Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Interview of Jodie Renner, fiction editor and craft writer

Elizabeth Spann Craig of the award-winning Mystery Writing is Murder blog recently contacted me and asked if she could interview me for the December issue of Writer's Knowledge Base newsletter.

Here's the beginning of the interview:

You’re a sought-after freelance editor. Do you specialize in any genres?

Yes, I specialize in editing thrillers, romantic suspense, suspense-mysteries, and other crime fiction, and that’s what I mostly read for pleasure, too, these days. I also enjoy reading and editing quirky cozy mysteries like the excellent ones you write, as well as some middle-grade fiction, YA, mainstream, and historical fiction.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

For my own pleasure and escapism and to keep up with what’s selling in the genre, I read a lot of bestselling thrillers, romantic suspense and suspenseful mysteries. My favorite authors for the past two or three years have been Robert Crais, Lee Child, Sandra Brown, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Harlan Coben, Lisa Gardner, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, and more. Plus the excellent novels my clients write, of course! Notably L.J. Sellers, Allan Leverone, Peg Brantley, Joe Moore & Lynn Sholes, and Ian Walkley. And a couple of authors I’m working with now who are going to be very well-known in a year or two!

How do writers who are looking for an editor find out about you? 
 
For the rest of the interview on the Writer's Knowledge Base Dec. newsletter, including info on my editing process and what it involves, click this link: http://hiveword.com/c/wkb-newsletter-dec-2012.


Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor who specializes in thrillers, mysteries, and other fast-paced fiction. Jodie publishes her craft-of-fiction articles here and on several other blogs. For more information on Jodie’s editing services and her books, please visit her website. Jodie has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing and Killer Thriller, a short e-book, and Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, which is available in paperback, as an e-book on Kindle, and in other e-book formats. And you don’t need to own an e-reader to purchase and enjoy e-books. You can download them to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Honing Your Craft



by Jodie Renner, editor & author

Follow Jodie on Twitter.

A small section of Jodie's bookcase

Want to succeed as a writer? There’s only one sure way: Roll up your sleeves, hone your fiction-writing skills, and start rereading and revising!
Ask any successful writer, and they’ll tell you that the first drafts of their novels were just the beginning, and that it was only after many revisions that the story and characters took shape to their satisfaction and they polished their writing style to a point where they could submit it to their agent or an editor, who then put them through several more rounds of editing before the story was ready for publication.
“Writing is Rewriting.” ~ Stephen King
For years, I’ve been helping writers become authors, offering concrete advice and guidance to take manuscripts up a level or three. I’m always amazed when occasionally someone contacts me about editing their novel, then gets offended when I suggest ways in which it can be improved. (Fortunately, the vast majority of my clients want to succeed and sell their books, so they welcome my suggestions.)
“Amateurs fall in love with every word they write.” ~ William Bernhardt
If you’re looking for someone to tell you your novel manuscript is perfect as it is, save your money and just ask your mom! (Or your spouse or best friend.) Authors of best-sellers aren’t afraid to admit that they revised their novel numerous times, often going through it and making changes thirty or forty times, then had agents’ and editors’ input and revised it again.
“Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure.” ~ Oliver Herford
Maybe you’ve got a story you’re itching to tell and you think nobody should mess with it or tell you how to write it. That’s okay – get your story down first. But then, if you want to get it published, it’s important to be open to input and ideas on how to make it more compelling so it grabs the readers – and agents and acquiring editors, if you’re going that route. As you’re revising and learning, you’re honing your craft and getting closer to producing a best-seller. And you can always keep your early drafts, in case you want to go back to them, or pick out bits here and there to use.
“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~ Michael Crichton

Remember, there are hundreds of effective, compelling ways to tell a story, and thousands of ineffective / boring / confusing ways to tell that same story.
“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.” ~ Anthony Trollope
 
