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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A rebuttal about basic writing rules



The following is a continuation of this post and more specifically this comment, which I will refer to throughout this post.

I listed 7 common mistakes writers make, and since there are a lot of opinions on the proper way to write creatively, it didn't surprise me that an editor spoke up to tell me how wrong I was.

Let's examine the details a little closer.

"Not use exclamation points? You have to be kidding."

Although I will admit that I didn't make it as clear as I could have, the section on exclamation points wasn't saying that a writer should never use them. Rather, the common practice of overusing the pesky little critter should be avoided. 

Because what happens is that lazy writers will use them for every little instance where some emotion just might bubble up to the surface, no matter the intensity.

That's not what they are for.

They are "used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling." If a writer overuses this particular punctuation mark, strong feelings become mediocre at best, which is why many editors and writers either avoid them outright or at least use them very seldom.

In other words, save them for the strongest of feelings, at times when a well-written passage needs that little extra oomph.

"A well-placed creative use of ellipses is inspiring, and often completely appropriate. As is an incomplete sentence." 

I totally agree with the above statement, and once again I can see where this editor assumed that I was encouraging writers to never use them. After all, I did write, "Use ellipses sparingly."

Consider, though, the definition of sparingly: marked by or practicing careful restraint. And one of the definitions of restrain is to keep (something) under control

Similar to the exclamation point, the overuse of the ellipsis robs the narrative of the very inspiration and appropriateness the editor mentioned.

"(You have an incomplete sentence in the article, by the way.)"

This is an interesting statement, almost telling, since incomplete sentences (or fragments) was not one of the 7 listed items. In fact, I think fragments have their place. Like anything else they can be overused, but their overuse does not make my top 7.

"'I love you,' Jane smiled: is correct. It implies that Jane was smiling while she said it, reflecting on the exact meaning she intended. It's fine." (punctuation changed by me)

I will go half way on this one. The editor makes a solid point, one that I've seen many times. The reason I won't go all the way and agree is that I've seen many instances of editors stating that you can't smile a line of dialog. Just like you can't nod a line of dialog.

Personally I would like to see more structure in creative writing, but I will admit that applying the comma rules for dialog will never be black and white. 

But there's another reason why a writer should consider applying basic rules to their writing more often. It's not so much the reader they have to worry about since most readers probably couldn't pick out a comma error to save their life.

No, it's the book reviewer.

I've seen many a book murdered by reviewers because of the very things I mentioned in the other post, so if a writer wants to take their stand and defend their style choices, the writer should realize that the possibility of negative reviews will go up.

"I tell my clients and students that you need to write in such a way that you allow the reader to HEAR what you are writing - and sometimes that will involve creative punctuation. That's the most important thing, not a set of rules."

Well, that may be so, but some books that were supposed to be edited only tell me that the writer, editor, and anyone else involved are a bunch of idiots. Don't take that to mean that I'm saying all writers are idiots or that any book with any of the 7 things I listed was written by an idiot. 

What I will state is that based upon my personal experience, the reputation of self-published writers, and the myriad of book reviews I've read since starting this blog more than 2 years ago, a writer should think twice before being sloppy with commas, too stylistic with dialog punctuation, overusing exclamation points and ellipses, and definitely using the wrong word ... especially when everyone is screaming at them to stop. 

That was a hyperbole. I didn't mean every single person. I was emphasizing that enough people say it; it would be smart to at least consider it. Otherwise a writer may look like a fool, and if enough people think them to be a fool, that might affect how many books they sell.

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