Posted in Bookish Things, Reading, Writing, Writing Tips

Punctuation Pantry: the Oxford Comma (To Use or Not To Use)

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Let me put forth a public apology to my faithful readers who have not heard from this blog in a few weeks. Wanna know why? No, you probably don’t. Suffice it to say, school happened, then driver’s ed happened, then editing happened, then a whole bunch of other stuff happened . . . 🙂 Blogs are wonderful, but they suffer when our schedules get stuffed. Who can relate?

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The Punctuation Pantry is back, and we’re here to talk about the Oxford comma. Heard of it? Oh, yeah, I bet you have.

Don’t know what it is? No problem – here goes.

I am sending Sally a get-well card, a potted plant, and a new coat.

(I’d like to have a friend who would think to send all that when I’m sick.) 😉

Did you spot the Oxford comma? It comes after the last item in a list. So, after “potted plant.” Now, the controversy surrounding this helpless little comma is that some style guides require it when others don’t. So you have people who like it and people who don’t.

Now, let’s look at that sentence again, without the Oxford comma.

I am sending Sally a get-well card, a potted plant and a new coat.

Not having the comma doesn’t make that sentence confusing. You can mentally insert the separation of the three items. But let’s look at a different sentence.

She took her cousins, Dominique, and Miss Helen to the local fair.

Got it? Now let’s take the Oxford comma out.

She took her cousins, Dominique and Miss Helen to the local fair.

See the problem? A reader might think her cousins are Dominique and Helen. Now, strictly speaking, you’d need a comma after Helen if those names were her cousins’, but that’s a story for another day.

Personally, yes, I use the Oxford comma. It just makes sense. In some sentences, it feels awkward, in some, it’s unnecessary, but in others, it literally makes the difference between a reader understanding and misunderstanding what you’re saying.

And no, you can’t use the comma in one sentence and not in another in the same story. 🙂 Sorry, but . . . no.

So, now that the Punctuation Pantry has been resurrected, tell me your ideas for what we should chat about in the world of grammar!

Your turn! What is your opinion on the Oxford comma? Do you use it? Let’s chat in the comments!

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Posted in Guest Post, Personal, Writing

I Did a Guest Post! Don’t Miss It.

I did my first guest post ever. 🙂 So if you’re interested in dogs or farming or a mini writing update, take a look:

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Check out the post here.

The mini writing update is at the bottom of the post. More info to follow. Go ahead and subscribe to the Ants in the Pantry newsletter to make sure you get all the info!

Now, is that puppy cute or what? ❤

Posted in Bookish Things, Writing, Writing Tips

Adjectives ‘n’ Adverbs – Friends or Foe to Your Writing?

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Okay, I don’t care if you just started writing a week ago, you’ve probably heard rumors of the dissension adjectives and adverbs cause between writers and editors. The plain truth is, every editor I’ve ever heard from speaks against most adjectives and adverbs. Look at this sentence:

The growling dog stalked slowly towards the boy’s house, eager for the tasty beef he knew was on the grill.

If you couldn’t tell, there are too many adjectives in that sentence. And the adverb “slowly” is weak. So how do you fix something like that? Or, more to the point, how to avoid it in the first place?

Well, there is a bit of a trick to this.

STRONG VERBS.

Let’s look at this sentence again.

The dog stalked towards the house, his mouth watering in anticipation of the meat he could smell sizzling on the grill.

Okay, that’s FAR from perfect. But we did chop out some adjectives. Now lets look at the verbs. In my opinion, “stalked” is a fairly strong verb in this instance, because it gives a good picture of how the dog was moving. “Mouth watering” is probably a little cliche. But compare it to “eager for . . .” and it does portray a slightly stronger image. Regarding nouns, “meat” is better than “beef” in this instance. If it’s on a grill, for one, it’s probably beef. Let the reader assume some things, especially if it is not essential to the progression of the story.

Now, don’t go chopping every single adjective or adverb out of your story. When used well (and probably sparingly), they’re just fine, and quite honestly, you can’t write anything without some adjectives.

And think about it – as a reader, when you read a story with a ton of bland descriptive words, you’re going to notice it and it’s going to mess you up as you read.

Don’t just get my take on this. There are a lot of people with way more experience.

Remember, strong verbs will almost always convey what you want better than adverbs. And a mediocre adverb coupled with a weak verb is going to drag you down. So, make friends with a thesaurus.

Adjectives and adverbs are just one thing an editor (or a reader) is going to look at. Fortunately, they’re not that difficult to fix. I don’t really  recommend you worry about it in your first draft, because it will probably slow you down. But if you’re like me and you “edit” your first draft with a read-over, that’s a GREAT time to work on them. And don’t worry if you can’t catch all of them – an editor will. 🙂

Share your take on this! Do you find you struggle with adjectives and adverbs? What technique could you share for other writers? Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Book Updates, Bookish Things, Personal, Writing

A (Super Exciting) Writing Update!!

*throws confetti and throws gluten-free pizzas in the oven*

We have a writing update.

Drum-roll.

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I’m gonna cut to the chase.

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PROMISED LAND HAS BEEN SENT TO AN EDITOR.

(insert cool GIF of confetti and cats dancing)

So, there ya all have it. I finally sent Promised Land to an editor. Which is technically just the first step in the long road of fixing this thing, but it’s exciting, nonetheless. I’ve never been so close to publishing anything. And I think this is going to work. *cue internal screaming*

😛

I’m so excited, it’s kinda hard to focus on a new first draft of a new project (which is undecided, so don’t worry, you’re not being kept in the dark). But while Promised Land is out of my hands, it’s a perfect opportunity. So just keep telling me to go write. 😉

It’ll be a few more weeks at least before I have another update, and in the meantime, I have to start thinking about the cover design. Yikes.

And this is the first time I’ve ever sent a whole manuscript to an editor, so . . . do forgive this hasty and unpolished blog post. But those are more fun anyway, right?

So, what I want to know from you, is how is your WIP going? Planning to publish? Any words of wisdom? 😉 Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Bookish Things, Writing, Writing Tips

The POV Battle Continues (Choosing the Right POV for Your Story)

I should have done this post just at the beginning of November so some of you could have seen it in time for NaNoWriMo. But alas, here it is, better late than never.

You might recall I did a post about choosing the right POV a while ago. So I’m going to try not to just repeat everything I said before. But honestly, I face this question every time I start a new book.

And it is infuriating.

Sometimes.

At other times, you just know that the story would be best if you wrote it in first person. Or third. Or one-hundred-and-seventeenth. 😔

But most of the time, for me anyway, it’s a constant battle. I wrote my recent WIP Promised Land in the point of view of first person multiple, meaning I switched between two characters. And that was tricky, but now when I try to go back to third person . . . it’s like putting a round peg in a square hole. I feel like I’m totally separate from the characters, even though I know I describe scenes and settings far better in third person than I do in first.

So what’s the answer?

There’s no easy one. Everyone will have a POV in which they write better or, at the very least, enjoy more than any other. But not every story fits in first person, and not every story fits in third person.

Generally, however, a story in which you know you need to get into the head of many different characters OR you need to get into the head of one or two minor characters, third person is probably your best option. Take it from someone who just wrote a novella in first person multiple, it’s not easy.

When I wrote One Light Shining, it was always (all six drafts of the unpublished thing) in third person. Because there were always a number of characters I wanted to bring into the story with their own point of view. Can you have too many POVs in one story? Oh, yeah. Absolutely. First person, even multiple, certainly stops you from writing in too many POVs.

But first person is limiting. So assess what you’re writing. The outline. The characters. How many characters’ heads do you need to get inside? How many do you want to get inside? (There could be a difference.)

Alas, the POV battle continues! Fight on, brave writer. The POV is only the first battle of the war that is writing. 😉

Hmm, I like that . . .

You’re turn. What POV do you enjoy the most to write? Have you experienced this conflict in your writing? Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Book Updates, Bookish Things, NaNoWriMo, Writing

A Book Update and Possibilities!

We’ve got a book update! Hurrah! You’re all invited to the pizza party.

Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. I have finished the first round of editing for my fantasy novella, Promised Land. In fact, my critique partner finished reading it, and along with her suggestions for further edits, she liked it! That’s encouraging. All in all, it doesn’t need a ton of work that we can see. And I like my book for a change. 😉 Usually, I find reasons to all but throw it away. *cringe*

But to celebrate, I’ve arranged a few snippets. 🙂 Enjoy! And please, let me know which you like best.

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Further snippets:

Running low, Clarke Creek splashed under our horses’ hooves, and I heard Fraeda laugh as it soaked through her stockings. Aaron good-naturedly threatened to throw Issac into the water after their horses nearly collided.

And . . .

Looking at those waves, I could not imagine one living so close to them. Yet in their destructive strength and cold gray-blue ferocity, there was a certain beauty, too. They were like the mountains, these waters. Powerful, redoubtable, but full of mystery and hope.

I turned my gaze back to the governor’s home, and I determined that it was built by men as redoubtably as Adonai built the sea.

So there you have it, folks! Another book update comes to a close, and now I must chose whether to write the first draft of a new project – no spoilers here! – for NaNoWriMo, or dive back into Promised Land for the edits. Decisions, decisions . . .

Also, as we move into the holiday season, I’m looking at some new possibilities for blogging come New Year’s. Namely, I’d like to be able to host one or two writing contests for short stories. 🙂 However, I don’t know if I’ll have enough of a following to do so, so if I can get some opinions on this, I’d appreciate it.

Meantime, back to the editing! Or . . . NaNo. Argh! Too many book ideas!

So, are you doing NaNo this year? Do you have a WIP underway? If you’ve been following Promised Land’s progress, what do you think so far? I’ll need participants when I get around to publishing this thing. 🙂  Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Inspirational, Reading, Short Stories, Writing

Land of Judgment – a short story

I hated the way the other men picked on Papa. He was only doing what he felt sure was right. We were all going the same way, following the same trail – the same dream.

They all said the west was the place of new beginnings. Of prosperity. Of dreams come true. That was what Papa wanted. But what we found . . . it wasn’t what we’d set out for.

“Ya drive them animals too hard, Pickett.” That was Jason Pike. He was the one with the six oxen who scared me the most – he was always totting around that ox whip of his. “Them horses can’t take that. You shoulda brought a yoke eh oxen. They can take the trail. You’ll starve these beasts before they even see the Rockies, ya will.”

The night after Pike warned us, I heard Ma begging Papa to take us back home. Hearing her talk about New York almost made me cry.

But Papa didn’t turn around.

After a few more days, we began to see the horses getting hungrier. They didn’t want what the trail had to offer. Against the men’s warnings, Papa fed them all the oats they wanted from our generous supply. I started to worry about my little pony, the pretty one Papa had promised would be mine in Oregon.

Our wagon was something to see. Ma had made sure every detail was in check. Every curtain tucked away neatly, every piece of china secure, the piano dusted daily. She seemed happy with the order in which she kept our home. But she wasn’t. She pleaded with Papa each night until both were finally brought to tears.

But Papa didn’t turn around.

The horses got worse. They were finicky. The oat supply ran nearly dry before the Rockies. Storms made the wagon miserable to haul, but they also encouraged additional growth in the grass. And still the horses wouldn’t eat it.

The men chided Papa worse and worse, not just on account of the horses, but our wagon too. It was too fancy, they said. It would never survive the trip. Papa returned their bullying with insults. Only the trail captain stood in the way of it getting bloody.

“Ma,” I whispered late that evening while she tucked the baby inside his crib for the night. “I’m scared they’re going to hurt Papa.”

She wouldn’t look at me, but that didn’t stop me from seeing the redness around her eyes, the diminishing of the flesh in her cheeks. “Fear doesn’t help anyone, Ellen May.”

I still feared.

But Papa didn’t turn around.

Near the Rockies, two of our horses went down. One to snakebite, one to starvation. I cried. Ma cried. Baby Joseph cried. Papa did not. He plunged forward, stoic, unchanging, unyielding.

