Thursday, February 7, 2013

Avoid Telling the Truth about the Author

by Vivian Zabel 

     Searching my notes, lesson plans, and textbooks for idea to help make writing stronger, better, and more powerful, I found a collection of different tips, all which are helpful.  However, these are just a few possibilities; I am writing an article, not a book.  From Writer's Digest, page 12, a quote from G.K. Chesterton sums up the need for these ideas: "A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author."

     Although, the quote mentions a novel, any fiction writing can be inserted. Let's look at some things that help our writing tell the truth about its hero and not about the author.

     Use correct grammar, including punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. One area where the lack of the author appears is the way quotation marks are used or misused. Note the following tips:

1. Quotation marks set off dialogue. A quote within a quote uses single marks: "John said, 'You're all wrong.'"

2. Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks, whether single or double marks: "I really don't understand what you mean," John replied. "Mary said, 'You left the door unlocked.'"

3. If dialogue from the same speaker continues from one paragraph to the next, do not use end quotation marks until the end of the final paragraph of speech. Do use opening quotes at the beginning of each paragraph of dialogue. Remember that each time a different person speaks, a new paragraph is needed.

     That just a few tips concerning quotation marks. A good reference for punctuation should be checked for others. According to Writer's Digest, November 2005, "Written dialogue and nonfiction quotes need structure so your readers can easily follow the story - and using quotation marks incorrectly can cause a lot of confusion."

     Another area of grammar that often is misused is the prepositions between, among, and amongst. One of my pet peeves is hearing or reading "just between John and I" or "just between you and I." Between, just as among, is a preposition but used between two people or objects, requiring the object form of a pronoun. Therefore, the correct usage is between John and me or between you and me. Among requires more than two objects or people. Amongst is archaic, meaning it's no longer used. Between or among should be used instead.
     In fact, anytime a pronoun is the object of a preposition, the pronoun should be the objective case: me, us, him, her, them.  You is used for both the nominative case (subject) and objective case.

     Avoid those exclamation marks! They should be used rarely, seldom in fact, and then only in dialogue. If a author has written well, then no attention is needed to announce something is important.

      I've been asked why an author shouldn't use cliches, generalities, or stereotypes in writing. According to William G. Tapply, in "Don't be a SHOWOFF," The Writer, November 2005, page 20: "Cliches . . . . call unwarranted attention to the lazy, uncreative writer. Banish them from your writing."

     Not only do strong active verbs add to one's writing, but so do nouns that create strong images, colorful ideas, and/or precise people, places, and things. (Constance Hale, The Writer, November 2005, page 38}.

I hope the tips I've given help you make your heroes and writing stronger and better. Writing in itself is full of action and adventure.  We don’t need to make reading more hazardous than necessary.

1. The Writer, November, 2005
2. Writer’s Digest, November, 2005
3. Various grammar textbooks
4.  Notes and lesson plans from Vivian Zabel

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  1. Vivian, pronoun usage was among my father's pet peeves. He would flip every time I walked in the door and said, "It's me." No matter how many times I said, "But nobody says that," he wouldn't relent.
    I learned more about grammar from him than I ever learned in school.

  2. My mother, who only finished ninth grade before earning her GED nearly thirty years later, was the same. We were expected to use correct grammar.

  3. Vivian, I love the Chesterton quote! This is such a helpful post - I''ll be sharing the link.

  4. I like that quote very much, as you can tell. Please share.

  5. Dear Vivian,
    It takes readers out of the story when they read grammatical or punctuation errors. Thanks for posting these reminders of how to make writing sing.

    Celebrate you and all you do to help your company's authors and illustrators soar to the top of the lists.

    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards