Tag Archives: Writing Reference

Pro-Tip: YOU! Second Person POV

21 Jul

It’s been a long time since I posted a new Pro-Tip, so I thought I’d jump at the chance while there’s a lull in my schedule (read: my printer is SO slow).

Second Person Point of View is the least commonly utilized POV for fiction, and the hardest to use well. Second person POV is the “you” form of narrating or discussion. This POV places all of the actions of a text on the reader, as if he or she is the one doing something. This method is useful for creating suspense in text, as well as to discuss the “general you” of human-kind. It’s also a helpful tool in marketing and how-to writing, like a lot of my advice on this website. In addition, second person also effects some suspension of disbelief because it requires the readers to pause their individual worldviews and personalities and inhabit the mannerisms, emotions, actions, and context of the text’s “you.” For advertising especially, it entreats the reader to say, “Yeah, I DO need to go buy this/do that.”

Fiction Ex: You pull up to the curb and cut the engine, noticing there's already a 
light on inside. You know you left the house dark when you went out hours ago. The 
sight is alarming. Your hairs raise. As you approach the door and extend your key, 
each step brings you closer to confirming your worry. The door is ajar. You can hear
your heart thumping in your ears, a symptom of the fight or flight response. 
Responding with the former, you kick the door wide and enter, shouting, "I'm calling
the police." 

Advertising Ex: You can't miss this sale. Find all the great styles you'll need for
that beach vacation. Come shop TODAY!

Notice in the examples that the narrator doesn’t draw any attention to himself. This differs from a first person, “I,” point of view and from a third person point of view where, though the narrator doesn’t interject his own worldview, the narrator also doesn’t discuss the reader.

Sometimes first and third person narrators will occasionally talk directly to the reader. It’s a unique method of storytelling similar to breaking the third wall in film. Whether the primary POV is first or third person, a narrator makes personal interjections directed at the reader. This isn’t an easy voice to pull off, and I generally allow the reader to feel as much a part or observer of the text as he or she desires depending on their own levels of empathy, introjection, and interest in suspending reality. However, I won’t be the one to say, “Never do it!” Talking directly to the reader lends a certain casual feeling to a story, and can be very inviting to a reader because it asks the reader to join the conversation or play a role in the events. Read the example below to see the difference in tone provided by talking to the reader while using first person POV. Notice also that the first example is in present tense and this example is in past tense. I did this to display that tense choice does not exclude any POV options.

Ex: I pulled up to the curb and cut the engine. I noticed there was already a light 
on inside.  

You know, I'm pretty forgetful, but I'd bet you $50 I hadn't forgotten to turn it 
off.

I'm sure I left the house dark when I went out hours before. The sight was alarming. 
My hairs rose. As I approached the door and extended my key, each step brought me 
closer to confirming my worry. The door was ajar. 

I bet you saw that coming. 

I could hear my heart thumping in my ears, a symptom of the fight or flight 
response. I don't know if I made the right choice; you'll have to be the judge of 
that. I kicked the door wide and entered, shouting, "I'm calling the police." 

You're going to laugh at me when I tell you what happened next.

Essentially, a text doesn’t qualify as second person POV just because “you” is used in the narrative. The designation of POV is most easily assigned by looking at who in the narrative is completing the actions of the story. 

The Takeaway:

First Person: I, as the narrator (and often main character), do things within the story, and the other characters are seen through my eyes and worldview.

Second Person: You, the reader, do things withing the story, and the other characters are perceived by your worldview.

Third Person: They, the characters, do things within the story, and they are perceived by a named OR unnamed narrator that, depending on limited or omniscient knowledge, has varying degrees of insight into each character’s worldview.

 

 

 

Pro-Tip: Punctuation Quick Fix

4 Jan

Hello, Lovelies! Happy New Year.

Today, I’m giving you a quick list of the top five punctuation mistakes I see most frequently while editing for clients. Now, you can watch for these errors and correct them yourself BEFORE you have to pay someone to find them. Visit the links for full discussions on each topic and examples of execution.

In no particular order:

1-Comma Splice and Missing Comma: Thinking of a comma splice as an extra or unnecessary comma without its accompanying conjunction will suffice for this quick lesson. For a full discussion on the comma splice, see Self-Editing Tip #2. To spot a comma splice, ask yourself if your sentence is actually comprised of two (or more) complete sentences linked by a comma. If yes, is there a conjunction after the comma? If no, it’s a comma splice. To fix it, your options are to add a conjunction after the comma, to change the comma to a semi-colon, or to replace the comma with a period and capitalize as necessary to form to complete and independent sentences. Similarly, a missing comma is identifiable by asking if there are: three (or more) items in a list or series, two (or more) complete sentences connected by a conjunction, or a complete sentence preceded or followed by a dependent clause. Each of these requires a comma between list/series items, independent clauses/complete sentences, and dependent and independent clauses respectively.

