Successful writers need to know grammar & spelling

Once upon a time, the uneducated writer had a chance. If a publisher decided he was a good writer in spite of his bad grammar and spelling, there were loads of qualified proofreaders to bring the book up to a literate level.

Today, the problem is that most younger people were raised by wolves (the public school system) where basic skills were neglected even when they had teachers who actually knew grammar and spelling. Now that the new generation of teachers believe ‘speling doesint counte’ school children don’t have a chance.

But readers tend to judge writers by their correct grammar and spelling skills. Most habitual readers pick up a certain amount of knowledge of these things from reading properly proofread books. They may not know all the rules, but when a writer violates a rule the reader knows, trust is lost.

The writing world today is divided between indie and traditional publishers. The indie writer without English skills can’t self-edit or self-proofread. He can hire an editor or proofreader, but if that editor or proofreader misses 50% of the writer’s mistakes, how will the writer know?

In traditional publishing, a publisher may still take a chance on an uneducated writer, especially if that writer is poor, a racial minority, and/or progressive enough. But where do traditional publishing houses get enough good enough proofreaders when their old ones retire or die? I’ve noticed books seem to have more uncorrected errors of spelling and grammar than they did when I was younger.

The solution for the aspiring writer with poor English knowledge is to LEARN! You must learn correct spelling. You must learn correct grammar. If you can produce mostly-correct manuscripts, you can come up with a better final product than if you were spelling-and-grammar impaired.

Most of us are familiar with spell-check software. If you have a spelling problem, look up every word marked as incorrect in a dictionary. Write down the correct version of the word you want. Practice spelling it correctly. Also look up ‘spelling demons’ to find the misspellings that your spell-checker doesn’t catch.

If you have grammar problems, you need to study grammar. Using a grammar-check program like Grammarly might help, but you need a basic understanding of English grammar to really master good grammar.

One additional method that I have used myself is to learn a foreign language. I took German classes since junior high school, and the classes were full of German grammar. Since the English classes at that level were more about making me read the right books (not classics, but books with Black characters and civil rights themes) I learned more about grammar from studying German grammar than taking English class.

Creativity and originality are great qualities in a writer. Just not when it comes to grammar and spelling. You want your readers to have confidence that you are a ‘real’ writer and know the English language well. Spelling and grammar help. And, as in the example in the graphic above, can keep you out of prison.


Do I really need to learn Chinese to write this character? & Celebrate

Right now I am occupied with outlining a science fiction novel, Tiberius Base. I’ve written some 51 pages, by hand, in a composition book. I’m following the instructions in K. M. Weiland’s Outlining your Novel Workbook, and so far it has been useful in developing characters, particularly the main character, a junior administrator at a starbase-under-construction, Ping Yuan.

I’ve been having an impulse to learn a little Chinese as a result. Chinese is the character Ping Yuan’s native language though he is fluent in interplanetary Trade Languages like Esperanto and Volapuk.

Foreign languages are kind of a Special Interest of mine, and I try to keep them under control— ‘you can’t buy a beginning Italian book until you have finished the beginning Serbian book.’ But I’ve also come to understand that starting a language project is one method I use to relate to fictional characters.

As a kid I was a massive Star Trek TOS fan—  before Star Trek needed initials. I particularly liked the junior officers, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. As a result at various times I tried to learn Japanese, Swahili and Russian. Not a lot of results, but I do know the Swahili word for toilet and learned to identify Japanese writing from Chinese or Korean at an early age. I even know a few words of Russian, including one naughty word.

I have at various times used similar approaches to characters of my own creation. I have also deliberately given characters a certain linguistic background to match a language I was at the time interested in.

In my current project I’ve done some of that. Esperanto, a language which is a long term interest of mine (I have read books in it), is the Trade Language most used in my setting. I made some characters native speakers of German, which is my own ancestral language and one I studied in college. I can also read in German.

