Monday’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week (KAPOW)

Last week’s blog post was about usage of parentheses, ellipses and dashes, and the pitfalls of overuse.  This week’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week is to write a piece incorporating all three punctuation marks in less than 100 words.  I don’t know about you but whenever I write with that kind of punctuation, it tends to be closer to the side of fluff or juvenile sass.  I’m going to work at avoiding that this time.  Still thinking about how.  For the purposes of this challenge you may use whatever form you like.

I’m really hoping you decide to submit your answer to the challenge; I’d really like to see what you come up with.  Send your submissions to caroljgorden@gmail.com and I’ll post them as soon as possible.  The current week’s submissions will be on the KAPOW Submissions page and when the next week’s challenge is posted, those from the week before will move to the sub-page for that month.

Ready?  Set.  Write!

 

HOWL

by C J Gorden

Trying to slow his breathing (and thereby his pounding heart) he started counting breaths – three in, four out, three in, four out …  He was fairly quivering with anticipation as he peered down the path through the crisp, heart-shaped green leaves of the foliage where he was hiding.  She had refused him, called him a player, a wolf.  Twit.  He could have changed for her, but not now.  He was about to give her what she expected.  Catching a glimpse of her red hoodie coming down the path, his heart pounded anew.  Awrrrrrrooooo …

Advertisements

Parentheses, ellipses and dashes, oh my!

I have to admit to a love affair with the three versatile punctuation marks in this post’s title.  But like too many love affairs, this one is driven by undemanding attraction, convenience and an avaricious need for immediate gratification.  Mind you there is a place for such pleasures.  What I’m finding out is that given further effort and a deeper goal, the written word can be deeply satisfying and more in-depth.

Let me explain.  More and more what I’m reading is rife with said punctuation.  The writing is cute, flashy and trendy.  Like I said, there is a place for that.  If I’m writing a piece that’s short and sassy, cute, flashy and trendy may be just what I want.  If, however, I’m writing a piece that aspires to win the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature or a Pulitzer, limiting the use of such razzle-dazzle would probably be prudent.  I know, I know, winning a Nobel or a Pulitzer is not the goal of writing.  I’m just trying to show the pendulum swing from ditzy prose (which I occasionally write on purpose) to Literature (notice the capital “L”.)  While it grates my last nerve when people discuss literature as if it has a capital “L” and does not include genre or speculative fiction, I’m using it to make my point – which I then had to qualify.  Yeah.  That will probably be another post.

I was watching the past season of  The Voice at Hulu.com.  I never seem to be in front of the television at the right time, so I try and watch The Voice, America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent on the computer.  I love those shows but sometimes I get bored and play solitaire or Mahjongg at the same time – or even (gasp) click through the rehash parts and the yadda-yadda-yadda.  My point is that when the coaches work with the contestants, they invariably tell them their remarkable abilities to warble and hit Cloud Nine with vocal temerity is admirable, but it has more impact if it’s done less often.  The point of delivering a song is to impact, not merely impress the listener.  Impress them and they go “Oooooh.  Wish I could sing like that.”  Impact them and they go “Oooooh.  Where can I buy that?”

I looked up the ins and outs of usage for each of these punctuation marks and more, but I don’t have room in this post to recap it for you.  So here’s your homework:  Look it up yourself.  I’ll even supply some reference sites.

There are proper and improper ways to go about even a relationship based on infatuation.  Really.

Here’s what I found:

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/dashes-parentheses-commas.aspx

http://www.myenglishteacher.net/dashes.html

http://www.uhv.edu/ac/newsletters/writing/grammartip2005.10.25.htm

http://darcknyt.deviantart.com/journal/Dots-and-Dashes-The-Em-Dash-and-Ellipsis-214173994

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/ellipsis.aspx

http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/how-to-use-ellipses.aspx

The advisability of specificity

Writing is comprised of words that can elicit numberless responses.  Conveying boredom is good, creating it in the reader, not so good.  One thing to strive for is specificity.  In other words, don’t be vague.  Many years ago my job was to conduct surveys, everything from store questionnaires about coffee can labels to door-to-door questions about magazine ads.  What I learned from that job has been invaluable ever since.  I learned to recognize and not settle for vague words.  If the survey subject said something was “nice” I asked them in what way it was nice.  If they said something made them feel good, I asked in what way it made them feel good.

For example “wonderful,” “lovely” and “depression” are vague words.  They convey states of mind, but not in a way that elicits a picture or an emotion.  They’re descriptive, but not evocative.  Whenever I asked someone to be more specific they invariably replied with a phrase or a simile.  “It wasn’t just wonderful, it made me forget where I was and unable to keep the smile off my face.  It made my body thrum and my mind sing.”  “It wasn’t just lovely it made a jewel-toned sunrise over the desert pale by comparison.  Her face was so lovely she made my knees weak and left me tongue-tied.”  “The middle of a newly formed glassy-sided depression the size of a football field made me feel like I was standing in a cereal bowl waiting to drown in Paul Bunyan’s Breakfast of Champions and milk.  This in turn created in me a depression that felt like the lights had been dimmed and I was standing on the lip of a bottomless chasm that was sucking me over the edge.”

