The Naked Writer: What’s the Problem?

I’ve pointed out in this blog thus far how students struggle with many very basic concepts of writing—from semicolon use to how to punctuate dialogue. What’s the real problem here? Maybe by looking into the root cause of all these glitches, we can arrive at a solution.

I’m pretty sure the problem lies in lack of education, which we can attribute in part to the students themselves, but surely as well to their teachers. I went to a pretty good high school in a middle-class community, and I can attest to the fact that I didn’t learn punctuation or specific nuances of writing in our common language.

The one good thing we were taught was the method of diagramming sentences. This also explains parts of speech to the learner. I can imagine when I say to a student that a word is used as an adverb in such and such a spot and not an adjective, a blank look will cross the person’s face. But how else to clarify?

At any rate then, somewhere in my 20s I began to work as an editor, and I did some writing. Too bad I, as well, really had missed a few building blocks of the trade. Not that I had a big problem because no one at my first job or second or third mentioned a thing about my writing weaknesses, and when I got to the fourth, the little errors pointed out were on the whole oddball. Only when I was hired someplace with a sharp copy editor and proofreading by fellow writers did I realize several additional problems… And only when I taught a class in punctuation did I understand I was missing out on a number of rules.

So my education had been incomplete all the way up—from grammar school through obtaining a bachelor’s degree and starting graduate school. And I was a good student who earned excellent grades.

I therefore think much of the problem my writing students have comes from an educational gap, not alone to be credited to their personal lackadaisical attitudes while in school. Then, recently, when I marked up a first submission from one student at Writer’s Digest University, she told me in surprise that no one had critiqued her punctuation during graduate school, where she had studied writing and had received a Master of Fine Arts degree. I’ve seen worse punctuation, for sure, but her punctuation was certainly not all that perfect.

What’s the Solution?

The solution to ignorance that comes by way of a lack of proper education is most definitely education. Luckily, we don’t have to return to K through 12 or even the university. We can educate ourselves, and will do so if we’re serious about writing as a career or even serious about writing a business memo with confidence.

How to study? Although some schoolwork might be beneficial, the problem often is that students enter classes in the mechanics of writing feeling at sea and so they remain throughout the course, grasping for some little hints along the way. That’s why I really think a well-motivated pupil can do a lot better book in hand. Yes, I recommend my own The Naked Writer in Kindle format (or my chapbook, Punctuation, which you can find at Smashwords). In both these works, the various points of punctuation, at least, are explained systematically and can be taken into the novice’s knowledge base step by step. The writing apprentice can read a segment once, then twice. When writing, the newbie might try to recall the rule that applies to this particular question—and the rule can be read over again—then again. And so on and so on.

The learning needn’t be rushed, glossed over, or jumbled. A bit of patience can be applied, and slowly, but surely, the writer learns and gains much self-reliance.

Other than that, the hopeful novelist can pay for a line edit. Let me know in comments with your email address if you’re interested in an edit. (I won’t post your edress for the entire world to see.)
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Take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Download The Naked Writer at Amazon, or to see writing style judiciously applied, read in print or in ebook format Question Woman and Howling Sky. Adults will enjoy my YA fantasy, The Heroine’s Journey, as will young adults. My middle grade fantasy, Strings, is also fun for all. Everything’s on Amazon along with some other ebooks there and on Smashwords.

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The Naked Writer: What’s the Problem?

The Naked Writer: Continuing Quotes

I realize I keep saying something like, “Oh, wow, my students do this thing and I’m completely shocked…” And I was going to start this piece the same way. What the heck is going on in schools? Why don’t they teach students how to handle a continuing quote? Educators, get on the stick.

A continuing quote occurs when the writer wants to break a paragraph but let the speaker—the character speaking or person being interviewed or written about—continue talking in a direct quote with no intervening material.

Here’s what I see a lot of:

“A listing in our publication is better than an ad in a newspaper, sir. If you place a listing in this directory, the people in your area will be able to access it day after day, week after week, during the entire year.

A hundred-and-fifty-nine dollars total for a listing, but only $239 total for the listing and a one-inch ad. Wouldn’t you like to see your fine restaurant listed? People would call for takeout as well.”

This is wrong because each paragraph in the continuing quote has to start with quote marks. Here’s the revision:

“A listing in our publication is better than an ad in a newspaper, sir. If you place a listing in this directory, the people in your area will be able to access it day after day, week after week, during the entire year.

“A hundred-and-fifty-nine dollars total for a listing, but only $239 total for the listing and a one-inch ad. Wouldn’t you like to see your fine restaurant listed? People would call for takeout as well.”

As you see the second paragraph now starts with a quote mark. Now the format is correct.

However, in my opinion, continuing quotes should be kept to a minimum and avoided altogether when possible because they may confuse the reader. That’s right, though the reader’s confusion may last only a split second, why cause even a momentary hesitation in the experience of enjoying your writing?

Here’s how I actually wrote the above:

“A listing in our publication is better than an ad in a newspaper, sir. If you place a listing in this directory, the people in your area will be able to access it day after day, week after week, during the entire year.” Bonnie wasn’t sure if the man understood what she had told him, although he looked as if he might have.

“A hundred-and-fifty-nine dollars total for a listing, but only $239 total for the listing and a one-inch ad, like this.” She stabbed at the copy of the current directory to show him the size of the ad.

“Wouldn’t you like to see your fine restaurant listed? People would call for takeout as well.”

This is the type of format that I believe is easier to follow as well as livelier and more entertaining.

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Send a comment here if you want to inquire about an edit—or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Download The Naked Writer at Amazon, or read in print or in ebook format Question Woman and Howling Sky. Adults will enjoy my YA fantasy, The Heroine’s Journey, as will young adults. My middle grade fantasy, Strings, is fun for all, too. Everything’s on Amazon.

The Naked Writer: Continuing Quotes

Can’t Punctuate Dialogue? Consider the Sentence

Whereas everyone is welcome to write without a clue—you do have a computer, after all—unless you start with a strong foundation and build from there, your lack of understanding is going to cost you.

Recently a student of mine expressed strong irritation when I suggested she learn to punctuate. Yes, I really am that annoying person. Well, the next time I went through her writing, I restrained myself from spending the time and effort on such minor matters as how her sentences were put together. I should simply presume people will be happy to pay for an edit rather than learn some of the basics of writing.

I thought I might start here with the sentence, really for a reason that has to do with punctuating dialogue—the issue on my mind right now. Why? Because while line editing, I’ve found so many examples of a certain glitch that boils down to a mere misunderstanding of what a sentence is. Now, straightaway to it. (Of course this isn’t a complete sentence, but that’s beside the point…)

Here we go—and please approach this believing that comprehension will be easy and you’re sure to grasp what I’m saying:

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too,” Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest. She wasn’t sure that Jake would take her seriously.

Okay, that’s part one of the mistake I’m discussing. The question is, where does that second sentence end? With a comma, we indicate a sentence will go on. Therefore, what is the punctuation here saying? It’s saying that the sentence is:

Not just my future, but your future too, Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

Does that look like a sentence to you? It’s not a sentence—it’s a mess. The hero of our story is the editor, who rushes in and places a period at the actual end of the sentence:

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too PERIOD” Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

AHA! Now we have packaged the actual sentences separately. And that’s why we don’t use a comma with actions or explanations after the dialogue. We do not by kneejerk put a comma before the end-quote mark. Because we don’t know yet if the sentence has ended. Maybe yes, maybe no.

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too,” Nora said PERIOD She swallowed, and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.
How simple is that? We have to know where the sentence ends. At the end of the sentence, we place a period. Otherwise, we’re continuing on.

Here’s part two of the glitch.

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too.” Nora said. She swallowed, and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

Thus the person who thinks the sentence is simply ended before the “Nora said” creates a separate sentence where none is wanted. This individual doesn’t realize that the quoted dialogue flows on to the attribution.

I’m not saying that this individual is you—probably not, and you probably stopped reading when you saw where I was going with this. Oh, well. But maybe I’ve worked off a little steam.

The error—this set of errors—is extremely common. I just edited a 500-page novel in which the author avoided the mistake perhaps three or four times. Don’t be that person.
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Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you’d like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer’s Digest: https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/. Upcoming are Fundamentals of Fiction, Writing the Mystery, and 12 Weeks to a First Draft. Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Send a comment here.

Can’t Punctuate Dialogue? Consider the Sentence

THE NAKED WRITER: More About Paragraphs

I posted a piece earlier last year that gave some good reasons for and advice on breaking paragraphs, but I see I missed something important. Recently, I reviewed a couple of posted assignments by students and a novel from an editing client that showed the same pattern in each.

Let me give an example.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie. Beanie just wanted to try to help.

“I’m not moving until I talk some sense into you,” Beanie told him.

What’s the problem? The writer needs to let Beanie have her own paragraph—give the girl some privacy. So the paragraphing here would change if we followed some logic.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

Beanie just wanted to try to help. “I’m not moving until I talk some sense into you,” she told him.

Paragraphing is a way of sensibly structuring your writing. What is more reasonable—having information about the speaker in her own paragraph, or using her information in a paragraph about someone else? Yes, package the information next to her speech, not next to his.

My other observation of what people do is related.

What I also see is that people like to break paragraphs for no reason if dialogue is involved.

To give you an example.

