Essential Basic Tools for Writers

No, I’m not going to talk about computers and word processing software. There are other important tools that writers need to have at their fingertips that relate to the craft of writing. They are a dictionary, a style guide, and a grammar reference.

I know what you’re thinking—those are tools for the editor’s job. No, it’s your job we’re talking about. A writer needs to be an expert on proper spelling, word choice, phrasing, sentence structure, grammar and a million other rules. Knowledge of these things comes with writing every day, but writers can’t remember everything about these subjects. I know I can’t.

Luckily, there are references you can buy to keep you straight. The first one is a good dictionary. Merriam–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th ed. is a good choice. Not only does it give the correct spelling of words, it has sections containing foreign phrases; the correct spelling of the names of many notable people; important geographical locations; signs and symbols; and a handbook of style. When you buy the desktop hard cover, you get a code to get free access to the online version.

The Chicago Manual of Style 16th ed. is the premier style guide for writers. What’s a style guide? Don’t know if you should use a hyphen, en dash or an em dash? Can’t figure out what order adjectives should be placed in a sentence? Confused about whether you should spell out a number or use numerals? A style guide sorts through these issues for us and sets forth the most accepted answer. The Chicago Manual of Style is the reference most used by publishers, editors, proofreaders, and authors.

Chicago has in depth sections on publishing, editing, proofreading, copyright, grammar, word usage, punctuation, capitalization, proper use of offices and titles, historical and cultural names, scientific terms, brand names and trademarks, titles of works, abbreviations, bibliographies, and indices—and that’s just the highlights. It is a required reference for good writers. You can subscribe to the online version for around thirty–five dollars a year which, will keep you up to date on changes without waiting for a new print edition. The online search feature is very helpful.

Even though you can find most answers to grammar questions in Chicago, a grammar reference is still a good idea. The Gregg Reference Manual, 11th ed. is a great resource because it is so easy to find the answers to vexing grammar questions. The index is comprehensive and easy to use. It has a quick reference guide in the front of the book that is also helpful.

If you are serious about your writing, these references are essential tools for success. The quality of your work starts with you when you write your story, and ends with you when review the proofed galley copy for approval. Use these tools and get it right.

The Writer’s Journey

Ever have those moments when you say to yourself. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” When I retired in 2009, I started my third career. I became a writer. Since then three of my novels and several short stories have been published. Over these seven years, I have attended seminars, conferences and talked with writers. I would hear words and phrases describing writing techniques and would ask about them and get vague answers.

One day I was talking to one of my writing friends for whom I have high regard. I asked about a description of the sentence she mentioned earlier at a critique meeting. She couldn’t remember what she said, and I was doing a terrible job at describing what she said. Finally, out of frustration I asked her, “What is the most important book on writing?” Without skipping a beat she replied, “The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler.” I bought the book and after reading the first chapter, I knew she spoke the truth.

Vogler explains storytelling. He tells the reader about the Hero’s Journey, the basic structure for all stories in some form or another. The author explains how the structure works, and the different ways it can used. An understanding of this structure is crucial for writers.
He explains the character archetypes and their functions, such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Threshold Guardian, the Herald, the Shapeshifter, the Shadow, the Ally and the Trickster. Through examples of stories in novels, movies and television, Vogler illustrates these archetypes and shows how to manipulate them to make your story better.

Next is the Stages of the Story. These stages consist of the Ordinary World; Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Meeting the Mentor; Crossing the First Threshold; Tests, Allies and Enemies; Approach the Inmost Cave; The Ordeal; Reward; The Road Back; Resurrection and Return the Elixir. You can see the flow of a story in the names for the stages. This does not mean Vogler suggests a formula. Knowledge of how the stages work, will give you the ability to better manipulate them with your own creative power.

I wrote for seven years without the wisdom of this book. My first stories would have been better had I only known. It’s not that I didn’t use archetypes or story stages. I just didn’t understand them enough to use them in the most effective way. Now you know about this book. I highly recommend every fiction writer read A Writer’s Journey, Mythical Structure for Writers (Third Edition) by Christopher Vogler. Your storytelling will improve if you do.

Christmas Cheer

In the spirit of Christmas I offer you short pieces by my fellow writers in the Whidbey Writers Group. This is the oldest writers group on Whidbey Island, over twenty years young. I was very honored to be invited to join. These Christmas stories and poems bring you humor and poignancy about these holidays. I hope you enjoy them.

ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD……
by
Sandra Ortgies

“Crap!” mutters the Christmas angel as her cowboy-booted toe catches the hem of her long wind-whipped gown, sending her careening into her companion. Angel One recovers her balance, bending her head to the task of righting her halo atop long blond hair.

“Watch where you’re going,” snaps Angel Two as she raises her own gown to clear a furrow, exposing striped leg warmers.

“We’re already supposed to be at the manger,” whines the third angel, adjusting Angel One’s tilted wings. “I can’t believe I said I’d do this.” The angel trio trudges on across the rough field under the starry brilliance of a Christmas Eve sky.

The Christmas pageant begins; stillness settles over the crowd ringed around sets of the outdoor nativity scene in this south Texas climate so similar to that of Bethlehem.

Chapel teens organize this three part drama that plays each Christmas Eve; taking the roles, acquiring an infant and persuading local farmers to provide friendly animals.

In the first scene, Joseph and Mary are still at home in Nazareth contemplating their trip to Bethlehem. Joseph assists Mary onto the back of a rambunctious little donkey and they fast-forward in time to the second scene, the Inn-keeper’s entrance, where accommodation in the stable is arranged.

The manger set is in darkness. Sheep, calves and non-recruited squirrels are all in position. “Baby Jesus,” in his Texan dad’s arms, is waiting in the wings while the rest of the cast in varying degrees of readiness step into roles and places.

The angels glide in behind Mary after initially flirting with shepherds and wise men along the way. Something is happening here, a shift in angel attitude? We now have a trio of Christmas card angels, silent and sweetly serene as they gaze at the star high on the Spanish-style chapel wall. Mary sits beside the manger and is handed the baby while Joseph leads the donkey to join the other animals.

All is calm; all is suddenly bright as the main spot-light sweeps the traditional scene. Families draw closer together as we sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” the busyness of our holiday preparations and Christmas Day plans seem momentarily forgotten in this moment.

This young Mary, much the same age as the mother of Jesus when he was born, cradles her borrowed baby, pulling her cloak more tightly around him while Joseph stands close by, slipping treats to sheep and calves.

This is what it’s all about; as close an enactment as we can have, and the wonder of this gift encircles us all…especially the angels.

Copyright 2014 by Sandra Ortgies

A Holiday By Any Other Name
by Miko Johnston

Harken back to the days when political correctness gripped the throats of businesses throughout the nation, choking off enough oxygen to deprive corporate brains of common sense, the ability to separate what’s truly offensive from what’s overly sensitive.
I’d gotten used to co-workers going out of their way to wish me a happy Hanukah and refrain from mentioning Christmas to me, as if wishing me a merry Christmas was an insult. After all, why wouldn’t I want December 25th to be merry; sure beats the alternative. I stopped explaining that traditionally, Hanukah had been a relatively minor holiday that was elevated in status as a counterweight to Christmas.
One year shortly before Christmas, a co-worker who shared an office with another woman and me brought in a Christian-themed drawing her six-year-old granddaughter had made in Sunday school. The proud grandma wanted to post the drawing on our bulletin board, but after seeing it, several other women didn’t think it appropriate for display. Somehow the incident got reported to management.
My supervisor called me into her office. It was the policy of the company to keep all mention of religious holidays generic, she said, and therefore, the drawing would not be posted. I refrained from laughing, for I knew her reason for telling me this was to insure I would not be offended by my co-worker’s intent.
I asked to see the picture.
The little girl had made a drawing of the manger, with Mary and Joseph standing over the baby Jesus, nestled into his car seat, clad in his disposable diaper with its adjustable tape closures. I took the picture and brought it into my work area, pinned it on the bulletin board, and went back to work.

Copyright 2014 by Miko Johnston

Welcome to my new website

Dear Readers and Visitors:

I decided to start a new website that concentrated on writing and information I find in my research for my stories. I also wanted to connect more with you, my readers, through the site. I’m going to be asking you to comment on my stories and interesting items I come across in my research. I will also showcasing fellow writers from time to time.

I hear some writers say they never read the reviews they get on their work. I appreciate reviews and read everyone. I take all constructive criticism seriously and have incorporated many of those criticisms in my work.

When I started writing, I really didn’t expect to sell a lot of books. I was just started writing because I had these stories banging around in my head that needed to get out. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well my books have been received.

Recently, my publisher was contacted by Amazon with an offer to put selected authors into their Imprint series. My first two books, GOTU and Necessary Retribution were selected for the Amazon Encore imprint. When Ken Shear, the CEO of Booktrope, called me tell me the news, I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t and I’m still amazed at that great news.

I’m currently working on several projects, but concentrating on the third installment of the Robin Marlette series. This new story will take three books tell and the team is taking on a very sinister opponent. You might be surprised as to who that is.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll come by again.