Archive | January 2015

Your Friendly Grammar Ninja: Lesson 1 – Apostrophes

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Your Friendly Grammar Ninja, Lesson 1:

Addressing Grammar with Humor and Hyperbole One Word Crime at a Time

Hmm. Where did my obsession with words and articulation spring from? I’m not entirely sure, but I do remember sitting in the small office of an older woman during math class with a couple of other students who were like me: different.

We spent about thirty minutes of our time with this kind lady (I can’t remember her name) with ageless dark brown skin, hoop earrings, a neat afro (no, I’m not a 70s baby, but this lady rocked the hairstyle most righteously), and bright lipstick on her ever moving mouth. This lady wasn’t only kind, but wise. I didn’t exactly know why I was in the class, but I had a feeling it wasn’t completely good. The other two students I shared this time with were different, like me, but not quite like me. You see, one, a boy with long-lashed, doe shaped blue eyes spoke real soft and real slow, like a Jazz song without the swag and all the heartache. Real uncertain and hesitant. And the girl, she couldn’t pronounce words that started with “sh” or “th”. Me? Like I said, as I child, I didn’t know why I was in this class, but we all called it Speech and at the same time three times a week, we hustled down the elementary school hallway with our red Speech folders and met with this lady.

One day, she turned to me and asked: “What are you doing here?”

My heart caught in my throat. “I don’t know. I was told to come here.”

“You don’t’ belong here, honey. You speak fine to me. All these weeks you’ve been here, you speak just fine to me. I don’t know why these people tossed you in this class. You should be in class learning your math. You’re excused. You don’t need to come back. Good luck to you.”

Well.

I remember whispering a low “’thank you” and skipping back to class. My mother and father speculate that I may have been placed in the class because people were concerned about the way I pronounced the word “ask”, like in “may I ask you a question?” but that’s not the way I pronounced it. If I don’t catch myself, it sounds like I’m inquiring whether or not I can use an axe to cut down questions for you. My parents are from Jamaica and Haiti and as accents go, it’s not unusual for their children to pick up and mimic the nuances of their lyrical language.

I’ve grown to love languages. I love words. I love the delicious feel of words like conjugate, alliterate, refulgent, akimbo, and tsunami. Words are fun and if I could eat them I would.

And yet, I sometimes get offended when my love of words is seen as an oddity. Especially when my color is used as the reason why. Once, an ex-boyfriend told me, “Wow. You speak so proper. So eloquently.” I asked him if he would have said that if I were white. He shook his head and added, “Of course not” and we broke up not long after. What should color have to do with how I speak and what I love? Sheesh. For this post, that is a story I shall not linger on.

So, in this blog post, let’s surrender to silly entertainment. Each week, I will discuss a grammar pet peeve or gripe that adults and children use in abundance. Ohhh, and what I do about them. (These absolutely true tales will appear in a book of short stories called “The Lies My Teacher Told Me” or the Middle Grade series of the same name, so no indulging in naughtiness and copying what my beautifully insane mind has wrought.  COPYRIGHTED, PEOPLE! COPYRIGHTED! 🙂

Apostrophes:

Examples: You’re, they’re, it’s, Monique’s piece of cake – not yours

Apostrophes are used to show possession or ownership and also used in contractions when one wants to combine two words into one. When I used to teach elementary school I taught my students the real history of the apostrophe.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, apostrophes were actually aliens hailing from the planet of Apostrophia. They came to Earth because people needed help speaking more efficiently and showing what belonged to whom without sounding redundant and repetitive. People had become tired of saying things like, those shoes are the shoes of John or that cake belongs to Abbie. People had also become lazy with language and no longer wanted to state things like, I do not like ice cream? Cannot you do it?

Language had become a complete bore to the people of Earth, so the aliens of Apostrophia traveled at light speed (with some help from Doctor Who) to save the day! The apostrophes knew a better way and decided to leave a small amount of themselves here on earth. They have wings, you see, so they could hover in between letters, (unlike the lowly, but still important comma) and snuggle in between words like do and not; can and not, did and not, but not in between the words it and is unless you’re talking about the contraction – not the possession!  Got it? Good.

The otherworldly apostrophes handled the possession problem in the same manner, by making their wings, arms, eyes, and feet (they don’t have legs) invisible and only leaving the glory of their signature shape visible to mortal eyes! Their true name which is more complicated than super cala fragalistic expialidoshus and can’t be pronounced in the human tongue is silent when people are talking. That had been the tradition for centuries that hasn’t died and that’s why I’m able to write this sentence using contractions in several words, thanks to the assistance of the apostrophe aliens. True story.

Sincerely,

Your Friendly Grammar Ninja

P.S. (Anyone spot potential apostrophe errors I made in this post?) Where in the world is the error? Reveal your answer in the comments.

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Shiritori . . . what?

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Shiritori . . . what?

Welcome. So glad you asked.

Shiritori is a Japanese phrase that translates roughly to “begin at the end” or (ahem) “taking the buttocks”. Shiritori is also a popular word game in Japan in which players are required to say a word which begins with the final kana of the previous word.

I used to engage my elementary school students with this game, (need to torment my middle school students with it). This entertaining game can also increase in difficulty the longer you play and based on the amount of words you know . . . or don’t know. Here, let me further explain with the English version:

I’m going to go first for this round, okay? Here’s the first word:

Apple.

Now, you need to provide a word that ends with the last letter in the word apple. Yes?

Okay. So shoot. Ahhh. You chose eagle. Fine. I will counter with enormous. And then you chose . . . hmm. How interesting . . . suicide? (Morbidly aggressive. I like that).

Darn it. We’re back at the letter “e” again. Palm to the head.

Now, enter the rules. You may NOT use a word that has already been mentioned. Nouns, adjectives, and verbs are allowed as long as they have never been played. However, you may NOT use inflected forms of previously stated words (kicking, kicked, etc.). In Japan, there is an actual “end” to the “begin at the end” game. Basically, if a player plays a word ending in the mora or N (which sounds like a long drawn out “nnnn” then he or she loses the game, as no Japanese word begins with that character. J

Shiritori often comes to mind when I’m not sure of what to write next. It’s also great technique for battling writer’s block. As a writer, beginnings and sometimes endings often flow fluidly from my mind, through my pen, and onto my paper with much ease. However, I struggle with what I call “bothersome middles”. Primary reasons are the story loses momentum due to characters growing stale, lack of urgency and excitement in the plot, and sometimes uncertainty. To be honest, even when I outline my stories, I often stray off the beaten path like Little Red Riding Hood, distracted by a meadow bursting with flowers or intrigued by a new villain sporting a wolfish grin. Often, I’m not certain which path I want my characters to take. And worse of all I experience self-doubt. Why should you write this? Are you even bringing anything new to this genre?

So, to heck with the middle! Break out the wine glasses, pour literary libations – let’s engage in craziness and “take the end”!  In order to stimulate my creativity and to remind myself why I love to write, I often return to the ending of my novel, savoring how my main characters have triumphed against all the odds I have stacked against them, upon them, behind them, above them, inside of them (and on and on) in order to complete the remainder of the story.

Beginning at the end is a great way to guarantee your readers a satisfying story. But, Monique, you might ask, what if I haven’t written my ending yet? Great question. Even if you haven’t, you can make sure that the following features are included in your ending when you are ready to write the words:

FEATURE ONE: Your Main Character Must Grow The main character or hero of your story must demonstrate that he or she has conquered the obstacles that have kept him or her from getting what he or she wanted all along. He or she must confront and conquer inner (and sometimes very real) demons and stand victorious. In my soon to be published dark fantasy novel “Forbidden Fruit”, Gabriel Lennox grows as a stronger individual. He realizes that he must make sacrifices for others even at the cost of his own life.

FEATURE TWO: Your Main Character Is the Key The main character of your story needs to be active and in control. In other words, he can’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. Nor should he observe or just narrate what is going on. He may not take second place to another character either. He is the moving force. He is like the Panama Canal, the conduit and catalyst to your literary seas!

FEATURE THREE: Your Main Character Gets a Groovy Makeover At the end of your story, your main character should be newer and better in some way. He is the improved version of his earlier self and this is the moment where he has earned the right (through all of the horrible things you inflicted upon him) to be called a hero. After all, it is through his or her thinking, courage, and actions that have kept readers turning the pages.

The ending should bring about a catharsis for the reader in response to the heroism of your main character. Time and time again, I recall books that made me smile, cheer, cry, and remember every heartache, every slight wronged, every injustice made right – through the eyes of a well-written story, starring a beloved protagonist. That’s my goal as a wordsmith.

How about you?

Do you dare to begin at the end and take your novel “by the buttocks” in order to kick literary a**? 🙂

Robert Dorotik murder 2/13/2000 Valley Center, CA *Wife, Jane Dorotik, convicted; sentenced to 25 years to life in prison*

Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day

Clearly written and so helpful! Thank you, fellow author. Much gratitude.

Confessions of a Creative Writing Teacher

Goya -The sleep of reason produces monsters (c1799) recut

In addition to writing and teaching, one of the things I do for a living is to evaluate manuscripts for their suitability for publication. I read fiction (and non-fiction) across several genres, and write comprehensive reports on the books. I try always to guide the author towards knocking his or her project into a shape that could be credibly presented to literary agents, publishers and general readers. You know how Newman and Mittelmark introduce How Not to Write a Novel by saying, ‘We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy,’ well they’re right; I am one of those editors.

However good the idea behind a novel, when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any…

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Monique Desir @MoniqueDesir

Thanks Ron for supporting a fellow writer. I really appreciate this. Here’s to a new year of possibilities and success.

Financial Perspectives Presented by R. Williams

What made you pursue a career as a teacher?

I love teaching and helping students to appreciate literature and the delicious satisfaction from pursuing knowledge.

What inspired you to write?

I’m not entirely sure how to answer this question. Honestly, I think that most writers are “certifiably insane”. I’ve mentioned this in an endearing tongue-in-cheek manner on my blog a couple of times. I think that we were merely born this way. Write or wither. I enjoy creating worlds and characters. I enjoy finding something wonderful or terrible in everyday ordinary situations and events.

What do you want your readers to benefit from your writing?

I’d hate to spoil my readers with what I think or the implication that I want them to believe or do anything necessarily.  There’s a quote by Samuel Johnson, which I came across that sums up my present answer to this question. A writer only begins…

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