Grammar Is A Must-But Lose That English Teacher Writing! (Revisited)

English teacherI wasn’t an English major, but I never had a problem with stringing words together and making coherent, easy to read sentences. I know most of the rules, but I also know those rules are meant to be broken, especially if you are writing fiction.

The purpose of English Teacher grammar is to understand how to create sanitized, standardized, easy to understand, impersonal, inoffensive writing. If you’re looking for a job writing pamphlets for the government, instructional manuals, or news reports, then that’s the way to go.

These rules aren’t meant for fiction. That does not mean your story shouldn’t be grammatically and structurally sound. We are talking about styles here, not mechanics.

Fiction writing is nonstandardized, complex, personal, and occasionally offensive. It is the best way to reach into your readers head and show him your words. In order to bring your voice to life and get your world on the page, you need to say goodbye to English Teacher writing.

Fiction Writing Vs. English Teacher Writing

Fiction Writing-fits the world of the book, the mouths of the characters, and the writer who wrote it.                                                                                                                              English Teacher Writing– incorporates a specific, caricatured, extreme form of writing without regard to the story’s world, characters, or even the writer and what he or she is like.

Fiction Writing changes with the situation.                                                                         English Teacher Writing is unchanged.

Fiction Writing does not look to impress, it’s sole purpose is to present the story.  English Teacher Writing is self-conscious, self-important, and looks and feels forced and outright silly at times.

Fiction Writing is not always pretty, but it always fits the circumstances, characters, and story.                                                                                                                                            English Teacher Writing is always pretty and always smooth, but rarely fits anything.

Example:

Fiction Writing

“Get away! Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley curled into a tighter ball, her scarred, skinny arms pulling her knees up against her chest, her eyes white-rimmed, her hair wild.

English Teacher Writing

“Get away from me! Don’t lay a hand on me! Leave me alone!” The girl in the alley, already in a fetal position, pulled her knees tighter to her chest. she wore an expression of dazed panic and radiated the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

-Jan R

Grammar Is A Must-But Lose That English Teacher Writing! (Revisited)

Grammar-Get It Right!

4QYYI7VIf you think grammar is just a small child’s mispronunciation of “grandmother,” and if you think syntax is a tax that the church levies on sin, maybe you should consider becoming a nuclear physicist or a neurosurgeon or just about anything at all except a novelist. Dean Koontz

Maybe you’re inexperienced, or perhaps you have been writing for a while, but still haven’t produced a publishable piece of work. You probably have a few things to learn about writing a novel, but grammar should not be one of them. Writing grammatically sound prose has nothing to do with creativity. It is a mechanical process.

You don’t need extensive experience to produce prose that meets minimum standards of correct English usage. You don’t even need a formal education. Grammar is something that can be self-taught. While a publisher may understand your deficiencies in characterization, shaky plotting, and an overblown style, he will not excuse poor grammar.

I remember my first few rejections. One of the reasons cited had nothing to do with the story  and everything to do with the grammar. One of the literary agents stated, “It’s not ready. Your work is full of grammatical and structural errors.”

You should not expect a copyeditor to strip away your poor grammar and replace it with grammatically sound prose. This is one of the myths that I believed. I had a great story, and while it was a little rough around the edges, I thought the idea was enough to carry my work.

Remember, no one cares about your work and your future as much as you do. If you don’t care enough to write well, you are destined to fail.

A hard truth and something to think about.

-Jan R

 

Grammar-Get It Right!

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

Powerful verbs list image 1I wish I could take credit for this blog but it was written by Jerry Jenkins. He is probably my favorite blogger and one of my favorite authors. You can find him at jerryjenkins.com

He did give permission to share this blog with any writer who needed to read it. He wanted to get the word out. So I thought about you, my followers.

Do you ever wonder why a grammatically correct sentence you’ve written just lies there like a dead fish?

I sure have.

Your sentence might even be full of those adjectives and adverbs your teachers and loved ones so admired in your writing when you were a kid.

But still the sentence doesn’t work.

Something simple I learned from The Elements of Style years ago changed the way I write and added verve to my prose. The authors of that little bible of style said: “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”

Even Mark Twain was quoted, regarding adjectives: “When in doubt, strike it out.”

That’s not to say there’s no place for adjectives. I used three in the title and first paragraph of this post alone.

The point is that good writing is more about well-chosen nouns and powerful verbs than it is about adjectives and adverbs, regardless of what you were told as a kid.

There’s no quicker win for you and your manuscript than ferreting out and eliminating flabby verbs and replacing them with vibrant ones.

How To Know Which Verbs Need Replacing

Your first hint is your own discomfort with a sentence. Odds are it features a snooze-inducing verb.

As you hone your ferocious self-editing skills, train yourself to exploit opportunities to replace a weak verb for a strong one.

At the end of this post I suggest a list of 195 powerful verbs you can experiment with to replace tired ones.

What constitutes a tired verb? Here’s what to look for:

3 Types of Verbs to Beware of in Your Prose

1. State-of-being verbs

These are passive as opposed to powerful:

  • Is
  • Am
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been
  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Will
  • Should
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could

Am I saying these should never appear in your writing? Of course not. You’ll find them in this piece. But when a sentence lies limp, you can bet it contains at least one of these. Determining when a state-of-being verb is the culprit creates a problem—and finding a better, more powerful verb to replace it—is what makes us writers. [Note how I replaced the state-of-being verbs in this paragraph.]

Resist the urge to consult a thesaurus for the most exotic verb you can find. I consult such references only for the normal word that carries power but refuses to come to mind.

I would suggest even that you consult my list of powerful verbs only after you have exhausted all efforts to come up with one on your own. You want Make your prose any your own creation, not yours plus Roget or Webster or Jenkins. [See how easy they are to spot and fix?]

Examples

Impotent: The man was walking on the platform.

Powerful: The man strode along the platform.

 

Impotent: Jim is a lover of country living.

Powerful: Jim treasures country living.

 

Impotent: There are three things that make me feel the way I do…

Powerful: Three things convince me…

 

2. Verbs that rely on adverbs

Powerful verbs are strong enough to stand alone.

Examples

The fox ran quickly dashed through the forest.

She menacingly looked glared at her rival.

He secretly listened eavesdropped while they discussed their plans.

 

3. Verbs with -ing suffixes

Examples

Before: He was walking

After: He walked

 

Before: She was loving the idea of…

After: She loved the idea of…

 

