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Demystifying Grammar: Which vs. That

I use Grammarly for free proofreading because every time you publish a typo, the errorists win!

This week’s inspirational quote:

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.

– C.J. Cherryh

Demystifying Grammar

This is a weekly installment of a series on commonly confused grammar rules I call Demystifying Grammar. Wouldn’t it be great if we understood those confusing and fickle little rules so we could focus on writing? I think so too. It has been said that the English language is one of the hardest to learn, so don’t worry if you need a little help now and then. Welcome to this week’s Demystifying Grammar. Those of you who slept through English class pay attention.

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Which vs. That

 Here is the basic rule of thumb: If the sentence doesn’t need the clause that the word in question is connecting, use which. If it does, use that.

Our office, which has two lunchrooms, is located in Cincinnati.

  • The which clause in this sentence provides additional information and can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Our office that has two lunchrooms is located in Cincinnati.

  • The that phrase is a restrictive clause because another part of the sentence depends on it. It cannot be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

The bottom line: If the information is essential, use “that.” If it is just additional information that is useful but unnecessary, use “which.”

Test what you learned:

1.) The iPad (which/that) connects to the iCloud was created by Apple.

2.) The cover of People Magazine (which/that) has Johnny Depp’s picture on it is my favorite because he is the sexiest man alive.

Correct answers:

1.) which

  • It is common knowledge that all iPads connect to the iCloud, so this is unnecessary information.

2.) that

  • My favorite cover of People Magazine is not just any old cover. It is the specific cover with Johnny Depp’s picture on it; therefore, the phrase is necessary to understanding which is my favorite cover. Without that phrase, the sentence loses meaning.

Thank for stopping by, Grammarians. See you next time!

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Inspirational Tuesday – Writing A Novel Without An Outline

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? This week’s post is on Tuesday…because Mondays are hectic and chaotic.

This week’s Inspirational tip: Write Without An Outline!

“Even as a teenager I thought outlining was counterintuitive to the writing process.” – Steven James

Are you a “pantser”? In other words, a “by the seat of the pants” writer.

By that I mean, are you a writer that writes a story without having carefully plotted it out or filled out an outline?

If you are, there is no need to worry. You are not alone, and it is possible to write a novel without outlines.

Outlining is still widely taught, but Steven James, a wise man who earned a master’s degree in storytelling and teaches writing seminars across North America, thinks that there is a better way.

In an article written for WritersDigest.com, James offers six tips to write a novel without an outline.

1. Re-evaluate what you’ve heard about story.

On this topic, James has this to say:

“Remember: What your story really needs is an orientation, a crisis or calling that disrupts normal life, relentless escalation of tension, and a satisfying climax. Along the way, you’ll need to make sure readers are compelled to empathize and connect with the main character(s), feel enough emotion to stay intrigued by the story, and gain enough insight to see the world with new eyes when they’re done.”

2. Let narrative forces rather than formulas drive your story forward.

As you write, think about how different narrative forces (escalation of tension, believability, continuity, voice, setting, and more) interact and form the story. James writes an example of the thought process:

OK, I need to escalate this chase scene—I had a foot chase before, so I can’t do that again. Maybe a helicopter chase? But will that be believable? Well, I’ll need to foreshadow that someone knows how to fly the helicopter and make it inevitable that they end up at the helicopter landing pad at this moment of the story. But does that fit in with the pace right here? Can I pull this off without relying on narrative gimmicks or coincidences?”

3. Follow rabbit trails.

It’s easy to get sidetracked, isn’t it? But those thoughts shouldn’t be ignored, James argues.

“[Rabbit trails are] inherent to the creative process. Who knows? What you at first thought was just a rabbit trail leading nowhere in particular might take you to a breathtaking overlook that eclipses everything you previously had in mind.”

4. Write from the center of the paradox.

James calls storytelling a paradox:

“In storytelling, what will happen informs what is happening, and what is happening informs what did. You cannot know where a story needs to go until you know where it’s been, but you cannot know where it needs to have been until you know where it’s going.

It’s a paradox.

And that’s part of the fun.”

He also suggests writing a story as “an integrated whole” rather than writing a first draft for this reason.

5. Trust the fluidity of the process.

Plotting a story out entirely beforehand can lead to what James refers to as “weak” transitions between scenes. Just because a scene seems like a good idea while writing the outline does not mean that it works well within the context of the story. James encourages writers to keep digging and then warns of a real danger for plotters:

“As you learn to feel out the story by constantly exploring what would naturally happen next, you’ll find your characters acting in more believable and honest ways.

Here’s the biggest problem with writing an outline: You’ll be tempted to use it. You’ll get to a certain place and stop digging, even though there might be a lot more of that dinosaur left to uncover.”

6. Re-evaluate continuously.

James offers a lot of ideas for help with this tip:

“Reorient yourself to the context. Print out the previous 50 or 100 pages (once a week I find it helpful to do the whole novel) and read it through the eyes of a reader, not an editor. Remember, readers aren’t looking for what’s wrong with the story; they’re looking for what’s right with it. Continually ask yourself, What are readers wondering about, hoping for and expecting at this moment in the story? Then give it to them.

Draft the scene that would naturally come next. The length and breadth of the scene needs to be shaped by the narrative forces I mentioned earlier.

Go back and rework earlier scenes as needed. What you write organically will often have implications on the story you’ve already written.

Keep track of unanswered questions and unresolved problems. Review them before each read- through of your manuscript.

Come up with a system to organize your ideas as they develop. In addition to files of character descriptions, phrases, clues and so on, I have four word processing files I use to organize my thoughts: 1) Plot Questions, 2) Reminders, 3) Discarded Ideas and 4) Notes.

If you find yourself at a loss for what to write next, come up with a way to make things worse, let the characters respond naturally to what’s happening, write a scene that fulfills a promise you made earlier in the book, or work on a scene you know readers will expect based on your genre and the story you’ve told so far. When you understand the principles of good storytelling, you always have a place to start.

Move into and out of the story, big picture, small picture, focusing one day on the forest and the next day on the trees. Follow these ideas, and stories will unfold before you.”

Thank you, Mr. James, for validating all of us “pantsers” and offering logical, workable ways to write the next novel without an outline.

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Inspirational Mondays – Show, Don’t Tell

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays tip: Show, Don’t Tell!

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekov

Showing your readers the imagery in your mind’s eye is so much more effective and spellbinding than simply telling them. As the above quote by Anton Chekov suggests, rather than saying that your character looked out the window at the full moon, tell how the silver light of the full moon sparkled on the gently rippling surface of the quiet lake. Which do you find more interesting?

I would urge every writer, whether aspiring or published, to give Stephen King’s essay titled “Imagery and the Third Eye” a thoughtful read. Considering how many novels and short stories King has written, and how many film adaptations have been made of them, he seems to know what he’s talking about. Here is what King has to say about imagery: “Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind.”

So what does he mean by that? He uses an example: “It was a spooky house.” Well, that’s all fine and good, but as a reader, it isn’t enough to tell me that the house is spooky. I want to know what makes it spooky. King then quotes a passage from Salem’s Lot in which he describes features of the house that convey a spooky feeling without resorting to using the word directly. He says:

…that imagery is not achieved by over description… To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.

When writers set out to describe something for readers, they must use what King calls “the eye of imagination and memory” or the third eye. Readers have their own third eye, so it is the job of the writer to describe the scene so well that readers can see it vividly with their third eye of imagination. That requires a writer to be choosy about what to include and what to omit from the description. If it stands out to you as a writer, then emphasize it in your description. If it isn’t important to the mood and tone of the scene, then leave it out. For example, in the excerpt from Salem’s Lot, King emphasized characteristics about the house that conveyed a spooky feeling,  instead of mentioning anything mundane like a garage or a driveway or how many stories it had. Knowing what to leave in and what to take out is part of what makes a great writer, and it takes a great deal of practice and hard work.

