Writer Wednesday: Hanging Flags

Jodi L. Milner, Author

It’s Wednesday and that means a special post for all you writers out there. Woohoo!

Lately I’ve been enjoying the wit of comedian Jim Gaffigan. He’s clean and several of his routines are on Netflix, which is a double bonus for those like me that need something funny to unwind to after a long day and can’t exactly head out to a club. Babysitters are expensive.

Once of Jim’s signature elements in his routine is that he will insert his own criticisms into the flow of the joke. You know it’s coming because he turns to the side and impersonates a generic grandma from the audience, I imagine his mother. It is these asides that make his routines unique and even funnier than if he did a straight up routine. It is also a brilliant way to draw more attention to the joke itself and make it even funnier.

While watching…

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Posted in Art of Writing

Grammarland: Then vs Than

Jodi L. Milner, Author

It’s Writer Wednesday here and today we will tackle a mini grammar concept – the difference between then and than. These writing themed posts used to be the weekly mainstay of my other blog, My Literary Quest, but will now be hosted here and reblogged there.

Comic Originally posted at The Oatmeal Comic Originally posted at The Oatmeal as part of the “Ten Words you need to Stop Misspelling” infographic

Then can be used as three different parts of speech, which is probably why it gets mixed up so often with than. The main use of then is as an adverb, specifically to situate an action in time. For example,  she attended English class and then went to lunch. It’s also part of the if … then construction –If you clean your room, then I will tell you my secret.

Then can also be used as a noun meaning that time. (e.g…

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Posted in Art of Writing

Writer Wednesday: Magical Realism

The weekly writing post will now be hosted over at my Author blog, go check it out!

Jodi L. Milner, Author

Welcome to writer Wednesday! Here we will tackle topics of interest to fellow writers and hopefully interesting to readers of fiction. These posts used to be written over at My Literary Quest but now will be featured here and reblogged there.

Today we will discuss the literary genre, magical realism.

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Although it feels like the term “Magical Realism” is fairly new, it has actually been around since the 1920s. As a fantasy writer myself, I wanted to explore this term to better understand it.

The idea of magical realism sprang up first from a German art critic, Franz Roh, who used it to describe art that pushed beyond the surreal, creating intriguing, thought provoking works. This art was known for it’s photographic clarity and focused on the magical nature of the real world.

This art inspired writers to find the same feeling in their works. They aimed to capture the…

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Posted in Art of Writing

Writing Exercise: Try Resetting Your Setting

cemetary-irelandSometimes scenes refuse to come together.  They are missing that element that makes them special and feel downright boring. Sometimes the characters or plot are to blame, if the conflict isn’t driving them toward a goal then you have a problem. Assuming your plot is awesome, try this:

Reset Your Setting

Setting is often the last thing a writer will consider when creating a scene in their story. With so much other awesome stuff going on it’s easy to overlook. For this exercise, take an existing scene, or one that you are preparing to write, and place it somewhere different. Ideally this place should be a place that adds a distinct emotional tone to the scene.

Have a chase scene in a busy metropolis? Take it through a cemetery or a department store. See what happens when your hero trips over a gravestone or gets tangled up in a rack of lingerie.  A spooky graveyard scene adds more moments for your hero to experience horror. Fighting against a pile of underclothes is downright funny. Neither of these emotional beats would have happened if the hero been stuck on Main St.

Lover’s quarrel in an apartment? Take it to a bakery or a roof top observatory. Let the smells of the bakery comfort the hero and bring back memories of the good times, or the sight of the drop off tighten their already frayed nerves to the breaking point.

Have fun with it. The worst that could happen is that you can’t use the scene and have to try again. The best, however, is that you end up with a scene that’s memorable and interesting.

Whatever happens, Happy Writing!

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Want to see more writing exercises? Here’s a handy link.

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April is Poetry Month

I don’t know why we do it, assigning commemorative days and weeks and whole months to different ideas. It’s a strange phenomenon. It is as if those things don’t have enough of a voice, that we must draw extra attention to them. And for the most part, that is precisely why it is done.

April is poetry month. It is also: (list from wikipedia: List of Commemorative Months)

Because I’m no poet, check out these other wonderful writers for their contributions to the cause.  Many have taken the April poetry challenge where they write a poem a day, or a total of 30 poems during the month.

I hope you enjoy this sampling of poetry, and as always,

Happy Writing!

Posted in Inspiration | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Friendly Reminder – Back Up Your Work!

blue-screenIt’s April Fool’s day, and for many that means playing pranks and fooling around. My April Fool’s came early, and I wish it was a prank. Yesterday, a member of my family (I won’t name names) downloaded a malicious virus on my personal computer. We’re talking the kind of virus that reaches out and downloads dozens of other programs and in the process sends hundreds upon hundreds of pop-ups and errors flooding the screen. It even breeches barriers between user accounts, and sinks its teeth into the hard drive itself.

The problem with this type of virus is that you can never be sure that you have removed all of its components. Even when it seems the crisis is over, there might be something lurking inside waiting for you to let your guard down. We had two options, wipe the entire drive clean and start over, or buy a new hard drive and very carefully load needed programs and files on it.

We were in need of an upgrade anyway, so we chose the latter. I am now the proud owner of a solid state 260 GB hard drive. It’s fast, it’s quiet, and is now free of any irritating bugs. The kids are no longer allowed to use my personal computer, they have one of their own so it’s not like they’re missing out.

Until we had finished replacing the hard drive and reloading everything back onto it, I had no assurance that the manuscript I had worked on for the past five years was safe. My last back up was months ago, and the thought of having to re-edit all of those chapters once more makes me want to cry. Had I been more proactive in backing up my work, this wouldn’t have been an issue. I wouldn’t have had to worry as much.

I used to keep the files saved on both my hard drive and on a USB key.  It was so easy to back it up this way that I didn’t forget to do it. Then, I changed my writing software. The new filing system made it more complicated to save it to the USB and I didn’t do it. Every few months my darling hubby would ask me to send him a back up copy, just in case, and I would avoid it because most of the time I couldn’t get the program to create and export a usable backup file.

That’s what I get for using free software. I have purchased new software, Scrivner, and I plan to plug my project into it as soon as I finish this draft, which I hope will be soon. With it, one of the first things I’m going to do is figure out the best way to back up my project files and save them off site.

Let this be a lesson to you! Back up your work, do it often, and do it in more than one place.

And as always,

Happy Writing!

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Grammarland: Apostrophe

Contrary to most of English, the apostrophe is a fairly easy lesson.  It only has two uses – just two – and they are 99% consistent.  Because it’s so easy you’d think that you would rarely see errors.  WRONG. I see errors all the time, half of the time it’s me that’s making them.

Let us review these two uses, shall we?

Oh, wait … oh dear … I lied.  This is a bit more complicated than I originally thought. I guess there is a reason that apostrophe rhymes with catastrophe. Hang on, because here we go!

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Possession – We’re not talking demonic possession. That would be far more exciting. We’re talking about legal possession, as in owning or having with you at the time. These are names or sometimes nouns and pronouns.

  • John’s wallet is empty.
  • Here is Melissa’s brush.
  • The book’s teachings are lame.
  • Where is the house’s number?

Possession on words ending in “s” – This is where things can get a little tricky.  In general, if it is a noun add an apostrophe + s, if it’s a proper noun, particularly surnames, stick the apostrophe at the end (so you don’t change the name inadvertently).

  • The class’s teacher wears a toupee.
  • The lass’s pony broke the gate.
  • That is Mr. Edwards’ mailbox. (It would never be written “Edward’s” as that changes the name.)

This has one condition – if a proper name is traditionally said with the double s sound, like the Jones’s (“Jones-ez”) then the apostrophe + s is used. The same goes for first names that end in s, like Atticus. It would be Atticus’s thingy.

Possession with Plural regular nouns – Sometimes several of something possess something together.  This is where the apostrophe with no “s” comes in handy.

  • These are the girls’ drinks.
  • The guys’ shirts need to be washed.
  • The actresses’ award. (Not actresses’s!)

Possession with irregular nouns – Some nouns plural forms do not use the “s” at the end. Children, teeth, women, etc. With these, be sure to not add an extra “s” when making them possessive.

  • The children’s books (not childrens’s!)
  • The women’s purses.
  • The men’s coats.

Possessive plurals with proper names – this is where your brain will start to melt. Be warned. What if there are several Jones families that all own something? What then? In this unlikely event,  you would have to do this super awkward construction:

  • The Joneses’s yacht. (remember, Joneses is usually pronounced so yes, there would be three repetitions of the “s” sound!)
  • The Hastingses’ car.

Possession with compound nouns. A compound noun is a noun with hyphens. The apostrophe always comes at the end.  If it is to be plural, the plural “s” comes behind the first word.

  • My mother-in-law’s famous bundt cake.
  • My fathers-in-law’s law firm. (both fathers-in-law own the firm)

Possession with two separate people – when two people are in possession of an item the apostrophe is always behind the second person. Always.

  • Gandalf and Frodo’s quest.
  • Mother and father’s estate.

FINALLY – the other use for an apostrophe – for contractions!

When a letter is omitted when two words are joined, an apostrophe is placed there instead.

  • Don’t, won’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, haven’t, you’ve, I’ve

However – it is never used in personal pronouns (this is why it’s and its gets so messed up!)

  • These are: hers, ours, yours, theirs, its, whose, and oneself

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There are a few other fiddly little bits, but I will not cover them here. If you are stuck and need extra help, here are a few other resources:

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Like Grammarland posts? Check out the complete series!

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Genre Talk: Steampunk

Goggles, gears and gadgets, watch work mechanisms and pneumatics, corsets and fancy hats. All these and more make up the steampunk genre. Traditionally, steampunk is centered around the beginnings of the industrial age.  Steampunk stories evoke feelings of wonder, discovery, and exploration. Often the new burgeoning technology takes center stage as a key element, if they were to be removed, the story couldn’t take place.

Common elements tend to crop up in most stories.  The first and foremost trait is the use of the airship as the most civilized and refined manner of travel. In fact, airships are so ingrained in the genre that convention goers are often organized into airship crews.

airship1Another, slightly more bizarre, trait is the use of mechanics and gizmos in medicine. Replacing organs and limbs with ornate and complicated machines is a natural part of this alternate universe and is as creepy as it is fascinating. This explains the appearance of mechanical limbs in many pieces of steampunk art.

Steampunk-falksenAlso, there is a very distinct manner of dress, and I’m not talking about wearing goggles, although most steampunk costuming ends up having a pair. The beginnings of the industrial era took place in the Victorian era and extended into the Edwardian. This means that gentlemen wore suits and hats, and ladies wore shape altering dresses and lots of lace. The clothing is elaborate and detailed and every piece has a function.

e09565f47888005a1bdb8b24d43a94c6Steampunk_Lady_2_by_Leder_Joe

Did I mention that they also love leather works?

You’ll notice that there is also a grunge/goth feel to a lot of steampunk which I can’t honestly explain.

Steampunk enthusiasts are insanely creative people and are often known to create elaborate costumes and wear them to conventions. There are even conventions specifically geared toward the genre. (Want to attend one? Here’s a handy list) To many, steampunking isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. It reflects the desire to return to an age of wonder and be a part of the cutting edge of discovery.

For writers, steampunk usually falls into science fiction because the stories revolve around the science itself. However, it is not unusual for a fantasy element, like magic or mythical creatures, to pop up here and there. It also can lend itself to horror and historical fiction and other speculative arenas making it truly a hybrid genre.

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To read more about steampunk, check out these links:

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Related links:

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Medieval Village Anatomy 101

If you are writing a historical fiction, or epic fantasy, chances are one of your settings will be in a medieval village.  Not all villages are set up in the same way, but for the most part they will all share many of the same features.  These features include:

Wheat fields – Every town needs to eat, and chances are there isn’t a Walmart nearby. They can only eat what they grow.

Black Smith – To be able to harvest food and build and repair buildings you need tools, and those tools need to be made. He also shoes horses.

Mill – Situated next to a stream or river, the mill grinds the grains that the village grows into flour to make bread and other items.

Village Church – Almost always located in the center of the town near the village green, this is where people would go to worship and also settle minor disputes.  Often the church would also function as a town hall.

Rectory – home of the clergy of the church and also serves as the administrative offices as well.

Fallow Fields – Before industrial fertilizer it was common to leave a field unplanted for a season for the dirt to regain some of the nutrients that had been stripped from it the season before. It makes for healthier, more productive crops.

Village Green – this was a large grassy area where celebrations and tournaments were held.

Lord’s Manor House – You can’t have a village without a Lord.  He is the one who owns the land and it is his responsibility to see that it is developed and defended.  The village comes as an extension of his needs. His manor would be located off to one side, on a hill when possible.

Lord’s Forest – Located near the Lord’s manor and meant for the use of the Lord.  The game animals living with the Lord’s forest are the property of the Lord and it was a crime to hunt them for personal use.

Vegetable fields – Man cannot live by bread alone, so it makes sense that they planted a variety of foods. Most vegetables were grown in kitchen gardens to leave the fields for more important crops like grains that would keep for years in silos and store houses.

The Common – is land owned collectively by a number of people and they use the land for their livestock to graze, to collect firewood, and to cut turf for fuel.  Those who own part of a common were called commoners, which is the origin of the term. The common was originally owned by the manor and was legally part of his estate.  Occasionally the village green was also considered a common as well.

Lord’s Oven or Bake House – To supply bread for the Lord’s tables there was a bakery in town that used the grain from the mill.

Tannery – In more developed towns there would be a tannery to process animal hides into leather.  This leather would then be used for apparel, boots, and saddles.

Tithe Barn – Devote peasants gave one tenth of their increase to the church to be used to support the clergy and feed the poor and sick.

Tavern – A place of business where people could get alchoholic beverages. Historically, a tavern served wine whereas an inn served beer and ale.  These terms became interchangeable over time. The tavern or inn also had lodging for the night.

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To learn more, check out these resources:

Related Posts:

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An Ode to Grammar Day! (In Verse)

Twitter-grammar-and-usage

Today is National Grammar Day,

if you didn’t know it, that’s okay.

Please don’t moan because this rhymes,

I don’t do this all the time.

Double check your “your” and “you’re”,

Pretend you’re in the days of yore.

Don’t forget “there”, “their”, and “they’re”,

These errors make editors swear.

While we’re here, check “its” and “it’s”,

That apostrophe gives people fits.

“Alot” is not a word at all,

Even if it’s cute and small.

Don’t get me started about the comma,

That’s one mark that causes drama

Almost as much as using “That”

As in, “I want that that is paired with that.”

Alright folks, I think I’m done.

I do hope that this has been fun.

Let’s celebrate Grammar Day,

And let our words out to play!

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natlgrammarday

In 2008, Martha Brockenbrough, the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, established National Grammar Day. It is hosted by Mignon Fogarty, also known as Grammar Gal.

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In honor of the day, here are a selection of past grammar posts for your enjoyment:

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23389467 You can help out! My author friend Alyson Grauer’s father is struggling with cancer and today, blogs around the world are promoting a “book blast” fundraiser, selling her new book ON THE ISLE OF SOUND AND WONDER. All royalities from today’s sales will go towards his treatment. I read and reviewed her book over at my author blog, you can check it out here.

Buy the book on Amazon today!

Posted in Art of Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments