A lot of writers will worry that their stories seem flat. There’s a reason that they are worrying about that and it’s one of the core elements of good writing.
You want to vary your sentence structure.
Take a bit of writing that you’ve done that feels flat—or maybe even one that doesn’t. Count the words in your sentences for two or three paragraphs.
Are they all five words? Twelve? Twenty-seven?
That robotic sameness in sentence length is one of the main reasons that writing can feel flat.
It’s like those ancient Dick and Jane books.
See Dick run.
See Jane skip.
See Dick wave.
The other big bugger is when all of your sentences are simple and declarative.
I walk to the forest. The trees are gracious, tall. I inhale the pine scent.
There is actually a whole, entire world of different sentence styles that writers can use and when you use them? That’s when you make your writing shiny and sexy and all the good things.
The names for these structures are pretty boring, honestly, but we’ll try to look beyond that, right?
Simple – You have one main clause.
Carrie is the best wife.
Compound – You have more than one independent clause. You probably use a conjunction.
Carrie wants to get another dog, but Shaun keeps saying no.
Complex – Oh, the sentence that probably has to pay for a therapist or is reading Foucault obviously in the park. This sentence has an independent clause and a subordinate clause. It’st the BDSM of sentences.
When hell freezes over, we will allegedly get another dog.
Compound-Complex – It sounds like a place with a cult, right? But it’s just a sentence with at least two independent clauses and one subordinate clause.
Carrie really needs a new dog to love, so Shaun said that they would get one when hell freezes over, so Carrie immediately got some dry ice and sent some down to Lucifer.
What’s a clause? A bunch of words chilling out together and one of those words in the group is a verb and another is a noun. Fancy people call the verb, the predicate, but we aren’t fancy here.
What’s an independent clause? It is a bunch of words that has a subject and a predicate. It is grammatically complete all by itself and doesn’t need anyone. Not any other words to stand alone! Darn it.
What’s a subordinate or dependent clause? A bunch of words that needs other words to be a sentence. This poor beautiful baby cannot stand alone and be complete, kind of like a protagonist in a Hallmark romance.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
Vary your sentence structures and don’t be flat.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Variety is good. Don’t eat the same Milkbones all the time. Mix it up.
This week on the podcast, we discuss the theories of Bigfoot
Is Bigfoot real or not?
That’s the first question.
A Smithsonian Magazine article says,
“1958 footprints transformed the myth into a media sensation. The tracks were planted near Bluff Creek in Northern California by a man named Ray Wallace—but his prank was not revealed until his death in 2002, when his children said it had all been “just a joke.””
“Giant footprints puzzle residents,” a headline in the Humboldt Times announced in 1958 and since then, there’s been a growing cultural obsession with the possibility of a large bipedal furry creature roaming around.
When the famous Patterson-Gimlin tapes happened in the late 1960s, people became even more excited especially since it was filmed in the same area as the alleged Wallace hoax.
For some cryptozoologists, the problem is that there are so many hoaxes that even believers like Maine’s Loren Coleman, founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland say, “Technology has ruined the old cryptozoology.”
Ben Crair writes for the Smithsonian,
“Some people see these cryptohominids as symbols of pure freedom, living by instinct and foiling every effort to pin them down. To search for Bigfoot in the forest is to taste that freedom. On the trail, you become extra-attuned to nature: the smell of scat, the sounds of breaking branches, the curious impressions in the dirt. As long as there are wild places in America, Bigfoot remains a possibility that, to its most ardent proponents, cannot be disproved.”
And that might be true, but the feelings/thoughts behind Bigfoot are changing in the United States and Canada and much of that change is coming from a YouTube channel howtohunt, where the host, a backwoods hunter and guide, shares emails from listeners who have seen/heard/believe in Bigfoot.
A lot of those stories are about Bigfoot being nefarious. He’s not some chill guy that you want to hang out with in Harry and the Hendersons or a slightly annoyed and bullied sasquatch in Jack Link’s commercials. Instead, Bigfoot is potentially part of a much bigger conspiracy that might involve nuclear scientists and aliens, not someone to cuddle.
That juxtaposition isn’t new.
In a Popular Mechanics article, Matt Blitz writes,
“In California, there are century-old pictographs drawn by the Yokuts that appear to show a family of giant creatures with long, shaggy hair. Called “Mayak datat” by the tribe, the image bears a resemblance to the commonly held vision of Bigfoot.
“Some tribes really love Bigfoot, they have a great relationship with him,” says Kathy Moskowitz Strain, author of the book Giants, Cannibals & Monsters: Bigfoot in Native Culture and archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “To other tribes though, like the Miwoks, he’s an absolute ogre, a monster, and something best left alone.”
So even the most elementary questions—Is Bigfoot real or not? Is Bigfoot good or not?—are inconclusive.
But for Shaun, as we discussed on the podcast, there are three main thoughts.
Bigfoot is a hominid—an ancient branch of the tree, related to us, but not us.
Bigfoot is an alien or an alien pet—people link Bigfoot to UFOs, orbs, and portals.
Bigfoot is a spiritual creature—not of this dimension or beyond it. Some think he/she/they are a minion of the devil.
So, I survived thinking the solistice was yesterday. It is today.
And after that horror show in which we did all our solstice celebrating a day early, I’m ready to move on to our Christmas tradition and just forget this massive brain glitch happened.
TRADITION NUMBER ONE:
First we get a tree. Then we put up tree. It is a crooked kind of perfect and it somehow manages to stay up despite the cats pulling ornaments off it and Gabby knocking it over when she tries to bark at the UPS man and all squirrels and all life forms, even trees.
We have named our tree Leland. It seems appropriate. There is no ribbon this year because… cats.
TRADITION NUMBER TWO:
Historically, in this tree we put elves. These elves are secret Santa spies. They move around. They report back about the whole naughty/nice thing. The Emster? She hates these elves. She wants the elves to die.
Please do not kill me, Emster. I will tell Santa that you are an angel! I swear. That is if I can ever get myself out of the fetal position.
Emster’s ELF DEATH WISH is why we put them high in the tree.
They wisely stay high when they move around and don’t go on shelves because they want to survive… traditionally.
The Emster is a formidable opponent. Elf Number Two does not understand this. Check out his fighting pose.
Dude, I may be fabric and wire, but I can totally take her. C’mon over here, Emster. You wanna piece of elf? I’m gonna give you a taste of elf you ain’t never gonna forget.
So, anyways, the elves have died thanks to humidity and dog slobber and some sort of zombie elf disease (Not the Emster, she swears.) and now we have Big Foot hiding in the tree and being elusive like she is.
TRADITION NUMBER THREE:
For some strange reason we have a swaying snow couple that sings the whole hot-pot sexy BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE song. Did you know Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton have a version of this song?
And as much as I love Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton and respect them for the zombie people that they are, I can’t stand this song any more because… okay, are you ready?…. because it makes me think of Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart FORNICATING!!!
Breathe deeply, Carrie. Breathe deep. You know it’s all sexy, baby.
And, well, the final aspect of this tradition is that Mr. Snowman always seems to end up in a position where he seems to be feeling up Mrs. Snowman.
This seems wrong. I know snow people need a little joy in their lives, but look at the smiles on their faces. Do they not seem like they are getting a little too much pleasure out of the situation.
And here’s a hint snow couple: WE ALL CAN SEE YOU!!!
I’m sure Rod and Dolly don’t do it in public. I mean there are not Parton/Stewart sex tapes are there? Take a hint, guys. I beg you, take the hint!
Tradition Number Four
An advent calendar. Nice and easy there, folks. I thought you might need a little break after the love fest.
We also chalk the initials of the three wise men above our front door at a certain time.
We also burn a yule log we make.
We also hide a pickle on the tree. Find the pickle = get a present.
Santa Mouse also always hides a yellow ribboned present on the tree. GO TEAM SANTA MOUSE!
And we always make a birthday cake for Jesus because it’s supposed to be his birthday.
Yeah, the cake says, Grandpa. But it’s kind of the same thing:
1.They both want what’s best for you. 2. They both tell a lot of stories about things that happened centuries ago. 3. They both think that THEY KNOW EVERYTHING, and if you’re a Christian, they kind of do. At least Jesus does. You’ve got to forgive Grandpa for loving gross stuff like Moxie and saying that it’ll grow hairs on your chest though, because, quite frankly, he is old. And he does not ACTUALLY know everything, because he is grandpa and not God. 4. They both say JESUS CHRIST a lot. Jesus does because it’s his name. Grandpa does because… Well, his dentures give him some trouble. But enough with the nice stuff… let’s move on to:
Tradition Number Five
A love fest! We always put out the Playmobile Santa House.
Isn’t it cute? Doesn’t the elf at the door look like he’s saying, C’mon inside. It’s warm. There are cookies. Hold on let me go get Santa and the Little Mrs.
And yet… And yet… This is what we ALWAYS find in there.
Seriously, why else do you think there’s so many darn elves? You have to love traditions.
Also, I am so sorry, Solstice, for messing up so badly. It’s been a year.
LET’S HANG OUT!
HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?
MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?
This week’s podcast is about something really important. It’s about remembering to have fun. For a lot of us, life has a ton of stressors and responsibilities. We have to make enough money to survive. We have to take care of our family and ourselves. We have to deal with a world and not succumb to constant catastrophic thinking about the state of the world.
It’s easy to forget to have fun.
Or to feel guilty about having fun.
Or to feel guilty about having hobbies.
And here’s the thing. It’s great to be a professional writer and make money at something you love to do, but you don’t have to make money at it. A lack of financial rewards for your efforts doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It just means you aren’t getting money.
And money, my friends, is not everything.
What is everything? Having fun. Growing. Enjoying your damn self in this short amount of time you have on this world, making yourself wiser and stronger and embracing your moments of joy. Everyone who sings in the shower isn’t expected to make money at singing in the shower. That should go for those of us who write too.
Here’s the truth: You can write solely for the joy of writing.
Don’t let other people’s opinions or standards give you or your writing validation. Don’t let the pressure for external measures of success (publication, an agent, an award, 100,000 social media followers) ruin your joy in creating stories.
Here are Five Quick Steps to Reclaiming That Joy
Rest when you need to. Take care of your body. Eat food. Drink water. The simple things that all us living organisms should be doing.
Don’t have buttheads for friends. Be with people who make you happy and support you and inspire you. Ditch the others.
Go outside. Seriously. Go out of the building. Feel the air. You are part of this earth. Remember this and take care of it, too. Study a flower, a rock, a tree. It’ll make you a better writer, too. Notice the whole.
Be grateful for the good stuff that happens. What do you have? You’re reading this, or listening. That means you have enough that allows you to do that. Pretty cool, right?
Open your mind and your heart. Try not to be so super judgmental. Be generous and chill when you can.
Writing Tip of the Pod
If writing isn’t your profession and isn’t feeding you and your family. It’s okay to stop if it’s not giving you joy. Wait until it gives you joy and go back to it. Also, remember that y-o-u-r (your) means belonging to you and y-o-u-r-apostrophe-e(you’re) means you are.
Dog Tip for Life
It’s good to have a pack of humans to clean up after you. That way you can enjoy life and be messy when you slobber on the windows barking enthusiastically at the Fed Ex guy. Try to find a good pack of humans to be your clean-up crew.
This podcast was sponsored by BookNotes and this link sets you up for a free seven-day trail.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
I’m about to publish a super cool adult novel. Gasp! I know! Adult! That’s so …. grown-up?
I have a new book coming out!
Rosie Jones, small town reporter and single mom, is looking forward to her first quiet Maine winter with her young daughter, Lily. After a disastrous first marriage, she’s made a whole new life and new identities for her and her little girl. Rosie is more than ready for a winter of cookies, sledding, stories about planning board meetings, and trying not to fall in like with the local police sergeant, Seamus Kelley.
But after her car is tampered with and crashes into Sgt. Kelley’s cruiser during a blizzard, her quiet new world spirals out of control and back into the danger she thought she’d left behind. One of her new friends is murdered. She herself has been poisoned and she finds a list of anagrams on her dead friend’s floor.
As the killer strikes again, it’s obvious that the women of Bar Harbor aren’t safe. Despite the blizzard and her struggle to keep her new identity a secret, Rosie sets out to make sure no more women die. With the help of the handsome but injured Sgt. Kelley and the town’s firefighters, it’s up to Rosie to stop the murderer before he strikes again.
Every day, I’d rush through my homework, gobble up left-over stuffing and head to the woods in my backyard.
Then I’d be incredibly quiet.
I was hunting. I didn’t have a gun. I was one of those kids who read Charlotte’s Web and became a vegetarian because well, how could you eat Wilbur? My vegetarianism was strict, and I knew when my mom tried to pass off Ragu’s meat sauce as the green pepper and onion variety.
“You need protein!” She’d throw up her hands in disgust. “Protein!”
I scoffed at protein. I was Super Carrie, Vegetarian Girl. No mere mortal, was I. I ate no meat, propelled by 10-year-old righteous indignation, moral outrage, and a love for all pigs and cows and various other barnyard animals, like my Uncle Kilton.
My vegetarianism was only lifted for my daily nibble of Stove Top Stuffing. You know the slogan, It’s better than potatoes. It was. It was! Sure, it had chicken flavoring in it, but I reasoned that the chicken flavoring couldn’t possibly come from real chickens.
Fortified by stuffing, I’d head to the woods, trying to walk with quiet, rolling my feet inwards as I stepped in a straight line like a fox. The wind whipped my hair. The maple leaves fell down. The cars on the highway zipped by. I ignored them all. I was on a quest.
I was hunting Big Foot.
Yes, Big Foot, the man-beast of the Washington woods, solitary hirsute Sasquatch. I, Carrie Barnard, would find him in my backyard in Bedford, N.H. I would find him and … and … and…
Then what? I wondered.
Then, we would be friends.
Coming back from Pioneer Girls at the Calvary Baptist Church with Katie Henderson and her mom one Friday night, we turned into my driveway, just as something big and covered with fur slipped into the woods by the garage.
“Did you see that?” I whispered to Katie.
“What?” She sat upright, pigtails whipping her face. “Was it Jesus?”
Katie always hoped to spot Jesus. She wanted the second coming to come already. She was tired of homework and was positive there was no homework in Heaven.
I wasn’t that optimistic. If Jesus did come down would it get me out of my book report on Witch of Blackbird Pond? God would probably make me do that book report, and a character study for added fun.
“No,” I hissed. “It wasn’t Jesus. I think I saw Big Foot.”
Katie rolled her eyes, and scratched at her hand. “Yeah, right.”
“No. Really. He jumped in the woods.”
Mrs. Henderson parked.
“Yeah, you saw Big Foot. Just like you saw that U.F.O,” Katie snickered.
Pow! She struck low, Katie did.
I shuddered and thought, Oh, not the U.F.O. mention!
One tiny mistake and I was forever known as the Girl Who Thinks Airplanes With Light Up Banners Advertising Radio Stations Are U.F.O.’s.
“This wasn’t an airplane,” I said, opening the station wagon door.
“It was probably your stepfather,” Katie said.
“He’s not that hairy.”
Mrs. Henderson rolled down her window and I thanked her for the ride.
“Remember to pray tonight, and that’s all the thanks I need,” she said.
She tooted the horn. I steamed. How dare that woman? She was scaring my Big Foot.
I will prove them Wrong!
Determined to prove Katie wrong, I searched daily. I prowled secret short-cuts, climbed trees for better views, searched for tracks. I’d creep, hoping to sneak up on him. I’d sprint, leaping over dead falls, slopping through muck, hoping to startle him out. Mud slopped on the bottom of my corduroys. Water seeped into my Adidas sneakers.
Far ahead of me in the murky forest, trees beckoned, taunting me. The teasing fee-bee-bee-bee of the Eastern Phoebe broke the air. Then …a snuffling noise, a lower growl. Something primal rumbled in front of me. It was not the noise of a hoppity rabbit, or a sweet deer who’d lost his mother.
It was not the noise of a Disney movie.
Another growl broke the air and I did what every fearless explorer does when faced with the possible object of pursuit. I ran.
I will forever regret this decision.
I was so close to potentially seeing Big Foot or at least a black bear, but what did I do? I ran away. And I think I’ve (cough) done this with multiple things in my life.
Sometimes we run away from success and there’s a reason why that is. Success means change. Failure means more of the same. Change is the unknown. It is the growl in the woods. It can be scary not knowing what will happen in our lives.
When we succeed we influence more people. There’s a responsibility that goes along with that.
When we succeed there are new pressures to deal with. Some are societal. Some might be financial. Some might just be how our personalities shift to deal with this new situation. That can be scary.
But the thing is? If Big Foot is out there, we have to step forward to meet her/him.
You can preorder this bad boy, which might make it have a sequel. The sequel would be amazing. Believe me, I know. It features caves and monsters and love. Because doesn’t every story?
HEAR MY BOOK BABY (AND MORE) ON PATREON
On February first, I’m going to launch my Patreon site where I’ll be reading chapters (in order) of a never-published teen fantasy novel, releasing deleted scenes and art from some of my more popular books. And so much more.
WHAT IS PATREON?
A lot of you might be new to Patreon and not get how it works. That’s totally cool. New things can be scary, but there’s a cool primer HERE that explains how it works. The short of it is this: You give Patreon your paypal or credit card # and they charge you whatever you level you choose at the end of each month. That money supports me sharing my writing and art and podcasts and weirdness with you.
HELP US AND DO AN AWESOME GOOD DEED
Thanks to all of you who keep listening to our weirdness on the DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE podcast as we talk about random thoughts, writing advice and life tips. We’re sorry we laugh so much… sort of. Please share it and subscribe if you can. Please rate and like us if you are feeling kind, because it matters somehow. There’s a new episode every Tuesday!
BE A PART OF THE PODCAST!
Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!
No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?
Here is the link to the mobile app and our bonus podcast below.
When I was a kid, I played alone most of the time.
Yes, this is VERY- VERY sad.
My siblings are way older than I am. We lived out in the country. There was a lot of woods and a lot of swamp. My parents worked. So after school I would be all alone.
This meant that most of the time:
1. I read library books
2. I wrote stories when I ran out of library books.
3. I looked for Bigfoot when I got writer’s cramp.
I looked for Bigfoot a lot actually.
This book cover is pretty much what I wanted to happen. I wanted Bigfoot to come and steal me away and I would save him from evil scientists who wanted to kill him. We’d take care of each other and potentially fall in love.
It was a lot like the Disney plot of Harry and the Hendersons...
Only in my version there was no John Lithgow and the Bigfoot was a lot – um – sexier? Yes, it is possible for Bigfoot to be sexy. DO NOT DOUBT!
So, thinking about this today made me feel kind of lonely. I just read about some other authors who had these great memories of playing with people and siblings. My memories of play are these solo made-up stories of me searching for Bigfoot or sitting alone on a rock by the highway writing Star Trek fan fiction for my brother in a little college-lined notebook.
And occasionally I would hang out at Debbie Muir or Kathy Albertson’s house where their moms would feed me things.
Is it no wonder I lost when I ran for office?
So, it’s funny too, when I was thinking about this. It made me realize that my stories all have this large theme running through them about saving people and being heroic and standing it up for what you believe in. I think this whole theme started up with the whole me saving Bigfoot theme in my early play. Weird. I think I’ve grown up so much and then I’m all like DUDE. I AM STILL WRITING ABOUT HAIRY, HOT GUYS WHO AREN’T QUITE HUMAN AND THE GIRLS WHO SAVE THEM.
Yes, that is a spoiler about pretty much every single fiction book I ever write, ever. Sh. Don’t tell.
When you write books, the things you care about, the things that make you the person you are? They come through. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice. Sometimes it isn’t. A woman once asked me in an angry way, “Why are all your books about strong girls having horrible things happen to them?”
She was trying to get me to not visit her school.
And I was like, “Because horrible things do happen to strong girls.”
But the real truth is that I write books about friendship, about girls saving themselves and the ones they love, and often the world because I needed stories like that when I was a kid. I write those stories because I don’t know how to not let my own inner self leak onto the page. I write those stories because kids need to be lifted up not pushed down, to be told to shut up, to be silenced, because they some adults don’t like what they are saying.
I write those books because teens matter. I write those books because girls and women matter. I write those books because people have to have the courage to save themselves over and over again in one lifetime.
Do Good Wednesday
According to a story on NBC news, suicide rates are spiking in Puerto Rico right now. The relief effort is still happening. A simple thing you can do to help (and get something in return) is buy the salsa remix of Almost Like Praying. This effort is organized by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a bunch of amazing musicians. Your proceeds go directly to help Puerto Rico.
Note: I made that link super large to try to convince you to do it.
Things We Haven’t Said
Random Marketing and Book Things
My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy, is still coming out March 1 and I’m super psyched about it. You can preorder it.
Kirkus Review says:Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.
And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.
Booklist says it’s:An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.
This is lovely of them to say.
I’ll be in Exeter, New Hampshire, on a panel for the release of THINGS WE HAVEN’T SAID.