Don’t Make Your Characters Do the Impossible

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I could enjoy the book I’m reading more if the characters would stop being contortionists. Every time they do the impossible, they pull me out of the story. This happened so often that I turned to see who published the book. I was surprised. It was a small but reputable traditional publisher.

This book has shown me how important it is for me, the writer, to learn to recognize and fix writing problems. It also warned me to be careful in choosing the editors I hire. All editors are human, and I expect them to miss a problem occasionally. I appreciate editors who know the writing problems to look for and who edit thoroughly.

Here are examples of impossible simultaneous actions. (My research said examples such as these contain participial phrases that suggest the impossible.)

Impossible Simultaneous Actions

 

1.

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Incorrect: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she walked away. (Is she walking bent over or duckwalking and dragging her suitcase on the floor before she let’s go?)

Correct: She set her suitcase on the floor and walked away. (And has the valid meaning and then or that the latter action is chronologically sequential to the first.)

Something that could happen: Setting her suitcase on the floor, she looked around for the man who’d pick it up after she walked away.

 

2.

Incorrect: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt. (If he’s pulling up the handkerchief with his hand, what is he wiping the stain with? His elbow?)

Correct: He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and scrubbed the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

Something that could happen: Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he smelled the basil in the spaghetti stain on his shirt.

 

3.

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Incorrect: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she wrapped it around her neck. (How can she tie a scarf around her neck while she’s reaching behind her for said scarf?)

Correct: She reached behind her for her scarf and then (or just and) wrapped it around her neck. (My research showed that, opposed to the opinions of some, She reached behind her for her scarf, then tied it around her neck, isn’t wrong.)

Something that could happen: Reaching behind her for her scarf, she remembered she’d left her scarf on the train.

 

4.

Incorrect: Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her cell. (If she’s reaching in, how can she pull something out?)

Correct: She reached into her bag and pulled out her cell.

Something that could happen: Reaching into her bag, she pressed her lips together.

Participial phrases that suggest your character is a contortionist.  Click to tweet.

Do you have a favorite use of a participial phrase that shows an action that’s impossible?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

Which Is the Right Way to Write This Word?

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Just when you thought it was safe to write a word or abbreviation a certain way the guidelines change. Yes, trends exist for how to write words. Also, different publishing houses have different guidelines.

You may research the word and become confused or unsure. Here’s the important thing to do: Choose one way of writing the word or abbreviation and write it that way consistently throughout your manuscript. Your editor will make changes according to house guidelines or a trusted source, such as the current edition of The Chicago Manual of Style.

Let’s look at eight common cases.

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Problem Words and Abbreviations

 

1. Okay, OK – Both are valid according to dictionaries, but the spelling varies by publisher. Choose and be consistent.

2. Blond or blonde – Used for hair color or a person. My 2016 edition of The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (TM-WD) says blond or blonde refers to a fair complexion or a light or bleached color, and both can refer to a person having blond hair. The online New Oxford American Dictionary says, “American usage since the 1970s has generally preferred the gender-neutral blond. The adjective blonde may still refer to a woman’s (but not a man’s) hair color, although the use of the noun risks offense (see that blonde over there?): the offense arises from the fact that the color of the hair is not the person.” Choose and be consistent.

3. Gray or grey – Americans use gray and British use grey. According to TM-WD, grey is a variation of gray. This also could come under a publisher’s preference. Choose and be consistent.

4. Toward or towards – Americans usually write toward and British write towards. Toward is generally preferred. My two dictionary references list toward first and towards second. Choose and be consistent.

5. Internet or internet – My editor, who keeps up to date on trends, tells me The Chicago Manual of Style no longer capitalizes the I. My online New Oxford American Dictionary still has the Internet. Choose and be consistent.

6. A.M., AM, or a.m. (same for PM) – I saw all of these as valid options in my research. Several sources suggested small capitals without the punctuation. Choose and be consistent.

7. Can’t or cannot – Both are good. Can’t is a contraction and is usually used in dialogue and informal writing.

8. All right or alright – In my research, all right is still preferred, except maybe in the dialogue of a young person. Both are listed in TM-WD. All right is preferred in the online New Oxford American Dictionary. Which form will be used will probably come under the publisher’s preference.

You look up words and abbreviations, but you’re still confused as how to write them. Click to tweet.

What are other word or abbreviations that puzzle you?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

It’s Never Too Late to Write a Novel

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My guest today, Joanie Walker, gives hope to those who have always wanted to capture their life adventures into a novel. Joanie’s writing journey is a good representation of what writing hopefuls need to do to be successful. Read more about her novel, Drafted to Deceive, at the end of her post.

A late-blooming writer confesses all …

 

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Fifty years ago, I was almost a Spy… I had flirted with D.C. area intelligence work during college, then refused a clandestine assignment with the National Security Agency after graduation, besides having dated a few spooks during my two years serving Uncle Sam as a civilian in Cold War West Germany. All that should qualify me to write a spy novel, right?

So why did I delay a half century to create my first fiction? Well, my marriage to an inveterate adventurer/business man kept my suitcases packed and adrenalin racing. Our saga includes sailing our 38.8-foot Bristol sloop throughout the Chesapeake Bay and bareboating in the Virgin Islands—until the vast blue of the sky beckoned. Our sailboat morphed into a succession of single and multi-engine fixed wings. For twenty years I sat in the right seat while my pilot husband flew us around the country for business and as an Angel Flight volunteer, moving patients to hospitals for treatments or transplants.

I detailed our thirty-two-day odyssey from Virginia to California in our A-36 Bonanza for the American Bonanza Society’s monthly magazine. “From Sea to Shining Sea – Bonanza-Style” was a three-page spread with photos. Nonfiction I could handle (journalism-trained at The College of William and Mary), but fiction I had never attempted.

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In early 2016, with my pilot retired and suitcases stored in the closet, I decided to weave real-life adventures into story form. But, how to begin?  

When I sent an SOS to my editor friend, she rescued me with writers’ lifesavers like excellent how-to books for novelists, directions to a novel writers’ conference, and links to articles and blogs focusing on successful fiction writing. She also invited me to join her critique group which evolved into a Word Weavers chapter with great fellowship and support each month.

With my detail-type personality, I latched onto the “Plotter” method in formulating my story with timeline charts, stock photos for main characters, index cards noting each chapter’s action, and a binder filled with characters’ backstories and idiosyncrasies. It worked for me.

However, I failed to tabulate my total word count. I emerged at The End to discover I’d written the equivalent of two books, word-wise. Determined to pare down and polish at the same time, I spent months editing the manuscript at least twice, which improved it immensely.

Meanwhile, I learned the value of entering my first chapters in contests for feedback from judges. Before conferences I also paid a nominal fee for critiques by faculty members to gather more helpful suggestions.

By the time I wrote The End again, I had two agents plus a publisher interested in the novel. I signed with the agent who has encouraged me ever since he heard me say at my first conference, “fifty years ago I was almost a Spy.”

See how a woman who was almost a Cold War spy wrote a novel later in life. Click to tweet.

What’s holding you back from writing a novel?

Drafted to Deceive

Still stinging from a ruined romance, twenty-four-year-old Christina Hayword opts to leave heartache behind by traveling the world and serving her country. Poised to depart the U.S. for a two-year contract in Cold War Europe as a Department of Army civilian, she is snared by Military Intelligence for some mysterious undercover work halfway across the globe as well.

After initial reluctance, Christina agrees to assist the special task force searching for East German counterfeiters who plot to undermine the West German economy with bogus currency as well as destroy U.S./West German relations. Her mandate:  detect suspicious behavior among the civilians, military, and local nationals she meets through her Special Services position in Nuremberg, West Germany.

Despite her resistance to any new emotional entanglements, Christina is enchanted by two valiant team members vying for her romantic attention, besides her ex-fiancé’s appearance in uniform at a nearby installation. While juggling both her regular and undercover work, she finds threads of the Soviet-motivated scheme intertwining both. Remnants of former Nazi operations figure into her ultimate identification of the counterfeit masterminds. When a gunshot heralds a harrowing climax, Christina alone must thwart the counterfeit masterminds to save West Germany and her own life.

Visit joaniesolingerwalker.com for more information about Drafted to Deceive, Joanie’s first novel in her Cold War Conquests series.