Monday, November 24, 2014

Easy Rules to Remember

Wow, it's MY TURN again here on the OTP blog. Glad you're here reading it!

First, a quick Shameless Self-Promotion moment.

I will have two Kindle Shorts up for FREE over the Thanksgiving holiday, Thursday to Sunday.

The first is a Christmas memory (Fictionalized) by Denise Weeks (my mundane identity). It will be free of charge . . . costing $0.00 . . . given to you! Just download it here beginning on Thursday, November 27th through Sunday, November 30th.

The second is a semi-literary oddball family short story from Shalanna Collins. "Clownshoes" is a short story that's not specifically holiday-related, but is about the dynamics of an oddball family. It will be free of charge . . . costing $0.00 . . . given to you! Just download it here from Thursday, November 27th to Sunday, November 30th.

They're FREE, so there's NO RISK AT ALL. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle Reader App for the PC or Mac from the Amazon site. If you tire of football and raiding the leftover turkey, c'mon over and read with me a while. Read 'em--I'll write more. There are live links to my full-length novels at the end of each file. (Sneaky of me, what?) If you like the stories . . . you could get free samples of my books. Just sayin'.

And now for the easy rules! These could help you even if you are not much of a writer. After all, you want to look intelligent in your FB posts and tweets.

The possessive pronouns ALL have no apostrophe:
______________his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs______________
In other words, NONE of them have apostrophes. No letters are left out.

"He's" and "she's" (contractions) have apostrophes, and so does "it's" (contraction for IT IS.)
"His" and "hers" (possessives) have no apostrophes, and neither does "its" (possessive).

There, their, and they're: I don't know why these are often confused, but here's help.
"There" is an adverb specifying place; it is also an expletive. Adverb: Look over there! Expletive: There are many authors whose work is well worth reading.
"Their(s)" is a possessive pronoun. Joe and Lynn finally sold their house. This one is ours, and that one is theirs.
"They're" is a contraction for "they are." They're not going to pass that stupid bill, are they?
If you are using "there" to say "where," note that both words share "h-e-r-e."

Your and you're are easy. "Your" is the possessive pronoun; "you're" has the apostrophe because it's the contraction for "you are."
To, too, and two should also be easy. To is the preposition; too is an adverb. Of course, "two" is a number. Someone came up with a hybrid example: "Too many of your shots slice to the left, but the last two were right on the mark."

I've mentioned adverbs, which you have probably been told to ALWAYS avoid (in the same tone of voice as the one they used to tell you never to use a split infinitive such as "to always avoid" or "to boldly go.") These people mean well, but you can't avoid adverbs like "tomorrow" and "later." They're talking about having too many descriptive adverbs such as adverbs of manner ("carefully," "slowly") and of degree ("very," "really," and my bugaboo, "just.") It's good to change the verb to something more specific when you find yourself using those. CERTAIN TYPES OF adverbs, WHEN ILL USED OR OVERUSED, are bad for your writing.

Adverbs of place, time, and frequency ("always," "never") are generally fine. A few of the forbidden ones are sometimes needed, too. Just don't go crazy with them, and don't use them in dialogue tags very often, and you'll be fine. Also, if the adverb does not denote something inherent in the verb, I see no problem. The adverb "conspiratorially" indicates a certain quality to a whisper (she whispered conspiratorially). Again, just don't overuse this.

If something's idiomatic in English ("it's raining," "the tire is flat"), then you don't want to make your sentence convoluted simply to avoid "it is" or "there is" because your critique group said to. Sometimes it sounds just fine.

Never say "how many ever." Because you mean "however many." I mean it. You know you do.

Don't be afraid of parentheticals, although you don't want to use too many of them in most genres of fiction. Parentheses signal that the matter they enclose is incidental or secondary; readers may skip it if they wish. Putting the explanation of a term or an aside or joke to the astute reader in parentheses is consistent with this usage.

One of my biggest problems with how-to-write books of all sorts is that most of them are solely prescriptive and quite bossy: do this, don't do that; this is good writing, this stinks. But for every "rule" you see, from "don't use adjectives or adverbs" to "never use a semicolon," you will find some wildly popular, highly praised, CLASSIC or BESTSELLER that breaks the rule. (Look at J. K. Rowling and her adverbs.) Sometimes, an author gets away with it because there is some compensating virtue in her writing. Sometimes the author is just so *good* at doing whatever-it-is that the reader doesn't notice unless he's looking for it. Most readers are not writers, and they don't seem to notice these things that have critique partners up in arms.

You can get away with anything in fiction IF you can make it work.

I leave you with words of wisdom.

"Authors’ original texts should be sacrosanct intellectual property, whether a book is a classic or not. Tampering with a writer’s words underscores both editors’ extraordinary hubris and a cavalier attitude embraced by more and more people in this day of mash-ups, sampling and digital books — the attitude that all texts are fungible, that readers are entitled to alter as they please, that the very idea of authorship is old-fashioned."--Michiko Kakutani

"Books must be so well written that the words and sentences themselves keep you turning the page; if the words fail, the characters and plot must take over."--John Irving


Amy Bennett said...

I've always said that the best writing classes I ever took were my basic English grammar and spelling classes back in grade school, junior high, and senior high... back when diagramming was still taught in those classes! It amazes me how anyone, let alone writers who make their living with words, can make some of the errors I see!

No matter how interesting and compelling a story may be, all it takes is bad spelling and grammar to make me stop reading for pleasure and pull out my red pen!

Billie Johnson said...

Denise, thanks for this excellent post and run down on some simple rules.

Well done! And now that I have a Kindle, I ill have to take advantage of your generous FREEBIE offer!!


Shalanna said...

@Billie--yes!! I hope you enjoy both of my free stories. The Christmas one is a little sentimental in a way, I think, but not sappy (LOL). I do so hope that people who read the story check out NICE WORK and my other books!

@Amy--I agree! When I was in grade school, I aspired to be in the New Yorker. I had read Don Marquis' "Archy and Mehitabel" in an accelerated class and imagined I could write things that were similar, and I would write short stories that were just juvenilia. Finally some kind people (and my mean mother) told me that I had not lived enough to have anything interesting to write--so I should work on the building blocks like grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style. Then I'd be ready when I *did* have experiences to draw upon. I have found this to be great advice. Unfortunately, you see writers now who have not learned the tools. A carpenter knows his toolbox! So should a writer! I think it's good practice to edit as you read. I do that, too. (LOL)