Archive for category Editing

Chain of Drafts

On Twitter Jaye Wells asked the following question (not to me, mind, but to Twitter in general): “Question for the writer folk. Are your drafts short or long? I always end up adding 5-10k in revisions (sometimes more).” This is one of those things that’s different for everyone. Indeed, some people said their second drafts double in length, others immediately pointed out Stephen King’s math that first draft minus 10% equals second draft.

Here’s how I tend to view my drafts.

Rough draft: This is draft represents a complete story, largely the story that I set out to tell. I use this word because it is very rough. Numbered drafts are reserved for those drafts I’m willing to let anyone other than a coauthor see. However, this draft does have a complete plot, it has most of the characters who will end up in a story, there are no missing scenes (which is not to say I won’t have to add scenes). It is a draft, rather than an outline.

First draft: This draft typically makes the story longer. It includes such steps as making sure the voice of the characters are consistent throughout, or just that the characters even all have distinct voices. It seeds in any red herrings or Chekhov guns I want to use in the story. It even, in extreme cases where I have themes, is where I tend to make sure everything is pointing towards the theme. I’ll also use this draft to layer in additional description. It’s my first draft I’m willing to let people see, or what I might also call my alpha reader draft.

Second draft: This draft typically makes the story shorter. This is where things get punched up, and where I’m more likely to implement the ideas purposed by King or in The 10% Solution. The process of adding everything the first draft added will often screw with the pacing of the story, or of scenes, this is the chance to preserve the new story I created in the first draft, but with an eye towards where I over bulked. This draft may end up longer or shorter than the rough draft. Typically longer. I’ll add 10%, then take away 10%, and while that sounds like equilibrium, it actually is a net gain in words when you run the math.

Additional drafts: These are the rock tumbler drafts. Each time I run through the story using finer and finer grit until I’m happy with the polish. There aren’t a set number of these drafts, and it’s rare that I don’t do at least some polish on a story between submissions, as the time it’s out with an anthology or publisher is typically just enough time to think of something else I wanted to do with it.

So how many drafts does a story need? Exactly as many as it does, no more and no less. And that’s something I can’t even pretend to describe, because I’m still figuring it out myself, and possibly always will be.

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Give Me Structure!

I’ve read Blake Snyder.  He says that a movie is a story told in three acts.  Of course the second act is twice as long and broken into two halves, so the three act structure is really four acts. I’ve read elsewhere that three acts is right for any story, though the second act should be the longest and be broken into three acts itself, so the three act structure is really five acts.  I’ve now heard Dan Wells talk, at least on YouTube, and describe a seven point outline for every successful story.

I’m not convinced how different these all are.

First up, some viewing.  For those not aware of the Dan Wells seven point story structure (which he admits to stealing from the Star Trek RPG), there’s a talk in five parts on YouTube.  I’m going to embed Part One, the rest should show up as suggested videos at the end.  Please note, the production elements are not mine:

To provide some recap, he breaks the plots of several movies, novels, and even the short story The Tell-Tale Heart down into seven points that the story has to hit:

  1. Hook
  2. Plot Turn 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Plot Turn 2
  7. Resolution

There’s a great symmetry to the structure, the story mirrors itself around the midpoint, framed at either end by an opposing hook and resolution.  If the resolution is falling in love, the hook is two strangers.  If the resolution is solving a murder, the hook is the murder happening.  If the resolution is someone fulfilling their role as a hero, the hook is the person as a regular schlub.  Plot Turn 1 is the conflict being introduced, Plot Turn 2 is the last piece the character needs.  As Dan Wells puts it “the power is in you!”.  The Pinches surround the midpoint, they apply pressure.  The first may introduce a villain, the second may strip away a mentor.  The midpoint is the center of the whole thing, it is the mirror, and it’s where the character moves from being reactive to being proactive.

This is great, this is awesome, and he does a fantastic job breaking down the seven points of multiple lengths and genres of stories, but where the lecture really kicks some ass and is in Part 4/5 starting around the 7 minute mark where he applies this seven point structure to each of the four main plots of The Matrix: Neo defeating the Agents, Neo becoming The One (he defeats the agents by becoming The One, but they are slightly different plots), Neo and Trinity falling in love, and Cypher betraying the crew of the ship.  This is where I’m going to jump shift to where I originally know Dan Wells from: the Writing Excuses podcast.

In their October 2nd, 2011 episode, the Writing Excuses crew talked to Lou Anders about the Hollywood Formula.  Give it a listen, it’s only 20 minutes long (though that’s now 70 total minutes of material I’ve assigned this post).  While largely talking about the three act structure, the podcast also talks about the increased emotional impact of scenes where multiple things happen at the same time.  Looking at the seven point structure, it’s taking points from more than one plot line (though one plot’s Pinch can be another’s Turn) and putting them together in a scene.  The capture of Morpheus, the second pinch in one plot, happens simultaneously with the resolution of the betrayal plot.  At the end of the movie, the three Neo plotlines all have resolutions nearly on top of each other.  That’s why, while the lobby scene is all whizbang cool, the two actual emotional scenes in the movie are that midpoint betrayal and the big final fight with Agent Smith.  They’re designed as big scenes where stuff happens.

Alright, so look, this is all awesome, but why am I talking about it?

Two reasons.  First is because while this presents itself as a broader interpretation of the plotting of a novel, it’s really just another approach.  If we’re going to look at the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet compared to the Dan Wells Seven Points, I can directly line them up (though I suspect others could line them differently):

  1. The Hook is The Opening Image
  2. Plot Turn 1 is the Catalyst
  3. Pinch 1 is the Break Into 2
  4. Both agree on The Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2 is the All is Lost moment
  6. Plot Turn 2 is the Break Into 3
  7. The Resolution is The Final Image

Where does that put the finale?  Between Plot Turn 2, where the hero realizes he has what he needs to defeat the villain, and the resolution where the villain is defeated.

So it’s largely all the same structuring, whether you want to talk about three, four, or five acts, or seven points.  But what got me excited about the usefulness of the seven point structure versus the Beat Sheet is the presentations of subplots.  Blake Snyder does make room for a B-plot in the Beat Sheet, but the seven point system allows the writer to break down any number of subplots into their seven points, and use that all through their outline.  Which is probably more useful than the Beat Sheet when it comes to novels.  Let’s face it, the Beat Sheet is great, and it can inform someone writing for the page, but it’s for a specific purpose.

But I just buried the important word in that last paragraph: “outline.”  In the past I’ve dabbled at being a discovery writer, which is fantastic for some but has gotten me into trouble.  So as I’ve been learning to outline (really, it’s a hybrid outline/discovery system) I’ve been looking for different ways to approach an outline.  The act structure was fine, but this is fantastic, because it allows each character’s arc to be broken into pieces at the same time as the main plotline of the book.

That’s my exact plan.  But not yet.  Instead, I’ve suggest to my wife we use it as one of our revision tools.  Right now we’re too far into the first draft to stop and try to figure out structure breakdowns, but when we hit editing I hope breaking the story into five seven-point diagrams (main plot, and each character’s arc) and seeing where the points line up, it will show where the story as a whole is weak, and where individual character arcs are weak.  Which, hopefully, will result in a stronger story after the second draft.  In that way, this is a tool not just for the outline writer, but for the discovery writer looking towards a second draft.  Make sure the major points are hit in each plot, and work in where they could hit better when revising.  Stacking points from multiple plotlines increases the emotion of a scene (though certainly not every scene needs, or even should, have elements of multiple plotlines).  Resolve them as closely as possible.

And keep an eye and ear out for structuring tools.  You may, as I have, find one you’ve never heard of that entirely changes how you approach your process.

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Confessions of a First Chapter Editor

Bless me blog readers, for I have sinned.  I do not remember when my last confession was.

Last night I succumbed to hypocrisy as I went into Scrivener and…rewrote the beginning of my novel in progress.

I know I’ve said it time and time again, writing is about going forward, working on the end, that going back to the beginning of a work creates a difficult spiral of overediting and underwriting a manuscript.  I understand these things.  I know these things.  I can only cry out that it was a moment of weakness, a temptation that I couldn’t overcome.  I gave in.  Haven’t we all at some point or another?  Haven’t we all hit that moment where we know we shouldn’t, but we do anyway?

Perhaps we start POV hopping?  Perhaps we start editing too soon?  Perhaps we explore a plot line we know isn’t constructive to the story?

Oh, I’m not trying to pin my moment of weakness on you, reader.  I’m not saying that because you were weak it means that I have a license to be weak.  But aren’t we all human?  Don’t we all have those demons calling at us, trying to get us to do wrong, to step off the straight and narrow path of first drafting?  They’re horrible little buggers with names like Editing.  Tangent.  Research.  Ahh, my friend and nemesis research.  Did you know that the Civil War governor of Georgia sent out a broadsheet to all mechanics in the state calling on them to drop everything else to create six foot pikes for use by all able-bodied citizens to run through the bastard Union soldiers when their guns jammed or ran out of bullets?  And do you know that after I was done rewriting the opening, I still wasn’t working on the end because I was reading that broadsheet out loud to my wife in a thoroughly horrible Civil War Confederate accent?

But that’s not what I was talking about.  I was talking about the editing I did.  See, our beta readers thought it started too slowly.  And it did.  And we had an idea on how to fix it.  And I didn’t want to forget it.  And I had a good inspiration for some lines.  And…look, I know, these are all excuses, pitiful reasons to have stopped work and done something I’ve railed against in the past.

As penance, 2000 words tonight.  Absolutely.  Move the story forward, don’t look back, keep pushing through this first draft.  Then I can edit.

The thing is then…I won’t want to.

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Bad Postive Critiques and Good Negative Ones

Occasionally I’ll create notes to myself on the blog.  Topics for future posts on days where I come up with multiple ideas, help for days when I come up with none.  So today I was looking through those, and found this note that I left myself about a week ago:

Create a post based around this and this.

This was all surrounding a little back and forth between some bloggers as to whether writers should ever leave bad reviews for each other.  On one hand was an argument about burning bridges and bringing up the friendly association of all authors.  On the other hand was the notion that a writer, and blogger, puts their reputation on the line with a review, that a glowing review of an undeserving book can do far more to damage an author than providing an honest assessment in the long run.  It’s a difficult line to walk, as Leah Petersen pointed out in her response to the initial argument.  There’s a tendency to agree with the point of not leaving bad reviews, however

…I don’t want other authors and readers thinking I can’t tell good writing from bad. I may have enjoyed your book in spite of the cringe-worthy flood of adverbs and telling, because the plot, or character development, or whatever was just that good. Another person may not have the tolerance to handle that and may throw the book away in disgust and then resent me for leading them to believe that it had no major faults.

I suppose one answer to this is the old “if you can’t say anything nice…” but I think that’s getting overly simplistic.  Perhaps I’m speaking from the wrong point in my writing career, a point where I’m getting critiques not reviews, and a point where I’m not actually reading for review myself.  Let me briefly define the distinction I’m making here, in case people don’t agree with it.  I’m defining a critique as a sought out opinion of a work in progress, and a review as either a sought or volunteered opinion of a published work.

That said, what I keep being drawn back to is the notion, again from Leah,

Do I ignore the weaknesses, pretend I didn’t see them, and write only about the good stuff?  …I usually don’t trust reviews like that anyway, especially if they’re an unknown author self-publishing and all they have are glowing reviews. I’m pretty much going to assume that all the reviews are written by friends and family and I can’t trust them to give the whole truth.

And this gets into a cardinal truth that I’ve discovered from getting critiques.  There are critiques that have a generally positive or negative opinion about the piece in general.  And there are critiques that are qualitatively good or bad.  These are two separate things.  There are bad positive critiques in the world, and there are good negative ones.  The most simplistic form of the former is the “OMG THIS IS GREAT DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING.”  This is what I mean by working out a qualitative grading for the critique itself.  A bad critique, whether generally pro or con (“this sucks, never write again”), gives no room for growth, no examples, nothing that can be pulled out of it.

Good critiques, whether generally positive or negative about the piece in general, tend to be far more nuanced.  In my experience the best of critiques tend to fall somewhere between two and four stars on a five star scale.  Even the most positive of opinions about a piece can find room for improvements, even the most negative can find points of strength.  It’s the rare piece I’ve encountered that is so perfect that there’s nothing I would change about it, or is so bad that there’s nothing salvageable about it.

Now, as I mentioned, I’m talking about critiques.  Because critiques are my realm of experience here.  That said, I will fully agree that it is unseemly for an author to give a bad critique or a bad review.  However, I will certainly take a good negative critique (and, in the future, a good negative review) any day of the week over a bad positive one.  I’ve grown a thick skin from years of critiques, so as long as you’re well-reasoned and willing to give avenues of improvement, tuck in.

Oh god, what have I just gotten myself into?

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Dialect in Dialogue

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Which means the internet is full of “avast”s and “arr”s and “yoho”s and, I dunno, perhaps a “parlay” or two.  It’s largely an exercise in silliness, and while I don’t much see the point, I’m not going to tell people not to do it.  But it does dredge up a topic that drives me completely crazy as a reader.

Dialect used in dialogue.

I can only really approach this subject from the point of view of a reader.  It’s something I’ve never really tried to approach as a writer, at least not in any full fledged manner.  Yes, I’ve given characters distinctive voices, speech patterns, but never gone so far as to attempt to respell words based on the accent a character has had.  Why?  Because (a) I’ve seen it done badly more times than well, (b) I hate when I see it done badly, and (c) I have no expectation that it’s something I would do well.

Best example I can come up with for bad dialect?  I almost hate to do it, because I hate to pick on Lovecraft’s writing, but it’s old Zadok Allen from The Shadow Over Innsmouth.  I’m only going to present the first two paragraphs for reasons that should be obvious to any who know the story, and will be detailed in a moment for those who don’t.

      “Thar’s whar it all begun – that cursed place of all wickedness whar the deep water starts. Gate o’ hell – sheer drop daown to a bottom no saoundin’-line kin tech. Ol’ Cap’n Obed done it – him that faound aout more’n was good fer him in the Saouth Sea islands.

“Everybody was in a bad way them days. Trade fallin’ off, mills losin’ business – even the new ones – an’ the best of our menfolks kilt aprivateerin’ in the War of 1812 or lost with the Elizy brig an’ the Ranger scow – both on ’em Gilman venters. Obed Marsh he had three ships afloat – brigantine Columby, brig Hefty, an’ barque Sumatry Queen. He was the only one as kep’ on with the East-Injy an’ Pacific trade, though Esdras Martin’s barkentine Malay Bride made a venter as late as twenty-eight.

The occasional dropped ‘g’ I can put up with, but there is a level of attempted dialect through Zadok’s monologue that pulled me completely out of reading the story.  Which is a shame, as there’s a lot of necessary back story hiding among the “saoundin”s and the “Injy”s.  Doesn’t really help that he gets a 2,154 word monologue broken up by a short 32-word paragraph as he lowers his voice to a whisper.  And that’s before his second monologue of 2,227 words, giving a total of  nearly 4,500 words of heavy dialect crammed into an overall section of just under 5,000 words.  Obviously there’s deeper issues to the Zadok passage than just the dialect, but it does serve as a rather dense block of dialect for the reader to work their way through.

This is not me trying to come out and say dialect should always be avoided.  Largely because I hate to ever make edicts like that about any facet of writing.  I have seen dialect done fantastically well.  As a Wake Forest grad I’m required on my diploma to use Maya Angelou as an example of dialect done well, perhaps a master class on the subject.  It’s used to give each character distinctive but still readable voices, rather than throwing up walls of text that leave a reader pondering the intended pronunciation.

