Category Archives: blogs

Wrestling with proper grammar

You’re writing a novel –
must the grammar be correct?

The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

There are two main types of writing in most novels: the narrative and the dialogue.

Dialogue completely throws out all the rules – it is as the characters say it. And everyone knows when we speak most of us tend to ignore grammar. Even an upper class character will shorten or combine words (‘we’re off ‘) or use colloquialisms like (ol’ blighty).

Did you realise, however, that action too can ignore the rules of grammar in order to emphasise or create a certain feel to the narrative.  Short clipped sentences, or even clauses left hanging, convey urgency, speed or fear.

Examples

  • Heart beating fast, he sprints along the pier.
  • Heart beating. Fast he sprints. Along the pier.

The totally ‘incorrect’ punctuation of the second sentence conveys speed and a greater sense of fear.

You can also convey the tenor of a piece of writing by varying the sentence length or structure. Shorter sentences (as above) speed up the narrative and longer ones draw out the mood of the writing. Variety in length of sentence keeps the reader from being bored by the writing. A continuous smish-smash of short sentences could so easily descend into shopping list writing.

Starting with conjunctions

A conjunction is a JOINING word that links two sentences or ideas together. Take a read of these opening words of the Katherine Mansfield 1917 short story, A Dill Pickle:

“And then, after six years, she saw him again. He was seated at one of those little bamboo tables decorated with a Japanese vase of paper daffodils. There was a tall plate of fruit in front of him, and very carefully, in a way she recognized immediately as his “special” way, he was peeling an orange.”

You will note that Mansfield (above) writes sentences that concentrate on details, drawing us in to the promise of a slow un-peeling of the story. But there’s more: opening a paragraph with a conjunction? What? I’m sure this was a ‘no, no’ according to my English teachers.

 Yet, if you look at Mansfield’s paragraph you can easily see that she has linked two ideas together, only we don’t know the first idea. It is hidden from our view and we only know that in the past there was a relationship between the two characters of the short story. A truly masterful use of a conjunction.

Ignoring grammar – the limitations

We’ve looked at a couple of examples (above) where the use of grammar, or disregard of proper grammar, can add to the story.  There are, however, some cautions of which we writers need to be aware.

  • Accidental misuse of grammar or wrong spelling. This will make our stories look simply unprofessional. Incorrect spelling will flick the reader out of the story. If you lose the reader because of an obvious misspelling, then you do yourself a disservice. Proof reading is imperative. Of course, English spelling and American spelling of words can differ, but if the spelling is consistent throughout, readers from either continent will make allowances.
  • Writing narrative that feels clumsy or confuses. If the reader has to re-read a passage in order to make sense of it, they’ll soon give up and put your story down. The best way to check this is to read your story aloud. If you stumble over some sentence construction then you can be sure readers will have the same issue
  • Creating dialogue without making it clear who is speaking. It is important that the reader understands who is speaking in the dialogue by at least adding an occasional attribution – the ‘he said/she said’ at the end of the lines of dialogue. You don’t have to attribute dialogue for every sentence, especially if your characters have contrasting ways of speaking. Again, read your dialogue aloud without adding your own emphasis or voice expression. Remember that the readers does not have the benefit of that audible clue when they pick up your novel or short story.

Grammar and Punctuation for Publishing

Regardless of how you word your story there are some conventions that publishers and readers expect. They are especially to do with punctuation – and some writers still get confused about them.

Here is an American view of dialogue punctuation:

Double quotes–single quotes? Listen here for the American convention.

Of course, many famous early writers experimented with ignoring the conventions of academic punctuation and grammar. This blog lists a few and explains how they defied the conventions.

If you want to learn more, then I recommend the Writers Guide to Punctuation

Or this excellent column – Talk it out, in which technical writer Taylor Houston gives lots of examples on CORRECT punctuation. Of course YOU are the writer and if you want to create a reaction in the reader with unconventional punctuation (or even no punctuation at all), you can ignore these conventions. If you are a starting out writer than follow the conventions until you are confident of when and where to break them.

Summation of Grammar Rules

So you see – there aren’t any set rules for grammar or punctuation in a novel or short story . Ignoring the rules is perfectly okay. But you need to know the rules in order to ignore them.

Heather Sylvawood – Amazon Author

How It Feels To Be An Author

… at last!

I have just watched a video of Joanna Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) talking about publishing her first novel (she had previously published a non-fiction book). The watching of it brought back to me some of my own feelings on self-publishing my first books.

One of my overriding emotions on publishing my first book (non-fiction – Real Estate Rollercoaster) was one of FEAR – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of a flood of emails pointing out errors in the book. The last two didn’t happen, probably because the first one did. Real Estate Rollercoaster never got climbed the first  loop.

Like many authors I thought the mere publication of my masterpiece was sufficient for the world to recognise the gems I was sharing with the public and it would be an instant best seller. Uh, huh!

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Self-publishing is a rollercoaster ride

Far from being an even playing field, self-publishing is a minefield of craters into which the ignorant and naïve will fall unless they are prepared to educate themselves into the new realm of marketing eBooks and publishing on demand. I am a long way from being a master, in fact, I’m probably not even a mistress of the marketing game. I am LEARNING. Which is why I spend time listening to other self-published authors to find out how they do it.

I’ve been snatching moments this week to listen to some podcasts put together by Chandler Bolt, creator of Self-publishing School, as he talks to various other successful authors about ‘How-to’ write, publish and market your book.

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In one of the interviews Joanna Penn says that the writing of fiction is hard work and tiring; you gain a sense of achievement at the end but you might have to resort to eating lots of cake in order to get over how tiring writing is. I totally concur. I have had to resort to chewing gum in order to avoid the cake.

Even the act of blogging can be tiring when you’re concentrating on making your blog fun, informative and worthwhile. Every word counts.

Rollercoaster ride of emotions

Monica Marlowe relates a feeling tantamount to depression after publication of her debut novel, Finding Felicity:  “My debut novel had been released in August and the excitement I felt at its release was euphoric. I was so lucky to be published and learning the ropes as a new author was exhilarating. But as summer moved into fall and winter, the fever pitch took on colder pall….. I wondered, could it be post-publication depression?”

In her Blog HERE Monica relates her surprise and disappointments about the way her friends received her foray into novel-writing. I can relate to many of her experiences, as I am sure other newly published authors will.

An acquaintance of mine was worried about how her friends and people who knew her would react after reading her work. I relate to that too. Although most novels are not strictly autobiographical, the ideas in them come out of your brain; the characters often reflect what you think or feel about issues; and if you write sex scenes – of course you will believe the reader will think you ‘do it’ that way. Actually, if you’ve written a quality novel, the reader will be so engrossed in what the CHARACTERS are doing they won’t even be aware of you – the author.

Like a painter who doesn’t believe their painting is worth anything until someone buys it, authors too feel their books are second-rate unless lots of people read them. And that’s where writers come unstuck in their self-belief when they self-publish. They have no way of finding out what people think about the book until they get reviews. And even if they get reviews they might get BAD reviews (or simply reviews that complain that you have your book in the wrong category – as I received).

Writing is only a 1/3 of the rollercoaster ride

You may experience fear, or euphoria, exhaustion or sleeplessness. Chuck Wendig, novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, says in his blog HERE:

“So, you just had your book published. … And you want to know what’s going to happen now. Here is — roughly, potentially, maybe — one scenario.

“For a variable amount of time, let’s call it a week, you’re going to be flying high. Hell, flying high doesn’t even cover it. You’re going to be flitting around the big blue heavens with a pair of magical laser dolphins as shoes. You’re going to be past the moon. You’re going to feel like you’re snorting comet dust and making sweet love to asteroids.

Because you wrote a thing.”

Well, Chuck may be exaggerating a little. For most of us thirsty firsties we’re out there panting for some recognition and the publishing rollercoaster keeps roaring by.

“Excuse me! Here! Did you read my book? Did anyone read my book?”

Surviving the fall

The only way I managed to survive the tiny plop of my first novel was that I was already almost finished my second and had already started on the sequel for novel 1. I’d also read a lot of blogs and viewed many videos on marketing eBooks and self-published novels.

Marketing and promoting your book takes a lot longer than you anticipate if you’re a thirsty firsty. You might even be completely turned off writing more books if you wait around for positive feedback from the amorphous cloud of readers following popular fiction.

I knew that popularity was not going to arrive with novel 1, nor probably with novel 2 … 3 …. 4. It would be only when I had an out-there profile and people accidentally came across my work, read it (in a weak moment), liked it and looked for more, that I would become better known. I also had to wait until friends read it (and they don’t read your novel when, or as quickly as you would like/expect) and then fed back to their friends about the quality of the writing.

It all takes time – and unfortunately that’s time away from writing your next blockbuster. But then … isn’t blogging ‘writing’? Don’t you also develop a personality, a sense of accomplishment AND writing technique from blogging? It’s sometimes harder work than allowing the creative flow to surge words onto the screen or paper.

The Last Word in Self-publishing

I’ll leave Joanna Penn to tell you how it is that even successfully-published writers feel when they finally launch their novel into the sea of new authors.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

PS: Only one CAKE was harmed during the writing of this blog.

Keeping Your Creativity Flowing

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Amazon author, Heather Sylvawood

Sometimes I find myself wallowing in my lack of raving success. The feelings that tell me I’m wallowing include:

  • Fear my writing isn’t (I’m not) good enough
  • Despondency when my incoming email doesn’t bring notification of another subscriber to my list
  • Frustration when the process of editing takes so long
  • Resentment that other needs (not my own) intrude onto my time
  • Despair that I can be so easily distracted from my writing by activities that are supposed to increase my visibility but don’t seem to bring astounding results (like blogging, ha ha!)

The Writing Success Road

Then I remember that many other writers don’t ‘make it’ in the first few years of their writing career. The fact that I’m starting NOW and they started years before doesn’t register. They are NOW reaping the benefit of years of similar struggle until their breakthrough moment when a book took off.

Author Experiences Before Success

Here are few author’s experiences:

  1. Donald Ray Pollock published his The Devil All the Time debut novel in 2011, but not everyone knows he was 55 before he completed his collection of short stories and three years later his novel.
  2. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie started writing aged 44, but it was 20 years later that she achieved her success.
  3. Helen DeWitt confessed that she spent seven years working on various novels, trying to combine writing with various jobs. “In 1995 I decided this must stop. I had 100 novels in fragments …” The Last Samurai is what resulted.
  4. Joanna Penn, prolific writer of thrillers based around religious themes, was a business IT consultant for 13 years before she published her first book (non-fiction) and started her career as a novelist.
  5. Toni Morrison, whom I featured on WriteGear’s FaceBook page, was 35 when she joined a writers group. The result five years later was her first novel The Bluest Eye.

Tips for Finding Your Writing Motivation

I found this interesting blog: 6 Tips for Finding the Courage to Write, by author Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen.  The tips are from a book Laurie reviewed, written by Lionel Shriver.

These are the six tips, but please click the link above to access her blog, written five years ago, but still as relevant today.

  1. Accept that you’ll need to fire up your courage every day, every hour
  2. Prepare yourself for a long writing journey…and try to enjoy it!
  3. Expect writing rejections – even from your own literary agent
  4. If you can’t go through it, get around it
  5. Do not give up on your book or writing career
  6. Learn to cope with fear, anxiety, doubt, self-criticism

I would like to add one more.:

7. Go back to the reason you wanted to write in the first place – feel the urgency and return to today’s writing with that same sense of MUST WRITE.