Joel was never the calmest of men.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

Why separate commentary from the dialogue as if the dialogue needs a paragraph all to itself. It doesn’t. A paragraph with narration can certainly tolerate some accompanying dialogue.

Joel was never the calmest of men. “Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

If you can, scroll down and see my original post on paragraphing. But I’ll summarize the main point here. One reason we break paragraphs is to put more white space on the page and make the page look more readable. Of course we break at appropriate spots, but break we must or the page will seem grey and intimidating.

Now the point in this post in front of you now is that you need to group the sentences in your paragraph according to logic and why you might not need a paragraph break just because you have a piece of dialogue.

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Come take one of my classes at Writer’s Digest and learn more—and download my style guide, The Naked Writer, at Amazon. I’m an award-winning writer—I won an award for my Writing the Mystery (take a mystery writing class with me) and I won an Edgar for a short story of mine. I have a mystery writing class coming up as well as 12 Weeks to a First Draft (both online with a couple more coming at Writer’s Digest University). Oh, next up is Showing vs. Telling, starting on 8/3/2017.

THE NAKED WRITER: More About Paragraphs

The Naked Writer: Writing Numbers

Unless we’re using Roman numerals—which are still in fashion here and there—we’re using Arabic numerals or writing the numbers out. That sounds simple. Not so. But I don’t intend to go in total depth here. (Numbers are quite a subject, really.) I’ll give you the bare bones–and don’t forget that the style guides update yearly.

Having been a business journalist for many years, I like to use The Associated Press Stylebook.

AP says, as a general rule, to spell out numbers under 10 and then use the numeral. But, AP adds, never start a sentence with a number unless the number specifies a year.

*Bob and his wife took nine children to the park on Wednesday and 11 children to the park on Friday.
*Eleven children proved to be a challenge for the two.
*1914 was the year in which this building gained a certificate of occupancy.

When writing about whatever might be first through ninth, we spell the designations. Then above ninth, we again switch to the numerals.

*Bob sat in the eighth row then moved to the 10th row.

However, in some specific cases we apply the numerals early on.

*Judge Bob Smith sat on the 9th Circuit.

Money goes by numerals with symbols unless cents .

*Bob threw $3 into the pot.
*Bob later threw 30 cents into the pot.
*Bob won $2 million in the Friday lottery.

To return to the question of Roman numerals, they’re used with people who are numbered, such as Elizabeth II or numbered events, such as World War I.

Complicated enough? Well here comes CMOS: The Chicago Manual of Style’s decision regarding writing numbers. As I noted in the last blog piece, CMOS is used for academic writing as well as books (mostly nonfiction).

CMOS says for us to spell out whole numbers but use numerals for more complex numbers.

*I was introduced to one hundred boys at the school, although they were noisy enough to sound like three hundred thousand boys. The principal told us 337 boys had graduated in the first several years the school had been open.

Strangely, CMOS offers an alternative. You can use the AP style, and spell numbers through nine and then go with numerals after that. CMOS though won’t let you use a number for the year when you open a sentence.

*Nineteen fourteen was the year this building opened for occupancy.

Numbers, obviously, are complex, and often we may find ourselves fudging a bit. Or at least I do. (Is that so bad?) Because numbers are one hard nut to crack, that’s why I wanted to pin down some of the rules myself. At some point in the future, I’ll go into dates and times if I can work up the nerve.

As I said in my last blog piece on style guides, most important is that you’re consistent. If you have a contract with a publisher, however—whether for an article or a book—ask for their style guide.

The Naked Writer by G. Miki Hayden—me—is not a style guide at all, but a punctuation and grammar resource with style “advice” for all sorts of writers. You should have this. Get your Kindle copy on Amazon

And take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. I pinky promise not to fuss about the way you write your numbers. Coming up soon at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/are :

5/25/2017 – 07/06/2017 Writing the Mystery. I won a short story Edgar and was on the board of Mystery Writers of America for several years. I have an award-winning book in print titled Writing the Mystery.

6/08/2017 – 08/31/2017 12 Weeks to a First Draft. This is a great class for the focused person writing a novel. I can help with the ground-level writing as well as the overall scheme of the story, and then provide insights into what’s happening with the markets these days.

06/29/2017 – 08/10/2017 Writing the Paranormal Novel. Paranormal covers a lot of ground. My Question Woman & Howling Sky (at Amazon) falls into several categories, including paranormal.

The Naked Writer: Writing Numbers

The Naked Writer: Do It in Style

Just about everything in writing goes by style standards/rules. This includes what words can be abbreviated, what words capitalized, how numbers should be written, and so on and on. However, those principles aren’t as firm as they might sound. The rules quite often vary in line with “house style,” that is, according to the preferences of a particular publisher (the entity or the person), whether of magazines, journals, or of books.

