Commas (Part 1)
Grammar. I know what some are thinking. I see it in threads on social media. I see people turning their noses at us grammar "snobs" and saying things such as "grammar is the editor's job." Sure, you'll have an editor, and you may chide me and say "grammar isn't everything" and be partially right, but if you're trying to get picked up by an agents or publishers, remember they get loads of amazing stories queried to them weekly. Put yourself in their shoes. You have two equally amazing manuscripts in your hands, but one needs a lot of work grammatically and the other simply needs a couple quick passes with an editor. Which client would you take on? The point is, no matter how great your story is, you want it to shine above others. It would be vain for us authors to think our work is so much better than others that we need not worry about grammar rules. I also know from teaching experience that people who have poor grammar often do not realize how hard it is to be understood by others. If agents cannot understand portions in the first few pages, they won't read on. They have piles of amazing books to sift through.
So if you're still with me after my professorial lecture, we'll overview commas today. But this is only a start. Oh yes, these puppies will take us several blogs to master.
Commas can be tricky. They are probably the most difficult grammar issue out there to master due to all the rules. I teach English at a university, including grammar, and I am a published writer, and I forget commas all the time. The trick is to stop worrying about them in the first draft. When you are at that stage where content and sentences are set, and you're basically copyediting, that is when you should worry about the dreaded comma (or other strictly grammar-related issues). Don't hinder your ideas by worrying about grammar in the beginning.
First the rules (US English). Here are the do and don't rules without all the nasty jargon most grammar sites rely on (this is not a complete list of every single comma rule, but the ones generally agreed upon and commonly found in writing)
DO use a comma...
1. To separate lists
2. For places and dates
3. To join two sentences (only if they are joined properly with FANBOYS)*
4. After an introductory phrase
5. To offset parenthetical "asides"
6. Between adjectives that don't relate before a noun
7. Before you shift into quoting
And the hardest rule of them all...
8. Whenever it's needed--shift in content, needed pause, or to offset interjections, contrasting elements, direct addresses to reader/person--yeah, lots of wiggle room with this one. In short, put it in if it cannot make sense without one.
DON'T use a comma
1. To create a parenthetical around essential phrases
2. Between your subject and verb
3. Between a compound subject or compound verb
4. Directly after other punctuation
5. To link 2 sentences together (without FANBOYS)*
No one expects anyone to be able to remember all the rules and get every comma right (unless you insist on editing your own book which is probably not a good idea). Editors will find comma problems, but knowing how to use most of these can increase your chances of getting published. Copying this list down and reviewing it when you edit could help dramatically. Eventually, they become an unconscious skill.
In the future, I'll dive into the more difficult of these rules in more detail. Stay tuned.
Reading with Dyslexia
Reading with Dyslexia is more than an easy-to-understand guide to dyslexia in that it covers many issues that may hinder all readers. It is a must-read reference for anyone who struggles with reading or knows someone who does.
This book is chock full of psychological information explained in a way the everyday person can understand and learn from. Psychology being my hobby, some of this was a nice refresher and some was completely new to me. I never had someone exemplify dyslexia to me in such an easy way to grasp--showing me what it is like. Every parent of a dyslexic child should read this to gain this hands-on experience that differentiates how our brains work when it comes to looking at words. This book is focused on the theory of understanding HOW people think differently and using their strengths to help them, which has been proven to work with many cognitive conditions.
Even though I was looking at exercises for my child who needs help with handwriting and sensory issues and not dyslexia, so much clicked and made sense about my son and myself. The title is a little misleading because this book is for anyone who has attention issues, autism, sensory issues, or even restless kids who don't want to sit and read. Just like many of these conditions can overlap, this comprehensive book covers it all in an easy-to-read, user friendly way. Exercises are given for all types of issues. I tried some out--feeling a bit silly as an adult--but boy I laughed later at how focused I was. As adults, we sometimes forget what worked for us as children. A simple exercise that employs the mind and body simultaneously can completely realign your attention span in just minutes. Aside from the amazing science and exercises that work, the book uses several narratives about certain learning issues and which exercises helped so parents can align their child's needs with the proper exercises. There are testimonials as well that emphasize how well these quick exercises work, and there are multiple plans to follow depending on the problem and age of the dyslexic person.
In all, this book is for anyone who is affected by dyslexia, or helping someone who is, as well as any reading, handwriting, or sensory issues that disrupt concentration.
You can purchase this book here.
Tips for Writers:
Alpha, Beta, and
For as far as I have gotten in the industry, it's pretty amazing that I didn't know what these terms were. Only, I found out I did know and do use them, just disguised as friends and family who give me feedback before revisions, and then before edits.
Here's the break down and my experiences with them.
Alpha: as the word entails, this is your first ever reader of a rough draft. They are to tell you their likes and dislikes, what works or doesn't. Usually, you should select someone close who can be honest but give you a kind delivery of criticism. They look for continuity issues, major plot holes, point out unanswered questions and such.
I don't have an alpha, or more like I only use a beta, meaning I do not send it out to anyone until it is revised and has a quick edit. I put it away and come back with fresh eyes and critique it myself making notes of what doesn't work, inconsistencies, character issues, etc. This is hard to do in an unbiased way, but I am my harshest critic, so I tend to do pretty well. However, I doubt anyone in the publishing world would suggest what I do. I have degrees in literature, teach grammar, am well read, and spent my life analyzing and teaching texts. Although I'm far from perfect, and cannot see my own mistakes, most of them are at a sentence level or my beta finds any global issues.