So, this is me speaking as a reader, consider what you’re doing.  Consider if you’re doing it well.  Have someone else read it and make sure the dialect is understandable to someone other than the author.  You should be doing this with every element of your writing, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than when dialect comes into play.  Because we as readers need to know what characters are saying, that’s the entire point of dialogue.  So we as writers need to ensure that they can be understood.  This gets exponentially important if the character needs to have any long stretches of dialogue, or is even the first person narrator of the story.

Yarr.

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How Many Novels Am I Writing?

Ah, Capsule.

Anyone in my writers group knows my long struggles with this novel.  They’ve seen me start it, stop it, restart it, walk away from it, return to it, circle it, and just generally futz with it for about three years now.  And still, it’s only a shell of the story that I had in my mind when I started writing it.  Bits and pieces of it have made their way into short stories, some intended to be related, some entirely unrelated.  It’s led me to make a series of blog posts about where technology is going, and read the Popol Vul.  It frustrates me, and excites me, and leaves me absolutely bewildered.

It has largely taken a back seat to my burgeoning career as a short story writer.  And that may have been for the best in the long run, though I’m now going to avoid rehashing my Unleaded post this week about the dangers of getting into a novelist-only mindset.

However writing that post has got me pondering just what the hell is up with Capsule.  And after picking some pieces apart I’m starting to wonder if the whole problem is that it’s two novels that I’m trying to write simultaneously.  If it has too much story, if I’m trying to do too many things.

On the one hand it’s a novel about someone trying to solve a crime in the 2070s committed by people living off the grid in a society that has forgotten that they’re on the grid.  On the other hand it’s a novel where a father is trying to save his daughter from an apocalypse cult that is disappointed that the world didn’t end in 2012 like they were promised.  Those are both stories that I’m enjoying, and that I think could be novels.  But more and more I don’t think they’re the same novel.

Just writing that sentence feels good.  I don’t think they’re the same novel.

Where it all started to fall apart for me is when I tried to make the one novel turn into the other novel, when I shifted from a murder investigation to a kidnapping plot.  Where just because both stories relied on a fanatic underground element that they had to be the same fanatic underground element.

My wife, ever wise, suggested that maybe I should put it all into Scrivener, that picking apart the pieces, summarizing the scenes, figuring out where the plot pieces are, that maybe it’ll help rebirth Capsule and get it to work in its current form.  I’m going to do that, in a large part because it will also help me dissect the two stories from each other, attempt to pull apart these conjoined twins without killing one or the other.  If that surgery is needed, it won’t be easy, but who ever said writing a novel was?

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Crutch words

It started with “suddenly.”

I was a kid at the time, either in late elementary or early middle school.  My parents got me a computer program that let me make little picture book stories on the computer, using provided sprites and a text box roughly the length of a tweet.  And so I wrote stories where all sorts of things would suddenly happen.  People and aliens would suddenly appear.  Cars would suddenly drive.  I remember clearly one time even a seed suddenly sprouted.  Which, in reality, only happens in nature documentaries employing stop motion.

It was my first understanding of crutch words.  My parents, being supportive, listened to the stories, and pointed out that I was using “suddenly” far too often, and in frequently inappropriate places.  I, being a new writer, pushed back.  Surely there’s a point in time where something wasn’t happening then the next moment it is.  Even that plant.  There must be an instant where it hadn’t broken through the soil then BAM, seedling.  There I was, a happy little punctuationalist, happily dividing the world into discrete instances of time and insisting that there be hard lines between events.

By the time I did Nanowrimo for the first time, it was “a bit.”

Everywhere characters went, they would come across a bit of this, and a bit of that.  Things that weren’t happening now were happening a bit later.  It’s an odd evolution from suddenly, when put that way.  Anything that wasn’t quite something were always a bit of something.  I think I did an editing pass on the novel intended just on killing that phrase and came away with, on average, just over one instance per printed page.  Which is entirely too many.

Crutch words.  We lean on them, we use them, we over use them.  We don’t really think about them.  And therein lies the entire problem.  They’re the words that we go to to fill in a phrase that needs just a little something else.  I see them in works that I’m beta reading, I see them in anthologies, they exist all around us.  I’ve read published short stories that I put down because the word “had” drove me to the point of distraction, actually taking me completely out of the story.  And that’s at least often a grammatically arguable word in situations.  “Suddenly”?  “A bit”?  Wow.

That I’m talking about crutch words doesn’t mean I know a fix.  Instead I find that they’re evolving.  Situational.  Just as I get rid of one, another comes up.  Sometimes for a few months, sometimes just for one short story.  For a period, everyone was finding themselves doing things.  Everyone was starting to do things.  Everything was actual.  In the end, I don’t know how to enact a complete fix.  I’m not even sure there is a complete fix, a way to never have a crutch word ever again.  But there are a few tools that have helped me track down their latest incarnations:

  • Beta readers.  Not enough can be said about having someone else sit down and read the story.  They find the sentences that work in your head that don’t work on paper.  The motivations that aren’t quite right.  And, if they’re good, they find your words for you.  Sometimes with a ruthlessness that can border on mania.  But one of the early lessons that comes with any kind of writing submission is to grow that thick skin.
  • Word frequency analyzers.  I love that Scrivener for Windows (and I assume the original) has this built in.  Not just built in, but it’s automatic anytime the total word count is generated.  There are things that are allowable near the top of the list.  Direct and indirect objects.  Pronouns.  Character names.  “Said.”  Conjunctions.  But look for words that are out of place.  Some of the really good ones will even pull out phrases that are used multiple times.
  • Awareness.  This can come from the other two, but just learning what your crutch words are will get rid of them.  At first it’ll come from knowing what to look for when editing, but eventually it’ll evolve into just striking those words from your internal narration while writing the story.  And Awareness is a very specific word choice here.  I’ve seen awareness ribbons for any number of things, and crutch words would probably benefit, so if that’s the way to keep them close to mind, make some.  Put them in your writing space.  And remember.

Together, we can end word crutching.  Or at least find a new word to lean on.  I’m going to try “squamous” for awhile.  Do you have crutch words?  Maybe we should set up an exchange.  Or a bonfire for them.

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Mental Health Days

I’m shocked how many people at my day job hadn’t heard of the idea of a mental health day.  In case you haven’t either, here’s the general gist.  One day you look at the calendar at work, realize that it’s a hell of a long time until the company is going to give you a day off, realize you’re going insane, and realize you have plenty of leave.  Then you just…take a damn day off.  Not to do anything, just to not be at work.

Though in my case I’m also turning this into a Write Like It’s Your Day Job day.  Those are slightly harder.  Especially for me.  I know there are people out there that have all the discipline in the world.  They can stay at home for an entire day and still carve out eight hours to actually not act like they’re at home.  Me?  Never was very good at it.  I don’t tend to do a lot of telecommuting not just because of the nature of my job but because I know I’m just no damn good at it.

But it’s kind of nice, being able to sit down in the middle of a weekday, not be at work, but instead focusing on something you actually want to do.  It’s let me already do one rather painful editing pass of a story that was in rough shape, and should give me time this afternoon to either do another editing pass, or to actually focus some attention on the planned Fortnightcap collection.

In short, don’t be afraid to take some time off from your job to do some writing.  Time off exists for a reason, and there are often so many fewer demands out of a random Monday taken off than a weekend.  Just make sure you treat it like a day at work.  Don’t postpone weekend chores to that day.  Try to have a hard clock in and clock out time.  Remove any distractions that take away from your writing process.  And then…get to work.

And dream of a day that it IS your day job.

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Write, Don’t Edit

WYSIWYG text editors are possibly one of the finest innovations that has hit the world of writing.  Look, I never had to generate a manuscript on a typewriter, I don’t know what it was like, but the ability to go in and shift a sentence around, insert a paragraph, change a character’s name, all without having to completely retype a manuscript?  Brilliant.  Can’t imagine living without it.  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

The problem?  The ability to edit is always right there at your fingers.

There are two directions I could take this.  I could look at the need to push forward, or I could look at the need to edit more deliberately at times.  This is the former.  The latter is on Unleaded.

