Category Archives: The Art of Writing

Pieces on the art and science of writing. Such topics as grammar, punctuation, writing style etc will feature when the mood strikes.

A Question of Grammar – Semicolon

semicolonEverywhere I go these days I see one. My eyes can barely glance at a piece of fiction without one of them being there. Talk about being in vogue! I’m almost beginning to worry whether I should publish any more writing without this year’s grammatical must have. I am of course talking about the oft lamented but now simply irresistible semicolon. It’s getting to the stage that I now come across them so often I genuinely wonder whether people are putting them in for the sake of it. Are they all really needed? If in doubt put one in seems to be the mantra for writers in 2013. Well I confess I’m not totally sure when to use them. There will be others out there like me embarrassed to admit they are semicolon ignorant. If you’re one of those then be ignorant  no longer. When should you use one? When shouldn’t you? What is the point? Time to find out.

Let’s first get a couple of definitions:

While terminal marks (i.e., full stops, exclamation marks, and question marks) mark the end of a sentence, the comma, semicolon and colon are normally sentence internal, making them secondary boundary marks. The semicolon falls between terminal marks and the comma; its strength is equal to that of the colon

In other words:

The main task of the semicolon is to mark a break that is stronger than a comma but not as final as a full stop.

Yes, yes. “Examples, examples” I hear you cry. Well, if I’m reading this correctly there appears to be two main uses for the semicolon.

1.Between items in a series or listing containing internal punctuation, especially parenthetic commas, where the semicolons function as serial commas

To you and me this means sentences which already have punctuation such as commas i.e.

The report concluded the following: 76% of surveyed firms monitor employee Web-surfing activities, with 65% blocking access to unauthorized Internet locations; 57% monitor employee telephone behaviour, including the inappropriate use of voice-mail.

2. Between closely related independent clauses not conjoined with a coordinating conjunction:

Again to you and me this suggest sentences where we don’t use words like “and” or “but” to join two closely linked pieces of text i.e.

At the sales I spent £20my brother spent over £50.

In this example you could use two sentences as both elements stand independently. However, as they are related pieces of information the briefer pause given by a semicolon makes it read better.

For more info check out the following links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semicolon

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon (This is particularly excellent!)

Well, after writing that I am a bit clearer. Hope you are too!

Creative Writing – A Forum For Discussion

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One thing I am discovering early on in my attempts at creative writing is the importance of feedback. Good or bad there is nothing to beat another writer taking a look at what you’ve written and giving their honest opinion. Yes, at times you may not agree with them. We are all no doubt guilty of getting upset when something we have worked hard to create is criticised more than expected. However, I think you have to be prepared for that criticism and deal with it in as constructive a manner as possible. I really don’t feel that other writers are looking to squash your enthusiasm or creativity. They are there to help you make the best of whatever talents you have. I hope that is the case anyway. I’m sure it is.

Of course every time you post a blog on WordPress you are making your work available to be critiqued, whether that was your aim or not. For Creative writing pieces my plan is to find more specific arenas where like minded souls can see what I have produced and let me have it. So far thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields and her Friday Fictioneers 100 word challenge I have begun this process. Feedback so far has been excellent, informative and above all encouraging. Furthermore it has  triggered a desire to find other places where work and ideas can be shared. Something I have actually had in mind for a while is an on-line creative writing course such as the ones offered by these people:

http://www.writingclasses.co.uk/

I may think I know a bit about writing and am relatively experienced at it. However, I feel it’s important not to fool myself. I’m as green as Christmas sprouts when it comes to the creative writing process. I am aware of the adage about writing for yourself and not worrying too much, too early on what others may think. Danger with this approach for me at the moment is starting off on shaky foundations. Think it’s worth taking some time to learn from others about the basics of the creative process. Yes, you could and I have indeed bought a couple of books on the subject. These have been good to  a point. Where they fail is in the lack of interactive element i.e. a lack of feedback. One of these 10 week online courses should provide both feedback as well as the chance to see what others new to the world of creative writing are up to. Think it’s something I will definitely do later this year.

One other thing which would help me is one or two people to whom I can turn if I have a general query. Not looking to ask anyone to read a 6000 word story. Maybe a helpful suggestion when I get stuck on a sentence or am looking for the best way to construct a conversation. If anyone reading or following my blog would be up for this then I would be delighted to hear from you. I can be contacted via the comments below or direct by email at paulmclem@gmail.com

In closing this Sunday blog I want to thank again everybody who has taken time to read my posts and either liked them or left comments. You are making me believe I can do this. Just need to get the right building blocks in place.

A Question of Originality

fhtt_bookSomething which has been in my mind since entering the world of creative fiction is originality. More to the point is it truly possible to be wholly original when dreaming up works of fiction these days? Whether we like it or not we are all influenced by what we see in our daily lives. Books, magazines, TV programmes, films and indeed conversations with friends and family all stick in our mind. We may not consciously attempt to trawl our memory banks for ideas suggested by others but surely what is in there must impact the thought process. This leads me back to my opening question, namely is there really such a thing as pure originality or does every seemingly new idea have its basis in an idea someone else has already had?

The reason why this is in my head at the moment is simply because I am now beginning to have a succession of thoughts on stories to write. More significantly I have begun to put the foundations in place for an environment which I hope might provide a platform for a series of stories.Nothing too grand at this stage. A city to be precise. I like what I am coming up with but there is one nagging doubt in my head. Has someone thought of this before? I haven’t read every word of fiction that exists so I can’t possibly know for sure. How does anybody ever really know what they have come up with is original? Well my current thought process is not to worry about it. I have three reasons for doing this:

1. No matter if someone else has had the same basic idea before that person wasn’t me. Everyone of us leads different lives and sees the world from a truly unique viewpoint. An idea might not be new but it will be new to me. As such it will be approached from a new perspective. Anyway I might do it better than anyone else might have done so far. I can but try!

2. As most ideas have already been had my plan is to add a twist where possible. In other words take what to some may seem a standard fictional environment but add an element which makes it different. Not a twist for the sake of it but to add an extra layer of interest and intrigue.To hopefully make the story as unique as possible.

3. Even if a story you come up with does have parallels in other work why is this necessarily wrong? I would happily read another book similar to “A Song of Ice and Fire” or “Lord of The Rings”. As long as they are sufficiently different then the fact that they tread similar paths shouldn’t really matter.

In wrapping up I should answer my own question. I think it is possible to be original. Of course it is. Worrying what other authors may or may not have written is likely to be a thankless if not impossible task. If you think of an idea and you know within yourself that you’ve never read the same plot before then it is original. What will then make it truly original is the spin and writing style which is rarely going to be the same between two authors. Possibly similar but surely never exactly the same. This is what I’m telling myself for now. Time till tell whether I am being naive.

First Small Steps in the World of Creative Writing

fhth_article-writerMost of you will know my story by now. I love writing. I love words. Therefore to try my hand at creative writing was the obvious next step. Without blowing my own trumpet. Scrub that. I am going to blow my own trumpet. I think the raw ingredients are in me to make a decent fist at this creative writing lark. However, I’m not naive. There is a long, long way to go. First it’s all about getting a good grounding in the basics. The majority of my writing experience is in sports journalism. The world of creative fiction where you are dealing with characters, plots, conversations and the like is new territory. The learning process has begun and the main input will come from three sources:

1. WordPress

Most people who write a blog do so because they like writing things down. As such it follows that there are a lot of budding creative writers on the network. This seems to be the case so far. Early dabbles into the world of flash fiction via the 100 Word Challenge and Friday Fictioneers has reassured me that help is at hand. The advice and guidance of the writing community on WordPress, and other places, is going to be an invaluable learning aid.

2. Reading

Two sorts of reading. First of all continuing to read plenty of fiction, whether it be short stories or novels. Important to see how the professionals do it. Some I will like, some I won’t. However, to study more closely how real authors structure their stories and handle all the elements that they contain will be intriguing. The second sort of reading is learning about the nuts and bolts of the craft. To this end I have purchased a couple of books which will hopefully give me an insight into some solid tips and techniques of creative writing. I will report back in a few weeks with a review of both books. Won’t name them for now!

3. Writing

Last but not least is of course actually doing it. My plan is to enter the flash fiction challenges on WordPress as well as seeking out other challenges elsewhere. For now the 100 word efforts are going to be a great tool to ensure every word counts. A missing comma or quotation mark, an unnecessary word, even a silly spelling mistake stands out a lot more in such a short piece. An excellent exercise to sharpen up your prose. Quite soon I would like to move onto longer stories but one step at a time. In addition to entering challenges I have started to document any time I have an idea. Sometimes I will work on the idea straight away, on other occasions I will leave it as just an idea to revisit.

Well that’s the plan. I will of course keep my blog updated with progress.

Not wasting time I was doing some scribbling last night. I decided to play around with a very simple situation, a man in the street who wants to know the time.  Can’t get much more simple than that. An hour or so later I ended up with this little piece. It has been slotted into my A-Z of ideas under the letter “T” for “Time”:

It was a wet day. Rain was getting everywhere. Rain doesn’t need to get everywhere. Why does it always seem to with me? He should have been here by now. What time is it? Damn. Bloody watch. Do I never put the thing on? She would have made sure I had it on. Quiet! No time for those thoughts now. Concentrate.

I needed to know the time. I wanted to know the time. The person I’m meant to be meeting is a stickler for punctuality. That’s what I was told. One minute late and they’ll be gone. One minute early and they’ll think I’m too keen. I am but they can’t see that. We need to arrive at the same time. I’ll work out how to do that later. For now I need to know the time. What I do know is it’s not time yet otherwise he would have been here by now.

The newspaper shop on the corner looked open. It was early but these places are always open. Could try in there. A quick glance around first. Nope. No town clocks to look at. Nobody around to ask. Suppose that’s why we’re meeting here. No witnesses. Damn, shut up. This isn’t the OK Corral. No gunslingers around. It’s just a meeting. Calm down.

The shop door opened without as much as a squeak. Certainly no bell. Do shops have bells any more? I think too much. Just find out what the damned time is. As I walked in the man behind the counter stopped doing what he was doing.

What was he doing back there? Why do I care? Got to stop wondering about things that aren’t important. Focus. Focus!

“Hello there, I’m meant to be meeting someone and I’ve come out without my watch.So typical. Just when you want to know the time there isn’t a clock to be seen anywhere”. The shopkeeper turned to look at me and just grinned. The face wasn’t familiar but those eyes left me in no doubt. It was him and it seemed I had arrived exactly on time.

Think this is the start of something. Perhaps it’s even the end. Not sure yet. Just thought I’d share. Looking forward to this week’s 100 word challenges on WordPress. The standard is very high and I need all the practice I can get if I’m going to keep up!