Author Q&A Part 2

Hello again, boys and girls. Here is part 2 of the author Q&A. You already know the authors (if you don’t or you want to see part 1 check out last week’s post), so on we go.

4. When you write a story, do you write with the intention of getting published, or simply write for your own pleasure? If the latter, do you go back and rewrite stories to prepare them for publishing?

Kat: My whole purpose for writing started with a desire to be published. I know so many say that’s backward, that you should write for the love of it. But for me, the love of writing came AFTER the desire for publication. I don’t generally write stories for specific markets, but I do write each story assuming I will look for a home for it. I figure, if I have no intention of publishing a story, then why bother putting it on paper? If I’m the only one who is ever going to read it, I can just write it in my head and leave it there.

Sandra: Definitely to get published. There’s nothing more rewarding than developing our God-given gift for writing and seeing it materialize in print. Seems we all have a need to leave a legacy . . . bear a child, plant a tree, write a book! As for going back and rewriting stories . . . listen to your gut. Is it a story that needs to be written? Often it’s more inspiring and fun to move on.

Beverly: Always, always with the intention of being published. I find it makes everything higher quality. Just preparing a sample to take to a critique group, I pour pore over every sentence and paragraph. If I present a shabby sample, I waste our time. I’ve even edited my own shopping lists. J/K . . . or am I?

Deborah: Usually publication

Geez! We’ve got a set of ambitious people here! -M.R. Anglin

5. How long does it usually take for you to write a novel and is it a good idea to write two pieces at the same time? I mean, do you ever get confused or mixed up or can’t find the time for both? If so, how do you deal with it?

Kat: The length of time it takes for writing a novel varies from writer to writer and novel to novel. My first draft of my first novel was done in three months. But editing it took years, as I kept going back through every time I learned more about writing. The second novel was started while editing the first one, and I worked on it off and on over the course of a few years, but the actual time spent on it, including editing, was probably only a few months. I have a third novel in the works, which I started before finishing the editing on book one and the writing of book two. Do I get them confused? Nope. As for balancing my time on them, I simply work on what I’m in the mood to work on, keeping deadlines in mind.

Sandra: I’m very single minded. One project at a time. Keeps me focused. As for a timeframe, my first manuscript took years, my second about a year, my third I wrote in five months, but find it still needs a little work. My personal feeling is that it’s far more important to write a good book than to write a book fast. It takes time to learn how to write fast and well.

Beverly: Having written two books at the same time, I can definitely speak to that. And I wrote those while I was working a day job. So no, I don’t have any trouble keeping my work separate. What I do have trouble with is keeping all the ideas for new projects, new episodes of “Castle,” or reading every. thing. published. from distracting me. Discipline, organization, and hide the television remote!

Deborah: It takes me about a year to write and edit a book, but I have a lot of things going on in my life. I am working on two projects now, but one is fiction and the other is non-fiction.

6. Would you recommend that unpublished authors publish with a smaller company within their state (for a local audience), or with a large nation-wide one, such as Scholastic (for a more widely-spread audience but less individual attention by the company)?

Kat: I’m not sure what a local/state publishing company is. Small presses can publish internationally these days. I am with a small press. My books are found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s website, and many others.

Benefits of small press publishing include more say during the editing process, more say on cover art, more involvement in just about all the process. You can also reach niche markets more easily. Small presses give more control to the author.

But you won’t have the marketing power of a large publisher. Small presses tend to have small budgets.

Also, it’s a matter of who wants your book.

Sandra: Not sure if we’re on the same page here. My debut series takes place in my hometown in southern Minnesota; however, I live in California. The bulk of my marketing is focused on my hometown and surrounding areas.

Beverly: I’ve had experience with both smallish and largish sizes of book publishers, and I can tell you that in my case, the size or location doe not matter. What does? EVERY author is expected to market, market, sell, and market some more. Oh, and write that next book. Newbies, celebrities, every one of us are expected to. Except Stephen King. He can just keep writing. He has earned that right.

Deborah: Whatever suits the needs of the author.

7. Should unpublished authors who do not feel they could make a living on their writing alone pursue a career such as becoming an editor for other writers?

Kat: Well, you need to think about why you can’t make a living on your writing. Is it because your story telling or writing skills are lacking? Editors aren’t failed writers who defaulted into the job. Editing takes real skill. Not all editors are great writers, but it cannot be looked at as a back-up plan for those who don’t do well as a writer. It requires its own type of training and knowledge, and a real ability to find what does and doesn’t work in someone else’s writing. And it is something you must love doing because it is HARD WORK.

Sandra: There’s much to learn in any field we choose that can become invaluable in our writing . . . we learn about people, about how different industries work. I wouldn’t limit the possibilities.

Beverly: First of all, do not make the assumption that you cannot make a living writing. That could be whatchacallit, self-fulfilling. And I will not play armchair psychologist beyond that. But just don’t. That said, yes, I believe nowadays, every single skill helps. I’ve grown as a writer by hiring out as a freelance content editor. (My proofing skills would not make my English teachers proud, so don’t ask me to do that.) But the ability to work through a story, articulate what characters need to deepen the interest, what plot threads need tightening, is like practicing your tennis with someone who is learning to serve. You can’t help but get better at your own game.

Deborah: Very few authors make a living at just writing books.

8. What is the best way to start a career in writing?

Kat: Write. Read. A lot. Study the craft. Find amazing critique partners. Write more. Read more. Bust your tail writing. Write the best book you can possibly write, polish it to the brightest shine, and start submitting it. Oh, and remember, even doing all that will not guarantee anything.

Sandra: Read how-to books on writing, attend writers conferences, get in a good writers critique group, submit articles to magazines, enter contests, and read, read, read.

Beverly: Have your head examined. Seriously, it’s a tough, brutal business. If the urge doesn’t pass and you must continue, then take a class or several, get in a critique group (a real one with scary people who carry red pens, not a rubber stamping club), go to writer’s conferences, and begin introducing yourself as a writer. Oh, and sit down and write, and write until you are finished. And then begin something new. And show said pieces to said scary people with red pens. You will survive. No tombstones say, “Died of embarrassment at first writer’s group.” I’m fairly certain. And read. Read about writing, and read what other people are writing in your genre(s).

Deborah: (not sure about this one)

Let’s all give a round of applause to these lovely ladies for answering! Thank you, authors. And I hope you writers out there are enjoying these answers.

Next week, we’ll finish it up!

-M.R. Anglin

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Author Q & A!

Hey, guys!

At long last, here are the author answers to your questions. It’s so long that I’ll split it into three weeks. But first, introductions! For more information on an author, click on their name and be whisked away to their website!

Kat Heckenbach is the YA fantasy author of Finding Angel, a finalist in the Compton Crook Award (2012), the Grace Awards (YA category, 2011), and the INDIE Next Generation Awards (YA category, 2012). Her short horror story, “Willing Blood,” won the Editor’s Choice at The Absent Willow Review (a magazine no longer in business) in July of 2009.

The sequel to Finding Angel, named Seeking Unseen, will be releasing in September 2012.

Sandra Esch is writes Historical Romance Novels. Tracks in the Snow (the first in the Amber Leaf series) was published in November 2011, with the sequel, Somewhere Between Raindrops, currently being edited.

Tracks in the Snow was a semi-finalist in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel in 2010 and was a finalist in the San Diego Book and Writing Awards contest in 2012.

Beverly Nault is a Inspirational Fiction author, whose book Fresh Start Summer, was listed in Real Simple.com’s Top 21 Great Summer Books of 2011 and was a finalist in the 2011 Grace Awards and about.com’s Best Books About Friendship.

She has also written Grace & Maggie Across the Pond, an e-novella, and Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton, with Mary McDonough, a memoir. Her Kindle article, “Ten Easy Steps to Begin Birdwatching,” is a nonfiction excuse for her to show off some of her photography.

Deborah Malone is the author of Death in Dahlonega Cozy Mystery, which was a finalist (2nd place) in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Category Five writing contest. Deborah was also nominated for 2012 Georgia Author of the Year in First Novel category.

Now that that’s done, one to the questions!

1. How many drafts did you write for your first published work? How different is the published version from the original version (in terms of plot and characters?)

Kat: I lost count! If I had to guess, I’d say at least a dozen drafts. The published version is very much the same as far as plot and characters, but the writing itself evolved. I had never written fiction before starting this book. Through the various drafts I learned how to show and not tell, how to write better description, fleshed out existing characters, and intensified plot points.

Sandra: My short story morphed into a novella and then into a full novel. Since I kept editing and re-editing the manuscript, I have no idea as to the number of drafts, only that it was a continuing work in progress. The published version was significantly different from the original, including a change in title and expanded story lines.

Beverly: Good heavens, am I going to have to do public math? I don’t have enough fingers and toes to add up all the drafts. But seriously, since both my “fraternal twins” released in the same month of the same year, I will address each one as individuals, since their birthing processes were quite unique. For my fiction novel, Fresh Start Summer, I wrote for about two years, and perhaps a dozen . . . or fifty drafts (with word processors and digital editing, who can keep exact count?) . . . before I reached “The End.” When I thought I was ready to begin pitching, an agent told me it was too short at 45,000 words. So I went back to the keyboard and added ideas I had already outlined for a sequel, developing a completely new thread. That probably took me another year to finalize. The finished story was deeper and had more plot twists than the stinker original, but it had more depth and a lot more heart. Now that I’ve been through the process, it’s easier faster, and now I have a better sense for how long my scenes and chapters need to be for a full-length novel. But I still edit and revise dozens of times.

At the same time I was sweating over my fiction, I was writing a preliminary outline, proposal and sample chapters with the actress Mary McDonough on her memoirs. That experience was as different as a day at Disneyland is from walking through the Library of Congress. Fiction was all make believe and what ifs, and writing with her was all about the realities of her life, highlighting her journey of as a child actor on a television show and her life since then. We probably rewrote those drafts a dozen, or fifty times, as well. The finished product wasn’t inherently different from our first drafts, but we’d added details and texture, such as dialog and place setting information so the readers would feel like they were walking along with Mary as she recounted the joys and heartaches growing up in the spotlight.

Writing, it turns out, whether fiction or nonfiction, is about fine-tuning to make a good story interesting to read. Whether true to life or make believe, it needs to draw you in and make you want to turn the page. And it takes a lot of hard work despite how glamorous we make it seem. Bwahaha! :rofl:

Deborah: I had a first draft then decided to re-write it as Christian fiction . . . so I rewrote it. Then I edited it several times before sending it in. After that, it was edited several times before printing.

2. The main question that haunts me is how does one actually get his/her stories into magazines? Is there an application to be filled or should one just mail it in and see what happens?

Kat: To publish short stories, you have to pay attention to the specific magazine’s guidelines. Most magazines these days take electronic submissions, so rarely will you have to mail a physical copy . . . Of course, you need to make sure you are sending to a magazine that takes the genre of your story, and that the story’s word count falls into the magazine’s specified range.

Typically, you will have to write an email that contains the story’s title, genre, and word count. (Query letters, people! [-M.R. Anglin]). Keep the letter short and simple, with only the information required. But again–check the magazine’s guidelines. They ALL have guidelines specified on their websites. If you want to find short story markets, and links to their websites, the best source is http://www.duotrope.com.

Sandra: This one’s easy. Write for magazines you have an interest in and that you actually read. Then do a Google search to get the writers guidelines and take it from there.

Beverly: I’ve never actually had an article published in a magazine, so I’m the wrong one to ask that. But it will not keep me from having an opinion. From what I understand, their editors require query letters and a pitch, much the same as book publishers.

Wait! I had a nice letter to the editor published once, does that count? It was about some ducklings who got stranded in my pool one Mother’s Day and how all the neighbors helped me save them. Aw . . . but I’m off topic.

Deborah: Magazines usually have their own guidelines so you could go to their website and see what the guidelines are. There are also marketing books just for magazines.

(Writer’s Market is a great resource for finding magazine and books publishers. They have different versions of the book (for Christian markets, for magazines, for agents, etc . . .) so find the one that works for you. *whisper* Also if you don’t want to spend money on it, go to the library and get an older copy. It won’t have the updated info, but you’ll have plenty to start with. Just make sure to check the publisher’s website to make sure their guidelines have not changed. It is SO important to follow the guidelines!*whisper* -M.R. Anglin )

3. Probably one of my biggest obstacles as an amateur writer is motivation. Are there any specific ways specific authors keep themselves going? Aside from the usual answers (write about something you love, something you know, something you’re interested in, etc. etc. etc).

Kat: This is a hard one for me. I don’t have anything specific. When I have a story begging to come out, the motivation is just there. When I’m stuck on a story, I usually take some time off. I read–a lot. I focus more on blogging.

I read in Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, that writer’s block is actually your brain in need of a fill-up. And you can’t fill up if you’re still trying to pour out. I think, for me at least, that is true. If I just let it go, accept that the story is stuck for now, and take some time to re-juice, the ideas will pop up on their own. Then the motivation comes because the ideas won’t leave me alone.

Sandra: How competitive are you? How far do you want to go and how fast do you want to get there? One of the things that helps motivate me is entering contests. It gives purpose to writing, something to shoot for, as well as a deadline to get us off the dime.

