The Naked Writer: Possessive with a Gerund

The title tips my hand for this piece, which like the last one, will thus obviously be short. But it’s a darn good rule to learn, and I’m happy to be the one to tell you about it.

OK, what’s a possessive and what’s a gerund… And how does this apply?

A gerund is a verb turned into a noun and known as a type of “verbal.”

A possessive is an adjective that indicates possession of some sort.

Here’s a gerund and its use:
His going will not affect me. (See, the modifier is a possessive.)

Although I just saw a website that said gerunds can’t be plural, this isn’t true.
His goings and his comings are no business of mine. (See, the gerund can be plural.)

But gerunds, unlike most other nouns, can be modified by adverbs.
Ruth’s deliberately looting the funds was clearly illegal. (Deliberately is an adverb.) But you could also say: Ruth’s deliberate looting of the funds was clearly illegal. (Deliberate is an adjective.)

Also note that unlike most nouns, the gerund can take an object, as in “looting the funds.” So the gerund, a noun, can still serve the verb function in some ways.

Sometimes, it’s true, a gerund will be modified by an object form of a pronoun rather than the gerund—hey, stuff happens.
I like the idea of him going to Cleveland. (Or: I like the idea of his going to Cleveland.)

Well, you see. You can take the “him” as an object of the preposition “of.” Or you can take the “his going to Cleveland” simply as a gerund phrase.

A gerund can itself be an object (as the last one above is). I understood her cleaning the house in the dead of night as an act of rebellion. (The gerund “cleaning” is the object of “understood.”)

These are things you can think about on sleepless nights.

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My coming schedule at Writer’s Digest University online at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/

01/03/2019 – 02/14/2019 Writing the Mystery Novel
01/03/2019 – 04/18/2019 Advanced Novel Writing
01/17/2019 – 04/11/2019 Fundamentals of Fiction

Check out my recently released third edition of Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional https://tinyurl.com/ycnlxqmp
Or download The Naked Writer comprehensive style guide at Amazon.

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The Naked Writer: Possessive with a Gerund

The Naked Writer: We Don’t Speak in Semicolons

For years I’ve been telling students, “We don’t speak in semicolons.” To this admonition, indeed, I often add, as appropriate, “And we don’t speak in colons, either.”

Then I cite the wrong author. Come to find out, I don’t actually know who first said this, and neither does anyone else.

I’m sorry.

But still. We really don’t speak in colons or semicolons. Meaning, we don’t use semicolons (or colons) in dialogue. We punctuate dialogue as if it were speech. Which is…well, you know, what dialogue represents.

Some well-known authors eschew semicolons entirely—such as Kurt Vonnegut. I say an occasional semicolon has its use—but not in dialogue. Same for colons. And not too many of either, because they draw a lot of attention to themselves.

So what do we do instead of the semicolons and colons? Try a dash or a period capital. Those work.

This is such a simple idea that I can’t drag out the advice to make a fulsome blog piece.

So… Yeah, that’s it.

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My coming schedule at Writer’s Digest University online at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/

01/03/2019 – 02/14/2019 Writing the Mystery Novel
01/03/2019 – 04/18/2019 Advanced Novel Writing

Check out my recently released third edition of Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional

The Naked Writer: We Don’t Speak in Semicolons

The Naked Writer: Present, Past, Past Perfect

“Why are you writing in present tense?” I asked my student.

“Because the assignment instruction told me to,” she said.

Oh. I didn’t write the class and I have no idea why the person who wrote the class decided the students should write in present tense. But, OK.

Well, not really OK, because, generally speaking, we write fiction in past tense.

Young adult fiction has had success in present tense, however, so if you’re writing YA in present tense and can do that well, no problem.

The other place for present tense is the summary, although events that take place before the novel starts can be described using past tense.

Nonfiction also uses past tense for past events though much of certain types of nonfiction—such as how-to—can be written in present tense.

Past tense is the verb tense that most readers are accustomed to, and that they generally prefer. While in the future—when today’s young adults who are reading in present tense become adult readers—this might change, right now past tense is the preferred tense to write in.

Agents and editors prefer past tense, which is the standard. If you start the novel in present tense for some valid reason and then switch to past tense, I would still advisee caution. Once the editors or agents begin to read and find the opening material is in present tense, they might find this problematic.

Not everything should be written in simple past tense, of course, since some things in the novel happened in the past before the past the author is writing in. This past-past event should be written in past perfect.

I’ve found, however, that a number of writers feel that past perfect is too clunky. They try to eliminate it. But sometimes the past perfect is needed and should be used. Our inclination as authors to try to simplify the writing may actually lead to timeline confusions or just a reader sense that something is amiss with the sentences even if they can’t define why they have that impression.

Here are these three tenses:

Present: I pick up a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

Past: I picked up a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

Past perfect: I had picked up a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

I haven’t ever seen a novel written in future tense, although a sentence here and there might be in future tense: I will pick up a bottle of wine at the liquor store.

Maybe you’ll be the one to write a novel in future tense. And drive readers crazy.

Remember, generally speaking, we stick to past tense, using other tenses as appropriate. When in doubt, keep the verbs in past tense.

__________

My coming schedule at Writer’s Digest University online at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/

Fundamentals of Fiction: 11/15/2018 – 02/07/2019

Writing the Mystery Novel: 11/29/2018 – 01/10/2019

Check out my recently released third edition of Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional

AND

The Naked Writer: Present, Past, Past Perfect

The Naked Writer: I Hear an Echo

At least one-third of what I correct with a line edit is very simply…repeats.

Yes, repeats. You might not be able to detect those repeats with your own inner, editing ear, but since I’m reading your work for just the first (and second) time(s) and have sensitized myself to repeats, I generally can hear them. OK, I’m sure I miss a few, but that’s why I read through once again. And many editors (who charge a lot more than I do) will read through more than twice.

Or I think that’s why some editing packages are so costly. At least I hope that’s the reason. (Otherwise, these pricey editors merely consider themselves elite and are overcharging based on their contacts and some prior good sales by clients.)

But what’s a repeat, exactly? The same word used again? Yes… But also two or more nearby words that have a similar sound due to the same or close syllable in the words.

For instance:

He wanted to find a suitable house and she found his desire to please her laudable.

Indeed, despite the fact that they are quite different words, “suitable” and “laudable” share a suffix, and although the use here doesn’t clank as badly as a “real” repeat does, we can tell something isn’t quite right about the sentence.

Here’s a fix:

He wanted to find a suitable house and she found his desire to please her rather touching.

For most such repeats—and repeats in general—the fix is easy. The hearing of the discord in the first place is the hard part.

Another, similar “repeat” comes with the “ly” word use. We definitely don’t want “ly” words placed close together.

He told her tenderly that he would always love her and then looked at her longingly.

Again, the repair isn’t difficult.

He told her tenderly that he would always love her and then looked at her with longing.

Here’s a different kind of repeat to keep your eyes open for in your work.

John went with him to the store, accepting the car keys from him.

The repeat comes with some preposition then pronoun uses.

John went with him to the store, accepting the car keys as they walked.

Small words can certainly sound as repeats. Even the word “a” can sound as a repeat if employed in a certain way. (Here, the “a” sounds aren’t actually the same.)

Some words are frequently seen as repeats, such as “just,” “looked,” “with,” and words that you yourself, personally, overuse. Once you have found one of those often-inserted pieces of language, remain on the alert for them in your writing.

Learn to re-read to yourself silently or out loud and listen.

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My schedule at Writer’s Digest University online at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/
12 Weeks to a First Draft: 10/18/18 – 1/10/19
Writing the Mystery Novel: 10/25/18 – 12/6/18
Fundamentals of Fiction: 11/15/2018 – 02/07/2019
Writing the Mystery Novel: 11/29/2018 – 01/10/2019

Check out my recently released third edition of Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional–https://tinyurl.com/ya4n939h

The Naked Writer: I Hear an Echo

The Naked Writer: Capitalize This, Not That

Let me put an easy rule in one short sentence: Not every common noun deserves to be capitalized.

I’ve previously set forth a few of these examples in this blog but I see that people just can’t grasp the idea. I even notice mistakes in published articles here and there and certainly in books and e-books being sold to the public.

One woman told me the nuns in Ireland taught her capitalization. To the Irish nuns, no nouns were common—or unimportant enough not to capitalize.

What’s a common noun? Well, a common noun is just the sort of noun that names something which doesn’t have to be set apart from others of its kind. A common noun doesn’t designate a particular person, place, thing, or idea/philosophy. The “generals” of the US Army is a common noun. The “river” we just crossed is a common noun. A “dog” or even a “spaniel” (though the American Kennel Club likes to capitalize dog breeds) is a common noun. A “tree” or even an “elm tree” or a “pine” will not be capitalized because these are common nouns. We don’t capitalize many concepts such as fascism or communism because they could apply in various situations.

What other kind of noun is there? A proper noun (unlike a common noun) does designate a set-apart person, place, thing, or concept. “Larry” is a proper noun. The state of “Ohio” is a proper noun; the “George Washington Bridge” is a proper noun. We capitalize Christianity or Judaism and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, which is a specific communist party.

I’ve already explained in an earlier post on this blog about relationship words. If we say “my mom,” here the relationship word “mom” is general and though, yes, a specific person is meant, actually the person isn’t named, but just the relationship is given. (However, we would write, Hey, Mom, this is for you, where ‘Mom’ is used as an actual name.) Similarly, in discussing job role, we would write, “He was the general in charge of the Confederate Army,” but we might add, “That is, General Robert E. Lee, who first commanded the Army of Northern Virginia.”

Yes, we would capitalize the name of a particular army, but not the common noun “army.”

Capitalization can be a little eccentric, as can any issue we address in terms of style. For instance, while we capitalize the regions of our country—North, South, East, and West, we don’t capitalize directions, as in “Walk east five blocks.”

But directions may also be capitalized according to local custom as in “East Harlem” or “Central Harlem.”

That’s why I like a simple style guide such as that from the Associated Press. These are the type of capitalization issues the AP style guide addresses. However, for the usual common noun versus proper noun questions, you can simply follow the above.

One last matter—and this one really set me off on this discussion—is that many people writing fiction love to put capitals where they don’t belong in historical fiction and futuristic novels. Why? Because they have seen a lot of this misuse in the novels they read and find it sets forth wording nicely. Actually, using capitals where they don’t belong muddies the water for readers rather than making something clear about a culture.

In historical fiction or science fiction, follow normal capitalization rules and don’t distract your readers.
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I have writing classes coming up at Writer’s Digest University. People enjoy my classes.

Here’s what some said about a recent mystery writing class. “Once again, I enjoyed your class very much and hope to take another in the future.”

“It was a great course… my first crack at mystery writing …it gave me fantastic insight into this genre. …and will make my writing in other genres much better. Thank you, once again, for such great feedback throughout the course!”

“Thanks again, Miki. I had a lot of fun taking part in this class and I know what I’ve learned here will definitely help me become a better mystery writer.”

My schedule: 09/20/2018 – 11/01/2018 Writing the Mystery Novel
09/20/2018 – 12/13/2018 Fundamentals of Fiction
12 Weeks to a First Draft: 10/18/18 – 1/10/19
Writing the Mystery Novel: 10/25/18 – 12/6/18

The Naked Writer: Capitalize This, Not That

The Naked Writer: Create Your Own Style Sheet

You’re writing a novel and will likely be at it for another couple of months—or couple of years. In the end, you’ll produce around 350 pages of writing.

Hey, I’ve seen and line-edited literally hundreds of at least the first 50 pages of these and one thing I’ve noticed is that you’re inconsistent in how you spell your protagonist’s name and how you treat your punctuation choices. Yes, you. Why?

Well, you may be uncertain about usage. Look it up. (You can download my The Naked Writer on Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/y872vlug .) Still unsure? Make a decision as to the style you prefer.

Now, start a file that will be your own style guide because you’re going to forget, and what I’ll find if I’m asked to line edit your novel or partial is that in the end you’ve used three different styles. Over the days and weeks, even months, that you’ve written this work, you’ve forgotten what capitals you’ve used and how you’ve spelled Lake View Sanatorium—or was that Lakeview Sanitarium?

Once you open that file or look at the page you’ve printed out and set on your desk, you’ll know.

True, if I’m the one editing your manuscript, I’ll pick up the discrepancy. But if someone else is doing the editing—or you are, without a style sheet—the error may go undetected.

Too many of these gaffes and the agent or acquisitions editor won’t want to take on the book. They’re both looking for a work with “clean copy.”

That simple-to-create style sheet will surely help. And if you do download my style guide, The Naked Writer, you can pick up some reminders from there to put on that page. Oh, yes, use a comma on both sides of the name of a person being addressed.

You’re pouring hours into your writing, along with a lot of thought and energy. This is a simple writing hack that will make your work on the project just a little easier.

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Send a comment here to inquire about an edit, or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. I’m always teaching something. The third edition of my award winning instructional Writing the Mystery is in print at https://tinyurl.com/y826uzx3 .
Or download The Naked Writer at Amazon. I have fiction available for download on Smashwords and at Amazon as well, along with some novels in paperback.

The Naked Writer: Create Your Own Style Sheet

The Naked Writer: Self-Publishing? Part II

In a relatively short time and in good order, technology has brought forward the ability of individual authors to publish their books of all kinds with relative ease. To start with, once the computer came into the hands of virtually everyone, that ignited the revolution. However, even with the writer being able to produce an electronic manuscript that might eventually constitute a book, hurdles still existed. At first, the (edited, please) file still had to be formatted using complex software that the user had to be trained on—so still an expensive, complicated process. And then, even further, not that long ago, metal plates of the book had to be created and a “print run” had to be ordered.

Miracle of miracles, the company printing the book could now do a short print run of as few as 500 copies. Self-publishing was at last possible but still relatively expensive. Books continued to be produced as they always had been by traditional imprints, but smaller press and individuals suddenly could accomplish the same results.

After a while, a rumored new technology emerged that allowed as few as perhaps 10 books to be ordered, although each copy was/is more expensive than when produced in greater numbers. This, then, is print on demand (POD). The publishers in the opening salvo of this new ability, wouldn’t, however, take returns, the way traditional publishers have always done. This became a barrier to the bookstores ordering these POD copies. (And POD adds cost to copies of the book for readers, for another thing.) But little by little, the small-press publishers changed their tune, accepting returns in order to sell at all. And self-publishing authors slowly but very surely began to sell individual POD copies online.

The ability to self-publish print books exploded. The power to publish became every author’s potential. Even a single book could be ordered online, printed, and sold. Equality was here. Well, you know, sort of. And the focus shifted from being able to produce the book to being able to garner public attention in the middle of an onslaught of small-press and self-published volumes. The outcry now was that the self-published books were poorly written and not worthy of attention.

Which is where the freelance editor came into her own. Because feedback at Amazon—and everywhere else—became a call for editing. New writers simply rarely have the skills to produce relatively clean pages of copy—and moreover, now the publishing houses began to demand better editing from their submissions as well. So the answer to the question of whether you need an edit before submitting to the mainstream or publishing on your own is…yes! This has, however, once again raised the cost of self-publishing.

And the technology moves on. The idea in the forefront now is to have booths that will print a book for the reader at his order while he waits. The question is, of course, which volumes go into this booth—who picks them? To start with, this might be a single mainstream publisher or a consortium—while eventually the reader may be able to choose from any book in a wide-ranging system. We have yet to see how this comes to fruition.

Let me also add here that name or not-so-name but mainstream authors may self-publish their books as well after receiving rights back from the original publishers. No downside exists for them; they can do relatively little to promote and still make money on their backlists. The publishers, however, are putting more into their contracts in order to retain rights to a novel by using how they define what “out of print” means. If a book can always be produced using print on demand, that novel or book will never really be out of print. So agents and author guilds are arguing with publishers against that definition and trying to define “out of print” as being fewer than a certain number sold in a given year.

More discussion to come later in the year.

Send a comment here to inquire about an edit, or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. I’m always teaching something including 12 Weeks to a Second Draft, coming up on the 19th. Learn how to correct your writing weaknesses before you send out your novel or self-publish it. The third edition of my award winning instructional Writing the Mystery is in print at https://tinyurl.com/y826uzx3 .

The Naked Writer: Self-Publishing? Part II