Saturday, December 31, 2011

THE SAMPLER - January 2012 - Pronoun Reference Error: "It"

My American Heritage Dictionary defines a pronoun as: "One of a class of words that function as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and designate persons or things asked for, previously specified, or understood from the context."  When writing fiction, that translates to the pronoun taking the place of the last noun, thing, or name used.  Why?  Because CLARITY ensures the reader doesn't stop reading to puzzle out what the pronoun refers to.  After all, nothing should ever stop a reader from reading.  Here is a correct example of pronoun usage: "Marsha loved ice cream.  It was her comfort food."  ("It" refers to the ice cream.)   Now consider my dictionary's definition of "it":

Noun. 1. Used to refer to that one previously mentioned. Used of a nonhuman entity; an animate being whose sex is unspecified, unknown, or irrelevant; a group of objects or individuals; or an abstraction. 
2. Used as the subject of an impersonal verb. 
3.a. Used as an anticipatory subject or object. b. Used as an anticipatory subject to emphasize a term that is not itself a subject. 
4. Used to refer to a general condition or state of affairs. 
5. Informal. Used to refer to something that is the best, the most desirable, or without equal. 
--it noun. 1. Games. A player, as in tag, who attempts to find or catch the other players. 2. An animal that has been neutered.

As you can see, using "it" can be mind-boggling.  An example of what can go wrong is:

He dropped the thermometer, securing it to the side of the boat so it dangled in the water.  The temperature held at forty-eight degrees.  It was cold enough to make him shudder.  

Now let's examine that passage for what it actually says:

He dropped the thermometer, securing the thermometer to the side of the boat so the boat dangled in the water.  The temperature held at forty-eight degrees.  Degrees was cold enough to make him shudder.  

The humorous image of the boat dangling is one a reader should not conjure in their mind.  And the last sentence makes no sense because "Degrees" is the subject.  This passage also has what's called a crop of "its."  Crops of are unnecessary repetitions and should be ruthlessly weeded out.  So, let's look at this passage for what was actually meant: 

Using string he'd attached to the top of the thermometer, John lowered the digital device over the side of the dingy.  When the thermometer was half submerged in the water, he secured the line to an oar mount.  Then he leaned over, watching, waiting.  The digits winked and held at 48. 
        Forty-eight degrees.  Would his wet suit keep him warm enough long enough? 

In your mind, you saw what happened as it happened.  You didn't stop and go back to puzzle anything out.  This re-edited passage shows (instead of tells).  Which brings me to: "it" often peppers a page because "it" is one of those "shorthand words" grabbed in the heat of drafting.  In revision, a writer needs to check every "it" and make sure what the last noun, thing, or name used was.

Many writers can discover an "it" problem by using their computer's Find feature.  Why not test your writing right now on five or ten pages?  All you have to do is use the Find feature and type in it, but be sure to put a space before and after the word so the computer doesn't find words with "it" as part of the word.  Each time the machine shows you an "it," highlight the word (or bold the word).  Once you're done, print a hard copy.  What do you see?  Did you pepper a page?  Do you have "crops of?"  Nothing beats a visual to actually see what's what.  Then consider this: if you have a problem in those few pages, it's likely there are hundreds more in the rest of the manuscript to weed out.

For those who don't seem to have a problem with "it," be sure to add a "pronoun reference error check" on your Revision To Do List when you get to the polishing stage for your story.  You want the best possible manuscript to present, so one "it" check may be all you need.

You do have such a checklist, a "cheat sheet" for revising, right?  If not, I urge you to start one now.  Your "cheat sheet" can be a master document created on your computer and then printed to check off as you revise.  Or, your list could be a notebook with a page that you photocopy and line out the items checked.
Why hard copy?  Because hard copy insures accuracy and allows your eyes and mind to focus on specifics.

Knowledge is power.  Always strive to write well and tell a story well--and keep "it" to a minimum.  

Catherine McLean
"Most people don't recognize opportunity because it comes disguised as hard work." -Salada Tea Tag Line

Stop back on February 1 for The Sampler's: "Was is a Wuss."
***Go to my redesigned website for my workshop --or join me on Face Book or at Linked-In.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Sampler - December

 Which writing technique should be mastered first when tackling fiction?  Over the years of editing and evaluating manuscripts, I'd have to say that Point of View (POV) and Viewpoint, which, by the way, are two separate entities are paramount.  Why?  Because 90% of the errors made with show-don't-tell, cause-effect sequences, dialogue (internal and spoken), and more stem from errors made in the choice and scope of POV and Viewpoint employed in storytelling. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Website Changing

Push has come to shove.  Actually, things have stopped working on my original Website so I'm in the process of putting a new one together.  What that means is that "The Sampler" will become part of my blog. 