 

Think big

Author: Let Readers Read Your Writing

You’ve written a book – a novel. You’ve had friends read it and have received encouraging comments. You could go ahead and publish on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, CreateSpace or Smashwords. (These links take you their publishing pages.)

However, if you’re not quite ready for total exposure you can take advantage of Wattpad – a website that publishes new and old writing a chapter at a time.  You can read another writer’s style and decide whether it is for you, then go look for them in the online book stores. Or you can simply sample and read on – a chapter at a time – the work of authors who appeal.

That sort of dip-in and leave or come-again reading without having to commit any cost is useful in many ways. You can use the talents of others to compare or lift your own writing style.

James Joyce  – masterful writing still

I was able to click into “The Dubliners”, a collection of short stories by James Joyce (now out of copyright). I read Joyce’s story “The Sisters”. It’s written in the style of last century, but what stimulated my writer mind was the subtlety of the revelation of characters. It was not the sisters but the character of the priest which is revealed, hint by hint. Joyce’s use of language, though now apparently old-fashioned, is masterful still.

Wattpad for aspiring authors

Here are a few trending titles on Wattpad right now:

      

The real benefit of Wattpad for an indie author with a completed book is the option you have of uploading your own works to the website (unpaid, of course) and testing out the response of readers. You could actually write your story online in their text editor, but I would urge you to copy and paste into the editor and follow the instructions to upload your story. It’s a great way of testing out the potential popularity for a serial.

Be careful, though, that you’re not infringing any of the rules of the websites where you may want to publish later, e.g. Amazon has strict rules about how much of a work may be published elsewhere if you choose to enrol in the Kindle Direct program and receive higher percentage royalties.

Become an educated author

No I’m not advocating that you go out and spend megabucks on books and writing/publishing or marketing courses. The information is out there and ready for the taking if you are prepared to spend time sifting through the dross. Look for blogs by successful writers – those with more than one book on the online shelves. Here are two I suggest you check out:

  • Non-fiction author Tim Ferriss’ How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year blog. This link to Tim’s blog is littered with other links that will take you to more information. Tim is author of the “Four Hour Workweek”, “The Four Hour Body” and several others in the same vein.
  • Well researched fiction author, Joanna Penn writes at The Creative Penn blog and invites in equally talented authors to talk about the processes they use to make them great. Joanna adds podcasts to her blogs which you an download and listen to at a later date.

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Of course, I’d like you to check my own WriteGear Facebook page where I post many links to the results of my research, and you can enrol at my www.writegear.co website to access the long list of how-to writing and publishing videos.

All of these blogs and websites require you to register, but the pay-back for writers who want to learn and succeed will be tremendous.  And who knows? You might even discover new authors you’d like to follow.

In the creative flow – Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Write blogger because you must

 

I have just been watching a YouTube video uploaded seven years ago. It is a speech by Toni Morrison as she accepted her award for Literary Services at the PEN Awards presentations in 2008.

Her words struck me as so prophetic and even now, almost a decade later, the message to bloggers, fiction writers, playwrights and poets is as an urgent reminder to not stop writing.

Action is in the word

Toni Morrison has tackled major issues in her writing. In ‘A Mercy’ her theme is the issue of slavery and how some people can assume they have the right to exercise power over unwilling slaves.  Although her novels look at the issue from a black person’s point-of-view, the implications are more wide ranging: while any population seeks to dominate (enslave) another and force their will on them, we will never have peace.

You can see her Amazon Author page HERE.

The word and writers need protection

The message I took away from her PEN award acceptance speech is that authors/writers in any genre, who expose human experience, or name the as yet unnamed activity in the world are activists. They expose the unthinkable; they draw attention to the issues; they awaken people who are in a coma about reality. If you want to hear what she said watch the video below.

Toni Morrison accepts her 2008 PEN award.

So fellow bloggers and writers – keep writing and blogging; keep researching; keep telling your story. You are the key that others will use to dig deeper, to challenge the status quo, and seek a peaceful wise world.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author.