How Charlie Chaplin can Improve Your Writing

Hola, Writer Peeps!

Watch any silent movies lately? If you’re a writer, you should. Using extremely limited narration and dialogue, silent films communicate story, motivations, and emotions. The defined visuals, expressions, action, and reactions show the audience only the essentials of the story. And no one did it more brilliantly than Charlie Chaplin. Watch this scene from his biggest hit, City Lights. [Blog continues after the clip.]

Chaplin reshot this one scene 352 times, until it was just right. Notice how the scene is set, how the people move, when the shot closes in and when it opens up. That’s storytelling at its finest.

Study silent movies, especially Chaplin. In the scene above, how do you know the man is attracted to the woman? How do you know she is blind? How do you know she misunderstands? What parts are funny and what parts are tender? Why?

Today’s “talkies” do more with dialogue and with music and sounds, and we can learn from that, too. But that’s a different lesson for another day. Silent film music was added live in individual theaters and varied according to the skill of the musician, so the story itself relied entirely on silent imagery.

Do you have a favorite silent movie? If so, please share in the comments. We’re all in this together.


UPDATE ON PASSOVER FREEBIES: Passover is four days away! You can get your free printable and downloadable Messianic Passover Haggadah on my freebies page. The artists who are working on the free coloring book have not yet turned in all the pages, but I’m told it will be ready before Passover. I’ll post ASAP, so keep checking back. Thank you for your patience. If you have free Messianic coloring pages for Passover, leave a link in the comments, please. We’re all in this together.

Hidden Passive verb forms

Hello, Writer Peeps!

It’s great to connect with you again! Recently someone asked the question, “Why shouldn’t we use verbs ending in -ing in our writing?” In fourteen years of professional writing, this was the first I’d heard of this “rule.” Maybe it’s new. Has anyone said that to you? Did it help your writing?

This writer said that her editor told her to look out for verbs ending in -ing and avoid them. I don’t know the editor, but after looking into it, I came up with some reasons to support the admonition–with a caveat.

I think the main reason to pay attention to (not avoid) verbs ending in -ing is because they are not always active, and they are not always true verbs. A verbal looks like a verb because the root word is a verb, but its function in a sentence may be noun, adjective, or adverb.

First, we need to understand the difference between a passive verb or sentence and an active verb or sentence. Neither one is correct or incorrect as-is, but active language is generally more engaging for the reader, and makes for more interesting and concise language.

There is a simple way to tell if a verb is passive or active: Find the subject of your sentence. Does the subject do the action of the verb? Is the subject the actor? If so, the verb and the sentence is active. But if the subject receives the action, the verb and sentence is passive. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

There is a simple way to tell if a verb is passive or active: Find the subject of your sentence. Does the subject do the action of the verb? If so, the verb and the sentence is active. But if the subject receives the action, the verb and sentence is passive.
Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!

ACTIVE: Poindexter scoured the archives for more scholarly papers on werewolves.
PASSIVE: The archives were scoured all night for scholarly papers on werewolves.

In the active sentence, the simple subject is Poindexter. The simple verb is scoured. Poindexter does the action.
In the passive sentence, the simple subject is archives. The simple verb is were scoured. Archives does not do the action. The action is done to the subject. In the second, passive, sentence, we also see the hint of the helping verb were. Whenever you see any form of the verb “to be,” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) the verb is passive.

Verbals as participles. Participles are words that have a verb for a root word, but they act as adjectives. A participial verbal describes nouns or pronouns.

The howling beast was surely a werewolf!

In this sentence, the word howling describes the subject (noun) beast. The verb in this sentence is was. Passive.

Gerunds look like verbs and they usually have an -ing ending, but they act as subject, direct object, or object of a prepositional phrase rather than giving action to the subject.

Gerund as subject of the sentence.
Fighting werewolves is hard work.
Fighting is the subject; is is the verb. Passive.

Gerund as direct object.
Ludwig’s plan to escape the werewolves was running, screaming, and crying.
Plan is the subject. Was is the verb. Running, screaming, crying is a compound direct object.

Gerund as object of a prepositional phrase.
Michelle is thinking of leaving the werewolf-hunting business.
Michelle is the subject. Is thinking is the verb (passive, because of the helping verb is). Leaving is the object of the prepositional phrase of leaving.

My caveat is to write how you want your writing to sound. If you’re going for passive, do it. If you’re going for active, do it. The best writing, in my opinion, is writing that mixes it up and sounds interesting.

Have you been told a rule for writing that you don’t understand or that you choose not to follow? Do you know an easy-peasy lemon squeezy way to remember a grammar rule? Let us know in the comments, so we can learn from one another.

By the way, I’ve added a new page to my website, where I will be posting freebies for you. Head on over and check it out! The first freebie is a printable and reproducible Messianic Haggadah for Passover.

Coming soon is a Messianic Passover coloring book. I posted a preview for you to print and color. Enjoy!

We’re all in this together.

Socially-distanced cyberhugs,

Passover during a pandemic and free haggadah for you


The Four Questions of Passover 2021:
1. On all other Passovers, we invited people to join us. Why this year do we isolate in small groups?
2. On all other Passovers, we greeted fellow believers with a hug or a handshake. Why this year do we not touch?
3. On all other Passovers, we smiled at strangers and saw them smile back. Why this year do we not see smiles?
4. On all other Passovers, we ceremonially dipped our fingers in water before taking the matza. Why this year must we wash with running water and soap for at least twenty seconds?


Let’s face it: 2020 was a bust, and 2021 seems to be bringing more of the same. According to the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease control, nearly 41% of American adults are experiencing negative mental health issues as a result of this ongoing pandemic.

Not only have we been socially isolated for longer than we’d ever imagined, many of us are facing fears related to health, social unrest, weather disasters, loss of income, increased responsibilities, and bereavement. And in the midst of this mental health crisis, when we need them the most, support groups and mental health professionals have suspended or limited care available to the public, due to Covid-19 restrictions.


People of faith are not immune to Covid-19, and we are not immune to the psychological effects of living in prolonged crisis. Holidays always seem to intensify our feelings. But they can also intensify our faith. This may be the first Passover that some of us have spent without our congregations, our extended families, or friends, but we know that we are not alone. We are united in spirit with all people of faith–past, present, and future–who endure hardship. And our Father God walks with us in this journey.


When the Jews living in slavery in Egypt cried out in their affliction, God heard their prayers. “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:7-8, NIV)

During this trying season, be assured that God still hears our cries. He is still able to deliver us. He is still able to sustain us in the midst of the storm, too. If you experienced a spiritual strengthening in this pandemic, or another prolonged crisis, please share your story in the comments below.


Have a lovely and meaningful Passover. And hang on. We’re all in this together.

Socially distanced air kisses,
DON’T MISS THIS! I’m introducing a freebies page to this site. You will want to bookmark that page and check back often. The first freebie is this Messianic Passover Haggadah.


This free and reproducible 25-page Messianic Haggadah is written in easy-to-understand language in English. It includes:
* How to prepare your mind, heart, and home for Passover
* Tips for including children in the fun
* Instructions for Bedikas Chametz (Search for Leavening)
* How to set up for the seder
* Seder items checklist
* Daily Jesus-focused schedule for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread
* Explanations
* Messianic Seder script
* Glossary of terminology with pronunciation guide

Download or print .pdf Haggadah (NIV)   

Download .docx Haggadah (NIV) editable        

Download or print.pdf Haggadah (KJV)  
Download .docx Haggadah (KJV) editable

Free Snowflake Pro Novel-Writing Software

Artwork by Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan 

“Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us in life and enabled us to reach this day.” – Traditional prayer upon reaching a significant day.

Hi Writer Peeps!

Whew! We made it! I know it’s cliché, but it really did seem like 2019 flew by in a blur. I’m resolving this year–as I do every year–to keep to a schedule and use my time more wisely. This includes a number of specific goals that I won’t bore you with, and I probably won’t keep. But if you don’t shoot for the stars, you’ll never leave your own turf, right?

So let’s kick off this year with a generous free offer from Randy Ingermanson. If you’re a fiction writer, and you don’t know who that is, you should. He’s not only a bestseller, but his novel-writing method is used by tons of serious and successful writers.

If you have purchased Randy Ingermanson’s book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method (available now at Amazon for Kindle for 99 cents), or if you own an earlier version of the Snowflake Pro software, the author is now offering the latest version of Snowflake Pro for free. Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. Score!

I don’t know Ingermanson personally, and I don’t make any money by referring this offer. I just wanted you to know about this terrific deal. I’m looking out for you and your writing goals. We’re all in this together.

Wishing you a successful 2020!


Recommended Summer Reads

Hola, Readers!

Since Merriam-Webster came out with their recommended summer reading picks for 2019, I decided to throw out a few recommendations of my own.

nrats IMAGE1. No Road Among the Stars: An Innerstellar Commonwealth Novel (Vol. 1) by A. Walker Scott
This book transported me back to the wonder and newness that first drew me to science fiction fandom. It’s well written and clean, and has believable, full characters with their own languages and cultures that the author (a real-life linguist and world traveler) created. All that and a high-stakes conflict in space. Keep an eye out for some fun Easter eggs, too.

