Words that Work
with Gail Martini
Suzy-Q: I want a seat up front!
Lyra: It's about time for the discussion to start
dori: You can sit next to me, SQ
Lyra: you all ready to officiate, Gail?
Suzy-Q lugs her bag with goodies over
Lyra: My tip for officiating a workshop: type fast!
dori: Lights dimming....
Suzy-Q: clap clap clap
dori: microphone on....
Suzy-Q: testing testing .....
Suzy-Q: it works Gail.
dori: Spot light, stage center...
Suzy-Q sets a glass of water on the table for Gail.
Suzy-Q: whistle.... whistle.....
Lyra: you gals are mighty rowdy tonight!
dori: We're ready for action
Gail: WORDS THAT WORK--Workshop on Kidlit
Gail: To introduce myself, I am Gail Martini-Peterson of Seattle. I graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in English education.
Suzy-Q: not so loud dori
Gail: I have some dos and don'ts to begin with, followed by an explanation of using alliteration. Then I will answer, with everyone's help, any grammatical or punctuation problems. Also, usage. Then I have enough to fill in if there are few questions.
Gail: As I used to tell my students, word flow is very important.
Gail: In my opinion it is even more important in writing for children because the writing is shorter and tighter. Every word should work for a living. Therefore, GET RID OF any of the following:
Gail: 1. WAS or any form of the TO BE verb. (is, am, are, was, were, been, be, being, and any other forms) Reason? They tell nothing. They are a SOUND that links the subject with a noun. That noun renames the subject. (Predicate Nominative).
Verla: Auuugh! Gail...How can we WRITE without using those words?
Suzy-Q: Those are some of my favorites!
Gail: They can be used as helping verbs, that is preceed the main verb to tell time, but they should be avioded alone.
Gail: Predicate nominative, or predicate noun. The house was a mansion. house=mansion.
Gail: Or it links the subject with an adjective. (Predicate Adjective)
Verla: Oh, WHEW. You had me worried, there for a minute, Gail. Thanks for clarifying that.
Gail: Instead of saying "Scat, the cat, was scared." how about "Scaredy cat Scat..." Take the WAS out. This will tighten your writing.
Gail: Another reason is it sometimes leads to the dreaded Passive Voice.
Verla: But...you changed scared to scardey?
Gail: 2. Weed out Filler Phrases such as "as a matter of fact" or "at this point in time". This is not tight writing.
Gail: 3. Weed out redundancies such as "final completion" "respectful regard" "nods her head" (what else do you nod?)
Gail: 4. Anytime you have two sentences saying the same thing but in different words, eliminate one of the sentences.
Gail: 5. And lookout for unnecessary qualifiers--very, almost, seemingly, sort of, maybe, she probably knew, he seemed to think, he obviously felt.
Verla: Wow. Lots to remember, gail.
Lyra: I use VERY all the time (g)
Gail: These might be used in dialogue to show a hesitant or noncommittal character, but NEVER in description.
Verla: Ah...thanks, gail
Gail: It is the nouns and verbs that carry the story.
Lyra: good point
Verla: Hmmm. Like the action verbs, huh?
Gail: Very is a weak adverb. Make the verb stronger, and you don't need the very.
zzap: Regarding rule 4, I think most writers say the same thing twice because they know it's important--but they've not taken time to write with a stronger verb.
Verla: Can you give us an example of that, gail?
Verla: An example of a weak adverb with the word very and then one with a strong verb?
zzap: He ran very fast. He dashed
dori: How about....'He was very frightened' to "He was terrified"
Gail: Very smooth.
Verla: Hmmm. He was very big. He was massive.
Verla: But...I used WAS.
dori: But now we're using 'was'
Lyra: except we aren't supposed to use was
Gail: Got that right.
zzap: he ate very quickly: he gulped
Suzy-Q: He's terrified or He's massive?
Verla: zap is doing it right
Lyra: good examples
dori: No fair, SQ 's is the same as 'was
Gail: "s is the same as using is.
Verla: That's still using IS, sq...it's just in a contraction
Gail: But sneeky.
Verla: Ah...The very big man...
Verla: The massive man
zzap: The giant
Gail: Always scratch 'very'.
zzap: (i love nouns and verbs: hate adjectives)
Suzy-Q: hey i'm learning
Gail: Good girl.
Verla: Me, too, sq!
Gail: Are you ready for the next point?
Verla: Yep. Fire away
Gail: 6. Write mainly with strong nouns and verbs. Oh, sure, the adjectives and adverbs have their place (and the other parts of speech as well), but the nouns and verbs must be strong.
Gail: I really already said that.
zzap: (wroth repeating!)
Gail: Remember I mentioned WORD FLOW?
Gail: We read things to ourselves and hear the words in our head, at least I do. The words should be smooth, like a river flowing. Sometimes a word shows up like a rock in that river. It jars us. That is great for an effect, but otherwise keep the words flowing.
Gail: Hear them in your head or read them aloud.
dori: I think you can 'hear' more if you read out loud
zzap: pic book writers should always read aloud.
Lyra: I'm learning to read aloud, too
Lyra: of course I feel silly talking to myself
Gail: One way to subtly do this is to use Alliteration. Big word if you don't know it.
zzap: thorny thistle; burly bramble
Gail: Here are some examples I searched around and found:
Lyra: lots of alliteration in pic books
Gail: A small herb garden grew on the window sill. (Escaped by Janice La Brenz)
Gail: Notice the repeated beginning sounds. There are two in this sample--s and g.
Verla: How is that Alliteration, gail?
Gail: Repeated beginning sounds.
Gail: small, sill
dori: Sorry, I don't get it
Gail: garden, grew
zzap: He planted purple peppers, Mississippi peas, and packet after packet...
dori: THAT I get!
zzap: (I LOVE alliteration)
Gail: They don't have to closely follow each other.
dori: And what's that supposed to do, Gail?
Verla: I thought they DID have to closely follow each other, gail?
Verla: (Now I am confused!)
Gail: They need to be in the same sentence, or at least in the nearby sentences at the very least.
Verla: Hmmm. So what makes something alliteration, then?
Gail: It makes the words flow without being poetry.
Verla: Ah...poetry I understand!
Gail: Try some more examples.
Verla: My new story!
Verla: The Dragon's Dilemma
bus-bus: are you saying 'planted, purple, peppers, packet, and packet' are the alliteration?
zzap: and mississippi peas
Gail: Yes, but wait a minute and I will cover them so close together.
Gail: Never had Tony heard Sam express his insecurity this openly, and the wish for convention conflicted with his wilder side. But somehow this seemed more than whiskey-soaked musings on a warm spring night. (Silent Witness by Richard North Paterson)
dori: ...the magic of music plays and pulses..
Verla: Ah...I see. Alliteration helps phrases flow smoothly...
Gail: Now you know what I read for pleasure.
Gail: Right, Verla.
Gail: "Had" and "heard" blend. "Sam", "express", "insecurity" all have a heavy "s" sound. And there are others. They DON'T all have to be beginning sounds.
bus-bus: oh! i see now.
Verla: So that might be why I like this line in my Dragon's Dilemma story so much...They carried the crate to the firepit in the castle courtyard and started a great bonfire.
Gail: You got it!
Gail: Come children, we had better return to our room to get ready. (Mrs. Toggle and the Dinosaur by Robin Pulver)
Gail: Ah, the "c" and "r".
Verla: And, for the most part, then, alliteration is GOOD
bus-bus: or can too much be too much?
Verla: But, I'm assuming it can be carried TOO far?
Gail: Aside: I don't know about you, but brushing my hair a hundred times just makes it greasy.
Gail: Hey, but it can easily be overdone!! And if it is overdone, it leads to humor. And children love humor, if that is your intent.
bus-bus: humor? how so?
Gail: I do not recommend titles like Sammy Squirrel, Tommy Turtle, and Samantha the Smarty Pants. Publishers will see the title, and fold your story into your SASE.
Verla: So do you think I need to change my Dragon's Dilemma title, Gail?
Gail: Probably not. But maybe. Is it supposed to be funny?
Verla: It's a humorous story...I think...ask dori and lyra...they've both read it
Lyra: it's humorous, V
Gail: I think my next thoughts show the humor.
Gail: My grandfather was from Yorkshire, England. He dropped his "h's", and the real joke is that HIS name was Herbert Hobson. (I pause for you to laugh.)
Gail: He used to say:
Gail: It isn't the heavy hauling that hurts the horses hoofs, but the hammer, hammer, hammer on the hard highway. (drop the "h's" to get the Yorkshire flavor.)
Gail: The phone is ringing
Verla: Auuugh! We are losing our leader!
Verla: Okay...break time, everyone. Quick. CHAT.
dori: Please pass the Popcorn
Verla: sq...pass out those carmel apples!
Miriam: I'll take one
bus-bus: no! pass the pickled pigs feet!
Verla: Oops. Fast break. She's back.
Suzy-Q passes out more gourmet carmel apples
zzap: and there are stories which use alliteration to an exaggerated degree like
Gail: And speaking of humor, another device that children enjoy is Hyperbole (accent on the second syllable). Exaggeration. (hy PER bo lee)
Lyra: Gail--thanks for saying how to pronounce hyperbole (I won't even admit to how I thought it was pronounced!)
Verla: Ah...Like saying something that is SO outrageous that it's ridiculous?
Gail: Facinating stuff.
Gail: Mrs. Toggle sank down into her chair. Her eyes were as big around as doughnuts. (Mrs. Toggle and the Dinosaur by Robin Pulver)
Gail: This simile is also an exaggeration.
Gail: Suddenly up ahead, Morgan spotted toilet seats hanging on the side of the wall. Not one or two toilet seats, but more toilet seats than Morgan had ever thought were in the whole wide world. (The Lumber Store by Gail Martini)
Lyra: that's a cute scene, Gail!
Gail: Shameless, you say, to quote your own story!! Shameless!
Lyra: not shameless--simply sharing
bus-bus: i liked it, gail.
Gail: I could eat a million hamburgers!
Gail: You get the point.
bus-bus: I have told you a million times to quit exaggerating.
zzap: I would like another example or two of hyperbole
Gail: Zippy (cat) strolled by. She gave me the skunk eye once on her way to the front door...Her ears moved slightly as she continued trying to open the door with cosmic concentration. (cosmic concentration) (Is That Kitty in Bismarck Doing What Zippy is Doing? by Sue Mana'o, Sunday Seattle Times, March 22, 1998)
Gail: Someone give her another example.
zzap: Doctor Denton was distraught?
Gail: No, that is alliteration.
Verla: hyperbole is exaggeration?
zzap: oh thank you
Gail: needles and pins.
Gail: Her whole world was caving in.
Gail: Exaggeration, trite as it may be.
Verla: Okay..here's one from the Dragon's Dilemma...A whole army of knights-in-shining-armor fought a ferocious battle in his head.
Verla: I have both hyperbole AND alliteration in there.
Gail: You do, Verla.
Holly: Good job Verla
Dawn1: Like it Verla
Gail: So far I have covered, don'ts, alliteration, and hyperbole.
Verla: Are we on random questions, now, gail?
Verla: Because I have a few...
Gail: I have more, but I am willing to entertain any questions at this point.
zzap: Gail, would you comment about the overuse of "she smiled."
Verla: Oh, YES! What DO you use in place of she smiled or she grinned.
Lyra: Everyone seems to smile TOO much in my books, I'm afraid
zzap: seems so weak to me.
Verla: I have used, "her face split in two"
Holly: How about she laughed
Gail: Or giggled, chuckled, roared, snickered. Maybe use a more powerful verb.
Lyra: As long as I don't slip and instead of using "laughed" put in "lol"
dori: lol (lol = laughing out loud)
zzap: or <g> (<g> = little grin)
Suzy-Q: LOLROF (LOLROF = laughing out loud, rolling on the floor)
Holly: Maybe you can mix them up a little
Verla: Oh, I LIKE snickered
zzap: If the dialog was stronger, the explanation of how she said it becomes less necessary
Lyra: yup, snickered is a good one, but has to fit the character speaking
Gail: That is why she said is used. Background noise that identifies the speaker.
Verla: Ah...That's a good suggestion, zap
dori: White noise
Katej: right.. show it with action
Holly: So whats best, she said or she smiled, laughed, grinned
dori: But how do you 'smile' a sentence?
Verla: Often, you can identify the speaker with an action instead of a tag line, too, though
Verla: Like...Ken wiped the sweat off his brow with his dirty arm. "Ain't gonna DO it! I'm telling ya, I just ain't GONNA!"
Lyra: probably a blend of all of those, Holly
zzap: But Holly, if you are using the tag line after dialog, you properly use "she laughed, smiled, grinned.
Gail: How about the Metaphor to capture the essence of a person or place.
zzap: because you don't "laugh smile grin" words.
zzap: Then it would be a separate sentence
zzap: (I meant can't properly use)
Gail: I don't know about 'she smiled'. If it is overused, it joins 'she said' as background noise.
Suzy-Q: Tag lines
Verla: So it's not BAD to use it...but it doesn't add much?
zzap: "background noise" love that thought
Verla: I've noticed that when someone uses a lot of other words instead of she said/he said, it tires me out!
zzap: me too!
Gail: True. She said is hardly noticed in text.
Gail: I can teach more, but do not want to overload.
dori: Keep going, Gail. It's all very interesting
Holly: bring it on
Gail: Metaphor--an implied likeness.
dori: Explain, Gail
Gail: By now the sun was up, the snow on fire. (Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwall)
dori: Oooo, I like that
Gail: Because of the sun the snow looked like fire. But you don't say like or as. It is--metaphor.
Gail: Snow was spun-sugar heaped in drifts with sea oats protruding like ragged feathers. (ditto the above title--You now know what I have been reading.)
Gail: But be careful when writing with metaphors to small children. They are very literal.
Gail: "Was the snow really on fire, mommy?"
Gail: "No, dear, it just looked that way"
Gail: And the mood of your story is broken...
Gail: Because children are literal, the Simile is many times better than the metaphor: an exact comparison using like or as.
dori: good point, gail
zzap: Very few pic books use any amount of metaphors. More essay, adult poetry, mood stuff, don't you think?
Gail: John ate like a snake, one good meal a month. (example in How to Write and Sell Children's Books by Jean E. Karl)
Verla: Hmmm. In looking back over some of my stories, I seem to NOT use many metophors
Gail: Froggy croaked like he had a cold.
zzap: I think they have to be extremely well done, or they somehow seemed contrived--as if the author thought himself important
Gail: But then...be careful. There are many trite expressions, similes, that have been worked to death.
zzap: cold as ice
dori: So, in wriing for young children, a simile is better than a metaphor?
Gail: He ate like a bird. She was as busy as a bee.
Gail: True, Dori. Kids are literal.
dori: She was as happy as a pig in a puddle
zzap: he nibbled
zzap: I LOVE that one, dori
dori: (Thank you)
zzap: axe "she was"
Verla: LOL Good one, dori!
Gail: So those are my words of wisdom on words that work.
zzap: Happy as a pig in a puddle.
zzap: (yes I know it's not a proper sentence)
Katej: happy as a bird in a fresh birdbath?
Gail: Good, Kate.
Gail: Avoid the trite ones.
Verla: May I ask a question, Gail?
Verla: I thought that commas were NOT supposed to be before the word and.
Verla: But I often see it.
Verla: As in: She gobbled peaches, pears, pinapples, and popcorn.
Gail: When combining two complete thoughts with and, a compound sentence, use a comma.
Verla: That's a list, so it wouldn't have one there, right?
Verla: (My example, I mean)
Gail: When writing words in a series, put commas after each item in the string.
Verla: But NOT before the and?
Holly: I learned not before the and
Gail: But about 20 years ago, grammarians took out the comma before the and.
Lyra: that's what I learned, too
Suzy-Q: me too
Gail: It was the fashion.
dori: A fashionable comma
Gail: And then the pendulum swung back.
Katej: and what's the fashion now?
zzap: I use it. I like it.
Gail: It is about in mid-swing right now.
Dawn1: I use it
Suzy-Q: so either way is correct?
Gail: Some do, and some do not.
Verla: LOL! Thanks for the example of WHEN to use a comma with two complete ideas, gail! (LOL = LAUGHING OUT LOUD!)
Gail: I use the comma because to me, it makes for clarity.
zzap: I think consistency within the manuscript is important though, right Gail?
Gail: Consistency is definately the key.
dori: I think commas can also be used for pacing, effect...
Verla: So, if you are going to use it before the and in one place, you should use it in ALL places in that manuscript, then.
zzap: But Gail, I am learning that sometimes I use a commma, for pacing or effect--rather than using different words that would give a natural pacing, an effect to the sentence. (lazy writing.)
Gail: I have a writer friend who will have a fight with anyone who removes or places a comma in his writing.
Gail: He says, "If I meant for a comma to be there, I would have put it there!"
Holly: I can barely keep up with these fashions changes. Another one I heard was switching from two spaces after a sentence to one. Which is right?
Gail: ONE SPACE after the period. i will tell you why.
Gail: We used to use typewriters.
Gail: Each letter had the same space.
Gail: Now we use the computer. Each letter takes up proportiona; space.
Gail: If you use two spaces, it does not look like text in a book.
Gail: It supposedly has streaks through the text.
Lyra: I accept that that's NOW the proper way to do it (one space) but I can also share that in my experiences with editors I've never been asked to do this
Gail: I have never seen the streaks, but I do as I am told.
Verla: I automatically put two spaces after a period. It's a total habit. I've been doing it for a zillion years!
Lyra: And frankly after 30 years of typing with 2 spaces, I can't just switch to one space overnight
Holly: So do you all use one or two spaces now? Should I switch?
Katej: holly, that is probably THE most controversial writing topic!
Verla: I use two spaces. My publisher hasn't asked me to change it.
dori: Being computer illiterate, do all fonts function under that principle?
Suzy-Q: As far as I know yes dori.
Suzy-Q: I have started using one space... Thanks to Gail.
redtail: I'd never even *heard* this until the last couple of weeks.....and hate the thought of going back and changing all the spacing in my manuscripts!
zzap: (I use two. It's easier for me to read, edit revise.)
Verla: Okay. Here's another problem I have: Swim, swam, SWUM
Verla: I need help with Swim, Swam & Swum.
Gail: Present tense, past tense, and present participle in an irregular verb.
Verla: I simply CANNOT stand the word SWUM. It sounds so...BAD to me. Is it REALLY good English to use it?
Gail: I swim today.
Gail: I swam yesterday.
zzap: I have swum for years! ????
Gail: I am swimming in a murky pool, yuk!
Lyra: publishing is like swimming in a murky pool (g)
redtail: lol, lyra
Holly: My kids want to have a swumming party? ??
zzap: oh--can I come?
***NOTE: AN E-MAIL FROM GAIL RECEIVED BY VERLA AFTER THE WORKSHOP READ AS FOLLOWS:
Gail: 'swum' is the part participle, but I don't think I
ever have read it in use. I think it is so ugly that people avoid using
it. I avoid it, too.
***END OF EMAIL.
Verla: THANK you, gail.
Verla: Okay, everyone....a round of applause for a WONDERFUL workshop from Gail!
Katej: clap, clap!!!!
Verla: Thank you SO much gail.
Gail: Thank you, thank you.
Suzy-Q: Whistle, whistle, whistle
Verla: You did a GREAT job.
Dawn1: Thank you
Suzy-Q throws confetti in the air.
zzap: clap clap clap clap
Gail: Great praise!
Holly: Thanks. Very helpful
redtail: clap, clap, clap--arriving so late, I'll ask Verla for the transcripts
Gail: I blush.
Verla: And we had a total of 14 people attend, gail.
Verla: Nice group.
zzap: thank you very much, Gail
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