Beverly: Excellent question. I’ve found my lack of motivation comes from a variety of fun and interesting places. One is them is the dread of being rejected. Whenever I feel that coming on, I remind myself of what it was like in the beginning, before it became a “business” to me, and remember the joy of writing as a craft, where I am totally free to play with my characters, imagine their lives and thoughts, and explore what I can do with them to touch the reader. Instead of worrying about whether an editor or agent will approve of me my writing, I think of that “one reader” who will be entertained, hopefully blessed. And as a Christian, I believe that ultimately what I write is for His purpose, and not mine, so that gives me even more freedom to let Him orchestrate the road to publication. I have to do the groundwork, but ultimately, He’s steering the boat.

Someone said to not think about it as rejection, but as a “pass.” I like that. On to the next opportunity, full steam ahead! (to continue the metaphor)

Another speed bump to motivation is burnout. I do not believe in that “write every day no matter what” myth (THANK YOU!! –M.R.). That is not possible, or even advisable, unless you are really into a story, and your family and/or day job doesn’t suffer. Or you have won the lottery and bought yourself an island. In which case you need to invite all of us for a luau, and then we will pester you to do the limbo with us. See? Not possible.

I like to vary what I’m writing to stay fresh. Back in the day, I was warned to stick with one genre, but Bev doesn’t listen sometimes . . . or ever. Since I’ve had both fiction and nonfiction published, I can assume my instincts were right. (I will resist saying I told you so.) These days it IS possible to write across genres. Short stories, lengthy novels, blogs, e-articles, even a witty Facebook posting, can all be rewarding.

That said, give yourself a break, and enjoy the journey . . . or Hawaiian barbecue as it were. I will have the pulled pork on a toasted bun, hold the poi.

Deborah: Not really – just wanting to see your book in publication. The more often I write the more I am motivated.

Okay . . . that’s it for this week because I’m tired of typing now. Next week, we will have questions 4-8. Hope you had fun!

-M.R. Anglin

Favorite Books

My first college writing instructor drilled the following into my head: to become a good writer, you must become a good reader.

And he wasn’t the only one. I remember another professor later in my college years who did not excuse his students for not reading because they didn’t have money for books. “You have the library,” he would say.

I’ve held that guideline to my heart over the years. Though I’m not a prolific reader, I really enjoy reading. So why is reading so important to a writer? Well, books can give you good ideas, can expand your vocabulary, and can teach you something new. In addition, they can also tell you what’s going on in the marketplace–what publishers are looking for.

But perhaps most interesting for a writer is that they can teach you how to write. For instance if, after reading a good novel, you sit and dissect what you liked about it you are actually training yourself to recognize what’s good in your writing.

Conversely, if you read a horrible novel and pick apart what you hated, you are training yourself to recognize flaws in your writing.

So not only does reading entertain and stimulate your imagination, it can also be an active part of writing. (Is there any wonder why I love books?)

That said, I want to know what is your favorite book? Is it an all-time favorite or a recent read? What did you like about it? You can also put down a book you disliked.

Here’s some of my favs:

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster . . . an all time favorite. I love his play on words. He uses grammar, math, and language to weave a wacky world that I love.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien . . . I just think this book is one you can read over and over again without getting tired of it.

The Last Dragon by De Mari . . . Such a simple, sweet story that turns into a love story at the end.

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy . . . a slow, boring start, but it gets sooo good at the end.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis . . . a boy and a talking horse. What could be better?

There are more, but I’ll stop here.

First Lines

After a long silence, this week’s thought is brought to you by NetRaptor’s art blog . Yes, it’s an art blog, but occasionally she talks about writing.

The blog in question talks about great first lines. The first line of your story is arguably the most important sentence. Not only do professionals say this, but I can tell you this from experience. After all, many times I go to the bookstore, read the back of a book, and then if it looks interesting, I’ll read the first few pages. If the first few paragraphs don’t grab me, I’ll put it back. In fact, that’s the reason I never read Eragon or Ella Enchanted even though they’re supposedly good books . . . the first few paragraphs failed to grab me.

Here are some great first lines in my humble opinion:

  • No one believed it at first. Not even a little.
    Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe
  • Rat did not know which was worse: being hungry all the time, or being lonely all the time.
    Space Station Rat by Michael J. Daley
  • Her parents were going to kill her for this.
    Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn
  • Bradley Chalkers sat at his desk in the back of the class–last seat, last row.
    There’s A Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar

What makes these lines great? They make the reader ask questions. For example, what did no one believe? Why was Rat hungry and lonely? What could this girl be doing that’s so bad that her parents would kill her? Why is Bradley sitting in the last seat, last row?

Those questions make the reader keep reading to find out.

So, what are your favorite first lines? What do you think makes a good first line? Do you have a hard time thinking one up? Any advice to give someone who is struggling to come up with a good one?

Show Your Friends . . . Or Should You?

NaNoWriMo (the National Novel Writing Month) started on Tuesday. As we write (whether we are participating in NaNoWriMo or not), eventually we have to think about revisions . . . and yes, about obtaining good critique.

Now many of us will turn to our trusted friends for this. After all, they love us, and we trust that they wouldn’t let us go out and make a fool of ourselves, right?

I read something yesterday that made me think. Granted, what I read was from a book that was published in the 80s, and things change. But I wonder if this advice is still relevant. After all, writers are still writers, and we are all still plagued with the same insecurities.

The advice is this: “Never show a story to a friend unless she’s a fiction editor–and I’m not sure about that” (Bernstein 18).

To quote the book:

Consider: the writer finishes a short story. It’s not the first story she’s written and she knows it’s good. Does she submit it? She does not. She shows it to her best friend. Forget whether her best friend is a fair judge of short stories . . .

So the friend says she loved the story . . . and at the same time . . . points out that she thinks the beginning can be improved. The writer is surprised but grateful. She had thought the beginning was the best part, but O.K., she was wrong: the beginning has to be changed.

Now here is a writer who knows what she is doing and here is a friend who does not–and the writer changes the beginning of the story . . .

The story is changed and it goes out to McCall’s. No it doesn’t; of course not. It goes to the writer’s other best friend and the procedure is repeated . . .

Deep down, writers possibly know this–know that they are the best judges–but are so gripped by uncertainties and so in need of affirmation that they simply cannot accept the story as a completed creative work all by themselves. They travel the seemingly safe but actually dangerous road of showing it around, and end up totally confused and no longer certain of their own feelings. The story has been scissored, pasted, and agonized over, and there is no real sense of improvement (Bernstein 17-18).

Now this reminds me of me. In my writing journey I had to learn two very important lessons.

1. I had to be humble enough to let others see my story and accept critique of it.

To that end, I did show it around and was blessed with friends who really did give me an honest opinion of it. In fact, my sister, who is not a reader, is one of my best critics because she can tell me when my work gets confusing to the general audience. She does not know about style, form, or any of that, but she does know when something doesn’t seem *write* to her (pun, ha!).

2. The second lesson I had to learn is that I don’t need to show my work around.

I’m still trying to make sense of how the two lessons go together. When I was writing my YA book that’s coming out sometime this month *shameless plug* I tried to get different people to look at it. I tried all my faithful critics, but for one reason or another they couldn’t get to it (it was around Christmas time). So to keep myself on my personal schedule, I did a final revision and submitted it to the publisher. This is my first traditionally published book.

So I am left with a paradox. A writer should have the humility to let people critique her work, but should also not need anyone to critique her work. I’m not sure how the two fit together.

What do you think? Should you show your story around? If so, to whom? And what point can you trust yourself to be an accurate judge of your own work?

You think about that as you keep writing. But take the time to drop a comment and leave your opinion.

Looking in the Mirror

Today’s tip comes courtesy of an article I read the other day, Notes from an Editor. Read the article. It details the sort of things editors wish authors would look for before submitting manuscripts.

Today I’ll focus on the part that says, “Refrain from having the main character look in a mirror, a reflective object, or anything else of the sort.” I’ve done it before; it’s an easy way to get a character’s description without moving out of POV. However, as the article says, it’s trite.

But there are other ways to get across a description. One of my favorite mechanisms is having the character compare himself to someone else.

For example,

Marjorie hated Chloe. That cheerleader couldn’t seem to do anything wrong. Everyone loved Chloe . . . from her clothes straight from Paris to her blonde hair styled with curls.

Marjorie’s straight, flat, mousy brown hair paled in comparison. And her clothes . . . hand-me-downs–dirty, stained hand-me-downs. There was no way she could ever compete.

(I’d fix it up better, but you get the point)

So what about you? Do you have a description device that other writers can use? Or do you have a pet peeve that other writers should avoid?

Thesaurus Love

This tip comes from my experience in completing the rewrites for my upcoming book. I’ve written tips on word choice before, and that fact returned to me full force, particularly this week.

It is so important to keep away from passive verbs and “crutch” words–that is, those words that you tend to use all the time. “Gaze” is one of my crutches. Also my characters tend to sigh and groan a lot.

Instead you should use active verbs and find different ways of displaying emotion. For example, “He was running to catch up to the girl” is not very powerful or effective. “He ran to catch up to the girl” is better, but “He raced after the girl” is much better, though I’m sure there are much better sentences to use. Other words can also be used to describe something about both the character and the situation without adding useless adjectives or adverbs.

And in my example crutch word, gaze can be replaced by study, survey, glance, glare, or other words depending on the situation.

So how do you find all these wonderful words? A thesaurus. I have rediscovered the love of my thesaurus. And I’m not talking about the one that comes with your word processor, though that is a good start. I have found that my old, torn up thesaurus is vastly superior despite being so old (although, my copy of MS Word is also old).

I also mean a real thesaurus not a dictionary/thesaurus. The one I use I got free for signing up for something or other . . . I don’t remember; it was years ago. But it is worth it to find a good one. And I don’t think it has to be in book form. Someone told me about thesaurus.com, but I’ve never used it. I suppose what is needed is a thesaurus that is thorough.

It’s just one of those tools you should invest in if you are planning on taking writing seriously. It doesn’t have to be a big investment, and you may be able to find it free online. But take the time to find one.

Run-on Sentences

Last time, we discussed a sentence. Now, we will discuss what a run-on sentence is. A run-on sentence is basically two sentences that are connected incorrectly. Many times run-on sentences are connected by a comma.

For example,

Papa John’s is having a sale, we should get some pizza.

This sentence should be separated into two sentences.

For example,

Papa John’s is having a sale. We should get some pizza.

Other times, a conjunction or proper punctuation can be used to combine two sentences.

For example,

Run-on sentences are not proper grammar, and we should avoid them. (correct)
Run-on sentences are not proper grammer; we should avoid them. (correct)
Run-on sentences are not proper grammer, we should avoid them. (incorrect)

The second sentence is combined by a semicolon which is proper grammar. However, it is important not to use the semicolon incorrectly either. A good grammar handbook will help you decide when is the appropriate time to use this punctuation.

Now, it is also important to watch out for those sentences that go on and on and don’t say anything or, worse yet, sentences that are so long that you have forgotten what the sentence was saying in the first place. Like that one.

Such a sentence would probably be better broken into two.

If you want to learn more about run-on sentences, look on google. You should be able to find several sites to help you with the topic.

What is a Sentence

I have/host a writing club on deviantart.com called Writers in Progress (http://writers-in-progress.deviantart.com), and it came to my attention that several people have trouble with run-on sentences. So I decided to offer a tip to try and tackle the problem.

I started with what a sentence is . . . after all, how can you know what a run-on sentence is if you don’t know what a proper sentence looks like?

If you already know this stuff, read it anyway. It’s always nice to review.

***

What is a Sentence?
Sentences are the building block of a story. Without sentences, how could we write? Therefore, it is important that we learn what a sentence is and how it is put together.

Basically, a sentence is a set of words that expresses a complete thought. In the English language, a sentence has both a subject and a predicate. The subject is usually the noun plus any modifiers (ie adjectives, articles, etc.), and the predicate is usually the verb plus any modifiers (adverbs, complements, direct objects, etc.). If the sentence does not have one or the other, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment. If a sentence has a noun and a verb but does not express a complete thought, it is not a sentence. It is a fragment.

Look at the following.

Jenny brushed her hair. — sentence.
Jenny brushed. — sentence.
Brushed. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook. — fragment.
In order for the girl to see the brook, she had to lean forward. –sentence.
She had to lean forward. — sentence.
Are you going to the prom? –sentence.
Go clean your room! — sentence.
Do your homework!–sentence.
Did my homework.– fragment.

Now, the last three may confuse you. Why are the first two (of the last three) sentences, and the last one a fragment? Where is the subject? Well, those two are imperative sentences. The subject is an “understood you.” In other words, when someone is giving a command, instead of saying, “You, do you homework,” they drop the “you” and just say “Do your homework.” In the last sentence, there is no command. Just a lonely fragment.

While fragments should generally be avoided in formal writing, in fiction writing, they can be a good tool. I often use fragments to convey a point. Even in an essay it can drive home a point. Do you see the fragment in the previous paragraph?

There are many different types of sentences and sentence structures, but I don’t want to get into that now. You can see more about sentences types by reading this article.

That’s it for now. Next week, I plan to tackle run-on sentences . . . God willing.