Today, I’m at Writer Unboxed with a post entitled “The Island of Misfit Characters.” Hope you’ll join us there! And while you are there, have a look around at the other posts from WU contributors. I’m proud to be a part of WU.
I almost ignored the request from AMA because I walked away from most everything related to my writing life for several years. But, I am glad I did not ignore it because it is time to further dip my toes back into the writing/reading community.
On a popular “talent” program, often the judges will tell the “contestants” that they must kick it up a notch, take it further or farther than before, give more, be more more more MORE! No matter how much the act sings her heart out, juggles his arms and legs in amazingly weird pretzel shapes, climbs towering structures and falls–almost–to his death, dances their feet bloody, the judges tell them it’s not enough. You must engage the audience in ways you never thought you could! In ways that show what you have done before is Just Not Good Enough! Two such acts on a recent program showed me how we do not have to set ourselves on fire.
The first act rose to death-defying heights on their motorcycles, proclaiming, and rightly so, that what they do is extremely dangerous. These guys have lost (and by lost, I mean they died–gone from this earth–no more) friends doing what they do. They pushed themselves to the limit, yet at the end of the death-defying heart-stopping act, the judges said, “You have to do more if you want the audience to love you.” So what did they do the very next week? They set themselves on fire, and did the same death-defying act as before. Later came the Houdini act: a man hung upside down while struggling quickly out of a straight jacket. How did he pump it up? By lighting himself on fire.
What next? How to top something so out of control? How to prove what doesn’t need proving: you are who you are; you do what you do, and you are good at it even without the flames. And the flames aren’t really fooling anyone–they see your core.
While I agree that we must always strive to do more and to be more, there does come a point in our lives where we must acknowledge that among all our striving, at the core of us, we simply are who we are. We give our best, and when we type The End, we feel pride and a sense of good work done. When it is just us and our work, we dream of our readers loving the words and language and characters because we created with love and hard disciplined work. No, we should not sit on our hands, rest on our laurels, give up and become lazy and sloppy. But to ask us to be more than who is the very core of ourselves, to give beyond the capabilities of our talents, well, what can happen is we set ourselves on fire and try to fool people into thinking we are doing something Great and Wonderful. It’s like the Wizard behind the curtain while fire roars! We’re still the little old man.
Do we really need to set ourselves alight with fire to grab our reader’s attention? Won’t our readers see what I saw with these two acts: they were doing what they know; what they do best, except for the addition of bright hot distraction. Why hide the behind the fire? What they’d done before was the top of their game, the pride of their life; a culmination of many many hours of hard work and sacrifice. We do live in a “viral video” society. Reality is that not many of us will ever go viral. I refuse to set myself on fire and risk a painful death of my Self. My readers deserve my best, and if I give my best, I do not need to add a distraction.
We are often those judges. The voices in our head judge us, tell us to set ourselves on fire–surely we’ll be noticed then. Surely we’ll grab everyone’s attention, so engulfed by flames we are! Are we only teaching others that we are willing to do anything to grab their attention? Anything at all? Why not let the work underneath the flashy flamed fire be enough?
My posts lately have been rawly honest. Opening up my pea-head and displaying not just the cray-cray but the insecurities I have as a novelist is not easy. I’ve always displayed a more positive outlook because I recognize how lucky I am to do this. I’m extremely grateful for what success I’ve had, and for how I am able to write beautiful words and interesting unique characters—how easily the words (not plots) come to me. But sometimes I over-think things—it’s a character flaw. And I’ve been over-thinking this new book—and my entire career as a novelist.
At different points in a novelist’s career there are decisions to be made that affect the novelist. Consider that it takes months or more to complete a novel all the way through from first draft to final-ready-to-be-published. No one wants to spend that much time on any project only to have to scrap it, or to have it fail. Who would like those odds? Not I, said the Kat.
There arrives the “what next?” question. What seems an innocuous query is fraught with complication. (Now, following here, excuse me for mentioning my books and linking to them and their sales on Kindle – indulge me, since I don’t do it often but I should!).
Last night I picked up my copy of “Tender Graces” and began to read it as if I didn’t write it (I recently also read “Sweetie”, and such a warm and tender feeling overcame me. The words were rich and full and lush. The character apparent. The work isn’t perfect—in fact, I can see things I’d change about TG; it was my very first novel, after all. But I felt the novelist’s love for her work, the language, the setting, place, tone, characters. It all came rushing back to me just how much I love what I do. And how lucky I am to be able to do it. The “Virginia Kate Sagas” (TG, Secret Graces & Family Graces – SG & FG are on sale for under $5 on Kindle, y’all, Sweetie for under $6) and Sweetie are examples of a writer who created out of nothing but love for this writing life—it shows, and the readers felt it, too—I receive more mail on the Virginia Kate books & Sweetie than any other–I think they get the better reviews, too. Not perfection, but sincerity and truth. I believe in this author. I trust this author. The characters come alive and appear as apparitions in the room.
With the exception of one of my novels—The Lighting Charmer (and to some extent even that book), which is on sale for .99 cents on Kindle! and sorry for the touting — my published books were written in one way: I sat down and followed my character to see what she, or he, would do. I didn’t think about plots or outlines or “what I should do;” I just wrote. With abandon. Without fear. With love. With hope. These images of my book covers you see here?: I did this. I wrote these books. *Takes a moment to be filled with happy gratitude*
Then the “novelist’s dilemma” smacked me stupid – should I write what I love; how it comes naturally to me? Or should I write what I hope will be more popular? Before you say “don’t fix what ain’t broke—write what you love!” Understand that the novelist profession is not only from the guts of us as artists, but it is also a business. This is not a hobby for me. I count on this as income. I count on this to help pay bills. And that’s where the rubber skids crazily on the road. Because what I love to write, what comes naturally to me, is not “Popular Fiction” that consistently time and again tears up Amazon rankings in the top 100 (though Tender Graces, Sweetie, and yes, even The Lightning Charmer were Amazon Best-Sellers. TG & Sweetie made it to top 100. TG was number 1 on Amazon paid list – The Help was number 2: haw! Yeah, I’ve had my moments!)
I fiercely love Virginia Kate and those cast of characters; I adore Sweetie & Melissa. I love Ayron & Laura in Lightning Charmer and I still think that’s my best attempt at a romancy-supernatural-mountain people kind of novel—I think that book would have been even better had I let myself “go” and wrote with the same abandon as I did with my previous novels, warts and all; imperfection and all. Those characters interested me, and still do. They captured my attention and my imagination. Still do.
I was in love. I was so very grateful. What happened to that? I can bet many novelists/authors out there can answer that question with a wry twist to their mouths.
So, the novelist’s dilemma: write what you love and let the money chips fall where they may, or, try to write something “Popular” and . . . and . . . be an unhappy novelist! One who isn’t writing very much. One who writes sad discombobulated blog posts about how she is not writing and feels uninspired.
If a novelist isn’t writing, then what’s the point? If the novelist is unhappy and discombobulated, then she must find out why and remedy it. If the novelist wants to be loved by the masses, then she best not be a novelist. And if Ego is involved—oh, Ego is a terrible snarling drool-faced monster! Kick Ego out the writing room door, y’all—kick it HARD until it never returns.
The answer is clearing the cobwebs in my wonky brain. The path I choose from the paths before me that fork off in fifty-galleven directions is—drum roll, please—the one that makes me happy. Duh. The one that may (or may not!) mean failure in my bank account, but always success in my heart account. As for some “popular” attention and sales? Well, there’s always a chance that will again come. Right? Yes! I’m still alive! I’m still a gifted writer! I can still write write write as much as and as long as I want to.
I’m a woman in her 50s. I’ve paid my life dues. I can bloody well do what the hell I want to. *Fist Pump*
When I am on my “deathbed,” believe me, I won’t be sorry that I didn’t write a huge spectacular best-seller, I will be sorry that I gave up the writing just because I couldn’t write a huge spectacular best seller. Huh. Well now.
Consider: when we are not true to ourselves. When we do not do what we know in our hearts and gizzards is the Right Thing (for us). When we look outward to other novelists’ successes. When we keep checking our bank account to see how much money we have. These things change us, changes the way we think about the writing.
And the writing will suffer right along with the novelist. The heart is not pierced with love. Something is missing—and it will be apparent to the reader. Oh yes, it will.
