Earth Hour

Did anyone else out there participate in Earth Hour?

After turning off all the lights, computers, TV, etc, my family and I sat in the living room by candlight and played Battleship. Better yet, when Earth Hour was over, the family decided to keep the power off for the rest of the night, and just enjoy one another's company.

For those who are wondering what the heck I'm talking about, Earth Hour is a global activity that encourages everyone to turn off their lights for one hour in order to create more awareness about our ecological footprints and climate change. You can find out more about Earth Hour here:

I'd love to hear what you did during Earth Hour! Tell us about it... :-)

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Confusion

· Brows drawing together
· Lines forming between the eyebrows
· Head tilting to the side
· Gaze clouding, going distant
· Frowning
· Hands touching the lips, mouth, face
· Glance darting around, head turning, as if looking for answers
· Opening the mouth but not speaking, or opening and closing the mouth several times before forming words
· Swallowing excessively
· Taking a deep breath and letting it out again slowly
· A blank look, a slack expression
· Wilting posture
· Scratching at the cheek, rubbing one's chin
· Asking for affirmation: “Are you sure?”
· Tapping a fist against the lips lightly while thinking
· Denial—shaking head, repeating “No”, warding someone off

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Grammbo Speaks! Edition 1

Sorry about the wait; we had technical difficulties. But here, at last, is Grammbo with the answers to your questions:

1. “When is it okay to switch tense? (If it’s ever okay.)”
Hi Windsong5. Grammatically speaking, as long as the construction is correct for the tense, there are no rules on switching tense. Most writers make use of more than one tense in their work. The tricky part is keeping the reader with you. Readers need to know who they’re with, where they are and when they are. The when can be the temporal setting (contemporary, historical, future), as well as a carefully constructed (but entirely transparent) movement between what is happening now in the story, what happened earlier and what might happen yet. These all require a change in tense if the writer chooses to present scenes out of a linear sequence. So tense changes are certainly ‘okay’. How the writer manages the reader’s perspective of when is the key.

A narrative that wobbles between tenses, where the reader struggles in time, unsure when an action took place and in what sequence, that’s a stylistic problem. Often the tense usage will be grammatically correct, but the sequencing of events may not be clear to the reader or the segue too abrupt or not tied well enough to the scene that introduces the tense change.

The most common tense change is from simple past (I ate dinner) to past perfect (I had eaten dinner). Depending on the sentence structure, the first few verbs are rendered in past perfect to take the reader into the tense change and then the narration can switch back to simple past for the rest of the scene.

I’m not sure if that answered your question on changing tenses or not. I hope so. Your use of the ‘ing’ verb (technically a present participle) is grammatically correct. More on that later.

2. Capitalizing titles?
Hi Luc2. Writing in a second language is to be commended. You don’t have the advantage of the language just ‘feeling’ or ‘looking’ right. On your question for capitals:

If the ‘title’ is a family one (mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc.), you only use the capital if the title replaces the proper name or is used as part of the proper name. You don’t use the capital if it is preceded by a possessive pronoun.

I met Mother at the restaurant. (Mother replaces the name here)
I met my mother at the restaurant. (Preceded by a possessive pronoun – my, her, his, their, our)
I emailed Uncle Bob. (Here Uncle is part of Bob’s name/title)
I sent an email to my uncle Bob. (Again, preceded by a possessive pronoun)

You’ll find that most instances of familial titles aren’t capitalized.

Titles of royalty?
Here the tables turn and capitalization is more common since these titles don’t just connote roles in a family (like grandfather) or an office (like professor), but are more often inherited or conferred. If used generically, they are lowercased in North America. In the UK this is not always the case, but then we get into whether a duke is royal or nonroyal and I’m not sure you need that kind of detail.

The duke ate his dinner. (Generic use here, could be any old everyday duke and thus in lowercase)
The Duke of Windsor ate his dinner. (Non-generic use. This is a title and must be capitalized.)

If in doubt, I’d recommend capitalizing a royal title.


There are no grammatical rules on when or where they should be used in fiction. That’s the writer’s choice based on their own style and in the context of the work. Most writers use them in dialogue (unless they have a character whose speech pattern is formal or perhaps a bit affected). They are used in narrative also. I’m using them here because I’m writing in a conversational style. If contractions aren’t used in narrative, they can give the work a scholarly feel which may or may not work, depending on the story itself.

3. Hyphen/En dash/Em dash usage
Hi anonymous.
Hyphen: This is used in compound words (five-year-old), or telephone numbers (123-456-7890), or breaks in words that are wrapped onto the next line in printed text. Also to indicate spelling out a word, s-p-e-l-l.

En dash: This is used to connect numbers and words, sort of like ‘up to and including’. Examples would be 1990–1998, or chapters 1–3. It also has some use with compound adjectives in place of a hyphen. Particularly if the compound adjective is already hyphenated, but most editors would recommend rewriting a sentence rather than get into a series of en-dashed–hyphenated words. Like that one.

Em dash: This can be used to replace a comma or parenthesis or a colon, but no more than two per sentence. The material framed within em dashes may contain punctuation, depending on the usage, but there is no punctuation before or after it. Some writers use opening em dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogue. They are also commonly used in fiction to indicate an abrupt halt in speech or interrupted dialogue:

The world—immense as it seems—is really quite small on the internet.
But Madeline—is she insane?—didn’t appear to care.
“You’re not”—he rolled his eyes—“serious, are you?”

Not too many differences in usage for these between the US and Canada. Americans are more likely to close up a hyphenated word and make it a compound one (antioxidant versus anti-oxidant), en dashes are rarely used in fiction and the em dash is used widely in both countries with no real discernible differences. Some editors prefer the use of em dashes over colons in fiction as they have less of an ‘academic’ presentation.

4. Passive voice
Hi marieconley3. Passive voice is more of a stylistic choice than an issue of grammar. And a sometimes controversial subject for writers. It has a place in fiction when used deliberately by the writer to create a specific effect. How effective it is depends a lot on the work it is being used in. It doesn’t always have to be ‘fixed’. It should be used judiciously, however, as it can distance a reader from the story. But there are no grammatical ‘rules’ on usage other than those writers choose to define for themselves and their own work. Most writers carefully examine passive voice in their own manuscripts by searching for use of the ‘to be’ verb, and then decide if it is appropriate or not in that particular scene, for that character, or in the overall style of the work itself.

The door was opened by Harry. (Passive, the subject of the sentence is not actively doing anything, it is being acted upon.)
Harry opened the door. (Active, the subject of the sentence, Harry, is performing something.)

‘ing’ verbs?
Present participles. If used as nouns, they are called gerunds. Present participles imply ongoing action, something that is not yet complete. They can be used with either present or past tense.

Harry was swimming. (Although this is in past tense, there is an implication that the swimming in the past was ongoing, and the reader can anticipate something happening while Harry is in the water.)
The swimming was fine this morning. (This is a gerund. The present participle is used as a noun.)

Present participles get sticky because of their implied ongoing action. Sometimes their use can make a sentence illogical. The implied action is also an implied simultaneous action with something else that is going on in the sentence.

Jumping out of the car, I stopped. (Illogical. It is not physically possible to jump and stop simultaneously unless this is speculative fiction and the character is suspended in the air.)
She was walking and chewing gum. (Difficult for some of us, but not illogical. It can be done.)

Grammatically, the construction is simple as long as the implied ongoing action fits logically with the rest of the sentence. Stylistically, in a work of fiction, present participles are most effectively used to create a small measure of suspense, where the reader is drawn into the action by a timeless quality and the sense of ‘ongoing’. However, they are noticeable and if overused or used carelessly, they lose effectiveness and can become distracting, appear contrived, or even make the prose seem overwrought. Most constructions with present participles can be simply changed to past tense without diminishing the quality of the sentence. A lot of writers use them freely in early drafts, since they are actively living the scenes as they write them. Once the revision process starts, then the writer can choose which ones to keep (if any, depending on how appropriate their usage is), and which ones to change to a more simple use of the verb.

I would say if you have them everywhere, Marie, you probably have too many. Try changing most of them to simple past when you revise and see if the haunting stops.

5: Toward or towards?
Hi Joan. Depends on where you are. Towards is more common in the UK and Canada. Toward is more common in the US. Both are correct and that’s why they both sound right.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Shame

· Flight reaction: a desire to flee, get away, hide
· Mashing the hands against the cheeks
· A vacant or glazed stare
· An inability to make eye contact with others
· Pressing one's palm over the lips to hold back a cry or words
· Shaking one's head
· Letting out an uncontrolled moan
· Self-loathing, berating oneself, anger, disgust
· Punching one's fists against the thighs to release frustration
· Violence to oneself (scratching, cutting, jabbing fingernails into the skin)
· Lashing out at others to transfer anger or blame
· Vandalism of one's personal objects
· Risk taking, hoping something will happen to balance the scale
· A scruffy look (baggy clothing, unwashed hair)
· Fawning actions toward others—begging, following, even stalking—to try and regain worth

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Grammar questions now closed

Thanks everyone for their great grammar questions for Grammbo. We should have the answers up within the next few days, so stay tuned!

The Grammar Guru is in...

Not sure who or what is a split infinitive? In purgatory over your present participles, tense over tenses? Do your modifiers *gasp* dangle?

It’s okay, you can tell us. We understand. In fact, we can help. And by we, I mean The Bookshelf Muse’s Guest Editor, Grammbo!

Grammbo, when she isn’t wrestling polar bears and sipping chilled cosmos après ski, does manuscript evaluation, style, and substantive editorial work, helping writers by the hundreds get their manuscripts up to snuff (with an impressive percentage going on to secure publication!) and is here to offer her expertise. She is choosing to remain anonymous as she currently straddles both sides of the fence as a published author in addition to being an editor.


She’s here to give us all a grammar lesson!

Do you have a grammatical stumper that keeps your MS awake at night? If so, please add a comment on this post, posing your query for our visiting grammar guru. Next week, our guest editor will post the answers. She’s eager to fix your semi colon issues and dares you to bare all your run-ons and fused sentences…she can take it!

One thing to note: Grammbo is versed in the rules of several countries (especially Canada!) so please state which market you’re writing for (US, UK, Canada, etc) as not all rules are uniform.

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Disappointment

· Chin dipping to the chest
· Lips pressing tight, eyes focusing inward
· Looking up with hands raised in the ‘why me?’ position
· Collapsing onto a chair or bench
· Weaving slightly
· Avoiding other peoples' eyes, going stone-faced
· Eyes tearing up
· Eyes closing, squeezing shut for a moment
· A wincing, pained expression
· Looking around in confusion
· Attempting to hide (assuming the fetal position, covering the head with the arms)
· Clutching at oneself (gripping elbows, rubbing arms, clenching hands)
· A stomach that drops, a sudden feeling of nausea
· Pressing a hand to the abdomen
· Anger or violence (cursing loudly, hitting something, a tense walk in a small circle)

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

The Bookshelf Muse hits 1000!

(And not just 1000 views, but 1000 in a single month.)

On Feburary 7th, I set up a new stat counter as the original one was not capturing data as it should. How ironic that today of all days we hit that 1000 mark!

We are freaking out at reaching this milestone so quickly. Thanks to everyone for all their support and friendship. Go Musers!

Emotion Thesaurus Entry: Jealousy

  • Pouting
  • Sullen looks, glowering
  • Hot eyes, tears forming
  • Sitting against a wall, holding the knees to the chest and staring off angrily
  • Minor destruction as a release (crumpling paper or breaking pencils)
  • Rash decisions (impulsively quitting a team or storming out of a party)
  • Jeering, calling names, running someone down
  • Starting rumors, acting catty
  • Shoving the person who caused the jealous feelings
  • Sneering
  • Showing off
  • A desire for revenge
  • Rudeness
  • Reckless behavior (trusting a stranger, using drugs or alcohol
Anger is often a direct result of jealousy, so many of the actions for anger will also work here as long as the cause is shown.

Good news! This sample has been expanded and streamlined into book form! The full list of physical, internal, and mental cues for this and 74 other emotions can be found in The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, available for purchase at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF is also downloadable via the Paypal button in the sidebar. 

Non-Writing Writing Time

Well, I told Angela I'd draft at least four days last week. It only ended up being three, but the week was more productive than I've seen in awhile. I'm making strides (at 28 weeks pregnant) in focusing and not looking ahead to the future and what it will do to my writing, but it's still hard to sit down and write. Then I had an epiphany.

One night after I'd gotten up for the *#%@th time to relieve myself, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I started thinking about my WIP and what was going to happen next. By the time I fell asleep, I had a clear view of what I wanted to accomplish in the next scene. The next morning when it was time to write, I had no trouble sitting down and hammering it out.

That's when I realized what I'd been doing wrong. Knowing that I'd have less writing time in the future, I'd been trying to streamline my time into smaller chunks, which was a good idea, I think. But in doing so, I'd stopped thinking about my novel in between. Used to be, I'd be thinking about it in the car, in the shower, while I walked—so much that by the time I sat down to write, I was mentally ready to get it all out. When I removed that mental writing from my day, I wasn't motivated to draft because I wasn't prepared.

So…whew! Mystery solved. If I can spend some time each night thinking about the next day's drafting, I should be better prepared to write. How about everyone else? Is the mental part of your writing important, or are you one of those sick people who can just sit down and tap-tap-tap the story out?

Speed Date Experiment Update

As I mentioned in my last post, I had imposed an extremely short deadline for a first edit on my book, In Between, determined to get it off my hard drive and into Becca's hot little hands by the end of the week. Because I am a notorious fiddler, editing and revising is unbelievably painful and slow for me. My solution--a 10 minute time limit per chapter.

And the verdict?

High hopes, yes. Good intentions, oh my yes!

A complete and devistating failure? Um, yes to that one too.

Sadly, the Speed Date technique was not for me. Either that or someone meddled with my reality in the last few days, warping time itself so that ten minutes became mere seconds. At least, that's what it felt like.

I fear folks, that I must embrace my fiddling. World, I AM A FIDDLER!

And it's okay. :-)

However, I believe that the Speed Date Technique did teach me to have stronger time management skills and showed me the importance of imposing deadlines and goals. I was much more productive in my revisions that I normally am, just knowing I was accountable to Becca. I didn't waste time, I wasn't derailed by little stuff. So, while the SDT doesn't work for me, I still count it as a worthwhile experiment!


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