Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

What is a Short Story?

I think that the idea of short stories is more ambiguous than a full novel. A short story is like one story arc of a complete novel, but it can stand on it’s own or be added to.

Start at the Beginning, Middle or End

In a short story you can start at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of any story that is running through your mind. A short story can be anywhere in anyone's timeline.

We can look at The Hero and how he has just started his quest, this is his first encounter with the trials that await him and how he overcomes this first trial. We can see The Hero, ragged and scarred, in the middle of his overarching quest. He has discovered that while he has been away from home, something happened. He makes the choice to go home, fix the issue, and get back on track before the big bad thing happens in his main story. We can also enter with The Hero, finally at the end. With what seems like years of hard work for him to get to this point making him clever, strong, and ready to finally face his greatest enemy.

Take for example, Harry Potter. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” We come in and see Harry sitting in the main hall enjoying his Halloween dinner with Ron. Hermione has just gone to the bathroom. Harry gets his quest when Professor Quarrel comes in, shouting about how there is a troll in the girls bathroom. From that moment until Ron and Harry defeat the terrifying troll we see a full story arc. From hope in saving their friend, to despair, and finally to triumph.

The thing with short stories is that they can be anywhere in anyone’s time line. That might make it a little harder to start any particular story (especially when you begin in the middle), but it’s not impossible. Bonus, you don’t have to see the entire thing out to the end. I am not saying that you should just leave The Hero or Harry in the middle of a battle and not finish the current arc though. Think of your short story as a mini-arc within the entire arc of what might have been The Hero’s or Harry’s novel.

A Compressed Novel

A short story still has all of the elements of a full novel, it’s just more compressed. We still see The Hero realize that he wants or needs to do something, we still see him struggle, and we still see him as either the triumphant victor or the unfortunate loser. We just see all of this happen in 1.5-30k words rather than 60-100k.

An example of a true short story would be Sherlock Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote short stories about this detective in a London magazine. I hardly think that Mr. Doyle ever thought that his short stories would leave such an impression on his great city that when he killed off Sherlock, a fictional character, that people would go into mourning. They even went so far as wearing black bands on their arms in public. We only see snippets of Sherlock’s life, and yet he was mourned in the real world by real people. What I am trying to say, is that a short story need not be an enigma that writers should shy away from. They can be some of the most amazing stories ever told.

Write that Idea into a Short Story

Personally, I love short stories. They take the pressure off when you aren’t looking to write an entire novel. They make it easier to get those pesky little ideas that crop up while you’re writing out of your head. When I am writing and get a new idea that doesn’t really fit into my current novel, I write that idea into a short story. That way that idea is out and it leaves room for what I am working on at that moment.

In short, a short story is simply a mini novel, between 1,500 and 30,000 words. It has a story arc, from beginning to end and it can start in any place in a character’s life and story. Short stories can stand alone or be a part of a greater story. They can help the author with their creativity and they are something that I think all writers should dabble in at least a few times.


photo of Samantha CraneSam Crane lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two children. She is first and foremost a wife and mother, who has joyfully taken on the additional responsibility of homeschooling a preschooler. In her free time. Sam began reading when she was 4 years old but never really tried to write fiction until she was an adult. Encouraged by one of her good friends, she is now currently working on her first novel combining her love of the Fantasy with a bit of Horror.

Reflections from PPWC 2018

In 2018 the Ron Cree Memorial Scholarship was established. This post, by Tracy Neis, is dedicated to Ron’s memory.

Scholarship recipient, Tracy Neis, shares her experiences from 2018 PPWC, Don’t Quit!

I just returned home from my second trip to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The last time I went (in 2011), I had applied for a scholarship at the suggestion of my dear childhood friend, Ron Cree. I won the scholarship and flew out to Colorado to attend the event. Ron picked me up at the airport and hosted me at his condo. A few months after I returned home, I signed a contract to publish my first novel through a small Southern California-based publishing house. The road to publication has been long and winding, but my book, Mr. R, was finally released November 7, 2018.

