Archive for July, 2009

Proofreading: it’s worth the effort

July 26, 2009

One of the things I can’t stand about working for a corporation is their philosophy on speed versus quality.  I have always believed that quality should come before speed, and not the other way around.  Whether you put out 20 or 200,000 units per year, if the quality is substandard, the damage is done and your professional reputation will suffer.  The same holds true for writing.  Publishers are in such a hurry to get as many books out as possible, that I’ve been seeing mistakes in books that can be corrected easily if they just slow down, and proofread a little.

As writers, we have a message to convey, and we do it through the written word.  If we want to make certain our message is understood we need to do our part in the process.  We put everything we have into writing, and have the most to gain from its success, or the most to lose from its failure.  When we proofread our writing, we need to take our time, and make sure it doesn’t leave our hands until we are satisfied with the results.

Don’t rely on the spell/grammar check.  The problem with the spell check is that it doesn’t catch every mistake.  Let’s just say that you are writing a dialogue and one of the characters says, “Do you hear me?”  If you are typing fast and not paying attention, you might type “Do you here me?”  Here we have a typo that is very common.  If you proofread carefully you will catch it and change it.  If you rely on the spell check, it will never catch it because hear and here are both words that a computer recognizes.

This phrase might also be missed because it doesn’t change the flow of the sentence.  Improperly used, words that sound the same, but are spelled differently can make a sentence confusing to readers, and may send the wrong message.

Other typos that the spell check won’t catch are the words that can break the flow of a sentence.  One I’ve seen a lot lately is the word “of” instead of “if”.  This is more of a fast typing problem, or a finger slip.  One or two of these in a book is no real big deal, but two or three a page is sloppy proofreading.  Very few books are completely free of mistakes, and it’s to be expected, but if you let them get out of control, you will lose readers.

Whether you’re writing a masterpiece of fiction or a letter to your family, if you want your message to be heard, and taken seriously, proofreading is essential.  Take control of your writing, and invest the time needed to proofread; isn’t your message worth the effort?

Challenge: When you proofread, set a daily goal on how much you will get done.  It will make it easier on your time.

Enjoy,
Allen

so long old friend

July 23, 2009

I remember the day my wife and I moved in, six years ago.
You were here waiting for us to fill your life with purpose.
You assisted me through every meal, every snack,
And even with the size of my appetite you never judged me.

When we first met, you opened yourself up to me,
And through the years you just stayed in your corner
Humming softly to yourself,
Waiting patiently to serve me.

I remember the day the symptoms started.
It was last summer,
The first day over 80,
Your temperature started to go up.

I fought to keep it down,
But to no avail.
Then, two days later,
It returned to normal and I thought
All would be fine.

Then, six days ago,
Your temperature went back up.
I tried to help,
But it was no use.

On Monday, I decided it was time.
Through six years of faithful service,
And unending devotion,
The time has come for you to retire.

You will be missed.
So long, old friend,
Be cool.

Now, let’s see how well the new freezer works

Enjoy,
Allen.

All roads lead to a career

July 19, 2009

The career you choose will depend on several factors; family pressure, what you study in college, friends, and sometimes even by accident.  The question is how do you know you have found the right career for you?  Living out your parents’ dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer may seem noble, but you were not put on this Earth to live out your parents’ dreams.

When looking for the right career for you, you have to think of yourself as an individual with unique abilities.  I used to work for a company where the manager wanted me to replace him when he retired.  He made this decision without asking me if I wanted the position.  As far as I was concerned the job was nowhere near where I wanted to be career wise.

When I was much younger, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.  Every job I had, and every career I considered all led me back to one thing; I would find a way to turn it into writing and photography.  Of course, I gave into career pressures to some extent, settling for a job in a grocery store with the night crew.  Even though I don’t like the job much, and I definitely know it’s not the career for me, I’m getting more material for writing.  I’m also pulling in a steady income while so many others are out of work.

Just because I work at a grocery store doesn’t mean I can’t pursue my real career choice.  There is no time limit on your career choice unless you’re talking about professional sports, or fashion modeling.  Many people have started their careers after they retire.  The trick to the right career is never give up.

Making a plan can also help you to reach your career goal.  Sometimes the jobs you have along the way, if looked at creatively, can help you reach a future career goal.  I know, how can a night job stocking shelves help a writing career?  While working at night, it gives me a chance to learn about products, marketing, and saving money, and then I can pass that along in blogs and articles.

When you make a career plan, start from your current position, job wise, because you can only move forward.  Ask yourself these questions; what can I learn from my current job about my career choice?  What education do I still need?  What resources do I already have?  How can I make the best use of those resources?

These are good starting questions.  As time, and the answers become clear, you will come up with other questions.  It’s best to stick to the plan you come up with, and don’t rush it.  If you try to jump ahead too fast, you can become confused, and the whole plan can fall apart.

Let me leave you with this; figuring out your perfect career is easy.  Pursuing the perfect career for you is the hardest job you’ll ever have.  Obtaining the perfect career is the sweetest victory you’ll ever know, and it’s worth all the work. Don’t give up, and you will have it.

Challenge: If you haven’t already started your real career, start making plans today.  You have nothing to lose.

Enjoy,
Allen

Hollywood terms 101- remake, based on, inspired by

July 11, 2009

In my last post I had mentioned the movie “You’ve got Mail” in regards to a formula for romance writing.  One of the questions that came of that is, “Wasn’t that just a remake of “The Shop Around the Corner?”  After watching the movie all the way through today I would definitely answer “no”.  This did leave me with one question.  What is the difference between “remake”, “based on”, and “inspired by”?

According to my Hollywood dictionary, each term is defined by the amount of material was used from the original.

A remake uses nothing but the original for source material.  It may change a few things like character names, and maybe even the setting, but the plot remains unchanged.  A perfect example would be “The Parent Trap”.  If you haven’t seen either version, I would recommend watching them.  Since they are the same story, try the Haley Mills version, I thought it was better.

While the term “based on” usually refers to a movie taken from a book, or short story, it can also refer to another movie.  In this case, you may have the same characters, and the same basic plot, but there are some very obvious changes.  You take some things away, and add other things.  This is part of the reason when I read a book, and see the movie, I treat them as two separate stories.  Just a word of caution though, if you decide to do both, the movie always falls tremendously short of the book.  I would recommend the book, and movie “Dune” for this, I actually found both to be entertaining.

“Inspired by” is a term that means one story was inspired by another story, but very little original material from the original was used.  This is where “You’ve got mail” fits in.  The basic premise is the same.  Two people, who only know each other by letters, fall in love.  What they don’t realize is that they already know each other.  This is where the similarities end.  In “You’ve got Mail” Nora Ephron added in some small tributes to the other movie; a couple of scenes and the name of the store, “The shop around the corner” was a reference to the title of the original.  Other than that, they were two different stories entirely.

While this may not be a creative solution to anything, it helps to know the basis of some of these terms when comparing movies, or books.  I hope you find something useful in this.

Enjoy,
Allen

The search for a successful formula

July 8, 2009

At this moment I am working on a romance novel.  I know this isn’t the most popular genre choice for a guy to write but as I mentioned in another blog, I can’t resist the movies, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve got Mail.”  These two movies have what I would call great writing by Nora Ephron.  They have fantastic characterization with equally wonderful plots.

When it comes to writing romance, there are two schools of thought regarding formulas.  One group says there isn’t a formula to romance writing.  The other group says it’ll never sell without one.  The truth is, there are several, but as to which one you use will be your decision.

In an interview about how she came up with the formula for “You’ve got Mail”, she said it was the same formula used by Jane Austin in “Pride and Prejudice.”  She even made some good jokes about it in the movie.  Individual publishers like Harlequin have their own requirements for a formula, so you will have to read the publisher’s guidelines to see which one will accept your style.

A good question, though, is which style do you prefer?  If you wish to find the best formula for you I would recommend turning to the book, or movie, that inspired you to write a romance in the first place.  In my case, it was those two movies.  I learned a lot of the formula while watching the movies, and then watching the interview where Nora mentions some of the elements of the formula. After that, I read “Pride and prejudice” that answered the rest of my questions.

When you find a book that inspires you to write in a particular genre write down all the elements that you liked in that book.  Umm, you do keep a pen and paper when you read don’t you?  If you don’t, you shouldn’t worry; you will just have to reread the book, that’s all.  Once you have all the elements, file them away for easy access when you get stuck.

Just to give you an idea of what to look for, here are some of the elements that I found in Jane Austin’s books, as well as in the movies.  There is always something that links the two characters to each other, in the first few pages.  This can be an interest in the same thing, or they know the same person, whatever it is, it must be something that will become an emotional connection.

Another element is that there is always a best friend or relative that will lend emotional support while they struggle through their growing emotions for the other person.

There is always something or someone that seems to make their love impossible.

The more they try to fight their feelings for each other, the more it consumes them.

The story ends when they realize that the other person is the one for them, and they come together for the final scene when their relationship begins.

In essence, you are looking for what made that book a success, or how the story moved from the beginning to the end while keeping you entertained.  Be careful though, you are copying down the elements of a formula, and not the plot itself.  The plot must still be yours only.  Believe me, it’s an easy trap to fall into.

Challenge: If you haven’t already, reread the book you enjoyed most, and write down the elements that made that book a success in your eyes.

Enjoy,
Allen

To every life, some change will come.

July 1, 2009

Every day we are faced with a multitude of changes, some we are painfully aware of, and others we never see.  Change is inevitable; it’s how we handle it that will determine our future.  Change forces us to make a decision on whether we accept, or reject it.  Oh, and lest I forget, change does one other thing that is important.  Some people think that it gives us strength, on the contrary, it just shows us the strength we already have.

A little over two years ago I went through a change that still tests me today.  It was on a Friday, and I was trying to sleep before riding into work.  I was also quite contented that two days before, the last of my bills were paid, and that all we owed was normal living expenses.  I was having a lovely dream when my wife woke me up. She said she had to lie down because her left side was feeling fuzzy.  I told her to give it a few minutes, and within ten minutes it was gone.

I had just started to dream when she came back in and told me that it was fuzzy again, and it was stronger.  Within an hour, we had taken a cab, and checked her into the hospital.  It wasn’t until later that night, in the hospital, that she had a mini-stroke, and fell on her knee, which led to major surgery.

Ever since I was young, I have been very firm in my rules of relationships, so I had accepted the role as “primary caregiver” for her recovery.  She is still “recovering” and I am still taking care of her along with my two jobs.  Some days, I don’t know how I keep going with this schedule, and the constant breaks in sleep, but I have kept going for over two years with the strength that I never knew I had.

“They” say necessity is the mother of invention, but I say that it also frees your strength.  If this situation had never occurred I still wouldn’t believe that I had the strength to keep going, but I do, and I still am.  Yes, it may seem overwhelming at times, but it has to be done, so the strength is still there.

I used to fight change, but now I accept it.  I may not like some of the changes, but I can’t stop them from coming, so I am learning to live with them, and “go with it”

We shouldn’t be afraid of change; it is there to teach us how to apply our creative nature in helping others, and to show us our hidden reserves of strength waiting to be tapped into.  One of my favorite TV characters is always saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”  But I say that things will happen in our lives, and it’s our decision on how to handle it that gives it reason.

Don’t run away from change, learn from it, and use it to find the strength you never thought you had.

Challenge: Think about all the changes in your life, and how much strength you have already found.

Enjoy,
Allen