Category Archives: Grammar Etc.


Incomplete, check a dictionary when in doubt, but quite useful, anyway.

Compound Adjective Formed With Rule on Hyphenation Example
all Always hyphenate. all-inclusive study
century Always hyphenate. twentieth-century   technology
cross Some hyphenated, some open, some closed. Check the dictionary. cross-referenced section
cross-country skis
But: crosscut saw
fold Closed unless formed with numbers of 100 or more. tenfold increase
100-fold increase
full Hyphenated before noun, open after noun. full-scale drawings
The drawings are full scale.
half Most hyphenated, some closed. Check the dictionary. half-inch measurement
half-baked plan
halfway house
halfhearted attempt
high, low, upper, lower, middle, mid Most hyphenated before noun, open after noun. high-volume trading
highbrow organization   (check the dictionary!)
middle-class voters
midlife crisis
mid-Atlantic region
Mideast peace process
like Closed unless root word ends in l or ll or has three syllables or more. catlike jumping ability
childlike demeanor
cathedral-like façade
number + odd Always hyphenate compounds formed with numbers (words or numerals) plus the word odd. twenty-odd pages
360-odd days
four-hundred-odd socks   . . .
but, four hundred odd socks
number Always open when used to express a ratio (with the word percent). ten percent increase
100 percent change
Number + Unit of Measure Always hyphenate three-mile limit
two-week vacation
150-yard skid mark
Number + Unit ofMeasure + Adjective Always hyphenate two-year-old daughter
sixty-five-year-old man
two-and-a-half-year-old   child
twenty-five-foot-high wall
But: six year-old girls
Number + Number + Unit of Measure + Adjective Hyphenate the number and then the adjective twenty-four six-inch-long measurements
Number + Unit of Measure + Adjective (coming after noun) Hyphenate the number a man sixty-five years old (note plural years)
No hyphen a wall three meters high
Hyphenate the number twenty-four boys five years old
fractional numbers Hyphenate spelled-out fractions used as adjectives. two-thirds majority
In mixed fractions, the whole number is not joined to the fraction by another hyphen. twenty-one and one-quarter miles
four and one-eighth inches
numbers Hyphenate only the numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine. All others are open. twenty-four bottles of beer on the wall
two hundred rock stars
over, under Closed unless the word the appears in the compound. overexposed film
underrated basketball team
over-the-counter stock   market
under-the-table deal
self Most hyphenated. Closed if prefix un- is added or suffix added to self. self-confident applicant
self-conscious speaker
unselfconscious speaker
selfish act
selfless character trait
wide Always closed unless cumbersome. Cumbersome compounds are hyphenated when they appear before the noun modified and open after the noun modified. statewide referendum
worldwide legal services
university-wide crusade (comes before the noun modified)
The crusade was university wide (after noun modified)


Comma Drama

coorelative conjunction,
restrictive clause,
nonessential appositives

So. You slept through English class. Starting when you were nine. Or you aced all your grammar tests and promptly forgot everything you learned. Or you’re a writer and while you’re writing all the commas and everything else is just part of a flow of creative semi-consciousness lost in your process which doesn’t bother with anything as objective as where a comma goes or which its to use.

But as an author, you have to deal with the reality of not having a damn clue what to do with a comma.


I finally achieved pith!  Srsly, it’s time for all of us to stop whining and do this thing. I like Grammarly. GRAMMARLYSNIP

Grammarians have their own jargon, and learning all of that as well as a bunch of rules …. do you have time? I don’t. But we do need to take a couple of hours and just do this thing. We don’t need to memorize all those terms. We do need to know how things work and why.

Here’s an excerpt from the Grammarly Blog:

Comma Between Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that come in pairs (such as either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also) and connect words or phrases in a sentence to form a complete thought. Typically, commas are unnecessary with correlative conjunctions.

Incorrect: Either the blue shirt, or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
Correct: Either the blue shirt or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
Incorrect: You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth, but also for fashion.
Correct: You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth but also for fashion.

Read, understand and make a note: DON’T USE COMMAS WHEN COMPARING STUFF. This works for two entries because above that rule is this one:

Comma Within a Comparison

Don’t use a comma before “than” when you’re making a comparison.

Incorrect: This box is lighter, than that box.
Correct: This box is lighter than that box.

No idea why these two are separate, but it’s the same deal: Don’t use commas when comparing stuff. I swear you do not have to know what a correlative conjunction is.

I can go through the whole thing, but that’s for you to do to make it make sense to yourself. Once you know and understand, you can incorporate the fact that style guides and grammar guides like Chicago Manual of Style are about formal writing. Themes and dissertations and journalism.

They are not about prose fiction and vernacular. Nor are they about writing for an international audience. Prose writers use frags as style. Punctuation marks have reasonable functions you can learn. BUT

We use commas for more. We use commas to pace the reader, to slow them slightly. Or not use a comma to speed them up. Dialogue is even looser. People don’t use “whom” when they should in speech. They pause and stumble and backtrack and all of that reveals character and emotion without having to resort to the dreaded adverbs.

Once you understand the rules, (such as they are in whatever source you’ve chosen, because they will vary) then you can DO WHATEVER THE FUCK SERVES YOUR STORY, STYLE AND READERS.

Stop giving a crap about the opinions of the anal-retentive grammar police. Give your work to a smart savvy person and if they say, “You gotta get better at this,” get better at it.

Do the work, but be the writer.

We are Gods 3: Italics, Underlines and CAPS, oh, my!

Traditional emphasis formatting caveat:

Limit [word emphasis] to the use of italics. … removing all underlines, bolds, and CAPS.

Don’t do that unless it appeals to you. Don’t give up your tools.

A page of print is a visual medium. We convey a great deal of data through our use of emphasis formatting.

That said, overuse of emphasis formatting weakens the story. The reader ignores the formatting after a while—assuming they keep reading. But the judicious use of formatting helps deliver the story.

For instance, using the aforementioned underline:

“Stop,” she said. “Stop. … Stop it!”

No dreaded adverbs needed to convey her increasing agitation. A character might be overhearing this and that last underline prompts her to get off a bus bench and peer down an alley. Her motivation needs no more explanation than the formatting of the quote.

Prose fiction creates singular wormhole a reader is drawn through to an alternate universe. And authors need to be as invisible to that reader as possible. Emphasis formatting helps us show not tell.    

Italics in dialogue can literally change the meaning of the sentence:

Don’t give him any money.” (Stop it!)
“Don’t give him any money.” (Lend it to him.)
“Don’t give him any money.” (Give it to someone else.)

Italicize any single word in that sentence and the character says different things with the same words.

BUT over-use of italics or any emphasis formatting, fatigues a reader. It also throws the reader out of the universe you created. In the two cases above, the italics conveyed story through dialogue. What we need to avoid is trying to control the voice of the actor portraying the character. And that actor (except for an audible book) is the reader’s imagination. 

“That really sucks.”

We authors hear it in our heads in a certain way “That really sucks.” Except maybe you heard it differently than I. The reader might hear it differently than both of us. And that’s okay. It’s important to allow the reader as much freedom as possible to experience the story universe.

As for me:

I write a lot of thought and memory. My stuff already has a lot italics, so I look for options. I also use underline, though years ago I didn’t, it was way too heavy on screen. Today,  programs are subtler and underlining provides another way to communicate the story.

These are my loose emphasis parameters:

  • Italics for memory – indented.
  • Italics for thought – not indented, usually within the graph.
  • Italics for story – example above.
  • Underline strong emotion or more intense action. Whap-whap! Whap!

Here’s a rule that’s a practical one regardless of paper or pixels:

Don’t underline punctuation like periods, commas, question marks. It’s confusing because it obscures spaces and ends. If you underline “straight-backed” for some reason I’m unable to imagine, do the whole thing. It’s one word.

Italics have traditionally been used for sounds. Bzzzzzzz. I write BDSM. There’re WHAPs and shwippping. I write cop stuff. There’s a lot of BAM! BANG! Comic book sounds. I like those, they deliver quick audio/visual to the reader.

Italics also imply softer sounds. They can be insidious. Stephen King is a master of the insidious italicized sound.


Another King use, if memory quotes correctly, is in a scene where a woman is completely alone. Looking about the cabin she is bound in, she studies a shadowed area.

There was someone in the corner.

Emphasis formatting is a powerful writer’s tool. Italics and underlines and caps and indents, these are our tools. Bold is also, I suppose, though I avoid it unless absolutely necessary. We also have color. Traditionally:

Font color – One: black

I agree, unless you are writing non-fiction (even then) or a children’s book, maybe? Use black. Why?

Because having the word


in red as if it will be what? Bloodier? This is the writer inserting themselves into the story: coming between the reader and the reality they’ve created.

IMO. Maybe I’m a traditionalist, too. Or a hypocrite. The puzzle in Matchstick Men is in color. It just showed up better. But that’s not font.

Black is not always black, either. The chapter/section titles in the ebook of one very successful author used grayscale quite effectively for Section and Chapter headings.



Prose fiction writing is a complex process with a large toolbox. Consider how you want to use emphasis to deliver your story, and consider how much the reader brings, and should bring, to your universe.

We are Gods 2: FONTS and PARAGRAPHS


… limited to a minimum number used … one, two at most.

I agree that multiple fonts confuse the eye if they are very different from one another. But you might use Open Sans for most text and Open Sans Narrow for chapter titles and Open Sans italic for subsections. Or use a font like Deja Vu because it has serif and non-serif versions to distinguish large sections from subtitles. 

Some title fonts don’t come with an italic version, in which case another font, that is only an italic font, can be used that pairs up well.

… eReaders [render unpredictably] … a font that may look fine on an iPad may not render the same way on a Kindle or other device…

Absolutely. The question for me was, what’re the programs doing? I have a test title on Amazon. I load all kinds of variations of stuff in there to see what it looks like on multiple devices.

The variations included: serif or non, normal or italic, relative size.

I create all my titles on Google Docs (I don’t have Word. I download an rtf file and upload to Amazon.) in Georgia because the font size jumps from 14pt to 18pt. That relativity seems to be maintained by programs even if the style changes. The 4pt difference is best for the way I format a time jump or point of view change, and usually shows up well no matter what I view it on:

Rendering the 4pt difference at a time jump.

Spacing is an issue. Some programs can smoosh your lines together for a solid black body of almost unreadable text. Not user-friendly.

I got these numbers from an article on eBook formatting:

  • Line spacing 1.39
  • Add line after paragraph

And from the same source:

  • left justify
  • no first line indent

This is how the text on this image from my Kindle was formatted. Traditionally:

All paragraphs should be indented. …

Print books are indented to save paper.

That’s it. If there’s a space between graphs it adds a significant number of pages. If there’s no space and no indent, the book is one long paragraph and close to impossible to read.

Indenting without spacing is difficult to read on most cell phones or readers. IF you keep the extra spaces between graphs like Amazon does, it’s not terrible. But many programs don’t.

Here’s a comparison between a Draft to Digital rendering and a Kindle rendering. (Note that Kindle now has left justification.) D2D had a problem with consistency.

D2D on the left, Kindle on the right, rendering the same draft.

The right side format takes up more room, but we aren’t paying for paper, ink or shipping costs. You might like the page on the left better. If so, do that. But don’t do it because someone said you should.

For me, as a reader, the indent fatigues my eyes far more, making several small adjustments to find the next line, rather than one.

I also rarely write a graph longer than four lines so my readers don’t face a sold block of text. The most basic question in formatting is: what’s best for the reader?

As our own publishers, we make these choices. We experiment or see what works in other eBooks.  Over time, a consistent style will emerge, naturally. We are creating tradition.

NEXT: EMPHASIS FORMATTING (italics and underlines and CAPS, oh, my!)

POV’S or, “Head-hopping” is not a Sin

This is an excerpt from Snowed In. It’s a sex scene, but I imagine if you’re on my site you kind of expect that:

While Hunter positioned himself, Cam brought his hand out from under the pillow. He stretched his fingers, cramped from clutching the sheet so tightly.

Tucked between his glutes, Hunt’s good, thick shaft slid against him. This was new for Cam, this solid length of heat pressing against his hidden flesh. He’d done it to many men—to Hunter. He  knew the feeling of power that came with it.

It was this that would undo his sub.

Hunt laid himself down, curving over the top of Cam’s backside, his lean supple body pressed. He felt so good to Cam: not holding Cam down, but trusting his support. Cam rocked his pelvis slightly, to rub Hunt’s cock against himself. He felt the hitch in Hunter’s breathing before he heard it.

“Reach down and grab me, hard. But don’t move. Keep your eyes open.”

“Cam.” It sounded like a prayer.

The towels and pillow made a space above the cast where Cam’s hip and leg joined. Hunter tucked his hand inside the space and reached, wrapping Cam in his own heat and need. He felt the throbbing pulse of Cam’s cock against his palm. Hunter trembled, but he did not move. Pressed against Cam, buried between mounds of solid fiery flesh, it was like Hunt held himself in his hand.

It took all his will to remain motionless. His desperate need to come became a state of fusion with his Dom, instead of a need he contended with.

Hunter Dane was the most responsive man Cam had ever known. He felt what no one else felt, and more deeply. Hunter’s forehead pressed into his neck, warm breath on his spine. “Cam … Cam …” A mantra. “Anything …anything …. Cam …”

It was time.

That’s 3rd person. Some would subcategorize it as omniscient. But like sexuality, POV is a spectrum. Also like sexuality, it is subject to strong opinions presented as facts. Rules. Inviolable truths. Edicts and mandates, no less.

Really, it’s just a few million years of biology demandig we categorize everything.  Carolus Linnaeus wanted to categorize the world. And he did, pretty much, so biologists and paleontologists et al had a hell of a time figuring out where viruses went.

Finally some smart person—probably a professor’s wife—asked: “Why can’t you just make a new Kingdom?” WHAT?!!  It has to be a plant or an animal!!

Why? ‘Cause Linnaeus never saw a cell?  Life is a spectrum, and so is POV.

Your book doesn’t have to use the same POV all the way through.

A writer named Harold Robbins made millions of dollars not staying in the same POV.  Your 3rd Person doesn’t have to be some hazily-defined subspecies like “distant” or “close” or “guided” or “invisible.” Nor does it have to be a rigidly defined “limited.”

You can hop into all the heads in your MMFFMFM scene as long as you don’t confuse your reader. Though some readers will insist on becoming confused if you write anything more subtle than See Spot run. See Spot hump Dixie. “ARF!”

1st person

is probably the most restrictive. It can seem personal and still be distant and impersonal, depending on how much the character reveals. It’s the voice of hard-boiled detective novels. Or gently simmered ones. It’s quite popular with the Archive of Our Own writers. It works in romance because it’s so easy to seed the misunderstandings.

It’s the voice of blog posts and confident writers with great voices and irritating newb screenwriters who think they are Shane Black who wrote an entire award-winning screenplay in 1st Person. His own.

2nd person

is tedious to read. Rarely chosen. It’s the least used and simplest to define. Everything is “you.” Second person books are like the carnival tent with the bearded lady. 2NDPERSONThey are the freaks of publishing.

Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is a well-known second person book.  The image at left is a screen grab of the opening from the Amazon Look Inside.

You can read about the book here. Essentially, Second Person is someone talking to themselves or to someone else. Books that comprise a series of diary or journal entries, and sometimes use 2nd. It’s also used  as a device to keep the identity of the narrator a secret. Who is speaking to whom?  Is it a shrink speaking to a patient?  A victim to his killer from the Other Side? An interesting and challenging voice.

3rd person

Now we’re getting to it! Except we pretty much already did:

 Your Third person doesn’t have to be some hazily-defined subspecies like “distant” or “close” or “guided” or “invisible.” You can hop into all the heads in your MMFFMFM scene as long as you don’t confuse your reader.

3rdP is about the writer’s relationship with the characters. You approach and draw back and circle and close. You focus on one or on the environment or on what happened long ago or far away or on both or either or all of the characters.

You’re God.

The excerpt at the top was the writer in bed with the MCs, moving from one to the other and back and not breaking the scene apart. In On His Knees, the same thing happens, except the parts are removed from one another. But now our guys are not almost strangers to one another. Now they seek intimacy. The style reflects the state of their relationship. But it’s still 3rd.

Here’s a not-sex scene:

Hunt set the big pan on a towel in the center of the wood table. The cheese was still bubbling.

“Looks like a picture in a cookbook,” he said, waving away the bottle of wine Cam held up from the behind the kitchen island.

“You read cookbooks?” Cam slid the pie into the oven and turned it down. Then he wheeled to the table with four bottles of water Hunter took from him.

“At one time, I did,” Hunter answered. “I mostly drooled over the pictures.” He drank one of the bottles down in one. “I worked off-duty at the Slightly Foxed on Larimer,” he explained, loading his plate.

“I don’t get that name; it’s not a used bookstore.” Cam spooned bright red beets next to the macaroni.

“It was when it opened.” Hunter passed on the beets, the color too close to blood. “Used books and some new stuff from local writers. And maps, lots of maps. First ones around here to put coffee and armchairs in a bookstore.”

Cam shook his head in admiration. “How do you know all this stuff?” He shoved a huge forkful of macaroni into his mouth.

Hunt shrugged. “My mom used to take me there all the time. All over Larimer, that neighborhood. There were junk shops and second hand clothes stores and shit. Before the urban renewal thing happened.”

“Cool,” Cam said. Hunter had never before mentioned anyone in his life who wasn’t a member of the club or cop-related in some way. “So you do have family around here?”

It was the second time that day Cam had asked Hunter about his family. He knew that was what people did in relationships: They exchanged information about the other people in their lives. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. But Cam had talked about his  sisters and his family and then asked Hunt about his. He acted like it was no big deal, to ask or answer. It was what people did.

After a bit of conversation and action in the same scene:

Hunt went back to the table and took his seat.

Cam had gotten control of his face and his emotions. But he couldn’t ignore the vision of Hunter, the morning after that first night, pulling away after Cam had kissed him sweetly.

One of my reviewers, who gave Snowed a lovely review, referred to my “head-hopping” style. But it’s not, really. It’s just 3rd Person. In fact, it’s a very traditional style of 3rd Person.

If a very limited 3rd, (one blogger called it “3rd Person First”) is most comfortable for you and your stories, go for it, of course. Aways feel free to make your own choices about your own writing. But you don’t have to change chapters to write everything going on if you don’t want to. Just keep your reader oriented.

The writer doing it correctly is the writer whose readers enjoy the read and come back for more.



Grammar is as hot a topic as religion or politics. Epic flame wars revolve around the Oxford comma. (It’s optional, get over it.) But we who publish online live in an age of English speakers from many countries and cultures sharing their written words.

The British have some really weird preposition uses. Except it’s not at all weird, just not what I’m used to. I’m going to talk about style and specifics in a series of grammar posts. Because it truly is more like guidelines, anyway. And the only real rule is:



Generally, the British like to add the “s” and the Americans and Canadians, don’t.

That’s it. There’s no correct way. If you write for AP or The New York Times, they’ll have a style manual for consistency and probably prefer no “s.” I personally don’t use an “s” but also don’t give a crap if you do.

LESSON 1: If you adopt an anal insistence on perfect grammar, failure is inevitable.

Incorporating words and word use, grammar and formatting practices from other English-speaking countries and cultures gives us new ways to give our stories clearly to our readers.

There are various uses of single and double quotes. The end of sentence pile up of quote marks looks like crap. “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam.'” I adopted the British way, so much better: “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam’.” Perfect. It’s what you’d do, anyway, if you hadn’t run smack up against a period: “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca, you know.”  Why would we stick the single quote outside the sentence? It’s ugly and looks like a mistake.

My grammar guidelines are: know the rules and why they exist and make choices that best serve your work and your reader.

Drama advances with technology.”

From Drama 101. At first, stories were told around a campfire. You couldn’t move around too much or you’d be outside the light. Or you could go outside the light and make spooky noises. The first stage wings!

Jump forward. Moving pictures. No sound. Talkies. Color. Advances in special effects. Is there a visual we cannot show today?

The cell phone advanced storytelling and interfered with it. If you want to strand a character in a contemporary setting, you must explain away their cell phone.

Evolution is change over time. It’s what happens and should. We have new technology, new freedoms, as well as new restrictions, and we will evolve new forms.

Whatever you do, put the story first along with the reader. Strunk, White and your ego come last.

Mostly – never stop writing. And never let this kind of stuff stop you. Ever.