The Real Comma Rules

Comma rulesGrammarians have been known to do battle over the vagaries of comma placement. Syntax skirmishes, semi-colon controversy, and other punctuation persnicketiness can get downright nasty! Good thing this post is about other kinds of commas!

Writing, rewriting, editing, and creating all require comma skills.

1. First and foremost, writers must learn how to accommadate their physical needs. Be it a room with a view, a quiet nook, a desk, favorite coffee shop, or a designated chair, writing is best accomplished with a routine.

2. Often you must act like a commando when it comes to revising and editing. Blast all typos, vague language, and trite sayings.

3. Learn to summon your inner commadian during trying times. Hissy fits, meltdowns, and tantrums don’t solve problems. Finding the funny doesn’t either—but at least you can write a humorous blog about it!

4. Avoid a commakazi approach when pitching, querying, responding to an agent rejection, or replying to a troller. Thoughtful, professional, polite discourse and emails are a must. As for trollers, non-engagement is the only  way to go.

5. Take time to engage in some commaraderie with folks on twitter and Facebook. Don’t neglect your friends either. Meet them for coffee and dinner…and try not to talk about your latest writing project.

6. Keep your dream to be comma millionaire novelist.playwright/screenwriter/poet/blogger to yourself.

7. Creating believable characters require the writer to be a commaeleon, portraying their emotions, intelligence, fears, joys, and ambitions with effective dialog and action.

8. Find someone to commaiserate with. We all need a venting buddy. Just make certain to end the bitchfest with uplifting thoughts for the future. If your ‘someone’ tells you to quit or give up find another.

9. Indulge in the art of comma sutra. Discover fresh ways to tell the story, find pleasure in finding the perfect word, and seek enjoyment in crafting the nuanced phrase.

10. Remember that the best word wizards practice  alcommay. Transmuting strings of  words into a riveting story demands patience and practice.

Now these are comma rules I think we can all agree on!

FYI: For a thorough look at actual comma rules, go to OWL at Purdue.

Related links: Rock Your Writing, Readin’ & Writin’

Where Art Thou?

settingSetting is more than just location!

Usually when folks think of setting in the literary sense they think physical location. But setting is much more than that. Authors construct setting like they do characters and plot.

Setting is a powerful element for establishing themes and often  reflect the author’s own background, biases, and perspectives.

Setting can influence, shape, and emphasize a character’s actions and ideas. Setting can drive plot, create mood, or assume the role of antagonist..

Setting can reflect the following milieus:
  • political
  • time ( minutes, hours, days, years )
  • historical
  • financial
  • socio-economic
  • cultural
  • religious
  • dystopian/utopian
  • magical
  • mythical
  • surreal
  • constructed/ alternate /parallel/imaginary
  • dream ( think Inception )
  • virtual ( think Tron )
  • psychological
  • attitudinal
  • industrial
  • seasonal
Setting can also refer to:

How are you using setting?

 Related links: Rock Your Writing

Construction Zone

I have a 53 mile round trip commute. Freeway construction really slows me down—often taking me more than an hour to get home. So what’s a writer to do while waiting in stopped traffic? Why imagine how construction signs mirror the writing process, of course!

Road work ahead

The perfect signage for the first page, the first blog, the first website, the first tweet. There are months and months ( and years ) of plotting and drafting  and rewriting and editing  to come. Sounds daunting but the work is part of the process.

one lane road

Unless you’re part of writing duo or team, this sign applies to most writers. It’s all you you you. Your effort. Your time. Your imagination. Your grit. Your tenacity.

hard hat area

Writers need to prepare for falling debris. Their world is fraught with danger. Our own fears and anxieties, dismissive friends, lack of time management, errands, careers, family, and a myriad of setbacks will consume our days. Writers must take a hard look at their dream and prepare. Wearing your hard hat should help see you safety through the construction process.

please excuse our appearanceYoga pants, t-shirt, hair gathered in a pony tail, face free of make-up ( for the gals ), scruffy face ( for the guys ); the writer’s uniform stays on unless they must emerge from their writing cave. And even then….

Bump

Ack! There’s a glitch in the plot. That character isn’t convincing! This dialog is blah! Constructing a novel is a bumpy ride and part of the fun!

flagman

Pay heed to those in the know. Listen to their advice. Running over the flagman might land you in a novel ditch.

slow

Ideal signage for editing. Zipping through a draft doesn’t allow for a thoughtful and critical examination of diction, syntax, and grammar.

detour

You know what causes detours! Tweeting, facebooking, web browsing, computer issues, lost data….or ack! plotting snafus! Detours are frustrating and take time to correct. Take a deep breath.

exit closed

Noooo…not that! I need to go that way! What exits are closed to you? See a closed exit as an opportunity for redirection, for a scenic route, for a different way to achieve your goal.

end road work

Whoot whoot! Your drafts are done! It’s time to send it to a beta reader, agent, or editor! Happy dance. Until another idea for a book sends you back to the beginning!

Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’, Rock Your Writing

Writing Fortress

castleThe historical fiction I’m currently writing required extensive research on castles. And it struck me—somewhere between the first and second drafts—that the act of writing a novel shares many similarities with  the parts of a castle.

The MOAT is a writer’s protection from outside forces like talkative significant others, crying children, and errands. The wider and deeper your mental and physical moat the more likely you’ll be able to carve out extended writing time.

Only lower the DRAWBRIDGE for allies, those with encouraging words who would never stab you in the back. Allow honest beta readers to cross as well.

Your CASTLE WALLS must be thick thick thick! Enough to withstand a siege of naysayers battering your dream with a canon of criticism and thick enough to withstand rejections and setbacks.

Make your writing location your own private SOLAR. Only allow a few entrance into your writing sanctuary. Station a guard at the door—even if it’s only a Do Not Disturb sign hanging from the back of your chair.

Go to the GARDEROBE often—the privy or bathroom. Excrete all those nasty adverbs, trite words, hackneyed expressions, banal characters, ho hum pacing, and insipid plots. Yuck! They stink up a manuscript!

Visit the WARDROBE frequently. Store ideas, research, and deleted word gems for future use.

The KITCHEN is good for burning first drafts, cooking up a query letter, or staring into the fire while contemplating the publishing world.

Don’t forget to stop by the BUTTERY for whatever is “ale-ing” you or the BOTTLERY for the celebratory  Finished-Another-Chapter goblet of wine.

Keep your deepest, darkest fears in the DUNGEON. Chain them to the wall. Don’t let them see the light of day. Torturing yourself is pointless and a waste of precious writing time.

Your ARMORY is best stocked with knowledge about the weapons of plotting, a chain mail of literary craft, and sword-sharp syntax and grammar.

Use the CHAPEL  to pray or beg the writing gods and muses for strength, endurance, and grace. Some gods require sacrifices—like reduced TV watching or Facebook time.

Make sure to say hello to all your friends, tweeps, and followers hanging out in the social media GREAT HALL.

Keep your KEEP—the highest and most secure place of a castle—strong. Keep the faith. Keep  sending queries. Keep blogging. Keep editing. Keep learning. Keep writing.

Related posts: Readin’ & Writin’

Direction Connection

directionWhich way did he go?

North. East. South. West. Directions are often used symbolically. In which direction a character heads often foreshadows his moral growth or decline.

There is, however, one important caveat to note. The literary symbolism associated with direction is used by northern hemisphere European/North American authors. You’ll figure out why in a moment.

NORTH is traditionally associated with colder weather, and so is linked to austerity, starkness, industriousness, isolation, cold-heartedness, hostility, and bitterness. Like the thick layers necessary to protect one from the cold ( be it psychological, spiritual, or emotional ) a character wears these layers as emotional protection.

SOUTH is warm temperatures and sunny climes. It’s where the wealthy went for rest and relaxation.  It’s associated with plenty, hedonism, clothing removal, and the hot sweaty acts one engages in when naked. A character’s lusts, passions, and raw subconscious are exposed.

Not convinced? Think of the geography of Game of Thrones. It’s a fictional world—George R.R. Martin could have set the saga in the southern hemisphere but didn’t.  Even the name Stark is descriptive of a cold northern landscape.

WEST: The symbolism of this direction might be an American thing. Freedom from rules, freedom from laws, adventure, fresh starts, morality, and possibilities are associated with this direction. In Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, Huck and Jim decide to ( spoiler alert ) go west where they will be free from the racism and prejudice they encountered in the story. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is another example. John Galt and his groupies hide out in a valley in the west.

EAST: Exotic and mysterious, it’s linked to renewal, rebirth, early civilizations, and the location of the Garden of Eden ( kind of vague directions if you ask me ) and yet it’s also associated with wealth and corruption.

So before having your character head off somewhere, you might want to consider if direction is important.

Related links: Symbols & More Symbols: Rock Your Writing