Take a pause: LfmM on commas.

Remember back in school when they told you that if you read a sentence and there’s a natural pause, a comma is necessary? I followed that advice until I realized that half my commas were in the wrong places, so I had to learn to forget that advice. I don’t know about you, but I pause where commas are not appropriate and vice-versa.

The better habit is to learn to recognize when you need that comma by “the rules” and practise, practise, practise. The first and most common situation is the complex sentence.

Before I continue, I must clarify that I’m going to speak only to the simplest of cases.

To recognize a complex sentence, look for two complete sentences of equal importance with a joining word (conjunction) but different subjects. This is best done by looking for the new subject in the second part of the sentence then checking to make sure it has its own verb. In a complex sentence, each of the two sentences are properly referred to as an “independent clause.”

You also have to learn which conjunctions (joining words) deserve a comma. But, and, which, yet, for, or, and so are the most common ones. The Editor’s Blog’s article has many examples of where they are used and not used.

Because I read pauses before the conjunctions that don’t normally get a comma (they signal a dependent clause), I found it important to learn some of them as well. As, where, since, that, while, when, and because are the most common ones. This article from Grammar Monster has a listing that’s helpful as well as examples to help you understand more than my little explanation.

Watch carefully not to use the comma when the object end of the sentence has two complete sentences, though! In that case, they’re called “dependent clauses” because they sort of lean on the first part of the sentence rather than form a new one. Grammar Monster has a useful link with examples to help learn these situations.

If a chunk in the middle of the sentence can be pulled out and the sentence makes sense if you read it with the chunk missing, it’s probably what’s called a “parenthetical phrase.” Think like you could put it in parenthesis, except that parenthesis are rarely used in fiction. This phrase is usually separated out by two commas, but if it’s a total change in direction of thought, the em-dash is used.

If you re-name a noun in a sentence, the second one is called an appositive. My trick to knowing if the appositive deserves commas or not comes from the editing of Alias Thomas Bennet for publication. Meryton Press copy editor/proofreader/layout editor (yes, she’s all that and a cover artist too!), Ellen Pickels marked explanations on two sentences similar to the following:

Mr. Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam joined him in the call to Hunsford.

Lady Catherine was speaking to her daughter, Anne, on the settee.

My “trick” is to remember the “Mr. Darcy’s Cousins” examples. The simple explanation to the reason there is no comma for Colonel Fitzwilliam and commas for Anne deBourgh:

  • Mr. Darcy has more than one cousin, so Colonel Fitzwilliam doesn’t get commas.
  • Lady Catherine has only one daughter, so Anne gets commas.

The “proper” explanation relates to restrictive and non-restrictive appositives. Yeah, sounds scary! In the first italicized sentence, “Colonel Fitzwilliam” is a restrictive appositive. The appositive is necessary for the reader to know which of Mr. Darcy’s cousins is there. In the second sentence, if Anne was removed, the sentence would have the exact same meaning. This is called a non-restrictive appositive. It’s easier for me to remember many cousins and one daughter, though. Chicago Manual of Style has another way of explaining it that may help if I’ve mucked it up worse in your mind!

When a sentence appears to be complex with a parenthetical phrase (perhaps a prepositional phrase) that can be pulled out, it becomes confusing as to where the comma goes—before or after the “and?” That is, the “and” may appear like it should stay with the sentence, leading you to believe the comma goes after it. In some cases, that is correct. But when?

Gail Warner, my Meryton Press editor for my two novels and most recent novella, taught me a trick. “If you pull out the phrase, would you use the comma in front of the ‘and?’” So if the second sentence is part of the end of the first sentence (dependent clause) you wouldn’t use a comma if the phrase was missing. In that case, the comma goes after “and.” If you have a pair of independent clauses, there would be a comma before the “and.”

A comma is used before the closing quotation mark if a dialogue tag like “she said” is used, like the example on the left.

As in the picture below, a comma is necessary to break off a name when a person is addressed below.

Wow, we’ve learned a lot about commas today. Trouble is, there are about 100 other rules for them. Just another reason to have a good editor who knows the details!

Speaking of which, Gail Warner and I are working on my latest, A Most Handsome Gentleman. She’s removed dozens of commas that I put before the subordinating conjunction “as.” I need to practise more!

Yeah, I know. Preaching to the choir! Thanks for continuing to read, but how about those comments? There will be a draw for a prize at the end of the series!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Suzan’s JASNA Regency Costume Adventure

My costuming road trips continue as I purchase hats, ribbon, beads, and trim in Mexico in the winter and bed sheets for gown fabric in Canada in the summer for my Regency costuming events each year. What adventures I have! This time, the gig was a presentation on the Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment (TSRCE) at the May meeting of the Victoria BC Region of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).I shared a PowerPoint presentation explaining the TSRCE and its success, showed off a portion of my collection of Thrift Shop upcycled finds, and enjoyed the tea and goodies with other like-minded Austen fans on May 13, 2017. Here are the pictures to prove it. The presentation, complete with references to parasols:

Here are some of the materials on show (click on the thumbnails to enlarge):

 

This is just a sampling of my stash. I really need to buy less and construct/sew more as the raw materials for Regency costumes are taking over my closet!

Me with my new coral beads, earrings, and fan, with some Regency hat wannabes in the background:

There was good interest in the program, and I did a pitch for the Jane Austen Festival in Port Alberni on July 14-16, 2017. I’ll be there for the Guinness Book of Records count for most people in a room in Regency costuming on July 15 at 10am-noon. I also offered to email my drawings of patterns for a lace cap and my original cushion-cover reticules to interested members.

Thanks to Merle Brown and Alison Dacia Brown who shepherded me through my worries and needs for this event and helped make it a success, and to the members of Victoria JASNA for being so welcoming. Photo credit goes to Bruce, who also helped me with my technical issues for the projector, and Alison Dacia Brown.

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Other news:

  • I’m currently editing A Most Handsome Gentleman, a P&P-inspired Regency comedy-romance novella that just finished posting at AHA, for a fall release.
  • Learning from My Mistakes will return soon with more punctuation and some POV tips!Save

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from My Mistakes: Show, don’t tell

I’m a “tell” kinda gal. I’m better at narrative than dialogue, and after all the experience and practice on “show, don’t tell” writing techniques, my beta (unpaid editor) stills calls me out on my on blunt statements where I should have immersed myself in description. It’s not that I can’t do it or do it well, it’s just that being straight and to the point worked well for me in business and academic writing, and I got used to it. Well, in fiction writing, we must get over that bluntness!

So what does this mean?

Suzan Lauder’s Learning from my Mistakes Lesson #9: Show, don’t tell: Describe the feelings and senses to show your readers what is happening rather than stating them in plain language.

The writer wants to make the reader feel like they’re in the moment, and descriptive phrasing is more engaging. This style issue ties in well to Deep Point of View, which will be discussed in a later post.

I find there are three places which benefit from this rule: in comments about observing senses and feelings, in dialogue instead of boring old dialogue tags, and in scene-setting.

Example 1: Observations about senses and feelings (good for Deep POV).

Original:

She smelled it before she saw how embarrassed he was. It must have been him.

Show, don’t tell:

The air became heavy with a distinctive odour. Someone had passed wind, and she’d bet it was the fellow whose face was now crimson to the tips of his ears. His lack of eye contact confirmed it.

Example 2: Basic dialogue with a boring old dialogue tag.

Original:

“Oh, I wondered about that,” he said angrily.

Show, don’t tell:

He clenched his fists at his side much the same as he set his jaw. His full lips were turned down in a decided scowl. “Oh, I wondered about that.”

Example 3: Dialogue where you think you’ve been pretty descriptive already is a combination of the two above examples.

Original:

She was distraught about the situation. “Why would you do such a thing?”

Show, don’t tell:

Her eyes filled with unshed tears and she swallowed deeply to prevent a sob, moving away before anyone could see her reaction. How could this be happening? “Why would you do such a thing?” Her quiet voice broke at the end.

Although there’s nothing wrong with the original, can you see how much better the revised version is from a reader’s viewpoint? How could you further improve on the paragraph?

Example 4: Scene setting.

Original:

The boy seated himself on the grass in the dog park to eat soup from a Styrofoam cup on this sunny afternoon.

Show, don’t tell:

He spent little time considering the place where he dropped himself down on the lawns of the dog park, just a short perusal of the ground to make sure there was no shit there. No assessing how close to sit by the path, whether to go nearer to the trees or farther from the street, or considering watching the other kids in the skate park as he ate, even if it was noisy over there. He just plopped down, crossed his legs, peeled back the lid to the fragrant soup, and sipped its hot goodness.

As he adjusted himself in his seat, the parched grass crunched and crackled below him and scratched him through the hole in his jeans. He squinted into the sun.

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Notice how the senses are used in the latter example, and more deeply than “he smelled” or “he heard.” Describing these features is “show, don’t tell,” and it’s one of the most powerful tools a writer can use.

As an author, this may not be your problem. Some writers use helpful descriptions with ease, but it’s a theme some of us are constantly working on improving, and it’s another way you can learn from my writing mistakes.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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LfMM Suzan Lauder’s 100-Word Editing Checklist

I said in an earlier post that I’d share my list of words to search for if you want to un-muddy your writing to help you self-edit. (Lesson #2 and #3 at end of post). This list is a golden gem of mine that started after I read a book called Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair. I’ve used the ideas he suggested in the book and added many of my own to create a list of 100 words to search for to improve your writing.

“100 words?” you ask, “Isn’t that tedious?”

Yes it is. And if you don’t use these words, or get in the habit of it after having searched for the 100 a few times, your writing will shine. It’s worth tedium of a few rounds to get better as a writer. In addition, if you, like may authors, want to shave some word count off your novel, this review can often cut 5% of word count at first. Yes, my writing was 5% muddy before it ever got to an editor!

My over-used words at one point or another: that, look, act, then, such, all, as, about, turned, smile, scowl, however, in fact. What are yours?

But there’s more: I like to pare down adverbs to the minimum by rewording (including considering the adverb as the verb or adjective instead) or cutting, but I don’t believe in removing them totally, as they do have their purpose. A good rule of thumb is an average of no more than one -ly adverb per page of text. Adverbs like really, totally, only, and just can almost always be cut.

There are words I’ve taught myself to limit use, and the top of that list is another adverb: very. Most of the time, this adverb is your story begging for a better adjective. Very small: diminutive. Very old: antiquated. Very pretty: beautiful. Very late: tardy. Very lazy: lackadaisical. You get the idea. Get to be friends with a good thesaurus for better word use.

Some word formations can signal passive tone, such as a verb ending in –ed with to, or some –ing words, or had with another verb. Keep it active.

If you want to be a good POV (point of view) writer in third person deep point of view, you must get rid of “filter” words. More on that in a POV post, but I mention it because it’s on the cheat sheet.

If you’re like me, and write period fiction, you’ll also want to find words that were not in use during the period and exchange them for something more appropriate to the times. For example, the word “high-tech” is from the 1970’s, so you don’t want it in your Second World War story or older. Since I write Regency, I’ll have a post on Regency language later in the series.

How to use the checklist? In MS Word, there’s a function called “Find” on the “Home” tab. Type in the letters of the checklist item, then use the arrows in the pop-up box to go from one to the next. Evaluate each case, and if needed, reword, watching not to get into the rut of using another muddy style. You don’t have to change them all, just the ones that are easy to change. Soon, you’ll recognize your style and which words are never a problem for you.

After using the list a few times, you’re bound to customize the 100-word list for yourself, adding words your beta reader has indicated are over-used and crossing off those you have no issues with. These change from time to time, so be flexible with your checklist.

Suzan Lauder’s 100 word Editing Checklist

The applicable lessons to this post:

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Suzan Lauder’s Learn from My Mistakes Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

I hope a few of you share some words that would be on your list in the comments for this post. Enjoy your self-editing experiences!

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Please note the new widget on the right panel of my blog main page at the bottom. It takes you to my newest story posting for free at AHA, A Most Handsome Gentleman (formerly known as “Hot Collins”). It’s funny!

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Learning my punctuation mistakes is more of Lesson #5!

Betas (unpaid editors) can be a blessing and a curse: some have taught me my best tricks, and some have taught me their own mistakes. One told me the wrong rules for punctuation for dialogue. This is not that complex. As in Lesson #6, look it up!

A recent survey complained that authors over-use the em-dash, and I believe it’s because many writers don’t take the time to learn to properly use the colon and semicolon and to understand when commas can be used for subordinate and parenthetical clauses.

I like semicolons, as they join two similar ideas; however, they are rarely used in fiction, so take care when deciding to use one as opposed to a conjunction or a pair of separate sentences. Colons are great for elaboration, explanation, or clarification of a thought, but they’re not used in dialogue.  Commas should be used if the “aside” statement is of less importance than deserves dashes. Parenthesis are not used in fiction, so commas or the em-dash are the best alternative for this type of situation.

The em-dash should be saved for “WOW” situations or important “asides.” That is, this punctuation is best used for abrupt changes, clauses that are far more important than the rest of the sentence, and to add drama to a clause. Otherwise, learn to use the appropriate alternative punctuation or consider rewording your sentence to make it simpler.

How to make an em-dash in MS Word: Consider a pair of words that you want an em-dash between. After you type the first word, leave no spaces, type two hyphens back-to-back, type the next word with no spaces. When you hit the space bar after the second word that frames the em-dash, it will appear. In other words, you replace the space between the words with two back-to-back hyphens.

I have trouble with too many commas, and a future post will be on some easy tricks to remember some situations for this. I bought a few books on grammar and punctuation, and I’m learning. And an editor cuts the extra commas I still include!

Learning from my mistakes would recommend taking advantage of outside reviewers like betas and editors to check punctuation!

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

 

 

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Who gets to talk first? #LearningfromMyMistakes by Suzan Lauder

Today, you’ll hear all about how I had to do a complete re-write of four chapters and learned from it.

When my latest novel, Letter from Ramsgate, was accepted for publication, but before I submitted the manuscript, I was asked by my editor, Gail Warner, to make some changes. No big deal. The same thing happened with Alias Thomas Bennet. In that case, I cut the verbatim letter from Mr. Collins, a rehash of the Lucas Lodge party, and minor redundancies with Austen that added no value to the novel.

This time, Gail asked me to shuffle and reword the first few chapters of the book to try to get more face time for Darcy and Elizabeth, the protagonists.

In Letter from Ramsgate, our dear couple don’t meet for several chapters in the novel, so their early scenes are separate. Gail explained that this could be the reason I found my AHA readership slow to grow when I was posting a year ago: not enough D&E at the start of the story.

“Eureka!” moment! Readers want D&E and are dead bored without them. No author wants dead boring in their first chapters! Yeah, I know readers want more D&E than any book can handle! So we’ll give them D&E!

Portrait of Léon Riesener as Mr. Darcy in LfR. Artist: Eugène Delacroix.

I thought about it for a while, and decided to write a short new scene. The basics of the scene had been originally told from a minor character’s point of view (POV): one Mrs. Isabel Younge. Mr. Darcy got to tell the story instead, and the novel now opens with that scene. (Click on the thumbnails to see a better view of the artwork for the “casting” of the main POV characters in Letter from Ramsgate.) We carried on in a linear time line—more about that in a minute—and I rewrote the bulk of the first three chapters into Elizabeth’s POV, with minor scenes going to Georgiana starting in Chapter 2.

 

Suzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #8: Avoid telling too much of your story through the voice of a minor character, particularly in the early chapters. Let your lead characters’ voices shine through.

Now, exceptions to Lesson #8 will take place when a skilled author attempts a complex approach to POV by showing the protagonist through the eyes of a lesser character as a narrator who will never be important. In that case, the narrator is often omniscient and carries their POV through the entire novel. I’m going to talk about POV choices and my own learning curve with POV in a later post.

Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples, 1812 as Elizabeth Bennet in LfR. Artist: François Pascal Simon, baron Gérard.

Amélie du Bois, wife of Lt.-Gen. Emile Joseph Frison, aide to King Leopold II, as Georgiana in LfR. Artist: Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet

As for Letter from Ramsgate, once I’d established with my readers that Elizabeth was the protagonist, then and only then did we have Georgiana’s minor scenes. The flashback from Isabel’s POV was all in one chapter later on rather than in the beginning of the novel.

Marie-Denise Smits née Gandolphe for LfR Isabel Younge. (Courtesy Christie’s)

With Alias Thomas Bennet, there were a half dozen flashbacks within the main story, and a few reviewers gave feedback that they didn’t care for flashbacks. To find that others find something I enjoy reading as a confusing style was a surprise, but rather than question their position, I decided to learn from the knowledge of their preferences. So Letter from Ramsgate has a very linear time progression in comparison.

Suzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #9: Take care with the use of flashbacks or “in media res” as some readers are confused by details that are “out of order” of a linear time line.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lament the style for ATB. I recently read it for pleasure for the first time (after a couple of dozen times reading it as a writer and self-editor!) and I like the way it turned out, how the flashbacks doled out the hints for the mystery at a slow but steady pace. It wouldn’t have been the same without them, and the mystery is a gem of that novel.

I’m going to talk about how to choose point of view in a later post!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!