WHO CARES ABOUT GRAMMAR? (Readers do!)

By Eileen Register,  English teacher and author of Adrianna and the Grisholm County Chronicles series.

Sometimes I really hate being an English teacher! Before I went to college and earned my BA in English Education, I enjoyed reading much more than I do now. Why? It’s because I wasn’t as concerned with how the author of a book wrote as I was about what they wrote. I could delve into the story and never give a second thought to whatever grammar and punctuation errors there might be in the book. Of course, I’d notice gross errors, but the little things didn’t bother me. Now they do.

When I was in elementary school, we studied verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and all that kind of stuff, and it wasn’t all that painful, as far as I can remember. (Let’s face it, though…at my age, I don’t remember all that much about elementary school, except for the popsicles we could buy for a nickel or dime while waiting for the afternoon bus ride home. Oh, and I DO remember that really cool sixth grade teacher I had – very tall, very handsome, and a very good teacher – that sums up Mr. Rose.)

 

As the years passed, I remember writing, lots of writing, and I loved it. I think the mechanics of writing were instilled in us back then by rote memory as well as a stern hand on the blackboard and a lot of red ink on our assignments. Most of it came naturally, though, for me. I loved reading, so the rules of grammar seemed to grow with me as my repertoire of books grew. I even delved into Shakespeare in eighth grade, reading “Romeo and Juliet” and doing a report on it that earned me an A- for grammar (I had a few misplaced modifiers, which we hadn’t even studied about yet.) and an A for content – the teacher said I did a better job on it than her students in the senior class who were studying Shakespeare. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer (and a brain surgeon, but I soon found out that Science and Math were not my fortes, so that dream never came to fruition).

 

In the next few weeks, I’m going to write a few BLOG entries about proper grammar and writing mechanics. I’ll discuss such things as subject/verb agreement, adverbs (don’t forget the –ly), unclear antecedents (too many pronouns, not enough nouns), sentence structures, split infinitives (how to not do that), proper word usage, and punctuation. I’m sure that as I write the entries, I’ll come up with a few other errors writers are guilty of (including me – even an English teacher screws up sometimes). Let’s try that last sentence again since I ended with a preposition: I’m sure that as I write, I’ll come up with a few other errors of which writers are guilty. (Gosh, that sounds awkward!)

 

One advantage authors of fiction have is that we can get away with a lot more improper grammar than those who write non-fiction, especially essayists and writers of text books. I use a lot of dialogue in my writing, so I get to break all the rules – nobody talks the same in casual conversation as we are taught to write in formal essays and such.

 

So here I go…I’ll try not to make grammar too boring, and I hope my efforts will help authors write better books. If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of trouble figuring out the story you want to tell, the characters you want to create, and the scenes where things happen. That’s why we are writers. Polishing our words is a bit more challenging. Let’s meet that challenge together.

 

(By the way, if you noticed that I incorrectly use only one space after the periods at the ends of sentences, you’ve got a sharp eye. You’re also totally correct about that. In the day of electronic books, though, using double spaces at the end of sentences messes with the programming that converts our manuscripts into E-books. Because of this, I have noticed that paperbacks and hardcover books often skip that second space, too. I guess this is one punctuation rule that is changing, and I, for one, don’t give a rat’s patoot about it anymore. After having to go through entire books removing those extra spaces before publishing them as E-books, I’ve decided to take the easy road. The one suggestion I have regarding the two-space rule is: Be consistent. Don’t switch from the two-space side of the argument to the one-space side in the same piece of writing. If you choose to do it one way, stick with it.)

 

C U L8r! (Oh, I hate all the abbreviations we use in texting! How will our books and other writing look in ten years if today’s kids never learn how to write a proper sentence?)

 

~Eileen~

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Looking for the good hook by Karen Vaughan

Gone are the days where IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT will cut it as an opening line. It is so cliched and and hackneyed that I would sooner put a book back on the shelf than read it.

How about death was standing on the doorstep. It would not ask permission to enter. It would barge right in and take anything or anyone standing in it’s path. (Note to self to use this one). This line would reel me in to find out what poor sucker was going to buy the farm.

That is the secret to a great opening line. Grab the reader and make them want more.

Perhaps if you are writing something less macabre, describing a piece of beautiful scenery will set the tone for the story you are writing. Maybe something witty if it is of a more comic bent. 

I started DAYTONA DEAD with the following:

The moon was high and a thousand stars appeared in the Florida sky. The sunset had been glorious, a flaming orange glow with pink undertones.

 

 Lou had taken up photography as a hobby since moving to the Daytona Beach area. Lou, a Canadian, had been lured to the area by a guy on the Dudes seeking Dudes website. Having broken up with his long time love, Richard, he had been itching to leave Toronto behind, along with a broken heart and ten years of bad memories. His marriage to Laura had died on Speaker’s Corner and it was time to leave the crap and the cold behind, in favour of a warmer climate and palm trees.  Ironically, Laura, the ex, had written him a glowing letter of reference for his work visa. He had applied via an online job search engine, and told his internet paramour he was heading to Florida to make a go of his career and a new life south of the Mason Dixon Line.

So today after putting in an eight hour shift, he went home and grabbed a shower and changed into beach shorts and a clean T-shirt sporting the slogan Just Grill Me. He had invested in a Digital SLR for taking some great landscape shots to post on Face book. He found that he loved photography and if his life as a chef sputtered, now he had a back-up plan. 

The scene looked to be pastoral and serene describing the sunset and something harmless as someone snapping photos.  Does it make the reader want to go and find out more? –Okay as the writer for this I really hope someone will.

In other stories I go for the funny like in my Gus the dog chronicles:

Gus’s Life —A dogs eye view of his world.

Intro

Okay here are the bare facts. The ugly truth; I am a dog! I guess it could have been worse; I could have been born a cat. Now there’s a bad attitude and a waste of fur if ever I saw one. With dogs, you always know where you stand. Cats have a hidden agenda. Always appear like they couldn’t care less. Let me tell you this people! IT’S A FREAKIN’ BIG LIE!!!!!!!!!! CATS DO CARE!!! IF IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THEM, YOU PAY FOR IT BIG TIME!

My whole point is the hook needs to be strong in order to be effective enough to keep the readers attention. Get them in there and something tasty to latch onto like a great guitar riff.in a rock song or the chorus you will keep singing long after the song is over.

People remember lines like. IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES. It’s the classic opener to A TALE OF TWO CITIES.  Dickens makes the reader want to go and find out why.

Lincolns GETTYSBURG ADDRESS started out with FOUR SCORE AND TWENTY YEARS AGO. It sounds more interesting than EIGHTY YEARS AGO.

So I challenge you as writers to find the hook and get the fish on the line.

Using your childhood as fictional fodder

WOULD YOU WRITE ABOUT YOUR CHILDHOOD?

Are there skeletons in your juvenile closet that you would rather keep buried or would you include as a part of a fictional story?  Are you comfortable enough with your past that you feel using these experiences in a helpful way? 

Some writers are cool and comfortable enough to use something traumatic from their pasts in a fictional format in order to help readers or just get it out there. You can change the names of the innocent or even the guilty to disguise that this was a real person. You as a writer need to be in a good spot emotionally to make it work so as it doesn’t cause you trauma as an adult.

I have tried to write a fictional account of the suicides of two friends from my twenties.  I want to tell the story of Fred and his brother Jim in order to state the importance of talking about mental health issues.

That’s just one example but I want I want to be sure I can do it without feeling traumatized. 29 years after the fact this event still gets to me.

Another area of my youth I would talk about as a part of a story is the aspect of being bullied by my peers  and thus causing a raging anxiety disorder that still plagues me.  I am in a much better place to take this on than the suicide story.

I have no clue as to when I will get either of these plots but I think they will be helpful to someone.

On the other hand you may have family trips or just little things that you did as a kid to use in a story that might be funny or enjoyable.

For example I grew up in Northern Ontario for the first six years of my life before the great exodus to the Greater Toronto area. I have some great memories of Winter carnivals and my first crush on a swimming instructor even when I was six. I spent loads of time in the bowling alley harassing the pinsetter while my sister and brother bowled and my parents curled. Our school gymnasium was the movie theatre and we saw a lot of good movies that were borrowed from the cinemas in town.  I might just write that as a part of an autobiography one day.

It’s all up to the particular writer what aspects of real life they want to share with readers. Make the read a cautionary tale of kids don’t try this at home or things they did as a kid written into the characters story.

 

 

Life’s An Adventure – Bring It On! by Dellani Oakes

Dellani Oakes with glasses smallerLife is an adventure, or more accurately, a series of them, strung together with moments that aren’t nearly as memorable. During this quieter times, we contemplate and remember the ones that came before, going over them in our minds.

As authors, we store up these moments and save them for a story. I have a vast catalog of these memories that I have stored in my mind, some I’ve written down. Most are merely there to be plucked when needed.

For example, the old lady who deliberately ran into me with a shopping cart in K-Mart. I stood in the vasty nothingness surrounded by wide open space, but she went out of her way to hit me. I shall not forget her diatribe about how “You people down here just get in the way.” Nor shall I forget the other woman who took up for me, telling her just as loudly, “If you hate it here so much, why don’t you go the hell back home!”

I also remember quite fondly the young men I encountered in the grocery store one day. They were discussing the attributes, or lack thereof, of a variety of beers. One member of the group was constantly shot down, his choices nixed at every turn. Finally, he grabbed a case of beer and held it close to his body so they couldn’t take it away. “I didn’t spend $900 on a ticket and fly all this way to drink beer I don’t like!”

Another incident, this time with my GPS, stands out in my mind. My GPS kept arguing with me and got me quite misplaced on my way home from Tampa. I was going through Orlando (which I shall always equate with a black hole – because it always sucks me in and gets me lost). It told me to make a left when I really needed to go straight across. I should have known what I was in for when the drunk lady wobbled across the intersection in front of me and stopped by the car to stare at us while I waited for the light to change. I ended up in a part of town that no woman with two boys in the car should ever be in alone.

I realized my error and tried to find a way to turn around, but there was construction going on. There were also a series of one way streets headed the wrong way for where I needed to go. When I stopped at an intersection and saw six cop cars with lights flashing, surrounding a house a block away, I didn’t care if I went the wrong way or not. I sped away from there as quickly as possible, got myself to I-4 and headed east. When my boys asked me why I was on the interstate (they know I hate it) I replied, “I may not like I-4, but at least when I’m on it, I know where the hell I am!”

Not all incidents have been negative. The game I played with one of the special ed students a week ago, is a happy memory that will one day be commemorated. I don’t know what the child’s condition is, but he’s in a wheelchair and has impaired motor skills. His language skills are also limited, but he’s a bright, cheerful child with a fun sense of humor. He was playing with a box of markers and he handed it to me. I handed it back. We passed it back and forth a few more times, then he handed it to me as if it were incredibly heavy. I took it and collapsed, as if a great weight tugged at me. Then I made believe it could fly, lifting it high above our heads. He laughed and smiled.

The next time I passed it back to him, I snatched it away just as he grabbed it. He was surprised, but saw the humor in it and laughed loudly, throwing his whole body into it. We carried on like that for at least 10 minutes, having the best time teasing one another with the simple game. I’ll carry that memory fondly with me until the day I use it in a story.

Save up these moments that make up your day. Treasure them, hold them gently and use them to pepper your writing with verisimilitude. Life’s an adventure – Bring It On!

© Dellani Oakes

To purchase books by Dellani Oakes: The Ninja Tattoo, Indian Summer, Lone Wolf.

 

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