Writing a Fictional Town

Guest blogger of Writing a Fictional Town, Ursula Nicol, is a University of the Sunshine Coast student. She's completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Ursula is currently undertaking a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro

We all know how exotic Brazil is; we know the party is in New York; we know that spring romance is found in Paris. But how about creating our own world? Writing a fictional town demands imaginative details.

tree growing over buildings Writing a fictional town


This world is your oyster. You get to decide what exists and what doesn’t. The laws of your world are up for grabs. Is the size of everything warped? Have sharks evolved and become land animals to take over the human race? Are tomatoes illegal, or do they harness some awesome power?

Your fictional town can be just like your nostalgic hometown, or you can make it as peculiar and marvellous and terrifying or bleak as you want. How fantastical or how normal things are is up to you.

Let the Town Serve Your Novel

The fictional town is crucial to the make-believe world of a story, complementing the characters, events and elements of fantasy you create. Grab the opportunity for detail and authenticity in your novel.

As your characters live out their story, your audience will perceive the entirety of your world from the information you give them. This is where details of the setting come alive. How is your town’s layout affected by its inhabitants? Describe the architecture, businesses, services and schools. Think of Harry Potter, where J.K. Rowling incorporates the fantastical and the mortal worlds. We see the impact of magic in that world’s vocabulary and store names, the bank, transportation and sports.

Writing a fictional town can serve your novel by giving a twist to the ordinary, making the life of your town a reality for your audience through the way you describe it.

What makes all these enticing attributes believable is consistency and solid details.

Building Foundations

The building blocks of your town affect your characters and their ‘why’. The name of a town or city may be symbolic of its residents or foreshadow your story. The Vampire Diaries ‘Mystic Falls’ reflects its supernatural characters and events.

For an effective twist, you can use obvious names if the town’s behaviour, demographics, landscape or climate is opposite to its name. The Good Place is a prime example of this.

Setting

The setting needs to serve your story and its characters to move the story forward, defining the issues in your world, its treasures or hidden gems. Think of District 13 in The Hunger Games, where its environmental ruin conveys class and governmental oppression. In contrast, The Capitol is a utopia. After defining your town’s scenery, setting and attributes, add some local pizazz. How does your town function? What is the hierarchy, and how is it governed? Is it a dystopia or a utopia?

History

Your fictional town must have a history. Did a higher being create the town? Does your town have an industry? What brought people to live there? Are there famous legends that govern the town? Secret tragedies? Is there an extraordinary place or event that evokes a wonderful phenomenon? Perhaps a haunted cave by the waterfall? What are the fascinating elements that will create suspense and make your story worth reading about? Consider how these elements will influence your characters and story plot.

What are the problems your town struggles with? Is the government or police force corrupt? Are there any natural disasters? Are there any social issues within the community? For consistency and relevance, these problems need to contribute to your story’s conflict, and they are an effective way to connect with universal problems that an audience can relate to.

Pertinent Details

Having a ‘why’ for the details in your story is essential to making them believable. Like any building, a fictional town needs solid foundations.

References

Chapman, H., 2021. Fictional Settings vs. Real Settings: Which Are Best? | Novel Writing Help. [online] Novel Writing Help. Available at: <https://www.novel-writing-help.com/fictional-settings.html> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Eubanks, J., 2021. World Building: How to Create a Fictional Small Town in 10 Steps | Jacquelyn Eubanks. [online] Jacquelyneubanks.com. Available at: <https://www.jacquelyneubanks.com/small-town-world-building/> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Photo credit: Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels

Any comments to make about Writing a Fictional Town? Feel free to have your say below.


Some Resources

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.

gail tagarro logo green flat book

What is Grammarly and how can it help me

Grammarly is an AI (artificial intelligence) ‘writing assistant’ that helps improve your writing. As I’m using Grammarly Premium under the free one-month upgrade from the upaid version, this article What is Grammarly and how can it help me refers to the features of the Premium version.

Try for free

You can create a free account with Grammarly Free, which will check your grammar, spelling and punctuation.

The next level up is the paid Grammarly Premium, which offers over 400 checks and features, ranging from clarity, delivery, fluency, engagement and plagiarism checking. Grammarly Free allows a one-month free upgrade to Grammarly Premium.

Using Grammarly with Microsoft Word

To use Grammarly with Microsoft Word, you open the Grammarly app then upload the document you want Grammarly to check into the Grammarly dashboard – there’s an option ‘Upload doc’.

Then you ‘Set goals’ for your manuscript:

1 set goals

Let’s use a couple of examples.

Book 1. Say your book is about a specialised area of science. Your audience will be ‘knowledgeable’, the tone would be ‘formal’, the domain would be ‘academic’, and the tone would be ‘analytical’.

Book 2. Your book is an historical fiction novel. Your readers aren’t necessarily knowledgeable about the event or the times you’re writing about. So you’d choose ‘general’ for audience, ‘neutral’ for formality, ‘general’ for domain and probably ‘neutral’ for tone.

Book 3. You’ve written a children’s book. Audience would be ‘general’, formality would be ‘informal’, domain would be ‘creative’, and tone would be ‘friendly’, or ‘joyful’ or ‘optimistic’.

Getting started

I assessed Grammarly on a blog post written by an intern before it had been edited for publishing. For the post, I set the goals to general, neutral, creative and friendly. Here’s the first page:

grammarly screen 2

Grammarly gives me the option to accept all changes at once, or dismiss them all.

screenshot

Obviously, it wouldn’t be wise to dismiss them all, and neither would it be wise to blanket-accept them. You still need the human touch. Personally, I would review the suggestions one by one, by clicking on each underlined word or phrase.

Picking up repetition

When I click on the underlined word mundane, Grammarly’s suggestion is I change this because two consecutive sentences use the same word. I agree with this change. I might choose to accept the Grammarly suggestion of ‘ordinary’ just by clicking on the suggestion, or I may want to select a synonym from a thesaurus. The important thing is that Grammarly has picked up that I’ve used the same word in close proximity.

screenshot repetition

Proceeding down the page, Grammarly highlights the next two underlined words, interesting and clear (see second screenshot above), as a ‘Vocabulary’ issue. Both these words ‘tend to be overused’ and the suggestion is to ‘use a more specific synonym to improve the sharpness of your writing’.

Clarity

The paragraph below with underlines is because it may not be clear for a general audience, which we chose earlier under ‘Set Goals’.

With the first sentence, Grammarly makes a suggestion for change:

screenshot clarity

I’m happy to accept this change, so I just click on ‘Rephrase Sentence’.                   

In the second sentence above, Grammarly highlights readability as the issue and suggests either removing unnecessary words or splitting it into two sentences:

screenshot readability

The easier option is to split it into two sentences. If it works, then we can move on and if not, we can look at removing unnecessary words. However, by splitting this sentence into two separate sentences, the improvement is immediate.

Use discretion

Now, with Grammarly’s further suggestions here for the words setting and real – I choose not to change them. It wants me to add an article (‘the’) before ‘setting’, but in this context that isn’t necessary. It also suggests replacing ‘real’ with ‘natural’ but that does not work here – the suggestion is not a synonym in this context.

screenshot fixed

Let’s proceed a little further into the document to see what other gems Grammarly has for us. In the example below, Grammarly is highlighting conciseness, and I definitely agree and accept this change.

screenshot concise

I don’t however act on the next suggestion, as real is an adjective qualifying life and no hyphen is needed:

dont change everything

Grammarly in other applications

As soon as I installed Grammarly, I noticed it was checking my Gmail emails, my Facebook and LinkedIn posts, and even my Loomly post scheduler. The beauty of this is that most of your communications will be checked. However, if it annoys you, you can disable Grammarly for any of these apps.

In summary, Grammarly Premium is an excellent tool for improving not only the grammar but also the style and tone of your writing. Its ability to set an audience type and a ‘domain’ adds a dimension that no spell checker can rival.

You still need to intervene and make editorial decisions. You must play an active role in reviewing your writing. It would be unwise to ‘accept all suggestions at once’ per the second screen in this post. Besides, if you did, you would be missing out on the learning experience that Grammarly offers to improve your writing – which is the goal of most writers.

If you’d like to give Grammarly a try for free after reading What is Grammarly and how can it help me, click here

Photo Acknowledgement: Photo by Franck on Unsplash

Common Grammar Mistakes III

Guest blogger of Common Grammar Mistakes III, Tyrone Couch, is a Queensland University of Technology student. He’s completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing. Tyrone is currently undertaking a 100-hour internship with Gail Tagarro

fur cloak helmet and sword for common grammar mistakes III

Grammar Knights, assemble! Common Grammar Mistakes III marks the beginning of our third incursion into this territory, where we ride into battle with highlighters held high to rout the forces of editorial evil.

Our quest for peace in the Grammar Kingdom has taken us far and wide, and many of the enemy’s forces have already fallen to the might of our unrelenting red pen. Should you wish to review our previous campaigns, you can witness the aftermath of the first skirmish here and the second encounter here.

Today, we set our sights on a remote outpost in the Writer’s Wilds, where scouts have confirmed the presence of several of the enemy’s generals. To battle!

Unnecessary Capitalisation

Writers often make the mistake of capitalising for emphasis, capitalising nouns, or capitalising unnamed events:

            Incorrect: I treated Judith to a Sweet, Juicy Lobster for her Birthday Lunch.

            Correct: I treated Judith to a sweet, juicy lobster for her birthday lunch.

No matter how sweet or juicy the lobster may have been, sweet and juicy are merely adjectives and should not be capitalised. However, if Dapper Dave’s Seafood listed its Sweet, Juicy Lobster as a trademarked menu item, then it would be appropriate to capitalise it. The word lobster is but a humble noun. As a rule of thumb, the only nouns that warrant capitalisation are proper nouns, e.g. names, cities, and companies.

Capitalising events appropriately can be a little tricky. Birthdays (and birthday lunches) are indeed events, but capitalisation is generally reserved for events with proper names or titles, such as time periods (e.g. The Bronze Age) or historic events (e.g. The Great Depression). If the birthday lunch had been named Judy’s Birthday Bonanza, this too would have fit the bill (but it would’ve been terribly gauche).

Titles, such as those of books or movies, are another common source of confusion. Words that should be capitalised in a title are the first word, nouns, proper nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Conjunctions, articles, and prepositions should all remain lowercase.

            Incorrect: Gone With The Wind

            Correct: Gone with the Wind

This also applies to job titles and other such decorations:

            Incorrect: Director Of Media And Advertising

            Correct: Director of Media and Advertising

Hyphenation Errors

Correct hyphenation is one of the top contenders for the Most Rules with Most Exceptions award. Here are some of the most common hyphenation errors, as well as some exceptions to the rules that govern them:

  • Absence of hyphens in compound modifiers

A compound modifier, also known as a phrasal adjective, is a series of words that comes together to modify a noun, essentially functioning as an adjective (e.g. full-time employee, one-year term, last-minute decision). As a general rule, when the words that precede a noun only make sense in the context of coming together to modify that noun, hyphenate them. Notable exceptions include compound nouns and instances where: the phrasal adjective contains -ly; the modifying word is most, least, very, or less; the modifier follows the noun; or the phrase contains a proper noun.

  • Use of hyphens in adverbial phrases

It is common for writers to use a hyphen to link adverbs and adjectives when modifying a noun, but it is incorrect:

            Incorrect: The gradually-setting sun seemed to sink into the ocean.

            Correct: The gradually setting sun seemed to sink into the ocean.

  • Use of hyphens in prepositional phrases

Similarly, hyphens are often used erroneously in prepositional phrases:

            Incorrect: I made it just in-time.

            Correct: I made it just in time.

            Simply put—don’t do it!

  • Incorrect assignment of hyphens in compound words

There are three forms of compound words: open (e.g. high school), closed (e.g. skateboard), and hyphenated (e.g. self-assured). Determining which of the three forms is appropriate can be challenging, as there is a tendency for hyphenated compounds to become closed compounds over time. Also, certain style guides advocate the use of one form over another. It is best to refer to a dictionary to determine which form is appropriate.

Ambiguous Modifiers

A modifier is considered ambiguous when it is placed between two separate phrases. It is therefore unclear which of the phrases it is intended to modify:

            Visiting my mother often results in stress.

The placement of the modifier ‘often’ here makes it unclear whether visiting her generally or visiting her often (regularly) results in stress for the subject:

            Visiting my mother often results in stress.

            Visiting my mother often results in stress.

It is entirely possible that both of these statements are true, but it’s important to clarify! If any of these appear in your work, try to reword them in a way that makes it clear exactly what you are trying to communicate.

As the dust settles on The Battle of Writer’s Wilds, I bid you a fond farewell and eagerly await the day we are brothers-and-sisters-in-arms once more.

Join us next time for more grammatical goodness!

Let us know what you think about Common Grammar Mistakes III by posting your comments below. What did you learn from this?


Some Resources

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.


Gail Tagarro Book Writing Coach logo for common grammar mistakes III

Working Your Writing Muscles

Guest blogger of Working Your Writing Muscles, Ursula Nicol, is a University of the Sunshine Coast student. She's completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Ursula is currently undertaking a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro

Working Your Writing Muscles

Good fiction involves a plethora of ingredients, including dialogue, characterisation, suspense and scenery. However, just chucking in these ingredients doesn’t make your writing a flaming baked Alaska. A gourmet chef doesn’t become one overnight, just as a writer doesn’t become a great writer overnight. These ingredients need delicate handling. The best way to do so is by working your writing muscles.

stacks of books in cupboard for post working your writing muscles

Advice from the Famous

Honing your writing skills needs time, work and focused daily practice. The most famous and talented authors don’t rely on talent alone. Abilities and talent need to be kept sharp in order for inspiration to keep flowing.

In 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to a fan letter, outlining his five instructions for writing well. His fourth point:

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing was ‘terrible’, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.

Here is how you can turn Lewis’ advice into a writing exercise:

  • Look at a piece you are working on. Identify adjectives you have used and replace them with a thorough description. Focus on making your audience ‘feel’ the emotion you are trying to convey.
  • Jot down several emotions such as mesmeric, revolting, disturbing. Similar to (a), write a depiction of each to make the reader ‘feel’ those adjectives themselves.

A Practical Use of the Senses

John Matthew Fox of Bookfox lists a number of exercises to perfect dialogue, characterisation, suspense and scenery in writing. Five of these involve parts of the human sensory system which we tend to ignore: smell, taste and sound. Using all the senses is a powerful tool in engaging your audience in a story that does more than tell. Similar to how replacing adjectives with sensitive description will create a vivid image for your readers, taking advantage of the human senses will create relevance and reality in your writing.

Some Exercises for Working Your Writing Muscles

  1. What is the most annoying sound you can think of? Write a thorough portrayal. A character hearing this sound can be used as an introduction to a story.
  • Picture a character finally scoring a date with their crush. Have the character bake for their love interest and have the second character describe the smells in such detail that it’s clear they’re falling in love.
  • Identify the dominant emotion in a verse from one of your favourite songs. Write about a character feeling that emotion and then discovering that song. Make the reader want to hear the song through your description.  
  • Picture one of your characters at a restaurant where they cannot see anything. There is no light in the restaurant, all the waiters are blind and the character has to rely on touch. Describe the atmosphere, the clothes they are wearing, how the chair and the table feel. Maybe describe what it would be like for your character to be on a date in this restaurant; how their partner’s hand feels, the effect of their voice. 
  • Choose a food that represents a specific store, culture, nation or race. Have your character describe it as a lengthy riddle so that the personality of the character is then discovered.

These writing exercises are a fantastic way to give your writing skills a workout and your writing extra muscle.

As Lewis warns, let’s not drown our sentences in adjectives. Let us instead write vivid stories that don’t just tell. Adding passion to your pages makes your audience view the world you have written through the eyes of you, the creator.

Communicating an experience so that your readers can see the colours, feel the room, smell the roses, hear and know the world you are sharing with them is what makes a good writer great.

Acknowledgements

Bianchi, N., 2021. 5 Powerful Writing Exercises From Famous Authors. [online] Medium. Available at: <https://medium.com/copywriting-secrets/5-powerful-writing-exercises-from-famous-authors-1c648c7810d2> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Fox, J., 2021. 50 Fantastic Creative Writing Exercises. [online] Bookfox. Available at: <https://thejohnfox.com/2016/05/creative-writing-exercises/> [Accessed 7 April 2021].

