Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Basics: Verb Tense Consistency

I think we should call this one a Very Basic post.  Which doesn't mean it's not important; on the contrary, it's VERY important.  But it's something that's usually evident in the writing of Very New writers.

Notice I didn't say Very Young.  Because this isn't an age thing.  It's an experience thing.

So, a quick lesson on verb tense:

There are three simple tenses:

PRESENT TENSE (action is happening now)
PAST TENSE (action has already happened)
FUTURE TENSE (action has yet to happen)

Most novels are written in PAST TENSE, with an increasing number showing up in PRESENT TENSE.

There are three perfect tenses:


The above tenses are used in the context of the three simple tenses, to clarify when certain actions occurred in relationship to other actions.  I'll save the perfect tenses for a separate post.

As a writer, it's IMPERATIVE that you understand all six tenses.

Here's the basic message:  You've got to nail the tense of your story and STICK WITH IT.  I can't tell you how often I've read the work of "newbies" who seem to have no grasp on basic verb tenses.  Just a few weeks ago, I read the opening of a fantasy novel in which the tense flipped back and forth between past and present tense.  Constantly.

I pointed out to the author (ever so gently) that he had a tendency to switch tenses.  I lightly suggested that his writing needed some "basic training."

His response sounded something like this:  "Yeah, some other people said something about the way I switched between past and present tense."

Um, hello?  TENSE IS IMPORTANT!  You can't ground your readers in a story that doesn't have any sense of time.

Try this:

Melodia sank to her knees and wept.  Her village was gone, her sword was broken, her comrades missing.  She didn't know what to do.

A crash sounds in the distance.  Melodia gasps and spits out her chewing gum.

"Who's there?" she called.

No one answers.

Silently, she creeps to the edge of the forest, where she discovers several naked hippos dancing.  She tiptoes through the trees to get a better look.

The hippos screamed in embarrassment and trampled her to death.

Yes, it's a totally dumb example.  But what makes it hard to follow is the constant tense-switching.

Verb tense is one of those things you simply have to grasp.  And use correctly. ALL THE TIME.

More on verbs another day.  (Don't you just love verbs??)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Basics: The Appositive

Today we're hitting upon one of my biggest-biggest-biggest pet peeves--namely, unnecessary commas around single-word appositives.

But let's start at the beginning.

What's an appositive?

An appositive is a noun or pronoun used with another noun or pronoun to identify or explain it.

Appositives are easy to find because they ALWAYS directly follow the noun or pronoun they're identifying or explaining.  You use them all the time, even if you never knew what they were called.


Mrs. Twitch, the tenth grade science teacher, has a blue wart on her chin.

In the above sentence, the tenth grade science teacher identifies Mrs. Twitch.  It's an appositive.  And because it is made up of more than one word, it needs to be set off by commas.  ALWAYS.

My dog Stinkypaw caught a flying raccoon.

Here comes the pet peeve:  NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF WRITERS WILL UNABASHEDLY PUT COMMAS AROUND "Stinkypaw."  And it's WRONG.  The commas are totally unnecessary and serve nothing more than to clutter the sentence.

Look how crowded this is:

My dog, Stinkypaw, caught a flying raccoon.   <------ AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!

*composes self*

I don't honestly know what the compulsion is among writerkind to put commas around single-word appositives.  And it's everywhere--newspaper articles, blog posts, published novels.

Take note.  After a while, it'll pop out at you.  And, hopefully, annoy you!

More examples:

Ferdinand, my husband, is a bull fighter.  (CORRECT)
My husband, Ferdinand, is a bull fighter.  (INCORRECT! Ferdinand is a single word--no commas needed.)
My husband Ferdinand is a bull fighter.  (CORRECT)

Sheepy, Shiela's pet sheep, is sheepish.  (CORRECT)
Shiela's pet sheep, Sheepy, is sheepish.  (INCORRECT!  Sheepy is a single word--no commas needed.)
Shiela's pet sheep Sheepy is sheepish.  (CORRECT)

Got it? Awesome!

Friday, August 19, 2011

From the Trenches: Mad - Introductory Post

The reason this post is so late is because my poor little dog had teeth pulled today and I've had zilch minutes for myself. I've been too busy watching her stumble around, keeping her from falling down the stairs, and watching her tongue hang out. Also, my laptop's not cooperating, but Lizzy could give you a dissertation about that piece of crap.


This time, I SWEAR, I'm going to introduce myself without sounding like a crazy person, which, obviously, I am.


Certainly you all must have at least HEARD of me by now. My name used to be AWriterGoneMad until the lovely Lizzy started calling me "Mad," which has a dual meaning because it just so happens that I really am mad. I lived in obscurity until the wonderful Authoress asked me to become her assistant and revealed on Twitter that she had been stalking me.

Naturally, I hyperventilated. :)

I love reading and writing and aikido, and those close to me can probably tell you that I stay up way too late way too often to watch Criminal Minds. I have the morbid love of watching surgeries, and I like shooting and rifles and I've been writing for adults since I was fifteen. I turned eighteen in July.

My life basically looks like the following:

 One thing I often talk about when I'm asked to do a post is the importance of always moving forward, no matter how many rejections you get or how many times you feel like you need to revise or polish something.  It might get a little monotonous, hearing it from me all the time, but I really feel like it's just so important. I think it's so easy to get hung up on an aspect of the writing process that we can forget why we really do it. So to end this post that won't format properly, I will ask: why do YOU write?

Friday, August 12, 2011

From the Trenches: Taryn - Introductory Post

Hi, I'm Taryn :)

Authoress is now too lazy to write her own posts and is making teens who don't know any better do it, so


No, I'm really excited that she's allowed us this opportunity, because hey, what's another blog? Ahem, I'll stop rambling now. I'm Taryn; I'm 18. I blog here, founded the collaborative blog Noveltee(n), and tweet here. As you can see in the sidebar, I'm kind of an overachiever.

I think Authoress asked me to do this because of my experience in publishing. Not only have I queried extensively, but I am also a (new) lit agency intern! Yay!

Between reading for pleasure, reading for my critique partners, my new editing service, and my internship, I spend a lot of time reading. My to-be-read pile:

Nah, just kidding.

Lizzy asked you last week what was in your TBR pile, so I'll ask something else. Ummm . . . other than words (reading+writing+blogging+writer friends), what are your hobbies?

I'll go first. Other than words, I swim (collegiately), cycle (collegiately), do Crossfit, have a fulltime job (lifeguarding+swim instructing), and don't have a social life.

How bout you?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Basics: Manuscript Formatting

As requested in last week's comment boxes, we're going to chat about formatting.


The basics are simple:  Double-spaced, 12-point font, normal margins.  I like to start each new chapter 10 lines down, but you'll hear different schools of thought on that.

As for italics:  Use them.  Old school thought says "convert them to underlines."  But in this age of advanced word processing, that's no longer necessary.


There are two things that warrant the start of a new paragraph:




Dialogue tends to trip people up sometimes.  The basic rule is that EVERY TIME somebody new speaks, it's a new paragraph.  Period.

Beats go with the person who is speaking, NOT in the paragraph before or after the dialogue.


"I hate you."

Mary fiddled with her top button.  Wouldn't look at Daryll to save her life.  He sighed.

"At least I know where I stand."  Mary looked up as he turned away.

"And don't come back."

The above example is ALL WRONG.  Mary's beats belong with Mary's dialogue, and Daryll's beats belong with HIS dialogue.


"I hate you."  Mary fiddled with her top button.  Wouldn't look at Daryll to save her life.  

He sighed.  "At least I know where I stand."  

Mary looked up as he turned away.  "And don't come back."

There are also times when, for the sake of cleanliness, it makes sense to start a new paragraph even though the same person is talking.  I'm especially referring to situations where there is a lot of beat action going on after the initial words are spoken.


"My chicken exploded."  Juliet burst into tears, the grisly scene playing itself over and over in her brain.  She felt Greg's pimply arms go round her, tasted the saltiness of her snot as she rubbed trembling palms across her face.  It was hard enough facing life without red beets; the exploding chicken threatened to undo her.  Destroy her.  She buried her face in Greg's AC/DC tee shirt and wished it didn't smell like sauerkraut.  "I'm sorry I wouldn't marry you," she whispered.

In the above example, the final line of dialogue would work just as well in its own paragraph.  It's correct the way it is, but it would be cleaner -- and have more emphasis -- if it were separate.

"My chicken exploded."  Juliet burst into tears, the grisly scene playing itself over and over in her brain.  She felt Greg's pimply arms go round her, tasted the saltiness of her snot as she rubbed trembling palms across her face.  It was hard enough facing life without red beets; the exploding chicken threatened to undo her.  Destroy her.  She buried her face in Greg's AC/DC tee shirt and wished it didn't smell like sauerkraut.  

"I'm sorry I wouldn't marry you," she whispered.