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Short Story Published

Usually around Thanksgiving time it seems editors are clearing their desks and I usually get rejection notices.  Not this Thanksgiving.  Instead I received payment for my lighthearted science fiction short story "Adrada's Knot" which has been published in the November 2011 Issue #28 of NOVA Science Fiction magazine!


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Changing Seasons

This summer has passed all too quickly but it has been a great summer of 4-H and fairs.  As a 4-H leader, I am especially proud of my Kitchen Magicians because three entered the Hershey's Cookie, Brownie, and Bar Baking Contest and at the Cochranton Community Fair they swept the awards by taking first, second, and third.  The first place went to an 8-year old boy who joined the club this February.  Second place went to a girl, her second year in the club, and the third place went to the brother of the first place winner who is a second year 4-Her.  This makes seven kids I've coached to win or take ribbons in a Hershey contest. 

At their 4-HProject Review, all the members of the club took blue ribbons so, for the second straight year, I have all blue-ribbon winning 4-Hers!  Yep, I'm proud of the kids.

However, even I had an astounding season of exhibiting my sewing and crafts at the local fairs.  Every project entered took a ribbon (the first place blue ribbons dominated the cache).   Even more astounding was that after 55 years of exhibiting, I won my first special award--for Best Creative Embellishment of a Garment.  When I saw that yellow checkered ribbon and place-card, I must have stared at it for five minutes before it hit me what I'd done.  This winning project was a Fancy Apron--a Christmas apron.  (See photo) The embellishment, besides the double row of lace, the bias binding, and the silver rickrack, was the elf-hat pocket that matched one of the elf-hats on the material.  I scanned a section of the fabric into my computer, enlarged it to pocket-size, and duplicated the elf-hat in satin, fur, felt, grosgrain ribbon, and added a little gold buckle.

What a great summer this has been.  Yet, summer has waned.  Here it is Labor Day Weekend and I realize I now have to get back to giving workshops for writers, drafting a new novel (a Fantasy Romance), and sewing for next year's fairs.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Self-educated Writer

     Here's something interesting that I learned a long, long time ago at a conference:  There I was, recommending a book to a writer that dealt with a particular craft element she was trying to understand.  That writer then said something to the effect that she never used how-to books, she wanted to learn as she wrote.  Okay, I thought to myself, to each their own.  However, I would rather learn from those who know and who are willing to share their knowledge in a book (or workshop) that teaches (not preaches) because I, personally, don't have years to waste going around in circles.
      With the ever-changing publishing industry, now more than ever a writer must become a proficient self-editor and a savvy user of the devices and techniques of fiction and storytelling.  That means educating oneself by taking classes, going to workshops, going to conferences, and reading how-to books.  Correction--don't just read those how-to books, STUDY them so the learning curve goes from 5% to 85-95%.  It's a fact that when a person reads a book or attends a workshop, they walk away with only 5% of the knowledge given--unless they take copious notes.  Which means, to up the retention, note-taking is a must as is creating personalized "cheat sheets" to ensure the technique or device is learned and correctly used.  Not an easy task by any means because a lot of the craft elements require weeks, months, or even years to master. 
     After all, a person who has never jogged once around the block doesn't sign up for the Boston Marathon the day before the race.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Facebook or Not To Facebook

The question for me over the past couple of years had been: to join Facebook or not to join Facebook.  Oh, I'd listened to the pros and cons but decided it was one more hassle I didn't have time for.  And then I attended the May 2011 Pennwriters conference where just about everyone was abuzz about networking and setting up networks through Linked-In, Facebook, and Twitter.  There were also several workshops on the subject of Internet networking.  So, as of today, I caved and set up a Facebook page.  I even updated my existing Linked-In page.  My intent is to keep the Facebook page for "readers," family, and friends and the Linked-in for my "professional image" as a workshop instructor, speaker, and educator.  As to Twitter?  I'll tackle that one another day.  Now to get around to inviting folks to my Facebook network . . .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Workshops and more workshops

I just realized it was April.  That's how busy I've been with giving workshops, both online and in person.  I have two more workshops to do this spring, one this coming weekend and then the May 15 (Sunday morning) workshop at the Pennwriters Annual Conference in Pittsburgh ( topic is "Passivity, a Different Way to Look at Show-Don't-Tell."

I have also agreed to give an online workshop for the Young Voice Foundation.  "Questing for a Story" will deal with Developed Short Story, which has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. This workshop will be a first for me:  I've never coached kids on writing.  Sure, I've worked with and coached 4-Hers (I'm a 4-H leader, have been for a total of 14 years now), but that's always been face-to-face and hands-on, not online.  More information on this workshop will appear around the first of August at my website,