Category Archives: K.R. Melton

Grammatical Hooliganism #1

Stop...Grammar Time! Let me break it down for you. Yo.

I intend for this to be the first of a handful of posts on common grammatical foibles intelligent people make that cause me to want to scream.

Grammar is important. It helps us communicate efficiently and precisely. It makes us sound smarter too!  Let’s face it: nothing says “grammatical ignoramus” more splendidly than a triple (or quadruple!) negative with slang. (“I ain’t not never gonna do that no more.”)

But…

I’m not the only one who is aggrieved by the necessity of reading a very long chapter in a grammar book that uses the very grammar I’m not yet supposed to know. For Pete’s sake, just tell me how to do something in words I already understand and allow me to get on my merry way!

So here is one chapter of the Quick-See Grammar Book by me—a homeschool* mom who would much rather be baking or building a treehouse with her daughter than sloughing through tedious manuals.  However, over the past few years I’ve had to do a lot of studying.  Rejoice!  The legwork has been done for you!  These posts are intended as a favor to all those who have better things to read (like Brian Melton’s Waverly Hall series).  This is grammar at its easiest, so send your kids and students to this post before you frustrate the livin’ tar out of them!

First up for our perusal (drum roll, please): the humble homophone.
.

Simple Definition: A homophone is a word that sounds like another word but has a different meaning.

Here’s how to correctly use the most common ones out there:

1 YourYour feet stink. You’re (you + are)You’re a strange person. YoreI was a child, way back in the days of yore.
2 TheirTheir pool is filled with alligators! They’re (they + are)They’re going to call animal control. ThereThere will be no pool party today.
3 BuyBuy me a drink, please. ByeDon’t forget to tell Grandma, “Bye!” ByThe beach is by the sea.
4 KnowDid you know we have alligators? NoNo alligators live here.
5 PeacePeace, goodwill toward men. PieceMay I have another piece of pie? Piece (slang for “firearm”)Wave your piece around like an idiot and you’re liable to be arrested!
6 ToWe are going to the ball game. TooDo you want to come too?OR

The tickets cost too much.

TwoThe tickets cost more than two hundred dollars!
7 WhereWhere are you going? Ware(s)I’m going to sell my wares. WearI will wear my hat.
8 ThenI will kill the alligators, then I will go swimming. ThanIt’s more relaxing to go swimming than to kill alligators.
9 WhetherWhether or not I go swimming depends on the alligator population. WeatherIf the weather is warm, I like to go swimming.
10 HereGet over here now! HearDo you hear that weird sound?

Keep an eye out for these in your writing.  Most people will use them incorrectly one time or another in the heat of composition–which is why careful editing is a must.

__________

*I refuse to write “home school.” The word “homeschool” is common enough now for it to graduate to being an official compound word (like backpack and skyscraper).
**For those grammar ninjas out there, I acknowledge that these homophones are only the tip of the iceberg, and that the subject of homophones has only been slightly touched upon.  Please don’t come after me.  You will rue the day (or night) you do.  I’ve hired Chuck Norris–it just so happens he likes my baking, and we were able to work out a barter.

The Epic Life of Stephanie Thompson: An Ode

More than just being in business together, we here at Lantern Hollow Press are good friends. We see each other quite often, and are inclined to meet at one another’s homes for extended periods of revelry, food, and gallons of coffee. Life is good when we’re together.

But, when it comes to enjoying the company of our dear Stephanie Thompson, there are some special rules we must follow in order to avoid having to call the ambulance or the rescue squad. Below you will find a lighthearted version of some of these guidelines. (Don, have mercy upon this…”poem?”)

Stephanie received a ThermaCare patch for Christmas. For anyone else, it would be a white elephant gift!

The Epic Life of Stephanie Thompson:  An Ode

Never give Stephanie Thompson a knife
However slightly you value your life.
Never let her slice tomatoes,
Pickles, radishes, or potatoes!

Never, ever, let Stephanie T.
Walk on the ice or climb a tree.
Never let her sled on the snow.
She might kill herself, you know!

Please don’t let her sit on the couch:
She might fall off with an ear-splitting, “Ouch!”
And never let her walk on the floor:
She’ll eventually trip and then be sore.

Keep Miss Thompson away from the oven,
Even if lured (if you’re chocolate lovin’).
You’d be amazed at the number of hurts
Miss Thompson’s sustained while baking desserts.

Light bulbs, Miss Thompson, are not to be changed,
Neither are tables to be rearranged.
Black eyes can result from the first,
From the latter, something much, much worse.

Don’t ever give your washer a push
You’ll end up falling and breaking your tush.
Don’t try it with your dryer either.
Just sit down and take a breather!

Don’t light the candles on Stephanie’s cake:
Her hair might catch, for pity’s sake!
These rules are here for many good reasons.
We want her to live for a few more seasons!

We all know she’s accident prone–
That’s why we’ll never, everEVER leave her alone.
Don’t think we’re all into abusing,
It’s just that her foibles are way too amusing.

We love you Stephanie!  :) :)

The May E-zine is here!

The Math of Good Story Telling: Part 1

It’s a great feeling…being wrapped up in a story so deeply that I put off using the restroom for just a few more pages; when I try to dream about the characters and the world in which they live. Sometimes I’m astounded if the book is not already completely devoured by two in the morning. You know the feeling. Just one more page, just one more paragraph, that last sentence, and then..and then…it’s over. You’re expecting at least several more pages, if not a couple more chapters. You feel deceived and disappointed. This is because the book you’ve been reading does not align with the Golden Mean, the origins and definition of which was discussed in my previous post.  While the story may have been gripping, had great characters and witty dialogue, it leaves something wanting. “Ah well,” you think to yourself, “maybe I can dream about it later tonight.”

In writing fiction, there’s a lot of talk about “pacing” and where the plot should climax. A great article on pacing by Vicki Hinze can be found here. There are other questions too. How much should be written after the resolution? How long should the climax and the resolution and the “return to normalcy” each last? I’d like to present for your approval the use of the Golden Mean. When I was a Music Composition student in college, we looked into using the Golden Mean (here defined as a ratio of about 1:1.618) in many, many ways. One of these was deciding where to put the “climactic moment” for a piece. In a four-movement piece, we generally put the climax in the second half of the third movement. We were able to tell the right spot not by counting up how many beats, but by using a stopwatch. Music is not the notes on a page. Music takes place in real time.

Novels and other fiction, however, take place in the readers’ imaginations, and the timeline, depending on the writing style, can sometimes jump around quite a bit. What I’m suggesting is that stories are not as simple when it comes to deciding on where to put the climax. Although a writer could count the pages and figure out where the Golden Mean is, I believe that a story is more complex. A few sentences of snippy dialogue may take place over a few minutes of time. A description may take up several pages, but occupy a much smaller space in the readers mind because the reader could ascertain the information (if the reader were in the story) in a moment’s glance.  This is a significant piece in figuring out the equation. Again, the story takes place in the reader’s mind.  So, when reading it back to yourself, ask, “How long does this story actually take in my mind’s eye?”To discount the role of certain elements like time-occupying action or conversation in a story when calculating the correct place for your story’s climax would be foolish.

What I like to do is figure out the general length of what I want to write then make sure that around 3/5 of the way through, the crux of the story appears.  Usually, I re-read what I write several times (I’ve re-read this post five times already), so I know if something needs adjustment–if something doesn’t feel quite right.  This requires a lot more than good math.  It requires a good sense of your own brand of “writer’s instinct.”

Keep in mind that I’m talking about a story, not a book; some stories last for several books.  Several times, I’ve read to the end of a book and wanted, really wanted, more right away.  The story wasn’t complete, even though the book was.  So remember that this idea works in the reverse as well…  But more on that in my next post.  We humans have an built-in system that tells us what does and doesn’t have beauty* . That’s really what the Golden Mean demonstrates in mathematical form: what we humans find beautiful.  It is the math of beauty.

*beauty is here defined as the sense of rightness a person experiences emanating from a piece of art or writing.

It’s a Fiction Thing Too: Conch Shells, Apples, and Notre Dame

Working as a home school tutor for Classical Conversations in the past year or two, I’ve been amazed to see how completely different areas of life relate.  One of my favorite subjects is the Golden Mean (also called phi) and the closely related Fibonacci Number Series.  It’s a math thing.  But it’s also a writing thing.

But before we go any further, let me clear something up.  Phi (approximately1.618) is not the same as Pi (approximately 3.14).  Phi is more about proportion.  Pi is more about circles.

Leonardo di Pisa, a.k.a. Fibonacci, lived in Central Italy between 1170 and 1250, give or take a few years.  He wrote a well-known text called Liber Abaci, which means Book of Calculation, but is most famous for a series of numbers that can be infinitely calculated–kind of like pi.  This sequence begins with 1, and 1.  To continue on, a person adds the previous two numbers together and comes up with the next number in the pattern.  1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, etc.  We cannot begin with zero.  Zero and zero make…you guessed it!  Zero.

These numbers are known as the Fibonacci Sequence.  Interestingly, they are seen in nature with a higher rate of frequency than others.  Apricots and other monocot fruits have, by definition, one cavity and one pit.  Many, many plants have opposite leaves (two directly across from each other), and many have 3 or 5 leaves in a cluster (I’ve personally never seen a cluster of 4 or 6 leaves).  Apples, when cut in half, have a five-pointed cavity “star” with seeds. Next time you take a walk, check out how many plants use the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence for yourself.  You will be astounded.

From this series we can decipher phi, or The Golden Ratio (about 1.618, ) by dividing a number by its previous adjacent.  1/1, 2/1, 3/2, 5/3, 8/5, 13/8, etc.  The further along the sequence, the more precise the calculation.

Great.  Wonderful.  But…WHO CARES?!?!  And what does all this math this have to do with writing fiction?

Have you ever read a book where the background information overwhelmed the action or the plot?  Or how about a movie that ended way before you were ready for it to end (and not just because it was a good movie)?  Have you seen a book or magazine with a cover that didn’t seem quite right?  That’s because we have a human “bent” toward things related to phiPhi has a great deal to do with proportion. Things in the “right” phi proportions are easily embraced and feel comfortable to us humans–even our bodies are aligned with this odd fact of nature!

If you’ve taken a photography class and heard of the “Rule of Thirds,” you have been taught a simplified version of a way to use phi.  Architecture, music, poetry, acoustics, engineering, and painting all rely heavily upon the use of phi.  Simply put, phi is one of the numbers our universe runs on.

In order to manipulate our writing to feel the way it should and to plan our writing to be its most effective, we should be aware of the Golden Mean’s pervasive presence in our lives and in nature.  There are many ways we can use the Golden Mean in our writing, but that will have to wait for my next post.

If the Golden Mean interests you, there are many websites and youtube.com videos that go into greater detail—even some that have animated examples.  One of the animations I’ve come across is: http://www.vashti.net/mceinc/Unfold0.HTM