Promise at Daybreak Image2. Promise at Daybreak by Elizabeth Wehman
This novel is about two elderly sisters, cordial but not friendly because of their opposite opinions on faith and politics. They must cohabitate to face a promise that they made to one another at their mother’s grave site, though neither sister is sure she can go through with the promise. This is a feel-good relationship story with a mystery and a twist that I did not see coming. This book is clean and has specific Christian content.

between the bridge and the river3. Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson
This novel is raunchy and rude, filthy, funny, provocative, and spiritually insightful. I literally laughed and cried (and sometimes gagged a little) through the whole thing. And when I finished, I felt encouraged and thoughtful. If you’re offended by anything at all (not everything, just anything), it’ll probably offend you. But if you roll with the punches, it’s worth the ride.

Blue Like Jazz book image1. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality  by Donald Miller
I recommend this book at every opportunity for a reason: It’s one of those very rare books that I can honestly say changed my outlook on life. It’s riveting, clever, at times laugh-out-loud funny and at times mind-blowingly profound. If you saw the movie and it wasn’t for you, read the book anyway. As we old folks used to say back in the day, the book is a “totally different head.” Mostly clean reading. There’s some light cussing, if I remember correctly.

Democrat or republican2. Is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican? by Tony Campolo
This book was first published in 1995, but I cannot think of a better time to read it than today. Without judgement, and with courageous love and truth, this book explores opposing sides of some polarizing political and social issues in light of the Bible–and why good and godly people can disagree with one another. It’s written in essay form, and delivers opinion with humility.

stranger in the woods image3. The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkle
This is the true story of a man who just wanted to be left alone. At the age of twenty, Christopher Knight parked his car and vanished. He lived alone in the deep woods of Maine–undetected and unattached to civilization–for twenty-seven years. This is a fascinating story.

[Note: I don’t get sponsored or paid to recommend these, and I don’t get anything if you follow the links. They’re just books that I’ve read and like, and I linked to where you can find them on Amazon. Buy them anywhere you want or request them at your local public library. If you like one of my recommendations, and you’re feeling generous, I wouldn’t turn down a small donation. ]

What are you reading? Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? What books do you recommend for the summer? Please leave the titles of your favorites in the comment section, so I can find more awesome books to read. We’re in this together.



The N-word: Is it ever OK to say? Plus NaNoWriMo editing update

Hola, Writer Peeps!

grawlix wikimedia pdi
FYI: A string of characters that take the place of a cuss word is called a grawlix.

What do you think? Can I say the N-word and other “bad” words in a historical context? Or are some words just not acceptable ever?

As an example of non-acceptance, my husband Frazierhead and I went to a family’s home for dinner. The children ate in another room so they could relax and be children and so the grownups could relax and be grown up.

Over soup, our hosts asked if we had seen the movie Amazing Grace, a biographical film about the abolishment of the African slave trade in England. We said that we had and that we recommended it.

The mom asked if the movie was appropriate for children. I answered, “There’s no overt violence but there’s language you may not want your children to hear.”

“Like what?” she pressed. “What do they say?”

Because I was among adults and because she asked me directly, I said that, in the movie, a slave owner refers to a slave as the N-word. Only I didn’t say, “the N-word.” I said the N-word.

Both husband and wife—in unrehearsed but perfect unison—audibly gasped and drew back as if I had slapped them. Silence fell over the room. I looked to Frazierhead for support. He seemed frozen in wide-eyed horror. I quickly started chattering about the historical accuracy of the film’s use of the N-word, avoiding saying it again, and then changed the subject. We were not invited back.

mark_twain_by_af_bradley i said it
Mark Twain, 1907. Photo by A.F. Bradley, public domain

In retrospect, I should have apologized. Even though, in context, I hadn’t said anything deliberately cruel or racist, the fact that I said the N-word at all was offensive to that couple and shocking to my husband. The current American convention says to replace some cuss words—the really bad ones—with initials. We say “the N-word,” “the B-word,” and “the F-word.”

