Building a Platform

    by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PlatformPlatform: 1. a raised flooring  2. the flat area next to a railroad track  3. a set of principles

 

Now is the time to add another definition to your Webster’s. If you are a writer, or you would like to be a writer someday, definition #4 is essential.

 

Platform: 4. an accumulation of skills and accomplishments along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public; Your goal is to drive people to you and your book.

 

Learn what type of tools to use to build that platform: website, Internet, writers’ groups, other social networking  

 

Building a Platform in the 21st Century

 

It isn’t enough for today’s writer to merely write the novel or short story, or for that matter a non-fiction piece, newspaper article, or screenplay. Today’s writer needs to get noticed. Does that mean be a flaming exhibitionist? Yeah. Sort of.

 

As described in definition #4: a “platform” is an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public. And this can be started before you have a book in print. In fact, it should have been started before you are knee deep in trying to promote a published book.

 

If you have visions of your future publisher footing the bill for your world-wide book tour or arranging your multi-city American book tour, wake up, sweetheart. More than likely, you will be doing this yourself.

 

But, if you have developed certain skills and have laid a foundation (a.k.a. platform) for getting your name out in front of the public, you are ahead of the game. But a “platform” isn’t just a website or a blog. It’s a lot of things.

 

If people (agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians) know they can count on you to get a job done, you build your credibility. Sometimes that means just showing up at a literary event and helping out. If you exhibit this type of capability, your agent and publisher will consider you a professional, especially if you have this part of your budding career taken care of before you drop your first manuscript in their laps. And let’s face it, when you sell your book, you won’t have time to learn these new skills. Take the time now, while you are still polishing that second or third draft, to get yourself up to speed.

 

Now you might say, “But, hey, I just want to be a writer.” (Boy have you got a lot to learn.) Unless you actually have the next Harry Potter book, or Twilight series stacked up around your computer, you have things you need to do now. Both Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have people to handle this. Unless you have “people,” you will have to do this part yourself.

 

This will be a Bullet Point Presentation of many of the ways you can build your own platform. This will include creating a web presence, getting your face out there (short of on the Ten Most Wanted list), and discovering who you really are in the first place.

 

Jewel 5Roll up your sleeves and join me as we polish the gems that we are inside.

 

 

Please note: I am primarily a mystery writer, so I will use examples based on writing mysteries. But a writer is a writer. These skills fit all shapes and sizes.

Gayle Bartos-Pool, aka: GB Pool, mystery writer

 

Target 2

 

Bullet Points for Building a Successful Platform

Point #1 –

  1. Who are You? Before you can really start building a platform of skills to promote yourself and your work, you need to know who you are and what you do best. In other words, what is your niche? If you were a book, where would you be in the bookstore? Mystery section, Short Story collections, Mystery plays. When you meet people, do you say, “Hi, I’m Agatha Penwrite. I’m a mystery writer.” Or are you still not sure what you want to be or write? If you can’t figure out who it is you are, you won’t be the only one.

 

Look back over the things you have already written and take inventory. At the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles (June 2009), Gayle Lynds (The Book of Spies) said that you will probably have five novels under your belt before you sell your first one.

Ladies StudySo, what do you primarily write?

The other half of knowing who you are is this: What other skills do you bring to the party? Were you once a cop, a private detective, a chef, a hooker? Hey, all of these are the basis of a good storytelling. What skills do you already have that will add credibility to your writing?

 

When I first started to write seriously, I wrote three long spy novels. The length alone said they wouldn’t be selling anytime soon. My dear husband said to me, “You were a private detective once. Why don’t you write a detective novel?” Duh. Boy, was he right.

 

So ask yourself, “What actual expertise am I bringing to this novel?” If you are a great cook or professional chef, you might center your stories around cooking. (Jerilynn Farmer’s Perfect Sax). If you are good at research, you might tackle an historical novel. (Jeri Westerson’s Veil of Lies) If you are a doctor, lawyer, or police officer, you have case studies by the score from which to draw stories. (Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Joseph Wambaugh.)

 

All the people with the above job descriptions have something to talk about when speaking to an audience besides their great new novel. They have real life experience in the subject matter. They bring credibility and great insight to their latest book. Sue Ann Jaffarian (Booby Trap) is a paralegal writing about paralegals. Sheila Lowe (Dead Write) is a real life handwriting expert. Her protagonist has the same job. Doug Lyle (Forensics for Dummies) is a heart doctor. They each write about what they know best.

 

Not only does Sue Ann have actual knowledge of her subject matter, but she can also go speak at a paralegal convention or a lawyer conference. Her expertise carries weight. It’s a great draw.

 

Switch2So, what is your biggest asset?

Not a doctor or lawyer? You still have resources. Mari Sloan (Beaufort Falls) comes from a long line of Southern eccentrics and visionaries. Her storytelling skills made her book fascinating, but her ability to tell those stories out loud made her book events unforgettable. Did you hear some good family tales growing up? Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall) wrote a novel that incorporates some of his family’s stories in a knock-out book, Blood Harvest. But not only did he have the interesting stories, but Bruce is also a movie director and he knows how to stage a story for the most impact. And his eye for detail shows up on the page.

 

Now ask yourself again: “What am I bringing to the party? What else can I talk about that shows I just might have credibility in the subject matter of my book?”

 

Write a one-paragraph biography about yourself listing pertinent accomplishments and skills. You’ll need this when an agent asks: “Give me a brief bio about yourself that I can send along to the publisher when I submit your manuscript.”

 

Are you getting the idea what a platform is? Good. There’s more coming up the next time it’s my turn on the blog. Watch for it.

 

 

A Lesson in Character Building

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

 

PeopleWhen I first moved to Sunny Southern California in the early Seventies, I decided I should take acting lessons. Not that I thought of taking Hollywood by storm, after all, I was no glamour girl or even thought I had any latent acting ability.

 

Trish StewartMy only claim to fame by that time was playing Girl Number Two in a high school production of Sabrina Fair. I had maybe two lines, but I did get a few laughs when my character had to feign a headache to make another character think that was why me and the Boyfriend, another minor character, were out on the patio getting some fresh air. I guess I did the funny bit of business well enough to get a chuckle from the audience. As for the girl who played Sabrina, Trish Stewart went on to an acting career in Hollywood. She was in the short-lived TV show with Andy Griffith called Salvage 1 and a recurring role on The Young and the Restless.

But a television career wasn’t why I wanted to take acting lessons. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to know what writers needed to learn about writing dialogue and thought acting lessons would give me an insight into all those words actors should be saying on stage and on the screen.

I got an agent, a job… and a life lesson. I saw an ad in the newspaper about an exclusive acting class being taught by a couple of people from Hollywood. I use the term “exclusive” because the class cost money. It was several hundred dollars, so I thought it was going to be really good. Well, one of the guys who was to run this class ran off with the money. Many people were screwed. The other partner who was as surprised, if not as screwed, as the rest of us, took pity on little ol’ me and asked if I would like to be the nanny cum housekeeper for him, his wife, and his four kids. I needed a job, so I said yes.

This guy was a talent agent. A real one. One of his clients had been Agnes Moorehead. Another client was James MacArthur. I actually met James when he flew into Hollywood from his gig in Hawaii doing Hawaii 5-0. James kept his little sports car in my boss’s barn on their property in Encino. His battery was dead, so he asked if he could borrow my little VW and go get one. I tossed him the keys and went back to my nanny/housekeeper duties. Their house was always a mess, so the three days a week I worked over there I tidied up and played with the young kids, all of whom were pre-school or in elementary school.

Bruce GloverDuring the nine months I worked for him, he got me into an acting class. The first class was taught by Bruce Glover. Old Bruce has been in a bunch of movies like Diamonds Are Forever and Chinatown and just about every TV series during his forty-year plus career. Something you might notice when he is in a movie is the fact that he makes sure he is either somewhere in the background of any scene even if he isn’t the guy doing the talking or while doing his scene he makes the most of it. In that I mean he is always doing some bit of business to capture the attention of the viewer. Sometimes the director will yell “Cut” and stop the attention grabbing, but many times that little extra shtick is the cherry on top of a scene.

And what does this have to do with writing, you may ask? It’s just this: Sometimes the writer needs to make a minor character more interesting by giving him or her a quirk, a trait, a personality. They don’t have to stay on the page or the screen all that long, but isn’t it fun to read or see a character who isn’t cardboard?

I still use that little trick I learned from Bruce about instilling a few minor characters with some unique trait just to make them more interesting and memorable. In fact, there are several characters that started out in a minor role who ended up with a much bigger part. Bruce would get a kick out of that fact, because he often said that “extra bit of business” might lead to an expanded role.

In the opening of my novel Caverns, the policeman who discovers the first body mauled by large rats in underground Chicago was to be a minor character if not just a “walk-on,” but I liked him so much he became one of the leads. In Hedge Bet I had originally picked one character to be the guilty party, but then I thought her character had only limited depth. This other character had far more opportunity for mayhem because he kept turning up in all the right places, so his part was expanded and he even had the original suspect bumped off.

In my Johnny Casino Series, I introduced an aging actress in one of the first short stories in the first book. I liked her so much, she kept coming back along with her butler who had a past to die for, so he turned into a charming regular, too. See, there are no small parts. Those little traits we write into our characters end up with a life of their own.

Rudy SolariThat brings me to the second acting class I took. The talent agent I was working for thought I might like to try another class taught by a couple of guys he admired. The guys were Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell. Rudy starred in Garrison’s Gorillas. As for Guy Stockwell, he guested in just about every TV series there was for decades.

I have mentioned in other articles how Rudy had us actors write a biography of the character we were playing so we had an idea who our character was before we stepped onto the stage. You would have to make this stuff up, but the script gave you a lot of information and the genre of the piece would give you more parameters. To this day I write a biography of my main character and sketches of other people in a story. This will help you remember who everybody is, how they look, their age, and important details that you might need later. You don’t want “John” twenty-five years old on page 34 with blue eyes to turn into “John” forty-five years old on page 76 with brown eyes. It keeps you on track and if you bring the character back in a sequel you don’t have to read your first book to acquaint yourself with those facts.

But something else was gleaned from Rudy’s class. Improv. There is nothing like your acting teacher asking you to get up on that stage and do a scene with another actor with only a few words describing the scene. The one scene I remember doing was when another actor and I were to be an abusive husband and the long-suffering wife having a conversation. “She could kill him” was my prompt.

I started out playing the meek wife taking his abuse, but I kept countering his jibes with subtle remarks. When the scene was over and Rudy said “Stop,” he walked over to me and asked what I had in my hand. I had taken a piece of paper with me to the stage. It was probably what I wrote notes on, but it was in my hand, but as Rudy noted it had been folded and folded until it looked a bit like a knife. I hadn’t realized exactly doing it, but my character sure did. Scary? Maybe. But characters do have a life of their own. Give them free reign and see what they come up with.

The other interesting time in acting class was when my good friend and fellow actor, Karen Markham, and I were doing a scene from The Odd Couple. Let me digress for just a second and tell you a story or two. It’s relevant.

Rudy thought it might be interesting to have women play the lead in that play and later movie and even later a fabulous TV series written originally by Neil Simon. Rudy asked Karen and I to do a scene from the play. We christened Karen’s role as Esther (Oscar) and I played Felicia (Felix). We did one of the earlier scenes in the play. We rehearsed quite a bit and thought we had the roles down, but you know actors. Digging deeper into a role is always better.

We decided we should take the act “on the road.” That meant that we would go someplace “in character” and see how we did. There was a bar fairly close to where the acting class was, so we went there after class one night. It was a hangout for actors and stuntmen called The Drawing Board. We went in, Karen as the men-loving gal who always had a smart remark and me as the meek, penny-pinching woman who found dirt everywhere.

Harvey WallbangerI ordered a Harvey Wallbanger. (You aren’t the only one who liked them, Paul D. Marks.) Before the bartender set it down, I cleaned the spot in front of me. I complained openly about Esther making a spectacle of herself and Karen gave it back to me in spades. When the bartender told me how much my drink was, I gasped at the high price and said that I wasn’t buying drinks for the entire bar. Karen told me I was a penny-pinching old maid. The bartender laughed and then said, “Talk about the odd couple.”

