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Monday, March 30, 2015

Week 13 Strong Verbs

Use Strong Verbs to Drive Your Sentences

by Tamara

"The verb is the engine that drives the sentence." 1

I don't have to be a grease monkey to know that engine means power. Power to move, power to transport. If that is what we want to do with our writing, our stories--transport our readers--then we need to pay attention to the engine. Once I think of verbs as my engine, I look at my writing in a different light. And what a difference a strong verb can make.

For example:

"The tracks made  a line in the snow." or "The tracks cut a line in the snow." 2

Which one lacks horsepower? Which one has more thrust? 'Cut a line in the snow' provides that visual punch, doesn't it?

Wilbers suggests a simple way to check your writing style: "Take a paragraph of your writing at random, and underline your verbs." Then ask, "Are they doing their job? Are they adding color and power to my writing?"3

1. Mastering the Craft, p. 70
2. Mastering the Craft, p. 70
3. Mastering the Craft, p. 72

PEGGY: Here is a paragraph from my WIP:

Rogan’s stomach sank. He’d made too many mistakes lately, but surely they wouldn’t send him beyond. The longer Abe paused the higher Rogan’s anxiety went.

Here is how I changed it this morning:

Rogan's stomach clenched. He'd made a colossal mistake, but surely they wouldn't send him beyond. Abe paused. Rogan's chest refused to expand and his anxiety skyrocketed.

Which do you like better? 

VALERIE: I love a strong verb. It really does make all the difference. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Week 12 Don't Trust Modifiers

by Valerie Ipson

We love modifiers...and what's not to love? They make flowers beautiful. They make mountains majestic. They make chocolate delicious...oops, no chocolate in the picture.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you via Steve Wilbers' Chapter 12 that we need to be careful, and a little wary of the mighty modifier.

Try these phrases from Mastering the Craft:

true fact
general consensus
very excellent writer
past history
final outcome
future goal
basic essence
immediate vicinity

See how the first word of each can be deleted without losing any of the meaning? We use these in speech all the time just out of habit, but in our writing we need to cut, cut, cut. Only use modifiers that add meaning.

Exercise #1 (on page 66 of MTC) says to open [your manuscript] and search "end result." How many times does it appear and how many times would "result" be the better choice? 

EDITING TIP: Try this exercise with other common modifier redundancies such as those found on the list above. If an editor is telling you to cut a few thousand words, this is an easy place to start.

TAMARA: These phrases are like optical illusions. When I read them in a list form they jump off the page at me--so obvious! But when they are hard at work in my writing, I read right over them, hardly able to notice they are doing double duty!! Good idea to do a search to take them out of context.

PEGGY: It's never good when you take something out of context. :-) It would be truly great if you could remove words from text you wrote, aiming for a simple understatement of all that is absolutely necessary. At least I think that's the general consensus. I love this lesson. It's a lot of work to clean up our writing.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Week 11 Eliminating Wordy References to Time

At the present time, our focus is on eliminating unnecessary words.
by Peggy

Last week Tamara talked about making sure every word counts. In references to time, are you wordy? How often do you use lengthy references to time? Here are a few to consider: at this point in time, at the present time, last but not least, during the time it takes, in this day and age... Instead, try using: now/then/or at this point, now, finally, and now/today/these days.

Change these up so they're not so wordy:

In this day and age, you don't want to waste your reader's time.

At this point in time, I think we should hold off.

You need to practice eliminating wordiness on a daily basis.

Did you come up with something like this:

These days, you don't want to waste your reader's time.

For now, I think we should hold off.

You need to practice eliminating wordiness every day.1 

Mr. Wilbers gives additional examples in a chart on page 61 (Chapter 11).

Eliminate six wordy references to time in the following paragraph.

At the present time, we've decided to wait until such time as we have a clearer picture of what our kitchen will look like subsequent to remodeling before we decide what to do with our dining room. During the course of the project, we'll start planning the next future phase. Last but not least, we'll move on to the bathroom.

What do you think? Did you find the six and do a fix? (And there you have the reason I don't write poetry...)

Share your revised paragraph in the comments below.

If you want more on this topic, check out grammar expert Richard Nordquist's post on 200 Redundancies.

TAMARA: I don't know, Peggy, I think at some future time, if you set your mind to it, in the final analysis, you could write poetry, or last but not least, jingles for tv ads. ;) (That was sort of opposite of the exercise, I put in as many time references as I could. I'll behave and put my revised paragraph in the comments.)

1Mastering the Craft of Writing, Steven Wilbers, pg 60

Monday, March 9, 2015

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

Ok, so the winner of our contest isn't getting a chicken dinner, she's getting a copy of Mastering the Craft of Writing by Stephen Wilbers. We love this book and are so excited to share it all with you.

If you're not a winner, you can still get a copy of this book at and follow along with us (we would LOVE your comments and insights, too!).

WHO is the winner?

You're dying to know?

Please join me in congratulating


on winning a copy of our featured book!

Mira, look for an email from us with information on claiming you prize.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

Week 10 Make Every Word Count

by Tamara Passey

Visit any author's group or writer's conference and you will hear a lot of talk about word count. What is the ideal for your genre, or what might be a respectable daily word count when drafting, and plenty of  theories are shared on how to increase it. 

The discussion that is equally important:  how to make every word count.

Writers everywhere want this secret formula. Mark Twain stated it concisely, "Writing is such an easy thing to do. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words that you don't need."

But wait a minute. Anyone familiar with Twain's quote will recognize that isn't exactly how he said it.

Wilbers points out that as a skilled writer, he "knew to eliminate wordiness and to condense and compress [his] statements for maximum effect." 1

What did Twain actually declare? 
"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." 
Of course you can hear the difference in the two sentences. It becomes obvious, to make every word count, we need to eliminate the unnecessary words. And you want to answer with a cliche, don't you?

Easier said than done. 

But it doesn't have to be. Think of wordiness like clutter. And then think of what William Zinsser declares in his book On Writing Well, "Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon . . . But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components." 2

So take a look at something you've recently written for some of the most common clutter piles.

Word Pairs: one and only, each and every, any and all, cease and desist (you get the idea, right?)
Redundant Categories: pink in color, round in shape, tall in stature (I hope I'm not guilty of these)
Needless Modifiers: true facts, personal opinions, new initiatives, end results, free gifts (whew!)

And one more way to make every word count--use verbs whenever possible.

"Don't make a recommendation; recommend. Don't take under consideration; consider."3

So there you have it. Locate your manuscript and conduct a revision.

Make that: Locate your manuscript and revise.

1.  Mastering the Craft, p. 53
2.  Mastering the Craft, p. 55
3.  Mastering the Craft, p. 59
4.  Mastering the Craft  p. 57

p.s. (Yes, I'm including a post script in a post about making every word count. The irony is not lost on me.) But I LOVE one of his exercises for getting rid of useless words. Exercise #4: "Take a sentence of your writing. .. Count the number of words in the sentence. Place a $5 bill on your desk for every word. Now delete any unnecessary words you find. For every word you eliminate without altering your meaning or harming the natural rhythm of your language, pick up and keep a $5 bill. The next time you write, imagine that you're paying $5 for every word in your message." 4

PEGGY: Trimming the unnecessary from not only my writing, but my speaking, has been a goal. I love that Wilbers points out the redundancy of things like tall in stature. I just found one in my own WIP: "Her two friends, Sharmyn and Marcella..." The reader will know that there are two, no need to beat them over the head with it. Revised: "Her friends, Sharmyn and Marcella..." Remembering that cutting unnecessary words helps my pace helps me not feel so bad about cutting those precious words.

Valerie: Unfortunately, it takes several revisions, in my experience, to whittle a manuscript down. For some reason words or phrases that sounded fine before, jump out as being wordy clutter the next time through. A tip I've tried: Change the font type and size of your text so that your brain is forced to engage and not skip over what it has read so many times before. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Week 9 Avoid Indirect and Indefinite Negatives

Not Using "Not"
by Valerie Ipson

Week 9's lesson is another one of those topics you don't often think about, but when it's pointed out, you go, "Ahhhh, yes." It's all about negatives and making them stronger...basically not using NOT when a negative word is available. As an example: "His campaign tactics were not excusable" becomes "His campaign tactics were inexcusable." See how the sentence is stronger the second time around? Direct negatives make the point more emphatically.

More examples:
instead of not agree, write disagree
instead of not supportive, write unsupportive
instead of not sincere, write insincere

You get the idea.

But beware, some words will fool you... "Our boss's contribution was not valuable," changed to..."Our boss's contribution was invaluable." Oops. That doesn't mean the same thing.

The second part of the lesson explains indefinite negatives, like pairing not with an indefinite pronoun. Often this makes for a weak sentence, such as, "I didn't find anything" versus "I found nothing. The second sentence is stronger.

As always, there are exceptions to these "rules." Keep in mind context. "I'm unhappy you're late" comes across a a little stronger when you say, "I'm not happy you're late." Depends on how you want to come across when your teenager walks in the door past midnight....well, maybe this is more like it: "I'M SO NOT HAPPY YOU'RE LATE AGAIN...YOU'RE GROUNDED FOR A MONTH!!!

Like I said, it's all about context.