So what if I just take this new book and turn it over on its end and shake out its pockets and take a look at what falls out? The lint along with the pocket change and interesting rocks and bones and a leaf and something magical and a supernatural glowy thing and interesting odds and ends and whatnotalls. What if I followed the character around to see what she’s up to, and she’s up to something believe you me. What if I followed to see what her magic is? How it is affecting the town? Why some of the town is suspicious of her? What about that man in the shop: what’s he up to, or is he only in love with her? What are those “Memory Vases?” What is she doing with the vial of blood or the strand of hair—why is she mixing that into her magic paints? What’s she up to? What’s her story? Let me follow her around until I find out! “Black Moon Cove” . . . why is that bomping me upside my head as a “working title” . . . ?
What if I wrote how I did when I was happy with love and excitement?
What if the novelist’s dilemma is really not a dilemma at all? What if we are in control of our own writing lives? Well, dang me!
Yeah. What if?
Touty shout out of the day (and in the future, I’ll be shouting out lots of people here—not just writers):
Writer Unboxed. A place where writers, editors, agents, and all things writing and writing related are discussed. Go visit. See for yourself. They’re amazingly awesome.
At some strangeling point in an author’s career, she begins to be weary of her thoughts, and of the worries and stresses, and of the fears. Of the whole self-indulgence of it all. The whining and boohoo’ing and self-doubting. The loneliness and sacrifice. The highs and lows and the lows-highs-lows-lower lows-high-low and the roller coaster that was once so much fun begins to jerk you around and toss you into the air and pulls your stomach out through your mouth—Blorf.
The author begins to avoid the writing. Sneakily so. She’s crafty. Cunning. There is no lacking of excuses. Why, that’s the easiest thing in the universe, an excuse. You breathe explanations into your nose and down your throat and then vomit them back up—they don’t taste so bad once you get used to the sweet rotten of them.
People say to you, “I hear you’re working on a new book!” And they are so sincerely excited that you say (and you mean it at the time; you do!), “Yes! I’m working on something new.” And you are—sort of kind of. You are sort of kind of going into the word document and sort of kind of pulling it up and sort of kind of staring at it and then sort of kind of pecking away at it and sort of kind of considering how you just don’t want to do this anymore.
Maybe there will be a free-fall feeling. You’ll stand on the precipice, open out your arms, and just Let Go. The air will rush against your face. You won’t notice how the ground is growing larger and more menacing—the air feels so good! The freedom! The exhilaration that you’ve jumped right off the cliff and left everything behind you. “I was pushed!” you say, when people look at you strange—why, there you are flat and bloody where you and the ground met most undeliciously.
You stare at the bookcase, and there they are! Your books. You wrote them. They were published, and people read them—still do. They aren’t mocking you there but you turn your head away. Because it hurts to look at them, as if your published books are the morning sun and you are still sleepy and in the dark.
“Sometimes it just hurts too much,” a well-known author you admire once said to you. You didn’t understand that at all. You said, “Oh. Well.” And then you went back to work, smug with smugnitude. You think to contact that author and say, “Hey, remember that time you said that? Guess what! Me, too!” But you do not.
Why, it’s all about letting everyone think you are writing fully and happily, and the money is pouring in, and you are on the verge of greatness and successfulness and awesomeness and authorial queendomness! It’s about big smiles and posting pictures on Facebook with zippity do dah day quotes on them about writing. You are living the dream! You author you! You chuck yourself on the chin—aw now you!
You once looked forward to your royalty checks. How fat they seemed to you! How healthy and plump! You signed the back of them and skipped off to the bank, pride and love and luck filling your marrow. As time went on, you began to cringe, just a little, when you’d see the envelope from your publishers in the mailbox. You tell yourself that some authors would give up the fifth toenail on their left foot and then offer up the toe as well just to make any money at all. Still, you can’t stop the flutters in your stomach when you know the check will be arriving any day.
“Money doesn’t measure our worth as a writer,” you say, and you mean it. You really do. Still. You begin to worry about money. Who doesn’t? But somehow money received for writing books becomes entangled in how you feel about yourself and your talent and gifts and love of this profession. It makes the love tainted. You hate that. A lot.
All you wanted to do was to write. That’s all. All you wanted to do is to write. And write. And write and write and write write write write. “Please let me write,” you say to the only one stopping you—well, you, of course.
