The Noble Pen for Mar 16, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 16th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Writers need to understand psychology to effectively portray characters’ behavior. Malcolm Gladwell has an interesting take on choices and Dan Areily dscusses how we make decisions.

Victories

Dylan got a rejection from an anthology submission.

Dakota participated in a signing in Kansas City.  She sold some books and made contacts, but was disappointed in the planning and conduct of the organizers.

Education

Sentences, even when properly constructed, can become too long for easy reading.   Some call these “stringy” sentences, where many related (we hope) thoughts are strung together.  Often this involves multiple conjunctions, such as “and” or “but.”

For example, “Joe was driving across town and his car sputtered and stopped and he looked it over for problems but eventually discovered he was out of gas.”  This is grammatically correct (I hope) but poor writing.

It could be improved as “While driving across town, Joe heard his engine sputter to a stop.  He looked it all over for problems before discovering he was out of gas.  The re-write here avoids “and” by breaking it into two sentences, moving part of the thought into a leading clause, and using the  conjunction “before.”

Sometimes the “and” repetition can be eliminated by simply making a comma-separated list (with the Oxford serial comma, by my preference).  “She realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner so then she dropped her book and looked in the refrigerator and pulled out the thawed steak and turned on the stove and began cooking it.”  How about “When she realized this was the night she had invited Jim for dinner she dropped her book, looked in the refrigerator, pulled out the thawed steak, turned on the stove, and began cooking it.”  Still not great prose, but probably easier to read.

Often, a sentence can be shortened without losing any of the thought.  Phrases can be replaced with a better word or redundant words deleted.  “I was somewhat late this time due to the fact that my very rusty car that is unreliable had yet another mechanical breakdown again.”  We don’t learn much from “somewhat.”  Either skip it or tell how late.   “Due to the fact” can become “because.” “Very” is imprecise and adds little.  The rust did not cause this breakdown.   Aren’t all breakdowns mechanical?  This can be “Today I was an hour late because my decrepit car broke again,” and we have lost nothing important.

On the other hand, shortening sentences can be overdone, making a choppy read, except perhaps where fast-paced action is occurring.  “Pam decided to take a walk.  She put on her hiking shoes and jacket.  She left the apartment shortly after noon.  She spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  These choppy sentences do not convey a relaxed feeling that a leisurely walk should evoke.  Maybe “Pam decided to take a walk.  Wearing her hiking shoes and a jacket she left the apartment shortly after noon and spent a long time circling the pond in the park.”  Using a longer but smooth sentence helps convey the proper feeling.

The goal is to use a variety of sentence constructions, that are easy to read, and are chosen to fit the pace of the story.

Upcoming Schedule

March 16
Uriah
Laura
Ian

March 23
Dakota
Riley
Open slot

March 30
Open slots

Apr 6
Nick
Open slots

Apr 13
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 9, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 9th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Mainstream publishers have always had control over a writer’s plot, editing, cover, etc. Now some of them are running manuscripts past “sensitivity” readers who specialize in making sure no group is inaccurately portrayed or offended by the writing.

Victories

Dylan wrote 10k words to meet a Patreon goal.

Randy researched book covers and looked at 3000 of them.  His sent his book for publication.

Education

Dylan introduced us to the concept of the Uncanny Valley.  This refers to a minimum in a graph of acceptability of a figure versus the degree it resembles a real live human.  You can have space aliens that are unlike humans (Star Wars bar scene) and people like them.  You can have real humans and people like them.  But if you have a bipedal figure that looks almost but not quite like an average human it spooks the viewer.  See some examples.   Remember this when creating your aliens, androids, or monsters.

Upcoming Schedule

March 9
Riley
Nick
Dylan

March 16
Uriah
Laura
Open slot

March 23
Open slots

March 30
Open slots

Apr 6
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Mar 2, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

March 2nd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

It’s becoming almost too common to make news when someone discovers lost work by a famous author.  This time it’s Walt Whitman writing prose, not poetry.

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Requests for review slots are at an all-time low.  Polish up something and get your slot.  You can email me with your request or wait until the meeting.

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Here’s an interview with an author about what many recognize as a major problem for our democracy.  Too many people only hear one side of things so are not informed enough to recognize fake stories or to vote objectively, and social media contributes strongly to that trend.

Victories

Dakota will participate in a large book signing next week in Kansas City.  She released another book for publication and expects the cover art soon.

Uriah made a web site to be used for his book.

Stacie S. is finding time to write again during the baby’s naps.

Education

Run-on or comma spliced sentences are a common problem (another discussion).  Those are words that should be two independent sentences, but are spliced together with a comma or no punctuation at all.

For example, “We will miss your party we  are going to the concert.”  There are two complete sentences here that could stand alone, each with a subject and verb,  “We will miss your party.” and “We are going to the concert.”

Adding a comma between them does not make them legal.  A semicolon would work since they are closely related and the semicolon is a more powerful punctuation, but semicolons are generally discouraged in fiction.

The other way to join independent clauses is with a conjunction (and, but, because, after, etc.).  “We will miss your party because we going to the concert .”  This may be a smooth or clumsy method depending on the sentences.

Upcoming Schedule

March 2
Nick
Uriah
Dylan

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

March 23
Open slots

March 30
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 23, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 23rd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

If you didn’t get the events listed in last week’s news put on your calendar, go back and do that.

Victories

Randy got his book back from his editor.

Dylan drafted a chapter of a commissioned story.

Education

We’ve mentioned how some writers plan extensively and others write by the seat of their pants, although perhaps most are somewhere in between.  For those who want to improve their planning, this article on outlining may help.  Here is a page with downloadable links for several types of outlines as fillable PDF forms you can edit and print.  A seven-point story structure is a classic configuration that may help you shape the story.  Here’s  a collection of outlines used by successful authors.

But not everyone believes in detailed planning.

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Jim C. Hines blogs about author income, with some extensive statistics (part1)(part 2).  The good news is there is lots of money to be made, so the mean income is attractive.  The bad news is that relatively few people reach the higher levels of success, so the median is at poverty level and explains why most writers have day jobs.

Upcoming Schedule

February 23
Dakota
Megan
Stacie S.

March 2
Nick
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

March 23
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 16, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 16th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Writers are invited to sign up to read their work (more info) in ten minute slots at the Palisades Cafe in Mount Vernon on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month.  Next is February 15th at 8 pm.

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Conveniently, the 2nd Wednesday of the month is the date for the Writers House meeting at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 6 to 8 pm.

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Finally, you might want to attend a reading by three area authors at CSPS Hall on Tuesday, Feb 28 at 7 pm.

Victories

Randy has a good cover photo.

Dakota got back rights to a series that a publisher hadn’t acted on.

Education

For a mentally stable writer, it may be difficult to accurately portray an antagonist who has a warped mind (none of us are warped, of course).    Peter James offers advice on how to write those warped minds.  Some tips on insane characters.  And more advice on writing psycotic characters.

Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.  ~ Ray Bradbury

I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it! ~Edward Hastings Ford

Upcoming Schedule

February 16
Uriah
Stacy
Randy

February 23
Dakota
Megan
Open slot

March 2
Nick
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

March 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 9, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 9th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

Victories

Dylan got another subscriber on Patreon.  Broken Typewriter had enough sales he has to pay sales tax.

Cassie’s newsletter far outgrew the capability of the service she had been using and is now expanded on a new service.

Education

Once you have a draft of a story, you need to clean it up.  Here is a list of suggestions on how to  how to approach it.   Other aspects become the targets on later passes.  Then there is the larger view of the process going beyond the solo cleanups.

Upcoming Schedule

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

March 2
Open slots

March 9
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Feb 2, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

February 2nd, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Famous and prolific authors always seem to have more stories found posthumously.  Now a Mark Twain tale he told his daughter finds the light of day.

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I have no idea how good the Book Launch Blueprint is, but apparently you can download free it if you are willing to sign up on a marketing list .  Let us know if you try it. (Maybe use a throw-away email?)

