Further Versus Farther

Okay, I admit it: as a Southern speaker, I’m horrible about using these two words correctly; we almost always say “further” instead of “farther” around here. (In fact, “farther” sounds like a strange, alien word to me.) Maybe it happens because people don’t know the difference between the two, or it’s just that the pronunciation (for us) of “farther” and “further” are so close, it’s hard to tell them apart, so they’ve blended into one word.

Whatever the reason, it not the sort of grammatical mistake you want to make in your writing. Grammarians will pull their hair and gnash their teeth at you.

So here’s the way to tell them apart:

Running Stickman Farther equates to distance. “The runner pushed himself farther than he had ever been.” This is simple to remember, since everyone knows the root word, far, means distant. If you (or your character) are going off into the distance, you need to go FARther to get to it.

CrammingFurther means something added. Think of legal documents and pompous speeches: “And furthermore….” If your character is furthering his education, he is adding to it.

Further, this bloggant saith not.

Story Forge Plot Card Update: The Menage A Trois Plot

For those of you who bought the Story Forge cards (and for why you should, if you haven’t already, here’s my review of them and a sample spread), creator BJ West has released a new spread: the menage a trois. (Spread… probably not the best word to use in this particular situation, although I find “layout” and “grouping” almost as problematic.)

Menage a Trois Spread

Once you have all of that established–plus the backstory that leads up to it–you’re going to have a major chunk of your novel done. If you use one of the other plot spreads to create a story plot that’s going along while this love triangle is working itself out, you will have enough to make an entire novel–maybe more than one, depending on the pacing.


Writers: Break in Case of Emergency

It has come to that time of NaNo when plots are out of steam, grand plans for a 400-page novel has turned into a 100 page novella, and you can’t even focus enough to write your name on a blank piece of paper.

My NaNo group plans for this eventuality. At one of the early meetings, everyone writes down a plot-changing situation. That is put into an envelope and everyone gets one envelope (hopefully not their own!) to take home. When the going gets tough, you’re allowed to break into the envelope and employ the plot ninja.

Plot Ninjas

Here are some plot ninjas. If you’re stuck, try them–even if they don’t currently fit into your plot at all. You never know how they might work their way into your story. (And even if you end up cutting them out, they could be the jump start you need. At the very least they’ll help your word count goals.)

Your main character, in a fit of craziness, drunkenness, emotional frailty, etc. kisses someone completely unexpected. The kissee is not their current partner. If they have a mad crush on someone and are trying to hook up with him/her, the kissee is NOT that person. It has to be unexpected. Note: your MC must be the one doing the kissing because this sets up internal conflict, whereas if they are the recipient of a drunken smooch, it can be too quickly dismissed.

Kill one of your secondary characters who is close to your MC. Personally, I have a reputation for killing characters–even ones that I build up well with back story and put on a clear path to romance. That’s because real life works that way. Also, I want to keep my reader guessing: will my MC even make it out the series alive? This creates suspense and keeps people emotionally invested and reading. (J. K. Rowling did this.)

Your MC has a sudden medical emergency. This can be from an accident or from a previously-undiagnosed health problem. It may or may not result in a permanent disability (although a permanent disability makes for a more interesting character), but it does need to involve a lengthy process–perhaps by being in the hospital for a while or having to take treatments or physical therapy afterwards. It could involve: a fall from a horse, a wound from a fight or attack, cancer, MS or MD, sudden blindness or deafness, paralyzation, a career-killing injury, a stroke, a fall from a building or bridge, a car accident, etc.

Your MC is laid off/fired from his/her job unexpectedly. If your MC is a kid, a parent suffers a sudden job loss that necessitates moving to a new school district. Or s/he gets expelled (given that some schools are expelling kids for having cold medicine at school, even a good kid can wind up on the wrong side of draconian policies).

Your MC gets religion. Preferably one they weren’t raised on and preferably one that requires a big change of lifestyle. (Orthodox Judaism or Mormonism anyone?) Your MC may or may not stick to it.

Additional Resources

Dragon Writing Prompts – typically small, random items to put into your story (which you then have to explain). For when you need a small nudge to your plot, not a major course correction.


Practice Makes Perfect: Challenging Yourself to Become a Better Writer

As I mentioned the other day, I’m a fan of Scott H. Young’s blog on rapid/holistic learning. He’s been doing a free bootcamp via email, and he had an interesting challenge today.

Practice is necessary for perfection, but it matters what you practice and how. For instance, you’re not going to become a better writer if you just write random words or sentences; you need to have specific goals.

Also, you need feedback. If you don’t know you’ve made a mistake, practicing it will just cement the wrong thing in your brain!

Studies have found that people working a problem (like a math problem) learn faster/better if they know immediately if they got the answer wrong. Once you move on to another problem (or another subject, or another day), your brain cements that wrong answer/wrong method. It’s much harder to go back and correct yourself later.

Unfortunately, writing doesn’t typically have immediate feedback or metrics that are easy to reach. But, you can set yourself practice goals and if you blog, you can get feedback. (It’s not exactly instantaneous, but definitely better than nothing.)

My Goal

One thing that I have trouble with is being brief. I’m not bad about being repetitive (I don’t think!), but I do go on at length. That’s great when I’m writing a novel (most of the time), but not so much when I’m writing a blog post. 300-600 words is the sweet spot for blog posts.

(I also need to be better about making smaller paragraphs, using more subheadings, and more descriptive/SEO-friendly blog titles.)

So, my challenge for November is to keep all of my posts to 600 words or less. This may mean breaking up big ideas over multiple days (because I will maintain my rule about one post per day, unless there’s some really breaking news). Of course, with it being NaNo, too, I don’t have a lot of time to spend blogging, so this can keep me on task.

Your Goal?

As a writer, what is something that you struggle with, and how can you practice it?

  • Do you have trouble meeting writing goals? Can’t keep ass in chair? Do NaNo!
  • Do you have trouble blogging every day? Try Plinky for post ideas. Or read other blogs and post your own take/response to something you’ve read.
  • Do you feel you’re bad at dialogue? Write some and post it to your blog for critique. Or take bad dialogue and try to make it better (something I’ve tried with Varney the Vampire).
  • Do you need to learn to read critically? (This helps you edit/proof your own work.) Vow to read a book every 2-4 weeks and then review it on your blog. Don’t just give it a thumbs up or down, but write your review as if the writer is paying you to copy-edit. (It’s better to go with cheap romances, westerns, free novels on Smashwords, or discounted books; they’re more likely to have major flaws.)
  • Write your own challenge below. Just take something you’re not good at and find a way to practice doing it for a month.

(527 words in this post!)

That Which You Should Know

Here’s another grammar trick (from Grammar Girl) to help you know when to use “that” or “which.”

“Which” is followed by a clause that can be deleted without affecting the sentence.

Example: She passed through a metal door—which locked closed behind her—and instantly recognized the nicer furnishings in the hotel.

This sentence works without the “which” clause: She passed through a metal door and instantly recognized the nicer furnishings in the hotel.

“That,” however, forms a clause or part of a sentence that cannot be deleted. (This sentence is a good example.)

Example: “It’s one thing that separates us from the children of Seth, who do not really recognize any common brotherhood amongst themselves.”

It doesn’t work without the “that,” though: “It’s one thing from the children of Seth, who do not really recognize any common brotherhood amongst themselves.”

Grammar Girl admits that there are times when you can “which” instead of “that” (not sure when), but you should never use “that” instead of “which.”

And here’s a handy way to remember: You can kill the witch, but not the “that.”

I also found out the answer to the drug/dragged question on Grammar Girl. “Dragged” is always correct, “drug” never is. However, “drug” is commonly used in the South (which explains why I was confused about it), so if you’re writing Southern characters, “drug” would have a legitimate use in the dialog (along with “ya’ll” and “ain’t” and “shit fire and save the matches”).

Insert Grammar Rant Here

Some of the comments on the “dragged/drug post were… um… interesting–including the person who was adamant that only uneducated people use the word “drug,” and that people needed to be forcibly educated and such ignorant, incorrect word usage stomped out.

As a Southern person, I take offense at such statements. It’s one thing to say that X is considered correct, but another thing entirely to assume that people who say Y are idiots. One of my pet peeves in life is having people treat me like I’m an idiot (or, possibly worse, give me some sort of backhanded compliment like I’m smarter than they expected)  just because I have a pronounced Southern accent.

Competing to catch a pig (this image from the Foxfire Heritage Festival in Georgia) is an old medieval game.

English is not math. In math, 2+2 always equals 4. It can never equal anything else. Language, however, constantly changes. In 1900, “gay” meant someone who was happy and carefree. Today it means a homosexual (particularly, but not exclusively, a male homosexual).

One commenter found evidence that “drug” as a past tense of “drag” was probably in use in England in the middle ages. (Let’s face it, “hang” becomes “hung,” unless you “hanged” someone as a form of execution). This would explain why “drug” is still a favored word in the South. Some linguists think that the Southern dialect (both the way we pronounce our vowels and certain grammatical choices, like “ain’t” and “drug”) is a holdover from 17th century England. There is evidence that Shakespeare’s players spoke more like Southern people than modern-day Englishmen. Southerners’ ancestors tended to come from the rural parts of England (damn near everyone in my family tree did), Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. They brought their accents with them in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s (and their music; traditional Irish folk music is almost indistinguishable from traditional bluegrass), moved into small, isolated communities, and there they stayed.

“Forms thought to be substandard today are actually the outmoded standard of yesterday.”The Dialects of American English

“The speech of the Ozarks comes closer to Elizabethan English in many ways than the speech of modern London.” – -Mario Pei, modern linguist.

We’re not ignorant; we’re historic. Okay, maybe that should be “archaic.” But that doesn’t equate to ignorant. After all, “whom” has become a rather archaic word, but the Disciples of Whom would bristle at the thought that they are ignorant because they cling to a word that modern English speakers have discarded.

English is a Living Language

Although some people seem to want to homogenize the entire English language and then freeze it in amber for future generations, it is impossible to do. English is a living language, and words must come into use and go out of use. Likewise, there must be regional variations.

For one thing, as I mentioned above, each region in the U.S. has its own history and its own unique blend of immigrants. In the South, we had almost no German or Nordic immigrants, but they were quite common in the Northern States, such as Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Those people’s accents affected how they (and their descendents) pronounce English. It also created unique words peculiar to that area (no Southern native has any idea what a lutefisk is anymore than a Minnesotan knows what chittlins are).  The same difference shows up in the great pop versus soda versus coke debate.

Curiously, spiritualism says that every area has its own unique vibrations/magnetic field/energy, and the people who live in that area will be affected by that–even down to the way they speak. (Most, if not all, Native American traditions–and even Judaism–teach that there is a definite spiritual link between people and land.) If this is the case, then it would be silly to think that you could truly homogenize English grammar, much less dialects. (This might also explain why an Ohioan friend of mine–who had long lived in the South–caught herself saying “fixin’ to.”)

In other words, a living language changes. This is what makes it living.

Latin is a dead language because no one speaks it as an everyday language anymore, so it doesn’t evolve.  Hebrew used to be a dead language, too, but around the turn of the 20th century, when the dream of Israel was growing in strength, a man by the name of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda decided that Jews needed to reclaim their mother tongue. (Hebrew was like Latin at that time–a language only of prayer and religious documents.)

Eliezer began speaking Hebrew at home and teaching his wife and children. But he quickly found that there weren’t words in Hebrew for modern things like ice cream, automobiles, airplanes, grocery stores, etc. The language had never evolved to keep up with the times. So he set about making up all the new words it needed to function in the modern world. (Here’s a problem you might not think of: There were real no curse words in ancient Hebrew. Modern Israelis have re-purposed some old Hebrew words (the word for a female prostitute was well-known, but was not used as an insult before modern times, and was never coupled with “son of a….”) and borrowed from Arabic and English.)

A piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The arrow points to the name of God, which was still being written in very ancient Hebrew letters. The other letters all have their modern shapes.

Eliezer campaigned hard to get Jews to speak Hebrew as an everyday language, and by the time the country was founded in 1947, Hebrew was an official language. (This is really remarkable, because one, Hebrew fell out of use before the Romans expelled the Jews from Judea–Jews during the Roman period spoke Aramaic almost exclusively–so it had been a dead language for more than 2,000 years; two, huge numbers of European immigrants were fiercely loyal to Yiddish and didn’t want to speak anything else; and three, it’s the only dead language to ever be revived in human history.)

Since that time, Hebrew has started to evolve away from Biblical Hebrew. While an Israeli child can read the Dead Sea Scrolls and understand them (they’re some 2,000 years old), the grammar now seems archaic (just as the grammar and spelling in a 1603 King James Version Bible is understandable to us, but archaic).

Oh, the irony! Vivian Leigh was English. She studied Southern dialect with a linguistics professor from the University of the South at Sewanee.

So, while something may or may not be grammatically correct now, that doesn’t mean that it was incorrect in the past (“ain’t” was a perfectly acceptable word in the 18th century and before), and that doesn’t mean that it will be correct in the future. So don’t judge a person’s intelligence based on how they speak English; you may someday find that your cherished words and grammar style are gone with the wind, too.

Grammar Help is Here!

I love grammar tricks to help you figure out what word to use.

For example, who=he and whom=him. “Who is going to the party” can easily be restated “He is going to the party,” but it doesn’t work as “Him is going to the party.” Or you can do “For whom the bell tolls” as “For him the bell tolls.” (Sometimes you have to rearrange the sentence to make sense–“the bell tolls for him”–but the he/him thing still works.)

If you have trouble knowing when to use “me and him” or “he and I,” just drop one of the pronouns and see if the sentence still makes sense. “He and I went to the store” makes sense as either “I went to the store” or “He went to the store.” But “Him and me went to the store” doesn’t make sense as either “Him went to the store” or “Me went to the store.”

I just learned a new trick today. If you can put “by zombies” after a verb, it’s passive (generally a no-no in writing). For example: “I am being driven (by zombies) crazy” versus “Sue is driving (by zombies) me crazy.” The second sentence doesn’t work, therefore it’s not passive. The first, however, is passive.

Let’s Play with Plot Cards

These are now available for purchase. Click picture for link.

This morning, I laid out a basic story spread with the Story Forge plot cards. I thought I would share it as a writing exercise.

I would really love to see all the variations people come up with, so I encourage everyone to write the story, post it online somewhere, and share a link to it in the comments. If your story is flash fiction (1,000 words or less), you can share it directly in the comments, or you can share your first page.  (Yes, I’ll do up a story and share it, too!)

This is from the “Once Upon a Time” spread, which is short and fairly basic. You could get a rough outline for an entire novel from this, but it really seems best for short stories/novellas.

The Protagonist: A doctor or healer.

The Current Situation: Catastrophic physical disaster for individual, community, or humanity.

What Makes the Situation Unstable: Red tape

What Prevents the Protagonist’s Involvement: Lust

What Overcomes the Resistance: Epiphany (In an overwhelming instant, the true nature of the universe and one’s place in it is revealed.)

What Pushes the Protagonist into Action: The Officer (A career soldier with many years of training, combat experience, and a life in the military.)

Direction the Protagonist is Pushed: Courage (Emotional fortitude is found. Even in the face of impending doom, the will to go on is within reach.)

Goal: Solitude (The goal must be pursued alone. Either assistance is not available or it must be refused.)

Four of the eight cards were destiny cards which “represent the big issues in one’s live, those events that strike like lightning and leave everything completely changed forever.” So this catastrophic disaster is going to cause a major life change for our protagonist.

I debated whether or not to leave “solitude” as the goal card, because that’s not exactly a resolution, is it? But I decided that I liked it because it leaves the end more flexible. Does the hero conquer the disaster? Succumb to it? (Death is the ultimate solitude!) Or is he going to have to fight the good fight for the rest of his life? Solitude also implies that he loses his lust-mate, but it can also mean that he loses his officer mentor/partner/friend. Or it might mean that he is the sole survivor or has to shut himself off from others in order to work on a solution. (Think I Am Legend.)

There is nothing that says you have to adhere to the entire spread. For instance, “red tape” might be something that you don’t bother to represent (especially if you’re wanting a fairly short story), or it might appear towards the end of the story rather than at the beginning. The point of the cards is to give you an idea for a story, not write the entire story for you. So use them as a jumping-off point and feel free to deviate where necessary.

I will try to have a rough draft (or at least a start) by next week. So we’ll revisit this next Thursday and see what we come up with. Writers, start your computers!