Thursday, March 10, 2016

Free Book and a Writing Tip

Free Working Woman Book for Match
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Being a college freshman at 35 isn't easy for Beth Reily. The last thing she needs is to develop romantic delusions about her professor.

Question from the e-mail:  I was taught in college to use semicolons and to use them correctly. I was also taught to write in long, flowing sentences.  I recently paid an editor to go through my unpublished novel and not only did she change all the semicolons to periods, but  she suggested I write in "punchier" sentences and paragraph more often. What do you think about that?

Answer: In college they teach us to write exposition. Long sentences, no slang, no em dashes, absolutely correct grammar, etc. What they don't teach us is to write fiction with dialogue. Their aim is for us to put forth an argument about something. Not to talk back and forth between ourselves. Dialog is frequently ungrammatical, because the way people talk is different from the way people write.

Ellipses in exposition, or in a quoted section from another text, mean that something was left out. In dialogue, ellipses ... signify a long pause, at least long enough to count to three, while the em dash — is quite rightly used to show an interruption or a change of thought.  So it's every bit as wrong to use ellipses in dialogue as it is to use em dashes in exposition when writing a term paper.

When I worked as a news reporter, the only complaint they had about my writing was that I used $5 words too often. "You are here to edify, NOT to mystify!" my editor used to yell. The great American public, thanks to our peerless educational system, reads at an average of 5th grade level. Many book buyers didn't go to college and some stare at a semicolon, wondering what it is, for long enough to lose the thread of your story. So your editor is giving you good advice for fiction.

As an editor and a publisher, my own pet peeve is long paragraphs that run all the way down the page. Readers take one look and skip to the next short one.

Worse still are long paragraphs where the topic (first) sentence does not reflect the true topic. If the long paragraph starts with a lovely young woman walking down a country road and enjoying the flora and fauna and (several long and flowing descriptive sentences later) ends with someone finding her body in a ditch, many readers, skipping the scenery and weather report will skip down to:

After they found the body...and that will be quite a shock.

Avoid run on sentences. A sentence should have a noun (name) and one verb (action that happens to, or because of the noun).  Mountains float. You can allow one explanation per sentence. Mountains float when we have an earthquake. That's okay and clear. But if you find more nouns and verbs, you need to put in a period and start a new sentence. 
No: Mountains float whenever we have an earthquake; the creek overflows it’s banks and our old cabin shakes on its foundation; it scares the living heck out of me.  
Yes: Mountains float whenever we have an earthquake (Period). The creek changes course and water rises over the banks (period). Our old cabin shakes on its foundation (period). That scares the heck out of me (period).

 Yes, my editor was right about the public's reading level. That doesn't mean you should write down to your reader. It just means that you shouldn't confuse him. 

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