Writing Tip

gerund-1025453_1280Verb, That’s What Happening

On Almost an Author, Hope Toler Dougherty will be discussing parts of speech this year and started with verbs.  Click here to read.  I am adding what I have learned so far about using verbs.

Strong Verbs

When I was in college, a visiting author said she told some local reporters to use strong verbs in their writing.  This is something I am relearning since I hired a fellow writer who is also a free-lance editor to edit my novel.

For example, let’s look at the sentence.  “He walked across the street.”

Really?  Is that all he did?  I don’t want to waste an opportunity, so I need to pick a verb that conveys more action or description or both.

  • If he’s angry: “He marched”, “He stalked”, or “He stormed off”
  • If he’s in a hurry: “He ran”, “He raced”, “He scurried”, or “He dashed”
  • If he’s relaxed: “He strolled”, “He sauntered”, or “He moseyed”

Some other words for “walk”: “ramble”, “wander”, “parade”, “tramp”, “hike”, “tread”, “pace”, and “step”.

Because I write from the first-person point of view of a teenager, I don’t want to use verbs only an adult would use.  But my editor pointed out that in my effort to stay in character, I used the same verbs too often, which will bore my readers.

“Look” was the major culprit, not only as in “to see” but also in appearance  I need to find synonyms that add variety to my writing while staying in character.  Turning to my hand-dandy thesaurus, I find listed under “look” the synonyms “behold”, “perceive”, “discern”, “inspect”, “scan”, “stare”, “seem”, and “appear”.  I won’t use the first three because my character wouldn’t use those words.  But the others will work.  So will “glance”, “glimpse”, “turn”, “move my eyes”, and “shift my gaze”.

If you write in third-person, select verbs that convey the correct meaning but not ones so obscure they send your reader to a dictionary, or worse, to another book.

My editor pointed out there is one place where you don’t want strong verbs.  I’ll talk about that next time.

Writing Tip

crime-999066_1280Favorite Author — What I Learned from Rex Stout

I learned that an engaging narrator, once he or she grabs the reader’s attention, can lead a reader anywhere.

Mr. Stout wrote 46 books in the Wolfe-Goodwin series, many of them collections of short stories or novellas.  The mysteries are decent, some better than others.  My personal favorites are the novellas “Black Orchids”, “Die Like a Dog”, and “Kill Now – Pay Later”, the seasonal short stories in And Four to Go, and the first novel I read Too Many Cooks.  But I didn’t work my way through the series for the plots.  I forget a lot of them and can reread the stories, trying to figure out the clues like it was my first time through.  What I loved was being carried away with Archie’s wry narration of events.  He’s like a an old friend I can rely on for an entertaining visit.

Here are a few lines I enjoy:

“When I feel superior to someone, which I frequently do, I need a better reason than the color of my skin.”

Describing a fight he and fellow P.I. Saul Panzer get in with a suspect: “He kicked Saul where it hurt, and knocked a lamp over, and bumped my nose with his skull.  When he sank his teeth in my arm I thought, That will do for you, mister, and jerked the Marley from my pocket and slapped him above the ear, and he went down.”   From “Fourth of July Picnic”

In Too Many Cooks, he calls one woman, “the swamp-woman — the kind who can move her eyelids slowly three times and you’re stuck in a marsh and might as well give up”.

Since I write in first-person, I need to give my narrator a distinct personality, with a unique way of describing people and events.  Giving him or her strong opinions also makes the narrator interesting.  Archie has an opinion on everything.  Because my narrator is a teenager, it’s easy to give him strong opinions, such as he hates country music, which makes him stand out in rural West Virginia.

Another of my favorite authors P.G. Wodehouse said, “Stout’s supreme triumph was the creation of Archie Goodwin.”  Millions of readers would agree.

Here is a chronological list of the series.  If you do find you like it, you don’t have to read it in order, except do not read A Family Affair until you have read them all.  It has a plot twist unlike any other in the series and you don’t want to ruin it.

 

 

Writing Tip

detective-1039883_1280Favorite Author — Rex Stout

When I was in college, I majored in English and took a course called “Detective Film and Fiction”.   Yes, it was a real course, and yes, it was a lot of fun because I was a mystery fan and a film buff.

I was introduced to the world of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin when I was assigned Too Many Cooks, which opens with how Archie feels about getting his employer, Nero Wolfe, onto a train when Wolfe rarely ever leaves his New York City brownstone.

“Walking up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire State Building with my bare hands, in a swimming suit; after what I had just gone through.”

Archie’s sarcastic narration hooked me, and I went on to read the whole series.  Rex Stout began the Wolfe mysteries in 1934 and wrote them until his death in 1975.

As William G. Tapply writes in an introductions to The Second Confession, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are paired like “Sherlock Holmes meets Sam Spade”, British whodunit meets hard-boiled detective.

Weighing a seventh of a ton, Nero Wolfe is the brains of the pair, indulging his gourmet tastes as he sits in his custom-made desk chair in his brownstone and solves mysteries

agent-1294795_1280Archie Goodwin is his employee, acting as legman, secretary, bodyguard, and nuisance.  As the last, it’s Archie’s job to annoy Wolfe into working because the man has a lazy streak as big as his custom-made chair.

I never liked Wolfe.  He may have Holmes’s brains but none of his eccentric appeal.  I read the series because Archie’s first-person narration is so engagingly entertaining.

The character I found most intriguing is Saul Panzer, a free-lance P.I. who often works with Archie for Wolfe.  We only pick up tidbits about his personal life but those little facts and Archie’s unqualified admiration for his professional skills makes me wish Stout had written at least one book showcasing Saul.

Next time, I will write about what I learned from the series.

Scripture Saturdays

fire-2116361_1280Why Should Christians Hope?

I said last week when I gave up worrying last Lent that I didn’t think to put something in it’s place.  I know now I need to hope.

In The Case For Hope, author Lee Strobel states the Bible mentions hope 97 times in the Old Testament and “83 in the New Testament”.  It’s clear God expects his people to be hopeful.  Why?  Because He is the ultimate hope.  Hoping in Him give us perfect love, complete forgiveness of our sins, and the joy of living with Him forever.  And in Jesus we have the example of what a person can be in a relationship with God.  We can’t be perfect like Jesus, but we have the hope God will change us to be more and more like His son.

So why do I have such a hard time hoping?

I think it’s a combination of physical wiring and and mental habit.  In the next week, I will try to rein in my my wild worries with a few strategies.  My focus will be Hebrews 13:6 “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”  I will also do try the following:

Imagine a positive outcome for a negative one.  I need to break my automatic response of imagining the worse.  That’s helpful when plotting fiction, but it’s a lousy way to live my life.

Become objective.  When I consider my worries, I will judge how likely they are to become reality, based on my past experiences.

I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

 

 

Writing Tip

time-2132452_1280Daylight Saving Time

When I wrote about March as setting for stories, I forgot that Daylight Saving Time (yes, “saving” doesn’t have an “s”) occurs in this month.

The most memorable thing to me about the time change is to make sure I get to church on time the next day.  When my kids were babies and toddlers, it also meant a lot of work as I got them back on their schedules.

I have often wondered if I could use the time change as a key component in a mystery. One author did.  A short story from 1933, “No Man’s Hour”, written by Laurence Kirk and collected in The Third Omnibus of Crime, has a murderer trying to use the time change as an alibi but gets the times mixed up and is caught.

Before 2006, Indiana did not observe Daylight Saving Time.  Around 2000, my husband lived in Indiana and worked in Michigan.   Both were in the Eastern Time Zone but Daylight Saving Time meant an hour’s difference when my husband crossed the state line.  At that time,  Gary, Indiana, set its time by Chicago, which is in the Central Time Zone.  In the summer Gary would be two hours ahead of the rest of Indiana.  I know there’s an alibi in this mess somewhere but I’ll need a spreadsheet to figure it out.

For writers of speculative fiction, I think the time change is a possible trove of ideas.  What if people could bank the hour that is skipped in the spring, instead of using it in the fall?  A person could withdraw an hour or more whenever he needed it.  Robbers could specialize in breaking into time banks and selling hours on the black market.

Or what if during the skipped hour, people could time travel, anywhere they want but they would have to get back to their “home” time before the hour was up or be trapped for a year in that other time?  Historians would be out of jobs because all the time traveling would keep changing history.

What are your ideas for using Daylight Saving Time as a story component?

 

 

West Virginia Wednesdays

img_20160817_0004Stil Talkin’ Like a Mountaineer

Here are a few more quirks of the West Virginia dialect which I learned from relatives.  Like I said last week, these may be found in more areas than just West Virginia.  And not all West Virginians may talk this way.  West Virginia is a crossroads.  Not North, or South, or West, or East, the state contains a little bit of all those regions.

“push” and “bush” are pronounced “poosh” and “boosh”

“dish” and “fish” are pronounced deesh” and feesh”

“wash” and “gosh” are pronounced “warsh” and “garsh”

Words ending in “ow”, making an long “o” sound, are pronounced “er”.  For example, “follow”“hollow”, and “yellow” are pronounced “feller”“holler”, and “yeller”.

I find myself using “be” and a verb ending in “ing” when a present tense verb works just as well.  For example, if my kids are doing something they shouldn’t, I don’t say, “You can’t do that!”  I say, “You can’t be doing that!”

When writing my novel, I had a hard time choosing between whether my characters would use “y’all” or y’uns” for the plural form of “you”.  My grandparents used “y’uns” and they were from the northern part of the state.  I have friends who lived around Charleston and they use “y’all”.  My setting is north and east of Charleston but south of my grandparents’s hometown.

In the end, I decided to use “y’uns”.  When anyone reads “y’all”, the reader knows the setting is the American South.  Since West Virginia and the Appalachian Mountains are different from the South, I thought “y’uns” would signal that difference and my characters’ rural background.

 

 

 

Writing Tip

scooby-doo-2063042_1280Sheer Luck Holmes

I love parodies.  And I love the Sherlock Holmes stories, so reading a Sherlock Holmes parody is a lot of fun.  But only if the parody is good-natured.  If I read a story and sense the author’s aim is to be mean-spirited, then all the fun drains out of the parody.

Below are some of my favorite Sherlock Holmes parodies.  All of them can be found in The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories edited by Otto Penzler, who gives an introduction to each story.  Enjoy!

The Adventure of the Two Collaborators” and “The Late Sherlock Holmes” by James M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan.

In the first story, Holmes’s deductions so amaze Watson that he leaps to the ceiling, noting  that the ceiling “is much dented”.

“From a Detective’s Notebook” by P.G. Wodehouse.  I love the beginning of this story.

” A private investigator asks a group of men, ‘I wonder . . . if it would interest you chaps to hear the story of what I always look upon as the greatest triumph of my career?’

We said No, it wouldn’t, and he began.”

“Detective Stories Gone Wrong: the Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs” by Robert Barr

This one makes me laugh because Kombs find the weapon used in the crime using ridiculous deductions.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had no reverence for his creation and wrote two parodies of his own: “How Watson Learned the Trick” and “The Field Bazaar”

Scripture Saturdays

in-640517_1280Why Shouldn’t We Worry

Two weeks ago I related how I gave up worry for Lent last year and am doing it again this year.  But why should Christians give up worry?  I use Matthew 6:25-34 as my reason.

“Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more imprant than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”     Matthew 6:25-27 NIV

AND

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough troubles of its own”.           Matthew 6:34 NIV

So we have it from the lips of Jesus:  DO NOT WORRY.

But worrying is such a huge part of my life – I am so accustomed to it – when I don’t do it, I feel like something is wrong.  I didn’t realize until this past week I needed to replace worrying with something positive.  Nature abhors a vaccuum, and I believe our minds and souls do too.

In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus describes a demon being driven from a man.  When he comes back to the man, the demon finds him empty and invites seven more demons into the man.  Verse 45 states, “And the final condition of the man is worse than the first.” 

I think we can substitute “bad habit” for “demon”.  When we get rid of a bad habit, we need to put something positive in its place or we will got back to the bad habit or develop worse ones.

I recently read that the opposite of worry is hope.  I’ll talk about hope next week.

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