Friday, October 26, 2012

So Simple You'll Be Kicking Yourself!

It's clear I'm an inconsistent blogger at best. Not a good thing, I know. I'm just taking a short break from editing Shadow Tag, the second in my Ray Schiller mystery series, to share something I should have shared ages ago.
Short and sweet, it's the "I" vs. "me" issue.

a) Steve went to the store with Mary and I.
b) Steve went to the store with Mary and me.

a) He gave Mary and I cash and a list of items.
b) He gave Mary and me cash and a list of items.

a) Mary and me came back with no change.
b) Mary and I came back with no change.

If you're not sure, here's the solution: When deciding whether "I" or "me" is the right choice, forget nominative and objective case, prepositions and all the rest. All you really need to do is forget Mary! I don't care if Mary is "Miss Universe", or if the items are gold ingots, or even if they came back with a million dollars. Get rid of Mary ... or Tom, Dick and Harry or anyone else who might be tagging along.

It's the simplest solution to a too-frequent problem. Just take the other/others out of the equation temporarily. You'll see what I mean below.

a) Steve went to the store with I.
b) Steve went to the store with me.

a) He gave I cash and a list of items.
b) He gave me cash and a list of items.

a) Me came back with no change.
b) I came back with no change.

Could it get any easier? I don't think so!

Once you've callously ditched any and all companions and made the proper choice, go ahead and invite Mary and the whole Tabernacle Choir along again if you like, but you can finally move on with confidence. Don't you wish they'd have taught you that little trick back in school? Now that you know, you can either snicker at others still struggling with the I/me issue, send them here, or make a friend for life and share this tip yourself.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

There It Is Again!

THIS IS A TEST!  Don't say I didn't warn you. What follows may sound like meaningless chitchat, but don't be fooled. There's a purpose behind it, so soldier on and read to the end. Okay? Okay.

First of all, let me say that I've been very busy lately so I haven't been blogging with the kind of regularity that I'd hoped to achieve. On the other hand, I did call this A Non-blogger's Blog for good reason. By now it's obvious that I'm not a disciplined blogger. I add blogs on a hit-or-miss basis as time allows.
Last week I was away for five days, visiting my family in the Milwaukee area. While I was there, I did a little multi-tasking by donating copies of my novel to several librarians that wanted a copy for separate libraries in three nearby towns.

All right! Enough already! 

At this point, I'm willing to bet you're scratching your head, wondering what point I'm trying to make. Here it is. Lately I've noticed a prevalent, four-letter word creeping into a lot of writing where it doesn't belong. That word is "that"! (Yes, I meant for the last sentence to be ironic.) It often goes unnoticed, much like poison ivy when you pull down your pants in the woods to... Well, never mind; you get the idea.

The word "that" certainly has its place, but it's not to be peppered around willy-nilly. Check out the second paragraph again. This time leave out each "that". Didn't miss a single one of them, did you? Used as they were, each was nothing but a pointless, extra word. It seems they like to crop up everywhere. Did you notice them on your own? Check your writing for those sneaky, little critters and boot them out; they won't be missed. And, like Scrooge McDuck, you'll be pleased to find you even save a little ink.

One last thing. Find "that" in the third paragraph. Something is definitely needed there, but it's not "that". When referring to humans, use "who". It's an easy rule to remember.

"That" definitely serves a purpose, many in fact. My Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary even dedicated a five full inches of space explaining its uses. So, when it's needed, use it. When it isn't, don't. It's easy to tell the difference.

And that, as they say, is that!

Feel free to comment! If you want to target some other overlooked issues, grab a comment box and have at it!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tags and Beats. Huh?

     Dialogue is a vital part of most stories. Whether it brings the story to life or bores readers half to death is dependent on how the writer handles it. Done well, it fleshes out the characters and advances the storyline. Done poorly, it falls flat.
     Naturally, there's a lot of territory to cover when it comes to dialogue, and we'll get to those areas another day, but for now, let's limit this discussion to speech tags and action beats. What the heck are those? They're those nifty little "identifiers" found outside the quotation marks that help the reader keep track of who's saying what. They serve the same basic purpose but in different ways.
     Speech tags are brief and to the point--he said/she said, and the like, being examples of the most common and unobtrusive, which is their claim to fame.
     Action beats identify the speakers by describing non-verbal communication taking place during the dialogue exchange. In addition, when done right, beats help set the scene--a definite plus.
     It sounds simple, but either can go seriously wrong as in the following sample.

     "Ron!" Clay shouted loudly. "Where do you think you're going?"
     "To Dave's place," he grumbled. "I'll be back in an hour."
     Clay looked at his stepson. "You're not going anywhere until you mow the lawn," he snapped angrily.
     Ron shook his head. "The grass can't wait an hour?" he asked defiantly.
     Clay's arms were crossed. "You can get away with that crap with your mother, but not with me."

     Look at the verbs used in place of "said." While an occasional variation may liven up a scene, in general, they're better saved for action rather than speech tags. They sap the strength of the dialogue and do nothing to help the reader visualize the scene. In fact, in the case of a conversation involving only two people, speech tags can often be eliminated without causing any confusion at all.
     Check the adverbs in the sample's speech tags. They weaken the dialogue. The emotion should come through in the character's words and actions, not in an explanation. It's the age-old case of "show, don't tell."
     Beats require careful use as well. If they're used randomly and without purpose, they're a waste of time and ink, not to mention being a source of irritation. On the other hand, when action beats are used to complement and strengthen the dialogue, they become the writer's ally. A word of caution. Focus on the most important actions in the scene. Don't flood your prose with shrugs, smiles, and other generic actions that don't enhance the scene.
     Here's a revised version of the conversation with improved tags and beats:
     "Ron! Where do you think you're going?" 
     "To Dave's place. I'll be back in an hour." Eyes diverted, he chanced a step toward the door.    
     Clay placed himself between his stepson and the exit. "You're not going anywhere until you mow the lawn."
     "The grass can't wait an hour?" His hands fisted at his side.     
     "You can get away with that crap with your mother," Clay said, "but not with me."
     In an excerpt as short as this, you might even expect to find fewer beats and tags, but it should give some idea of how dialogue can be enhanced rather than encumbered by action beats and speech tags.
     Well, I'm off to make sure I've followed my own advice. Happy 4th of July, everyone, whatever country you call home.




Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sex Scenes!

Sex sells. No doubt it's true; we've seen it proven time after time whether it's a movie or a bestselling novel. Lolita. Lady Chatterley's Lover. Fifty Shades of Grey. Mention these titles, and what's the first thing that comes to mind, hmm?

I'm not suggesting that's a bad thing; sex is as common as breathing. There's probably a bit of innocent voyeurism in each of us--call it normal curiosity. Some enjoy a little harmless titillation--maybe even a bit of how-to information. Whatever the case, just for the record, this isn't about perceptions of morality or immorality.

The issue I'm bringing up is much simpler but not without certain complexities. My question is this: What amount and degree of sex is "expected" in each genre? Naturally, this discussion is in regard to stories that fall in the middleground between Young Adult and erotica.
If a Romance novel doesn't provide a fair share of steamy sex scenes, does it fail to meet the expectancy of the reader? Are writers obliged to provide content that lives up to the cover images of heaving bosoms and bulging biceps--and that just the women! (Okay ... just checking to see if you're paying attention.) Does a Romance writer dare "dumb it down" for fear of traumatizing family and friends by mentioning pubic hairs or engorged body parts? If that's a concern, should they stick to writing in other categories?

On the other hand, are there unspoken limitations as to the amount and explicitness of sexual depiction in other genres? When is it too much? Too graphic? Would more than a fleeting mention of sex in a "cozy" be stepping over an unspoken boundary? How much is to be expected in a mystery or suspense novel?

Are there limitations? Should there be?

When it comes to your personal expectations, what 's your opinion?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Grammar - Pet Peeves Sound-off
The verbal fisticuffs started with a simple comment. The writer expressed her chagrin at an author’s persistent use of the non-word “irregardless,” and the battle was on: "irregardless" vs "regardless, "altogether" vs "all together." Several rounds involved dialect as opposed to "proper" English. There was even some sparring over the use of slang as opposed to "ordinary" language. Accusations flew, suggesting those who clung more strictly to a Strunk and White version of grammar were elitist.  

This battle was waged on a recent LinkedIn discussion. Shortly after it began, I offered a comment or two then sat back and followed as new remarks were added day after day after day. At last count, there were seventy-six comments added to the thread, enough to weave a virtual rope. The influx has finally tapered off, but the debate still continues and, no doubt, always will.  

What constitutes proper grammar is a topic that may rank right up there with religion and politics. The word alone elicits moans and groans. It causes eyes to roll and eyebrows to arch. It almost invariably causes conflict.
Like everyone else, I've got personal pet peeves when it comes to grammar. Here’s an example of something that makes me cringe: He poured himself a cup of coffee. Arrrrgh! That and countless other variations of it make their way into writing every day. In actuality, he didn't pour himself; he poured a cup of coffee for himself. Do I understand the meaning of the first version? Sure I do, but the writer might just as well write: Throw me down the stairs my shoes. Frankly, I don't want to read that either. 

I think we, as writers, should be aware of and use “proper” grammar when it’s appropriate. On the other hand, I think fiction writing has its own set of ground rules. Weird analogy or not, like a centerline down a highway, I see quotation marks as the indicators of what we are and aren’t allowed to do in that regard. Unless it's first-person narration, anything outside quotation marks needs to adhere to proper usage. As for anything inside quotation marks, whether it's slang, dialect, or dropping 'g's, whatever your characters choose to say, however they choose to say it, anything goes, because it’s the writer’s job to make dialogue sound natural no matter how grammatically incorrect it may be. It just has to be kept in line with the character's background, education and personality.  

Let me share a laugh aimed at grammarians everywhere. This is from a birthday card I received from a good friend and member of my critique group. Picture two women chatting at a table.

First woman: "Where's your birthday party at?"
Second woman: "Don't end a sentence with a preposition."
First woman: "Okay. Where's your birthday party at, bitch?"

What are YOUR pet grammar peeves? Post them here. Let’s hear 'em!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Self-Promotion Sucks
I'm sorry, but it does, doesn't it? Here I sit with my fingers worn down to nubs, callouses forming on my fingertips while I try to increase exposure for my novel Dear Crossing. Okay, so I exaggerate ... a little.

Not everyone who stops by here is a writer, but for those of you who are, you know what I'm talking about. If you're like me, you're working as hard as you ever have, glued all the while to your computer chair--no physical activity except for drinking quarts of coffee and running back and forth to the restroom to make room for more. *I haven't swept the floor, or vaccumed the carpeting in longer than I care to admit. Clean dishes are still sitting in the dishwasher, and the dust is getting so thick that, soon, my cats' paw prints will be visible on the window sills. (Okay, I've already admitted I exaggerate--not so much about that last part, though.) Guys, I'm sure you have your own list of "masculine" chores you've been neglecting as well. (Politically incorrect? Oops, sorry!)

Worst of all is that I haven't done any writing for... for... Well, for so long I've forgotten the last time I did that. Oh, I've been writing, all right: blogs, socializing on a number of social networks, requesting book reviews. But I can't seem to get down to work on the writing that I want to do most--my own. Sound familiar?

I'm convinced that publishing a book--like prescription drugs--has side effects. (*See above) At least it does if you're taking it seriously, and who of us doesn't? Twitter. Facebook. Amazon. LinkedIn. Goodreads. The list goes on and on. All good. All a help to writers, but--dare I use the term--necessary evils? Do we need them? Oh, yes! Do they take up a lot of our limited personal writing time? Uh-huh. Could we succeed without them? Doubtful. Do I have a solution? Heck, no! I'm just grumbling and offering a shoulder to cry on. (Yes, I know better than to end a sentence in a preposition. Ignore that. Normally, I talk real good English. LOL)

So, what's the point of all this. Well, first of all it helped me blow off a little steam. Secondly, I do have a bit of helpful advice for writers who aren't already aware of this.

If you're looking for book reviewers, go to Indiebookreviewer. 'Nuf said. You'll see.

As for each of those reviewers, God bless them. Whether they accept a request or not, they deserve a big hand for lending a hand.  

If you'd like to share your experience with self-promotion, have some advice of your own, or just feel like blowing off some steam like me, feel free to leave a comment for the rest of us. We'd like to hear from you.

See you next time! Write on!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Divine Intervention
Okay, divine might be going a bit overboard, but I feel like I just spent time with my guardian angel.If he reads this, his face will probably flush a bright red because he's a humble, "Aw, shucks" kind of guy. But what else would you call a man who willingly (no, no kidding ... willingly) undertook the chore of formatting your e-book, created a .mobi file and, on more than one grueling occasion, walked you through finally getting your book into print? Tonight he added another feat to his accomplishments. He helped me create a more visually appealing blog site. Those of you who were good enough to read my debut blog last week know what an improvement this is. The original had all the appeal of a slab of wet cardboard. (You can see I'm not done yet, but thanks to him, it's no longer an eyesore.)

Impressed? Well, hold onto your britches; I'm not done. All that would be remarkable enough if I had a hint what I was doing, but uh-uh, I was the poster child for "Clueless".  With his help I've gotten better but it's painfully slow going. (My fault not his.) For me, writing is a cinch compared to all the computer-related hoops I'm learning to jump through to let readers know I've written a darned good book I'd like them to read. Still, he never raised his voice or stopped smiling. (Or was that snarling? No ... I'm pretty sure it wasn't--90% certain anyhow.) Regardless, if he ever had thoughts about where he could hide my body, he never let it show.

By now every female reading this knows I'm probably not talking about my husband. (Love you, honey!) After all, that kind of patience usually fades away almost as fast as the last echo of the wedding vows leaves the church. (I'm a kidder. I'm really not all that cynical.)

Now pay attention; I'm about to divulge this man's identity. (I feel like I'm about to unmask the Lone Ranger here.) I've been talking about Darren Kirby. He's married to his highschool sweetheart Amy. (Great taste, Darren!)  Not only does he work full-time, he's in training to run a marathon in the near future, plus he's a writer, too. And a terrific one at that!

Darren recently released his novella, Coordinates for Murder, a chilling story of two friends whose geocaching adventure turns into a struggle for survival as they face a vicious man known only as the Woodsman. Check it out! If you hurry, you can sign up to win a free copy on Goodreads.

I just wanted to let Darren know how terrific he is. And having done that, I realize I also owe him for providing me with material for my second blog! Is there no stopping this guy?

If there's someone you'd like to thank for similar help along the way, feel free to do that right here on my blog ... or in a blog of your own. It doesn't matter where or how you tell them, just do it! (Hey, I sound like a Nike ad.)

See you next time!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Off the Top of My Head

Hello everyone. Whether you've looked up my blog  intentionally or stumbled across it by accident, thanks for dropping by. I hope you'll stick around long enough for us to get acquainted.

Let me introduce myself. My name is Marjorie Doering ... Marjorie Swift Doering for writing purposes. I'm totally winging this. I figured I might as well admit it because you've probably guessed as much already. Since this is my debut blog, dipping a toe in the pool seemed smarter than jumping right in cannonball-style. If I write a second, I promise to tackle something more interesting than a "Hi. Howdy" note.

Meanwhile, observant or not, by now it's likely you've noticed the book cover to the right. Being intelligent, discerning individuals, you've probably decided it doesn't belong to a romance novel ... and you'd be right. It's the book cover of the first in my Ray Schiller murder mystery series.

Having already acknowledged your intelligence, and powers of observation and deduction, I find myself wading through waist-high concerns. Will readers think I misspelled D-E-E-R? Will the bloody axe have everyone thinking the novel is the equivalent of a slasher movie? Good grief! Heaven help me!

Actually, referring to the betrayal of loved ones, the title is a play on words--the "dear" referring to the term of endearment. As for the bloody axe... Well, it is what it is, but the story is far from being graphically violent. If you enjoy mysteries, I'd love to have you to read it and check that out for yourselves. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to any comments you'd like to make. In fact, how about adding your thoughts on book covers ... your own or others.

Thanks, everyone! See you around.

Marjorie Doering