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash


Have you enjoyed reading Ursula’s post Working Your Writing Muscles, and learnt something new? Let us know what you think in the Comments section below.


Some Resources

C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing: What the Essayist, Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic, Apologist, Memoirist, Theologian Teaches Us about the Life and Craft of Writing by Corey Latta

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

gail tagarro logo for working your writing muscles

Perky Writing Tips and Tricks

Guest blogger of Perky Writing Tips and Tricks, Ursula Nicol, is a University of the Sunshine Coast student. She's completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Ursula is currently undertaking a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro

From ghost stories to the Halloween holiday, the unnatural is a magic charm in literature. Our minds go bonkers for the things that trigger our imagination to go beyond the mundane! Here are some perky writing tips and tricks to avoid the mundane.

Partake in Intimacy with Details but Not with Clichés

Clichés can hinder your originality. Steering clear of clichés and avoiding the overuse of adjectives and adverbs can make your writing more believable, interesting, and clear.

Intimate details are the secret treasure chest to enriching the quality of your writing.

Being specific with your characterisation and descriptions of setting is what makes it all real in the brain of the beholder. The tiniest actions – your antagonist rubbing his temples, your hero chipping at their nails – can help build the mood of your piece and highlight the turmoil, happiness, anxiety, or fear experienced by your characters.

The subtlest of setting descriptions – flocks of birds fleeing the forest, mosquitoes nibbling at flesh – can give insight into a character’s experience and foreshadow the next event in your story.

Peculiar Characters

Strong characters are driven and sincere. Characters that stand out from the mundane are quirky. Character quirks make them like a rose in a field of daisies; charming, lovable, or even bizarre.

There are some points to bear in mind when considering the quirks of your protagonist or other characters.

  1. There needs to be a reason for the quirk. Does a quirk make a character more likeable compared to other characters, or does it invoke conflict and antagonism? Is this quirk unveiled only under certain circumstances? Does this quirk come from a particular upbringing or trauma? What does this idiosyncrasy mean for your character’s behaviour? Does your character refuse to touch or do certain things because they’re a germaphobe? Do they sing to their cats at breakfast? Quirks can be verbal, like an accent or stutter. What does it mean for their development? A character’s backstory as to why they are the way they are is vital to the story.
  2. If you use experiences as a springboard, you’ll make a bigger splash. Behaviour drawn from real life can create a natural depth in your characters’ personalities. Replicating how real-world people function helps create realistic, memorable characters.
  3. Use character quirks carefully. Too many quirks can make a character feel fake, unrelatable, and disliked by your audience.

Point of View with a Twist

Did you know that you can write from the perspective of a town?

Of course, everyone knows about writing in first person, second person, and third person but what about an entity larger than life?

spooky night scene in city for blog perky writing tips and tricks

No, I don’t mean bounding from viewpoint to viewpoint within the town such as from the bartender’s point of view (POV), the janitor’s, or the cop’s on 5th Avenue. Rather, I’m talking about combining all the characters into a single hive-mind perspective by using the pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’ to communicate the town’s united population.

In the short story A Rose for Emily, William Faulkner writes about Emily’s life and death from the perspective of her town.

‘So she had blood-kin under her roof again and we sat back to watch developments…Then we were sure that they were to be married. We learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweler’s and ordered a man’s toilet set in silver, with the letters H. B. on each piece. Two days later we learned that she had bought a complete outfit of men’s clothing, including a nightshirt, and we said, “They are married.” We were really glad. We were glad because the two female cousins were even more Grierson than Miss Emily had ever been.’

The perspective is called first person plural. It is both beguiling and disturbing. Why? Because it’s unnatural. We experience our lives as separate individuals and expect our literature to reflect the same individuality. However, stories like Faulkner’s defy that expectation, shining an ominous light on the ways we all think and act, not just as individuals but as groups and communities.

The unnatural is always fascinating. We humans have a magnetic curiosity to the unusual. Here’s to all the unusual things you might write with these perky writing tips and tricks!

Acknowledgements

Faulkner, William, and M T. Inge. A Rose for Emily. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1970.

Images: Zeeshaan Shabbir and Kat Jayne from Pexels

I hope you’ve learned something from Ursula’s post Perky Writing Tips and Tricks. Wishing you a happy week ahead.


Some Resources

C.S. Lewis and the Art of Writing: What the Essayist, Poet, Novelist, Literary Critic, Apologist, Memoirist, Theologian Teaches Us about the Life and Craft of Writing by Corey Latta

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

Logo Gail Tagarro Book Writing Coach for perky writing tips and tricks

Common Grammar Mistakes II

Guest blogger of Common Grammar Mistakes II, Tyrone Couch, is a Queensland University of Technology student. He’s completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing. Tyrone is currently undertaking a 100-hour internship with Gail Tagarro The Book Writing Coach, founder of editors4you

Welcome back to the latest edition of Common Grammar Mistakes, where we take a deep dive into the ocean of grammar in search of pearls of wisdom.

notepad laptop coffee for blog common grammar mistakes II

Last time, we tackled some hard and fast rules with i.e. versus e.g. and Misplacement of Apostrophe in Possessive Nouns. We also ventured out a little further into the depths of subjectivity with Passive Voice. If you have yet to find your sea legs on the first article in this series, you can read it here.

On this next expedition, we explore another mixture of concrete rules and less definitive guidelines, the latter demanding some discretion on the author’s part to determine whether (and where) they have a place in their body of work.

