My work

Monday, 31 March 2014

Formal Style – Let’s eat Grandma

I recently opened and closed a book without coming anywhere near the The End because of several issues, but mostly it was this error that stopped me: In dialogue, the missing comma before the name of the addressed.

I see it all the time. You likely see it all the time, and probably don’t get your knickers in such a twist as I do. And it doesn’t annoy me in the day-to-day, when some friend or business acquaintance shoots off an email to me: Hi Roberta. I always write back though: Hi, X. I’m not correcting the sender at all – merely writing it the way it should be written so I [hopefully] don’t make the error in my novels.

I tripped across the phrase “Let’s eat Grandma” a couple years back [though it might have been “Grandpa” in that instance] in an Internet meme about how commas can save lives. I thought it hilarious . . . but since, I’ve seen it all too often in published works.

The comma must always be there. No matter if it’s clear who the addressed is. No matter if it saves a life or not. Must have comma.

Maybe the trend away from the comma in this case is because of a misinterpretation that commas are only used as “pauses”; that you stick them in a sentence where you would naturally take a breath. That’s not a bad guideline for general comma use, but it isn’t the sole purpose. As the title of this blog entry alludes, direct address commas ensure there is no ambiguity.
There are three types of direct address: Beginning, middle, and end. Samples of each, respectively:

“Bob, thank you for . . .”
“I think, Bob, we should . . .”
“See you soon, Bob.”

Here are more examples, incorrect first; corrected following:

“Hello Bob.”
“Hello Sue honey.”
“Show me dear Carol.” [If it is a demand to be shown dear Carol, it’s right. Otherwise, uh uh.]
“Yes sir.”
“I called my sister Bob.” [You did? Is your sister’s name “Bob”?]
“I called my sister Carol.” [This may or may not be wrong, depending on if there was indeed a call placed to someone’s sister named Carol. But if Carol’s the one being addressed, it’s wrong.]
“I was thinking Sue that we should go shopping.” [See how it can get mangled without those commas!]
“Happy birthday Bob.” [Just . . . no.]

“Hello, Bob.”
“Hello, Sue honey.” [“Honey” is adjectival, and thus included with her name.]
“Show me, dear Carol.” [“Dear” is adjectival; a letter salutation would be “Dear Carol:”.]
“Yes, sir.”
“I called my sister, Bob.”
“I called my sister, Carol.” [If this is spoken to Carol; if there was a call placed to sister Carol, it would be: “I called my sister Carol.” I noted it above, but it's worth two mentions.]
“I was thinking, Sue, that we should go shopping.”
“Happy birthday, Bob.”

I wish I could say this error was limited to self-pubs. Actually, it has become such a pervasive error that it even pops up in professionally edited works from established publishing houses. Rest assured, I’m not one of those people who don’t like change. I love the way the English language constantly grows and evolves. I don’t mind that some words become obsolete. I don’t mind that the serial [or Oxford] comma is used less and less [though there are times it must be used . . . but that’s for a different post].
But the direct address comma can’t go anywhere. It might not save lives, but it will save your writing from at least that form of ambiguity. And while the occasional neglect of the rule is forgivable [who doesn’t make errors?], I’ve pretty much decided that I won’t be reading any more books that neglect the rule wholesale.

So, let’s eat, Grandma.
This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Formal Style – Apostrophes

What is formal style? In an Internet search, it was “longer sentences” and “more complex vocabulary”. Well, it’s not. That’s style. Writing style, more specifically.
Formal style could be described as the equivalent of etiquette. But rather than what fork to use, it’s the correct use of punctuation and word case: title/sentence/camel case, how footnotes/endnotes are constructed, how dialogue tags are attached, the sort of dash used, how ellipses are inserted, where italics are used rather than quotes . . . ad nauseam. I am a stickler for formal style. That doesn’t mean I don’t make formal style errors [though I pretend I make none. Uh uh, no way, no how]. Ahem. Or should that be Amen?

Maybe you’ll think: “Roberta, that is not about writing. That is not a writing tip.”

Ah, but it is.

In an earlier post, I wrote that there were no rules, and modified that with “of course, there are rules.” The goal of every author is to keep the reader turning pages. That’s how authors get loyal fans, get chatter about their books, get reviews written. So, based on that goal, here’s my:

Cardinal Rule #1 –
Anything that pulls a reader out of the story is a bad thing.

Pulled out of a story is being distracted. And distracting your reader is something to be avoided at all costs. A distracted reader is missing your clever words. Notices other bad things that they otherwise would have ignored. Gets annoyed at you, doesn’t finish the book, doesn’t write a review, and says only negative things.
In this age of instant gratification and the quick scan of opening-chapter sampling to assess and reject/accept a book under consideration for purchase, an author can’t afford a single error that distracts. That’s it. No excuses about how the writing/story/characters are really fantastic and readers should be looking beyond sloppy formal style for the heart of your work.

That’s not going to fly.

Readers deserve better. They’re putting out their money for your work, taking the time and energy to read your work, and you want them to work harder? Don’t think so.

Today’s observation on formal style is about apostrophes. Not “its” vs. “it’s” or “they’re, their, there” – that’s grammar. I’m writing about a particular pet peeve that will have many who read this crossing/rolling their eyes, saying: “Really, Roberta? This is an issue for you? Pedantic idiot.”
Maybe. But I’m a reader buying your books, so my opinion counts. And I hate to have to say it, but an open quote is not the same thing as an apostrophe, as much as a period is not the same thing as a comma, as italics are not the same thing as boldface, a cat is not a dog, a shoehorn is not a power drill, and the word “wrong” is in no way the word “right”.

So, my formal-style apostrophe issue: I often see abbreviated words [about vs. ’bout; them vs. ’em; nineteen-seventies vs. ’seventies] where the apostrophe is actually an open single quote: ‘bout; ‘em; ‘seventies.
Don’t see the difference? Hm. I do. And it drives me wild. Does it take effort while you’re keying your eternal novel into Word to make sure you have the right punctuation? A tiny bit; sure. Is it worth it? That’s up to you. And ultimately, your reader - a.k.a., your customer.

This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

My Writing Process

Michaela Miles logo

I’ve been invited to answer a few questions about my writing process by the inimitable author/blogger Michaela Miles! This particular blog hop is all about authors offering others a glimpse into their work, their work schedules, and perhaps their innermost thoughts.

Click here to find out how she does it! And be sure to explore her blog for her many gems of observation, reviews, and more!
Q. What am I working on?

The Value of Vulnerability

I’m still editing my latest novel The Value of Vulnerability, a purely character-driven work about how people deal with personal damage – and in the case of my H, rather harshly! So naturally he needs an h who shows him better ways to deal. I’m hoping to have this to beta readers in a couple of days.

Public Frenemy cover
I’ll be following that novel with Public Frenemy, a story of two people trying to learn how to love again without fear, ultimately determining that it takes courage and self-confidence. Slated for April 2014 release, it’s probably going to be May instead. Q. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

For Those Who Wait
My first novel, For Those Who Wait, is actually a nod to Harlequin Presents style – that genre that I love so well and inspired me to write romance in the first place. But within it, I broke some clichés, which was both hard and satisfying [That’s what she said!].
A Bird Without Wings
My second novel, A Bird Without Wings is written around a h who is smarter than her H! Talk about breaking clichés! Considering the sophistication and education of the average romance reader, I thought it would be rewarding to read such a character. She’s complex and compelling. I love her. And so do the readers who’ve met her.

The upshot? I’m not out to reinvent the genre – it’s great as-is. But it’s fun for both me and the reader to invert tropes and dispense with stereotypes, so I do so as often as possible.
Q. Why do I write what I do?

Hmm . . . I write contemporary romance because I find the entire question of what makes a relationship work [independent of the ultimate conclusion of an HEA!] endlessly intriguing. What makes two people want to permanently join forces through their lives? How can one person rely on another to that degree? Still single, you can see how that would fascinate me!
Q. How does your writing process work?

I see a scene in my head. I write dialogue in my head. I create a new Word doc and get down as much of it as I can – frequently naming the characters “H” and “h”. Then I ignore it for weeks - sometimes months. Eventually, I drag it out and start poking at it, see what I can make of it, keying in little ideas that occur about backstory, characterisation, and conflict.
I’m a pantser who thinks she’s a plotter. This time, I’m going to write an outline! Never happens. Sometimes to get things moving, I’ll write whole stream-of-consciousness passages to help me get where I want to go. The characters – if strong enough – will write their own story.

Oh, and I drink loads of coffee. Sometimes wine – but there’s a fine line in creativity with wine . . . one point five glasses is my cut off before I lose momentum and focus!
Who will we meet next week?

Check out these authors and their processes:
Renea Mason
Noelle Clark
And Lan LLP will be posting her processes on blog soon.

This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

BOTM – Indie Author Central

I am very honoured to announce that A Bird Without Wings is GR group IAC's Book of the Month for March 2014!

Should you like an ARR/R2R copy, click here and post if you’re a group member [you should join even if you’re not an indie author – you can get lots of free ebooks!], PM me or post in the comments, advising of your preferred format. I’ve got ’em all.

So excited!

This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

. . . on writing

Since I have been working on a blog, I have no updates to offer on my novel-writing life, for the obvious reasons. However, my second novel A Bird Without Wings made its first appearance on Listopia: Friends Said I Should Read in 2014. Thanks! Everybody go vote! LOL.
A Bird Without Wings
So the other half of my Blog Manifesto [any portmanteau suggestions? Blanifesto? Blonifesto? Blogesto? Or based on mission statement – Missment?] is the subject today. To wit:

My central idea is to distil [heavy stress on the distillation part] writing tips and techniques for myself and share them with the world at large . . . or as large a world this blog manages to occupy.

I know what you’re thinking. ”But, Roberta, there are so many of those sorts of blogs!" You’re absolutely right! But daily reminders might help a writer – they certainly help me – and perhaps a writer about to throw in the towel [clichés will be discussed in a later post] on his/her work might be inspired by a daily kick. Or find out something previously unknown. Or phrased in a slightly different manner that might make it stick. Or suddenly applicable.

I participate in a couple of different groups that hash out the ways and means of writing effectively – in particular The Source. I assure you right now that we rarely have consensus! Because of all the rules of writing, the most important one is: There are no rules.

Now, that patently untrue. There are most definitely rules. But – like the story of the two-pack-a-day grandpa who lived to be a healthy 110 – they’re muddied with examples of how breaking the rules works. Maybe one guy smoked all his life and lived forever; maybe a writer never used a comma and was a huge success. It could happen!
Sure. But another rule – or perhaps axiom – is: before you break the rules, know them.

This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.

Monday, 3 March 2014

It’s my first day . . .

My first blog . . . so I'm sure to make a mess of it. Feedback welcome . . . I think.

This blog will be two things [yikes, a manifesto!]: updates on my own writing/books/promos; and discussions about writing tips and techniques.
About me . . . my deliberately cute but accurate bio is posted on Goodreads, Amazon, and Smashwords, et al. But the salient points: I’m female. I live in Toronto. I write romance.

What sort? Contemporary M/F romance about adults, for adults. No YA, paranormal, or historical [I like those  subgenres, but I don’t write them]. My sex scenes are semi-graphic and largely euphemistic . . . but maybe one day I’ll publish the erotica I’ve been, ahem, poking at for some time now.
But I’m asked the oddest question all the time: Why romance?

I’m sure those who ask mean it as a compliment – and being greedy for compliments, I take it as such. But there's a baseline contempt for the romance genre in the asking.
Romance ain’t easy. It’s hard to craft a convincing story of two should-be-likeable people who have something that keeps them apart, and make their HEA  palatable and realistic. So, in terms of writing skill: Why not romance?

Sure, we like to talk about the literary loftiness that’s supposed to mark us as intelligent, educated creatures, but . . . well, think of movie-ticket sales vs. awards. The awards are rarely given out to the blockbusters. But the blockbusters are the ones we saw. And when awards season rolls around, we all scramble to screen some of the nominated so we understand the pointed references when watching the televised presentations.
Is romance mere guilty pleasure? In that case, many are guilty: romance holds the largest segment-share of book sales. But what is that to me? Why do I write/read romance?

I really didn’t know. I enjoy romance – but not all of it. I rarely review romance novels – critique of one’s own genre can read churlishly if not wholly positive. So I went in search of other readers’/writers’ opinions . . . and got pleasantly sidetracked.
Thanks to the excellent site Romance Novels for Feminists – which in turn led me to this post – I started thinking about it in a whole new way.

Isn’t it a bit sexist to assume it’s the lightweight female reader who indulges? Or bored housewives? [I’ve never met a bored so-called housewife - who can be bored when that busy?] And the average romance enthusiast is a woman with post-secondary education, regardless of whether she works in her home or out of it.
Isn’t it sexist to assume it’s only women who read/write it? And isn’t it equally sexist to assume that all women love romance?

One such non-romance woman is one of my best friends: Kim – beta reader and eye-roller extraordinaire. She rolled her eyes at me while asking the Why romance? question when I begged her to read my first novel. Because I didn't know, I said, “Just read the damn’ thing because I asked you to!”
So she did. And the next one, too. I didn’t convert her to the genre [I’ll put this down to unconquerable ignorance rather than my writing]. But she respected me enough to respect my efforts – and give honest critique. Which is what every writer wants from every reader, regardless of genre. In a world where pretensions are high and romance the foremost genre, isn’t respect overdue?

[Some great stats courtesy of RWA: The Romance Genre and Reader Statistics.]

This post was originally published on my Goodreads blog.