Wednesday, 26 November 2014

How to write a cover letter?

Writing cover letters when submitting short stories isn't as hard as you think. A lot of inexperienced writers wrongly assume that your cover letter needs to describe your submission.

What's the purpose of a cover letter?


Try to consider that the process of submitting short stories for journals magazines or competitions is the literary equivalent of applying for a job.

The purpose of attaching a cover letter is to very briefly introduce yourself in a professional way, but always check the submission guidelines of the publication you are applying to, as many have their own strict criteria.



A checklist for writing a top cover letter



  • Always try to address your cover letter to a specific person, usually the fiction editor. Their name can be easily found out by checking their website. If you can't find their name, make it addressable to a colleague so it will show you at least tried. Your cover letter will be forwarded to the correct person.
  • Include your name, address and contact details at the top of the letter,rather like a cover letter you would include when sending out CVs.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Never take up more than a page.
  • Introduce yourself briefly and keep it short.
  • Always include relevant literary achievements such as previous publications or wins in story competitions.
  • Thank the recipient for considering your work.
  • End your letter formally.
Always make sure your grammar and punctuation is correct!


Example of a cover letter



Excellent Writer
5 Great story street
Storyville
Storyshire
EXC 13NT
Dear John Smith,
 
Please find enclosed my short story "The best story ever."
 
I live in Storyshire and work as a dentist.
 
I really enjoy reading your publication Great Story Magazine and am hopeful you will enjoy reading my story.
 
Thank you for your consideration.
 
Sincerely
Excellent Writer
 
 
There you have it, that's all there is to it.
 

Monday, 24 November 2014

How to correctly use an apostrophe?

What's an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is used to either contract words or to illustrate possession within a sentence.



What are the functions of an apostrophe?

  • To indicate a word contraction
  • To indicate possession

How to use an apostrophe in word contraction?

An apostrophe is used in a sentence when one or more letters have been removed from a word.

Do not = Don't

Have not = Haven't

It is = It's

Who is = Who's

Take care not to overuse apostrophes and remember that they should not be used in academic work.

How to use an apostrophe to indicate possession?

Apostrophes to show possession are often over used, and is a common mistake to make.

If it is a singular noun, proper noun or common noun that does the possessing this is indicated by - 's

Tom's magical cat was amazing.

The castle's walls were beginning to crumble.

Cornwall's pixies were notorious for littering.

If using an apostrophe to indicate possession by a plural noun ending in S, the apostrophe is placed after the S.

The mouse was constantly nibbling on the wizards' books.

If the plural noun does not end in an S the apostrophe can be placed before an S.

The book's binding were being destroyed by the mouse.

How to use a hyphen correctly?

What is a hyphen?


The use of a hyphen is often overlooked but when used properly can give your work a more professional feel. Hyphens are used when combining words in a sentence.



What are the functions of a hyphen?

  • To combine the word self with a noun
  • To illustrate adjectives that are formed by combining words

How to use a hyphen to combine the word self with a noun?

This is really simple.

Self-confidence

Self-loathing

How to use a hyphen to illustrate adjectives that are formed by combining words?

The pedlar was a nik-nak man.

He was a new-age wizard.


How to use a semicolon?

A semicolon is an often misused piece of punctuation but is very simple to use. Take care not to over use a semicolon in your work.


What are the functions of a semicolon within a sentence?

  • To help organise a complicated list
  • To separate two closely related  independent clauses

How to use a semicolon to organise a complicated list?

A semicolon should be used in a sentence to organise complicated lists when one or more of the items contains commas.

The witches and wizards at the conference had come from Scotland, Wales; Cardiff, Ireland; Dublin, and Cornwall.

Not

The witches and wizards at the conference had come from Scotland, Wales, Cardiff, Ireland, Dublin and Cornwall.

How to use a semicolon to narrow the gap between two closely related independent clauses?

The semicolon is used to separate two independent clauses but also to show that the two clauses are related to one another.

Ethel rarely used her broomstick; she was afraid of flying.

To use a semicolon in this way the two clauses must be independent of one another.

How to use a colon?

The colon like the comma is a commonly misused piece of punctuation that is usually confused with the semicolon. Quite often it is overused, a colon should only be used sparingly.



What are the functions of a colon?

  • To introduce a list within a sentence
  • To introduce an idea within a sentence
  • To introduce quoted material within a sentence

How to use a colon to introduce a list within a sentence

A colon can be used to introduce a list of series of items. The first item in the list that appears after a colon does not need to be capitalised, unless it is a proper noun. When using a colon the clause that precedes it must make sense with its corresponding list.

Frodo had packed everything he needed: food, drink, maps and sunglasses.

The clause, Frodo had packed everything he needed, makes sense on its own and so a colon  can be introduced after it.

Avoid using a colon to introduce a list when it directly follows a verb or preposition.

I need: dragon's blood, fairy smiles and pixie dust.

Instead you should write

I will need the following: dragon's blood, fairy smiles and pixie dust.

How to use a colon to introduce an idea within a sentence

Two independent clauses can be linked together by a colon if the second clause explains, illustrates, paraphrases or expands on the first independent clause.

He got what he deserved: eternal damnation.

As with using a colon to introduce a list within a sentence the first clause of the sentence when introducing an idea should also be a stand alone clause.

How to use a colon to introduce quoted material within a sentence

A colon can be used after a clause to introduce quoted material.

The witch reminded her apprentice from the famous quote in the book of shadows: 'Harm ye none, do what thy will.'


What's a comma splice? How can they be avoided?



The comma is often misused, and a comma splice is one of the most common mistakes made. A comma splice is when a comma is wrongly used to separate two independent clauses There are many simple methods that can be used to avoid this mistake.



The unicorn liked the fairy, she was kind.

The two clauses in the above sentence are independent and can form stand alone sentences. They do not need to be connected by a comma.

The unicorn liked the fairy. She was kind.

The above method of separating two independent clauses using a full stop is the simplest, but there are other ways to do it.

A semi colon can be used, but take care to not overuse them in your work.

The unicorn liked the fairy; she was kind.

A semi colon shows that the two independent clauses are linked.

A conjunction can be used to connect two independent clauses.

The unicorn likes the fairy as she is nice.




How to use a comma correctly and avoid common comma mistakes

How to use a comma?

Most people wrongly assume that the comma is a simple piece of punctuation. The comma is extraordinarily complex.  This is because it has many different functions which have been listed below.

The biggest misuse of comma is that many writers believe that a comma should be inserted in every pause and tend to overuse commas in their work. Don't get caught out.

Writers wrongly assume a comma is just a pause. It is so much more than that.

What are the main functions of a comma?

  • To separate adjectives within a sentence
  • To separate introductory elements within a sentence
  • To separate contrasting clauses within a sentence
  • To separate dates and years, towns and counties within a sentence
  • To separate parenthetical elements within a sentence
  • To separate direct speech or quote elements within a sentence
  • To separate a list of three or more items within a sentence
  • To separate two independent clauses within a sentence



How to use a correctly use a comma to separate adjectives within a sentence

A comma is used to separate adjectives within a sentence, the last two are joined by and, or, nor.

The troll was stinky, mean and anti-social.

However sometimes a comma is not needed if the words and or or cannot be placed between the adjectives.

The little blue tardis was actually very big on the inside.

In this sentence a comma is not needed, as you wouldn't write, The little and blue tardis was actually very big on the inside.


A comma should be used to separate two interchangeable adjectives.

The unicorn is a strong, powerful creature.

The unicorn is a powerful strong creature.


How to use a comma to separate introductory elements within a sentence

As the sun finally set in the west, the vampires began to rise once more.

The introductory element is As the sun finally set in the west. If the introductory element is very short, three words or less, a comma can be emitted.

It was dark when the vampires came out.

In this sentence the introductory element was It was dark and is short enough to not need a comma.

However if the introductory element modifies the meaning of a sentence a comma should be used.

Unfortunately, the princess was actually a man.

In this sentence the introductory element of the sentence unfortunately indicates it is a problem that the princess is a man.

How to use a comma to separate contrasting clauses within a sentence

The enchanted castle was beautiful, but completely impractical.

The mermaid was beautiful, but stank of fish.

In the above sentences which are both composed of two contrasting clauses a comma is used to separate them as the clauses would not make sense as stand alone sentences.

How to use a comma to separate dates and years, and towns and counties within a sentence

The ogre lived in Ogreville, Ogreland.

The witch was born on June 6, 1666.

How to use a comma to separate parenthetical elements within a sentence

A parenthetical element, or an aside, is simply a clause that can be removed from a sentence without altering its meaning. A comma is then used to open and close a parenthetical element.

The wicked witch of the west, who is actually quite nice once you get to know her, rides on a tattered broomstick.

In this sentence the parenthetical element is who is actually quite nice once you get to know her can easily be removed from the sentence to create a shorter sentence whose meaning is not altered.

The wicked witch of the west rides on a tattered broomstick.


How to use a comma to separate direct speech or quote elements within a sentence

"I'm going to turn you into a newt," the witch teased.

However a comma is not always needed if the punctuation is ended by a punctuation mark. Note that the words used after the piece of direct speech do not need a capital letter. To use one is a very common writing mistake.

"Give me the ring Frodo!" snarled Gollum.

How to use a comma to separate a list of three or more items within a sentence

The magic potion contained dragons blood, unicorn tears, pixie dust and gin.

The giant's favourite foods were chargrilled man, roasted elephant and jelly and ice cream.

Note how a comma has been omitted from jelly and ice cream, this has been done to illustrate that jelly and ice cream is one meal and not two. This is a known as the Oxford comma.

 

How to use a comma to separate two independent clauses within a sentence

 A comma should be used to separate two independent clauses within a sentence by appearing before a co-ordinating conjunction. The comma does not appear after the co-ordinating conjunction.

Examples of co-ordinating conjunctions include: and, but, or, so, yet, nor.

The mermaid was a great swimmer, but she couldn't walk.

The mermaid was a great swimmer, and She couldn't walk are two independent clauses, they can form stand alone sentences separately but can be separated by a comma and a co-ordinating conjunction to form a sentence of two independent clauses.










Thursday, 20 November 2014

Citadel by Kate Mosse

Citadel by Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse is a brilliant writer who brings the past to life. I love historical fiction, especially when blended with supernatural elements. Who isn't intrigued by the past events that have helped shape our world today? I've read Kate Mosse's previous books in this trilogy, Labyrinth and Sepulchre as well as The Winter Ghosts, so I knew I'd be in for a treat.



The setting of the novel is in Carcassonne, the south of France during the second world war. Straight away Citadel is strikingly rich and vivid in detail but not bogged down with endless information dumps and soon you're transported to the author's world of war time France. Kate Mosse is a master of conjuring imagery. She can paint a thousand pictures with one word.

The pace is quick and there are many intriguing characters with their own secret pasts and hidden agendas. It's an exhilarating read and hard to put down.

As you continue to read you really feel with the main characters and identify with their individual dramas and hardships. Sometimes it can be an uncomfortable read as although they are not real the events and situations they endured during Nazi occupation were very real.

I actually found this book really scary at times, Authie was a particularly terrifying character, and at times it made for uncomfortable, but riveting reading. I stayed up until 3 am to finish reading it as I just had to know what happened in the end. I think the reason why it seemed so terrifying is that this novel seemed so real. It was based on the second world war and it really resonated with me, as although fictional there would have been real people, like Authie operating in power and also people like Sandrine who were fighting them.

I found this book just really got to me. I too felt the sense of constantly being watched and even as a reader you can feel trapped at times like the characters were. Sometimes I felt like I needed to take a breather this book is just so intense.

To sum up, this is a great book, it's action packed, moving and thrilling to say the least. I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Book club questions for Citadel, by Kate Mosse

  • Would Sandrine have become involved with the resistance if she hadn't met Antoine?
  • Is Lucie selfish or naive? When she exposed Sandrine in order to learn where Max was, was that deliberate or did she not realise the implications? When trying to gain access to the camp where Max was being held, she came across as very calculated, but at other times she seems unaware of what's really happening around her.
  • How does the war affect  Sandrine and Raoul's relationship? Would they have fallen for each other had they met under different circumstances.
  • If Marriane's and Sandrine's parents had been alive, would either have the sisters become involved with the resistance movement? Or would their parents have joined the cause along side them?
  • How do you feel about the ending of the book? Do you find it controversial?
P.s there are more reading group questions within the novel as well as additional information about the locations featured in Citadel.

How to Write an Author's Bio?

What's an author's bio?

So recently I have been very busy re - evaluating my current library of short stories to send them off into the world. I've decided to change tactics slightly and as well as entering numerous short story competitions, I'm having a go at submitting some of them to magazines and journals for publication.

For the third time today, I've been asked to include a brief author's bio.

The prospect of writing one fills me with dread. I've never been very good at selling myself. I have no idea how to write an author's bio or what a really good one looks like. 

Suddenly I feel so less sure of myself. As a writer I haven't really achieved anything, I haven't won any competitions or ever been published. I can hardly call myself a writer. I have no literary achievements to actually include, other than the obligatory - I love writing. But then what writer doesn't? I feel silly for even thinking of putting it in.

I looked up some of my favourite authors to see what theirs were like and it was full of prestigious accolades and of course published works that have gone on to become international best sellers.


But I've been doing a lot of reading on the web and trawled through many articles to find out the best tips to share with you. I've realised that it's a good idea to have two author bios.

How to write an author's bio?


Here's what your main author bio should include. You can get inspiration from other writers by looking at other bio's on the jacket sleeves of books. That is what you're aiming for.


  • Your author's bio should be around 250 words. Keep it short and simple. If you can make it funny. You want people to relate to you and be interested.
  • Always write in the third person. I'm not sure why this is, but everyone says so!
  • Make yourself sound as interesting as possible. You need to stand out from the crowd, particularly if you want to get the attention from the people at the top such as agents and publishers.
  • Write about your professional life even if it's nothing to do with writing. Try and  make your job sound as interesting as possible. If you sound interesting as an author then people will assume your writing will also be interesting.
  • Give background information about yourself, such as where you are from, your education. This is so people can relate to you and get an idea of who you are. It's up to you how personal you want to be, but be careful.
  • Include any unusual hobbies or interests.
  • Obviously mention if you have anything published, or won a competition. I'm not going to waste time but arguing why this bit is important!
Your second author bio which can be used for submissions for magazines and anthologies as well as query letters and should be around 50 words long, about two sentences. Personally for this one I would just include where you're from and something quirky about yourself. But again if you have literary achievements, just use those, they'll speak volumes!


How to sell yourself as a writer?

Don't think for one minute that your author bio isn't important. Your readers may not care too much who you are they just want a good story, but any potential literary agents, publishers or editors will be. This is your key opportunity to market your work. You need to think of yourself as a viable brand that could be easily marketed, because that's what they  are looking for.




Related posts





Wednesday, 19 November 2014

What are prepositions?

What are prepositions?

A preposition is simply a word within a sentence that indicates either a location or relationship between a noun and other parts of a sentence.

The cat was hiding behind the curtain.

In this sentence the preposition was behind. The noun was cat, or object of the preposition.

The object of the preposition is the noun or pronoun that is associated with the preposition.

In most sentences the preposition will usually goes before its corresponding noun or pronoun, but they can go afterwards.

Where did the evil witch go?

In this sentence the preposition go, is after it's corresponding noun witch.



How to use prepositions correctly

There are a few prepositions that need to be used with care.

Like, is a preposition that means similar, or similar to, and should be followed by either a noun, pronoun or noun phrase, not a subject or verb. It's best to avoid using like with a verb.

You smell like a rotten toad.

Rotten toad is the noun phrase associated with the preposition.

It's best to avoid using like with a verb.

You smell like a rotten toad does.

To correctly use a preposition when comparing a subject and verb you can use the following words; as, as if, or the way.

You smell as rotten as a toad does.

You smell as if you're a rotten toad.

You smell the way a rotten toad does.

Words to avoid when using a preposition in an sentence


Another easy mistake to avoid making when using a preposition in a sentence is not to use a preposition in place of have.

The mermaid should have done it.

Never

The mermaid should of done .

When using the preposition from, avoid using different than.

Don't write

The witch is different than the wizard.

Instead use

The witch is different from the wizard.

Avoid using in, rather than into when conveying motion in a sentence.

Don't write

I looked in the enchanted mirror.

Instead write

I looked into the enchanted mirror.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

What are adjectives and adverbs?

What's an adjective?


Adjectives are words that we use to describe a noun or pronoun. Without adjectives sentences would be very dull. You can use adjectives before and after a noun or pronoun.

There was a vicious storm.

Here the adjective is vicious it is describing the storm which is the noun in the sentence.

The storm was vicious.

The adjective is vicious and can be used after the noun storm.

The three forms of an adjective, and how to correctly use them

Adjectives come in three forms; positive, comparative and superlative.

Let's use wise, as an example to explain what these different forms are.

In it's normal form, the positive degree, we would simply use wise.

The wizard was wise.

If we were to use wise in its comparative degree which is as straightforward as the term suggests we would use wiser.

The wizard was wiser.

To use the adjective wise in its superlative degree, we would use wisest.

The wizard was the wisest.


What's an adverb?

Adverbs are words employed to modify a verb, adjective or other adverbs.

The cat walked slowly.

The adverb is slowly, it is describing how the cat was walking. It described further the verb which was walked.

The cat was particularly ruthless. 

Here the adverb particularly is describing the adjective ruthless.

The cat walked very slowly.

The adverb phrase very slowly, describes the verb walked.




Sunday, 16 November 2014

How to use who, that and which correctly in a sentence.

It is often the simple mistakes that writers make that can cost us dearly. When short stories and/or manuscripts are submitted into competitions or sent to literary agents, magazines and publishers, it will be the little mistakes that will expose you as an unprofessional, inexperienced, amateur author.




To use who, that and which correctly you'll need to remember the following;

Who and sometimes that refer to people in a sentence.

That and which refers to groups or things in a sentence.

Gandalf is the wizard who is mighty and powerful.

Who is correct as it refers to Gandalf who is a person.

It was the army of Orcs that caused an awful mess.

That is correct as it refers to a group of Orcs.



That is used in a sentence to introduce an essential clause. An essential clause adds vital information to a sentence.

I do not trust that Orc who is mean.

That is correctly used as it introduces the essential clause of the Orc being mean, which is why he can't be trusted.

Which is used to introduce a nonessential clause within a sentence. A nonessential clause adds additional information to enhance a sentence.

I liked Gandalf's firework display, which was breath taking.

The fact that Gandalf's firework display was breath taking was not an essential clause of a sentence and therefore which is correct. The essential clause was I liked Gandalf's firework display.

Related posts on grammar







Tips for writers





Book reviews

The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Dead until dark by Charlaine Harris

Friday, 14 November 2014

How to correctly use Whoever and Whomever

As I have said before in a previous post it is often the simple mistakes that writers make that can cost us dearly. When short stories and/or manuscripts are submitted into competitions or sent to literary agents, magazines and publishers, it will be the little mistakes that will expose you as an unprofessional, inexperienced, amateur author.










There's a very simple method that you can use to determine whether whoever or whomever is correct.

He = whoever, and him = whomever

Whoever broke the spell?

He broke the spell and therefore who is correct.

Whomever broke the spell was a hero

The spell was broken by him and therefore whomever is correct.

Who or whom?


How to use who and whom correctly



It is often the simple mistakes that writers make that can cost us dearly. When short stories and/or manuscripts are submitted into competitions or sent to literary agents, magazines and publishers, it will be the little mistakes that will expose you as an unprofessional, inexperienced, amateur author.

There's a very simple method that you can use to determine whether who or whom is correct.

He = who and him = whom

Who killed the princess?

He killed the princess, so who is correct.

It was whom?

It was him, so whom is correct.

Related posts on grammar use

What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?

What's a subject and an infinitive within a sentence?

What is a subject -verb agreement?

Tips for writers

How to construct a basic a basic story plot

Top writing tips for new authors

How to stay focused as a new writer

Manuscript presentation


Book reviews

Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

What's a pronoun?

Related articles on Grammar

What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?

What's a subject and an infinitive within a sentence?

What's a subject- verb agreement?

If you're unsure of what a noun is you can brush up on one of the previous posts above.
 

What's a pronoun?

 
A pronoun is simply a word used instead of a noun. Here are some examples of pronouns ; I, me, you, he, she, it, that, they, each, who, somebody.
 
There are three types of pronouns. These are subject pronouns, object pronouns and possessive pronouns.
 
A subject pronoun is used when a pronoun is the subject of the sentence.
 
I know my name.
 
In this sentence I is the pronoun.
 
Examples of subject pronouns include; he, she, you, they.
 
Examples of object pronouns include; him, her, me, them, us.
 
Examples of possessive pronouns include; his, hers, theirs.
 

How to use pronouns correctly

Pronouns can be singular or plural depending on the subject within the sentence.
 
Singular pronouns such as; I, he, she, everyone, anyone nobody require a singular verb such as is.
 

Pronouns and apostrophes

 
Possessive pronouns such as yours, his, hers, its, ours and theirs, do not need apostrophes. This is a very common mistake in writing.
 
Apostrophes need only be used when there is a contraction such as;
 
it is, it's
 
there is, there's
 
who is, who has, who's

 
 

How to correctly use a reflexive pronoun

A reflexive pronoun is a pronoun that ends in -selves, or -self
 
Myself, yourself, himself, herself
 
Or
 
Ourselves, themselves, themselves
 
Reflexive pronouns are used when the subject and the object of the verb in a sentence refer to the same person.
 
I hurt myself.
 
In this sentence the reflexive pronoun is myself, the object of the verb is hurt.
 

Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris



This book is one of a series of  American novels set in a small town Lousiana about a girl Sookie Stackhouse who can read minds. It is these books that the popular television series True blood, is based on. I haven't seen this program but thought this was worth giving a go as no one would base a television series on a book that wasn't great.

I'm a big fan of Anne Rice, the undisputed queen of the vampire genre, as well as the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, and have long held a deep fascination with Vampires. These wonderful immortal beings that have lived through the ages and been there first hand. I for one would love to be able to step back in time and these creatures have seen it all. I find vampires interesting because they are always trying to blend in with humans and are desperate to fit in despite being so different, something we all feel from time to time.

There's also the juxtaposition of being savage beasts whilst also capable of emotions such as love and friendship. It seems that despite their supernatural gifts and abilities they still fight to hold on to what they had when they were human.






This book is quite different to other vampire novels I have read as in this they are not a secret race hiding out amongst the crowd. They are a newly legalised class of people and are interestingly seen as an underclass rather than the traditional stereotype of predators. In fact in this story it is the human girl that initially saves the handsome vampire and not the other way around.

Sookie Stackhouse the books main character also has supernatural powers of her own. She can read minds, but in the books alternative reality this is seen as a  major disability.

Throughout the novel there is a tension building up throughout which simmers nicely. Though I found I couldn't really relate to Sookie's character. Whilst reading I couldn't quite decide whether she was incredibly stupid or brave. I love vampire stories but I find it hard to comprehend that a living human could find a dead person attractive and subsequently fall in love, especially when your beau could easily kill you.

In the end I decided that she was stupid. I couldn't understand why she didn't want to do anything with her life when she had a lot going for herself. She has an amazing gift of being able to read minds yet constantly refers to it as a disability. She lives in a dead end town, working a dead end job and has very few friends. Sookie doesn't seem happy with her life but doesn't seem to realise she can do something about it.

This book is a good light hearted read and at times quite deliciously trashy. It's been categorised as Horror but I would firmly class this as romance, bordering on chick lit, a genre that I have no appreciation for at all.

Compared to other authors such as Anne Rice this is light and fluffy and would probably appeal more to young adults and teens. If you like your vampires to be scary and undomesticated this might not be to your liking.

Questions for discussing Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris

  • Why does Sookie not want to utilise her powers as a mind reader? Could she use them to get a great job? Could she use them to do good?
  • Is Sookie as na├»ve as Bill suggests?
  • It the book it is suggested that fang bangers on some level want to die and suffer. Do you think Sookie felt the same? She couldn't date, fall in love and live a normal life due to her gift. Did she therefore want to experience danger as a remedy to her dull life? Was she looking for an escape from monotony, even if it meant death?

Previous book reviews

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

The Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Tips for writers

The lost art of writing short stories

How to develop a basic story plot

How to stay focused when starting out as a new writer

How to improve grammar and punctuation

What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?

What's a subject and an infinitive within a sentence?

What is a subject verb agreement?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What is a subject verb agreement?

In previous posts we've looked at Nouns, verbs and subjects. Please see below for links to past posts.

Now we're going to delve deeper into the mind field of grammar rules and look at subject - verb agreements.



What is a subject - verb agreement?

A subject - verb agreement stipulates that the subjects and verbs within a sentence must agree with one another in number.

The fundamental rule of the subject- verb agreement is that if a subject is singular then its verb must be singular. If a subject is plural then its verb must be plural.

When used in the present tense, a singular noun adds an S to the singular verb.

The witch chases the wizard.

In this sentence the noun, witch is singular and therefore adds an S to the verb chases.

The witches chase the wizard.

In this sentence the noun, witches, is plural, therefore there is no S added to the verb chase.

Simple so far.

However this is not the end. This is just the beginning. There are many, many rules to the subject verb agreement!

  •  The above subject verb agreement rules do not apply to verbs used in a past tense if there are no helping verbs.

The biscuit walked away.

In this sentence the subject, biscuit, is singular

The biscuits walked away.

In this sentence the subject, biscuits, is plural.

If you need to remind yourself what a helping verb is, this link will provide all the answers.

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?



  • Words that come between the subject and the verb do not affect the subject verb agreement.

The biscuit , which is really crunchy, walked away.

The subject and verb is unchanged by the description of the biscuit.

  • Prepositional phrases do not usually change the subject verb agreement within a sentence.

If you don't know, a prepositional phrase is a series of words that link a noun to another word in a sentence

Like a sassy catwalk model, the biscuit walked away

In this sentence the prepositional phrase like a sassy catwalk model, does not affect the subject verb agreement.

  • Two singular subjects within a sentence that are connected by either/or, or, neither/nor will require a singular verb in the subject verb agreement
Either the biscuit or the sassy catwalk model is walking away.

The biscuit and catwalk model are both singular subjects and their corresponding verb is, is singular.

  • In the subject verb agreement the verb will agree with the pronoun/noun closest to it if the words either/or, or, neither/nor are used.
Neither the biscuit nor the sassy catwalk model walked far.

In this sentence neither/nor are used so the verb agrees with the nearest noun/pronoun which is catwalk model.


  • Usually a plural verb will be needed when two or more subjects within a sentence are connected by and.
The biscuit and the sassy catwalk model are walking away.

In this sentence the plural verb is are as there are two subjects, the biscuit, the sassy catwalk model, that are connected together by and.

Related posts

What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?

What's a subject, and an infinitive within a sentence?

Help for writers

Top writing tips for new authors

How to develop a basic story plot

How to stay focused when starting out as a new writer.

Book reviews

The Prince of thorns, by Mark Lawrence

The curious tale of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

Monday, 10 November 2014

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke


This is a book I've been meaning to read for ages. Since its publication in 2004 it has been short listed for and won many awards such as the 2005 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Plus Neil Gaiman, who needs no introduction once said this about it.

"Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic to be written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow - a delight to read."








Its a pretty hefty book with nearly 1,000 pages. One of those rare books in which you can completely immerse yourself in,  you can almost step in to the page and explore a different world. I like to think of this book as a bit like JK Rowling's brilliant Harry Potter series but for adults. The book is set in 1800's London and has a real Dickensian feel to it. The narrative is utterly charming, though it did, at first take a few pages to get into the feel of the book as the style it is written in is quite unique.


As I continued to read it became clear this book is not intended to be a light or short read. I, myself am a voracious reader but this one seemed to never end, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's a good book to keep you going through the winter months where the prospect of settling down some place warm has never been more appealing.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a book rich with detail. Personally I love the footnotes included in the story. I think it's a great touch and gives the book an added realism. This book is written in a way where you can't help but believe in magic and that this novel has not been based on real people.In some ways after reading this, I feel much more informed on the real nature of magic!

The pace is however sometimes slow going and I wondered whether it was going to be worth it in the end. But much to my satisfaction the pace slowly builds up to an incredible tension with a great ending.

With so many twists and turns there's no point in trying to second guess the plot. So just sit back with a mug of hot tea and enjoy the ride.

Whilst writing this review I have also learnt that the author Susanna Clarke is currently writing another novel that is to be set in the same world as inhabited by Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. But wait there's more! The BBC are also currently filming a television series based on the book of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Filming began in November 2013, so maybe this may be out soon.

Some possible reading group questions for discussing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell


  • How are Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange so different to one another? Why are their views on magic and its practise so opposed?
  • Was the grey haired gentleman a deliberately malicious individual? Did he have good or malevolent intentions?
  • What sort of king would Stephen Black make?
  • Why was Mr Norrell despise other magicians, past and present, despite dedicating his whole life to magic?


Other book reviews

Prince of thorns by Mark Lawrence

Friday, 7 November 2014

What's a subject,and an infinitive within a sentence?

In my previous posts we've looked at nouns and verbs.(See below for links.)

In this post we will be looking at how nouns and verbs are correctly used within a sentence.

Within a sentence a subject usually refers to the noun, pronoun that performs the verb.

I read a book

In this simple sentence the subject is I. I was the pronoun that performed the verb, which was to read.

The evil witch turned me into a newt.

In this sentence the subject is witch, the verb is turned as that was the action of the sentence.

From behind the sofa, a gremlin popped out.

The subject is gremlin, and the phrasal verb is popped out.




Now things can get slightly more complicated as many sentences can contain more than one subject and verb.

Let's take a look at the next sentence.

Birds eat spiders and spiders eat flies.

In this sentence there are two subjects. They are spiders and birds. Flies are not a subject as they do not perform a verb.

There are two verbs, eat and eat.

Birds and Cats eat spiders.

In this sentence there are two subjects, and only one verb which is eat.

Birds catch and eat spiders.

In this sentence there is one subject, Birds and two verbs which are catch and eat.

All pretty simple so far, but wait.......

What's an infinitive?

If a verb follows the word to in an sentence, it is known as an infinitive.

The fly was trying to escape the web.

In this sentence the word escape is the infinitive. It is not the main verb of the sentence. The main verb is trying which precedes to.

Related posts

What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?


Thursday, 6 November 2014

What are linking verbs, phrasal verbs and helping verbs?


I always thought I had a fairly good grasp of grammar and punctuation. I have a degree and write constantly, but it was only when I thought it would be a good idea to give myself a refresher's course on the subject, that I realised there was a lot of work to do!

I thought verbs were really simple. I mean, they're basically ,"doing words," Right? 

They're are many types of verbs.......





A verb is defined as a word, or a set of words that shows actions, feelings or a state of being.

I am busy. I am happy. I am

The use of verbs can get complicated as they can consist of more than one word, and this is where phrasal verbs and helping verbs come into play.

A phrasal verb is simply a verb that contains more than one word.

I have been busy improving my grammar and punctuation.

In this sentence, the phrasal verb is ,"busy improving"  It is the action within the sentence. 

A helping verb is used to explain the phrasal verb, in this sentence the helping verb is ,"have been"

The lost art of writing short stories

The lost art of writing short stories





Many budding writers tend to overlook writing short stories, and they're making a big mistake. It can take years to write a first draft of a novel, and many more shaping it into a manuscript to be proud of.


Short stories on the other hand can take as little as a few hours to write once you become seasoned at it. And it also allows you to quickly develop a writers' skill set of planning, plotting, writing and rewriting.


Basically short stories are tiny novels. A novel is defined as a piece of fiction writing consisting of at least 60,000 words, but a short story can have as little as 1,000, and flash fiction has only 500.


You can learn a lot more from writing short stories than spending all your time writing your novel. The other added benefit is that all the skills you learn from writing short stories you can apply to your book.


Here's some more reasons why writing short stories is a great way to improve as a writer;
  • They're fun to write
  • Writing short stories helps you practise the vital skills of constructing a plot and seeing it through to the end, which many people struggle with. 
  • Allows you to flex your literary muscles.
  • Short stories can be written quickly, and once finished can be submitted into competitions and magazines, which if successful allow you to build up a portfolio of work.Handy for if, and when you are seeking a publisher or literary agent.
  • It's easy to get feedback from a short story.
  • Writing short stories helps you to think up of new ideas, some of which can be expanded into novels.





Writing short stories is also great for practical reasons. I am a very busy person with limited free time but taking a few hours out to write a short story allows me to stay in the process of writing as well as learning new skills.

Remember. Story writing and story telling is a life long apprenticeship. So just enjoy the journey. Just because we read a lot of  amazing stories, it doesn't immediately give us the magical ability to write one

If you need any tips on how to write short stories to get yourself started, take a look at one of my previous posts, How to develop a basic story plot


What are compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns?


I always thought I had a fairly good grasp of grammar and punctuation. I have a degree and write constantly, but it was only when I thought it would be a good idea to give myself a refresher's course on the subject, that I realised there was a lot of work to do!

I was taught at primary school, many, many moons ago, that a noun was word used to describe an object. Which although true is a very simplistic view.

There are many types of nouns........



Today I will be talking about, compound nouns, common nouns and proper nouns. There's also such a thing as pro-nouns, but that's another story for another day.

So, a noun is defined as a word or a set of words used to denote a person, place, thing or idea.

Easy!

A compound noun, is simply a noun that consists of more than one word to describe a noun. E.G. Shoe shop, Car seat. Try to remember back to your chemistry classes at school where a compound is defined as a mixture, and then a compound noun is a mixture of words!

Now on to common nouns and proper nouns.

A common noun is used to refer to a general class of people, places, things and ideas. To differentiate them from a simple noun they refer to a group, rather than a person, place, thing and idea. They do not need a capital letter.

Proper nouns, on the other hand do need a capital letter. They refer to something more specific such a person or  a place. Names are nouns and always begin with a capital letter, as do countries. E.g. Frodo, Middle Earth.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

An unexpected parcel...


I find the process of sending off hopeful short stories into writing competitions rather like applying for jobs when you're destitute.

You put a lot of hard work in and never get anything back, not even a reply to say it was been received. It can all be very disheartening.

With the promise of a new year I  decided I would set myself new targets for 2015. One of them being to win, or be shortlisted, for at least one short story competition. Surely this can be achievable? After all there's 365 days in a year and a lot of competitions out there.

To help with this target I resolved to commit myself to reading more short stories, those of a high quality. But where can you find them online without having to pay for an anthology?

So imagine my surprise when I looked at my post this morning and there was a thick white envelope with a gorgeous little book waiting to be read.


My first thought was, "Bloody hell, have I won something?" The answer was no, but I didn't mind. It was just so nice to have your efforts rewarded in taking part in competitions.

This little gem was sent to me by www.shortfictionjournal.co.uk . As a thank-you for entering. Which I thought was really sweet.

It's a beautifully produced little book with almost 200 pages, that includes many wonderful  illustrations as well as  14 wonderful  stories from successful published writers such as Alison Moore and Mariko Nagai. Reading through these it's no wonder I wasn't selected, the standard was set very high. But it does give me hope that maybe one day one of my works will be found in a gem of a book like this.

Now I have some really great short stories to read and hopefully learn from.

Thanks Short fiction journal!

If you're interested in buying this anthology or any of their previous you can do so here.
Or for details of their 2015 competition, click here.