Victories

Dylan finished his monthly serial installment.

Cassie learned the book she planned to release in April will be delayed waiting for a cover, so she is meeting daily progress goals on another story to take its place at an April book fair.   She also will participate in a book signing in June in Deadwood, SD.

Bill got mostly favorable reviews from two beta readers, and one gave detailed markups.

Education

Homophones (sound-alikes) that are heterographs (spelled differently) are a recurring problem for many writers.  That’s what we get for using a language that has borrowed from many others and adapts readily to new usages.  There are also homonyms, which are (according to some definitions) spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings – a possible problem for a reader although the writer hasn’t made an error.

This article explains the difference between homophones, homonyms, and homographs. and this one gives another take on the vague definitions.

Homophone: peace treaty / piece of pie
their car / car over there / they’re arriving

Homonym:  swimming duck / duck under an obstacle

Homograph: blowing wind / wind the clock

Unfortunately, theiyr’re is no general rule to help.  You have to learn each and every set of homophones.  Here’s  a guide to some common ones and a longer list.

Upcoming Schedule

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Nick

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

March 2
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 26, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 26th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

The Science Fiction News has been updated for spring.

Victories

Randy has blurb for his book.

Stacy got a personalized rejection letter.

Dylan revised his last commission and improved his Author Intrusion program.

Cassie added 2,000 words to a novel and wrote almost that much on a new contemporary story.

Education

A story needs enough plot that the reader doesn’t have it all figured out right away. Here are some ideas about plot.  Chuck Wendig offers a lot more ways to plot (foul language warning).  Some people plan meticulously.  The snowflake method is one planning tool, where you make a very short summary, and revise on successive passes to add finer and finer detail like the branches on a snowflake.  Others recommend just letting the creativity flow and seeing where it ends up.

Scholars have analyzed plot in an abstract sense.  What I took away was that frequent alternations of positive and negative events and descriptions make for a page-turner.

Action and fight scenes are an important part of many stories.  But don’t mistake action for plot.   Perhaps plot may be defined as the events that happen to the characters, but a good plot needs more, with motivations, choices (and more on choices), failures, and change in the characters making important contributions to the story.  It is usually more interesting if the character’s goal is more than simply surviving to arrive somewhere.  The characters need to make and deal with consequences and sometimes failures.

Make the battle(s) important to the plot, with high stakes, and not just the script of a video game with one unrelated fight after another.   Can you make the hero’s fate in doubt or does the reader know he will emerge unscathed?

Robert Wood tells how he approaches action scenes.  Fonda Lee gives some good advice.  Linda Adams gives her take on it.

But all good things in moderation; this article says you could have too much plot.

Upcoming Schedule

Jan 26
Dakota
Aime W.
Stacy

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Nick

February 9
Uriah
Megan
Stacy

February 16
Open slots

February 23
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 19, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 19th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Various lists are out for the best books of 2016.  Here’s one.

Dylan reports that the Reddit Stabby awards are announced, and wishes he had been nominated so he could have won.

Cassie says The Emotional Thesaurus has been very helpful.

Victories

Dylan finished a commission and another story, and got another Patreon. He is working on his authoring program again.

Cassie went to the Writers House meeting at the CR library to rub elbows with other authors.

Riley reports the anthology that includes his story is available for pre-order.

Uriah edited his story using the group’s critiques.

Education

Commas have many uses, and can make a big difference in readability and understanding.   There are grammatical rules to dictate some of their uses, but they may also be used for effect, such as pauses.  Fortunately, the rules are somewhat flexible and you have leeway.  Unfortunately, the rules are somewhat flexible and you never are sure what is right or wrong or will fit an editor’s styling preferences.

Wikipedia summarizes the uses of the comma.  They may be used for lists, separation of dependent clauses, setting off non-essential interrupting phrases, setting off initial adverbs (like therefore, however, and so), between multiple adjectives, and several other ways.

A frequent problem is running two sentences (independent clauses) together into one using a comma instead of a conjunction.   Wikipedia and Tina Blue explain comma splice problems, but she also has some partly contrary examples showing how comma splices can be used artistically.  Wikipedia also

An optional comma can be used to indicate where the writer wants the reader to pause in a sentence.  This changes the emphasis of the parts of the sentence, and can help in parsing a complicated sentence or suggest which of multiple interpretations is intended. The classic example is “Let’s eat Grandpa,” which was probably meant to read “Let’s eat, Grandpa.”   Ask yourself if the parts of the sentence between commas form some cohesive phrase.  It is not necessary to put a comma everywhere you pause, however.

The Most Comma Mistakes shows us what we probably most need to watch out for.

On the lighter side, a slightly risque cartoon, the Comma Sutra.

Some people do not favor commas because their ancestors learned to get along without them, after they found commas too difficult to transport over the mountains as they moved west.  They chose an extra barrel of flour over a supply of commas when they packed their wagons.   Even today, the cost of shipping a carton of commas restricts their use.

People may resort to modifying apostrophes, which seem to be in excess supply these days.  However when lowering the apostrophes it is easy to drop and bend them so that the best you can do is cut them down to salvage periods, which are only worth pennies on the dollar.  Few people use semicolons, so if you have an unneeded one you can cut it in two and have both a period and a comma for little effort.

Upcoming Schedule

Jan 19
Uriah
Dakota
Dylan

Jan 26
Dakota
Aime W.
Open slot

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Nick

February 9
Open slots

February 16
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill

The Noble Pen for Jan 12, 2017

Next Noble Pen Meeting

January 12th, 2017 at 7 pm

Scott’s Family Restaurant

1906 Blairs Ferry Rd NE, Cedar Rapids

News

Carrie Fisher, who died recently, is best remembered as Princess Leia but was also an author.

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Simon and Schuster will publish a book by an author who was banned from Twitter.  Some S&S authors are offended, but other people see it as a free speech issue.  The controversy will guarantee high sales for S&S.

Victories

Dylan sent a novel to his editor.  He got another Patrian sponsor.

Cassie’s Until Death Do Us Part was listed as a blogger’s top read of 2016.  She outlined two novels.  Her poll to name a character had the highest number of views she has seen.

Dakota signed up for a writing conference retreat in mid February (and in a warmer place).

Nick’s railfan photos were accepted for publication.

Education

The apostrophe is a simple little punctuation mark that gets widely misused.  It has two principle duties:
-forming possessives, as John’s car = car belonging to John
-showing where letters are left out in contractions, as don’t = do not and it’s = it is.

However, it is NOT involved in making most plurals, a misconception that seems to be growing among the US population.  You order two pizzas, not two pizza’s.  They mean “cars for sale” not “car’s for sale.”   I bought music CDs in the 1990s.  The main exception is that it is permissible to use an apostrophe to form the plural of single letters or numbers (where not spelled out), as I crossed my i’s and dotted my t’s.  He rolled a pair of 3’s.

Perhaps some of the confusion comes from forming plural possessives.  If a plural word does not end in s, then the possessive is formed just like singular possessives: the women’s club, the children’s play, etc.  If the plural ends in an s that you would pronounce, it also follows the same pattern: Dickens’s book.  If you would not pronounce the s in a plural possessive, then use an s followed by apostrophe, as the girls’ team improved after two weeks’ practice in Texas’ weather.

If a word is already possessive, then no apostrophe or s is used, as his book, her writing, or its color.  Please do NOT write it’s color as this is wrong.

The character is also used as a second kind of quote rather than as an apostrophe.  British publications use it as we use the double quote on dialog.  We use single quotes inside a normal double quote in order to distinguish something being quoted inside the quote.

Here are some good links for information about apostrophes.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/punctuation/apostrophe
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01/
http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/apostro.asp

Upcoming Schedule

Jan 12
Cassie
Riley
Aime W.

Jan 19
Uriah
Riley
Open slot

Jan 26
Dakota
Open slots

February 2
Laura
Cassie
Open slot

February 9
Open slots

Keep Writing,
Bill