GENESIS: Bk1 of The Kingdom Come Series Reviews

GENESIS: Book One of The Kingdom Come Series (All Reviews)

 Ok, Now they're all in one place: Amazon, B&N and Goodreads :) Amazon Customer September 29, 2016 5/5 A great read wit...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2015 Resolution for Writers: Be BIG (And Then, Be Small) by Chuck Wendig




Resolutions born of the new year are always a curious breed. They’re often criticized as change-filled (but empty) promises born more of the tradition of the date rather than as something you should do daily as part of the normal growth-and-learning cycle of we hairless orangutans prancing about on this little blue green bouncy ball winging its way through space.
New Year Resolutions are perhaps like cards at Christmas: bought, filled with the rote script, placed on a mantle for a few weeks, then inevitably tossed in the bin with the other holiday trash.
It’s true, to a point. But, just the same: one year to the next, one date to another, is a mark in time. Artificial, but hey, all of human society is artificial and it’s no less significant for its invention by us. The year is a bone suddenly broken — snap. And in that sharp shock of transition, if what we get is an urge to change? So fucking be it. The ideal state would be that we change when we need to, not when the calendar suggests it, but let’s also remember that the holidays and the transition from one year to another are vital times to reflect. We build up to the orgiastic rush to Christmas, and then are left with a startling, almost shocking void — all that’s left is cleaning up the wrapping paper and throwing the Christmas Hobo on the bonfire. Ha ha ha, I didn’t say Christmas Hobo, you said Christmas Hobo. I said tree. Christmas tree.
So it is that we reach a time of the year that is indeed very good for reflection. In that reflection, it is reasonable to look back at the year behind us — littering the carpet like so much wrapping paper — and peer ahead to the year ahead. We mark time because it gives us perspective. And we make resolutions because sometimes that perspective yields the desire to be different.
Evolution does not always come on a schedule, but no reason we can’t give it a stun gun in the ass-cheek to get it moving. And so, here I am, once again considering for me — and, if you care to embrace and adopt it, for you — what changes, what evolution, what crystallization of This Thing That We Do, may come with the year 2015.
Writers and other creative folk:
This year, I want you to be big.
And, perhaps puzzlingly, I also want you to be small.

Wait, What The Fizzy Fuck Are You Talking About?

By big and small, I do not mean your physical girth or footprint — I’m not asking you to tromp about like an ogre, or fold yourself up into a paint can. What I mean is that I want you to embrace the curious polarities that often result in being a creative person. We are this very strange combination of preening Narcissist and trembling, knock-kneed fawn. Inflated senses of self, puffed up like a blimp and filled with a sucking void of lost self-esteem. I don’t want you to grab a hold of those parts, though — I don’t find much value in being a bellowing blowhard whose self-importance is so rock-hard (meaning: fragile like spun glass) that every negative review sends him into a paroxysm of pants-shitting rage. The goal here isn’t to become a monster, but rather, to find the power in those two warring aspects — to find function and truth and momentum in what it is to be both big and small.

Being Big

You have to want it, and you have to mean it.
Writing a book and putting it out in the world is an act of ego — not egomania, but the willingness and decision to create a story out of nothing and push it forward into the world is a bold, brash, unflinching act. You say: this story matters, and it matters that I wrote it. It is a demonstration of your belief in the story and the belief you possess in yourself as a writer, storyteller, and a creator. It takes a rather epic set of genitals to write something that’s 300 pages long and then say to someone: “You’re going to sit down and you’re going to read this and you are going to love it the way I love it. You are going to take hours, even days out of your life to read the little ants dancing across the page, ants that make words, words that make this one big story full of people I just — I mean, seriously, get this, I just fucking made them up. They’re not even real. None of this is real! Can you believe it? It’s phantasm and ectoplasm and fairy-spun pegasus shit. It’s all from my own weird-ass brain. I cracked this massive egg, and now I want you to eat what spilled out.”
It’s you as a wide-eyed housecat, shoving forward a half-eaten mouse carcass, its fur sticky with your spit and blood, and you say with intense stare and low mrowl: I MADE DIS. YOU HAVE IT.
How amazing! How presumptive! How… totally fucking psychotic!
That’s you being big.
You get even bigger by writing the stories you want to write. By defying convention and eschewing advice and putting to paper the tale you want to tell. Own it! We worry so much about writing original stories that we forget about the one ingredient that will make all our stories as unique as a snowflake melting into the grooves of a fingerprint: you. You, your voice, your ideas, your experiences: those are the reagents of rare and powerful alchemy — as extraordinary as phoenix feathers! powdered unicorn horn! lightsaber crystals! — that go into your writing.
Be big enough to accept that. Be big enough that your books are your own. Do not flinch. Tell fear to fuck off. Don’t run from your own voice. Be your books. Have ideas. Anybody who runs a blacklight over your books should be able to see the blood and spittle and mysterious fluid spatter you sprayed over the whole thing like a randy skunk.
Be big enough so that the books are yours. So that the books are you, in a way.

Being Small

But you must also be small.
You write this thing, this massive chunk of yourself, and then you offer it up on a silver plate — and here, you have a choice. You can say, this is my work, it is indefensible and perfect, and it is all that matters. Or you can acknowledge that you’re part of something greater. A square in a mighty quilt, a star in a celestial sky, a glint in the Christmas Hobo’s eye. (No, you said Christmas Hobo. I said… uh, something else. *smoke bomb*)
What I mean is:
Be gracious. Be humble.
This Thing That We Do is a right, in a way — but it’s also a privilege. A privilege to be a part of something greater. You’re not stepping on a new planet, here: other people have blazed the trail, tamped down the vegetation, hunted the monsters that would’ve disemboweled you in a heartbeat. Others have colonized your genre. They’re there on the shelves. You can be big enough to have your own voice and to write that voice while at the same time acknowledging that you are not alone: others have been here, are still here, and will keep on coming. Other writers who need your help. Other books that need your championing. Other voices not your own.
Be gracious to other writers. And editors, agents and other publishing professionals. Be appreciative of your readers. Be kind to booksellers and librarians and reviewers (both of whom will help you reach those readers that I just told you to appreciate). Yes, it’s a thing often said that all writers really need is an audience, and perhaps that’s true in the purest of sense — but that’s also incredibly short-sighted, like saying the only thing a Widget-Maker needs is someone to Buy The Widget. It forgets about the truck drivers, the shelf-stockers, the Widget-polishers — it neglects to remember the ecosystem. Writing and publishing is a powerful and weird ecosystem: full of wonderful people who honestly give a shit about books and stories. How amazing is that? They’re here because they love it. Because they accept the bigness of the act of tale-telling, because they respect the need for stories in their lives. Be good to them.
And be humble. You ripped a massive pound of flesh out of your own body with the certainty that it matters — but you can’t go around beating people about the head and neck with it. You’re not the only one doing this. You are indeed the special snowflake: one that forms a blizzard of so many other special snowflakes. The takeaway: you are not alone.
So don’t be alone.
Be small. Be the tiny, glittering, mad fractal snowflake.
Be beautiful on your own, but be part of the blizzard, too.

Eat Me, Drink Me

Be big enough to create a first draft, and small enough to tear that draft to pieces, to write a second draft, then a fourth, then an eleven-hundred-and-fifty-sixth if that’s what it jolly well takes.
(Translation: be big enough to be a writer, but small enough to be an editor. The writer and the first draft is the block of marble and the shape coming out of it. The editor and the resultant drafts are the chisel that chips it away. Big, to small.)
Be big enough to be proud of your work, but small enough to appreciate every reader who picks it up and every bookseller, librarian, blogger or anybody who shares your work with the world.
Be big and ask to be paid for your work, but be small and donate your time and energy and kindness to others — what we are paid, we can help pay back.
Accept that your words are important and that your story matters, but not to the extent that it drowns out the voices of others.
Acknowledge your successes while never letting them be the end-all, be-all.
Be small enough that you are willing and able to fail without letting failure destroy you.
Be big enough that that you stand tall for the things you believe in. But be small, too, so that you can be fast and flexible for when the time comes that you need to change.
Be the writer you want to be, full of power and might and confidence, but one who also is gracious and nice and part of something larger. Earlier I mentioned the stars in the sky, and perhaps there is no greater metaphor, here: each star is impossibly large, a massive shape of fire and gas and light. And yet, when seen at a distance: tiny lights across the night, like sequins cast on the floor, like holes pricked in a dark blanket with a prodding pin. Big stars, but small stars, too.
Be then like the star: both big and small at the same time.
Have a great 2015, folks.
P.S.: Art hard, motherfuckers.

Monday, December 15, 2014

FIRST BOOK GIVEAWAY is over...maybe not?

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the copies—it was awesome to see the numbers climb as more and more people learned about it. Reaching so many avid readers is all an author can hope for. Plenty of you also stopped by this blog, my FB and my Twitter. :) In the end, 278 people entered to win the free copies and of that, 155 people now have it on their to-read list. Cheers!


The WINNERS HAVE BEEN CHOSEN! 
I really hope you enjoy it. 
*The books should be in the mail as soon as I get a day off to ship them*

To those who didn't win, I appreciate you taking the time to enter. Great to know a lot of F/SF fans are interested in my work. Now, if you'd like me to put more copies up for a giveaway, shoot me a message, but lets make a game of it. If 279 people direct tweet, email or FB message me that you'd be interested in another few copies offered through #Goodreads, I'll do it.

Lets see how long this takes. :)


Thanks,


Wade
@wadejgarret

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Some new Amazon REVIEWS! Thanks.

Lady Amanuet-
Though I enjoy fantasy it is not a genre I usually default to. Genesis was recommended to me by a friend because of our mutual like of Dune. I was very impressed with this debut work! The worlds and characters are richly developed and Garret does a great job of drawing the reader in. I am excited to read the next installment!
I gave this 4 instead of 5 because the complexity of the universe Garret created can be a bit confusing at times and the length can be a bit overwhelming to some.


Customer-
Wonderful world you can sink your teeth into. Story telling executed in a fantastic style that makes you want to keep reading. The characters jump off the page and make you believe in their journey. Good till then end. When is the next one?


Sassy-
This book was phenomenal! I am eagerly anticipating the next volume of this series! Wade, hurry it up!!! The characters are so full of depth, deep dialog, and detail that in reading, I felt I could hear them next to me if I had closed my eyes with their gruff voices. Smell their skin, feel the worn edges of their clothing even. Garret has such a powerful way with description. It really pulls you in, making you ready to turn the pages as fast as you can to get to the next part of the adventure. The prologue almost lost my attention, but I'm so thankful that I continued to read. It wasn't that the prologue wasn't good, it's that it contained so many facts that my brain was swirling. Almost as if I needed to make a flow chart to keep up. Once I began reading the meat of the book, it all made sense. Be prepared to be engulfed in this book. Once you start reading, you won’t want to put it book down. You too will crave to know more! My poor Kindle Fire almost couldn’t keep up with me turning pages so quickly!

J. Masterson-
Wow! Didn't expect this. Not normally one for fantasy stuff but REALLY enjoyed this. This is a first time author? I was hooked from the opening pages. Eagerly anticipating Book Two!

Michael R. Collins-
Complex and compelling. Diving into this book is diving into a complete world already served and delivered. The world in which Wade Garret has built is not one that is constructed as you go. It’s hard not to get sucked into the rich and developed story as well as the elaborate and well fleshed out characters. As we follow the main character Jak, the story chugs along, building up momentum and makes it hard to put down
In the beginning you feel a little bombarded with all the little details, but the farther you get those details help guide you through and make it all the more real.
This isn’t a book to expect to read quickly and move on. It’s a fantastic tome of sci-fi/fantasy immersion.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Mr. Rothfuss' thoughts on Literary Snobbery...

Here's Pat Rothfuss on literary-academic snobbery, after a professor at UW-Madison told students that going to hear him read wouldn't count for class credit BECAUSE HE WRITES FANTASY!


Well said Pat.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Flat-Heeled Muse, by the fantastic, Lloyd Alexander

The Flat-Heeled Muse

lloyd alexander The Flat Heeled Muse

The muse in charge of fantasy wears good, sensible shoes. No foam-born Aphrodite, she vaguely resembles my old piano teacher, who was keen on metronomes. She does not carry a soothing lyre for inspiration, but is more likely to shake you roughly awake at four in the morning and rattle a sheaf of subtle, sneaky questions under your nose. And you had better answer them. The Muse will stand for no nonsense (that is, non-sense). Her geometries are no more Euclidean than Einstein’s, but they are equally rigorous.
I was aware of the problems and disciplines of fantasy, but in a left-handed sort of way; because there is a difference between knowing and doing. Until I met the Muse in Charge of Fantasy personally, I had no hint of what a virago she could be.
Our first encounter was relatively cordial and came in the course of working on a book called Time Cat. I suspect I learn more from writing books than readers very likely learn from reading them, and I realize now that Time Cat is an example of a fantasy perhaps more realistic than otherwise. Basically, only one fantastic premise moved the story: that Gareth, a black cat, could take the young boy Jason into nine historical periods. The premise included some built-in and plausible hedges. Boy and cat could talk together during their journeys — but only when no one else was around to overhear them; after their return home they could no longer speak to each other, at least not in words. They enjoyed no supernatural protection or privilege; what happened to them, happened — indeed, if Gareth met with a fatal accident, Jason would be forever marooned in the past. They weren’t allowed to interfere with or change the course of history, or do anything contrary to laws of the physical world and their personal capacities. Jason was a boy and Gareth was a cat.
Within those boundaries, the problem became one of straightforward historical research, with some investigation into how cats were regarded in various eras. Ichigo, the boy emperor in the Japanese adventure, really existed. His wanting to dress kittens in kimonos was valid; there was an extravagant preciousness in the Japanese court of that epoch, and historical records state that such things happened. In other adventures, only slight accommodations made it acceptable for Jason and Gareth to be where they were, doing what they were doing.
The creation of a fantasy that starts from the ground up is something else again. Melancholy men, they say, are the most incisive humorists; by the same token, writers of fantasy must be, within their own frame of work, hardheaded realists. What appears gossamer is, underneath, solid as prestressed concrete. What seems so free in fantasy is often inventiveness of detail rather than complicated substructure. Elaboration — not improvisation.
And the closer a self-contained imaginary world draws to a recognizably real one (Tolkien’s Middle Earth instead of Carroll’s Wonderland) the more likely its pleasant meadows are to conceal unsuspected deadfalls and man-traps. The writer is wise if he explores it thoroughly and eliminates them. His world must be all of a piece, with careful and consistent handling of background, implements, and characters.
I began discovering the importance of consistency as a result of some of the research for Time Cat, originally planned to include an adventure in ancient Wales. Surely everyone cherishes a secret, private world from the days of childhood. Mine was Camelot, and Arthur’s Round Table, Malory, and the Mabinogion. The Welsh research brought it all back to me. Feeling like a man who has by accident stumbled into an enchanted cavern lost since boyhood, both terrified and awestruck, I realized I would have to explore further. Perhaps I had been waiting to do so all these years, and some kind of moment had come. In any case, I replaced the Welsh episode with an Irish one and later turned all my attention not to the beautiful land of Wales I knew in reality, but an older, darker one.
My first intention was to base a fantasy on some of the tales in the Mabinogion, and I started research accordingly. However, I soon found myself delving deeper and deeper into the legends’ origins and significance: searching for what exactly I didn’t know — to the despair even of the librarians, who must be among the most patient people on earth. A historical-realistic approach did not work. Unlike the Irish and Norse, the Welsh mythology has been irreparably tampered with, like so many pictures, old and new, cut apart and pasted every which way.
Sifting the material, hoping to find whatever I was groping for, I accumulated box after box of file cards covered with notes, names, relationships, and I learned them cold. With great pains I began constructing a kind of family tree or genealogical chart of mythical heroes. (Eventually I found one in a book, already done for me. Not the first book, but the fifteenth!) Nothing suited my purposes.
At that point, the Muse in Charge of Fantasy, seductive in extremely filmy garments, sidled into my work room. “Not making much headway, are you? How would it be,” she murmured huskily, “if you invented your own mythology? Isn’t that what you really want to do?”
She vanished. I was not to see her again in her aspect as temptress, but only as taskmistress. For she was right.
Abandoning all I had collected, I began once more, planning what eventually became The Book of Three. My previous labor had not been entirely in vain; it had given me roots, suggestions, possibilities. In addition, I was now free to do as I pleased. Or so I thought.
True enough, the writer of fantasy can start with whatever premises he chooses (actually, the uncomplicated ones work best). In the algebra of fantasy, A times B doesn’t have to equal B times A. But, once established, the equation must hold throughout the story. You may set your own ground rules and, in the beginning, decree as many laws as you like — though in practice the fewer departures from the “real” world the better. A not-very-serious breach and the fantasy world explodes just as surely as if a very real hydrogen bomb had been dropped on it. With inconsistency (so usual in the real world), the machinery moving the tale grinds and screeches; the characters cease to be imaginary and become simply unreal. Truth drains out of them. Admittedly, certain questions have to be begged, such as “How did all these people get here in the first place?” But they are like the axioms of geometry, questioned only by metaphysicians.
Once committed to his imaginary kingdom, the writer is not a monarch but a subject. Characters must appear plausible in their own setting, and the writer must go along with their inner logic, Happenings should have logical implications. Details should be tested for consistency. Shall animals speak? If so, do all animals speak? If not, then which — and how? Above all, why? Is it essential to the story, or lamely cute? Are there enchantments? How powerful? If an enchanter can perform such-and-such, cm he not also do so-and-so? These were a few of the more obvious questions raised by the Muse, now disguised behind steel-rimmed spectacles. Others were less straightforward.
“This person, Prince Gwydion,” she said, “I presume, is meant to be a heroic figure. But what I should like to know is this,” she added in an irritating, pedantic voice. “How is he different from an ordinary human being?”
I replied that I was prepared to establish that Gwydion, though not invincible, had a somewhat longer life span, greater strength and physical endurance. If he had powers of enchantment, these were to be limited in logical ways. I admitted, too, that he would nonetheless get hungry, thirsty, and tired.
“All very well,” she said. “But is that the essential? Is he a human being with only a little more capacity? You must tell me how he is truly and rationally different.”
I had begun to sweat. “He — he knows more? Experience?” I choked. “He sees the meaning of things. Wisdom.”
“I shall accept that,” she said. “See that you keep it in mind.”
On another occasion, I had-planned to include a mysterious and menacing portent in the shape of a dark cloud. The Muse, an early riser, prodded me awake sometime well before dawn.
“I’ve been meaning to speak with you about that cloud,” she said. “You like it, don’t you? You think it’s dramatic. But I was wondering if this had occurred to you: you only want a few of your people to see the cloud, is that not correct? Yet you have already established a number of other characters in the vicinity who will see it, too. An event like that? They’ll do nothing but talk about it for most of the story. Or,” she purred, as she always does before she pounces, “did you have something like closed-circuit television in mind?”
She clumped off in her sensible brogans while I flung myself from bed and ripped up all my work of the night before. The cloud was cut out.
Her subsequent interrogations were no gentler. Perhaps I should have foreseen all her questions and spared myself much revision.
In defense, I can only say that I must often put something on paper and test the idea in practice. I did, gradually, grow more aware of pitfalls and learned to distinguish the telltale signs of mare’s-nests.
The less fantastic it is, the stronger fantasy becomes. The writer can painfully bark his shins on too many pieces of magical furniture. Enchanted swords, wielded incautiously, cut both ways. But the limits imposed on characters and implements must be more than simply arbitrary. What does not happen should be as valid as what does. In The Once and Future King, for example, Merlyn knows what will happen in the future; he knows the consequences of Arthur’s encounter with Queen Morgause. Why doesn’t he speak out in warning? It is not good enough to say, “Well, that would spoil the story.” Merlyn cannot interfere with destiny; but how does T. H. White show this in specific detail? By having Merlyn grow backwards through time. Confused in his memories, he cannot recollect whether he has already told Arthur or was going to tell him. No more is needed. The rationale is economical and beautiful, fitting and enriching Merlyn’s personality.
Insistence on plausibility and rationality can work for the writer, not against him. In developing his characters, he is obliged to go deeper instead of wider. And, as in all literature, characters are what ultimately count. The writer of fantasy may have a slight edge on the realistic novelist, who must present his characters within the confines of actuality. Fantasy, too, uses homely detail, but at the same time goes right to the core of a character, to extract the essence, the very taste of an individual personality. This may be one of the things that makes good fantasy so convincing. The essence is poetic truth.
The distillation process, unfortunately, is unknown and must be classed as a Great Art or a Major Enchantment. If a recipe existed, it could be reproduced; and it is not reproducible. We can only see the results. Or hear them. Of Kenneth Grahame — and the same applies to all great fantasists — A. A. Milne writes: “When characters have been created as solidly . . . they speak ever after in their own voices.”
These voices speak directly to us. Like music, poetry, or dreams, fantasy goes straight to the heart of the matter. The experience of a realistic work seldom approaches the experience of fantasy. We may sail on the Hispaniola and perform deeds of derring-do. But only in fantasy can we journey through Middle Earth, where the fate of an entire world lies in the hands of a hobbit.
Fantasy presents the world as it should be. But “should be” does not mean that the realms of fantasy are Lands of Cockaigne where roasted chickens fly into mouths effortlessly opened. Sometimes heartbreaking, but never hopeless, the fantasy world as it “should be” is one in which good is ultimately stronger than evil, where courage, justice, love, and mercy actually function. Thus, it may often appear quite different from our own. In the long run, perhaps not. Fantasy does not promise Utopia. But if we listen carefully, it may tell us what we someday may be capable of achieving.

Lloyd Alexander’s fifth book for children, The Black Cauldron (Holt), is a continuation of The Book of Three and will be reviewed in the June Horn Book. His adult books include Fifty Years in the Doghouse (Putnam) and Park Avenue Vet (Holt), a collaboration with Louis J. Camuti; and he has contributed to several magazines, among them McCall’s, Harper’s Bazaar, and Contemporary Poetry. He is the translator of the French poet Pal Eluard and has translated Jean-Paul Sartre’s Le Mur and La Nausee. Mr. Alexander, his wife, Janine, and their five cats live in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.
From the April 1965 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

10 grammar rules YOU CAN FORGET by David Marsh


Guardian Style Guide author David Marsh set out to master perfect grammatical English – but discovered that 'correct' isn't always best. Here are the 10 grammar laws you no longer need to check
Star Trek
'To go boldly?' 'Negative, Captain, it's fine to split an infinitive.' Photograph: Cine Text/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar
Every situation in which language is used – texting your mates, asking for a pay rise, composing a small ad, making a speech, drafting a will, writing up an experiment, praying, rapping, or any other – has its own conventions. You wouldn't expect a politician being interviewed by Kirsty Wark about the economy to start quoting Ludacris: "I keep my mind on my money, money on my mind; but you'se a hell of a distraction when you shake your behind." Although it might make Newsnight more entertaining.
  1. For Who the Bell Tolls
  2. by David Marsh

  1. Tell us what you think: Star-rate and review this book
This renders the concept of what is "correct" more than a simple matter of right and wrong. What is correct in a tweet might not be in an essay; no single register of English is right for every occasion. Updating your status on Facebook is instinctive for anyone who can read and write to a basic level; for more formal communication, the conventions are harder to grasp and this is why so many people fret about the "rules" of grammar.

10 things people worry about too much

1 To infinitive and beyond
Geoffrey K Pullum, a scarily erudite linguistics professor – and, unless this is an internet hoax, keyboard player in the 1960s with Geno Washington & the Ram Jam Band – calls them "zombie rules: though dead, they shamble mindlessly on … " And none more so than the one that says the particle to and the infinitive form of the verb should not be separated, as in Star Trek's eloquent mission statement "to boldly go where no man has gone before".
Stubbornly to resist splitting infinitives can sound awkward or, worse, ambiguous: "He offered personally to guarantee the loan that the Clintons needed to buy their house" makes it unclear whether the offer, or the guarantee, was personal. Adverbs should go where they sound most natural, often immediately after the to: to boldly go, to personally guarantee. This "rule" is not just half-baked: it's fully baked, with a fried egg and slice of pineapple on top. But remarkably persistent.
2 The things one has to put up with
Prepositions relate one word or phrase to another, typically to express place (to the office, in the net) or time (before the flood, after the goldrush). They are followed by an object: from me to you.
In the 17th century, John Dryden, deciding that ending a sentence with a preposition was "not elegant" because you couldn't do it in Latin, set about ruining some of his best prose by rewriting it so that "the end he aimed at" became "the end at which he aimed", and so on. Like not splitting the infinitive, this became a "rule" when taught by grammarians influenced by Latin.
Ignore it. As HW Fowler observed: "The power of saying 'people worth talking to' instead of 'people with whom it is worth while to talk' is not one to be lightly surrendered."
3 Don't get in a bad mood over the subjunctive
The subjunctive is a verb form (technically, "mood") expressing hypothesis, typically to indicate that something is being demanded, proposed, imagined, or insisted: "he demanded that she resign", and so on. You can spot it in the third person singular of the present tense (resign instead of resigns) and in the forms be and were of the verb to be: if she were [rather than was] honest, she would quit.
The writer Somerset Maugham, who in 1949 announced "the subjunctive mood is in its death throes", might be surprised to see my son Freddie's bookshelf, which contains If I Were a Pig … (Jellycat Books, 2008).
The subjunctive is more common in American than British English, often in formal or poetic contexts – in the song If I Were a Rich Man, for example. It's not true, however, that David and Don Was came under pressure from language purists to change the name of their band to Were (Not Was).
Misusing the subjunctive is worse than not using it at all. Many writers scatter "weres" about as if "was" were – or, indeed, was – going out of fashion. The journalist Simon Heffer is a fan of the subjunctive, recommending such usages as "if I be wrong, I shall be defeated". So be it – if you want to sound like a pirate.
Mick Jagger Mick Jagger: can't get no satisfaction. Photograph: Ray Green 4 Negative, captain
When Mick Jagger first sang "I can't get no satisfaction", it was not uncommon to hear the older generation witter on like this: "He says he can't get no satisfaction, which logically means he can get some satisfaction."
But while a double negative may make a positive when you multiply minus three by minus two, language doesn't work in such a logical way: multiple negatives add emphasis. Literature and music abound with them. Chaucer used a triple – "He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde" – and Ian Dury gave us: "Just 'cos I ain't never 'ad, no, nothing worth having, never ever, never ever."
Not Standard English, it's true, but no native English speaker is likely to misunderstand, any more than when Jane Austen produced the eloquent double negative "there was none too poor or remote not to feel an interest".
5 Between my souvenirs
I was taught that between applies only to two things, and among should be used for more than two – a rare example of Mrs Birtles, my first grammar teacher, getting it wrong. Between is appropriate when the relationship is reciprocal, however many parties are involved: an agreement between the countries of the EU, for example. Among belongs to collective relationships, as in votes shared among political parties, or the items among Paul Whiteman's souvenirs in the 1927 song.
While I am on the subject, it's "between you and me", not "between you and I". It's probably unfair, though quite good fun, to blame the Queen; people have heard "my husband and I" and perhaps assume "and I" is always right. It is when part of the subject ("my husband and I would love to see you at the palace") but not when part of the object ("the Queen offered my husband and me cucumber sandwiches").
6 Bored of Tunbridge Wells
Traditionalists say it should be bored by or bored with, but not bored of, a "rule" cheerfully ignored, I would say, by anyone under about 40. And good luck to them: there is no justification for it. I have, however, managed to come up with a little distinction worth preserving: compare "bored with Tunbridge Wells" (a person who finds Tunbridge Wells boring) with "bored of Tunbridge Wells" (a bored person who happens to live there, perhaps a neighbour of "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells").
7 Don't fear the gerund
Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle's guide to life at St Custard's school, How to Be Topp, features a cartoon in which a gerund attacks some peaceful pronouns, but it is nothing to be afraid of. A gerund is a verb ending in -ing that acts as a noun: I like swimming, smoking is bad for you, and so on.
The tricky bit is when someone tells you about the rule that, as with other nouns, you have to use a possessive pronoun – "she objected to my swimming". Most normal people say "she objected to me swimming" so I wouldn't worry about this. You rarely see the possessive form in newspapers, for example. Announcing "I trust too much in my team's being able to string a few wins together" sounds pompous.
8 And another thing …
Conjunctions, as the name suggests, join things together. This prompted generations of English teachers to drill into their pupils, including me, that to start a sentence with and, but, because or however was wrong. But this is another shibboleth. And I am sure William Blake ("And did those feet in ancient times?") and the Beatles ("Because the world is round it turns me on") would back me on this.
9 None sense
A sure sign of a pedant is that, under the impression that none is an abbreviation of not one, they will insist on saying things like "none of them has turned up". Why, when I set out on the road to grammatical perfection I might even have argued this myself. But the "rule" that none always takes a singular verb is, alas, another myth. Plural is not only acceptable, but often sounds more natural: "None of the current squad are good enough to play in the Championship." Henry Fielding wrote in Tom Jones: "None are more ignorant than those learned Pedants, whose Lives have been entirely consumed in Colleges, and among Books."
10 Try and try again
Try to has traditionally been regarded as more "correct" and try and as a colloquialism or worse. The former is certainly more formal, and far more common in writing, but it's the other way round when it comes to speech. Those who regard try and as an "Americanism" will be disappointed to learn that it is much more widely used in the UK than in the US. Sometimes there is a good case for try and – for example, if you want to avoid repeating the word to in a sentence such as: "We're really going to try and win this one."
As Bart Simpson said: "I can't promise I'll try, but I'll try to try."