In the Rockies, we lost another. My pony was next. We all saw it. She couldn’t keep up. She was skin and bones. I spent hours searching for new food for her. Hours coaxing her to eat, to drink and eventually to rise. We left her behind in a Rockies’ forest. Papa had wanted to shoot her. Ma and I objected. He relented, but not without words that terrified me. Wolves would eat her alive, he claimed. But I couldn’t bear seeing her die.

“Pray,” Ma said to me, “that God will spare us. Maybe He’ll forgive our sins and remove His hand of judgment.”

Our wagon became too heavy for three horses. We abandoned the piano, the crates of books, the stove, even Ma’s treasured set of china. She never spoke a word.

But Papa didn’t turn around.

All but one family left us to fend for ourselves. We were slowing everyone down with our horses. They refused all grass now. Papa fed them the very last of the oats. Another horse went down within the week.

“Because horses are hard to please,” Ma explained with nary a tear. “We were warned.”

Days passed, one blending into the other. Another step. Another step. We faced forward. We didn’t look back. Was that Oregon I glimpsed as the sun descended one evening? Papa told us it was. We were nearly there.

I saw it as I laid my head down and succumbed to sleep. A beacon of hope in this land of judgment.

 

Thanks for reading, you guys! I wrote Land of Judgment a year or so ago, but it came in second in its category. I love historical fiction! What’s your favorite genre??? Let’s chat in the comments.

Posted in Book Updates, Bookish Things, NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Tips

How to Choose Between Book Ideas

We all get to that point, sometime or another, when we have to choose between a handful – or a hundred – lovely book ideas scribbled on a page and . . . yikes! I want to write them allllllll!

Yeah, but seriously, it happens. I’m getting towards the end of the first round of editing for my current WIP, Promised Land, and that means making plans for my next book, and hopefully, NaNoWriMo. I SO want to do NaNo again this year! I MUST! Anyway, it seemed an appropriate topic for this post on this painfully neglected blog. 😦 Dear friend, you must forgive me. I am in the middle of editing, and blogging takes a back seat. Unintentionally, of course.

How to choose between book ideas . . .

WHAT ARE YOU MOST INSPIRED FOR?

This may seem simple, but it’s crucial. You won’t be able to write a 50,000+ word novel without being inspired for the thing. Writing is hard, folks. (News flash!)

Now, you may not know which of all these beautiful/exciting/best-seller ideas catches your eye the most. Try writing a chapter of each. Try writing an outline, see if you can figure out logistics, an ending. Run the idea by a friend. There may not be an idea there that really sticks out to you. Keep thinking.

WHAT WORKS WITH THE PRESENT MARKET?

If you plan to publish, this is an important question. Now, I can’t tell you exactly how to go about this research, but see if you can find what the current market of books is up to. What’s popular in your genre? Obviously, this is not going to be the deciding factor when it comes down the wire of story ideas, but please take it into consideration and do your research.

WHAT IDEA HAS THE MOST POTENTIAL?

Which idea is the most publishable, in other words. Can you figure out the logistics, the ending, the climax, the character arcs? If you answer yes to those questions, it’s probably doable. Next, run the idea past a friend or family member (providing they can be totally honest), and ask them, “Would you read this book if you picked it up off the shelf?” That could answer the publishable question for you right away.

There are many possibilities to help you choose between all the book ideas that spring up in your head. But these should help you get started. Now that I’m coming to the point where I have to hand Promised Land off to my critique partner – *squeezes book tight because she doesn’t want to let it go* – for the second round of editing, I’ll have time to apply these questions to the ideas I have for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned . . . there just might be another book update on the horizon!

Don’t go away. Are you fishing through the waters of creative juices? How do you choose between all those tantalizing fish that are novels and novellas and epics in their infancy? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Bookish Things, Writing, Writing Tips

What You Need to Know About Outlining

Outlining is fun. Seriously. It’s fun to see your story come together before you put a single word down on paper.

Everybody is going to have a different method of outlining. Some people don’t outline at all (and you may be one of them). But I’ve found I can’t write without an outline. So, if you’re like me, hopefully this post will be helpful.

