Monday, July 21, 2014

The Least You Should Know - Choosing the Right Pronoun

There are two types of pronouns: subjects and non subjects. If not used properly, they can cause difficulties when writing.



If you use pronouns in the Subject Group, they can be used two ways:

1. as a subject of a verb

For example:

She is my sister. (She is the subject of the verb is)
We boys played basketball. (We is the subject of the verb played.)
He is taller than I. (If this sentence was written completely, it would read, "He is taller than I am." I is  the subject of the verb am. This may be a bit tricky for you. However, when you see than in a sentence, ask yourself whether a verb has been left off. Add the verb, and then you'll automatically use the correct pronoun. In both speaking and writing, always add the verb. Instead of saying "She's smarter than (I, me)." say, "She's smarter than I am." There is no way to fail using the correct pronoun if you follow this simple rule.

2. as a word that mean the same as the subject:
That girl in the shorts is she. (She is the word that means the same as the subject girl. Therefore the pronoun from the Subject Group is used.)
It was he all right. (He means the same as the subject It. Therefore, the pronoun from the Subject Group is used.)

In modern usage, there are some exceptions to the rule. It is me and it is us (instead of grammatically correct it is I and it is we) are now established usage, and it is him, it is her, and it is them are widely used, especially in informal speech.

Pronouns in the Non Subject Group are used for all other purposes.

In the following sentence, me is not the subject, nor does it mean the same as the subject. Therefore it comes from the Non Subject Group.

She came with Karen and me.

A good rule of thumb for telling which pronoun to use is to leave out the extra name. By leaving out Karen, you will say, She came with me. You would never say She came with I.

Have you learned enough about pronouns than you ever thought you would? Do you have more questions? Leave them in the comments. We'll get to them as soon as we can.

Copyright: luisfico / 123RF Stock Photo

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Christian Writing Prompt - Last to Leave Church

Fridays will be known as Friday Christian Writing Prompt.

You are the last one to leave church and you hear a loud thump between the aisles. What happens?

Can you make a story out of this exciting prompt? Does it make you think of something inspirational or do you lean toward something spookier or more supernatural?

Is it the second coming or did someone trip and fall?

What do you think?

Do you think you can turn this prompt into a story? Why or Why not?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Determining the Theme or Premise of your Story – What is Your Story About?

It’s a simple enough question. Can’t every writer answer it? What is your story about? Why are you telling this story?

What is your story’s theme?

Other names are theme, root idea, central idea, goal, aim, driving fore, subject, plan, plot, or basic emotion.

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, he says this about premise, “If you think of conflict as the gunpowder of story telling, premise is the cannon.”

If writing a story without a premise is like rowing a boat without oars, we can assume that the premise drives or steers the story. According to Frey, “It is the reason you are writing what you are writing.”

William Foster-Harris, in his widely read The Basic Formulas of Fiction (1994) notes this about premise, “He claims the underlying principle is a “solved illustration of a problem of moral arithmetic,” such as Pride + Love = Happiness.”

The premise defines the story.

In the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction, theme is defined as the container for your story. “Theme will attempt to hold all the elements of your story in place. It’s like a cup. A vessel. A goblet. The plot and characters and dialogue and setting and voice and everything else are all shaped by the vessel.”

While in nonfiction, the author’s premise is a universal truth, it isn’t quite so in fiction. The premise is not provable and somewhat argumentative in the “real world.” Why? The premise of a fiction work is not a universal truth. It’s true only for the particular situation in the novel.

Frey puts it so succinctly, “ The premise of a story is simply a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story.”

The options for scene goals are endless and very specific to your story. According to K.M. Weiland, in Structuring your Novel, “your character can want anything in any given scene. But within that universe of options, you must narrow down the desires expressed within your scene to those that will drive the plot.”

According to Roy Peter Clark of, Writing Tools, he uses the analogy of a train engine. “Every writer builds his/her work around a key question: Stories need an engine, a question that the action answers for the reader.”

The engine drives the reader from the beginning of the book, through the conflict and onto the final climax and the end of the story.

To ensure you understand correctly, a dramatic story can have only one premise because it can have only one climax. Once the climax is reached in the story, the core conflict is resolved. In other words, the premise is proved. There are scene goals (subplots) that provide opportunities for goals that aren’t directly related to your primary goal. However, on the contrary, The Gotham’s Writers’ Workshop Writing Fiction,  tells us that stories can have more than one theme, but “it’s best for the writer to have a dominant theme in mind.”

According to Frey, here are some premises that won’t work because they are so generalized they are worthless:

  • Strangers are not trustworthy
  • Poverty is bad
  • War kills people
  • Life is good
  • Existence leads to death
  • Life is too short

However, the above themes can be made sustainable as follows:

  • Trust (of a stranger) leads to disillusionment
  • Unbridled greed (caused by bring brought up in proverty) leads to alienation
  • War brutalizes even the most noble
  • Love leads to happiness
  • “Existence leads to death” cannot be made viable. It’s a simple statement. Everything dies.
  • “Life is too short” also cannot be made into plausible theme. It can serve as the story’s moral, but not it’s theme.

K.M. Weiland gives us options for scene goals:
Your character is going to want:
  • Something concrete (an object, a person, etc.)
  • Something incorporeal (administration, information, etc.)
  • Escape from something physical (imprisonment, pain, etc.)
  • Escape from something mental (worry, suspicion, fear, etc.)
  • Escape from something emotional (grief, depression, etc.)

While you’re not creating themes that will solve the problems of the world, you just have to give your reader the ability to see what’s there. What makes them want to focus on your novel and read your story.

Ronald B. Tobias wrote in his article “The Question at the Core of Your Story” in The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Writing, that theme, “is the central concern around which a story is structured.” He goes on to say, “Themes shouldn’t be some fuzzy, in-the-back-of-your-mind idea, but a viable, working pattern.”

William C. Knott, in The Craft of Fiction, advises “that you start not with theme, but rather with characters who demand to be whatever life can create for them on the printed page. It is the characters who must galvanize you to write, insisting that you tell their story.” Gotham’s Writers’ Workshop agrees. “One way to avoid overemphasizing your theme is by not beginning there.”

Just start by telling your story.

That said, it must also be said there is no formula for finding the theme of a story. Start with a character or a situation, add a dilemma, and then figure out how it might move forward. This is where you let your imagination run wild. The possibilities are endless.

Lajos Egri, states, “every good premise should contain an element of character, which through conflict leads to a conclusion.” The three C’s of premise. “Character through conflict leads to a conclusion.”

It’s more than okay to use a premise that’s been used before. Someone once said there are no unique stories anymore. Premises are not trademarked or patented. They’re free for the taking.

Identifying your theme or goal, in the first draft of your story may seem easy enough, but as second and fourth drafts occur you are going to have to make sure that your theme touches everything in your story. Those choices you made about theme are going to influence how you revise your story.

A good writer will know which parts of the story to leave in and which to remove. He/She wants to remove those parts that don’t help prove the premise. Simple as that. Once your goal is in place, the rest of your story flows so long as each scene moves the story along and keeps the plot moving forward to achieve the ultimate climax and final goal.

Copyright: edwardsamuel / 123RF Stock Photo

The Writer's Digest Handbook of Novel Writing
Gotham Writers' Workshop Writing Fiction
Writing Tools by Roy Peter Clark
Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland
How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Christian Writing Prompt - List of Words

Fridays will be known as Friday Christian Writing Prompt.

Can you write a short story using the following words: angel, vineyard, shield, shepherd?

Can you make a story out of these words? Do they prompt you with something exciting or life changing?

What do you think?

Do you know of a story in the Bible already with these words? Extra kudos goes to the person who can find it and recall chapter and verse.

Do you think you can turn it into a story? Why or Why not?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Least You Should Know - Capital Letters

Capitalize: To write or print in capital letters (Webster's II New Riverside Dictionary)

Seems simple enough, right? But, which words are capitalized and which are not, and how do you know the difference?

So, here in this post, we'll answer the what, why and when to capitalize.

Here are seven rules on Capitalization.


1. The first word of every sentence.

The horse ran through the field.

2. The first word of every direct quotation.

She said, "I've wondered about that."

"They don't think about how water is found," he said, "and I can tell it doesn't make a difference." (The  and is not capitalized because it does not begin a new sentence.)

3. The first, last, and every important word in a title. Don't capitalize prepositions, short connecting words, the to in front of a verb, or a, an, the.

What a Horse Owner Needs to Know

"The Night the Earth Stood Still"

4. Names of people, places, languages, races, and nationalities

Grandmother Jones
United States
Latin American

5. Names of months, days of the week, and special days, but not the seasons

Fourth of July

6. A title of relationship. If it takes the place of the person's name, but not otherwise. If my (or a similar word) is in front of the word, a capital letter is not used.

I know Father will want to go.     but   I think my mother will come.

I'm sorry, Grandmother.     but    Our grandmother is 60.

He visited Uncle Henry.      but   She visited her aunt.

She phone Mother yesterday.      but   He phoned his dad.

7. Names of particular people or things, but not general ones.

I spoke to Professor Lawrence.       but   I spoke to the professor.

We sailed on the Mississippi River.      but   We sailed on the river.

Are you from the Northeast?      but   We turned east.

I take Art 101 and Spanish 102.      but   I take art and Spanish.

I went to Bayview High School.      but   I was in high school ten years ago.

He goes to Phoenix University.      but   He is going to the university now.

Have you figured out Capitalization?  If you have further questions, please put them in the comments below.

I hope you've enjoyed this "The Least You Should Know" series. This is the last session. Next week we'll open up a discussion about what you'd like to learn more about with writing and how I can meet those needs.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Christian Writing Prompt - Bible Character

Friday Five Minute Exercise has run its course. I've given you nearly 100 prompts to help you get your Friday started.

From now until I run out of prompts, I'm going to give you Christian Writing Prompts. We'll see how that goes. If you don't like them, don't do them. If they don't fit it in with what we're trying to do here, let me know and I'll work on something else.

Until then, Fridays will be known as Friday Christian Writing Prompt.

Pick a character in the Bible and describe his/her day. What here his/her struggles, joys, frustrations, etc. Write at least 500 words. Can you make a story out of this?

What do you think? Is there a character in the Bible that you can find to describe their day? Can you uncover their struggles, joys and frustrations? Do you think you can make it 500 words in length? Do you think you can turn it into a story? Why or Why not?

P.S. Once these prompts are completed, we'll work on more prompts. Send in your suggestions about what kinds of prompts to write about and we'll add them to the list.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dialogue that Propels the Story Forward

"Blah, blah, blah," she said.


"Did you hear what I just said?"

"Didn't understand it, more life it."

"Why you...!"

Have you ever experience or witnessed a conversation like that? Read one in your recent books? Did it make you want to throw the book against the wall and yell, "just get to the point!"

Been there.

Dialogue should be about something. It should move the plot forward in some way or it's useless. Pretty much like the beginning of this blog post, eh?

As a writing coach, it's difficult not to tell my clients that their dialogue just doesn't work, and then try to get them to understand that it must connect with the theme and plot, include tensions and suspense, all while moving the story forward.

So, they usually throw up their hands in despair and ask, "Why write at all?"

I have a trick or two to help you. Actually my trick is Gloria Kempton and her book Dialogue: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialogue. The tricks are hers and now yours.

Your Dialogue Must Move The Story Forward
Move the plot forward. Sounds easy, right?
Dialogue is a means to an end, not the end itself. Don't get all caught up in your characters having a great conversation that you forgot what your story was all about and why these two characters were in it.

Simple tip: You engage your characters in conflict and use dialogue to increase their struggle.

According to Ms. Kempton:

Dialogue is one of the fiction elements you can use to propel your plot forward and integrate your theme into each scene. They way you do this is to set your characters up in an animated discussion scene that does any one of a number of things: 

  • provides new information to the characters about the conflict, 
  • reveals new obstacles that the viewpoint character must overcome to achieve his goal, 
  • creates the kind of dynamic between the scene characters that furthers the story's theme, 
  • introduces a pivotal moment in the plot that transforms the character(s), 
  • set up the discussion so the character (and reader) are reminded of his scene and story goals, 
  • and/or accelerates the emotion and story movement to increase the suspense and make the situation more urgent for the characters.

If you remember the seven purpose of dialogues, you can get through this.

Provides New Information
Have your characters talking and then have one of them add a new bit of information that takes the conversation and plot into an entirely new direction. Throw obstacles at your readers.

Reveals New Obstacles
When considering dialogue, an obstacle to a character's goal works the same and throwing in a new topic or conversation direction that creates immediate conflict. The character can express his discomfort verbally, but he's going to have to physically do something to move the story forward.

Increases Suspense
Suspense increases when you keep making it look worse for your characters. You can do this very well with dialogue because the character is already "in the moment" and the reader is "watching" how the character is going to handle the suspense that's been dropped on him.

According to Ms. Kempton: Suspense is achieved in dialogue when the viewpoint character gets "that feeling" about the other character in the scene. Or suddenly realizes that things are not as they seem.

Furthers The Theme
Gloria Kempton loves when an author lets a character reveal the story's theme in dialogue. In her book, "Dialogue" she tells about getting a "kick" out of observing how other writers do it, whether novelists or screenwriters.

She says: When a character announces the story's theme in the middle of a passage of dialogue, it gives the other characters the opportunity to respond and move the action in one direction or another. This can be very effective, because while the reader my not necessarily be able to recognize the theme as the a-ha moment in the story, subconsciously it registers as a pivotal moment and the reader holds her breath, waiting to see how the other characters will respond.

Shows Character Transformation
As writers, we should be changing our characters, in subtle ways, throughout our story. This is why we write fiction. We want to show how our character can change. For the better or worse. In order for a transformation to happen, and our characters changed forever, a profound moment has to happen. In dialogue, it happens with words.

Reveals/Reminds of Goals
Obstacles. That's an important elements when helping characters change and move the story along. Throwing obstacles at your character reminds him/her about their goal, their intention in the scene, and in the story.  To do this the best way possible, you use your protagonist to show these change with action and dialogue.

Gloria says: In every scene, you want to remind your reader of the main character's intention, as this is the way you engage your reader and keep engaging her as the story progresses. Using dialogue for  this purpose is especially effective because the character is stating his goal out loud.

Would you rather your character say around and thought about his passion or reminisced about his intention? Showing with dialogue is so much better. And it moves the scene along.

Keeping Your Characters In Social Settings
I know it sounds simple, but dialogue can't happen if there isn't more than one character. If you have your character talk to themselves too long, the story goes south and the reader becomes bored. So, how do we keep the story moving? Add more than one character to the scene.

Readers really enjoy when characters are engaged in dialogue and action.

Simple Tip: A scene of dialogue must always move the story forward in some way.

There is a strategy for bringing all three elements of the scene together: dialogue, narrative, and action. It's so the scene is balanced and focused on its purpose.

Was this helpful?

Resource: Dialogue: Techniques an Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue by Gloria Kempton
Copyright: coramax / 123RF Stock Photo