October 2016 Book/ Movie of the month

The book of the month is an old children’s classic called “Toby Tyler: Ten weeks with the Circus” -by James Otis.  I read this book to my children as part of our homeschool this month.  It is rich in character description and a wonderful morals for children and adults.  It taught gratitude, it cautioned against fraud and poor choices, and it taught how to deal with loss and feelings of helplessness.  We enjoyed this book and I recommend it to children and adults alike.


The movie of the month is also for children.  Since October with Halloween is pretty much a a month for children, I chose Mr. Toad, Ichabod Crane, and Peter and the Wolf – Disney classics from my childhood.  My kids and I watch them every year at Halloween.  Though Mr. Toad is not necessarily a Halloween movie, nor is Peter and the Wolf, they have their fearful moments and are a perfect couple for the true Halloween favorite – Ichabod Crane.  Oh! how scary it was as a child to see the hand-like cloud obscure the moon as Ichabod trots alone into the Headless Horseman’s Hollow!  I still get chills and can hear the deadly laugh of the ghostly murderer.  It was fantastically frightening and will forever be my favorite Halloween movie.

Favorite quote November 2016

This being the month of Thanksgiving, I have been pondering my many gifts in this life.  I am blessed.  And those blessings, I have found, ring in my heart when I truly sit and ponder.  This thought is beautiful: “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.” – Jean-Baptiste Massieu


September 2016 Book/Movie of the Month

Book of the Month

This months book of the month is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  This book is delicious.  So much depth, longing, pain, and desire.  I love the internal struggles of both of our main characters.  I must say when I have read this book in the past, I focused so much on Jane.  When I read it this last month, I focused on Mr. Rochester.  And what a difference!  I love how he bandies her about when he is proposing, trying to make force her to reveal her feelings plainly to him before he ends her suffering.  Something rang so true in this character.  And he was not trying to be cruel, I think.  I believe more that after going through an arranged marriage of deception, he wanted, no, needed to know she loved him.  It is wonderful.  If you haven’t had your guts wrenched lately, give it a read.  In fact, buy it.  It will do you good just knowing it is on the shelf.


Movie of the Month

The Movie I recommend this month is Casablanca starring the beautiful and talented Ingrid Bergman and the incomparable Humphrey Bogart.  The film was released in 1943 and is black and white.  It is definitely one of the top ten must see movies for anyone who wants to know movies.  This is a historical Drama set during WWII.  And it is not only one of the most quoted movies ever produces, but is also unique in it’s feel and story line.  I love that you can honestly cheer on this woman to choose either man and that choosing the harder right thing in the end triumphs over the easier wrong thing.  Fantastic!

4th Law of Joni’s Writing Bible

Thou Shalt make thy sentences strong.

Wow, finally a thou shalt instead of a thou shalt not.  Okay, on to strong sentences.

When we read a sentence, what we read first and last stand out to us.  The stuff in between kind of jumbles.  Especially when we are reading quickly.  That is not to say that what we choose to put in the middle doesn’t matter, because those of us who like to soak in every word will read EVERY word.  But in order to make your sentence drive it’s point we often have to do a line edit to ensure that our sentences are conveying our true meaning.

#1.  Ensure that your sentences are tight and well trained.  By this, I mean, don’t use twenty words to express a twelve word or even an eight word thought.  In my writing club, the professor (my amazing cousin) and the group would take one of our longer sentences and break them down to a third or half of what they had been, and try to break them in half again, just to practice tightening up our word selection.  I found this exercise to be most educational and helpful in honing my ongoing skill set.

#2.  When trying to strengthen sentences, use the word you want people to remember at the end.  Words like, lied, dead, killed, elated, overjoyed.  This will make your reader hang on that last image with regards to the subject of your sentence.  And no, this is not possible for every sentence, because your thoughts would become disjointed and let’s face it, not every sentence is life or death.  And if you try to make them so, your story will be melodramatic, and no one will take it seriously when something important does happen.  Not everything can be the most amazing, or fantastic.  (We probably all have that friend who won’t stop saying something like “Phenomenal.”  Overuse of a word in everyday situations will lessen the word’s meaning.  Like, phenomenal cake, or the phenomenal service, or the phenomenal bathroom.  So be careful on this point.)

Example 1:  John finally worked up the courage to walk to the front door so that he could finally ask Julie out on their very first date ever.    (26 words)

What are the problems with that sentence?  First, so many “extra words” -to, so that, finally etc.  Second, the sentence is really laying the experience on too thick.  Show your readers, don’t tell or talk at them.  (We’ll have a section on show not tell soon)  Third, my ending word is not the word I want my readers to hang on to.  (Case in point, my previous sentence.)  My ending word for my example should be date, courage, or even knock to drive home the feeling.

So, lets do a cut.

First cut: John’s courage was high as he knocked on Julies door to ask her on their first date.  (17 words)

I managed to cut this sentence to nearly half of what it was.  (And yes there are dozens of ways to cut down a sentence and that is up to the voice of the writer and his/her character.)  But I am still not pleased with the sentence.  It is still too wordy.  It doesn’t give me the image I want.  I will cut it again.

Second cut:  John walked to Julie’s door, screwed up his courage and knocked.   (11 words)

I like this sentence because it portrays more of what he was feeling.  I also like the word knocked at the end because it leaves us wondering, “Is she there?”  “What will happen when she opens it and sees him?”  We all know what it’s like to knock on the door of someone we like.  It makes our hearts pound.  But we can write the sentence again if the knocking is not what we should remember.  What if it is the courage we need to remember?

Second cut part 2:  John stood in front of Julie’s door and gathered his courage.  (11 words)

This sentence works also, if courage is the thing we want our readers to remember.  Maybe asking Julie out is a pivotal growth moment for our character.  You must choose what is best for your story.

This type of sentence cutting works well for our most verbose sentences.  The ones that just go on and on.  Not running on in the technical sense, but the ones that seem to wander like Frodo trying to get to Mount Doom.  We need to cut a straight path.  And remember, after we cut we add in some of the character building words that will boost our story.

Second cut Finished:  John walked to Julie’s door thinking only of his carefully chosen words as he screwed up his courage and knocked.

Second cut part 2 finished:   John knew it all hinged on this moment in front of Julie’s door and he prayed for courage.

3rd Law of Joni’s Writing Bible

Thou shalt not repeat, repeat, repeat… Tautologies

A tautology is using two words that say the same thing.

We all do it.  “Sit down!” I say to my children at least once a day.  Tautologies have crept into our every day speech. Don’t we hear “You can win your free gift if you…” in numerous ads?  Or aren’t we asked to stand up or told we will have an added bonus if we complete some task?  We say these things all the time.  However we cannot use them in our prose.  “Sit” will suffice or having our character stand is all we need.  It is either free or a gift, an addition or a bonus.  The space is either empty or a vacuum.  I’ve even seen water of the ocean and dead corpse in books.  Be careful and edit wisely.