Posts Tagged ‘tips for good writing’

Today’s Writers’ Tips


PLOT # 7

Continuing our study of fiction plots, we’ll look at plot number 7 today: riddle or mystery. If you’re a mystery writer, and a successful published one, I’m sure you have mastered the “tricks of the trade.” Writing a riddle or mystery has certain characteristics different from “regular” writing. So, let’s have a look at the important points needed in a good mystery:


The Maltese Falcon

The Lady or the Tiger

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Murder, She Wrote

  1. The core of your riddle should be in clever writing: hide that which is in plain sight.
  2. The tension of your riddle should come from the conflict between what happens as opposed to what seems to have happened.
  3. The riddle challenges the reader to solve it before the protagonist does. (And readers love this.)
  4. The answer to your riddle should always be in plain view without being obvious. (And that’s a “trick.”)
  5. The first dramatic phase should consist of the generalities of the riddle (persons, places, events).
  6. The second dramatic phase should consist of the specifics of the riddle (how persons, places, and events relate to each other in detail).
  7. The third dramatic phase should consist of the riddle’s solution, explaining the motives of the antagonist(s), and the real sequence of events (as opposed to what seemed to have happened).
  8. Write to a specific audience, i.e. age, sex, etc.
  9. Choose between an open-ended and a close-ended structure. (Open-ended riddles have no clear answer; close-ended ones do.)

So, there you have it. If you’ve never tackled a mystery, maybe now you’ll be brave enough to try one. And the mystery to solve is CAN YOU DO IT?

Next time, we’ll look at plot # 8: RIVALRY

All information compliments of:

Tobias, Ronald B (2011-12-15). 20 Master Plots (p. 189). F+W Media, Inc. Kindle Edition.

(I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in writing good fiction in any subgenre!”)

Happy writing!



Dallis believes the phantom stallion really does exist, no matter how much her friends make fun of her.

But what happens when she and Snow have a face-to-face encounter?

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Let’s Talk Grammar for a While

 (Grammar Post Number Three)

The Too Common Comma

Let’s continue discussing grammar, in particular punctuation, and have a look at the too common comma. What can we say nice about this little squiggly line that seems to get in the way of our good writing more than we care to admit?

In all my editing jobs, I’ve seen the comma misused and abused more than any other punctuation mark. Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to type or write; it just kind of slides onto the paper without anyone noticing. But I think it’s time we look at a few rules that will spruce up your writing and help your readers actually get a grip on what you’re trying to say!

The cardinal rule for using commas is when in doubt, don’t use them. But if you want to, or you HAVE to use them, (and you do), then let’s use them correctly. Here are a few pointers that seem to trip up everyone:

  • When you have two compound sentences, use a comma to separate them. Now remember that a compound sentence (two independent clauses) has two subjects and two verbs:


Example: Bruce bought a brand new red car, but his brother Ed bought a use blue truck.

Example:   Sally baked a cake for Tom’s birthday, and she bought him a new watch.

Example: (Exception: If the compound sentence is real short, there’s NO COMMA) Harry played but Bill slept.

  • Do NOT use a comma in a simple sentence with a compound verb. This is the most frequent misuse of a comma. I see this again and again in the manuscripts that I edit and critique:


Example:   Sally baked a cake for Tom’s birthday and bought him a new watch.


NOTE: There is no comma after birthday because there is only one subject in this sentence: Sally. The compound verbs are “baked” and “bought.”

  • Use a comma before the word “and” in a series. Now this can be confusing because grammar rules seem to change frequently. A few years back the rule was that you shouldn’t use a comma before the word “and” in a series; but over the last year or so, the grammar gods decided to change it. Who does the changing and why? I don’t have a clue:


Example:   Tyler washed the dog, cut the grass, changed the oil in his car, and went to the store on Saturday.

Example:   Bill invited Sue, Ellen, Marcy, Joe, and Kim to the grand opening.

  • Use a comma after the year in a date only if the month and day are mentioned first:


Example: On December 25, 2011, we celebrated the birth of Christ.

Example: (NO COMMA) In December of 2011 we celebrated the birth of Christ.

  • Use a comma after an introductory phrase or dependent clause that introduces a main clause:


Example: After Claude started his new job, he fell and broke his leg.

Example: If Charlie doesn’t soon get a haircut, he’ll look like a lion.

Example: (Exception: NO COMMA in a short introductory phrase) In winter the snow falls frequently in the northeast.

  • Although there are several more comma rules that we don’t have the time or space to consider, we’ll discuss one more use that is frequently misused. (Dig out your Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk and White’s Manual of Style for more uses and misuses.)


 Use a comma in a nonrestrictive clause (not needed clause), in particular, with   names and titles:

Example:   My husband, Richard, was a marine.

(The commas set off the name “Richard,” indicating that my husband and Richard are one and the same; therefore, “Richard” could be deleted, and the sentence would still be accurate and correct grammatically.) My husband was a Marine.

Example:   (NO COMMA in a restrictive clause: a word or phrase that is necessary)

My dog Bailey is a little tornado and loves to run. (I have two dogs, so I don’t use commas before and after Bailey. If I would use commas here, you could delete the word “Bailey;” but then you wouldn’t know to which dog I’m referring.)

Now that you are totally confused about the use of commas, would you like a cup of egg nog? How about some cookies? How about a brand new Chicago Manual of Style that might confuse you more? Maybe you should start on your Christmas wish list already. ☺

Next time, we’ll discuss “em” dashes and “en” dashes.





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I would say that apostrophes are probably the most misused punctuation marks used in the English language. I constantly see them abused on bulletin boards, road signs, store ads, mailboxes, and all kinds of other literature in the mail. What is it about that squiggly little mark that frustrates folks to no end?

Well, the biggest problem is that most people never pay any attention in their English classes in school to learn how to use the little buggers correctly. The second reason they are so misused is because it’s just so easy to do so. And I must admit that some of the rules for usage are a little complicated. So let’s look at a few of the common mistakes we see with apostrophes:

  1. Right: It’s a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe. (It’s stands for “it is.”)

Wrong: Its a shame you can’t remember how to use the apostrophe.

  1. Right: The dog chewed its bone apart in ten minutes.

Wrong: The dog chewed it’s bone apart in ten minutes. (Remember that it’s stands for “it is.”)

  1. Right: The Hublers live in Middleburg.

Wrong: The Hubler’s live in Middleburg. (That apostrophe makes the name possessive and refers to one Hubler. And what does the one dear Hubler own? Nothing in this sentence; therefore, the apostrophe shouldn’t be used. This is probably the most abused punctuation mark of any.)

  1. Right: The Hublers’ house is in Middleburg. (If you are referring to more than one Hubler.)

Wrong: The Hubler’s house is in Middleburg. (Only is correct if you are talking about one Hubler, but you wouldn’t say, “The Hubler’s house …”)

  1. Right: The kitten’s toy is a stuffed mouse. (Referring to one kitten)

Wrong: The kittens’ toy is a stuffed mouse. (This refers to more than one kitten. Does it make sense to say that more than one kitten has the same toy? I guess if you’re talking about a litter of kittens, but let’s not stretch the truth to extremes here.)

Next, example number six is another very misused form of the apostrophe. I see so many signs and announcements with apostrophes used when the word should be only the plural.

  1. Right: Hoagies Sold Here! (Plural: hoagies)

Wrong: Hoagies’ Sold Here! (The hoagies’ what are sold there? The apostrophe used here means that the hoagies own something. What do they own?)

  1. Right: Mary said you’re going to church with me. (You’re stands for “you are.”)

Wrong: Mary said your going with me.

  1. Right: Robert Burns’s poems are famous. (In some quarters, Burns’ is acceptable too)

Wrong: Robert Burnses poems are famous.

  1. Right: The children’s recess period ended at ten. (Always write the plural first, then add the apostrophe at the end.)

Wrong:  The childrens’ recess period ended at ten.

  1. Right:   The writers’ conference was held in July. (Also acceptable is “writers conference” with no apostrophe)

Wrong:  The writer’s conference was held in July. (There was only one writer in attendance?)

And just for clarity’s sake, let me share a few more tricky words that sometimes do and sometimes don’t get apostrophes:

          CDs              DVDs      dos and don’ts

no ifs, ands, or buts

          ABCs          VIPs            the 1970s

         the Joneses (Plural, not possessive)

        two Toms, three Dicks, four Harrys

        moose’s (the same for singular + plural)

There are lots of other examples of how the poor apostrophe is misused, but these that I’ve mentioned are the blatant ones.

If you’re having problems with apostrophes, feel free to print this info and use it when you’re in a pickle, wondering what you should do. It’s a good thing to master if you’re into writing.

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