The problem, I think, with the initial thing is that all words are symbols. When I wrote, “the N-word,” I put that word into your brain. You didn’t wonder what I meant. I accomplished the exact same thing that I would have accomplished by saying or writing the word out in full. This seems pointless to me. I’d rather say the word or not say it. But seeing where that gets me in the real world, I’m hesitant to follow through.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is full of the N-word. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird also uses it. Yet both books are clearly anti-racism. The racist words within the stories testify to racism’s cruelty within those cultures and in those times. Still, some people believe that the use of the word alone compels us to ban or censor these books–or at least let them drop off of reading lists. What do you think? Should books with bad words get put on the shelf forever? Should we “fix” art and censor history to make it conform to our current sensibilities?

Read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn online for free.
Read To Kill a Mockingbird online for free. 

As writers, we know that authentic characters make or break our story. But we also know to write for our target reader. And if our target reader is going to gasp and fall back, or—more importantly—stop reading if we let our characters use bad words, we need to make adjustments. Or we need to reevaluate our target reader.

In fiction, it’s easy to avoid cussing.
Marion slammed the vase to the ground, shouting profanities at no one in particular.

“Why, you’re just a no good, dirty–”
“Enough!” Alex pulled him back by the collar.

I’ve mentioned the 1964 film Lady in a Cage (bad title) before, but it’s still the best example of believable bad-guy dialogue without cussing that I know. If you write bad-guy characters and want to avoid cussing, it’s worth your time to see it. Don’t let kids watch it, though. Even without cussing or nudity, it’s violent and disturbing.

I’m currently writing a biographical book about ordinary family life during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. A lot of racial slurs, sexist slurs, and homophobic slurs flew freely in those days. I’m tiptoeing around the words in my book, but I will have to make some hard choices. Do I spell out the sins of the past or just hint at them?

What would you do as a writer? As a reader, would you read an overall “good” book if it contains bad words? Or would you shrink back in horror? Let me know in the comments below. We’re all in this together.



UPDATE!  Half Off Copyedits for NaNoWriMo Winners

I’ve currently booked 241,000 words of the 800,000-word limit. That means there’s still plenty of room to book your work in progress! Details HERE.



This year, I’m all about Christmas!

Hello everybody!

We’ve just finished Hanukkah. I lit the candles and sang the prayers. But this year, I’m all about celebrating Christmas! Who’s with me?

Aunt Bethany Christmas vacation
Last year at this time, my husband’s mother had just died–only six months after my own mother’s death which was eleven months after my father’s death. It was a time of indescribable grief for our entire family.

This year, sadness has (mostly) given way to fond memories. We have a new baby grandson–our first!–and we’re looking forward to making new memories with this new little person. Our lives have settled back into a routine and we’re ready to open up and accept the joy of the Christmas season again. This year, we’re celebrating along with the angels of God, saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

6 Ideas for Celebrating Advent as a Family

How is your holiday season going this year? Are you in a sad or anxious time, or a time of refreshment (or some of each)? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Whether this season finds you mourning or rejoicing, I pray that the free gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus, will guard your heart with peace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9 NKJV 

Ready for a chuckle? Check out this short video from Blimey Cow.

Cartoon elf from publicdomainpicturesdotnetATTENTION NANOWRIMO WINNERS:

Did you finish NaNoWriMo or NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program last month? If you did, you’re eligible for half off copyedits in 2019. Read the specifics at Half off Copyedits for NaNoWriMo Winners and contact me to schedule yours. I have two novels scheduled already but there’s still plenty of room for more. Pass this offer along to NaNoWriMo winners that you know. We’re in this together!


Light Shines in the Darkness

Hola, peeps!

Tristan 2018
Thanksgiving grandbaby! Cutest little guy ever. 

I’m gonna level with you: This isn’t going to be the most coherent post I’ve ever written. I’m on day five of a stubborn migraine, taking painkillers, AND I’m on day five of BEING A GRANDMOTHER! Woooooot! My grandbaby Tristan Alexander was born November 21st, the day before Thanksgiving, and we are so very thankful for him! So I’m distracted. Bear with me. We’re in this together.

Since I’m all about the baby right now, I’ve been thinking about the humility of our Savior’s birth. I’m awestruck to think that the Light of the World, the Creator of the ends of the Earth, willingly gave up his position in heaven and confined himself to the darkness of the womb for nine months. For you. For me. For himself. Such a humble and patient spirit! And to think I get miffed when someone cuts in front of me in a line. Sigh. I need to work on that.


Many people believe that Jesus began life in the womb of the Virgin Mary during Hanukkah, which begins this year (2018) after sundown Sunday, December 2nd.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him… Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:1-12

My very dear friend Cindy Elliott, over at, along with Keren Hannah Pryor, wrote up a DIY Hanukkah free download for Christians who want to get in on the celebration. Even if you’re not observing Hanukkah this year, I recommend reading through the guide for a deeper understanding of Messiah and Savior, Jesus.

What are you doing to express humility and patience this holiday season?


Half Off Copyedits for NaNoWriMo Winners

woman on computer by axelle b at publicdomainpicturesdotnet
Photo by  axelle b.

Hello, Writer Peeps!

It’s November, and that means NaNoWriMo!

National Novel Writing Month is a time to write, write, write your little heart out, and produce 50,000 words in thirty days. Your novel has to have a beginning, middle, and end, but it does not need to be good. You can do this. We all know the only way to write a brilliant novel is to get that first ugly draft down.

Kids can write shorter books through the NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program.

Read: How it Works for more on winning NaNoWriMo. 

For those of you participating this year, Godspeed! NaNoWriMo has lots of company sponsors and loads of useful incentive offers for participants and winners. Check them out [HERE].

what-your-story by George Hodan at publicdomainpicturesdotnet
Original photo by George Hodan

As a little bonus incentive, I’m offering a limited number of NaNoWriMo 2018 winners a discount on copyediting your new novel. I’ll give you time to flesh it out and clean it up first so the discount will be applied in 2019.

Terms of Offer:
(1) All NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program winners are eligible for this discount and will be scheduled on a first-come, first served basis. A 10% non-refundable deposit will hold your scheduled spot and will be applied toward your final cost. If you schedule a copyedit, then don’t have your manuscript ready by the scheduled date, you can apply your deposit toward another date, if available.

(2) Offer limited to copyediting a total combined word count of 800,000. Once that number is reached, no more discounted copyedits will be scheduled. So, keep writing at NaNoWriMo speed to get in on this deal!

(3) Discounted copyediting price is equal to half of my average fee, that is $3.50 per 1000 words or any part of 1000 words, with no minimum. (e.g., With this discount, a book of 50,000 words will cost $175.00 to copyedit; A book of 50,001 to 51,000 words will cost $178.50. A young writer’s book of 10,000 words will cost $35.00 to copyedit.)

(4) Word count applies to the manuscript as given to me, not to the copyedited version. I count every word I have to read, including titles, footnotes, subheadings, etc.

(5) Copyediting discount will apply to both fiction and nonfiction books of any genre.

(6) Discount will apply to copyedits scheduled from December 1, 2018, through December 31, 2019, and completed on or before March 1, 2020.

(7) Copyediting will be defined as:
* Correcting spelling, punctuation, and other grammatical errors in accordance with the most current Chicago Manual of Style guidelines and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
* Detecting inconsistencies in tone, style, story timeline, facts, and character point of view
* Detecting misused or overused words
* Detecting awkward or less-than-comprehensible language
* Rearranging or cutting words, phrases, sentences, or paragraphs for better flow, logical transitions, and easier readability
* Replacing passive (boring) verbs with active (engaging) verbs, where appropriate (Example: When she had gone [went] to the store, it was still light outside.)
* Offering suggestions for improvements, if any
* Tracking and explaining changes in the most current version of either MS Word or Open Office (your choice)
* Answering follow-up questions

(8) This offer does not include formatting for e-readers.

That’s all folks. I hope to see you among the NaNoWriMo 2018 Winners soon!



Do you believe in ghosts?

haunted-cemetery by Linnaea Mallette pdp
Picture by Linnaea Mallette via


I’m not planning to post mid-week as a regular thing, but I read an interesting article about ghosts by Alexander Preston on the blog Empyrean Voyager.  Since today is Halloween, I figure it’s good timing to share it with you.

The topic of the souls of the dead reaching out to the living is one that has been debated probably as long as people have left behind grieving loved ones. The linked article explores the subject of ghosts from a Biblical and Church history point of view.

Disclaimer: I do not personally agree with much of this article. It is well written, however, and seems to use sound theological study methods and research. I share it because I think it’s helpful for Christians to share their interpretations with one another and the article is genuinely interesting.

Read the article here:  Halloween Special: Can Christians Believe in Ghosts?

Did you read it? What do you think? Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever encountered one personally?

Let me know in the comments.


Ride the Pen

Your Story. Your voice. the best it can be.

Hebrew for Christians Blog

A personal blog by John Parsons, author of the Hebrew for Christians web site.

The Writer’s Dig – Writer's Digest

Your Story. Your voice. the best it can be.

Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Your Story. Your voice. the best it can be.

Writing About Writing (And Occasionally Some Writing)

Your Story. Your voice. the best it can be.

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

%d bloggers like this: