Little Foxes

Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines [have] tender grapes—Song of Solomon 2:15, KJV

Do we have “little foxes” that spoil an otherwise well-written piece of prose? Let me rephrase. Do we have too many “little foxes”? All of us writers have them. They often pop out on our pages while we’re writing. Oftentimes, we’re unaware of their presence.

Little wordy foxes are words we tend to overuse, words such as so and that. Every author has his/her own foxes, and we must be careful not to overdo ours. Many times, we don’t need them.

Let’s look at the word that.

            1.         John thought that Billy played golf yesterday.

            2.         John thought Billy played golf yesterday.

In the second example, I deleted that because the sentence is clear without it. A good way to identify when this word is unnecessary is when it follows a verb. In such cases, the word usually isn’t needed. Read your that sentences without using it. Is your writing still clear? If it is, delete that.

Let’s look at the word so.

            1.         So, John sees you can cook.

            2.         John sees Mary can cook.

            3.         He lifted the bucket so he could dump out its contents.

The first example is acceptable in dialogue, but if we use lots of sentences starting with so in our narrative, write it like the second example. Example three is fine as well because it’s used as a conjunction.

Do use these little verbal foxes, but use them correctly. Also, take care not to overdo them because if too many sneak in, they’ll spoil our writing.

Till next week, friends!

Here, Squire! Come On, Boy!

Squire, Tales of a Mascot, will soon be released. Set during the longest genuine siege of America’s Civil War, the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, the mixed-breed dog Squire accompanies his master to war as his Alabama regiment’s mascot. When his master gets posted at Port Hudson, fun-loving Squire soon finds his life in serious jeopardy from man and beast.

Part of this book is written from Squire’s point of view, so it was great fun trying to “think like a dog.” I based Squire on my own late companion, Jebba, seen in these photos.

Port Hudson was a small village on a bend in the Mississippi River, as seen in this map. It was the last Confederate garrison on that river to surrender to Union forces, just a few days after Vicksburg fell. The garrison was totally surrounded. A Union fleet under the command of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut cut off the Rebels’ escape via river, and the Union army under the command of General Nathaniel Banks surrounded it by land. The garrison held out for 48 days.

A Literary Shock

The other day, I did something I’ve never done before. I took a book back to a bookstore for a refund. Usually, when I buy a book and end up not liking it, I toss it in the trash. But this book was an expensive hardback. Knowing how much money I’d wasted, I couldn’t relax till I got it back.

This book’s poor formatting and editing shocked me, but what shocked me even more was its high Amazon ranking and its claim to have won an award. It held loads of five-star reviews. In fact, most of its numerous reviews were five-stars. One three-star review stood out, though,  because I agreed with the reviewer. The book needed some serious editing.

What was wrong with the formatting? The pages looked like someone just printed them off their computer’s printer—no justified right margins, no professional-looking fonts.

What was wrong with the writing? Here are a few issues I found:

  1. Some sentences ended with double punctuation marks, such as “?!”
  2. Other sentences were cut off, leaving only a phrase or a  clause
  3. Characters “smirked” way too often.
  4. Some sections of dialogue were too long, and much of it was poorly  written.
  5. Too many adjectives were strung together to modify one noun.
  6. The characters were flat.

There may even be more things wrong, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. Some reviewers said the second half of the book got better, so perhaps I’m not being fair. I just know that when I saw all these basic editing oversights and the poor formatting, my interest quickly waned.

Two positives about the book:

  1. The prelude was excellent, which is why the chapters  which followed were such a disappointment.
  2. The taglines were well-done. The author often used the  simple words “said” and “asked.”

Will we ever write a perfect book, free of all grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes? No. We’re human, after all. I know I have a few mistakes in some of my published work. However, if mistakes riddle our pages they becomes a serious issue.

However, my experience should teach all of us indie authors to work hard to make our work as professional as possible lest someone like me asks for a refund on our book.

It Only Takes Five Seconds: Three Benefits of Saying “Thank You”

“Ready.” James looked at his stopwatch, then glanced up at Harold. “Get set. Go!”

“Thank you.” Harold grinned.

“Ah, now that wasn’t so bad, was it, Harold?”

“Nah! It took less’n five seconds to say it.”

James put his arm around Harold’s shoulders and steered him toward the store’s snack bar. “Exactly.”

James obviously believes saying “thank you” is important. And it is! Those two little words carry lots of power. What makes them so powerful?

They express appreciation for whoever we’re thanking and tells them we don’t take them for granted. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. This feeling of worth is a good motivator for a person to continue doing good deeds for others.

Saying “thank you” is also great from a business perspective. It’s so seldom heard nowadays that whenever someone utters it or demonstrates it in some way, that person stands out from the crowd. Sometimes this will  open doors for wonderful opportunities which may not have come  otherwise. People remember “thankers” easier than they do the  ungrateful.

Saying “thank you” helps people live happier lives. When we say these words, we’re focusing on others instead of ourselves. Cultivate a habit of   showing gratitude. According to scientific research, people who say “thank you” have better mental and physical health than those who don’t[1].

What are some other benefits of saying “thank you”?

Thank you for visiting my website. Till next week, friends!


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#6207bb0b183c%5B1%5D

Procrastination: One Writer’s Thoughts

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

How many times have we heard that statement, or a similar one? I’ve said it before, so I plead guilty. However, if we expect to succeed as a professional writer, we can’t afford “to do it tomorrow.” We must write. And we must do it today, not tomorrow, because when tomorrow comes we’ll likely repeat that same mantra. Hard study and work, these are the keys to making it as a writer.

In fact, so important is hard work that the Bible’s Book of Wisdom (aka Proverbs) repeats the need for diligence twice:“[Yet] a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:10-11, KJV). In Proverbs 24:33-34, we read these exact same words.

As writers, then, let’s not be lazy. Let’s not procrastinate. The only way we’ll sell our articles and stories and books is to write them, then submit them to agents and publishers. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject.

DON’T BE INTIMIDATED BY FAILURE.  See it as something positive. Often the  best way to learn and grow is through failure, for it is through failure that we discover mistakes and learn how  to correct them. These lessons learned can then be applied to our manuscripts. Failure is not failure unless we allow it to be. Use it as a learning experience

HAVE PASSION. Without passion, nothing ever gets done, or if it does, it’s not done well. I see three ways to address this issue. (a) Start writing anyway, and see if passion   begins driving us. Sometimes it will. (b) Ask the Lord to put a passion within us if writing is His will. (3) Quit writing. If passion never comes, there’s no sense in trying to write professionally.   Writing requires lots of time, lots of sacrifice, and lots of mental  “elbow grease.” Those without passion are those who procrastinate.

NEVER SAY “I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH.” Only literary geniuses write  professionally “overnight.” For most of us, learning to write professionally takes a long  time. The only way we’ll get good enough is to write every day. Once we  understand  this, we’ll be less likely to procrastinate

DON’T GET INTIMIDATED. If a big writing project looks overwhelming, don’t get  intimidated. Tackle it! How? A little at a time. Write a certain amount each day – a  certain number of words, a certain number of pages, a certain number of chapters – whatever works. Eventually, the project will reach its end. If a deadline is involved, figure out how much can be done each day to reach the deadline, then write accordingly.

Don’t put things off, friends. Tap those laptop keys. Till next week!

Beats, Part 2: Character Enhancement

Last week, I discussed the dangers of overusing beats. Though we must use them, we must also be careful to place them at the right spots in our narrative’s dialogue.

Another “beat issue” we need to avoid is this: writing trite. Trite words and phrases and figures of speech are easy to spot. They’re the first things that come to our mind while we write. Why? Because we’ve heard them so much and read them so often, they’re stored in our subconscious and usually pop out on the page during our writing process. Using them in our first draft is fine, but we do well to change them during our revision.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

What are some trite beats? A few examples: he smiled, she shrugged, he laughed, she giggled, he clenched his fists, she sighed, he frowned, etc.

Personally, I think using such beats occasionally is fine, but they shouldn’t be prevalent in our story.

Good beats enhance our characters. They are fresh, original. Through well written beats, readers gain a better understanding of our story’s actors, which is why we need to know them intimately ourselves. Readers will observe their personalities, quirks, character traits, likes and dislikes, etc.

Here are a few examples:

John spooned the whipped cream off his strawberry shortcake and disposed of it in a sandwich bag. He wrung his hands. “Ah, now I can enjoy my dessert.”

Here, instead of telling readers in a straightforward manner that John doesn’t like whipped cream, they first see this by his beat and then by implication through his dialogue.

“I’ll be back.” Jane crept over to a corner in the library, pulled out her cell phone and punched in the number. The sign at the library’s entrance said “no cell phones.” Well, she wouldn’t get caught.

Here, we learn that Jane doesn’t abide by the rules. The library she’s in does not allow cell phones, but what is she doing? She’s using one! Without our telling readers she doesn’t care about rules, they observe this trait through her actions.  

One more “beat issue” to avoid: do not use them after a tagline(speaker attribution), such as in the following example:

Wrong: “I’ll be back,” Jane said. She walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.

Correct: “I’ll be back.” Jane walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.

Use beats, by all means! But use them carefully and wisely, and write them in a fresh manner.

Till next week, everyone.

Beats, Part 1: Don’t Beat Me Too Much!

Many years ago, I visited a theme park. Though I can’t remember which one, I do remember this – a child constantly banging on a toy drum. I don’t know what his parents who accompanied him were thinking, but I know what I thought. Annoying!

Likewise, if we use too many beats in our writing, they can annoy our readers. Then again, if we don’t use beats, our characterization suffers. Just as a professional drummer in an orchestra or band knows when to hit his/her drum and when not to, we professional writers should learn when to “beat” and when not to. We must be careful to avoid “beating too much.”

What is a beat? It’s a character’s action/body language sprinkled in amidst his/her dialogue. Here are two examples. The beats are italicized.

Betty frowned. “I don’t like what I’m seeing, Carl.”

Betty bit her nails and paced back and forth. “Carl, I’m…I’m not sure we can get married.”

If beats come before or after every line of dialogue, though, they get irritating.

Look at this example:

Betty bit her nails and paced back and forth. “Carl, I’m…I’m not sure we can get married.”

“Why not?” Carl opened his refrigerator and got a bottle of water.

“Because I’m not sure I love you.” Betty stopped pacing and lowered her hands.

“What!” Carl slammed his refrigerator door. “I love you, Betty. You know I do.” He set his water on his kitchen counter.

“Well, I…er…” Betty stared at the cabinets behind him, her face twitching.

Carl stepped closer to her. “Are you seeing someone else?”

Betty let go a gut-wrenching sob. “No-o-o!”

As Betty’s and Carl’s dialogue continues with added beats, even though there is conflict, it gets tiresome to read.

Now then, let’s read this same dialogue without the beats.

“Carl, I’m…I’m not sure we can get married.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not sure I love you.”.

“What! I love you, Betty. You know I do.”

“Well, I…er…”

“Are you seeing someone else?”

“No-o-o!”

No beats– the dialogue is thin and just lingers in the air. A beat or two would deepen it. A third example demonstrates this.

Becky bit her nails and paced back and forth. “Carl, I’m…I’m not sure we can get married.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not sure I love you.”.

“What! I love you, Betty.” Carl grasped Betty’s hands, his blue eyes pleading.  “You know I do.”

“Well, I…er…”

“Are you seeing someone else?”

“No-o-o!”

Learning when to use beats takes practice and also a sense of timing. Do use them in your writing, but don’t pound readers with them like banging away like on a toy drum.