Showing posts with label commas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label commas. Show all posts

14 January 2020

Copyediting tips


A lot of editors wear one hat or another. They do developmental editing or copyediting. Not both. But not me. While I prefer developmental work, I also happily do copyediting. Helping make a manuscript consistent appeals to the anal-retentive side of my personality. (And while we're on it, yes, I know, that looks wrong: copyediting. It should be copy editing, don't you think? But the Chicago Manual of Style is what most (all?) publishers rely upon for fiction, and Chicago says to use copyediting and copyeditor. So I will here, even as I shiver while doing it.

Anyway ... it's late and I'm short on time tonight, so I'm going to quickly talk about two copyediting problems I spot all the time, not just in fiction, but on blogs and Facebook and, basically, everywhere. Both issues deal with when it's appropriate to set words or word phrases off by commas.

You think you know the answer? Let's see. I'm going to post some example sentences and you decide which ones are properly punctuated.

Example 1

A) My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.
OR
B) My short story, "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast," was published in 2018.

Example 2

A) My newest short story "Alex's Choice" was published in Crime Travel.
OR
B) My newest short story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

So what do you think? In each example, was (A) or (B) correctly punctuated? Based on a mistake I see often, I'll bet most of you (including you writers out there) said (B) for both. And I say to that ...

Buzz!

You lose that round. In Example 1, the correct answer is (A). But in Example 2, the correct answer is (B). Why? It all has to do with whether the story titles are necessary for the sentence to be clear.
A pot roast dinner because ... why not?


You set a story title (or any information) off with commas when that information is not necessary for the sentence to be clear. So let's look at Example 1. If I wrote it without the story title it would say: My short story was published in 2018. That would probably leave you thinking, "Which story are you talking about? You've had a lot of stories published. You even had more than one published in 2018." And you would be right, which is why you need to know the story title for that sentence to be clear. Since the story title is required, you don't set it off with commas. So the correct punctuation for the sentence in Example 1 is: My short story "The Case of the Missing Pot Roast" was published in 2018.

Turning to Example 2, here's how it would read without the story title: My newest story was published in Crime Travel. Assuming again that you're familiar with my work, do you need the story title to know what story I'm talking about? Nope. I only have one newest story, so I don't need to say its name for you to know which story I'm talking about. Since the story title isn't necessary in that sentence, if I were to add it, the title should be set off with commas, as such: My newest story, "Alex's Choice," was published in Crime Travel.

Think you've got it? Let's try again.

Example 3:

It's 2006, and I call my sister and say, "My short story was nominated for an award." She would congratulate me and know exactly which story I'm talking about because at that time I only had one story published. As such, if I'd included the story title in the sentence, it would have been  unnecessary detail, so it would have been set off by commas: My short story, "Murder at Sleuthfest," was nominated for an award.

But let's say I had two stories published in 2005. If I called my sister a few months later and said, "My short story was nominated for an award," she would ask, "Which one?" She can't tell which story I'm talking about because it could have been my first story published in 2005 or my second one. So I have to revise my sentence to make it clear: My short story "Murder at Sleuthfest" was nominated for an award. Since the story title is necessary for the sentence to be clear, it's not set off by commas.


Paul Rudd
Here's another example, just to be sure you've got it. Assume I'm not a bigamist and I'm married. Which is correct?

A) My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do.
OR
B) My husband, Paul Rudd, reads more than I do.

If I had just one husband (and if I have to make one up, Paul Rudd is a good choice), his name would be set off by commas because you wouldn't need to know his name for this sentence to be clear. If I had simply said "My husband reads more than I do," you'd know I'm talking about Paul Rudd.

But what if I were a bigamist? Then if I said, "My husband reads more than I do," you would rightly say, "Which husband? Paul Rudd or Robert Downey Jr.?" (If I'm going to be a bigamist, I might as well do it right.) So for that sentence to be clear, I'd have to say: "My husband Paul Rudd reads more than I do." You'll notice there are no commas in that sentence because dear Paul's name was necessary for the sentence to be clear.

More Paul Rudd
Let's move on to something related: Which versus That. I see the word "which" used so often when the correct word in a particular situation is "that." When do you use "which" and when do you use "that"? If information is necessary to a sentence, you use "that" and no commas. If information is unnecessary to a sentence, you use "which" and commas.

Example:

I've just gone shopping and come home with one new blouse. I put it on and show it to my husband, Paul Rudd. (Set off by a comma because I'm no bigamist!) And he says, "Your new top is pretty." And I smile, pleased that he liked my new top. There was no confusion in our conversation. He could have said, "Your new top, which is blue, is pretty." But he didn't have to mention the color because I only bought one new top, so I know which top he's referring to. Since the color wasn't necessary for the sentence to be clear, the information was set off by commas and the word "which" was used.

