That’s That

That’s That
Terry Odell

First, for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, this year presents special challenges. I wish all of you a safe and sensible holiday.

That's ThatAh, those overused words. Little ones. Almost invisible ones. Ones we take for granted. One of my critique partners pays her editors by the word, so getting rid of unnecessary words is high on her priority list.

One word that creeps into our prose is “that.” An obvious reason is that there are different ways it can be used (you’ll notice I used it in this sentence). That can be a pronoun, an adjective, an adverb, or a conjunction. It’s the pronoun usage that can cause problems (and there’s another that!). When I finished the first draft of one of my Mapleton novels, I found 902 instance of that. And yes, I did look at each one to see how it was used, and if it was needed. Here’s one example of a before and after:

The mayor interrupted. “I’ve assured Marianna that you will provide traffic and crowd control for any of her shooting. In return, she’s assured me that there will be as little disruption as possible to the normal, everyday routines of the citizens of our city.”

The way McKenna said city belied that Mapleton was hardly more than a small town. But one thing Gordon had learned was that regardless of the political head of the city, it was all about revenue. He imagined that some heavy-duty discussion of financial arrangements had already taken place, and that his life was about to become much more complicated.

Here’s the version after I went through zapping that:

The mayor interrupted. “I’ve assured Marianna you will provide traffic and crowd control for any of her shooting. In return, she’s assured me there will be as little disruption as possible to the normal, everyday routines of the citizens of our city.”

The way McKenna said city belied that Mapleton was hardly more than a small town. But one thing Gordon had learned was that regardless of the political head of the city, it was all about revenue. He imagined heavy-duty discussions of financial arrangements had already taken place, and his life was about to become much more complicated.

In my editing pass, I eliminated 4 of the 6 usages in those two paragraphs. Rule of thumb is to read the sentence with and without the that. Is the meaning as clear without it? Could I have deleted the remaining two? Maybe. My editor hasn’t seen this yet, and she might decide they can go as well. Or, maybe she’ll put some back. The rules here aren’t cut and dried.

Here’s another sentence where I kept the that.

We’ve found that locals are generally receptive to appearing as background characters, and property owners are well-compensated for any disruptions to their lives or livelihoods.”

When reading it without that, it’s easy to read it as finding locals, as if they were lost. When you read the rest of the sentence, you have to readjust your thinking, and you don’t want to slow a reader down.

Here’s another place where that helps clarify:

Gordon didn’t have the heart to tell Angie that Cassidy Clarke had little, if any, authority in deciding where scenes would be shot and who would be in them.

Without the that, it would read Gordon didn’t have the heart to tell Angie Cassidy, and with the names Angie and Cassidy Clark right next to each other, a reader might be confused and have to read the sentence twice.

The goal of an author is to keep the reader engaged in the story. Anything that pulls the reader away while they figure out what that sentence really means should be avoided.

But there’s another use of that I’ve seen lately that goes against everything I was taught in school, and I’ve been seeing it in books published by major publishing houses, and written by best-selling authors.

I was taught that for things and who for people. Now, admittedly, it can get tricky with nouns that don’t refer to specific people, but in my head, if that noun is made up of people, then you use who, not that. Examples: doctors, police officers, teachers, etc.

Here are a few examples from recent reads:

  • But maybe you’ve seen strange people around. You know, shady characters that might be involved.
  • I thought it was the girl’s father that was the real worry.
  • Older guys that we know.
  • Are you an author that has more than one book in a series?

And, what about this one?

I know rules can change, so I sent my editor a couple examples and asked her whether I was somehow behind the times.

Here’s what she said:

I’m not surprised that the books were published with “that” in the sentence. It’s becoming more and more common. A lot of authors don’t use “who” when they should. I think it may be partly because of today’s current English language and the way we talk today, and how authors write their stories. “That” is familiar. It’s a passive word and is overly used in most writing, so it’s a comfortable word. “Who” on the other hand is becoming a more formal choice, so it’s not used as often.

In 90% of the manuscripts I work on, “that” is used in similar examples in the original unedited version of the manuscripts. Is it the right thing to do? No, “who” is the correct choice. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, I don’t think many readers notice the “that” versus “who” issues, so what happens is “that” becomes transparent within the manuscript in these types of examples whereas “who” sometimes stands out more in the sentence, making it less transparent and possibly “stopping” the reader in their read.

What’s your take? Does something like “John was a man that loved to fish” bother you? Do you even notice? Is this another gray area of grammar?


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is available at most e-book channels. and and in print from Amazon.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

10+

Using Apostrophes

Using Apostrophes
Terry Odell

apostrophesA pet peeve of mine is incorrect apostrophe usage, something I see all the time while driving around, or scrolling the internet. I’m sure everyone here at TKZ is well aware of the rules, but just in case someone needs a refresher course, I thought I’d mention it. If you’re starting out, or get confused, I hope this helps.

Use 1. It shows possession. Something belongs to someone or something.

The man’s hat. The dog’s leash. My biggest trouble-spot with this is dealing with plurals. There’s a difference (as my crit partner loves to point out) between the Detective’s office and the Detectives’ office. But then, I can never remember if I’ve given each of my detectives his own office.

I also have to stop and think about housing. You know, like when you go to the house that belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Since it belongs to both of them, it’s the Smiths’ house, not the Smith’s house. Our neighbors across the street have a lovely carved sign that says “The Cochran’s.” I cringe every time I walk by.

Words that already end in “s” can be a problem. I go out of my way to avoid naming characters with names ending in “s” to bypass the head-scratching. And here, I’ve seen it both ways. In my first book, my editor, whom I fear was overworked, didn’t catch that I’d written both Doris’ and Doris’s throughout the manuscript. Luckily, I noticed it in edits. She really didn’t care which one I used as long as they were all the same. My inclination is to leave off the final ‘s’ after the apostrophe simply because it looks cumbersome and when I read it “aloud in my head” I keep added “s” sounds.

Okay, that’s one use of the apostrophe. The other:

Use 2. Replaces other stuff.
apostrophes

Apostrophes are used in contractions to show you’ve combined two words and taken away some of the letters.

Examples: Don’t. I’ve. Shouldn’t. He’d. We’ll.

I taught apostrophes when I was tutoring in adult literacy. It was very common for students to see the word don’t and read it aloud as do not. They knew what the apostrophe meant even if they couldn’t use one when writing.

Use 3. THERE IS NO USE THREE

You CANNOT use an apostrophe to create a plural.

One last point:

apostrophesA major hangup for people seems to be with its and it’s. I know it’s very easy to have the fingers outpace the brain, and first-draft typos are common, but if you remember it’s = it is, you’ll be fine. The apostrophe stands for a missing letter.

Which means its is possessive, which is the exception to Rule 1.  The tree lost its leaves. The leaves belonged to the tree.

The only other ‘exception’ I can think of is one I discussed with my editor (not the one who missed my Doris inconsistencies). My characters can mind their Ps and Qs. But when it comes to dotting I’s , she prefers the apostrophe because it avoids the confusion with the word Is. And, for consistency, she included the apostrophe with crossing T’s. So, it’s dotting I’s and crossing T’s. The caps, I think, are a matter of preference.

But PLEASE. Don’t kill any more puppies!

One more hint, related to formatting:

There’s a difference between an apostrophe and a single quotation mark. Trust me.

If you’re using Word, when you want to start a word with an apostrophe because it’s a contraction, abbreviation, as when you’re using dialect, Word assumes that you want a single quote there, because that’s how the program works.

Thus, if your character uses em for them you’re going to get ‘em. What you want is ’em. There are codes, or keystrokes for getting that apostrophe instead of the single quote, but I’m lazy and forgetful, so I just copy an apostrophe from another word and paste it where it needs to be.

To find them, you can search on a space before a single quote/apostrophe, and that should bring them up.

I’m sure you have some apostrophe observations to share. The floor is yours.

Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is now available at most e-book channels. and in print from Amazon.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Don’t Make the Reader Guess the Important Stuff – First Page Critique – URGE

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

 

For your reading pleasure, we have an anonymous submission of 400 words. Please help with your constructive criticism by commenting. My feedback will follow. Enjoy.

***

Remnants of Sunday night trade at the Royal Derby Hotel were strewn in the gutter. Some poor bastard who didn’t get to enjoy the benefits of it would have to clean up the beer cans and broken glass. Jude stepped over vomit stains and around a bent up bicycle obstructing the footpath as it strained against the chain that kept it attached to a street pole. Cams message had been brief, “Murder in Brunswick Street, think your PI outfit could help. Meet me near corner of Cecil, 7am.” She hadn’t been able to reach him when she tried to return his call. That was an hour ago. She had left three messages for James already without any response. She willed him to come. Check your phone James. Please be on time. I need you here.

