Times Are Changing-Stay Neutral

untitled.pngSeveral years back I was doing a critique on a ladies work, and the number of times she entered his or her, he or she, was distracting and cumbersome. In my write up of suggestions, I recommended she go with the masculine pronoun to refer to either sex.

Well guess what, I was wrong. The practice of using the masculine pronoun was acceptable back in the day, but as you may know, times change.

So what’s a person to do? Writing his or her, he or she will get old really fast. I can attest to that.  You have to start looking for more gender neutral terms.

                 Sexist Term                                                             Substitution

  • chairman/chairwoman                        chair, chairperson, presiding officer
  • coed                                                          student
  • congressman/congresswoman           congressional representative, legislator
  • forefathers                                             ancestors
  • layman                                                     layperson
  • man/woman                                           person/people, individual
  • man-made                                               synthetic
  • policeman                                               police officer
  • salesman                                                 sales clerk
  • mankind                                                 humanity, humankind, human race

I think you’re getting the picture.

Other options…….

  • Change your wording to plural pronouns.                                                                                 Each teacher should greet all of his or her students by name.                                          Teachers should greet all of their students by name.
  • Substitute he or she with a noun.                                                                                                She needs to go to the back of the line.                                                                                   The doctor needs to go to the back of the line.
  • Reword your sentence to use the first or second person.                                                        If she loses her ticket, she can’t get in.                                                                                     If you lose your ticket, you can’t get in.

I’m a little older, so to be honest, using a masculine pronoun to refer to all sexes does not bother me. However, I do realize we have to change with the times.

As an author you may not have to many situations arise in your novel related to gender specificity, but if you do, this is something to think about .

-Jan R

Times Are Changing-Stay Neutral

Does That ‘But’ Really Need A Comma?

imagesZGN867X5I like to highlight my mistakes. I guess my thought is, if I’m doing it, there are plenty of newbies out there doing the same thing. I like to think I’m not alone 🙂

I noticed something during my current revision that I never saw before. I’m having a  love affair with but. That wasn’t the only problem. There were a lot of commas following that but that shouldn’t have been there. My sentences weren’t compound, but they did have compound verbs.

Compound sentences are made up of two independent clauses that could stand on there on.

We went to a restaurant, and I ordered the chicken salad.

Simple sentences with compound verbs are not compound sentences and shouldn’t be divided by a comma. (This sentence is a great example.) Don’t you want to put a comma after and?

I knew I was wrong but couldn’t help myself.

She ran through the woods and jumped over the fence.

If these simple sentences bother you that much, you can make them compound.

I knew I was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.

She ran through the woods, and she jumped over the fence.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Does That ‘But’ Really Need A Comma?

Writing Contests-Yes or No?

Writing-Contest-LogoI haven’t sent my work out to writing contests, but I know many unpublished authors have used them as a tool, and they can be an effective avenue for getting noticed.

If you have contemplated following this route, there are some things to keep in mind that will give you an advantage. Using contests the wrong way are a waste of time and money. Educate yourself on how to make them work for you.

Make sure only your best work leaves the house                                                                        Edit and reedit you work before sending it out to a contest just as you would with a literary agent or editor. It has to be as close to perfect as you can get it.

Make sure you have a compelling hook                                                                                          One of the best ways of increasing your odds in a contest-hook your reader. Pull that contest judge into your manuscript and then leave him/her hanging with an even better hook that leaves them screaming for more.

Color inside the lines                                                                                                                           In other words, follow the rules. A writing contest is not the place to bend the rules and do cute things to make your work stand out. Bending the rules when it comes to point of view or passive voice will generally reduce your score significantly.

Judge the Judges                                                                                                                                     If you are entering a contest with the hope of getting in front of an editor, make sure the editor judge reading your work, works for a publishing house that buys the type of manuscript you are writing.

Know what the judges are looking for                                                                                           Most RWA chapters post their score sheets showing how manuscripts are scored. Review the score sheets and make revisions as indicated to give yourself a better chance of making the finals.

Just some things to keep in mind. As I said, I have not entered any contests but have been mulling over the idea and doing some research.

Would love to hear recommendations from any of you who have entered contests.

-Jan R



Writing Contests-Yes or No?

Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

untitledI love doing critiques. Sometimes I think I should have been an editor or professional proofreader.

The one issue that bothers me more than any other when I do critiques, is description overloads, dumps, whatever you want to call them. If you are reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I realize some description and imagery are necessary to help the reader visualize the story, but some people provide page after page of it.

I’m a skipper/skimmer. I own up to it and have stated it as fact in many of my blogs. I don’t want to be, and I don’t like the idea of skimming through pages of writing to get to the good stuff. As a matter of fact, if I pick up a book or go to someone’s writing posted for critique and all I see is paragraph after paragraph of description, I’m not touching it.

Jerry Jenkins says it’s a sin to ask a paragraph of description to stand on its own. Your readers eyes glaze over and then they are gone. He’s written nearly 190 books, including the best selling Left Behind series, so I listen when he speaks.

So, what’s the solution? It’s your job to set the scene, but you want to make sure your readers aren’t skimming the descriptions, or worse, skipping them altogether.

You have to make the description part of the action:

Randall wanted only David to know his scheme, so he pulled him away from the others and onto the deck where he had to raise his voice over the pounding waves. He hunched his shoulders against the whipping wind and wished he’d thought to grab a jacket, knowing they wouldn’t be able to stand it out there for long.

In this example we know the setting because it was incorporated into the action. The author did not take a paragraph to discuss the severity of the storm that was causing massive waves and packing winds at 20 miles an hour.  While Randall is whispering his nefarious plan, your reader is skipping nothing.

