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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: craft, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 402
26. Redundant Words

Redundant words are so common they are hard to recognize. Redundancies use two words when one will do.  They are found in newspapers, broadcasts, and magazine articles.

A character would use redundancies in conversation. Few speak that formally.

Search for them all. Choose which ones to keep and which to kill.

Cutting some of them feels like amputating a limb. 

Yes, this rule is frequently broken . You will find redundancies everywhere. You decide.

Here is a short list to get you started:

  • absolutely essential
  • absolutely perfect
  • absolutely positive
  • actual fact
  • advance forward
  • advance planning
  • advance preview
  • advance reservations
  • advance warning
  • add an additional
  • add up
  • added bonus
  • affirmative yes
  • aid and abet
  • all-time record
  • alternative choice
  • A.M. in the morning
  • and etc.
  • anonymous stranger
  • annual anniversary
  • armed gunman
  • artificial prosthesis
  • ascend up
  • ask the question
  • assemble together
  • attach together
  • ATM machine
  • autobiography of his/her own life


Do a search using [Control] [F] for redundant words. Eliminate one of the redundant words.
If you keep a redundancy, use it sparingly and for effect.
If you disagree with this rule, ignore it. Make sure your editor and agent feel the same way.

 For a larger list of some common redundancies and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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27. Profanity

Oh, the hellish question! Dare you use profanity in your writing? 

1) It depends on your target audience.

Will they be offended? Do you care? The more explicit terms should be left out of cozy mysteries.

2) Does it fit the context of the plot?

If you are writing about nuns in England in 1300, I doubt they used the F-bomb. You might have a salty old nun who muttered the occasional "bloody hell" but only after the reign of Bloody Mary I (queen regent from 1553 to 1558).

I wrote a series set in 3500 BC. Trying to write without some form of expletive, insult, or curse word was painful. I had to resort to them calling each other names of animals etc. Some form of exclamation is needed, but not every other paragraph. I had to stringently edit it.

3) Is it appropriate for your target audience? 

If you write children's picture books or Christian romance, I'd leave it out.

4) Are you using it to define character?

Some characters swear like sailors. Others never would. Do your space aliens have potty mouths? Are your characters living in the ghettos of New York City? If so, drop the F-bomb a few times. Don't use it for shock value. The F-bomb has lost its impact by overuse. It isn't shocking anymore. The F-word is versatile. It is a noun, adjective, and verb, even though it stands for "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" and did not exist prior to England adopting the acronym in roughly the 1400s. Modern television and film scripts overuse it and it becomes redundant.

5) Are you using it effectively?

A rare profanity inserted for effect is better than twenty in a row. Profanity offends many. They are red words and imply anger, even if the person isn't angry. It may limit your audience. It's important to ask how your agent or editor feels about it. If she hates it, she might insist you take it out. If you stand your ground, you may have to find another agent or editor, or publish it yourself.

If profanity is inserted into every sentence, it feels abusive. No one likes listening to abusive people rant, even in fiction.

6) Can you make up new ones?

This is a serious challenge for fantasy and science fiction writers. Come up with a few, carefully selective, highly descriptive swear words for your characters. We'll love you for it. It may even get included in the English lexicon. For historical fiction writers, make sure the word was used in the era you describe. Make sure the word is something your character would have come into contact with. If you don't do this well, it is a speed bump.


? Do a search and kill for all swear words, especially the ones you make up. How many times have you used them? Can you minimize them for better effect?
? Have you committed profanity abuse? Should you trim them?
? Does the profanity fit the time and place?
? Does the profanity fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

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28. By the power of Skype! Tomie de Paola's Virtual Keynote!

We miss him but Lin's Skype interview with Tomie was fantastic! Hardly any technical difficulties!

Lin starts by telling us Tomie has published 250 or so books over fifty years, she asks him the secret of sustaining a lifelong career.

Tomie: Courage!

Lin: Courage to...

Tomie: Just courage! I get up in the morning and I have to face a blank piece of paper and my brushes all clean and ready to go. I panic, I freeze, I know I'm going to make a mistake... By then it's the afternoon! 

Without scaring anybody, I think it gets worse! The more you know. You know, fools rush in, now it's all of these pressures that come from the outside, it's really hard to put them in their place. I'm so aware of the responsibility I have for creating something for young people.

Lin: When you were starting out were you aware of that responsibility? Or did you just really want to make picture books and felt your art was suitable?

Tomie: It was a bit of both. You know, the 'fame mosquito' buzzes around for a while, and you want that in the early days. 

And eventually you will have a HUGE disappointment in your career, and you ask yourself why you are doing this?

Why are you doing books for children?

And I realized it was because they'd been important to me, in my life as a child, and I wanted to be that for new generations. I was lucky to have this epiphany early on.

Lin: Is there something you hope your books say to kids? Or is it that you want to create an atmosphere of something beautiful for them. 

Tomie: All of that. I want kids to fall in love color and line and character, I want to make people laugh and cry...

Lin: Your books have such a present sense of childhood, what you do you think gives you that fresh sense?

Tomie: I'm blessed to have a very good memory. And the more I remember of my childhood, the more I remember. I really cherished those memories, and I had some help, I have home movies of me as a child and that helps me remember the experiences. What's important is I remember how I felt. It's not important what color the car was or what color the socks were. It's the feeling.

I also come from families of great storytellers.

Lin: Many artists are asked to write an artistic statement, how would you write your statement?

Tomie: My first response is I want to say 'Why do YOU want to know?!?!' I don't think it's a bad idea to write what your purpose is. But write it twice, write the first one very honestly and don't let anybody see it.

I was trained in the middle fifties at Pratt, a very fine art school, by very fine professionals. We were told not to be afraid, to try everything, you're just students—don't take yourself seriously—yet.

I look at curriculums today and I frankly don't recognize them, I remember when I bought a rapid-o-graph pen and everybody said, Oh my god! There is an emphasis on computers/technology today, and if I was in school today I would want to take advantage of all of that, of everything that's on offer. What bothers me most is the lack of history. People forget that Giotto and Fra Angelico were illustrators. They were visual storytellers and that's what illustrators have to be. I worry that young people today aren't given enough time to develop and flower. If they don't come out of the gate winning awards, the industry just says, "Next!"

It's like that Thornton Wilder quote, "Money is like manureit's not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow..."

Some Tomie laws:

  • Don't ever try to illustrate something you don't like.

  • You and your art director speak the same foreign language.

  • Don't get so busy with your work (Tomie's speaking to artists and art directors here) that you stop looking at others' art and going to shows. Have your household gods, surround yourself with images you love.

  • You should be able to tell the story of a picture book just by looking at the pictures.

  • Try reading The Courage To Create, modern society almost doesn't understand the creative act. So know you'll probably be misunderstood and try to make something anyway.

Lin's Lightning Round of questions for Tomie! His FAVORITE...

Classical artist: Piero della Francesca 

Musical : Gypsy

Play: Glass Menagerie

Saint: Francis of Assissi

Pizza: margherita

Color: white
Flower: anemone

Paint brand: Golden Acrylics

Icon/Household god: Virgin of Guadalupe

Piece of Advice: 

Be brave.

Thanks, Tomie!!

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29. Lamar Giles: Stay Tuned - Using TV Techniques to Keep Readers Hooked

Lamar Giles writes for adults and teens, and in several genres. His YA debut mystery, FAKE ID, is about a teen in witness protection investigating his best friend's murder. A thriller called ENDANGERED will come out next spring from HarperCollins.

He talked to us about the art of the cliffhangers at the ends of chapters and scenes, and how we can use a television technique to keep readers turning pages.

When he was growing up, he loved television. "I was probably the only fourth grader in Hopewell, Virginia with a subscription to TV guide."

TV when he was a kid wasn't like TV today. There was no on-demand, and you couldn't always record what you wanted to watch. Lamar never wanted to miss a moment of a show, and a few times, he got burned by leaving the TV during commercial breaks. The experience left him with anxiety.

"I realized that anxiety was being manufactured," he said.

Something enticing happened at a commercial break. In a half-hour show, the creators would generate 3 of these (and more for longer shows). He tries to use this sort of manipulation with his stories.

"This is how I try to keep people reading even if they're tired, even if they have something else to do."
Shows take longer to read than a TV show does to watch, so we're asking people for a lot.

He gave us six techniques to use, and showed examples of books and TV shows that them.

Here are three of his techniques:

1) The Ned: Blindside the Audience 
In this technique, you lead the reader in a certain direction. They think they know what's going to happen. In GAME OF THRONES, for example, an unexpected death occurs in the ninth episode. In MOCKINGJAY, Prim dies unexpectedly when a brace of parachutes full of explosives detonate.

"Having that situation go down the way it did, there was no telling what would come next. But there's no way in the world you're not going to hang in there and find out what happens next."

Use The Ned in pivotal scenes. If you want to do this in a three-act structure, use it around inciting incidents or going into Act II.

2) The Winchester: Making a Vow or Accepting a Mission
In Supernatural, Sam and Dean lose their mother. Their father trains them to lose the same. Sam wants a regular life, but Dean becomes a hunter. In the season premier, their father is missing. Sam's girlfriend was killed in the same way his mother was. So they make a vow to hunt the demon down and find their missing father.

A novel called RED RISING by Pierce Brown uses a similar technique. It's set on Mars. The society is broken into classes. The ruling class punishes the hero by killing his wife. He leaves home with terrorists.

When you accept a vow, you're implying or stating there is a difficult, possibly insurmountable goal. If you use this, do it early in the book, because it sets the tone for the entire novel.

3) The Clark - Tell a Secret
This technique delivers information to a pivotal character. The effects of this secret keep people hooked. Laini Taylor's DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE uses this when Akiva kills Karou's family. This relationship and this moment drive two more books. So, it's a technique to use later in the manuscript because it pays off threads you laid earlier.

His approach to story structure and its emotional influence was really smart and helpful. And anything that lets you you justify delicious television viewing as work is OK by me.

Learn more about Lamar Giles
Follow Lamar Giles on Twitter

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30. Lisa Yee: First and Sentences

Lisa Yee is the the award-winning author of many novels for children, including Millicent Min, Girl Genius, which won the first Sid Fleischman Humor Award in 2004.

You might also know her because of her famous pal, Peepy.

Lee Yee works the room.

The crowd is playing a game with Lisa Yee: Name That Line. After reading through well-known first lines and trying to name the title, the room now goes through, choosing their favorite three, and thinking about why they chose them.

Here's a sampling:

"All children, except one, grow up." ~ Peter Pan

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." ~ The Graveyard Book

"If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it."~ The Teacher's Funeral

First lines are very personal. They sets the tone for your story. With that line you're giving a clue as to who is telling the story.

There's no formula for the perfect first line. Lisa likes to think of first lines like food. They can be an appetizer (a bit of a taste or a tease), an entree (nice and meaty), or dessert (really lovely and delicious). A first line needs to wet the appetite.

Check out Nancy Pearl's Book Crush to find lists of things in books for kids/teen, like great first lines. You'll find the first line of Millicent Min, Girl Genius included in that list of great first lines.

Here it is:

"I've been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever and a compulsive perfectionist, like that's a bad thing."

Definitely worth of that list.

What makes a great last line?

If your first line is the promise of the story, your last line is the payoff.

When you write your last line it can be helpful to know what you are writing towards as your draft.

Don't ignore that your you have first and last lines within a book. Pay attention to those too, like the first and last lines of a chapter.

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31. Linda Sue Park: The How of It: Making Every Word Count

Here's a fun fact about Linda Sue Park: She once was a contestant on jeopardy. Yes, she is that smart. Which is why this room is packed and ready to soak up her brilliance.

Linda Sue has written novels, picture books, and poetry for younger readers, including A Single Shard, winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal, and the New York Times bestseller A Long Walk to Water. Lin Oliver also introduces her as adorable, fun, and full of energy.

Stealing a note from Tim Gunn (from Project Runway), Linda Sue tells us, "Don't bore the editor."

We need to make every word count. But how do we do it? By using the tools of the writer's craft.

Linda Sue shows us photos of the many illustrators tools: brushes, paints, pencils, etc.

What do writers have?


As writers, we all use the exact same tool. That's all we've got so we have to use those words to the their maximum potential.

Linda Sue speaks to those in the room who believe they have a submission-ready manuscript. When you think your work is submission ready, Linda Sue suggests putting it away. Not for hours, but for a month. Or even two.

When you pull it back out you can make it better still, but how?

Linda Sue shares many practical way to examine the words you're choosing. Here are a few:

  • Choose a scene in your manuscript that has a lot of dialogue in it. Rewrite it entirely in dialogue alone. Then go back in and reinsert only the narrative that is completely necessary. 
  • Choose a small section of your manuscript and put it all caps. Doing this can make you examine the words differently. 
  • Read your manuscript out loud. Linda Sue reads each manuscript (even novels) at least two times before she submits. Have someone read it out loud for you, especially if it's a picture book.

Words are everywhere right now. They have become one of our cheapest currencies, which makes it even more important for the words in our stories to be special.

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32. Maggie Stiefvater Keynote: A Thief & An Artist, Stealing Stories from Life

The magical Maggie Stiefvater
Maggie Stiefvater is nothing short of astonishing. She's the author of many YA novels, including the bestselling Raven Boys series and the Printz Honor Award-winning SCORPIO RACES.

She talked to us about her life as a writer—which has more dimensions than that single word contains.

"I'm not sure if my job description is actually writer," she said. "It should be thief. Or maybe, if I'm being kind, artist."

"I used to think that my ideal job was to write. To make up stories. To lie for a living." Now that she's a professional writer, knows that she observes, steals, and stylizes for a living.

When she writes, it's not so much that she is creating new things out of nothing, but that she steals from the world and makes it her own. She used to be a professional portrait artist, something she had to practice a lot (much like writing). One challenge of being a portrait artist was that people would move. She learned to look for people being still.

She found one once in a window seat on an airplane—the seat she wanted—and she sketched him with delight. And then she found out he was watching her draw. She teased his life story out of him, or at least part. Specifically the hand part. He had an oddly shaped hand, so he told her the story of how he broke it. On someone's face.

He said he was defending his sister's honor, and she listened to him with her mind on record, as she planned to steal him and his soft southern accent.

Over the years, her thefts have gone from the surface much deeper. Faithful, accurate renderings aren't what she wants. These are mere copies. She wants the essence. The soul. Why that guy threw that punch, or why he never threw one earlier. His broken hand was broken for a reason. He could have been, and probably was, lying.

The truth: A boy had once lost his temper, much to his shame. He had to look at the memory of that moment every single day. Everything else was just details. Just noise. "That was the soul," she said. "And that was what I stole."

He became Adam Parrish in THE RAVEN BOYS.

She talked to us about what the old writing advice "write what you know" really means, charming us with the stories of her childhood horse, a former racehorse that wasn't ready to retire and very well could have killed her. This fed into THE SCORPIO RACES, a book about vicious horses that are very likely to eat anyone who tries to ride them.

The thief then hands the job over to the artist, who understands what details to keep, and what details to cut.  "If I do my thievery well, if I steal the truth and not the details, and then I add the details back in, then I end up with a book that is not just true, but specific, and in only the way I can write it," she said.

She said her most Maggie book of all is THE RAVEN BOYS, one rich with things she's pilfered from her childhood, and literally about someone who can summon things from his dreams, just as she summons from her own.

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33. Horse Pinata

Horse Pinata

My daughter wanted a horse piñata* for her party, and I decided I wasn’t spending $25 for a tiny unfilled horse-shaped one from Party City. I thought I was making things simple by making a balloon-shaped pinata with a horse on it, but of course it all ended up taking a lot more effort than I realized.

Still, though, I loved the thing while it lasted. I started with the instructions here, but somewhere along the way I went off script and in the end, the mechanics didn’t really work. It was too heavy, and there was no way to hang it, so I wedged it into the v-shaped crux of our neighbor’s tree trunk. It worked, what can I say?

Drawing the horse on the balloon shape turned out to be the hardest part since I couldn’t see the whole animal at once and had to keep rolling it back and forth to look at the different parts. I followed the drawing guidelines in Sachiko Umoto’s Let’s Draw Cute Animals. Such a fun drawing book, btw, for kids or adults.

Speaking of drawing and painting, my new neighbor came over for the party with all her polish paraphernalia and painted nails for any of the girls who wanted it. Wow! There was also a round of Pass-the-Parcel and Tap-the-Pot. Lots o’ prizes.

My boy (6) has recently gotten turned on to reading via sister’s recommendation of early reader versions of The Boxcar Children. Mind you, not fabulous literature, but boy is it fun to see those “I love this book!” sparks fly. I always loved the Boxcar children myself.

Proud moment: he read while walking home from school. No injuries—I was right there with him and it was really just a moment until he finished the book he’d already started. I just ordered him several used Boxcar easy readers as an end-of-the-school-year present. And I’ll figure out some version of a similar gift for my daughter. We go to the public library a lot in the summer, but it’s always handy to have a large stash of used paperbacks for travels. Goodwill and the used bookstore are great for that. Anything to keep them feeling excited about reading, really. The school is doing a book exchange, too, so I’m hoping especially Little Miss will trade out some of her old fairy books or whatnot for some new-to-her stuff.

I’m still enjoying Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure and just bought a copy of The Divorce Papers, which I’ve been told is in the vein of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (which I love love loved). What’s on your summer reading list?

*Sorry, folks, neither WordPress nor my keyboard will let me type a proper ñ in my title text box.




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34. When you see the Southern Cross for the first time…


Where have I been?

Around the world, in ninety days.

