Sunday, July 31, 2016

How to Get Rid of the Ugly Green Lines Under Your Lovely Words in Microsoft Office Word

Are you writing fiction or blog posts? Is Microsoft Office Word telling you contractions are a problem? Incomplete sentences are a problem? And other things that are stylistic choices you're free to make as a writer are problems? 

No, the rules of writing haven't changed. It's just that Office is now set for academic writing, not any old kind of writing (Why do they think there's only one kind of writing?!), but you can fix this issue. I found solutions online, but they weren't very helpful, probably because they were for older versions of Word. This solution is for the latest version (although it's possible it might be good for slightly older versions, as well).

Here's how you can fix this problem: The next time you see that pesky green line under your beautiful words, right-click it and then click "grammar" in the pop-up window. That will open this screen: 

(Please don't try to read the words under the window in this screen grab. They contain several huge spoilers for Why It Still Mega Bites, the second book in the Legend of Gilbert the Fixer, and you don't need that.)

See where it says Options at the bottom left? Click that. The next screen should open with"Proofing" highlighted in the left-hand column. In the pop-up menu to the right of that, scroll down to where it says "Writing Style: Grammar & Style" and click the "Settings" button next to it. That will give you the "Grammar Settings" menu shown here:

Go through the options and unclick the things you don't want to be corrected on, like fragments and run-ons, contractions, sentence fragments, sentences beginning with and, and so on. Then click "Okay." This will take you back to the previous menu.

Near the bottom of the menu on the right, you'll see "Exceptions for." Click to open the drop-down menu and select "All New Documents" and then click "Okay" at the bottom of that menu.

And that's it. Yay! You've made those pesky green lines go away!

You're welcome.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

#AtoZChallenge links

Here are all the links to all of my Writing Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge posts:

J is for Justice (and why we need it in stories)

L is for Love Stories (and how to write one when you don’t read romance)

P is for POV. What’s the right one for your story?

R is for Raise [the Stakes] and why you NEED to do that NOW!

Z is for Zigzag

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge--Z is for Zigzag (the easy way to bust that cliché!)

I’m about to give you a piece of advice I got from an agent at a SCBWI New Jersey workshop. The workshop and one-on-one critique with the agent cost me a nice bit of money and a trip to Princeton, but I’m about to give it to you for FREE!

How lucky does that make you?

During my critique, the subject of clichés came up, not because my manuscript had any clichés, but because I wanted tips on how to avoid them.

The agent told me, “If everyone else goes ones way, go the other way.”

Simple, right? If everyone turns right, you turn left. If everyone zigs, you zag. If everyone is doing something one way, then it’s a cliché. Don’t do it that way. Do it the opposite way. Leave the beaten path and forge your own. It’s that easy.

When we think of clichés, we usually think of over-used expressions, like “head over heels in love.” But clichés can be bigger things, too.

All kissing scenes zig one way? Zag, and write a kissing scene that’s almost the opposite of that. That’s what I did in Ride of Your Life. If you read it, you’ll see there’s a first kiss that couldn’t have been written in any other book. It’s just so different! Gilbert’s first kiss with Amber in Why My Love Life Sucks also zags . . . and so does a kiss in the upcoming sequel, Why It Still Mega Bites. I hate kissing clichés, so of course I write kisses differently.

Everyone is writing dystopian? Zag, and write whatever the opposite of dystopian is in your eyes. (For me, that would be a science-fiction comedy.) Or zag, and write a dystopian that breaks all the clichés and completely changes what people think a dystopian novel is supposed to be! After all, no one need another dystopian novel that’s exactly like the hundreds of others already out there.

So how do you zag?

In my blog post on humor, Writing Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge—H is for Humor (and how to create it), I mentioned the mirrors and lenses of the House of Funny. While any mirror or lens can help you zag, the best to use here is the “lens of character.” Because if you have a truly different character with a completely different way of seeing the world and interacting with it, anything viewed through the lens that is that character will be different.

Should you always zag where everyone else zigs?

 I don’t think so. But you should always zag when zigging feels somehow wrong to you, it doesn’t fit your story, or it makes your story less of what you’re trying to make it.

You should also try to consider the possibility of zagging, even if you choose to zig in the end. It should always be a choice, not something you did because you were following the crowd—or trying hard not to follow the crowd. You shouldn’t zag for zagging’s sake. You should do it because you like that’s your preferred choice.

And now I’m down to another Z: Zero!

I’ve reached the end of this blog post, which means I have zero posts left to write in the #AtoZChallenge. I did it! Hope you liked it and that it helped or at least entertained you in some way.

Maybe I’ll do it again next year, this time in April!  

Friday, May 27, 2016

Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge--Y is for YA (an interview)

Shevi: Hi, YA!

YA: (Continues to text on her phone, her face partially hidden behind her hair. She shrugs.)

Shevi: We’re here to set people straight about all the mistaken assumptions they have about you.

YA: (Pausing but not looking up from her phone) Yeah! People just don’t get me.   

Shevi: I think most people know that YA stands for “Young Adult.”

YA: (Sighs and rolls her eyes) I don’t like being called that anymore. I’d rather be called “Teen.”

Shevi: Totally understandable, since that’s clearly what you are.

YA: Duh!

Shevi: Okay, so I think most people know that YA books are books with main characters who are between thirteen and seventeen years old.

YA: Yes, but we’re not all the same.

Shevi: Right! There’s younger YA, which is more for teens between thirteen and fifteen. And then there’s older YA, which is more for teens between sixteen and seventeen.

YA: Because we’re dealing with different stuff.

Shevi: Absolutely! For example, the Georgia Nicolson books by Louise Rennison, like Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging, deal with friendships, first crushes, everyday family stuff . . .

YA: And the character is younger, so that’s definitely younger YA.

Shevi: Yes. And my Legend of Gilbert the Fixer series that starts with Why My Love LifeSucks has a seventeen-year-old character dealing with the last year of high school and who he wants to be after high school.

YA: Definitely older YA.

Shevi: Yes.

YA: But it’s only like PG-13, so younger teens can read it.

Shevi: Yes, and that’s true of a lot of YA. Younger teens can read it. They just might not necessarily relate to it. It depends on the maturity of the particular reader and what they’re going through.

YA: (Back to texting) Yeah.

Shevi: And that’s one of the misconceptions I’d like to clear up. Some people think that any book with a teenage protagonist is a YA, and that’s just not the case.

YA: (Laughs) Yeah, because if that was true, all those Disney princess movies would be YA, and they’re so not!

Shevi: Right! A YA novel has to deal with same things teens are dealing with today. Like first romantic relationships.

YA: (Blushes) Ewwww . . . Don’t talk about that out loud, okay?

Shevi: Don’t worry. It’s just between the reader and you.

YA: (Nods and goes back to texting)

Shevi: Two other common misconceptions are that a YA book has to be completely clean . . .

YA: (Laughs) Yeah, no.

Shevi: Or that YA books can only be issue books that deal with things like sex, violence, drugs . . .

YA: (Blushes) Yeah, no.

Shevi: A YA book can certainly deal with serious issues. That’s fine. But there are all kinds of YAs.

YA: Yeah, just like there are all kinds of teens.

Shevi: Exactly. And a YA refers to an audience age-group, not a genre. A YA can be in any genre. It can be an issue book, but it can also be a comedy, a fantasy novel, a science fiction novel . . .

YA: (Excited) Have you read The Hunger Games? It’s ah-mazing!

Shevi: That’s another thing. You don’t have to be a teen to appreciate YA. A good book is a good book, no matter how old you are.

YA: Thank you!

Shevi: Before we go, is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

YA: (Looks up and puts her phone down. She takes a deep breath and lets it out.) I wish people would stop telling me what to do.

Shevi: Meaning?

YA: Some writers treat us like we’re little kids. They don’t understand who we are or what we’re going through. They lie to us. They’re not honest. You don’t have to tell me what to do or think or feel. I can do those things for myself! It’s like . . . it’s like they don’t respect me.

Shevi: (Nods) I think that’s something every writer should keep in mind, no matter who their audience is. No one likes to be condescended to. I know I don’t. And you know what else?

YA: (Shrugs)

Shevi: I love your honesty. I think that’s what makes you one of my favorite categories of books. You don’t waste time but get straight to the point.

YA: (Blushes) I like that about me, too. 

Shevi: So I hope that clears up a few misconceptions. If you want to know more, just check out the books in the the teen section of your local library or bookstore. The more you read, the more you'll realize how great YA books are. 

Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge--X is for eXtreme Writing (the ONLY way to write)

Improv says you have to “commit 100%.”

One of my rules of comedy is that you should, “take it as far as it will go. All the way up to the edge . . . and then push.”

And as I’ve told members of my critique group (please excuse the PG language), “Don’t do anything half-assed. It should be full-assed or nothing!”

I honestly mean that.  

What I’m talking about is extreme writing—and it’s the only way you should write.

I think if you look at any successful book, you’ll see the author didn’t hold back, didn’t do things by half. Whatever the author was doing, the author did it all the way. You might like it. You might hate it. But either way, you have to respect that whatever the writer’s vision was, that writer went for it.

