Monday, August 18, 2008

M's Rant on Punctuation, Style and Grammar

Dialogue: “ALL punctuation inside the quotes. Exception for clarity -- ‘
single quotes inside a piece of dialogue at the end of a sentence’.”
“Use a comma at the end of a quote before a dialogue tag,” she said, “Not
a period. I keep seeing period quote capitol letter. No.” She went on to explain that you only use a period inside the quotes if the narrative that follows is NOT a dialogue tag, but is, in fact, a stand alone sentence.

Commas: Commas are not whimsical creatures to be sprinkled on a manuscript
like cayenne pepper in a Cajun restaurant. If you see them wandering about
loose please corral them and put them back where they belong.
Acceptable uses of commas: Parenthetical expressions, such as “In fact” in
the dialogue explanation, should be set off by commas. If you can take the
phrase out of the sentence without changing the sentence structure it’s a
parenthetical expression. (Parenthetical expressions should be set off by
Use serial commas before conjunctions. An example would be items, numbers,
and names in a list. Adjectives, however, do not get set off by commas. No
commas are needed in describing a big blue house.

Breaking the rules is fun and sometimes gives us all a little thrill of
guilty pleasure. While I can live with an occasional sentence fragment --
actually as a writer I’m quite fond of them -- comma splices and run on sentences
are simply bad grammar. Hunt them down and kill them, please.

Redundancy: If the main character runs her hands through her hair when she’s
nervous, it’s a character trait. Is she runs her hands through her hair
every place you cut the dialogue tag, just so that we can tell who’s speaking, it’
s redundant.

Dialogue Tags: Hunt them down like the rodents they are and kill them. “He
said” is fine for a forth grade composition. By adult literature we expect
something a tad less obtrusive and a lot more informative.
“You turned back time to spend this evening with me?” she asked.
“Almost,” he admitted. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Without the dialogue tags:
She eyed the clock suspiciously. “You turned back time to spend this evening
with me?”
“Almost.” He opened his palm, revealing the two double A batteries he’d
liberated. “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

Adverbs have pretty much gone out of style in modern fiction. Usually an
adverb is a shortcut -- a way for an author to TELL you something rather than
showing us the action through description. He moved quickly and quietly VS He
crossed the room, his weight on the balls of his feet as he slunk from shadow
to shadow.

Speaking of which, SHOW don’t TELL is an old and well respected rule. Just
because we’re short doesn’t mean authors can get away with narrating huge
blocks of plot between the sex. We want action, not court reporting.
While our books are short, we still need breaks. Chapters are nice.

Preferable not more than ten to fifteen pages long. Its very handy if the book is not
all one continuous chapter. Our readers are busy people, on the go, and may
well not be able to read the book in one sitting.

Within Chapters, scene breaks are often quite helpful, divided either by a
white space or a set of THREE asterisks. Within scenes, it’s also useful to
have smaller subdivisions, known as paragraphs. A few of our authors do not
understand this concept. There is simply no justification for a two page long
paragraph in short fiction. If nothing else, count. No more than eight properly
formatted lines to a paragraph, please.

Point of View. The standard rule is one scene, one POV. While an experienced
author may find it necessary or even advisable to switch POV within a scene,
an author has to demonstrate to me that she KNOWS the rule before she can
break it.

He climbed the stairs, his gaze flicking ahead into the darkness. He knew
she was waiting for him. Somewhere. Alone in the darkness, waiting. His heart
beat in a short, staccato rhythm as he rounded the last bend on the landing.
The weapon felt cool against her skin, separate, apart from her, an
instrument of the Lord’s work, refusing to absorb her body heat. She could feel him.
Sense his presence. Closer. Closer.
A breeze snuck in through an open window. A dull thud announced his
presence. Silly humans. When would they learn not to put plants on the window sill?
He stopped at to survey the damage. Thankfully he wouldn’t have to clean it
up. Some days it was useful not having hands. He screeched in outrage as the
woman stepped back on his tail.

OK. Not only is this awful, but we’ve got three paragraphs in three POVs.
How do you tell? Well, she simply CAN NOT know that his heart is beating in a
short staccato rhythm unless she’s removed it and it’s laying in her hand. Nor
can HE know the temperature of the “weapon” -- she’s holding a 357 Banana,
btw, as it’s a live action role playing scenario.

The cat’s POV does not add anything to the scene.

This is what it should look like when it comes back:
She could hear the sound of his footfalls as he crept up the old, winding
staircase. She held her breath, trying hard not to give her presence away. He
was getting close. The floorboards let out a fain groan as he reached the
The weapon felt cool against her skin, separate, apart from her, an
instrument of the Lord’s work, refusing to absorb her body heat. She could feel him.
Sense his presence. Closer. Closer.
A breeze tugged at the hem of her shirt. A dull thud behind her startled
her, eliciting a small gasp. The cat screeched in outrage as she stepped back on
his tail. So much for the element of surprise…

And lastly, there’s the sex. We’re short, hot, erotica. No cheating! I don’
t care if there are 3 sex scenes back to back -- I’m assuming they’re all
integral to the plot or they wouldn’t be there. Don’t tell me they spent the
whole night making love. We’re not in that much of a hurry to get to the next
action sequence, trust me. WRITE THE SEX SCENES! Unless it makes you go EWWWW
we simply can’t get too hot or too sexy. No necrophilia, incest, kiddy porn,
small fuzzy animals, and no bodily functions -- other than Sahara’s
occasional fart -- no scat or snuff. Other than that, almost anything goes! And I don’
t like to see M/M sex scenes with less detail just because they’re two men.
We still need the grunting and groaning and thrusting -- as well as the

Hope this is of some help to someone somewhere...

M (aka Margaret Reilly, owner of Changeling Press)

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