You don’t want to, but you wonder how much money other authors are making. You wonder how they feel when their royalty checks come to the mailbox. You wonder if one day yours won’t come anymore at all and you can’t breathe for ten whole seconds, plus five. It’s madness.
So, one fine day that has really been about three hundred and two fine days, you consider giving it all up. You will always have your books that were published. You don’t have anything to prove at all. You can pretend for as long as you can, and then one day no one will ask anymore. No one will think about you and your books. You will be forgotten by most. Your books will end up at garage sales, dusty with faded covers and torn pages. Or deep inside e-readers in a file marked “Old shit from authors no one remembers” that is rarely opened.
You can take up art or cooking. You can pick up your camera and see where its lens takes you.
There comes a time in every writer’s life when she will consider giving up the writing.
A day will pass. Two. Fifty. One-hundred. Three hundred twenty days will pass. It feels as if a ghost is following you, but when you turn around, it disappears behind a dreamlike tree that only you can climb, only you can see. The apparition follows you every second, every minute, every hour, every day, week, month.
It winks at you—it knows the joke is all on you. It knows you better than you know you.
Author writes book. Book is published. Book is read. Book is reviewed. Author reads reviews. Author is happy to see some great reviews. Author is devastated to see the bad reviews. Author begins to stew on those bad reviews. Author cannot think of anything but those bad reviews.
In the extreme, the author may comment back to the reader, telling her just how wrong she is to feel the way she feels about the book. Another author quietly sits, reading and re-reading the bad review—looking for a message, a theme, something-anything- that will tell them just where they went wrong and how they can fix it so they never have to feel this way again. And there is the author who laments on social networking how much a review has hurt him, made him feel small, made him question what he is doing and why, and will everyone hurry over and write a good review, and maybe even tell the bad reviewer how they suck for their opinion?–>(Oh, please do not do this, author!)
Author begins to lose sight of just how much it is really none of the author’s business what someone writes about their personal experiences of reading a book.
I stopped reading reviews a long time ago—right after my first book (Tender Graces) came out. Oh, I was reveling in the great 5-star reviews! I was feeling on top of the world when suddenly there amongst those 5-star reviews appeared a 2-star. Oomph! Kicked in the stomach feeling, a sickening crash—dark clouds amass, the world is coming to an end! Or wait a minute. Why would I not expect that to happen? Of course it must happen! I made a decision right there not to read that review or any other future reviews, good or bad, hightailed it out of Amazon, and never looked back.
Because it’s none of my business what a reader writes in a review of my book.
I went back to work. With each new book, I kept my promise to myself not to read reviews, and it has served me well. Kept my sanity—well, most of it. Being an author isn’t the easiest thing as it is—we worry about a lot of Stuff. A whole lot of Stuff. Massive amounts of not so crazy along with really stunningly crazy Stuff. Any Stuff that I can toss out of my worry barrel (I started to write “jar” but we all know it’s a gigantic barrel) is one fewer thing to obsess over. Right? Right! Especially if it is not in my control.
If it is not in our control, why are we still trying to control the uncontrollable?
Some will say we authors must read reviews to learn something about ourselves and our books, but I personally disagree. The review is not for the writer, but instead for the reader. If a book is good it will have good reviews, and it will have bad reviews. It will be hated by some readers and it will be loved by others. But guess what? If a book is badly written it will have good reviews and it will have bad reviews. It will be loved and it will be hated. One reader’s filet mignon is another reader’s can of dog food. We cannot all have the same tastes and likes and dislikes. Opinions are what make this world so interesting. Opinions and variations of character and thought and being sparks discussion and lively debate. It’s why there are so many books out there in so many different genres or even the same genre but with different stories and characters and thought and action and place and time and circumstance–so many people with so many different brains to stimulate to please or not to please, whatever the case may be.
We authors need to get out of the way of the readers’ opinions.
Really, an author who cannot handle the really bad review should never go look. It’s personal, but not Personal in the way some authors may experience it. It’s personal to the reader and how the book makes her feel, or how the book makes him experience what is happening in that created world.
The review has nothing to do with Me The Author.
Me The Author is not important. We may think we are, but we are not important at all. When a reader reads our words, they should not be thinking of the author. When they put down the book, then perhaps we come to their mind, we hope fondly; yet, even then, we are an amalgam of the words and characters and language and world we created, along with what the reader imagines us to be. We are not who we think we are to the reader, and that can be a beautiful thing to consider, no matter the outcome. We have reached out and touched another living being, even if they skewer us and grill us to a crusted crisp.
My readers can do no wrong.
Readers do not recognize their power—they don’t realize how much we authors really do want to hear from them when they are touched by or enjoy our work. However, if a reader does not like one (or more) of my books, or maybe even hates hates HATES my work, why would I be angry with that reader? They have a right to love or not to love or even to detest my work. They have a right to kiss my book and lovingly set it in a place of honor on their bookshelf, or beside their bed where they can read it again and maybe again. And, yes, they have a right to throw my book across the room and scream that it is the biggest pile of dogshit they’ve ever read in their entire lives and they’ll never pick up another of my books again!
When I write a book, my thoughts are on my reader—will she enjoy it? Will he love my words? Will they be swept away by my characters’ stories? I want to please my reader. I want to make them happy. I want them to love me, because I love them. But I can’t write to please everyone—you do know that is impossible, right? To please everyone? Sure, some books are written that go on to make a gazillion bucks, but go to Amazon and look up a very popular book that’s making millions and there you will find readers who think that book sucks, and sucks so bad that they poured gasoline on it and set it on fire then pee’d on it to stop the flames and then stomped on it with dog-crap covered boots then swept up the nasty pile and buried it fifty feet underground where they never have to be reminded how they’ll never get the time back they wasted on that book!
I will always write with all my heart, everything I have, give readers all I got. I will send out my words and hope for the best. It is my gift to my readers. It is a hope to reach other readers. And no matter how they receive that gift, it is their right to express themselves however they want to without my interference.
It is wrong wrong wrong to make readers feel bad for their opinion.
It is not cool at all to correct them for their “wrongness.” It is uncool to try to sway the reader to change their mind and thus change their review. It super uncool to make them feel guilty enough to take down the review. It is super duper uncool and demeaning to the author profession to tell other readers to go defend that author and their work and make sure to tell that bad reviewer how they mightily suck–ATTACK!—-> (No no no do not do this, Author, please do not).
Our characters and words are no longer all ours once we send them out into the world—they are then everyone else’s. And that means sometimes the characters and words will be cherished and loved, and sometimes they will not and will not so bad that there are scorch marks left on the pages.
Welp, suck it up, Author, or get out of the way.
I get out of the way. I’ve never had readers send me “bad” mail. I’ve never had any reader treat me terribly. I’ve never been attacked by readers. I’ve had very positive experiences. Perhaps there are some reviews on my books that spit in my eye, but why would I care to know about it? That reader will likely not read me again and will find someone else who more fits them. I cannot capture everyone in my literary net and force them or guilt them into loving me. And I should not morph myself into some kind of Every Reader Pleaser.
So you readers out there—I adore you. No matter what. You can do no wrong. Even if you throw my book out the window and vow never to read my words again, you are still required–you are needed–you are wanted. And for those of you who have loved and then hated and then loved me again—thanks for sticking around! For those of you, dear readers, who love all of my work: Why, thank you! I love you, too, and I’m sure I’ll disappoint you at some point—ha! But it won’t be because I give up–I promise to do my very very honest honorable hard-working sincerest best, and that’s all I can do.
So, readers—go on out there and write your reviews! Write your best; write your worst! Just keep reading us. Just keep trying us out. Just keep us alive with your attention. Without you, readers, we are Nothing. N-o-t-h-i-n-g. That’s the truth. You will never do any wrong. The power is in your hands. I hope you will use it wisely and well. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to work and stay out of your way.
You were in love with the writing once. A kind of love that churns the belly. The kind of love that wraps around you warm and alive and pulsing. Trusting kind of love. And you think that love will never leave you, nor would you ever leave it. You think it will be as strong and lively as it is in the beginning of all that began all the way to the what should never ever end because it’s too beautiful to die. Too perfect.
