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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Comma Usage Part 1

I don't know what I was thinking. Comma Usage? I could spend days talking about the rules--and the exceptions.

How about I make this topic a three-part series? I don't want to be held responsible for anyone's brain overload!

The Golden Rule: Get a copy of Chicago Manual of Style (or whichever style guide you prefer) and keep it handy while you're writing. Yes, I mention this in almost every WTW post, but good writing resources are essential to honing your craft. I'm sure I'll plug CMOS again next week too. :D

Remember, these rules can vary a bit from style to style!

1) Commas should be used with a combination of good punctuation judgment and ease of reading in mind. They can denote pauses, but aren't always necessary. Sometimes, they're used for clarity of meaning. If your critique partner/beta reader asks for clarification, a comma may solve the issue.

2) To use or not use the serial comma? The answer depends on which style you're following. CMOS advocates the use of the serial (Oxford, Harvard) comma when writing a list connected by a conjunction (and, or, etc.). The AP Stylebook says to use a serial comma only when absolutely necessary. My vote goes to "use." It often creates a clear understanding of the intended meaning.
Examples:
Dialogue punctuation can include quotation marks, commas, and periods. OR Dialogue punctuation can include quotation marks, commas and periods.
After the addition of potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, stir the soup and cover with a tight-fitting lid. OR After the addition of potatoes, carrots and cabbage, stir the soup and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
The valedictorian thanked his favorite teachers, his parents, and his uncle. OR The valedictorian thanked his favorite teachers, his parents and his uncle. (This one brings up the clarity issue. Are his parents and his uncle his favorite teachers?)
He bought birthday gifts for his mother, sister, and wife. OR He bought birthday gifts for his mother, sister and wife. (Here's another case of necessary punctuation. Is his mother also his sister and his wife?)

3) Use commas with non-restrictive clauses. If the clause can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning, it's non-restrictive. This was a major issue in a couple contest entries I judged this year.
Examples:
The shoes were made of cloth, which had been woven by local artisans.
The electrician, who wasn't licensed or bonded, short-circuited the entire house.

4) Use commas with non-restrictive appositives. An appositive is an equivalent explanation to a noun. If this alternative can be removed without confusing the reader about the noun to which it refers, it's non-restrictive.
Examples:
My favorite animated movie, Despicable Me, is available on DVD.
Her sister, Karen, has two children. (This works here if she has only one sister. If she has two or more sisters, the appositive becomes restrictive and commas shouldn't be used.)

Okay, time for a deep breath. We'll cover more on Comma Usage next week!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Hyphens

I'm back from the RWA National Conference in Atlanta and ready to dive into writing again! I attended some very informative workshops, spent time with lots of writing friends, and even had professional photos taken. Check out my new profile pic for one pose! I've posted the others on Facebook.

Hyphens...

They have a lot of uses, and some of those vary from one style to the next. Be consistent. If you use Chicago Manual of Style rules for hyphens, use it for the rest of your punctuation, titles, etc. The same goes for all other style guides. Since I refer to CMOS, I'll be following their rules.

Numbers
Always use a hyphen for multiple-word numbers less than one hundred. Examples: twenty-three, sixty-eight, forty-five.
When a number over one hundred contains one of the above numbers, hyphenate only that part (except when used as a compound modifier/adjective phrase). Examples: three hundred, seven hundred one, nine hundred ninety-seven.

Compound Modifiers/Adjective Phrases
Per CMOS, use a hyphen between words used to describe a noun that follows. The exception--don't use a hyphen when using an -ly adverb with an adjective or participle for description. Examples: four-year-old boy, black-and-red plaid, slow-moving car, mostly dry towel, fully stuffed chicken.

Compound Words
Some compound words are left open, like high school. Others are closed, like heartbeat. Still others are connected by a hyphen, like self-conscious. Check your dictionary if you're unsure since you'll find a lot of exceptions.

Readability/Clarification
Some words need a hyphen to avoid being misread or to give a clear understanding of the meaning. Examples: co-op instead of coop, re-creation instead of recreation, much-needed rest vs. much needed rest.

My best advice is to refer to your style guide if you're unsure about whether or not to use a hyphen. The English language is full of exceptions, and it's always evolving. What's hyphenated today may become a closed compound word in the near future!

See you next week for a summary of Comma Usage!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Punctuation Rules

By the time this blog posts, I'll be at the RWA National Conference!!! So, HELLO from Atlanta!!!

Let's review basic Punctuation Rules. Here's a simple list:

1) Period - Use at the end of sentences and fragments. Examples: Callum cradled his fallen comrade's head in his lap. "My friend. My brother."

2) Question Mark - Use at the end of interrogative sentences and fragments (questions). Example: How could he exact revenge upon his enemies?

3) Exclamation Point (or Mark) - Use at the end of exclamatory sentences and fragments (exclamations). Example: "You will suffer for this!" Callum yelled into the darkening sky.

4) Em-dash - Use at the end of interrupted internal and spoken dialogue. Example: Jane kicked at her captor. "Unhand me, you filthy--" "Beware yer words, fine English lass."

5) Ellipses - Use to show hesitation or trailing off of internal and spoken dialogue. Does he mean to...kill me?

6) Semi-colon - Use to connect two independent clauses that are closing related. Example: Being kidnapped hadn't been in her plans; being forced to marry a stranger was no better.

7) Quotation Marks - Use to enclose spoken dialogue, titles of poems, songs, etc., and emphasized words. Example: "The Raven" is one of her favorite poems.

8) Colon - Use to indicate a list. Example: Here are some types of punctuation: period, question mark, exclamation point, and em-dash.

Yes, I've left off hyphens and commas, but both really deserve their own posts because of their number of uses. In the meantime, crack open your copy of Chicago Manual of Style! You'll find lots of help with punctuation!

Next week, we'll tackle those hyphens!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Using Pronouns

I've been neck-deep in IGO Contest entries for most of the past week, and I had to comment in every one of them about Using Pronouns correctly.

What is a pronoun? A pronoun is a word used as a substitute for a noun or another pronoun.

One of the most common problems I've seen with pronouns is confusion about who the pronoun refers to. If I'm writing a scene with more than one person of the same sex and using "she" for both of them, how does the reader know which "she" I'm talking about?

Here's an example:
***Jan's arms loaded with groceries, she stabbed the doorbell with her elbow.
***The door swung inward, and Grandma peeked through the opening. "Come in, dear! Let me help you carry those things to the kitchen."
***"It's okay. I got 'em." She tightened her grip on heaviest bag.
***"If you're sure." Leading the way to the kitchen, she glanced over her shoulder. "Can you stay for lunch?"
***She shook her head. "Sorry. I wish I could, but George has appointment at the vet in twenty minutes. Rain check?"
***"How about Tuesday?" As one of the bags sagged on the counter, she steadied it, keeping fruits and vegetables from tumbling onto the floor.
***She smiled. "Perfect."

Assuming the action tags are placed with the correct dialogue (which isn't the case with some of the contest entries I've judged), who steadied the sagging bag? Can you easily remember who's saving the produce without going back to the beginning of the scene? Who has the last line of dialogue?

By referring to both women as "she," the person doing the action and speaking becomes more muddled with every line. Imagine an entire three- or four-page scene with only "she" and "her" to guide you after the initial mention of names. Confusing, right?

To clarify who's speaking, let's modify the scene to be more specific.

Revised example:
***Her arms loaded with groceries, Jan stabbed the doorbell with her elbow.
***The door swung inward, and Grandma peeked through the opening. "Come in, dear! Let me help you carry those things to the kitchen."
***"It's okay, Grammy. I got 'em." Jan tightened her grip on heaviest bag.
***"If you're sure." Leading the way to the kitchen, her grandmother glanced over her shoulder. "Can you stay for lunch?"
***Jan shook her head. "Sorry. I wish I could, but George has appointment with the vet in twenty minutes. Rain check?"
***"How about Tuesday?" As one of the bags sagged on the counter, Grandma steadied it, keeping fruits and vegetables from tumbling onto the floor.
***With a smile, Jan set down the last of the groceries. "Perfect."

Although more frequent use of names can seem awkward, it's often necessary to make the scene easier to follow. To keep a reader's interest, avoid confusing her.

Another pronoun issue I want to address is "it." You know, that little pronoun we use all the time without having a noun for it to reflect? While Chicago Manual of Style allows "it" to represent an understood meaning or concept, I prefer not to use that arbitrary "it" in narrative. By saying exactly what you mean, you leave no chance for error on the reader's part. That's my preference, though. I recommend avoiding the use of "it" without a specific noun to new writers to promote tighter, more concise writing. However, like many areas of writing craft, the rules aren't written in stone, and I'm not about to say my way is the only way. :)

Next week, while I'm in Atlanta for RWA's National Conference, let's review basic Punctuation Rules. By then, I should be done judging contest entries and back to writing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Numbers in Writing

With a graduation party for my niece, a trip to visit my daughter, my husband's aunt's funeral, vacation w/a family reunion thrown in--all in Ohio--and RWA Conference in Atlanta all within an six-week time period, I think I need to take on some more basic topics! Numbers in Writing should fit that description. Because I typically use Chicago Manual of Style as my go-to reference, I'll use their general rules. Most importantly, be consistent throughout the manuscript when you choose your style guide.

Let's keep it simple...

1) In most cases, any numbers less than one hundred should be written in words. Some exceptions--whole hundreds are almost always words. Examples: six, forty-five, eight hundred.

2) In most cases, numbers over one hundred are written as numerals. Some exceptions--whole thousands are usually written as words. Examples: 10,068 flowers, 423,648 people, two thousand, fifty thousand.

3) Years are written in numerals. Examples: 1857, 34BC.

4) Addresses are usually written in numerals and words as you'd address an envelope or business letter. Example: 804 West Main Street.

5) Fractions are written in words. Exception--whole numbers with fractions are usually written as numerals. Examples: one-half, three-quarters, 2 3/4.

6) Apartment and building numbers are usually written in numbers. Examples: Apartment 212, Building 8, apartment 5F.

7) License plates are written in numerals. Examples: 1401WIP, LS357H.

8) Prices are usually written in words for cents and whole dollars. Some exceptions--large amounts can be a mix of words and numerals. Examples: ten cents, five dollars, $480 million, six-million-dollar mansion, $100-million lawsuit.

9) Decades can be written in words or numerals. Note--no apostrophe is used. Examples: the sixties, the 60s, the 1860s.

10) Time should be written in words. Examples: twelve o'clock, seven forty-five, nine thirty, noon, midnight.

11) Never begin a sentence with numerals.

12) When in doubt, look it up!!! And be prepared for LOTS of exceptions!

Off to pack/unpack/hit the road... See you next week for Using Pronouns!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!