The Mighty May Lay on Lies

Whew!  I’m into round one of edits for Sliced Vegetarian, and the terrific Alice Duncan has been my editor once more.

Alice Duncan, Author

I’m lucky to have Alice Duncan as my editor

You may know Alice by one of her pen names: Alice, Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson, Anne Robins, and even Jon Sharpe.  She writes historical mysteries, historical romance, and even, under the name Jon, westerns. Obviously, I’m working with a well-experienced writer and am lucky to have her as my editor.

I submitted my copy to Alice at the end of July and she went right to work.  Mind you, I’ve had several people read the Sliced Veggie story now, so you’d think the work would be pretty polished.  Not so, my friend.

The edits I received from Alice challenged my grammar, punctuation and storytelling skills a lot.  I love this!  I feel like I’m learning all the time, and to me, that is truly exciting.

For example, on several occasions, Alice challenged me to change “may” to “might.” Growing up, I remember my elders correcting my “Can I have an apple?” to “May I please have an apple?” quite often (but that is a story for another time). Somehow, I got that may and turned it into a statement like, “I may go to the store.” Oops. Though the sentence is structurally correct (thus no help from Microsoft Word), the meaning of the sentence was often incorrect.

Alice's latest book, Dark Spirits

Alice’s latest book, Dark Spirits

May means to have permission to or admit that the possibility exists:

I may go to the store; mothers says I may.

I may think differently about it in the morning.

On the other hand, might, other than being a word of force, means permission or possibility, but in a past tense way:

If you had your wits about you, you might have seen the knife next to the dead body on the floor.

To be honest, I’m going to have to study those two words more.  The line between them is as slim as hope on a dark and stormy night, but obviously there’s a big enough difference to be caught and questioned in the editing process.

And here’s another set of words that challenge me to bits: lay and lie. I know that to tell a fib is definitely a lie, but does something lay on a table or lie on it?  And when do you use which tense?

Thing is, I looked up lay in the dictionary and found it has fourteen definitions–and that in the transitive verb form alone.  Just wait until you get to the intransitive verb form. Wow!  All this and I haven’t begun to explore lie.

Needless to say, if you are a wordsmith and have any happy tips for remembering the differences between may and might and between lay and lie, please send them along.  Not only will I publish your clever thought, but I will probably ask you to be my BFF.

Meanwhile, I need to run along today.  Big project up in my other life as a marketing person.  Thanks for sharing time with me, and have a great week.

 

Murder By Semi-Colon – A Quick Fiction

Last week, in my critique group, someone had the audacity to slip a colon into his pages for the week.  Can you believe it? A colon?  Wow.

It is said that an author is allowed one semi-colon in the course of writing a commercial length novel in today’s publishing world.  The colon seems to have no place at all.  The colon is used for business letters, immediately before a list of product features or reasons to buy something.

The Merriam Webster’s Secretarial Handbook has succinct descriptions of both, and how they are best used.  And if it’s Merriam Webster, it must be so, right?

There is no need for either colon or semi-colon mark in a story, even in a novel-length work.  This takes me immediately into the wonderful world of how-did-that-come-to-be? And what-if? From there, my imagination takes a leap, and I see the following scene:

Hands at an Imperial 58 TypewriterMatt slumped back to his copy writer’s desk, his beloved manuscript in hand.  It was a story he’d worked on for years, click-clacking away in the wee hours on his Imperial typewriter; a good story with drama, character, and a great story arc.

It had taken another two months to work up the courage to take this offering to his editor, Tom Eliot. Eliot took another few weeks to agree to read the manuscript, “on condition,” said the venerable editor, “that if I don’t like the thing, you’ll never bother me with another.” Eliot had been published multiple times, and with every publication of his work came another onslaught of would-be writers looking for suggestions, criticisms, even publication. Matt understood how the great man was plagued by others and agreed to his boss’s condition. Mr. Eliot took the manuscript home.

A few weeks later, Eliot called Matt into his office. Matt eyed the kindly editor with hope in his heart and a tentative smile hovering about his mouth.  Surely Mr. Eliot had seen that he, Matt, was a young man with big talent.  The great war had stolen Matt’s right leg, but left him with a spirit that was strong, a mind as sharp as any in the great Faber and Faber publishing house, and a hunger for publication with his own name behind the words.

“Madison,” said Eliot, “I’m going to do you a big favor. I’m going to immediately cut off your desire to write. This is the kindest thing to do.”

Matt’s jaw dropped.  He’d worked so hard and long on this project!  In the trenches of those rat-infested holes in Europe’s main land, he’d scribbled the plight of the world.  When the other soldiers were writing to girlfriends and mothers, Matt had kept a journal of worldly observations.  Why would Mr. Eliot want him to stop writing?

“Your prose is decent enough, son, but your total lack of talent with the semi-colon is repugnant.  A semi-colon is not a period, though to be sure, the semi will end a thought.  It is not a comma, or the indication that one should take a breath on the thought that preceded it.  A semi is a precious mark that bridges two separate thoughts that are yet, somehow related.  The semi allows your reader to know what you think, and that there’s more.  If I had a nickel for every young whippersnapper who peppered his prose with improper semi-colons, I’d be a rich man indeed.”

“But the story, sir?” said Matt, hope fading even as he voiced his question.

“Blasé at best,” said the older man. “Reminds me of Canterbury Tales; bunch of people sitting around with nothing in common but their need to tell a story.  And you end on such a happy note!  This needs a hopeless ending.”

“If I rewrite the ending, sir?”

“Ending, schmending. The world wants happy these days.  It’s the twenties after all.  War is over; time to prosper. So your “book” would probably sell, but I’m not the editor to go through and correct your use of colons and semi-colons.  One rule for you and every new writer I speak to will be, ONE SEMI-COLON PER NOVEL, from now on.”

Matt went home, devastated by the great T.S. Eliot’s words.  Shortly he died.  Some say gangrene crept up the sawed-off-leg. Others who knew him better said Matt succumbed to a broken heart.  Personally, I think he was murdered for the poor use of semi-colons.

And in 1922, a year after Matt’s death, T.S. Eliot published The Waste Land.

DAISY NOTE:  Hi Reading Friends.  Just wanted to let you know I’ve added a new page to this website.  Looking Forward To Seeing You is listed under the Press Kit & Public Relations tab. It tells where I’ll be doing book signings and giving speeches.  Hope to meet you face-to-face soon.  Have a great reading or writing day–with or without semi-colons.

Fragment? Way To Go.

Who knew that getting into the “technical” side of writing could be such a fascinating subject?  Punctuation, grammar, counting the number of words in sentences and on and on.  Did you notice I just slipped in a fragment sentence?

Stacked dishes

A complete sentence has a symmetry that is satisfying as a complete picture.

In today’s world of sharp and sloppy writing, few are going to judge something designed to thrill because it doesn’t have a proper “subject” and “predicate” structure.  Perhaps its the advent of texting that allows us to accept “No shit” or “BFF” as complete thoughts, and therefore complete sentences.  We don’t seem, as a culture, to have the patience for a long sentence.  I can see my special guy right now, tapping his foot; my mom snarling out “get to the point.”  We can no longer deal with a sentence like this from Jane Austin:

“Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister’s room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the enquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingly by a housemaid, and some time afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters.”  – Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin

portion of stacked dishes

Fragment sentences leave you filling in the gaps. This can be exciting, if done well.

The above is by no means the longest sentence ever, but it packs a tremendous amount of information into a rather long bunch of fifty-four words.  In conference catalogues and ads, sponsors are often limited to fifty words or less to tell their complete story, not the first sentence of a chapter.

Am I lamenting the downfall of the English language?  Absolutely not.  I really appreciate Stephen King’s thought on sentence “frags:”

“Must you write complete sentences each time, every time? Perish the thought.  If your work consists of only fragments and floating clauses, the Grammar Police aren’t going to come and take you away.”

But, to me, you use a fragment like you might a strong spice in cooking–sparingly and with distinct purpose.  I think frags draw attention to themselves, which, in itself, is a powerful tool.  You know going in what you’re doing.  However, if you draw attention to the writing too much, you run the risk of losing the story, don’t you? When a fragment draws attention to itself as much as to the story, you’re doing what “they” call “pulling the reader out.”

I can handle some of that.  In fact, I think of fragments almost as replacements for interjections:

“Can’t go. Mom said.”

“Bummer.”

“No shit.”

“Next time?”

“Sure. But have to finish my homework.”

“Okay. Bye.”

There wasn’t really a complete (or complex) thought in any of that dialogue, but moms everywhere get a sense for that interchange, and with our common cultural experiences, can even fill missing gaps with information of our own.

Would I want to write a whole story with these cut-off thoughts?  It would be a fun experiment, a good writing exercise; but I think fragments, handled badly, don’t get your point across.  They become the abstract painting that’s gone too far, and leave people frustrated in their efforts at guessing what the artist meant.

Where do fragments fall in your writing toolkit?  Are they friendly “frags” or obnoxious, disrespectful-of-the-rules, “fragments?”

Writing. Enjoy it.

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