Writing is a series of Choices

Writing is a series of choices. As you work on your manuscript you choose your subject, your approach, and your sources. Then when it is time to write you choose the words that will express your ideas and decide how you will arrange those words into sentences and paragraphs. As you make revisions you make more choices. You might ask yourself, “Is this really what I mean?” or “Will readers understand this?” or “Does this sound good?” Finding words that capture your meaning and convey that meaning to your readers is challenging. When editors write things like “awkward,” or “wordy” on your document, they are letting you know that they want you to work on word choice. Keep in mind that it can sometimes take more time to “save” words from your original sentence than to write a brand new one to convey the same meaning or idea. Don’t be too attached to what you’ve already written. If you start a fresh sentence you may be able to choose words with greater clarity.

Sometimes the problem isn’t choosing exactly the right word to express an idea. It is the usage of the words or being “wordy”. Also, using words that are “extra” or inefficient can be the problem. Take a look at these:

1. “I came to the realization that…” why not say, “I realized that…”
2. “She is of the opinion that…” why not say, “She thinks that….”
3. “Regardless of the fact that…” simplify to, “Although…”

Be careful when using words you are unfamiliar with. Look at how they are used in context and check their dictionary definitions. Be careful when using the thesaurus. Each word may have its own unique connotation or shades of meaning. Use a dictionary to be sure the synonym you are considering really fits what you are trying to say.

Don’t try to make your work sound impressive or authoritative. In the end you will come off as pompous and will lose your reader to boredom. Take a look at these two sentences and decide which one you would rather read.

1. Under the present conditions of our society, marriage practices generally demonstrate a high degree of homogeneity.
2. In our culture, people tend to marry others who are like themselves.

Whenever we write we make choices. Some are less obvious than others, so that it can often feel like we’ve written the sentences the only way we know how. Read your paper out loud and at slow pace. You can do this alone or with a friend. When read out loud, your written words should make sense to both you and other listeners. If a sentence seems confusing, rewrite it to make the meaning clear.


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Writers – So you want to write a short story?

As an editor I don’t get to write many stories, but I sure love to read them and I also to get to edit them. However, I have taken quite a few creative writing courses and one word can sum up how to write a short story: RELAX.

First Step – Make an outline

One of the biggest mistakes a writer can make is to sit at the computer and try to write a tale from beginning to end. You have to plan out your story. Rather than spend hours staring at the computer screen, humbled in frustration, make a simple quick outline. They’re easy to understand and you can even find templates for your word processor to help you organize your thoughts. Write out the plot and use that as a basis to make up the rest. It may be help to write out some of the more complicated scenes

Second Step – Develop your characters

Who is your main character? Knowing a name and that she has blond wavy hair is not as important as real fears, wants, and desires. Remember that the life you breathe into character will not only carry the story, it was also lets your readers know that you have a stake in what you have written.

Third Step – Set the scene

Use a lot of detail in the introduction of your story. You want your reader to feel the environment and see it in their minds eye. While there may not be space for this in every short story, some writers can still do it in a successful way. Here are some things to keep in mind when you creating your scene.

  • Walk yourself through the scene. Be your character as they walk through it. What do you say, think, do, and feel?
  • Know where things are. You want the area to be consistent so that your readers will always have a feeling they know where they are.

Step Four – Simple tips to get the story flowing

  • If the story has a principal narrator, that character can start off by rambling into the setting, relating everything to the reader in a kind of nonchalant, casual way.
  • Write the parts of the story that you know. If you can’t begin the story, why not start in the middle?
  • Get to some action quickly. Many seasoned writers are finding that the attention span of the average audience has changed over time, getting quick action into the beginning of a story is more important than ever to keep reader interested.
  • Let the words flow as you write an early draft of a story. Type your heart out. Don’t go back and edit. Type what comes to mind and then read it. You may be surprised how much you like it.


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7 Great Websites for Writers

Here is a reprint of an article I thought people might find useful.  Some of the entries are obvious, but a couple were new to me a thought it was worth a reprint.  It was orginally published on http://www.dailywritingtips.com/ 

7 Great Websites for Writers

by Mark Nichol

From usual suspects to obscure gems, from grammar guides to usage resources, here are some websites of great value to writers:

1. Amazon.com 

You may have heard of this website — a good place, I understand, to find books (or anything else manufactured). But what I appreciate even more is the “Search inside this book” link under the image of the book cover on most pages in the Books section. No longer does one need to own a book or go to a bookstore or a library to thumb through it in search of that name or bon mot or expression you can’t quite remember. And even if you do have access to the book in question, it’s easier to search online (assuming you have a keyword in mind that’s proximal in location or locution to your evasive prey) than to try to remember on what part of what page in what part of the book you remember seeing something last week or last month or years ago. And then, of course, there are the site’s “Frequently Bought Together” and “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” features — but the book search can be a writer’s salvation.

2. Banned for Life 

Newspaper editor Tom Mangan’s site lists reader contributions of clichés and redundancies.

3. The Chicago Manual of Style Online

My review on this site of The Chicago Manual of Style notes that buying the bulky book, despite its abundance of useful information, is overkill for writers (but not editors), but editorial professionals of all kinds will benefit from the CMOS website’s Style Q&A feature, which responds authoritatively, sensibly, and often humorously to visitors’ queries.

4. GrammarBook.com 

The late Jane Straus, author of The Blue Book on Grammar and Punctuation, created this site to promote her book, but it also features many simple grammar lessons (with quizzes), as well as video lessons, an e-newsletter, and blog entries that discuss various grammar topics.

5. The Phrase Finder 

A useful key to proverbs, phrases from the Bible and Shakespeare, nautical expressions, and American idiom (the site originates in the United Kingdom), plus a feature called “Famous Last Words” and, for about $50 a year, subscription to a phrase thesaurus. (Subscribers include many well-known media companies and other businesses as well as universities.)

6. The Vocabula Review 

The Principal Web Destination for Anyone Interested in Words and Language

Essays about language and usage; $25 per year by email, $35 for the print version.

7. The Word Detective 

Words and Language in a Humorous Vein on the Web Since 1995

This online version of Evan Morris’s newspaper column of the same name (some were also published in the book The Word Detective) features humorous Q&A entries about word origins.



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So, you want to write a good paragraph

Most authors write a paragraph and really don’t think about it. The bottom line is that is how it should be (Automatic, to the point, clear and complete). But, what are the characteristics of a good paragraph? That is what we will talk about in this blog.

A good paragraph should include a topic sentence, supporting ideas (usually 3 – 6) and of course RENNS (reasons, examples, names, numbers, senses). An optional concluding sentence can be added, which expresses the importance of the information in the paragraph. It may summarize the supporting ideas if the paragraph is long, or provides a transition to the next paragraph of the essay.
When you are writing a paragraph remember the word, “unity”. Basically this means that all sentences in the paragraph directly support the topic sentence. If you flood your reader with excess or misplaced information you will lose coherence. Always make sure that all the information of the paragraph is well-organized, logically ordered and easy to follow.

Process of Writing a Paragraph:

    1. Compose your topic sentence. Think of a topic that will fit well into one paragraph. If you have a broad topic break it into two or paragraphs and use a concluding sentence to transition between them.


  • List your supporting ideas. Choose 2 – 6 that do a good job supporting your topic sentence.



  • Write a topic outline. Don’t actually write sentences in the outline simply list the items you plan to talk about. Put them in the best or logical order.



  • For each supporting idea you have, go through select and list the RENNS that further explain the idea. For the perfect paragraph each supporting idea should have about the same number of RENNS.



  • This probably obvious but, you are now ready write your paragraph using real sentences.



  • Create a concluding sentence if needed.


Well, that is it in a nutshell. Everything you need to write the perfect paragraph for essays, technical works or just about anything. Oh course fiction writing and storytelling in general is a bit different, but mastering a good paragraph is still a fundamental skill that all writers must have.


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Comma-on Comma Usage!

I was recently editing a memoir for a client and I had some questions about comma usage. I found an article on the internet that explained everything I needed to know. I am constantly amazed how easy it is to get the information you need with just a few clicks of the mouse. I have decided to reprint the entire article here. To tell the truth, I did this mostly for me so I can have quick access.


The Comma
A Reprint from: The Center for Writing Studies


The comma is important because it is the main device by which the grouping of words, phrases, and clauses is indicated. Consequently it is used, and unfortunately misused, more than all the other marks combined. Its use, however, is not haphazard. Competent writers almost always use commas for one of two purposes: to set off some element of the sentence from what precedes, what follows, or both, or else to separate two elements as they might be separated by a pause or rising inflection of the voice if one were speaking. The few uses that fall into neither of these categories are the arbitrary use of commas on certain specific occasions, to be pointed out below, and the insertion of a comma when its presence is necessary for the sake of clarity.

The rules that follow, though numbered consecutively throughout, are grouped in accordance with the uses referred to above:

Commas Used to Set Off

An appositive or a term of direct address is set off by commas:

The original factory, an old stone structure, is still standing.

An adverbial clause preceding its principal clause, or an adverbial phrase at the beginning of a clause, is usually set off by a comma:

On all floors except the second and the fourth, the fire hazards have been removed.

Note: If an adverbial clause or phrase is extremely short, and if omission of the comma could not cause confusion, the comma may be omitted. For example:

When he arrived he was immediately seated
During July the plant will be closed.

Independent elements, participial phrases, gerund phrases, and other such constructions at the beginning of a sentence are set off by commas:

No, the shipment has not yet arrived
Worried by the complaints, we began an investigation.

A conjunctive adverb (however, moreover, therefore, etc.) is usually set off by commas when it comes within the clause to which it applies. When it comes at the beginning of a clause, it may or may not be followed by a comma but will always be preceded by a period or semicolon:

His objection, therefore, was ignored -or- I had heard the rumor before; consequently, I did not believe it.

Any mildly parenthetical element is enclosed in commas if it seems desirable to set it apart from the rest of the sentence. A writer is called upon to use his own judgment in applying this rule, for too many commas will make a sentence jerky and hard to read:

The frame, he insisted, was too tight.

A term such as “namely” or “that is,” used to introduce an example or a list, is usually set apart from that example or list by a comma. (The mark that precedes such an expression depends on the sentence structure.)

Three species of tree were observed, namely, pine, fir, and cedar.

Nonrestrictive clauses are set off by commas. Restrictive clauses, however, are not set off:

The south side, which had been exposed to the sun, was badly faded.
He moved to Arizona, where the climate was not so moist.

Note: In these examples, the clauses introduced respectively by “which” and “where” merely add some additional facts. If they were omitted, the meaning of the remainder of the sentence would be unchanged. Hence they are nonrestrictive. However, some clauses introduced by “where” or “who” are restrictive. Each is used to limit–to restrict–the meaning of the main statement, which would be radically changed if the clause in question were omitted.

The roads went to pieces where the permafrost had been disturbed.
All motorists who drive recklessly should be fined heavily.

Sometimes a sentence does not make sense unless a clause is interpreted in a single way–restrictive or nonrestrictive. When this is true, an error in punctuation merely increases the difficulty of reading. There are times, however, when restrictive and nonrestrictive interpretations are equally reasonable. When this is the case, an error in punctuation leads a reader to misunderstand the meaning. Note how the meaning of the two sentences that follow depends on punctuation:

The people from Troy, who had come early, obtained seats.
The people from Troy who had come early obtained seats.

A word or phrase placed in an abnormal position in a sentence should be set off by a comma or commas:

To a trained accountant, the problem would look easy.

A direct quotation is set off by a comma or commas:

“The tires are threadbare,” he asserted, “and will blow out at any moment.”

Exceptions: A quotation that blends into the regular structure of the sentence is not set off by commas. A title in quotation marks is not set off by commas unless some other rule makes commas necessary:

The poet’s prophecy about “airy navies grappling in the central blue” has become an unpleasant reality.
The rhythm of “The Raven” is very striking.

Commas Used to Separate

A comma is ordinarily used between two independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are “and,” “but,” “for,” “or,” and “nor.” (“Yet” and “so” may also be treated as coordinating conjunctions when this rule is applied.)

The building is old, but it has been kept in good condition.

Note: When both clauses are extremely short and simple, the comma may be omitted:

It was damaged but it still is usable.

Note: If a comma is used within one or both of two independent clauses, the comma between them is sometimes replaced by a semicolon.

When a sentence contains a series, the elements in the series are normally separated by commas.

Cattle, sheep, and hogs are now selling for higher prices.

Note: If a comma is used within any element in a series, it is often better to use semicolons rather than commas between the elements:

We visited Paris, Cannes, and Avignon in France; Frankfurt, Bonn, and Berlin in Germany; and Madrid and Seville in Spain.

Note: Opinions differ over whether to use a comma before a conjunction (“and” or “or”) that precedes the last item in a series. In technical and scientific periodicals and in material published by the United States Government, use of the comma is predominant. In journalistic and popular publications, usage is divided. Sometimes a comma is essential for clarity because of “and” or “or” being used within one of the items. For example:

The panels were painted red, green, yellow, and black and white.

Without the comma after “yellow,” it would be impossible to know whether “black” belonged with “yellow” or with “white.” In view of this, it seems advisable to regard the comma as normal punctuation rather than trying to check each series to see whether a comma is needed for clarity.

Two or more adjectives preceding a noun are ordinarily separated by commas. (The comma before the last adjective is omitted, however, if that adjective is so closely associated with the noun that the two merge into a single thought unit.) Also, a comma is used between adverbs that modify the same object.

He has a modest, unassuming manner.
The watchman was a feeble old man.
Slowly, relentlessly, the stream wore away the dike.

Commas are variously used to separate items in dates, places, and numbers.

In dates: He was born on December 4, 1963, in Princeton.

In places and addresses: San Francisco, California, is an important shipping point.

To separate adjacent sets of figures: In 1950, 675 men were added to the payroll.

Between the digits of numbers: 10,984; 234,617; and 1,856,445.

Note: In many cases, the comma is omitted in a number with only four digits, unless the number occurs in a column containing numbers in which commas are used

Commas Used Arbitrarily

A comma is used between the last and the first name of a person when the last name appears first, and also after the first name unless the sentence structure calls for some other mark:

Please insert the name Fitzgerald, Duane, in the proper place in the alphabetical list.

A comma may be used whenever it is necessary to force a pause for the sake of clarity.

Inside, the building was in better condition.


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The Crazy Sounds of A Verses An – Can I scream now!?

I received an email from a listener of my podcast Ron’s Amazing Stories. He was criticizing my use of “an” verses “a”. I have always thought the usage was based on whether the next word in the sentence began with a vowel or a consonant. As it turns out it is a bit more complicated. Let’s look at an example:

John waited on the corner for an hour. While he waited a historic event occurred.

You will notice that, “an hour” works. Why is that? Well, it is because hour starts with a vowel sound. In the case of historic it uses the h sound and therefore uses an “a”. Yes, I am quite aware how crazy that sounds. Here is another example:

John was thinking about how he wants to work as a missionary. However, before he will do that he wants to get an MBA.

The letters o and m can be tough to determine usage for. The reason is the “o” can be used as a “w” like in the word “onetime”. So, the bottom line to this is simple. The rule whether to use “a” or “an” is actually determined by how the word is pronounced not the letter used.


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The Narrative Mode – An Editor’s Nightmare

In this article we are going to talk about the mode of narration. This is not a new subject, but it is most certainly misunderstood and in some cases misrepresented. I have seen hundreds of articles on the subject some are good and some, not so much. So, why would I add yet another to the mound? It is my hope that I can present a simplified point of view. No pun intended.

The narrative mode is simply the method an author uses to present a story to his audience. As long as you are consistent and persistent your readers will be able to follow you. However, picking your point of view can be tricky and is where writers get into the trouble. One way to represent this to think about a car accident. Let’s say you are driving down Main Street and you are t-boned by a jeep that just ran a red light. No one is hurt, but both vehicles are severely damaged. The police arrive on the scene and the first thing they have to do is to determine what happened. How do they do this? By questioning the witnesses of course. Now let’s say that there are three people that saw what happened. There was the driver of the jeep, a mailman and yourself. Each of person is going to have a point of view. Let’s begin with what you saw:

First Person

This is where you are the narrator and a character in the story. So, you will use phrases like, “I saw” or “We all looked”. In my opinion this is easiest way to tell a story, but does have its limitations. It is easy because you can focus one aspect of the tale at a time and it allows you stay focused. It is limited, because there is no possible way to convey the emotions or thoughts of another character in your story. In our accident I can tell the officer what I did, what I saw and nothing more. Anything that the driver of the jeep saw, did or didn’t do is out of my scope and has to be obtained from another source. For example, the officer may tell me what the other driver said. Typically first person accounts are not popular in fiction because of this limitation. However, the first person point of view is an excellent way to convey the deep, emotional or intense feelings of a character. The most common use of the first-person narration is as a story within a story. A character may stop and relate something that happened in the past that is relevant to the plot’s current situation.

Second Person

Second person narration is the rarest mode in literature. The basic concept is the storyteller refers to one of the characters as “you”, making the audience member feel like part of the story. Second person is often paired first person narration and makes emotional comparisons between the thoughts, actions, and feelings of “you” versus “I”. In our accident scene we can understand how this could work. For example you could tell the driver of the jeep what you saw him doing. Here is how it would sound: “I saw you driving down Main Street. You were looking down at the floor of your car trying to grab at something. You were totally oblivious to the fact that the signal light was red and that I was making a legal left turn.” I think you can understand why this narrative mode is very rare. It can lead to some very serious point of view errors and can make it difficult for a reader to follow your plot.

Third Person

Third-person narration provides the greatest flexibility to the author and is the most commonly used narrative mode in literature. In the third-person, each and every character is referred to as “he”, “she”, “it”, or “they”, but never as “I” or “we” or “you”. It is necessary that the narrator be merely an unspecified entity or uninvolved person that conveys the story, but not involved in any way with the events. The third-person modes are usually categorized along two axes. The first is between “subjective” and “objective” narration. Subjective will give a character’s feelings and thoughts, while “objective” narration does not describe any of those concepts. The second axis is between “omniscient” and “limited”, a distinction that refers to the knowledge of the characters available to the narrator. An omniscient narrator has unlimited knowledge of time, people, places and events. A limited narrator may know absolutely everything about a single character, but it is “limited” to that character. In our accident scenario the mailman’s report could be told in the third person. It would sound like this: “The man in the jeep was distracted. He was looking down at the floor of his rig and was not looking at signal. He failed to stop for the red light and plowed right into the other car. Both cars were severely damaged and the blame of the accident rest fully on the driver of the jeep.”

Can you tell which axis this? If you guessed Limited Objective you would be correct. There is a lot more to this we could talk about, but we will leave it here for now and revisit in more detail in future installments. If you are looking a great book on this subject take a look at: Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway.


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