Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Courtney Milan: A Slow Writer’s Guide to Making a Living (RWA2014)

Friday, July 25th, 2014

imageI’ve loved attending my first ever RWA. It’s always great fun to meet new writers, talk to those I already know, and listen to everyone chat about Romancelandia. (more…)

Mr. Darcy: Douchebag or Dreamboat? (a new series at AAR)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Welcome to the AAR Douchebag or Dreamboat series, in which AAR staffers take famous literary heroes to trial for perceived slights, misdemeanors and otherwise unsavorybehaviours. Are they a victim of their circumstances, time and/or personality, or are they just plain douchey?

Mr. Darcy:  Imperious Misanthrope or Just a Shy Guy

DB2

 

or

DB1

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It Has a Name: The Comma Splice

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Comma Police“Among the signs that more particularly betray the uneducated writer is inability to see when a comma is not a sufficient stop. Unfortunately little more can be done than to warn beginners that any serious slip here is much worse than they will probably suppose, and recommend them to observe the practice of good writers.”

 - H.W. Fowler, The King’s English, 2nd ed.  1908.

It’s been over three decades since I was an elementary school student, so I admit that things could have changed in the years since I learned the basics of proper English punctuation. I also sort-of agree with my husband’s philosophy that, as long as a person is able to clearly get across the message he or she intends to communicate, over-focusing on details such as correct spelling and recognizable sentence structure might make one a fussy, pedantic priss.

That said, I find myself scratching my head at what appears to be complete anarchy when it comes to comma usage by many of today’s writers. As I read, I wonder, what in the heck are they teaching kids in school?

Or, do writers get paid extra for every mis-used or missing comma?

Or, why does a multi-million dollar publishing company hire copyeditors who clearly think a comma is the same thing as a period?

I do admit that correct comma usage can be challenging to master, what with all of the dependent clauses versus independent clauses and rules of enumeration and introductory phrases and correct dialogue structure…it’s a lot to keep straight. Indeed, I am willing to overlook a comma missing around a parenthetical phrase and to accept the optionality of the Oxford comma. When you go to the store, please pick up milk, eggs, bread (comma optional) and peanut butter. Throw in the ever-perplexing semicolon and things can get pretty dicey.

But there comes a point where ignoring comma rules becomes openly negligent. Thus we get doozies like the following (character names changed to protect the writer):

“You’re amazing and maybe you’re struggling right now, but seriously Tony, you’ve had to be okay for your entire life, haul around everyone else’s crap, it’s okay to put it down for a minute and let the rest of us carry the burden.”*

And…

Robert never made me feel like I was settling for less than I deserved, he made me feel like having a new dream, where he was the center of it, just made sense.

No. Just no.

After struggling through yet another book full of poorly placed commas that created some pretty spectacular and confusing sentences, I got curious and started Googling around to see if maybe I’ve been misinformed my entire life. I don’t know. Maybe I missed the memo the Authority On All Things Grammar sent out with new comma usage rules.** Truly, since most of the problems I encounter seem to happen in New Adult and Young Adult fiction, I wondered if something had changed in how punctuation is taught or what is considered correct. Am I just really old fashioned, following obsolete guidelines like those people who continue to put two spaces after a period even though the typewriter has gone the way of the dinosaur? Like, maybe I’m just not down with the groovy, new bitchin’ way to write, dawg.

I was happy to learn that my understanding of the purpose of the comma is and remains spot on, at least as far as academia is concerned. In other words, it’s not me, it’s them.

I was also delighted to discover that the comma usage problem I find most egregarious has a name: The Comma Splice. This happens when a writer mistakenly believes that a comma = a period and can thus be used to join two independent clauses without the aid of a conjunction.

She shouted for him to come quickly, he bolted up the stairs and through the door.

It was a gorgeous day in Seattle, I didn’t even need to bring my umbrella when I left for work.

A simple search of “comma splice” will bring up examples galore. When I encounter this in a story, I usually come to a full and complete stop, reread the sentence, then shake my head sadly.

I see this a lot, as I noted earlier, in New Adult and Young Adult titles. I’m not sure why this is. I’d love to hear any theories. I’m certainly hoping it’s not another example of how our educational system is falling down on the job. Perhaps it is as University of Delaware English professor Ben Yagoda speculates in a piece he wrote for The New York Times:

“…I read a lot of writing by college students, and in it a strong recent trend is reversion to comma-by-sound. I attribute this not so much to students’ love of the Constitution and the classics but to the fact that they don’t read much edited prose (as opposed to Facebook status updates, tweets and the like). Two things that you really need to read a lot to understand are punctuation and spelling. (Not coincidentally, spelling is the other contemporary writing disaster.)

As far as comma use goes, my students play it by ear.”

Even following Professor Yagoda’s line of thinking, comma splices still don’t make sense unless young writers of today are hearing the world speak in endless run-on sentences with only a fraction of a pause between thoughts. I’m afraid, rather, the abundance of printed comma splices is the result of writers who simply don’t know that what they are writing is wrong. Whether or not the teachers of their lives corrected them, the lesson never sank in.

Indeed, I think a hefty portion of shame should be heaped on the shoulders of the copyeditors who let these things slide. No one can fault one or two misses within the scope of tens-of-thousands of words. Sadly, I often encounter comma splices multiple times within chapters and even on the same page.

Before anyone can use the comments section to point out that rules are meant to be broken and that using comma splices can be a stylistic choice, I’ve already read a handful of essays defending this rogue technique. I do concede that great writers can make it work, and that comma splices can be used to inject a specific cadence to a piece.

However, my opinion about this literary device is perfectly summed up by Lynne Truss, author of the fantastic book Eats, Shoots & Leaves, in her chapter “That’ll Do, Comma:

“Now, so many highly respected writers adopt the splice comma that a rather unfair rule emerges on this one: only do it if you’re famous…Done knowingly by an established writer, the comma splice is effective, poetic, dashing. Done equally knowingly by people who are not published writers, it can look weak or presumptuous. Done ignorantly by ignorant people, it is awful.” – pg. 88.

If I’m not so enthralled with a plot or thoroughly engaged with the characters that I notice comma splices, then perhaps they should be avoided.

If you have the time and inclination, take some of the comma usage quizzes listed below and see how you fair. And if you are a writer or a copyeditor, for the love of all things good in this world, please educate yourself against the Comma Splice and make the reading universe safe again.

On-line Writing Lab Quiz

NIU’s Comma Splice Quiz (challenging! – requires correct use of the semicolon)

For more generic comma usage quizzes:

Grammer.com’s Blue Book Comma Quiz

Rules for Comma Usage (quizzes at the bottom)

*Some feel that comma splices within dialogue are okay because they express the more fluid rhythm of speech. Fair enough, but the danger can be a character who seems to be rambling or talking really fast. Not that this is the only way, but here’s how I would have corrected the problematic dialogue with minimal changes and the same sentiment:

“You’re amazing, and maybe you’re struggling right now. But seriously, Tony, you’ve had to be okay for your entire life and haul around everyone else’s crap. It’s okay to put it down for a minute and let the rest of us carry the burden.”

 **Actually, according to Professer Yagoda, the memo would originate as follows:

Who decides when and how punctuation rules change? The short answer is, no one. The longer answer is that presumably and eventually, the editors of “The Associated Press Stylebook” and “The Chicago Manual of Style,” and the worthies who decide such matters for The New York Times, the Modern Language Association and a few other enterprises reach a consensus on these matters, and their decisions filter down to the rest of us.

Jenna Harper

 

 

 

 

How to write a romance… or not

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

writing a romance novel for dummiesSince I learned there was such a thing as a How to Write book, I’ve loved those suckers. Even the books that were too basic for me offered something — new advice, a fresh perspective, inspiration to write. There weren’t enough of the darn books to satisfy me.

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Jill Sorenson Interviews Suzanne Brockmann, Part II – and a Giveaway!

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

They’re back! Today Suzanne Brockmann and Jill Sorenson have more to say about writing, diversity, privilege and more. If you missed Part I, you can find that here. And – after the interview, you will find details for a Sorenson/Brockmann giveaway to enter. – Lynn

(JS) I appreciate the fact that you write characters of color and embrace diversity. I live in the San Diego area, near Camp Pendleton, and it’s a very diverse community. It’s jarring for me to read a military romance (or a football romance, for another example) without characters of color. We live in an increasingly multicultural society and I want my books to reflect that.

(SB) Oh, I’m so with you, there! I, too, have a house outside of Boston, in a town that is extremely multicultural. I believe that diversity is what makes America great. We started out as a melting pot, and we still very much are. (more…)

The Beginner’s Guide to Writing New Adult

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

ladywriting So, you want to write a New Adult book? Congratulations! You’ve chosen a genre that has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. With some hard work and a few hours of your time, you can have a great product to put out there for consumption by the masses. Your GoodReads 5-stars will skyrocket, and Harriet Klausner will sing your praises.

Best of all?

With this handy-dandy guide, it’s so simple! (more…)

Is That a Banana in Your Pocket or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?

Monday, July 29th, 2013

bananaman If you’re not a fan of sex scenes in your romance novels, then you might want to look away now, because this is a post about the language used to describe those steamy moments. So be warned that there will be several rude words and naughty phrases from here on out.

Back in the day when I used to read (and write) fanfiction, I remember reading some truly execrable sex scenes. You know the sort – the ones where you know the author was trying to burn up the screen but ended up causing widespread hilarity. There is a fine line to tread between something being hot or being funny, and while it is certainly going to be the case that one person’s turn-on is another’s unbridled amustment , I find that there are certain words and/or phrases, or an overall ‘feel’ that is guaranteed to make me giggle rather than get hot under the collar. (more…)

The Reading Effects of Writing Affects

Friday, July 26th, 2013

affected My daughter went through a phase where she dotted her i’s with little open circles that look like the ones in the Disney logo. She’d make the dots at the bottom of her exclamation points the same way. She thought it made her unique. Given that she was only eleven at the time, I just smiled, pretty certain that when she was a world famous scientist on the verge of a cure for cancer or the first female president of the United States, she’d have outgrown this silly affectation. Sure enough, at the ripe old age of fifteen, her dots are now simple points of ink on the tops of her i’s and the bottoms of her exclamation points.

Sadly, some writers demonstrate writing affectations that they don’t seem likely to outgrow any time soon. And while they may feel that these “stylistic” choices make them unique or stand out, in reality I find that they serve only to pull me out of a story quicker than the offer of a hot fudge sundae. (more…)

Mary Ann Rivers talks about loss, change, and love

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

TheStoryGuyThis week Mary Ann Rivers released her first published work, a moving novella entitled The Story Guy. Goodreads readers give it a 4.5. I thought it was almost perfect.

I know Mary Ann through twitter (every Tuesday night we watch Buffy and Tweet madly at #buffyclub). I also follow her at wonkomance.com. (Read her recent piece Love, Actually; it’s gorgeous.)

Mary Ann’s work feels deeper (which is not the same as darker) to me than much of what I read in contemporary romance. I wanted to know why she writes the way she does and asked if I could ask her for AAR. She graciously said yes.

 

Congratulations on getting your first work published! I have to tell you, The Story Guy doesn’t read like a debut novella. Your prose is clear and confident and your story limned with grace. Can you tell me how you got here? When did you start writing fiction?

Thank you! I am completely honored to be debuting as a writer in the romance community. I’ve read romance since about the fifth grade, which means I’ve been reading romance for twenty-eight years. When I was fifteen, I wrote in my diary that I wanted to be either famous poet or a romance novelist, and when I was eighteen, I wrote to Jude Deveraux after reading Sweet Liar, the very first hardback I had ever purchased, and she wrote back. Now we’re at the same house. So I would encourage diary writing, long-term goal setting, and letter writing in any writer, generally.

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New Opportunities for Aspiring Writers – and Other News From Around the Web

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

writing ** I’d noticed recently that Avon redesigned its website, and it has also now announced the launch of Share Your Book, a place for aspiring writers to post writing samples and receive feedback from readers, editors, and other authors. It reminds me somewhat of the First Page feature at Dear Author, but since this one is sponsored by a publishing house, I suspect there will be more of a presence from editors giving comments and hopefully finding new talent. Avon has had similar features in the past, including the FanLit contest that brought us Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Manda Collins, Elyssa Patrick, and several other authors.  I’ll be curious to see what new voices emerge from this new feature.  More than a few writers have emerged from the self-publishing world recently, and it looks like Avon is trying to bring some of that talent on board. (more…)