Take Harry Potter as an example. That book isn’t just about a boy with magical powers who waves a wand and recites spells. There’s a whole magical world around him that’s rich with detail. Hogwarts has a history. Letters are delivered by owls. Food comes alive. Trees can attack you. Staircases move. Paintings talk. Ghosts roam the halls. J.K. Rowling didn’t do things by half. She took it all the way up to the edge and then pushed.

Or Gilbert Garfinkle from Why My Love Life Sucks (The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer,book one). I didn’t set out to write a series about just any geek; I set out to write a book the ultimate geek. Gilbert isn’t just a hacker; he’s the ultimate hacker. He’s not just a nerd fighter; he’s the ultimate nerd fighter. He’s not just a fan of Star Trek; he’s a fan of pretty much every form of geek or nerd culture. And I wasn’t going to give him a little problem. I gave him the ultimate teenage geek’s ultimate nightmare: getting stuck with a gorgeous vampire girl who wants to be his platonic BFF, literally forever!

Now that’s extreme writing.

You don’t have to write fantasy, science fiction or comedy for your writing to be extreme. You can commit 100% to writing a quiet book, too. Just don’t set out to make a quiet book with a few exciting scenes, or an exciting book with a few quiet scenes. Whatever choice you make, stick with it! Commit to it! Don’t waffle. Unless, of course, you’re all about waffling, in which case, I want to see you waffle like an IHOP! I want to see you waffle like no one has ever waffled before! I want you to be the King or Queen of Waffles!

Like many people, The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. I love it because the hero, Andy Dufresne, isn’t just ordinary—he is extremely ordinary. He isn’t just boring—he is extremely boring. He’s an accountant, for goodness sakes! His hobbies include playing chess and reading. How boring (in the eyes of most people, not a book addict like me) can you get? His favorite music is opera. Opera! Andy is as ordinary as a piece of coal, but here’s the thing about coal: under a great deal of pressure, a piece of coal can turn into a diamond. And that for me is the beauty of this movie. Andy Dufresne succeeds—not despite being extremely ordinary and boring—but because of it.  

And that, I think, is a metaphor for extreme writing. Take something that could be boring and ordinary, put it under the pressure of making it extreme, and watch it shine. 

It honestly doesn’t matter what you’re writing about. As long as you make it extreme, your story will be more compelling for it. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Words for Nerds #AtoZChallenge--W is for Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How)

From an "ugly" stepsister's
I suspect the most widely known rule when it comes to writing an article is that you must answer the six W questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How). 

Answer these six questions, and you’ll have a complete article. Don’t answer these six questions, and your readers will be left asking questions you should have answered.

Fictional stories answer these six questions, too, but there’s one very important difference: the answers for an article are supposed to be based on fact, but the answers for a work of fiction can be anything the author chooses. 

Cinderella, for example, has an evil stepmother and evil stepsisters in the original fairy tale, but in your version? You can do anything you want.

This Cinderalla is running away
from the prince

The truth is every existing story has an infinite number of story possibilities. All you have to do is change the answers to the six questions.

Who? In the original, it’s Cinderella, her evil stepmother and evil stepsisters, her fairy godmother, and the prince. But what if you make one of the stepsisters the main character? Or the fairy godmother? Or what if Cinderella isn’t so good? What if she’s kind of mean and she chooses to sleep in the cinders to embarrass her step family?

What? In the original, she gets magic clothes, goes to the ball, falls in love with the prince, loses a glass slipper, and is found to be the prince’s true love when the glass slipper fits her. But what if she doesn’t have a fairy godmother, or magic clothes, or any of that stuff? What if she doesn’t even like the prince? What if she doesn’t want to go to the ball?

All she wants is to get rid of the
curse of obedience
Where? The original takes place in a fairytale land. But what if it didn’t? What if it took place in the 21st century? (Time is a part of the setting, not the “when.”) What if it took place on another planet? What if it took place in the Wild West?

When? The story begins with Cinderella being mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters. But what if it started before all of that happened? Or what if it started after? And how much after? What if starts with Cinderella trying to adjust to a royal life and being unable to accept how the servants at the castle are treated? What if it deals with political intrigue behind the scenes as noblemen and women try to get rid of Cinderella? Or what if it skips ahead a couple of decades as the daughter of Cinderella and the prince has doubts about marrying a prince?

Why? Cinderella gets her happy ending because she’s good and obedient and doesn’t complain despite all the hardships she endures. But what if she isn’t so good and obedient? Or what if she is obedient, but not by choice?

How? The “how” of a story is about how the story is told: in other words, its style or genre. Cinderella is fairytale, but it doesn’t have to be. What if you turned it into a mystery? I mean, how did Cinderella’s parents die (or at least disappear) anyway? What if you turned it into a screwball comedy? Or into a science fiction novel with robots?

Six questions, infinite answers, and infinite story possibilities.