What is the key? According to King, it consists of two things: “First, [pledge] not to insult your reader’s interior vision; and second, [pledge] to see everything before you write it.” In the first case, you don’t need to describe everything. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice, be specific with your descriptors and verbs, choose words that will jump out at readers…and then let the readers’ third eye do the rest. In the second case, King says that oftentimes writers stop looking at the scene before they see all there is to see. Sometimes it may mean slowing down and taking your time, but it will be worth it. Says King: “Writers who describe poorly or not at all see poorly with this [third] eye; others open it, but not all the way.”

The bottom line is this: showing and not telling is important, but just as important is carefully choosing what to show your readers. The very successful Stephen King states that images lead to the story and the story leads to all the other things.

But he also says that the writer’s third eye is “a little bit like having a whole amusement park in your head, where all the rides are free.” And isn’t that the most wonderful thing about writing, being able to send your readers on such rides along with you?

*The essay “Imagery and the Third Eye” was written by Stephen King in 1980. Quotes were taken from the essay published at Wordplayer.com.

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Inspirational Mondays – Demystifying Grammar: Who vs. Whom

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays inspirational quote:

Imagery does not occur on the writer’s page, it occurs in the reader’s mind.

– Stephen King

Demystifying Grammar

This is the second week of a series on commonly confused grammar rules I call Demystifying Grammar. Wouldn’t it be great if we understood those confusing and fickle little rules so we could focus on writing? I think so too. It has been said that the English language is one of the hardest to learn, so don’t worry if you need a little help now and then. Welcome to the first week of Demystifying Grammar. Those of you who slept through English class pay attention.

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Who vs. Whom

This rule is confusing, and you can’t always use the “whichever sounds best” solution that sometimes works. Fortunately, the rule is easy to follow once you understand the difference between who and whom.

  • Who is used as the subject of a verb or as the complement of a linking verb. It’s what is known as a nominative pronoun, or the subject of a sentence.

Who threw the ball and broke the window?

It was Billy who threw the ball that broke the window.

  • Whom is used as the object of the verb or the object of a preposition. It’s what is known as an objective pronoun, or the direct object.

You asked whom to go the movies?

He’s already going to the dance with whom?

The bottom line: use who if it can be replaced with “he”; if “him” fits better, use whom.

  • If you are struggling with which one to use in a particular sentence, it will help to split the sentence in order to see it.

It was Billy | who (he) threw the ball that broke the window.

You asked whom (him) | to go the movies?

Sometimes in dialogue, purposeful misuse can bring authenticity to a character as correct usage has the potential to sound too formal. When in doubt, just rewrite the sentence and avoid it altogether.

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Inspirational Mondays – Demystifying Grammar: Effect or Affect

I have decided to start a weekly blog post here on my editing blog called Inspirational Mondays specifically to inspire writers because, after all, editors need writers to keep writing. Otherwise, what would we have to edit? I chose Mondays in particular because it seems we could all use a little inspirational pick-me-up on Monday.

This week’s Inspirational Mondays inspirational quote:

Try to leave out the parts that people tend to skip. – Elmore Leonard

Demystifying Grammar

Starting this week, I will be doing a series on commonly confused grammar rules called Demystifying Grammar. Wouldn’t it be great if we understood those confusing and fickle little rules so we could focus on writing? I think so too. It has been said that the English language is one of the hardest to learn, so don’t worry if you need a little help now and then. Welcome to the first week of Demystifying Grammar. Those of you who slept through English class pay attention.

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Effect or Affect

How do I know when to use effect and when to use affect?

This one can be very confusing, and I still have to think about it sometimes. But here’s the short answer: effect is a noun while affect is a verb in the vast majority of cases.

  • Effect (noun) – Something (A) has an effect on something else (B).

The beautiful weather had a positive effect on my mood.

In this sentence, the weather (A) has an effect on my mood (B).

  • Affect (verb) – Something (A) affects something else (B).

All the distractions negatively affected my ability to write.

In this sentence, the distractions (A) directly influence the ability to write (B).

The bottom line: when in doubt, assume that effect is a noun and affect is a verb, then use accordingly.

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