Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Let Us Use Our Little Gray Cells Today!

Me: "Why, thank you for the introduction, Masseur Poirot."
Masseur Poirot: "Bon. You are very welcome, Mademoiselle Urban."
Me: "I'm so glad you're here with us today!"
Masseur Poirot: "Réellement? Ah, I am flattered. Any way I can help."
Me: "Merci! Although I don't do much writing in the way of mysteries and crime-solving, I would like to employ the use of those--"
Masseur Poirot: "Little gray cells, madam?"
Me: "Yes!"
Masseur Poirot: [nods] "Oui, madam. Continue."

Recently, I've been editing some posts for a friend. He has some great stories to tell about his medical illnesses, but upon reading this aspiring writer's struggles, I realized there are some aspects of writing which many people may not know. 

I suppose I'll skip the part about the difference between "there," "they're," and "their" as well as when to use parentheses and semicolons. Those are regulations every writer should be well-versed in before they begin their long trek through the rejection and sludge and tears and heartache and--

Masseur Poirot: [clears throat] "Excuse me, madam, but I think you may want to...se hâter."

Me: "Right...sorry. I'm on it."
Masseur Poirot: "Perhaps you should begin with titles, Mademoiselle."
Me: "Thank you."


Those lovely little descriptions that give the reader a tantalizing taste of what your novel, poem, short story, or non-fiction book is about. When writing, we can often use titles within our sentences to prove points, offer examples, cite references, etc. 

Now, titles are always in italics. Unless you have absolutely no way to make something italicized, you can use quotes. However, "quotes" are typically used in dialogue.

Quotes and When to Use a Comma

Since we're on the subject... Quotes are usually used in dialogue. But a common problem I've been seeing when editing is that some may not know when or how to use a comma with quotes. Below are some examples:

Propping a hand on one slender hip, she said, “Accounting is for nerds and ugly people.” Comma goes after “said” and before the quotes begin.

“No, you’re a beautiful swan,” he replied. Comma follows the last word of the dialogue and is placed before the end quote when a “said tag” is used. 

“He’s working.” I turned back to the word document. Comma does not exist if an action follows the dialogue.

As a side note, when quoting from a source or reference, the quotes (I've noticed recently) sit outside the punctuation. For instance: I always thought of myself as "good." This is my opinion, but I don't like this. I was taught and raised to believe that the quotes go inside the punctuation if you're citing something. Punctuation goes inside only in dialogue. I'm not entirely sure when this changed; all I know is that it has.

Masseur Poirot: "You have excellent dialogue, Mademoiselle."

Me: "Why, thank you, Masseur Poirot."
Masseur Poirot: "They remind me of real people."

Which is the point. Let's keep moving.


This is a bit of a gray area in terms of writing. Recently, I've seen a few fiction books come out in which the narrator uses present tense to describe actions. To be honest, I am so used to reading in past tense, that seeing something in present throws me off. Often, I've found myself unable to finish the story. Examples are below:

I look up at my roommate and best friend. Her golden hair shines in the fading orange light of the sun poking through the blinds. 
I lean back in my chair and frown. “This sucks.”

I looked up at my roommate and best friend. Her golden hair shone in the fading orange light of the sun poking through the blinds. 
I leaned back in my chair and frowned. “This sucks.”

To me, past tense makes more sense because whatever has been written has already happened. Present tense gives the sense that the reader is reading the actions as they happen, which throws the whole thing off kilter. Then again, this is only my opinion. It's common practice to write in past tense, but it's really up to interpretation.


My personal favorite party-ruiners. In recent months, I have noted a change in the way ellipses are used. Just as with "quotes," I have come to find out that when you use the "..." anywhere, there is not always a space after the last period and the next word.  If it’s cutting a sentence into two, you space and capitalize after the last period. I.E. “Well... She’s my sister!” or “Yeah... That’s dumb...” But if it’s part of the same sentence, you want to negate the space and capitalization. I.E. “She’s a...a wraith!”  or “She just...threw the keys out the window!”

Masseur Poirot: "A wraith, Mademoiselle?!"

Me: "Don't worry, Masseur Poirot, it's only in the book. There's really no such thing."
Masseur Poirot: "Bon. Of course."


I'm told that ALL CAPS are a big no-no in manuscripts. Anything which is construed as yelling or emphasizing requires italics again. And again, if you do not have access to italics, please use quotes.

Masseur Poirot: "I tip my hat to you, Mademoiselle. I may be Hercule Poirot, the most sought after private detective, but you are excellent with words."

Me: "Thank you very much, Masseur Poirot. And thank you for being our guest today in using our little gray cells."
Masseur Poirot: "You are quite welcome. Where can I read more from you?"

On Amazon! Healer and A Cure for the Condition are both available for Kindle and Paperback. Just do a quick search for my name (Ami Urban), and you'll find them!

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