Posted in Grammar, Writing Craft

Scrub Your Story

I have a secret weapon. I store it inside my revision tool box. It’s called my Sophistication Scrubber. Really. That’s what I call it. 🙂 I pull out my Sophistication Scrubber when I’m revising my story for polish. More specifically, I use it when I want my manuscript to sound more sophisticated. Like a professional writer!

Here are a few of the problems that the Sophistication Scrubber can help me get rid of.

ing words. Also known as gerunds, phrases containing –ing words weaken your writing. 

               Ex. Pulling off her hat, she turned to face him. A stronger way to say this is: She pulled off her hat and turned to face him.

ing words and as phrases can often show an action that’s physically impossible because both actions can’t happen at the same time.

               Ex. Walking through the doorway, he took off his shoes. Instead try: He walked through the doorway and took off his shoes.

               Ex. As he whistled, he called over to his son. A better way would be: He whistled and then called over to his son.

–ly words. Also known as adverbs, -ly words weaken your writing. Use a stronger verb instead.

               Ex. She set down the mug angrily. Instead, try it this way: She slammed down the mug. (This way you’re showing not telling.)

Cliches. A cliché is a stereotyped expression, usually a common, overused thought that has lost all its originality. Avoid these in both dialogue and characterization because overuse can create a cartoon instead of a character.

               Ex. She was as quiet as a mouse. Instead try:She tiptoed through the kitchen, barely even breathing.

               Ex. The science teacher wore a lab coat and black glasses. Instead try:The science teacher wore shorts and a sweatshirt. 

Exclamation points.  Let your descriptions convey the emotion, not your punctuation.

               Ex. “Mom, I want some ice cream!” Instead: “Mom, I’ll clean the garage if you buy me some ice cream.”

               In both sentences the boy wants ice cream, but the 2nd sentence shows it without telling.

You can use the Sophistication Scrubber on your story too. Here’s how…

Take out a highlighter and mark all your –ing words, phrases with as, -ly words, clichés phrases, and exclamation points. Get rid of them and replace them with stronger words. You may find some are necessary, and you’d like to keep them. A few are fine. Just remember to keep them at a minimum. Your goal is to polish and scrub your story of less than sparkly words and phrases.

So that’s my secret weapon. I’m happy to share it with you! So, whether you’re 8 years- old or 38, give it a try. By the time your work is done, your words will sparkle and you’ll have a polished story!

 

Have a great week! I hope you can have some fun in this warm June weather. Take a walk. Ride your bike. Play tag. Then grab your sophistication scrubber and get to work!! 🙂

Posted in Grammar, Short Story Showcase

Look in the Mirror!

I have a mirror on the wall- right next to my front door. After I get dressed for the day, before I walk out of my house, I look at myself in that mirror. It’s not that I’m vain really, but I would rather not step out into the world with oatmeal stuck in my teeth or toothpaste on my face. Can you imagine running into an old friend looking like that? It would be even worse if you had buttoned up your coat the wrong way. You know what I mean. You’ve buttoned the buttons in the wrong holes and now they don’t line up the right way. Somehow the left side of your coat is hanging lower than the right. Yikes!

You’d look like a mess right? What would your friend think of you? She’d think you were careless and sloppy. She might still like you on the inside, but she would think you looked like a mess on the outside!

I look in the mirror because it’s a reflection of who I am. My reflection is the first thing people see when they meet me. Looks aren’t the most important thing, but they are something. I care about what people think about me. I want them to know that I take care of myself- that I have respect for myself.

I do the same thing with my writing. Except the mirror I use is grammar.

What?

Yeah, my mirror is grammar.

You see, grammar can be the first thing people notice about your story…if you have grammar mistakes. Like the toothpaste on your face. If you misspell a word, or forget to add a period at the end of your sentence, your readers will notice- and not in a good way. They’ll notice a run-on sentence. They’ll notice the wrong spelling of same sounding words.

Here’s an example of three words that sound the same but have different meanings and are spelled differently.

There
Their
They’re

Homophones. People mix up homophones all the time, but they shouldn’t. And neither should you. Especially if you’re a writer!

“There” is the spelling to use when you’re showing a location. Ex. The car is over there.
“Their” is used to show possession- that something belongs to another person. Ex. Their car was filled with balloons.
“They’re” is used as a contraction (combination) of the words they and are. Ex. “They’re” going to drive the car to pick up the balloons.

When you mix these words up, it’s like getting caught with toothpaste on your face. And you don’t want that do you??

As you know from reading this blog, I’m all about writing creative stories…using your imagination to dream up amazing things. Many times writers will free write the draft of their story without thinking about misspelled words and punctuation. They do it because all the grammar rules can get in the way of creating real life characters that live in a made up world. Teachers encourage this in fact. They will instruct kids to free write for a time about anything they want. This is awesome because it allows writers to get into their story without getting stuck on words they don’t know how to spell, or worrying if they forgot a comma or two.

The thing is though, after you free write, you need to be sure to pull out your mirror. Take a good look at what you’ve written. Your words are a reflection of yourself. Go back and re-read your writing. Proofread for spelling errors. Make sure you’ve begun each sentence with a capitol letter. Add any periods you may have left off the ends of your sentences. Check your grammar.

It’s just as important as looking in the mirror. You want your reader to notice the cute, fluffy puppy in your story that floats up in space on a scooter, not the fact that you forgot to capitalize his name throughout your whole story. You don’t want your reader to be distracted by that stuff. You want them to focus on the story you’ve written.

Creative writers don’t have to focus all their time on grammar, but they do have to focus some time on it. So learn about punctuation. Learn about spelling. It’s not boring stuff. It’s the stuff that makes our words flow together in harmony. And next time you write an amazing story, don’t forget to pull out your mirror before you let the world see it. Your story is a reflection of you. Make it the best it can be!

And as a side note…Short Story Showcase is open next week! Stories can be about anything you want, so be brave. Send yours in this week. Details can be found on the Short Story Showcase tab.

Until next Wednesday, have a great week of springtime writing, reading and exploring the outdoors. Just don’t forget to look in the mirror before you step out the door!