The character Ping Yuan was made Chinese for story-related reasons— he needs to be a communist-style ‘scientific atheist’ because another major character is a Catholic priest. But I think that learning a bit of Chinese does help— I’ve signed up for the Chinese lessons on a free language learning site and ordered the book that goes with the 50Languages free audio lessons.

Question: Do I think language learning in general is a good way for writers to relate to characters? It depends a lot on the writer. And on the character. But the language learning process can help you relate, and you will probably learning bits and pieces of your character’s culture as well. You might give it a try especially if your character’s culture is different from yours. (Or if you are a German-American like me, your character is too, and you’ve never tried learning a little German.)

This is also my Celebrate the Small Things blog hop post. As of this week it still seems like blog hop host Lexa Cain is not feeling well enough to participate, so prayers for her are still in order.

My celebration this week is about the 50 Languages free language learning materials. I discovered this years ago. It is sponsored by the Goethe Institute which used to encourage people to learn German. The 50 languages thing is really quite clever. The lessons are translated into the languages, and the learner picks out two— his own native language and the language he wants to learn— and can download the paired two-language audios. So— I can download some Chinese lessons with an English translation, but some Dutch speaker who wants to take Arabic lessons can get audios for that, too. It’s very helpful and great for homeschooling families who want to teach a language.

How story ideas happen and what to do about it

Today I want to talk about story ideas—- my ideas, your ideas, anyone’s ideas. To do this I will talk about my most recent story idea as an example.

The idea happened like this: I thought about how a space station would get started. A really big space station that will one day have thousands of people living on it. Maybe even a million.

I expanded: some people would want to live on the space station to operate a business of some kind. But what about lower level laborers? Someone needs to sweep the floors, or move boxes of cargo from docked ships to the station  and such.

I thought about the station administrators who were responsible for finding such people. And how they would have to mold such workers, along with other station inhabitants, into a community.

I decided the administrators would be Chinese, and atheists. Scientific atheists. And their worker pool would be speakers of the German language, and Catholics. Why Catholics? I decided my atheist administrators would want to use Christianity as an instrument of social control. They wanted workers who could be pressured into obeying the more socially useful of the Ten Commandments, like Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal.

But Christianity isn’t about being good, it’s about having a relationship with God. And the priest brought in to control the faith of the new workers is more interested in winning souls than in aiding administrators.

OK. Now, the first step in turning these random ideas into a functional story is to write things down. So I picked out a nice new composition book for the project.

I already had notes for what I call the Destine universe and so I set my story there. That’s how I came up with the name of the space station. Or space city. Tiberius Base. And, yes, it is named after James T. Kirk’s middle name.

I had been reading K. M. Weiland’s books Outlining your Novel and the Outlining your Novel Workbook, so I started answering questions from the workbook into the composition book.

I found that the basic story when written into a short description sounded dull, so I added a love subplot and a troublesome-aliens subplot that raised the stakes on the main plot— if my main character failed to build a viable community on Tiberius Base, the base might have to be handed over to some aliens who were claiming it.

So, that’s how I got one idea and how I’ve been developing it. Have you had any good writing ideas lately? Tell us in a comment, if you like.

Some coming attractions:

Wednesday: Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop is on.

Saturday: I will be sharing a recipe for low-carb/ketogenic Dutch Baby Rolls that I have been working on.

Creating alien languages in #Worldbuilding

Recently I found again some notes I thought were lost on some alien languages I was creating for one of my WIPs. I thought I’d write a little about how I create alien languages.

Why even create alien languages? Well, your alien characters need names. As do places on your alien worlds, and alien concepts. Creating alien-sounding words is better than naming your aliens Tom and Bill.

How I do it is I pick out 2  real languages, such as Indonesian and Dutch for my language for the alien Lizard race, and mingle them.

For example, I pick a word from Dutch, slang, and a word from Indonesian, ular. I take the front half of a word from the one language and combine with the back half from the other. I come up with ‘slar.’ Reversing the process, I come up with ‘ulang’.

I like ‘ulang’ better than ‘slar’, so ‘ulang’ becomes the native Lizard name for the Lizard race. I randomly add ‘-in’ to it to form the plural, so ‘Lizards’ is translated ‘ulangin’. So— the ulang language has a plural.

I make a list of something like 15 Dutch words and 15 Indonesian words and create a list of some 30 words in Ulang-pa, the Lizard language.  They include some of the following: Alliri, sendeen, beggup, sangwaam, gunerg, hoopala, kefd, sednig, baper, and hoepi.

Any time I need name an Ulang character, I pick a word from the list to be his name. If I need a word for a concept, I pick one from the list— such as ‘sendeen’, which means an Ulang tribe or sept.

If I wanted to create words and phrases in the language, I have to make some decisions about the words of Ulang-pa— the nouns, verbs, adverbs and pronouns. And if there are any useful affixes that Ulang-pa uses. We already seem to have -pa for ‘language of’ and ‘-in’ to mark the plural. I then pick out words from the list and assign those words meaning, and can use the words to form phrases and sentences in Ulang-pa.

The multilingual dictionary pictured above, ‘The Concise Dictionary of 26 Languages,’ is the book I used to create the Ulang-pa  language. But it’s not the only source book I have used. When I created a language for the alien Menders, I used ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian as my 2 languages.

I use for my reference book for Greek the book ‘Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible’, which contains a dictionary of all the Greek words used in the Protestant Bible.  For ancient Egyptian, I have a book on the ancient Egyptian language I bought at the Egypt museum in San Jose, California, when I was a teenager.

The Mender language is somewhat more developed. I have a list of male and female given names, and a list of 24 names of noble Mender houses. I also have a few Mender words, some of which are derived purely from the ancient Egyptian language. There is ‘saret’ meaning ‘philosophy, theology, wisdom, science’ — a key concept of Mender culture. I have ‘ireepat’ for ‘prince’.

Some of the constructed Mender names I currently have are Epes, Oktsep, Mavret, and Hapas, all male names. And Reri, Meketi, Netari and Yatros, all female names.

The idea of using two different real languages and combining them the way I do is to try to be able to create a set of unrecognizable alien words that have a similar ‘flavor’. Since each alien language has a different set of two languages at the source, each alien language will have its own set of characteristic spellings borrowed from the original languages.

Creating languages, not necessarily for fictional worldbuilding purposes, is a hobby of its own. Invented languages are usually called constructed languages or planned languages. Some famous constructed languages are Volapuk, Esperanto and Ido, along with lots of others, created for international communication. Other invented languages, such as Tolkien’s Elvish and Star Trek’s Klingon, are the intellectual property of their creators and cannot be used without permission.

Asperger Syndrome writers: how to write social interaction

If you go to an online group for writers and creative people with Asperger Syndrome, one common topic is whether an Aspie writer can write scenes of social interaction well enough to pass muster. After all, we have a deficit in social interaction skills in real life. We commonly miss nonverbal cues and that can make a social interaction go wrong. So how can we write social interaction?
One factor is the fact that we actually have social interactions all our lives. We may not fully understand them, but neurotypical people also have social interactions they don’t fully understand. Every time we interact with another person, they have things in their head that affect the interaction— and they may not reveal even important things either verbally or through nonverbal cues.
But the most important reason we Aspies can write good fiction, including social interaction scenes, is that it is FICTION. And social interaction in fiction is governed by rules.
Social interaction in fiction takes place in the form of scenes. Each scene in a work of fiction has a purpose— it advances the overall plot in some way. And each character that acts in a scene has a purpose in that scene. He brings an agenda to the encounter.
For example, take the first scene in the novel ‘Gone With the Wind.’ In the first scene there are three interacting characters— Scarlett O’Hara, a sixteen-year-old Southern belle, and two of her many beaus, Brent and Stuart Tarleton.
It seems like an ordinary social call, but all the characters start off with agendas. Scarlett prides herself in being a popular girl with lots of beaus, and she doesn’t want to lose any one of the beaus to the other girls. She flirts with the Tarleton twins even though she has no intention of marrying either one, since her heart is set on her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes.
Brent and Stuart want to rise in Scarlett’s estimation and become the chief members of Scarlett’s string of beaus. They probably have a vague idea that in time one or the other of them will propose marriage to Scarlett and she will accept. But the boys haven’t thought far enough ahead to even figure out that they can’t BOTH marry her and that this fact is likely to lead to a future conflict between the brothers.
Brent and Stuart have an immediate goal in the scene. A barbecue at the Wilkes plantation will be held the next day. There will be dancing, and the boys want Scarlett to promise them as many dances as socially possible.
Scarlett doesn’t want to give the boys the encouragement of too many dances. She has lots of other beaus she wants to dance with. And she wants to spend time with Ashley, the man she believes is her One True Love.
The Tarleton boys have a secret, though. They’ve previously visited the Wilkes plantation and were told a secret: Ashley’s cousin Melanie Hamilton will be at the barbecue, and the Wilkes family intends to announce the engagement of Ashley to his cousin Melanie.
Brent and Stuart think that revealing this will get them what they want— Scarlett’s attention. Girls like to know secrets, and they love hearing gossip about who is getting engaged, especially when they hear it before it becomes common knowledge. Surely this will win them lots of dances and attention from Scarlett at the barbecue!
But because Scarlett loves Ashley, she is distraught. It can’t possibly be true! Her attention has turned firmly away from the Tarleton boys. She absently promises them dances and other attention at the barbecue, but then she leaves without inviting them to dinner, which would have been common good manners.

You can see that it would not require lots of knowledge of real world social interactions in order to write a scene like this. Only a knowledge of what each character in the scene wants— and you, the author, gets to decide that.
Now, you will note that not everything in the scene is normal and typical of social interactions of the period. It is odd for the Tarletons to be chasing the same girl, and it’s odd of Scarlett to accept the brothers both into her circle of beaus. It’s also odd for Scarlett to forget her manners and not invite the boys to stay for dinner. But readers accept that. People don’t always live their lives according to the etiquette books. Because the characters have goals, and they act to further those goals in the scene, their behavior is accepted.

The scene, the first in the book, serves the purpose of introducing the main character, Scarlett, and the major threat to her happiness— her love is apparently about to marry another. This situation is central to the major conflicts of the novel right until the end.

So for writing effective scenes of social interaction, it is more important to know writing rules than the rules of real-world social interaction. And most Aspies with an interest in writing will be able to learn those rules by reading books like James Scott Bell’s book ‘Plot and Structure’ which will help you learn to create plots which follow the three-act structure, which in turn will help you to write valid scenes.

Blogs I’m reading:

Dawn Witzke: Review: A Pius Man by Declan Finn   –  I just finished reading Dawn Witzke’s book last night. An intense dystopian novel with a Catholic touch. And here she’s reviewing Declan Finn’s thriller A Pius Man (Pius like the popes of that name) which basically shoots up the Vatican but in a Catholic-friendly way.

Josephine Corcoran: Ignoring blog commentsJosephine tackles the topic of how the blogger should respond to certain types of blog comments, particularly those on very old posts.

A look at the July/Aug Writer’s Digest ~ Celebrate


This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. If you don’t know what Celebrate is, go here:

I subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Why, when it costs money and I have so little? It’s because I see myself as a professional poet and writer, and reading a magazine about my profession is, well, professional.

This month’s issue was exciting for me because it gave the winners of the 2015 WD Poetry Awards. The winning poem, ‘Inheritance,’ was a dreadful villanelle about the author’s mother’s mastectomy bra. But the shock-feminism probably put the poem ahead of those with more literary value. Because being a SJW (social justice warrior aka left-wing fanatic) trumps things like talent.

