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Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Punctuating Dialogue

Make sure you punctuate dialogue correctly, particularly when using question marks or exclamation marks before the closing speech mark. So, for example:

Incorrect:

“Who’s there?” He asked.

The sentence consists of the dialogue and the dialogue tag, so there shouldn’t be a capital letter in the middle of the sentence; even though a question mark is usually used at the end of a sentence, here it ends the sentence that is spoken, but not the sentence that the dialogue is a part of, so this should be:

“Who’s there?” he asked.

And:

“I’d like a cup of coffee,” she said.

Note here that, although the sentence of dialogue has ended, the sentence itself hasn’t, so you don’t use a full stop at the end of dialogue, you use a comma.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Commas #Writing #Editing

1) Use a comma to separate items on a list. This always reminds me of a memory game I used to play with my kids on long car journeys:

I went to the shops and I bought an apple, a banana, a cherry and six bars of chocolate.

Be careful to avoid confusion here though:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine and cheese and tomato. 

Now, are we suggesting here that I eat sandwiches with all these fillings? Or that I like hummus sandwiches, and sandwiches that contain sardines AND cheese AND tomato. Or sardine and cheese. Or just cheese and tomato? Commas can clear this up:

I went to the shops and bought my favourite sandwiches – hummus, sardine, and cheese and tomato.

2) Use a comma to separate a series of actions, events or elements in a sentence:

She opened the door, peeped inside, and screamed her head off.

3) Use a comma before a conjunction to connect two independent clauses:

She opened the door quietly, but he still heard her.

This is a case where the comma could be left out, but using it here helps the pace of the sentence, and adds to the suspense.

4) Use a comma after the introductory elements of a sentence:

Opening the door, she felt a scream rise in her throat.

Use a comma to set off parenthetical information:

She opened the door, her heart banging in her chest, and peeped inside. 

The bit between the commas can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.

5) Use a comma to separate adjectives.

She was a scared, pale little thing. 

If you can put an ‘and’ between the adjectives, then it’s probably better to use a comma there instead – you might say ‘she was a scared and pale little thing’, but not ‘she was a scared and pale and little thing’.

6) Use a comma when you are writing speech:

This door’s hinges,’ she said, ‘are in need of some oil.’

And

‘I think we should oil the hinges,’ she said.

7) Use a comma before a phrase that expresses a contrast:

‘The door was tall, but not very heavy.’

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Active and Passive #Writing #Editing

Using the active voice makes your writing simple, clear, concise and immediate, drawing your reader into the action of the piece and giving your writing energy. Using passive voice, on the other hand, can make your writing seem too formal, dull and wordy and can create a distance between the reader and the words.

Passive 

In passive sentences, the thing acted upon is the subject of the sentence, and the thing doing the action is usually included at the end of the sentence, for example:

The book was read by Sam.

The book is the subject receiving the action, ‘was read’ is the passive verb and Sam is doing the action.

Active

In active sentences, the thing or person doing the action is the subject of the sentence, and the thing or person receiving the action is the object. So:

Sam read the book.

Sam is the subject doing the action,’ read’ is the verb and the book is the object receiving the action.

What’s the problem?

The problem with passive is that the thing or person receiving the action becomes the subject of the sentence, but he, she or it isn’t actually doing anything. They are having something done to them. The first sentence isn’t grammatically wrong – it makes complete sense, but it sounds unnatural and forced. Another issue with passive voice is that it can be wordy. For example:

Passive

It was thought by most people that I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

Contrast the active:

Most people thought I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

‘Foul Is Fair’ by Hannah Capin #BookReview

From the publisher:

content advisory.

the primary thematic material of FOUL IS FAIR centers on sexual assault (not depicted), rape culture, and violence. additionally, the book includes an abusive relationship, a suicide attempt, and a brief scene with transphobic bullying. for a more detailed description of sensitive content, continue reading. these notes will contain spoilers for FOUL IS FAIR.

