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Pet Peeves: Irony

Posted by on Nov 27, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Pet Peeves: Irony

Irony is a word I often hear people say, yet they seem to think it means “interesting” or “unexpected.” Neither is correct. If we looks at the dictionary definition…

irony: a strange, funny, or sad situation in which things happen in the opposite way to what you would expect

So something that is ironic is unexpected, but something unexpected is not necessarily ironic in the same way that a duck is a bird, but a bird is not necessarily a duck.

In a conversation I had with a friend of mine, the problems with pointing out bad grammar can be seen:

Friend: So I went into the drug store and ironically I met my aunt there.
Me: Is the drug store the one place you’d never expect to find your aunt?
Friend: No.
Me: Did you go into the drug store to avoid meeting your aunt?
Friend: No
Me: Then I don’t understand the statement. That’s not irony.
Friend: Don’t be a jerk.

However, if you don’t use irony correctly when writing then, not only are you creating a permanent record of your ignorance of grammar, but you may be teaching those who read your work the wrong lessons.

Let’s look at the three main ways in which we can express irony in our writing.

1) Verbal irony: when someone says something that is the opposite of what they really mean.

“I completely trust you with my car,” Jake said as his discreetly hid the car keys.

2) Situational irony: when a situation is contrary to what you intended or expected to have happen.

Going out to the country to avoid the noises of the city and get a good night’s sleep, only to be kept awake by all the foreign noises of nature.

3) Dramatic irony: when the reader (or audience) knows something that the character does not

Running away from a monster, Jake hides in a cave that we know to be the monster’s lair.

One of the most annoying examples of ignorance of irony is Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic.” While I like the melody, nothing it the song is ironic. The song should be called “unfortunate.”

Do you have any favourite authors who use irony in their stories?

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Show and Tell

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Show and Tell

For any new writers, not just young adult writers, this is most important lesson to learn. You need to show your readers the story and not tell your readers the story. This may sound wrong because as writers aren’t we story-tellers? Yes we are, but let’s look at the sentences below”

Upon hearing the news, Frank became angry.

Upon hearing the news, Frank grimaced and clenched his fists together. He wanted to to punch something, someone, even this innocent messenger. Grinding his teeth together to keep from spouting profanities, he let out a low growl.

The first example accurately describes Frank’s reaction. It tells us he became angry. The second example, however, we go into details about how that anger expressed itself both physically and mentally. Note that nowhere in the second example does it explicitly state that Frank is angry, yet we know what’s going on and are pulled into the scene because of it. Think about it. You really don’t want to be in front of the second Frank, do you?

I can gives many more examples if anyone asks, but I think the above clearly illustrates the point.

Novice writers often tell their stories. Check your work and make show you’re showing as much as possible. You do not need to get overly descriptive, but you don’t want to simply state facts.

Any questions?


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Writing Exercise from Cliff

Posted by on Nov 4, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Writing Exercise from Cliff

Here’s a writing exercise by one of my friend’s Cliff Cardin that will help you YA writers develop your ability to set scenes and add descriptions to your work.

The intriguing thing about film is the ease in which it can take you to a back-alley crime scene and completely immerse you in the surroundings. Everything is there. No background information is necessary. You don’t have to guess what color the victim’s purse is, or what the detective is wearing; you can see it. The expression on the actor’s face is readily apparent, no need to say, “she cast a sly grin.”

As a writer, our work is not so easy. We have to set the scene for our readers if we want to successfully convey our original intention.

When I write, I am often short on detail. I consistently have to re-edit material. I assume this is because I began by writing screenplays. My motto was, forget the detail, that’s what actors and set designers are for.

When I switched to novels, I realized I had to do something to beef up the descriptive process, so I started looking for helpful hints. I recently attempted a writing exercise that worked well for me—so well; I thought I would share it with you.

To begin the exercise, take a scene from one of your favorite television shows. I chose Castle. Record the scene on your DVR, and then watch it. After you watch it a couple of times go back to your desk and write out the scene. Jot down everything you can remember, including dialogue. I selected a scene from a recent episode set inside a precinct office. That meant I had to describe, what the characters were wearing, what office furniture was in the room, the expressions worn by the characters, and, of course, what was said.

After writing the scene, I went back and re-watched the recording. I specifically looked for things I may have missed. Was the room dimly lit? Did it cause the characters any problems? If so, what were they? I then went back and edited the original copy, adding components I believed were important.

