Friday, August 30, 2013

Is Your Writing Boring or Exciting? How to Engage Readers

If you write boringly, your reader will quickly become bored and quit reading. Death to your hard but less than stellar work. Advice from people like Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury tell us to write so the reader does not feel like his time is wasted. Write so that he or she is forced to stay up past bedtime to read just one more chapter. Write so that the reader cheers for at least one character and then write that character into all sorts of troubles and show how that character gets out of the trouble, learns from it or overcomes it. 

Write, then go back and highlight verbs in one color and nouns in another. Did you repeatedly use one or two words? "Brett found a great deal on a horse. He went to the store and chose great tack." Can you find a stronger word to replace an uninteresting one. "Bart decided he was going to learn to ride a horse" or "Bart challenged himself to learn to ride Big George."

Determine your target audience and write to one person in it. If you try to write to the world, 99% of the people will not like your writing, topic or story line and the other 1% will have trouble finding you. Narrow your prose to fit a certain demographic. Try picturing your ideal reader when you are writing. Where is he sitting, what level of education does she have, how is she going to react to what the main protagonist attempts? What would spark interest in a reader to continue reading? Something unsuspected? Something harmful to a character? A plot twist that juxtaposes common sense?
Know your characters down to their sock sizes. Outline a complete picture of what your characters look like, what they like to wear, where they shop, what do they do in their leisure time, their occupation and the clothes they need for it versus clothes for relaxing. Hair color of course but does she dye it? What kind of Stetson does he wear? You will not use most of the information that you envisioned but you will know your character and writing about him or her will be easier. 

Research and get to know the gun used to commit murder or understand what and how a the form of transportation was used in your 1817 novel. Was it a coach, carriage, palanquin, wagon, cart, surry or sedan chair? Did it have leather straps for support (The dry leather straps rubbed against each other creating further irritation for Melanie) or did it have elliptical or leaf springs (Melanie's irritation grew as the springs of the coach squeaked louder with each pot hole).

We all know the rule that a sentence must reveal something or advance the plot. If it doesn't, then delete the sentence as it is of no use. You know in your mind the picture you are trying to create but think objectively if you actually did the best job. Remember the game of two people facing each other with a divider between them; they cannot see each other. One person tells the other how to draw an object without naming the object. Your sentences should draw a picture that readers can imagine easily.


Several writers I know have complained because their editors forced them to reveal facts or introduce people before the writer wanted to. Give your readers as much information as possible quickly so they have an intimate understanding of what is going on and why. You develop tension by the events that you make happen to your characters not by keeping salient points from readers.
We learn that writers must read a variety of genres. Pick up your next book with an agenda in mind. Decide what you are going to look for in this author's writing. Is it how he introduces characters, how she describes emotions, why you believe that that the setting is in NewYork City in 1945? Remember when it was called New York City and not New York? When did it change and why? You should know it when you write about it. "Ethel traveled by train to New York City in 1945." "Kirsten flies to New York in 1999."

 We have stories to tell so let's apply what good writers teach us and hope we are as successful as Flannery O'Conner, Ernest Hemingway, Rex Stout and Stephen King.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Question Mark and Exclamation Points Together ?! Interabang Explained


JENNIFER ROVA

May we use ?! and !? or ???? or !!!! in writing? It is unacceptable to use the aforementioned in academic writing, in formal writing, in business writing and by good writers. Its use points to the writer as uneducated or too lazy to think of the proper words. In recent years and in more casual writing, ?! and alternatively !? became popular through comic strip cartoons. Often the cloud above a character’s head will contain  interrobongs or interabangs  (in-TER-a-bang) which is what [?!] and [!?] are called, the latter spelling being the preferred choice.

interabang

Punctuation at the end of a sentence is called terminal punctuation. There is the period [.], which ends most sentences. The question mark [?] ends an interrogative sentence and an exclamation point [!] is used after an interjection or exclamation.

An interabang is used to express some question, excitement, surprise or disbelief: I am adopted?!
You did what to the dog!? Please, will you help me?!

Is there a specific way to use the interabang? Yes, it turns out, there is. If you want to use an interabang, place the most important punctuation mark first. “You got into Harvard?!” denotes first surprise that you got accepted followed by the extra emphasis of the unbelievable. “You got into Harvard !?” is excitement for your acceptance followed by the lesser surprise that you got in.  The unwritten rule is that you put first the punctuation you would normally use without its companion.

“What are you doing?” is asking a simple question because I do not know the answer.
“What are you doing!” is disbelief, horror or worry regarding what you are doing that I see and I understand.
“What are you doing?!” is surprise and disbelief and “What are you doing!?” is disbelief followed by why would you do something like that?

There is a glyph (symbol) for an interabang but it is not found in most fonts. Apparently you can find it text editor or by using Americana font. I could not find it in fonts and I do not have text editor but it looks like this. It is combination of a question mark and an exclamation point. Most people use "?!" or "!?"
interabang

There are several other uses of the word interabang in unrelated instances. One is a web site of an English design firm, interabangUK, another is a travel web site, Interabang travels with Trisha and Derrick, plus various others within a variety of unrelated subjects.

The question is it ever proper under any circumstances to use multiple exclamation points or question marks such as “I am so tired!!!!!” “Where are you?????” The answer is no, unless you want to look stupid and annoy your reader be it in an email, on Facebook or in your writing.

For more information see Nancy Owens Barnes' post on "Exclamanation Mark: Its Use and Abuse!"
http://writingnorthidaho.blogspot.com/2012/11/exclamation-mark-its-use-and-abuse.html

P.S. I agree with a reader's comment that to use "ect., etc." is also a no-no.


Monday, August 26, 2013

I Don't Know What To Write


A few times I have been asked to give a workshop on "writing books" or "how to write." The main comment I get is, "I don't know what to write about."  My answer is usually to ask a person in the audience to toss out a subject and I tell them beforehand that I can come up with five different themes to write about from that one suggestion. For instance, one person shouted out "grocery stores." I answered in almost rapid responses: how to shop, using weekly ads, how and where grocers place items on
shelves, and what to do about people who talk loudly on their cell phones the entire time they, and you, are shopping. Another said "men's shoes."  My answers were: a history of men's shoes, how fine shoes are made, current trends in men's shoes, how to take care of your shoes, and can you buy shoes for another person.

 Not all of these ideas would play out to be a vital article, and research is required on all the answers. The point is if I can find five topics in rapid succession off the top of my head in a public venue with random topics, you, too, can find some topic about which to write!

In researching this subject, I came across a large number of books whose titles made me wonder, "How did THAT get published?" These titles prove my point better than any more expounding on how and where to find topics you may want to explore for writing. You never know what publishers will print.                                                                                                

Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Julian Montague

How to Start Your Own Country, Edwin S. Strauss

The Toothpick: Technology and Culture, Henry Petroski

Catflexing: A Catlovers Guide to Weight Training, Aerobics and Stretching, Stephanie Jacobsen

Village Bells,  Alain Cobin 

Fashion in Spinach, Elizabeth Hawes

Bicycles in War, Martin Cardin and Jay Barbree

English Laundresses Working Class 1850-1930

How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, Doug Richmond

Bombproof Your Horse, Rick Pelicano

Blessed Are the Cheesemakers,  Sarah-Kate Lynch

Knitting with Dog Hair A Sweater From The Dog You Know and Love Than The Sheep You'll Never Meet, Kendall Collier

The Book of Marmalade, C. Anne Wilson

Build Your Own Hindenburg, Alain Rose

How to Avoid Huge Ships, John H. Trimmer

How to Abandon Ship,  Phil Richards and John J. Banigan

Blue Plate Special, the musing of a woman about her food choices, meals, food prep, Kate Christensen

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in A World that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain

How to Sharpen Pencils A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants, David Rees and John Hodgman 

How to Read A Book, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Suture Self, Mary Durheim

Across Europe by Kangaroo, Joseph R. Barry

The Invention of The Curried Sausage, Ulwe Timon

A Lust for Window Sills, Harry Mount

Soap Through The Ages,  R. Lucock Wilson

SALT a world history,  Mark Kurlansky

How to Build A Cork Boat,  John Pollack

How Tea Cosies Changed The World, Loani Prior

Be Bold with Bananas, Crescent Books

The Devil's Cloth A History of Stripes,  Michel Pastoureant

As  you can see, you CAN find a topic, even obscure, that a publisher will publish.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Writing Life: Just Because It's Fun

True confession: I am not a particularly playful person. Blame it on school gym class, dim memories of recess, or being a last-one-left-at-home child of older, non-game-playing parents, but whenever someone starts choosing up sides for softball or reaches for the Parcheesi set, I feel out of my element.

Thanks to a stubborn bent toward learning, no one is better than me at turning a fun time into work. A game of tennis becomes a grueling exercise in improving my swing and footwork and, frankly, just trying to make contact with that infuriating little ball. Volleyball at a picnic--no thank you. I rather like the idea of croquet, but when the opportunity to play is presented, I tend to stay rooted in my lawn chair, cool glass at hand, rather than risk looking foolish with a mallet. At parties I'd rather enjoy a good conversation than play Pictionary. And forget reading for pleasure--as a writer, even the most delightful, absorbing book soon becomes an object for dissection and analysis to lift the curtain on the author's magic.

That's not to say I'm a dour killjoy (at least, not all the time), but when someone suggests playing a game--or worse, makes a nonspecific suggestion to "go outside and play"--I'm never the first to jump in. What does that mean, really, "to play"?

This odd aversion to play is, I feel, a shortcoming, a fault of character. Research shows that play is a healthy and necessary component of mental health. But recently I came across a new-to-me definition of play that, I believe, will throw wide the doors of my reluctance to let the good times roll.


In Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion by William Kenower, a thought-provoking set of essays on the writing life, the author describes a magical evening of serendipitous backyard play with friends that he experienced as a child. He concludes, "We weren't free that night because we didn't have to do dishes or homework, we were free because we were living the gift of play, the search for the current pleasure in everything."

"The search for the current pleasure in everything." Yes! When I read that definition of play, I understood that playing has less to do with games and teams and rules and physical coordination, and more with finding and relishing the golden moment in even the most mundane task. I felt released from the tyranny of "having fun" to something much more satisfying. I felt free to appreciate the delightful squish of mud while gardening, the cascade of rainbow bubbles while washing dishes. To feel the sheer pleasure of taking a walk on a starlit country road, instead of calculating how much it would contribute to my daily 10,000 steps. Instead of finding the chore within the fun, I began to look for the fun within the chore.

For writers, play can mean enjoying words and language, literally messing around with them as an artist messes around with paints or modeling clay. Get giddy with plays on words, puzzles, limericks, double meanings. Form phrases out of fabulous words you find in the dictionary--words that mean something wonderful, or that merely have a pleasing arrangement of vowels, consonants, and syllables. Don't do it because you're striving to create the cleverest limerick or most evocative metaphor. Do it just because it's fun. Search for the current pleasure in whatever it is you're writing.
Now go inside and play!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: The Clockwork Muse






Here in the far northern U. S., summers are short. Already the vivid greens of the forest outside my window are taking on a golden cast. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, and yet there's a feeling of melancholy, a sense of weekend jaunts not taken and swimming not indulged in and people not visited--fun, summery things that pretty soon will have to wait until next year. I'm aware of time passing at a speed it does not possess in the dead of January. I wish I could grab onto the hours and make them slow down. Since I can't, the next best thing is to make the most of every hour while I have it in my grasp.

Eager to wring the most productivity out of those hours set aside for writing, I picked up a slim volume titled The Clockwork Muse: A Practical Guide to Writing Theses, Dissertations, and Books by Eviatar Zerubavel. Published by Harvard University Press in 1999, the book is mainly directed to students and other academic writers, but I'm finding it filled with practical advice for anyone tackling a major writing project, from a book project to a school assignment to an annual report at work.


Zerubavel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers, helps the reader sidestep writer's block, procrastination, burnout, and the clammy anxiety that too often accompanies the blank page by establishing a schedule and regular work habits. He covers all stages of writing, from planning to outlining, drafting, and revising. Some of the suggestions will be old news to the seasoned writer, but for those who find themselves craning their necks to see the peak of an intimidating writing project, this book will help bring it down to a manageable size. And happily for the time-pressed reader, the book is short enough to zip through in one or two sittings.

When I can sit down to write with full concentration and a clear road-map of what I need to accomplish, I can devote fewer hours to writing, giving me more free time to indulge those last heady, precious days of summer. If it's been a while since you gave your writing habits a tune-up, pick up a copy. And as kids head back to school, your favorite young scholar might also benefit from reading The Clockwork Muse.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Introvert's Guide to Writer's Conferences

For many writers, summertime means writer's-conference time. Conferences can be exhilarating, exciting . . . and exhausting to a natural introvert. All those people! All that talking! All that smiling and back-slapping hail-fellow-well-met-ness!

Having just returned from one big conference in Portland, Oregon, and soon to attend an even bigger one in Indianapolis, making the most of a writer's conference is at the top of my mind, so I thought I'd share a few hard-won suggestions with you.

First, why would you even want to attend a writer's conference, which can sound like an introvert's worst nightmare? For me, it's primarily to connect with other writers, to meet editors who might be interested in the kinds of things I write, and to take classes and workshops that will help me improve my craft. Fix your own reasons in your mind; then the time, money, and all-out effort will seem well-spent.

There's loads information on the Internet for things to do before, during, and after a conference, from preparing your pitch to sending thank-you notes. In addition to the usual wisdom about elevator pitches and comfortable shoes, here are a few suggestions from my own hard-won experience:

*Make sure you're at the right conference in the first place. Do your homework to choose a conference that's a good fit for you geographically and financially, as well as appropriate to your kind of writing. Check that it features keynote speakers and teachers you're truly interested in meeting and learning from. Socializing is much easier when you feel that you're among kindred spirits.

*Set a goal. Choose a goal that takes you out of your comfort zone, and make it measurable, like "initiate conversations with three fellow writers" or "schedule meetings with two agents to discuss work-in-progress." Then peel yourself from the wallpaper and do it. When you've achieved your goal, kick back and reach for the chocolate. You've earned it!

*Look for ways to serve others. You never know when someone might need a pen, an aspirin, a chair, a breath mint, a tourniquet . . . Mom was right: focusing on others helps you forget yourself and your anxious feelings. Especially keep an eye out for others who might be feeling as lonely or ill-at-ease as you are. A simple "hello" may improve both your situations.

*Take a time-out. A writer's conference is not a retreat--you are not going off to some bucolic locale to write for long, delicious, uninterrupted hours.An active conference will likely keep you busy from sunup to sundown and beyond--it's up to YOU to call a time-out when you need a break. Retreat to your room for a lie-down, or scope out a quiet corner of the hotel lobby or campus where you can catch your breath and regroup.

*Drink water. It's good for your body, gives you something to hold on to, and keeps you from getting dry-mouth. The air in some conference venues can be incredibly dry.

*Practice what to say. Here's some solid information from C. Hope Clark, author of The Shy Writer, on pre-planning what to say about yourself and your book, so that you aren't scrambling to think up a response on the spot.

*Phone home. Sometimes all it takes is the sound of a familiar voice to give you the courage to get back out into the fray.

*Above all, have fun.  Try to work some enjoyable activities into your schedule, whether it's swimming in the hotel pool or visiting a nearby museum or tourist site. While you don't want to skip out on too much of the conference--you've paid good money to be there, after all--a few well-timed withdrawals can help you absorb the information you've been given, as well as give you a break from being "on" all the time.

Who knows . . . by the end of the conference, maybe some of those strangers will have become friends.

Are you an introverted writer trying to make it in an extroverted world? Share some tips!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Do Your Research ... then Re-Search Again


Research is a vital part of any writing project, whether it is a fact-filled article or a historical novel.  Although a time consuming step, spending the time doing meticulous research up front can mean gaining the trust of your readers and building a good reputation as a writer.

During filming I was surprised to learn that James Pendleton, the actor who played the lead character in my short screenplay Root Bound, found some of the facts and figures I included about Idaho hard to believe. So, he re-searched them himself. Imagine my surprise when he began telling people the facts were really true.

“Yes, Idaho’s Hells Canyon is really 2000-feet deeper than the Grand Canyon; and Edgar Rice Burroughs really did write the first chapter of Tarzan while working in a stationary store in Pocatello; and 14-year old Philo Farnsworth really did invent the television while tilling a potato field in Rigby, Idaho.”

Although the screenplay was entirely fiction, I carefully researched and double-checked my facts and figures – work that saved me embarrassment when James decided to verify those facts himself.  And I have my 13-year old granddaughter to thank for that.  

Philo Farnsworth 
A couple of years ago she told me that her teacher warned her students not to trust Wikipedia without question because of inaccuracies.  She instructed her students to double-check their research.  Smart teacher.  The trouble was, at the time, I relied on Wikipedia pretty heavily for my online research.  I began looking and soon realized Maddie’s teacher was spot-on.  I know if you take a second look, you’ll find conflicting information rampant on the Internet.  So, who can you trust?      

The answer is you have to be careful.  You have to take your time.  Do your research online, then re-search again, either the old fashioned way – at the library or in reference books; or by finding additional reliable sources on the Internet.  You’ll be glad you did.  The following article by certified computer instructor Paul Gil, contains the most complete online research information I’ve ever found.  I hope you'll take a look at it.  I know you'll find helpful information and a few new tips that will aid in your quest to find reliable sources for research.  The entire article is included below or can be found at About.com. 

 How Proper Online Research Works

Legitimate methods, suggested techniques, good sense, and plenty of patience

By Paul Gil, About.com Guide

Legitimate online research involves much more than 10 seconds with Google and copy-pasting the Wikipedia links. Legitimate research is called re-search for a reason: patient repetition, careful filtering, and the separation of drivel from verified content, all performed with a critical and skeptical mindset.

There are over 86 billion web pages published, and most of those pages are not worth quoting. To successfully sift it all, you must use consistent and reliable filtering methods. You will need patience to see the full breadth of writing on any single topic. And you will need your critical thinking skills to disbelieve anything until it is intelligently validated.
8 Steps to Researching Online
If you are a student, or if you are seeking serious medical, professional, or historical information, definitely heed these 8 suggested steps to researching online:

1. Decide if the Topic Is 'Hard Research', 'Soft Research', or Both.  'Hard' and 'soft' research have different expectations of data and proof.  You should know the hard or soft nature of your topic to point your search strategy where it will yield the most reliable research results.

A) 'Hard research' describes scientific and objective research, where proven facts, figures, statistics, and measurable evidence are absolutely critical. In hard research, the credibility of every resource must be able to withstand intense scrutiny.

B) 'Soft research' describes topics that are more subjective, cultural, and opinion-based.  Soft research sources will be less scrutinized by the readers.

 C) Combined soft and hard research requires the most work, because this hybrid topic broadens your search requirements.  Not only do you need to find hard facts and figures, but you will need to debate against very strong opinions to make your case.  Politics and international economy topics are the biggest examples of hybrid research.

2. Choose Which Online Authorities Are Suitable for Your Research Topic.

A) Soft research topics are often about collating the opinions of respected online writers.  Many soft research authorities are not academics, but rather writers who have practical experience in their field. Soft research usually means the following sources:
  • Blogs, including personal opinion blogs and amateur writer blogs (e.g. ConsumerReports).
  • Forums and discussion sites (e.g. Police discussion forum)
  • Consumer product review sites (e.g. ZDnet, Epinions).
  • Commercial sites that are advertising-driven (e.g. About.com)
  • Tech and computer sites  (e.g.Overclock.net).
B) Hard research topics require hard facts and academically-respected evidence.  An opinion blog will not cut it; you will need to find publications by scholars, experts, and professionals with credentials. The Invisible Web will often be important for hard research.  Accordingly, here are possible content areas for your hard research topic:
  • Academic journals  (e.g.  a list of academic search engines here).
  • Government publications (e.g. Google's 'Uncle Sam' search).
  • Government authorities (e.g. the NHTSA)
  • Scientific and medical content, sanctioned by known authorites (e.g. Scirus.com).
  • Non-government websites that are NOT influenced by advertising and obvious sponsorship e.g. Consumer Watch)
  • Archived news (e.g. Internet Archive)
3. Use Different Search Engines and Keywords
Now comes the primary legwork: using different search engines and using 3-5 keyword combinations. Patient and constant adjusting of your keywords are key here.

A) Start with broad initial researching at Internet Public Library, DuckDuckGo, Clusty/Yippy, Wikipedia, and Mahalo. This will give you a broad sense of what categories and related topics are out there, and give you possible directions to aim your research.

B) Narrow and deepen your Visible Web searching with Google and Ask.com.  Once you have experimented with combinations of 3 to 5 different keywords, these 3 search engines will deepen the results pools for your keywords.

C) Go beyond Google, for Invisble Web (Deep Web) searching. Because Invisible Web pages are not spidered by Google, you'll need to be patient and use slower and more specific search engines like:
  • Scirus (for scientific searching)
  • Internet Archive  (to backwards-search past current events)
  • Advanced Clusty Searching  (meta searching specific parts of the Internet)
  • Surfwax (much more knowledge-focused and much less commerce-driven than Google)
  • US Government Library of Congress
4. Bookmark and Stockpile Possible Good Content.
While this step is simple, this is the second-slowest part of the whole process:  this is where we gather all the possible ingredients into organized piles, which we sift through later.  Here is the suggested routine for bookmarking pages:
  • CTRL-Click the interesting search engine result links. This will spawn a new tab page each time you CTRL-Click.
  • When you have 3 or 4 new tabs, quickly browse them and do an initial assessment on their credibility.
  • Bookmark any tabs you consider credible on first glance.
  • Close the tabs.
  • Repeat with the next batch of links.
  • This method, after about 45 minutes, will have yielded you dozens of bookmarks to sift through.
5. Filter and Validate the Content.
This is the slowest step of all: vetting and filtering which content is legitimate, and which is drivelous trash.  If you are doing hard research, this is also the most important step of all, because your resources MUST withstand close examination later.

A) Carefully consider the author/source, and the date of publication. Is the author an authority with professional credentials, or someone who is peddling their wares and trying to sell you a book? Is the page undated, or unusually old?  Does the page have its own domain name (e.g. honda.com, e.g. gov.co.uk), or is it some deep and obscure page buried at MySpace?

B) Be suspicious of personal web pages, and any commercial pages that have a shoddy, amateurish presentation. Spelling errors, grammar errors, poor formatting, cheesy advertising on the side, absurd fonts, too many blinking emoticons... these are all red flags that the author is not a serious resource, and does not care about the quality of their publishing.

C) Be suspicious of scientific or medical pages that display scientific or medical advertising. For example: if you are researching veterinarian advice, be wary if the veterinarian web page displays blatant advertising for dog medicine or pet food.  Advertising can possibly indicate a conflict of interest or hidden agenda behind the writer's content. 
D) Be suspicious of any ranting, overstating, overly-positive, or overly-negative commentary. If the author insists on ranting and crying foul, or conversely seems to shower excessive praise, that could be a red flag that there is dishonesty and fraudulent motivations behind the writing.

E) Commercial consumer websites can be good resources, but be skeptical of every comment you read.  Just because 7 people rave that Pet Food X is good for their dogs does not necessarily mean it is good for your dog. Similarly, if 5 people out of 600 complain about a particular vendor, that doesn't mean the vendor is necessarily bad. Be patient, be skeptical, and be slow to form an opinion.

F) Use your intuition if something seems amiss with the web page.  Perhaps the author is just a little too positive, or seems a little too closed to other opinions.  Maybe the author uses profanity, name-calling, or insults to try to make his point.  The formatting of the page might seem childlike and haphazard.  Or you get the sense that the author is trying to sell you something.  If you get any subconcious sense that there is something not quite right about the web page, then trust your intuition.

G) Use Google 'link:' feature to see the 'backlinks' for a page.  This technique will list incoming hyperlinks from the major websites that recommend the web page of interest. These backlinks will give you an indicator how much respect the author has earned around the Internet.  Simply go to google and enter 'link:www.(the web page's address)' to see the backlinks listed.

6. Make a Final Decision on Which Argument You Now Support.
After spending a few hours researching, your initial opinion may have changed.  Maybe you are relieved, maybe you are more afraid, maybe you've just learned something and opened your mind that much more.  Whichever it is, you will need to have an informed opinion if you are about to publish a report or thesis for your professor.

If you have a new opinion, you might have to redo your research (or re-sift your existing research bookmarks) in order to collate facts that support your new opinion and thesis statement.   

7. Quote and Cite the Content.
While there is not a single universal standard for citing (acknowledging) quotes from the Internet,  the Modern Language Association and American Psychological Association are two very respected citing methods:

Sample MLA citation:
Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S. H. Butcher. The Internet Classics Archive.
Web Atomic and Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
13 Sept. 2007. Web. 4 Nov. 2008. ‹http://classics.mit.edu/›.

Sample APA citation:Bernstein, M. (2002). 10 tips on writing the living Web. AList Apart: For People Who Make Websites, 149.
Retrieved from http://www.alistapart.com/articles/writeliving

More details: The Purdue University Owl Guide explains both of these citing methods in detail:

Remember: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE.  You must either directly quote the author, or rewrite and summarize the content (along with appropriate citing).  But to restate the author's words as your own is illegal, and will get you a failing mark on your thesis or paper.

8. Choose a Research-Friendly Web Browser
Researching is repetitive and slow.  You will want a tool that supports many open pages, and easily backtracks through previous pages.  A good research-friendly Web browser offers:
  • Multiple tab pages open simultaneously.
  • Bookmarks/favorites that are fast and easy to manage.
  • Page history that is easy to recall.
  • Loads pages quickly for your computer's memory size.
  • Of the many choices in 2013, the best research browsers are Chrome and Firefox, followed by Opera. IE10 is also a competent browser, but try the previous 3 choices for their speed and memory economy.

Paul Gil is a professional project manager and a certified computer instructor. Based out of Canada, Paul has traveled around North America to give technical training to adult learners. Paul is renowned for his dynamic Internet, project management, and database courses.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Keepsakes: Keep a Few


My mother recently passed away.  She was 85 and the matriarch of our large family of six children, 20 grandchildren and 28 (and counting) great-grandchildren.  My dad has been left kind of bewildered and lost.  “I was supposed to go first,” he says, “I don’t know what to do with everything.”

My mom did not hold on to “things.”  Oh, she had her collections of eagles, American flag pins and milk glass – but other things she threw away with great sense of purpose.  She did not like clutter or sentimental junk.  Our schoolwork, craft projects, outgrown clothes, old toys and games were thrown away without fanfare.

I guess she came by this habit naturally, having grown up in rooming houses with her grandmother.  She moved often and lived in small quarters.  Her married life wasn’t much different.  We continued to move from town to town as our family grew.  We moved once a year for six years in a row, following construction jobs around the Northwest.  She became expert at throwing things out so that the belongings of our family of seven could fit into one small moving van.  Out it went.

But it hurt when she threw away gifts that we made especially for her, like the pillowcases I spent many hours embroidering and the appliqu├ęd placemats and table linens that I sewed for her one year.  And it wasn’t just gifts.  She threw away cards, letters, announcements and programs.  She deleted projects, programs and photos from her computer the instant she thought she was done with them; often creating frantic calls for help when she discovered she needed something that had disappeared from her recycle bin which she emptied regularly.  “Get rid of it,” was her motto.

It drove me crazy.  I could not understand how she could throw away the things that tug at heartstrings – those cards and letters and little pieces of written words that tell the story of our lives.  A few years ago she even threw out a poem she wrote about her five daughters that we all loved.  My sister Norma copied it in calligraphy and decoupaged it onto a plaque in the 70s.  One day it was gone off the wall.  Just gone.   

That is why the manila envelope my father handed me last weekend came as such a surprise.  Dad had discovered a large envelope of “things” stuffed in among her hundreds of files of carefully catalogued and recorded genealogical records.  Inside he found bits and pieces from each of us: a valentine from Mike, a poem from me, a birthday card from Debby, a letter from Norma, a map from Becky (showing where to find her one day when she ran away from home) and a hand-drawn picture from Donna
  
There weren’t many, and some were yellowed and falling apart, wrinkled or twisted – but there they were.  Some were taped to copy paper and others written on notebook paper or old stationary – but there they were. 


And, they are wonderful.  We laughed and cried and read them to one another.  The good memories flooded in on the wings of misspelled words and childish scrawls.  I know experts say to throw out clutter and not to get emotionally attached to “things.”  But hand written or drawn “things” help tell your story and I think you should hang on to just a few – like my mom.

Monday, August 12, 2013

America's Secret Slang



If you love words and you missed the first season of the History Channel’s new series America’s Secret Slang, you missed some television viewing that was interesting, educational and just plain fun. The first six episodes of the new series, hosted by Zach Selwyn, premiered earlier this year.  I just happened to catch Episode 5 "Coming to America” and Episode 6 "Talking Turkey" on May 5.  I grabbed a pen and wrote as fast as I could.  I marveled at some facts and laughed at others, and I know you will too.  

Series Description
From the Revolution to Prohibition, from 'schmaltz' to stool pigeon', a diverse world of words unites and exemplifies America's everyday vocabulary and individuality. Modeling the style of How the States Got Their Shapes, America's Secret Slang reveals our nation's vibrant expressions and how we are defined by U.S. history. The unique phrases we have come to embrace are secret messages, a powerful hidden record of the American story spoken for everyone to hear. H2™ releases this six-part series as a voyage through our nation's past venturing into the phrasebook of our identity today.

I apologize for technical difficulties that prevent me from being able to embed these two episodes here, but all six are available on YouTube. Go to YouTube and type in America's Secret Slang and you can choose which episode you want to watch.  Each lasts about 22 minutes.  I promise, if you love words, you'll get hooked.  Each episode is also available for purchase on Amazon and viewing in HD on Kindle Fire HD, Xbox 360, PS3, Roku, TiVo and other Amazon Instant Video HD-compatible devices.

Episode 5: Coming to America Description
Ever wonder why American cowboys say "'git along little doggies" when they're talking about herding cattle? Or why a losing wrestler "cries uncle?" And why do we say "ouch" when we stub a toe?

Watching this episode I learned we Americans speak more foreign languages than we think.  For three centuries we have been melting the languages of other countries into our everyday speech and many of the words and phrases we use today were brought to us by immigrants from across the world.

I learned I speak more Spanish than I thought I did - and I bet you do too.  The Spanish-speakers, part of the Spanish Empire, were already settled when we got around to claiming the West in 1848.  We changed the meanings of some of their words, but others remain in use today, rooted in our American culture.  

  • "Gringos" – English speakers; a Greek word “griego” which means impossible to speak.  
  • "Ten-gallon hat" was coined from the Spanish words “tan galan” which means “so handsome,” 
  • "Breeze" - evolved from the Spanish word “briza” which means North wind.  
  • Other words of Spanish origin remain today as part of America’s cowboy culture: "rodeo," "lasso," "ranch" and "stampede."
Jewish immigrants mixed English with Yiddish, which started in Eastern Europe in Germany 1,000 years ago as a separate language.  The result is many words that slowly made their way into our everyday language, or are at least words we all recognize: "chutzpah," "spiel"  (long-winded speech), "schmaltz" (overly sentimental)," klutz," "tush" (from takes – beneath) and "glitch."  Other words changed their meanings somewhat when they were Americanized: "schmooze" in Yiddish just means talk; In America it means trying to get something you want through talk; and in their words, "schmuck was a curse word, or at least a very bad word and 'putz' was schmuck on Viagara.”

Episode 6: Talking Turkey Description
Americans have always loved to eat and expressions relating to food--from New York's "big apple" to "wake up and smell the coffee" --pepper our everyday speech. But where did they all come from? For example, why is something that's as "easy as pie" considered "a piece of cake?" Or why do you "talk turkey" about quitting a bad habit "cold turkey?" And what does it really mean to "bring home the bacon"? The answers reveal the hidden history behind America's food and its secret slang.

In this episode I learned about the hidden language of America that evolved from the foods we eat.  I learned why we say "pork barrel," "going whole hog," "hog wash" or he was" hamming it up."  Watch this episode to find out all that and more.  Did you know "living high on the hog" originated from those who were able to buy the best cuts of pork which are located higher up on the pig.

You'll learn that a smart person is called an "egghead" because someone used that term on President Eisenhower in 1952 because he was intellectual and had a bald head that looked like an egg.  You'll learn why we say you "egged someone on;" or why we say "he laid an egg;" and that we say someone "has egg on their face" because they used to throw eggs at  bad vaudeville acts.  You'll learn where the phrases "apple pie order," "apple polishers," and "how do you like them apples" came from.

Hey you better head on over to You Tube and catch an episode of America's Secret Slang now.  The host is enthusiastic, the action is fast-paced and fun is contagious.  

Other Episodes

Episode 1: Guns, Booze, and Politics
Politics is full of odd phrases like "pork barrel projects," "slush funds," and "lame ducks" -- all of which had practical origins and morphed to mean what they do today. The same can be said about the language and culture of guns and booze during the Prohibition era, which gave us phrases like "falling off the wagon," "teetotaler," and "skid row." But what exactly do them mean? Find out those answers in this episode and discover what it really means to be a "bootlegger."

Episode 2: Them's Fighting Words
Have you ever wondered why someone who can't get it together is called a "basket case"? Or where the term "Yankee" came from? And why do we say someone "bought the farm" when they die? The answers to these questions all have one thing in common: war. From the American Revolution to WWII, wars have spurred thousands of words and phrases you use every day including "sideburns," "deadlines," and even "hookers!" Join us, as we reveal the history behind America's secret slang.Ep. 5 "Coming to America
Ever wonder why American cowboys say "'git along little doggies" when they're talking about herding cattle? Or why a losing wrestler "cries uncle?" And why do we say "ouch" when we stub a toe?

Episode 3: Y'all Speak Country


The American South has given us words like "y'all" and "rednecks" as well as dozens of colorful phrases like "fly off the handle," "having an axe to grind," and "barking up the wrong tree." But what are the origins of these expressions and why has one group of people contributed so much to the American language? The answers reveal the hidden history behind the American south and its secret slang.

Episode 4: West Word, Ho!


Expressions from "riffraff" to "betting your bottom dollar", "passing the buck," "acid test" and even "heard it through the grapevine" all come from America's frontier days. But have you ever wondered why these phrases were first used and what they mean today? The answers reveal the hidden history behind America and its secret slang.






















Friday, August 9, 2013

Writing body language to express feelings

Did you know that the amygdala (feeling part of the brain) transmits the emotions to the rest of the body within less than a second? That means if you are good at reading body language very few people, unless they are well trained, can actually lie to you without you knowing. Human beings are sensitive to body language, facial expression, posture, movement and tone of voice. When I worked as a psychotherapist I used to start a session by reminding myself to listen as much to the client's body as to what she or he was saying. That's why it is really hard to do an interview or therapy session over the telephone or email. Skype isn't perfect but much better.

If you are a people watcher you probably started in childhood, and you can probably tell someone's feelings at a glance. You know the true meaning of his or her communication. Most kids start very young to watch their caregiver's faces and the changes in their bodies so the kids can please them. Maybe they are afraid of being punished and wish to avoid the pain and disapproval at all cost. Some kids blank out and don't notice their parents' body language at all. That allows them to ignore knowing what is expected of them. Actually they tend to have less anxiety then those who watch continuously. Both methods are normal and are functional when the child is young. Later on? Maybe not.

But for a writer it is essential to understand body language so you can portray your characters in such a way that you don't need to mention feelings. You can create more tension and truth by showing how the body of the character shifts. You can contrast what a person is saying with what the person's body is telling you. It's a great way to show inner conflict. And most of your readers will get the meaning on an unconscious level if not on a conscious one.

Here are a few jestures you can use in your writing. Guess the feelings involved in both parties.

Just a note of warning. Not all cultures use the same body language so make sure to check that out when you write about other parts of the world.

1. Her eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped as the cat sprang toward her.

2. He stood with his legs apart, both feet firmly on the ground. He crossed his arms on his chest and his eyes stared into mine.

3. When he came up to her and said, "Hello", she blinked, stiffened, and tightened her hands behind her back. She glanced down at the ground, her body swaying slightly back and forth.

4. He straightened his body and looked ahead, walking with a swing to his steps.

5. She sat across from Teresa, leaned toward her, and placed her hand gently on Teresa's arm.

6. Jeff held out his hand. The senator's eyes bore into his. His jaw tightened and he came nearer, almost touching Jeff. He placed his hand on top of Jeff's hand and shook it hard. Then he smiled a stiff smile and said, "Glad you could come."

7. The muscles around his eyes crinkled and his jaw relaxed. He laughed a deep throated laugh that seemed to come from his belly. I gave him a tight hug and said, "Wow! I have missed you Don."

Well, you get the idea. I suggest you get a good book on body language to help you in your writng.

Here are two I like:
The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease  Bantam Books, 2004.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Character Expression by Angela Akerman and Becca Puglisi.

But your best bet is to take any opportunity you have to watch people interact in various places. Your home is a good place to start. Write down your results so you won't forget.

P.S.

1.By the way, if you read my Wednesday blog, I have good news.
The horse is not dead!
He was merely asleep.

2. Writing North Idaho is planning to conduct a short survey to help us understand what you would like to read on this site. What would be most helpful or entertaining to you? We would love to hear from you, our reader.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Writing stories or novels? Bury the Dead Horse.

THIS IS NOT THE DEAD HORSE!
Have you ever tried to resurrect a story that just didn't have any life to it? I have. The other day I tried to edit a story I had written about our family several years ago. I slammed down my pen on the table and got up and paced around the livingroom.

My husband who was sitting on the couch and reading glanced up at me and said, "What's the matter?"

I glared at him and said, "No matter how hard I try I can't make this story come alive."

"Oh," he said. "Sounds like you've got a dead horse. Why don't you just bury it? Don't keep beating the poor thing."

"Because I still really like the idea."

I went back to editing but Ron's words kept coming back in my mind.

How could I tell if this "horse" was actually dead?

As you may have guessed by now, I love playing with words, creating new ideas and ways of looking at things. New perceptions. So I took the metaphor of the dead horse even farther in my mind. A little crazy but fun. I went back many years to my nursing days. Yes. I needed a stethoscope to examine the story and find out whether it was still alive.

Here are the questions I came up with to check whether my "poor horse" was alive. You might try asking the same questions about a book or story you wrote that you're not sure is worth saving.

1. Is the heart beating? Does it have heart? Does it move people emotionally? Do people who read it smile or get tears in their eyes? If not, the horse may be dead.

2. Is the horse breathing? Does the story move in rythmn, in and out of crisis and drama, and give you a short rest before the next dramatic situation occurs? In and out. In and out. If it does, the horse is still alive.

3.Does the horse move when you touch it? Or has rigor mortis set in? If the story is stiff and the plot is not moving or going anywhere it might be time to let it go.

4. Check the brain waves. Are they active? Do you have something important you want to say in the story? Do you get your ideas across to your reader? Are they new and interesting?

5. How does the horse smell or feel to the touch? Does your story trigger all of the readers senses?

6. How much do people love your horse? Do your readers attach to your main character and identify with him or her? Does your character grow in some way? But even if you are committed to your story and have a hard time letting it go, remember that sometimes it is more loving to let it go than to keep trying new ways to revive it.

7. Consult with another veterinarian. Get at least three or four readers who like the genre you write and who will be honest with you to read your book and give you their opinion.

8. If the horse is dead, bury it lovingly and then get a new one. Start fresh. Set aside the old manuscript and start where you are now, not where you were years ago. Your writing style and knowledge of writing will have changed and you may well have a different emphasis by now. Trying to edit the same story over and over again will drag you back to your old ineffective way of writing.

If you decide to start fresh you can still use some of  the same ideas but use the points I have mentioned in the questions and your horse will be strong and alive. Ask yourself: Is this new horse a stallion, a mare, a race horse, or a show horse? Are you training it in creative ways? What is the personality of your new horse? Think of Seabiscuit. Where do you want your horse to go? Do you want your reader to have a thrilling ride and to take him to places he had not imagined? Keep your hands on the reins so the horse stays on the right track instead of trotting off on side trails or irrelevant tangents.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Creating tantalizing first sentences for your book

I was reading the former post by Kathy about writing first sentences and it brought to mind all the exciting first sentences (or not) in books I've read recently or created myself. I used to say, "I'm not like all those other readers who need the first couple of pages to pop out at me in order to read the book." Remember all the old English classics that described the environment for the first 100 pages and then suddenly "whop" you were into the trauma drama big time?

Well things change. I've found I'm just as bad as the the rest of them whoever "them" is. If I read the first pages and don't find myself excited by either the character or the plot, I set the book aside for a rainy day, which rarely comes. But now I pride myself on not being one of those readers who needs the first sentence or paragraph to be so exciting I can't put the book down.

I hate to tell you, but the other day I went to the library just to check out some mystery books and I noticed myself opening several books and reading the first paragraph, then putting the book back on the shelf . Ugh, I'm afraid I've joined the "now" generation.

But the realization has made me very aware of how important those first sentences or paragraphs are if you want your audience to read your book. So just for you, wonderful reader, I sat up late (for me that's 2:00 am) and worked at composing first sentences. Sentences like,"It was a dark and gloomy night" or whatever, probably would not be adequate for most readers today. I started off by reading the first sentences of some well-known authors.

Here are a few:

1. Billy Straight by Jonathan Kellerman
"In the park you see things.
But not what I saw tonight.
God. God."

2. The Litigators by John Grisham
"The law firm of Finley and Figg referred to itself as a "boutique firm." This misnomer was inserted as often as possible into routine conversations, and it even appeared in print in some of the various schemes hatched by the partners to solicit business."

3. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
"Since the beginning of time the secret had always been how to die."

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out...She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping."

Ouch. If you know what "the reaping" is you are scared for the young woman. After reading several beginnings like these, I figured I needed a beginning that would foreshadow an ominous future, something that readers would care about and feel compelled to find out what happened. I tried to think of some beginnings, but nothing came to me until I started to think of my own life experiences  I could embellish or change enough to fit a story.

So here goes:

1. If it hadn't been for the naked, bloated body of a man bobbing up and down on the waves near our motorboat, I would have said it was an ordinary day in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.

2. As the plane banked to the left over the Beirut Airport preparing to land, all the passengers stared and gasped. Flames shot skyward out of three planes on the runway. It was May, 1969, just after Israel had bombed Lebanon.

3. My name is Angela Marie Jennifer Adams. I am a famous private investigator and I am certifiably insane.

4. This is actually the first paragraph I used in the mystery thriller Justice Forbidden I wrote a couple of years ago. The book is about a psychologist who is being sued for implanting a false memory in a client.

"As I see it there are only four ways my life as a clinical psychologist would likely end. I could depart this mortal plane from natural causes such as a heart attack after working myself to death; I could die of an accident like tumbling down three flights of stairs running after a suicidal client; I could commit suicide over the continued "yeah but" of another Esmeralda Sutton who refused to entertain any solutions to her problems; or I could be murdered by the legal system and carried out in a coffin bearing the name lawsuit engraved on a gold plate."

Now you know the secret. Foreshadow or start with a scary event so your audience will need to continue reading to find out what happens. Whether it is a mystery, a thriller, a romance, or women's fiction doesn't matter.

Create a conflict at the beginning. Then as some editors say, "Conflict, confict, conflict." Keep the conflict coming and keep them guessing.

 

Friday, August 2, 2013

Curiosity: The Writer's Best Friend



When you were a child, did you drive the adults around you nuts with your questions, until someone said, “Curiosity killed the cat.”
I never liked that statement. I wanted to know how the cat was killed, what did it do, and why did people keep bringing that up.
We are all born with curiosity. If it wanes as we age, that has to be our fault entirely. If we think there is nothing left to learn, we should put ourselves in a challenging situation and find new ways to rekindle our curiosity.  Reviewers should not be telling us what film to see, or what book to read; we should be curious enough to find out for ourselves. We should travel slowly when we are in new places, so that the curiosity has a longer time to build. On long canoe trips, I used to love bending rivers because it gave us more time to wonder what lay around the next point.
Dorothy Parker said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity.”

Moms who are home with children all summer, know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Babies fascinate us with their curiosity.The photograph at the the top of this page comes from what could be the lost city of Atlantis. Archeologists have discovered a dearth of statues and buildings, all submerged by time and the ocean, lost but not forgotten to those who have always been curious.

During the recent move, I decided to part company with our old set of encyclopedias. I was loathe to do so. It just pained me to no end because there were so many times we, as a family, would look something up, all curious to find the answer. I used to look up new destinations and read about their history. The whole reason we ended up in North Idaho has to do with curiosity. Thumbing through an atlas at my father-in-law's house, I saw a map of this region, saw the French names of the lakes and became curious. Who named them? When? Could they have possibly come from the voyageurs? Could you get to North Idaho by canoe from Montreal? When the answer came back yes, I wanted to see this region. As luck, or fate, would have it, we were offered two free nights in a time share condo and decided on taking a slight detour on our way to British Columbia from California. We had our children with us, and the first lake we came upon was none other than our beloved lake Coeur d' Alene. We were heading north on Highway 95. I saw a sign for a boat launch and asked my husband if we could just go down that road and take a peek. We did and it was as if my hair stood on end. Funnily enough, we now live down that same road and on my way home from shopping, or an event in town, I see, once again, the very spot where I caught my first glimpse of the lake. Motivation and reward are tied to curiosity. I remain eternally grateful.

As far as writing is concerned, I am drawn to subjects I am curious about. I read biographies because I want to know how certain people found their way. What were the deciding factors? Who were their mentors? I am curious about the places we have inhabited. How did we get there? How did it work out for my forefathers? What events transpired to either help or hinder their way?

What will I write next? I am curious to find out because at this point, I do not have a clue.