Wednesday, August 1, 2018

August 2018 — Misplaced Modifiers are laughable and the bane of writers

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "Critiquers have nailed my writing for misplaced modifiers. How can I recognize them and stop making this mistake."

Misplaced modifiers are common grammatical errors where a clause, phrase, adverb, or adjective is inappropriately separated from the word it modifies or describes. This type of error often happens during the heat and speed of drafting a story. This post will be about misplace modifiers— not dangling modifiers, which is a subject unto itself. 

Whether a misplaced modifier comes at the beginning of a sentence or later in the sentence, the result is awkward— often illogical,  unintentional, even humorous— imagery when read.  For example: 

Misplaced Modifiers— 

CLAUSES— at the beginning of a sentence (notice this is an introductory clause)— 

After fixing the prairie schooner's wheel, the horses pulled the load down the road. (Can horses fix wagons wheels?)

PHRASES— at the end of a sentence—

Marsha noticed the fence behind the house made of barbed wire. (A house made of barbed wire?) 

Or even, John spotted the airplane using binoculars. (An airplane using binoculars?)

ADVERBS—Misplaced use of adverbs often changes the meaning of a sentence. The most common "Red Flag" adverbs to look for are only, just, nearly, merely, and almost. Examples include— 

Just Marsha was picked as prom queen. 
      Marsha was just picked as prom queen. 

      John only donated ten dollars to the camp fund. 
      Only John donated ten dollars to the camp fund.

ADJECTIVES—Like adverbs, placing an adjective in the wrong position changes the meaning and imagery of a sentence:

Marsha ate two slimy bowls of spaghetti. 
      Marsha ate two bowls of slimy spaghetti.

Catching misplaced modifiers— be they clauses, phrases, adverbs, or adjectives— is best done by slowly reading the manuscript out loud and visualizing the actions, the cause-effect sequences, and being mindful of clarity. 

Since grammar checkers don't usually flag misplaced modifiers, it is helpful to go old-school and diagram the sentence that has been flagged for a misplaced modifier. For example— 

Coated with ketchup and mustard, I enjoyed the

Actually it was the hamburger that was coated in ketchup and mustard. Diagramming the sentence nets— 

Remember, readers are not mind readers, they only have the words on a page to go by. It is in the revision process that you can more clearly look at what you wrote and get the words right.

P.S. Feel free to share one or two of your misplaced modifiers and brighten my day.  

******Next month -  September 2018 — How to Start a Blog (why and when)

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

July 2018 — Preplanning for NaNoWriMo (a Project Bible)

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "I want to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. Any tips to make the writing go more smoothly or help me achieve my word count?"

You are wise to begin planning now for NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month, because it can save you countless revisions and rewriting as well as avoid a story that dead-ends or one that goes off on tangents.

When it comes to writing a story, I truly recommend doing as much preplanning (and thinking) as is possible based on the idea and characters that have been conjured by the imagination. 

I am also an advocate of writers embracing "structured creativity," which doesn't limit but liberates creativeness. 

Structured creativity can be as simple as having a personal Project Bible to keep track of and ensure a story comes alive (which nets fewer mistakes when drafting). That Project Bible could be nothing more than reminders, forms, or check-off lists. You see, by my count, there are 144 aspects of a novel. Unless you have a genius mind with total recall, how can you possibly keep tract of all that information about story, plot, characters, setting, time lines, etc.? Most writers can't. I certainly can't. But having a "guide" and "reminders" is a godsend to creativity and generating a completed story that readers will pay money for. 

Again, now is the best time to begin your process, to think about your story, your characters, the theme, the plot, etc. and jot down the bones of the story. That way, when November comes, you have a better chance of completing a worthwhile tale. 

*** August 2018 topic — Misplaced Modifiers

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Friday, June 1, 2018

June 2018 — Pros and Cons of Writing Every Day

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is "What are the pros and cons of writing every day?"

Most writers have heard the adage that writing is a muscle—you have to write every day to build that muscle. 

Sure it's wise to set aside time to write because, as E.B. White said, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper."

Now, the pros and cons of writing daily is not as simple as you might think. 

Writing boils down to the psychology of self. It's desire versus commitment. It's work versus free-rein. It's the logical brain versus the creative self. And, as you may be aware from my past blog posts and the information in my guidebook, REVISION IS A PROCESS, logic will always—ALWAYS—trump creativity. And of course, life tends to sabotage the best laid plans. For instance, you intend to write for a hour on Wednesday morning. On that day you wake with a headache and fever that fogs your brain. You're too sick to write. Maybe it's something at work that trumps writing that day. Maybe it's a family problem or an errand that must be run that prevents you from writing. In the end, nothing gets written. You may even tell yourself you'll find another time to write. Then something else subverts that plan. That's when you realize you need to look inward and make a very important decision—to write or not write.

BICHOK (Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard) is a mantra many writers are told to embrace. It means making a commitment to write every day. It doesn't matter what you write, as long as you write. After all, daily writing strengthens and sharpens skills, it relieves stress, it helps articulate feelings. Writing daily also leads to developing analytical skills to puzzle things out logically and creatively.  

But BICHOK may also negatively impact a writer by giving them writer's block. When a writer cannot think of what to write, they often turn to investing in books or online resources for inspiration (writing prompts), which may or may not lead to quality writing that's marketable or to a great story.

In actuality, BICHOK is a terrible way to learn fiction writing skills or storytelling skills. Such skills cannot be adequately learned or discovered this type of trial and error. Besides, unlearning any bad writing habits developed with such trial-and-error writing will be very, very, very difficult to unlearn.