But things begin to change. Subtly at first. Insidiously. Oh, it’s little things here and there that don’t mean much—at least that’s what you tell yourself. But all those tiny things begin to pack together, sticky and mean, tightly, balling up hard and fast, until there before you is what you tell yourself is only a sweet marble you think isn’t so bad—it’ll still fit into your pocket! You can carry it around and won’t feel the weight of it at all. But it grows. And you can’t carry it around anymore. It first settles in the room you always wrote in, but it soon pushes out into the hallway, and into the bedroom, and the kitchen, and the living room, and the entire house becomes filled with it—it pushes against you, insistent to be noticed. It is a Moon, a Neptune, an entire galaxy right outside your mind’s window. It groans with its own weight.
Still, you think you can live with it. You think you can soldier on. You think that everything will be okay if only This Thing would happen, or That Thing will occur. “If Only” becomes raggedy with your use of it, what with your rolling the If Onlies around in your head until they are barely recognizable. Still. You loved! It all had meaning! Didn’t you? Didn’t it? Doubt sets in. Were you loved back? Maybe it was only an altered state of being that led you down into the most pleasurable of senses. Why, before the Galaxy of Disappointed Disillusionment, you’d even allowed yourself to become a little arrogant. Held your head a little higher—after all, you were in The Club. That Club with those heavy heavy gates—the ones that swing open randomly and without sentimentality. You often imagined the gates closing behind you, yet this time you are pushed back to the outside.
You want out anyway, you say. You want out and you don’t know when, or if, you’ll return. You want your space. You want time to think. You want to do other things. Find yourself, you say, wincing at the cliche. You’ll do: Fun things. Other necessary things. Things that don’t require pushing through that galaxy of hard knotted failings and failures and fails.
You soon forget (you say emphatically) what drew you to that love. You don’t remember (you think most apparently) the feeling of joy you had just by opening your laptop and your mind—flutter flutter went the beautiful creation butterflies—how lovely they were! Oh how you hate them now! Hate them!
The heart of you is crushing under the weight of the groaning Galaxy.
Who cares?, you say. I don’t!, you say. And you trippity trip about, laughing gaily on the outside, while on the inside you are slowly terribly dying. The Galaxy suffocates.
One day, you are alone. Perhaps walking in the woods, or down an aisle at the grocery store, or driving your car aimlessly, or most obviously of course staring at the darkened night ceiling. And a blinding light explodes while millions of hard knotted disappointments and disillusions Supernova. You are blinded for seventy-two hours; burned down to the bone for seventy-two more.
Then the quiet talks to you. You rise, walk through the house, glowing embers dying and ashes flying. Something gives way. A loosening.
You run then, opening windows and doors until every window and every door is wide, and out and out and out on a brilliant wind goes the ashes, and all that is left is You and You.
Something stirs. Something old and ancient. Something you recognize.
Fingers to keys. A letter appears. Another. Another. A word. A sentence. A paragraph. A page. Five pages, sixty pages, one hundred pages plus three.
Sometimes, you say, all else must be burned away so your new skin can feel anew.
Your fingertips are alive. Push push push on the keys. It is like music.
You recognize, you say, that you never loved fully before but only with conditions. Love must Be, you say. It is its own and no other.
You say: each hard knot of disappointment must be kneaded and chewed and swallowed and digested and then shat out and flushed away.
A grand love. A passionate love. A true and honest love.
It finds you, grabs you by the beating heart and squeezes the life into you.
Fingers on the keys. Push. Push. Letter by word by paragraph by page. Five, six, seven, eight, open up the heavy gates.
(. . . and still, as you push the keys, the if onlies and the what ifs and the why can’ts ind the little nooks and crannies of you and settle in. You push the keys and try not to notice the hard knot you couldn’t swallow as it falls to the ground and quivers.)
I love “Springing Forward” in the evenings. Oh, but I do! It’s lighter outside longer. It means spring is on the way soon soon soon. However, it takes me a few days, week, weeks, to adjust to the earlier mornings. Lawdy. My brain ain’t quite absorbed the strong black coffee I’m slurping down. Today’s Monday Classroom is short and quickly to the point.
In dialogue, punctuation goes inside the quote marks.
“This is how you do it,” Kathryn said. She put the punctuation inside the quote mark. Then, she said, “But, also this is a way.” And since she didn’t have a tagline (said/asked), she put the period, again, before the quote mark.
You do not always have to have a tagline, “he said/she said” — there can be action to indicate who is speaking.
“I am typing some things to remember for my class.” Kathryn looked up at the screen to make sure her words looked right.
See? I did not write a tagline, a “said,” but you know it is Kathryn speaking because I have an action right after the dialogue. The period is inside the quote mark.
Comma talk was last Monday Classroom, see post below.
Semi-colons “separate” but yet “connect” two sentences that are independent—meaning, they could stand alone as two different sentences but you want the two sentences to be together, sort of a partnership of ideas or thoughts.
Kathryn was hungry; her dinner awaited her in the fridge.
Kathryn needed another example; she wanted to impress her students.
See how both of those could be independent sentences? But also see how I wanted them together because I just did and why do you question my genius? Why? Why? Why I ask you?
Kathryn was hungry. Her dinner awaited her in the fridge.
Kathryn needed another example. She wanted to impress her students.
And, remember, my beauties! One space after your end punctuation. Period, exclamation point, question mark . . . only one space!
Touty Plug of the Day: Kat’s Amazon Page. There’s stuff there. But I rarely visit it. You know why? Because I do not read reviews; I do not look at reviews; I do not look at my star rating if I can help it–although, oft-times it cannot be helped if I’m grabbing a link to one of my books; however, since my star-ratings are quite nice for most if not all my books, it’s not so bad to see it. So, if you’uns have a notion to, stroll by and give it a visit.
Commas, those squiggly little cuties, cause more torn out hair and gnashed teeth. I’m not the perfect Comma Momma (teeheehee), so I do invite you to use the links below to learn allllllllll about those tiny little trouble-makers–particularly The Comma Splice, for which I do not talk about here, but if I did I would, have an example right here–see what I did? I put a comma between would and have that does not belong because it breaks up the sentence when it should not: the heinous comma splice. Really, there is simply too much information about that little teeny bitty itty squiggle than I can place here in one post without tearing out my own hair. In fact, that teeny bitty itty squiggle’s size is deceiving, for it makes Big Arse Trouble for so many out there, and not only writers.
Thing is, folks, it really is not so difficult once you Pay Attention to what you are writing and how the sentence “flows” and the rhythm of your words/sentence. I’ve written those two words before: Pay Attention. Because when you do, you learn. As I write this post, I am using commas without thinking about it. If I this were my novel, I may go in and remove some of my commas, just to make sure everything sings along musically to where there are not a lot of choppy sentences that leave the reader’s brain squeezing. Ungh. Squeezed brains hurrrrt. When you Pay Attention, you begin to see how the comma interacts with your work. How the comma sets things off. How the comma groups things together and separates them. How it considers the natural pause—where you take that bit of a hitch of a breath after an introductory phrase.
Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use, feel free to play around with it.
Sometimes I leave them out because I want to keep the sentence moving along without any pauses as if one is talking all at once and does not pause even to take a breath because they are in OMG OMG OMG mode *gasp for air* . . . folks, use this sparingly or else your readers’ eyes may fall out and follow someone to the door, and in fact, their eyes may not return for many a week because you simply exhausted them and they needed a long long vacation and I think I am doing it again, oh dear! *Eyes falling out of my head and traveling to the door, suitcase in hand (hands? Do eyes have hands? Well, if we’re giving them a suitcase, guess they best. Yes, I am talking about when people write “his/her eyes followed him/her” etc etc – the disembodied body parts – a post for another day).*
Consider the sentence below as an example of a pause.
Introduction: Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use (a natural pause) feel free to play around it.
Now read that sentence aloud with and without the comma and decide for yourself what happens:
Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use feel free to play around it—does saying this aloud without a pause make you feel rushed or a bit breathless?
Once you have a basic idea/knowledge of comma use, feel free to play around it—does the natural pause here give you a chance to hitch in a breath?
If you think, “Well I like both ways.” Fine, go ye to write it how it works for you! In fact, when I’m reading something that doesn’t have commas where I like them to be, I insert them myself. Yeah! I do! Ha! You can’t escape my Comma-ndo!
Though, again, there are times I leave out commas because I want the sentence to move along without a pause. I don’t want the sentence to be broken up or choppy. But when I catch myself pausing after that “introduction,” I add a comma. Because. “Because whyyyyy, Kat?” Because I said so, that’s why.
The comma separates incomplete sentences—another form of a “pause” – like a parentheses.
Kathryn has, and always has had, a tiny pea-head. Kathryn has (pause to say/qualify: and always will have) a tiny pea-head.
Kathryn has—that’s an incomplete sentence that is separated by “and always has had” and then another incomplete sentence “a tiny pea-head” – I paused in the middle of those two phrases to tell you something else. I used commas to pause. Bless my wittle tiny pea-headed brain.
What you don’t want to do is to stick commas everywhere willy nilly. Those commas, small as they may be, will chop up your sentence and make them read stoooopid. Do you want choppy stoooopid sentences? Of course not! I’d rather see fewer commas than a litter of them crawling around all over the page mewling and making a mess all over creation. Listen to the rhythm of your words/the language. Listen for those pauses. Those parenthetical pauses. Those introductory phrases that then lead to a little hitch of breath before going on to the next part of the sentence. That’s where the comma goes.
Commas as lists or grouper-togetherers:
I like cornbread, cookies, beans and ice cream. But I do not like this sentence—ewwww! (Intro)If you want beans in your ice-cream, (pause/hitch breath) go right ahead.
But I do like the serial—not cereal—comma. Although wouldn’t that be cute? A bowlful of punctuation-shaped cereal for grammarians/writers? Haw! *Kat considers giving up novel-writing to create a Punctuation Cereal and becoming a millionaire* Anyway, *back to reality, Kat* the serial comma makes sense in the world of grouper-togetherers.
I like cornbread, cookies, beans, and ice cream.
See how each list of food has its own place in the sentence world?
I like cornbread. I like cookies. I like beans. I like ice cream.
I like cornbread. I like cookies. I like beans and ice cream. Ewwwwww!
I can also do a grouping, thusly,
I like cornbread and beans, cookies and ice cream, and serial commas. Teehee.
Notice above how each little family of words has their own little neat home to live in. Their own little grouping. The items that go together are placed together. Those that do not go together are separated by commas.
Clear as the mud on the bottom of your boot, ain’t it? Or maybe you are beginning to understand. Maybe I am a Geeeeenius at explaining the teeny tiny wittle squiggly and suddenly the clouds are clearing and you shout EUREKA! and you name your dog after me or something. *Kat has dreamy expression thinking of puppies running around named “Kat” because that sounds contradictory and funny haw haw haw—at least to her pea-headed brain—stop judging me!*
Look folks, here’s the thing: commas are irritating little shitters and they always will be. I mean, geeeezzzz, I have a headache just trying to explain them. And even as I type these words, I know I will miss one, or I’ll place one in the wrong spot. I’ll be in a hurry and someone out there will gloat and scream how I messed up. Ungh! I’ll go back and read this and think, “This could be better.” But isn’t that the Thang about writing? How we always should be growing and learning. How we should think: “This could be better,” and then we make it better—until it is Done, for at some point we must be Done, right?
Below are some grammar sites that talk about the comma and may be a better help to you than my pea-headed self. I invite you to visit and then study them. Pay Attention. When your AHA! moment comes, you may then begin to manipulate the language with Knowledge, and folks, that’s when the real fun begins.
This first one has whole-lotto comma madness—lawd!
Touty Plug of the day: The Lightning Charmer
The spell was cast when they were children. That bond cannot be broken. In the deep hollows and high ridges of the ancient Appalachian Mountains, a legacy of stunning magic will change their lives forever.
Laura is caught between the modern and the mystical, struggling to lead a normal life in New York despite a powerful psychic connection to her childhood home in North Carolina—and to the mysterious stranger who calls her name. She’s a synesthete—someone who mentally “sees” and “tastes” splashes of color connected to people, emotions, and things. She’s struggled against the distracting ability all her life; now the effects have grown stronger. She returns home to the mountains, desperate to resolve the obsessive pull of their mysteries.
But life in her mountain community is far from peaceful. An arsonist has the town on edge, and she discovers Ayron, scarred and tormented, an irresistible recluse who rarely leaves the forest. As her childhood memories of him surface, the façade of her ordinary world begins to fade. The knots she’s tied around her heart and her beliefs start unraveling. Ayron has never forgotten her or the meaning of their astonishing bond. If his kind is to survive in modern times, he and Laura must face the consequences of falling in love.