I’d Like to Have a Word with Word about Grammar

I wish Word would stop trying to correct my grammar. If I only wrote simple sentences with a minimum use of phrases (only prepositions and infinitives, perhaps), then, it might be right more often (maybe – I’m not sure). As it is, it’s incorrect at least 99% of the time because it doesn’t understand complex clauses, phrases, or punctuation. Of the other 1%, at least half of it is made up of sentences that are deliberately written somewhat incorrectly as part of artistic license (such as fragments, formatting, or dialect).

Yes, I realize that I can probably find a way to turn it off. What worries me, however, is that there may be people who rely on it – people who do not know grammar well enough to know if that wavy green line is right or wrong. What then? Even if they assume their grammar is wrong based on that line, how can they correct it without knowing why it’s wrong? What about all the errors that it does not catch? Will they begin to believe that those errors are correct grammar?

It’s a scary thought.

Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors by the Flying Karamazov Brothers: Talk about Juggling Lines!

I have always enjoyed William Shakespeare’s plays, but I also don’t believe in taking things too seriously. This rendition of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors definitely does not have that problem! It’s silly, it’s raunchy, and it’s ridiculous.

It’s a Vaudevillian juggling troupe – what do you expect?

Just for Fun: If Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet Were Performed by an Actor with Malapropism Problems

This is wordplay purely for fun. If you want to play, follow the instructions, and don’t peek ahead!

Shakespeare as you've never heard it before! Maybe, if Romeo were really drunk... or had malapropism problems. (Sorry, Shakespeare!)

Shakespeare as you’ve never heard it before! Maybe, if Romeo were really drunk… or had malapropism problems. (Sorry, Shakespeare!)

Banter Bonus: 6 Memorable Conversations

No matter what you’re writing, banter in dialogue can be a fun, lighthearted and endearing parts of the piece. It’s what we remember and quote from movies. It’s the moments of books that we reread over and over again. It’s the scenes in plays that have the audience rolling in the aisles.

If you’re not familiar with the term, banter is a playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. It can be a mutual exchange between a group or even one person replying cleverly to someone who is being serious. Here are some famous examples to give you an idea of what banter can sound like – although you’re probably already familiar with many of these. After all, the more banter there is, the more good quotes get passed around.

1. The Princess Bride

An oldie but a goodie, The Princess Bride shows light-hearted banter between enemies Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the Man in Black (Cary Elwes) as they swordfight across a rocky cliffside.

BanterPrincessBride

2. Ocean’s Eleven

From the 2001 film, Ocean’s Eleven, there were so many options it was hard to pick. Here’s one scene between Rusty (Brad Pitt) and Danny (George Clooney). The casual, offhanded delivery of humorous lines is a major part of this movie.

BanterOceans11

3. Firefly

Joss Whedon’s Firefly is chock full of witty conversation. This particular moment involves Captain Malcom Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) as they continue a dangerous (yet potentially personally fulfilling) mission.

BanterFirefly

4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the banter between the characters (especially Harry, Ron, and Hermione) helps to show the reader their friendly relationship.

BanterHarryPotter

5. The Hobbit

To show one-sided banter, here is a conversation from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien between Gandalf and Thorin.

BanterHobbit

6. Much Ado About Nothing

Last but not least, William Shakespeare’s plays would be five-second commercials if all the clever banter were removed (even the tragedies would be significantly lighter). Even in serious moments, the characters play with double meaning or make jokes. This short conversation from Much Ado About Nothing is a good example. No wonder that play is renown for its wit!

BanterMuchAdo

I could add examples forever (Pride and PrejudiceIndependence DayThe King’s Speech, Disney movies, and so on), but I think this gives you a good idea. If anyone has a particular good conversation (from a book, play, movie, etc), please share!

Plotting Against Your Characters

PlotDemise

If you want to challenge your plot, put the protagonist in a situation you don’t think he or she can get out of. Then, make the character find a way out. It’s like a narrative video game – for example, a first-person shooter. You run the character through until the character dies. When that happens, you go back to the last save point and try again, changing various tactics in between to try to change the outcome. At any point, you can only use the skills and tools that the character has already, and while other characters or situations might help, you don’t know that at the time.

That’s how hard situations work in a plot, too. Let’s say that as the author you have your full plot mapped out, so you know that the Best Friend swoops in unexpectedly and saves the day at the last minute. Well, you have to remember that the protagonist doesn’t know that. That means that whoever is in danger has to plan and act as if no one is coming to save them.

That sincerity on their part goes a long way to convincing the reader that the situation is serious. It also helps to have hints that the Best Friend was in a position to pull off that rescue scattered through the previous pages of the book to show that the rescue isn’t solely a deus ex machina. But the rest of making the rescue situation believable has as much to do with the villain as it does the rescuer.

You see, you can’t go easy on them. Nothing brings grumbles and mockery faster than an incompetent villain. (Do you really want the Star Wars clone comparison about aiming?) If you can make a good video game with a wimpy boss, wouldn’t it be an even better game if the boss was a challenge? If you give the villain as much depth and complexity as you do the protagonist, every bad situation gets that much harder to get out of. Your plot gets that much less predictable (wait – what? You mean the villain saw through that?).

On the other hand, don’t write yourself into a corner by making it totally impossible. If you keep running the character through, and the character cannot get out successfully no matter what he or she tries, then maybe the villain needs to be a little less impressive. Having flaws is part of realistic villains, too. Or, maybe failing at the challenge becomes a major turning point (don’t take the first person shooter comparison too literally: it doesn’t have to be a life or death situation).

Like any successful game, there has to be a challenge, and the main character has to be able to overcome that challenge with enough hard work and ingenuity – or at least, the reader has to think that’s true. Whether it’s office politics, romance, or saving the world, anything that comes too easily is less entertaining. If the character doesn’t think the stakes are high, why should we?

How to Meet Your Characters: Volcano Optional

"Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano's edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man." Shan Yu via Shepherd Book in Firefly

“Live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge, and on that day, you will finally meet the man.” Shan Yu via Shepherd Book from Joss Whedon’s Firefly

Writer’s Digest: Its Usefulness Is Inversely Proportionate to Its Size

The most recent edition.

The most recent edition.

Another popular writing magazine, Writer’s Digest is a shorter publication with an emphasis on improving writing and getting published. It features articles related to grammar, style, and making your writing accessible (for example). At the same time, it has down-and-dirty details like how to break into the business, get an agent, demand payment, and use editing options (generally written by authors, agents, and editors). They do mention contests and conferences, as well, though not as comprehensively as Poets & Writers.

This one is geared more exclusively toward aspiring authors rather than published ones. Its smaller size makes it a bit less comprehensive, but that doesn’t make the information any less useful. If you’re looking to get published, this one is a quick, handy resource.