Category Archives: WRITING

Process, language, grammar

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 creative 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.

Learn.

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!

This is the traditional emphasis formatting caveat:

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

A page of print is a visual medium and we can convey a great deal of data through our use of emphasis formatting. That said, newb writers use way too many!!! <— ESP THOSE THINGS.

A wonderful ARC reader send me 41 total pages of corrections on Dancing Men. Most were comma use (another post) but some were about my use of italics and caps. I ignored most of those. Not because she was wrong, but grammar in ebooks is about delivering the story as clearly as possible.

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 word in the sentence and the character says different things.

In my own case, I write a lot of thought and memory. My stuff already has a lot italics, so I look for options. Over-use of italics or any emphasis formatting, fatigues a reader.

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 with my reader.

“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.

These are my personal emphasis parameters:

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

Here’s a rule that’s a rule for a reason 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 are visually softer. Underlining is stronger. I’m not italicizing pounding on the door unless it’s way escalated and it’s in addition to all caps and exclamation points and underlines.

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

If you don’t overuse them so your reader becomes immune, they become strong in certain situations. Another King use, if memory quotes correctly, in a scene where a woman is completely alone, then 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, I just avoid it unless absolutely necessary. We also have color

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

Blood

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.

Back to color: I don’t believe it must be the same shade of black. You might have noticed the default font in this WordPress theme is not black. The chapter/section titles in the ebook of one very successful author used grayscale quite effectively for Section and Chapter headings.

TEXTS1

Overuse of emphasis formatting weakens the story and the reader ignores the  formatting after a while, assuming they keep reading. Don’t give your tools up, just use sparingly.

We are Gods 2: FONTS and PARAGRAPHS

STANDARD FONTS IN EBOOKS ADVICE:

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

I agree that a bunch of fonts confuses the eye if they are too different from one another. But what’s a font?

Books, Trad or E, are limited by physical parameters. And devices change how much can be fit on a line. You might use Open Sans for most text and Open Sans Narrow for chapter titles because the font allows more characters per line.

Or, you might use a font like Deja Vu because it has serif and non-serif versions. This can distinguish chapter titles from subtitles. 

… 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 and 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 and usually shows up well no matter what I view it on:

formattingebook
Rendering the 4pt difference at a time jump.

Spacing is an issue, also, as different programs can smoosh your lines together for a solid black body of almost unreadable text. Yeah, 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.

Another area where fonts are critical is on book covers, that’ll get a whole other post.

All paragraphs should be indented. …

Print books are indented to save paper.

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.

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

You might think the page on the left is 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. And I hate the way it looks. (Though I steal the line across the page under the title. Very clean.) Also, the blocks with space take up more room, but we aren’t paying for paper and ink.

I do other things like not write a graph longer than four lines so my readers rarely face a sold block of text. The question we all need to answer 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.

MM Does’t Mean Gay (necessarily)

Hunt

That guy on the right has quit talking to me until I talk about this. That’s Hunter Dane, homicide detective. And very good at it.

He is the Main Character in the Hunt&Cam4Ever series. (Behind meCam clears his throat. He’s on a short sofa with my Kindle in his lap.) Hunter’s back there, too, and I’m not turning around to see what he’s doing. 

ebd0b-bloodspatterblankdesat300
Cam

These men, if you’ve been following the series, have a pretty hot relationship, sex-wise. They also have a pretty amazing relationship otherwise, too. It’s evolving; title to title, things change. But the point here is that …

Hunter Dane is not gay. (He also doesn’t like labels and is rolling his eyes because he knows I’m going to use one.)  

 

BI-SEXUAL(ish)?

The thing about sexuality and gender is, it’s a spectrum. Probably the main reason Hunter resists even being called bi, though he grudgingly goes along because it’s what readers are used to. (He just said, “You’re a fucking writer, make up a better word!”)

OK, uh … Homo sapiens sapiens. But I didn’t make it up.

Hunter says he’s “Camsexual.” He’s a D/s switch and he’s all about power dynamics. His Domism (I did make that one up) is triggered by women.

MM doesn’t mean gay. Its means the story revolves around the relationship of two men and includes sex. It does not mean there won’t be mf sex.  Or ff sex.  Or mmm sex. 

Hunt and Cam’s story is not a romance; it’s a chronicle of these two men’s impact on one another. 

I don’t write gay romance. I write MM Erotica and a lot of BDSM. I write about all the stuff of my characters who are just as real as anyone, to me.

But mostly, I write about love. 

(Aaaand Cam just dragged Hunter off .  And it’s a one-bedroom apartment. … where’re my earplugs …

GRAMMAR RULE #1: IT’S MORE LIKE GUIDELINES, ANYWAY …

SRSLY –

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:


MAKE YOURSELF CLEARLY UNDERSTOOD.


FORWARD(S), BACKWARD(S), INWARD(S), OUTWARD(S)

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.

We Are Gods 1: Evolution of eBook formatting

INDIES ARE CREATING THE EBOOK.

Kudos to all the programmers and the visionaries who funded the process by which we can publish online and read in the bathtub.
But the indie writers, by the fact of writing, are developing formatting that works for an international readership with multiple viewing options. Our job is to present our stories in text and image as clearly as possible. There is no “traditional” eBook format guide.

We’re writing that guide. You and I. By the choices we make. We are our own formatting gods.

I’m excerpting from from another writer on this topic. This isn’t about who is “right.” This is about making choices.
… adhering to publishing world standards … [it] speaks to upholding tradition and consistency … of respecting all the author’s work who’ve come before us …

This was the prevailing attitude when online publishing began. Programmers raced to develop page turning, and books that looked like … well open books. People didn’t want it. They didn’t need animated pages turning. They just wanted to get to the next part of the text as quickly as possible.

Indie writers are the “publishing world.” A portion of it, anyway. We are authors and promoters and publishers. Paper book publishers have their own formatting guidelines, often different from each other’s. Those guidelines evolved, too: different in the 30s than the 60s than the 00s.

As for respecting author’s who came before, they just did what publishers required because they had very little control.

The true tradition, IMO, is that of doing the best thing possible to deliver your art, in whatever form, to the experiencer. I imagine if Shakespeare showed up today, he’d be Stephen Spielberg, not recreating the Globe theater. Respecting him, or any great artist of the past, means serving our art by learning our trade, using all our tools, innovating when it serves better, depending on known modalities for the most part.

Trad standards developed for print books aren’t about tradition. They’re about making the book work for readers while making a profit for the publisher.

That’s what new eBook standards will also be. What is new, now, will be traditional in a decade.