- by Judy Griffith Gill
Before we get started on the wind-up of this series, let me offer several words of advice: Do not try to make the big leap from Word 2000 to Word 2007 when you’re in the midsts of an International move. Do not promise to do anything, or schedule anything, at any time near tax date. Do not even try to type when you reach your destination and discover all those things you’d forgotten you were allergic to and be forced to take Benedryl (or however it’s spelled) because you run the risk of sleeping half the morning, missing the reminder that you’re supposed to be blogging today, and then, head all muzzy from medication, have to try to figure out how to work the damn program in which you write.
And now, on to the main show.
P.S. Please take special note of the section on run-on sentences.
Readers— This is another name for the habitués of used-book stores. They come in many varieties, sizes, shapes and textures, but all have opinions and most don’t hesitate to make them known especially over the Internet where they will tell several million other readers that you couldn’t write your way out of a wet paper bag and that no one, ever, should waste his or her money on buying your book new. Publishers have taken note of this. This is why the most of the new books you see in stores now are written by Nora Roberts, John Grisham and Danielle Steele, all fine writers, to be sure, but they’re going to have nervous breakdowns eventually from all that pressure and when the used books finally, after thirty-nine years of hard use, wear out, there might be a market out there for your book, so keep slogging, do. Another word on readers. Never, ever, insult them by telling them that the books they buy second hand don’t put any marshmallows in your hot chocolate.
Run-on Sentences– These are used primarily to keep editors on their toes and force them to earn the millions of dollars they are paid to edit each of our books. For good examples of run-on sentences, see such items as “Exposition” above, and ‘Settings” below, although there are many other fine illustrations of this art throughout this piece, though I do say so myself, I who make a concerted effort never to blow my own horn because that’s unbecoming in a woman even one who has nearly 4 dozen books to her credit, many of the published by major houses and . . . (I’m pausing for breath here.) My favorite editor once told me that if I haven’t used a period at the end of a sentence in 6 ms. lines, then she considers that a run-on sentence. She let me get away with one once because one of my People was mad and telling someone off. That’s why she’ll always be my favorite editor.
Real Life—That which should not intrude on our stories unless we are writing literary fiction. There, it’s okay for People to be fat and have unwanted facial hair. There, it’s possibly even okay for men not to be totally irresistible, unless of course, the author is male, in which case he may be the kind to write the male protagonist in his own (imaginary) image. In Real Life, eligible 35-year-old men do not enjoy the recovery-time of a seventeen-year-old, though they’ll probably have greater staying-power. In Real Life most single women often begin to sag in odd places by the time they reach 35, and are not CEOs of companies with world-wide holdings, do not own their own homes, and do not drive Porsches. Dammit all, anyway!
Scenes— These are sort of mini-stories made up of letters, sentences (or fragments there-of) and paragraphs. Each one has a beginning, a middle, and an end and should not be included unless it advances the plot. For instance, in the Plot above, if you write a scene in which Boy and dental practitioner meet up with a Sasquatch in Harrison Hot Springs, just because you want to write about Sasquatches to Lecture the Reader, it’s not a good scene. To make it one, ensure that the reader knows the Sasquatch is, at the very least, really a Government official wearing a furry suit and stilts, checking to make sure the dental practitioner is actually there to attend a dental practitioners’ convention, and not merely to kanoodle with Boy in a hot spring.
Settings— These are places like Greece, tropical islands, and Roach Motels. Used wisely with evocative descriptive terms, they can add much to your readers’ enjoyment. Used unwisely, they can make the reader doubt the writer’s sanity and hurl the book across the room. e.g. If your Heroine is pacing restlessly on the sloping deck of a vessel in mid-Atlantic and has just tossed her hair or her cookies, it doesn’t make much sense to have a Sasquatch (Big Foot to some of you) suddenly come leaping out of the hold to sweep her up and carry her into the forest. For one thing, there are very few forests in mid-ocean, and Sasquatches are known to be notoriously bad sailors so you’d never find one stowed away in the hold of a ship, not even to carry off the Heroine. Besides, even if it’s not a Sasquatch, but the Hero dressed up like one, if the Heroine has just upchucked, he’s not going to want to kiss her, not is she going to want him to. In this case, write a scene that shows her at least rinsing her mouth, drinking ginger ale or strong rum or better yet, brushing her teeth and gargling as well as taking sea-sick medicine. (Which will probably put her to sleep, so forget the kiss scene altogether.)