I thought of entering a poem of mine in this year’s WD poetry contest. Though my poems rarely have mastectomy bras in them so I probably can’t win. Though I have just the poem in mind for the contest, it’s called ‘Christ in the city’ and it’s got a woman in it who can fold tortillas into cranes (the bird kind not the heavy machinery kind.)

More important for me would be to get out another poetry submission to Scifaikuest, which published a haiku of mine in February. And perhaps another to Chiron Review which published one of mine not too long ago. Since I am planning a book on how to write poetry, I think I need more poetry publication credits that are not from the late 1980s.


I have a number of things to celebrate for this week’s blog hop. Number one, duckings! Arsenic, a lady duck of mine, was found sitting on a nest full of eggs. I needed to move her and ducks stop setting if you move them. So I popped the 10 eggs in the incubator and yesterday they hatched out— all 10! This NEVER happens. I guess mama ducks are better for hatching eggs than incubators are.

Another celebration is that I am back writing poetry again after a couple of months of not doing it. I’m even going to submit some poems to Scifaikuest  later today. I was looking through my files and saw a few that might be just the thing for them. So, everybody, wish me luck on that!

Also celebrating that I’m making a batch of bone broth today— it takes 48 hours in the slow cooker but is well worth it. And it’s inspiring me to do a major cleanup of my cluttered kitchen because I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the bone broth!

So, what are you celebrating this week?

How to Braaains! Storm your Zombie Novel

GIRL-Z-My-Life-as-a-Teenage-Zombie-zombie-bookWant to write a cool zombie novel? Great— but first you will have to plan a number of things so your novel will be unique and interesting both to zombie fans and to others.

There is a preliminary step before you begin your brainstorming. READ ZOMBIE NOVELS. It doesn’t help if you have watched every zombie novel that has ever been released, or if you watch every ‘The Walking Dead’ episode over and over again. Novels are different. Read those.

If you don’t know of any zombie novels, try some of these:

Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by C. S. Verstraete
Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian
World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks)
INFECtIOUS by Elizabeth Forkey

OK, with your reading done, it is time to get started with the brainstorming. Get out your writing implements, set a timer for an appropriate amount of minutes, and start brainstorming on one or more of the following:

  • The rules of your zombies— how do they function, how do they behave, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Your zombie infectious agent— where did it come from, how does it work, is it a virus, bacterium, prion or other, is it natural, alien, or the result of germ warfare, and what is it called?
  • Your world before the zombie epidemic— like our own or different? In what ways?
  • Your survivors— what are they like? Typically in horror fiction the characters are somewhat traditional people leading somewhat normal lives— think of Rick Grimes and family from The Walking Dead. This makes their struggles more compelling to us than would be the struggles of gay male prostitutes or Colombian drug lords. Though the gay male prostitute and Colombian drug lord might make interesting sidekicks for a Rick Grimes character.
  • Your villains or opposing forces— government, political extremists, or just the zombies?
  • Your survivors’ weapons and survival strategies— think of Daryl Dixon’s crossbow and his hunting skills. (Another ‘The Walking Dead’ reference.)
  • Your survival location (if your characters are not nomadic throughout the novel.)
  • Difference: in what way is your zombie fictional vision different than others you have read or watched? In what ways is it similar?
  • Genre: Zombie fiction is not all horror. ‘Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator’ is a comedy, ‘Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie’ is juvenile fiction (YA), and “INFECtIOUS” combines the zombie apocalypse with the Evangelical End-Times Apocalypse in an original way. What genre or genres is your novel going to be?
  • Why do you what to write a zombie novel? What is it about a zombie novel that really appeals to you? And don’t say that zombies are popular and your novel will sell if it has zombies in it. You have to be inspired by the topic to make a go of it. (For example, I’m quite obsessed with ‘The Walking Dead’, it is one of my ‘Special Interests’, and when the season is running you don’t want to hear all the minute details of each episode that I analyze to death.)

Please give us feedback in a comment— do you have any other ideas for brainstorming a zombie novel? Is brainstorming a technique that works for you? And, who do you think that Negan killed on The Walking Dead?