If you decided to build a house and you’d never built one before, you probably wouldn’t just buy a bunch of lumber and start building it without first consulting experts, reading books, googling info, asking carpenter friends for advice, etc. So chances are high that you, as an aspiring author, won’t yet have acquired the skills to write a novel that sells, without doing some research into the fiction-writing techniques that make a story effective, compelling and publish-worthy.
“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.”  ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
And as a freelance manuscript editor, specializing in fiction, that’s what I – and other editors like me – am here for: to point out not only your story’s strengths, but also areas that would benefit from rethinking, reworking, revision and maybe even – gasp! – cutting and/or rewriting. Writing workshops, craft-of-fiction resource books, and reputable blogs on writing fiction, as well as articles in magazines like Writer’s Digest, and of course freelance book editors like me, can all guide you and inform you of the latest effective fiction-writing techniques for crafting your opening, point of view, plot, characterization, dialogue, etc., with a natural flowing style and pacing that keep readers turning the pages.
“No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published.”
~Russell Lynes

I find that I give the most advice and suggest the most revisions on the first few chapters (and prologue, if there is one), because the opening of your story is incredibly important. It’s what will make or break your novel. If the story hasn’t grabbed your readers in the first five pages or so, most readers will put it down and never pick it up again. In fact, if the first half page is weak, most agents or acquiring editors will chuck it. Your first page is critical – it sets the tone for the whole novel and introduces your protagonist and his dilemma – or at least hints at it.
“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”  ~Elmore Leonard
A typical fault among novice fiction writers (even if they’re technically excellent writers and have published nonfiction books) is to spend too much time revving their engines at the beginning of their novel, setting the scene with description and providing background on the main character and his situation. Today’s readers don’t have the patience for all this long-winded meandering around and explaining at the beginning – they want to be swept up with your story and main character and his problems right away. You can always add in background details as your story progresses, on a “need to know” basis.
“I’m not a very good writer, but I am a good rewriter.” ~ James Michener
So if you’ve contacted me about editing your fiction manuscript, and I jump right in with advice on how to make your first pages more compelling and effective, which may well be to cut out all or most of your prologue and some or even most of your chapter one, don’t be insulted or alarmed. Remember that we both have the same goal in mind – to get your story published and read by a lot of people. So some deadwood may need to be trimmed at the beginning so you can start your story at a more compelling moment, with your protagonist, if not in hot water already, on the verge of it. Then you can work in that backstory little by little, as you go along.
“Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer.  But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity,
and destroy most of it.”  ~Colette, Casual Chance, 1964 

I find that typically, once the beginning is pared down to delete some of that excess description and “cut to the chase,” the rest of the novel goes much more smoothly, with way fewer major revisions.
“The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.”  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
An “okay” novel can often be turned into a remarkable one by:
~ Adding more conflict and intrigue. See my book, Writinga Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction. 
~ Deepening the characters to make them more compelling. See Creating Compelling Characters.
~ Doing more “showing” and less “telling” (“Show, Don’t Tell”)
~ Revising stilted dialogue so it sounds more natural and authentic: Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue.

~ Writing tighter. If your novel is more than 95,000 words long, you should be looking for ways to tighten it up and shorten it. See my book, Fire up Your Fiction (Style that Sizzles and Pacing for Power) for lots of tips for eliminating flab and writing tighter.
“My first draft is not even recognizable by the time I get to the last draft. I change everything. I consider myself at Square Zero when I finish the first draft. It’s almost like I use that draft to think through my plot. My hard copy of each draft will be dripping with ink by the time I finish, and I’ll do that several times.” ~ Terri Blackstock
But you don’t have to take my word for it – there are all kinds of great books on writing and revising fiction out there, not to mention articles in magazines like Writer’s Digest, blog posts by writers, agents, and editors, creative writing classes, and writers’ conferences and workshops. See the Resources page of my website for a list of excellent books on writing fiction and other resources that I recommend to my clients.
Keep on writing! And remember, writing is rewriting! Or as my mom (and probably yours too) used to say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
© Jodie Renner, November 2012   www.jodierennerediting.com
Also, see my articles, "How to Save a Bundle on Editing Costs" and "It's All About the Writing," both on Crime Fiction Collective, and Revising and Polishing Your Novel on this
blog.


Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for her third book, Immerse the Readers in Your Story World, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blogs, Resources for Writers and The Kill Zone, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
 





Friday, November 9, 2012

Some Great Resources for E-Book Publishing and Marketing

My Facebook friend and fellow writer, Linda Bonney Olin, has created some excellent resources for indie authors on her website at http://www.lindabonneyolin.com/resources/ .

I’m particularly impressed with Linda’s Excel spreadsheet for promoting your KDP Select e-book on “free” days, which comes with lots of great links to websites and Facebook pages that will help promote your free book, as well as tips on how to go about promoting your e-book on KDP's free days, and instructions on how to use the spreadsheet.

Linda has given me permission to share her awesome resources, so here are the links. Thanks so much for sharing your work and skills, Linda!

E-Book Formatting, Publishing, and Marketing 

E-Publishing – PDF (Linda’s handout for Montrose Christian Writers Conference focus group)  

Creating Bookmarks and Hyperlinks – PDF (Linda’s handout for Montrose Christian Writers Conference focus group)

LBO Template to Promote KDP Free Days - Linda’s Excel spreadsheet (or “cheat sheet”) can help you streamline and record your Kindle book promotion efforts. Be sure to download the 5-page guide to using the spreadsheet, below.

How to Use ”LBO Template to Promote KDP Free Days” – PDF Linda’s guide to using the template shown above to maximize the impact of your KDP free promotion days.


Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013).
Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Discover Paris on the edge of your seat

The 7th Woman, by Frederique Molay

My favorite new publisher, Le French Book, is at it again. This new publisher of “French books you’ll love in English” is promoting its third release today: The 7thWoman by Frédérique Molay, who has been called “the French Michael Connelly.” This edge-of-your-seat police procedural has all the suspense of Seven, with CSI-like details, set in Paris. 

The 7thWoman won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller.

With the purchase of this thriller, Le French Book is giving everyone a last chance to win a trip to France, along with three cases of fine French wine, and a number of other gifts and prizes

And this is a great time to get it, since they also dropped 25% off the usual list price. For a limited time only, you can grab this great read for $5.99.

Storyline:

There’s no rest for Paris’s top criminal investigation division, La Crim’. Who is preying on women in the French capital? How can he kill again and again without leaving any clues? A serial killer is taking pleasure in a macabre ritual that leaves the police on tenterhooks. Chief of Police Nico Sirsky—a super cop with a modern-day real life, including an ex-wife, a teenage son, and a budding love story—races against the clock to solve the murders as they get closer and closer to his inner circle. Will he resist the pressure? The story grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page, leading you behind the scenes with the French police and into the coroner’s office. You will never experience Paris the same way again!


Le French Book has set out to bring new voices into English and give fine French authors a broader audience. This is an initiative I’m happy to support. And I’m sure you don’t want to miss the sweepstakes, free gifts and exclusive author material, which you can find here: http://www.the7thwoman.com.


Grab this opportunity to get your hands on this book today -- you’ll enjoy a great read that takes you to Paris. And this special promo with prizes is available for a limited-time only.

And one of the many prizes is my e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller!  In fact, I'm giving away ten of them!



Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.
Jodie’s craft of fiction articles appear regularly on various blogs, and she has published two popular craft-of-fiction e-books in the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles and Pacing for Power.
Both are on sale at Amazon, and you don’t need to own a Kindle to buy and read Kindle e-books – you can download them to your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. Style that Sizzles will be out in paperback soon.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Style that Sizzles & Pacing for Power

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor

My latest e-book, STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER - An Editor's Guide to  Writing Compelling Fiction, is selling like hotcakes on Amazon and garnering great reviews, both there and on Facebook! It's on sale for $0.99 for a limited time. To view the e-book on Amazon, click on the title in caps above.

And by the way, you don't need to own a Kindle to purchase and read Kindle e-books. You can build up a Kindle library on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet, and it's quick and easy to do. Go to Amazon.com, on the drop-down menu, click on Kindle Store, then along the toolbar at the top, click on Free Reading Apps. Also, see another link below the "Buy now" on the far right.

Here's a bit of info on my Style that Sizzles book:

Fiction writers – if you’re looking to hone your style, bring your scenes to life, tighten up your writing, add tension, pick up the pace, and develop a more authentic, appealing voice, this book is for you. This 31,500-word, 143-page e-book is chock-full of excellent tips to help you learn to write like the pros and create a novel that sells.

Topics include: hooking readers in on your first pages, writing compelling action scenes, style blunders to avoid, showing instead of telling, streamlining cluttery sentence structures, avoiding repetitions, choosing words that nail it, pacing for power, avoiding info dumps and awkward structures, writing natural-sounding dialogue, expressing thoughts, showing character reactions, avoiding melodrama, finding your authentic voice, and more.


“This book is packed with good advice on how to spot and fix weaknesses
in your fiction writing. It summarizes the combined wisdom of the last century
or so of fiction teachers into one handy volume.”
 

~ Randy Ingermanson, bestselling author of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES



“A handy checklist and self-editing guide that will get any
fiction writer to a stronger, well-told tale.”
– James Scott Bell, bestselling author of REVISION & SELF-EDITING,
PLOT & STRUCTURE, and THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS
 
Also, please check out my Amazon e-booklet, WRITING A KILLER THRILLER - AN EDITOR'S GUIDE TO WRITING POWERFUL FICTION, which will help authors of any genre hone your craft, add tension, conflict and intrigue, and make your stories more captivating. You’ll also find excellent tips in my two upcoming books, Bring Your Characters to Life and Deep Point of View.
To check out this e-booklet, click HERE.

Smooth out that Clunky, Cluttered Phrasing

On Wednesday I was honored to be invited to Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi's excellent, award-winning blog, The Bookshelf Muse, as a guest blogger.

I gave several examples of trimming down sentences to reveal their powerful core, then readers offered solutions to six more at the end. It was great fun, and I gave away a Kindle copy and 3 PDFs of my e-book, STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER.

I'm planning on doing a similar exercise here - maybe even turn it into a series!

Anyway, here's the beginning of my blog post over at The Bookshelf Muse, with a link to the rest of it:

SMOOTH OUT THAT CLUNKY, CLUTTERED PHRASING

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor, @JodieRennerEd

One of my main jobs as a fiction editor is to teach novelists how to streamline their writing and take out all those little words cluttering up their prose, getting in the way of meaning, slowing down the pacing, and impeding reader enjoyment of the story.

For many writers, it takes practice to break old business or academic writing habits and learn to write in a more casual, to-the-point, compelling way for fiction. Many of my newbie novelist clients are highly educated professionals, so they especially have to unlearn overly correct, formal writing habits.

Here’s a short example of overly erudite writing, from a novel I edited years ago, with the name changed:

Before: Jason recommenced after the abrupt interruption, with a scowl in the direction of its origin.

After: Jason scowled at the interruption, then continued.

As the editor, I suggested the “after” rewording, then commented in the margin, about my suggestion: “Less wordy, more direct. No need to say “abrupt interruption,” as an interruption is by nature abrupt. And it’s a given that his scowl would be in the direction of the origin of the interruption.”

Here are more examples of taking out unnecessary words for better flow. I’ve adapted them from my editing, but changed the names and details to provide anonymity for the writers. Of course there are often several different ways to pare a sentence down, and these are just possible solutions.

Before: She looked quickly down the narrow street in the direction they had come.

After: She glanced back down the narrow street.

To read the rest, click HERE.



Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013). Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.
 
 


Monday, October 1, 2012

Writing Tense Action Scenes

I'm over at Stacy Green's blog today, talking about writing powerful action scenes. Here's the beginning, with a link below to the rest of the article.


WRITING TENSE ACTION SCENES
 
by Jodie Renner, freelance fiction editor, @JodieRennerEd
 
Stacy recently asked me how editing thrillers is different from editing other genres. That’s a huge topic, too much for one blog post, and would include differences in plot, characterization, pacing, word choice, and writing style, among many other considerations. For today, I thought I’d just talk about writing effective action scenes, which can also appear in romantic suspense, mysteries, action adventures, fantasies, and any other genre.
When your characters are running for their lives, write tight and leave out a lot of description, especially little insignificant details about their surroundings. Of course, if the details would somehow help them, then definitely include them.
Characters on the run don’t have time to sightsee or have great long discussions. Their adrenaline is pumping and all they’re thinking of is survival.
 
