Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘#amwriting’

Having Too Many Story Ideas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 9, 2018

Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block.

Story Ideas

“I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”

It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple.

“You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?”

I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.

What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project.

Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate:

· Pick your project.

· Set your writing goals.

· Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside.

· Begin on your daily writing quota.

· Keep writing until you finish the first draft.

Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted.

Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time.

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Inconsistent Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2018

Revisions for our novels should include a complete read-through for repetitions and inconsistencies. What do we mean by the latter? You’ll want to take a look at your characters to see if they are behaving in a manner consistent with their personality. As a writer, this should be an essential part of your self-editing process. Below are some examples.

Inconsistent Characters

What’s wrong with this passage?

Dalton went for his gun, but Marla slapped his hand away. “Don’t risk it. You don’t know what we’re up against yet. And they won’t know you’re armed.”

Marla would never slap Dalton’s hand away. He’s a police officer. He knows his business. He’s allowed her to come along on a night mission, which she shouldn’t jeopardize this way.

Often it’s my critique group that catches these kinds of mistakes. In this case, I read those sentences and frowned. Wait a minute. Marla would never do this. I went back and changed it.

Ditto for Marla acting dumb. My editor has caught me on this one more than a few times. “Marla is too smart not to figure this out when everyone else knows what’s going on.” She isn’t acting in character when she’s too dense. Same goes for Dalton. Should he let Marla accompany him to interview suspects without protesting or finding an important reason for her to come along?

This also goes for mannerisms of speech. Your rough-around-the-edges hero isn’t going to suddenly say, “Oh, good heavens.” His dialogue should be consistent with his personality.

Here are more examples from my current work-in-progress. Marla and Dalton are talking about the victim.

“That would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away,” Dalton said.

“Do you truly believe another person did this to her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

My editor said, It’s obvious another person did this to her. Could the woman whack herself on the back of her head?

“This injury is indicative of a blow to the back of the head,” Dalton replied. “The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, though.”

Would he say this to Marla when the gash is evident? Not according to my editor, who wrote, “This is another dumb remark. Of course matted blood to the back of the head is “indicative” of a blow to the back of the head!!!”

I’m lucky my editor isn’t afraid to call the shots as she sees them. She’s always right. Here is my rewrite. See what you think:

“So that would have given someone plenty of time to whack her on the head and get away.”

“Are you certain the blow is what killed her?” Marla’s glance darted to the rows of strawberry plants, the water-lined canal, and the tall sugar cane. Was the culprit watching them from some hidden viewpoint? Should they be worried he might return?

“That’s not for me to say, but it would be my best guess. The medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death.”

We hope to catch these errors during the revision process. What we write during the heat of the story-making process doesn’t always pass muster when examined under the editorial microscope.

 

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Strengthen Your Chapter Endings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 13, 2018

Chapter Endings

It’s imperative for pacing and suspense in your novel to keep the reader turning pages. We’ve discussed End of Chapter Hooks here before. If you have a weak ending, it’s tempting for readers to put down your book. This isn’t what you want. You need an element to strengthen your chapter’s final words.

Here’s an example of a weak ending from Trimmed to Death, my work-in-progress. Marla is speaking to Nicole, another hairdresser, at her salon.

“Dalton wants to take a drive north on Sunday. He says the Kinsdales have a cousin in central Florida who owns an olive grove. This man might be able to shed some light on matters.”

Nicole chuckled, a low throaty sound. “Sounds like a good excuse for a day trip. Relax and enjoy the outing. You don’t have to be back at work until Tuesday.”

This passage illustrates another item to watch for when editing your work. Don’t repeat information your characters already know. Why would Nicole tell Marla that she doesn’t have to be back at work until Tuesday? Marla knows her days off.

Here is how I changed this into a better ending, at least for now. I might work on it further, but this one is an improvement over the previous version. Let me know what you think.

“Dalton wants to take a drive north on Sunday. He says the Kinsdales have a cousin in central Florida who owns an olive grove. This man might be able to give us some answers.”

Nicole chuckled, a low throaty sound. “Sounds like a good excuse for a day trip. Relax and enjoy the outing. Temps are supposed to be in the seventies. Take advantage of the good weather while it lasts.”

Marla should heed her words. Even though the winter months could bring cold air to the south, the next storm season was always around the corner… same as the killer in their latest crime case.

This edition might not be perfect, but it’s better than the first. And so it goes when you line edit your work. Strengthen your sentences and chapter endings so they have more of an emotional impact.

Book News

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Meanwhile, I’ve contracted with Mary Ann Evans, my narrator, for the fourth book in the Bad Hair Day series. We’ll start recording Body Wave audiobook in the next few weeks.

Go Here to get started listening to the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

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Died Blonde (Bad Hair Day #6) is now available in a newly revised trade paperback edition. Hairstylist Marla Shore stumbles over her rival’s body in the meter room behind their competing salons. Cover Design by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The One Page Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2017

Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis. How do you condense an entire story into a single page? My normal synopsis runs fifteen pages on average. Here’s what I do for a traditional mystery.

Synopsis OnePage

First offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from Shear Murder:

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup

This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive

Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.

The Suspects

Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.

The Big Reveal

The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer. If possible, include what insight the protagonist has gained. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.

It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.

No, I’m not going to tell you who the killer is in Shear Murder. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But this gives you an idea how to write a one-page synopsis.

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15 Steps to Writing the Smart Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 28, 2017

Do you dread writing a synopsis? If so, get used to it, because this tool is essential to your career as a writer. Not only is a synopsis necessary for a book proposal, but the sales force at your publishing house may use it to design your cover or to plan marketing materials for your book.

Smart Synopsis

A synopsis is a complete narrative of your story told in present tense. A synopsis should include essential plot points plus your character’s emotional reactions. It can act as a writing guideline while not being so rigid that your story can’t change. When you finish the actual writing portion, you can return to the original synopsis and revise it to suit the finished storyline. So how should you proceed?

1. Consider adding a tag line (i.e. one liner story blurb) on your first page before the story begins.

2. Open with a hook.

3. Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.

4. Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene. In a mystery, present the crime, the suspects, and their secrets. Then show how the sleuth uncovers their hidden agendas and unravels the clues.

5. Avoid backstory. Stick to present tense and keep moving the story forward. Enter background events in small doses via dialogue or interspersed with action, and only if it applies to the current situation. Less is better. And don’t reveal too much up front. It’s best to keep the reader guessing.

6. Leave out minor characters, physical descriptions unless applicable to the storyline, and subplots unless critical to the resolution of the main plot.

7. Avoid snippets of conversation, point-to-point description of your character’s every move, jumping from one place to another without any explanation, gratuitous sex, or threats on a character’s life unless they evolve from the story.

8. Include your character’s emotional reactions.

9. Stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints. Be careful of too much head hopping in a synopsis.

10. Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities?

11. Include the emotional turning points. For any genre, tell us what’s at stake for the heroes. What will happen if they fail?

12. In a romance, make sure you cover the goals and motivation of your hero/heroine, how they first meet, their romantic conflict, what leads up to the first kiss, complications that keep them apart, what they admire in each other, the black moment, and the resolution. What makes these two people right for each other that no one else can provide?

13. If it’s the first book in a series, you might begin with a short profile of your main character(s). For a mystery, offer a few paragraphs about the sleuth. For a romance, write a paragraph each about your hero and heroine. What do they hope to accomplish? What is keeping them from reaching this goal? Why is it important to them?

14. Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be the resolution of the romantic conflict.

15. What lesson will your protagonist learn in this story? How will she grow and change?

MYSTERY EXAMPLE FROM FACIALS CAN BE FATAL (Bad Hair Day #13)

Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial.

Screams emanating from next door draw salon owner Marla Vail’s attention. She rushes into the adjacent day spa to see a crowd gathered in front of a treatment room. It appears Rosana Hernandez, an aesthetician, was doing a facial on her first morning client. She’d put on the woman’s chemical mask and left the room for ten minutes. Upon her return, Valerie Weston was dead.

Since the receptionist had enough presence of mind to call 911, Marla enters the treatment room to see if CPR will help. It’s too late. The woman has no pulse, and her skin is clammy. The greenish cream mask clings to her face.

The police arrive, along with Marla’s husband, Detective Dalton Vail. He takes charge of the scene and questions Rosana. The tearful beautician claims Val had been a long-time customer, and the only known problem she had was a latex allergy. Rosana was careful not to use latex gloves in her presence.

Marla, owner of the spa plus the salon, is upset about the negative publicity this incident will generate. She has applied to become an educator for Luxor Products, whom she’d worked for once at a beauty trade show. But there’s another person being considered for the job. A smear on Marla’s reputation would be detrimental. But she’s also concerned about Rosana and proving the aesthetician wasn’t at fault.

Marla has an additional problem during this December season, which should be full of happy holiday plans. One of her clients is suing her. The woman claims Marla left on her hair dye too long, and it burned her scalp. Marla contacts her insurance agent.

Doubts roil in her stomach, and they increase when lab tests confirm liquid latex had been added to Val’s face mask cream. Val died from anaphylactic shock. Rosana denies her involvement, and Marla believes her. So who else had access to the room, and why would someone target Val?

ROMANCE EXAMPLE FROM WARRIOR LORD (Drift Lords #3)

A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.

Erika has had one drink too many at the blackjack table in Las Vegas when a bearded man wearing a cape and sword drops into the seat next to her. While his strange garb doesn’t arouse her curiosity, his comment on her wristwatch does. A gift from her parents when she turned sixteen, the watch runs with no visible mechanism and no battery, and it has a peculiar symbol engraved on its face. Her nape prickles at the man’s interest but an announcement over the loudspeaker distracts her.

The casino is holding a contest for engaged couples to win fifty thousand dollars. The lucky winners will have a televised wedding and receive a new car, a stay in the honeymoon suite, and the cash.

Erika mutters how she could sure use those funds, and the mysterious stranger overhears. He leans toward her and makes a scandalous suggestion. Why not pretend they’re engaged and enter the contest? He needs a room in the Viking-themed resort, but the hotel is full.

Giddy from the free drinks offered by the staff, Erika accepts his proposition. She doesn’t think they’ll win, but hey, the competition will be fun and all contestants get bonus credits on their club cards.

When they actually win the contest, she goes through the rushed wedding ceremony in a mental fog. Magnor kisses her and something sparks between them. However, she balks when he suggests they stay together in the honeymoon suite. She already has a room at the resort. However, his rationale is valid. If the resort people discover their deception, she and Magnor might lose their prizes.

Soon she’s alone in a room with the tall stranger. She’s drawn to his brooding good looks and muscled form but is puzzled when he becomes taciturn at her attempts to draw him out.

Someone knocks on the door. It’s the official from the televised marriage. He wants Erika’s address so he can mail out the official marriage certificate. With a jolt of clarity, Erika realizes the ceremony was valid.

Quelling her panic, she considers that having an unexpected husband might suit her needs.

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I hope these examples make you curious to read on. How long should your synopsis be? Mine average around fifteen pages. Sometimes a publisher will ask for a one or two page synopsis which means you’ll have to encapsulate your story into a shorter form. Stay tuned for my next post on The One Page Synopsis.

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The Right Word

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 3, 2012

Isn’t it frustrating when you’re looking for a particular word and it doesn’t come to mind? It’s similar to remembering a person’s name. The word hovers in your subconscious but you are unable to bring it forth.

I’d written the following passage in book three of my paranormal trilogy but wasn’t sure about one adjective, and that was holding me up in my revisions:

Sudden dread pierced the veil of his thoughts. He hadn’t noticed, but the black vapor had seeped across the floor and oozed up his leg.

Shadowy fingers extended from its midst and dove into his chest. His heart squeezed as searing pain shot through him. Biting his lips to keep from screaming, he bent forward as far as his bound wrists would allow.

A voice entered his mind. “Tell me, Drift Lord, what know you of the rune? Where does your team plan to assemble with Nira Larsen’s sisters to recite the words?”

“You’ll never find out,” he gritted, barely able to speak. “We’ll say the verse and you’ll be dispelled forever to the underworld.”

The ephemeral fist tightened, and his vision tunneled into a red haze of pain.

But when I looked up ephemeral, it meant fleeting, temporary, short-lived. This wasn’t at all the meaning I wanted. What was it then? Something unreal, imaginary, without substance. I knew there was a word that would fit. So I used the built-in dictionary and thesaurus in Word and came up with these choices.

Ethereal: ghostly, otherworldly, insubstantial
Illusory: misleading, deceptive, imagined, unreal
Intangible: insubstantial, incorporeal, ethereal
Incorporeal: unreal, disembodied, ghostly, intangible

Okay, I’d nailed it. I changed this passage just so:

The illusory fist tightened, and his vision tunneled into a red haze of pain.

I’d stuck in the same word on the next page until I could find a substitute:

Loki’s ephemeral fingers twisted and probed, intensifying his agony. Magnor’s jaw throbbed from clenching his teeth. His nerves felt on fire. His heart raced like an out-of-control train, threatening to derail.

Loki, if you’ve seen the movie Thor, you’ll know is the Norse god’s foster brother and a mischief maker, to say the least. He figures as a villain in my Drift Lord series based on Norse mythology. Loki is also the bad guy in the upcoming Avengers movie. Popular fellow, eh? Anyway, I changed this passage to:

Loki’s incorporeal fingers twisted and probed, intensifying his agony. Magnor’s jaw throbbed from clenching his teeth. His nerves felt on fire. His heart raced like an out-of-control train, threatening to derail.

Believe it or not, I used the same word yet again in a sentence with a different meaning. This is why you write your story in the heat of the moment, when the words flow and you just want to get it all down on paper. Then you go back and scour through your manuscript one word at a time, sentence by sentence, and fix the word choices.

So here’s the next passage with a needed change:

And was this where the legend came from about the six sons of Thor uniting with the six daughters of Odin to chant the ancient words and prevent the coming darkness? Nira and Zohar were searching for a rune that she believed held the key to battling Loki. What if they both reached for ephemeral goals?

Is this the correct usage? What word do I really mean here? What I want to say is that their goals may be futile, as fleeting as dreams and as vaporous.

Oh, that’s a good word. Let’s look it up. Vaporous can have different meanings.

Gaseous: misty, steamy, cloudy, ethereal, indistinct, wraithlike
Volatile: unstable, unpredictable, explosive
Insubstantial: nebulous, evanescent, ephemeral, ethereal
Fanciful: unreal, insubstantial, implausible

Wow, so many choices! And ephemeral is one of them. But that’s not quite what I meant for that word. What does evanescent mean? I looked it up. It’s momentary, fleeting, passing, transient. Nope, that’s not it. I want that sense of futility. How about nebulous? Hazy, unclear, vague. Uh uh, that isn’t the right word, either. Illusory? Meaning: illusive, imagined, unreal. I’m getting there! Illusive: False, misleading, imagined, erroneous, unreal, deceptive.

Yes, I like this one! Here’s the change:

And was this where the legend came from about the six sons of Thor uniting with the six daughters of Odin to chant the ancient words and prevent the coming darkness? Nira and Zohar were searching for a rune that she believed held the key to battling Loki. What if they both reached for illusive goals?

I get such an innate sense of satisfaction when I find the exact words I need. This process took me at least a half hour. You see why revisions take me a month or two? Being precise is important. After all, aren’t writers also called wordsmiths? That’s because we love to manipulate words on the written page.

Here’s another problem to look for: word repetitions.

“So we have to climb the fence somewhere or find a break in it.” Erika moistened her lips. “I don’t suppose you have wire cutters hidden in a pocket somewhere?”

I changed this last sentence to: “I don’t suppose you have wire cutters hidden in one of your pockets?”

Or here’s another one: Did it matter that he’d leave her in the end? No matter how long they had together, at least she’d experience what it meant to be a wife.

New version: Did it matter that he’d leave her in the end? Never mind how long they might have together, at least she’d experience what it meant to be a wife.

Watch out for repeating phrases as well. Yes, “as well” is one of mine. I have to keep an eye out for that one. You can never be too alert when revising your manuscript.

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Wednesday, January 4, follow my discussion on the January Doldrums at The Kill Zone.

Friday, January 6, join us here with guest blogger and mystery author Roberta Isleib.

Leave a comment during my January blog tour and enter to win a set of Paua shell jewelry and a signed copy of Shear Murder.

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Turning the Last Page

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 11, 2011

Each day brings me closer to the last page of my WIP. Besides the final battle scene, I have the emotional resolution to write, and then I’m done. I am both dreading and eagerly anticipating that moment. As the holidays approach, I want more time for gift shopping and cooking and family events. It would nice to have the weight of this story off my mind so I can plan holiday gatherings and vacations, lie around and read magazines, and enjoy the cooler weather. On the other hand, a sense of panic afflicts me at the very notion of that yawning emptiness. No book in my head? No characters who talk amongst themselves? I’ll feel lost, adrift in a sea of reality.

For a while, I can delude myself by revising this story. But once the final version is ready, and that may be months away, then what? Quit the creative writing part for a while to focus on promotion? Surely that’s a valid choice with a new release due out in January and guest blogs to write for a virtual tour. But what will I say when a fan asks, “What’s next?” Dare I think about taking more time off? Would I rather spend the hours sorting family photos into albums, meeting friends for lunch, traveling, and trying out new recipes?

A break would be nice, but too much of a break, and I’ll get depressed. That’s what abstinence from writing does to me. I feel like a boat without a rudder, and it’s not pleasant.

I want to end this book, one of my longer tomes over 450 pages, and yet I don’t want it to end.

Is anyone crazier than a writer? I am certainly going to take a break through the holidays, but I’ll bet when the New Year rolls around, you’ll see me back on a writing schedule. Or the choice may be taken from me if one of my projects finds a home.

How do you feel as a project nears its end? Do you ever yearn for time off, only to find that you go nuts after a week or two away from the keyboard? That promo activities don’t fulfill you the same way creating a new story will? Does a new idea start fermenting in your mind until your fingers itch to type? Or do you crave a quieter life, one where the torments and joys of being a writer fade into the background?

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The Writer’s Brain

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 12, 2011

Can you turn off your writer’s brain? Check out my blog post today over at http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com and leave a comment!

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Grammar Primer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 12, 2011

Do you get stumped periodically on certain phrases in your writing? I have a sentence in my current WIP: “I wrote down the info Chelsea gave me then lay back on my chaise.”

Wait a minute. Is that correct? Should it be lay or lie? Or maybe laid or lied? I’d better consult my grammar notes. Okay, I think what I have above is correct. What do you say?   

                          writer pencil

WHICH versus THAT

That is the defining or restrictive pronoun: The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

Which is the nondefining or nonrestrictive pronoun: The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the mower)

If the clause can be omitted without altering the meaning of the noun it modifies, use which; otherwise, use that.

A clause starting with which should be set off by commas; one starting with that should not.

LIKE versus AS

Use like before a noun, a compound noun, or a pronoun.

Use as before a phrase (a group of words containing neither a subject nor a predicate):

She smelled sweet, as a girl named Violet should, but she swore like a stevedore.

Use as if or as though before a clause (a group of words containing both a subject and a predicate):

She drenched herself in Obsession as if it were as cheap as ale.

He acted as though he owned me.

LAY versus LIE

Lay means to place, put down, or deposit. It requires a direct object. The past tense of lay is laid.

Lay the book on the table. He laid it down. She has laid her books next to the clock. They have been laying papers down all over the office.

Lie means to be in a reclining position or to be situated. The past of lie is lay.

Let it lie. He lay there without moving. She has just lain down beside him. They have been lying there for hours.

EACH OTHER versus ONE ANOTHER

Use each other when referring to two people: Olivia and Victor loved each other.

Use one another for more than two people: Kelly, George, and Linda loved one another madly.

AND versus BUT

Do not use a comma when there’s only one subject: She stood up and walked to the door.

Do use a comma with a compound sentence (two subjects and two verbs): She stood up, and a wave of dizziness assailed her. The situation is fraught with danger, but we have a chance to escape.

WHILE

Use it to mean "during the time that". Try replacing it with a semicolon, or substitute "although".

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