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 November, 2008

Developing a Novel
 by Bruce L. Cook

Perhaps you write short stories and wonder how you can shift gears and write novels instead. (Remember, you really do need to start with short stories.) .... (continued below...)


Apostrophes: A Gentle Introduction

by Tim North, Better Writing Skills.com

Apostrophes are a common source of confusion for many writers. They needn't be, though, and this easy-to-follow article will help you to use them properly.

Let's start with a very simple explanation of what a noun is. (Don't worry, this will be the only jargon in the entire article. I promise.)

A NOUN is a word that stands for a person or thing. Examples include "dog", "Tim", "love", "house" and "Ireland".

SINGULAR NOUNS stand for a single person or thing; for example, "chair". PLURAL NOUNS stand for several people or things; for example, "chairs".

Part 1. Using apostrophes to indicate possession

The most common use of an apostrophe is to indicate possession by a person or thing of some other person or thing. For example: "John's book" or "Europe's history".

Using an apostrophe to indicate possession is really quite straight forward, yet it's a frequent source of confusion. There are two separate cases to consider: singular nouns and plural nouns.

Singular nouns

When a noun is singular (i.e. it stands for a single person or thing) we show possession by adding apostrophe–s. For example:

the girl's book

Japan's recovering economy

the princess's gown

Mauritius's beaches

the cat's whiskers

Summary: Singular nouns are made possessive by adding apostrophe–s.

Plural nouns

When a noun is plural (i.e. it stands for a several people or things) we show possession by adding an apostrophe after the "s".

For example:

the CEOs' perks
(the perks of two or more CEOs)

the players' pride
(the pride of two or more players)

the programmers' books
(the books belonging to two or more programmers)

the boys' games
(the games belonging to two or more boys)

Summary: Plural nouns are made possessive by adding an apostrophe
after the "s".

An exception

As with many rules, there is an exception. This one concerns nouns that form their plural without adding an s. For example:
woman/women, person/people, sheep/sheep and child/children.

Words like this take apostrophe–s in both their forms. For example:

the woman's idea
(the idea belonging to one woman)

the women's idea
(the idea belonging to two or more women)

the child's gift
(the gift belonging to one child)

the children's gift
(the gift belonging to two or more children)

Summary: Nouns that become plural without using an "s" (e.g. woman/women) are made possessive by adding apostrophe–s to both forms.


Part 2. Using apostrophes to indicate missing letters

Another use of the apostrophe is to indicate missing letters in
contractions such as "isn't", "doesn't" and "can't". For example:

Full form Shortened form
can not can't
do not don't
does not doesn't
I will I'll
is not isn't
it is it's
let us let's
shall not shan't
there is there's
you are you're

You'll notice that the apostrophe appears in place of the omitted letter or letters. For example, in contracting "is not" to "isn't" the apostrophe replaces the missing "o".

But consider contracting "shall not" to "shan't". If we put an apostrophe in place of the missing letters, shouldn't it be written "sha'n't"? After all, we've left out both "l"s and an= "o".

It's a valid point. Indeed, until a few generations ago, "sha'n't" was a commonly encountered spelling. Today, though, it
is rarely if ever seen.

That's all there is to it. Practise those simple rules, and you'll be the local expert on apostrophes.

-------------------------------------------You'll find many more helpful tips like these in Tim North's much applauded range of e-books. More information is available on his web site, and all books come with a money-back guarantee.




Developing a Novel... (continued)

Perhaps you read novels and just wonder about the writing habits of their writers. (For example, do all writers sit down for six hours every morning in an upstairs room, like Ernest Hemingway, and spend the rest of the day drinking rum? Sounds good to me!)

Perhaps you are highly organized and wonder how anyone could write a novel without a “business plan” of some kind. That is, an inflexible chapter-by-chapter plan, preconceived before starting to write.

In other words, how can a writer develop a novel?

This term, “develop”, is customarily used in reference to writing computer programs or creating websites, but it can apply equally to the writing of novels, where there is no proven formula for success. It’s worthwhile to examine the process, for we all have much to learn. Especially myself, as a writer who has been working on the great American novel for nearly forty years!

You need to begin with a basic story. It’s best if the story will prove something, ideally a socially significant theme, but it could also be personally significant. Then develop characters that will support the story and a setting where they can interact in a meaningful way.

Now, what about those chapters? In my experience, you can start by writing something like a screenplay, in which you create five or six or more main events, or parts, that will define the story. Then, as an animator will do between successive pictures in a cartoon, you will fill in the story between.  Call these “tweeners” if you will. Again, it is enough to do this in your mind, and not write it down, for it should be entirely plastic and fluid. Happily, it does permit you to provide a framework for your characters as they define the specific events in your story.

Now write the first few chapters and see how they work. Try moving them around so it starts off well. Then get on with the story. (Please, at this point, you do not need to produce perfect grammar and style. You can do that after you have finished the first draft, and after you have deleted the parts you don’t plan to keep. Just think, why would you want to refine something you are just going to delete later? In practice, though, you will probably want to do this after writing each major part in your story.)

At this point, ideally, you could make a list delineating every chapter of the book. However, this can be risky, for you need to give your characters freedom to interact with each other without imposing an inflexible “business plan.” As an author you have the right to “aim” characters, and even to terminate them or their presence in the story, but you cannot predict everything they will do in detail. The characters do that. Otherwise the story may well seem contrived.

Then how will you write the chapters? I recommend that you, as a writer, predict the action (a small “slice of life” usually) in your mind. Then write the chapter, end it, and wait. Back burner the next actions, keeping the characters’ situation in mind, along with your overall goals. Then write that next chapter without knowing exactly how it will end. Let the characters you created decide that.

When the action for each section is done, you will know it. At that point, end the chapter in a way that will further the story and, hopefully, move the reader.

It’s a fluid process. For example, you can always drop in new information, characters, conflicts, etc.  (It’s not like building a house, where it’s difficult to just drop another room into the second floor.)

In this way, as in real life, you will progress at a slower pace than a 60 hour-per-week writer, but your characters will have consistency, and your story will carry the reader’s interest.

As you move along, you’ll find it necessary to resolve every main problem the story has introduced. Once that’s done, it’s time to develop a smooth and hopeful emotional ending. Then your story is done.

Now is the time to refine your story.  Check that grammar and style. Watch for consistency in naming characters and following up their actions. Further, check that each character’s dialogue is unique. (They shouldn’t all talk just like you!)

Once you have finished this revision, it’s time to send the novel around to people who will actually critique it. This is not a time for congratulations.   It’s time for improvements

Finally, once you have a version that satisfies you, write a few agents or publishers and go from there! And, even if the book never storms the book market, at least you will at least know that you’ve done it right.

Best of luck!


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Publishing New Writers,

November, 2008 (no. 911)


Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, 6086 Dunes Dr, Sanford, NC 27332.

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