The most important approach to take in your own writing is to be consistent. And remember that later some copy editor may well modify the conventions you’ve used to produce your material (or you might even be required to make the changes). The copy editor works using a well-worn printout of the in-house standards, and for small press you may have to print a set of imperatives yourself.

The Associated Press Stylebook (the AP stylebook) is used mostly by journalists. It’s a good general stylebook, and I refer to it a lot even though book publishing is said to use the less-simple-to-work-with The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

But of course, that depends. Academic writing generally goes by CMOS, but, not always… A psychologist client of mine says she’s guided by the American Psychological Association (APA) rules. Well, of course she would be… Her doctoral thesis was written to APA style. Similarly, many folks use the style guide from the Modern Language Association, the MLA, mostly for research papers in the arts and humanities.

Well known, too, are Words into Type, by Marjorie E. Skillin, and A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, more commonly known as “Turabian.”

Journalists also go by The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage.

Very widely know is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (often simply called “Strunk and White.”) This is a great little book but really might not have all the details you want.

You’ll additionally find many other style guides, most of them specialty guides for a particular field or even country.

All too little known is The Naked Writer by G. Miki Hayden—me—not a definitive style guide at all, but a punctuation and grammar resource with style “advice” for all sorts of writers. You should have this, too. Get your Kindle copy on Amazon.

The point of all the above? Writers ought to own at least a couple of style guides. Whatever you’re writing, you’ll find a stylebook for that. I do suggest you use a guide and definitely remain consistent in the style you use. Then if you should be so lucky as to place your work, prepare for the in-house copy editor to bring the material into line with the publisher’s own guidelines. Or, again, you might have to do that yourself. Best of luck.

I hope to see you in one of my classes. I’ve had many, many short stories as well as novels in print and in ebook format and can give you sensible insights as to how to improve your writing.

Coming up at Writer’s Digest University https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/:
5/18/2017 – 08/10/2017 Fundamentals of Fiction. Take a shortcut, to avoid the long path of learning by rejection slip.

5/25/2017 – 07/06/2017 Writing the Mystery. I won a short story Edgar and was on the board of Mystery Writers of America for several years. I have an award-winning book in print titled Writing the Mystery.

6/08/2017 – 08/31/2017 12 Weeks to a First Draft. This is a great class for the focused person writing a novel. I can help with the ground-level writing as well as the overall scheme of the story and then provide insights into what’s happening with the markets these day

The Naked Writer: Do It in Style

The Naked Writer: Vary Sentence Structure

This past week I edited a novel written in a way meant to echo the method used by a handful of successful mystery authors.

He took the stairs down. He walked into the kitchen. He stood at the refrigerator. He got out a pitcher of cold water.

I understood that the writer was trying to replicate a sparse, clipped, detailed style that has netted several lucky crime fiction folks both money and fame.

However, in going back to the originals, as I just did using the “Look Inside” function on Amazon, I found that the innovators showed much more fluidity in the writing than this recent follower. I might describe both the trendsetters’ style and the imitator’s attempt using the same words, but the more inventive work went by the creators’ artistic instincts (not to mention an undoubted later lot of heavy editing). What is produced by the originators is an effect—and not just a grating one.

Let me also say that I see this same writing approach from any number of naïve newcomers who aren’t at all aware of what they’re doing. They simply only know how to present short and simple declarative sentences.

So what’s wrong with producing one plain sentence after the other with a subject followed by verb?

Easy answer. A repeated sentence structure, as with any number of various recurring elements in a literary work, is simply boring to the ears. Yes, we read with our ears just as if we were listening to music.

In taking up a basic writing strategy, those of us slinging together words for human consumption are called upon to provide variation.

He took the stairs down. He walked into the kitchen. He stood at the refrigerator. He got out a pitcher of cold water.

Jerry took the stars down two at time. In the kitchen, he pulled a pitcher of cold water from the refrigerator. Eager to quench his thirst, he filled a glass to the top and drank.

Vary your sentence structure. Don’t bore our ears.

Dragging a chair behind him, he went into the drawing room. Listening to the music being played in there, he stopped. Sitting in the chair for a minute, he found himself tapping his toes to the beat.

Dragging a chair behind him, he went into the drawing room where he stopped and listened to the music being played. He sat for a moment and tapped his toes to the beat.

Vary all types of sentence structures, and when you edit your own work, fiction or nonfiction, listen for whatever elements are repeated—and rewrite.

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Want more writing suggestions? Take a class I teach at Writer’s Digest University or download The Naked Writer on Amazon. Need an edit? Contact me at GMikiH@yahoo.com. Want to read a novel of mine? Try Question Woman & Howling Sky if you like speculative fiction.

The Naked Writer: Vary Sentence Structure