Beta: after you've revised and edited at least once, you move to a beta reader which is someone who reads your book from the perspective of your average reader. Like the alpha, they point out strengths and weakness in a supportive way. They are the second line of defense. After that, you revise and edit again and hope it is ready for querying.
I've got a friend who does this, but she goes overboard and is my first editor who is aware of my weaknesses (dialogue tags, word repetition, mixing up names, etc.). She's candid, helpful, and is an avid reader who knows what she likes and what does well in most of the genres I write. She also brings more out of me. Asks me questions, tells me what she wants to see, asks me to build my world and details more. She basically helps me get what is in my imagination onto the page because not everything makes it the first couple goes. My mom reads it as well and tells me what she liked. Since moms can't be unbiased, I read between the lines--whatever she doesn't rave about, I try to make stronger.
Most professionals will tell you to use between 3-10 betas. I have done that twice to my detriment and trying to undo the changes I made from their suggestions. A lot of betas is not bad advice, but I have the inability to weigh what they say and want to please everyone. Neither time did I get a consensus of advice, nothing lined up, and my head spun. I used the pattern above of just my two betas and those two got publishing deals, the other two did not. But this is probably just me. Maybe next time, I'll try three.
Sensitivity: like a alpha or beta, a sensitivity reader is reading and looking for things that work or do not work but through a particular lens. They will make sure that you are representing a group of people unlike yourself fairly without stereotyping or being offensive--a different race, sexual orientation, or if you have disabled characters or discuss a controversial issue you are worried could be taken the wrong way.
I have only recently embarked on writing a contemporary romance with social issues. I have only just started but already questioning myself. I'll be dealing with issues I have a lot of first-hand experience with but from an outsider's perspective, meaning I'm not diagnosed with the disabilities I wish to write about. You better believe I'm having a sensitivity reader go through it. Recent events where an author pulled her 6-figure-deal novel from publication for revisions due to test readers being upset by depictions of slavery is a stark reminder of the sensitive world we live in, and no one wants bad reviews or to upset people.
So the question is, do you need all these types of readers? My opinion is it can't hurt. And if you are planning to self publish, I'd say the more the merrier because you don't get all the filtering and editing publishers do for the traditionally published authors. Betas can be your line of defense. I also suggest arming yourself with these readers if you've gotten a lot of requests for full manuscripts, but no offers. There might be something you're overlooking only an outside reader can see. Basically, it can't hurt as long as you're NOT like me and take everyone's advice. Weigh things carefully. But hey, lesson learned in the end.
YA Book Review:
The Rare, by Diane Anthony, is just that: a rare find. It is a YA story full of social issues regarding mental health weaved into an interesting tapestry of blended genres.
The story begins with Olivia (Liv) Sloane waking up after a failed suicide attempt and then her grueling stint in a mental health hospital. Losing the will to live is directly related to her terrible health, lack of quality of life, bullying, and poor familial relationships. The only person who she has a meaningful relationship with is her buddy in the unhealthy trenches: David. David has a wild dream to flee the city because he wants answers or to see there is somewhere better than a city with fences, thick fog, and killer-acid rain. Only when they do escape, everything they've ever known about themselves and the world they live in is called into question.
The multi-genre plot is refreshing. There are hints of social issues concerning bullying and suicide, Sci-fi/paranormal elements (can't explain that one without spoilers), action-adventure, dystopian, mystery, and little glimmers of a future romance. Although the suicide is the opening and is a bit of a downer, the book isn't as dark throughout. Anthony wisely begins after the act, and as readers we do need to see Liv at her lowest if we want to see character growth. The plot is great, but readers should know they are not getting a stand-alone novel, as it abruptly ends. Needless to say, the cliffhanger makes me want more, so it works wonderfully. I think as a whole series, it will be fantastic. I'm excited to see where it will go next. Thematically, it is impressive too: the symbolism of her nickname "Liv" = the desire to "live" is just one of many deeper meanings. This is truly a--although unconventional--coming of age story of strength, hope, and growth.
What truly truly carries the book are the characters. Liv is well-rounded, not at all a YA stereotype, but your realistic, average teenage girl. Her mental health issues are told in a way that are not melodramatic, but numb, making the whole situation easier to read about and hauntingly realistic. Watching her transition out of her darkest hour is an astounding journey. David, despite his poor health, is a ray of sunshine, optimistic and sweet. His transition (being purposely vague here) is interesting as well as Liv's observations about him. Together, they balance the mood of the book. I wasn't a fan of Liv's mother, with her unloving, selfish, immature, inconsistent behavior, and overall terrible treatment of Liv, but acknowledge it's necessary for Liv to agree to run away, for her character arc, and as another underlying reason behind the suicide attempts. Other characters that crop up vary in their realistic temperaments, personalities, and are consistent throughout, so I have to assume Liv's mother's mental instability and inconsistent character are purposeful and will better explained in later books. In this book, her mother is shrouded in mystery which works for now.
Overall, the book is an interesting, genre-bending read that takes readers on a roller coaster of emotions, all while being entertaining. The only hitch I found is that I have unanswered questions, but that was craftily done to hook me into the series.
You can purchase this book here.
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