Hey, Y’all (Contemplations on “You” Plural) (Part 1)

file0001217628885Before we begin, a word about the images in this post: To avoid lawsuits by photographers for using their work without permission, I’ve been limiting my image use to those that: 1) I have permission to use; 2) I take myself; or, 3) are royalty-free and in the public domain. MorgueFile is a handy site for finding things like that. Needing images for this post, I searched MorgueFile for pictures to illustrate the subject of “you.” I didn’t expect to find any, but I got a number of results, and the photos here are among them. What they have to do with “you” is anyone’s guess.  But they’ll do in a pinch.

And now, back to the blog post.

The English language (which, sadly, is the only one I’m fluent in) is an endless source of fascination for me, and I could go on and on about it. In fact, I do go on about it (but not on and on) here. Today, I want to focus on one word. You guessed it: the word you. (Maybe we’ll talk about hey another time.)

Though I speak only English, I’m aware that most languages in the Germanic and Latin families (and perhaps others as well) have efficient means of separating the plural from the singular in the second person. (Remember conjugating verbs in school? First person is I/me, second person is you, and third person is he/she/it. All these come in two flavors: singular [just described] and plural [us/we, you, and they].)

I’m grateful to my parents for teaching me to speak properly from the time I was a toddler. But this caused me to be shocked when I started kindergarten and heard my fellow kiddies manhandling the language. One of the common butcheries I heard from that point and forever onward was the illegitimate son pluralization of the second person pronoun, yous. A girl in one of my high school English classes actually asked the teacher how to spell it and was incredulous to hear — apparently for the first time — that it wasn’t a word.

She was right to be taken aback. You needn’t be a linguist to realize the English language needs a plural form of you. So, lacking a proper word, we everyday-English-speakers make up our own. Depending on the location, you might hear locals say yous or yous guys, as they do in the Cleveland area where I grew up, or you-uns, as they do hereabouts (usually abbreviated you’ns), or y’all. Sometimes even all y’all. The more civilized speakers might say you folks. But in writing — unless we’re writing dialogue, or being very informal — there’s no way to tell singular from plural apart from the context; and occasionally, it’s necessary to know if the word is singular or plural in order to determine the context. It can get dicey at times.

What we tend to forget is that once upon a time, English did make the distinction between singular and plural second person. All those thee’s and thou’s in Olde English weren’t fancy embellishments; they actually meant something. Back in the day when King James authorized the translation of the Bible into common, everyday English, people understood that ye was the plural of the singular thee, and you and your were plural for thou and thine.

I’m not sure just when — nor why — those eminently useful words fell out of favor. It doesn’t make sense to drop the use of words that were fully established in common  language and then cobble something to take their place — words that vary from place to place but are considered improper everywhere. Who decided to make this so devilishly difficult?Sarasota_I_love_you

Personally, I like y’all and think it should be standardized. (I’d love to hear our friends in the UK using it.) But that’s not likely to happen. And since linguistic changes evolve on their own without any Language Authority decree, I can’t even suggest you (plural) petition someone to try to make that happen.

I have more to say on this subject, but I’ll spare y’all for now.

 

 

 

 

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Thinking about Scenes

file0001500173246When I first got started with this fiction writing thing, I was a little surprised to see discussions about “scenes.”

What’s this? We’re not writing screen or stage plays here.

Being a bit dense, it took me awhile to get with the program — or with the terminology — but yes, properly done, short stories and novels are comprised of scenes.

We view the characters’ actions and interactions through scenes much as we do on a screen or stage. This is part and parcel of the “show don’t tell” mantra we fiction writers constantly chant, and upon which I pontificated in a post two years ago. In a scene, we show the story as our characters act it out for the reader.

These scenes can be linked by short bits of narrative in which we move the camera to another character, or a character to another setting. Scenes are arranged in chapters for the convenience of the reader. Depending on the length of the scenes, you might have several within a chapter, or one scene might carry over to more than one chapter. To the best of my knowledge, there’s no rule about that.

Within a scene, you needn’t describe positively every action. Some things, like breathing, chewing, picking things up and putting them down, scratching an itch (unless these contribute to the story) don’t need to be mentioned. On the other hand, you want to add enough detail that the reader can visualize what’s happening. If two people are having a conversation, let us see a few of their actions as they speak. It makes the scene come alive.

As an example, here are two versions of a snippet of a scene from Words in the Wind. First, read it with the action removed. Next, I’ve reproduced it the way it appears in the book. As you can see, the dialogue is essentially the same in both versions, but the first one is rather dull and lifeless, whereas you can almost literally see and hear it play out for you in the second version:

Sample 1 (without the action)
Dr. Mattsson came in. “How’re you kids doing?”
     “Okay,” Adam said.
      Pik added, “They’re worried, of course.”
      “Well, naturally,” Mattsson said. “We all are.” He took a slurp of his breakfast. “I notice the good captain was careful to wait until the sunspots had settled down before he ventured forth.”
      The implication of his accusation was not lost on the children, who turned accusing eyes on Broward.
      The captain felt himself flush. “You’re right to be upset, Dr. Mattsson, and I—”
      “With due respect to both of you,” Pik interrupted, “we should not point fingers. The Yasha allowed Dassa’s shuttle to crash, and He permitted the captain’s to land safely. I must conclude that this is the way He intended it, for reasons we cannot fathom.”
      “Come now, Pik,” said Mattsson. “This is your wife we’re talking about. The mother of your children and the leader of these settlers. How can her loss be a good thing?”
      Pik said, “It doesn’t feel like a good thing, not by a long shot. But I entrusted my life to Captain Broward’s decisions daily for years, and I know he does not act rashly. And beyond that—”
      Mattsson interrupted, scowling. “That was then, this is now. Look at him, he’s an old man. His judgment is impaired.”

Sample 2 (as it appears in the book):
Dr. Mattsson sat at the table beside Adam and ruffled the boy’s dark curly hair. “How’re you kids doing?”
     Adam shrugged. “Okay.”
     Pik scraped his bowl. “They’re worried, of course.”
     Mattsson gave Broward a hard stare. “Well, naturally. We all are.” He picked up his bowl and took a noisy slurp before he spoke again, with the bowl still in front of his mouth. “I notice the good captain was careful to wait until the sunspots had settled down before he ventured forth.”
      The implication of his accusation was not lost on the children, who turned accusing eyes on Broward.
      The captain felt himself flush. “You’re right to be upset, Dr. Mattsson, and I—”
      “With due respect to both of you,” Pik interrupted, “we should not point fingers. The Yasha allowed Dassa’s shuttle to crash, and He permitted the captain’s to land safely. I must conclude that this is the way He intended it, for reasons we cannot fathom.”
     Mattsson put down his bowl. “Come now, Pik. This is your wife we’re talking about. The mother of your children and the leader of these settlers. How can her loss be a good thing?”
      Pik’s expressive Karkar ears tilted back sadly. “It doesn’t feel like a good thing, not by a long shot. But I entrusted my life to Captain Broward’s decisions daily for years, and I know he does not act rashly. And beyond that—” He stopped to catch Lileela’s bowl as it slipped out of her hands, dribbling porridge down her front.
      Mattsson’s white brows knotted in a scowl. “That was then, this is now.” Ignoring the struggle with the breakfast bowl, he waved his hand toward Broward across the table. “Look at him, he’s an old man. His judgment is impaired.”

You might notice a couple of things. First, please think nothing of these people slurping OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAporridge from their bowls; that’s proper table etiquette on Gannah. Instead, focus on the way the slurps and spills give the scene a realistic feel and make it easy to imagine it all playing out before you.

Also note that it’s easier and more efficient to simply write what they say instead of describing their actions. Showing the action requires more words, but it provides a more enjoyable read.