Incomplete Comparisons

To ease us into the journey ahead, let’s start small with incomplete comparisons. An incomplete comparison is when you make a comparative assertion without identifying a second subject to measure the assertion against:

The bacon is better at Angry Mac’s.

The question remains: better than where? McRonald’s? Incomplete comparisons are impossible to refute, and therefore popular in advertising. Though they may be a useful marketing tactic, they are much less effective in prose. Take this statement for example:

I need to be more active.

We know that the subject needs to be more active, but it is unclear when, what, or whom they need to be more active than. To complete the comparison, we must specify the object of comparison, like so:

I need to be more active than I was last week.

I need to be more active than a potato.

I need to be more active than my rival if I want to win.

You can easily avoid incomplete comparisons. To do so, just make sure that whenever you make a comparison, you specify what you are comparing the subject against.

En dash versus Em dash

Dashes are a little more complicated (than incomplete comparisons, of course!). Of the two types of dash, the En dash is shorter (–), where the Em dash is significantly longer (—). People frequently use them interchangeably, but as with i.e. and e.g., each has its specific purpose for which it is uniquely suited. Many of us also refer to the humble hyphen (-) as a dash, but this is not strictly the case. Correct hyphen usage is a complicated issue and we’ll cover it in a future article—for now, let’s look at some examples of each dash in action.

The 20182019 financial year was especially difficult for the company.

Jeanette’s hours were reduced until she was only working from 10am2pm.

The classifieds spanned pages 8087, but none of the jobs was suitable.

Simply put, the En dash (used above) indicates ‘to’ or ‘through,’ and could effectively be substituted for either of these words. The Em dash has a different function entirely:

Roger tried everything to ease her mind—took her out for dinner, reassured her, gave her suggestions—but she was too afraid of what the future held.

She smiled through it allor tried to—but the smile never reached her eyes.

She knew it was only a matter of time—the business would go under, she would be made redundant, and she would lose the house.

In the first two sentences above, the Em dash is used in pairs to isolate information that is not necessary to make sense of the sentence (i.e. you could remove it entirely without breaking its structure), but it adds colour and depth through detail. The third sentence employs the Em dash in much the same way as a semicolon, creating emphasis and indicating a shift in tone. In short, the Em dash is used as a means of marking a break or beat in a sentence.

Note that excessive use of the Em dash can undermine its ability to make emphasis and quickly overwhelm a piece—so use it carefully.

Use of Semicolons

The primary function of a semicolon (;) is to link two independent clauses in a sentence that are strongly related. Writers often use semicolons in error where a comma is required (and vice versa):

Incorrect: I swam with a dolphin; and it was magical.

Correct: I swam with a dolphin, and it was magical.

In this example, ‘and it was magical’ is not an independent clause because it depends on ‘I swam with a dolphin’ to make sense. You need to use a comma instead.

Incorrect: I swam with a shark, it was terrifying.

Correct: I swam with a shark; it was terrifying.

In the above case, both clauses are independent—they can stand alone. You can either link them with a semicolon or make them separate sentences. Linking independent clauses by a comma is called a comma splice, and it is the enemy of editors everywhere.

To borrow from the previous section, let’s replace the usage in the final example of an Em dash with a semicolon and see what happens:

She knew it was only a matter of time; the business would go under and she would be made redundant.

As you can see, the semicolon performs essentially the same function as the Em dash when used in this way. The clauses before and after the semicolon are both capable of standing alone in their own sentences, but you can link them because of their close relation to the same subject. As with the Em dash, it is all too easy to overuse the semicolon—thus, alternate it with a variety of other style marks and sentence structures to avoid repetition.

That brings us to the end of Common Grammar Mistakes II. In Part III, we will step boldly into the wilderness once more to overcome such adversaries as:

Unnecessary Capitalisation

Hyphenation Errors

Ambiguous Modifiers

’til we meet again!


I hope you’ve enjoyed Ty’s humour in this post, Common Grammar Mistakes II, and that you take some of these learnings into your writing.


Some Resources

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

Common Grammar Mistakes I

Guest blogger of Common Grammar Mistakes I, Tyrone Couch, is a Queensland University of Technology student. He's completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in Creative Writing. Tyrone is currently undertaking a 100-hour internship with Gail Tagarro The Book Writing Coach of editors4you

Hello and welcome! This is the first in a series of articles intended to identify and demystify some of the most common grammar mistakes that writers make, valiantly kept at bay by their trusty editing companions.

picture of pink rose on white grammar book for post common grammar mistakes I
Common Grammar Mistakes I

English is an incredibly complex language made up of many moving parts, and this is most apparent in its grammar. For almost every rule, there is a caveat or exception just waiting to catch you and your manuscript off-guard. Though this can be frustrating at times, it can also be leveraged to bring depth, complexity and order to your prose. In future articles, we will take a closer look at some of the ways this can be achieved.

For today, however, our goal is to tackle some of the simpler matters that often catch even the most diligent of writers unawares. Are you guilty of making any of these functional faux-pas in your writing practice? Read on and find out!

i.e. versus e.g.

Writes often use these two abbreviations interchangeably to clarify the statement that came before them. But did you know they have completely different functions?

i.e. stands for ‘id est,’ a Latin phrase translating roughly to ‘that is’:

            The king was not fond of the common folk, i.e. he hated them with a passion.

On the other hand, e.g. stands for ‘exempli gratia,’ or ‘for example’:

            The king often made sport of the common folk, e.g. forcing them to dance for hours.

In the first example, i.e. provides an alternative phrasing of the initial statement. In the second, e.g. gives a direct example of the initial statement. The best way to remember the difference between the two and know when to use them is to think of i.e. as in other words, and e.g. as for example.

Misplacement of Apostrophe in Possessive Noun

True to its name, a possessive noun is a noun that possesses (or owns) something. When a noun is in possession of a single entity, this is indicated by adding ’s to the end of it:

            I went to watch my daughter’s soccer game.

In this example, it is implied that the speaker has one daughter participating in the soccer game. It is common for authors to misrepresent this by instead following the noun by s’:

            I went to watch my daughters’ soccer game.

Placing the apostrophe after the s (as opposed to before) changes the meaning of the sentence. It indicates that the speaker has more than one daughter participating in the game. (Note that if the speaker did have multiple daughters playing in the same game, this would be a perfectly valid statement.)

Here are some rules to follow to ensure the apostrophe is placed correctly:

  • If the noun is singular, place the apostrophe before the s, e.g. the woman’s glasses (there is one woman)
    • A notable exception to this rule is when the noun ends in the letter s, e.g. the actress’ reflection
  • If the noun is plural, place the apostrophe after the s, e.g. the womens’ glasses (there are various women)

Passive Voice

The passive voice is less black and white in terms of its status as an error, as sometimes it is appropriate. However, generally, it should be used sparingly and only when necessary. To better understand the passive voice, let us first define its opposite, the active voice. In the active voice, a subject performs a verb’s action:

            David appreciates Julie.

On the other hand, the passive voice occurs when a subject is acted upon by a verb:

            Julie is appreciated by David.

As you can see, the meaning of the statement is unchanged but it is more clearly and succinctly communicated in the active voice example. Also, the focus of the statement changes depending on whether it is said in the active voice or the passive voice. In the active voice example, David’s feelings towards Julie are foregrounded. In the passive voice example, Julie becomes the subject, and David’s feelings for her are made secondary.

While the passive voice example is still grammatically correct, the active voice is encouraged in most types of writing: it is less awkward and it does not distance the reader from the writing.

The passive voice is often used on signs and in instructions: Entry forbidden (short for ‘entry is forbidden’), Masks must be worn, No smoking allowed, Trespassers will be prosecuted. In these situations it is perfectly acceptable and correct. To use the active voice would sound very strange.

That’s all for Common Grammar Mistakes I. Tune in next time for Part II, where we will cover:

  • En Dash vs Em Dash
  • Use of Semicolons
  • Incomplete Comparisons

See you next time!


Acknowledgement: Image by Liza Ulyanova from Pexels


Some Resources

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.

The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell audiobook

logo of Gail Tagarro Book Writing Coach

Writers Connect Newsletter Issue 42

Welcome to the Writers Connect newsletter Issue 42.

notebook coffee pencil sunglasses in cafe for writers connect newsletter issue 41
(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Writing is a human experience. It’s about connection with everyone and everything around us.

We understand you’re busy. So the newsletter usually has just four or five main items of content. A brief but satisfying read.

In this issue:

  • Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing
  • Word of the Day. An unusual word to keep your writing fresh
  • Inspirational Quote
  • Writing Tip

Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing

Competitions featured in this issue of Writers Connect cater to poets, short story and essay writers. Closing dates are from 19—30 April 2021.

For competition closing dates, bear in mind these relate to the time zone where the competition originates, so check the relevant site.

Comp 1: The Emerging Poet Prize

This competition is for emerging poets with fewer than two full-length collections out at the time of submission.

About: The organisers accept simultaneous submissions but ask that you let them know if your work is picked up elsewhere. They also accept multiple submissions, but each submission includes the reading fee. Only unpublished work is accepted

Open to: International – any poet writing in English. Other languages are accepted, ‘as long as the meat of the poem is in English’

Word count: No word count or page requirement, but up to 3 poems only – to be submitted in 1 document

Theme/Genre: Poetry

Entry fee: $20

Closes: 19 April 2021

Prize: First = $3,000 + publication. Second = $300 + publication. Third = $200 + publication

Find out more: https://www.palettepoetry.com/current-contest/

Comp 2: Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize

This is a literary award for a first full-length book of poetry in the English language.

About: Manuscripts being considered by other publishers are allowed, but if a manuscript is accepted for publication elsewhere, you must notify the Press in writing

Open to: International. Any poet writing in English who has not had a full-length book of poetry published previously.  A ‘full-length book’ of poetry is defined as a volume of 48 or more pages published in an edition of 500 or more copies

Word count: 48100 typescript pages

Theme/Genre: Poetry

Entry fee: $ US25

Closes: 30 April 2021

Prize: First = $5,000 + publication by University of Pittsburgh Press as part of the Pitt Poetry Series

Submission guidelines: https://upittpress.org/starrett-prize-submission-guidelines/

Comp 3: Author of Tomorrow

This competition is designed to find the adventure writers of the future.

About: This is an annual competition open to young people anywhere in the world who have completed a short piece of adventure writing in English

Open to: International, in English

Word count: 5,000 (depending on age – see Prize below)

Theme/Genre: A short adventure story

Entry fee: Free

Closes: 30 April 2021

Prize: Category 1: 16 to 21 years.£1,000. 1,500—5,000 words. Category 2: 12 to 15 years. £100 + £150 in book tokens for your school/ library/charity. 1,500—5,000 words. Category 3: 11 and under. £100 + £150 in book tokens for your school/library/charity. Up to 500 words. Each shortlisted author also has their work digitally published

Submissions: https://www.wilbur-niso-smithfoundation.org/index.php/awards/author-of-tomorrow-2019/submissions

Comp 4: Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest (repeated from prev issue)

This contest with an open theme accepts stories and essays. Stories are considered works of fiction, and essays are short works of nonfiction.

About: You can submit an unlimited number of entries. Entries may be published or unpublished

Open to: International. No restriction on age of author. All countries eligible except Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Crimea (due to US government restrictions)

Word count: 6,000 maximum

Theme/Genre: Theme is open. Genres accepted are: fictional story, or nonfiction essay

Entry fee: $20 per entry

Closes: 30 April 2021

Prize: First = $3,000 best story & $3,000 best essay. Top two winners receive gift certificates from co-sponsor. 10 Honourable Mentions receive $200 each (any category). Top 12 entries published online

Further details: https://winningwriters.com/our-contests/tom-howard-john-h-reid-fiction-essay-contest

Word of the Day

popple

This is a verb that means ‘to tumble around like the bubbles in a boiling liquid’. It comes to us from Middle English, around 1150 to 1450, and is probably onomatopoeic (imitating the sound associated with the word).

Inspirational Quote

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anythingMark Twain (American writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer, 1835—1910).

Writing Tip

Take a break to get a fresh perspective on your writing. This doesn’t mean procrastinate! I’m referring to when a chapter won’t flow for you even after you’ve been working on it relentlessly. Going for a walk out in the fresh air or even changing activities at home can work wonders for a tired mind. Because you’ll still unconsciously be thinking about your book, you may be amazed by the flashes of inspiration that come your way.


For any feedback on Writers Connect Newsletter Issue 42, or to ask about our services, drop us an email or give us a call 0405 695 534

Book Writing Coach: ask about our exciting new book coaching program Get Your Book to the Finish Line
Gail Tagarro Book Writing Coach
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The Power of Words

Back in the 1980s, in a new role, I quickly latched onto the power of words. I had just started in the role of communications manager in a small business. We produced all communications for a local government body. This included their organisation-wide documentation – policies, procedures, IT manuals and user guides.

One of my first tasks was to pull together a small team of writers.

As part of the shortlisting process, I set applicants a writing test and then let all the applicants know, in writing, whether they were moving forward to interview based on their writing skills.

One of the unsuccessful applicants took umbrage at what he considered my undiplomatic wording. While this was unintentional, the applicant was very unhappy and upset.

My boss, who was fully supportive of my decision, nevertheless said, ‘Gail, we have to be so careful of the written word. Once it’s committed to paper, it can’t be taken back, and words can so easily be misinterpreted.’

Lesson: ever since, I have been mindful of the power of words.

Whenever I write an email even, I check the tone of it. If the subject of the email is challenging, or the recipient is very sensitive, I’ll often write it and then set it aside for a day or two, coming back to it and inevitably changing some of the wording before I’m satisfied it ticks all the boxes of diplomacy!

Spoken words are powerful too

Of course, spoken words are also powerful. We’ve all heard the expression, ‘People may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.’

We don’t know how people reading or hearing our words will interpret them, so it’s wise to always be mindful of the power of our words.

Leaving a legacy

When we write a book, I believe we do so through a subconscious desire to leave a legacy. Whether you’re writing your book as your business card to position you as an expert in your field, or for pleasure, you’re leaving a legacy either for your business community or for your family.

Even those whose aspiration it is to write a literary masterpiece, or a bestseller, in my experience, deep down, they are wanting to leave a legacy of some sort.

Writing your book as your business card

What does writing a book as your business card mean? It means that not only does it help you position yourself as an expert in your field, but you can use it as leverage at speaking events, in front of clients, in your program if you have one, and at business expos.

Over the years, you have accumulated a huge amount of knowledge in your specialist area. You have a unique set of experiences, and a unique take on your field of expertise. This unique approach to your subject can be very valuable to others who have less experience in that field.

The more mature we are, the more wisdom, knowledge and experience we can bring to our book, and the more valuable it is to our potential readership.

Deciding if you should write a book: 3 tips

If you’re unsure whether you should write a book, or if you have enough material for a book, first ask yourself these three questions:

  • Firstly and importantly, who’s your target audience?
  • Secondly, what have you got to say that is different from other books on the topic?
  • Thirdly, what ways will your book appeal to your readers – what will they get out of it that is new and different?

Another story about the power of words

A friend with a wife and young family told me that he and his wife recently had an appointment with a financial planner.

During the course of the meeting, the financial planner mentioned the word insurance. My friend related to this, because he was focused on asset and wealth protection. However, he noticed that his wife tensed up and disengaged from the financial planner as soon as he said it. Fortunately, the financial planner also noticed her reaction and changed tack, asking instead, ‘How do you feel about protection for your family?’

Her response immediately changed and she replied that of course she was interested in protecting their family.

Why did her reaction change so dramatically? Because the financial planner was now speaking her language. He had said the same thing, only with different words that made all the difference for her.

The power of words – everywhere

Everywhere we look, whatever we hear, we see evidence of the power of words. The algorithms of social media platforms such as Facebook work on the words that businesses use to present their offers to potential clients. How we react to the words and the way someone speaks to us evidences the power of words.

Choose your words well

Whether you’re writing a book as your business card, a novel, a self-help book, your memoirs … through the power of your words you are leaving a powerful legacy.

It’s important to get those powerful words right.


Gail Tagarro is a Book Writing Coach and Accredited Editor. She works with writers in any genre, fiction and nonfiction.


Acknowledgements

Images: Ocean by Griffin Wooldridge from Pexels; letters by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels


Get Your Book to the Finish Line Book Coaching Program

Have you been wanting to write a book forever? But you have no idea where or how to start writing? You’ve never written a book before and the idea scares you witless? Good news: I have the answer and I’d love to help you! Through my book coaching program, you’ll have a first draft of your book sooner than you could have thought possible.

Book a free discovery call with me

What other authors have you helped?

I’ve been helping authors with their books since the early 2000s. A small selection of more recent authors I’ve worked with are: Adam Bude The Art of Authentic Selling (business, non-fiction), Don Horsfall The Empyrean Quest (fiction, philosophical), Deb Peden 100 Ways to a Healthy 100 (nonfiction, health), Bianca Williams The Sidelined Series (fiction, rom-com), David Alomes First Adult Series (fiction, sci-fi).

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Sure do! Read my reviews here: Google Business, Facebook

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Writers Connect Newsletter Issue 41

Welcome to the Writers Connect newsletter Issue 41.

notebook coffee pencil sunglasses in cafe for writers connect newsletter issue 41
(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Writing is a human experience. It’s about connection with everyone and everything around us.

We understand you’re busy. So the newsletter usually has just four or five main items of content. A brief but satisfying read.

In this issue:

  • Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing
  • Word of the Day. An unusual word to keep your writing fresh
  • Humorous Quote
  • Writing Tip

Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing

Competitions featured in this issue of Writers Connect! cater to writers pretty much across the board. Closing dates are from 1—30 April 2021.

For competition closing dates, bear in mind these relate to the time zone where the competition originates, so check the relevant site.

Comp 1: The Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2021

There are a few rules to this competition ,but it’s free to enter and has a very generous winning prize.

About: Entrymust not have been published, self-published, accepted for publication in print or online, or have won or been placed in another competition at any time (including the Alpine Fellowship Academic Writing Prize)

Open to: International 18+. Limited to one entry per person

Word count: 2,500

Theme/Genre: All genres, e.g. prose, poetry, non-academic essays. Must be standalone, not extracts from a larger piece

Entry fee: Free

Closes: 1 April 2021

Prize: First = £10,000. Second = £3,000. Third = £2,000. The winner and two runners-up invited to attend the Fjällnäs symposium

Further details: https://alpinefellowship.com/writing-prize

Comp 2: Sana Romance Writing Contest

Sana Stories is a mobile app developed by 10th Muse for reading interactive fiction. For writers, Sana Stories is a self-publishing platform where anyone can publish interactive stories and receive royalties.

About: All stories submitted must be interactive, meaning they must have at least one choice between two different scenes for the reader to choose from. The stories must be written or transcribed with the original free-to-use Sana Writing Tool for interactive stories.

Open to: International. Participants can submit any number of stories. Submissions must be written in English

Word count: 5,000 minimum, no maximum

Theme: ‘Slow burn’

Genre: Romance

Entry fee: Free

Closes: 11 April 2021

Prize: First = 500€. Second = 200€. Third = 100€

Find out more: https://www.sanastories.com/writing-contests

Comp 3: F(r)iction Spring 2021 Writing Contest

F(r)iction is a journal that ‘ pushes the boundaries of traditional publishing’. They look for work with complex characters and a strong narrative arc, making readers feel something as they read it.

About: The organisers are looking for stories they haven’t seen before. This might be twisting or playing with genre, setting, language, voice …

Open to: International 13+

Word count: Short stories: 1,001 – 7,500. Flash fiction (up to three pieces in the same document): up to 1,000 words per piece. Poetry (up to five poems in the same document): up to three pages per poem. Creative nonfiction: up to 6,000

Theme/Genre: Categories available are short story, flash fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction

Entry fee: $10 –$15 depending on genre

Closes: 29 April 2021

Prize: First = $1,000

More info: https://frictionlit.org/contests/

Comp 4: Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

This contest with an open theme accepts stories and essays. Stories are considered works of fiction, and essays are short works of nonfiction.

About: You can submit an unlimited number of entries. Entries may be published or unpublished

Open to: International. No restriction on age of author. All countries eligible except Syria, Iran, North Korea, and Crimea (due to US government restrictions)

Word count: 6,000 maximum

Theme/Genre: Theme is open.Genres accepted are: fictional story, or nonfiction essay

Entry fee: $20 per entry

Closes: 30 April 2021

Prize: First = $3,000 best story & $3,000 for best essay. Top two winners receive gift certificates from co-sponsor. 10 Honourable Mentions receive $200 each (any category). Top 12 entries published online

Further details: https://winningwriters.com/our-contests/tom-howard-john-h-reid-fiction-essay-contest

Word of the Day

kangaroo word

This one’s quite cute and very Australian. According to the Macquarie Dictionary blog of 2 March, the term is being considered for the dictionary. A kangaroo word contains all the letters of one of its synonyms (known as a ‘joey word’). For example, ‘masculine’ contains all the letters for ‘male’.

Humorous Quote

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing—Margaret Chittenden (1935—), writer of short stories, articles, children’s books, and novels.

Writing Tip

Avoid using redundant phrases in your writing. An example is, ‘I’ll see you at 9 am in the morning.’ ‘am’ already indicates it’s morning. To make it clear that it’s the next day, you’d say, ‘I’ll see you at 9 am tomorrow’, or ‘I’ll see you at 9 in the morning.’ By avoiding redundancies, you’re making space for that truly engaging writing you’re capable of. You’ll find more examples here: Common Redundant Phrases and How to Avoid Them


For any feedback on Writers Connect Newsletter Issue 41, or to ask about our services, drop us an email or give us a call 0405 695 534

Book Writing Coach: ask about our exciting new book coaching program Get Your Book to the Finish Line
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