Well, I broke character and laughed. Several of the guys around us took notice and I confessed that we were actors rehearsing our characters for Rudy Solari’s acting class. They got a kick out of it. Oh, and I didn’t have to pay for the drink. Don Stroud, the actor who starred in The New Mike Hammer and a million other TV shows, picked up the tab for Karen, and stuntman Paul Nuckles bought mine. We never had to pay for a drink in the place after that. Nice guys.

Guy StockwellSo back to my original point. Karen and I knew our roles. We knew the characters. We did the scene for Guy Stockwell one evening at the acting studio and he liked it, then he asked how well we knew the scene and did we know each other’s part? Yes. Next he said, “Switch roles.” We did. Karen played the fastidious Felicia and I played the ballsy Esther.

We did it without a hitch and to tell you the truth, it was exhilarating. We were totally free. No constraints. Exactly what your characters in your stories should be when you give them free reign to be themselves. You know who they are. You wrote a biography for most of those main characters. Now let them take you where they want to go. That’s the point I am trying to make in this article.

You will be surprised when you free a character to speak his own mind or let her go where she really wants to go. Trust them. And maybe take an acting class to let you see what dialogue and character on the hoof is like. You’re out there on a stage and the words are alive. Make your characters come alive as well. They will love you for it. And so will your readers.

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 6by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Five – Finding the Right Word

 

Stephen King said “Any word you have to hunt for in a Thesaurus is the wrong word.”

I beg to differ, Mr. King. Here’s why. If I have used the same word ad nauseam in several close paragraphs, I just gotta find another word. Your computer writing software usually has a few suggestions when you Right Click on Synonyms. And I have a really nice Thesaurus that I will turn to if the computer doesn’t come through.

But, come on, guys. We’re writers, authors, novelists, playwrights, wordsmiths for crying out loud. Words are our life. Personally, I like adding a few new words to my vocabulary every so often. And I definitely want to use some fresh, innovative, new-fangled words when writing just to shake things up a bit.

I’ll stumble over a boring, colorless, lackluster word when doing one of the many edits I complete before sending out a book for publication. The troublesome word will be sitting there like a wilted piece of lettuce, limp and begging to be tossed into the garbage…. (And, yes, I did use the Thesaurus on a few of the words in this recent paragraph just to make the point.)

So why not use the sources available and pick another word so you don’t sound tedious, uninteresting or just plain _____________. (You fill in the blank.)

 

Jewel 7Polishing the Gem

Part SixPicky Picky

 

Last, but not least, be picky about your work. Agonize over a word or sentence or paragraph until you think (or even feel) that it’s the right choice. Feeling’s okay, too. Your name is going to be on the work, so why not do your best?

Something I have mentioned before might be of help when doing that last slog through those thousands of words you have put on paper. Ask yourself three things:

 

Does it Advance the story?

Does it Enhance the story?

Is it Redundant?

 

These questions make you re-think aspects of your work. If you have a long section of dialogue that doesn’t add anything to the plot and it doesn’t get your characters any closer to their goals, cut it or rework it.

Idle chatter between characters about the weather or their latest boyfriend over tea or yet another lunch at the local tearoom can become stale especially if the weather doesn’t change, no storm is brewing, and the boyfriend’s body isn’t buried in their backyard. Make sure most of what your characters talk about actually has something to do with the story.

As for enhancing the plot or even who your characters are, take note: If a long section of great descriptive passages doesn’t set the stage, but rather clutters it up, trim it or make sure you don’t keep piling on more and more of the same thing every few pages. You might like all your great descriptions of period furniture or sweeping landscapes, but after a while it stops the action. When it’s done well, it is a joy. Too much detail starts sounding like a boring college lecture course. You know, the class you fell asleep in when the teacher droned on for an hour about one more Roman army siege of yet another small village in ZZZZZZZZZ.

Wake up!

Here’s another point: Enhancing your characters personality or description or painting a beautiful picture of the scenery in your story is great as long as you don’t keep putting too much makeup on the characters or clutter the scenery with too many trees so you can’t see the forest. You want a stunning image, not layers of paint.

As for the redundancy part, during your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. During your final read-through as you are editing your work, check to see if you have said the same thing twice. (See how redundancy gets to be a problem? That sentence was in there twice.) Whether you repeat yourself in the same paragraph or page or chapter or throughout the book, it gets old and your reader will think you are either padding your word count or not paying attention.

As you polish your gem, remember another thing: if you file off the rough edges, sharpen the angles, and buff out the dull areas, the reader will come back for more. Everybody admires a beautiful jewel. Write On!  (And Read On Below)

Jewel 8

Let me add one more little tidbit. Several years ago I published The Anatomy of a Short Story Workbook. It was to accompany a class I taught by the same name. It is a quick reference to writers as to how to get those few chosen words on a page in a short story as well as a novel, screenplay, or even an article you might be writing. As a member of The Writers-in-Residence group, I have also written many blogs on the art of writing. Many times I just expanded on the points I made in the Anatomy book. Recently I compiled those many blogs into a new book: So You Want to be a Writer. It gives some history to my own career and some expanded thoughts on writing. You might find it helpful in your writing journey.

So You Want to be a Writer Amazon cover 2  anatomy-book-cover

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 5by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part FourContinuity

 

This is a very tough area to polish. Think of a road map to a destination. You know where you want your characters to go. You pick several roads. Some are clear-sailing, some bumpy, some are really rough going, but you think they will eventually get your characters to their goal. But what if one of those streets is a dead end? Or what if you end up on a street that circles back in another direction, but it doesn’t and won’t get your characters to where they were supposed to be going?

This is what a continuity editor does. He looks to see if there are holes in the plot, missing descriptions that might clarify a point you are trying to make, or if you just can’t get there from here.

This is what your beta readers just might point out, if you have a few, or what a continuity editor will discover, if you have the means to hire one. But if either of those possibilities is not available, you will have to do the work yourself. Is it hard? You bet. Is it impossible? Heck no.

There are actually a few ways to look at your work through different eyes… at least sort of different eyes or maybe ears. What do I mean? If your computer has a WORD program that has a Text to Speech feature, use it. Have the little voice read your manuscript back to you. The voice feature isn’t bad at all and it can even give inflection if you have a question mark or exclamation point. Have it read slow enough so that you can follow along like the member of an audience. It’s the actor reciting lines. You just listen. If that mechanical voice says something that you don’t understand, stop the program and go back over what you had written. Remember: that little voice reads only what’s on the page. It adds or takes away nothing. If the voice says something you don’t understand, and you wrote it, you better go back and rewrite it until you understand what the voice is saying to you.

It’s best to do this read-through a few days or even weeks after you finish your last draft. You want to distance yourself from the project and come at it as if it were all new to you. You might know the plot, but having the mechanical voice read it out loud after some days away from the project does make it seem fresher.

As the voice is reading you will be listening to the plot and character development from a different perspective. It’s really like fresh eyes, or in this case, ears, reviewing your work. Try to “stay in the moment” as the story is unfolding and listen for incongruities. Again, if it doesn’t make sense to you, the writer, it won’t make sense to the reader either.

If you don’t have a Text to Speech feature on your computer, ask a friend to read the book out loud to you. They can enjoy your book while you listen for things that don’t work. Your friend might even point out a few things that don’t quite hold together, too.

If you don’t have Text to Speech or a willing reader or a continuity editor, run off a copy of your book and sit down in another room and go through the book yourself. You can check for spelling and punctuation errors, change one word for another word, discover holes in the plot, and even rewrite portions because you thought of a better plot twist while re-reading your story. I usually go through my novels four separate times finding errors as well as picking a better word here and there. I have discovered goofy mistakes and few big errors that I fixed before the book saw the light of day.

No matter who you hire or the people you know who are willing to help you out with your editing, the ultimate responsibility is yours. Your name is on the book, not the copy editor or line editor, or college professor who said he would read your book or Aunt Mabel who loves to read and who said she would go over your manuscript for you. It’s your baby. Do the very best editing you can do. Go over it one more time after you think you’re finished, and then send it out to the world.

And even if an error slips past you, remember this: Only God is perfect. Do your best.

 

Parts Five & Six – Finding the Right Word & Picky Picky will be coming up in a few weeks.

When the curtain falls, the story begins…

No Curtain Call cover

Our good friend Alice Zogg has a new book out. Her stand-alones are amazing with suspects galore and clues hidden in plain sight if you look close enough. But waiting until the bad guy is revealed at the end is even better… then think back over those clues and you will say, “Ah. There they were.” Here’s the book’s blurb:

Nick Fox, a retired sheriff’s department lieutenant, is trying to get his act together after nearly being blown up in a targeted explosion that resulted in the loss of part of his leg, a kidney, and his subsequent retirement. His wife had already left him years earlier saying she didn’t like the kind of life he led.

Then a friend asks him to investigate the death of the man’s son who died from an opioid overdose after the opening night performance at the local high school three and a half years earlier. Fox knows the trail is cold, but his friend said his kid would never do drugs or kill himself, after all, young Jim Hoang was brilliant, had just gotten accepted to a great college, and was liked by everybody, but sometimes parents don’t know everything about their kids. Fox could attest to that. His own son, now living with his ex, is having troubles.

Fox starts asking questions and gets answers, but as someone close mentions, not everybody tells the truth. Fox raises the curtain on those around the young thespian that fateful Opening Night to see who had motive and opportunity to slip him those pills. The search widens as stories match up and some conflict. Can Fox finally raise the curtain on the killer?

 

A wrap up: Suspects abound in this fast-paced mystery set among theater people who each have a really good reason to eliminate the victim when the curtain falls. A retired Sheriff, Nick Fox, is asked to lend his expertise to this three-year old case, but Nick has some baggage of his own to deal with. That doesn’t stop this guy in sorting out who could have had not only motive, but opportunity.

A terrific read with suspects galore. Follow those clues Zogg places so masterfully right to the satisfying ending.

The book is available on Amazon in paperback as well as e-book.

 

Polishing the Gem

Jewel 3by Gayle Bartos-Pool

Part Two: Keeping Track of Time

Along with the biographies of the various characters, I also compile a Chronology Chart that records each character’s date of birth and other significant episodes in the principal characters’ lives. You ask: Why should I do this? Here’s why. If a character is twenty years old in 1997 when she is at the Police Academy, she will be thirty-one when she has a run-in with her superiors in the LAPD. She will be thirty-three when she transfers to the small city of Santa Isabel up the California Coast. And she will be forty when the body of a police captain’s wife turns up on the pier in her city. Keeping track of her age during twenty years will also tell you when other incidents impacted her life.

Keeping the same running chronology on other principle characters will show when they had a chance to interact with other characters and when major incidents happened in their lives. If you are covering many years in these peoples’ lives, the chronology is a godsend.

If one of my stories takes place over a week or two, I use a calendar. Usually I mark off the few weeks involved on a piece of paper and jot down what major events happened on those days. This keeps me organized and I can make sure I don’t have one character in New York when he should have been in Los Angeles.

When the story gets down to the nitty gritty, by that I mean the final chase scene where and when all the characters collide, I actually mark off a sheet of lined paper by the hour or even fifteen minute intervals so I can plot various characters going to and from various places so the times fit reality. How many times have you watched a TV show where the good guys can get across say Los Angels in a car in about two minutes when in reality it would take the better part of an hour? I know TV gets away with it, but I prefer a little more reality in my fiction. I plot air travel times as well as automobile driving times between places down to something that is fairly close to the actual time frame. You can look up airline flight schedules on the Internet as well as driving distances in hours and minutes on Google maps. My time sheet keeps the story honest.

Even if your story takes place over a twenty-four hour period or an evening in the haunted house, it serves you well to keep track of the time. It also allows you to watch where the bad guy is. Remember, he or she is the reason you are writing a mystery, if in fact that is what you are writing. But even if you are writing a memoir, you still can’t have 32 hours in a twenty-four hour day.

 

Jewel 4Polishing the Gem

Part Three – Line by Line

 

A Line Editor, as the phrase implies, goes line by line checking for errors. She is looking for misspelled words, missing words, redundant words, redundant words (I wrote the last one twice just to see if you were paying attention.) She is also looking for words used incorrectly like when you use “effect” when you should be using “affect.”

I actually keep a long list of troublesome words on my computer for quick reference. Of course there is always the dictionary. Mine is ragged from constant use. Remember: Spell-Check is only good if you actually misspelled a word. If you mistakenly typed in an actual word for the one you wanted, it will not know the difference. And sometimes the Grammar feature on your WORD program will be wrong. Get out your Chicago Manual of Style and verify your usage if Spell-Check tries to tell you that your grammar is incorrect. Often the computer will insist that “It’s” should be “its.” It’s wrong when you want “It is” and it wants “its.” Have patience. It’s a machine.

There are a lot of words that writers get wrong. Maybe your readers won’t know the difference, but work at getting the word right. You do need to know when to use “laying” verses “lying.” Laid and laying always take an object. Lie, lain, and lying don’t take an object. There are also a bunch of words that are used incorrectly such as dead-end verses dead end. Dead-end is the adjective. Dead end is the noun. Deadend isn’t a word. Some word groups are written with a hyphen. Some are one word. Some are two separate words. Some words are just hard to spell correctly. My list is long, but I know to check that list when I am editing and come across a familiar nemesis. We all make mistakes, but it’s nice when we catch a few before the book goes to print.

 

Part Four – Continuity – Coming up in another few weeks.

WORD FOR WORD

                         by Miko Johnston

 

Climbing BooksIn the spring of 2018, I organized a volunteer program at a local high school. Together with three other writers, we mentor students in a creative writing class. Every semester we accept up to three pages of writing from the students, which ranges from chapters from novels-in-progress to poems, short stories to essays. We critique the work, make comments and corrections, and return it to the class. Their teacher has mentioned how much her students enjoy the process, how they anxiously await the feedback we provide.

 

Writer GiraffeEach time we begin a new round of submissions, we, too anxiously await the material, hoping to find both familiar names and new ones. Having worked with the class for over a year, including several students who’ve been in the program since it began, I’m delighted to see a steady improvement in their work.

 

Not surprisingly, some of the writing we’ve seen has been what can be called fan fiction, based on existing work. Beginning writers often borrow, sometimes heavily, from books they’ve read or what they’ve watched on TV. However, I recently received something that crossed the line.

 

One essay submitted dealt with a topic the student obviously felt strongly about, for the words, while lacking eloquence (or grammar), contained genuine emotion. However, by the middle of the second paragraph, I noticed a distinct change in the writing, enough so that I Googled a phrase from his piece. Sure enough, it turned up on the website of an organization, cut and pasted word for word.

 

I have no idea if the student in question understood how wrong it is to take another’s writing and pass it off as your own. I immediately notified his teacher, who assured me she’d talk to the author of that piece. That still left me with the critique. It’s not my place to discipline the student, but I felt I had to address the issue in a way that made the point without overstepping.

 

I began by making corrections to the part of the essay written by the student, along with suggestions on how to improve it. Just before the essay switched to the website’s words I added the following – everything in parentheses has been paraphrased to maintain anonymity:

 

Winding Road Sign(Student), I am stopping my critique here, since this is where your words end and the essay you copied and pasted from (organization’s website) begins. What continues below is called plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. Aside from being illegal and dishonorable, you’ve weakened your message.

The part you wrote yourself needs some work. The grammar is not perfect and you have a lot of unnecessary words in it. However, it is heartfelt, moving and real. It’s obvious that you truly care about (cause), however imperfect your writing about them may be. While (organization) may be dedicated to (cause), their website is designed to raise money. You’re writing to inspire people to care about the problem and do something to change the situation, and you’re doing it from the heart.

I would like to see you go back and rewrite this in your own words. Then I will be happy to look at what you’ve written. I’ll help you put the final polish on it so it stirs the hearts of anyone who reads it and encourages them to help (cause).

 

Now I’m the one anxiously awaiting feedback from you. Do you think I handled this correctly? What would you have done?

 

 

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

(Due to computer idiosyncrasies, this blog was posted by G.B. Pool for Ms. Johnston. Computers have their own minds.)