Time to Start a Flame War

The Oxford Comma – Yes or No?

Yes to the Oxford Comma. It ensures you have no confusion if a list might be ambiguous. It is the difference between listing your greatest influences and being a megalomaniac. Screw rearranging the sentence when a simple punctuation point will fix the problem.

ex: I want to thank my greatest influences: my parents, Ayn Rand and God. or I want to thank my greatest influences: my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

Save yourself and your editor time. If you’re the editor asking this question, save yourself time and just put in the stupid comma.

One Space, Two Space, Red Space, Blue Space?

For the love of all that is holy (or your typesetters if you are writing for publication – typesetters may or may not be holy) do not use two spaces after a period. Some people are going to argue about that and I will just tell you now, times they are a-changin’. They actually changed already, and if you go to the places where rules are, you will find it. Only one space after a period.

Two spaces is not needed anymore. Once upon a time you were taught to do it because you were using a typewriter with monospaced fonts. That’s a big word that means that all letters were the same size. So i and m and i and z were the same size on the page. Now, as you can see here, that is not the case. Fonts are sized proportional to the letter and punctuation. In the case of commas, colons, semi-colons, and periods and their ilk, it means that proper spacing is already added.

If you write for publication and you do the extra spacing, then your typesetter just has to take it out – and will probably be looking for where she put the voodoo doll of you. Back when I was editing, I had to constantly take out extra spaces. Just stop doing it.

But the platform I publish on will just take it out anyway.

Maybe. Some will. It depends on the coding language. HTML will definitely take it out because it just does not recognize extra spaces. However … let me ask you a question. The last time you put your e-book up on Amazon or Smashwords, did you have lots of problems with it coming out right? I bet you did, because I see it all the time in writing groups. “How do I format my book so that it renders correctly on X?” Well, you do two things. 1. You find their instructions for formatting and follow them. 2. You fix errors – like two spaces after a period. The more work you make the program do to format your book and make corrections to formatting, the more room you leave for program and code errors. Are two spaces why your book does not format right? Maybe, maybe not.

Look at it this way. If you are insisting on using 2 spaces after a period on anything electronic, then you are a Luddite who does not trust this new-fangled computin’ stuff. They screw up all the time and whatever. So why give some computer more room to screw up your magnum opus?

The Ellipses Complex

Bloggers are notorious for making ellipses a thing. We love to toss those little dots everywhere.


So when and how ellipses should be used and what they should look like will vary depending on what format you are writing for. That is the great thing about writing (I’m being facetious): the rules depend. If you are doing academic writing, then hello MLA! If you are a journalist, hello APA! If you’re a writer, then hello the Chicago Manual of Style – and goodbye a shit-ton of money.

No seriously. Of all the style guides I’ve ever had to buy (or in the case of CMoS thought of buying), Chicago is really expensive. It makes me wonder why writers aren’t just using APA or MLA, both of which you can find good resources for online for free. Unless you’re Stephen friggin’ King, you’re not going to be able to afford the CMoS every year.

(I usually use this, which includes APA and MLA as well as a lot of other great resources … OWL).

I digress. I’m not going to get into the different times when it is okay to use the ellipses because that depends on the type of writing. I will get into when it is *not* okay to use them.

It is not okay to use them in place of another correct punctuation. Yes, according to some style guides it is okay to use them in situations where the train of thought (or dialogue) trails off. That means that yes, they will be closing punctuation sometimes when you are writing dialogue. However, only use it when you are supposed to. Do not use it when another form of punctuation is correct (like a period or a comma).

Yes, your editor will fix it. Yes, this is probably why your editor snaps at you, makes snide comments, and otherwise just plain pissy with you. He doesn’t like you.

If you misuse ellipses, I don’t like you either.


Holy Over-used Exclamation Points, Batman!

Okay, this one is going to be more about style and being pedantic than any rules.

Your character is yelling, excited, or wants to emphasize something. Do you use a period, a comma, or an exclamation mark?

Well, that depends.

Technically, it is correct to use the exclamation mark (that is what ! is called that you keep using all up in your draft before publishing it on Amazon without editing or proofreading it) any time that you are conveying strong emotion, giving a command, or indicating a raised voice.

Ever heard the saying “just because you can doesn’t mean you should?”

That goes infinity for exclamation points.

Here is the thing. You cannot over use a question mark (the ?). If you or your character are asking a question, even if a dialogue tag follows were you would use a comma, you use a question mark. Why? Because that cues our brains to hear a question when we are reading. If you use the question mark every time it is needed, nothing suffers in how your writing is read.

Sigh … this is going to hurt. Now read this:

Oh my god! This is just the most amazing thing! I love writing this way! It is just so … I need to just shout it from the mountain tops! I never knew exclamation points could be so liberating! I think that I’m in love!

Okay, we’re about to get back to the rest of the discussion. Let this paragraph bring you back down.

By the third or fourth sentence in the example above, I probably sounded like an 80’s valley girl. That is not okay. No one should ever sound that way, even 80’s valley girls. I mean, gag me with a spoon!

Here is the thing, exclamation points look and sound immature to the inner ear. They are fine in moderation. For example, the paragraph directly above. When I use it in the last sentence, it ensures you get the rise in emotion without tainting the other sentences around it and without messing up my voice in the text.

Sometimes, context clues will tell your reader what they need to “hear” when they read.

Mark ran down the block, chasing after Susan. He needed her to stop. He needed her to listen. She was everything to him and he did not want to loose her.

“Susan,” he called after her. “Let me explain!”


Mark ran down the block, chasing after Susan. He needed her to stop. He needed her to listen. She was everything to him and he did not want to loose her.

“Susan!” he called after her. “Let me explain!”

So both are technically correct. However, in the second example, the exclamation point is getting redundant. Once Mark catches up to Susan, yelling is going to very likely ensue. If I keep using exclamation points, well – the writing is going to suffer. Oh you’ll hear the shouts alright, but you will be annoyed by them. It starts to look like a ten year old is writing, not an adult.

In the first example, it is clear that he yells Susan’s name because I tell you in the dialogue tag that he does. This is one of the times it is okay to tell, by the way. When we read narrative writing, we are used to letting dialogue tags translate into whatever the tag says. Yes it is telling, and telling is bad (except when it is not because writing!), but that is okay because of the tool we are using when telling the reader something.

Now understand that how much you can use exclamation points in narrative writing really is well … a matter of taste. Some readers will be fine seeing multiple ones on a page. Others will be turned off after the first or second. Since you cannot predict this, it is best to use exclamation marks sparingly. Use them when they are absolutely needed to convey the rise in pitch, emotion, or volume. Do not use them when other context clues tell the reader what they will be “hearing.”


So I’m sure I have more, but this is enough to get some good flaming going on.


And good writing.


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