Archive for May, 2011

>How to write a novel: part 4

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »


The most common grammar mistakes can sink an otherwise excellent manuscript with a potential publisher. People need to be very diligent about learning and relearning the rules in the English language. The more polished your manuscript is, the more likely a publisher will be to take interest. The story can be expertly crafted and the characters can be incredibly compelling, but if you don’t seem to care enough to edit for basic errors before submitting it, a publisher will not give you the time of day.

So what I’m going to do here is illustrate some very common errors found in manuscripts and how to correct them.


Incorrect: “Let them eat cake.” Said Marie Antoinette.
Correct: “Let them eat cake,” said Marie Antoinette.

The reason why dialogue and dialogue tags are separated by a comma in a continuous sentence is because they form a complete sentence together in most cases. In the incorrect line, Said Marie Antoinette., is a sentence fragment. If it was reversed, you would be writing: Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.” You would not write: Marie Antoinette said. “Let them eat cake.” That doesn’t make sense. Therefore, the incorrect version is a sentence fragment and the correct version is a complete sentence. If you aren’t sure, try removing the quotation marks.


There, their, they’re. These words are used incorrectly all the time. Even though they are pronounced virtually the same, they mean different things and are NOT interchangeable! There is a term of location as in “over there”. Their is a term of plural possession as in “their stiletto heels”. They’re is a contraction of they are as in “they’re gorgeous”. Can you see the difference?

Your vs you’re. This one is very simple and I find it maddening that more people don’t understand it. Let me make it very simple. You’re is a contraction of you are and should ONLY be used in sentences in which you mean to say something like, “You are a moron.” Your is a possessive word and should ONLY be used in sentences in which you mean to say something like, “You’re a moron and your brain must be lacking a few cells.” There you go. Very simple.

Affect vs effect. Like above, these two words are pronounced virtually the same but they mean different things and are NOT interchangeable! In the majority of cases, affect is paired with a verb (an action word like going, walking, strutting), while effect is paired with a noun (a person, place or thing). Effect basically means a result of something. So you could say, “She put twinkle lights in her back yard and the effect was stunning.” Affect, on the other hand, means a feeling. So you could say, “The movie affected her heart and mind.”


And etc. Etc. is short for the Latin et cetera which means literally “and so forth.” Therefore, when you say “and etc.” you’re really saying “and and so forth.” This is clearly redundant. Just say “etc” (or preferably “et cetera”). (It may help you to remember that “etc” was once abbreviated &c.)

ATM Machine. The letters ATM stand for “Automated Teller Machine.” Therefore, when you say “ATM Machine” you’re really saying “Automated Teller Machine Machine.” This is obviously redundant. Just say “I’m going to the ATM.”

PIN Number. PIN stands for Personal Identification Number. Therefore you’re saying “Personal Identification Number Number.” Again, redundant. Just say “I need my PIN.”

HIV Virus. Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Are you sensing a trend?

SAT Test. Scholastic Achievement Test. You get the picture.

Comma Splice

A comma splice is the incorrect use of a comma to connect two independent clauses. (Recall that an independent clause is a phrase that is grammatically and conceptually complete: that is, it can stand on its own as a sentence.) To correct the comma splice, you can: replace the comma with a period, forming two sentences; replace the comma with a semicolon; join the two clauses with a conjunction such as “and,” “because,” “but,” etc.

Incorrect: I like Xena, she is very sexy.
Correct: I like Xena. She is very sexy.
Correct: I like Xena; she is very sexy.
Correct: I like Xena, because she is very sexy.

Dangling Participles

A participle is a verb-form that ends in -ing. It is called “dangling” when it doesn’t agree with its subject. “While walking down the road, a tree caught Xena’s attention.” The subject of the sentence is “a tree,” but it is not the tree that is doing the walking, therefore the participle “walking” is dangling. To correct the sentence, write: “While walking down the road, Xena noticed a tree.” OR: “A tree caught Xena’s attention as she walked down the road.” Remember that not all words that end in -ing are participles (e.g. thing) and some participles are gerunds depending on context. (A gerund is a participle that is functioning as a noun, e.g. “My favorite activity is sleeping.”)

Ending a Sentence with a Preposition

Contrary to popular belief, there is no agreement on this one among English professionals. In general, especially if your audience is strict about rules, don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Prepositions are little words that indicate position and such: with, at, by, from, etc. In general a preposition should come before (“pre”-position) the noun it modifies. So you should change: “That’s the warrior I must talk to” to “That’s the warrior to whom I must talk.” However, if too many “to whom”s and “of which”s are making your writing unnecessarily clumsy, go ahead and end with the preposition, especially in informal writing. Remember the famous example (credited to Winston Churchill) that goes: “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put!”

Split Infinitives

An infinitive is the form of a verb that begins with “to.” (This problem does not exist in any other language of which I’m aware, since infinitives are single words in every language but English.) Splitting an infinitive means placing another word or words between the “to” and the infinitive. This is considered bad by purists, but, like the sentence-ending preposition, it’s mostly a matter of style.

Incorrect: Xena seems to always win a fight.
Correct: Xena always seems to win a fight.

Some semi-purists say it is okay if only one adverb separates the “to” from the infinitive: “To boldly go where no one has gone before.” As with the sentence-ending preposition, though, don’t worry too much about this. Especially if the split infinitive makes your sentence clearer or more graceful, go ahead and use it.

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>How to write a novel: part 3

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1st lesson:

2nd lesson:

Rather than write my own article about building character arcs (it can be rather complicated), I decided to give you all this article instead. It explains the process better than I could. Source:

Five steps to building a believable character arc

A commenter in my last article on crafting breakout stories asked for tips on how to demonstrate believable progress during the process of a character’s emotional growth.

It’s a fabulous question, because all too often I see writers take the all-at-once approach: a character has a problem, realizes it, decides to act differently, and is thenceforth cured. Like magic!

It’s exactly like magic, in as much as that’s not how life actually works.

In the real world, personal growth takes time and practice. We don’t usually just decide to be better in some way, and then presto, we’re better. For real people, it takes time. Fortunately, there’s a framework for personal growth you can use as a blueprint for how to show it in your novels.

  • The character’s internal shortcomings cause external problems. This makes sense. If some facet of his personality isn’t causing problems in his life, it’s probably not something he needs to change. The only things about which he needs to experience growth are the things that cause problems for him. So first of all, just to set the stage for your main character arc, you need to show the character failing at something because of his shortcomings.
  • The character experiences failure but doesn’t understand why. This is all about how the character reacts to his failures in step 1. It’s important to show the reaction, because not understanding why the failures are occurring sets the emotional conditions for growth. Not understanding why is bound to cause some negative emotions: anger, frustration, resentment, et cetera. These are what fuel a character’s growth; when he gets fed up with failing, he’ll do something to prevent it. Note, the character may not understand why he’s failing for a couple of different reasons. One, he may not be aware that the problem he has even exists. He may exist in a state of complete ignorance about the problem, and when confronted with it, his emotional reactions will include “gosh, I didn’t even know that was a thing, let alone a problem!” Two, he may recognize the existence of the problem, but is in denial that he has the problem. This latter is usually easier to defend in a novel.
  • The character still fails, but understands why. This is the natural next step after getting past denial. Like they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing it. Ok, we’re calling it step three, but you get the idea. The character is still blindsided by failures, but after they happen, can understand why. The character can reflect on the situation, and understand how his personal shortcoming led to the failure. Hindsight is 20/20.
  • The character sees failures coming, but still can’t avoid them. Next, the character gains enough experience that the failures don’t blindside him anymore. Now, he can see them coming but is still powerless to stop them. This is your alcoholic who knows he drinks too much, but can’t stop himself. Or your abusive spouse who knows his rage issues stem from how his father treated him, but can’t stop himself from using his fists to express his own displeasure. The character understands the dynamics of the situation, but hasn’t yet figured out how to act differently to produce a different result. Pro tip: Don’t shortchange stage four! There is enormous dramatic potential in this stage, because at heart it is a profoundly sad and distressing time for the character. This maps very closely to the depression stage of the five stages of grief, because just like in that situation, the character feels powerless against larger forces which seem to be controlling him. This stage can get ugly, and you shouldn’t be afraid to let it.
  • The character succeeds. Finally, after seeing enough failures coming, the character realizes how to act differently and thus can intervene with himself to make different choices. That’s emotional growth. That’s the culmination of the character arc. Pro tip: If you’re clever, you’ll time this moment to coincide with your plot’s climax, when the stakes are at their highest point. A chain of failures leading up to success at a critical moment can be a win-win-win: Believable, incredibly dramatic, and satisfying to read all at once. But only if you’ve supported it with a fully developed arc.

Emotional growth is nothing more than learning a new emotional skill.

It’s just like any other skill, such as surfing. Look at that kid in the picture. He’s gonna get dunked. You can tell just by looking at him. He’s got some failures ahead of him yet. But he’s up on the board and his hair is dry, so he must know something. He’s getting there. His first time out, he probably got dunked by even the tiniest waves. And he’s going to get dunked, time and time again, as he learns to read the water, feel the board—see failure coming—and adjust his actions. It’s going to take a lot of failures to teach him what he needs to know.

He’s lucky, though. He’s got his dad there in the background giving him helpful advice, helping him see the issues he didn’t even know he had. “Scoot back. You’re standing too far forward!” “Thanks, Dad, I didn’t know that was a problem!” But no matter what, it takes time. Neither this kid nor anybody else can immediately become an expert surfer just by listening to an expert explain how they do it, and yet novelists often try to turn a single moment of failure into an immediate and successful change of behavior. Doesn’t work that way.

Make it your own

You don’t have to follow this blueprint from end to end, just be aware that it exists. Plenty of great arc-driven novels have started at stage two or even stage three. Depending on the nature of the personal shortcoming facing your character, you may be able to skip some of the earlier steps. A character may make some progress but then slip back to an earlier stage.

However you do it, just remember that a single failure does not teach us everything we need to know to become an expert. At best, a single failure can teach us one little component of what we need to know. There’s a journey of many failures in going from being unaware that you have a shortcoming to having fully conquered the shortcoming so it doesn’t cause you problems anymore. Break that journey down into whatever smaller steps—and whatever sequence of failures—makes sense for your story, and use this framework to help you show a little bit of growth at each one.

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>How to write a novel: part 2

Posted by Jessica Jewett No Comments »


Go here to read the first lesson:

Today we are going to learn about character development. The process of character development is the most important of writing a well-crafted novel. If your characters are poorly written, transparent, predictable, boring, or cliched, then the rest of the novel will fall apart. No amount of planning the most fantastic plot can make up for the poorly written character.

Motivation is the driving force in the character that makes the novel progress through the plot. It’s important because it helps you write a better story when you know the reasons behind your character’s actions. Also, your readers have to believe in your character in order to buy into the character’s storyline. You can demonstrate your character’s motivation through action or through your character’s words. You don’t have to spell out your character’s motivations by writing, “Kim never had her father’s love so she choose bad lovers.” Trust the reader to follow the story by showing motivation through examples. In a scene, show the relationship between her and her father. Then scenes later, show her relationship with the men she meets. Readers will make the connection without you connecting the dots for them.

That brings me to another very important point in writing a novel. Show. Don’t tell. By that I mean, use your words like paint on a canvas. Make the reader see your points without spelling them out in a direct manner.

An important tool in character development is choosing the name of each character. Select character names that makes sense for characters. Never choose a character name simply because you like the sound of it. The name should represent the character and not your taste in names. Clever or exotic names can take the reader out of the story when the name is selected purely for the “cool” factor. The name should make sense for the time period, economic status, social background, etc., of the character’s setting. You wouldn’t name an eighteenth century duchess Shaniqua, for example. History and trends dictate the perception of names. Names that were popular decades ago such as Bertha and Ethel have evolved into older woman’s names. As a result, readers may not buy a young sexy starlet name Bertha. At the same token, readers may cringe at a seventy year old grandmother named Crystal. Invest in a baby name book. Reading through names jars your creativity and gives you access to names you may never have thought of on your own.

Learn the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist!

A protagonist is the main character in a story. In order for your character to work for the reader, the protagonist has to be believable. The main character is a good guy or gal. The reader roots for his or her success. The protagonist usually evolves as a person by the end of the story.

An antagonist in the story is the bad guy or gal. He or she puts obstacles in the protagonists way. Some writers believe the antagonist should be in his or own way likeable. The key is that you make the antagonist believable. The antagonist can also be a nonperson. For example, in Of Mice and Men, Curley is the antagonist but so are society and the cruel, predatory nature of human life (source: SparkNotes). Additional antagonist examples include: To Kill a Mocking Bird – Bob Ewell. Jane Eyre – There are several antagonists, including Aunt Reed, Mr. Brocklehurst, and Bertha Mason. Harry Potter – There are also many antagonists, including Draco Malfoy and Voldemort.

In order for your readers to buy into your story, creating believable character’s is important. Through character description, you can bring readers into the fold. Before you start working on your story, take the time to develop character descriptions for all the major characters in your book. Think about your favorite characters. What is it about the characters that draws you in? How did the author develop the protagonist, antagonist, and other characters? When you create character descriptions, you can include some or all of the following information. The character’s…

Physical Characteristics

You can write as much or as little as you want. For some stories you may need light character descriptions and for others more detailed character descriptions. There isn’t a right or wrong approach. All that matters is that you have the necessary information to create wonderful characters.

This is the character development worksheet that I use for all of my main characters.


Character’s Full Name:
Reason or meaning of name:


How old does s/he appear?
Eye Color:
Type of body/build:
Skin tone:
Skin type:
Shape of face:
Predominant feature:
Looks like:




Type of childhood:
First memory:
Most important childhood event that still affects him/her: Why?


Relationship with her:
Relationship with him:


Most at ease when:
Ill at ease when:
How s/he feels about self:
Past failure s/he would be embarrassed to have people know about: Why?
If granted one wish, what would it be? Why?


Greatest source of strength in character’s personality (whether s/he sees it as such or not):
Greatest source of weakness in character’s personality (whether s/he sees it as such or not:
Character’s soft spot: Is this soft spot obvious to others? If not, how does character hide it?
Biggest vulnerability:


Optimist or pessimist: Why?
Introvert or extrovert: Why?
Drives and motivations:
Extremely unskilled at:
Good characteristics:
Character flaws:
Biggest regret:
Minor regrets:
Biggest accomplishment:
Minor accomplishments:
Character’s darkest secret:
Does anyone else know?
If yes, did character tell them?
If no, how did they find out?


One word CHARACTER would use to describe self:
One paragraph description of how CHARACTER would describe self:
What does CHARACTER consider best physical characteristic?
What does CHARACTER consider worst physical characteristic?
Are these realistic assessments? If not, why not?
How CHARACTER thinks others perceive him/her:
What four things would CHARACTER most like to change about self? (#1 most important, #2 second most important, etc.)
If change #1 was made, would character be as happy as s/he thinks?
If not, why not?


How does character relate to others?
How is s/he perceived by…Strangers?
How does character view hero/heroine?
First impression: Why?
What happens to change this perception?
What do family/friends like most about character?
What do family/friends like least about character?


Immediate goals:
Long range goals:
How does character plan to accomplish these goals?
How will other characters be affected?


How character reacts in a crisis:
How character faces problems:
Kinds of problems character usually runs into:
How character reacts to NEW problems:
How character reacts to change:


Favorite clothing: Why?
Least favorite clothing: Why?
Other accessories:
Where does character live?
Where does character want to live?
Spending habits (frugal, spendthrift, etc): Why?
What does s/he do too much of?
Too little of?
Most prized possession: Why?


Person character secretly admires: Why?
Person character was most influenced by: Why?
Most important person in character’s life before story starts: Why?
How does character spend the week before the story starts?

Much help for this lesson was obtained from

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