Another way to evoke a response is by involving the senses.  So it smelled bad.  Did it make you wrinkle your nose and clap your hand over it? (touch) Was it acrid like burned hair? (smell)  Did it stick to the back of your tongue like rotting swamp grass? (taste)  Did it remind you of the hiss you heard the last time you smelled it? (hearing) Was it so strong you could almost see the fumes hanging in the air like misty tendrils of death? (sight)

I recently read Hush by Cherry Adair.  One of her descriptive phrases (of which she has plenty) made me laugh out loud – in the literal way, not the LOL way:  “Acadia’s gaze skittered away like spit on a griddle.”  That description brought several senses popping into my head.  I loved it!

What are some examples of specificity from your writing or from something you’ve read?

Is life getting in the way?

I’ve been having a heart to heart with myself as of late.  Maybe heart to mind would be more accurate.  They argue a lot.  Sometimes I feel like the all encompassing “me” just takes a back seat and listens:

“There is no excuse for missing an entire month without a blog entry.”

“Wrongo.  There are lots of reasons.  The grandkids were sick, and I needed to help out with them, hubby got sick.  Then I got sick, for crying out loud.  How can I write a blog post when I can’t sleep for coughing and can’t get more than a minute and a half away from the bathroom?  Now that I’m well we’re several states away for a funeral.  How can I work now?”

“Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Heard it all before.  When you were working for a weekly paycheck you worked when you were sick.  You also just found out your iPhone works as a mobile hot spot and had it turned on.”

See?  I don’t even need outside input to get into an argument.  This kind of internal dialog would become more positive if I channeled it from internal conflict into resolve which moves into action.  So that’s what I did, and now here I am writing this post.  Tomorrow we’re off to visit another Florida relative and while I’m there (and not pressed into service working on Mom’s computer) I plan to finish that short story epilog so I can start editing.

Progress.

I am in a couple of writing groups and a few forums.  (Wouldn’t that be fori?  Hah!  Just looked it up – forums or fora.  Who knew?)  Ahem.  The groups and forums – I hear so many times (and am guilty myself) that people stopped writing because life got in the way.  They used to write, then they had kids.  They used to write, but then went to college.  The phrase they invariably use is “life got in the way.”  My focus on words what it is, I finally had to look closer.  In my case my priorities changed and my self confidence couldn’t keep up.  The end result was that I got in my way.  It was me.  I remember overhearing my husband talking to someone who saw something I’d made.  It was something crafty, I think a reverse decoupaged and painted glass bowl.   He said, “I don’t know how she finds the time to do things like that, but she always does.”  That stuck in the back of my mind.  At the time I had three kids, and two of them were pre-school.  It wasn’t lack of time or energy that kept me from writing.  It was me, for whatever reason.

Now that I’m committed to writing and several people are convincing me I’m good enough to be published, I need to channel that internal dialog into resolve and action:

Blog post – check

Short story ending – by the end of the week

Novel Part I first full edit – by the end of the month

Novel Part II first draft – NaNoWriAgain – heck, that’s how I did the first half

Grammar – Use it or lose it

I get a paycheck to answer calls for an answering service while I wait to be added to the best seller’s list – any best seller’s list – and I am lucky enough to be able to work from home.  You wouldn’t think of this as a job writing, but when it comes right down to it, writing is a big part of it.  I listen to callers then translate what they say into a message to be read by the client.  How it reads reflects on the company and on me.  If the grammar is just plain bad, it isn’t professional.  But even in the venue of professional message-taking, sometimes cutting grammatical corners is prudent – like when the client prefers brevity over detail.  Even then, I still have to get the message across (pun intended) in an understandable and concise manner.  In that case, a conscious bending of grammatical rules is also professional.  The key word is “conscious” as opposed to “accidental” or “ignorant.”

In fiction writing, the same broad rules apply.  It behooves us to know the basic rules of grammar so when we bend them it’s clearly artist’s license and not a gaffe.  I have a lot of tolerance for typos in what I read, but not so much for grammar so bad it’s unprofessional.

One of my grammatical pet peeves is the overuse of sentence fragments.  I’m seeing them more and more in main-stream fiction – books on the New York Times Best Seller’s List for heaven’s sake.  I don’t mind an occasional sentence fragment that punctuates a point or an emotion, but they shouldn’t take the place of punctuation.  We’re artists, yes, but we’re also the freaking professionals, people!  I say our fiction should reflect both.  It’s all about balance.  Taking a deep breath and climbing down off my soapbox now.

I started writing a column about grammar for my work newsletter.  It’s pretty tongue-in-cheek, but informative, too.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned doing the research for that column!  I thought I had a pretty good handle on the usage of my native language.  Au contraire.  The first stop when researching for my column or whenever I have a question or problem pertaining to writing is Grammar Girl.  I even have her app on my phone.  I highly recommend it.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t object to an occasional sentence fragment, just the unnecessary overuse of them.  Really.

I shared mine, now you share yours.  Speak up or forever hold your peeves!

%d bloggers like this: