PARENTHESES VS. THE EM DASH

11536125606_4fffb24ccf

 

THE PARENTHESES:

Use parentheses to enclose information that clarifies or is used as an aside.

He gave me a check for my birthday ($100).

Periods go inside parentheses only if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

Please read the book. (You’ll be astounded.)

THE EM DASH:

The em dash is the most versatile of all punctuation marks. It can be used instead of commas, semicolons, parentheses, or quotation marks. 

The em dash () sets off a word or clause and adds emphasis. Or, it can signal either an interruption or amplification of an idea.

You can put a space on both sides of it, as found in most newspapers, or leave a space following it. What matters is that you are consistent—throughout your article or book—to do it the same way each time. 

The em dash provides a more casual tone and look than a semicolon.

It can also be used to substitute for a missing word or words, such as swear words. However, personally, I use the ellipses (…) for this purpose.

Em dashes are also used as interruptors in sentences—mostly in blogs and digital content—to add a casual and conversational tone when writing online. They can be used to insert commentary on what is written, add a short joke or witty comment, or to add an example to your information. 

So, is there a battle going on between the parenthesis and the em dash? Perhaps even the semi-colon?

There doesn’t have to be.

Use whatever you are most comfortable with—but don’t overdo the use of any particular punctuation. They disrupt the reader’s train of thought.

And—they—can—be—annoying!

A sprinkling here and there are permissible. And, authors often find using them to help with the flow of ideas when writing. 

Inquiring minds want to know:  Why is it called the “em dash”? It is the width of the letter M.

Are Your Tastes Changing?

48021018868_e5870c3974

 

My husband commented last week that he no longer had a craving for that first cup of coffee in the morning.

I said my taste had been changing, too. I used to consider myself a chocoholic, but I no longer craved chocolate.

Hmm.

Getting ready for a future yard sale, I found myself putting a lot of board games we loved to play in the past into the box. They’ve just lost their appeal.

Hmm.

Could the same thing happen with writing? Could it lose its attraction?

Hmm.

I asked a couple of writer-friends. 

At first they were aghast at the mere thought, but finally reasoned that if other things in life could lose their appeal, they guessed the same thing could happen with writing.

So, how will you know if this happens to you? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

First, the easy answer: you’ll know if it happens to you because you won’t be carrying your coffee into your home office each morning and rereading what you wrote the previous day—before anyone else in your household is even awake. 

You won’t spend endless hours perusing your lists of possible titles, character names, exciting verbs, and so on. And, you definitely won’t be shifting things around on your calendar to allow for more writing time.

The second question is harder to answer. You can give the “writer within” a boost by reading a book by an exciting author you’d like to emulate, you can reread your own work and take pride in your own style, read your positive reviews, or give yourself a vacation from writing for awhile—hoping that you’ve just burned the candle at both ends for far too long and need to revive your spirit.

Maybe try faking yourself out. Take all of your writing “stuff” and box it up. Put it on a high shelf and spend some time brainstorming what your future looks like without writing in it.

Take a nap.

Go for a walk.

Visit a friend.

Then, unpack that box. This is nonsense.

Once a writer, always a writer. 

There’s nothing on earth quite like it!

Bending the Rules

22852228924_a02728a35a

 

As I was writing an Amazon review for a book I read this week, something told me to reread the epilogue—this time with a critical eye.

I found that here, unlike in the rest of the book, the author predominantly used telling. Even though has been a big “no no” for a long time, I am not against it being done in an epilogue. After all, the purpose of an epilogue is to tell what happened after the story and tie up loose ends. 

I, personally, don’t use telling in my epilogues, but I don’t see the harm in it. 

I do often use telling in my characters’ direct thoughts, however. After all, when I think my thoughts, I don’t censure them and make sure they are showing, not telling. I bet you don’t either. 

