Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Little Ditties Fill the Bag - Puns, Punctuation and Prose
Editors are creatures of habit. They’re eyes are trained to notice the details most of us forget. I’ve often wondered if their bedtime ritual includes memorizing one or two pages of the Chicago Style Manual before they tuck themselves in.
Still, it’s those little tiny things that drive them nuts and push your work off their desk into the trash.
Writing is subjective. And though there are rules for commas, semi colons and quotes, there’s always the one time exception. So here are a few rules of thumb…keeping in mind things change on a regular basis.
*Always check the guidelines. They are the necessary evil, but being in line with them will move you one layer up on the slush pile. Why are guidelines necessary? They’re there to help the house or magazine you’re writing to stay on course. With the internet quickly overtaking snail mail submissions writers must play by the rules. Use Times News Roman 12 pt font or Courier New 12 pt when submitting. These fonts are fairly basic to most computer programs and do not insert funky little signs in place of punctuation. Most every computer word processing program and decipher these fonts.
*Double space unless otherwise noted in the guidelines.(Notice I said, GUIDELINES)
*Period. Not, period. Okay. Okay, I’ll translate. At the end of a sentence with a period, place one space. This is not as big an issue for those under 30 trained in “keyboarding” as opposed to those over 50 trained on a TYPEWRITER. The rule is different these days. Two spaces throws off the formatting and adds additional space in digital publishing. So learn to put only one space after your sentence.
*The shift key. It’s the same on a keyboard as it is on a typewriter. Use it to capitalize. Please capitalize proper names and the beginning of sentences. Writers are not texters.
*Learn how to use quotes. “words,” Not “words”, (Use your editor’s eye to catch the difference.” Check the Chicago Style on this one when in doubt.
*Passive voice is a no-no. Stay in the active voice. (Of course there’s always the exception to the rule, but more times than not…active voice is the way to go.
*Cliché’s. Unless you’re a true southerner, most editors prefer you avoid cliches’. Challenge yourself to rewrite a cliché in a new a different way. Use description over comparison. Love your words enough to write with flare over lazy. (This is very hard for me because, I AM SOUTHERN and I love a good cliché.) I’m not a lazy writer…I just love the creativity in clichés. They make me laugh.
*Use strong verbs. Avoid over use of “ing” and “ly” words.
*Avoid the dangling participles. However, she was sure she needed out. Most of the time you don’t need the word before the comma and your sentence becomes a stronger statement without it. She was sure she needed out. See – much tighter.
*Stop over thinking things. Just say what you mean. This came to me in a devotion:
I overtly realized how seemly overdone she was. Excitedly I suddenly and quickly watched across the room hoping without a shadow of a doubt, she would be noticed and wholeheartedly punished.
I had to scratch my head on that one then I rewrote it:
She was overdone, almost sleazy. I watched across the room sure she would be noticed and punished.
Still not great…but certainly, without a doubt, innately, better. (grin)
*Show Don’t Tell. Show your reader the imaginary world around them through dialogue and action. Paint the scenes. Use the senses. Draw your reader in.
*GWS – Goes Without Saying – These are very simple examples of goes without saying… it’s obvious when you sit, you sit DOWN. When you stand, you stand UP. Tighten up your writing by allowing the reader to use their own thoughts of deduction. You don’t need to explain the obvious.
*RUE – Resist the Urge to Explain. Allow the reader to fill in some of the blanks. They’re pretty smart readers so you don’t need to explain every tiny detail UNLESS it moves your story ahead. Too much explaining gets old real fast. Your reader grows tired and lays down your work. Bummer. RUE.
*Cause and Effect – This is common but it drives an editor wacky. You can’t slam a door until it’s been opened. You can’t answer a phone until it rings. We easily drop details out of order of sequence in a scene so read your work. Make sure your cause happens before the effect or consequence.
*The common margin is 1” inch around and intend is .5.
*Avoid explanation points like the plague. To a writer an explanation point is emphasis. To the reader, you’re shouting. In a 70,000 word document editors allow you one explanation point. WHY? Because your sentences around the ! should be strong enough to inflect the emotion. Description, description, description.
*ALL CAPTIAL LETTERS IS NOT ONLY HARD ON THE EYES BUT IT SIGNIFIES YOU ARE SHOUTING AT THE READER. IT EVEN IMPLIES ANGER. SO IF YOU AREN’T MAD DON’T CAPITALIZE EVERY LETTER IN A WORD. Again, the sentences around the word you want to emphasize should be strong enough to show the passion.
These are just a few little things that jump off the page at editors. Oh, shucks, for the fun of it…let’s use a cliché. They jump out like a sore thumb. All writers trip over the mechanics from time to time. Learn to watch for the ditties, punctuations and prose that fills the “trash” bin of editors.