Soul Screamers: Awesome and Getting Better

Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamers series started out awesome, and keeps getting better.  A recap, for those of you unfamiliar with it, with as few spoilers as possible: Continue reading “Soul Screamers: Awesome and Getting Better”

Everyone on a Facebook Must Read This

I just read an e-mail from E-zine Articles training on ten usage mistakes.

I’m not naming names, but I see many of these everyday in my status update feeds, and it absolutely drives me insane.  I see them constantly in comments to my other blogs, especially the fast food management one.

Here are the ten items:

There/Their/They’re

There is a pronoun, as in “over there!”  Their is possessive, as in “That yellow bungalow is their house.”  And they’re is a contraction meaning “they are.”

A lot/Allot/Alot

This gets messed up quite a bit.

A lot means a great quantity.  It’s informal and I try to avoid it, because around third grade our teachers agreed they would no longer accept it as a description of a great and many items.  So I like to replace it with “much” or “myriad” or something overly dramatic like “overflowing with” or “vast quantities of.”

Allot means to distribute or pass out.  As in, “The Holy Spirit allots spiritual gifts to believers as he sees fit.”  Whether believers use those gifts is another story (and belongs on my other blog).

And alot is not a word, so knock it off!!!

I.e./E.g.

I see these used interchangeably, and they are so not interchangeable.

I.e. is providing a description.  Use it when you mean “that is” or “in other words.”

E.g. means an instance of the generality is coming.  I.e., it means “for example.”  “You should try reading some Christian apologists, e.g. William Lane Craig or James White.”

To/Two/Too

Misuse of these probably annoys me the most.

To denotes a range or an infinitive (the pure form of a verb).  “We’ll be up from dusk to dawn.”

Two is the number 2.  “I have two boxen of doughnuts.”

Too indicates excess or means “in addition to.”  “I have brown hair, too!”

Its/It’s

Most people use “its” exclusively.  Nope!  It’s is a contraction for “it is.”  Its is the possessive of “it.”

You’re/Your

More common on Facebook than the color blue.  I’ll let Dr. Ross Gellar explain it succinctly:

Loose/Lose

This is another seriously common mistake.

Loose is the opposite of “tight.”  Lose is what the Lions normally do when they play football.  (Though I’m crossing my fingers because it’s been darn good so far this season!)

Choose/Chose

Seen this more than once.  Both of these indicate the making of a selection or a choice.  But choose is present tense and chose is past tense.

Effect/Affect

Few people get the difference here.  Both indicate influence or change.  Effect is the noun, and affect is the verb.  “Using violins in your music composition produce a romantic effect.”  “Her decision to break it off affected him worse than we thought.”

Know/No/Now

Confusing these isn’t usually a matter of ignorance, as most of the above are.  It’s normally just a typo.

Know is a verb indicating obtaining or having knowledge.  “Search your feelings, you know it to be true.”

No is a negative reply, used nearly exclusively by my son to answer close-ended questions.  Even when “yes” would be the obvious answer.

Now indicates a present event.  As in, “Now you know the proper way to use these words.  So let’s see some improvement in those statuses!!”

Horrid Results of Unexplored Consequences

In Screenplay, Syd Field remarked that a typical newbie screenwriter comes to his class with an idea for a screenplay.  Then, Field tries to hash out the idea with the student to turn it into a screenplay.

A lot of these guys have a tragic ending in mind where everyone dies.

Stop!  Isn’t that how it normally happens in real life?  Circumstances pile against people, who proceed anyway.  Circumstances get worse.  They propel forward.  Then, everything blows up and tragedy strikes, and many people never recover from it.

The precise reason why so many memoirs paint the opposite picture is that the opposite is rare, and inspiring.

Let’s face it, in real life, people sometimes die, lose the farm, go bankrupt, or spend the rest of their lives in unfulfilling careers.  That’s the order of things.

So, it’s only natural for a beginning screenwriter, drawing on real life, to want to end a movie tragically.  Because when circumstances such as what we see in movies pile up the way they do in Act II of most movies, tragedy is the near-inevitable result.  That’s what the newbie screenwriter sees, and art (after all) imitates life.

And didn’t Shakespeare write a lot of tragedies?

But, Field always cautions his young screenwriters against tragic endings.  Hollywood doesn’t like the endings where the underdog guy loses the girl to the alpha male she liked better anyway, the main character’s tragic flaw leads to his death, and the star-crossed lovers kill themselves.

Exceptions exist.  Movies like Se7en are rare, though.

Overall, Hollywood loves its happy endings.  Even when the unhappy ending makes a lot more sense, they still find a way to make it happy.

Russel Crowe died at the end of Gladiator.  He was fatally wounded prior to the final combat scene, so that’s pretty much the only possible result.  All he could hope to do was take the treacherous emperor with him (which he does).  But the sadness of his death is minimized by showing him in heaven with his wife.

I’m a theist, and a Christian apologist.  Followers of my other blog know that.  So I’m not theologically convinced that happened (given the fact that, as a Roman, Crowe’s character denied the True God of the universe), but I believe that it could be the outcome of his death.  I’m not debating that.

What I’m saying is that scenes like that make an unhappy ending more palatable.  Rather than explore the pain and suffering his passing causes the characters in the film, the audience gets to see that he’s happy now, and so we (the audience) should leave the theater with a smile.

And fluffy bunnies hop in the sunlit meadow, over grass too green to be real.  Colorful flowers dot the landscape, perfuming the area with their subtle but pleasing aroma.

No, Hollywood, it doesn’t always work out in the end.

But they would like you to think so, to the point that Cracked.com wrote about how major disasters are sometimes overlooked in movies as minor plot points, when they are absolutely anything but.

The episode I saw of Criminal Minds was an example of horrid, unseen consequences left out to make you think that everything worked out in the end.

Three girls — all best friends — were kidnapped and placed in a dungeon with no food.  They lasted five days, so I’m assuming that the perpetrator gave them water.  Anyway, he told them that two of them would live, and one of them would die.  The twist was that they had to choose among themselves the one that would die.

And choose they did.

Then, the perpetrator dropped two hammers into the cell.  The girls had to do the deed.  While the two who had decided to kill the third debated their ability to actually go through with this new twist, the fated girl picked up a hammer and killed one of the other girls — the one that had marked her for death.

She admitted to the police everything that happened, and absolved her surviving friend of having anything to do with the death.

And then, the final scenes depict the FBI agents arresting the perpetrator, who was on a personal crusade against the girls’ families.  Apparently, they all wronged him in the past and he said that he knew those girls were no different than their parents and would show their true colors.  He knew they’d back stab a best friend if it meant surviving.

Chilling.  He’ll probably be tried for kidnapping, false imprisonment, depraved indifference, and facilitating a murder.  It’s doubtful he’ll see sunshine anytime soon.

But what about the girl who killed her friend?

It wasn’t self-defense.  She was in no danger.  She killed her friend before her friend killed her.  Her friend wasn’t armed at the time.  In fact, her two friends were contemplating not killing the other girl.

Hollywood won’t explore this one for one reason: it’s murder, plain and simple, and that girl should go to jail for at least 15 to 30 years — if not life in prison.  Since police procedurals strive to get both the police side of things right, and the legal side of things right, they would be doing truth a disservice if they let the girl off scot-free.  That would never happen in real life.

Though the prosecutor would most likely plead her down to voluntary manslaughter, she absolutely cannot get out of this without seeing the inside of a prison cell for around a decade.

The episode talked about her full-ride scholarship and bright future several times.  Yeah.  That’s all in the toilet right now.

The only legal defense to murder is self-defense, and to argue that you have to be in imminent danger and the force of the weapons must be equal.  If your victim is unarmed, debating whether to pick up a hammer and kill you, that is not going to cut it.

Another example of Hollywood focusing on the little bunnies and obscuring the horrendous consequences.

Never Disappoint the Grammar Nazi

I just read the latest two additions to my e-newsletter on grammar from E-zineArticles.com.  I was disappointed for two reasons.

The first one discussed subject-verb agreement.  That’s an important and misunderstood topic in English grammar, so I wasn’t disappointed that they devoted a newsletter to it.  I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t give a common mistake — compound subjects!

People like to write: “Amy, Emma, and Jordan is going to the basketball game.”  The thought process there: “is” must agree with “Jordan,” so we use third person singular.

Nope.

Jordan isn’t the only subject of the sentence.  All three girls, together, are a compound subject!  That sometimes gets missed when the subjects of a sentence appear in a list, and it gets complicated if the predicate precedes the subject — i.e. the writer tries to get clever with diction.

So the correct way to write that would be “Amy, Emma, and Jordan are going to the basketball game.”  Third person plural.

You probably figured that out right way.  That would be because I wrote a super-simple sentence for an example.  There may be other places where it won’t be as obvious, especially if the sentence gets more complicated.

The second disappointment was in the newsletter offering tips on comma placement.  As an example of the power of comma placement, they used the following two sentences:

  • “Go, get him doctors!”
  • “Go get him, doctors!”

The first sentence is a command to get him medical help.  The second points the doctors to the one who needs medical attention.

My disappointment?

I was hoping for the humorous example my sister-in-law always uses:

  • “Let’s eat, Grandma!”
  • “Let’s eat Grandma!”

The power of the comma is far more powerful in that example.  And memorable.  Trust me, that’s a sentence you don’t want misunderstood!  And neither does Grandma.

Taking the Plunge

Inspired by a recent blog post written by a friend, I have decided to stop talking smack about doing it and just do it!

That’s right, I’m going to write a novel.  A practice one.  I’m going to write a little bit of fan fiction, so there is no way I could possibly sell this.  That should actually be a bit liberating.  I can experiment to my heart’s content.

I’ll probably post the results on FanFiction.net as chapters are completed.  Of course, I’ll link to them from here.

I’ve had an idea in my head kicking and screaming to be let out for a long time.  Back when I still lived in my old apartment, back before I started dating the woman that would become my wife.  I thought the idea out, but I never actually wrote a single word.

I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if they had made an A-Team movie?

Yeah, I know it’s been done.

But I had the idea I’m about to set on paper back in 2002; I just never did anything with it.

My idea: the A-Team is wrongly convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison.  They escape, determined to track down the one person that could possibly free them, a Los Angeles-based reporter named Amy Allen, who wrote a book on why the team is innocent.

As it happens, the Team was set up by forces within the government locking away a terrible secret.

As they attempt to discover the truth, they are pursued by the US Army, who will stop at nothing to make sure they don’t find the truth.  And, a Deputy US Marshall who might be an ally if the truth does come out…

I thought the crossover from The Fugitive would be fun.  Who better to pursue the A-Team than the hard-nosed Gerard?

Hopefully, this will be as much fun for everyone to read as it will be for me to write.

I Hate Topic Sentences

I read a lot on how to improve my writing skills., because I love to write and I want to be a professional writer.  I want to publish works of Christian philosophy, as well as mainstream fiction and screenplays.  I need to know how to improve my writing if I’m going to actually sell it.  Not that I’m bad; I think I’m pretty darn good.  I just want to be better!

I believe writing is part gift from God, part skill.  The gift that the Lord has given you can be built on and refined.  So, if writing skill was on a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 being the best possible writer, and 1 being my brother-in-law Chris), and if God has blessed you in his eternal decree with a 22, then you are not stuck there.  You can develop to a 30.  Or a 45.  Or even a 79 or maybe even a 90!

It takes work.  It takes time.  And if you are willing (as I am) to invest some of both, then you can improve your writing skills as I have.

To that end, I read books like The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White or On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  And I read books specific to style, like Screenplay by Syd Field or (more recently) The Novelist’s Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J. Madison Davis.

I’m also new to the idea of syndicating writing, which I’m doing with free e-zine articles on sites like GoArticles or ArticleBase.  That has increased traffic at Josiah Concept Ministries by quite a bit–when I started I had an Alexa traffic rating of around 7.8 million, which I built to 753,861 in a few months.  Quite an increase, going from an average of 20 hits per day to 100+ with regularity!

Since I’m new to that style of marketing, I subscribed to a free e-zine on how to write for e-zines.  Yes, I know that’s a bit like buying a DVD explaining how to hook up a DVD player, but it has worked quite well for me.

One thing that is common to the technical books on writing and the how-to e-zine in discussing paragraphs is that they should have a topic sentence that summarizes the paragraph, detail sentences that support the topic sentence, and a concluding sentence that restates the topic sentence.

Each and every paragraph.

Boring!

My paragraphs have a topics and supporting details, and each expands only a single point.  But, they don’t have a clear topic sentence, several details with transitions between (First, …; Second, …; Next ….; etc.), with a concluding sentence that restates the original topic sentence.  I try to keep my writing more flowing and interesting than that.

I think every writer does.

And, as you’ve undoubtedly noticed, many of my paragraphs are one sentence.  I did that purposely in this post to highlight the absurdity of making every paragraph fit to the structure I described.  Moreover, single-sentence paragraphs work well with the style of writing that e-zines need — journalistic.  Most newspaper and magazine articles use one or two sentence paragraphs to keep the piece flowing quickly.  Often, there’s no need to expand something if a single sentence can cover it.

So, why do the how-to books and e-zines cover the “ideal paragraph” in a way few writers actually write?  Because that’s how an ideal paragraph is structured: introduction, detail expansion, wrap-up.  Or, beginning, middle, end.  Same way an article is structured!

You have to know the rules before you can try to break them.  That’s part of building the writing skill that God gave you.  So the how-tos teach you the rules.  Then, you (the writer) get to decide how (or if) to break them.

An example from fiction might do.  John Gardner’s first James Bond adventure, License Renewed, was a straight James Bond story.  It featured a villain, Anton Murik, who sought to cause a horrid disaster for his own gain.  There was a girl who knew too much, Mary Jane Mashkin, who slept with Bond and gave him the information he needed, later dying for it.  A sultry love interest, Lavender Peacock, who got to sleep with Bond next, finish out the story and have sex with him in the final scene.  A burly sidekick, Caber, who was immune to pain and Bond had to fight while the world begins to burn — which is high drama, since Caber had bested Bond in each of their last meetings.  And of course, two car chases, gadgets, the self-introduction “My name is Bond. James Bond,” and the ordering of a “vodka martini, shaken, not stirred” from a disinterested bartender.

Everything that happens in every 007 movie.

Gardner started changing things up in For Special Services, with the “Bond girl” being old friend Felix’s daughter (so Bond didn’t sleep with her, for fear of betraying his friend; unfortunately, the daughter had long dreamed of sex with Bond).  The villain was a female and the sidekick was originally thought to be the villain (which means The World is Not Enough was far behind the novels).

Gardner started with a straight 007 formula story, License Renewed, to learn the ropes before he started mixing things up in For Special Services.  That’s why how-to books and articles teach you the standard paragraph format first.  When you know the rules, then you can break them.