Before: The family was starting to gather…

After: The family started to gather…

The List of 195 Powerful Verbs

  • Advance
  • Advise
  • Alter
  • Amend
  • Amplify
  • Attack
  • Balloon
  • Bash
  • Batter
  • Beam
  • Beef
  • Blab
  • Blast
  • Bolt
  • Boost
  • Brief
  • Burst
  • Bus
  • Bust
  • Capture
  • Catch
  • Charge
  • Chap
  • Chip
  • Clasp
  • Climb
  • Clutch
  • Collide
  • Command
  • Crackle
  • Crash
  • Crush
  • Dash
  • Demolish
  • Depart
  • Deposit
  • Detect
  • Deviate
  • Devour
  • Direct
  • Discern
  • Discover
  • Drain
  • Drip
  • Drop
  • Eavesdrop
  • Engulf
  • Enlarge
  • Ensnare
  • Erase
  • Escort
  • Expand
  • Explode
  • Explore
  • Expose
  • Extend
  • Extract
  • Eyeball
  • Fish
  • Frown
  • Gaze
  • Glare
  • Glisten
  • Glitter
  • Gobble
  • Govern
  • Grasp
  • Grip
  • Groan
  • Growl
  • Guide
  • Hail
  • Heighten
  • Hurry
  • Ignite
  • Illuminate
  • Inspect
  • Instruct
  • Intensify
  • Intertwine
  • Impart
  • Journey
  • Lash
  • Lead
  • Leap
  • Locate
  • Magnify
  • Moan
  • Modify
  • Multiply
  • Mushroom
  • Mystify
  • Notice
  • Notify
  • Obtain
  • Oppress
  • Order
  • Paint
  • Park
  • Peck
  • Peek
  • Peer
  • Perceive
  • Picture
  • Pilot
  • Pinpoint
  • Place
  • Plant
  • Plop
  • Poison
  • Pop
  • Position
  • Power
  • Prickle
  • Probe
  • Prune
  • Realize
  • Recite
  • Recoil
  • Refashion
  • Refine
  • Remove
  • Report
  • Retreat
  • Reveal
  • Revolutionize
  • Revolve
  • Rip
  • Rise
  • Ruin
  • Rush
  • Rust
  • Scan
  • Scrape
  • Scratch
  • Scrawl
  • Seize
  • Serve
  • Shatter
  • Shepherd
  • Shimmer
  • Shine
  • Shock
  • Shrivel
  • Sizzle
  • Skip
  • Slash
  • Slide
  • Slip
  • Slurp
  • Smash
  • Snag
  • Snarl
  • Snowball
  • Soar
  • Sparkle
  • Sport
  • Stare
  • Steal
  • Steer
  • Storm
  • Strain
  • Stretch
  • Strip
  • Stroll
  • Struggle
  • Stumble
  • Supercharge
  • Supersize
  • Surge
  • Survey
  • Swell
  • Swipe
  • Swoon
  • Tail
  • Tattle
  • Transfigure
  • Transform
  • Travel
  • Treat
  • Trim
  • Uncover
  • Unearth
  • Untangle
  • Unveil
  • Usher
  • Veil
  • Weave
  • Wind
  • Withdraw
  • Wreck
  • Wrench
  • Wrest
  • Wrestle
  • Wring

Of course there are many more. Jerry Jenkins just provided a list of examples to get you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

195 Powerful Verbs That’ll Spice Up Your Writing

‘ING’ Words-Good or Bad?

gerund_onlyToday as I revised my novel, I noticed something that should have leaped off the page during past reviews, but didn’t. I am having a love affair with ‘ing’. These ‘ing’ words are all over the place.

I stopped the revision process and did some research on ‘ing’. I remembered reading somewhere, that the overuse of ‘ing’ words was not a good thing.

Opportunities to overuse the ‘ing’ word are boundless. There are nouns, adjectives, verbs, and even verbs masquerading as nouns called gerunds, all ending in ‘ing’.

So what’s the big deal? What’s wrong with ‘ing’ words?

The overuse of ‘ing’ words mark you as an amateur – Don’t be alarmed if you see more than a handful on one page. Do take a closer look if you see more than a handful in a single paragraph.

While wrapping a soothing sling around the fledgling’s broken wing, Diana was humming, dreaming of her prince charming. Yet troubling thoughts about his depressing friend Starling kept intruding, interrupting her very entertaining daydreams. There was something intriguing and alarming about him.

‘ing’ verbs weaken your writing and make it clumsy and hard to read .                                                                                                                                                                    Abigail was walking along the bike trail. There was a boy riding his bike. He was smiling up at her as she passed. She started wondering what the boy was so happy about.

Abigail walked along the bike trail. A boy smiled at her as he rode passed. She wondered what he was so happy about.

Starting a sentence with an ‘ing’ word is the weakest way to begin a sentence.

Hitting the thug in the face with her purse, Josie reached for her phone.

Josie hit the thug in the face with her purse and reached for her phone.

To identify overuse of ‘ing’ words in your writing, try this:

  1. Use the “search” or “find” function in your word processing app(usually under editing).
  2. Use ‘ing’ as your search term.
  3. Examine each ‘ing’ word you find.
  4. Ask whether the ‘ing’ word is essential to meaning.
  5. Determine whether a simple past or other tense might work better.
  6. Decide if a stronger word choice might be the way to go.

Once you identify ‘ing’ words, replace weak or common ones with specific, stronger word choices. Your writing will become more concise, clear, and engaging.

Remember, not all ‘ing’ words are bad. The issue is whether or not you have made the best word choice.

So much info on the internet. You get the cliff notes. Hope they help, or at least get you thinking  🙂

-Jan R

 

 

‘ING’ Words-Good or Bad?

Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

images8qwh4j5gWhat’s the deal with direct quotes? Why can’t I get the punctuation right? You would think after five years, I would know what I was doing.

The novel I’m revising has a lot of dialogue, which results in the use of quotation marks and commas following tags(I think).

I’m sure this is elementary to many of my readers, but I base most of my writing on concepts that I’m struggling with. I like to think that I’m not the only person who hesitates and second guesses when it comes to something as simple as writing dialogue.

During my research on this subject, something jumped out at me that I never really thought about before. The lights came on.

What was my biggest problem with quotes and the use of punctuation? I was treating quotes with tags and quotes without tags the same. I also wasn’t sure what to do when a quote ended with punctuation other than a comma.

When a quote ends in a comma and is followed by a dialogue tag, you use a comma.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, wishing he would just leave.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, “but I want to.” **The second part of the quote did not begin with capitalization because it follows a comma and is a continuation of the first quote.

When a quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, the dialogue tag that follows ends with a period.

“I can’t go with you!” she said. She wished he would just leave.

“Who are you kidding?” he asked. “You can’t run.”

If the quote ends in an action/verbal phrase, it is not a dialogue tag and should not be treated as such. This was a concept I failed to grasp, and I would struggle trying to figure out were to put the comma.

“I can’t go with you.” She pushed past him and headed toward the door.

You have to focus when writing dialogue. You not only have to concentrate on the wording, to ensure it is moving your story forward, you also have to get the punctuation right. Slow down and take your time. Dialogue is complicated and can’t be rushed.

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

Grammar! It’s Important!

The Adventures of Grammar ManI was reading a book on ‘How to Write Best-Selling Fiction’ this past week when a chapter jumped out at me, and I couldn’t help but smile. It was totally me. I’m ashamed to admit my naivety, but it was like I was reading my story.

Dean Koontz, the author, tells a story about an unpublished author. He had agreed to look at the man’s manuscript and got a little more than he bargained for. For the purpose of his story, he decided to call the man Bubba.

Bubba was very excited about his work, and said writing was the easiest thing he had ever done. All he had to do was sit down and type. The story just flowed off the top of his head. He wondered why everyone wasn’t doing it.

Well Bubba did give him a manuscript, but it was nowhere near publishable. In fact, according to Koontz, “In the first chapter of that novel, Bubba commits virtually every grammatical error known to English-speaking people.”

Like Bubba, I finished my first novel and was eager to put it out there. It was a great story. I knew I had a best seller. I sent it out to literary agents and waited for my offer. One never got back with me. Three said it wasn’t what they were looking for. One very gracious agent took the time to review at least a portion of my work, and provided me with a list of reasons why my novel wasn’t ready.

Grammatical and Structural errors were at the top of the list. Dean Koontz calls these the unforgivable sins. New writers may need pointers on pacing, transitions, POV, backstory… but if you’re calling yourself a writer, you should know and follow the basic rules of grammar.

There you go. I’m a sinner, but I have worked hard to redeem myself 🙂

One of the myths that I fell into, was that it didn’t matter if my grammar was perfect or even approaching perfect. The publishers had editors that would go through and correct all of my mistakes. Right?

I could have given up, the novel obviously wasn’t publishable. I had spent a year writing it. I spent countless hours revising and making sure everything was flowing, and the story made sense. I couldn’t believe it was being rejected because of grammatical and structural errors.

Of course there were other issues, but that was the one that stopped the agent in her tracks. She was kind and did praise the actual premise itself.

She encouraged me to go back and learn how to write, apply what I learned to the novel I was writing, and resubmit.

I took her advice after some time off to lick my wounds. The novel I am currently preparing for submission is a much improved version of the original manuscript.

DON’T GIVE UP! DO YOUR HOMEWORK! LEARN YOUR CRAFT! WRITE! WRITE! WRITE!

-Jan R

 

 

 

Grammar! It’s Important!