The Jones Kerfuffle (and why we need a theme) #amwriting

I had intended to do a dissertation on the “Jones Kerfuffle” today, but the importance of theme also reared its head. So, here are the highlights of the Jones debate and the facts as presented by Merriam-Webster Online. (Theme follows Jones because we’re doing this alphabetically.)

  • You can visit the Jones family
  • You can go to the Jones’ house or the Jones’s
  • You can buy a boat from Bob Jones.
  • You can try keeping up with the Joneses, but the Smiths will out do you every time.

Merriam-Webster Online says:

The plurals of last names are just like the plurals of most nouns. They typically get formed by adding -s. Except, that is, if the name already ends in s or z. Then the plural is formed by adding -es.

the Smith clan → the Smiths

Jill and Sam Clarence → the Clarences

Mr. and Mrs. Jones → the Joneses

the Fernandez family → the Fernandezes

But what about adding an apostrophe s to names ending in s? Like Jones?

Merriam-Webster Online also uses “Jones” as their example:

For names that end in an s or z sound, though, you can either add -‘s or just an apostrophe. Going with -‘s is the more common choice:

The car that belongs to Jones → Jones’s car or Jones’ car.

You can borrow Bob Jones’s lawnmower. Yes, I did add an s after the apostrophe because casual is how I roll. You can borrow Bob Jones’ lawnmower if you wish to be technically correct and formal about it. Whichever you choose, be consistent.

Now, with that out of the way let’s talk about snow and theme.

Where I live, we’re just digging out of three weeks’ worth of a hard winter. We had a huge amount of snow fall in the Pacific Northwest, over 25 inches (we rarely get more than 8). For the space of nearly three weeks, it seemed as if the snowpocalypse had happened. Our back garden was hit quite hard—some of our older more well-established plants may have to be removed.

People were taken by surprise here, and some of their stories made good Facebook posts. The lack of road noise and occasional loss of the internet was quite conducive to my getting some writing done.

During those dark, quiet days, I managed to revamp a story that I had been unable to sell. I submitted it to an anthology, and the editor liked it. In that experience I discovered why I couldn’t find a home for it: there was no underlying theme to unify it.

I loved the characters and the setting, but somehow the original story fell flat. The first rejection had said it was too dark, too sad. So, I tried to brighten it up.

The next rejection said only that it didn’t have enough romance. As it was a story of a man dealing with his ex-wife, I thought they had missed the point.

But actually, they hadn’t—I had. What I didn’t see was there was no particular theme giving the story direction. It was merely a tale of love lost.

When I pulled it out and dusted it off for this attempt, I had to reshape it to fit a themed anthology. That is when I realized there was a glaring opportunity for romance, just not with the two people I thought the story was about.

When I had that epiphany and applied the theme, it became a story of emancipation from the past.

Once I had that awakening, I fell in love with that story all over again. The story that emerged was the one that my subconscious muse must have wanted all along. It just  hadn’t communicated that to me.

My subconscious muse is like that—stubborn, refusing to speak, expecting me to just know what it’s thinking.

Theme is a subtle aspect of any written work. It is rarely stated in a bald fashion, but even if it isn’t obvious, theme is a unifying thread that goes through the story from beginning to end.

We write so many short stories, and some find good homes in anthologies and other publications, and others don’t. When the story is good enough but “lacking something” indefinable, even the members of our writing group may not see why a particular story isn’t working.

I have been sharply reminded to take a good look at how strong the underlying theme is when a story doesn’t work. Theme is the foundation the story rests on.

Credits and Attributions:

Why is it “Socrates’ Deathbed” but “Dickens’s Novels”? A guide to names in their plural and possessive forms by Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary copyright © 2015 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

George Henry Durrie, Hunter in Winter Wood, Public Domain


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2 responses to “The Jones Kerfuffle (and why we need a theme) #amwriting

  1. Stephen Swartz

    If I may… The problem exists also for the Swartzes.

    Liked by 1 person