WHAT OUTLINING ISN’T

I had to put this in here because I once wrote a twenty-some-odd page outline for a book and its sequel. 😉 Outlining isn’t supposed to be your book in condensed form, at least not literally. You may find that outlining to that degree affects your ability to actually write the book. Such an extensive outline is quite fun. But probably not worth it.

HOW TO OUTLINE

No one can tell you exactly how to outline because everyone is going to find a different method that works for them. Generally, you may want to start by getting the biggest, most crucial aspects of the story down first. If you’re a character-driven novelist (like me) then the characters and their arcs may come to you first, before almost anything else in the plot. I’ve found I like to write a standard synopsis when I start outlining, to help me see where the story starts and where it could go. Additionally, I often write two or three synopses during the outlining process.

(Word of the week up there – I finally found out the plural form of synopsis! News flash!)

Some people will get really extravagant with outlining by using index cards to outline characters, using both an online outlining tool and the good old fashioned notebook, etc., and I admire their organization skills. Seriously.

I’m not that organized. I outline a little in a notebook, a little on my word processor, and basically nowhere else. Oh, yeah – and in my head, of course. That’s where stories are born. 🙂

Anyway, what I’m saying is, there is no right or wrong way to outline. (Except maybe that twenty-page outline thing . . .) Find what works for you. It also depends on whether a story first comes to you via characters (*raises hand*), your world-building, the plot, a question, or whatever else you can come up with. These will affect how you outline.

The main thing to remember (and the reason outlining is SO vital to a story) is this:

Your outline is very first breath of your story. Your outline is where you organize random ideas. Your outline is where you take those ideas and create the next New York Time’s best seller. *grins* Your outline can help your story succeed because it gives you something to fall back on.

That’s not to say an outline won’t change, because they always do. But they’re like compasses.

Also, if you aren’t a planner and you’ve never outlined a story and you’re looking at me like, “This is totally irrelevant,” keep in mind a brief outline or detailed synopsis can help you when you hit a fork in the road. Consider outlining your ending, or a few ultimate goals you might have for your story.

It’s fine to ramble about outlining, but how do you outline your stories? What do you find works best for you? Or, do you outline at all? Let’s chat in the comments!

Posted in Bookish Things, Writing, Writing Tips

How to Get Through the Middle of Your Book

Let’s be honest. The middle of the book sslloowwss ddoowwnn. Maybe not the plot (hopefully not the plot), but your writing of the plot probably does, somewhere around the middle. This can be due to any number of reasons. Lack of outlining, unexpected plot of character twist, or . . . boredom.

Somewhere around the middle is also where new ideas will begin to spring up. Cool new stories, cool new characters. That’s why it’s good to have an outline. But an outline won’t always save you. (See Solution #3)

SOLUTION #1 = OUTLINE

When you get stuck in the middle of your book, one option is to outline. This helps me a lot, because an outline often gets me excited about the story again. 🙂 Whether you’re stuck on the plot or something else, outlining can be an enormous benefit.

SOLUTION #2 = RUN YOUR STORY PAST A FRIEND

Get some moral support. You may need to show somebody what you’ve written, or maybe just an outline, or you may be able to recruit a friend or family member to hold you accountable in finishing the story. This can help when you just need to get moving.

SOLUTION #3 = GRIN AND BEAR IT

Yeah, this kind of ties in to number two, but it can also stand on its own. Sometimes you get to the middle, doubt the quality of everything you’ve written, and you need to push through it. You can go back and edit the thing later. Just like with writer’s block, the middle of the book will sometimes need nothing more than a writer willing to take the plunge and finish the book.

Whichever of these helps you, however, an outline, even a vague one, can help protect you against the bombardment. If nothing else, give yourself a premise and a solid ending. But of course, if you’re like me, you start a book without the faintest clue of the ending. I’ve heard of writers who can write the ending first, then fill in the rest accordingly. Teach me your ways . . .

Now and then, I’ll get all the way to the end without the faintest idea of, well . . . how it’s going to end. 😉

How do you pick your story back up in the middle? Do you even experience these difficulties when you get there? Let’s chat in the comments!