Saturday, February 17, 2018

Simple Past Or Present Perfect Tense

Fill in the blanks with an appropriate simple past or present perfect tense. Answers 1. I’m sure we have met before. 2. I don’t believe… Continue reading
from English Grammar

A Spark to a Story: Listen to Your Instincts to Find Story Ideas

By Sara Ackerman

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is a wartime tale set on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1944.  It centers around three women and a young girl whose lives are forever changed by the war and the American soldiers on their doorstep. Between a missing husband, accusations of espionage, and an African lion smuggled in by the troops, the women band together to prove that few things are stronger than love, friendship and homemade pie.

Every author has a different process in terms of how they get the idea for their next book. There is no one way, but I want to share with you my way. With me, it’s always the same: a tiny, nagging idea. One singular person, place or object that I can’t seem to shake, visiting me while I’m walking in the forest, swimming, driving, sleeping. In the case of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, that spark was a lion named Roscoe.

I first heard of Roscoe when I was a young girl growing up in Hawaii, listening to my grandmother’s war stories. A few of the Marines had managed to smuggle an African lion over on the ship, and had miraculously been allowed to keep him as a mascot at Camp Tarawa in Waimea, where they trained. Soon after Pearl Harbor, civilians were encouraged to flee to the Mainland, but my grandfather was the school principal in nearby Honoka’a, so they stayed. My grandmother never called the lion by name, but she always had a twinkle in her eye when she spoke about him and I hung on her every word. Fast-forward to several years ago, when I had written three other novels and was trying to decide on the subject of my fourth, when an idea struck.

You need to write a story about that lion!

First things first — research. It is crucial to do your homework. Eager to know more, I began to look for information online and I found a handful of photos and learned that his name was Roscoe. I sent my sister a picture of Roscoe perched on the front of a jeep with kids all around him and she emailed me back right away. “Do you recognize anyone in that picture?’ she said. I looked more closely, and as it turned out, my mother was one of the kids in the photo, with a big smile on her face as she held her hand out towards the lion. At that moment, I knew this was the jumping off point for a story.

As writers, we have to act on these instincts, most of us have a spark inside of us but not everyone knows what to do with it. I always let it simmer for a few months and then start writing. Don’t wait until you think you are ready, or for that elusive day in the future when you have the luxury to lounge around all day in your pajamas sipping lattes and dreaming up plots. Don’t read every book there is on writing, or outline your story to death.

Write now. You will have the chance to revise and rewrite later, trust me. I’ve been to writers conferences with people who are there to learn, but haven’t written anything yet. It should be the other way around. Write first and you will get so much more out of your conferences or books on writing. Give the spark a chance to come alive and you will find that one thing leads to another and before you know it, maybe six months down the road, you will have a novel.

To begin fleshing out my story, I pored over accounts of servicemen that had been here in Waimea, old newspaper articles, and interviewed my parents, my uncle, and others that had lived through the war here in Hawaii. The early 1940s were dark times, to be sure, but I also got a real sense of nostalgia from my grandmother when she talked about those years. Mixed in with the fear and the horrors, was a deep sense of connection and love and hope. People banded together and leaned on each other. Lives were lost and friends were gained. So much has been written on the horrors of war, so I wanted my story to portray the indomitable strength of the human spirit. I wanted it to show both the dark and the light — that though the war years were some of the worst years of my grandmother’s life, they were also some of the most meaningful.

As Ella, the 10 year old in my novel, says, “…everyone should know what it feels like to live through a war. I can’t remember life any other way, which may not be a good thing. Blackouts and bunny suits. Shortages of sugar and air raid drills. Collecting metal scraps. And how for each soldier out fighting, there are people suffering at home, hoping their loved ones are spared. On both sides. But not everything is bad. We made pies, we made friends. We fell in love.”

For me, a spark that began with one little lion developed into a story centered around a group of women, a young girl, and a handful of Marines. Truly one of the magical things about writing is that characters often appear along the way and help tell the story. Don’t stress if you don’t have all of your characters developed at the very beginning, as with my case, sometimes, they come naturally. Play off your protagonist and let things happen organically. Violet, the protagonist in my book, is very loosely based on my grandmother, but all the other characters came to life of their own accord. The men that I wrote about were pieced together in my imagination from dozens of accounts I read. I got to know them as I went by asking them questions and seeing how they would answer, or putting them into situations and watching how they handled themselves. Your characters want to help you!

So, next time you have a tiny nagging idea in your head, don’t ignore it. Act on it! Use it as fuel, as inspiration. Do the research and find your story! And above all, keep at it. In this profession, you will be humbled and the thickness of your skin will be tested over and over again. You will want to tear out your hair and be unable to see straight for days on end. You will probably cry––a lot. Patience and perseverance are non-negotiable. And yet it is such a thrill to sit down every day and see what is going to happen next.  That’s my favorite thing about writing, watching a spark turn into a story.

Sara Ackerman is the author of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Oriental Medicine. When she’s not writing or practicing acupuncture, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean.

Upcoming Online Courses:

The post A Spark to a Story: Listen to Your Instincts to Find Story Ideas appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Friday, February 16, 2018

Langston Hughes, Singing America: Thoughts on Authorship and the Importance of Black History Month

“I, too, sing America,” wrote Langston Hughes in the opening lines of one his most memorable poems, “I, Too.” In this line, Hughes forces a conversation about his place in American poetry by calling out one of the fathers of American poetry, Walt Whitman. Generations before, during the Civil War, Whitman wrote, “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear.”

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,"

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

In the lines that follow, he provides a litany of Americans who contribute their voices to the song that comprises America. A variety of occupations receive attention, mechanics, carpenters, masons. A mother, a wife, a girl are mentioned. But no one’s race is discussed.

As many of us are aware, February is Black History Month in America. Black History Month evolved from “Negro History Week,” which was begun by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 with the goal of integrating black history into the history curriculum currently being used.

However, even now, black history is taught as separate from American history, being given a designated and limited place in history and literature books. In high school, students most often encounter Hughes in the context of what is termed the Harlem Renaissance. The word “renaissance” as it is used here also recasts the movement in terms more comfortable to a Eurocentric audience. (It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, at the time, the movement wasn’t known as the Harlem Renaissance, but rather as the “New Negro Movement.”)

Calling to mind marble statues and paintings of the Virgin Mary, using “renaissance” gives Harlem the appearance of prosperity and glamor. The reality was somewhat different. In “Theme for English B,” we hear Hughes detail his decent into the guts of Harlem from the “college on a hill”—where he is the only black student in the class. The poem’s speaker takes an elevator to his room at the Harlem Branch Y to complete an assignment: “Go home and write / a page tonight. / And let that page come out of you— / Then, it will be true.”

This assignment comes with a set of unstated expectations about the student who is to complete it. The speaker wrestles with writing, asking himself how he is any different from the instructor—he likes music, he likes to smoke a pipe. What is different is his race. The speaker asks, “So will my page be colored that I write? / Being me, it will not be white.”

Black history is American history. But when American history is white, how can we discuss black history? Andre M. Perry—a scholar on race, education, and economics at the Brookings Institute—discusses the many issues that arise when black history is separated from American history and relegated to a single month. He states, “White history as we know it can no longer be the standard in a multicultural society which is supposed to maximize the potential of all its members.”

Astonishing black authors are writing today in every genre. They might not be on the “Black History Month” tables at your local bookstore, which is likely crowded with books about black history or with books from famous black authors (most likely deceased) whom people are familiar with. By all means, read those books. But also, use Black History Month as an impetus to search out black authors whose poetry and prose will stick with you long after February ends.

The post Langston Hughes, Singing America: Thoughts on Authorship and the Importance of Black History Month appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Blooper-Proof Your Novel: How to Find and Fix a ‘Reality Violation’

by Jessi Rita Hoffman

Scene time and place: A Civil War combat zone, just after a skirmish. Soldiers limp away from the conflict, weary and depleted. One falls to the ground, too weak to make it back to camp. The ground is littered with bodies of the wounded and dead. Far in the background, a white SUV speeds across the battlefield. 

Whoops! It’s a goof in a Hollywood production, and we congratulate ourselves on catching it. We all get a laugh out of bloopers we find in the movies, but when they show up in a novel we’ve written, they aren’t quite so funny. There’s no better way to lose the respect of readers (or of a prospective agent) than to pollute your story with eye-rolling inconsistencies.

Yet this is a common mistake for aspiring fiction authors. I call such bloopers reality violations—inconsistencies of time, place, sequence, physics, or world-building—and they can main your novel before it gets out of the starting gate.

A reality violation occurs when something you’ve written is at odds with the way the world works—either the actual physical world (if you write realism), or the imaginary world (if you do world-building, as in sci-fi or fantasy). A reality violation is a blooper, or something that doesn’t make sense in terms of your story or scene’s physical reality.

Here are some real-life examples from books I’ve edited for clients:

Example 1: We’re told today is Thursday and the wedding will take place Saturday. The author goes on to narrate events that occur today, the next day, and the next—all of them before the wedding day.

But there’s only one day between Thursday and Saturday, not two. A calendar reality has been violated.

Example 2: A woman unlocks her front door, slams it shut, drops her purse on the sofa, and shuffles into the kitchen. She lays the mail on the table, sinks into a chair, and opens her purse.

But how can she open her purse in the kitchen, when she left her purse on the sofa? The author forgot the sequence of actions she established. A careful reread would have revealed the discrepancy.

Let’s look at more examples from manuscripts of real-life aspiring authors:

Example 3: Maggie asked for a salad, and Jack ordered the steak. Then they continued their argument. Jack couldn’t understand why Maggie was being so unreasonable. It wasn’t like her to get this worked up. The waitress returned after what seemed like hours. “Be careful. Those plates are hot,” she said, placing the food on the table.

But Maggie ordered a salad, so her plate would not have been hot.

Example 4: Jack took off his soiled garments and tossed them on the floor, then filled the sink with warm, soapy water. He lathered a washcloth, and cleaned his face and armpits, at last feeling refreshed. He toweled himself dry. The cell phone rang, but Jack ignored it. He hurried to the kitchen, grabbed an energy bar from the cupboard, and rushed out the front door.

The author forgot to include the step where the man dressed himself. Unbeknownst to the writer, his character just left the house naked!

What if, instead, the author had written the following?

Jack stopped by the house to shower and grab an energy bar before hurrying to his court appointment.

In that case, it would not be necessary to tell us Jack got dressed, because the author is summarizing Jack’s actions, not giving us a blow-by-blow, sequential account. See the difference? If you’re narrating every move, you must narrate every move. But if you’re summarizing action, you can leave it to the reader to make the obvious assumptions.

See if you can catch the reality violation in this next example:

Example 5: Carl leaned against the fence post, watching Patrice ride her new horse into the corral. She tossed him a flirty glance.
“Good ride?” he asked.
“The best,” she said, patting Lightning’s neck. “He’s a winner.”
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll ride with you.”
“I’d like that,” she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
Carl grinned, leaned down, and kissed her.

But he can’t lean down and kiss her if he’s on the ground and she’s on the horse—Carl would have to be 15 feet tall. The writer forgot to get the girl off the horse and get Carl over to the girl. Essential actions were forgotten in the sequence.

I said these are real-life examples from books I’ve edited, but in this horse example, I omitted a paragraph where Carl and Patrice chat a while before he kisses her. The author missed the blooper because, by the time he got around to writing about the kiss, he forgot he still had the girl sitting on top of the horse. Reality violations are harder for writers to catch when the actions are spread out across more paragraphs, with more dialog in between, because it’s easier to forget where your characters are standing or sitting and what you last had them doing.

Example 6: The road was always busy, but this morning was worse than usual, and it took Marisha longer than it should have to reach the library. She spent a couple of hours lost in genealogies, but couldn’t find the information she was wanting. Annoyed and frustrated, she gave up, called “goodnight” to the librarian, and left.

But if Marisha started out in the morning then spent two hours at the library, it would have been morning or early afternoon when she left, so she would not have called out, “Goodnight.”
Bloopers—reality violations—fall into the blind spot of the author who makes them, and most of us have this blind spot. But just as you can work around your automobile’s blind spot by checking your mirrors and looking over your shoulder for “invisible” passing vehicles, you can work around your writer’s blind spot by diligently checking for “invisible” inconsistencies when you do your revisions.

How to Detect a Reality Violation

To detect reality violations, one trick is to reread each scene after you write it, taking care to visualize it exactly as you worded it. If a character crosses the room, picture her crossing the room. If she drops her purse on the couch, picture her doing that as you read it. If you create a vivid mental image of exactly what you have written, most inconsistencies will pop out at you as clearly as that SUV on the Civil War battlefield.

Another trick that helps is creating a clock or calendar for the action of your novel. This works for catching time inconsistencies. Charting out the sequence of a string of events as you read through your draft will make any discrepancy in the time line show up immediately.

Making the effort to blooper-proof your novel will pay off in the reception it receives, whether you self-publish or hope to go the route of traditional publishing. Reality violations shout, “Amateur!” to anyone reading your story, so make sure to weed them out before exposing your precious manuscript to the world.

Jessi Rita Hoffman is a book editor and writing coach who works with beginning writers and with award-winning, agented authors. She specializes in thrillers, YA, historical lit, women’s lit, and Christian fiction. She also helps authors structure and revise their nonfiction books. Visit her website and blog at

Online Courses Starting Soon:

The post Blooper-Proof Your Novel: How to Find and Fix a ‘Reality Violation’ appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Jeff Somers and the Rough Beast, Episode 1: How to Write a Novel

This video series follows author Jeff Somers (Writing Without Rules, coming from WD Books in May 2018) as he begins and works on a new science fiction novel, tentatively titled Rough Beast. Demonstrating the tips that appear in his upcoming WD book, Jeff checks in at regular intervals to discuss how to write a novel, as well as the progress he’s made (or the lack thereof), the problems he encounters, and the decisions he makes as he goes from Chapter One to an 80,000+ word novel over the course of several months. Along the way, he is frequently assaulted by cats, suffers frequent existential crises, and discusses the art and craft of fiction in detail.

Episode 1: How to Write a Novel


Author Jeff Somers (Writing Without Rules) commences work on a new science-fiction novel in a style similar to his popular Avery Cates series, tentatively titled Rough Beast. He plans to Vlog about the experience in real-time, creating videos along the way to discuss his progress, the challenges he encounters, and how his many cats are driving him insane.

The post Jeff Somers and the Rough Beast, Episode 1: How to Write a Novel appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Finding Your Squad: 4 Benefits of Joining a Critique Group

By Tami Charles

Deadlines. Writer’s block. Admin duties. We all know the drill. This “writing life” ain’t easy, nor is it glamorous!

Take me. Exhibit A. As a full-time writer, I wake up daily at around 4 a.m. to work. Half-awake. Foggy-brained. Keurig revved up. It’s my best time to get things done because the house is blissfully quiet.

Depending on the day and task, my writing is split into two arenas: the creative world and the “bill-paying” freelance one. Equally important, equally difficult.

On the freelance end, my work involves research, evidence-based theories and straightforward text. No fluff.

On the creative side, however, there is much to consider: characters, dialogue, setting, worlds to build. The list is never ending!

When I first decided to pursue writing as a career, I had the good fortune of finding the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and Women Who Write. These two organizations connected me with critique groups, which essentially gave me the boost I needed to jump-start my career.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro, I think participating in a critique group is beneficial in many ways. Here are four critical ones:

1. Flexibility

There are many options for types of critique groups to join. There are online groups, face-to-face meetings and a hybrid of both. Whichever type of group you choose affords you the benefit of connecting with other writers, socializing and growing together in your craft.

2. Craft

Speaking of craft, participating in a critique group helps you greatly improve your writing. Sharing your work with members and reading their work as well allows you to pinpoint sagging plot lines, breaks in character and more. The give-and-take, along with the honest feedback, is a win for all involved.

3. Accountability

There’s nothing like having other people waiting on your submission and feedback to get your butt in the chair. The pressure alone is enough to get you reading their work and fixing up your own. In this case, pressure can be a good thing!

4. Networking

I cannot stress this benefit enough! I joined my first face-to-face critique group in 2009, remained active until 2014 and then transitioned to strictly online thereafter. Over the years, I’ve met writers from all walks of life. Each one has come with their own set of unique experiences. I appreciated their willingness to share advice and contacts related to elevating our collective writing career goals. For example, one fellow writer-friend provided me with freelance writing resources, which landed my first writing gig. (Thank you, Laura!) Two others researched and helped me plan ways to meet Vanessa Williams, the subject of my debut novel, Like Vanessa. Meeting Ms. Williams was a dream come true! I was able to give her a copy of my novel, which she read, and later gave a glowing endorsement for the cover.

Had I not met the wonderful writers in my critique group (Special shout-out to Christine and Lynda!), I honestly believe none of this would’ve happened.

I believe 100 percent in the power of networking, but most importantly, in the necessity of critique groups. What begins as a businesslike arrangement among writers can develop into a group of friends, cheerleaders and confidants who will rally for your success, while also building their own.

Writing can be a lonely process, but it doesn’t have to be. A simple Google search will help you find the critique group that’s right for you.

Find your squad. Receive feedback with a grain of sugar.
Spread the writerly love.


I wish you luck in your search!

Tami Charles is a former teacher, wannabe chef, and debut author. She writes picture books, middle-grade, young adult and nonfiction. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, debuts on March 13, 2018. Thus far, the novel has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and Foreword, been selected by the Jr. Library Guild for Spring 2018, earned a spot in the Top Ten for ABA’s Indies Introduce List, and won the SCBWI Book Launch Award, along with glowing reviews from Vanessa Williams and NYT bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia. Charles has more books forthcoming with Candlewick and Charlesbridge, including the picture book Freedom Soup debuting in Fall 2019. She is represented by Lara Perkins of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find Charles online at, on Twitter @TamiWritesStuff or Instagram @tamiwrites.

The post Finding Your Squad: 4 Benefits of Joining a Critique Group appeared first on

from Writing Editor Blogs –

Phrasal Verbs Exercise

Fill in the blanks with an appropriate phrasal verb. Answers 1. Even though my sister is a graduate, she cannot put her ideas across in… Continue reading
from English Grammar