All posts by Robert Lee Brewer

Compliment vs. Complement vs. Supplement (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use compliment vs. complement vs. supplement with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

This week’s post is aimed at a problem (one of many) I see on social media quite a bit. In speech, compliment and complement could be swapped and many wouldn’t even bat an eye, but it’s different in writing. Meanwhile, complement and supplement can easily be mistaken as the same thing when there’s a slight difference between the two.

(Grammar rules for writers.)

So in this post, let’s untangle compliment, complement, and supplement.

Compliment vs. Complement vs. Supplement

Compliment can be used as a noun or verb. As a noun, compliment is an expression of esteem, acclaim, or admiration. For instance, I could pay someone a compliment on their “beautiful new haircut” or “excellent usage of grammar.” As a verb, it just means to pay a compliment.

Complement is something that completes another thing or set of things. It’s used in math and phrasing. But people can be complementary to each other as well. The cliche of the “good cop/bad cop” routine in interrogations is an instance of two people complementing each other. Also, the institution of marriage is meant to signify the union of two people who complement each other in love and life.

Supplement seems a lot like complement in that it can help complete something, but it’s most commonly used to make an addition to something. A good example is if you do supplemental reading for a class. It doesn’t complete the reading for the class, but it does add context to the required reading.

Make sense?

Here are a few examples:

Correct: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a compliment on his nice lawn.
Incorrect: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a complement on his nice lawn.
Incorrect: When I saw my neighbor at the store, I paid a supplement on his nice lawn.

Correct: We have a full complement of strategies to combat anxiety.
Incorrect: We have a full compliment of strategies to combat anxiety.
Incorrect: We have a full supplement of strategies to combat anxiety.

Correct: Supplement your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.
Incorrect: Compliment your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.
Incorrect: Complement your running with pushups and crunches to handle hills better.

Correct (using all): The program supplement paid a high compliment to the way the two singers complement each other.

A good way to keep these straight is to remember that complement with an “e” completes things, supplement is something added to, and compliment with an “i” is just something nice to say.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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Plot Twist Story Prompts: New Person

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let’s see how introducing a new person impacts the plot.

Plot twist story prompts aren’t meant for the beginning or the end of stories. Rather, they’re for forcing big and small turns in the anticipated trajectory of a story. This is to make it more interesting for the readers and writers alike.

Each week, I’ll provide a new prompt to help twist your story. Find last week’s prompt, Blocked Passage, here.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: New Person

For today’s prompt, insert a new person in the story. The new person may be a force for good or vessel for evil, a seemingly random bystander or someone with an agenda. But he, she, or it can play a major role in sending your story in a new direction.

One consequence of inserting a new person in the story is that you have a new character and personality to define, including what their motivations may be in relation to the direction of the story. But a new person also gives established characters a chance to reveal more about themselves too.

(11 Secrets to Writing an Effective Character Description.)

One character may see the new person as a great addition. Another character may see the new person as a threat. Other characters may completely disregard the new person, underestimating the new person’s capacity for heroism or villainy.

As such, a new person offers so many new opportunities to your story, whether that’s increasing tension, humor, fear, or other emotions. In many ways, a new person is a new mystery—for the reader, the other characters, and even the writer.

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If you want to learn how to write a story, but aren’t quite ready yet to hunker down and write 10,000 words or so a week, this is the course for you. Build Your Novel Scene by Scene will offer you the impetus, the guidance, the support, and the deadline you need to finally stop talking, start writing, and, ultimately, complete that novel you always said you wanted to write.

Click to continue.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blocked Passage

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, present your characters with a blocked passage.

Plot twist story prompts aren’t meant for the beginning or the end of stories. Rather, they’re for forcing big and small turns in the anticipated trajectory of a story. This is to make it more interesting for the readers and writers alike.

Each week, I’ll provide a new prompt to help twist your story. Find last week’s prompt, Tell a Tale, here.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Blocked Passage

For today’s prompt, block a passage for your characters. This could be a physical passage (like a locked door, dead end in an alley, or avalanche in a mountain pass). But your blocked passage could also be mental, emotional, or circumstantial.

For example, two people meet and fall in love and everything is amazing until…blocked passage! In this case, maybe one person’s mother falls ill and needs care while the other person has a job they can’t (or don’t want to) leave. That would be a circumstantial blocked passage.

(50 reasons for your characters to be stuck together.)

Of course, that could be followed up by a physical blocked passage. Using the same example, person A leaves person B, who then decides to quit that job after all. Problem is that now the border is shut down between here and there because war broke out (or there was a pandemic or some other catastrophe). Now there’s a physical blocked passage.

And don’t forget the emotional blocked passage. Because the separation may make one person’s feelings grow stronger, while the other person starts to question their feelings, especially if they meet someone new who is physically present and engaged in their life.

So yes, if you wanted to, you could totally stack blocked passages on top of each other to drive up the stakes. In fact, many great stories do exactly this.

*****

If you want to learn how to write a story, but aren’t quite ready yet to hunker down and write 10,000 words or so a week, this is the course for you. Build Your Novel Scene by Scene will offer you the impetus, the guidance, the support, and the deadline you need to finally stop talking, start writing, and, ultimately, complete that novel you always said you wanted to write.

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Astronomy: Market Spotlight

For this week’s market spotlight, we look at Astronomy, a monthly magazine covering the science and hobby of astronomy.

Established in 1973, Astronomy is a monthly magazine covering the science and hobby of astronomy. The magazine shares stories on the science of astronomy, cosmology, and more for astronomy enthusiasts.

(Analog Science Fiction and Fact: Market Spotlight.)

The editors say, “Astronomy magazine is really a story of the people behind it. Dedicated by an obsession with the subject of astronomy, they are driven to assemble the best, most-absorbing material relating to the world of astronomy with every page they have.”

What They’re Looking For

Most of the articles in Astronomy are commissioned by the editors, but they also encourage pitches from freelancers. Freelancers can pitch one of two types of articles: Science features and hobby features. 

For the science features, editors are looking for descriptive pieces that focus on a particular type of astronomical object or scientific process; news features focus on an area of research and give readers an in-depth look at recent events; and human-interest pieces featuring personalities, historical events, and special topics such as education and archaeoastronomy. 

For the hobby features, editors want pieces explaining where to find and how to view celestial objects and include sky maps, diagrams, and illustrations; photography and imaging features that provide how-to advice on capturing portraits of celestial objects on film or in digital format; and equipment pieces that range from product reviews to surveys of telescopes and accessories.

The editors say, “The magazine’s articles must go beyond presenting facts; they must tell a story. The first two or three paragraphs (the ‘lead’) must grab the readers’ attention and tell them what the article is about. The article should contain a thread, or argument, that develops in a coherent direction as details supporting the lead are delivered and should end in a meaningful conclusion that summarizes its content.”

Article length is between 1,500 and 3,000 words.

How to Submit

Potential writers can submit queries or outlines describing their piece via their web-based form or by post (Astronomy magazine, P.O. Box 1612, Waukesha WI 53187).

The editors say, “If you have not been published in Astronomy, please send writing samples along with your letter.”

Click here to learn more and submit.

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No other market is as open to the freelance writer as the magazine market. From trade and association publications, to special interest magazines, to regional and national consumer publications, editors are looking for writers who can deliver well-researched, reader-targeted articles on deadline. To make it in this market, you want to learn how to identify a magazine’s editorial needs and—most important—how to fill them.

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Remove That From Your Writing (Grammar Rules)

There are many common ways to write with more concision. For instance, if you remove that from your writing, you’ll still retain the same meaning with fewer characters. Learn more, including examples, here.

I’m better about it now, but one problem I’ve struggled with for years is using the word “that” a little too much. Or maybe a lot too much. As such, that is a word that I’m constantly removing from sentences. (I mean, “As such, that is a word I’m constantly removing from sentences.”)

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

Often, the word “that” is a placeholder for nothing in particular. For me, it’s almost like a railing that I constantly use in my language. But more times than not, I find that if I remove all instances of that from my writing, it still makes sense (and saves space). For instance, remove the first instance of “that” in the previous sentence. Still makes sense, right?

Examples of Removing That From Your Writing

Example #1: You know that some people are afraid of clowns.
Better example: You know some people are afraid of clowns.

Example #2: Let her know that you love her and that she means the world to you.
Better example: Let her know you love her and she means the world to you.

We could run through so many more examples, but that would get repetitive after a while. And yes, there are times when using “that” makes sense. Just like using the word “it.” After all, the movie and song, That Thing You Do, wouldn’t have the same ring if it were titled: Thing You Do.

The main point of this post is to help others who suffer from the “that” affliction (as I do) by calling it out for what it is. So the next time you write something, search for the word “that” and remove it unless it’s absolutely necessary for the sentence to make sense. It’s small adjustments like these that can make all the difference.

*****

No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

Click to continue.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Tell a Tale

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, we tell a tale within a tale.

Plot twist story prompts aren’t meant for the beginning or the end of stories. Rather, they’re for forcing big and small turns in the anticipated trajectory of a story. This is to make it more interesting for the readers and writers alike.

Each week, I’ll provide a new prompt to help twist your story. Find last week’s prompt, True Feelings, here.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Tell a Tale

For today’s prompt, have a character tell a story within the story. This is a popular storytelling technique that’s been used through the ages to explain things that happened in the past or off camera. But it’s also a great way to set the mood or foreshadow future events.

This is how stories are used in Watership Down, by Richard Adams. At times, they help set up the worldview of the rabbits and even contrast one warren from another. But the stories also set up the cleverness of El-ahrairah (sort of a Robin Hood character for the rabbits) with the cleverness of the rabbits themselves, especially Hazel.

(25 Ways to Start a Story.)

But you don’t have to have a series of tales like in Watership Down. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon includes a popular tale called the “Flitcraft Parable” about a man named Flitcraft who suddenly decided to leave his family, job, and golf habit in Tacoma to roam the world. After a few years, he settles back into a new family, job, and golf habit in Spokane (about a four-hour drive from Tacoma). It’s an interesting enough story on its own, but the story also gives readers something to discuss within the context of the novel (just Google “Flitcraft story” to see how many do).

Of course, William Shakespeare frequently liked to include a play within a play. It’s a great way to mirror the actual story, but it can also be used to contrast with events. And it can definitely move things into a new direction, especially if the story told reveals something about other characters or events. 

Remember: There are many ways to tell a story. It can be revealed in dialogue, sure, but also in a letter, diary, newspaper clipping, or filtered through a secondary source.

*****

If you want to learn how to write a story, but aren’t quite ready yet to hunker down and write 10,000 words or so a week, this is the course for you. Build Your Novel Scene by Scene will offer you the impetus, the guidance, the support, and the deadline you need to finally stop talking, start writing, and, ultimately, complete that novel you always said you wanted to write.

Click to continue.