sexual assault, rape, rape culture, gender-based violence: this content is integral to FOUL IS FAIR and is referenced in nearly every chapter. assault is not depicted on the page, but there are a number of flashbacks that may be upsetting to some readers. if you are not comfortable with material that closely examines sexual trauma, FOUL IS FAIR will not be a safe book for you.

abusive relationship: two major characters in FOUL IS FAIR are involved in a relationship that is physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive. this element is present throughout the book. physical abuse is not depicted, but is alluded to and shown in aftermath. the relationship is challenged and the individual experiencing abuse ultimately escapes her abusive partner.

physical violence, gore, murder: many chapters and scenes throughout FOUL IS FAIR depict on-page physical violence. various characters contemplate and commit violent acts including murder. more than one murder includes gore. the narrative of the book condones violence as a means of vigilante justice.

bullying and transphobia: several brief scenes reference childhood bullying. one scene portrays potentially lethal bullying (chapter title: CONFESSION). another scene portrays transphobic bullying (chapter title: LAIR); this ideology is challenged immediately and the trans character maintains her agency throughout.

suicide: there are two brief scenes portraying a suicide attempt (chapter title: BLOOD) and its aftermath (chapter title: MOURNING). the attempt is not part of larger suicidal ideation and does not result in death. one additional scene suggests the possibility of a suicide attempt (chapter title: RED).

substance abuse: throughout FOUL IS FAIR, various underage characters consume alcohol and smoke marijuana. there are direct and indirect references to prescription drug abuse and cocaine. characters discuss buying and selling drugs, including recreational drugs as well as roofies/rohypnol.

vigilantism and revenge: FOUL IS FAIR presents and narratively condones revenge and vigilante justice.

And on to the book…

I point at my hair, and I say, This color. You know what it’s called?
She shakes her head: No.
I say, REVENGE.
She says Good girl. Kill him. 


Revenge is a bitch. 

Jade Khanjara and her three best friends rule their glittering LA circle. They control everything. 
Until one night. 

The night four boys spike Jade’s drink, lock her in a room and attack her. When they try to ruin her.
But they chose the wrong girl. 

Jade is made of claws and fangs and cruel sharp edges. Jade will have them clutching at their throats and choking on blood. 

She wants revenge. She has no mercy. And now she won’t rest until she gets satisfaction. 

Judging from a lot of reviews, this is a book that really divides opinion, which isn’t surprising, as I can’t decide what I think about it myself!

The good points:

  • It’s very well-written, with a rather unusual style, and parts that feel almost poetic in places
  • It’s based on Macbeth!
  • It’s definitely a page-turner and, unusually for me these days I’m afraid, I didn’t skip ahead at all
  • The revenge is gory, bloody, horrible – and extremely deserved
  • It tears open a world of privilege where the rich and well-connected, especially rich and well-connected men, act without consequence and don’t care who they hurt in the process
  • It reminded me a bit of ‘Heathers’ (still an excellent film!)

The bad points:

  • Everyone is extremely rich and extremely spoilt and so I didn’t warm to anyone
  • It was very, very far-fetched in places (but then, so is the idea that a young woman won’t be blamed if she’s attacked by wealthy, well-connected men)
  • There are some troubling aspects such as Jade not telling her parents about the attack, but I can see why the author chose for her not to do this, as part of the point of the narrative is that she won’t be believed if she reports them, and, even if she is, they won’t get the punishment they deserve

There have been so many horrible, high-profile cases like this, particularly in the US, where a young man’s future is held in higher regard and given more weight than a young girl’s trauma. For example, there’s the Brock Turner case, where a lighter sentence was allegedly given to a man convicted of the sexual assault and attempted rape of an unconscious woman (or, as his father called it, ‘twenty minutes of action’), because a prison sentence would have ‘a severe impact’ and ‘adverse collateral consequences’ on Turner.

So there is definitely something rewarding about a book where a young woman and her friends take control like this, and the perpetrators find themselves as the victims. But, for me, it was too difficult to relate to the women, and the way they lived. They could only get revenge because they too were privileged, which felt a bit contradictory.

That said, it’s a satisfying read, and a very interesting idea for a novel. And the writing pushes it from a 3.5 star to a four star read for me.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Verisimilitude (or keeping it real) #Writing #Editing

How do you ensure that you keep the ‘reality’ of your fictional world intact? Here are the pitfalls to avoid:

  • Something unusual happening in your fictional world that you haven’t prepared your reader for
  • A character that notices something they wouldn’t notice in real life, says something they wouldn’t say, or does something they wouldn’t do
  • In fantasy, a character not using a skill that you have given them when they should do so
  • Unrealistic dialogue that is used to convey information 
  • In historical fiction particularly, an object, custom, behaviour that didn’t exist or wouldn’t have happened in the time in which your novel is set
  • Continuity. This is as important in fiction as it is in films. For example, if your character has his hands handcuffed behind his back, don’t have them in front of him two minutes later (as in Reservoir Dogs).

Much of writing is about building believable and compelling worlds, but those worlds must follow a logic that the reader can relate to, understand, and around which you can create interesting and dynamic stories. 

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Transitions #Writing #Editing

Transitions are used to:

  • Change time
  • Change location
  • Change character viewpoint
  • To skip unimportant time periods or events

So how do you use transitions skilfully?

  • Start a new chapter – this easily lets your reader know the narrative has moved on
  • If you’re changing scene/time/viewpoint  within a chapter use a physical sign like ***** centred on the page, or double space and then don’t indent the first line of your next paragraph.
  • Keep it short and simple – ‘that night’, ‘the next day’.
  • Jump right in – rather than say: ‘When Linda arrived at the coffee shop the next morning’ go for ‘Linda slid into the booth and took a sip of her latte’. We know where and when Linda is straight away.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Exposition #Writing #Editing

You need to ‘show’ your reader information, not simply ‘tell’ them. This way you ‘expose’ the back story without being boring. And some of the best ways to do this are through dialogue, conflict, revealing a character’s thoughts and using physical props such as newspapers, letters and emails. 

For example, have your characters talk to each other  about events that have happened, what those events meant to them, how they felt and reacted to those events.  But a word of warning. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know.

Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Flashbacks #Writing #Editing

  • Make sure a flashback follows a strong scene. Flashbacks can be problematic in that they remove your character and therefore your reader from the action in your narrative. A strong preceding scene can ensure that the narrative is sustained.
  • Ensure your reader knows exactly where and when he is. Make the transition into the past clear.
  • Use the correct verb tense. If your main narrative is written in past tense, then the first sentences of the flashback should be in past perfect. You can then continue in simple past.
  • When the flashback is over, make sure the transition to the ‘present’ of the narrative is smooth and clear, so that your reader isn’t confused or disorientated.
  • Acknowledge the flashback. It should have an effect on the character who experienced it and on the narrative.

Speyside Memories + A Speyside Odyssey by Norman Matheson #NaturalHistory #Autobiographical #Art

Lovely reviews for Norman Matheson.

I must admit to having reservations when I was asked if I’d like to read ‘Speyside Memories: Boyhood and Beyond on River and Hill’ and ‘A Speyside Odyssey: A Natural History of The Atlantic Salmon’ but I was most pleasantly surprised and found both books very engaging. Many thanks to Alison Williams for the review copies. They are both beautifully presented.

‘Speyside Memories’ is filled with wonderful watercolours and cartoons by the author, along with descriptions of colourful, quirky local characters whose idiosyncrasies provided much fun for the youngsters—gamekeeper Eck Elder was one such. 

The kenspeckle Eck Elder, an archetypal Scottish gamekeeper who might be spied covering ground on East Cromdale shortly after first light, was another source of mild ridicule. Eck was from the borders and retained the strong accent of his youth. His complaint, ‘flaks as big as pat lids’ (flakes as big as pot lids) in deploring…

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Quick Writing and Editing Tips – Adjectives #Writing #Editing

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface. 

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(That’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence.  ‘Beautiful’ like ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc. is a broad term – it’s subjective and means different things to different people. It adds nothing so is best avoided, except in dialogue. Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. You don’t want to sound like Joey from Friends!