Giving Thanks

Here in the US, our annual mid-fall feast of Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November. Things are a bit weird here in good old USA right now, as most of the world knows. Nevertheless, I have many blessings to be thankful for, and being able to provide a wonderful meal for my family is certainly not the least of them.

I am cooking for the family this year. I cook a turkey, even though I am vegan. But I also prepare a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry en Croute holiday roast. It’s plant-based protein, delicious, smells amazing while it cooks, and is divine with mashed potatoes and gravy.

Regardless of the protein we choose, I always feel like the side dishes are the best part of the meal. I always go a little wild on the vegan cheese tray. Miyoko’s Kitchen makes the most amazing spreadable cheese, and it’s all plant-based. It’s quite expensive, but for a special occasion, it is so worth it.

I don’t even bother to make the icky green bean casserole that no one eats, but everyone makes anyway. Other than that, I am making all the usual sides and have included the links to the recipes below:

Roasted Ruby Sweet Potatoes

Maple and Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Cranberry sauce

Vegan Cranberry Pecan Stuffing

Vegan Pumpkin Pie recipe

Vegan Gluten Free Gravy recipe

Vegan Mashed Potatoes recipe

Miyoko’s Kitchen|Artisan Cultured Vegan Cheese

Fruit Salad

Green Salad

We will have plenty of pies and sweets and lots of savory finger foods. So, today I am doing the prep, getting a lot of the cooking out of the way. I have bread to bake, and even though I have a feast to prepare, I will get my daily wordcount by using the small increments of downtime while things are cooking.

That is how I cook any big holiday dinner for my extended family—I start prepping food two days ahead, and by writing whenever I have a ten or fifteen minute pause in the preparations, I don’t fall behind.

This also allows me to enjoy my family on Thanksgiving Day because most of the work is already done.

After all, it may be a national holiday here in the US, but it’s still NaNoWriMo, and while I have officially “won” as of the 20th, getting that badge for updating every day is my next goal, and doesn’t happen until the last day of the month. Besides, I haven’t written all the stories on my list of prompts yet, although I have made good headway in creating my backlog of short stories.

On Friday, my husband and I will rest up, enjoy leftovers, and think about decorating the outside of the house for Christmas.

This world can be a hard place for some people to live. I am fortunate to be safe and well-fed, luxuries I thank God for every day. Where ever you are in this big world, I hope you have plenty to give thanks for.

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Existence and Past Subjunctives revisited #amwriting

Because we are deep in depths of NaNoWriMo and it is Thanksgiving week, I am neck deep in cooking and writing. So, today I’m serving a post from last year—a little treatise on existence and verb forms. Enjoy!


Grammarians are philosophers. You can find us in darkened chat rooms. We argue about existence, to be or not to be, and postulate theories that are subjective, doubtful, and often hypothetical.

Or, at least, the words and rules to describe existence can be murky.

We call them Subjunctive Verbs.

When you go out to Wikipedia, the whole subjunctive verb thing looks quite complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. The subjunctive (in the English language) is used to form sentences that do not describe known objective facts. So today, we are once again looking at Past Subjunctives: the verbs was and were.

But first, what does “subjunctive” mean?

Dictionary.com defines “Subjunctive.” as:

adjective

1.(in English and certain other languages) noting or pertaining to a mood or mode of the verb that may be used for subjective, doubtful, hypothetical, or grammatically subordinate statements or questions, as the mood of ‘be’ in ‘if this be treason.’

2.the subjunctive mood or mode.

3.a verb in the subjunctive mood or form.

First, let’s consider existence and what Past Subjunctive Tense covers: how to use the words ‘was’ and ‘were,’ which are forms of the verb ‘be.’

Which is correct?

  • I wish I were a penguin. I would fly through the water.
  • I wish I was a penguin. I would fly through the water.

If I only wish I were a penguin, were is correct. If I could actually be a penguin, was would be correct and I would have to rewrite my sentence, by changing ‘would’ to ‘could.’

The Grammar Girl goes farther. She says: Believe it or not, verbs have moods just like you do. Yes, before the Internet and before emoticons, somebody already thought it was important to communicate moods. So, like many other languages, English has verbs with moods ranging from commanding to questioning and beyond. The mood of the verb “to be” when you use the phrase “I were” is called the subjunctive mood, and you use it for times when you’re talking about something that isn’t true or you’re being wishful.

I love that clue—that verbs can be wishful.

The Grammar Girl gives us a great example: Think of the song “If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof. When Tevye sings “If I were a rich man,” he is fantasizing about all the things he would do if he were rich. He’s not rich, he’s just imagining, so “If I were” is the correct statement. This time you’ve got a different clue at the beginning of the line: the word “if.”

English tends to favor fewer subjunctives than some other languages. So why are some grammarians ranting about irrealis mood and were?

(And what the hell does that mean?)

The irrealis mood is an older, nineteenth century label for a verb mood. Simply stated, it means that language can express fact (what is real) and can indicate fallacy (what is unreal). It was identified by the linguist, Roman Jakobson.

English has a formula for expressing the unreal: the irrealis mood, but that label is no longer as well-known as its modern label: the past subjunctive verb form. This verb form expresses a hypothetical condition in present, past, or future time:

Steven Pinker, in his extremely convoluted book on language and usage, The Sense of Style, discusses the word, irrealis. He offers several complicated explanations but eventually gets to the point, and I will boil it down here:

There are times when we use a form of the verb ‘was’ even though the subject of the sentence has not yet happened or may not happen at all:  the past subjunctive verb form. It is unreal and may remain that way. “If I were.”

Let’s go back to the song from Fiddler on the Roof, If I were a rich man. As I am a woman and intent on remaining so, I will never be a rich man. As I am an author and intent on remaining so, I will never be rich. So, for me, that song title contains two impossibilities. “If I were” is the correct subjunctive mood.

When you are supposing about something that might be true, you use a form of the verb “was” and don’t sweat it.

If it’s likely real: Was (possibly is) I heard he was training his dog to fetch.

If it’s likely unreal: Were (possibly isn’t) If I were a penguin, I wouldn’t need to rent a tuxedo.

We are still talking existence here. Remember from above? The past subjunctive verb forms express a hypothetical condition which may exist in present, past, or future time:

  • Don’t complain about the food. What if I was a chef?
  • I wish I were
  • If this be treason…
  • To be or not to be

What if you are writing a technical manual, a dissertation, or an email to a client or coworker? Despite the ill-conceived efforts of many critique groups and Microsoft Word to erase all forms of ‘to be’ from the English language and replace it with ‘is,’ you have a right to use the subjunctive verb form if you choose to do so. Write with your own sense of style.

When your intent is formal, subjunctives may abound, often in the form of commonly used phrases:

  • Be that as it may,
  • So be it,
  • Suffice it to say,
  • Come what may,

Steven Pinker has a point that is important to this blogpost: Subjunctives are hard to spot. Forms of “to be” can be found in subordinate clauses where something is mandated or required:

  • I demand the prisoner be fed the same as anyone else.

A verb like “see” also has a subjunctive form when something is mandated or required:

  • It’s essential that I see your report before you send it.

In ordinary writing, we rarely need to use subjunctives in clauses with mandates except perhaps to show a formal conversation.

Subjunctives are small verbs of existence but used correctly they have a large influence on your writing voice.

And, thanks to Steven Pinker, we now know that if someone drops the word “irrealis” on you at a critique group, it’s a hint that they are fond of obscure, nineteenth century words. Surprise them by telling them the past subjunctive verb form is your friend, and you enjoy using it appropriately.


Credits and Attributions:

Existence and Past Subjunctives by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2017 first appeard here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on November20, 2017.

Subjunctive Verbs, by Mignon Fogarty, http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/subjunctive-verbs, Copyright © 2017 Macmillan Holdings, LLC. Quick & Dirty Tips™

Wikipedia contributors, “English subjunctive,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=English_subjunctive&oldid=807313887 (accessed November 19, 2017).

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#FineArtFriday: Saint Cecilia, by Edward Burne-Jones

Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians, and her feast day is traditionally celebrated on November 22. The above image is my favorite rendering of her, as it is so vividly colored.

One of the most beautiful forms of art is stained glass, and the many works of Sir Edward Burne-Jones has inspired and influenced my own art.

While I have no patience with some of the more hyper-romanticized, physically impossible art produced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the  concept and execution of Burne-Jones’s artistic visions in glass is without peer. Vivid, intense colors, romantic subjects – each of his windows tells a story. They are glorious, and seem illuminated even when not back-lit by the sun.

About Saint Cecilia, From Wikimedia Commons:

One of nearly thirty versions of a window designed by Burne-Jones and executed by the company founded by William Morris (1834–1896), Saint Cecilia is a product of the Arts and Crafts movement they initiated. Friends at Oxford, Morris and Burne-Jones became disciples of John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelite movement and put into practice his vision for the renewal of art. They sought to counter the effects of the machine age by reviving medieval crafts, abolishing distinctions between fine and decorative arts, and beautifying objects of everyday life. Morris wrote on the philosophy of art and founded a company to execute textiles, wallpaper, and other objects, while Burne-Jones, in addition to painting and sculpting, studied with the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and designed murals, tapestries, and stained glass for Morris’s company.

The Gothic Revival style in architecture created a market for stained glass, especially in the 1870s, when Burne-Jones was a particularly prolific designer of windows. The first Saint Cecilia window, at Christ Church, Oxford (1875), shows the influence of the early Renaissance art he had seen in central Italy, most recently in 1871. The flat, abstracted, linear style and the wilting pose of the impossibly tall, graceful woman make reference to the work of Botticelli (Florentine, ca. 1445–1510), while the tapestry-like screen of pomegranate trees and fruits and the richly patterned brocade fabric recall the latest Gothic phase of Italian art, about 1400.

Saint Cecilia, an early Christian Roman virgin martyr, became the patron saint of music and was portrayed with an organ — here, a portable organ of the fifteenth century. Although water organs existed in the ancient world, pipe organs date from the fourteenth century, so we must assume Cecilia is singing the praises of God in heaven, not during her earthly life. In the window at Christ Church, she is flanked by lancet windows with music-making angels; scenes from the life of a fellow martyr saint, Valerian, and her own martyrdom are shown below. In Chicago, a Saint Cecilia window was included in the stained glass of the Second Presbyterian Church (1904); there, the fabric behind the saint is blue, and the tree bears lemons, demonstrating the permutations that could occur among these windows.

About the artist, from Wikipedia:

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, 1st Baronet ARA (28 August 1833 – 17 June 1898) was an English artist and designer closely associated with the later phase of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, who worked closely with William Morris on a wide range of decorative arts as a founding partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Burne-Jones was closely involved in the rejuvenation of the tradition of stained glass art in Britain.


Credits and Attributions:

Saint Cecilia, Edward Burne-Jones [Public domain], Stained and painted glasss, ca. 1900

Wikipedia contributors, “Edward Burne-Jones,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edward_Burne-Jones&oldid=868174553 (accessed November 16, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Burne-Jones, Sir Edward, Saint Cecilia, ca. 1900.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Burne-Jones,_Sir_Edward,_Saint_Cecilia,_ca._1900.jpg&oldid=303427881 (accessed November 16, 2018).

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Slang, Colloquialisms, and Clichés #amwriting

Words are awesome. I love obscure, weird words. J.K. Rowling used the word ‘snogging’ in her Harry Potter series, to describe couples who were engaged in prolonged kissing, or as we sometimes say where I come from,  ‘canoodling.’

Another good word is ‘kerfuffle,’  a Briticism for a  noisy disturbance or commotion. That word has become more common in American conversation over the last few years.

Words are how authors convey the imaginary world to the reader. Artistry comes into play in the way the author assembles their chosen words into sentences and paragraphs. In reading those words, the reader finds themselves in a new reality, a mental picture painted by the author.

English is a mash-up language. It is old Latin glued to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian, with a bunch of words and usages invented by William Shakespeare added in.

Thanks to the human drive to explore new worlds, English, the mish-mash language, went to America where it absorbed many words from the various languages it encountered among the people already living there.

English also went to Australia where the same thing happened. Each of the many dialects of English contains wonderful, wild words that are unique to their local population.

Colloquialisms are fun, informal things, but truthfully, they are much like clichés. Unless we are writing a contemporary piece where words unique to a particular culture are part of the world building, we shouldn’t rely on them to tell the story.

Sometimes, we find ourselves using words that are what I think of as subtle clichés. They are subtle because they feel so natural sitting in that sentence. Consider “damn fool.”

It was a common thing adults would say about a particularly reckless or impulsive neighbor when I was growing up. But would I write it into a narrative? Maybe, if using that cliché showed the personality of a minor character whose only onscreen time was shown in that brief conversation.

The problem comes with word evolution, and how common phrases evolve differently from place to place, and sometimes even in the same town.

That was a damn fool thing. This was how I would hear that phrase as a child.

So, if that is a concept that we are trying to convey, how do we say it? If you listen carefully, people say it just a bit differently depending on where they are from. Some say it with two words, some make it one, and others give damn an “ed” ending as if the suffix adds a sense of finality.

Do we spell it damn fool, damnfool, or damned fool?

According to the Urban Dictionary

damned fool

  • A person who is extremely foolish. Their actions are not only irresponsible to themselves but can possibly be harmful towards others.
  • If a guy tries to talk you out of using a condom, he is a damn fool. (You can’t make this stuff up–you have to go to the internet for it.)
  • Did you see that damned fool? He was swerving all over the road.(end quoted text)

And just for fun, let’s see what Wiktionary has to say:

  • damn fool (adjective)
  • damnfool 
  1. (informal) Contemptibly (end quoted text)

He was a damned fool.

How I see it:

  1. He was a damned fool. (I just cursed him to hell.)
  2. He was a damn fool. (He was contemptibly foolish)
  3. He did a damnfool thing. (He was contemptibly foolish, and I will curse him to hell.)

If you absolutely must use that colloquialism, write it the way that seems right to you, and it will be fine.

But when you look at the meanings of the various clichés we use in our daily speech, you can see there are better ways to say what you mean without making your work feel dated.

He was contemptibly foolish would be a good choice, as it isn’t a cliché and it says what you mean.

If we want our work to be meaningful to more than just the reader of today, we must use words that won’t lose their relevance, or fall out of fashion as within a decade. Did I hear you say, “Groovy?” Far out.

We want to write well, and we don’t want our prose to be stale or boring, but we also don’t want it to be annoyingly full of jargon.

Consider The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The slang his characters use in their casual conversation is specific to the nineteen twenties of America, and while it was well understood in that time, using those words in that context has fallen out of favor. This makes understanding that novel difficult for the modern reader, yet the prose of the narrative outside the conversations is truly beautiful.  Some words used in conversation that have lost their relevance today:

  • Mop (indicates a handkerchief)
  • Niffy (great, wonderful)
  • Noodle Juice (tea – a weak drink for weak people)
  • Quilt (indicated a drink meant to warm someone up)

Having the characters use slang stamps a novel with a date, setting it squarely in a known period.

For that reason, I feel it’s best to avoid slang and clichés even though finding the right words to convey those thoughts can be a struggle. When I am reading a new book, originality wins over hackneyed prose any day.

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The Functions of the Scene revisited #amwriting

We are at mid-month for NaNoWriMo, and I am not writing my novel. Instead, I am trying to write short stories, but my mind won’t cooperate. I keep waking up with new scenes filling my head, scenes that demand to be written for all my works in progress.

Scenes are what I want to talk about today, but I just discovered that I wrote a perfectly good post on them last year and can’t think of anything to add to it. So, we may as well revisit last year’s post on The Functions of the Scene. I hope you find it useful as your writing journey continues.

Keep writing, update your word count every day if you are participating in NaNoWriMo, and happy writing to you, whether you participate in that merry month of madness or not!


A great story consists of a beginning, a middle and an end, and is made of scenes. We have action, emotion, ups and downs, a plot all sewn together by the thread that is the theme. But the entire structure of the novel is built scene-by-scene, connected by transitions.

Scenes may consist of conversations, or they may be action sequences, but put them together in the right order, link them with a plot featuring a good protagonist and a worthy antagonist, they combine to form a story.

I perceive the scene as a small area of focus within a larger story with an arc of its own, small arcs holding up a larger arc: the chapter. So, scenes are the building blocks of the story. Strong scenes make for a memorable novel, and we all strive to make each scene as important as we can. Therefore, no scene can be wasted. Each scene must have a function, or the story fails to hold the reader’s interest.

Some things a scene can show:

  • Information
  • Confrontation
  • Revelation
  • Negotiation
  • Decision
  • Capitulation
  • Catalyst
  • Contemplation/Reflection
  • Turning Point
  • Resolution
  • Myriad deep emotions

Make one or more of these functions the core of the scene, and you will have a compelling story.

Let’s examine a watershed scene that occurs in the Fellowship of the Ring, book one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series: The Council of Elrond. The scene is set in Rivendell, Elrond’s remote mountain citadel.

Each of those characters attending the Council has arrived there on separate errands, and each has different hopes for what will ultimately come from the meeting. Despite their different agendas, each is ultimately concerned with the Ring and protecting the people of Middle-earth from the depredations of Sauron, if he were to regain possession of it. This scene serves several functions:

Information/Revelation: The Council of Elrond serves the purpose of conveying information to both the protagonists and the reader. It is a conversation scene, driven by the fact that each person in the meeting has knowledge the others need. Conversations are an excellent way to deploy needed information. Remember, plot points are driven by the characters who have the critical knowledge.

The fact that some characters are working with limited information is what creates the tension. At the Council of Elrond, many things are discussed, and the full story of the One Ring is explained, with each character offering a new piece of the puzzle. The reader and the characters receive the information at the same time at this point in the novel.

Confrontation: Action/confrontation, conversation, reaction. A scene that is all action can be confusing if it has no context. A properly placed confrontational conversation (an argument/dispute) gives the reader the context needed to understand the reason for the action.

At the Council of Elrond, long simmering racial tensions between Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf surface. Each is possessed of a confrontational nature, and it isn’t clear whether they will be able to work together or not.

Other conflicts are explored, and heated exchanges occur between Aragorn and Boromir.

Negotiation: What concessions will have to be made to achieve the final goal? These concessions must be negotiated. Tom Bombadil is at first mentioned as one who could safely take the ring to Mordor as it has no power over him. Gandalf feels he would simply lose the ring, or give it away because Tom lives in a reality of his own and doesn’t see the conflict with Sauron as a problem. Bilbo volunteers, but he is too old and frail. Others offer, but none are accepted as good candidates for the job of ring-bearer for one reason or another. Each reason offered for why these characters are found to be less than satisfactory by Gandalf and Elrond deploys a small bit of information the reader needs.

Turning Point: After much discussion, many revelations, and bitter arguments, Frodo declares that he will go to Mordor and dispose of the ring, giving up his chance to live his remaining life in the comfort and safety of Rivendell. Sam emerges from his hiding place and demands to be allowed to accompany Frodo. This is the turning point of the story.

(The movie portrays this scene differently, with Pip and Merry hiding in the shadows. Also, in the book, the decision as to who will accompany Frodo, other than Sam, is not made for several days, while the movie shortens it to the one day.)

So, within the arc of the story are smaller arcs, arcs of conflict and reflection, each created by scenes. The arc of the scene is like any other: it begins, rises to a peak, and ebbs, ending on a slightly higher point of the overall story arc than when it began, leading to the brief transition scene.

Transitions can be as simple as a change of setting, one character leaving the room for a breath of air. They can be hard transitions, the scene ends and with it, so does that chapter. Within a chapter, conversations can serve as good transitions that propel the story forward to the next scene, offering a chance to absorb what just happened. If using a conversation as a transition, it’s important you don’t have your characters engage in idle chit-chat. In literary terms, a good conversation is about something we didn’t know and builds toward something we are only beginning to understand.

That is true of every aspect of a scene—it must reveal something and push the story forward toward something.

With each scene we are also pushing the character arc, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does, and then to reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

All the arcs together form a cathedral-like structure: the novel. By creating small arcs in the form of scenes, we offer the reader the chance to experience the rise and fall of tension, the life-breath of the novel.


Credits and Attributions:

The Functions of the Scene, ©2017 by Connie J. Jasperson, first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on November 22, 2017.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Reissue edition (February 15, 2012) Fair Use.

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#FineArtFriday: Tavern of the Crescent Moon by Jan Miense Molenaer

The  sign hanging in front of  the Tavern of the Crescent Moon shows it was a wayside inn catering to the traveling public and some locals.  Molenaer’s inn seems to have been a friendly place where the food was most important. A piper is playing, and people are singing. Others are hanging out the windows and watching from a balcony, enjoying the music.

The patrons are a mixed group but look like happy middle-class people, who seem fairly prosperous. What I love about this painting is the fact that the patrons are sitting outdoors. The inside of most taverns and wayside inns were dark, smoky places. Patrons must have moved outdoors as soon as the weather allowed. The day this painting was composed, weather was fine, although one well-dressed man (perhaps a merchant?) has his foot resting on a foot-warmer, which was a luxury item in that time period.

Whole families are there, out for an evening of music and enjoyment. They are breaking and sharing fresh-baked bread. Other than the man whose best friend is the dog, no one has overindulged in drink—over all, the happy group looks as if they came to the tavern solely for the company and the music.

About the Artist: From the National Gallery Website:

Jan Miense Molenaer was born in Haarlem and lived there or in nearby Heemstede. In 1634 he was listed as member of the Guild of St. Luke in Haarlem. In 1636 he married the painter Judith Leyster. Both Molenaer and Leyster may have been pupils of Frans Hals and were certainly influenced by both his style and subject matter. Dirck Hals’ influence was also very important for him, for it inspired Molenaer to paint merry company scenes.

Jan Miense Molenaer was a more prolific artist than his wife, Judith Leyster, who worked on similar subjects. Motherhood and running a household most likely cut into Judith’s time for artistic endeavors.  Molenaer  and Leyster had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood.


Sources and Attributions:

Quote from biography of Jan Miense Molenaer, The National Gallery Website, https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/jan-miense-molenaer The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN (accessed November 9, 2018)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan Miense Molenaer 003.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_Miense_Molenaer_003.jpg&oldid=302686494(.

Wikipedia contributors, “Judith Leyster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Judith_Leyster&oldid=820769951 (accessed November 9, 2018).

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Power Punctuation Revisited #amwriting #NaNoWriMo

An interesting conversation occurred in one of the many writers’ forums I frequent on Facebook, a discussion of the use of the ‘interrobang’ in modern literature. When the discussion was over, several new-to-the-craft writers lay dead on the floor, and two editors were blue in the face.

Okay, the writers weren’t actually dead unless acute embarrassment is a terminal condition. (Give me a break—I’m an author, and I write fiction.) However, I’m pretty sure the editors were blue in the face.

Anyway, most editors agree that the interrobang is not an accepted form of punctuation for anything but comic books, manga, and possibly, text messages. I thought about writing a new post on the subject, but instead, I have decided to be environmentally friendly and recycle this perfectly good post from May of 2017.

Enjoy!


A little power is a dangerous thing, and certain punctuation has power.

Exclamation points!

Em dashes—

Ellipses…

These are all wonderful, fun things to play with, but making too free with the power punctuation makes the narrative too breathless, or in the case of ellipses, too slow.

When prose is well-written, it conveys the excitement of the moment without force. A good author doesn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points as this makes the narrative feel frantic. It tells the reader what to think, rather than showing them a scene that is exciting.

When I am laying down the first draft, I am just as guilty of filling the manuscript with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses as anyone. I am in a rush to get the ideas down on paper.

This is a subconscious shorthand for the second draft, which is where I take those telling scenes and show them.

I do a global search for exclamation points, ellipses, and em dashes. At each one, I examine the scene. Nine times out of ten, I reword it to show the action and change the power punctuation to a period. Many times I find the em dash or ellipsis was not needed.

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses are like speech tags. They are necessary, but simplicity is the key to making them unobtrusive. Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you visualize and then show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions.

When it’s done right, you will only need one or two morsels of power punctuation, and the punctuation you use won’t be a needle in the eye of the reader. The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well and won’t throw the reader out of the book.

All punctuation has its place and should be used appropriately. For the most part, the way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself will convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with power punctuation.

I suggest you do a global search and change most of them to a period.

But what about !?  These mutant morsels of madness are called “interrobangs.”

Comic books frequently employ interrobangs, generally because the authors are limited on space for narrative and use creative punctuation as a shorthand. They do this as a way of telling the story.

It’s your narrative, so of course, you will do as you see fit. However, the exclamation point before a question mark is not accepted punctuation in literature of any genre but comic books, so don’t be surprised if you receive negative feedback in reviews. Interrobangs are a writing habit the professional writer will avoid if they want to be taken seriously.

Peppering the narrative with exclamation points and interrobangs is a form of telling the reader “this is exciting” as opposed to showing the excitement. We want to immerse the reader, not blow them out of the manuscript.

Power punctuation used too freely becomes a bludgeon, beating the reader with how exciting it all is.

A great resource for ideas on how to convey strong emotions without telling the reader what the character is feeling is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

All sentences should have only one punctuation mark to signify the end. “Ahah!” you say. “What about the ellipsis?”

When the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence, it should be three dots followed by the required punctuation.

  • If the ellipsis falls at the end of a sentence in dialogue, use a comma at the end of it followed by a speech tag. “But, my dog…,” Annie said, her brow furrowed.
  • If no speech tag is used, employ a period, question mark, etc. “But, my dog….” Annie’s brow furrowed.

This is because the ellipsis at the end of a sentence symbolizes unspoken words, trailing off. The ellipsis is not punctuation.

The em dash at the end of a sentence symbolized cut off words, so no punctuation is needed.

This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says:

Use an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipsis: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …). An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with no sentence following should be followed by a period (for a total of four dots).

Once again, I emphasize that we use the Chicago Manual of Style  as our grammar reference guide if we are writing fiction and intend to publish it. The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer to this book when they have questions.

If you develop a passion for words and ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. No style guide will fit every purpose, but the Chicago Manual of Style comes closest.

However, some things are universal:

Exclamation points must be used sparingly.

Ellipses symbolize omitted words and are not punctuation, so when the conversation trails off, you must add ending punctuation. My God, I thought. What…?

Em dashes can either set off phrases—like this—or if used at the end of a sentence an em dash can indicate cut off words. Consider the following quote from A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. In this case, you do not add punctuation:

It did seem to me that life was just too lovely to—

It is your task to write the narrative so that it shows the character’s emotions. Their eyes will widen, or their mouth will drop open, or they will stop and stare. When it comes to punctuation, do you tell, or do you show?

You make the decision, but I see the interrobang and the overuse of the exclamation point as if they were too much seasoning. They are strong flavors that can ruin the taste of the narrative.


Sources and Attributions:

Power Punctuation by Connie J. Jasperson was first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on May 17, 2017.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 639 sections 13.51 – 13.55 The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 334 Section 6.84 Em dashes to Indicate Sudden Breaks, The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

A Dog’s Tale,  by Mark Twain. © 1904 Harper & Brothers, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Dog%27s_Tale&oldid=769178379 (accessed May 16, 2017).

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World building, ensuring consistency #amwriting

The key to making both fiction and nonfiction real for the reader is subtle but crucial: world building. Maps, no matter how rudimentary, are the foundation of world building in my writing process.

The first map of what eventually became my world of Neveyah series emerged from a conversation with a game designer and was scribbled on a piece of note paper in a Starbucks. I transferred the scribble to graph paper, and over time, that map grew, evolving into a full color relief map of the world as it exists in my mind.

I love maps. Since that early scribble, my maps all start out in a rudimentary form, just a way to keep my work straight. I use pencil and graph paper at this stage, because as the manuscript evolves, sometimes towns must be renamed. They may have to be moved to more logical places. Whole mountain ranges may have to be moved or reshaped so that forests and savannas will appear where they are supposed to be in the story.

And that tendency for embellishment and evolution in the story teller’s mind is what has led to my most embarrassing moment of the week.

I went back to the original manuscript of Mountains of the Moon, Wynn Farmer’s story, just to check on how I had described the terrain of the high country of the Escarpment, as I am writing a short story set there. While I was searching for the passage I wanted, I noticed that I had described Widge as the northernmost navigable port on the River Fleet.

Which means that Dervy can’t be the northernmost port, and the novel I am not working on for the duration of NaNoWriMo has a large plot-hole that won’t be fixed until December.

Fortunately, it is set five hundred years before Wynn’s time, so I’m not going to scrap that portion.

Instead, I made a series of notes for when I get back to writing that novel after NaNoWriMo is over. I will show how at that time, Dervy had some commerce via flat-bottomed barges owned by daring traders. The courses of rivers are changeable, like the Mississippi or the Nile. Where a harbor was possible three hundred years ago, it may not be possible now. (see How The Nile Has Changed Course Over The Past 5,000 Years.)

So, I just had a sharp reminder to check my work for inconsistencies while I still have the chance to either make them possible or remove them.

Perhaps you think you don’t need a map. You aren’t writing fantasy, so the real world is your setting. If your characters are traveling and you are writing about their travels, you want to be accurate. Google earth and a good map will help, as will timetables for trains and airlines.

In my books, people are going hither and yon with great abandon, and if I am not really on top of it, the names of towns will evolve throughout the novel.

The basic pencil-drawn map, in conjunction with my style-sheet, is my indispensable tool for keeping the story straight. I just have to keep referring back to them, rather than trying to keep it all in my head.

What is a style-sheet? When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style-sheet.

The style-sheet can take several forms. It’s a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and paste every new word or name onto my list, doing this the first time they appear in the manuscript. If I am conscientious about this, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. I also do this for my clients when I edit a manuscript.

Some people use Scrivener. I prefer to keep it simple, so I just use Excel for this because I like keeping my maps and the glossary in the same workbook. Google Docs works just as well, and it’s free, or you can just keep a list on a document or notepad.

Regardless of how you create your style-sheet, I suggest you include these elements:

  • The cast of characters and how their names are spelled
  • Their home town
  • The places they go
  • Every made-up word or name
  • The page on which it first appears
  • What it means

What should go on a map? When your characters are traveling great distances, certain differences in the terrain will impede your characters. If they are pertinent to the story, you will want to note:

  • Rivers
  • swamps
  • mountains
  • hills
  • towns
  • forests
  • oceans

What if your setting is indoors, such as an office, a mansion, or a hotel? You want to make sure the rooms and corridors that get mentioned in the narrative aren’t described in a contradictory way. If a room is next to the kitchen in the opening scene, it should still be there at the end of the story, barring a tornado.

Billy Ninefingers is set in a wayside inn. I made a drawing of the floor plan for my purposes because the inn is the world in which the story takes place. If you are writing a space opera, map out your ship or station, just for yourself.

Know your world.

As a side note, if you are writing fantasy, I suggest you keep the actual distances mushy because some readers will nitpick the details, no matter how accurate you are.

From Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: “A league is a unit of length (or, in various regions, area). It was long common in Europe and Latin America, but it is no longer an official unit in any nation. The word originally meant the distance a person could walk in an hour.[1] Since the Middle Ages, many values have been specified in several countries.”

Therefore, a league is what you say it is, within some loose parameters. I go with the distance you can walk in an hour, which means you must take the terrain into consideration. In my current work, I don’t even mention distance by measure. Instead, I use time—they travel for an hour, or day, or two days.

Not everyone is an artist. Perhaps your work is set in a fantasy world, but you feel your hand-drawn map isn’t good enough to include in the finished product.

One option is to go to a game designer’s map generating site, play around with it until you find a map you like, then write the story to that map. Another option indie authors might consider is hiring an artist to make a map from their notes.

I’m fortunate to have some skill as an artist, so my pencil-drawn map always evolves into artwork for the book.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “League (unit),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=League_(unit)&oldid=865343305(accessed November 4, 2018).

Map of Neveyah ©2015 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved.

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#FineArtFriday: Peasant Wedding, David Teniers II

I love today’s painting. The Peasant Wedding by the Flemish painter, print maker, David Teniers the Younger, is full of movement and life, and shows real people having a great party. The musicians are playing, some people are singing, some are talking, and some are dancing. Most are eating and just enjoying themselves. A few of the men are becoming a little familiar with the ladies, who are not really having any, and a few people have indulged a little too much.

Even the dog is having a good time.

Teniers was a prolific and skilled artist, a man remembered today as much for his lofty social ambitions as he is for the quantity and excellence of his work. He wanted to be a nobleman; indeed he once falsely laid claim to being descended from a noble line. Several times he nearly succeeded in this ambition, but nobility was one accolade he never achieved.

About David Teniers II, from Wikipedia:

Teniers married into the famous Brueghel artist family when Anna Brueghel, daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder, became his wife on 22 July 1637. Rubens, who had been the guardian of Anna Brueghel after her father’s death, was a witness at the wedding.

Through his marriage Teniers was able to cement a close relationship with Rubens who had been a good friend and frequent collaborator with his wife’s father. This is borne out by the fact that at the baptism of the first of the couple’s seven children David Teniers III, Rubens’ second wife, Hélène Fourment was the godmother.

Teniers’ wife died on 11 May 1656. On 21 October of the same year the artist remarried. His second wife was Isabella de Fren, the 32-year-old daughter of Andries de Fren, secretary of the Council of Brabant. It has been suggested that Teniers’ main motive for marrying the ‘spinster’ was her rather elevated position in society. His second wife also brought him a large dowry. The couple had four children, two sons and two daughters. His second wife’s attitude to Teniers’ children from his first marriage would later divide the family in legal battles.

At the behest of his Antwerp colleagues of the Guild of Saint Luke, Teniers became the driving force behind the foundation of the Academy in Antwerp, only the second of such type of institution in Europe after the one in Paris. The artist used his connections and sent his son David to Madrid to assist in the negotiation to successfully obtain the required licence from the Spanish King. There were great celebrations in Antwerp when, on 26 January 1663, Teniers came from Brussels with the royal charter creating the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, the existence of which was due entirely to his persistence.

Teniers petitioned the king of Spain to be admitted to the aristocracy but gave up when the condition imposed was that he should give up painting for money.

He was an innovator in a wide range of genres such as history,  genrelandscapeportrait and still life. He is now best remembered as the leading Flemish genre painter of his day


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:David Teniers de Jonge – Peasant Wedding (1650).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:David_Teniers_de_Jonge_-_Peasant_Wedding_(1650).jpg&oldid=225700063 (accessed November 2, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “David Teniers the Younger,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=David_Teniers_the_Younger&oldid=858638339 (accessed November 2, 2018).

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Version Control: Naming Your Files #amwriting

With the advent of November and NaNoWriMo, naming files and version control becomes an issue, especially for new and beginning writers.

For every new document you create, I recommend that BEFORE you do any work whatsoever, you give the file a working name and save it to whatever folder you normally work out of.

Do that immediately.

Do it while the page or spreadsheet is still blank, before you write the first line.

Most people never had more than a few personal files to manage. For this reason, they have no concept of how easily something that should have been simple can veer out of control.

This is where a good system of version control comes in handy. The worst thing that can happen is when you accidentally save an old file over the top of your new file or delete the file entirely.

It is vitally important for writers to save their work regularly. I don’t like thumb-drives because they’re easily lost, so I use a file hosting service called Dropbox. I have a lot of images on file, so I pay for an expanded version, but they do have a free version that offers you as much storage as a thumb drive. I like using a file hosting service because it can’t be lost or misplaced and is always accessible. I work out of those files, so they are automatically saved and are where I want them when I close out.

But you can use a standard portable USB flash drive.

What I want to discuss today is naming your files, so they are consistent and easy to identify.

A consistent system for naming your files eliminates accidents when it comes to saving your manuscript and subsidiary research files.

DIRECTORY

> FOLDERS

>> SUB-FOLDERS

> >>DOCUMENTS

My work is all saved in a folder labeled Writing.

Inside the master folder are many subfolders, one for each book, and one for essays and short stories.

Bleakbourne_on_Heath

Each subfolder contains documents, and each document has a proper file name:

Bleakbourne_V1_cjjasp

That stands for Bleakbourne on Heath, version one, by Connie J. Jasperson

A more recent version of that manuscript is named Bleakbourne_V2_cjjasp.

By clearly denoting which version it is in the file name, I should have no disasters.

In older Operating Systems the underscore was used instead of a space because the OS could not process filenames with spaces. Many publishers, editors, and agents want the files you send them to be named in this way, so it’s a good habit to get into.

When I first began working in an office that had upgraded to computers in the early 1990s, we had a rule for naming files: use no spaces, use an underscore where the spaces would go. There was a good reason for this.

When transferring files between different operating systems with different file naming conventions, the underscore prevents using what may be an illegal character in another OS.

So, if an office had to send files to an outside agency, the two users could open the files in their respective programs.

What are the different Operating Systems currently in use that your work may come across?

Linux

MacOS

Windows

Unix

Chrome OS

Some operating systems are more business oriented, but if you send files to a variety of publishers, your work could end up on a machine with a different OS than yours. Usually it will be a PC (Windows) or a Mac, as those two operating systems are most common. Using a Mac or PC is a personal preference. When purchasing gear, employers usually cater to the wishes of those who will use the machine, so the offices of publishers and editors will usually have both.

For this reason, we have some rules to obey regarding certain characters when we are naming files.

What are common “illegal characters?” The following characters are invalid as file or folder names on Windows using NTFS (New Technology File System) which took over from FAT as the primary file system being used in Windows:

/ ? < > \ : * | ”

Any character you can type with the Ctrl key. Most Alt Codes are also not permissible.

In addition to the above illegal characters, the caret ^ may also not be permitted in some Windows operating systems, those using the older FAT (File Allocation Table) system.

Also, don’t use # % & {   }@

These characters make files that can’t be opened on some operating systems, so even if your operating system allows these symbols, it is best to not use them.

One thing I learned the hard way is to be mindful of something called “Version Control.” Anyone who writes using both a laptop and a desktop machine will understand why this is still an issue, even when we save to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, or any cloud-based storage service.

The scenario: you went to the coffee shop to write, and suddenly realized you were running late for an appointment. You saved your file but forgot to close out, simply shutting your laptop and going home, forgetting your word processing program was still open. That evening you go to the PC (or Mac) in your regular writing space, open your file, and continue writing.

When you save it, you have created a “conflicted file.”

According to Dropbox’s website, there are three ways you can end up with conflicted files if you are using cloud storage.

A conflicted copy is a file that is created when multiple people have access to a shared file and edit the same file at the same time. There are three ways a conflicted copy can happen:

  • Two users change the same file at the same time

  • Someone edits a file offline while someone else edits the same file

  • A file is left open on another user’s computer, which Dropbox saves as a new edit—this is especially common when using applications with an auto-save feature

Note: The last version saved will always appear as the conflicted copy, with the user’s name, such as File_Name_Connie’s_conflicted_copy.

So, now we know why we who use cloud storage sometimes end up with conflicted files. But how do we consistently and professionally name our files so that we don’t inadvertently save over work we want to keep, but aren’t currently using?

First of all, if you are trying to “save as” and a dialog box pops up warning you a file already exists with that name, you should click on cancel and rename your new file, or you will lose the one you just saved over.

Before your novel is published, you may create several versions of your manuscript. I advise you manage your versions with meticulous care. Nothing hurts like losing files you have worked on for months. Even having to rewrite a section you just wrote is aggravating.

Name your files promptly and save often—two things that will save you a lot of heartache when you are deep into writing your novel.


Credits and Attributions

Dropbox Help Center, What’s a Conflicted Copy, https://www.dropbox.com/help/syncing-uploads/conflicted-copy accessed 30 October 2018.

Open File Cabinet 2 Clip Art, PD, via Clker.co, Free Clip Art. http://www.clker.com/clipart-open-file-cabinet.html accessed 30 October 2018.

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