I wish I could say I’ve mastered this skill, but I have not. It is a technique I continue to work on. A place I aspire to be one day.

-Jan R

Description Overloads/I Get It Already!

I Thought I Knew A Lot, Until I Learned A Little.

Enough already! At least that’s how I feel sometimes. I’ve been through my book more times than I can count. In my own defense, no one taught me how to write. I had a great story idea and decided to give it a whirl.

I thought it was ready, and then real life happened.  My wonderful work was rejected by the five agents I sent it to. One of the them must of seen something promising, she took it upon herself to provide me feedback about what I was doing wrong (there was a long list), and what I needed to do to improve my work.

I was totally humiliated. Grammatical and Structural errors are kindergarten stuff and completely unacceptable. Even I should have gotten those right. I could understand  my issues with head hopping and on-the-nose-writing. Those terms were totally foreign to me.  I wasn’t a professional novelist. I thought all you had to do was put words on paper and create a wonderful story that everyone wanted to read. How was I to know there were rules?

And what was the deal with dragging dialogue? My people were talking. How was I suppose to know dialogue moved the story forward, or had to have some significance?  I couldn’t believe I sent an agent such inferior work!

When you’re a newby, you don’t know how bad your work is, because you lack the knowledge and skills necessary to produce publishable work. While there may be a few prodigies out there, chances are, you aren’t one of them. Sorry!
Like myself and many others, you’re going to have to pay your dues and learn the craft. Then you will be ready to write that New York Times best seller.

One of my favorite saying is, you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m not sure were I picked that up from, but it’s true. I wasn’t intentionally sending out bad work. I just didn’t know.

I Thought I Knew A Lot, Until I Learned A Little.

How Long Do You Wait?


I recently picked up a novel I had worked on for six years. I can’t count the number of revisions I completed on the manuscript. Yet nothing seemed to help. I got discouraged and put it away.

My life had gotten pretty complicated during that time, so I used it as an excuse.  As the weeks went on, I found it easier and easier to let it go. I did  not want to pull that manuscript out. It was a mess and a waste of my time. That’s how I felt anyway.

I didn’t stop writing. I picked up a new project. I had an idea for another novel and began to flesh it out. I also continued reading books written by successful novelists and took some more on-line classes. From my perspective, that first book had a great premise (a fact confirmed by one of the agents who rejected my work), but I just couldn’t see what was going on that made it unpublishable.

So as I stated at the opening, I picked up that novel I had placed on the shelf a year ago and started cutting. I was looking at that work through fresh eyes, and enjoyed muddling through the mess and reorganizing my work.

Most of the blogs I read recommended setting a finished piece of work to the side for a few weeks or a few months, based on the premise it would give you a fresher look at your work and allow you to see those areas that were problematic.

Well, that didn’t work for me. I followed the recommendations, but a few months wasn’t long enough. I know everyone is different, and a more experienced writer may only need a few weeks to a few months before they are ready to roll again. So I am in no way saying you should put your work to the side for a year.

What I am saying, is if you have that masterpiece that started your dream sitting on a shelf, or stored in a remote area of your computer, maybe you should consider pulling it out and reassessing. You may be pleasantly surprised at how quickly the issues that caused that manuscript to fail come to light.

So how long do you put a completed manuscript to the side before the final edit?

Just something to think about.

-Jan R


How Long Do You Wait?

Antagonist-Friend or Foe (Revisited)


My main focus for this particular blog is antagonists. I have two in my novel. One is amnesia, and the other is a young woman determined to marry the man of her dreams, even if he belongs to someone else. She uses his amnesia to her advantage, manipulating and deceiving him.

When you are creating antagonists, you must remember they are people too. Help your reader to empathize with them and understand why they act the way they do. Even bad people have weaknesses and can show love towards others. They are more than just a device to move your plot in a certain direction. Flesh them out!

Get into your antagonists head. Help people to see things from his/her point of view if possible. I write in third person omniscient, which allows me to get into the head of any character I choose, as long as I limit myself to one per scene. If this doesn’t work for you, have your point of view characters mull over and try to understand the antagonist’s point of view. You don’t want him/her to be seen as pure evil.

I have to admit, I’m a ‘Star Wars’ geek. If you’re a follower, you know who Darth Vader is. From my perspective, he is the perfect antagonist. The creator of this series, put a lot of thought into this bad guy. He is pure evil, but as Luke stated, “There is good in you, I can feel it.” Luke was right. Vader wasn’t all evil, as a matter of fact, he started out as a good guy. His motivation for turning to the dark side, was to save his wife.

You want your antagonists to be strong, smart, and capable. At least as much so as your protagonist. This serves to give the story balance and maintain interest.  It also helps to increase tension and suspense. You know the antagonist is capable of defeating the protagonist. The story could go in many different directions.

Back to the ‘Star Wars saga, Darth Vader was  the most powerful of all the Jedi, even though he turned to the dark side and fell under the control of the Sith Lord. His downfall in the end wasn’t his lack of strength, but his return to the light.  He sacrificed himself to save his son. In a split second decision, he destroyed the empire and brought balance to the universe.

Many professionals recommended that you not use abstractions, such as corporations, disease, or war as your antagonists. They are unrelatable, but that’s a blog for another day.

If you do feel the need to use an abstraction, put a human face to it.  Instead of organized religion, you may consider a resentful pastor seeking revenge. Instead of corporate greed, you may consider a Bernie Madoff type. One of my antagonists is a medical condition that a second antagonist exploits to get what she wants.

Hope this post provided a couple nuggets and got you thinking 🙂

-Jan R

Antagonist-Friend or Foe (Revisited)