A research trip for a screenplay that was supposed to be five weeks long where I traveled to Australia and Indonesia turned into so much more. Thanks for your patience while I was away. I’m in the process of understanding all the changes that I’ve been going through and putting words to the experience. Surprisingly I’ve had no jet lag when I returned nearly three weeks ago and am instead working very hard on the screenplay and some film documentaries too. There’s so much to process. The trip was life affirming as well as life changing. You’ve been great supporters of my work and I’m thrilled to have you on this journey with me. One of the places I least expected to go was Mt. Everest, and as fate would have it, while I was there the worst disaster in the history of the storied mountain unfolded. An avalanche took the lives of 16 sherpas. They were family members and friends of the sherpas who trekked with me on the Everest trail. Sometimes stories come to you. This was perhaps the biggest story I’d ever been caught up in and it influenced my entire experience in Nepal, which started off as a humanitarian trip to provide dental care to “yakland” kids (children who live above 10,000 feet) some who are orphaned (due to the ten year civil war there) and some victims of human trafficking. This is but a small a window into one of the unexpected, but wonderful stops on my journey.

I haven’t updated my about page, because I really like the fact that I had written there that one of my dreams was to travel to Indonesia. And it’s so nice when dreams come true. I don’t think I’ll update it with my new dreams yet. It’s nice to savor and celebrate moments like this. *pops the cork off the champagne bottle* *pours you a glass* Now about that stand up comedy routine…




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35. A Writer Never Averts Her Eyes: On Killing My Father

lauraphotos 219 (2)_FotorBY LAURA PRITCHETT

The greatest truth about the greatest writing, if you ask me, is this: The author never, ever averts her eyes. Easier said than done, of course, and I’ve not always lived up to my own dictum – for the sake of avoiding collateral damage, I’ve let my gaze waver; or, worse, I have averted my gaze completely and fallen silent. Still, my greatest goal as both writer and human? A refining of my sense of truthfulness, a blooming of bravery, a keeping of clear-eyed gaze even on issues that churn the heart and crush the spirit.

This was on my mind lately as I killed my father. Or imagined him dead. Or thought of the various ways he’d go, and what his particular death would feel like for him. My newest novel, Stars Go Blue, is based, in part, on my family’s experience with my father’s Alzheimer’s. There came a day, about ten years ago, when my father stood in front of the elevator with me in Denver – we were helping one of my brothers move — and my dad had no idea what the elevator was for; he wouldn’t step into it. I tilted my head, confused: Perhaps he’d been out of the city for too long, being a Colorado rancher and all? But no, he had also been a college professor, a geneticist, a world-traveler famous for his research.

Oh, god, I thought. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Since then, it’s been a strange path for the whole gaggle of my large family, particularly for my mother, who became his primary caregiver. As for me, these last ten years have been primarily marked by my walks with him across the family ranch. This is what he and I do: we walk. We have walked summer, winter, spring, fall; literally thousands of miles. Early on, we could speak of his disease; later on, I filled in the words for him; and these days, we simply whistle (“Delta Dawn” being his favorite).

As we walked, I do what writers do: I dreamed up various scenarios, played the “What If” game, considered the larger issues. What if he had chosen a different route and planned suicide (as I will, if ever diagnosed)? What if society had different views on this disease? What if the Alzheimer’s Association (bless them; they do so much good) spent less time on caretaking issues and cures, and, dare I say it, more time on discussing end-of-life decisions, even those surrounding assisted and pre-planned assisted suicide or contemplative death? What if he had not had that pacemaker put in ten years ago and had died the death that was likely? What if my father was suffering. Could I murder him? Would it be murder? Would he have wanted to kill himself?

These are horrible-disgusting-tough-miserable-queasy-producing questions, and you can believe that I for sure wanted to avert my eyes from them. (As an aside, so did others in my life: I’ve been shunned and told that I was only welcome “if I did not bring up such topics again.”) Even if I wasn’t advocating murder or suicide – and I am not – I was advocating (probably at nauseum) a real discussion of end-of-life decisions.

And so it came to be that Ben, the character in my book who has Alzheimer’s, is faced with these issues, and even harder ones as he decides what to do about his daughter’s killer while he’s still got a small window of time. Ben became the most brave and courageous speaker I could imagine. He wonders the things that we all wonder, deep in the secret recesses of our heart; what he does about it, I can’t tell you, because that would give away the plot. But there’s another layer to this, at least for me: because of his diminished intellectual capabilities and speech, he is also representative of our society and our human nature; he can only give voice to so much, and he’s often unable to address the very things that need addressing. But bless him, he tries. His caretaker (his sort-of-ex-wife) does too. By god, they try not to avert their eyes.

This is perhaps ironic, because writing, in a certain way, is about bewilderment. One is bewildered by a truth, and then one stares at it long and hard. At first, for example, I wrote to understand him and this disease, to grieve and to care, which I suppose was a way of knowing him better and therefore loving him more. But I wasn’t just bewildered about my father, and what had happened to him; I was also bewildered by death, by our culture, by our approach, by our moral imperatives, our ethical dilemmas.

In my mind, this all melded into a book. A book with the specific task of giving voice to someone who is losing theirs (to tell the story of Alzheimer’s not from an outsider, but from the person himself). To tell the story of my father.

So, yes, when people ask me (as they always do) if there are similarities between my life and this fiction, I will say yes. Both in reality and the philosophical. Besides the Alzheimers, there were other details I used. One of my six brothers is a veterinarian, for example, and as I watched him gently put down my dog, it occurred to me how someone (I can’t say who!) in the book might die. As a farm kid, I’ve seen animals of all sorts suffer, and I’ve seen the ways we alleviate that suffering, and so I could get the details of that right. But more scary than that is the questions posed by the book. They too have a basis in reality. Did I wish my father dead? Yes, sometimes. Did I wish him to get cured? Yes. Did I wish he had discussed his wishes for suicide with me? Yes. And even this: Did I sometimes wonder if I could kill him, if he was suffering? Yes. Yes, I did. I had to stare at these questions so fiercely that the quiet voice of Ben broke through.

I’ll be honest: Not everyone in my family is delighted. Writers have struggled with this forever—how to explain to others that sometimes fiction is just fiction (and no, you are not the Aunt Martha in my book); and, conversely, to explain that yes, sometimes fiction is based on real life, not only the details, but more importantly, the current that runs beneath?

The balance is tricky. We owe our family a great deal, but not dishonesty. And not a silencing of our stories. It requires careful footing; steps done with equanimity and grace but also courage. There’s no easy path. But one thing I know is this: I have loved these moments with my father, with the strange man he has become, and my attempt to write about him. I did not walk with him out of research. I walked with him out of love, and then wrote out of love.

I will walk with my dad until he is done. I will walk with him in the spring, when the fields are greening; in the summer, when the hay is being baled; in the fall, when the air grows crisp and the aspens turn; and, yes, in the winter, when we will make our way carefully across the ice-encrusted snow.

By Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett on Amazon

Laura Pritchett is the author of Stars Go Blue, released June 10, 2014 with Counterpoint Press. She also authored Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, which received the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and a PEN USA Award for Fiction. For Sky Bridge, she received the WILLA Fiction Award. She has had over 100 short stories and essays published in various magazines The Sun, Orion, High Country News, Salon, Desert Journal and others. Pritchett lives in northern Colorado and teaches around the country. More at laurapritchett.com.

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36. Verb Phrases

Let's review a verb's purpose and explain what a verb phrase is. A verb tells the reader what happens. The action can be modified by an object, assisted with a helper, or modified by a verb phrase. Verb phrases are often used in idioms, colloquialisms, or slang.

1) A verb object is the item upon which the action is committed.

Jane drove (subject/verb) the car (object).

Dick threw (subject/verb) the ball (object).

2) A verb can be modified with a helping verb:

Forms of to be: am, are, be, been, is, was, were.

Forms of to do: did, do, does.

Forms of to have: had, has, have.

Qualifiers: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would.

Qualifiers can be red flags and often need to be cut. Search for them. Kill them unless they are absolutely essential to the point. 

Jane could see Dick edging around the corner, weapons out.

In distant third or omniscient: Jane saw Dick edge around the corner, weapons out.

First person or close third in Jane's POV: Dick edged around the corner, weapons out.

3) A verb can be modified by a verb phrase.

A verb phrase contains a verb and a helping verb that act as one word. The helping word always precedes the verb. The words never, not, and the contraction n't are negation words and are not part of the verb.

Dick could have been willing (verb) to fly (modifier).

Dick might not have wanted (verb) to fly (modifier)

We have become (verb) world travelers (object).

4) The helping verb can be separated from the verb in certain situations.

When asking a question, the helping verb comes before the actual verb.

Have you ever been to Spain?

Do you know the way to San Jose?

No, I've never been there.

Dick should never (negation) have gone (verb) there (modifier).

Revision Tips
?Make sure the verb phrases are used correctly. You should search for these verb phrase key words by selecting [Control] [F] or [Find]and entering the word. Make sure you avoid clichés.
?Evaluate all verb phrases. Are they used correctly?
?Do they constitute clichés? Can you change it or cut it?

  For all of the revision tips on verbs and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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37. Clichés

Clichés are overused metaphors and often employ the words like and as

Agents and editors hate clichés. However, clichés are so deeply imbedded in our language, we don't know we are using them. Personally, I applaud all those creative people who came up with the phrases that give our language its biting wit, sappy compliments, colorful swear words, and delightful put downs. Our world would be boring without such gems as:

Dead as a doornail

Like a cat on a hot tin roof

Hot as snot

Sure as shootin'

Detractors call clichés predictable, annoying, a symptom of lazy writing, and bordering on purple prose. The main concern is cliché abuse.

The key to using clichés well is to use them sparingly and twist them to make them original. They can be placed strategically to add a comic punch or to define a single character, not the entire cast.

                Cliché: Dick won’t rock the boat.
                Twist: Dick won’t rock the rescue dinghy.

                Cliché: Not for all the tea in China.
                Twist: Not for all the fortune cookies in China.

There are too many clichés to list them all. Some are so ingrained in our language, it would sound stilted to avoid them. Make artistic choices.


?Turn on the Clichés, Colloquialisms, and Jargon option in the toolbox. They will be marked for you. As you read through your draft, decide which to keep and which to kill. Have you used the cliché intentionally?
?Can you twist it or make it fresh?
?Have you committed cliché abuse? Should you trim them?
?Does the cliché fit the time and place?
?Does the cliché fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

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38. Idioms

Idioms are colloquial metaphors. They say one thing but mean another and cannot be taken literally.

If a couple breaks up, that means they stop seeing each other, not that body parts go flying. 

There are thousands of idioms that enrich our language. The trouble begins when a child, foreign person, or alien takes one of our idioms literally.

"We'll have you for dinner," does not mean the person will be eaten by cannibals.

There isn’t room here to list the busload of idioms, but I offer a few examples:

  • at length
  • burn off
  • by the way
  • chin up
  • common touch
  • fly away
  • in step with
  • lay aside
  • leaf through
  • no less than
  • put down
  • put in the way of
  • run along
  • slap on the wrist
  • take a lick at
  • think tank
Here are a few of the many sites listing idioms. Make your own list. Highlight your favorite bugaboos and prune them.




?  Have you used idioms intentionally?
? Have you committed idiom prose abuse?
? Does the usage fit the situation, era, or time frame? You might want to check the date it was first used.
? If uttered in dialogue, does the idiom fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

For all of the revision tips on verbs and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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39. STORGE day one

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40. Purple Prose

Purple prose consists of passages so cloying, over the top, or dramatic that they create speed bumps for the reader. It employs an abundance of adjectives and dense descriptive detail. 

Purple prose should be weeded out when found, unless that is your preferred writing style. In which case, you may deter some readers and agents. 

The worst offenders are romantic scenes, because writers try to avoid clinical terms for the acts of love and body parts. A lot of slang words are too crude and don't fit the mood of the piece. 

Purple prose can be a product of weak description writing. Some writers stuff so many descriptions in a paragraph the reader forgets the topic.

1) Avoid using annoying phrases:

  • bated breath (not baited!)
  • cupid lips,
  • framed by
  • heart-shaped face
  • limped pools
  • manly chin
  • revealed
  • set off by
  • steely eyes
  • heaving or swelling bosom,
  • tumescent member
  • twirling lock of hair
  • wriggling eyebrows

2) Avoid melodramatic descriptions:

Her ample bosom heaved as he slowly untied her frilled, satin night dress. His caress made her tremble like a delicate blossom in the breeze as he nibbled on the petals of her ears.

3) Avoid descriptions that go on ... and on ... and on. 

She stood there, like a pale lilly, swaying in the wind, her corn silk hair floating around her heart-shaped face like golden cloud, obscuring her sky-blue eyes. The flyaway strands parted as her rosebud lips pursed and blew them aside. Her gauzy white gown clung to her voluptuous curves. She was the absolute embodiment of a seductive angel.

An effective cumulative sentence (base clause plus two or three descriptive phrases) is a master craft. Stuffing as many fluffy descriptions as you can think of into a sentence is not masterful.


?  Have you used melodrama intentionally, such as in dialogue or poking fun of a situation?
? Can you tone it down?
? Have you committed purple prose abuse?
? Does the language fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

For all of the revision tips on purple prose and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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41. Colloquialisms

Colloquialisms are words or phrases that we use in conversation or informal situations. 

An example would be the different ways people refer to carbonated beverages: cola, soda, soda pop, and pop.

Another example is cooked batter: pancake, griddle cake, flap jack, Johnny cake, and short stack.

They can be words (gonna), phrases (hang on), or aphorisms (when the going gets tough, the tough get going).

A few examples of colloquialisms include: 

  • bat out of hell 
  • beating a dead horse 
  • bigger than a barn 
  • bump on a log 
  • couldn't care less 
  • crazy as a loon 
  • deader than a doornail 
  • dumb as stump 
  • drunk as a monkey 
  • happy as a pig in shit 
  • hell for leather 
  • hotter than hell 
  • knocked into next week 
  • like flies on shit 
  • like white on rice 
  • meaner than a snake 
  • neat as a pin 
  • not the brightest crayon 
  • older than dirt 
  • one fry short of a happy meal 
  • piece of cake 
  • shut your pie hole 
  • slow as molasses 
  • tighter than a banjo string 
Colloquialism, clichés, and slang are close cousins and hard to differentiate. In general, colloquialisms are limited to a specific geographic location (the southern states) and slang is more widespread (America).

It isn't important for the sake of revision to worry about the finer points of distinction. We aren't in English class anymore. The important point is to use them wisely.

Both colloquialisms and slang can be used as a dialogue plant and payoff: a phrase repeated two or three times at critical points in the story between two characters.

Creating unique colloquialisms and slang for your fantasy world can add a dash of spice. Don't over do it.

Getting the historical slang wrong will earn you e-mails pointing out that the phrase was not used until _____. Nitpickers love this stuff.

Both can add color to your prose and dialogue. Sprinkled throughout a manuscript, they are fine. A few sprinkled in a paragraph is considered overdoing it.

Revision Tips
? Turn on the Clichés, Colloquialisms, and Jargon option in the toolbox in Word. These items will be marked for you. As you read through your draft, decide which to keep and which to kill. Have you used the cliché intentionally?
? Can you twist it or make it fresh?
? Have you committed colloquialism abuse? Should you trim them?
? Does the languge fit the time and place?
? Does the languge fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

For all of the revision tips on colloquialisms and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 

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42. Jump-Start Your Next Story with Two Truths and a Lie

Macbook Writing" by Håkan Dahlström Photography (Creative Commons)

The only way to be a writer is to write, right? This is the advice we give at WD, online and in the magazine. If you want to write, you must write. But sometimes getting started is difficult. Perhaps you have a fully-formed character but no idea what to do with him. Maybe your idea is a great plot, but you don’t know who the woman who must live it will be. I would argue that getting started—the actual act of sitting down and beginning something new—is the most difficult part of writing. (Your mileage may vary, of course, but for me, this is the hard part.)

Imagine my excitement this morning when I encountered the following paragraph as I read That Would Make a Good Novel by Lily King on The New York Times:

When I teach fiction I often start a workshop with one of my favorite exercises called Two Truths and a Lie. I tell my students to write the first paragraph of a short story. The first sentence of the paragraph must be true (My sister has brown hair.), the second sentence must be true (Her name is Lisa.), but the third sentence must be a lie (Yesterday she went to prison.). … The lie is the steering wheel, the gearshift and the engine. The lie takes your two true sentences and makes a left turn off road and straight into the woods. It slams the story into fifth gear and guns it.

Although this extremely useful exercise is not at all the point of King’s article, I think it deserves its own post here for those of you who, like me, have trouble with beginnings. So let’s do an exercise! This one is three-pronged:

1. Write the beginning of a story—three full sentences—using the Two Truths and a Lie method. The first two sentences must be true, and the third sentence must be a lie.

2. Carry that story out to at least 500 words. Write more if you’d like. Go wherever your lie takes you. Be ridiculous or be introspective. Whatever suits you.

3. Post your story on your blog, and leave a link here (with a title and your first three sentences to avoid being trapped in our spam filters) so that the rest of us can read it. 

BONUS: Tweet a link to your story, too! Use the hashtag #WD2Truths1Lie so we can all see your efforts.

headshotWDAdrienne Crezo is the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @a_crezo.


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43. Jargon

Jargon consists of words that relate to a specific group, profession, or event.
  • actionable intelligence
  • bait and switch
  • behind the eight ball
  • best practice
  • bounced check
  • brain trust
  • bull market
  • circular file
  • core competency
  • face time
  • fall guy
  • file thirteen
  • food chain
  • free lunch
  • game changer
  • head count
  • hired gun
  • in the loop
  • in the red/black
  • in the running
  • out of pocket
  • push back
  • put to bed
  • time frame
  • value added

Medicine is full of Latin words that sound intimidating but mean relatively little. 

