Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Grammar Guide
Punctuate for Clarity, Part I, General Overview

(Ed. note: I do not use serial commas in this article, pursuant to AP style.)

No matter what stylebook you're using, there's a disclaimer in there somewhere about punctuation. For all the rules about commas, semicolons and where question marks go in relation to closing quotation marks, simplifying your syntax is usually the best prescription for clarifying your statements.

What?

It's the KISS principle applied to punctuation. If you've constructed a 175-word declarative with a participial phrase or two and something set off in a parenthetical, and you're trying to remember whether or not to capitalize the word after the colon, it's time to start over. Consider editing that sentence into two or more thoughts that your reader can follow without getting tired or lost.

The point of writing good paragraphs is not to impress the reader with lofty prose and convoluted structure. The point is to get your message across in a clear and concise manner that moves the reader. You want sentences of varying lengths. Your words should already be a part of your audience's lexicon. And your punctuation should reflect a style that your readers are used to. Too many semicolons, serial commas and run-on sentences will tire the reader quickly, if not lose him/her completely. Let me give you an example of a sentence you won't find in my book, Choices Meant for Gods.

"Chariss ran the few paces to the obedient girl and stood between her and the bend in the road with her feet shoulder-width apart and her arms raised to cock the bow before her, where Hrazon saw her now as he pushed his way through the people blocking the doorway to hear the roar of something large down the lane; saw her standing there posed like a warrior; saw her thin arms bulged with muscle and tension as she stood with the bow poised taut against her strength while they all held their breath, wondering what was happening until a ryfel appeared—not rounding the bend or running up to her, but materializing as if in the training arena."

Did you get past the fourth or fifth line? Let me offer a disclaimer right now and say that I would never write something as crazy as that. (I hope.)

Here's the way the passage actually appears in my fantasy novel. Note the use of commas, different sentence lengths and alliteration to move the words.

"Chariss ran the few paces to the obedient girl and stood between her and the bend in the road. She stood with her feet shoulder-width apart and her arms raised to cock the bow before her. Hrazon had pushed his way through the people blocking the doorway now and heard the roar of something large down the lane. He looked at his girl standing there posed like a warrior. Her thin arms bulged with muscle and tension as she stood, waiting, watching, with the bow poised taut against her strength.

"They all held their breath, wondering what was happening.

"A ryfel appeared out of nowhere. It hadn't rounded the bend. It hadn't run up to her. It just materialized before her as if in the training area. Nigel shuddered when he recognized the beast and called back into the house, "Henry! My sword!""

While it's all well and good for a writer and editor to tell you to break things down and keep punctuation simple, I know you're looking for specifics when you look up punctuation rules in the Grammar Guides here. Thus this is the first in a short series of common punctuation mark discussions we'll have over the next few days to help you punctuate clearly and correctly.

Before we close today's installment, let me recommend a couple of resources. For general style issues concerning Standard English grammar and writing, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style is a nice book, but the editors aren't as in-depth as I'd like on many issues. SparkNotes' Ultimate Style The Rules of Writing is also good, but just as shallow as Strunk and White. For journalists, the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is your Bible. Buy the most current version and memorize it. (I'm not joking.) AP also has a Guide to Punctuation, but, keep in mind, the bent is toward journalism, thus magazine/newspaper reporting. There will be minor differences in punctuation rules when using AP versus Standard English grammar. For Standard English grammar, I recommend Creative Writer's Handbook (fourth edition) by Philip K. Jason (a friend of mine) and Allan B. Lefcowitz (available from www.prenhall.com/english) and Eats, Shoots & Leaves The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss (available from www.penguin.com).

(Sandy Lender has been an editor in the magazine publishing industry for sixteen years, is an editor in the book publishing industry and is the author of the epic fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods, available from www.archebooks.com.)

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."
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1 Comments:

Blogger Laura M. Crawford said...

Sandy, this is great advice. I am in the middle of reviewing The Elements of Style while I'm editing my novels. I will have to check out the other books, too, thanks for the recommendations!

I hope you had a nice Easter Sunday! :)

Laura :)

11:47 AM  

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