Monthly Archives: January 2013

Making Fewer Mistakes

Another grammar rant for you, this time one of my favourite English language confusions: the difference between less and fewer. Once again, it’s easy when you know how. Usually.

8items

Let’s start with a maths lesson – don’t worry if you don’t like maths, just bear with me. Numbers come in many types, but the two types we’re interested in here are discrete (not discreet) versus continuous. Shoe sizes, for example, are discrete. You can be a size 7 or 7.5, but you can’t take a 7.2333 shoe (although I think my right foot probably would if it could) any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. On the other hand, you can have 7.2333 ounces of flour.

Right, now I’ve told you that, forget it. It’s probably only helpful if you’re me; I don’t think it’s going to help anyone else with less and fewer at all.

When it comes to words (nouns, specifically), what’s important is the difference between what I call Quantity Nouns and Numeric Nouns. Quantity Nouns are nouns which come in quantities, Numeric Nouns are nouns which can be counted.

For example, I might have some boys (boys being a numeric noun) but some flour (flour being a quantity noun – you can’t have a number of flours). If you came along with some boys and some flour and gave everything to me, I’d have more boys and more flour, because the word “more” works for both quantity and numeric nouns. But if you came back later and took away what you’d given me, I’d have fewer boys but less flour.

FEWER goes with NUMERIC NOUNS

LESS goes with QUANTITY NOUNS

Here’s an even easier way of remembering it…

FEWER THINGS

LESS STUFF

If you can replace the noun with “things” then you use fewer, if you would replace the noun with “stuff”, use less.

The only problem left to look out for is that quantity nouns often get mixed with numeric noun amounts. For example: bags of flour, ounces of sugar, loaves of bread. If I have three bags of flour and you take one away, I’ve got FEWER bags (things) but LESS flour (stuff).

 

And the checkout lines? Well they are just wrong. Items = Things, so you can’t have less items!

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Editing The Phoenix Fire: The Plan

My first NaNoWriMo novel, The Phoenix Fire, was a real learning curve for me. I wrote it at speed, left it for a month or so and then tried to edit it. In terms of length, it was about right, the plot largely matched what I had planned, and after a month I was still far too close to it to do more than edit the text.

I let a few friends read it, and their response was mixed. The biggest issue they had was with the main character. I saw him as troubled but ultimately redeemable, they all hated him or, worse, didn’t give a damn about him. Still too close to it, I dealt with their more specific comments, picking at the text but ignoring the big issues of character and structure. Then I had a single copy printed, stuffed it on my bookshelf and left it there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’re now almost 3 years later and I’m going to let myself take it down from its shelf. Because, in spite of its clear failings, I believe it’s a story worth telling and I believe I have the skill to tell it. I’ve learned a lot about writing over the last couple of years, I’ve honed my craft and more importantly I’ve put a lot of mileage between myself and this novel.

I’m dreading reading it, because I think much of it will make me cringe. But I’m also looking forward to giving it another chance. My goal is to do this slowly, over the course of 2013, so I’m setting up some not-too-ambitious targets for each month. I’m going to try to post on the last day of each month with an update on how that’s going.

January: Plan the plan. So far so good, here it is!

February: Read through the whole thing once. If I spot any textual errors, I will pacify my inner editor by highlighting them, but this read-through is intended to reacquaint myself with the story, the plot and the characters. And to identify the big-picture problems. I’ll keep a notebook beside me to keep a record of anything that strikes me as wrong, then if I have time at the end of the month, I’ll try to organise what’s in it into different elements – plot, character, style, etc.

March: Complete steps 1-9 of the planning plan here (http://fandelyon.com/?p=329). This is about identifying problems, not fixing them, so by the end of March I don’t intend to have made a single change to the text of the novel.

April: Taking the notes from February and March, plan out the structure of the novel as if writing it afresh. Work out which scenes, chapters or subplots need to be cut / rewritten / added. Re-assess the character arcs and work out if characters need to be cut / changed / added. Again, this won’t involve any work on the text itself.

May – July: Rewrite, based on the plan from April. This is likely to involve quite a lot of new text, so I’m allowing three months.

August: Read through the whole piece. Again, I’ll have a highlighter for textual errors, but the focus will be on big-picture stuff and on making sure I’ve fixed everything identified in Feb – April.

September: Rewrites based on August’s read-through and picking up any textual errors highlighted in previous read-throughs.

October: Read through. Look for big and – in particular – little errors, check for things like: clichés, anachronisms, repetition, overuse of adverbs / adjectives.

November: Leave it alone. I’ll hopefully be doing NaNoWriMo again this year, and a month away from PF will give me the breather I need before December’s read-through.

December: Final read-through. Careful check for typos and minor textual issues.

Are you editing anything this year? Is there anything here you think I’ve missed or should do differently? I’d love to hear from you.

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Friday Fiction – She Waits

Better late than never. It’s taken me an unusually long time to edit this week’s FF attempt. I had the idea straight away, but wording it has proved a real challenge. Once again, the edits show how I got to where it ends up. I’d love to read your thoughts on the various decisions I took, and/or how well the piece works as a whole.

Other stories can be found on Rochelle’s site. The picture is from Renee Homan Heath.

copyright-renee-homan-heath

She waits

She waits for me at the end of the path. Her toes curl into the sand and the sea whispers at her back like a thousand angels. She waits, neither impatient for me to hurry nor lacking eagerness to be with me.

I journey alone now. Eager too, and perhaps more impatient than she. The path is beautiful and cannot be hurried. But sunlight drenches the beach and the sea is more refreshing than shade. Many feet have trod this path before me, and yet today it is all my own.

And at the end of the path, she waits.

V3 [Almost the same as the final version, barring some edits thanks to Sandra and Ted]

[This was a difficult edit. I like the story as it stands at the end of v2. I’m in two minds about swapping the genders, but somehow this seems to work better in my head as a woman waiting for a man. This edit was about “kill the puppies” – in other words, cutting out lines which I like, but know don’t belong.]

She waits for me at the end of the path [I never liked wooden anyway, so I’m happy to let it go]. Her toes curl into the sand [shame to lose her smile, but the toes are more unusual than a smile, which I think is important to aid the implication that this is his wife, not just an angel] and the sea whispers at her back like a thousand angels. She waits, neither impatient for me to hurry nor lacking eagerness to be with me.

I walk alone now [Slightly uncomfortable with this change as it approaches cliché. It cuts words though, so ultimately I’ve kept it. The addition of “now” hopefully another hint that they used to walk together]. Eager too, and perhaps more impatient than she. The path is beautiful and cannot be hurried. But sunlight drenches the beach and the sea is more refreshing than shade. [Bringing this line up allowed me to ditch the attempts to describe the path again] A thousand feet have trod these steps before me, and yet they are all my own. [They instead of It for noun agreement. I thought about losing this line, but even when I’m killing puppies, there is the occasional one I can’t drown!]

And at the end of the path, she waits. [I liked the echo in this version. I also wasn’t happy with “soon” in the previous version]

V2

[The first batch of edits was relatively easy. I took out anything that seemed superfluous or repetitive]

She waits for me at the end of the wooden path. Her toes curl into the sand as she smiles and the sea whispers at her back like a thousand angels. [The palm trees and coconut juice felt like over-doing it even as I wrote it, so that was an easy cut] She waits, neither impatient for me to hurry nor lacking in eagerness to be with me.

I tread the path alone [his weariness didn’t seem to fit with the path. The narrator still has some way to go, and I didn’t want it to be an unhappy path for him] . I too am eager, perhaps a little more impatient than she is. The path is beautiful and cannot be hurried. A thousand feet have trod these steps before me, and yet it is all my own.

The path is a varied mix of light and dark. But sunlight drenches the beach and the sea will refresh me in ways  the shade cannot. [This paragraph felt like the weakest as it was originally written. The shade / sun thing felt over-done, and repeated by the description of the beach, hence I cut it and punched up the beach bit]

She waits, and soon I will join her.

V1

She waits for me at the end of the wooden path. Her toes curl into the sand as she smiles and the sea whispers at her back like a thousand angels. Palm trees sway above her, a cool glass of fresh coconut juice in her hand tells me that all is alive and fertile in the brightness.

She waits, neither impatient for me to hurry nor lacking in eagerness to be with me.

And I tread the path slowly, step by weary step. I too am eager, perhaps, a little more impatient than she is. The path is beautiful and cannot be hurried. A thousand feet have trod these steps before me, and yet it is all my own.

The path is fascinating – a varied mix of light and dark: the warmth of the sun and the cool of the shade. But the beach of drenched in sunlight and the sea is refreshing in a way that the shade cannot be. She waits, and soon I will join her.

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Inspiration Monday – This is How it Starts

I’m a bit late today – visitors just left and I got distracted by life! But it’s still Thursday, so here’s my response to this week’s prompts. It’s a first draft, so I’ll be particularly grateful for your feedback.

This is how it starts

I know myself well enough. He’s got dazzling blue eyes, and a smile that lights a fire inside me. His accent is clearly an affectation, to make him seem less rich and intimidating, more approachable. And I know that, just as everyone around him knows it, but like the rest, I let him get away with it. I tease him instead, about something harmless – the colour of his tie – to show that I’m relaxed in his company, and he laughs to prove he knows I’m not.

This is how it starts. This is how it always starts.

It will end very differently, of course. The eyes will be steel blue then, and his smile will burn. His affectations will annoy, and my comments about what he wears will be bitingly sharp, or at least perceived that way. The deceptions will be more numerous and more brutal; the honesty too.

But for now, it is just beginning. He turns that smile on me and I grin back. He takes my hand and a little part of me melts into him. I know how it always ends, but I wonder if this time will be different, an end just like the beginning.holding_hands

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Bedtimes Stories #1

As a bit of light relief in your adult lives, here’s the latest story I’ve been telling Sebastian at bedtime. He seems to love it. It doesn’t send him to sleep, but he seems to love it. You can probably imagine the tickling and actions which go with it; if only I could also illustrate, there’d be pictures too.

Sebastian the Mouse

Once upon a time, there was a little mouse called Sebastian, and he lived in a house with two cats, three dogs, four children, and Mummy and Daddy.

Every night, Sebastian climbed out of his hole, ran across the kitchen floor, climbed up the fridge, and stole some cheese. Then he climbed down the fridge, scampered back across the floor and popped into his hole.

Now, in the house, there also lived two cats, called Pepsi and Max. They slept upstairs, curled up on Mummy and Daddy’s bed. But sometimes, in the middle of the night, they would come downstairs to see what was going on. And if they came downstairs when Sebastian the mouse was out of his hole, they would chase after him. Pounce! Pounce!

And Sebastian would have to run down the fridge, scamper across the kitchen floor and pop into his hole as fast as he could!

Now, in the house, there also lived three dogs, called Roger and Rover and Ralph. They slept in the basement, curled up in their baskets. But sometimes, in the middle of the night, they would come upstairs to see what was going on. And if they came upstairs when Pepsi and Max the cats were there, and if that was when Sebastian the mouse was out of his hole, Roger and Rover and Ralph would chase after Pepsi and Max. Woof! Woof! Woof!

And Pepsi and Max would chase after Sebastian. Pounce! Pounce!

And Sebastian would have to run down the fridge, scamper across the kitchen floor and pop into his hole as fast as he could!

Now, in the house, there also lived four children, called Amy, Billy, Charlie and Dan. They slept upstairs, in their own bedrooms. But at Christmas, in the middle of the night, they would come downstairs to see if Santa had left them any presents. And if they came downstairs when Roger and Rover and Ralph the dogs were there, and if that was when Pepsi and Max the cats were there, and if that was when Sebastian the mouse was out of his hole, they would laugh at Roger and Rover and Ralph. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

And Roger and Rover and Ralph would chase after Pepsi and Max. Woof! Woof! Woof!

And Pepsi and Max would chase after Sebastian. Pounce! Pounce!

And Sebastian would have to run down the fridge, scamper across the kitchen floor and pop into his hole as fast as he could!

Well! With all that noise, Mummy and Daddy were sure to wake up. And Daddy would come storming down the stairs, and see everyone out of bed and crashing about in the kitchen.

“Go to sleep!”

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Friday Fictioneers – A Reminder

This week’s FF photo is Rochelle’s own – taken from the cover of her short story anthology. It’s suitably eclectic for that purpose, so I’m intrigued as to what the fictioneers make of it. My response is below, together with previous editions again. Comments, critique and criticism all welcome.

Genre: Police Procedural!

menora

The Reminder

“What’s the picture, Guv?”

“That was taken at the first scene I ever investigated. Old Mr Lewinski killed himself and…”

“You keep the picture to remind you of the case?”

“I keep the picture to remind me that even criminals have their own human stories. Motivations that make sense in their own heads.”

“But … you said suicide?”

“Lewinski’s depression started when his daughter died in childbirth five years before. Old Lewinski raised the kid. See those crayons?”

“Oh God, he was there when the old man did it?”

“Sergeant, it was a murder-suicide. The kid was Lewinski’s first victim.”

 

Version 1:

“What’s the picture, Guv?”

“First scene I ever investigated. Old Mr Lewinski killed himself and…”

“You keep the picture to remind you of the case?”

“I keep the picture to remind me that even criminals have human stories.”

“But … you said suicide?”

“Lewinski’s depression started when his daughter died in childbirth five years before. The kid survived. See those crayons?”

“Oh God, he was there when the old man did it?”

“Sergeant, it was a murder suicide. The kid was Lewinski’s first victim.”

[At 84 words, quite a bit too short. I decided to go a lot longer for v2, then cut back, as I find it easier to cut than extend word by word.]

Version 2:

“What’s the picture, Guv?” asked Detective Sergeant Briggs, picking up the framed photograph from his boss’s desk. He’d been meaning to ask for years, and finally plucked up the courage this morning when the old man seemed in a talkative mood. [The easiest way to add words to a dialogue scene like this, is to add narrative. This is the background I’d thought was going on anyway, so I simply put it down on paper]

“That was taken at the first scene I ever investigated. Old Mr Lewinski killed himself and…” [Another way to add words is to cut out the colloquial shorthand of the senior officer.]

“You keep the picture to remind you of the case?” A menorah, a black and white photograph and an old telephone – off the hook as if someone had tried to call for help. [Again, narrative. I would have liked to keep the description of the photograph. I fought myself to keep this in the final edit, but ultimately, it didn’t make the grade, because having cut the rest back to dialogue, this bit of description stuck out.]

“I keep the picture to remind me that even criminals have human stories. Reasons, motivations that make sense in their own worlds.” [There’s a saying “Nobody ever does anything wrong by their own view of the world.” I needed a reason for the senior officer to keep the picture, but also I suspect that saying – fascinating in its own right – would be all the more potent to a murder detective.]

“But … you said suicide?” Something didn’t add up. [If I was adding narrative, I needed some in this second half of the piece, but I was very glad when I could take this out again. It feels very hard-boiled Detective story-ish to me.]

“Lewinski’s depression started when his daughter died in childbirth five years before. The kid survived her. See those crayons?” [Given the ending, “the kid survived” is confusing, so I added her. It still didn’t read right though, hence the change of focus in the final version.]

“Oh God, he was there when the old man did it?”

“Sergeant, it was a murder-suicide. The kid was Lewinski’s first victim.”

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Practise makes Perfect

Another grammatical point to add to my previous rants. Do check out the riders here if you’re planning to shoot me down in flames. On this particular post, North American readers may wish to look away – like all my posts, this one concerns British English. We all know you guys like getting our language wrong!

But in the UK, practice and practise are different words, as are licence and license. And, there are rules about which to use when.

Practice and Licence are nouns.

Practise and License are verbs.

As with all the rules I’ve been addressing in this series, it’s a simple rule and you’d think we could follow it. But we can’t. In the heat of the moment, we struggle; we write “practicing” and “licenced”, both of which can’t possibly be words, and we then we type about our “Driver’s License” and “Doctor’s Practise”, which might be all very well in America, but aren’t right in England.

A rule like that isn’t easy to remember. So here’s a version which is:

People don’t generally struggle with the spelling of Advice and Advise, because they are pronounced differently. You don’t need to change your pronunciation of License or Practise, but you can use this to help you remember the spellings.

Advice,  like Practice and Licence, is a noun.

Advise, like Practise and License, is a verb.

If in doubt, try replacing the word in your sentence with advice / advise and check which one sounds right.

eg “I have been practi?ing the violin” => “I have been advising the violin” (Advicing is obviously wrong).

eg2 “Did you bring your licen?e?” => “Did you bring your advice?” (Advise would sound wrong here).

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