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.

Looking Back and Going Forward

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Looking back over your last year of writing, have you made adjustments or have you kept doing whatever it was that you were doing on January 1?

My guess is you’ve made changes along the way, learned things, broke some bad habits, and put into practice new techniques.

You are looking at the craft of writing in a much different way than you did a year ago. 

The overall goal of writing is improvement. So is the goal of revising our manuscript once the draft is complete. 

I view revising as dissecting—just like we did in science class in high school.

It’s taking my story apart and looking at/improving each individual section, and then putting it all back together again.

It may have been impossible to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but not so with your writing. It can be changed, reworked, rewritten, reordered until it looks much different than it did in draft form.

I begin by either selecting my known weaknesses to work on or, just what I deem important.  I go through the entire book (focusing on one at a time) looking for those things and “fixing” them. In my first book, for instance, I noticed that each chapter began with the main character’s name. So, I rewrote each beginning paragraph.

You’ll need to determine for yourself just what things are necessary. Here is the list of what I go through:

Repetitious words, past tense verbs, emotions, descriptions, flow.

I check each character’s description against my master list. If Sally has green eyes in chapter one, they’d better be the same color in chapter fourteen.

Quotation marks, italics, indentations, misspellings, etc.

Last lines of each scene (I make sure they entice the reader to keep turning the page).

Timeline/order (I once read a book where the girl’s cat died in chapter 14. Then, in chapter 15, the cat was very much alive and purring on her lap!) You don’t want huge mistakes like this to spoil your story.

Seasons/holidays (If these are mentioned in the book, they need to be in sequence) Ages (pay attention to age progression throughout).

As you can see, the list is long. I add to it for each new story, it seems.

No book will be perfect, but look especially for the mistakes you know that you tend to make over and over again. Keep polishing until your story gleams!

Next week, editing.