Tag Archives: english

One Stop Fiction Online Book Club

One Stop Fiction is the baby of OSFARG (One Stop Fiction Authors Resource Group). It is an online book club for readers and writers. They have lots of book available, amongst which 30 FREE books, 20 genres to choose from, and a competition in which you can win a kindle reader worth $110! What more could you want?

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Sign up now and enjoy the work of indie writers from all over the world. If you are a writer you can also advertise your books here. There is something for everyone!

It’s so easy, just sign up here…

This is the current list of FREE books available, if you still have any doubts about signing up 🙂 :

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Lessons Learned #29

American vs. British English

When I decided to set my novels in Maine, US, I had no idea yet that I had to change my UK English to US English as well. When I sent my first draft (first fifteen or so chapters) to a friend of mine, she noted that I needed to ‘Americanize’ my English. For example, I had used ‘pound shop’ instead of ‘dollar shop,’ which of course needed to become ‘thrift store’ to be more accurate to what I had in mind (also known as ‘op shop’ for the Australians amongst us). There were many more words I needed to change, like mobile phone needed to become cell, drive needed to become driveway and car park needed to become parking lot.

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According to an article I found on a website, the American English differs from British English in vocabulary (of which I just gave a few examples), grammar and spelling. One of the grammar issues I noted in this article (of whom the name of the writer eludes me) is that of differences in possession. Apparently it is very British to say ‘Have you got any wine?’ The Americans would say ‘Do you have any wine?’ There were so many times I put the word ‘got’ in my own text! It came as a bit of a surprise to me how British I am 🙂 .

Fortunately there are many websites that will give you the American version of British words. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the saying of ‘The car didn’t move and inch.’ Do the Americans still use this expression, even though they use the metric system for distances?

Fortunately you can switch to US English in Word and all your British ‘mistakes’ will be pointed out for you, in particular the verbs that need to have a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ in the past tense, like ‘legalized’ and ‘motorized.’ It looks weird at first, but soon you get used to it and it becomes automatic. It surprised me that I am now able  to write American without thinking about it. It’s like writing in another language; you do or you don’t, there is no mix up of the two. Sure, I don’t know every single word, but hey, long live the internet!

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I heard some people don’t like reading American English, or British English for that matter. Why? Wouldn’t it be incredibly strange to read a cowboy saying ‘see you in a jiffy’? And when somebody in London talks about their ‘cell,’ the first thing that comes to my mind is a terrorist group. Stick to your culture, I have no problem with that, but be open to others’. Not wanting to read in the ‘other’ language is like shutting down half the library. What a waste!

I had hoped to embed a little You Tube video of Michael McIntyre here, where he explains why American English is different from British English, but my free wordpress subscription won’t let me. It is very funny though and I don’t want to deprive you of it. Just go to You Tube, type in or copy ‘Americans Don’t Understand English – The Jonathan Ross Show’ and enjoy!

Have a Wonderful Writing Weekend!

Success!

I just wanted to share with you the following:

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Zero Issues in my Repeat Words & Phrases. Finally!!!

Lessons Learned #25

Director of Orchestra

Character Arcs, Flashbacks and Pacing

Today I want to share with you what I learned about tying character arcs, flashbacks and pacing together. I only recently became aware that there was such a feature as pacing in writing. I know about pacing in music, and I hate it when they get it wrong in movies (flow of the movie). The latest moan about movie flow is the one for Suicide Squad, where the first third of the movie is a drag of background information of the main characters. But I never stood still realising that this was also a part of writing. And it’s important to do it right. Here’s a way to use it.

Character Arcs

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Businessman bending over backwards, side view

But lets start with character arcs first. I read about it in a screenwriting lesson a while ago (heavens knows which one). It was describing a couple in bed getting up and dressed. The situation started very amicable, but with every sentence, every action, the relationship deteriorated and became downright hostile by the time  they left the bedroom.  The lesson was that not only do you need your characters to develop over the whole play, they need to develop within every scene too. Quintessential Editor wrote a nice blog about self editing (you can look for it here) (sorry, the page itself wouldn’t copy) and it was point 11 that caught my eye.

Suddenly the quarter dropped as to why one of my readers mentioned she didn’t like one of my main characters, but absolutely loved one of the side-characters. Unknowingly I had developed the side-character throughout my story, but totally did nothing with the main character! He stayed as bland as anything from beginning to end. No wonder she didn’t like him. So make sure all your (important) characters develop (for better or for worse).

Flashbacks

You probably get sick and tired of me saying I’m using flashbacks by now, but it ties in with this week’s lesson. They are a major tie between the character arcs and pacing. As you want your readers to get to know your characters, you give them little snippets of information about them. Flashbacks are just one way to do this. It gives the reader the reason why your character does things, feel, act, react in a certain way.

Pacing

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Now, pacing is the most difficult thing to learn in writing (or so I am told). I read this in an article on Flipboard today, called The Art of Pacing (you can also find it under the blog heading here), by Jack Tyler. It reminded me of the article on flashbacks I read yesterday by Neil Whitman (you can find the link to it here). Somewhere else (and I’m so sorry but I just spent thirty minutes trying to find the article in vain) I read the magic words ‘a flashback needs to follow an intense moment to have purpose.’ And this is all to do with pacing. Readers don’t want to get bored with flashbacks left, right and centre so you can inundate them with background information. Flashbacks slow the story down, the action here and now isn’t happening anymore. Flashbacks have to make sense, they need to have a purpose. And the best time to put them in is right after an intense moment. The readers can then take time to process the action and in the mean time get some more information as to why the action has happened.

In my book, for example (spoiler alert!), I talk about Charlie for a chapter or four before there is a bit of a clash about ‘who sleeps in the big bedroom and who sleeps in the tiny room with the bunk beds.’ Charlie is sent packing to the bunk beds ‘as he is better sized for that room.’ There are a few more hints leading up to this statement, but they are minute. The characters go to sleep and in the next chapter a flashback describes my MC spending an evening with Charlie during which it becomes clear that Charlie has achondroplasia (he is a dwarf). This set up has the reader at first wondering what is going on. Why is Charlie sent packing? What is meant with ‘he is better sized’? Then, while the characters are sleeping, the answers are revealed to the readers. Hopefully their minds will then have an ‘aha’ moment when they remember the little comments about Charlie’s size I put in earlier (but that is a topic called foreshadowing).

This is one way to incorporate character arcs, flashbacks and pacing, I bet there are more…

Have A Happy Writing Weekend!

How to Write Flashbacks

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As I upheaved my chronological timeline in my first novel, I have to make use of flashbacks in my story now. Although I had already figured out how to do this (note the past perfect tense here 🙂 ), I found this article today that summed it up very neatly. Have a look at it Grammar Girl‘s hints and tips.

Let me know if you handle your flashbacks any different.

Lessons Learned #24

My first use of ProWritingAid

First of all my excuses for not posting last week. What can I say, life has been hectic. Kids and DH home with holidays and activities for the film group… I haven’t been able to do any writing (for my books), but I had started the week before with ProWritingAid (PWA), so I want to let you know my first impression on it.

It was easy to install and I was surprised that it is actually an ‘add on’ to Word. But very handy to have it there in the top right of the tool bar. The first thing I did was to block a section of my text,  clicked the ‘general’ button of PWA and then the ‘full analysis’ one. Why wouldn’t I want to use it all? It took my computer a while to think about this a bit, but it wasn’t doing nothing. In my intro, which is only one-and-a-half page long, it found one-hundred-and-twenty-three issues. One-hundred-and-twenty-three! My heart sank. Was my writing really so bad? So I planted by butt a bit firmer in my chair and went through the list on the right hand side alongside my text to find out what these issues were.

PWA Issues ListAs per the list you see here (this is the one after I corrected all the issues it found in the first place, with only 82 issues left), they dissect your text big time. I found it more bearable to go through it when you start from the bottom. No idea why, but it seemed less daunting. But to be more clear I will start from the top here.

When you click the Overview Report you get a list of all the things that you did okay (green ticks, yay!) and red crosses, 🙁 ). I consistently get red crosses for sticky sentences and a too low glue index. I tried to work on this, but as my text often has dialogue in it I can’t get around the low glue index. The sticky sentences is also something I try to limit, but sometimes my re-wording just makes it worse.

Overused Words Check gives me ‘were, was and had.’ What do you expect? It’s written in the past tense…

The Writing Style Check I find very handy as it tells you where the passive verbs are. When it finds these I always try to make them active where possible. It also tells you if you have overdone it with the adverbs, a good one to keep in check. It also gives you ‘readability enhancements.’ I’m still not sure if these are good or bad. Anybody who could enlighten me on these?

Sentence Length Check is obvious. I don’t have a problem with these overall. The Clichés & Redundencies Report consistently tells me that using the word ‘sucker’ is cliché. Sorry, it’s about vampires, what can I say…

I have some issues with the Grammar Check. I had high hopes for this one, as English is not my first language. But all it does is tell me I’ve used words that it doesn’t recognises (made up place names, etc.) and that it blocks a complete paragraph purple and tells me there is an issue with it. However, it doesn’t tell me which issue! Very frustrating.

I tend to ignore the Sticky Sentences Check as making them shorter/different consistently means my writing becomes boring. The Dialogue Tags Check is another one I tend to ignore. There is dialogue or there isn’t. I usually use the word ‘said’ to tag dialogue, so they’re happy with it.

The Repeat Words & Phrases is one I highly appraise. I often find when reading indie author books this is one check they should have used. Even when half a book along, I find that using the same phrase is annoying. I hope I can get them all out of mine, but I guess that if they’re spread wide and far the only way to get them out is to read the book from start to finish as I’m not sure if PWA can check a whole book at once.

Corporate Wording Check occasionally says I’ve used the wrong word. Diction Check repeatedly tells me not to use a preposition at the end of the sentence and to not use the word ‘actually.’ Well, actually, my sentence structure holds up, so I’m keeping them in.

Vague & Abstract Words Check comes up with words like ‘all, like, would and (again) actually.’ Sometimes I can replace the words, but usually I can’t.

The Acronym Check lets you know if you are consistent with abbreviations (TV vs. tv). The Transitions Report is one I struggle with on a regular basis. They want you to have more than 25% transitions (a percentage of what I don’t know). I never get there. I even printed out a list with transitions words for me to use, but I just can’t fit them in. I don’t know if that is because of my limited vocabulary or not, but my text doesn’t seem to lend itself for a lot of transitions. And I bet if I could use them that my sentences would become ‘too long and sticky’ 🙂 .

I’m not sure if the Complex Words Check tells you how intelligent you are, but it reports how many words there are with four or five syllables. The NLP Predicates Check lets you know what percentage are visual or auditory-digital words. Apparently I am more of a visual person.

The Homonym Check is great if you have problems with there, their, and they’re. The Pacing Check tells you about the pacing of your text. Great if you are checking large pieces of text, I guess. I have never used the House Style Check as you need to set this one up first with your own style.

The Consistency Check gives you all the spelling, hyphenation and capitalisation consistency numbers. I like the Alliteration Analysis (note; not the Alliteration Check!) as it gives you an idea of the rhetoric index of your text. And who would have thought that the word ‘whatever’ is an alliteration?

Hail the Pronoun Check! With this beauty I found that in one paragraph I started every single sentence with ‘I.’ Big no-no! Never use the Combo Check though, it’s depressing…

So, overall I like PWA. You have to accept that your writing will never be perfect and that you only use PWA to check the issues that you struggle with and to get silly mistakes out. I notice that I’m getting faster and faster using it and it isn’t as daunting now compared to when I first opened the can or worms.

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

Meeting Ian Rankin

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After a suggestion by one of my film crew colleagues (thanks, Andy!) I bought tickets to see an interview with Ian Rankin, writer of the Rebus detective series. It was organised by the Dickens Fellowship and was focussed on the book Bleak House by Dickens. Rankin was interviewed by James (Jim) Naughtie, Aberdeenshire born and bred radio and news presenter for the BBC. I had never read any books from Ian Rankin, but I remember having seen some of the series when John Hannah played the role of Rebus. I liked him and the series.

To be prepared for the meeting I bought the book ‘Exit Music’ by Ian Rankin, in which detective Rebus has to solve a murder ten days before he is due to retire. As expected I didn’t get far, I only read the first thirty-seven pages. I also bought the whole works of Bleak House, by Dickens, but didn’t even attempt to open that one. I hope to have the time one day. I did learn about Rankin’s writing in those few pages though. He is a master of ‘setting the scene,’ in particular one in Scotland. From the few remarks and casual observations you can place yourself in the scene and know what it would be like to actually be there. He mentions Edinburgh street names (which I did look up on Google Maps) that exist. When in a restaurant he orders venison pie (where else would you have venison pie but in Scotland?!). From using only two words, claustrophobic and damp, you know exactly what the office of the pathologist is like.

During the interview it was nice to find out that Rankin is like any other writer. He has a beginning and possibly an end to a story, but he has no idea what is going to be happening in between. Sometimes he even doesn’t know who has committed the murder. Sometimes he does, but during his writing process this changes. Likewise with his characters. Some sideline characters become major players and more prominent ones get ‘killed off.’ When Rebus ‘retired’ his publisher suggested Rankin to write about when Rebus was younger. Rankin’s answer was no, because he doesn’t write historical novels as this would need ‘too much research.’ I so concur with this 🙂 . Another option was to ‘stop the time,’ where Rebus would not get older. But Rankin also refused this as he thought that was cheating. As there are many more Rebus books after ‘Exit Music’ I can only deduct that Rebus didn’t retire.

After half an hour of talking together, discussing the work of Dickens and comparing his work to that of Rankin, the audience was able to ask questions. One person asked if and for what Rankin wanted to be remembered, like Dickins is remember after so much time has passed. Rankin responded that the only contemporary writer that would probably be remember was J.K. Rowling. Which makes you think if there really are no other worthy authors to remember out there at this day and age. I suppose the surplus of indie authors make it hard to find the good ones, like a needle in a hay stack.

I did get the microphone to ask a question, but unfortunately the session was cut off just as it was my turn. I had so many questions to ask! If Ian ever gets to read this, maybe he will grace us with a bit of his time and answer the following questions:

  • Why did you start writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? Do you think your university education made a big difference in your work?
  • Do you follow your tracks through the city to make sure they are accurate or do you sometimes do it from memory? If the latter, have you ever been caught stating something that was inaccurate?
  • How did you get published? Was it hard to find a publisher? What did you have to do after finding a publisher? How much time do spend writing nowadays compared to promoting?
  • Where do you get your ideas? Do you have friends that are forensics or detectives?
  • When your books were made into a series, did you write with the actors in mind? Did you have any say in which actor was used?

All in all a great experience! Thanks, Ian, for dropping in on Aberdeen 🙂

Lessons Learned #22

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Edit, edit, edit!

I started re-writing my first novel last week. Finally. I had postponed it way too long, but now I have the Winterland book fair as a stick behind the door I had to do it. And boy, did I need to…

Time between edits

They always say to take some time between edits. They never say for how long though. Well, that’s not entirely true, they do suggest lengths of time, but they all vary. So that’s no help at all. I wrote my first novel in August 2015, as good as a year ago. For me, at this moment in time, that is a good time between edits. Only because of the fact that during this year I have learned an enormous amount of English! I had a steep learning curve in grammar, in particular the (past) tenses. I learned about rhetoric. I learned about punctuation and formatting. I learned about  the three-act structure and character building. I learned about sub-plots and suspense building. I learned so much. I suppose that the length between edits will become less in time, as I (hopefully) will learn to write better from the start.

Kill your darlings

So what have I been editing so far? As I may have mentioned before, I have let go of the chronological timeline. The first seventy pages of my book were information dumping and setting the scene. I learned that readers don’t like this. They want action, murder on the first page so to speak. So in the new version I started the story from where things start to happen. Now I had seventy pages of information that I needed to weave into the new structure. Seventy pages of ‘darlings.’ I managed to incorporate some flashbacks as whole chapters. That was the easy way. Half of what was left I managed to put in here and there, also as flashbacks or thoughts, memories, but shorter ones. I still have 2.5K words left over, so still some work to be done as some of those are important information for the story. I can’t ‘kill’ them.

Talk to yourself

Other edits were re-writes of sentences. I haven’t been re-writing scenes as a whole, as I was quite happy with them. Quite a few sentences needed revising though. They didn’t flow well or they didn’t convey the feeling that I wanted them too. Over the past year my vocabulary has grown and I feel that I can express myself now better than before. It’s still no literature, but a shuffle in that direction I suppose. How do I know a sentence doesn’t flow? Because I notice it when I say them out loud, in my head. Gotcha! No, I can’t make myself talk to myself out loud. So I pretend I’m doing it in my head. Works for me. I pretend to have another person’s voice, like that of David Attenborough, and read as if I was reading for an audio book, full of emotion and ups and downs of my voice. You should try it, its fun 🙂 !

Grammar, Punctuation and Formatting

I’ve got ProWritingAid to help me with the grammar, which will help me pick out those odd sentences, re-usage of words in a paragraph and the true grammatical mistakes. I haven’t used it yet, as I still have one last chapter to get through, but this is next on the ‘to do’ list. I will keep you updated on this one.

And there are the punctuation mistakes. Even though I had my work read by a proof reader, I still picked up the odd mistake here and there. We’re only human, so I will throw my work through Grammarly for that. It should be better than any human eye. This will be done after using ProWritingAid. Maybe it’s not necessary after this, but just to make sure (it’s free anyway).

Then I will have to put my text into Word to re-format. I don’t mind doing this. As I suspect I have an OCD streak in me, I like making things ‘smooth.’ I don’t like it when things ‘stick out’ and spoil the overall look. I’m actually looking forward to this part!

Print and Read

After the formatting is done I will print out my work; two pages on one A4 sheet, 1.5 space in between and narrow margins (to save paper). This will show me any formatting errors. I will read my work from front to back, with a red pen in hand to make notes and corrections.

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And after I have finished this… I will start all over again!

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

Lessons Learned #19

First Impressions and Foreshadowing

This week I started reading ‘The Screenwriter’s Bible (6th edition),’ by David Trottier, which was recommended to me by a fellow screenwriter from the US. I only got to page 20 but I learned two things already; the importance of first impressions and foreshadowing.

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First Impressions

The first important thing I learned was to ‘make a good first  impression.‘  Trottier says that not only does it need to ‘hook’ your audience, it also implies something about your story. This was of particular interest to me as I am planning to re-write my first novel. The first seventy pages in my book are just information; introductions, backgrounds, scene setting. Nothing exciting happens in those pages and I think a lot of readers abandon my book before the real action starts as nothing seems to happen. So I had already decided that I had to start my story further in the book, where the real action actually does happen (or soon thereafter). I will just have to weave the beginning of my original story as back-flashes into it (I know, easier said than done).

But, according to Trottier, not only do I need to hook the audience in those first pages, the first impression also needs to imply something about my story. I had to think twice about these words. What could I imply in the first pages? It is a romance, but I could hardly start at the first ‘kiss’ as this was halfway down my book. Then I realised that the whole book is a race. And as soon as I figured this out, where exactly to start my story? At first I was thinking to start it in the bar, when my protagonist and friends decide to flee the oncoming threat of suckers (vampire-like humans). It is where the first ‘movement’ of my protagonist starts. But the bar has (in this story) no significance, they don’t get back to the bar nor get together in another bar anywhere else in the story. I decided to start the story with my protagonist at home, packing for the move. Her home is a key point in the story; she starts there and will come back there. Starting with her packing for a trip will give the reader immediately the implication that this is a story with action/movement, even the implication of suspense, as when you are fleeing there is the immediate question of whether the protagonist will succeed to get away from whatever she is feeing from. This will definitely help ‘hooking’ my readers.

Foreshadowing

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The second thing I learned was the notion of ‘foreshadowing.’ Foreshadowing is the warning or indication of a future event. It’s not exactly the opposite of a back-flash, but a see-through image of it, if you get my drift. I often find myself ticked-off by the Miss Marple stories where the solution of a murder is often solved by knowledge that only comes to light at the very end of the story and there is no way on earth you could have known about it or thought it up. Foreshadowing prevents this. It gives you hints that something is of relevance. Or at least that this item/occurrence/knowledge will be returning later in the story. You read it, your mind acknowledges it, and perhaps even tells you it is important, but the story continues and you forget it. Until you get to the part where it surfaces again and you go ‘I knew that was going to happen!’ even though deep down you have to admit to yourself that you had forgotten about it and it came as a real surprise. The book gives the example of the gadgets Q hands out to James Bond. You just know that these gadgets are going to come in handy, but you have no clue when. And nobody needs jam trousers (as per Eddy Izzard’s suggestion – Lego version on You Tube), so something is only mentioned if it is of relevance. I actually used foreshadowing in my second book (Raising A Vampire) without knowing about foreshadowing. Let me know if you found it after you read it 🙂 .

Have a Happy Writing Weekend!

 

 

Beam me up, Scotty!

So I’m walking with my kids in Aberdeen yesterday. Whilst waiting for the traffic light to turn green for us I look at the street name plate across the road. ‘Upperkirkgate,’ it read. Kirk is the Scottish word for church, with the ‘ch’ pronounced (and written) as a ‘k’. This is very close to the Dutch word ‘kerk,’ which also means church.

Being of Dutch origin I thought I’d test my kids on their roots. I point at the name plate and ask them “what does ‘kirk’ stand for?” Without a moment’s hesitation my son says: “Captain James T. Kirk.” I thought I’d pee my pants.

What do you mean with ‘my kids have been brainwashed by my choice of TV programs?’