For me, editing has always been a siren song.  Back in college whenever I was working on a piece of long fiction, I’d start by editing what was already there, and then adding on new material at the end.  The problem with this?  Well, there’s a joke I love.  Guy gets a job painting the stripes down the middle of highways, because that’s the kind of job people get in jokes.  So he goes out the first day and he paints five miles of stripes.  His boss is thrilled, that’s more than anyone has painted in a day before.  Next day?  He just paints two miles.  Well fine, perhaps he exhausted himself over performing the day before, and that’s still well above the average for two days.  Third day?  Not even a quarter of a mile.  Boss calls him into the office, asks what’s wrong, why is his production slipping off so much.

“Well,” he says, “I kept getting farther from the bucket.”

And there was the problem.  I was leaving my bucket at the beginning of the story every time, and going back before I ever went forward.  So the part I was editing got longer and longer, and the amount of energy I had left when I got to the end was less and less.  This killed many an early novel attempt of mine.

What got me out of this funk?  Nanowrimo.  It’s a large part of why I recommend people try the one month novel challenge, because it forces you to move ever forward, not stop and doubt yourself, and certainly not give into the temptation of going back to make just one change.  Now, I’m not going to say this is the best and healthiest way to write any novel.  There’s always going to be some editing that happens as you go, but the trick is to get out of the mindset that everything preceding has to be perfect before forging ahead.  In the days of typewriters, the only direction available was forward.  Stick in the next sheet of paper, write the next scene, because editing wasn’t a simple process of find-and-replace, or highlight-and-delete, it was a more literal process of rewriting.

And this is where my mantra of Writers Write perhaps comes out the strongest.  You’re writing a story, you’re not fiddling with it, pursuing it, editing it, nitpicking it, wandering around it, or any other verb, you are writing it.  So get to it and actually write it.  Then, when you’re done?  That’s the time to go back and really start the editing.

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A Dashing Post

I’ve noticed two lexicographical topics popping up on Twitter in the last few months.  The first is the move to only one space between sentences.  The second is the proper use of the various horizontal lines that are part of the English grammar.  It’s an odd pairing, as one looks to simplify the more obscure rules of English, the other looks to reinforce some of the oddest ones, ones that directly measure how long a line is in order to determine its exact meaning.  I can’t help but wonder if there’s some conservation of anal retentiveness going on, as I can’t find any better explanation.

So.  In order to better understand horizontal lines, I decided to do a little research and figure out just what the differences are so I can use them properly.  My results are below.

The Em-Dash.  This is also referred to as the “mutton” as it was originally derived from sheep during the early days of type setting.  The em-dash is a bit of a joke created by authors of style guides, who secretly know that there is no actual situation in which this is the correct punctuation.

The En-Dash.  These once roamed the midwest in great herds, and their calls could be heard for miles away during the rutting season.  Unfortunately it was learned that their meat is tasty and their corpses make fine punctuation, so today they have been hunted nearly to extinction.  Now protected by the endangered species act, there is a $500 fine associated with using one in a manuscript.

The El-Dash.  Long thought to be mythical, the El-Dash has been described by various early style guides as being anywhere between ten inches and three feet long.  The confirmation of the El-Dashes existence was discovered in 1954 at an archaeological site in Syria where the remains of an el-dash just over a foot long were discovered amongst the pottery shards.

The Hyphen.  This is not actually a dash, but is properly a circle viewed edge-on.

The Swung Dash.  Often typed using the tilde character on modern keyboards, the swung dash is the daring, devil-may-care darker cousin of the dash family.  It is used to emphasize that there might be derring-do afoot, such as in the example: “Death Is Imminent ~Explorers Be Ware!~”

The minus sign.  Once used exclusively for mathematics, this horizontal line recently bested all other comers in a two-falls-out-of-three wrestling match, and is to be used for all horizontal bar punctuation needs from this point forward.

I’ve certainly learned a lot from this bit of research, and I hope you have too.  Just remember to keep double spacing your sentences, and make sure to always use your minus signs.  If you discover a horizontally linear punctuation not on this list in your reading or writing, please contact your local authorities and above all else stay calm.  ~They can sense fear!~

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