Five things people should worry about more

The Ghostbusters Who or whom? The Ghostbusters know which call to make Photograph: Snap/Rex Features 1 To who it may concern
The use of whom – the objective form of who – is dying out, especially in speech. It sounds affected and stiff. Hyper-correct use of whom for who is common, as in Graham Greene's The Quiet American: "There was a big man whom [sic] I think was an hôtelier from Phnom Penh and a French girl I'd never seen before."
To avoid this, mentally replace who or whom with the third person pronoun: if you get a subject – he, she, it or they – then who is correct; for an object – him, her or them – whom is right. In the Greene example it would be "I think he was an hôtelier" not "I think him was an hôtelier" – so who, not whom, is correct.
When John Donne wrote "for whom the bell tolls" and Bo Diddley asked "who do you love?" who was right – Donne or Diddley? The answer is both of them. It goes back to formal and informal registers. Bo's got a cobra snake for a necktie. Not the kind of guy, I suggest, who would say something wussy like "whom do you love?" (It's the same with the Ghostbusters, whose slogan, you may recall, was not "whom you gonna call?")
The relaxed tone we prefer these days makes whom increasingly optional, unlike in Donne's day. The elegant formality of his prose has an eloquence and resonance that "for who the bell tolls" lacks. Good title for a book, though.
2 That's the way to do it
The traditional definition is that that defines and which informs (gives extra information), as in: "This is the house that Jack built; but this house, which John built, is falling down." Note that the sentence remains grammatical without that ("this is the house Jack built") but not without which.
Don't be alarmed by the unhelpful terms, but restrictive relative clauses (also known as defining, best thought of as giving essential information by narrowing it down) are not enclosed by commas, whereas non-restrictive relative clauses (non-defining, giving non-essential information) are.
"Which John built" is non-restrictive. It gives extra information, is preceded by a comma, and if you try it with "that" it sounds odd ("this house, that Jack built"). It's not the same the other way round: although that is more common in restrictive clauses, you can use which: "This is the house which John built."
To simplify things, here's my easy-to-remember formula:
Restrictive clauses: that (desirable), no comma (essential).
Non-restrictive clauses: which, comma (both essential).
Prince Nothing compares to Prince's mastery of grammar. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images 3 Nothing compares 2 U
Prince was right; so was Shakespeare ("Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?). Compare to means liken to; compare with means make a comparison. So I might compare Lionel Messi with Diego Maradona to assess their relative merits, then conclude that Messi can be compared to Maradona – he is a similarly great player. The two phrases have usefully distinct meanings and, although "compare to" can be replaced by "liken to", it's clumsier to replace "compare with" with another phrase.
4 A singular problem
"Agreement" or "concord". Yes, more off-putting terms for what is a straightforward enough rule: be consistent. Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who composed the Monkees' 1967 hit Pleasant Valley Sunday, wrote: "The local rock group down the street is tryin' hard to learn their song." It jars.
But wait, I hear you cry. Who says a rock group are singular? There were, after all, four of them, too busy singing to put anybody down. Quite so. If I had wandered into the Brill Building in New York and caught Goffin or King's ear at the time, I would have politely suggested "are tryin' hard to learn their song" as the answer.
Collective nouns can be singular or plural. Treat as singular when the noun is a single unit, but plural when it is more a collection of individuals, for example: "The family can trace its history back to the middle ages; the family were sitting down, scratching their heads." Once you've decided whether the noun is singular or plural, make sure the verb agrees, or people will conclude you is sloppy.
5 Lie lady lie
Confusion between the verbs lay and lie arises because the present tense of the former is the past tense of the latter. The easy way not to mix them up is to remember that lay is a transitive verb (it takes an object); lie is intransitive. If you lay a table or an egg, or you lay something down, the past tense is laid. If you lie down, the past tense is lay. You will note that strictly – as Bob Dylan was inviting the lady in question to lie down across his big brass bed, rather than reporting that she had done so in the past – he should have sung "Lie Lady Lie" rather than "Lay Lady Lay". If you try singing it like that, however, it sounds Australian, which would not really have worked on an album called Nashville Skyline.

10 'grammar' rules' it's OK TO BREAK (sometimes) by Steven Pinker

You shudder at a split infinitive, know when to use 'that' or 'which' and would never confuse 'less' with 'fewer' – but are these rules always right, elegant or sensible, asks linguist Chief Justice John Roberts had Obama 'solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully'. 
 
Among the many challenges of writing is dealing with rules of correct usage: whether to worry about split infinitives, fused participles, and the meanings of words such as "fortuitous", "decimate" and "comprise". Supposedly a writer has to choose between two radically different approaches to these rules. Prescriptivists prescribe how language ought to be used. They uphold standards of excellence and a respect for the best of our civilisation, and are a bulwark against relativism, vulgar populism and the dumbing down of literate culture. Descriptivists describe how language actually is used. They believe that the rules of correct usage are nothing more than the secret handshake of the ruling class, designed to keep the masses in their place. Language is an organic product of human creativity, say the Descriptivists, and people should be allowed to write however they please.
It's a catchy dichotomy, but a false one. Anyone who has read an inept student paper, a bad Google translation, or an interview with George W Bush can appreciate that standards of usage are desirable in many arenas of communication. They can lubricate comprehension, reduce misunderstanding, provide a stable platform for the development of style and grace, and signal that a writer has exercised care in crafting a passage.
But this does not mean that every pet peeve, bit of grammatical folklore, or dimly remembered lesson from Miss Thistlebottom's classroom is worth keeping. Many prescriptive rules originated for screwball reasons, impede clear and graceful prose, and have been flouted by the best writers for centuries.
How can you distinguish the legitimate concerns of a careful writer from the folklore and superstitions? These are the questions to ask. Does the rule merely extend the logic of an intuitive grammatical phenomenon to more complicated cases, such as avoiding the agreement error in "The impact of the cuts have not been felt"? Do careful writers who inadvertently flout the rule agree, when the breach is pointed out, that something has gone wrong? Has the rule been respected by the best writers in the past? Is it respected by careful writers in the present? Is there a consensus among discerning writers that it conveys an interesting semantic distinction? And are violations of the rule obvious products of mishearing, careless reading, or a chintzy attempt to sound highfalutin?
A rule should be rejected, in contrast, if the answer to any of the following questions is "Yes." Is the rule based on some crackpot theory, such as that English should emulate Latin, or that the original meaning of a word is the only correct one? Is it instantly refuted by the facts of English, such as the decree that nouns may not be converted into verbs? Did it originate with the pet peeve of a self-anointed maven? Has it been routinely flouted by great writers? Is it based on a misdiagnosis of a legitimate problem, such as declaring that a construction that is sometimes ambiguous is always ungrammatical? Do attempts to fix a sentence so that it obeys the rule only make it clumsier and less clear?
Finally, does the putative rule confuse grammar with formality? Every writer commands a range of styles that are appropriate to different times and places. A formal style that is appropriate for the inscription on a genocide memorial will differ from a casual style that is appropriate for an email to a close friend. Using an informal style when a formal style is called for results in prose that seems breezy, chatty, casual, flippant. Using a formal style when an informal style is called for results in prose that seems stuffy, pompous, affected, haughty. Both kinds of mismatch are errors. Many prescriptive guides are oblivious to this distinction, and mistake informal style for incorrect grammar.
The easiest way to distinguish a legitimate rule of usage from a grandmother's tale is unbelievably simple: look it up. Consult a modern usage guide or a dictionary with usage notes. Many people, particularly sticklers, are under the impression that every usage myth ever loosed on the world by a self-proclaimed purist will be backed up by the major dictionaries and manuals. In fact, these reference works, with their careful attention to history, literature and actual usage, are the most adamant debunkers of grammatical nonsense. (This is less true of style sheets drawn up by newspapers and professional societies, and of manuals written by amateurs such as critics and journalists, which tend to mindlessly reproduce the folklore of previous guides.)

What follow are 10 common issues of grammar selected from those that repeatedly turn up in style guides, pet-peeve lists, newspaper language columns and irate letters to the editor.

and, because, but, or, so, also

Many children are taught that it is ungrammatical to begin a sentence with a conjunction. That's because teachers need a simple way to teach them how to break sentences, so they tell them that sentences beginning with "and" and other conjunctions are ungrammatical. Whatever the pedagogical merits may be of feeding children misinformation, it is inappropriate for adults. There is nothing wrong with beginning a sentence with a conjunction. "And", "but" and "so" are indispensable in linking individual sentences into a coherent passage, and they may be used to begin a sentence whenever the clauses being connected are too long or complicated to fit comfortably into a single megasentence. The conjunction "because" can also happily sit at the beginning of a sentence. Most commonly it ends up there when it introduces an explanation that has been preposed in front of a main clause, as in: "Because you're mine, I walk the line." But it can also kick off a single clause when the clause serves as the answer to a why question: "'Why can't I have a pony?' 'Because I said so.'"

dangling modifiers

Do you see a problem with the sentences that follow?
"Checking into the hotel, it was nice to see a few of my old classmates in the lobby."
"Turning the corner, the view was quite different."
"In order to contain the epidemic, the area was sealed off."
According to an old rule about "dangling modifiers", these sentences are ungrammatical. The rule decrees that the implied subject of the modifier (the one doing the checking, turning, and so on) must be identical to the overt subject of the main clause (it, the view, and so on). Most copy editors would recast the main clause, supplying it with a subject to which the modifier can be properly fastened:
"Checking into the hotel, I was pleased to see a few of my old classmates in the lobby."
"Turning the corner, I saw that the view was quite different."
"In order to contain the epidemic, authorities sealed off the area."
Newspaper columns on usage are filled with apologies for "errors" like these. Danglers are extremely common, not just in deadline-pressured journalism but in the works of distinguished authors. Considering how often these forms turn up in edited prose and how readily they are accepted even by careful readers, two conclusions are possible: either dangling modifiers are a particularly insidious grammatical error for which writers must develop sensitive radar, or they are not grammatical errors at all. (Did you notice the dangler in the sentence before last?)
The second conclusion is the right one: some dangling modifiers should be avoided, but they are not grammatical errors. The problem with dangling modifiers is that their subjects are inherently ambiguous and sometimes a sentence will inadvertently attract a reader to the wrong choice, as in "When a small boy, a girl is of little interest."
But some so-called danglers are perfectly acceptable. Many participles have turned into prepositions, such as "according", "allowing", "concerning", "considering", "excepting", "following", "given", "granted", "owing", "regarding" and "respecting", and they don't need subjects at all. Inserting "we find" or "we see" into the main clause to avoid a dangler can make the sentence stuffy and self-conscious. More generally, a modifier can dangle when its implied subject is the writer and the reader. The decision of whether to recast a sentence to align its subject with the subject of a modifier is a matter of judgment, not grammar. A thoughtlessly placed dangler can confuse the reader or slow them down, and occasionally it can lure them into a ludicrous interpretation. Also, even if a dangler is in no danger of being misinterpreted, enough readers have trained themselves to spot danglers that a writer who leaves it incurs the risk of being judged as slovenly. So in formal styles it's not a bad idea to keep an eye open for them and to correct the obtrusive ones.

like, as, such as

Winston Photograph: Apic/Getty Images Long ago, in the Mad Men era when cigarettes were advertised on radio and television, every brand had a slogan. "I'd walk a mile for a Camel." "Lucky Strike means fine tobacco." "Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country." And most infamously, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should."
The infamy did not come from the fact that the company was using a catchy jingle to get people addicted to carcinogens. It came from the fact that the jingle allegedly contained a grammatical error. "Like" is a preposition, said the accusers, and may take only a noun phrase object, as in "crazy like a fox" or "like a bat out of hell". It is not a conjunction and so may not be followed by a clause. The New Yorker sneered at the error, Ogden Nash wrote a poem about it, Walter Cronkite refused to say it on the air, and style guide icons Strunk and White declared it illiterate. The slogan, they all agreed, should have been "Winston tastes good, as a cigarette should." The advertising agency and the tobacco company were delighted by the unpaid publicity and were only too happy to confess to the error in the coda, "What do you want, good grammar or good taste?"
Like many usage controversies, the brouhaha over "like a cigarette should" is a product of grammatical ineptitude and historical ignorance. The ad's use of "like" with a clause was not a recent corruption; the combination has been in use for 600 years. It has been used in literary works by dozens of great writers (including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, HG Wells and William Faulkner) and has flown beneath the radar of the purists themselves, who have inadvertently used it in their own style guides. This does not show that purists are only human and sometimes make errors; it shows that the alleged error is not an error. The RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company was confessing to the wrong crime; its slogan was perfectly grammatical. Writers are free to use either "like" or "as", mindful only that "as" is a bit more formal, and that the Winston-tastes-good controversy became such a bloody shirt in the grammar wars that readers may mistakenly think the writer has made an error.
A related superstition, ruthlessly enforced by many copy editors, is that "like" may not be used to introduce examples, as in "Many technical terms have become familiar to laypeople, like 'cloning' and 'DNA'." They would correct it to "such as 'cloning' and 'DNA'". According to this guideline, "like" may be used only for resemblance to an exemplar, as in "I'll find someone like you" and "Poems are made by fools like me." Few writers consistently follow this bogus rule. "Such as" is more formal than "like", but both are legitimate.

preposition at the end of a sentence

Winston Churchill did not, as legend has it, reply to an editor who had corrected his prose with "This is pedantry up with which I will not put." Nor is that witticism (originally from a 1942 Wall Street Journal article) a particularly good example of the construction that linguists call "preposition stranding", as in "Who did you talk to?" or "That's the bridge I walked across." The particle "up" is an intransitive preposition and does not require an object, so even the most pedantic of pedants would have no objection to a phrase like "This is pedantry with which I will not put up."
Though the attribution and the example are spurious, the mockery is appropriate. The prohibition against clause-final prepositions is considered a superstition even by the language mavens, and it persists only among know-it-alls who have never opened a dictionary or style manual to check. There is nothing, repeat nothing, wrong with "Who are you looking at?" or "The better to see you with" or "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" or "It's you she's thinking of". The pseudo-rule was invented by John Dryden based on a silly analogy with Latin (where the equivalent to a preposition is attached to the noun and cannot be separated from it) in an effort to show that Ben Jonson was an inferior poet. As the linguist Mark Liberman remarked, "It's a shame that Jonson had been dead for 35 years at the time, since he would otherwise have challenged Dryden to a duel, and saved subsequent generations a lot of grief."
The alternative to stranding a preposition at the end of a clause is allowing it to accompany a "wh" word to the front, a rule that the linguist JR (Haj) Ross dubbed pied-piping, because it reminded him of the way that the Pied Piper lured the rats out of the village of Hamelin. The standard question rule in English converts "You are seeing what?" into "What are you seeing?" and hence "You are looking at what?" into "What are you looking at?" The pied-piping rule allows the "what" to pull the "at" with it to the front of the sentence, yielding "At what are you looking?" and similar clauses, such as "The better with which to see you," or "It's you of whom she's thinking."
How should you choose? Most obviously, pied-piping sounds better in a formal style. Abraham Lincoln knew what he was doing at the graves of the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg when he vowed "increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion", rather than "increased devotion to that cause which they gave the last full measure of devotion for". The problem with stranding a preposition is that it can end the sentence with a word that is too lightweight to serve as its focal point, making the sentence sound like "the last sputter of an engine going dead". By the same principle, a preposition should be stranded at the end of a sentence when it contributes a crucial bit of information, as in "music to read by", "something to guard against", or when it pins down the meaning of an idiom, as in "It's nothing to sneeze at" or "He doesn't know what he's talking about".

predicative nominative

When you come home after a day at the office, do you call out, "Hi, honey, it's I"? If you do, you are the victim of a schoolteacher rule that insists that a pronoun serving as the complement of "be" must be in nominative case (I, he, she, we, they) rather than accusative case (me, him, her, us, them). According to this rule, Psalms (120:5), Isaiah (6:5), Jeremiah (4:31), and Ophelia should have cried out, "Woe is I," and the cartoon possum Pogo should have reworded his famous declaration as "We have met the enemy, and he is we."
The rule is a product of the usual three confusions: English with Latin, informal style with incorrect grammar and syntax with semantics. Accusative predicates have been used for centuries by many respected writers (including Samuel Pepys, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf), and the choice between "It is he" and "It is him" is strictly one of formal versus informal style.

split infinitives

Most mythical usage rules are merely harmless. The prohibition of split infinitives (as in "Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the items and subfolders in the 'Deleted Items' folder?") and the even more sweeping prohibition of "split verbs" (as in "I will always love you" and "I would never have guessed") is downright pernicious. During the 2009 presidential inauguration, Chief Justice John Roberts, a famous stickler for grammar, could not bring himself to have Barack Obama "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States". Abandoning his strict constructionism, Roberts unilaterally amended the Constitution and had Obama "solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully." The garbled oath raised fears about whether the transfer of power had been legitimate, and so they repeated the oath verbatim, split verb and all, in a private meeting later that afternoon.
The very terms "split infinitive" and "split verb" are based on a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split a verb because it consists of a single word, such as amare, "to love". But in English, the so-called infinitive "to write" consists of two words, not one: the subordinator "to" and the plain form of the verb "write", which can also appear without "to" in constructions such as "She helped him pack" and "You must be brave." There is not the slightest reason to interdict an adverb from the position before the main verb, and great writers in English have placed it there for centuries. Indeed, the spot in front of the main verb is often the most natural resting place for an adverb, and sometimes it is the only resting place. Unsplitting the infinitive in the New Yorker cartoon caption "I'm moving to France to not get fat" (yielding "I'm moving to France not to get fat") would garble the meaning, and doing so with "Profits are expected to more than double this year," would result in gibberish: "Profits are expected more than to double this year."
More generally, the preverbal position is the only one in which the adverb unambiguously modifies the verb. In a sentence in which the author may have taken pains to unsplit an infinitive, such as "The board voted immediately to approve the casino", the reader has to wonder whether it was the vote that was immediate, or the approval. With the infinitive left unsplit – "The board voted to immediately approve the casino" – it can only be the approval. This does not mean that infinitives should always be split. Indeed, it's a good habit to at least consider moving an adverb to the end of the verb phrase. If the adverb conveys important information, it belongs there; if it doesn't (such as "really", "just", "actually" and other hedges), it might be a verbal fluffball that is best omitted altogether. And since there are benighted sticklers out there who will mistakenly accuse you of making an error when you split an infinitive, you might as well not ask for trouble if it makes no difference to the sentence anyway.
Finally, in many cases a quantifier naturally floats leftward away from the verb, unsplitting the infinitive:
"I find it hard to specify when to not split an infinitive."
"I find it hard to specify when not to split an infinitive."
The unsplit versions sound more elegant to me, though I can't be sure that my ears haven't been contaminated by a habit of cravenly unsplitting infinitives to avoid spitballs from the Gotcha! Gang.

that and which

Many spurious rules start out as helpful hints intended to rescue indecisive writers from paralysis when faced with a choice provided by the richness of English. These guides for the perplexed also make the lives of copy editors easier, so they may get incorporated into style sheets. Before you know it, a rule of thumb morphs into a rule of grammar, and a perfectly innocuous (albeit second-choice) construction is demonised as incorrect. Nowhere is this transition better documented than with the phony but ubiquitous rule on when to use "which" and when to use "that".
According to the traditional rule, the choice depends on which of two kinds of relative clause the word is introducing. A nonrestrictive relative clause is set off by commas, dashes or parentheses, as in "The pair of shoes, which cost five thousand dollars, was hideous." A restrictive relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence, often because it pinpoints the referent of the noun from among a set of alternatives. If we were narrating a documentary about Imelda Marcos's vast shoe collection and wanted to single out one of the pairs by how much she paid for it and then say something about that pair alone, we would write "The pair of shoes that cost £5,000 was hideous." The choice between "that" and "which", according to the rule, is simple: nonrestrictive relative clauses take "which"; restrictive relative clauses take "that".
One part of the rule is correct: it's odd to use "that" with a nonrestrictive relative clause, as in "The pair of shoes, that cost £5,000, was hideous." So odd, in fact, that few people write that way, rule or no rule.
The other part of the rule is utterly incorrect. There is nothing wrong with using "which" to introduce a restrictive relative clause, as in "The pair of shoes which cost £5,000 was hideous." Indeed, with some restrictive relatives, "which" is the only option, such as "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "The book in which I scribbled my notes is worthless." Even when "which" isn't mandatory, great writers have been using it for centuries, as in the King James Bible's "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's" and Franklin Roosevelt's "a day which will live in infamy".
So what's a writer to do? The real decision is not whether to use "that" or "which" but whether to use a restrictive or a nonrestrictive relative clause. If a phrase that expresses a comment about a noun can be omitted without substantially changing the meaning, and if it would be pronounced after a slight pause and with its own intonation contour, then be sure to set it off with commas (or dashes or parentheses): "The Cambridge restaurant, which had failed to clean its grease trap, was infested with roaches." Having done so, you don't have to worry about whether to use "that" or "which", because if you're tempted to use "that" it means either that you are more than 200 years old or that your ear for the English language is so mistuned that the choice of "that" and "which" is the least of your worries.
If, on the other hand, a phrase provides information about a noun that is crucial to the point of the sentence (as in "Every Cambridge restaurant which failed to clean its grease trap was infested with roaches", where omitting the italicised phrase would radically alter the meaning), and if it is pronounced within the same intonation contour as the noun, then don't set it off with punctuation. As for the choice you now face between "which" and "that": if you hate making decisions, you won't go wrong if you use "that".

who and whom

When Groucho Marx was once asked a long and orotund question, he replied, "Whom knows?" A 1928 short story by George Ade contains the line "'Whom are you?' he said, for he had been to night school." In 2000 the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm showed an owl in a tree calling "Whom" and a raccoon on the ground replying "Show-off!" A cartoon entitled "Grammar Dalek" shows one of the robots shouting, "I think you mean Doctor Whom!"
The popularity of "whom" humour tells us two things about the distinction between "who" and "whom". First, "whom" has long been perceived as formal verging on pompous. Second, the rules for its proper use are obscure to many speakers, tempting them to drop "whom" into their speech whenever they want to sound posh.
So you may be inclined to agree with the writer Calvin Trillin when he wrote, "As far as I'm concerned, 'whom' is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler." But this is an overstatement. There are times when even non-butlers need to know their "who" from their "whom".
It ought to be straightforward. The distinction between "who" and "whom" is identical to that between "he" and "him" or "she" and "her", which no one finds difficult. We say "He kissed the bride," so we ask "Who kissed the bride?" We say "Henry kissed her," so we ask "Whom did Henry kiss?" But even after a century of nagging by prescriptive grammarians, the "who–whom" distinction remains tenuous in speech and informal writing. Only the stuffiest prig would say "Whom are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?" "It's not what you know; it's whom you know," or "Do you know whom you're talking to?" And when people do try to write with "whom", they often get it wrong, as in "Whomever installed the shutters originally did not consider proper build out."
Like the subjunctive mood, the pronoun "whom" is widely thought to be circling the drain. Indeed, tabulations of its frequency in printed text confirm that it has been sinking for almost two centuries. The declining fortunes of "whom" may represent not a grammatical change in English but a cultural change in Anglophones, namely the informalisation of writing, which makes it increasingly resemble speech. But it's always risky to extrapolate a downward slope all the way to zero, and since the 1980s the curve seems to be levelling off. Though "whom" is pompous in short questions and relative clauses, it is a natural choice in certain other circumstances, even in informal speech and writing. We still use "whom" in double questions like "Who's dating whom?", and in fixed expressions like "To whom it may concern" and "With whom do you wish to speak?". A scan of my email turns up hundreds of hits for "whom" in unmistakably informal sentences such as "Not sure if you remember me; I'm the fellow from Casasanto's lab with whom you had a hair showdown while at Hunter College."
The best advice to writers is to calibrate their use of "whom" to the complexity of the construction and the degree of formality they desire. If William Safire, who wrote the New York Times' "On Language" column and coined the term "language maven" in reference to himself, could write, "Let tomorrow's people decide who they want to be president," so can you.

very unique

They say you can't be a little bit married or a little bit pregnant, and purists believe that the same is true for certain other adjectives. One of the commonest insults to the sensibility of the purist is the expression "very unique" and other phrases in which an "absolute" or "incomparable" adjective is modified by an adverb of degree such as "more", "less", "somewhat", "quite" or "almost". Uniqueness, the purists say, is like marriage and pregnancy: something is either unique (one of a kind) or not unique, so referring to degrees of uniqueness is meaningless. Nor can one sensibly modify "absolute", "certain", "complete", "equal", "eternal", "perfect" or "the same". One may not write, for instance, that one statement is "more certain" than another, or that an apartment is "relatively perfect".
A glance at the facts of usage immediately sets off Klaxon horns. Great writers have been modifying absolute adjectives for centuries, including the framers of the American Constitution, who sought "a more perfect union". Many of the examples pass unnoticed by careful writers, including "nothing could be more certain" and "there could be no more perfect spot". Though the phrase "very unique" is universally despised, other modifications of "unique" are unobjectionable, as when Martin Luther King wrote, "I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great grandson of preachers."
Here is the flaw in the purists' logic. Uniqueness is not like pregnancy and marriage; it must be defined relative to some scale of measurement. I am told that all snowflakes are unique, and so they may be under a microscope, but frankly, they all look the same to me. Conversely, each of the proverbial two peas in a pod is unique if you squint hard enough through a magnifying glass. Does this mean that nothing is unique, or does it mean that everything is unique? The answer is neither: the concept "unique" is meaningful only after you specify which qualities are of interest to you and which degree of resolution or grain size you're applying. Calling something "quite unique" or "very unique" implies that the item differs from the others in an unusual number of qualities, that it differs from them to an unusual degree, or both. In other words, pick any scale or cutoff you want, and the item will still be unique.
This doesn't mean that you should go ahead and use "very unique". "Very" is a soggy modifier in the best of circumstances, and the combination with "unique" grates on enough readers that it's wise to avoid it.

count nouns, mass nouns and "ten items or less"

English speakers can conceptualise aggregates as discrete things, which are expressed as plural count nouns, such as "pebbles" or as continuous substances, which are expressed as mass nouns, such as "gravel". Some quantifiers are choosy as to which they apply to. We can talk about "many pebbles" but not "much pebbles", "much gravel" but not "many gravel". Some quantifiers are not choosy: we can talk about "more pebbles" or "more gravel".
pinker illo Photograph: Adam Gale Now, you might think that if "more" can be used with both count and mass nouns, so can "less". But it doesn't work that way: you may have "less gravel", but most writers agree that you can only have "fewer pebbles", not "less pebbles". This is a reasonable distinction, but purists have extended it with a vengeance. The sign over supermarket express checkout lanes, "Ten Items or Less", is a grammatical error, they say, and as a result of their carping upscale supermarkets have replaced the signs with "Ten Items or Fewer". By this logic, off licences should refuse to sell beer to customers who are "fewer than 21 years old" and law-abiding motorists should drive at "fewer than 70 miles an hour". And once you master this distinction, well, that's one fewer thing for you to worry about.
Clearly, the purists have botched the "less-fewer" distinction. "Less" is perfectly natural with a singular count noun, as in "one less car" and "one less thing to worry about". It's also natural when the entity being quantified is a continuous extent and the count noun refers to units of measurement, such as "21 years old" and "70 miles an hour"; like the 1-11 scale on Nigel Tufnel's favourite amplifier in This Is Spinal Tap, the units are arbitrary. And "less" is idiomatic in certain expressions in which a quantity is being compared to a standard, such as "Describe yourself in 50 words or less." Like many dubious rules of usage, the less-fewer distinction has a smidgen of validity as a pointer of style. In cases where "less" and "fewer" are both available, such as "Less/fewer than 20 of the students voted", "fewer" is the better choice because it enhances vividness and concreteness. But that does not mean that "less" is a grammatical error.
Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century is published next month (Allen Lane, £16.99). To order it for £13.59 with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk.
• This article was amended on 19 August 2014. An earlier version referred to Shakespeare's, rather than the King James Bible's, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's".

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Newest Review and Interview!

Amazon
Michael R. Collins-
Complex and compelling. Diving into this book is diving into a complete world already served and delivered. The world in which Wade Garret has built is not one that is constructed as you go. It’s hard not to get sucked into the rich and developed story as well as the elaborate and well fleshed out characters. As we follow the main character Jak, the story chugs along, building up momentum and makes it hard to put down
In the beginning you feel a little bombarded with all the little details, but the farther you get those details help guide you through and make it all the more real.
This isn’t a book to expect to read quickly and move on. It’s a fantastic tome of sci-fi/fantasy immersion.

And here's a link to my interview


Sunday, August 31, 2014

5 Most Common Writing Mistakes, otherwise known as WTF Moments, by Jefferson Smith.


The 5 Most Common Writing Mistakes That Break Reader Immersion

Today marks the publication of the 50th review in my ImmerseOrDie indie book review series. For those who don’t regularly follow it, the premise is simple: every morning I step onto my treadmill, open a new indie ebook, and begin my daily walk, reading the book for as long as I can maintain my immersion. When that immersion has broken three times, I stop, and write up a short report of what caused my attention to wander. This article today is a reflection on the first 50 such reviews, and a synthesis of A) whether or not I’ve been consistent in my evaluations, and B) trends I’m seeing in the causes of those immersion breaks.

Distribution

To begin the analysis, I started with a simple graph. How many of the first 50 reports lasted less than 5 minutes, how many ran between 5 and 10 minutes, how many from 10 to 15, and so on. For most measurements of human behavior, this kind of analysis will produce a bell-shaped curve, with a “hump” near the most common value. But to my surprise, when I produced the graph, it showed a distinct secondary hump at the right-hand end.
iod-histogram

At first, I wondered if this might be evidence that books were falling into two primary categories: the so called “weak ” ones, and the “strong” ones. But in thinking about it further, I don’t think that’s what’s happening. If I had not imposed a 40-minute limit on how long I am willing to read, and had instead simply timed how long it took for me to reach 3 WTFs, however long that took, I think we would be looking at at fairly classic skewed bell curve, with the tallest bars clustered around 8 minutes, and then the rest tapering off toward the right-hand tail.
But my policy of stopping at 40-minutes effectively pushes all those right-hand bars together into one big clump at 40 minutes. The slight rise in frequency counts in the 30- and 35-minute buckets give the impression that the right-hand end of this graph might actually be a second high-frequency cluster, but I’m not yet convinced, since there are only five books that fall into that region. For now, I’m going to proceed on the assumption that this is an “artificial” secondary cluster, and that this is actually a classic skewed bell, however, I will probably repeat this analysis at the 100-review point, and at that point, we’ll have a better idea which way things are trending.
One thing worth noting in this graph is that, of the books I found to be problematic, most of them seem to make themselves evident fairly quickly, with about 2/3 of them having been identified in 12 minutes or less. Writers should pay close attention to this. We all know that the beginning of a book is crucial in grabbing the reader’s attention, but how do we define “beginning?” Well, in the case of myself as reader, the definition appears to be “12 minutes,” or appx. 4000 words. You have that long to prove to me that I am in good hands, and that the story is going to take me somewhere I want to go. Use that time wisely.
And if you ask me, that is an entirely sobering number.

Consistency

One thing that has been a concern for me from the outset is whether my tastes or my process would shift over time. Would I gradually become more jaded? Would I go on long “failure” jags, getting increasingly more desperate to see a survivor? Would I get frustrated and increasingly irritable? To examine this, I’ve created another graph, showing the survival scores over time, with the first report on the left, and today’s report on the right.
iod-duration-graph
To my surprise, however, there has only been one change in the distribution of scores – and even that does not appear to have had any substantive impact on the results. Of the 9 books that have survived for the full 40 minutes so far, half of them occurred in the first month and half in the second. Similarly, the 6 contenders (the books that came close to surviving) were also split evenly, with 3 in the first month and 3 in the second. So in that sense, there has been no appreciable change in my standards.
That trend of consistent classification holds true for the more problematic books as well, but with one small change. We still see the same number of books being classified into this group, but it appears that I’ve been spending less time making that determination. Their survival times have gone down, with the average score in the first month being 13.1 minutes, compared to only 9.8 minutes in the more recent month.
At first glance, this suggests that my patience has ebbed for the books with the most serious immersion issues, and that, on average, it’s taking me about 3 minutes less to pull the trigger. If true, this would be something of a concern for me, and I’ll definitely be watching this stat in the future. But while there may be some truth to that, I think there might be a slightly different (and less worrisome) explanation.
When I began, I would often feel guilty about pulling the cord too quickly, and would continue reading beyond my third immersion break, hoping that maybe I’d overreacted and that things would smooth out. But I think that what’s really happening is that, over time, I’ve simply become more willing to trust my instincts. If that’s true, then what we’re seeing here is not so much that I’m now putting less effort into the problem patients than I used to, but just that I’m spending less time in denial after the patient has flatlined. As I said, I’m not certain of this analysis, but that’s my gut conclusion, and I will be monitoring this trend over the coming weeks.
But enough about the time stats. According to my recent straw poll, most of the readers of the ImmerseOrDie Report are authors looking for tips on how to keep readers engaged, so let’s turn our attention now to what you can learn from the actual WTFs themselves.

The Taxonomy of WTFs

Over the 51 reports written to date, I have cited 131 immersion breaks, which I’ve now classified into 27 different kinds of errors, which I call “WTF moments.” (This classification process is an ongoing thing, so the categories may change slightly in the future, as more WTFs occur and more obvious clusters emerge.) The following table shows the current list, along with a brief explanation of what the error means, sorted from most common to least common.
Count
Problem
Description
17weak mechanics Simple editorial issues such as spelling, missing words, grammar, etc.
15implausible character choice When a character does something contrary to his/her established traits or in violation of basic human nature.
14echoing When words or sentence structures repeat frequently, in a way that calls attention to the pattern.
10illogical world features Aspects of the world building that do not bear scrutiny.
9conspicuous exposition Presentation of backstory in inappropriate places, or in dense passages, or for insufficient story reasons.
6weak language style Poor execution of linguistic styles, such as bad accents, incorrect historical language, etc.
6tell mode Overlong passages of telling instead of showing.
5weak dialogue Words put into characters' mouths that are boring, or inconsistent with established character, or unrealistic human speech.
5conspicuous coincidence Important plot points resolved through unlikely or convenient concidences.
4word misuse Employing a word that does not mean what the author thinks it means.
4past perfect Missing or incorrectly applied use of the past perfect tense when needed.
3weak pacing Stories that go too quickly, or too slowly, or with a fixed pace that does not change, to the point that it attracts the reader's attention.
3insufficient exposition Not enough information given to the reader for him/her to follow the story. (More extreme than simply creating mystery or intrigue.)
3inconsistent time flow Events related (unintentionally) out of time order, or with confused tenses, or with effects happening before causes.
3inconsistent tenses Switching between past, present, and future tenses without apparent reason.
2conspicuous borrowingAny story element that seems too recognizable as the intellectual property of another author that is not being used in a satirical or referential way.
2weak proprioception Insufficient description of the scene and characters' relative positions within it. Often results in 'talking floating heads' syndrome.
2weak logic Explanations that do not bear scrutiny.
2ungrounded pronouns Use of pronouns for which the referrent is unclear.
2pointless scene A scene (or especially a prologue) that adds nothing of substance to the story.
2morning ritual A cliched story beginning in which the protagonist walks through the usual events of their morning. Waking up, brushing teeth, etc.
2weak noun coinage Author has created names for people, places, or things that do not seem appropriate to the story or the world.
2show vs tell mismatch When the author tells us something is happening, but then shows it in a way that does not agree.
2inconsistent characters Characters who act or speak in contradiction to either their established personalities, or the situation at hand.
1whiny narrator Self explanatory.
1present tense I simply can't immerse into present-tense stories. It feels silly to me.
1missing explanation Something important that happens in the story that is either not explained, or is insufficiently explained.
To me, it comes as no surprise that the most common citation was for weak mechanics. This is the #1 issue for which the indie publishing movement gets criticized, and unfortunately, the ImmerseOrDie reports confirm that these criticisms are warranted. Authors, please ensure that you are putting sufficient energy into removing this single most damning form of errors from your work. It’s not just about protecting our collective reputations, but (if my evidence here is at all reliable) it actually means that more people will be able to enjoy your stories and actually finish them.
What is a little more surprising, however, is that, of the 28 problem-types I’ve cataloged, just 5 of them account for fully half of the WTFs logged to date. Those top five gaffes are:
  1. weak mechanics (spelling, grammar, etc.)
  2. implausible character behaviors
  3. echoing words, sentence styles, and images
  4. illogical world building
  5. conspicuous exposition (info dumping).
If you are an author who is looking for the highest-impact place to sharpen your immersion blades, examining your work for the above five problems would be an excellent place to start. And if you can’t see it for yourself, ask your trusted beta readers specifically whether they see any of these problems in your writing. (The response you get from readers will be much more pointed and critical if you ask them to look for specific issues.)

The Shocking Discovery

But, in looking at those five high-impact issues, I noticed something odd: There is no obvious pattern. No master classification that seems consistent across all five. Some are problems of a simple editorial nature, while others are fundamental to the conception of the story itself.
This got me thinking about the fact that these issues can be organized at an even more fundamental level. I often think of the process of fiction writing as being arranged into 3 fundamentally distinct skill sets: story building, story telling, and text editing. And it takes mastery of all three of these areas to produce an engaging story that fans will love. So with this in mind, I’ve classified those 28 error codes even further, into those three fundamental categories:
  1. Story Building Problems: These are weaknesses in the story design itself. Examples include tired old cliche plots, illogical economic systems, illogical or impossible physics, inconsistent or unbelievable characters, etc.
  2. Story Telling Problems: Here we find the problems related to how the conceived story is translated and organized into text. This accounts for things like bad pacing, clichéd scenes, bad dialogue, show vs. tell, and so on.
  3. Editorial Problems: These are the problems that could have been avoided with better copy editing. Spelling, verb tenses, missing words, words used incorrectly, etc.
Now here’s where my expectations got entirely kicked in the face. When we draw a graph of the WTF frequencies, grouped by those fundamental categories, I was absolutely shocked to see the following results. Yes, mechanical editing is the single most common WTF type that I’ve charged. But as a group, editing flaws are the least frequent, accounting for only 25% of all the WTFs I’ve assigned. Instead, problems with the way the story is being told are far and away the largest culprit, accounting for almost half (44%) of all the WTFs. And problems with the planning or design of the story account for an additional third (31%). So, combined, 75% of the problems I encountered were for issues that have nothing to do with copy editing.
Click the image to open an interactive version that you can explore in greater detail.
Yes, it’s true that a good copy editor will actually help you with some of these other issues as well, but technically speaking, that isn’t their job, so it’s not a good idea to rely on them for that. To deal with issues of characterization, plot logic, world logic, etc., you need to bring an entirely different team to bear. A developmental editor can help you with some of it – pacing, event sequencing, character consistency, etc. – but who are you going to get to help you fix a broken world-design? There’s no easy answer to this, I’m afraid. At least, not one that I can think of. Some editors have a good feel for those kinds of things, but many do not. A better strategy, I think, for authors who work in speculative fiction worlds, is to assemble a kick-ass squad of alpha readers specifically aimed at big-picture analysis – folks who can take a very early draft of your work and who can look past all the mechanical issues that may still be there, and help you work out the world-level problems before you’ve invested in writing drafts 2 through 7.
But there is one other person who can (and should) be called upon to help polish these kinds of problems out of your work. And that person is sitting there in your pants, right now, reading this article.
You.
In my opinion, the authors who make these kinds of mistake are not doing so because they are incompetent at these aspects of writing – they are doing so because they are completely oblivious to the fact that these issues are even a thing. They’re just inexperienced, and they have not yet become sensitive to this dimension of their own work.
So if you weren’t previously aware that readers pay attention to story logic, details of your invented worlds, realistic character behaviors, and so on, don’t allow yourself to continue being that kind of author. Become aware. Have a look at the above list of WTFs, or read through my previous reviews. How many of those WTFs being charged are ones that you weren’t even aware of as a potential problem? And if you do understand them all, do you know whether your work suffers from any of them? You simply cannot fix a problem that you do not realize is a problem, nor can you fix a problem before you know that your work suffers from it. So your number-one tool for improving audience engagement with your work is a healthy sense of self awareness and a willingness to do something about the problems you find. Ask some friends what they think. Conduct a poll with your alpha readers. Or hey, submit your work to ImmerseOrDie, and I’ll tell you what I think. (The rules and submission form are here.)
Well, that brings us to the end of my first substantive analysis. I hope you’ve found this useful, and that these ImmerseOrDie Reports are helping authors learn what sorts of things to watch out for in their work. And hopefully, when you finish your next book and send it in, yours will go straight to the hallowed halls of 40.
If you’ve found this article useful, or the series itself, please consider sharing a link with other reading and writing communities. Click one of the sharing buttons below, or email this article to a friend. It really does help keep me motivated to continue the series.
And if you haven’t submitted a book of your own yet, what’s stopping you?