Archive for category Rules of Writing

Strong Female Characters

I know, I just wrote about this, but I’m going to do so again. I’d like to do my small part in turning up the volume on this.

Disney has done done it again.

Star Wars Rogue One has a female lead. Hopefully, they remember that in the brand marketing. I mean really, did they forget when making the toys, cereal boxes, etc, that Rey was in the movie and, you know, central to the plot?

I digress.

I pretty much said everything I want to say about Rogue One. I love that there is another female lead. I love that my daughter will get to see that and will probably want her toy too. She got Rey for Christmas.

When Rogue One is successful – and it will be, oh it will be (it is Star Wars, after all) – we will probably see more and more female lead characters. Which got me thinking – what makes a good female lead?

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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.

See?

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!”

Vs

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.

Enjoy!

And good writing.

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Word Count

I started a conversation in a Writer’s Group that I participate in on Facebook. I don’t think, however, that I quite got across the point of what I was asking about.

Here is what I posted to the group:

Why is there a word-count competition?

We talk about word count a lot, as though it is a competition to get books as large as possible.

I have written everything from flash fiction (about 1k) to short stories (anything from 2k – 15k), novellas, and novels (my longest being about 130k words or so).

The storytelling style, the story development, even the enjoyment of the story itself varies between flash-fiction, short stories, novellas, and novels. Even with novels, the style of storytelling is going to vary if your book is 80k, 130k, 180k, the Stand, etc.

So, what do you think happened to the appreciation of both writing and reading the different types of stories?

Is there a way to fix this?

Now, people immediately decided to defend the need for things like:

  • authors monitoring word count
  • word count as a way to differentiate between types of stories
  • complaints against authors who list a 5k story as a “novel”

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The Elipses – When to Use Them and When Not to Use Them

You know what the ellipses is, the [ … ].

Do you know what it is used for?

Often in blogs (including here sometimes) it is used to indicate a trailing off of thought or a pause, in a way that a comma or semi-colon might be used. This is an informal usage of the ellipses and is fine for informal settings, like many blogs.

When you are writing a book – whether fiction or non fiction – such informal use of the ellipses is a bad mistake, and one that I see many authors make.

How do authors often use the ellipses?

Authors often use the ellipses to indicate a pause, an insecurity, or to indicate that the thought or prose has trailed off or a character has been interrupted.

Examples:

A Pause.

She was entrancing … beautiful … sultry … and everything he wanted in a woman.

An Insecurity

Amanda did not know what to think. She was … confused. Why was this happening now? She knew she did not deserve this … did she?

Trailing off or interrupted.

He was on his way to the store. He needed chips, beer, and some kind of dip. He entered the store when she appeared, drawing his attention from his shopping list …

Each of these are examples of ways that I see [ … ] used a lot in fiction writing, and every single one of them is wrong.

How should the ellipses be used?

The ellipses in formal writing (this includes fiction writing) should only be used to indicate omitted text.

Example:

Full text.

John went to the store today to buy fruits and vegetables when he was struck by a car.

With omission.

John went to the store today … when he was struck by a car.

What is important to note is that the meaning is not changed. If you are relaying information you were told about John going to the store and being struck by a car, it is not important to know that he was going to buy fruits and vegetables. When relaying it in print, we indicate the [ … ] to tell our reader that some information is missing, but it is not important to what we are talking about. You never omit key details with the [ … ] as this is dishonest writing.

But in the examples above, the author could have been omitting thoughts when using the [ … ].

This is true. This is also a very bad thing to do in writing. The [ … ] is not a time for you to be lazy as a writer. If you are struggling with what your character is thinking as he talks about his ideal woman or she wrestles with her insecurities, then step back and think. You are probably struggling with it because your character is struggling with it. Think about what that struggle looks like and feels like. The way it feels to you is probably the way it feels you your character. Give detail instead of [ … ]. Why? Because you are omitting important details and crippling your storytelling.

In the case of ending an interrupted or trailed off thought/scene – well. In the case of an interruption, simply use a [ – ]. You will notice that programs like Word like to elongate the [ – ], but if you are interrupting dialogue, this can become messy. What I do is this:

He said, “I am so angry – a”

WordPress does not do this, but if you were in Word, when you space after the [ – ] and type the “a” you see the [ – ] elongate. End the quotation after the “a” as normal. Then simply back space to remove the “a” and the extra space so that your statement looks like this:

He said, “I am so angry -” (with Word leaving the [ – ] all elongated and pretty.)

In the case of a thought or scene trailing off. Sometimes it is fine to simply end the sentence with a [ – ] and no period. Other times, it is best to actually show the character’s thoughts and attention shifting away from what he or she was doing and onto something else. It depends on context. Generally, if a sudden thought, action, or dialogue is to follow the trailing off, then a [ – ] is fine. If you are going to move on to new descriptions with no sudden action, then you should describe the shift in words.

Now you know why you are probably using the [ … ] wrong.

Stop doing it. Write what you mean to write, use proper punctuation, and happy writing everyone.

 

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From the Editor

I’m starting a new category on the blog: From the Editor.

This will cover things that I discover as an editor while I am working. These are mistakes that I see frequently in writing that authors simply should not do.

It isn’t that I don’t want to do my job as an editor.

It is that you should, if you are going to be a writer, learn the craft of writing. That means learning basic rules of grammar and punctuation. It also means learning when to use adverbs and adjectives, and understanding why they should and should not be used in certain situations.

That being said, first post coming up soon about ellipses.

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On Editing w/pro-tips – Quotations

So I’m editing now.

Stuff other than my own work!

As I have been working, I have noticed a few habits writers sometimes have.

I’ve lived in my own little bubble of my own writing for a long time, so I’m really only able to talk about this now.

First, understand that as you write, you will have spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. That is acceptable as no one is perfect. Amazingly enough, some of those errors will remain even after a professional editor gone over your work.

Again, no one is perfect. My child loves taking time out of her work to point out typos in her workbook. This is her school work, the thing that is supposed to help her learn, and it is full of typos.

So, you get the idea. Your work will probably never be completely free of errors. That is just how it goes.

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Amazon and the Independent Author

I received a disturbing email yesterday evening, one that makes me very happy that I have diversified my publishing platforms.

The email – and any other Indie Authors out there probably know exactly what email I am talking about – was from Amazon, asking me to step up and support them in their war against Hatchette.

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“Oh god! She’s talking about women in media again. Everyone quick, look away.”

But if you don’t, it’ll be much appreciated.

So, on G+ a friend shared about her experience discussing the issues she had with the presentation of women in a specific game and the internet responded, and it was basically a lot of back and forth of misunderstanding. Why? If you’ve ever been a gamer, you really don’t have to ask that. You already know. If you’re not a gamer – that is a person who sits around a table (or these days a digital table, as traditional table top games move to online play to accommodate people moving and what-not) – then you probably don’t know.

And that’s okay. I’m going to explain it to you.

You could say I’m going to gamexplain it.

Which is probably only amusing in my head. Moving along.

So, you are talking about people who, as a group, will happily sit there and argue for at minimum fifteen minutes, but upwards of the entire game session (most averaging about 4 hours), with the GM (Game Master, for the uninitiated) and/or other players about things like whether or not the inclusion of exclusion of an oxford comma in the sentence about SR (Spell Resistance, fellow gamers, bear with me) means that their wizard/sorcerer has to make the Caster Level Check or not. Or … and this one is even better. They will happily write up at minimum three-page story backgrounds on no less than five to seven different cheesed-to-the-nines character concepts just to whittle down the poor GM or Storyteller (the White Wolf Games name for a GM) and get them to approve their Halfling Monk/Paladin to Yondalla or their Mokele (You know, Dragons in White Wolf – though to be fair, still better than weresharks).

In other words, gamers love to argue.

But gamers aren’t really what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is the role of women in fiction and media. Games sparked this thinking in my head, but this holds for really anything print, audio, or video, that we consume on a daily basis.

I’m going to share with you a great little song my Permanent Editor shared with me.

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Editing

I’m editing The Shulim Cycle Book of Susan right now, so I have my eye toward things the help. I found this handy little list of things to avoid, thanks to several friends on Facebook.

You can find it here.

Don’t say I never attribute or cite. 😀

And now, time to do a little work. I hope you are as amused by it as I was.

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