Showing— Putting your reader inside a hot, furry suit by letting him experience the sweat, the itch, the press of the stilts under his feet, the limited view from the beady little eye-holes, the heaving deck, trying to upchuck through a mouth that’s wired shut because that’s the way the manufacturer made the damn costume because he knew perfectly well there’d never be occasion for a Hero in a hot, furry suit with stilts, to be on the deck of a ship in the first place. Jeez!
Telling— Dick saw a snake. Dick picked it up. Dick chased Jane. Jane snatched the snake, bit its head off and spit it in Dick’s face. Jane told Dick if he didn’t leave her alone she’d bite the head off his, er, something else, and spit that in his face too. Dick slunk away with his, er, something else between his legs. Very high between his legs.
Typographical Errors– Making Miss takes in you’re writing, such as using the term “immoral prose” when you really meant to use “immortal prose.” Spelling cheques do not notify ewe of these, so be wear.
Unusual Spellings— See above. Also, a last resort when you don’t know enough about the word even to look it up, or you’re too tired to look it up, or your carpal tunnel syndrome is so bad you can’t so much as turn a page in the dictionary, in which case you spell it as you think it might be spelled in a direct translation from Mandarin Chinese, put quotation marks around it and call it “dialect.”
Verbs— Words that mean action. e.g. “The old soldier had seen verbs in many theaters of war.” Seriously, the more active your verbs, the more vivid your writing. Instead of “Zeke walked toward her,” you might say “Zeke strode toward her.” Or “Zeke crawled toward her.” Or “Zeke flailed toward her through the choppy sea, trying to learn how to swim in a soggy, furry suit with stilts, so he could save her from the sloping deck.”
Villains—See Antagonists, above. Well, they do that in crossword puzzles. 16 Down—see 53 across. 53 across—see 16 down.
Voice— Using words no one else would ever dream of using, in ways no one else would ever dream of using them, under circumstances no one else would ever dream of writing them. Explanation: If you make the same stupid writing mistake or reference often enough and consistently enough, everyone who reads your work comes to expect it of you and recognizes it as your “voice.” This is not always a bad thing. Bad things are nasty little men in raincoats.
Writing— What some folks do so they don’t have to watch golf or bowling on television, wash the dishes, change the cat litter, paint the garage or talk to flesh-and-blood entities. This will also enable them to have stuff for which they might, conceivably, after those aforementioned nervous breakdowns in Roberts, Grisham and Steele, get paid. Oh yeah, and Hoag and Hooper. Someone told me their books can be bought new, too. I wouldn’t know, being a habitué of used book stores.
W’s—There are 6 of them. Hah! And you thought there were only 5. I’m telling you now you were misled in school. There truly are six.. They are Who, What, When, Where, Why and hoW, even though the latter ends rather than begins with a W. Remember them, always. They are the key elements to your story, to any story. The reader needs to know Who is wearing the Sasquatch suit, Why he’s wearing it, hoW it feels, What his mission is, Where he is heading with this ridiculous scene, and When he might get there as well as hoW the hell he got into it in the first place. I mean, who did up that eight-foot-long zipper in the back? Why? When? Where, and What was he thinking to get himself in such a fix to begin with?
Xylophones— Have no bearing at all on writing. Keep that in mind at all times and you will surely succeed. (From a fortune cookie at the Ho Inn.)
Yellow Submarines— Are preferable to green ones because the green ones are undoubtedly moldy having sat too long in the Sub shop because all the female staff were in the back beating with frying pans on the occipital regions of brash male coworkers who should know better, dammit, take that! And that!
Zeke— A good name for a Hero. Most hero’s names have for reasons that completely escapes me and nearly every other clean-minded, naive female writer, have a “k” sound in them, such as Jake, or Mike, or Luke, or Zach, or Zeke. That’s why all those nasty little men wearing raincoats in wooded areas are usually called something innocuous like “Roger.”