Monthly Archives: October 2012

Spelling schmelling?

I’ve been ranting this past month or so about how important it is for professional communicators to use proper language and grammar, and how vital it is for story-tellers especially to be wary of falling into the trap of pop culture fads in our written language. Why? Because anything that forces the reader to do a mental calculation, or mental rewording, forces that reader from your wonderful story. That includes spelling, and as you might know, school districts across the country have at least toyed with the idea of removing the instruction and testing of spelling from their curriculum. The theory, I believe, is that the spell-check function that’s available on virtually every software application has come to replace the need for knowledge.

I suppose that would be fine if our society weren’t continually inundated with examples of “alternate” spellings. They’re everywhere, from texts and tweets to television ads.  I understand the necessity for brevity in tweeting, and even texting – although I generally refuse to use abbreviations in my own text messages. It’s true! Ask my kids! I also understand an advertiser’s need to draw attention to its products, so it changes “light” to “lite,” for example. Not only will that word visually “pop” to the viewer or reader, but maybe lightening the word itself sends a subliminal message.  And let’s face it, there are no grammar or punctuation rules in advertising!

Just last night I saw a PSA commercial featuring a popular singer. It delivers an important message about breast cancer awareness, and the final shot shows the singer with the slogan: ROCK UR PINK. While I applaud the intent, I wonder, was it really necessary to use the text version of “your” in the slogan? Would the message have been diluted by using the real word? I don’t know.  Obviously it’s directed at the younger viewer, but I’m beginning to worry that soon kids aren’t going to know that “your” is a word!

Spelling is hard enough in the English language. Just look at the light/lite above example. You can’t phonetically pronounce “light,” so you must be taught that the “gh” is silent. And even with today’s  super-duper software and apps, you need to at least have an inkling of the correct spelling of a word to make the technology work.

Combine the inherent difficulties of our language with the current fad toward made-up spellings, and you have a recipe for disaster! I mean, these spell-checkers are going to have to become translators before long.  I dare you to pop “ur” into a Word doc (like I just did) and have it correctly changed to “your.”  For the record, my choices of correction are: or, urn, up, us and our. A user can add “ur” to the dictionary, of course, but why?

This is an extreme example, I know. My point is that we can’t force-feed the world with gobbledygook and rely on technology to always fix it. There are some basic rules and facts we need to  know. We at least need to know what pitfalls to watch for.

So, dear writers, I urge you to stay vigilant against this invasion, to eradicate these nouveau “words” from your everyday usage. You want to write a scene where one person is texting another? That’s fine, use “ur”; “your” wouldn’t be believable in that case, would it – unless you’re writing a scene where your mother , who refuses to use abbreviations, is texting… but you know what I mean.

Stay strong!

Words matter.

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by | October 23, 2012 · 6:26 am

Why POV (Point of View) Matters

Good morning and Happy Thursday!

First of all, a brief explanation of the difference between POV switching and head hopping, although the two are similar. A POV switch is when you write a paragraph, or a few paragraphs, or half a scene, in one character’s head, then the remainder of the scene is in a different character’s head. (I’ve often seen writers switch back and forth from paragraph to paragraph, which is extremely jarring). Head hopping is when you are in a character’s head, and that character mysteriously knows the thoughts or feelings another character is experiencing.

As an editor, I’ve heard all the reasons why POV switches and head hopping should be acceptable. I’ve heard the argument that it is okay if it’s ‘done well.’ In my opinion, it’s seldom, if ever, done well. And, just in case you’re not doing it well, it’s best to avoid it altogether. I’ve also heard, “Nora Roberts does it.” True, but Nora Roberts can do pretty much whatever she wants, and she’ll still sell books. If you’re already successful, then you don’t need to take my advice. But, if you are an untried author attempting to publish, you’d probably be wise to heed my words.

Head hopping is jarring and oftentimes confusing. Just when a reader is starting to relate to a POV character, jerking them out of that character’s head and into another character’s can be a tad disconcerting. Confusion pulls readers out of the story, and they’re likely to stop reading. The last thing you want as an author is for a reader (or editor) to stop reading!

Some examples of how the POV rules are violated: (In each of these, we are in Mary’s Point of View)

Mary didn’t notice the man lurking in the alley. – If your POV character didn’t notice something, then it can’t be mentioned in her scene. We can only know what the POV character knows.

Mary was tired of the same old argument. Couldn’t they ever agree? John stared at her, trying to formulate his words. – Mary wouldn’t know he was trying to formulate words.

Mary’s face beamed with happiness when he said he loved her. – Mary can’t see her own face beam. She can feel the happiness, (Mary’s heart lifted with joy when he said he loved her)

This one is a little less obvious, but it’s still a no-no:

Mary’s blue eyes filled with tears. – Mary wouldn’t be thinking of the color of her own eyes.

Some people believe that, in a love scene, the thoughts of both characters should be revealed so readers can get a sense of how each of them feels. Not so. If you want a love scene from each of the character’s perspectives, let one of them have a scene, then do a scene break and ‘finish’ from the other character’s POV. Also, you can convey what another character is feeling without dipping into their thoughts:

Mary slowly undid the buttons on his shirt. He gasped when her fingers stroked his chest. His hand closed around hers. “If you keep touching me like that, I can’t be responsible for what happens.” – We know her touch affects him, that he wants to make love to her. We know, at this point, he has some control, but he’s on the brink of losing it.

Even if you feel you can smoothly switch POV’s in a scene, you would be better off not attempting to do so. Most editors prefer that you have control of POV, and pleasing an editor is the first step to publication. Hooking and holding onto readers is the second.

If you have trouble staying in one character’s head during a scene, try writing a draft in first person. This method will help you to know, feel, hear, see, and think only what your character knows, hears, sees, feels, and thinks.

Best of luck and happy writing! 

Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She writes suspense and paranormal romance and is a freelance editor, as well as an editor for The Wild Rose Press (as Ally Robertson). Find her at…Website: http://www.AliciaDean.com Twitter: @Alicia_Dean_ Facebook: Alicia Dean

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Typo-rage: Get a grip, people! It’s a typo!

If there’s one thing that gets grammar snobs going, aside from serial commas and apostrophe abuse, it’s sloppy proofreading or errors, especially in publications that are supposed to have been professionally copy edited. When I see a typo, though, unless the piece is riddled with errors, I try to give the author the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s not sloppiness. Maybe it’s just being human.

When I was in my twenties, I worked for a federal agency in a unit that responded to correspondence from the public on behalf of the director of the agency. I won’t say what agency it was, but suffice it to say that its mission was (and is) to catch bad guys.

As a pool typist (yes, we had typing pools back in the dark ages of office technology), I would pull the original correspondence from a box, then hook up to a remote transcription system where I’d grab the response dictated by one of the staff letter writers. I’d type away, print out the response, clip it to the original correspondence, and return it to the letter writer for proofing.

Now, most of those letters were signed by a machine. I know, I know…disappointing, but true. (It was cool to watch the machine, though, I must say.)  Some of them, however, actually went all the way up to the director’s office for his real, live signature. In those cases, the letter would get extra layers of proofreading. Yes, layers.

Those letters would go from me, to the letter writer, to his or her supervisor, and so on up the chain until they arrived at the desk of the director’s executive secretary, a terrifyingly efficient woman in her mid-fifties whose mere name still makes me quake in fear.  I’ll call her Miss Jones for purposes of this story. (For the record, Miss Jones was not married but was not a fan of the whole “Ms.” salutation.) She was never nasty or unprofessional to me in any way, but I was young and stupid, and my guess is that most of my fear was self-manufactured. Still, it was real. So every time one of my letters had to make that journey up to her desk, I would fret and worry until I knew it passed muster and founds it way back down to our little unit, all signed and ready for the mail.

And that’s what usually happened. Usually.

I’ll never forget the one day, though, that it didn’t. It was a short letter, taking up probably about half to two-thirds of the sheet of letterhead. Because it was so short, compared to some of the tomes we shipped out of that office, I didn’t worry too much about mistakes. I mean, I had read and re-read that sucker, using a piece of cardboard under each line to train my eyes on that row (a system I still use), probably ten times before passing it off to the letter writer. I was fairly confident it was error-free. So when the call came, from none other than Miss Jones herself, it was like I’d been smacked in the gut with one of Babe Ruth’s home runs. I think I almost blacked out with panic.

I remember rushing up to the director’s suite, where decisions impacting the world were made, sweat pooling in my arm pits and running down my face, to face her and the consequences of what I’d done.

She didn’t speak when I entered her realm and approached her desk, just pointed with a surprisingly pretty pink-tipped finger to my horrific offense. Under the director’s name, I had typed his title: Direceor.

Did you see it???  You must have. How could you not? I mean, how could I, and all those layers of proofreading professionals, have missed that I replaced the letter “t” with the letter “e,” in THE MAN’S TITLE OF ALL PLACES!?

I suppose I could have comforted myself with the fact that I’d managed to type his name correctly, but I didn’t. I stammered a slew of apologies while she glared, then I crawled back to my desk, made the change with fingers that didn’t stop trembling for the rest of the day, and printed out the freshly corrected letter. I can’t remember if I walked the new version up to her, or if that was left to one of my managers, but I do remember that that letter got me a big, fat check mark in my list of errors come performance review time.

To be fair, I think I might be remembering this episode with a bit more drama than actually occurred, but I’ll never forget the lessons I learned that day:

(1) You never catch your own errors; and

(2) sometimes  other people don’t either.

So when I see a typo in a newspaper or article, or even a book, I don’t rant and throw my hands in the air and call the poor author a schmuck for not picking it up like some do.  I think back to Miss Jones, and the agency’s “direceor,” and say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

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Apostrophe Abuse: It … must … stop!

This week we’re talking about the much-maligned apostrophe, a mark of punctuation that has been incorrectly used by so many in American pop culture over the past few years (maybe even the past decade) that even I have been known to fall victim to popular but incorrect usage from time to time. (And believe me, you couldn’t punish me more than I’ve punished myself for those offenses. I mean, this is how civilization declines, people—one misplaced apostrophe at a time!)

Briefly, an apostrophe is that curly thing that looks like an upside-down comma.

I know, you’ve probably seen it misused so often, you probably don’t know what I’m fussing about. It’s understandable, but we need to turn the current tide of incorrect usage. We need to learn what’s right and set a shining example for the rest of the country!

It’s not that hard, actually. There are only three uses for the apostrophe:

  1. To indicate ownership or possession (something belonging to something else).
    Example: My husband’s eyes are blue. 
    (Hopefully this needs no additional clarification.)
  2. To indicate that letters are missing from a word.
    Example: I dont see the ball.
    The apostrophe takes the place of the second “o” in “do not.”
    I do not see the ball.
    (I think everyone gets this one, too.)
  3. To indicate the plural…of a lower-case letter. That’s it.
    Example: Dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

So, for example, when you see people add an apostrophe to indicate plural years, it’s wrong.

  • I went to school in the 1990’s. – WRONG
  • I went to school in the 1990s. – CORRECT
  • But…I went to school in the ‘90s. – CORRECT
    (In this case, the apostrophe takes the place of the omitted “19” in 1990.)

When you see people add an apostrophe to indicate simple plurals of proper nouns/names, it’s wrong.

  • We went to dinner with the Baker’s. – WRONG
  • We went to dinner with the Bakers. – CORRECT
  • But…We drove to dinner in the Bakers’ car. – CORRECT.
    In this case, the car belongs to the Bakers (plural), so the apostrophe is used to indicate possession.

And now for the double-whammy of apostrophe confusion: possessive pronouns (especially the ones with s’s):  its, his, hers, yours, theirs.

The first thing to understand is that the following are not words, period:

its’
his’
her’s
your’s
their’s

If you see any of these, a discussion of usage is meaningless and unnecessary because they aren’t real words. If you see any of these in a sentence and don’t know how to make the sentence right, reword it.

Examples of correct usage:

  • The dog chewed its bone.
  • Sam says the dog is  his.
  • Sally says the dog is hers.
  • I say the dog is yours, not theirs.

Caution: “it’sis a word. In this case, the apostrophe takes the place of the second “i” in “it is.”

It’s odd to see the dog chew its bone.

In conclusion, we know apostrophes can be confusing. We know you’re inundated on a daily basis with examples of incorrect usage. Just remember those three reasons to use an apostrophe, and you’ll be fine.

For more information about the apostrophe and its uses, you might want to check out what Purdue University’s OWL has to say on the subject.

Words (and apostrophes) matter!

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