Category Archives: self editing

Commas and how to use them (Part 1)

Do you need the Oxford Comma?Hi! Back from an extended adventure. I’ve missed being part of the blogging community.

Below, I’ve shared the first of a really, really comprehensive set of rules about using commas from over at the Story Empire Blog.

I personally love commas; they control emphasis and sentence rhythm and serve as simple traffic signs to tell readers which part of a sentence they’re currently in and when they are changing directions. I’ve posted a bunch about commas on this blog because I love them so much (for example, in “What’s your favorite punctuation mark? And the one you hate?”

And “Commas Control Emphasis. Here’s How!”

My own experience teaching college writing for 25 years led me to believe that reducing the number of “rules” people have to remember is better than trying to explain everything in great detail. Rules tend to make our eyes glaze over.

So, in What’s your favorite punctuation mark? And the one you hate?, I reduced the number of “rules” to five, noting that in some cases, even applying the rule is a judgment call (e.g., note the missing comma after “post” in this sentence and the use of one after “cases”). My five rules for when commas are needed are:

  • After introductory elements (usually)
  • Around interrupters (including nonessential modifiers; always)
  • In direct address (always)
  • Before “and” or “but” (and other coordinating conjunctions) in a list of hree or more items (Long live the Oxford comma!)
  • Before the “and” or “but” in a compound sentence (two complete sentences joined with a coordinating conjunction like “and” or “but”**). (usually)

I note that if you think you might need a comma and it doesn’t fit one of these categories, don’t insert it. Observance of that caution will eliminate a lot of commas between nouns and their verbs!

Stroll over to Story Empire to check out Parts I and II of this post on this most useful and most misunderstood punctuation mark!

Story Empire

Hello SErs! Harmony here 🙂 I hope this finds you all well. Today, I’d like to take a look at commas. For such a small punctuation mark, it has a big impact on how well or not our sentences read. Though we use commas a lot of the time, few of us understand them fully.

What is a comma? What does it do?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘A comma marks a slight break between different parts of a sentence. Used properly, commas make the meaning of sentences clear by grouping and separating words, phrases, and clauses.’

The different types of comma: Listing (Standard or Oxford), Introductory, Joining, Gapping, Bracketing, and other comma uses.

One thing that can make commas so confusing is that sometimes you have options, especially with the Listing and Gapping commas.

Because there is a lot to cover on this topic, I have split it…

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Maybe You Don’t Need that Book on Writing After All . . .

Editing tips for writers. . . If you have a computer and can check out Editing 101 at Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Susan Uttendorfsky of Adirondack Editing provides a host of FREE lessons on everything from “Removing Filter Words” (a must-read) to when to use “which” or “that.” I’ve found Susan’s posts to be accurate, clear, and friendly. Check them out!

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Do You Hate Semicolons? Prepare for Battle!

Do you hate semicolons when you read?This lively post by Aliette de Bodard at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog not only defends semicolons but also encourages us to learn to use them well.  My take: I’m an enemy of rigid rules, period. That said, there are some conventions writers really need to know, such as how to punctuate dialogue so it’s clear when it begins and ends. Readers get used to some of these conventions, and get jerked out of the story when their expectations are not met.

So whether to break a rule can really be a judgment call. Definitely: you best serve your prose if you know the rule, and the consequences of breaking it.

And by the way, I’ve been reading an awful lot of wonderful books that are unself-consciously replete with adverbs. I think I’m going to go back to some of my stripped-down paragraphs and slip those adverbs back in. Judiciously, of course. And in the dark of night.

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Do you want to know just the right word?

Thanks, Jean! I’ve been using Thesaurus.com with excellent results—way better than that thin list on Word. But this tool looks even more useful. I’ll give it a try today and pass on my results.

Happens to me more than I’d like to admit!

I’ve found a tool to help!

I’m on a roll, typing like a maniac. 

Until I stumble over a word.

My writing comes to a screeching halt. A word isn’t right. But I don’t want to stop my progress. After all, I’m a writing maniac. So I use a placeholder, I’ll come back to this section later and figure out the right word or words to convey my thoughts.

However, I’ve now got an itch I can’t scratch. That thought, that missing word or phase will not leave me alone.

Ever happen to you?

My protagonist whispers he can’t work like this, it’s too unprofessional.

Sigh, okay, I cave, save what little progress I’ve made and return to my placeholder. So I…

  • Think, think, think, I’ve got nothing.
  • Look up the placeholder word. Huh? Not even close. What was I thinking?
  • Check thesaurus. What…

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EDITING 101: 24 – Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles…

This column is near and dear to my heart. I’ve posted on dangling modifiers before, and I see them all the time in my critique groups.

A couple of thoughts:

First, the aversion to “splitting infinitives” comes from an 18th-century spurt of wishfulness that English could be elevated to the status of Latin—in which infinitives are one word and can’t be “split.” Note that in Romance languages like French and Spanish, this still holds true; how can you “split” an infinitive like “hablar”? But English is not a Romance language, despite having picked up many words from French, Spanish, and Italian, in particular. So those “rules” never rightly applied.

Second, note that “to boldly go” is in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare’s meter, and a natural meter in English. That’s why “to go boldly” just doesn’t have the same ring.

Dangling modifiers, on the other hand, cause problems for me because there’s a brief mental hiccup when the modifier has to hunt for its appropriate noun or pronoun. Sure, I can figure out who or what is doing the action of the modifier, but do writers really want readers stopping, even for a second, to puzzle?

This column is clear and concise, presenting these issues well. Thanks to both Chris the Story Reading Ape and Adirondack Editing.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Split Infinitives and Dangling Participles

Editors frequently correct both of these, but one is actually ok to use, while the other is not. Care to make a wager on which one is which before I get started?

Ante up!

What is a split infinitive, after all? It’s a sentence where a word, usually an adverb, interrupts a full verb (or full infinitive). A full infinitive is the verb with the word “to” in front of it—to run, to walk, to spit. The most famous split infinitive is “to boldly go.” Editors and teachers used to mark this as incorrect, but it’s all right to split an infinitive. Some examples are:

  • Lyn continued to quickly run toward the burning building.

  • Willow…

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EDITING 101: 22 – Using Registered Trademarks and Brand Names…

Understanding how to handle trademarked or brand names does indeed seem to perplex many of us. There’s some good practical advice in this post.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Originally posted as the Dun Writin’—Now Whut? series on this blog, EDITING 101 is a weekly refresher series for some of you and brand new for others.

Courtesy of Adirondack Editing

Using Registered Trademarks and Brand Names

When you’re writing and your character uses a Kleenex, you’ve just used a registered trademark. Normally in non-fiction or business writing, you’d see it this way: Kleenex® or Kleenex™. To avoid using a brand name, you could say your character used a “tissue.”

You do not have to use ® or ™ in fiction writing.

The words aspirin, escalator, phillips-head screw, zipper, yo-yo, and vaseline were once trademarked but have lost that protection. They acquired such market dominance that the brand names became genericized. Companies want their products to become popular—but not too popular!—since there’s a price to pay for that popularity.

Kleenex®, Xerox®, Band-Aid®, and Plexiglas® were once in danger of losing their trademark…

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7 Rookie Writing Mistakes (and 7 Ways to Improve)

The “7 Rookie Mistakes” from Phoebe Quinn over at A Writer’s Path ring true. For example, I agree we tend to recycle clichéd characters from other things we’ve read or TV we’ve seen. It’s because we do this that literature in all its forms has such a profound effect on our values. We think “heroes” MUST behave like the hero in a popular book or that people who behave like the villain we just saw on Netflix are also villainous. It’s tough in writing to catch yourself scribbling in these “types.”
What do you think of Quinn’s fixes? I’m still a pantser, and I do pay the price—but I want to be surprised by my own writing, and outlines take that surprise away.

A Writer's Path

pencil-7-writing

by Phoebe Quinn

7 rookie writing mistakes:

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