When those “dreams come true” are publishing scams…
Because I have a lot of articles out there on publishing scams, I get frequent messages from writers who fear they’ve been ensnared by a scammer.
I hear even more often from their friends. These friends or relatives see something iffy going on, but don’t want to be the Debbie Downer who brings unnecessary negativity into a hopeful writer’s life.
The friend usually has a reason for being suspicious. Whether the “dream project” is a dodgy anthology, an overpriced no-name contest, a vanity press masquerading as a real publisher, or a junk marketing scheme, a lot of people will have a feeling the project isn’t passing the smell test.
But if they don’t know much about the publishing industry themselves, they hesitate to rain on a newbie writer’s publishing-fantasy parade.
Their writer friend is happy for the first time in forever, floating…
A common complaint I see in social media and reviews of indie books is that the grammatical slips that often litter these works distract from good stories. So yes, there are plenty of “rules,” guidelines, and conventions that writers really must adhere to if they want to be taken seriously by agents and editors, as well as many readers. Since many of these grammatical issues matter to clear writing, it’s not surprising that they get in the way of what the writer wants to say.
But there are some instructions that are regularly handed down as rules that don’t interfere with clear writing and that, in some cases, were never really “rules” anyway, not in the sense of something a writer should work hard to observe. In fact, struggling to follow some of them at all costs can turn perfectly straightforward sentences into gobbledygook.
Here are three you can let go of with no harm done.
Ending sentences with prepositions. Yes, you can!
My father used to tell me it was Winston Churchill who said, “That is something up with which I will not put.” Since then, I’ve seen that line inserted into the mouths of many different luminaries; regardless of who said it, the point is the same. Shoehorning the prepositions “up” and “with” into the middle of a sentence can throw the whole construction out of kilter.
This probably apocryphal example is interesting because “Put up with” is actually one of the English verbs in which the prepositions are actually part of the whole deal, so that some of the absurdity of “up with which” is that it separates essential parts of the verb phrase “put up with” from each other.
But even ordinary prepositions banished from the natural end point wreak havoc on the sentences they are meant to clean up. “What is that book about?” has to become “About what is that book?” And heaven forbid you try to restructure “Who did you go with?” The result, “With whom did you go?” now forces you to confront the difference between “who” and “whom” (which is actually a real distinction but another one you can ignore).
Splitting infinitives. Yes, you can!
Way back in the annals of time, language mavens revered mostly by the small class of literati experienced an inferiority complex, believing that for English to grow up, it needed to become more like classical Latin. Well, in Latin and in most languages that are largely based on its rules, “infinitives” consist of one word. In English, which is not a Latin-based “romance” language but rather has roots in what we can most simply think of as Germanic, “infinitives” are created with the word “to” and the root form of the verb. Thus, in French, a romance language, “manger” means “to eat.” You’d have a hard time splitting “manger,” but “to eat” is a completely different animal. So feel free to say “To boldly go,” with the added perk of thus being able to use the same “meter,” iambic pentameter, that Shakespeare used.
Misusing “which” when you should have used “that.”
No one who’s not specifically on the lookout for this mistake will care.
I do notice this mistake because I’m sensitive to the restrictive/nonrestrictive issue, which many people struggle to punctuate properly, often leaving me struggling to figure out where a nonrestrictive phrase ends and the main sentence resumes. But my point is that if your story is sweeping your readers along, this is the kind of mistake most of them will be swept right past. If you use whichever option sounds right in your sentence, you probably won’t spend your valuable creative energy thinking about the choice at all.
Bottom Line: If you have doubts about your command of “grammar,” or the correct kinds of usage that will make your writing clear and accessible, concentrate on punctuation, which above all is about clarity, and on verb forms, like the choice between “he had came home” and “he had come home,” a variation from the standard that will make it look as if you haven’t mastered your tools. Ignore even Microsoft Word if it tells you it’s not okay to write “Grammar is a skill I wish I was better at.”
I’ve read articles like this before; this one is clear and useful to remind us all why it’s important to keep doing what we love. As is so often the case these days, it’s an indirect plug for self-publishing. I hope you find it helpful.
Here’s some useful nitty gritty via Chris the Story Reading Ape and Janice Hardy of Fiction University, from, in the end, Dave Chesson, of Kindlepreneur fame. All wonderful resources. This one serves those of us writing mystery/suspense who end up with those shootout scenes, maybe despite our better judgment. At least we don’t have to look totally dumb! Thanks to all on this team.
Having characters use firearms in a book can be common practice. There are some genres that use them extensively like science fiction, thrillers, crime novels, and more. However, regardless of what genre you write in, there is a chance that at some point, a firearm will be a necessary plot point, component, or a part of your next scene.
Writing about guns can seem simple since we see them a lot on TV and movies. However, the movies usually get it wrong, and this has caused many misconceptions that bleed into a lot of stories.
So as to help authors understand weapons better, and thus create stronger stories, I’m going to start by discussing major concepts and principles. Then I’ll show you some resources you can look to, as well as some ideas on how to investigate or do field work if you choose.
No, I don’t really have that many pet peeves about the writing advice I find on so many excellent blogs. Maybe only 2145. Or maybe it’s just that I see this one so often that it feels like I’ve seen it 2145 times.
Here it is:
“Whenever you find that you’ve used an “-ing” form of a verb, get rid of it. It’s a writing sin!”
The idea behind this advice is that the sentence
She was eating her lunch when the phone rang.
Means the same thing as
She ate her lunch when the phone rang.
I have a feeling that most native English-speakers’ ear for their language tells them that these two sentences don’t mean the same thing and can’t be substituted for each other. The “to be” + “ing” form is the “progressive tense,” denoting an ongoing event or action, often, in narratives, functioning as a setting for some other action, probably involving the relative times of events.
Rain was falling by the time we went outside.
I walked out while he was still talking.
The usual advice is to change the progressive form to the simple past as in the example above or the simple present if you’re writing in present tense.
I am watching my son play outside as the phone begins to ring.
I watch my son play outside as the phone begins to ring.
Substituting the simple forms in place of the progressive introduces a suggestion of causality: One action caused the other.
I ate my lunch because the phone rang.
The ringing phone causes me to begin watching my son.
Note that the second example of this construction places a subtle emphasis on the ringing phone that is not present in the progressive example, linking the ringing phone with the decision or need to watch the child. Something momentous, probably ominous, underlies that call! (The guy she broke up with is making one last, futile push!)
The advice to cut this form appears to be connected to our need to “tighten” our writing. It also may result from the fear of the verb “to be” that seems to haunt so many writing pundits (a misplaced fear in my view).
I’d just smeared my first helping of foie gras on my eighty-grain artisanal flatbread when the phone rang.
I walked out right in the middle of his jibber-jabber.
So what I’m inveighing against here isn’t the need to eye all our favorite sentence patterns with suspicion. I get that. What I’m resisting is the idea that you can always substitute simple tenses for progressive versions and that you should do so at the sacred altar of cutting words.
Sometimes it’s okay to let words do what they want to do. They usually will, anyway.
This piece from @Janice_Hardy echoes some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: Start with conflict, not crisis. How people deal with a crisis is much more interesting than the crisis itself.
Apropos though of making sure *something* is “happening,” Hardy is right on that as well. In my experience as a reader it takes special genius to create a character so interesting I’ll listen to him or her THINK for pages and pages. As a mortal, I’ve found that setting up the story conflict in a scene built around the central characters gets me into the story so much more effectively. I’ve also learned that any introspective scene that goes on for more than a page–or even half a page–needs some other character to jump in and interrupt it.
So check out Hardy’s advice here. I think it’s spot on.
Sometimes really great advice is anything but helpful.
If I took a poll for the most common writing advice, “start with the action” would make the list.
Which it should, as it’s great advice. But it’s also like saying, “show, don’t tell.” We know we ought to do it, but we don’t always know how, and those four words don’t help us with the beginnings of our novels.
This can be especially hard on new writers, because they might think they’re doing everything right, but still get negative feedback or even rejections on their manuscripts. “I do start with action,” they cry. “Can’t you see that car barreling off that cliff there? What do I have to do, blow up a planet?”
Maybe it’s the movie industry and all those summer blockbusters, but say “action scene” and most people envision something Michael Bay-ish—car chases…
This column reminded me how I’m constantly surprised by some of the questions aspiring writers ask on self-help Facebook sites. Yesterday, is grammar important? Today, should an author get a web site? This column offers some advice I think everyone hoping to publish needs.
Me included. Realizing that writing is a business—never a comfortable home territory for me—but also that it really has to be something you just can’t help doing: These are the reminders I need.
There are a few folks I consider treasures for the #writingcommunity. If you’re not familiar with Jane Friedman, take the time to learn about her. (And make sure you subscribe to Chris the Story Reading Ape, a terrific curator of posts we all can use.)
Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.
Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you.
Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)
To assist with that call to action, I’ve collected and expanded information from my past books and articles to help authors ask questions of their potential or existing publisher. I’ve tried to also include indicators that will help you notice and challenge unhelpful answers. If you have an…
I’ve also found that members of one of my writing groups struggle with this distinction between publishers, packagers, and distributors from Sarah Bolme. There’s also some great information about Amazon’s imprints. Enjoy!
Every time I read one of Anne R. Allen’s columns, I learn and relearn so many valuable principles—and I just have to share. I’ve sort of learned a lot that she talks about in this piece (for example, not getting stuck on your first chapter, looking for advice too early, looking for advice from the wrong people), but these reminders are incredibly helpful as well as inspiring. What I need to hear most: In first drafts, the answer is “Just write.”
Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing Anne’s posts.
You’ve got a fantastic idea for a novel. It’s been hanging around for quite a while, knocking inside your noggin. The idea keeps saying, “Let me out! Release me! Put me in a book!”
Maybe there’s a scene in your head that plays like a video, with every detail of the setting right there, as if it’s on a screen. You know those characters. They’re like real people to you.
But you’ve never had the time to write it all down.
Now you do.
So here you are, finally banging out that scene. And another. And pretty soon you’ve written 10,000, maybe 15,000 words of brilliant, deathless prose. It almost wrote itself. Wow. That was almost too easy.
It IS brilliant, isn’t it?
Well, maybe not. Maybe what’s on the page isn’t quite as good it seemed when you were in the zone.