Two hundred metres further on the opposite side of the street Jude saw a gaping black hole in a shop front and stopped. Its window display had spilled across the footpath after a fire had blown out the glass. She felt a mild strangling feeling and shuddered. Fuck. Why does it have to be a fire crime, I hate fire crimes, Cam must remember that, he should have told me. Cam was standing outside the shop scratching his head and surveying the contents of the footpath. Beggars can’t be choosers she reminded herself, took a deep breath, checked for cars and stepped into the road. She was hungry to get back into some serious investigative work and wasn’t going to let a bit of queasiness get in the way.

Cam looked up and smiled warmly when he saw Jude and stepped forward to give her a peck on the cheek. “Great to see you. Thanks for coming on such short notice.”

Jude took a quick step back. What’s with the kissing, that’s a bit familiar, this is a crime scene meeting she thought as she nodded towards the shop, “Appreciate the call, what’s the story?”

Cam’s smile faded as he looked at the shop, “Fire brigade got a call around 11pm. Extinguished it by four this morning and secured the scene. Found a body at the back.” He gestured into the open black hole of the building. “Forensics are in there now, doesn’t look like an accident to me,” he nodded at the contents of the footpath and smirked, “it’s, a, uh, fetish shop.”

FEEDBACK

GROUNDING THE READER – From the start we have what feels like a cop investigating a crime scene, but the reader has names without knowing what the players do or even what city they are in. (I had to look up that the Royal Derby Hotel is in Australia.) It takes work to decipher who Cam and Jude and James are. Things aren’t clearer until the very end.

Are they police? Arson investigators? News reporters? From Cam’s message, we learn that there’s a PI involved and it took a reread to see this is Jude. I’ve made a quick stab at a rewrite, trying to stay true to the scene as written, but I hope you can see how the names and job titles clarifies the intro. I might’ve started this story a different way, but I am showing this rewrite to demonstrate how important it is to orient the reader into the scene with details.

REWRITE SUGGESTION

Private investigator Jude Hawthorne stared down at the unexpected text message she had received from Homicide Detective Cameron Hunter as she stood under a pale street lamp.

Murder in Brunswick Street, think your PI outfit could help.

Meet me near corner of Cecil, 7am.

I’m here, Detective Hunter. Where are you?

Remnants of Sunday night trade at the Royal Derby Hotel were strewn in the gutter, making it hard to distinguish the trash from the explosion caused by the fire. Jude stepped over vomit stains and around a bent up bicycle obstructing the footpath as it strained against the chain that kept it attached to a street pole. As she came upon the charred remains of the storefront and shattered glass, she cringed.

Why does it have to be a fire crime? I hate fire crimes. Cam must remember that. He should’ve told me.

Readers don’t get a description of what happened until the mention of the fire blowing out a window half way down, otherwise the intro sounds like the dregs of a drunken party or Mardi Gras. In the last paragraph, there’s a mention of a ‘crime scene’ and a fire brigade with a body inside, but readers need to be oriented into the scene much sooner. In my rewrite above, I added the two red letter lines to mention the crime scene.

START WITH A DISTURBANCE – In the rewrite above, I focused on the disturbance of Jude getting an unexpected text message. She’s a PI and it would not be normal for her to get called to a homicide.

KEEP FOCUS ON EMOTION – Jude obviously has an issue with fires, yet her fear is embedded in a longer paragraph and glossed over. Make that front at center. By sticking with her emotional state, the reader gets invested in her as a character. They want to root for her. (I slapped this rewrite together as an example and cherry-picked what resonated with me. I’m sure the author could do better.)

BEFORE – Two hundred metres further on the opposite side of the street Jude saw a gaping black hole in a shop front and stopped. Its window display had spilled across the footpath after a fire had blown out the glass. She felt a mild strangling feeling and shuddered. Fuck. Why does it have to be a fire crime, I hate fire crimes, Cam must remember that, he should have told me. Cam was standing outside the shop scratching his head and surveying the contents of the footpath. Beggars can’t be choosers she reminded herself, took a deep breath, checked for cars and stepped into the road. She was hungry to get back into some serious investigative work and wasn’t going to let a bit of queasiness get in the way.

AFTER – Jude shuddered and found it hard to breathe as she stared into the gaping hole of the shop front, pitted by fire. Its window display had spilled across the footpath after a fire had blown out the glass. Her own demons were never far from the surface. Detective Hunter should have known to warn her.

Jude took a deep breath and clenched her jaw as she checked for cars and stepped into the road. She needed serious investigative work, even if the case cost her sleep and brought back nightmares she thought she’d left behind.

CHARACTER NAMES – Why does the author only mention first names in this intro? I recommend giving authority to your investigators from the beginning. Give them a job title and what relation they are to each other, as I did in the rewrite above. It took me awhile to realize that Jude is the PI, but who are the other players? Who is James?

To avoid the gender issue using the name Cam, I would mention his full name of Cameron at the start and maybe only start using ‘Cam’ when other people call him by his nickname to establish that Cam is Cameron.

I would also question why a cop would call in a private investigator to an official crime scene, but I will leave that up to the author to establish. I’m sure there is a good reason and it sounds intriguing.

POINT OF VIEW – It took me a few readings to get oriented into the POV intended here. The first two lines were through the eyes of a character, I presumed. So when I saw the name Jude, I thought this is deep POV 3rd person, but then Cam steps into the spotlight and because that name is gender neutral, I thought Cam was a woman until I get to a couple of spots and realize he’s not.

Did anyone else have an issue with gender and whose POV is central? Giving titles and orienting the reader faster would help with this confusion.

PUNCTUATION – A well placed comma can make all the difference. Remember the old grammar joke – “Let’s eat Grandma.” versus “Let’s eat, Grandma.” That comma would mean a huge difference if you’re Grandma. I would recommend reading aloud as part of an edit process. When you get to a spot where your voice naturally pauses, that’s usually where a comma goes. Just ask Grandma. There is also missing question marks and run on sentences that should be broken apart to be clearer.

Here’s a couple of examples:

BEFORE – ‘Fuck. Why does it have to be a fire crime, I hate fire crimes, Cam must remember that, he should have told me.’

Break this apart for clarity and add punctuation. I also recommend internal DEEP POV be italicized (if mixed into 3rd person POV) and I suggest that DEEP POV not be embedded into a paragraph. If it stand out more, it will draw the reader’s eye to it as if it were dialogue. Readers naturally look for dialogue when they are reading. With weighty long paragraphs, as in this submission, the reader might skim or lose important dialogue if it’s buried.

AFTER – Why does it have to be a fire crime? I hate fire crimes. Cam must remember that. He should’ve told me.

Cams message had been brief,… (Cam’s message had been brief,…)

BEFORE – Jude took a quick step back. What’s with the kissing, that’s a bit familiar, this is a crime scene meeting she thought as she nodded towards the shop, “Appreciate the call, what’s the story?”

AFTER – Jude took a quick step back, stunned.

What’s with the kissing. That’s a bit familiar. This is a crime scene, she thought.

All business, Jude nodded towards the shop and said, “Appreciate the call, what’s the story?”

LAST PARAGRAPH – I would break out the dialogue lines to allow the reader to find them more easily. But I’m still not sure why a PI would need to be called in on an arson/murder investigation, especially if it’s a fetish shop. Riddle me that, Batman.

And why is he sure it wasn’t an accident simply because it’s a fetish shop? That’s the implication. His smirk is a little sophomoric, but maybe that is intentional. Is he a professional guy or a wise cracker? We don’t know yet.

BEFORE – Cam’s smile faded as he looked at the shop, “Fire brigade got a call around 11pm. Extinguished it by four this morning and secured the scene. Found a body at the back.” He gestured into the open black hole of the building. “Forensics are in there now, doesn’t look like an accident to me,” he nodded at the contents of the footpath and smirked, “it’s, a, uh, fetish shop.”

AFTER – Cam’s smile faded as he looked at the shop.

“Fire brigade got a call around eleven pm. After they extinguished the blaze by four this morning and secured the scene, they found a body at the back.”

He gestured into the charred chasm of the destroyed building.

“Forensics are in there now, but it doesn’t look like an accident to me.” He nodded at the contents of the footpath and smirked, “it’s, a, uh, fetish shop.”

FOR DISCUSSION

What feedback would you give this author, TKZers?

3+

What Did That Sign Say?

Today’s post is short. I promise I’m not lazy. I’m really, truly not. This past week, I was on the road (I’m looking at you, Alabama!) and when I returned, I immediately resumed Mom’s Taxi Service for my eighteen year-old son who’s still on crutches.

When I was on the road, I couldn’t help but notice bad signage. Mostly it was hanging in bathrooms, as though it were trying to hide. And, frankly, I don’t blame it. While I’m all for the evolution of the English language, I despair. I toyed with the idea of correcting them, but I’m not an enthusiastic defacer of any printed words. Here are the three appalling signs I was able to snap without drawing too much attention.

It’s hard to know where to start.

I suppose the two ** represent the phrase “if there are no paper towels.” And that must be a majestic Hair Dryer to warrant initial caps.

This one never gets old. Fish in a barrel, folks.

It’s show and tell time!

I’ll repost the first five you all send to me at laura@laurabenedict.com.

—Thanks, Sue Coletta! I like that they finish this masterpiece off with three !!!

–From George Smith, “Trespassing during normal  hours is okay, though.”

George Smith: “Somewhere there’s a empty sign frame…”

I can’t believe how long it too me to get this one. Too funny!

George Smith: “For those approaching from the edge of the building.”

–From our own beloved Kris Montee!

2+

Balancing Action with Voice – First Page Critique of Urban Patriot

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

Purchased image – Croco Designs for Jordan Dane website

Hello, my fellow TKZ warriors. I’m busy cranking on the daily word count of my next release, but I have, for your consideration, an anonymous submission from a daring author and member of TKZ. The first 400 word intro to: Urban Patriot. Enjoy and join me on the flip side for my feedback and please provide your own thoughts in your comments.

Urban Patriot

Choosing a side is dangerous, especially when it comes to politics and you’re African American from a Jewish background, that is, everybody wants to either recruit you or kill you for something. When I was getting high – on life – shit was easier, the only people interested in you were those like you unless they had their own plans which everybody in tinsel town had. One minute you’re relaxing with a naked woman’s bare legs laying on your lap and the next someone throws a stack of $100 bills in at you and says there’s more where that came from, you’re gonna love it.

Instead of letting me deal with my fate on the streets of Chicago, at 15, mom got spooked and sent me off to California to join the father I’d never met and who turned out to be a bigger jerk than the Chicago idiots I was sent away from. Which wasn’t half bad until the thrill of finally meeting him caused me to want to live with him. Grandfather and Mimi took me in where we had a small swimming pool, my own bedroom, and took me on vacations with them. Hell, I even had an allowance. Quite a step-up from sharing a 3-bedroom apartment with five siblings, a single mom, and abusive step-father.

Dr. Anita Daniels, my uncles and aunts American Socialist Party affiliation’s caught my attention like a shiny new car and what they stood for was everything I’d felt being a Black Jew living in America. Working Socialist political campaigns and African American activist activities taught me a lot, to stand-up for myself and expected the worse from people. Encounters with White Supremacists, the police, and Politicians broaden my horizons to the point of rage and cunning calm.

In a sense, I guess my past prepared me for a life of risks, questionable alliances and an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Especially when my wife was shot and left for dead at the airport terminal as we arrived stateside from a five-year extended stay in the Middle East, I wanted nothing more than to personally smoke that bastard of New President and burn his administration to ground. But that opportunity would come much later if only I’m I am strong enough to do it.

“Follow me” Agent Kelly Carlson demanded as I leaned over the counter asking the clerk “where is she, is she alive” “I am sorry sir, I don’t have that information” the clerk replied.

“We must leave now Mr. Anderson; your accommodations are waiting” The agent snapped. “This is bullshit” I snapped back, “I’m going anywhere until you I get some information about my wife.” “We’ll explain everything to you later, but you’ll never know unless we get going.”

The agent was already holding the glass door open as I turned toward him, stepping into the hall he whispered: “We’re all just a bunch of bureaucrats following orders – you know that.”

FEEDBACK

Overview – The strong edgy voice drew me into this introduction. It read like a diary and appeared to be set in an alternate reality or a future America. It intrigued me. But the submission starts with lots of backstory and ends with the action of what’s happening in this opening scene. Once I learned that a man’s wife had been shot and left for dead, I wanted to stick with the action. The question of why a federal agent is ushering him away and not telling him anything about his wife intrigued me far more than the backstory that could’ve come later to fill in the gaps as the story progressed.

Housekeeping – By now, you guys know how I feel about embedding dialogue within a paragraph, but this submission goes a step further and not in a good way. Dialogue is embedded and often lines from 2-3 different people.

Example of 3 different people talking in one short paragraph – “Follow me” Agent Kelly Carlson demanded as I leaned over the counter asking the clerk “where is she, is she alive” “I am sorry sir, I don’t have that information” the clerk replied.

There’s also very poor punctuation which drives me crazy. Missing commas at end of dialogue lines (ie “Follow me” Agent Kelly Carlson demanded), the use of double quotes where a single quote should be (ie “I don’t give a fuck” attitude), and missing punctuation like in the example above where there should be question marks (ie “where is she, is she alive” or the lack of a capital letter to start those questions.

Editors and agents would be turned off at seeing so many errors in the first 400 words. Don’t give them a reason to say NO.

Stick with the Action – The meatiest part of this intro was embedded inside a paragraph and almost treated too dismissively. The words ‘when my wife was shot’ should have been the focus.

In a sense, I guess my past prepared me for a life of risks, questionable alliances and an “I don’t give a fuck” attitude. Especially when my wife was shot and left for dead at the airport terminal as we arrived stateside from a five-year extended stay in the Middle East

This submission seemed flipped backwards to me, in that the action was toward the end after all the backstory. I would suggest focusing on the shock he must be feeling at seeing his wife hurt or dead, then don’t let him find answers as he’s dragged away by the agent. Below is my suggestion for a rewrite. I tried to stick with what the author had written, but just re-ordered it and added more of his shock at the start.

I had her blood on my face and my hands. I couldn’t get the image of my wife out of my head. They must’ve left her for dead at the airport terminal. That’s the only thing I could figure. One minute, we were on the tail end of a five-year extended stay in the Middle East, the next we were stateside. This should’ve been home. How could this happen…here? I wanted nothing more than to smoke that bastard of a new President and burn his administration to the ground.

“Follow me,” Agent Kelly Carlson demanded.

I had to know what happened. I leaned over the nearest counter and found a reservations clerk with enough sympathy to care.

“Where is she? Is my wife alive?”

The federal agent yanked my arm and forced me to keep in step as he hauled me through the gathering crowd.

“I’m sorry, sir. I don’t have that information,” the airline clerk called after me.

 “We must leave now, Mr. Anderson. Your accommodations are waiting.” The agent picked up his pace and dragged me with him.

“This is bullshit. I’m not going anywhere until I know what happened to my wife.”

“We’ll explain everything to you later, but we have to go. Now.”

The agent held a glass door open and pushed me through it. When I stood my ground and faced him, he whispered, “We’re all just a bunch of bureaucrats following orders. You know that.”

I clenched my fists and fought a blinding rage.

The way this story started, with the intimacy of a diary, makes me wonder if this intro could stand with the action of violence, but drift back to where it all began, like the way movies begin with something horrific and back into what led up to it. If that’s not this author’s intention, I would suggest peppering in the backstory later when appropriate. I really do like the edgy voice and the ‘tude.

Names Matter – A federal agent by the name of Kelly made me think this was a woman. It wasn’t until near the end that the author lets us know the agent is a man. This is a bit nit picky, but it jarred for me to realize I had a wrong image in my head. Also, if the name Kelly will be through the whole book, that is a lot of time for the reader to forget this is a man. I also fought with another famous name – Kelly Clarkson, the singer. Her name is too similar to Kelly Carlson, the agent in this intro. I would reconsider the name.

Read your work aloud – Even with the edgy voice, there is a flow and cadence issue and typos where it reads as if the author made changes but didn’t catch all the words. If you get in the habit of reading your work aloud, you will find areas where you stumble over the words. Those are lines you should consider revising to make them flow better. Here are two examples where reading aloud would’ve helped to catch the typos:

But that opportunity would come much later if only I’m I am strong enough to do it.

“I’m going anywhere until you I get some information about my wife.”

Use of tags in dialogue – I noticed these following a dialogue line – demanded, snapped, snapped back. A whole book of words to replace a simple ‘said’ can be distracting, but in Elaine’s recent post on “The Burning Question: He said, She said,” she makes a good case to minimize even neutral tags like the word ‘said.’

Setting – I wanted to know more about where this scene takes place. I can only assume it’s at an airport terminal but the writing is too sparse to get a good sense of where this happens, especially when it starts with a backstory that mentions Hollywood’s Tinsel town and Chicago. Setting can place the reader there and trigger images in their minds. It’s important to ground the reader into imagery that enhances the emotion or action of the scene. For example, if the federal agent has to whisk this guy away and dodge travelers hauling luggage or airport security rushing toward the place where the attack on his wife took place. This kind of setting or world description could add pace and emotion to what’s happening.

On Tuesday, P J Parrish had an excellent post on Your Story as Sculpture: What to Leave In, What to Leave Out. It detailed some solid information on sparse writing (similar to this submission) and how an author should think twice about what to delete and what to keep. Check it out.

DISCUSSION:

What was your reaction to this introduction, TKZers? Did it grab you? Would you turn the page?

Mr. January available in print now (210 pages). Ebook pre-order $2.99!

Zoey Meager risks her life to search for her best friend Kaity in a burning warehouse, only to cross paths in the inferno with Mr. January, a mysterious man with a large black dog, completely devoted to its shadowy master.

2+

Bad Copy: Is This the End of the World As We Know It?

You might want to stand back, or at least put earplugs in, because I’m about to have a full-on get-off-of-my-lawn-what’s-the-matter-with-kids-these-days moment.

Two years ago, I came across this captioned photo in my Weather Channel phone app. In the interest of full disclosure, I have mocked this photo more than once on Twitter and Facebook, and even included The Weather Channel folks with an @. And, yet, it remains.

Notice anything?

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Two years ago! This abomination has shown up on my phone through two entire years of daily weather events: sunshine, fog, rain, clouds, sleet, hail, ice, and thunder snow (which is a also a thing, according to the app). The weather events are described with pleasantly short, declarative sentences, i.e., “Partly to mostly cloudy. High 34F. Winds NNW at 5 to 10mph.”

I won’t bother to dig deeply into what’s wrong with the grammar of this non-sentence, because we are all adults. Agreement is a problem, of course, and “distinguish the flames” makes me spew tea all over my keyboard every time I read it. When I read the hot, flaming mess that is, “Hear these firefighters amazing story,” I suspect that the single issue the writer considered for any length of time is whether or not the phrase should have an apostrophe hanging about somewhere. That he or she made the bold decision just to leave it out is characteristic, I think, of the incredible, sans-serif confidence of the whole bizarre caption.

I have so many questions about this:

Who wrote the caption?

What were they thinking?

Who okayed it for use online?

Is The Weather Channel requiring meteorologists to write app copy? (I don’t think so. My guess is that the meteorologists write the tidy forecast copy.)

Am I overreacting?

Does The Weather Channel not know/care that they are putting out copy that is, for want of a better word, illiterate? Despite the fact that millions may have seen it?

Does this make anyone else question the quality of The Weather Channel’s work in other areas, like forecasting?

Did the same person write the caption for the image below? Or was it a different person, one obsessed with Initial Caps? (See what I did there? I can play this game, too.)

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Captions like these make me worry. The grammar illiteracy I see in both print and online newspapers also makes me worry. Though our local university paper is always good for laughs when it comes to homophones and word choices that make me grit my teeth, national and international newspapers are almost as bad. While there are still plenty of writers and editors out there who do their best to be correct, the vast majority of words we read now–especially online–are not necessarily written by people who are concerned about communicating clearly. They’re more concerned with clicks than content.

As a child, I didn’t receive much of a formal education in the finer points of grammar. Studying Spanish and French helped me a lot. But I learned nearly everything I know about how language works through reading. If I needed to punctuate something like the phrase, “children’s stories,” or was confused about whether to use “lie” or “lay,” I would search through the books–usually fiction–on my own shelves. Shelves which held a few classics, but also a lot of Nancy Drew. These days, I always find myself in tussles with (often quite young) copyeditors. (See, I told you this was going to be a kids-these-days rant.)

I’m all about the growth of language. English is so dynamic and fun, absorbing new words and concepts with lightning speed. But what happens if it softens into a constant refrain of “oh, they’ll know what I mean” excuses?

Do you have any egregious, public examples of grammar misdeeds? Do you think we are headed for grammar chaos–and is that a bad thing?

 

Laura Benedict is the author of the Bliss House Trilogy and several other books of dark suspense. Sign up for her newsletter and get to know her better at www.laurabenedict.com.

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