto and Shutterstock where I can look for character images.
  • I came upon a site that includes a lot more software for writing and publishing at http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/Writing+Tools
  • Index cards – Once my first (or second) draft is completed, I like to write a very brief summary of the scenes, one scene per card, arrange them on my dining room table (with the extra leaves in) and work with them. Again, it’s a visual thing. Can’t trust my brain anymore so I have to resort to more physical methods.

Extras:  (or maybe these are convenient…or even essential?)

  • Tea – I’d love to drink coffee but it plays havoc with my body, so I opt for tea. I have a handy cup-warmer at the far side of my desk (never keep beverages close to your computer, she said from experience).
  • A comfortable, ergonomic chair and footrest –  it’s hard to stay in the chair if it’s uncomfortable and bad for your back.
  • A moderately sized blanket for times when you get chilly. Mine’s one of those velvety soft things that never moves from my writing chair.
  • Charts and tables – As a visual person, I need to organize my writing so I can see the whole project. Scrivener is good for this, and the index cards are another step, but I still branch out to charts, especially when I’m stymied and need a diversion.

I’m sure these lists will adapt to changes in my world, but these are currently my most cherished writing tools.

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When I present a talk on novel writing, I often ask the audience for their input on the basic elements of fiction, and they come up with several immediately: plot, setting and character.

Plot, according to James Scott Bell in his excellent how-to book Plot & Structure, is:

“1. A small piece of ground, generally used for burying dead people, including writers. 2. A plan, as for designing a building or novel.”

Plot is what happens in our stories:  the beginning, the middle and the end; with a story arc that takes the reader from one part to the next with compelling situations.

Of course, every story happens somewhere, so setting is essential to story. Characters should not interact in empty space without background or props…or reality. Setting takes us from the details of a room to the description of a village, city or fantastic new universe. It’s up to us to choose the setting, as long as we make it believable and stick to the rules we set up.

When something happens (plot) somewhere (setting), there are characters who experience it or tell about it. Perhaps we choose our characters to show various levels of society or to parallel a person we know or have heard about. There are countless reasons for character choice, but a writer must know the characters intimately in order for them to appear realistic and three-dimensional.

These are the three elements most often suggested by readers. Before reading further, see if you can list a few more…

Dialogue goes hand in hand with character. A novel needs dialogue to bring it to life, and a character needs distinctive dialogue in order to be memorable and unique. In brief, dialogue has two main functions: to move the plot forward and to reveal character.

Another element is point of view. Through whose eyes will we be telling the story? Will there be more than one viewpoint? Will it be first person (“I have always loved the colour red”) or third person (“She had always loved the colour red”)? The choice is up to us, but consistency is essential.

Another facet of novel building is voice. What’s the difference between voice and style? Check out the explanation on my blog: https://janicedick.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/its-who-you-are/.

It’s also important to include literary features in our writing. Similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia and other such features give visual quality and richness to our work. We need to delve into the beauty of crafting words into phrases, sentences, paragraphs and scenes that will impact our readers.

Another aspect of crafting a novel is what I call PUG: punctuation, usage and grammar.  Check out English Grammar on Facebook at http://www.englishgrammar.org/or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrammarUpdates. If we want our manuscripts to make it to an editor’s desk, we must make sure we’ve done all the necessary work. If you aren’t a grammar guru, find someone who is.

I write historical novels, so research is the foundation to a credible story, but research is important in any and every story. If our details are accurate, then the reader can trust our content as well.

And don’t forget the polish. Every manuscript must be carefully and conscientiously checked for everything from the flow of the writing to PUG to the correct meaning of words (or their connotations) to the amount of white space on the page.

This is a summary of the various aspects of crafting a novel. In subsequent blogs I will expand on these features. Until then, happy writing.

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All right, folks, here I am with slightly red face, realizing why I hadn’t published yesterday’s post earlier:  it was not finished. As my dear friend, Deb, gently reminded me, there is more to the “lie / lay” issue, and this is probably the cause of much confusion.

The verb “lie” may mean (a) to fib (b) to recline. In the case of the fib, it’s She lies—she lied—she has lied. In the case of reclining: She lies—she lay—she has lain. Note that the past tense of “lie” in terms of reclining is “lay.” It’s kosher to use the word “lay” without an object if it’s being used in the past tense. For example, if  I lie in bed all day today, I will talk about it in the past tense tomorrow:  Yesterday I lay in bed all day. And that will be okay—not the lying in bed all day but the use of the verb.

The verb “lay” means to place:  She lays (something)—she laid (something)—she has laid (something). This is the verb that is followed by an object.

I hope that’s all clear as mud. I’m leaving now so you can double-check with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or Woe is I or Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

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Now I Lay Me Down…

It’s been awhile since I managed to post something on my blog, so I’ll send out this little piece on a whim:

Allow me to vent a grammarphobe’s pet peeve. Let me lay it down before you.

Not only print media but also radio and television announcers and reporters regularly misuse the verb “lay.” Everyday speech is full of it.

“I just want to lay down,” says a friend, and I bite my tongue and try to keep myself from asking what she is going to lay down.

“I’m so tired I could lay here all day.” What will you be laying and will you not become weary with all your laying?

“They found her laying in a ditch full of muddy water.” Bad enough they should find her there, but what was she laying?

The verb “lay” must always have an object. For example, “My chickens lay EGGS every day.”

If you’re tired, then by all means “lie” down, but do not attempt to lay. We’re just not made for it.

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