Do I advocate BICHOK or write every day? Well, I happen to be a proponent of Sol Stien who said "a writer is someone who cannot not write." If writing is in you, truly part of who you are, you'll find the time and a way to write, be it every day or by binging or by some other method that works for you. 

Capitalize on your inborn compulsion to write. Strive to understand what type of writer you are, set reasonable writing goals, and figure ways to work around life's interferences.

You are a writer who cannot not write, right?

***Next Month: July 2018 — Preplanning for NaNoWriMo (a Project Bible)


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 2018 - Why are stories rejected by editors, agents, and readers?

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question posed for this month is— 


There are many reasons why stories get rejected by readers, editors, agents, and also why stories receive low scores from contest judges. Here are seven of the most common ones:

1. Poor writing ability

What's written forces the reader to re-read because the reader cannot instantly grasp images or understand what's going on. Sentences are often long, run-on, awkwardly formed, poorly punctuated, etc. Cause-effect sequences are missing or glossed over and so things don't make sense. 

2. Poor storytelling ability

A lot of aspects fall under "poor storytelling ability." Basically, it's the failure of a writer to understand what a story is, what plot is, what character arcs are, and why a reader reads a particular genre. 

Poor storytelling ability also results in cardboard, two-dimensional characters that are puppets being manipulated by the author for the sake of a convoluted or irrational plot that makes little sense.

What's written might also be a vignette or series of vignettes, a rant, or a poorly disguised religious tenet. Worse is a thinly disguised storyline taken from an existing movie, TV show, computer game, or publication, or one which is borderline "fan fiction." These often violate copyrights as well as turn a reader off.

3. Submitting or self-publishing a first draft

Many stories get rejected because the writer submits a first draft or too early a draft. For writers who self-publish too soon, their story is riddled with typos, mistakes, errors of logic or premise, unbelievable elements, poor storytelling techniques and devices, etc.

What can make the difference between a drafted story and a polished one is ruthlessly and painstakingly self-editing the work. However, most writers have no idea how to self-edit or what they should be self-editing for.

TIP — To go from initial draft to polished manuscript requires running a story through the filtering lens of knowledgeable writers (either worthwhile critique groups or critique partners). Of course, all writing benefits in the final stage by hiring a professional fiction editor (not an English teacher).

5. What's written is excessively or grossly violent, perverse, depraved, offensive, pornographic, libelous, weird, or wholly unbelievable. 

6. What's written is not appropriate for the age of the reader it was intended for. This is particularly true for children's books.

7. The subject has been done to death (it's a beleaguered trope or cliched topic). Along with tropes, the publishing markets have ups and downs—a particular story element may have gone out of favor with readers or the market has been saturated with too many similar stories. 

As I've said many times over the years, talent will take a writer only so far. It is craft that enhances and liberates talent. Always strive to learn craft and to write the best story possible.

***Next Month: June 2018 — Pros and Cons of Writing Every Day

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

April 2018 — Break the perfection habit and stop editing as you write

For 2018, all the monthly topics have been submitted to me by writers and readers of this blog.

The question asked this month is  "How can a writer break the perfection habit, or are there ways to stop editing as you go?"

The fastest way to kill ideas is to edit as you write. 

The fastest way to erode your confidence in getting a project done and doubt your ideas are any good is to edit as you go. 

And the fastest way to stifle productivity is to stop and dwell on a sentence for two or three minutes. That's lost words and lost time. For instance, if you typed 50 words a minute, in those three minutes you have lost 150 words. If you stop every five minutes for three minutes, that means in a hour you have lost 21 minutes (at 50 words per minute that equals 1,050 lost words).

Obviously, editing as you go is destructive. Yet, to understand why a writer is compelled to stop and edit and re-edit sentences or paragraphs or pages, a writer first needs to understand WHY they are compelled to seek that perfect sentence, to use the perfect words, or to form the perfect description.

Two reasons come to mind. The first is fear. The second is logic vs. creativity. 

The fear a writer has lies in the misguided belief that what they are producing isn't good enough, brilliant enough, or that it's the worst kind of drivel or garbage.

This, of course, is a negative message that has to be stopped. The fact is, you cannot judge a work until you have written (drafted) the entire piece and distanced yourself from the story. Once the story fades sufficiently, you can go back to it—with new eyes and a better frame of reference. Then you can look at what was written and better judge the flow and impact of the scenes. It's the old can't see the forest for the trees syndrome. So, keep this mantra in mind when drafting anything you write—done is better than perfect.

As to the second reason, the curmudgeonly problem of editing as you go is firmly rooted in the battle of logic versus creativity. In other words, the two sides of the brain are at war. 

Here's the thinglogic will always—ALWAYS—trump creativity. So in order to become a producing writer of quality stories, it's far better to write creatively as quickly as you can and get that first draft committed to paper. Once it’s down, then you can turn lose the logical brain and take all the time you need to give full attention to editing for the good of the story. (Your readers will appreciate that.)

Now, there are ways to shut the logical, critical tyrant self down and create a story. One of the best ways is to turn off a computer's monitor. That way the eyes cannot see and thus the logical brain cannot judge the words going onto a page.

A side benefit from doing this is that a writer can slow down and concentrate on the imagery the subconscious (imagination) sends up for the story. Even stop-frame analysis is possible because the image can be held longer and better action sequences can be recorded.

Yes, this works for those who touch-type. And yes, when the monitor screen is turned back on the writer will see typos. Some will net hilarious spellings, but it's always good to laugh.

So, I challenge you "perfectionists" to test what happens when you turn off the monitor and write for 10 minutes. Post the results to this blog and I'll send you a free Writers Cheat Sheet on "Functions of the Imagination." 

****Next month: May 2018 —  Why are stories rejected by editors, agents, and readers?

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