Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Musical Interlude - with Birds

I'm thinking that perhaps a musical interlude will become a regular feature of the blog, and what better time to pause and breathe than Wednesday lunchtime?

Today's interlude comes from one of Wordy Bird's favorite films: Winged Migration. The song, also one of my favorites and available on the soundtrack, is by Australian artist, Nick Cave. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bad Seeds: Wow, It Can Really Do That?

I’d like you to take a look at the following paragraph:

As Wordy Bird perched there watching the sun rise beyond the nest, her belly rumbled, thinking of the worm she’d catch for breakfast. Her wings flapped faster, just knowing how good it would taste. When she landed, her head tilted, listening for that telltale rustle of worm flesh beneath the earth.

What is wrong with these sentences—grammatically? (Don’t worry, I’m not going to weigh you down with too much grammar-junkie jargon today.)

Let’s look at the first:

As Wordy sat there watching the sun rise beyond the nest, her belly rumbled, thinking of the worm she’d catch for breakfast.

This is a sentence of a kind that I see in writers’ manuscripts on an almost daily basis, so that means a lot of writers are making this error. Let’s break it into parts:

As Wordy sat there watching the sun rise beyond the nest,

her belly rumbled,

thinking of the worm she’d catch for breakfast.

The first two work together, right?

As Wordy sat there watching the sun rise beyond the nest, her belly rumbled…

What about this part:

…her belly rumbled, thinking of the worm she’d catch for breakfast.

Do you see the problem yet?

If you don’t see it yet, ask yourself this: who or what is thinking of the worm? In this sentence construction, it’s her belly. And apart from giving us a gnarly case of butterflies when we’re about to do something scary, bellies are not known for their capacity for intelligent thought.  

Now, if you go back to the second and third sentences, perhaps you'll see why I have a problem with those, too. 

Some of you, including those of you who have worked with me before or taken one of my classes, may pick up on at least one other (potential) problem when the three sentences are put together. Can work out what it* is?

* Hint: try reading them aloud. 

The moral of story is: Don't dangle your modifiers.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Musical Interlude

Do you write or paint to music?

One of my favorite pieces of music to write to right now is Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, First Movement, especially when played by the wonderful Yo-Yo Ma:

Wow. Wasn't that amazing?

In fact, I enjoyed that so much, I think I'll share some of my writing/listening favorites more often. Feel free to do the same.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bad Seeds: Quick, Quicker, Quickly

Quickly is an adverb. An adverb modifies a verb. E.g.:

Wordy Bird flew quickly.

Quicker is not an adverb. It should not modify a verb. Quicker is an adjective, hence the following is wrong:

Nestmate flew quicker than Wordy.

It should be:

Nestmate (thought he) flew more quickly than Wordy.

Quicker can be used like this:

But Wordy knew she was quicker.

Quick is the positive adjective. Quicker is the comparative degree of quick. Quickest is the superlative degree of quick. They are all adjectives. And adjectives modify nouns, not verbs.

Put it together and what have you got?

Nestmate was not very quick. He could not fly quickly at all, and his strides were about as quick as a worm in dried mud. In fact, among the quicker members of the nest, he had quickly earned the affectionate yet dubious nickname Slow-walkin'-Jones-slow-talkin'-Jones. It was a nickname none could say quickly. (In truth, Chickling was the quickest of the three.)

But of course there are always exceptions to the rule. Quicker and quick are sometimes used as adverbs in idiomatic speech. So in dialogue, Chickling might say:

"Mummy, come quick!"

To which Wordy Bird would, of course, reply:

"I'm coming as quickly as I can."

Important Reading

Elizabeth Bluemle talks diversity in publishing:

Worth ten minutes of your time. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Invitation

One of the things I’d like to experiment with here is looking at editing, copyediting, and grammar issues. And I’d like to invite you, Dear Flock, to send me your troubling sentences or phrases, or-if you dare-even whole paragraphs to be edited on the blog. The truly intrepid might like to submit first pages! I feel that this would be a great way to outline and explore key issues in your writing. So, please email your subs in the body of the message to wordybirdie AT . You'll stay anonymous, of course.

And if you've been wondering why I haven't posted lately: I've been frantically (trying to) catch up on emails and (successfully) completing pressing deadlines since my return from a brief-ish vacation. While away, I did a little hiking, a spot of reading, a smidgen of writing, and of course a lot of birding. Some of this birding was forced; apparently the birds on Martha’s Vineyard start singing at 3 a.m.—I kid you not.

Some things I saw:

(Look harder. They're there!)

Solitarius Tweetii
(Its actual Latin name.)

Some kinda gull.
(Never said I was an expert.)