Introducing Granny Grammar (Or, Granny Grammar and the Helium-Filled Commas)

Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 10.01.00 AMLook here, you little pipsqueaks.

From what I see, some of y’all didn’t pay proper attention to your lessons in school. Or maybe the schoolmarm wasn’t doing her job — too busy daydreaming about some young man, perhaps, to care about the goings-on in her one-room schoolhouse.

In any case, from where I sit here in my rockin’ chair, there’s a liberal abundance of improper grammar being bandied about. Punctuation and syntax and such. The way you people talk and write, you’d think you was just makin’ up the rules as you go. It’s been gratin’ on my nerves, I tell ya. And since Little Miss Y who owns this space has been gettin’ lazy and not postin’ regular these days, I persuaded her to give me a chance to give you a lesson every now and then.

Not that you’ll likely pay any more heed to me than you did to your teachers in school. But for anyone out there in cyberville that might care a whit, I aim to teach ya a thing or two about proper writin’.

One of my biggest peeves has to do with apostrophes. I know y’all know what them little things is, ’cause you’re always using ’em. Problem is, you usually use ’em wrong. So pay attention, now, and you’ll learn something useful.

An apostrophe’s  like a comma filled with helium that floats up to the ceiling and sticks there. See the little bug levitating between the e and the s in the word apostrophe’s at the beginning of this paragraph? That’s what I’m talking about. It’s got its uses, but nothing to do with birthday parties. Because parties is a plural, and you don’t need no apostrophe for that. None of this party’s nonsense. When you’ve got more than one of something, you just add an s and don’t need no apostrophe.

Okay, okay, sometimes it’s not as easy as just adding an s. Like with parties, sometimes you have to change a y to i before adding es. But that’s not what I’m talkin’ about today. We’re discussing apostrophes, not plurals. And those two just don’t mix. That’s Rule #1: Don’t use an apostrophe to make a plural.

So what do you use it for? Most often, for possessives. Like as in, Because I have received no reply from the party’s invitees, I have no idea how many to plan for. So that’s another rule, which I’ll call Rule #1a: Always return RSVPs. It’s just common courtesy.

And speaking of RSVPs, take note that the plural of that does not have an apostrophe. I’ll tell you why: because that’s Rule #1. Notwithstanding, that rule has an exception. It’s a rare one, but if you want to call yourself edjacated, you need to know this: when making an abbreviation plural, and said abbreviation uses lowercase letters (as opposed to uppercase, as in the RSVP example above) — or, if it has one or more interior periods (like, for instance, Ph.D.) — then you do use an apostrophe to make the plural. Examples: Ph.D’s or x’s and y’s. This is a little obscure, but you’d be y’s to make note of it. So let’s call this Rule #1b: Ys Words says you should be y’s about this if you hope to earn any Ph.D’s.

But let us move on to Rule #2: An apostrophe is a possessive’s best friend. Example: I got this straight from the horse’s mouth. (Because I’m as old as Grandfather English, who invented it all in the first place.)

Now, there are a few wrinkles to this. In fact, there are lots of wrinkles in grammar rules, which is why Granny Grammar’s face (note the apostrophe) looks the way it does. We’ll talk about all those exceptions another time. For now, we’re just touching the high points.

Note the use of the apostrophe in the word we’re in the last sentence. That’s another use OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor that little helium-filled comma: for contractions. That is, when you leave out letters because you don’t pronounce them. As in we’re (we are), that’s (that is) don’t (do not) we’ll (we will), y’all (you all), and so forth. This includes when you’re (you are) writing dialog where edjacated folk like me are leavin’ (leaving) off the g in ing words. So let’s (let us) call this Rule #3: Use an apostrophe to hide missing letters.

I s’pose all this is making y’all a little cross-eyed. That’s ’cause y’all didn’t pay close enough attention in school. (Oooh, look at all those pretty little apostrophes!) If you had, it would make complete sense to you and you’d be able to see straight. But to prevent your getting a headache from all that eye-crossing, I’ll just give you one more rule to learn. But learn it well, because if I catch you breaking it, I’ll rap your knuckles but good.

Rule #4 involves pronouns. These, contrary to popular opinion, are not highly paid professional nouns (though they are very useful and should get paid top dollar). They are stand-ins for nouns. Handy friends like it, her, they, and your. When you make these little dears possessive, you don’t use an apostrophe. Just an s. As in, its or hers or yours. Now, I will admit that the King James translators used apostrophes in this situation. But that was in 1611. Nowadays, it’s not kosher.

This is especially important where the word it is concerned. It’s so important, in fact, that I’m making it Rule #4: It’s is a contraction for it is. When you want to talk about the house next door and its landscaping, its has no apostrophe. Remember that. Failing to obey Rule #4 is a good way to get hurt, and hurt bad. Granny Grammar will knock you senseless. Except, of course, if you use it’s as a possessive, you’re already senseless.

So to recap, here the rules for today. Study them, memorize them, be able to recite them frontward and backward and use them properly. Because there will be a test:
Rule #1: Don’t use an apostrophe to make a plural.
Rule #1a: Always return RSVPs.
Rule #1b: Ys Words says you should be y’s about this if you hope to earn any Ph.D’s.
Rule #2: An apostrophe is a possessive’s best friend.
Rule #3: Use an apostrophe to hide missing letters.
Rule #4: It’s is a contraction for it is.

Granny Grammar hath spoken.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Cuts and Rewrites Are No Joke

Johann_Sebastian_BachI heard this joke when I was a kid:

Back in the 1800s, an American college student goes to Germany to study, and while he’s there, he visits the city of Leipzig. He hears a rumor that the remains of his hero, Johann Sebastian Bach, are at Old St. John’s Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But the person who told him this also told him how to identify it. Wow. He’d love to find it, but his schedule is busy and he’s not able to get there until his last night in the city — and by then cemetery is closed. Man, he says, I can’t stand the thought that I was at Leipzig but never took the time to see Bach’s tomb. The more he thinks about it the more it bothers him, so he finally decide he has no choice: he has to break in.

So he does. Don’t ask me the details because I don’t know, but he sneaks into the cemetery, finds the right tomb, and breaks in. To his surprise, there’s a candle burning on a desk, and at the desk sits a man hard at work erasing something.

The kid says, “Hey, who are you?” The man turns around with a scowl. “I am Johann Sebastian Bach. Now go away. Can’t you see I’m decomposing?”

Okay, so the joke’s not all that funny. But then, neither is de-composing.

I don’t know anything about writing music, but with prose, an unavoidable part offile0002057395066 writing is un-writing. Back in the day, I wrote stories on notebook paper, and my early drafts were full of scribbles and scratch-outs. Sometimes I’d X out whole paragraphs (or throw out whole pages), or circle sections and insert them elsewhere by means of arrows. Computers make the task much easier and neater. But it’s never fun to delete large swaths of your work.

Yesterday I was excited at how far I’d progressed in my WIP this week; but at the same time, I was concerned about the direction it was going.  After mulling it over all night, I realized by morning that I had to delete a large portion of what I’d written yesterday.

But that’s just part of the game. If Johann Sebastian Bach can do it, I can too. At least I don’t have to do it by candlelight.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

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…

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Looking for Adventure?

file0001639082274A few weeks ago I saw this on a person’s Twitter profile:

I am looking for an adventure. Something that will change my life and my career.

My first thought was that the person in question wasn’t apt to find what she was looking for on Twitter. Adventure involves getting away from the computer and venturing out into the real world.

My second thought was that the sort of adventure that satisfies our deepest longings can only be found in a place most thrill-seekers are unlikely to look for it.

In fact, no matter what we seek, whether it be thrills and adventure — peace and security — love and acceptance — meaningful, worthwhile work — freedom from whatever chafes and binds us — can be found there. It sounds cliche; to those who aren’t in the know, it sounds utterly ridiculous. But facts are facts, and I must call ’em as I see ’em: we find the lives we really want to live only when we give our all to Christ.

There’s nothing ethereal about; no mumbo-jumbo involved; I’m not speaking in metaphors or allegories. I’m talking about real life. Actual surrender of my will to that of the God of the Universe, and genuine life-and-death adventure as a byproduct. And I’m dead serious.

I don’t know where the idea ever came from that Jesus is a buzz-kill. That Christianity is a straight jacket of prickly do’s and don’ts. That faith is idiocy and only an uneducated dupe would believe the Bible. Because the exact opposite is true.

There are, of course, plenty of bad Christian examples. It’s undeniable that misconceptions abound concerning what this Christ-following business is all about. Erroneous ideas are as prevalent within Christianity as without. But if you take a serious look at what God says in His word, you’ll find the only way to find life is to lose it in Christ.

And that, my friend, is high adventure.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Seasons

file1741261993502The Bible talks about it in the book of Ecclesiastes. The Byrds sang about it in their hit 1968 song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” We see it played out annually. To everything there is a time, a season.

I love living in a temperate region where there’s a definite difference in the seasons. I like all four of them best, each for different reasons. Winter can be messy, but I love the hard frozen ground, the crisp, invigorating air, and the snow that blankets the world (briefly) with fresh, pure white. Spring, despite the wet, brings hope and the promise of new life. Summer, though hot and miserable, yields fruit (and vegetables). Autumn reminds us of the brevity of life, but it brings blessed relief from the heat and wraps itself in fragrant, glorious color.

Ever notice how in the summer, when there’s more work to do, the season provides extra daylight hours for doing it? And in the winter, when you love to curl up under a blanket with a good book, the evenings are luxuriously long? Yes, I know; the world’s not perfect. But some of those days, it almost seems like it is.

It’s good I love autumn, because I’m in that season of life nobirds in nestw. My mother-in-law is bound in a bitter winter. It’s spring for my grandchildren, who bounce around like lambs; and my kids are in various stages of their long summers.

For those who, by God’s grace, are assured of everlasting life, winter is nothing to fear. Though the dreary days grow short and our aching bones are chilled, we look forward to an eternal spring.

 

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

What’s So Bad About Feeling Grateful?

Feeling GoodIn 1968, George Peppard and Mary Tyler Moore starred in the movie What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? The story is about a virus with strange symptoms: it makes people feel happy. Gracious, we can’t have that! So in the movie, the government finds a cure for it.

I think of that every now and then while maintaining my “Thanks 365” page. I have no trouble finding things to feel thankful for, but I’m continually amazed that so many people seem determined to find things to complain about instead, as if thankfulness were a bad thing and the happiness that goes along with it an unhealthy condition.

Here’s an example: We live in a big old 100-year-old brick farmhouse. The way it’s constructed, with brick against tile blocks and the plaster interior wall applied directly to the block with no airspace between, makes it impossible to properly insulate. For many years we heated the place with a fuel oil furnace, and it was very expensive. Several years ago, however, we put in a good chimney liner and bought a wood stove. Nowadays, we burn wood for our primary heat source and use the old furnace only to supplement it, as it’s not big enough to keep up the house comfortable in windy or very cold weather. As a result, our heating bills were cut by approximately 80%.

This is a good thing, right? One would think it would be cause for rejoicing. Especially since file0001755147821Craig actually enjoys cutting and splitting firewood and takes pleasure in the process of heating with wood.

But there are two ways to look at it. You can complain when the furnace comes on, envisioning dollar signs going up the chimney, and cuss the wood burner for not being big enough, or the house for being too large and/or poorly designed; or you can be thankful for all the thousands of dollars we’re no longer required to spend to keep our house from freezing. (And yes, it is an annual savings of thousands.)

Or, you might consider selling the house and getting something smaller and easier to heat.

I get the impression some people (and by “some,” I mean “many”) consider griping a virtue and discontent a valuable asset — as if finding fault and focusing on the world’s flaws puts them at an advantage somehow.

Well, I’ve got news for them: it’s not, and it doesn’t.

Complain all you want. As for me, I’ll rejoice in my many varied and amazing blessings.

 

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter