Serious Writer is Serious, Part 2: SPaG Ninjas on Dialogue

Any ninja worth his itching powder knows how to use every weapon in his arsenal, and how to turn any innocuous item into a weapon.

The same goes for constructing fiction. SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) is a handy set of three pouches on the tool belt of every modern fiction ninja. Know your SPaG, love your SPaG. Your stories will be choppy and amateurish without at least a basic knowledge of these three tools, and might be so bad that no editor will want to wade through the fetid swamp of your mistakes.

Often what I see in inexperienced writing (not young writing per se: one can be inexperienced at writing at every age) is a lack of grasping the rules behind SPaG. This can lead to inconsistent mistakes, where sometimes the writing is done properly and sometimes the same set of mistakes crop up.

It makes me want to smack everyone. English literacy should not be an option, people! There are rules. Just like for soccer, chess, driving a car, any complex game or task. Either they weren't taught correctly, or they weren't learned correctly. Or both. But there should be smackage for not getting it right. We text, speak and type in this language. How pathetic that we can't get it right, especially if it's the only one we know!

And no, lolcats, 1337speak and txspk are not true languages. They're sub-quality translations for people with a short attention span and/or a desire to avoid carpal tunnel.

Back to SPaG: If you learn the rules that govern writing proper sentences, then you can free your mind from guessing how to put things (excluding artistic expression, of course!) and let it roam over to the imagination factory instead. Or, alternately, you can use some brain cells to care about how your story appears to others who also knows the rules of SPaG.

The most common mistakes that I see involve dialogue. Where the heck do you put that comma: inside or outside? It goes inside, if it's part of what the person is saying.

"I put my comma here," Jasmine said.

The exception is if you're talking about something that you put in quotes, which isn't really dialogue. I could refer to "lolcats", with the comma outside, just like that. Since "lolcats" doesn't have a comma after the word every time you see it, it shouldn't have a comma when you refer to it in quotes.

Another dialogue punctuation issue is whether to have ending punctuation at all. You always do. Unless it's a lolcats issue as above. If they ask a question, you need that [?] inside the quote marks. If your character is exclaiming, the [!] goes inside the quote marks.

If your character finishes a sentence at the same time you do, the [.] goes inside the quote marks, thus:  

"I just figured out where to put the punctuation." 

If the character finishes a sentence that would normally get a [.] at the end, but you're not done writing your own sentence, it looks like this:

"I just figured out where to put the punctuation," Jasmine said.

If it's a question or an exclamation, then those symbols still go inside the quote mark at the end of the dialogue.

Which reminds me of something else I see too much: capitalization of the pronoun in that dialogue tag. Like this:

"What do you mean, I shouldn't capitalize the 'she' in this dialogue tag?" She asked.

The "She asked" there isn't its own sentence, so it doesn't get capitalized at the start. It's part of the dialogue sentence.

"Oh, so since it's just the same sentence, I don't need to capitalize my pronoun," she realized.

Yes, there we go. There is hope for you yet, my very young paduwan learner.

Be well, all, and Merry Christmas.


Serious Writer is Serious, Part 1: Snatch the Pebble, Grasshopper

I'm just getting started in this whole "serious writer" vein. I'd call it about a year and a half now, in which I have thought of myself as aspiring to be serious about this hobby I have.

So I'll try to keep my topics somewhat relevant to beginning. Sometimes. I do have that sort of mind that makes associations far afield, and sometimes I forget what topic I started with.

Now, where were we? Oh wait, we're not there yet.

I've been thinking about the editing process lately, since my book The Wicked Heroine is in to my editor. "My" editor. Wow. Even saying that makes me think I should feel far more legitimate than I do. But I have to say I've learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of good creative writing over the last year and a half, and I have to say I do feel just a little bit legitimate now, compared to the fluffy writing style I used to have.

Oh, it was horrible. I had compound-complex sentences everywhere, even in places where you'd normally see short, straight ones, like in battle scenes. But no, my stories were full of phrases, semicolons, and subordinate clauses. They bristled with commas. Grammatically correct, every one, but darn hard to read.

My favorite word was "and". And then Aerynn swung... And so it was. And that's what happened. "And then" really bugs me now. Surely you only need one of those, unless you're really waxing poetic, or working in a dramatic moment. "And then the ceiling fell in, revealing seventeen ninjas tumbling down amongst the dusty bricks and burnt-umber roof tiles." That, as its own paragraph, sounds moderately acceptable, aside from the cheesiness of seventeen ninjas (an old what-if holdout from jujitsu class).

It took some time for the concept of differing sentence length to become a tool I felt capable of remembering long enough to use. It was easy to edit my long sentences into short ones; I'd already written them, after all. But writing them short in the first place, that took another level of awareness in my head, which I'd not previously owned. I think I've got the tool now, or at least the awareness. I'm sitting here analyzing my sentence length in this blog, checking if I've shot myself in the foot. It's way better than it used to be, and a good representation of how I write now.

Getting those short, direct sentences in is important, because I write fight scenes. I like fight scenes. The experience of reading about the fight is enhanced, you see, by making the sentence structure match the action. Blurring, direct blows. Sudden reversals. An unlucky fall turned into a desperate roll to safety. You see what I mean, there.

I'm still making the transition in my mind from reader to writer (and there's a whole other topic right there), so I admit, I haven't fully analyzed the way others write their fight scenes. I have certainly enjoyed them, though. I do feel a bit slow on the uptake with the "art imitates fictional life" concept, but now that I get that, all sorts of possibilities open up.

Other nuts and bolts I'm enjoying using, aside from sentence structure, include metaphor, simile, alliteration and assonance. That's [AZ-uh-nence], not ass of Nance.


There once was a sweet ass o' Nance,
It sat quite secure in her pants,
'Til she slipped on the ice,
Split a seam once or twice,
Fell and broke all that sweet assonance.

Yes, I'm afraid you're right; I am prone to the Imp of the Limerick. It's a blessing...and a curse, as Detective Adrian Monk used to say.

Until next time, all.


Of Maps, and Magic Lost and Found

One learns a lot when one does something for the first time. How often I forget that! I feel like I'm always struggling to find a balance between learning something new, and avoiding the fear of messing something up.

Well, I messed up the map for my world several times, so I called them drafts and moved on to the next sheet of paper. Good thing I'm not a god of worldbuilding. The numerous times I shifted whole continents around would have killed everyone off with volcanoes and tidal waves, and their food crops would have died off and made everyone starve come winter. If they had winter anymore. The poor Kazhbor people went from a UK environment to that of Scandinavia. Sorry guys. Uh, no wonder you're so good at building those Sea Gods. You're all desperate to get to the tropics for a nice warm vacation. Yeah, that's it.

Honestly, what I actually learned during crafting this map is that I should have done a better job on the rough map I used when I wrote the story. I had no sense of distance on the map, only in the story. And putting a map together based on a story written with only a vague sense of distance, well...let's just say that a newfound benefit of writing fantasy is that revisionist history is always an option.

Does anyone else notice that going through a brazillian (brazillian: a number somewhere between a bazillion and South America) edits on the same story really kills the magic that books held when you were a kid? Seeing the messy side of a story is far different than simply picking up a polished, published product and enjoying the fruits of months of labor by numerous individuals.

And yet, to me it reveals another magic: that of creation. That writers can craft and polish common, familiar words into complex forms that convey the full spectrum of ideas and emotions, and reveal to readers a crisp, clarified universe that doesn't really exist--surely, if anything is magic, that is.

Ah, look, I got all rambly. That happens now and again. When I'm old and gray, I expect to be even more prone to such maunderings. If I am not, I shall consider myself cheated.

Well, the master copy of the map I finished last night has been sent to the publisher. Way more fun than I thought it would be. I used to stare at puddles as a child, and imagine they were borders to continents. I'd often doodle maps for fun and try to figure out where the mountains and rivers went. That endeavor--the rivers and mountains--was generally a failure until I learned more about geography. Maps of imaginary lands and stick men are about all I can draw. Oh, and stylized suns shining on stylized flowers that grow on stylized hills next to a stylized tree. Seriously. My drawing skills topped out in second grade.

It really helped this week that I had a few books with maps to examine (funny how I never really looked at their construction before I needed to draw my own). Most of our books are packed, alas, but a few with maps were close to hand. Some I looked at, aside from an example my editor furnished me with, were in Marie Brennan's Warrior, Jim Butcher's First Lord's Fury, and the lovely old map in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew. Mostly, I was looking at how they drew their mountains and hills. I have terrible mountain-drawing skills. Making upside-down Vs is much harder than you think! Or, no, that's probably just me. In the end, I fell back on my stylization skills and didn't even try to make them anything approaching realistic. Realism and fantasy, they are oil and water in the beaker of my mind.

All right, my throat's getting pretty sore again: back for some more salt-water gargling I go. And no, I wasn't actually talking out loud while I typed. Hee.


Daaaaay One

It's entirely possible that you'll notice I use movie quotes with reckless abandon. It's not a bug; it's a feature. Bonus points for the movie that my post title is from. Hint: it's animated.

I've chosen dimmer colors for this blog for those of you who, like me, can get headaches from too much whiteness blaring at you. Also, it saves energy to have dark screens. W00t for saving the environment, one pixel at a time.

All right, let's be serious for a tic. The purpose of this blog is to help promote awareness of my writing. If you like what you read here, please share. Let me know, let others know. Robert Jordan I'm not, but I do know a dangling participle when I see one, and you'll never find a run-on sentence in my works.

That's right, I'm very nearly a Grammar Nazi. I'd imagine the difference between me and them is that I won't hold your feet to the fire if I find a mistake. I'll try and explain the rules for how to fix it, so that you can fish out all similar mistakes yourself.

I guess that makes me a Grammar Geek.

My writing is often adventure fantasy, with a healthy dose of combat, so if that appeals, you've come to the right place. I've played the odd D&D campaign, and run a few myself, back in the day. I'm a proud member of Clan Hackenslash, in that battles and duels are always interesting to me. I hold the rank of shodan (a first-degree black belt) in Dan Zan Ryu Jujitsu, so my fight scenes aren't too shabby--I usually find myself toning down the details of the action.

Other writings of mine, usually short stories, can wander further afield. I write historical fiction from time to time, as well as science fiction, humor and dark fantasy, sometimes in combination. Horror and romance hold similar lack of appeal for me, both as reader and writer. I don't like others forcing me toward the emotions they want me to feel; I like to come up with them on my own.

My first novel, The Wicked Heroine, is due out in the spring of 2010. I hope to have cover art + link around the New Year for you all. Its sequel, Oathen, comprises the second half of the Legend of the Shanallar duology, and will likely make its appearance sometime after that, unless the space-time contiuum goes haywire again.

Again? you ask.

Yes. You wouldn't remember it happening the first time, would you? Heh. I love time quandaries.

I'm currently drawing the map for the duology. Black ballpoint pen on printer paper. It's easier than I thought! And yet, I somehow still suck at it. I think I can get something that might pass muster in another half dozen tries. Thank God that printer paper is thin enough to trace through.

Take care, all, and thank you for visiting.