Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Grammar Blind Spots

photo courtesy Pixabay.com

"I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it." --Carl Sandburg

I have grammar blind spots. They shouldn't surprise me--no one is the perfect grammarian, right? not even Mr. Sandburg it would seem--but still when they're pointed out, I tend to go, what?? How could I have missed that?

Except when I'm in the dark and the mistake jumps out of the blue. Whoa, I didn't even realize. Thankfully my beautiful friends and writer critique buddies are smart, kind, and...well...non-critical. Helpful. Encouraging. Did I say smart? Thanks, Lanita and Connie.

We were working on potential short submissions this month, and, following our monthly meeting where we talked about them, I emailed my revisions for their final perusal. Lanita pointed out the use of a word she had already mentioned at our meeting--and, it turns out, a correction I had promptly forgotten. This time she sent me a link asking if I thought its explanation might help.

My usage? "I can still see myself pouring over vocabulary lists..."

Her thought? "I think 'poring' is the word you need."

And of course she was right.

In gently leading me to the correct choice of words, she also steered me to a website I had never visited, but now count as one of great value: vocabulary. com. Here the pouring/poring issue is made clear:

"A pore is a small opening in a surface that lets stuff through. To pour, on the other hand, means to flow continuously and rapidly...As a verb (though), to pore is used with through or over and means that you are absorbed in the study of something or that you are reading something intensely." Hence: "I can still see myself poring over vocabulary lists."

Ah, the light bulb goes off. The understanding soaks in. The appreciation builds.

I'll be visiting vocabulary.com more often, starting with another troublesome combination for me: farther vs. further. I always have trouble with their correct usage, too. Why do I have such a blind spot when it comes to some of these words? Oh, the life of the writer--where there's always room to learn something new!

What grammar issues play in your blind spot? Any favorite grammar resources that you might recommend?


Friday, February 14, 2014

10 Things Writers Have in Common with Woodpeckers

"The woodpecker might have to go." 
Courtesy of christianfunnypictures
Okay, I finally got a walk in this morning before getting blasted with yet another wave of snow (3"-5" predicted again tonight). What freedom I felt. How invigorating was the crisp air. What a refreshing chance to see something besides the four walls of the house. 

Then, lo and behold, I looked up and saw...a woodpecker. And the bright discovery added a bonus to my walk: inspiration. Here was this red-capped, feathered creature out in the cold, too, another survivor of this never-ending winter, and a fragile little guy faithfully doing his thing--pecking away and getting results.

So, as you might have already guessed, I was inspired to look closer at the life of a woodpecker. Not surprisingly, I found some things writers have in common with him.

10 Things Writers Have in Common with Woodpeckers

1. "Woodpeckers can peck up to 20 times per second, or a total of 8,000-12,000 times per day." How many keyboard keys do we peck (tap) in a day?
2. "Many woodpeckers have barbed tongues that help them extract bugs from trees and holes." What tools do we have to extract just the right words out of our heads?
3. "The woodpecker also has a very long tongue, up to four inches long in some species, with a glue-like substance on the tip for catching insects." Do we have the ability to stick with a project?
4. "The woodpecker's strong, pointed beak acts as both a chisel and a crow bar to remove bark and find hiding insects." Do we have a strong nose for the story, a drilling focus, and crowbar tenacity to pull it all out in its best form?
5. "Most woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet, which means they have toes facing the front and toes facing the back to help them grip trees vertically." What helps us grip our... ahem... backsides to our chairs and stay there until the work is done?
6. "They use those toes with their stiff tail feathers to brace on trees as they climb." Do we have as stiff a backbone to see the project through?
7. "Feathers that look like bristles on the nostrils of the woodpecker prevent inhalation of wood particles." Okay, this might be a stretch, but how do we put on blinders to block out the distractions when we are in the 'zone' and the words are flowing?
8. "Woodpeckers have a unique flying pattern: three wing flaps are followed with gliding." Have we found our rhythm? Mixing writing and living (defined as cherishing relationships, maintaining myriad responsibilities, etc etc )...sometimes it seems like one suffers at the hands of the other. Yet we desire to keep things in balance, don't we?
9. And speaking of relationships, "woodpeckers are monogamous (one mate for a lifetime)." You could say 'family' is important to the woodpecker, too!
10.  "Woodpeckers eat primarily insects, along with fruit, acorns and nuts." Well, writers might want to substitute chocolate for insects and acorns, but otherwise fruits and nuts sound good.

I did find one way, however, that woodpeckers are different than writers:
1. "Woodpeckers don't get headaches from pecking. They have reinforced skulls structured to spread the impact force, and their brains are tightly cushioned and protected." Are our skulls as cushioned in the event we bang our heads on our desks in our most frustrated sessions?!

Have you ever considered your affinity with the woodpecker? Any comparisons you can think of that wasn't touched on here? Would you throw the woodpecker off the ark???

"Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head and keeps pecking away until he finishes the job he starts." --Coleman Cox

Sources for facts on woodpeckers:
Basic Facts About Woodpeckers
Woodpecker Trivia
Woodpecker Facts
Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Concussions

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Putting a Face on Character: Questionnaire Resources

clipart courtesy pixabay.com
"I like it when the deeper you go with the character, the more 
you see the layers start to peel away." --Edward Norton

Had a need this week to go deeper with a minor character, peel away the layers of his life--see his face a little clearer. Where to go for prompts?

Thankfully we don't have to go far. Some resources I've found helpful:

Pulling out some favorite questions:

"Look at your character's feet. Describe what you see there. Does he wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is he in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is he wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?"

"When your character thinks of her childhood kitchen, what smell does she associate with it? Sauerkraut? Oatmeal cookies? Paint? Why is that smell so resonant for her?"

"Dear Character: How do you feel in a crowd? How do you feel alone?"

"Your two main characters have to change a flat tire in the rain. What do you learn about them from this?"

The danger is in getting lost in the lists, they pose so many possibilities!

Do you have favorite questions that help reveal who your character is and what motivates him or her? Glimpses into the past that helped shape your character's present? A favorite questionnaire source you frequent?