So here’s my dilemma as I draft Book 4 of this series (the above scene is from Book 2): I’ve finally grasped the concepts of show vs. tell and writing scenes instead of narrative; I’ve spent so much time on Gannah with these characters that I know them well and can visualize their actions and mannerisms. Now, I’m concerned I’m including too much detail, making the book too cumbersome. I’m preparing to start chapter 41, and there’s still a lot that has to happen before we get to the end.

So what do I do? Should I summarize more and concentrate less on visuals? Cut out a subplot? (There’s only one I could cut; everything else is essential to the story.) Change the end I have in mind so it can happen sooner? Or simply make this book longer than the first three in order to wrap up the series to my satisfaction?

For now, during the drafting process, I’m going with the last option. Once the first draft is finished, I’ll go back and look at the whole thing again, revisiting my other options.

While I’m doing that, please enjoy the first two books. Write glowing reviews on Amazon, Barnes  & Noble, Goodreads, Shelfari, and/or any other site you know of. Recommend the Gannah series to everyone in your tribe. In short, support your favorite space aliens so they can afford to survive for two more titles.

Thank you. And now, back to Gannah…

 

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Blog Hop: Previewing Ransom in the Rock

gold-oreEarlier this week, my friend Michelle Griep tagged me in a “blog hop,” and I’m playing along.

The rules of the game: I link to Michelle’s blog (check), list the rules (check), answer the ten questions below (getting to that), and tag several more people. (Several? How many is several? I’ll do five – working on it).

So here are the questions:

What is the title of your next book?
The next in the Gateway to Gannah series, which is complete but not yet published: Ransom in the Rock.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s the next in the series and picks up where Words in the Wind left off. Here’s the thing: when I started the first book (The Story in the Stars), I had an end in mind. Problem was, too many things had to happen before we could get there, so I chose another point at which to end. When I started the next book, I figured I’d finish it the way I’d intended to finish Stars, but I ran into the same problem: too much to squeeze in; it would have to be too long of a book. So this third book is the next step toward that end.

What genre does your book fall under?
Science fiction from a Christian perspective.

What actors would you choose to play the part in a movie rendition?
I have absolutely no idea. I’m not into movies and don’t know the actors and actresses out there.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
“How much is a life worth? And who will pay the price?” (Yeah, I know; that’s two sentences. Want your money back?)

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Neither. It’s the third in my three-book contract with Risen Books.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Six months. (A personal record.)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ummm… I’d have to research that.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It all started when I read a little nonfiction book called The Gospel in the Stars. It was written in the 1800s and explained the theory that when God created the heavens and the earth, He put the stars in specific constellations for the purpose of depicting the gospel message for early man to “read.” I was intrigued by the idea and so I decided to write a story in which the characters discover this “story in the stars.” And, as indicated above, Ransom in the Rock is the next step in that adventure.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’ve read the first two, you might be eager to jump into this one, since Book 2 ended a bit abruptly. I’ve had people tell me they read the ebook and thought their Kindle was broken when they came to the end because it wouldn’t advance to the next page. However, if you’ve never visited Gannah before, I think you’ll enjoy this as a stand-alone. It’s got some fun characters, nifty sci-fi settings, adventure, and even a little romance for a change.

Oh, look, I’m out of questions! Okay, time to tag writers:
Ngaire Elder, Lori Freeland, Virginia Lee, Ralene Burke, Janet Sketchley, you’re it!

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Blogging

thinkerYeah. Blogging. That’s what I’m thinking about today.

I’ve been blogging consistently for several months now (as opposed to posting whenever I felt like it), and the results have voided the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” Because despite Tweeting about old posts and new, and many of my Twitter friends Retweeting very helpfully, not many readers are coming.

Not many are buying books, either.

I’ve been following a discussion in a writer’s group about the benefits of blogging for promotional/book sales purposes, and the others have come to the same conclusion I have. Blogging doesn’t sell books.

There are less tangible benefits to the activity, though. If nothing else, it encourages the habit of consistency and provides practice working under a deadline, even if that deadline is self-imposed. For a writer who struggles to find time to write regularly, it’s good practice–even if you’re not working on your WIP, you’re at least writing blog posts. And the more you write, no matter what it is you’re writing, the better you’ll get. Think of it as homework.

I’ve had people tell me they enjoy the posts. Bringing pleasure to others, and perhaps the occasional inspiration, is a worthy purpose. Sure, my ramblings aren’t for everyone, but those who don’t like them don’t have to read them. (Since I have so few subscribers, there must be a lot of those “don’t like thems” out there!)

But in a world that presents so many demands on our time and offers so many activities to distract us from our purpose, we should frequently evaluate what we squeeze into the inflexible hours allotted to us. Is the time I spend blogging worth it? Should I continue to posting three times a week, or should I cut back to one or two? Or less?

It’s not so much a matter of not having anything to say. I have a running list, in fact, of potential topics. But they aren’t all things I can whip up in a few minutes, and sometimes I don’t want to take the time, so I post meandering stream-of-consciousness that nobody cares to read. (Today’s offering, for example.)

To blog or not to blog, and to what degree? Those are the questions. I won’t be making any decisions today, but the stew is simmering on the back burner of my brain. Here’s hoping it doesn’t scorch. Wait a sec – okay, I just turned the heat way down. It should be okay now.

When it’s done, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Pray Every Where (1 Tim 2:8)

thinkerI planned to post a book review today. But just after I’d drafted it, I got a phone call telling me about the unexpected death of the daughter of a dear sister in Christ.

This call came after I’d received an email earlier that morning from a writer friend asking for prayer because a difficult situation she’s going through.

And that was after a phone conversation the night before in which my tearful mother-in-law said her daughter is asking for prayer because of serious issues she’s facing.

And that was after…  you get the idea. Lots of tragic things are going on. No need for me to recite them here, because you probably have a list of your own.

The gist of all this is, after getting that call, writing about fiction no longer seemed pertinent. Sometimes the real world is too real to be put off.

Fiction is a good way to relax and unwind, to escape the problems of our day. Moreover, stories can be an effective method of conveying truth; fiction isn’t always all fun and games. But sometimes we need to get real. There’s a time for escape and a time for facing reality head-on. (That’s not in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, but it would seem to fit there.)

So today, let’s take an unflinching look at the real world and pray about it.

Prayer leads to change. Sometimes, it changes our circumstances. Most often, it changes us.

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Thursday’s Thoughts: What’s a Writer to Do?

thinkerThe holidays are over, the guests have gone home, Craig is recovering from a knock-down-drag-out with bronchitis, and I haven’t gotten sick yet. It’s now time to get on with life.

And to decide what all that entails.

Over the past few months I’ve been contemplating a number of possibilities concerning how to proceed with my writing life. I’ve been discussing various and sundry aspects of the business of writing with some of my friends and associates. Opportunities — and time drains — abound, as do frustrations that I won’t bother to detail.

Other than following the Lord one step at a time, I still don’t have a clear idea of my long-term plan, but I do know what I need to do now: finish my current WIP. No more excuses. No more distractions. Completing Book 4 in the Gannah series is my first priority.

So excuse me now while I go write.

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Thursday’s Thoughts: Poetry

thinkerThe kids are visiting, which gives me better things to do than blog. (No offense, but it’s true.)

So I’ll take the lazy way out and send you over to my post of yesterday on Speculative Faith.

As you may have guessed, I started off parodying the classic poem, “Trees,” by Joyce Kilmer. Of course I’m not the first to do that. I recall a short verse by Ogden Nash that borrowed from it unashamedly: I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree. Indeed, unless the billboards fall/I’ll never see a tree at all.

I looked up “Trees” before starting my poem so I could see how it was put together. I don’t think I’ve ever read it in its entirety before. It’s a lovely poem:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

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