You can never have
enough Paul Rudd
But what if I'd come home with two new blouses? I model both of them for Paul and say, "What do you think?" He replies, "Your new top is pretty." Instead of smiling, I say back, "Which one are you talking about? The red one or the blue one? You don't think they're both pretty? I spent hours looking for two tops I thought you would like, and you can't even bother to have a kind word for both of them, you son of a ..."

Oh, wait, sorry, back to grammar. So you see, Paul's declaration that my new top was pretty was ambiguous because I hadn't bought just one top. So I calmly ask Paul which one he's referring to, and he says, "Sorry, I should have been clear. Your new top that's blue is pretty. The red one's ugly as sin." Since the color blue was necessary for me to know which blouse he liked, the information was not set off by commas and the word "that" was used.

And now I'm off to therapy since I can't even have a happy marriage with an imaginary husband.

10 March 2014

It's Me Again, Margaret


Three events yesterday inspired this post.  

First, I learned that my Monday SleuthSayer co-conspirator, Jan Grape, is sick, and I volunteered to fill in for her today. 

Second, while I considered what to write about, David Edgerley Gates commented on FaceBook that an editor has accepted another of his stories and has no problem with the opening scene being a lap dance but doesn't like the title "Heavy Breathing."
Sorry, David, I could be censored for using the other lap dance illustrations I found.

My mind sometimes bounces around like a ping pong ball, and the thought of heavy breathing immediately brought Ray Stevens's song "It's Me Again, Margaret" to mind.  In it, a young lady receives repeated phone calls--heavy breathing which always begin with a low, "It's Me Again, Margaret."  At the conclusion, the caller is arrested and allowed one phone call from the police station.  You guessed it! He dials the telephone (it's an old song) and whispers, "It's Me Again, Margaret." This led me to YouTube where I revisited that old song.  You can, too.

Warning:  This video will make you laugh if you have a slightly bawdy sense of humor and will appreciate the mention of chickens and Kool Whip and handcuffs.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wb2nZR6qbE

So, though I occupied this spot just last Monday and your name isn't Margaret, it's me again. I'm back in less than the usual two weeks' time.

Third Event

A Broad Abroad sent me an email with a link:  Grammar to hammer: Horror writers use every trick from aliens to zombies. Lynne Truss chose a talking cat. 
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/bgrammar-to-hammer-horror-writers-use-every-trick-from-aliens-to-zombies-lynne-truss-chose-a-talking-cat-9176652.html 

Problem Solved
Lynne Truss
Contrary to what you dear readers may be thinking, my topic today is not lap dances or obscene calls, but our best-selling Eats, Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss.

Cat Out of Hell, her first comic-gothic novella, was released February 27, 2014. A Google review describes it as "the mesmerising tale of a cat with nine lives, [sic] and a relationship as ancient as time itself and just as powerful."

I confess I laughed out loud at that comma.  The [sic] is mine. Aren't "a cat with nine lives" and "a relationship" simply compound objects of the preposition "of"? If so, why would there be a comma there?  I personally would be embarrassed and fearful of punctuation errors when speaking of Ms. Truss. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

I warned you that sometimes my mind bounces around, and there it went again. Back to subject:  A Broad Abroad's link is to an interview with Ms. Truss. I won't summarize it in detail, but it's well worth reading.  Of special interest to me is her reference to Steve French's Horror Writing 101: How to Write a Horror Novel.  I wish I'd known about that before I sent my horror effort to my agent. (David Dean, are you familiar with that guide?)

On Ms. Truss's website, she says:

           My big news is that I have written a comic horror
           novella for Random House's Hammer imprint--this
           is my first novel for about fifteen years, and writing
           it did feel like coming home at last.  It's called Cat 
          Out of Hell and published on February 27.  It is also
          a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime for two weeks in March,
          It concerns the mystery of a missing woman, a talking
          cat called Roger, a remote seaside cottage, and a
          nice retired librarian with a dog called Watson.  I
          fell in love with Roger, because he is not only 
          handsome and evil, but terribly, terribly clever.  But,
          of coursed, Watson is the hero because he is a dog."

Jan, I hope you're soon well.  David Edgerley Gates, can't wait to read that story.  A Broad Abroad, thanks for a topic for today. Everyone, I'm ordering Cat Out of Hell and will let you know what I think after reading it.

Until we meet again, take care of… you!

09 December 2013

Things I've Learned at Sleuth Sayers


I had two or three ideas tumbling around in my head for my column, however, nothing seemed to jell. I decided to peruse every one's column for this past week and "Wah-la." I decided that "transformative use" information from John M. Floyd made good sense.

As I've mentioned before, the first novel I wrote in 1980-81, was a private eye novel. Since I was a voracious reader of that genre, I noticed that no one was writing books or stories with a female P.I. At the time, I didn't know Marcia Muller had published her first Sharon McCone novel, Edwin of the Iron Shoes," in 1977. She's been called the "Mother of the female Private Eye." Marcia modestly smiles and says the second McCone book wasn't published until five years later. Sometime she admits perhaps she's the "Godmother."

To be quite accurate, Maxine O'Callaghan wrote a short story, "A Change of Clients," which debuted, Delilah West, P.I., published in AHMM in 1974. Delilah didn't make it to a book, Death Is Forever until 1980. Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski appeared in Indemnity Only in January, 1982. Immediately following was Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone in "A is For Alibi," in April, 1982. So I honestly didn't steal or copy their ideas because I had began writing my book in 1980. It was just that the idea of a female P.I. was definitely in the air. A friend handed me the Grafton book sometime later in '82, saying I know you're writing a female P.I. and think you might enjoy this book. A month or so after that I saw the Muller book and bought and read it.

The other idea I had when starting my book was a transformative use taken directly from Robert B. Parker of having my P.I., Jenny Gordon, work with a tough, smart, beautiful, black woman, C.J. Gunn. I wanted to show the interaction of the two women being close friends. He had Spencer and a black male friend who was tough and often helped. My naming my character came from the idea of Mickey Spillane having his character named Mike Hammer.  The Mickey and Mike were alliterative and I felt Jenny Gordon by Jan Grape might be memorable.

I published two short stories inspired by songs from singer/songwriters. The first was "Scarlett Fever," published in Deadly Allies inspired by a Kenny Rogers song. I didn't know him  personally but knew all of his songs. The second story was "The Confession" inspired by Thomas Michael Riley, a local Hill Country songwriter and published in Murder Here, Murder There.

The only short story that inspired me was one by Bill Pronzini. I don't remember the title of it, but there was a hit and run accident in it. My story, "The Man In The Red Flannel Suit" was published in Santa Clues, and has a significant hit and run scene.

Fran's definition of cozyesque is fantastic. My friend, Susan Rogers Cooper, writes what she calls, "grisly cozies." They are tougher than cozy but not hard-boiled. A few years ago when I owned the bookstore we called books either soft-boiled, medium-boiled, or hard-boiled.

When I was trying to get my Austin policewoman book sold, Ed Gorman of Tekno Books was packaging books for Five Star. At that time, the editor there was buying cozy mysteries only. Ed asked if I had a book for them to look at. I said, not really. Only thing I have is my policewoman book. He said, "Well, can you cozy it up a little?" I said, "I don't know, but I'll try." That wasn't working too well. As we all know, a bunch of police officers and most bad guys use rough language. I was trying to take out the bad language and checking for how much sex I could gloss over. I was about half-way through when Ed called back. "Our editor has moved up and she's now open to any genre of mystery. Thank goodness, I had a copy that certainly wasn't cozy and sent it to him. They liked it and Austin City Blue found a home.

None of my three novels are the Great American Novel, Eve Fisher, but I didn't try to write one either. I just wrote books that I liked and that I hoped others would like.

As far as researching, Dale Andrews, for the policewoman series, I actually took 10 weeks of classes of Citizen's Police Academy training in 1991. It was a program set up to help neighborhood watch folks learn all about the different aspects of the Austin Police Department. The accepted me because they knew I was a published writer of short stories. We had department heads or second in command come by and talk about SWAT, Fraud and Bunko Squad, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Fingerprints, Ballistics, Medical Examiners, etc.

One night we all used the laser light, video training program called FATS. You watched a video on a huge screen and you held a laser gun. The scene would play out on the screen and you had to decide whether to "shoot or not shoot." It made you understand how few seconds an officer has to make a decision and to do the right thing. I did okay but I did "shoot" a bad guy in the behind. He was beating up a cop, then suddenly jumped up and ran away. My brain said to shoot and by the time I made the decision he had jumped up and turned to leave. We also did a "ride along" for a full shift with an officer in a squad car. That was fascinating and you soon realized every call could be a potential bad one. Dispatch said, "Check out a suspicious vehicle." At such and such address. We got there and it was a Winnebago vehicle, all dark. The officer didn't know if someone was inside or was gone. He wouldn't let me get out of the car. Turned out it was vacant.

For interesting searches nowadays I sometimes do online on my telephone, is for song lyrics. Not for
writing but for friends and for fun.

This concludes my article, and Leigh, you'll have to check this for commas. I'm sure I have too many. But I think I did okay with quote marks and such.