Friday, 29 August 2014

Colon Usage: Non-semicolon usage

Colons are misunderstood pieces of punctuation. They have several uses: to start lists like this one, to show elaborations, and to introduce quotes or examples. The main issue which sticks its foot out and trips up writer in the corridors is the difference between semicolons (;) and colons (:).

Many writers seem to opt for a semicolon without realising the difference. Whilst colons are less common, they are very different from semicolons and cannot be used interchangeably. Take a look at this example:

Samantha knew there was only one biscuit left: the digestive.

In this example, the second section is used to elaborate on the first. The digestive is the same biscuit as the one referred to in the first clause. The link is direct rather than implied, and the second clause is incomplete.

However, when the second clause is complete and of a substantial length, you may want to consider capitalizing the first letter after the colon.

There was only one question on Samantha’s mind: Who had pinched her biscuits, and when would they pay?

The structure is still the same as the first example. The first part works as an introduction and the second part elaborates further. Now take a look at how a semicolon is used.

Samantha knew there was only one biscuit left; the packet would be empty soon. 

In the second example, there are several differences. The second clause is complete and could stand alone as a separate sentence, but it is not capitalized. You could also remove the semicolon and put in a connective like ‘and’, which cannot be done to the prior two examples. Lastly, there is only an implied link between the first and second clause.

Both pieces of punctuation methods should be limited in novels. Click here for more info on why and how to reduce them.  Oh, and sometimes when writers use commas, they actually mean to use semicolons. Ever heard of a comma splice? No? Click here.

A Quick Note about Lists in Novels

Colons have a few more usages which can come across as very formal. In novels, it’s better to avoid formal structure unless you've got a good reason to. If you've written a sentence in a way that needs to use a colon, it’s usually best to rephrase. Consider the following example:

The following were permitted: thing one, thing two, and thing three.

Thing one, thing two, and thing three were permitted.

The second is far more appropriate for most novels. If you find yourself using the first example over the second, well, I hope you know what you're doing.

Cheers for reading!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

How To Get The Most Out Of Writing Sites

So you've posted your work online but the response isn't quite what you expected? Or maybe you're getting lots of reads when what you really want is help honing your craft? If you’re serious about writing and want to make the best of the online help available, then take a look at these tips:

Firstly, forget hearts, likes, votes, and shelf space

They are tiny rewards, like winning a game of Candy Crush. You’re in it from the long haul, right? You want to know how to develop your writing and put smiles on faces, so ask for critiques rather than comments or likes.

Also avoid ‘I will give you super harsh critic

Even if they had written ‘critique’, you’re not looking for harsh criticism. You’re looking for constructive criticism or an honest read.

Advertise to your audience (age and genre)

Swapping with anyone who wants a read can get you going. However, the only readers which really matter, are your general audience. It’s no good when someone start a comment with ‘It’s not my thing, but’. They’re not your target audience, and they’re not the ones buying the book.

Offer a cracking critique

First, actually read the thing. Next, avoid unoriginal and vague comments like ‘show don’t tell’ because it can mean a number of things and the writer probably can't improve off of that. Instead tell them specific lines that stood out to you, and try to pinpoint why. Oh, and always pick out the lines you like, too. Not only will they trust your criticism more, they will feel like you've really read it.

If you don’t understand a critic, then ask

There seems to be a ‘don’t talk back to the critic’ attitude, which doesn’t make any sense. But I don’t mean chew their ear off, either. Make sure they know your intentions are to understand them, not to berate or even change their minds. Ask politely ‘I don’t understand why you said XYZ but I’d like to’ or ‘Could you be more specific about this point, as I’m not sure what you meant’.

Read critiques twice

Sometimes the first read stings. Go to sleep, have a snack or something, then come back and read it again. Maybe it’s actually the change you need.

Spend some time making friends

Hang around in forums, get involved in groups, and even offer a free read here and there. There are a lot of great writers out there. Go find them.

Use more than one website

Each site has different strengths, different weaknesses. Explore your options, but make one site your main writing hub so that your novel is easier to accumulate followers for. I’ll be doing a review of the top writing sites soon for those of you who aren't sure where to post your work.

Cheers for reading!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

But, Damn It, I Love You Sentence

Ever written the best sentence in the world, except the rest of the world seems to hate it?

Yeah, it happens to us all. You think it's witty or interesting, clever or metaphorical, but they think it’s purple prose, confusing, or just don't know what you're on about. The painful thing about writing is that sometimes you have to be selective for the sake of clarity or conciseness.

If you can relate, take a breath and read through these options.

1) Let it go. If your audience has responded negatively to it, then they don’t want it. And you may be writing this book for your children, or best friend, or to prove something to yourself, but you’re also writing it for an audience and that should forever be in your mind.

2) Keep it. Proofreading and reading for comprehension are two completely different processes. You’re asking people to read with a critically mind, and therefore they are looking for problems. Plus, you might find that some people love that line, too.

3) Tweak it. Maybe a more specific pronoun or some italics could help it come across as intended. Some lines just aren't there yet, but they’re still fixable.

And the one I tend to use:

4) Wait for it. You’re not ready to say goodbye just yet, but there’s a little part of you that knows it’s no good. Don’t worry, it’s not permanent yet, and someday you may be able to read it with a more critical mind.

Either which way, your subconscious will be secretly trying to solve the problem for you. Soon you’ll be saying it was no wonder that people didn't like it...Yeah, that happens too.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Onto, On to & Into, In to

For the most part, these words may seem interchangeable. Of course, that would be a little too easy, so there’s actually a slight difference between when you should use the one word version instead of the the two word version. These quick explanations should help:


Onto: To place on the surface.

On to: Can mean onto but can also mean forwards, as in Let’s move on to the next pub. No one is mounting any pubs in this example.

Basically on towards cannot be shortened to onto. However, Let’s move on to the next point would sound funny if you used towards – hopefully you can see that to kinda still means towards in that example.


Into: Movement towards the inside. You’re indicating movement.

In to: Less common because it's a coincidence that in and to appear next to each other. When it happens, you're indicating position.

A lot of the time when it's in to, you can separate the words out: ‘Handed the knife in / to the police station’ rather than ‘Stabbing the knife into the police man’ or ‘Walking into the station’.

For those who are picky
If you’re British:

Onto is a little more casual and so avoid it in formal writings to sound more official. Otherwise, it depends on preference, although bear in mind that onto is becoming more standard.

If you’re American:

Onto is much more common. Stick with it unless you really mean on towards.

Cheers for reading!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Psycho Bites: Positively Happy Word Exposure

Exposure has a powerful influence on evaluations. There’s a general exposure curve which show that the more we hear or see something, the more we like it (until we become explicitly aware of the intentions or tired of the repetition such as songs on the radio).

However, something entirely implicit is that the frequency of positive words tends to be higher than negative words, and we also tend to prefer positives over negatives.

These frequencies were calculated from a wide variety of texts and printed in 1944 by Thorndike-Lorge. They may have a bit of age to them although the point is still the same.

The words ‘happiness’ occurs 15 times more than ‘unhappiness’.

Beauty’ is found 41 times more often than ‘ugliness’. 

Love’ is 7 times more frequent than ‘hate’. 

We ‘laugh 2.4 times more often than we ‘cry’.

Food is 12 times more often ‘fresh’ than ‘stale’, and 7 times more often ‘sweet’ than ‘sour’.

Things are describe as ‘full3 times more than ‘empty’.

And things are 5 times more often ‘better’ than they are ‘worse’.

These positive words feel pleasant not only because they have a positive meaning, but because they are more familiar, easier to process, and more regular than their negative counterparts. We implicitly prefer these positives and use them more often.

There we have it, proof that the world is more often happy rather than sad!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Hiding Homophones 2

Sometimes it because of a blind spot. Other times, it because your typing-brain want to make you look silly. Either way, be aware of words which sound similar (homophones) but are spelled very differently. 

It’s hard to write a first draft without having at least one homophone hiding in your manuscript, trying to let you down. The aim of the game is to spot it before anyone else does. Here are a few that are commonly written but not commonly spotted, or so it seems:

Draw - With a pencil
Drawer - Put pencils in

Illusive - Illusion-like
Elusive - Hard to catch, hard to see

Bowel - Inside of you
Bowl - Eat from (shouldn't be inside of you!)

Manner - The way which you act
Manor - A grand house. Inside, you should probably show good manners

Faint - What I do when I see blood.
Feint - What you may do to confuse an attacker and not lose blood

Lose - When you don't win or when you can't find something (like that second 'o')
Loose - Opposite of tight. There are room for lots of Os.

Note, these are not definitions, but simple differences to help split the two apart. Some of them aren't technically full homophones as they only sound somewhat similar, but they do crop up too much. Here are a few more that are regularly go unnoticed.