  • Thyroiditis (root word thyroid + itis meaning inflammation)
  • Myeloma (root word  myelo=marrow+ oma meaning growth)
  • Endocrinology (root word endocrine + ology meaning study of)
Although it is Latin, it is also their jargon. Medical terminology is full of acronyms. If you've ever listened to a professional conversation and been unable to follow the acronyms, you've listened to jargon.
  • CT scan (computed topography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • BMP (basic metabolic panel)
  • CBC (complete blood count)
  • PET scan (positron emission topography). 
Jargon is used as short-hand to refer to things common to people’s understanding. The art of texting has inspired an entirely new acronym vocabulary.
  • BTW - By The Way
  • IMHO - In My Humble Opinion
  • MOTD - Message Of The Day
  • FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
  • CYA - See You Around
  • HTH - Hope This Helps
  • FYI - For Your Information
  • LOL - Laugh Out Loud
  • PFA - Please Find Atached
The field of computing has spawned many jargon words:

  • blog
  • Byte
  • CD-Rom
  • disk drive
  • email
  • hard drive
  • hyperlink
  • internet
  • RAM
  • vlog

For fantasy and science fiction writers, building a new world can be enriched by adding a few - I stress few - new words and phrases. Make certain you clarify their meaning to the reader. Adding a dash of unique jargon brings your world to life. Too many obscure references, and you risk losing a reader's interest.

For historical writers, you have nitpicky fans. Look up when a term was first used. They love to point out your errors.


? Turn on the Clichés, Colloquialisms, and Jargon option in the toolbox. They will be marked for you. As you read through your draft, decide which to keep and which to kill. Have you used the jargon intentionally?
? Does it mean what you think it means?
? Have you committed jargon abuse? Should you trim it?
? Does the jargon fit the time and place?
? Does the jargon fit the background and personality of the character uttering it?

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44. Jill Santopolo: 20 Master Plots - Go on a Story Brainstorming Binge

Jill Santopolo
Jill Santopolo is an executive editor at Philomel Books, and is the author of book series for YA and MG readers, including the Alec Flint series, Sparkle Spa, and Follow Your Heart.

As an editor, she works with Jane Yolen, Andrea Cremer, T.A. Barron, and more wonderful authors. Her list includes picture books, middle grade, and young adult novels.

Jill was worried that no one would show up, but she ran out of handouts and several people were sitting on Dan Santat's lap.
She talked to us about strategies for developing plots, which she considers to be the backbone of stories. Her goal was for us to leave the room with five potential stories we can tackle in the future.

In addition to sharing several plot types with us, she walked us through questions designed to help us build the scaffolding of our stories.

Among the plot types she described:
  • The quest: Rick Riordan's THE LIGHTNING THIEF is a great example of this. Percy is at home, lacking an understanding of his life and relationship with his father. A force makes him act in a new way. A motivating incident occurs. And he meets buddies (there are always buddies). The middle makes things interesting; the end provides the answer to the lack.
  • The pursuit: Marie Lu's LEGEND. She establishes the good guy and the bad guy, the stakes of the pursuit, and the incident that sets it in motion. Twists, turns, and reversals follow. In the end, she sets someone free (though catching him could also be the resolution).  
  • The underdog plot: The story starts in a conflict-ripe world. A catalyst pits rivals against each other. There is a power struggle. The antagonists gain upper hand. In the middle: two sides are equal in power. Then come more power shifts. Then the underdog is empowered. In the end, there's a confrontation and the underdog wins.
It was an incredibly useful session, with lots of great insight about how we can frame the shape of the stories we're working on using a simple series of questions.

Jill's website.

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45. Bruce Coville: Plot, Character, and the Emotional Life of Story

Bruce Coville is the award-winning and beloved author of over a hundred books for children and young adults.

Bruce says plot and character are inextricably linked. You can't talk about plot without talking about character. You can't talk about character without talking about plot.

Bruce is a plot writer.

The best story telling energy has a bridge between male and female storytelling energy.

A great ending is both a surprise and inevitable. It is not a coincidence.

You can use a coincidence to start a story. The further along the coincidence occurs, the less believable it is.

What is a good story? Three thing Bruce loves to find in a story and also tries to put them in his own work. He likes to call them: Ha, Wah, and Yikes.

  • A belly laugh
  • A tear
  • A gasp of surprise

If all three are in a story, the reader is bound to be satisfied.

Story recipe: Take somebody you like and get them in trouble.

By asking questions and inventing scenes that answer those questions you write a story.

Stories happen when characters have to choose. Make your character make a tough choice. Your character's need will drive the action.

Plot happens when desire meets obstacle.

If you've never heard Bruce Coville speak and you get the opportunity, don't hesitate for a second.

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46. No Fighting, No Biting: Arthur A. Levine on Communicating without Pissing People off

Arthur Levine and
Deborah Underwood
started off with a song.
Arthur Levine is something of a legend in the children's publishing industry. He's published many beloved books, including Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and the comic novels of Lisa Yee.

He founded his own imprint at Scholastic, Arthur A. Levine Books, in 1997. The imprint publishes everything from picture books through young adult novels. His authors and illustrators include Shaun Tan, Dan Santat, Markus Zusak, Francisco Stork, Erin Bow, Mike Jung, and Jaclyn Moriarty.

What's more, Arthur is the author of several picture books—A VERY BEARY TOOTH FAIRY, illustrated by Sarah Brannen, is the latest. So he knows about communicating from both sides of the email server.

He talked to us about things that can derail communication between editors and authors, using principles that work in critique groups (and in real life).

Here are three of the thoughtful, helpful tips he shared.

1. Don't leave anything out. The person you're writing to doesn't necessarily already agree with what you're trying to say. For example, if you describe something as a "circular story shape," does everyone know what you mean?

"The narrative was hurt by Jordan's snide remarks" might not be the best feedback, for example. The writer might not feel the remarks were snide. The writer might feel attacked.

A better way to say that might be to give a specific example, perhaps like this: When Jordan says his mother's kindergarten class is full of party poopers, he was less sympathetic. Did you intend for that to be the case?

The shorthand might feel insulting. The more specific reaction, built off positive reactions, is more clear and ultimately more helpful. 

2. Leave some things out. He shared an exchange from a cover discussion where an author tactfully expressed preference for an earlier sketch, where an agent chimed in with something that sounded harsh and critical.

Don't assume everyone agrees with you. Inflammatory political commentary on Facebook can be off-putting, for example.

3. Be respectful of people's boundaries. A fellow editor told him the story of someone showing up with a manuscript at her home office. (Yikes!)

If you sense someone getting defensive or upset, back off, or apologize, or find a different way of communicating. When someone gets upset, it's natural to want to respond with equal anger. But the anger is a someone setting a boundary. Instead of charging the boundary, try retreating and apologizing, he said.

He talked also a bit about email, which gets a bad rap as a communication medium, but isn't always bad. Calling people when you're angry is a bad idea. Taking the time to think and compose a thoughtful email can be very effective.

Follow Arthur A. Levine Books on Twitter.
Like the imprint on Facebook

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47. Bunny Rabbit Paper Bag Puppet

I'm in the process of creating some new activity pages to coincide with my latest book that is coming out in a few weeks.  But I felt like this weekend was a perfect time for this super simple rabbit puppet.  Just download the free PDF and cut out the face and hands and glue them to a paper lunch sack.  Ta da! a bunny rabbit for Easter.

Download the PDF here...

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48. Responses to Obstacles

For every action there is a reaction. A story obstacle comes along that requires your character to say or do something in response. What are the options?

Dick can’t change other people or the obstacle presented, but he can change his response to them.

If Jane is behaving inappropriately, Dick doesn’t have to give in. He can be firm and say ‘no’ or call her on her shenanigans. Jane is then forced to change her tactics because of Dick’s response.

This could be the resolution to your protagonist’s personal dilemma. Your protagonist could find the strength to change his responses to a person or situation. It can function at the scene level in any genre and the overall story problem level in a Literary tale.

If Dick wants something, he might start off with bribes. He could beg. If that doesn’t work, he’ll resort to threats. This isn’t just the method of an antagonist. It can be the methodology of any character at any point in the story.

Dick could try cajoling Jane into going to a restaurant because he has a surprise party planned. If she refuses, he might promise to do something she really wants to do. If Jane still says no, he might threaten to not do something she needs him to do. The motivation is benevolent rather than malign, but the tactics are the same.

The same motivators can work against a scene goal.

Sally might resist the goal because to do so results in a threat to her safety or to the safety of someone she cares about. 

There are times when it is healthy to say no. If Sally lives in a gang-infested neighborhood and wants to help the police or a friend, it might mean death or harm to her friends or family. Some characters would choose to do the right thing despite the consequences. Sally might give into her fears and refuse in order to protect herself or others. She may truly want to help the police, or hinder the antagonist, but the personal cost is so high she can’t.

Sometimes the best response is no response. No matter how hard someone tries to coerce your protagonist into doing, saying, or believing something, Dick can refuse to budge. He can walk away instead of arguing or reacting. This can extend the tension because the reader knows that the character will have to deal with the request another time. How many times will Dick be able to ignore the request?

Sometimes people change in response to your reaction to them. If Dick has a nagging, hysterical mother or spouse, he can finally learn to stand up to them and assert his independence. Dick changes the parameters of the relationship by asserting boundaries. The other person must change to accommodate the new rules or break off the relationship.

What if Dick is confronted with a toxic friend, family member, or lover who will never change? Dick can’t make them want help or make them better. He may have to walk away to preserve himself. It is a heart-rending choice.

By offering a variety of obstacles and responses, you keep the story flowing. Whether you script choppy rapids or a slow, sweet stream, if your reader enjoys the ride, you’ll earn a new fan.

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49. First Graders Get Crafty

First graders use a mentor text to get crafty during a unit on informational writing.

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50. Irregular verbs

Most verbs are regular and are turned into past tense by adding ed or en.

amble, ambled

be, been

Irregular verbs do not follow this rule. Here is a list of irregular verbs in present, past, then past perfect order.

Present tense: You are doing the action.

Past tense: You have completed the action.

Past perfect tense: You completed the action at some point in the past before something else happened.

arise, arose, arisen

ask, asked, asked

attack, attacked, attacked

awaken, awakened/awoke/ awakened

bear, bore, borne/born

begin, began, begun

blow, blew, blown

break, broke, broken

bring, brought, brought

burst, burst, burst

choose, chose, chosen

cling, clung, clung

come, came, come

dive, dived/dove, dived

do, did, done

drag, dragged, dragged

draw, drew, drawn

drink, drank, drunk

drive, drove, driven

drown, drowned, drowned

eat, ate, eaten

fall, fell, fallen

fly, flew, flown

forgive, forgave, forgiven

freeze, froze, frozen

get, got, got/gotten

give, gave, given

go, went, gone

grow, grew, grown

hang (things), hung, hung

hang (people), hanged, hanged

happen, happened, happened

know, knew, known

lay, laid, laid

lead, led, led

lie, lay, lain

loosen, loosened, loosened

lose, lost, lost

pay, paid, paid

ride, rode, ridden

ring, rang, rung

rise, rose, risen

run, ran, run

see, saw, seen

set, set, set

shake, shook, shaken

shrink, shrank/shrunk, shrunk/shrunken

sing, sang, sung

sink, sank/sunk, sunk

sit, sat, sat

speak, spoke, spoken

spin, spun, spun

spit, spat, spat

spring, sprang/sprung, sprung

steal, stole, stolen

sting, stung, stung

stink, stank/stunk, stunk

strive, strove, striven

study, studied, studied

swear, swore, sworn

swim, swam, swum

swing, swung, swung

take, took, taken

tear, tore, torn

throw, threw, thrown

wake, woke/waked, woken/waked

wear, wore, worn

weave, wove, woven

wring, wrung, wrung

write, wrote, written

As you go through your revision process, do a search for these verbs and make sure you have used them properly.

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