Punctuation goes INSIDE the double quotes of dialogue:

"I love you," Vladimir said.


"I love you", Vladimir said.

Quotes INSIDE quotes should look like this:

"What does 'sort-of girlfriend' mean, exactly?"

If they're at the end of the sentence, they should look like this:

"I'm not in favor of your little 'plan'," Huffy said.

Also? It's okay to have a small desktop reference for this sort of thing, until you don't need it anymore.  I adore Lynn Truss's EATS, SHOOTS, AND LEAVES for basic comma and apostrophe wisdom.  And all writers should own a copy of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE.

GRAMMAR GIRL is pretty awesome, too.  

And there you have it -- this is as basic as it gets!  Hope it's helpful.

Friday, August 5, 2011

From The Trenches: Maggie - Introductory Post

Hello everyone! And Happy First-Friday-of-August.

I'd like to take a minute to introduce myself a little better. That sidebar doesn't say much. First, I'm an aspiring author, and my name is Maggie (previously known as Lizzy). I'm a tad new to the blogging sphere, and only just started my first open-to-the-public blog a month or so ago with Constance, so a little grace would be very much appreciated as I adjust to posting for Even More People.

I'm really excited (and a little nervous!) to participate in From The Trenches. It's an honor, to say the least. Thank you, Authoress! I'm happy to contribute whatever I can to your amazing blog, and I hope I won't disappoint.

Anyway, enough about me. 

I think I'll start things out with asking YOU some questions to break the ice.

Let's talk BOOKS. 

I've been enjoying some particularly good books lately (the most recent being Graceling by Kristin Cashore) and I'd love to hear about you

What books have you been reading/finished lately?

What are some of your favorite books and genres?

I'll be in the comments and willing to discuss and banter. Hopefully I'll meet you in there. Looking forward to a future of First-Fridays!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Basics: Possessive Pronouns With Gerunds

This is a fine-tuning sort of grammar lesson.  As in, this sort of error is easily overlooked, only glaring to those of us who know better.

But writers should MASTER their native language. (I really believe this. I do!) So here's the deal:

GERUND:  A verbal (verb-form-that-is-not-being-used-as-a-verb) that ends in -ING. In short, it's a verb that's been made into a noun by adding -ING.

Writing brings me great joy.  (WRITING = subject, which means it's a noun. But its real name is "gerund.")

So.  What about sentences that have a gerund modified by a pronoun?

INCORRECT:  I was annoyed by him arriving late.
CORRECT:  I was annoyed by his arriving late.

In the above example, ARRIVING is the object of the preposition BY.  Which makes it a NOUN (because objects are always nouns or pronouns.)  But its real name is GERUND -- a verb ending in -ING that is being used as a noun.

Now.  If it's a NOUN, and we're saying to whom it BELONGS, that dictates the use of the POSSESSIVE NOUN OR PRONOUN.

(To whose arriving late are we referring?  To HIS arriving late.)

That's why the second example is correct.  The possessive pronoun HIS tells us WHOSE "arriving late" is annoying me.

HIM, on the other hand, is an OBJECTIVE PRONOUN.  That is, it's a pronoun that's used as an object in a sentence.  NOT to modify a gerund or any other substantive.


Please give the manuscript to him.
I would like to sit with them.
Beth stood behind me in line.
The audience laughed at us.


Examples are the best way to learn, so here are some more right-and-wrongs for modifying gerunds:

INCORRECT:  Are you angry at me singing off key?
CORRECT:  Are you angry at my singing off key?

INCORRECT:  Lulu was embarrassed by him acting goofy in the restaurant.
CORRECT:  Lulu was embarrassed by his acting goofy in the restaurant.

INCORRECT:  Brutus the Blogger was saddened by them always leaving negative comments.
CORRECT: Brutus the Blogger was saddened by their always leaving negative comments.

INCORRECT:  The petulant writer lamented us hating her terrible novel.
CORRECT:  The petulant writer lamented our hating her terrible novel.

Got it? Good!

Side note:  I learned this in eighth grade as part of the "gifted program."  (Insert eyeroll here.)  Three of us--the Gifted--sat at a round table in the back of English class with a young, balding dude who handed out copies of Edgar Allen Poe and taught us about using possessive pronouns with gerunds.  I'm not sure what the connection between Poe and grammar was, but I do know I've never forgotten the pronoun thing.

I still don't understand why the whole class didn't learn it, though. There's nothing particularly "gifted" about a possessive pronoun.

Ah, well. Consider yourself gifted!