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Monday, May 25, 2015

Week 21 Use Dashes For Dashing Effect

The Dash is Brash by Valerie Ipson

It's only May, but the only dash-- references I can come up with are Christmas-related...Now Dasher! Now Dancer!..." or "Dashing through the snow..."

I think that means we need to jump right into the lesson.

I love WEEK 21! Maybe because I love dashes. (Have you read IDEAL HIGH? Yep! Full of dashes.)

Dashes were mentioned last week in the lesson on punctuation: "Use dashes to mark abrupt changes in thought or the flow of a sentence," then Stephen Wilbers gives them an entire lesson of their own. He begins with a simple definition as found in Strunk & White's Elements of Style: "A dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parenthesis."

I just want to focus on the first part. Commas do their thing by causing a slight hesitation, but a dash? It makes you take some notice.

EXAMPLE: Authors write for the time in which they live, and for the ages. Exchange the comma for a dash and see if it changes the sentence for you: Authors write for the time in which they live--and for the ages. It adds just a nice amount of emphasis, doesn't it?

Check your writing to see if you are using dashes correctly--to mark abrupt changes in thought or for added emphasis.

[Apologies! Apparently, I don't know how to make an em dash in Blogger. :/]

Monday, May 18, 2015

Week 20 Punctuate May 18, 2015

Week 20

Punctuate for Emphasis
by Peggy Urry

If any of you have been around teenagers for any length of time, you know all about emphasis: thinly disguised as drama.

In writing we can use punctuation to emphasize. As young writers, we may become enthusiastic about the mighty exclamation mark and the attention it draws to our point. However, we learn that the exclamation is best used sparingly. But having a few good punctuation marks in your arsenal broadens your ability to add emphasis without an exclamation.

Let's take periods, dashes, ellipses, and colons and look at how they enable us to add emphasis to our writing.

The period (British call it a full stop) is sometimes overlooked, but consider how a fragment with a period adds emphasis: "You need to quit procrastinating, so sit down and write your first draft. Now." Or create a rhythm in a series of short sentences: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."1

Wilbers suggests the following:

Use dashes to mark abrupt changes in thought or the flow of a sentence.

Use ellipses not only to mark text omitted in a direct quote, but also to indicate a trailing off of thought or a troubled pause.

Use a colon to introduce something that follows (as I have done with this list).

Here are some examples from The Archer's Hollow:

"Trolls. Very. Nasty. Trolls," he said fiercely.

They would then be the ones to look down their noses with disdain at the previous court and its servants--if any were left.

"When they could catch me...but they rarely did."

Replace a punctuation mark in the following sentences with a period, a dash, and a colon, but not in that order.

   a. This is the difference between scenery and place. Scenery is something you have merely looked at; place is something you have experienced.

   b. Grammar is a piano I play by ear, and all I know about grammar is its power.

   c. My thoughts are like waffles. The first few don't look so good.2

1 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 108

2 Mastering the Craft of Writing, Wilbers, pg 110-111

TAMARA: This is a good breakdown of when to use periods, dashes, ellipses, etc. I am wondering though, Peggy, your example of a fragment with a period seems to be a pointed directive for me! Yes, I do need to quit procrastinating and write my rough draft. Now.  

VALERIE: Commas weren't mentioned which scares me a little. Does that mean I have to discuss them in next week's lesson? 

:(! Does the exclamation point apply here? Yes. It. Does. 

*pauses to go look* 

Whew. The next lesson is on dashes. That's a good one for me because I tend to go a little dash-happy when I write.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Week 19 Avoid Mid-Sentence Shifts

Week 19
By Tamara Passey

Change is good. You've heard that before, right? Change can also be hard. Like when a certain cosmetic company discontinues your favorite color of lipstick--without giving you advance notice--so you can't buy a lifetime supply of the color you love. I won't name names. Some changes are necessary, but even then, there is a proper time and place for change. Here is a big hint: that place is not in the middle of a sentence.

Wilbers compares mid-sentence shifts to jumping off a train before it has pulled into the station. Or in some cases 'jumping abruptly to one train of thought to another.' 1

I may or may not be guilty of this. But thankfully for me, and other thought-jumpers like me, Wilbers breaks down the most common mid-sentence shifts to avoid.

1. Shifts in verb tense. If you start in present, stay in the present. If you start in the past, stay in the past. If you don't know what tense you are in...ask your nearest writerly friend.
2. Shifts in person. 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person. Stay consistent (like the advice, 'dance with the one that brought you') I, you, we, they, etc.
3. Shifts in subject. This one gets tricky for me so here is an example: "Although some people consistently arrive on time, there are others who do not" should read "Although some people consistently arrive on time, others do not."
4. Shifts in voice. This refers to active voice and passive voice. And that discussion could take several blog posts. To sum up: active voice is where the subject performs the action and passive voice is where the subject receives  the action.
5. Shifts in modified subject. Here is the example: "When pickled, I think herring tastes like caviar" should read "When pickled, herring tastes like caviar to me." Why the change? In the first sentence, the reader is imagining what you look and smell like pickled. Yes, be careful with your subjects and don't change them mid-sentence!

Stay on track. Keep your sentences from shifting and your reader will be better able to follow your train of thought.

1. MTC, p. 103

Monday, May 4, 2015


by Valerie Ipson

There's a simple equation for today's lesson: "Distance determines effort. The longer the distance between subject and verb, the harder your reader must work." MTC 1 italics added

You're right, the lesson is kind of a no-brainer. Readers won't get the meaning of your sentence until they make a subject-verb connection. They want/need to know who is doing something and what they're doing. Throw in all the fluff and puff you want (within reason), but it's the subject/verb that gives the you something to sink your teeth into. [I could type out some very, extremely-lengthy examples, but I won't. Check out mastering the Craft's Lesson 18 and you'll find some.]

But as with any writing rule, RULES ARE MADE TO BE BROKEN! EVEN THIS ONE! Consider that sometimes an INTENTIONAL delay works because it creates emphasis. Example: "The tall, skinny man, who had just polished off three double cheeseburgers, two large fries, and a super-sized soda, ordered another round." MTC 2

That's a whole lot of fast-food calories in between man and ordered, but the sentence works.

MTC, 1: p.97
MTC 2: p. 98

Tamara: And I thought I was the only one that included food pictures in my posts. I have no idea why this analogy popped into my head as I read your post, but I thought of couples ice skating in the Olympics, where they have strict rules about how far away from each other they can be. Maybe I need to start thinking of my verbs and subjects that way. Except for the allowable, dramatic moves of course!