PARENTHESES VS. THE EM DASH

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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.

Put It In Their Hands

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If you have seen my Facebooks ads, you know that my new book, Simon Says, is finally listed for sale on Amazon. If not, I’d like you to see the blurb from the back cover.

But first, I’d like to share with you what I learned from having Beta Readers involved as part of the final process.

Prior to the final edit,  I sent my Beta Readers the manuscript as an email attachment, along with instructions and a series of questions to focus on while they read. The majority of them read the book—in its unedited form—on their computers. One printed out all 250 pages.

I got the most useful information from the person who printed it out. She held it in her hands (most similar to reading a book) and actually marked on it, leaving comments in the margins.

I remember an author friend of mine making the suggestion several years ago that we put the manuscript on Create Space so we could actually send it to Beta Readers in book form, as proof copies. This would allow them to hold it in their hands, turn actual pages, write in it or flag pages to be referred to on the comment sheet.

At the time, I thought that was a lot of work and expense, but now I can see the value in following my friend’s suggestion. It was immediately obvious to me as I read the feedback from my Beta Readers. (I have written, previously, about the value of using Beta Readers, so if you didn’t see that blog, please retrieve it from the archives).

The reason we involve Beta Readers is so we can use their feedback to improve our final product. So, it is to our best advantage to set up the entire experience so we are able to gather the best possible information.

That being said, Here is my final product, in time for your summer reading:

Abandoned by his father at birth.

Tormented by neighborhood bullies.

Misunderstood by classmates and teachers.

Then, at seventeen, things begin to change for Marcus. 

A victim of years of rejection due to physical abnormalities and social awkwardness, he finds purpose as the result of an unlikely friendship and faith in God through the power of grace. 

But when past disappointments resurface and create roadblocks to his new life, will Marcus find the strength to extend forgiveness to those who mistreat him?

Will he finally experience the love and acceptance that has eluded him for so long?

Who’s Voice Should I Listen To?

Will people like it? Is it a “page turner”? Are the characters believable?

If my mother were to answer these questions about my soon-to-be published book, she would answer “People will love it. I could hardly put it down!”  I could ask any number of family members and they’d answer the same.  Families.

If I’d pose the same question to my friends, I’d get a similar response.  Except, maybe for a few who read A LOT. They’d expound by adding comments about spelling, grammar, syntax, and verb tense.

Ah, but now, when my critique group is asked for their honest opinions, I get suggestions for improvement, pointing out issues with point-of-view, voice, and so on.

If I enter a writing contest, based on reading my synopsis and 10-15 pages, judges will use a rubric to assess such things as a good “hook”, marketability, professional impact, and pacing. They may even respond to the question of whether, if they were an editor, they would ask to see the entire manuscript, based on reading such a small writing sample.

From those comments—some from very prejudiced persons—I base my decision as to whether or not my book is ready to send to an editor, a publisher, or whether it is in need of extensive revision. Three groups of people, each with a unique connection to this writer, each with a different focus, each possessing varying degrees of expertise.

So, I’m left with a big decision. Which group, if any, should my professional-writing self listen to? The one with the most expertise? The group of avid readers? Professional judges?

And, if I do listen, do I act on their advice? Do I base my future actions on what they have to say? How much weight do I give their comments over my inner voice—the one that desires to move forward and get that first novel published?

Lots of opinions. Lots of questions. I’m not sure I have the answers—yet.

So, I make a decision to read yet another “how to” book, attend just one more professional conference, sign up for an additional writing course. With added confidence, I  decide to trust

the voice inside my head,

my gut,

my common sense,

what I know to be true.