As authors, all of our writing should be as authentic as possible. That includes the thoughts of our characters. So, with that in mind, it should be perfectly fine to write something as direct as: I don’t know why I should even care what my cousin thinks. He lies about me and talks behind my back. He has always been nothing but trouble.

As long as it is clear that our character is thinking direct thoughts, telling should be permissible.

Finally, writing in the first person can also allow for bending the rule. The case may be made that this POV is largely internal thoughts and, as such, should allow for some telling.

However, epilogues, direct thoughts, and first person POV are the only instances in which our “show, don’t tell” rule can be broken. 

Remember, showing is always more exciting and should be given preference whenever possible.

Has Covid-19 Changed Your Writing?

49918285076_3e40fd561b

 

Several writer friends have decided to compile a short story anthology to be published in the fall of this year.

With the only real guideline being a word count of between 1200-1500 words, submissions have been streaming in.

Although they represent many genres, it is clear that the coronavirus has been on a lot of minds. Approximately one-fourth of the stories entered so far were influenced in some way by the virus.

Unique struggles in romances.

Changes in family dynamics. 

Strains on finances.

Health issues.

The list goes on and on because a pandemic affects every aspect of our lives.

One of my own four short stories was directly impacted by Covid-19.

What about your writing? Has it been influenced by the coronavirus?

A Fun Interview

 

50017639631_0f5322381e

 

Recently, my author friend, Jen Cary, interviewed me for her monthly newsletter. Some of the questions she asked got some buzz, so I thought perhaps you would find them interesting, too. I am including a few of them here:

Question 1:  Tell us something about yourself we don’t know.

My husband and I have  renovated 26 homes in 28 years. We also built our own log cabin. We are not flippers. We actually live in each home. At about the one year mark, with the work completed, we get the itch to find another house that “needs us.”

Question 2:  When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I was born wanting to write. I sidelined my love of writing to become an elementary school teacher. After retiring, I revisited my dream of writing a book. Runaways: The Long Journey Home, was published in 2015. So far, I have written seven others (three are Interactive Picture Books for Alzheimer’s patients).

Question 3:  If you could be anything—except a writer—what would it be?

I would love the chance to do a variety of jobs I find interesting. I think it would be fun to be a restaurant owner and walk around mingling with guests. I’d also like to be a cashier, a receptionist, a watercolor artist, a photographer, work at a carwash (yes, really), or work at the White House or other famous site as a tour guide.

Question 4:  What is the funniest thing to happen to you as an author?

Last year, when shopping at Goodwill with my sister, I ran across a copy of Runaways. I guess you’ve made it big if you find one of your books on their shelves. My sis bought the copy. (She’d loaned hers to a friend and it hadn’t been returned). We had our picture taken with the book in the store. I’m sure other shoppers wondered what these two crazy ladies were doing…

Question 5:  What do you do for relaxation?

I enjoy movies, shopping, and eating out. But my real passion is reading. I read a couple of books each week. I taught myself to read before I was old enough to attend school.

Question 6:  Cheetos, fried or baked?

Ah, a trick question. Fried, of course! (Tip: try them crumbled as a crunchy topping on scalloped potatoes or baked macaroni and cheese.)

 

 

Can YOU Feel It?

32154029758_5b91222006

 

This week I was asked how a writer can know if they have written a “good” book.

I paused for a moment. Trick question?

No, she was serious. 

So, I began my answer by stating the obvious:

Your Beta Readers love it.

Your editor thinks it’s a winner.

Your initial sales are good.

Your reviews are stellar.

But here’s the not-so-obvious answer: You’ll know it in your gut.

That’s right. Authors want to produce emotional reactions in their readers.

If you write romance, for example, you should feel the electricity between the couple. You should find yourself cheering for them to get together. When they have a blow up and all seems lost, you should feel upset, too.

YOU, the writer, is the YOU I’m talking about.

If you write chilling suspense/mystery/horror/thriller, then you should be looking under your own bed at night!

I’m guessing that those of you who write fantasy and humor want your readers to feel a release of emotions and uplifting of their spirits.

The genre doesn’t matter. But, you must write it to evoke an emotional response in YOURSELF.

Because you are the best person to judge whether you have written a “good” book or not.

My theory is that if YOU feel it, your reading audience will, too.

 

Flourish

12551866924_826fc1afef

 

Several years ago, driving back home from visiting relatives in Las Vegas, I pulled out a yellow legal pad and began writing as my husband drove us back to Phoenix.

The next day, I sat down at the computer, pulled up a blank document, and typed in all six thousand words. I intended to get back to the story someday, but needed to focus on my work already in progress.

I didn’t give the story another thought until…

Fast forward to this morning.

Looking for something previously written to possibly rewrite into a short story for an anthology, I remembered the long-forgotten document.

And, now I sit here, crying my eyes out as I read the emotional story. 

Will I use it for the short story project?

Probably not. 

I now realize it has the potential for becoming “the book I always wanted to write.”

So, here is my point: Don’t throw out anything. I mean anything. Keep a file of stories… paragraphs…even sentences that you like. You never know when you’ll need them or when a situation will arise where you can use them.

Let yourself be inspired by your own writing. Be wowed by your own skill. 

Just as plants germinate, so does the written word…

Looking for that perfect day to push through fertile soil and flourish!

The Value of Reading Reviews

49688172086_0f8b2a4dbe

 

Last week, I wrote about the value in writing reviews. This week, I’d like to focus on the value of reading reviews.

The obvious benefit is that we get the opinions of others who have bought a specific product, read a certain book, and so on.

But for writers, there is an added benefit. 

Reviews can help us do a better job of writing in the future. 

As we contemplate the reactions/opinions of those who have read those books/articles/blogs, we can use that information to ask ourselves how we can improve our craft, especially if multiple sources mention the same things.

Instead of being defensive, we need to take a deep breath and see what value we can take away from the entire “review” experience. 

More than just a “LIKE,” certain number of “STARS” or “HAPPY FACES,” honest  reviews just may be the key to writing that next great novel.

 

Writing Reviews

28153267016_ea71bebf07

 

I am part of a writing group that is currently compiling an anthology of short stories. 

Never having written one before, I thought it would be a difficult task since the word count is so low. 

How would I ever tell a complete story in such a few words?

However, it turned out to be fairly easy and this is why I believe it was the case:

I read A LOT and, as an author, I know the importance of book reviews. So, I faithfully write a one for each book I read. 

Writing book and/or product reviews can be an effective way to help authors, sellers and fellow consumers. It’s also an excellent way to hone our own writing skills.

Even though our first objective in writing reviews is to help others, I recently realized how much practice it is giving me as an author.

When there is a word limit, I must write concisely and offer examples—all within the confines of a text box.

I am challenged to use humor, creative skills, and colorful vocabulary.

Every word must have a purpose. And, collectively, they must draw interest. 

Do you write book and/or product reviews? Do you feel it has helped you sharpen your writing skills?

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

49553354192_3f39241910

 

I worked hard all day. So, why, at 5 p.m. did I feel like such a failure?

It actually didn’t take me very long to come up with the answer.

My father’s words echoed through my brain: “…never bite off more than you can chew.”

Whereas I usually can write and polish four to five scenes, today I pushed myself to write an entire chapter. I had gone for length, pushed past a comfortable pace, and ended my day frustrated because the quality I expected from myself just wasn’t there.

Each of us come to know what we are capable of (many of you can easily write a chapter or more) and when we push ourselves past it, we end up feeling defeated.

I guess I just wanted to see if I could do it.

I learned a lesson.

Everyone has their limits.

Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t as prolific as others you know. If you’re like me, remind yourself that, like the turtle, “slow and steady wins the race.”

If you’re capable of writing more, go for it. You’ll write two or three books to my one.

But if we keep at it, we’ll both cross the finish line.