2-Uneeded Apostrophes: I see a lot of apostrophes used to make words plural. This is incorrect. The pluralize a word, like going from one apple to many, simply add “s.” Apostrophes are used to show ownership. They precede “s” in possessive nouns and pronouns. In the occasional instance that a plural noun shows ownership over a plural object, the apostrophe comes AFTER “s.”

3 & 4-Incorrect Placement of Quotation Marks & Paragraph Formatting of Dialogue: If you follow the link, you’ll find a full discussion on the purpose of quotation marks and how to (and not to) use them. For this tip, though, I want to assume you already know the basics and focus on where the marks belong in a sentence when there are other punctuation marks in the vicinity. Quotation marks go OUTSIDE of periods and commas at the end of a sentence of dialogue (“Sentence here,” the author said.). Quotation marks precede and follow the word or inner punctuation WITHOUT a space (“Sentence.”). Quotation marks are not necessary at the beginning and ending of EVERY sentence by the same character speaker. Place one at the beginning of a character’s dialogue and one at the end where the character is completely done speaking. 4-The next piece of text, whether narration, description, or another character speaking, will begin on a new line as a new paragraph. (“Sentence of first character is long. There are multiple sentences. You see that there only needs to be a quotation mark at the final end of that character’s speaking. After I’m done here, I will start a new paragraph–new line, indent.”)

5- Hyphens: Knowing the difference between a compound word (one word made of two parts that are, on their own, also words) and two words that we conveniently slap together linked by a hyphen is important. Some words are correct–or at least accepted–written with OR without the hyphen (anti- or anti). Some are not (weekend, not to be confused with weakened, please). In addition, some words have different meanings depending on their usage or lack of a hyphen (makeup, make up, and make-up, the former as a noun for cosmetics, middle as a verb for catching up on something or resolving and issue, and the latter used as an adjective for something being completed after the fact). In most cases spell check functions will either allow any variation because it does not have precise enough understanding of sentence and word meaning. On occasion, these programs will encourage you to correct to the wrong punctuation. Watch out.

Thanks for reading. Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast™

 

Pro-Tip: Characterization

6 Oct

How do you talk to your friends? To your family? Bosses and coworkers?

For every person and situation, there is a way we present ourselves. Why should this be any different for each of your characters? It shouldn’t.

I remember when teachers used to say, “Don’t start a sentence with ‘because,’” or “You can’t use contractions in formal or serious writing.” And they had lots of rules about slang. To a point, those rules were useful. In the context of their classrooms, they were golden. Following such laws ensured decent grades. After all, breaking a rule so explicitly stated would render the teacher unable to take you seriously beyond that point.

But now, it’s time to forget it. It’s rubbish. Rules like that have a place in the classrooms of the teachers who value them and little place else. Try writing a realistic character without breaking them. It’s nearly impossible if you want that character to sound like someone you could really meet. And that’s the key—creating characters that we see ourselves and others in, even when the character isn’t a human. Characters are textual embodiments of our human experience. Even a talking dog on Mars will be based on the actions and emotions we know because it’s impossible to invent an emotion or characteristic fully new and alien. It may seem different but, somewhere at its core, every new creation of fiction is rooted in the human experience. If characters aren’t experiencing and acting organically as you or I would, then what are they? Caricatures of prescriptive rules, rules which tell us how language ought to be but do not reflect how language is actually used.

Example: “Tom, it is late. I find we will miss the movie if we do not leave now. Are we not going to the movies after all?”

“No, Summer, we are not. I have to complete this project for chemistry lab. It is due tomorrow, and I neglected to begin work earlier. I am very sorry.”

Ok, so there’s nothing technically wrong with that exchange between Summer and her boyfriend, Tom. The scene is clear. But how forced did that feel? If you were Summer would you talk like that? If you were Tom? Maybe if this was an exchange between Data and a Vulcan… otherwise, I doubt it. Plus, would a Vulcan actually forget to do his homework? I digress.

Many readers play the scenes of a novel like a movie in their minds. Less visual learners may not, but chances are, they at least listen to the soundtrack of the words. Reading a conversation like the example is as awkward feeling as it would be to watch that scene play out in real life. It doesn’t flow. It sounds like a business exchange between strangers, not a dispute between partners, lovers. The formality slows the natural rhythm of reading. It gets in the way. In more colloquial speech, the words run together. They sound in a reader’s head as they would out of the reader’s mouth. Smooth, easy, and with more personality.

When writing, make sure you’re not stalling the tension and momentum of your scenes by being overly formal. Fiction novels aren’t research papers, agent queries, resumes, or instruction manuals. Make your characters talk like real people.

Since you’ve thrown out all of those rules I mentioned earlier, replace them with this: Each character must have a unique and realistic voice that reflects personality. All quirks will at that point appear purposeful because they will be unique to the character.

Perhaps one character really DOES talk that way in the novel. The choice to leave the dialogue formal, or fully informal, at all times, or even riddled with slang or nonsense words would be obviously purposeful to your readers because no one else would be quite the same. The way we talk is a part of our personality, and it is no different for the characters you create.

Keeping that in mind, let’s try the example again.

“Tom, aren’t we going to the movies? We’ll be late.”

“No, Summer. I’ve got this project for chem that’s due tomorrow. I forgot all about it. Sorry.”

OR

“Tom, we’re not going to the movies, are we?”

“Nope. I just remember I have a chemistry project due in the morning.”

“You promised.”

“I’m sorry.”

“See, you always do this. You plan all this great stuff and then you’re all, ‘Oh, well, I gotta do this instead.’”

“I don’t sound like that.”

OR

“You ready to go, Tom? We need to leave now.”

“I’m doing this chem lab. I can’t stop in the middle of it.”

“Really? You knew we were going out at 4. You saw me getting ready. Why did you start the project if you knew you couldn’t stop until the end? Why didn’t you say something an hour ago?”

See how a simple exchange can escalate if you let the language develop to who the characters are individually and what their situation is as a whole? With additional characterization and narration, the reader may already know or soon learn that these two always bicker, that she’s a little spoiled, but that her irritation is justified due to his aloof attitude and transient interests, or maybe it’s a first fight and the reader has to continue to find out if their relationship can withstand it. With more surrounding description, the reader should be able to say these sentences in the voices set up for each character—the reader’s own variation of what the author has led her to imagine.

The takeaway here is, within reasonable consideration of appropriateness to your target audience, abandon all rules that don’t suit the reality of a character or scene. If your character uses contractions in speech or starts sentences with “because,” let him. If the scene requires slang, go for it. If your protagonist only curses when surprised because she hates to be surprised, let it fly, but only in the proper scenarios. Stay true to the character. All of them should talk in the text like they would talk to you in real life.

Happy writing.

Amanda Marsico,

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Clarity in Paragraphs and Transitions

30 Sep

It’s easy enough to say that each paragraph you write should make sense. It’s an obvious thing for me to say, and all of you reading this are probably thinking,”Well, that’s not advice.” And you’re right. But beyond that, clarity in a paragraph means that each segment of text should have a distinguishing factor, a reason that it is its own paragraph. In short, a main idea that is summarizable. So, if a paragraph is separated from the one before or after it just as a break in text, for visual appeal or as a small breather, that’s not enough reason for the segment to stand alone. If that separate segment doesn’t have its own main point, its own idea or skeleton that makes it exist separately from the previous paragraph, then it shouldn’t be separate. 

Don’t let high school lessons on paragraphs trip you. Forget the “a paragraph has about five sentences” lesson, and forget the “that paragraph is the entire page” complaint. If there is a reason for all of those thoughts to exist together, then so be it. BUT, that is the great and determining question, both for deciding if you need to break into a new paragraph or group smaller segments into one large piece. Ask yourself: 

  • Are like ideas together?
  • Does this paragraph have a main point?
  • Although related overall, does it exist independently of the previous and following paragraph?

Depending on your answers, you’ve either created a clear paragraph with backbone and purpose, or you haven’t. Revise accordingly.

If you have no reason for a paragraph to be on its own, if it’s a continuation of the previous paragraph, put it with that other paragraph. Keep like ideas together. Otherwise, have a good reason for your choices.

  • Example: Breaking a paragraph in the middle of one narrative moment because the paragraph looks too long on the page versus purposeful/stylistic dislocation or repetition of an idea apart from the main narrative that contains it to achieve flashback or flash forward

When you do need to start a new paragraph, use topic sentences or transition sentences. They say, “Here I am. I am related to the general ideas of the text as a whole, but I am my own entity. I am taking you from the idea in that paragraph to this one, and even though we’re different, we belong together. I’ll prove it.” And then you use the body of that paragraph to prove it. I’ve always said, and any of my formers students reading this can attest, that if you want your reader to reach a certain conclusion about your ideas, you must lead them there with transitions. What you see as related may not seem so apparent to others without that clear signal. You’re the writer. Of course YOU know what you’re trying to say. Will your reader? As such, use that transition as the topic sentence which lends the new paragraph clarity for being its own thing, clarity/summarizabiltiy in its topic, and clarity in its purpose for existing in the story at all. Again, if the paragraph doesn’t do these things, it probably shouldn’t be there (either on its own, or maybe at all–see pro-tip on letting go of the junk).

Finally, keep in mind that all of this advice on paragraph breaks applies only to narrative and content paragraphs. Dialogue, of course, does not fit in this scenario because all new beginnings of dialogue, whether switching between speakers or switching between speaker and narrative, begin a new paragraph. This is a rule of formatting not to be confused with what I’ve said here about lumping large pieces of text together if it all has the same main idea. Please don’t do that with dialogue. 

For more discussion, see the comments section below or email me at marsicoam@gmail.com! In the meantime,

Happy writing!

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: The Importance of Napping

9 Sep

Fair warning, today’s tip has nothing to do with the actual meat of your writing. This tip has to do with YOU.

I’ve read a lot of “How to Write” books, articles, blogs and all of them take considerable time discussing how vital it is to MAKE time to write. These how-to resources are quick to assume that aspiring writers are not full-time writers. I’m not saying this assumption is fully incorrect. Let’s face it; it’s very difficult to get by financially on the hope of future publication. For those who have not already started to earn a living by their craft, the reality is that writing is a part-time job, a late-night endeavor, a when-I-can hobby. Something else has to bring in the cash while we write toward that big break or perfect job.

So, while these how-to articles are not wrong to say that it is vital to plan a time to get the work done, they often neglect the person behind the task. I realize it’s difficult with jobs, families, and other obligations (plus the desire for a social life) to make time to write. What is even harder, sometimes, is to make time to relax. It’s easy to feel guilty for not using empty time for writing when all of these outside sources say that the best, easiest, only way to make writing a career is to force a place for it into your schedule. Sometimes, though, when you have free time, that’s exactly what you want to do with it. Be free. I call this post “the importance of napping,” but I don’t mean you literally have to nap—although I LOVE to nap. What it comes down to is avoiding the burn out or writer’s block that comes from stress.

Mind-fry is common when balancing so many facets of life, especially under the immense pressure for perfection that we put on ourselves as authors (see earlier Pro-Tip about obsessive revision). As important as it is to prioritize a part of your day for writing, it is equally important to prioritize some time (any time, even if it’s not daily) to mellow. Getting away from your writing can help you hash out new ideas, come back with fresh eyes, see mistakes you overlooked, and feel a general boost in motivation. How can you be excited to get started on something when you’re never away from it? Instead, it just stagnates.

So, don’t feel guilty or lazy or irresponsible for taking some time for yourself to nap, day dream, meditate, or take a walk. Not to sound cliché or sappy, but it’s true that if you don’t nurture yourself, you can’t nurture anything you’re trying to create.

Happy writing (and napping),

Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

Pro-Tip: Reigning in the Obsessive Reviser

4 Sep

Reigning in the obsessive reviser, also called moving on.

As authors, we are our own worst critics, and there will always be those features (in our writing and in ourselves) we’d like to strengthen. A piece of writing (or art of any kind) never feels completely finished in the eyes of its perfectionist creator. And let’s be real—authors, for the most part, are just like that by nature. I know I am. You may realize after adding more material, completing some revisions, or going through a total overhaul of ideas that what worked during an earlier iteration of your project no longer achieves the desired goal in the newest. So, if a story-line, character, sentence, or word isn’t doing the work you need it to do, change it. Just remember that, when revising, the goal isn’t to get it perfect or even good enough, but to make it good for now. Revision is a recursive process. You will do it again. And again.

If your text isn’t perfect after that one mid-write edit, oh well. Keep going. If your text isn’t perfect after that midnight revise, oh well. Come back to it tomorrow. If your text isn’t perfect after your 5-minutes-until-due-date scramble, oh well. Turn it in anyway. You must resist the urge to edit so fiercely along the way that you cease to write anything new and, instead, produce one-hundred versions of the same paragraph, page, chapter, without progressing or meeting deadlines.

I’ll say it again: Revision is repetitive, but it is not meant to achieve perfection—especially if that obsessive quest for perfection results in late or no submissions. That’s not perfect at all. The point is, you WILL have the chance to make more changes (even if you are working on a deadline). What I mean by this is that, if on a deadline, you get the text to a “good for now” status—the best work you can do in the time given—and you pry your pen out of your hand or off of the keyboard in order to submit it. If the compulsion to continue revising remains, go ahead and work more on your copy of the text knowing that the submitted work was good for now, as complete or concise or creative or accurate as it could be with the time and resources allowed, and just move on.

Pro-Tip: Dump the Junk

2 Sep

If something in your writing isn’t working, CHANGE IT. Don’t get too attached to the first version (or second or third) of something. Jot it down and save it for later before erasing it from your work completely. It may become useful again in a different area of the text. If not, it may apply to another project at another time. This is especially useful for those lines we write and really, really love. You know the ones. They’re hard to delete even if they’re no longer serving your purpose. Sometimes things get said just right. So dump the junk, but save it. Be a line-hoarder. Your literary house is spotless, but you’ve got that crammed closet your friends don’t know about. If and when they find it, you know what it’s there for. Like Monica says in the video link, it’s where all the things that don’t fit in belong.

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