Late in 2017, Ron suggested I apply for another scholarship to attend the PPWC so I could pick up some pointers for marketing my book. He once again offered to collect me at the airport and host me at his condo. I applied for the second scholarship, won, and booked my flight to Denver. Then on March 25, 2018, Ron died of a sudden heart attack. His presence loomed over me throughout my attendance at this year’s conference.

With a heavy heart I flew into Denver on Wednesday, April 25, 2018. I was looking forward to attending this year’s conference and meeting up with some of Ron’s friends. But I knew this year’s PPWC would not be the experience I’d envisioned when I applied for and received my scholarship.

2018 Speakers were Great!

That’s not to say it wasn’t wonderful. The speakers were great – especially Aaron Michael Ritchey and Johnny Worthen. The quirky workshops gave me a lot of ideas for my next novel (I now know several poisons I can include in my forthcoming cozy mystery, which I’m planning to set on a farm in Ohio). I learned a lot about monsters and Magick. And Friday night’s keynote speaker, Mary Robinette Kowal, was worth the price of my plane fare, rent-a-car and hotel fee put together. She was hysterical, inspiring, and entertaining in every way.

But I missed my childhood friend. At every meal, I heard his name spoken when the emcee announced the PPWC’s scholarship program was going to be renamed in his honor. Ron’s friends and I toasted him at every lunch and dinner (and with many drinks at the bar as well). We shared stories about him throughout the weekend and mimicked the catch phrases he liked to use (“You had one thing to do!”).

Garden of the Gods

Then on Sunday morning, before I headed back to the Denver Airport, one of Ron’s closest friends took me to the Garden of the Gods and showed me the spot where Ron’s memorial service had been held the previous weekend. The roses his family had left by a flat rock on a hillside were still there. Untouched by the elements, they were as white as the snowcap on Pikes Peak. As the two of us drove through the park, a bobcat crossed our path. We stopped our truck and watched it through the window. It stared back at us for several seconds before running off into the foliage.


Tracy NeisTracy Neis is the author of the newly released novel, Mr. R (Mischievous Muse) – a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre – and the YA collective biography, Extraordinary African American Poets (Enslow). She lives in Southern California, where she works as a professional resume writer.

Here and Gone in a Flash: How to Write Flash Fiction

So you’ve been thinking about writing flash fiction, but you’re not sure what to write…or, more importantly, what not to write! When you’re used to writing other lengths of fiction, taking on a flash fiction project can seem intimidating.

What is Flash FictionFlash Fiction, Here and gone in a flash.

Duotrope (an online database of writers’ markets) gives the upper limit as a thousand words, but individual markets vary widely on what they want for lengths.

So instead of dwelling on word counts, let’s go with the following to explain flash fiction:

  • A very short story, intended to be read in a few minutes (while standing in line, for example),
  • Which has a character, setting, and problem (a setup) that is resolved in some way at the end,
  • And which has as little else as possible.

Where flash fiction differs from a “prose poem” is that a prose poem can completely disregard character, setting, problem, or resolution and still be effective. Many prose poems are simply images, moments, or character sketches. (Any other differences between poetry and fiction are beyond the scope of this article!)

How to Structure Flash Fiction

When it comes to structuring flash fiction, there are no rules!

One of the most interesting parts about flash fiction is that it can have wildly different structures. Flash fiction can be six words long; flash fiction can be a grocery list; flash fiction can be a list of instructions; flash fiction can be nothing but dialog.
As long as you state or imply a character, setting, problem, and resolution, then your flash fiction piece will probably work.

How to Set Up Flash Fiction

Let’s look at the famous six-word story, usually attributed to Hemingway:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In a flash fiction story, you can either state or imply your setup, but you have to have one. Here’s the setup for this story:

  • Character: at least one parent.
  • Setting: here and now in a Western culture.
  • Problem: the death of a child.

None of these things are stated outright, only implied.

In a slightly longer story, W. Somerset Maugham’s “Appointment in Samarra,” the elements are stated fairly clearly:

“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

  • Character: a merchant’s servant.
  • Setting: Bagdad (then Samarra).
  • Problem: fear of Death.

Some stories will state parts of their setup and imply others. Often, when I’m writing a piece of flash fiction, I’ll discover that I can cut a lot of words that are implied by some other element of the story.

How to Resolve Flash Fiction

A flash fiction piece also has to have a resolution. But that begs the question, “Exactly what is a resolution?” A resolution has two parts: it establishes how the problem in the setup is handled by the character, and it tells the reader how to feel about that. The reader can be made to feel happy, sad, conflicted, ironic, or even frustrated that the whole situation is sure to happen again.

Here are the resolutions in the examples above:

In “Baby Shoes…”:

  • The resolution is implied at the beginning of the story, in the words, “For sale:”
  • The problem of the death of the baby is handled practically and cynically.
  • The reader is supposed to feel sad for the baby, but sadder still for the parent, who can’t afford (whether emotionally or financially is not clear) to keep the shoes.

In “Appointment in Samarra”:

  • The resolution is at the end of the story, when Death explains that she was surprised to see the merchant’s servant in Bagdad, when she had an appointment with him in Samarra.
  • The problem of the servant’s fear of Death is resolved by the implication of Death finding him regardless.
  • The reader is supposed to feel a sense of irony, in that the servant’s attempt to flee Bagdad succeeded but his attempt to flee Death did not.

Note how the normal “rules” of fiction are overturned in both stories. In the “Baby Shoes…” story, the resolution is at the beginning; in “Appointment in Samarra,” there isn’t any character development. Writing flash fiction can be an excellent exercise in learning how to break rules.

Darkness in Flash Fiction

One caveat about flash fiction: it is almost always easier to write a dark or cynical flash fiction piece than a lighthearted one. This has more to do with psychology than anything else. Human brains are primed for bad news! It takes fewer words for most people to pick up on an implication of something going wrong than something going right.

One Important Tip

You can almost always improve a flash fiction story by trimming off the ending lines! Something I’ve often noticed and discussed with other writers of flash fiction is the need to cut just one more line—usually from the end—to make the story more powerful.

Recommendations for Study

As always, my recommendation for learning how to study a writing technique is to get out and read something that uses it—and then typing it in. Then with every piece I would ask myself, “What are the character, setting, problem, and resolution?” and “What is the structure and why?” It won’t be easy to answer those questions at first!

Here are some excellent flash fiction resources:

As a reader, what I love about flash fiction is that good flash fiction is very intense and takes risks that other stories cannot. As a writer, what I love is taking those risks. I invite you to thumb your nose at any sense of intimidation and try a few!


DeAnna KnipplingDeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.

So Many Choices at PPWC 2018!

Scholarship recipient, Alice Andersen, shares her experiences from 2018 PPWC, Don’t Quit!

When I attended PPWC 2018, it was my second writing conference experience. For me, the conference was like entering a candy store. Each session offered tempting choices between craft, publishing, marketing, roundtables, and panel discussions. Sadly, it was impossible to have it all. Yikes! How could I choose one over another when I had so much to learn?

Because I had a complete but unpublished manuscript, my focus was not only on the craft sessions, but on that dreaded thing called networking. For me, Networking could be the title of a Stephen King horror film. I did my best though and found that among writers, conversations practically start themselves. I came away with several entertaining stories and a stack of business cards for keeping in touch. Not bad for an introvert.

And to my delight, I found that when I skipped a session to work as a volunteer, there were even more chances to speak with writers and compare notes. In addition, the keynote speakers, Laurell K Hamilton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jonathan Mayberry, and Bob Mayer, shared enough of themselves to not only provide inspiration, but add to a sense of community and belonging.

Read & Critique

The Read & Critique was new to me. What a nerve-wracking opportunity, to read a page of my writing to a room full of people. I was unhappy with the first page of my finished manuscript and debated whether or not to read something less than my best. The answer was easy. Not a chance! I read my favorite opening from an unfinished work instead. I have to say the agent in charge, Gabrielle Piraino, was harsh and honest and filled with great ideas on ways to improve the page. I gave her my best and she told me how to make it better. Yes, it was painful to have my work shredded, but her ideas made for a better opening and I needed to hear them.

Query Day

Saturday was query day and a chance to share good, bad, and ugly ideas with an agent. Suffice it to say, I had all three. Query appointments should include a lie detector test so we know what those agents really think. If not a lie detector, maybe a choice of two buttons for them to push; one that emits diabolical laughter and another that shoots out confetti.

And not to deflect, but was that an over-used semi-colon in the above paragraph? After meeting a few editors at the conference, I know just who to ask.

Layering and Editing

My surprising top take-away came from the final two sessions on Sunday. Faced with info overload, I expected to be a little tuned out on that last day. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed a session on layering. Callie Stoker’s presentation, along with her colorful method and hands on demonstration about editing, was just what I needed to make my own work shine.

With so many useful presentations at PPWC, I’ll be studying my notes for weeks to come. The awesome presenters, the hard-working volunteers, and the keynote speakers all gave me the knowledge and the inspiration I need to keep on writing. For now though, I have to visit Amazon. There are books to buy, authors I’m hyped to read, and many more choices and ideas brought home from the conference to focus on. Thanks to the PPWC crew for a great conference experience!

If you, or someone you know, would like to apply for one of PPW’s scholarships please start here to learn more and to fill out your application. Deadline to apply is January 11, 2019.


Alice AndersenAlice Andersen discovered a renewed love for writing after moving to the Western Slope of Colorado. She returned to school to earn a literature degree from Colorado Mesa University, after which she completed her first detective novel. She is currently at work on the second. She dabbles in speculative fiction and fantasy, and has several short stories published. As a military spouse, Alice has lived in numerous locations but she grew up on the Gulf Coast and remains a Texan at heart.

Join her on Twitter @AliceAndersen4

You Finished NaNoWriMo—Now What?

NaNoWriMo has ended, and every writer that participated has come out of hibernation with a 50,000 word novel. Congratulations! You did it! Now what? It’s time to reconnect with the outside world again, see family and friends – and make sure that little Sally hasn’t been eating the cat’s food all month. Celebrate your success with a night out for dinner or a movie. I’m sure you can still see most of the blockbusters that were released in November while you were writing.

Now What?Post NaNoWriMo. Now What?

But, what do you really do now? First of all—relax! That was a lot of writing for a month, but now you have a whole new novel. That is quite the accomplishment! The novel may even make sense, but right now, put it away for a while. After writing all those words, you’re probably sick of seeing the story. It’s okay to have feelings of resentment toward this thing you created, and may even think it sucks and want to chuck it out the window. Before you do something that drastic, let it sit while you breathe. You’ve got the holidays coming up this month, so take the time to visit with the friends and family you neglected while in your writing cave.

Make Preliminary Notes

After letting it sit for a bit, take a look at it again. Read it over with fresh eyes. Wow, did I really write that same sentence on two different pages? Make some preliminary notes on what you want to change, but don’t do your full-on edit just yet. Get a feel for what you wrote, as you may not have had time to do that as you wrote your novel. NaNo gets you writing, but it’s intense writing. Now you have the time to check it out.

Edit

Once your preliminary read-through is done, take your time to look it over with a fine-tooth comb. Refer to your notes and read each section carefully. Does it need a little more description here, or less dialogue there? How’s the grammar? This is where you want to make those changes, add some “flavor” to what you wrote. During NaNo, you’re so focused on “getting the story out” that sometimes these bits can be glossed over and missed altogether. Take the time now to add these things in. Hopefully you still have some of your coffee or tea to get you through this process.

When I do NaNo, I know that my writing suffers a bit because I’m focused on word count. A month later, I’m ready to tackle what I’ve written, see what can be salvaged, and start the editing process. I’m super proud of all of you who took part in NaNoWriMo this year, and maybe someday soon I’ll see your brand new book for sale on Amazon!


photo of margin holmesMargena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers, Letter from the Editor
First off, CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year. It is quite a feat to do NaNo, and if you made it to the end, or if you made only through the first day, you deserve a pat on the back. No, a round of applause. A massage. Heck go all out and spend a day at the spa! You deserve it.

This Month

Writing from the Peak is kicking this month off with a post from Margena Holmes for post-Nano. What do you do with all those words you pounded out over the past thirty days? Margena will give you some ideas. We will also hear from DeAnna Knippling and Sam Crane who are looking at the opposite of novel writing; Flash Fiction and Short Stories.

Conference will round out this month with a series of posts from our scholarship recipients from PPWC2018. If you are on the fence about applying for a scholarship, please read what past recipients have to say. PPWC changed their writing lives and it can change yours too. Application deadline is January 11, 2019. More information is available on the scholarship page.

Celebrate!

Last, I want to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. I have heard there are over 25 holidays between Halloween and The Lunar New Year, but I only have space here to mention a few of the big ones. The season actually kicked off in October with Halloween (Samhain for Wicca) followed by The Day of the Dead and Thanksgiving in November. December brings celebrations for Hanukkah, St Lucia Day (Swedish), Christmas and Kwanzaa. The New Year kicks off January and the holidays round out with the Chinese New Year on February 5th. No matter how you celebrate this time of year, please enjoy every moment with family and friends. And, remember to raise a glass to those who are deployed, or are otherwise unable to spend their holidays at home.

From all of us here at Writing from the Peak…
HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 


KJ Scrim, Profile ImageManaging Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim, is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her somewhere in Colorado walking, hiking, or rock climbing at the local gym.

Sweet Success for D.M. O’Byrne

Congratulations to D.M. O’Byrne’s release of Death in Trout Fork: Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries (Book 1) released October 13, 2018 by Black Opal Books.
Death in Trout Fork, by: D.M. Obyrne
Kathryn “Ryn” Lowell has escaped the stifling confines of her office at the New York travel magazine she writes for. Her assignment? Trout Fork, a tiny fishing hamlet in the Colorado Rockies. She hasn’t been there long, when, along with her orange tabby cat, Jack Kerouac, she discovers a T-shirt. She should have known when she fished that Pink Floyd T-shirt out of the creek that it belonged to that waitress, the one who disappeared. Teaming up with the local police detective, who seems to want more than Ryn can give him, she puts it all on the line—her heart, her job, and her life.

D.M. ObyrneD.M. O’Byrne’s first job was as a waitress. Now she’s a writer of mystery novels. In between, her jobs included English teacher, racehorse exerciser, jockey, accountant, golf resort assistant manager, writer, and editor. Her places of residence ranged from the Jersey Shore to a lengthy sojourn in California, and finally to the Colorado Rockies. Each profession, each location was rife with life lessons, fascinating characters, potential plot lines, and wide-ranging experiences. Sooner or later, they will all end up on the written page.
O’Byrne is the author of Dangerous Turf, Three to One Odds (the sequel), and Death in Trout Fork (Book 1):The Ryn Lowell Colorado Mysteries Series. Learn more about D.M. on her website or check out more of her publications on Goodreads and Amazon.


Sweet Success logoDo you have a Sweet Success you would like to share? Click here to get started, or send an email to: SweetSuccess@pikespeakwriters.com

Sweet Success is coordinated by Managing Editor, Kathie “KJ” Scrim.

Reach Your Audience with a Podcast

How many ways do you have to reach your target audience? Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos, Instagram, Pinterest, blogging. What about podcasting?

Several years ago, I sat in a podcasting class with Patrick Hester at Pikes Peak Writers Conference. He made it sound so fun and easy. It wasn’t long-form blogging or creating videos of myself; it was talking to other people – something right up my alley.
Took me some time but last year I decided to give it a go.

(Let me say this first: I do NOT advocate using every single outlet open to you to reach an audience. I’m a big advocate of utilizing one or two social media outlets, a website and whatever content you enjoy creating (blogs, videos, memes, etc).

Here’s what I did:

I created Writer Nation, a community of writers helping each other through their writing journey. With 17+ years of communications experience, I want to provide writers with a place to get some answers. You can ask me questions about marketing, or ask the group questions about anything, and it’s all free. To go along with it, I started the podcast by interviewing my writer friends. The idea was to build a platform where writers can talk about their journeys, hardships, triumphs and show other writers, they aren’t alone.

• Some of these writers haven’t published a thing
• Others are multi-published
• Some of the interviews are with industry professionals to give advice to writers
• If you are interested, you can absolutely be a guest on Writer Nation.

The following Pikes Peak Writers have been guests:

o Kameron Claire
o MK Meredith
o Deb Courtney
o Mandy Houk
o Shannon Lawrence
o Chris Mandeville (episode posting soon)

I love it, and here’s why I think you should at least be a guest or start your own podcast:

  • First of all, I get to talk to my friends. I also get to meet new friends. And who doesn’t love meeting new people and talking about themselves?
  • Second, it’s less intrusive than video, so folks seem more comfortable.
  • Third, it’s an up-and-coming format with room for anyone right now.
    ~~There are only 520,000 podcasts available as of early 2018 compared to 18M blogs or 50M YouTube Channels uploading more than 300 hours of video every minute. Last year, 73M Americans admitted to listening to podcasts at least monthly, and that number keeps rising. The odds are in our favor.*
  • Finally, check out this stat… the average commute in the United States is 24 minutes long, and most of those commuters admit to listening to audiobooks, the radio or podcasts during that time. That’s a long time for a listener to get to know you. The average YouTube video is 4 minutes. With podcast, you can be in someone’s space for eight times that long. And guess why people buy books? Because they like the author! Let them get to know you.

Are you convinced yet? Even if you aren’t convinced to start a podcast, I highly recommend you reach out and be a guest on a podcast. (Writer Nation is always looking!). Hosts need guests, and if you are launching a book, series, publishing company, whatever, take advantage of the reach of podcasts.

If you want to start a podcast, here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Narrow your niche. What do you want to podcast about? If it’s your books, awesome. Make it about your characters, your settings, your process. Not about writing in general. There are enough of those. Make this about your world.
  2. Define your format. Mine is interview. There are several types, but consistency is best.
  3. Buy a mic…a good one. I use a Snowball and it cost less than $100
  4. Use Audacity software. It’s free, and it’s easy to learn. They have a YouTube channel to help even the most editing illiterate.
  5. Find a host. I use Blubrry. It’s super easy and pairs up with a WordPress site seamlessly. *Here’s the deal with hosting. There is no podcast social media site like YouTube is for videos. You can’t upload a podcast file directly to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s one of the reasons why podcasts aren’t as prevalent as videos, and why, with just a little effort, you can get a foot in.
  6. Start podcasting. Don’t worry about not having an audience or 100 episodes. Just enjoy it and post it.

For a list of podcasts I recommend for writers, click here.

*Stats from Nielsen 2018 Q1 report came out March 20, 2018.


Jennifer Lovette HerbransonJennifer Lovett Herbranson is the founder of Writer Nation, a podcast and Facebook group dedicated to helping writers market their work. She has been a member of PPW for many years and has volunteered countless hours from here and abroad.

On the Run from the Grammar Police

Grammar, hmmm. I found it surprisingly difficult to write this post. As it turns out, I am not entirely sure how I feel about the subject.

During the years I toiled as a tech writer, I remember snickering at the office memos our hard-working office admin sent out each week, sprinkled with random capitalization and odd use of quotes (Do “NOT” use the microwave). Along with my fellow writers, I offered some attempts at gentle correction, only to provoke an angry email response along the lines of What is you’re problem??? And yet another wedge was hammered between those of us who saw grammar errors leaping from the page and those who either didn’t see or didn’t care.

Grammar is Elitist

There seems to be an unhealthy idea swirling in the ether of our society (or at least certain portions of society) that worrying about grammar is elitist. Standards have become so lax that caring even a little bit about proper usage seems to mark you as some kind of cranky, obsessive English teacher, the kind that would whack your hands with a ruler for a misplaced apostrophe.

Many people seem to think that being a writer means being one of these Ms. McGrundy types. I’ve been asked if I spend my spare time diagramming sentences and musing on the difference between the subjunctive versus the objective tense. Not exactly. Most often, I’m simply trying to make sure I can get my point across without using too many passive verbs.

It turns out I am not immune to the culture around me. Worrying about some of the more arcane intricacies of grammar can seem fiddly and tedious. Some rules don’t stick in my head no matter how often I look them up. (That versus which for instance. I vaguely recall something about cats that are black and cats which are black . . . but it doesn’t help.)Worrying about some of the more arcane intricacies of grammar can seem fiddly and tedious.

Grammar Debated

For several months, I had a critique partner who offered little input about my story-telling abilities but provided volumes of carefully detailed examples of where I had gone tragically wrong with grammar rules. I had to think back to that long-suffering office admin and wince.

We wrangled back and forth between her rigid adhesion to super-correct usage versus my own more Humpty Dumpty-esque approach of making words mean just what I choose. My position? If you’re writing contemporary fiction, you need to be able to express your ideas in the current style of writing and talking. Do you want the voice you create in your reader’s mind to sound like Ms. McGrundy the English teacher? It may or may not be appropriate to your story and genre. (Don’t even get me started on dialogue. People, not even story people, do not speak in perfect, complete, grammatically correct sentences.)

Grammar Rules Change

I just can’t believe that it’s really a good idea to grab hold of one rule and cling to it regardless of how awkward the resulting sentence may be. Usage changes. What was once commonplace now sounds odd, although it may very well be perfectly correct. I say go ahead and end that sentence with a preposition, if that’s the direction you’re headed. And commas? Sprinkle them with impunity! (Ok, I realize I am shaky ground here. My name is Robin, and I, am, a, comma addict.)

Grammar Does Matter

But wait. Let me dial this back a little . . . in the end, grammar does matter, for one simple reason: clarity. Grammar helps us get the message across. And so, while I will never be a grammar maven, I will continue to use every single tool at my disposal to figure out how to tell a good story, even if that means looking up the difference between that and which.

Every. Freaking. Time.


Robin LabordeRobin Laborde is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.

Web Presence 101

Notes from November’s Write Brain

For all of us non-technical types who have been waffling about how to go about setting up an author website, November’s Write Brain was a real bonus.

Presenter Sharon Manislovich, currently a Web Systems Administrator, has been constructing and supporting website applications and infrastructure for over 25 years. She provided an enjoyable, common-sense look at the nuts and bolts of setting up a website, from finding a good domain name to the best sources for web design and hosting.

Sharon’s presentation stressed the importance of branding for a successful website, starting with that all-important name. She led a lively discussion that helped to demystify the process of registering for a domain name – and more importantly, keeping it registered. (Did you know there are unscrupulous folks out there who will buy up your expired domain name and try to sell it back to you? Yikes!) Since your branding should ideally extend across whatever social media you use, she recommends using the same name on all platforms.

Missed the November Write Brain? You can find the PowerPoint for Sharon’s presentation at brightkitten.com/web101

 

Don’t forget – the next Write Brain, the PPW Holiday Bookie Party, will be held earlier in the month than usual, on Thursday, December 13th. (Yep, it’s on Thursday night instead of Tuesday.) Join us for a fun evening of books and cookies — no note taking required. Hope to see you there!

 


Robin LabordeThis recap from Write Brain is presented by Robin Laborde, Contributing Editor. Robin is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.