At some point your experience will reverse. You’ll read what you have on paper and then watch the completed scene only to find it was shot as written.

Your now ready for the final test. Have someone read your writing, and then show them the segment. Ask if what they were watching was the way they visualized it when they read your text. If it was, you have mastered your craft.

Of course, the amount of detail you enter into your book will vary depending upon your pacing, but being able to describe what you visualize is a skill worth cultivating.

Just a Thought,


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Talk about being punctual!

Posted by on Oct 31, 2012 in Tips and Tutorials | Comments Off on Talk about being punctual!

Let’s have a look at how punctuation is used in dialogue. This used to confuse me all the time, but there are some simple rules to follow:

1) It’s all one sentence.

Many people separate the sentence in the dialogue from it’s dialogue tag, but that’s wrong. What’s a dialogue tag? That’s the part of the sentence that tells you how the dialogue is expressed. For example “he said.” “she screamed.” “they whispered.”

Look at the following sentences:

“Let’s try again,” he whispered.
 “I’ve got it!” he exclaimed.
“Where do we go?” she asked.

The first thing to note is that the dialogue tags aren’t separate sentences as shown by the lowercase “he” and “she.”

Next, while “Let’s try again,” looks like a complete sentence and should end with a period, it doesn’t. Use a comma because the sentence isn’t over yet. We use a “!” and “?” in the other two example because they’re show how the sentence is read.

Finally, note that the punctuation at the end of the sentence goes inside the quotes.

Now you may be thinking, “I’ve seen dialogue that ends with a period.” You probably have, but was that dialogue  followed by a dialogue tag? If we’ve established the speaker we can often omit the dialogue tag altogether because the context has been established.

“Let’s kill him now,” Eric said, holding the blade of his sword to the king’s throat.
“No!” exclaimed Bart. “We need him alive or we don’t get paid.”
“Fine.” Eric slammed his blade back in its sheath before dropping the king to the floor.

Notice in the last line, the dialogue stands as its own sentence yet we know who’s saying it and how it’s said.

2) What if the dialogue tag comes first?

Bart picked up the king and asked, “Are you going to behave or must I tie you up?”

Notice here that the comma comes after the dialogue tag “asking” and the dialogue begins with a capital even though technically this is still all one sentence.

When the dialogue finishes the sentence it can end with a period like you’d expect.

The king nodded, replying, “I’ll behave. Please don’t hurt me.”

Now we get a little tricky because there are two sentences in the quotes. This is easier to handle when they come at the end, but if they start the sentence then the sentence just before the dialogue tags end in a comma instead of a period if it doesn’t need a “!” or “?” at the end.

3) And if the dialogue tag splits a sentence?

The following two sentences look a lot alike, but the difference is in how they’re punctuated.

“Alright. But,” he said, raising a knife, “if you try anything you’ll not only be bound, but missing a finger.”

See how the whole thing is a sentence? This is because the dialogue is separated by an action occurring as it is said. You have to pay attention when you do this because it doesn’t work usually work with just a plain dialogue tag.

“You have my word,” said the king, “just put away the knife.”
“You have my word,” said the king. “Just put away the knife.”

In these two examples the second one is correct. Saying it out you can hear why the second example works and the first doesn’t.

When you split dialogue this way, always have an action occurring or a reason for a pause in the sentence. When in doubt, read it aloud.

4) Bad dialogue tags

Be careful not to use bad dialogue tags. These are tags that don’t really express speech.

“Hello,” he smiled.

You can’t smile “hello.” You can say “hello.” This is a very common error.

“Hello,” he said with a smile.

Think about what you’re trying to express. Word like “agreed,” “laughed,” and “sobbed,” express actions not speech. You can run your story through the Story Analyzer to find many dialogue tags you may be misusing.

Any questions? Leave a comment.
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-ly Adverbs. How to write badly.

Posted by on Sep 6, 2011 in Tips and Tutorials | 3 comments

When editing a manuscript, some words deserve to die – not always, but usually.” – Tameri Publications

Young adult writers, any writers actually, have heard it said that -ly adverbs are bad. In most situations this is true. Before you argue otherwise, let’s take a look at why you should strive to eliminate -ly adverbs from your writing.


1) Many adverbs used are redundant

Have you ever read that someone crept quietly across the room? Exactly how else would you creep across a room? Banging your feet? Perhaps someone yelled loudly as opposed to those quiet yellers we hear. Whenever you’re about to use an -ly verb ask yourself if it is really enhancing the verb you’ve chosen or if you’re just trying to get more words on the page.

2) Some adverbs don’t make sense.

I remember a comment about an idea that could “literally make your head spin” and yet I survived. And after that marathon are you completely exhausted?  Make sure the your adverb doesn’t contradict the definition of the verb its modifying. Also make sure the adverb isn’t included in the verb’s definition.

3) Sometimes you’re just trying to fill space

One of the most frequent places to find adverbs is after “said.”

“Ok,” Kelly said sadly.

In longer sections of dialogue, writers often feel that they need to enhance sentences by throwing in some adverbs to break up the monotony of several “said”s. A better option would be to reword the sentence to omit the need for a dialogue tag or word the dialogue so the potential adverb is implied and you don’t need to use it.

A tear rolled down Kelly’s cheek. “Ok.”

4) A better verb eliminates the use of an adverb

Did she “sit sadly” or did she “sulk?” Did he “run quickly” or did he “sprint,” “dash,” or “bolt?” Often times writers realize that the verb they’re using doesn’t clearly express the image they’re trying to project. Instead of adding an adverb, try a different verb. With thousands of them to choose from, why not expand your vocabulary, and possibly that of your readers, and try some new ones out.

5) Instead of an adverb, add descriptive text. (Show instead of tell.)

“The training went on endlessly.” Really? What happened? Here’s an opportunity for paragraphs of description to show the struggle and determination of the character in question. Why sum it up in a sentence? Don’t miss an opportunity to engage your readers and increase their connection to your characters.


I hope you can now see that elimination of -ly adverbs can take your writing skills to a much higher level. This isn’t just about some people saying, “Don’t use ‘ly adverbs! They’re bad!” You writing and your readers will benefit from this practice. Not usually, always.

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And here we go.

Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 in Tips and Tutorials | 1 comment

Not long ago our teachers warned us never to start a sentence with a conjunction. They actually meant never start a sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions are the following:

F = for

A = and

N = nor

B = but

O = or

Y = yet

S = so

The differ from subordinating conjunctions through their use.  Coordinating conjunctions are used to connect phrases or clauses as follows:

Main Clause, <coordinating conjunction> Main Clause

Main Clause <coordinating conjunction> Phrase

For example:

  • They could not each, for the cupboard was empty.
  • He walked across the room, and sat in a chair.
  • He can’t sing, nor can he dance.
  • She likes oranges, but hates orange juice.
  • I will either choose history or biology.
  • I’m nice to him, yet he still doesn’t like me.
  • I got tired, so I left.


Note that you insert a comma when joining clauses, not phrases. If you see a verb in the second clause then add the comma.

As you can see, with Coordinating Conjunctions the clauses are emphasized equally.

When using clauses for subordination, the main clause has more emphasis than the subordinate clause .

Main Clause <conjunction> Subordinate Clause

Sub Clause, <conjunction> Main Clause

For example:

  • I said I’d go with Jane, and Mike agreed he’d go with Kelly <- Coordinate
  • I said I’d go with Jane if Mike agreed he’d go with Kelly. <-Subordinate


Now that we’ve gotten that our of the way, back to the original premise: should we start sentences with a Coordinating Conjunction?

The answer is: sometimes. While it’s often better not to, starting sentences with conjunctions can emphasize a point. But if you start a sentence with a coordinating conjunction then don’t include a comma unless an interrupter immediately follows it. So, although you shouldn’t do it often, starting coordinating conjunctions are allowed.

Keep these things in mind when you’re thinking of starting a sentence with a coordinating conjunction:

  • Make sure that the main clause follows the coordinating conjunction.
  • DO NOT use a coordinating conjunction to begin every sentence UNLESS you are intentionally trying to create a flow of ideas in this manner
  • DO NOT use a comma after the coordinating conjunction UNLESS an interrupter immediately follows it

Why shouldn’t you use coordinating conjunctions to start a sentence? If not done correctly, your work will turn out choppy, and you are likely to create obvious sentence fragments or run-on sentences.

When in doubt, remember that you can always rewrite the sentence to not start with that conjunction:

But I still wanted to eat it.

Can be:

  • However, I still wanted to eat it.
  • Still, I wanted to eat it.
  • I still wanted to eat it too.


And I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Can be:

  • Also, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
  • In addition, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
  • Furthermore I enjoyed it thoroughly.


I hope this helps with your writing!


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