Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Don't overuse exclamation marks!!

This is a perpetual topic for writers. There are a surprising number of discussions on different topics relating to these.

First of all, is it a point or a mark?
Both, I guess. I don’t know which is preferred.

Next, can you use more than one in a row, such as in the title of this blog?

“Never use multiple exclamation points in a professional setting!!! Again, this is fine to use in informal and personal context, however most professionals agree that there should be ONE end punctuation mark to each sentence. Professionally, it doesn't reinforce the exclamation, it just breaks grammatical rules.”
(Strange boldings there, if you ask me.)
(Really, though, this whole article is good if you want to delve.)
(The article below says that if you’re going to use more than one, use three, never two.)
(I wonder how many parentheses in a row are too many.)

When should you use them and not use them in fiction writing?

Not for emphasis, hilarity, or excitement.

Use the writing to give emphasis and excitement. And using them to be funny is like laughing at your own joke. Or so this site says:

It also says you should use them for:
Raised voices, to make fun of characters, and in writing for children.

Okay, raised voices, I’ll go along with that.

The expanded explanation on the second one is to make sure the reader knows that what you wrote isn’t serious. I’m not sure how this is different than laughing at your own joke, but whatev!

And for children? You know, it’s hard to get them to use those inside voices. Maybe that should be rethought.

Here’s what Elmore Leonard famously said:
“Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose." 

photo from

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.

Probably a good idea, mostly, unless you’re backloading. 

Do you know about backloading? It’s an effective way to end a scene or chapter. From a course I gave in Atlanta in October of 2016, here’s an example:

A feeling of dread came over me as I opened the door. (Then you viciously cut to another scene and leave them hanging.)
Better would be this:
As I opened the door, I was overcome with an inexplicable feeling of dread.

Door is not the most important or evocative word in that cliffhanger sentence. Dread is so it needs to go last to leave an impression. Of course, in this case, dread is not a pronoun. Let me see if I can come up with a backloaded sentence splitting the pronoun from the antecedent.

How about this?
The boys, tiring after hours of seeking a way out of the dark, dank cave, felt the warmth and wetness of their own tears.

Can you think of better ones?

backhoe photo by Dan Zen from Flickr through

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

This one drives me nuts! Unlike the William Safire “rules” I’ve posted before, you really should NOT do this.

Unless you’re entering this contest.

Here’s a sampling from the page:
“I found a dollar walking home.” I wonder where the dollar lives.

“Walking past the cemetery, an open coffin frightened me.” An open coffin walking around would scare me, too.

“Hopping from foot to foot, the crosstown bus came into view.” I didn’t even know buses had feet!

Another amusement source for these can be headlines.

Here are a few of these:
Dealers will Hear Car Talk at Noon—I’d show up for that. I wonder if David Hasselhoff will be there.
Juvenile Court Tries Shooting Defendant—I hope the court missed. Poor kid.
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim—Ouch!

I hope you had fun with these.

photo from

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.

More of William Safire’s (tongue in cheek) Rules for Writers:
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.


I hope some of you are having as much fun with this series as I am.

First of all, you may ask (I did), what exactly IS a linking verb? This source*** says that it’s a verb that can be replaced by a form of the verb “to seem”, as used.

*The day looked beautiful.
*The day seemed beautiful.

However, this doesn’t pass the test:

*He looked through the window.
*He seemed through the window.

Or, a verb that can be replaced with a form of “to be”.

Like so:
*Bob feels (is) fine.
*This dress looks (is) too big for you.
*My sandwich tastes (is) spoiled.

Now, should we really never use those verbs at the ends of sentences? Never say never, right? There are places you could use them.

*An explosion went off behind him and he turned around and looked. (I guess “at it” is implied).

This, I think, is a violation.

*I don’t like the way my sandwich tastes.

I’ll welcome any comments or examples you come up with. (I’ll get to that pesky preposition thing in a later post.)

(Barbara Goldstein, Jack Waugh and Karen Linsky, Grammar to Go: How It Works and How To Use It, 3rd ed. Wadsworth, Cengage, 2010)