No matter where you are in writing your story, weather can play a part in moving the action forward, defining a character, or throwing a wrench in the path of good or evil.
Great writers from Shakespeare to Steinbeck have successfully used weather in their stories. If it weren't for the drought, the Joads might never have set out to California. In The Tempest, we can't forget how Prospero used weather for his own good.
Here's how you can hurl lightning bolts at your villains or paint rainbows for your protagonists and get away with it.
PLOT. If you are stuck moving the action forward, change the weather. When your MC steps outside without an umbrella and is caught in a sudden downpour, does he slip into a cafe for a fortuitous encounter with someone? Does he hop on a bus to avoid the weather? Does that bus crash? Is it the wrong bus, and he ends up late for (work, a date, picking up a child)? Insurance companies don't take responsibility for acts of God. Neither must writers. Use storms, landslides, earthquakes. These things happen without notice.
CHARACTER. How do your characters respond to different weather events? Use them to reveal moods, fears, hopes, or long-lost dreams. Maybe every time it rains, your character is reminded of the day his dog died. Or whenever she sees a rainbow, she makes a wish. Don't go overboard. No one likes a cliche. Subtlety is your best move.
SETTING. Last but not least, we must talk about the obvious. Depending on where your story is set, some weather events just won't come up. It's unlikely an earthquake will hit in Iowa or that a monsoon will flood Arizona. If you are writing realistic fiction, study the weather in the area where your story is set. You might discover some freak storm that hit years back. You could use that for a tragic backstory, or it could be the reason for your character's behavior or motivation.
That's my story. What's yours?
Please share your ideas in the comment section below! Happy writing :)
Every night before I sleep, I pray to the grammar gods to grant me one more inch of knowledge. No matter how many times I look up a rule in STRUNK & WHITE or THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, I can't retain it.
Even though I call myself a writer, I sit and wait for someone to knock on my door and say, "The gig's up, lady. If you don't know the difference between lie and lay, get out of the game!"
So far, no one has shown up. This leads me to the conclusion that writers don't need to be lords or ladies of the Oxford comma or champions of the ellipsis.
Hi, my name is Ellen and I misuse grammar.
Lucky for me--and the rest of you!--there is the internet.
Today, we will practice with my favorites: homonyms.
First, it helps to know this:
The prefix homo- means "one and the same."
The root graph means "word or story."
The root nym means "name or word."
The root phone means "sound."
HOMOGRAPH: each of two or more words having the same spelling but different meanings (lead the parade/lead pipe; fly away fly).
HOMOPHONE: each of two or more words pronounced the same but having different spellings or meanings (new/knew; red/read).
Both of these types of words are known as homonyms because they share something the same--spelling or pronunciation.
Fun with homographs:
You can bank on me putting this money in the bank.
He refused to back the horse with the broken back.
A tear rolled down her cheek after seeing the tear in her wedding gown.
Have your own fun with these: digest, type, match
Fun with homophones:
John won one rose for his sweetheart.
She stared into the sun as her son flew his kite.
"Wait!" she cried. "I don't want to see my weight today."
Try your fun with these: cell/sell; tea/tee; bare/bear
It's pretty near impossible to know how to use every word in the English language. Give yourself a break. Write because you love to write and let the Internet and grammar gods help you with the rest.
You are a fantastic writer because you can tell a story, not because you know the proper use of bare .
What are your grammar gripes? Let's talk.
Word choice matters.
If you are a writer, choosing the wrong word at the wrong time could land you in a mess.
When Alice tells the Mad Hatter that she has said what she's meant because she meant to say it, he scolds her: "You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see.""
Words matter, and so does the order in which we use them.
Today is Leap Day, a perfect time to review the use of verbs. Let's start with leap.
Synonyms include: hop, jump, spring, vault, bound, hurdle.
However, those words refer to the act of leaping, such as: I leapt over the boulder. An equivalent sentence could be written using any of the aforementioned synonyms. Not true if you wrote this sentence: The company leaped at the opportunity to raise production. You wouldn't say The company vaulted or hurdled at the opportunity. You could say they jumped or sprang.
Say what you mean.
My esteemed critique partner, Gwynne Jackson, reminds me often that the best word to use is the simplest. If the frog hopped onto the lily pad, say so. Don't get fancy by saying it vaulted onto the lily pad. Do frogs vault?
Varying words and sentence helps your writing flow, but don't get overzealous. If the shoe fits...
When your vocabulary needs a boost or the word you've written doesn't sound right, take time to research the right word. For that, there are many resources.
Scrivener If you use this amazing writing app, you know all about its dictionary and thesaurus. Double tap the word in your document and bring forward a dictionary page to examine.
Etymolonline I use this in the classroom with my students. Type in a word and learn the word origin, common usage, synonyms, antonyms, or more.
OneLookDictionary Another creative site that offers up loads of suggestions to help you find the right word.
Whatever you are working on right now, take the time to choose the right words.
Oscar Wilde said: Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
It's true, and that's why writers could gain much from reading the newspaper. You can't make up some of the real stories that happen every day outside our windows.
How about the tourist who took her Uber driver sightseeing because she had no one else? Fortunately, it's a heartwarming story, but imagine how it might have come to a ghastly end? Or perhaps they'd fall in love. So many possibilities.
Whether you want some writing practice or you need to infuse your story with new energy, the newspaper will not let you down.
Even ads can offer unique plot twists. Take the old one to the right. What if your MC stumbled across this vintage car at a salvage lot, bought it for a couple hundred dollars with the intention of restoring it but discovered something in the trunk: a body, a fortune, a bundle of letters, a map...
If you're looking for fresh ideas, consider these three ways the news can brighten your story.
1. Discover a new character. Flip to a random page and read the top story. Who's it about? What makes them interesting? What might they not be telling us? If there's a photo, even better. There's no better place to find real characters than in real life.
2. Create a plot twist. Take a story from the front page, add a weather forecast that would have created a real disaster. Maybe it's a presidential debate amidst a snowstorm. What happens when no one shows? Perhaps it's a fast food chain that shuts its doors for a safety training, but it's a heatwave, and people are thirsty. Will they open doors?
3. Update your setting. Turn to the Style section for inspiration on homes, landscapes, or modern neighborhoods. Then flip to the home sale pages and mash up a neighborhood with million dollar homes that can't sell.
What's happening to your MC right now? Look up tomorrow's weather forecast in Minnesota or take a quote from Peyton Manning after today's victory. How can use these news events to liven up your story?
I hope these ideas help. Please share your experiences or other creative uses of the news.
While working with my creative writers recently, a student frowned and said, "I don't want to make a character people don't like."
I wonder what Alan Rickman would have said to that? Most definitely the author, JK Rowling, filled him in on the multi-dimensional character.
Every character in your story is important. If not, get rid of them. No character--as no human--is perfect. We are flawed. We love; we hate; we care; we judge. Your job as a writer is to build three-dimensional imaginative people who readers believe.
As for creating unlikable characters, those can be the most fun.
Villains, antagonists, creeps--all of them--help your hero figure out what she needs and how she'll get there. However, the antagonist and villain are not synonymous.
The antagonist is your hero's biggest adversary. Adversaries can simply be annoying pains in the neck. They can help develop your protagonist, but they are not vital to the plot. This obstacle might also be a phenomenon like the weather (GRAPES OF WRATH) or an institution (CATCHER IN THE RYE, ANIMAL FARM).
Classic antagonists in children's lit include Tinkerbell and The Queen of Hearts. They help the protagonist grow and learn, but they do not tie in directly to the main plot.
The villain is essential to the plot and prevents your hero from reaching resolution. The villain is one whose dastardly ways impede your main character. (In HARRY POTTER, Snape might be seen as an antagonist, whereas Voldemort is clearly the villain.)
Villains we love to hate: the Devil, Moriarity, Captain Hook)
Let's complicate things. The villain might also be your protagonist. This character seeks a goal, but he's not the nicest of people. Think: THE GRINCH, THE GODFATHER, MACBETH, or the TV show DEXTER. In these cases, you can see that a villain/protagonist reads more like a villainous protagonist.
That said, not every story has a villain, but every story has an antagonist. It often depends on your genre.
Whether you are in the middle of your story or just getting started, consider who or what impedes your hero's journey. That is your obstacle. If it's a person or being, they are either your villain or antagonist. If that character is essential to the plot, they are most likely your villain. Think of the fun Rowling had with Voldemort. Readers despised him from the get go, but we also learned more of why he was so tormented.
Without Snape, our antagonist, Harry would never have survived. This we know now.
Create characters with flaws, characters who annoy us, characters who do despicable things. It's your world. Whatever you do, put as much heart and time into developing these hated ones as you do your main character.
Side note: when I told my young writers to imagine a teacher or classmate who truly got on their nerves and turn them into a character in their stories, they each smiled and put pen to paper.
Remember, writing is fun. Have fun.
In light of Friday's tragedy in Paris, I decided to locate authors and characters who promote peace.
Our words speak as loudly as our actions. While you work to write the next great novel, consider the messages your characters share through their words and actions.
Consider these wise and thoughtful words from some of our most creative writers.
Why can't people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”
― David Baldacci, The Camel Club
“A quiet conscience makes one strong!”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
“If you love me as you say you do,' she whispered, 'make it so that I am at peace.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Peace is always beautiful.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
“I do my best thinking at night when everyone else is sleeping. No interruptions. No noise. I like the feeling of being awake when no one else is.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
“In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the streets of the town, always silent and alone.”
― Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
“I have never been carried around by a large boy, or laughed until my stomach hurt at the dinner table, or listened to the clamor of a hundred people all talking at once. Peace is restrained; this is free.”
― Veronica Roth, Divergent
“How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
“It is better to be small, colorful, sexy, careless, and peaceful, like the flowers, than large, conservative, repressed, fearful, and aggressive, like the thunder lizards; a lesson, by the way, that the Earth has yet to learn.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
“Thus Gotama [Buddha] walked toward the town to gather alms, and the two samanas recognized him solely by the perfection of his repose, by the calmness of his figure, in which there was no trace of seeking, desiring, imitating, or striving, only light and peace”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
“Let the peace of this day be here tomorrow when I wake up.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Find your words of peace and infuse them in the stories you tell. Let your characters rise above the horrible acts of human nature and be the trumpets of a new world, a peaceful world.
Today, write only words of peace.
If you've ever been part of an office, faculty, or team, you've participated in energizers. These are quick activities that motivate or bond members of group. Funny thing is, many of them can be used to help you build your characters.
Consider: Two Truths and a Lie.
In this activity, members write down three facts about themselves. One is a lie. During the course of a meeting, day, or term, members get to know each other. After time, they might be able to pick out each other's lies. It's also a way to bond. You learn about things you have in common, or you learn things you simply didn't know about each other.
In your story, you can play this with your characters. Every character has a lie he believes about himself.
I'm incapable of love.
I am not a good friend.
I am perfect.
I cause trouble wherever I go.
As you develop your characters, think about what are the truths and what are the lies. Give life to each. See where they take the story and character. Who believes the lies? Who can't believe the truths? This will help develop other characters.
Know your characters before the story begins. What kind of lies would this type of person need to believe in order for the plot to develop the way you want it to? This helps build a real arc that develops naturally alongside the plot.
Study other novels. What lies did your favorite characters believe until they learned their lesson? FIGHT CLUB is probably one of the best stories where a character carries his lie deep into the story.
Share your thoughts. What are you working on now, and what lie does your character believe?
My apologies for being a day late with this week's blog of writing tips. We returned yesterday from a beautiful stay in New York. A week of family fun, the laptop tucked safely away. Today, back on the West Coast, I'm wide awake at 6AM and ready to write!
While scrolling through emails, ads, junkmail and trolling favorite Twitter accounts, I discovered something I'd forgotten about - the Scrivener Scratch Pad. If you use the writing app, you may or may not know all about this awesome feature. If you don't have Scrivener yet, but you're considering it, this may help you make that decision.
As you know, I'm a huge Scrivener fan. The app has organized my writing life, leaving me more time and energy to create.
What you need to know about the Scrivener Scratch Pad (on a Mac):
1. The pad is a great place to make lists of websites or links to articles and research that will help you with your story. Keeping the pad open means you can easily add a link or idea even when you aren't working on your project. You can keep the pad open at all times - no matter if you are working on Scrivener or not. Simply right click the Scriv icon on your dock.
2. You must open your projects then hide them so they can be available for the Scratch Pad feature.
3. The Scratch Pad will float in front of all other open windows. This enables you to type notes on the pad while viewing those sites in the background.
4. You can add multiple notes in the pad. Simply click the + sign to add a new note. If you are working on several projects, you can choose which one this note belongs to. Click SEND TO, and a variety of pathways will lead you to the location you want to drop in your note.
5. Click the x or OK to HIDE your pad when you're done. When you return to your project, you can open Scratch Pad in Window. This opens all your notes on the pad, so you can easily see what you've added. No need to remember, Scriv does that for you!
Scrivener won't write your story, but its organizational and time-saving features will enable you to devote your creative energies to what you do best.
What are your favorite Scrivener features? Share them in the comments below.
When I was younger, people told me that I should be a writer because I was a good speller. Today, I laugh at that. I know so many amazing storytellers who can't spell to save their lives. And you know what? We've got spellcheck. You don't need to be a great speller to write a great story.
The same could be said about grammar. Don't know an Oxford comma from a comma splice? That shouldn't keep you from writing the next Great American Novel.
For more thoughts on grammar, read the sage advice of my amazing editor, Jane MacKay.
Grammar Tips by Jane MacKay
People seem to use the word “grammar” very loosely, as a sort of all-encompassing term covering anything to do with language and how it’s used, but grammar refers specifically to “the system of inflections, syntax, and word formation of a language [and] the system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language” (American Heritage Dictionary, 5th ed.). In basic terms, the rules and guidelines of grammar govern how words and punctuation are used in relation to each other to convey a desired meaning. Of course, that’s still a very broad category.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my years of copy editing is that few of the rules of grammar are hard-and-fast rules. There are some that must be followed or you risk looking uneducated or, worse, causing misunderstanding -- e.g., “you’re” means “you are” and “your” means “belonging to you” – but many others are open to interpretation, such as comma placement, hyphen usage, splitting an infinitive (e.g., “to go boldly” vs. “to boldly go”), or that persistent Thistlebottomism, ending a sentence with a preposition (up with which I will put).
How to improve your understanding and knowledge of grammar?
Honestly, some people’s brains just don’t work that way and no matter how hard they try, the rules of grammar just aren’t going to stick in their head. And that’s fine. Use your creative talent to create and do your best during the revision and editing phases to make your writing as clean as possible. Then ask a grammar-adept friend, fellow writer, family member to correct errors they find, and then, if possible, hire a copy editor to polish and put the professional touch on your manuscript.
A few tips for becoming more grammar adept:
1. Pay close attention to the corrections made by your editor, and ask for explanation if you don’t understand why a certain change was made. If the editor makes a particular type of correction over and over again, make a note of that error (with before and after examples) and keep it where you can easily refer to it so you don’t keep making the same mistake.
2. Read high-quality and well-edited writing. Pay close attention when reading. Osmosis is an underrated method for improving the quality of your writing. It obviously works negatively – we all absorb poor habits of speech and writing from what we encounter every day – but it can also be a powerful positive influence.
3. Study grammatical rules and guidelines in bite-sized pieces. Don’t overwhelm yourself. The Purdue OWL (online writing lab) website has a well-organized section of explanations and examples. Search around and find a resource that works for you. (Hint: a reference librarian can point you in the right direction.)
4. Know your weaknesses. Triple check those things when you’re revising and editing your work. Use reference books, reputable online reference materials, ask a reference librarian for help.
5. Study a foreign language. I gained most of my formal knowledge of grammar from studying German for nine years.
Thanks, Jane! You can contact Jane directly, visit her website, or find her on Facebook to learn more about the world of an editor.
More grammar tips soon.
In the meantime, if you have a comment or question for Jane, share it below.
Two weeks back, we spent time listening to editor Jane MacKay share her insights on why writers need a good editor. (Full disclosure: Jane is my editor and she is amazing!) Jane has worked as an editor since 2007. She takes on independent clients as well as offers her services to a small press she co-founded, Medusa's Muse.
Today, Jane and I discuss spelling. Fasten your seat belts, this will not be pretty.
Okay, Jane, let's talk spelling. You come from the other side of the world from me. I’m a California girl, and I believe you were born in New Zealand. Could you list some of the most common words you see misspelled in manuscripts or documents that land in your inbox?
You are correct. I grew up in New Zealand and have lived in the U.S. since my early 20s, so I’ve now spent about half my life in each country. New Zealand follows British spelling (e.g., colour, dialogue), so I’ve had to become ambidextrous in that regard, although I edit mostly texts by U.S. authors. I don’t know that I’ve noticed any particularly common spelling mistakes, beyond the ones that are constantly being pointed out in memes: your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, etc. Those are more accurately called grammatical rather than spelling errors. I think the red wiggly line of spellcheck helps writers correct most of their spelling errors before the MS comes to me.
Yes, I love my spellcheck! So maybe there are particular kinds of words that trip up the average writer.
One thing to watch out for is homonyms – words that sound the same but are spelled differently, e.g., to, too, two. One common error that I do see a lot is confusion between breath and breathe, loath and loathe, and other similar pairs of words where the final “e” affects the sound and the meaning. In most of these cases (I haven’t looked to see if this is a pattern without exceptions), the word with the final “e” is the verb. The “e” also creates the hard “th” sound at the end. Thus:
breath (“breth”) = noun: a breath
breathe (“breeth”) = verb: to breathe
One way to remember this is that you need the extra “e” for energy for action! Verbs are action words.
Yes, I know one you have tried to help me with is bear v. bare. My answer was to not use it!
If you have your own questions for Jane or would like to know more about her services, check out her website.
Jane will return soon with more tips on grammar and great online resources. If you have a question now, leave it the comments below.