A few quick tips for writing strong action scenes:
 
~ Show, don’t tell (of course!). See my blog post on this topic.
~ Stay in the scene with the characters – don’t intrude as the author to explain anything.
~ Avoid lengthy discussions among characters or long, involved thought processes.
~ Cut out any little unneeded words that are cluttering up sentences and slowing down the pace.
~ Use short sentences and paragraphs.
~ Use the most powerful verbs you can find.
~ Show your viewpoint character’s sensory impressions to suck readers in more.
~ Show your POV character’s emotional and physical reactions, starting with visceral responses.
~ Show other characters’ reactions through their words, tone of voice, actions, body language, and facial expressions.

SOME BEFORE AND AFTER EXAMPLES OF ACTION SCENES, WELL-DISGUISED FROM MY EDITING:
 
Click HERE for the examples and the rest of the article.



Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013).
Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.
 

 
 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Excellent Resources for Kindle Authors

I recently posted an excellent resource list for Kindle authors to promote their e-books, over at our group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.

Some Great Resources for Kindle Authors & Readers

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor, @JodieRennerEd
As an editor and a new Kindle author, I'm always on the lookout for resources for me and my clients. I just discovered a great new website for e-book authors and readers. This site looks like a gold mine for both Kindle readers and writers who publish on Kindle.

Scroll down for links to other great sites for Kindle authors.
 
For the rest of the article and some great links, click HERE.
 


Jodie Renner, a freelance fiction editor specializing in thrillers and other fast-paced fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: WRITING A KILLER THRILLER and STYLE THAT SIZZLES & PACING FOR POWER (Silver Medalist in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013).
Both titles are available in e-book and paperback. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.
 


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Critique of First Few Pages

Greater Fort Worth Writers recently contacted me about critiquing the opening pages of a fiction manuscript and posting it on their blog, As We Were Saying.

I use Track Changes for my editing, but I thought that might be confusing for the readers, so I used comments in brackets within the document for this.

Here's the beginning, and a link to the rest:

Jodie Renner Critiques First Five Pages

Editor Jodie Renner returns to critique another first five pages of a GFW Writer member's work-in-progress. Jodie is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, mysteries, romantic suspense and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. The author of the piece below has graciously allowed us to post the critique, but will remain anonymous.


“Who the hell does he think he is?!!” Charlotte Bellagio brooded as she considered the hurt that filled her heart. [A bit of a confusing beginning. Who is she mad at, and why? Also, can leave out “as she considered the hurt that filled her heart” and leave it at “brooded.”]
She willed a smile to her face as she nodded at her table companions [who is she sitting with?] where they who had all gathered for this much anticipated event. Most of her breakfast went untouched;, but if her tablemates noticed her mood they didn’t acknowledge it. She kept her heart hidden and the other guests didn’t pay much attention to her anyway. [Why not?]
Charlotte’s fellow convention guests were not aware of [We’re in Charlotte’s point of view here and she doesn’t really know if the others are aware of her feelings or not. Don’t jump into other people’s heads – that’s called head-hopping] the tumult inside her as they waited for the TV show host to make his appearance. Even so she made an effort to relax her shoulders and took a deep breath. [Too many “as” phrases above and below (highlighted). Best to vary sentence structure.]
“That’s good,” she thought as her muscles began to relax. [What’s good? And why are her muscles relaxing now? Best not to have her relax now as nothing has really happened to make her relax, and it’s good to maintain tension. Tension and conflict are what drive fiction forward and keep readers turning the pages.]
To read the rest of this critique, click HERE.

Jodie Renner is a freelance editor specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction. Please check out Jodie’s website and blog, as well as her group blog, Crime Fiction Collective.
Jodie’s craft of fiction articles appear regularly on various blogs, and she has published two popular craft-of-fiction e-books in the series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Style that Sizzles and Pacing for Power.

Both are on sale at Amazon, and you don’t need to own a Kindle to buy and read Kindle e-books – you can download them to your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. Style that Sizzles will be out in paperback soon.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Some Common Grammar Gaffes, Part III – Lay vs. Lie; I vs. me

by Jodie Renner, editor & author  

Here are a few more examples of common confusions in English, and a few tricks to help you remember which is which.

Lay vs. lie:

This one stumps a lot of people, even a bestselling author I know, who has emailed me a few times for a reminder of when to use “lie” and when to use “lay.” It’s very common to mix up these two, especially with their weird past tenses, which just complicate the issue.

Basically, you lay something down, but you lie down. So “lay” takes an object – a thing after it that you’re putting down. Not counting ourselves, so a person just lies down. And even if it’s a thing, if it’s already there and nobody’s in the act of putting it there, it’s lying there, not laying there.

Correct usages:

Present tense:

Lie: I like to lie in the hammock. Mom often lies down for a nap in the afternoon. Ricky is lying down on the grass.

Lay: She lays the baby in the bassinette every night. She is laying the baby down right now.


So far so good. But here’s where it gets weird: The past tense of “lay” is “laid,” as in “I laid the book on the table.” But the past tense of “lie” is “lay” as “She lay down on the couch for a nap yesterday.” Huh?! Just another of the many ways that English is weird and often illogical.

So to reiterate:

Lay requires a direct object: You lay something down. 

Lie does not require a direct object: You lie down.

The verb tenses of lay: 

Present: lay, is laying.  Lay the report on my desk.

Past: laid, has laid, was laying.  She laid the ring on the table and walked out; she had laid it there before.

The verb tenses of lie: 

Present: lie, is lying: Why don’t you lie down for a while? The book is lying on the table.

Past: lay, has lain, was lying. The little boy lay in the shade, fast asleep. He has lain there many times, in fact yesterday he was lying in that exact spot.

So: He laid (past tense of lay) the wreath on the grave, where it lay (past tense of lie) for a month.

If you think you'll forget all this stuff, especially the past tenses, just copy and paste this somewhere to help you remember. That’s what I did before I finally got it into my head! 


I or me or what?

Is it “my brother and me” or “my brother and I”? That depends. 

Is it “Give the books to Jane and I,” or “Give the books to Jane and me.”?

Is it “Carol and me went with them,” or “Carol and I went with them.”?

Is it “She and Brad are coming, too,” or “Her and Brad are coming, too.”?

Here's a simple little trick to know whether to use “I” or “me”; “he” or“him”; “she” or “her” etc.:

Just take out the “and” and the other person’s name or pronoun. What are you left with? Does it make sense?

For example, which is it? “Him and his buddy are going fishing,” or “He and his buddy are going fishing.”

Take out “and his buddy.” Would you say “Him is going fishing” or “He is going fishing.”? 

Since you’d use “he” when it’s alone in the sentence, you’d say, “He and his buddy are going fishing.”


Or is it “Leave your sister and I alone for a few minutes,” or “Leave your sister and me alone for a few minutes”?

To figure this out, take out "your sister and" and think of whether you’d say, “Leave I alone” or “Leave me alone.”

Since you’d say “Leave me alone,” then it has to be “Leave your sister and me alone.”

Apply this little trick to the first two examples above, and you’ll know it has to be “Give the books to Jane and me,” and “Carol and I went with them.”

And by the way, "between you and me" is correct.

I could get into a lengthy explanation about subject (nominative) pronouns and object (objective) pronouns, but if you just use that little gimmick, it works every time.


Do you have any other grammar points that you'd like explained? Or any great little tricks for remembering them? Just mention them in the comments below or email me at j.renner.editing(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Copyright Jodie Renner, August 2012 

See also Some Common Grammar Gaffes, Part I (that vs. which, who vs that, caps) and Common Grammar Gaffes, Part II (past perfect, misplaced modifiers)



Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Some Common Grammar Gaffes, Part II - Past Perfect & Misplaced Modifiers

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker 

In Part I, I discussed the differences between that and who, and which and that, as well as some common capitalization quandaries, all per Chicago Manual of Style. Here are some more grammar tips, mostly pertaining to fiction writing.

PAST PERFECT TENSE:
Use past perfect tense for mentioning prior events and introducing flashbacks:
Most novels are written in the past tense:  She said, he went, they walked, I talked, we saw, the dog ate, the kids ran, etc. She picked up the phone. He drove around the block, and so on. So if you’re suddenly referring to something that happened before what’s going on “now”, it’s best to use the past perfect or “past past” tense: she had said, he had gone (or he’d gone), they had walked, we had seen (or we’d seen), etc. This avoids confusion for the reader, who otherwise may wonder whether we’re still in the same time frame we were or we’ve jumped back in time to an earlier incident.
In these examples, we start in the normal past tense, then, to indicate events that either just occurred or are going back in time, we switch to the past perfect, using “had” or just “he’d” “she’d” plus the past participle of the verb: “By the time we arrived at the station, all the passengers had gotten off the train.”  “She remembered that day. She had just picked up the phone when the doorbell rang.” Or “That morning, he had driven around the block several times before finding a parking spot.” Or “He recalled the night they’d discovered the body.” Not using the past perfect to indicate a shift further into the past can cause confusion with the readers as to when something actually happened or whether it’s occurring right now.
Examples from novels:  “She was still wearing her party dress. It was wrinkled. He figured she’d slept in it. He wondered where.” (Smoke Screen by Sandra Brown)

"If I had known he was going to walk, I would have just put a bullet in him and been done with it." (Murder One, by Robert Dugoni)
But if you’re switching to a fairly lengthy flashback or other backstory, it flows better if you just mark the transition further into the past by using the past perfect (had or ’d plus verb) for the first sentence or two, then switch to normal past for the rest of the flashback, except for the last sentence or two, where you again use past perfect to signal to the reader that we were in a kind of “past past” and are now going back to the normal “real time” past. If the flashback is only a few sentences or a paragraph long, stay in the past perfect, or “past past” the whole time.”
“Her thoughts drifted back to the night that had changed her life forever. She’d just been drifting off to sleep that summer night when she heard a motorcycle approaching. It stopped outside her window and went silent….” [Several more sentences in normal past tense.] … [Then, coming back to the “present” we use a sentence or two of past perfect, then switch to normal past.]
“That had been one of the most terrifying nights of her life. Now she shook off the frightening memories and forced herself back to the present.” 

AVOID DANGLING PARTICIPLES and MISPLACED MODIFIERS:
Watch for those dangling participles:
Participles are verb forms that end in –ing or –ed, like “buzzing” or “roaring”, or “satisfied” or “soaked.” A participial phrase modifies a noun, like “Climbing the mountain, the hikers soon grew tired.” The phrase is talking about the activity of the person or thing closest to it, in this case, the hikers. Here’s an example of a dangling participle: “Climbing the mountain, the birds chirped merrily.” It’s not the birds that are climbing the mountain, so it needs to be changed to something like “Climbing the mountain, the hikers heard birds chirping around them.”
Here are some other examples:
“Gazing out the window, the willow tree swayed in the breeze.” This sentence implies it’s the willow tree that is gazing out the window. It would need to be changed to something like “Gazing out the window, she saw the willow tree swaying in the breeze.”
Or: “Slathered in chocolate icing and filled with cream, the customers bought boxes of the sweet, decadent donuts.”
It’s not the customers who are slathered in icing and filled with cream! This should be changed to something like, “The customers bought boxes of the sweet, decadent donuts slathered in chocolate icing and filled with cream.”
And misplaced modifiers are a mistake:
Watch where you put your descriptive phrases in sentences, as they modify the words closest to them. For example, “Tall and handsome, the teenage girl gazed at the basketball star in admiration.” As it is phrased here, the “tall and handsome” refers to the teenage girl, when it’s supposed to be describing the basketball star. It should be rephrased to something like “The teenage girl gazed at the tall, handsome basketball star in admiration.”
Similarly with: “Tired and dirty, the lady of the house watched the farm workers trudge past at the end of the long day.” As it’s written here, it’s the lady of the house who’s tired and dirty, not the farm workers. It could be rephrased to “The lady of the house watched the farm workers trudge past, tired and dirty, at the end of the long day." Similarly, you wouldn't want to write, “Exhausted from the grueling race, we cheered on the triathlon competitors as they jogged past.” (Unless watching them is exhausting for you!)
In Common Grammar Gaffes, Part III, I discuss lie vs. lay, and is it "and me" or "and I"?
See also my blog posts, “Style Blunders in Fiction” and “Hyphens, Dashes, Ellipses.”
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, at The Kill Zone blog alternate Mondays, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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