Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An "Ing" Word in a Past-tense Sentence (not to be confused with a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court)

A week ago at LTUE (which is an awesome writers conference, and if you have the chance to do next year, you should) I taught a class called Creating Snazzier Sentences. I posted a sentence as an example - I don't recall the exact sentence, but here's one that is similar in structure:

She walked into the grocery store, her purse dangling from her arm.

My point was that whenever you have an "ing" word (also known as a gerund) in a sentence, you need to be able to do that thing while you're doing the other things in the sentence. (I'm sorry - that was confusing. I shall further explain.) Her purse can dangle from her arm while she walks into the grocery store, so this sentence works. However, if the sentence read, "She walked into the grocery store, putting on her shoes," she can't possibly walk and put on her shoes at the same time, so that would be incorrect.

A gentleman in the class had a question - "dangling" is present tense, and the sentence is past tense, so he wasn't sure how that could work together. We were running out of time and I couldn't give the kind of in-depth answer I wanted to, so I thought I'd take that opportunity here and hope that maybe word would leak back to him.  :)

Yes, the sentence is in past tense. But look at when her purse is dangling. It's dangling while the past tense sentence is taking place. It's happening in that sentence's here and now, while the walking is going on. Therefore, the "ing" word is all right to use in this sentence. It shows something that is happening concurrently with our main action.

I hope these explanations make sense ... if you have any questions for me or if you'd like me to check out a sentence for correctness, send it on over to me at tristipinkston@gmail.com. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Are Writers' Conferences Worth the Money?

by Cindy Hogan

The answer is a resounding YES!

A huge turning point in my writing career occurred when my sister invited me to attend a local writers' conference. I didn't even know such a thing existed at the time (it's true, I was that clueless about the writing community and what was available). This writing conference changed my life and opened my eyes not only to the possibilities of a writing career, but also to a whole new world of friends and information.

I get asked all the time by people who want to become a "writer" what they should do to achieve their dreams. My answer? Go to writers' conferences. I've been to a lot of conferences and I haven't found one that compares in price and value to the one I attended with my sister about eight years ago. No matter where you live, I suggest you consider going and taking the opportunity to learn the craft of writing.

Here are the details for the LDStorymakers Conference. It has the potential to change your future. Hurry and register. Prices go up on Feb. 28th.

Learn Write Publish Writers Conference May 15th 16th   2015
Utah Valley Convention Center 220 W. Center Street Provo, UT 84601
Thursday May 14 Bootcamp / Publication Primer
May 15 16, 2015 Friday Saturday Conference
For all published and pre-published writers
Fri/Sat: $200
Fri Only $110
Sat Only: $90
*Prices increase after Feb 28th
2015 Keynote Speaker
Martine Leavitt
National Book Award Finalist (Lady Keturah and Lord Death) and winner of the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book of the Year (My Book of Life by Angel)
Meet Agents and Editors
Agents: Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media Group Victoria Marini, Gelfman Schneider Literary Agency Jennifer Rofe, Andrea Brown Literary Agency Suzie Townsend, New Leaf Literary
Editors: Lizzie Poteet, St. Martin’s Press Heidi Taylor, Shadow Mountain ● Kathy Gordon, Covenant ● Liz Alley, Deseret Book
Instructors include: Margie Lawson, Anne Perry, David Farland, Sara Zarr, Jennifer Nielsen, Rachel Ann Nunes, Lisa Mangum, Dan Wells, Amber Argyle, Mette Ivie Harrison, Jolene Perry, Robison Wells, Courtney Alameda, Sarah Eden and more!

Have you been to a writers' conference? 
Which one? Would you recommend it?

For more information on why I suggest you go to writers' conferences go here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why Writers Should Care About Sentence Structure

by Guest Author Rebecca Rode

Before you read the words "sentence structure" and assume this to be about as exciting as a college anatomy class, let me assure you that we're not talking grammar here. This is a discussion of the length and structure of a sentence. Ironically, even though our stories are made up entirely of these babies, we rarely think about how we build our sentences--we just think about what to fill them with. But that is a huge mistake. To the best authors, sentence structure is like a brushstroke on a painting. Color is important, true, but it's how it's applied that creates a masterpiece. Long strokes give the illusion of beauty and calm. Short, intense strokes make the viewer more tense, more excited. Just as an artist manipulates our emotions, we must learn to manipulate those of our reader--and we can do that with sentence structure.

Varying sentence structure makes prose invisible. 

When each sentence is different from the one that came before it, it feels natural to us. Prose that changes, weaves, and threads its way through a story sounds more like real life. When a writer fails to vary their sentence structure, the reader can tell. They won't nail it down as a sentence structure issue, but you'll often hear complaints like, "I'm bored" or "This seems too wordy." When it's done right, ironically, the reader doesn't notice except to comment that they're sucked in and can't seem to put the book down.

 It's pretty easy to get into a rhythm when you're writing. There's technically nothing wrong with the concept itself. But it's in our nature as human beings to gloss over such things. We can't help but start to skim the words when that happens. Short sentences can start to feel choppy after a while. Long sentences can make us sleepy or bored after just a few paragraphs. Several sentences with several conjoined parts can be even more difficult to read. It's for that reason that we should vary our sentence structure in each paragraph.

Okay, if you didn't catch it, that last paragraph was thrown in to prove a point. Did you see the pattern? Each sentence (except for one) was 10-13 words long with no commas. It felt choppy and boring, didn't it? It stood out. That is the opposite of what we want. A reader's eyes should float through the page and allow them to get lost in the story without cumbersome, robotic sentence structure.

Here's another example:

Bobby squinted in the sun, determined to reach the sword at all costs. It would be hard, but he had to try. His sister's life was in jeopardy, and he couldn't give up. If he did, she would die. He sighed, then picked up his pack. It was several hours until sunset, and he wanted to get in as many miles as possible. Once they found out his plan, he would be in grave danger. 

Here's the same story, but with varying sentence structure:

Bobby squinted in the sun. He was determined to reach the sword at all costs. It would be hard, but he had to try--his sister's life was in jeopardy, and he couldn't give up. If he did, she would die. He sighed, then picked up his pack. It was several hours until sunset. He wanted to get in as many miles as possible, because once they found out his plan, he would be in grave danger. 

Make sense? With a little practice, it isn't hard to pick up on sentence structure. As you read books by other authors, it will become easier to determine the authors who have this concept figured out and those who don't.

So, how do we use this in our writing?

Here's what I would recommend. Choose five random paragraphs in your story, each from a different scene. Then take a magnifying glass (figuratively, of course, unless you want a headache) and analyze their sentences. Is there a pattern? Do you tend to use short sentences like those above? Does each sentence contain one comma? Two? Everyone has a pet "structure" that they use too often. Now that you're aware, you can watch for it. Whenever that structure comes up while editing, see if you can switch the order of the sentence (or other sentences around it) a bit. It'll probably make a huge difference.

Different structures can be used for different purposes. 

As you read books from the nationally recognized authors, pay close attention to pacing. Many of them use longer sentences during the slower, more thoughtful scenes, then pick up the pace with shorter sentences when the action hits. This is because a reader's heart rate actually increases when many shorter sentences are used together. It's a simple way to add a little umph to a lagging climax. 

Similarly, you may notice that certain sentence structures lend themselves to more white space, which allows the reader to cruise through at a faster pace. You may notice this with dialogue, too. 

Varying sentence structure is even more important when you have more than one viewpoint character. In real life, some people talk in short, trite sentences while others ramble on. If you don't differentiate the same way in your book, you're missing out on an important writing tool.

I learned this the hard way. My YA thriller, Numbers Game (coming out in Spring 2015), has two first-person viewpoint characters, a guy and a girl. In early drafts, my beta readers complained that the characters sounded the same. A critique group buddy gave me a Lee Child novel so I could read "what a real man sounded like." It helped. I immediately went back to my manuscript and changed the structure of almost every sentence from his point of view to reflect the more terse, concise manner of a no-nonsense type of guy. Now every reader says they like his character best.

Sentence structure is a tool, a secret weapon of sorts for the wise and experienced writer. It's the ability to wield sentence structure, transform it, and use it to his or her advantage. Don't be afraid to play around with the concept. It may be just the breath of fresh air that your writing needs to take you to the next level. 

Rebecca Rode
                  March 2013

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Writing a Novella

by Donna K. Weaver

In the post last week, we sent out a call for submissions for a second anthology. Click here for details.

If you've never written a novella or shorter work before, you might not be sure what you should or should not include in your story. Here are some things to consider:
  • Write a tagline that summarizes what your story is about.
  • What is the conflict?
  • Keep the plot simple and limit or avoid subplots. You just don't have time to do them justice.
  • Limit points of view and even consider first person to help the reader connect with the main character right away.
  • Do you want chapters or just scene breaks or acts?
  • While your main characters must be developed, you won't have time to go too deeply into many other characters.
  • Be wary of too much back story. This is true in a full-length novel but especially true in a novella.
  • Because you're concerned about word count, make your words count. Look for simpler ways to say things, evaluate your dialogue beats and tags. Make your descriptions of surroundings serve two purposes by being a reflection of the character who's observing them.
Here are some resources (though there are many more if you want to search further):