Tag Archives: teaching corner

Words That Are More Exhausted Than These Puppies (Word Usage, 3 of 3)

A black-and-white image of three puppies snuggled up on their sides with their eyes closed.

In parts one and two of this word-usage series, I wrote about how word meaning changes and shared words it’s time to retire. Now let’s dig into some worn-out, tired, exhausted words, words that have become bereft of their actual meanings based on usage.

Continue reading

Words to Retire (Word Usage, 2 of 3)

Our words impact our readers, so it’s important that we choose them with care.

Everyone is aware that there are some words that should never be said, especially by white people. I’m sure a few words or phrases immediately came to mind that are racist, dehumanizing, and harmful.

But there are other words and phrases that are just as racist and harmful that are used in people’s everday lexicons. Words like tribe and spirit animal and savage. Writer Simon Moya-Smith wrote an article about many problematic word usages and ways to support, not appropriate from, native people.

Continue reading

Start in the Middle

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve watched a student staring at a blank page, frozen, locked up, paralyzed by writer’s block. I’d crouch down to be at eye level and ask what was wrong. And I get some variation of:

I can’t think of a title.

I don’t know how to start.

I don’t know where the story begins.

Have you ever done this? Yeah, me too.

A blank page can be a frightening thing to behold, especially for a new manuscript. There’s so much potential for greatness. And failure.

So how do you get unstuck?

Here’s a permission slip to start in the middle. Or at the end. Or with some random scene or chapter that you’ll include who know’s where.

Continue reading

Writing Critique Groups

Critique groups can be the bomb-diggity. Slang aside, a great critique group can accelerate a writer’s growth in their craft.

And of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a critique group can be an immense time suck with very little return.

Even worse, it can steal a writer’s joy and shake their confidence. Today’s Teaching Corner is going to focus on how to get the most oomph out of a critique group.

What Is a Critique Group?

A critique group is a group of writers who agree to meet on a consistent basis in order to exchange feedback on each other’s writing.

Find a Critique Group When  . . .

  • You want to be with your people. Those people who “get” what it’s like to have words living inside you that must be written down. Revised. Shared.
  • You want to grow as a writer. You’re ready to learn and practice new skills.
  • You are ready for honest feedback, even when it stings. You can give yourself space and time to feel the disappointment, and then you can review the feedback with some objectivity.
  • You have time to share your own expertise and feedback to partners.
  • You enjoy supporting other writers.
Continue reading

Cumulative Adjectives vs. Coordinating Adjectives

Where do the commas go?

Quick recap: Adjectives are describing words. They describe nouns (people, places, things, ideas).

Coordinating Adjectives

Coordinating adjectives are interchangeable.

Bright, warm sunshine relaxed me.

Warm, bright sunshine relaxed me.

*

Sparkly, glittery earrings dangled from her ears.

Glittery, sparkly earrings dangled from her ears.

Changing the order of these adjectives does not affect the sentence’s meaning. You may have a preference, but one sentence isn’t “correct” versus the other.

Separate coordinating adjectives with a comma.

Cumulative Adjectives

Cumulative adjectives build on one another.

A few weeks ago I explained the royal order of adjectives. In the royal order of adjectives, there is a very specific order to place your adjectives.

Guess what? These adjectives, in the royal order, are cumulative adjectives.

Do not separate these adjectives with commas.

Master the Comma

I teach this lesson and many others about commas in my online course Master the Comma: Save Face, Time, and Money. It’s hosted by Udemy, which runs fantastic sales and has a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Point of View: Head hopping

Point of view is a bugaboo for many writers. Editors too.

When deciding which point of view is best for your manuscript, think about narrative distance. Ask yourself, “How close do I want the reader to be to the experience?”

In this post, I’m going to dive into various types of third-person point of view and break down head hopping, specifically.

Third-Person Point of View

There are three types of third-person point of view.

Third-Person Objective: The writing is told from an objective narrator’s point of view. The narrator only reports on what is happening. This point of view is rarely found in popular fiction. It’s most common in nonfiction.

Third-Person Limited: The story is told from one character’s point of view and keeps the reader close to the story. The reader is aware of everything this character sees, hears, feels, thinks, experiences. Caveat: if the narrator is unreliable, then the reader may be “betrayed,” or tricked, by the narrator.

Third-Person Omniscient: The story is told by an all-knowing narrator, one who shares with the reader what is happening with every character: their thoughts, emotions, experiences. But because readers are being told what is happening, there is narrative distance between the reader and the story.

What Head Hopping Is Not

Omniscient point of view is NOT head hopping. It is a specific way to tell a story that was very popular in books we consider classics today. The all-knowing narrator is a character in its own right. Its voice may be very strong and offer opinions on the characters’ behaviors and plot happenings, or the voice may be more distant and simply share what is happening with the characters on the page.

Continue reading

Read Like a Writer

What does it mean to “read like a writer”?

It does not mean reading aloud at an author event, although I now have a new idea for another Teaching Corner article.

To read like a writer means to read material not for pleasure, but for education. It requires a different skillset altogether.

Rather than immersing yourself in a story or reflecting on an idea put forth in a self-help book, a writer can choose to use published material as a master class in writing. A self-guided master class, to be clear.

How to Plan Your Master Class in Writing

1. Find writing material in your genre that wows you. This could be a novel, a short story, a personal essay, a blog post, a poem. You get the idea. Obviously, this means that you have to read in your genre.

The next time you’re reading for pleasure, bookmark or highlight a passage that stands out to you. Don’t worry about analyzing it in the moment. Just mark it for your next learning session.

Continue reading

Wading through Beta-Reader Feedback

As I’ve previously written, feedback from beta readers is invaluable. TV producers have been using this method for years to determine if a show is worth investing in beyond a pilot episode or season.

Let’s assume that you chose ideal beta readers in your target audience, you provided them with guiding questions, and you’ve collected their feedback with a handy survey tool, like Google Forms.

Next Steps

First, thank your beta readers. Follow through on any promises you made in exchange for their feedback. If that’s a copy of your published book, let them know that you’ll keep them posted on your progress.

Then you’re ready to begin revising.

Digestion Phase

First, you read the feedback. All of it. Even if you read individual responses as they came in, sit down with all the responses and read through them in one sitting.

Hold space for the emotions that will show up. It’s totally normal to swing from elation (He loved it!) to anger (What does she know? Nothing!) to despair (I’m the worst writer. Why did I think I could write a book) to confusion (Did they even read my manuscript? What are they talking about?).

Continue reading

Royal Order of Adjectives

This is one of those fun grammar rules that native English speakers follow without having to be taught it explicitly. Your brain will ping when it hears adjectives out of order. Several years ago, Mark Forsyth had a tweet go viral about this.

What is the royal order of ajectives?

Adjectives are words that describe (modify) nouns. And order is to put items in a sequence. Royal, well, I don’t know why this rule gets the regal treatment. But the royal order of adjectives is the order in which we list adjectives when there are multiple adjectives modifying a noun.

Beth Hill, at The Editor’s Blog, says this order (and other similar rules) are created through use and exist to create clear communication.

Nine adjective categories (that precede the noun):

Determiner: articles (a, an, the), possessives (his, hers, theirs), and numbers.

Observation: can be objective or subjective (hot, cold, tall, short, beautiful, ugly)

Physical Description: Size, Shape, Age, Color (in this order)

Origin: where something is from (American, Australian, Brazilian, Canadian)

Material: what it’s made from (aluminum, cashmere, pipe cleaners)

Qualifier: what kind of noun you’re describing (packing tape, bubblegum tape, masking tape, washi tape)

Continue reading

Time Transitions in Fiction

Time passes in our stories, but communicating that to readers can be tricky.

Not acknowledging the passage of time can leave readers confused about “when” they are in the story.

But bogging down your narrative with every blessed minute of a character’s life is a freight train to Dullsville.

How do you help your readers follow the timing of your story?

First, create a timeline of events. You can do this before or after your first draft, depending on whether you’re a pantser or plotter.

I can’t stress the importance of this enough if you’re including flashback scenes or your novel plays with time in more complicated ways.

Continue reading