Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Banishing Writer's Block: New Idea

I've invented a new exercise to help with writer's block. Try writing the worst opening line you can dream up. For ideas, look at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest website (www.bulwer-lytton.com) and browse the previous years' entries. If you enjoy tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top humor, you'll get a laugh out of these offerings.  And they are all highly creative. 

Here's my attempt:


His fingers poised like kestrels over the keys, his audience reverently hushed and expectant, legendary pianist Arturo Moysevich prepared to strike the first note of Franz Liszt’s impossibly difficult Transcendental Etude no. 4, when the piano stool collapsed beneath him, causing him to smash his jaw against the keyboard, bruise his ankles on the stage floor, whack his knees against the steel pedals, and wonder if insuring his hands was the best idea. 





What can you come up with? Bowl me over!





Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blip Those Bloopers

Last week I challenged readers to blip the bloopers in the example. Thank you to all who waded in. Here's what was wrong with the original, apart from the fact it shamelessly borrows the idea of thirteen chimes from George Orwell:

Walking through the door, the clock struck thirteen. Confused by so many chimes, it was no surprise Charlene bumped into the wall. With a throbbing head, she tried to lay on her stained and worn-out boyfriend’s sofa where a pile of beer cans were on it. Stomping to the kitchen, she picked up the beer cans, dropping them down on the floor, laughing gleefully as she loudly yelled, “Gotcha, Wayne!” Leaving the kitchen, she passed the clock and rapidly hurled it at the front door that started opening suddenly. She hit a man that was coming in. It was her boyfriend Wayne. “Oops,” she gulped regretfully as she bit her lip. Wayne did not respond as due to the affect of the clock he was laying unconscious, and the clock would not stop chiming continuously.

The subject should immediately follow opening participial phrases such as "walking through the door," and "confused by so many chimes." The clock didn't walk through the door; Charlene did. The verb to lay takes an object, as in "to lay an egg." The verb to lie doesn't take an object. Charlene didn't try to lay an egg, she tried to lie on the sofa. The adjectives "stained and worn-out" apply to the sofa, not her boyfriend, and so should come immediately before the noun they modify. "Stomping to the kitchen, she picked up the beer cans." 
She picked up the beer cans first and then stomped to the kitchen. "Dropping them down ..." - "down" is redundant because it's implied in the verb dropped"Laughing gleefully" is overkill. When you laugh, you usually are gleeful. Loudly yelled is also redundant. Yelling is always loud. And I don't think it's possible to laugh and yell, "Gotcha, Wayne" at the same time, unless you're a ventriloquist.  

"Leaving the kitchen, she passed the clock ..." Charlene left the kitchen before she passed the clock. She didn't do both actions at the same time: After she left the kitchen, she passed ... etc. The same principle applies to "rapidly hurled" because the verb to hurl implies rapidity. "Started opening suddenly" is illogical. There's nothing sudden about a door that is starting to open. And "suddenly" is a cliche that's best avoided whenever possible. "She hit a man that was coming in." That applies to animals and objects, not human beings. Who is the correct relative pronoun for humans. "It was her boyfriend Wayne." "He was her boyfriend, Wayne" would be less awkward, and simply, "- her boyfriend Wayne" would be even less awkward. And assuming Charlene does not have more than one boyfriend, the word boyfriend should be followed by a comma. "Oops," she gulped. You can't "gulp" an "oops" can you? She said "oops" and then gulped.  And "gulped regretfully" is overkill again. The gulping implies regret, doesn't it? "She bit her lip" is another of those cliches that pop up whenever we try too hard to "show" rather than "tell." "Wayne did not respond as due to the affect of the clock ..." This isn't grammatically incorrect but "as due to" is certainly very awkward. "Was laying" - again Wayne wasn't laying an egg; he was lying unconscious. "And the clock would not stop chiming continuously" is another example of redundancy. "Would not stop chiming," or "chimed continuously," is sufficient because "would not stop" and "continuously" mean the same thing.

Here's my effort at blipping the bloopers, strictly word-for-word revision, no creative flourishes:

As Charlene walked through the doorway, the clock struck thirteen. Confused by that unusual number of chimes, Charlene, not surprisingly, bumped into the wall. Because her head throbbed, she tried to lie on her boyfriend's stained and worn-out sofa, which was covered by a pile of beer cans. Picking up the beer cans, she stomped to the kitchen, dropped them on the floor, laughed, and yelled, "Gotcha, Wayne!" After leaving the kitchen, she passed the clock and hurled it at the front door, which had begun to open. She hit a man who was entering - her boyfriend, Wayne. "Oops." She gulped. Wayne did not respond. He had been knocked unconscious by the clock, which would not stop chiming.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sidestep Those Grammatical Traps!

Sidestep Those Grammatical Traps!

I'm finally reviving the moribund and giving my blog site a more lighthearted tweak. With so much to daunt us as we try to dodge, sidestep, or -  in moments of temporary insanity -  meet head-on those pointy proverbial slings and arrows of daily life, offering a little levity can be therapeutic. At least, that's my intention. It may fall short because we all have different senses of humor, and some of us have no sense of humor whatsoever. 

I'll try to keep on track - that is, stick to topics on writing, editing, publishing, literacy, and children's literature. Other pet interests may push their noses around the corner from time to time if I become too enthusiastic about them, but I can always give them a grammatical bash over the head so they "fit" in.  

I also plan to offer my thoughts, and the thoughts of guest bloggers, on a regular basis. I'll start with once a week. How about every Wednesday? I suggest this day for absolutely no particular reason. Your ideas are more than welcome.

In this blog, I'll tackle something I come across all the time in my editorial wanderings: the dreaded dangling modifier. This sneaky grammatical trap is all too easy to fall into. Here's an example:
Sheila caught sight of a kangaroo looking through her binoculars. 
Assuming the kangaroo is not that smart, the sentence should read: 
Looking through her binoculars, Sheila caught sight of a kangaroo. 
Here's another example: 
Having offered a few grammar tips, your comments are welcome.
I'm sorry but your comments didn't offer the grammar tips. I did. The correct version is:
Having offered a few grammar tips, I welcome your comments. 

Here's a little trash bin of grammatical and stylistic mistakes. Try improving the paragraph yourself. I'd love to see your corrected versions in the blog comments. Alternatively, you can send them to me at maggielyons66 at gmail dot com and I'll publish them, unless the volume of enthusiastic responses is overwhelming. In that case, I'll have to pick and choose. Ah! To dream! In my next blog, I'll explain some of the bloopers here.

Walking through the door, the clock struck thirteen. Confused by so many chimes, it was no surprise Charlene bumped into the wall. With a throbbing head, she tried to lay on her stained and worn-out boyfriend’s sofa where a pile of beer cans were on it. Stomping to the kitchen, she picked up the beer cans, dropping them down on the floor, laughing gleefully as she loudly yelled, “Gotcha, Wayne!” Leaving the kitchen, she passed the clock and rapidly hurled it at the front door that started opening suddenly. She hit a man that was coming in. It was her boyfriend Wayne. “Oops,” she gulped regretfully as she bit her lip. Wayne did not respond as due to the affect of the clock he was laying unconscious, and the clock would not stop chiming continuously.