Capitalization: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Editor's Suggestions

One of the most common misconceptions that I run across in writing is when to capitalize things, and when they should stay lowercase. This is honestly a big issue, and can take your manuscript from potentially looking professional to seemingly amateurish in a heartbeat. It can be the difference between an agent or publishing house thinking that you know what you’re doing, or thinking that you started writing a week ago.

I’m not kidding.

Proper capitalization in your writing is important for several reasons.

  • There are already pretty firm rules in place about this subject, so expressing ignorance of it means that you might also lack ignorance of other conventional writing rules.
  • If you Capitalize random words, It can make your Reader’s Voice messed up. Try reading This without doing a Weird version of Internal Puberty voice Changing in your Head. Can’t Do it, Can ya?
  • Capitalization is often used for emphasis or importance, but this is really, really, not the best use for it. Capitalization should be kept to proper nouns (people’s names, place names, etc.), the first word in a sentence, and of course, proper titles.

One of the biggest no-no’s I’ve seen is confusing capitalization of honorifics. For some people, this can be a very difficult subject to broach, as there are many rules regarding the use of honorifics, and some of them are confusing.

What are honorifics? Honorifics are essentially “titles” that you give to people. Think sir, ma’am, mister, doctor, etc. For those of you writing medieval fiction, there are also the titles of royalty and lords. This can all get a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out what needs to be capitalized, and what needs to be lowercase. So let’s start with some clarification!

When a title should or should not be capitalized:

First things first, NEVER capitalize “the” unless it’s the first word of your sentence or it’s the first word of your book/movie/art title.

“I saw The Secret Life of Pets the other day.” vs. “This is The Book of Shadows.” The second one is wrong. DEAD WRONG. It will make your editor/agent/reader/publisher cringe. Don’t do it!

Sir & ma’am: Are only capitalized when they are the first word in a sentence.*

Correct:

Sir, I’ve got some bad news…”/ “But what were you hoping to hear, ma’am?”

Incorrect:

“I’ve got some bad news, Sir.” / “But what were you hoping to hear, Ma’am?”

* The only time this would be different is if you are introducing someone who’s been knighted, like Sir Elton John, or Sir Patrick Stewart. These are now titles that include the proper noun that makes them capitalized.

“Oh my goodness, it’s Sir Patrick Stewart! May we have your autograph, sir?”

“Eh, what do you know, mister?” vs. “That’s Mister Ford.”

“Can I ask you a question, miss?” vs. “I’m telling Miss Davis!”

Familial use

“But Mom said I could go.” vs. “That’s my mom.”

“Didn’t you ask your father?” vs. “Yes! And Father said I could go.”

“I’m going to see my uncle.” vs. “I’m going to see Uncle Robert.”

US political titles

“President” is a title frequently used in writing as a means of addressing the president. It also holds the first spot for one of the single most incorrectly capitalized terms I’ve ever seen. (And that’s not hyperbole, either.) You’ll notice in this paragraph that “president” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence.

(The following samples in this section are ALL correct.)

That’s because it’s not a proper noun on its own and therefore should not be capitalized unless before a name or if that’s someone’s actual name.

“But sir, the president is on her way now.” / “Tomorrow, President Adams will be speaking in the courtyard.”

The same goes for other political titles, like senator, congressman/woman, ambassador, vice president or chairperson, etc.*

“This is Robert Davies, the senator from Montana.” / “Excuse me, Senator Davies?”

“I’d like to introduce you to Congressman/woman Jones.” / “The congressman/woman isn’t available right now.”

*If your character is being addressed by a honorary title that includes the words “madame” or “mister,” etc. before it, then it is capitalized.

“Would Madame Ambassador follow me this way, please?” and “Mr./Mister Secretary, a word, if you can.” / “Please, Vice President Craig, listen to reason!” and “The vice president cannot take part in the meeting at this time.”

Titles of profession

Doctor, professor, officer, detective… these are all commonly capitalized when they should actually be lowercase. The only time these titles should be capitalized is when a proper noun follows them.

“I’ve got a bad cold, doctor.” vs. “I’ve got a bad cold, Doctor Strauss.”

“I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, professor.” vs. “I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, Professor Adams.”

“That’s an order, captain!” vs. “That’s an order, Captain Walsh.”

“Over here, officer!” vs. “Over here, Officer Waterson!”

“Let’s get started, detective.” vs. “Let’s get started, Detective Peters.”

Pet names

Nope. No capitalizing pet names. Nicknames, yes. Pet names? No.

“How are you doing, honey?” vs. “How are you doing, Nicky?”

Religious terms

There are too many to address, so I will leave a helpful link here.

Medieval titles/Royal titles

One of the biggest problems I run across in fantasy is the improper use of titles. Basically they follow the same rules as the titles of profession, with a few exceptions, which will be addressed below. For the most part, when using a title like king, queen, prince, princess, duke, duchess, etc., do NOT capitalize unless it’s a direct address that includes their name.

“Introducing Queen Tabatha Shaw.” vs. “Introducing the queen, Tabatha Shaw.”

“That horse is the king’s!” vs. “That horse belongs to King Michael!”

“Protect the king!” vs. “Protect King Michael!”

“This is the duchess, Sarah Milford.” vs. “This is Duchess Sarah Milford.”

“Ah, Princess Anne, you’re looking lovely today.” vs. “Ah, princess, you’re looking lovely today.”

“No, my prince, the hunt has been canceled.” vs. “No, Prince Eric, the hunt has been canceled.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Edward.” vs. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

(“My lord” and “my lady” are only ever capitalized at the beginning of a sentence, like sir or ma’am.)

Medieval title exceptions

“What will you have me do, sire?” (Like sir, this word is not capitalized unless it’s the first of a sentence.)

“Today we’re going to the Lord Mayor’s joust!” (Lord Mayor is a capitalized term. However, if you were to say, “We’re going to the mayor’s joust,” it would be lowercase. “We’re going to Mayor Johnson’s joust.”)

His Grace Duke Edward Gibbs.” vs. “How do you do, your grace?”

“But Your Majesty, we must adjourn.” vs. “But majesty, I must protest…”

“Oh, Your Excellency, of course!” vs. “Oh, of course, excellency.

“Yes, Your Highness, we will have it done right away.” vs. “No, highness, we didn’t.”

These cover a few common (and easy to confuse) terms that should either be capitalized or lowercase given their use in the sentence. If you think I missed any, let me know!

And remember, when in doubt, find out if there is a name after the title or honorific, and choose accordingly.

Photo: weheartit

Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.

Blog Articles

VERY Important information about authors on Kindle Unlimited through Amazon

The Active Voice

There’s this indie author I know a little bit from the Kboards.com forum. Her name is Pauline Creeden, and she’s an ordinary midlister, like so many of us. I remember PMing her some time ago and gushing about how particularly beautiful one of her book covers is — the one for Chronicles of Steele: Raven.collection Here, I’ll include an image. Gorgeous, eh?

Anyway, today I tuned in to Kboards and noticed that Pauline had started a thread. It contained what’s surely the worst news possible for an indie author: Amazon had closed her publishing account. All her ebooks had been taken off sale. Permanently. Here’s the email she got from Amazon:

We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate…

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Just. One. Book.

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Help them out!

Throwing Chanclas

Just. One. Book.

I live in a town of 1200 people in the Northern Sierra Nevada –where it meets the Cascade Range near Mt. Lassen National Park and about two hours drive northwest of Reno, NV.  Two hundred of that population is students. Over the years as the population dwindled after mines closed, then mills–nothing except tourism and retirement have emerged as ‘industries.’ Many businesses have closed down and with it many things we take for granted—like libraries.

The local junior/senior high school has not been able to purchase new books since the 90s. Some of the “check outs” for old books are in the 1980s. There are no books by people of color in the library. Hardly any books by women are in the few book cases except your standard Austen and Lee. It’s an uninviting place. There hasn’t been a librarian for nearly a decade. And volunteers weren’t allowed. The…

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Talk that Talk (the Way Your Reader Likes it!)

Editor's Suggestions

Today, Inklings, we’re talking about talking.

Naturalizing your dialogue, to be specific.

Every writer has their own unique voice when they’re writing, because every person has their own dialect, inflections, voice patterns, and even vocabulary or colloquialisms. This is part of what makes language so diverse and gratifying to play with. You can use a variety of letters and sounds, and even make up your own!

But despite this, many writers struggle when it comes to making their characters speak, and if you have this problem, trust me, you are not alone. Dialogue between imaginary characters is hard, dude.

There are books upon books and blogs and lessons and classes and conferences about creating awesome dialogue, but there is a much, much simpler method of amping your character’s convos up to enjoyable levels.

1. Listen to conversations around you.

Go to your local coffee shop, grocery store, park. Sit for a while and hear how people speak. Pay attention to how they phrase things, or what inflection they use. Are they guilty of “up talk” or “vocal fry?” Do they over use the word “like” or “uhm” or “you know” because they are struggling to piece their words together? Do they have a tic, like beginning every sentence with “Okay, so…”, or just jump in and talksofastyoucan’tevencatchup? Believe it or not, these are all things you can incorporate (within reason) in your own writing. To make dialogue in writing believable, you have to know speaking in real life. You have to understand speech patterns—but this isn’t as hard as it sounds.

As human beings, we are actually significantly gifted at picking up body language and tone in speech, and now, it’s your great difficulty to translate that innate knowledge into your book.

2. USE. CONTRACTIONS.

As I’ve stated many times before, one of the easiest ways to make your language flow is an extraordinarily simple one. When you’re talking to a family member, do you say everything so prim and proper that you could be an extra in Pride and Prejudice? Chances are, no, no you don’t. Everyone has their “professional” voice and their “relaxed” voice. Professional you might be more precise, but chances are you won’t be able to cut those syllables with a chisel, right? Relaxed voice is how you normally speak, when you’re alone or with comfortable acquaintances. Putting a sense of “relaxed” voice in dialogue is a fantastic way of making your reader “say” it in their own version of relaxed voice, which makes it flow smooth like butta, baby. And the best way to do this? Use contractions.

“Do not take that bag out of the closet! If I have to look for it, I will end up late to practice!”

“Jer, we are going to the store. Is there anything you will need me to pick up?”

“I cannot forget to put all of the laundry in the dryer when I get home.”

“But Barbara, there is nothing you can do. He told you he does not want any help.”

Or

“Don’t take my gym bag out of the closet! If I’m late to practice because it’s missing, I’ll be pissed!”

“Jer, we’re going shopping. You need anythin’?”

“Aww, crap! I gotta remember to switch the laundry over when I get back.”

“Barb, you can’t do anything. He said he doesn’t want help.”

Write how people speak, not how a narrator would dictate a sentence.

3. Read EVERYTHING aloud. ALL OF IT.

Go and read a portion of a book out loud. Doesn’t have to be dialogue or even your own work; just pick something and go. Did you find yourself sliding over the pronunciation of certain letters in favor of your relaxed voice? Like saying ‘don’ instead of don’t? Do you perhaps soften your “r” to the point where ya sound Bostonian? Did you read it fast, or slow? Did it jive with your internal voice, or did you find yourself pausing and rereading portions so you could reassess the tone? Reading written words aloud will strengthen your understanding of dialogue and language in general. Pay attention to your own accent. Are you from the south? Did you know that southern accents have different dialects depending on where you live? Midwestern tones can seem southern, but have subtle differences, and west coast people sound completely different from northerners and southerners altogether? A Bostonian accent is drastically different than one in New York, and both are distinguishable from New Jersey or New England.

Hearing words out loud from different regions can really help you develop a style of writing conversations that will give everyone an individual voice. If you want your characters to pop, give them different “vocal” affectations. Learn to recognize and incorporate different accents, dialects, and parts of speech in your dialogue to give your character, well… character.

4. Use slang and colorful (not necessarily vulgar) language.

My siblings and I grew up in northern Florida surrounded by country folk and surfer dudes, but my mother is from New York, so we picked up a lot of slang from her that wasn’t common in that area. I ended up pronouncing forest as “fah-rest” or orange as “ah-renge”, and we abbreviated “shut up” so that it became a single word (“shaddup!”) and we called unidentified bits of paper or fluff on the floor “schnibbles.” At the same time, I was developing a touch of a lazy drawl, and getting a bit too relaxed around g’s, if you know what I’m sayin’. I was comfortable with “surfer talk”—which is its own thing entirely. I found out that I would specify tacos at Taco Bell the southern way of “the 89 cent” ones—yes, children, tacos did used to be that cheap. We don’t lie when we say the 90s were a wonderful time—or when telling someone to leave “something” alone, I would often jam the words together to pronounce it as “Lea’ that alone.” I fought against using “ain’t,” although I will admit that it has slipped in conversation at least twice. Language is fun! Use various methods to make yours enticing.

5. If it doesn’t need it, DON’T MAKE THEM TALK.

Sometimes, the best things are left unsaid, right? Well, occasionally. In dialogue, “a picture is worth 1000 words” takes on extra meaning. If you can show us what’s going on without your characters talking us through it, then do it. When you’re writing a screenplay, dialogue is a precious commodity. You seriously have to consider what words are going on that page because you are so limited with page space. Some of my favorite parts of a movie are where the characters say absolutely nothing because the action speaks so well for them. If your character is talking when they really should be quiet, remove it. See how well silence can direct a scene for you.

Pixar actually does a fantastic job nixing dialogue in favor of showing action—think of the beginning of the movie Up, or actually don’t, because I do not need to cry right now. How about a film like Wall-E, instead? The action carried so well that they were able to forego dialogue in HUGE portions of the film, and one of the sweetest moments ever is when Wall-E first meets Eve:

Now imagine if he had been giving her verbose, expository dialogue about how he’d been fulfilling his mission to box all the trash on Earth.

When in doubt, go without!

 

photo: SFStation

3 Cliches (That Completely Lose Your Reader)

Editor's Suggestions

The Top 3 Clichés that Make Me Close a Book

By Kelly Kobayashi

1. The Love Triangle

How many times have you yourself been in a Love Triangle? How many times has anyone you’ve ever known? I’m sure I’m blowing your mind when I tell you honestly that neither is true from my own experience. Have I known girls who broke up with one guy because they found themselves attracted to someone new? Definitely. Have I known guys who stayed silent and sat on their feelings until they sorted out which girl of two to approach? Of course.

But I’ve never personally known anyone just so darn alluring that multiple people crushed on them (and made their passionate feelings known) at once. I’ve never found myself so confused by my own feelings as to selfishly string anyone along. I’ve never known any boy, girl, man, or woman so stupid as to not know the difference between “I find this person hot” and “I care for this person’s story, their happiness, opinions, feelings, and overall well being.” Lust and Love are not hard to separate, even for teenagers. Shocking, I know.

So, even more offensive to me than the predictability, pointlessness, and utter failure at creating tension, is that the Love Triangle is just unrealistic. It’s lazy. And it’s actually pretty insulting, especially to YA readers. We know who we would pick, so why is the protagonist such a shallow, cruel, weak dimwit?

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Don’t care. *slams book shut*

2. The Misunderstanding That Could Be Solved With a Single Conversation

Usually goes something like this: Girl sees Boyfriend walking beside another girl across the street. (They are not even holding hands.) Next day, Girl freezes Boyfriend out. No texts, no calls, no explanation.

Girl, I don’t have time for you and your faux drama. Boyfriend is really better off without you if that’s the way you’re going to act.

Or how about this: Male Lead of high fantasy novel finds out his Female Lead is stuck in an unwanted-but-arranged marriage, which—due to obvious factors such as time period, societal norms, and family politics—is completely understandable, but he still accuses Female Lead of betrayal, cowardice, and gold-digging.

Um, Author, you set up this world. You designed it as a medieval realm. You created gender parameters around the Female Lead. You made arranged marriages an accepted practice. Why is your Male Lead throwing 2016 shade?

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Nope. *slams book shut*

3. The Misdirected Insta-Thirst for Revenge

Ugh. This one I really just can’t take seriously. And it’s the crux of far too many crime thrillers and graphic novels. This one plays out: Villain murders Mentor, Love Interest, or Family Member, then leaves scene. Best friend enters scene. Hero walks in, merely sees Best Friend standing over the body (wearing a look of horror), and vows REVENGE! upon them.

Call me nitpicky, but I’m pretty sure I would want to… you know, ask questions, investigate, and FIND THE REAL VILLAIN who is not my OBVIOUSLY-A-GOOD-GUY Best Friend?! I would at least ask Best Friend what happened. Did they see anyone? Did they just get there like I did? Have they already called for an ambulance?

If the Hero’s friendship is so tissue-paper-thin that he can believe Best Friend capable of murder, I don’t care if he realizes the truth later. Best Friend should run in the opposite direction from this idiot’s brand of loyalty and consideration.

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I can’t even. *slams book closed*

 

Feat. Photo: mensxp

How Social Media Screws Your Book Review

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Amazon comes under fire a lot, it seems, for its treatment of authors in general: They delete books and then later apologize but still don’t put them back in a timely manner. They have let reviewers who admitted to not reading a book keep their reviews up, or “trolls” to punish an author by putting up one-star reviews—this got so out of hand at one point that famed author Anne Rice had to step in and make news by signing a petition for Amazon to better protect its authors. And most recently, Amazon has cracked down on reviews by refusing to let friends or family members post them—even when those reviews are fair and unbiased—simply because they know of a connection between the author and the reviewer.

In this day and age, being an Amazon “author” is one of the easiest things to do. Literally. Anyone can sign up for an account and post their book, letting it drift off to become one more piece of literary flotsam ebbing along on the shores of the great, wide web.

What’s hard though, is marketing your books—and yourself—and that requires a network of people around you who are willing to vouch for your authenticity as a writer. i.e., you need friends and family members willing to go to bat for you. Authors you’ve worked with or schmoozed at conventions. People on Facebook that you barely know except by random waterfalling “friend of a friend” connections, who surprised you by accepting your request for reads and reviews.

So why is Amazon punishing these reviewers?

The history of Amazon’s book review process is a pretty storied one (bah-dum-tssh!), and goes back many embattled author complaints into the past. One notable instance was in 2012, when a group that called themselves “No Sock Puppets Here Please” (NSPHP) found that some authors were boosting their books with “sock puppet” accounts—fake accounts they made for the sole purpose of reviewing their own work. There were even authors who admitted to paying for reviews, like Todd Rutherford, who eventually anted up to over 300 paid reviews.

NSPHP created a petition to stop the sock puppets, and Amazon listened and took what they said to heart, deleting thousands of reviews from people who even might have possibly known the author or were also authors themselves.

Wait, what?

That’s right. Amazon started deleting book reviews from other authors because they “might have been colleagues.”

As J.A. Konrath said in regards to the signers of the NSPHP petition, “You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.” Sure, some sock puppet accounts were deleted, but overall, it was well-intentioned, honest reviews that mostly took the hit.

Ouch.

Since then, Amazon frequently tries to police its own forums and reviews, making an attempt to not let authors use sock puppet accounts.

Okay, I’m with you on that, that’s good.

But this can get a little out of hand from time to time, when people who know the author and have read the book are suddenly stripped of their ability to write an honest review. In the author groups and forums I frequent, I see people complaining because fellow authors in their same circles have had reviews deleted because they’re “colleagues.” People who post openly and honestly in the comment about their relationship to the author—whether it’s personal, like a friendship, or professional, like a fellow writer—are getting the same treatment: the axe.

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Amazon is a great site, and it has done wonders for getting authors to reach audiences with their books. The Kindle is king of ebooks, and as of 2014, 19.5% of all books sold in the U.S. were Amazon Kindle titles.

But sometimes their intuition isn’t so… intuitive. Case and point with authors getting reviews deleted or refused by people who “know them” because Amazon wants to avoid angering the NSPHP denizens again. So they’ve effectively made themselves scared natives sacrificing their sheep and prettiest virgins to the volcano god to appease its rumbling, even though it hasn’t rumbled in years. NSPHP doesn’t even exist anymore.

There must absolutely be a policy in place to protect both the author and the consumer, but someone who knows and (probably) likes you who goes and reads your book and wants to leave a review is not the same as an author creating a sock puppet account or paying people to review the book or flood it with undeserved praise in order to up the rating. Amazon needs to learn to differentiate between the two, and cull the numbers in a better fashion rather than going full scorched-earth.

Is there anything you can do to protect yourself as an author? Yes, a little, but it’s not guaranteed. Amazon can still delete reviews whenever they feel like it, based on whatever hoodoo rules they’ve recently started developing. Check your social media sites and know what apps have permission to view your information. Goodreads, which is owned by Amazon (along with these other companies) can share your info if you’re logged into them with your Facebook account. That means Goodreads knows who’s on your friends list and can tell on you like a digital version of Gríma Wormtongue whispering in King Amazon’s ear. Make your friends’ list on Facebook private, make certain you’re not sharing app information with Amazon or Goodreads (or any other company Amazon owns), and make certain you don’t connect your Facebook account to Goodreads if it’s connected to your Amazon author account.

Jeez, that’s a lot of work!

I know, I know. It’s a rabbit hole, and you’re poor Alice, falling forever and wondering what you did to deserve this. Eventually, another site will start to rival Amazon on book sales, or Amazon will wise up and start thinking realistically about the realization of deleting the comments on a new author’s books because they were done by the only people the fledgling author knew and could comfortably ask to review them.

Maybe that will happen soon, but until then, learn how you can protect yourself from getting your reviews deleted, and be wise with your social media sharing.

Photo: weheartit

 

Yangon, Myanmar

Real Editing Samples

This week’s short story comes to us anonymously! Below is the review of the untitled piece, as well as some suggestions for how to make it even better. Any suggestions or questions can be put in the comments section below.

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One of the very first things you want your reader to do is be intrigued. You have to really pull someone in within the first few paragraphs so that they have a reason to keep reading. That means you’re going to need to give your reader one of two things: Action, or mystery.

Action and mystery are great openers; they will pull your reader in. But it will do absolutely nothing if there isn’t anything interesting for us to find out. If your character is going through a series of nonsensical  movements (to your reader, at least), and we don’t know why, that’s not mystery, it’s just confusion.

You have a beautiful set up here: “Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangnon, largely unknown to western eyes.” But that isn’t followed through with anything. It immediately gets dismissed by the next sentence. “How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.”

How to strengthen your opening? Remove the weak area.

How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.  We set off into the night time of Yangon.

“Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve.  In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.”

Already this is building a world for me. I can imagine it, I can smell the mangoes, I can see the people. That’s great! That will pull your reader in. Where are they going? What are they doing in this tropical paradise? I want to know more!

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Notes 2. In the paragraph following the beautifully described world, you have your character somewhat frantically going to find directions. This pulled me out of the story. Apart from showing their state of mind, and letting us know that there’s somewhere they need to be, which could be summarized neatly in a few sentences at the start of the following paragraph, this particular paragraph doesn’t do anything for your reader. In a short story, you’ll have less time to pull your reader in. This paragraph could easily be shortened and joined with the following one, or removed and summarized in fewer sentences.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 18.17.54.pngNotes 3. You definitely want to specify to your readers about anything related to temperature. Given that we Americans can’t figure out degrees in Celsius to save our hides, we instinctually fall back on the Fahrenheit degree base, and twenty-four degrees in Fahrenheit does not a pleasant bike ride make! If your readers might be from various parts of the English-speaking world, make sure to specify things like this just so they don’t have to double take to figure out what you mean.

Notes 4. For British/UK English, the standard is to keep the ‘s’ at the end. (Towards/backwards) This is simply a matter of where you intend for your main audience to be. Again, if this is elsewhere in the English-speaking world outside of America, this would probably stay in. To publish in America, however, the ‘s’ would be taken out (toward/backward). Small differences, but they can add up. The same can be said with any s to z changes. In America: organize, realize, recognize, etc. Outside of America: organise, realise, recognise. And of course we Americans also remove the ‘u’ from words like colour.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story!  You got a lot of detail and description in for such a small amount of pages. You definitely have a strength in creating a vivid landscape. I could see the story. I could picture what was going on. Your imagery was beautiful and strong, and really pushed me through it. There was a great flow to the way you described everything. There is a little to be corrected as far a pace goes, like with the part that stalled me, but overall, it was a fun read.

I wanted to mention, as well, that after having read this story, that I have no idea what your character looks like, if they’re male or female, or even what they’re wearing. I kind of argued with myself about even mentioning it, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it more without the protagonist having an identity. It did nag at me a little, but then, it’s my job to notice things like that.

Thanks so much, Anonymous Inkling, for letting me read and critique your short story! I will be sending along the rest of my critiques later on. For those of you who want to read the full piece, you can find it here:

Yangon, Myanmar

Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve. In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.

I dance alongside my companions hopping over gaping holes in the unlit pavement, rapidly chatting while casting around for scarce landmarks.  We continue past juice stalls where petite, raven haired women feed sticks of sugarcane into the jaws of ancient industrial mangles, solid, glossy, dark green monsters, next to them, tailors are bent over elegant Singer sewing machines. I scribble down hieroglyphic directions, TL elephant temple, TR rickshaws, alleyway straight arrow, TL… or would that be R in reverse? Too late, we cross the main road and run over a tiny footbridge.

We hop onto a narrow path of gangplanks past a parade of dark, wooden, open fronted shop houses.  The cavern-like interiors are entirely exposed. Rooms are lit with bare, single light bulbs and piled high with dusty stock and family belongings. On high shelves. tiny spirit houses adorned with orange and pink temple garlands glow against the dark wood. The smell of incense wafts out. The locals end their day over the evening meal at simple wooden tables and straight-backed chairs, hypnotized by the ubiquitous TV. We stride purposefully past, unable to resist glancing sideways to peer into their lives laid bare, one eye on the gangplank.  One family space after another is surreptitiously examined as the inhabitants simultaneously look up into our strange European and North African faces. Warm smiles and nods are exchanged in a mutual understanding of reciprocal curiosity.  We turn the corner and enter the restaurant.

After much engrossing conversation, suddenly it’s 9:40 p.m. I say goodbye and head out. Round the corner back along the gangplank, more smiles and nods. Across the main road, TL into the alleyway back onto the half built street. This is all right, I can do this. Did I see that yellow sign on the way? Never mind. Into the next street. Was it left? Hang on, find a streetlamp, still got fifteen minutes, it’s not that far.  Check the map. What’s this street called?  It’ll look familiar in a bit. No, it doesn’t. Definitely not.  Ask that street vendor over there. He gently takes the map from my hands and very slowly turns to his light. Oh no. I hop from one foot to another desperately trying not to be impolite. This street? This way? Yes?  Twelve minutes. Right, I’ll get there. Just dance around people and traffic a bit faster.  Okay, this is it. Go. Got to get there, don’t want to keep them waiting, once in a lifetime experience. Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Getting closer now, it’s round this next corner and up past the Swiss Embassy. Just need to jog a bit now. I wonder if that’s where that car’s going? Probably.  Yes, there’s the sign, Bike Rides, Yangon. It’s 9:59 p.m.

###

The bikes are allocated; they’re good quality mountain bikes.  We twist and circle around each other in the courtyard testing the feel of the brakes and changing up and down the gears. The group is a mix of thirty-seven friendly expats, independent travelers and regular cyclists, German, Dutch, American, Canadian and Burmese.  The leader is a fifty-something affable Australian expat with a confident, funny Burmese wife.  He’s straight up as you’d expect, and mildly curious.

We file out of the gate, and I’m ecstatic. We’re cycling around the capital of Burma in the middle of the night, not due back until 1:00 a.m. We circle onto the main road and soon start to pick up speed and file onto a highway, fluorescent marshalls slot in along the line.  As we settle down we’re a fluttering constellation of lights against an inky sky. The line moves into a steady pace and some of the regulars draw alongside for deceptively casual conversation while keeping an eye out for potholes and street dogs. At twenty-four degrees Celsius it’s just cool enough to ride and the breeze is welcome.

We file down city streets, past night markets of smoky food stalls and endless pavement banquets.  Before the intersection, we’re told it’s the left fork in case of separation.  Accelerating across the lights as one, we swoop leftwards disappearing into the blackness like a shoal.  We pick up a swift pace along blissfully traffic free roads.

Everyone is warmed up and tuned in and we spread out as confidence grows. The tarmac is undulating in places, and it’s largely dark, so you need to be a confident rider. This is no tourist trundle. We spool down a long section and past the ornate white palace of the City Hall and toward some of the more decrepit colonial buildings at the waterfront. They’re poorly lit, so I’m straining to see much. The Customs House has been renovated, and the Strand Hotel that entertained Rudyard Kipling is imposing and impressive. The high court is a little like St. Pancras station in London. I make a mental note to read Orwell’s Burmese Days.  We pass the port authority and come into the central area.

I’ve teamed up with a Canadian who peels away from the line. I follow instantly and we head towards the 2,500-year-old Sule Pagoda, in the middle of what is now a huge roundabout.  Its endless golden spire punctures the dark velvet sky. The white dome is encircled by grotto-like shrines, their interiors brightly lit in citrus limes and lemons. It’s a fairy tale, fairground sight. We swoop onto the curve and spin around the outside, stealing glimpses at the golden Buddha’s heads surrounded by multi-colored sunbursts of flashing neon lights.  We sprint round a second time, faster, leaning into the road, laughing with glee and exhilaration at this fantastical, surreal merry-go-round, and race off to catch the others.

The group is on the road out of the city now and we begin a gentle climb, I start to feel my thigh muscles burn. It’s about 11: 30 p.m. The pace slows a little, but is still good as we reach the flat and start the long home stretch. Soon the leaders stop and the line concertinas into a tight group. We climb off the bikes to stretch our legs and gulp down some much needed water.

People chat and examine each others’ bikes. As my heart rate and breathing slows I look up at the night sky and feel the tranquility and eeriness of a strange city at rest. The quiet chatter of the other riders floats through the darkness. Then for no reason at all, I turn round. There, in the middle of an enormous jet black sky, gently glowing like a huge mythical, golden palace is the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. It stands on a hill and at 325 feet, dominates the Yangon skyline. It contains the oldest Buddhist Stupa in the world. I’m rooted to the spot. I look at my watch, it’s past midnight. I feel giddy with awe and surprise.

 

Photo: A Link And Travel Tour

 

 

 

 

The Accidental Plural (of Native English Storytelling)

Editor's Suggestions

The Accidental Plural of the Native-English Speaker’s Story

By Kelly Kobayashi

The way that we tell stories as a culture, as a community of smaller tribes, is defined as greatly by our writings as by our oral traditions.

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We’ve all asked someone about their family or childhood adventures. And surely they have responded with animated theatrics such as, “My mom was useless, man. She used to call me up at 3:00 a.m., drunk at the Kwik-E-Mart, begging me to pick her up. She used to dance, totally plastered, to All I Want for Christmas is You and knock the Christmas tree over.”

Or, “My Grandpa Walt was UNBELIEVABLE! He used to chase us through the house with the garden hose—through the house—for real! Grandma would catch us all and beat the smiles off our faces! But it was worth it! God, I miss him.”

If you read between the lines of stories such as these, then you know instinctually that the 3:00 a.m. Kwik-E-Mart, dancing-Christmas-tree-collision, and indoor-hosing-and-beating escapades each only happened once.

But you also know from the speaker’s language, the way that we native English-speakers—with our rather bad, but infective habit of constant exaggeration—these single scenes of life added up to create the human being standing before you now. This pluralization of the event is a sign of emotive power. The speaker so cherishes or reviles or has become defined by certain aspects of his life that they have expanded within him. “We once…” morphs into “We used to…” He must share this story, and the story almost tells itself as repeated occurrences.

These stories that you must share, the stories that stretch themselves beyond once in a lifetime—these experiences and growth spurts and belly-aching fits of laughter and moments of absolute humiliation have defined you as a person. They’ve crystalized into the moments you value, or at the very least, hold most intimately to your core, whether you like it or not. The inspirational and the horrific.

You know which stories you share in accidental plural form when introducing bits and pieces of yourself to those around you. So too should you attempt to share these bits and pieces of your singular expertise through your writing. All the things that you “used to” see, feel, participate in, be excluded from, or covet secretly are your gifts to give through your own storytelling.

Kelly Kobayashi is an editor, author, and ever helpful book reviewer. She works with both published and unpublished authors, and has a deep love of the written word. For more information, or to contact Kelly about her beta reading and book reviewing services, please contact her at her website, here.

A Culture Addicted to FREE-How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives

Blog Articles

Certainly an interesting view on the issue surrounding new writers trying to get the exposure they need in order to be paid!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Image used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb. Image “Not for Sale” used with permission from the creator Ira Gelb who’s an activist in stopping Human Trafficking but authorized this image for use outside.

It’s funny, at various junctures I’ve felt propelled to tackle certain topics, even when that made me very unpopular. My biggest leviathan to date has been this notion of artists being expected to work for free, and I believe the reason that this topic is weighing so heavily on me is that, for the first time in years I’m no longer enthusiastic about our future.

In fact, I’m downright frightened, because of THIS.

I Feel Sick

Yesterday morning on my Facebook, a friend shared this open letter to Oprah Winfrey from a local performer in the Bay Area, Revolva, whose act caught the attention of mega-icon Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah was holding The Life You Want conference and the producers contacted Revolva to see if she…

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Style vs. Messy Writing

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

“Writin’ a book is a big durn deal, ya dig? Sometimes, people be like’n ta change the way they be writin’… to repre-zent a way of speakin’ or actin’ that ain’t necessarily the way it’s suppose to be written… ya get meh?”

But then again, sometimes people mistake passive or messy writing for stylistic choices.

These two are not the same.

Some of you who may be new to writing probably don’t think much about what an editor might say (or do!) to your manuscript, but the fact of the matter is, you can have the cleanest draft ever, and if your editor is skilled, they’ll send back a red-lined manuscript that makes you want to weep. There’s a big difference in writing and editing a book, and most people (editors included) have difficulty with that, because writers understand the book in a way that is completely different than readers or editors do.

Writers know all of the intimate details of a book (like we discussed previously), and sometimes, they can get a little butt-hurt when someone suggests anything changes. This is NORMAL. And trust me, everyone does it.

I try to remain professional when I edit, always making certain that my inflectionless type isn’t going to offend… but there are some writers who are bound to get hurt because that’s their baby you’re trying to cut in half here. I get it. I TOTALLY DO. Because I have had to suck up the pain of a mean edit, cry over my keyboard, and then start the hacking anyway, and it totally feels like losing a limb. It really does.

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The actual stages of getting a book edited.

One of the things that I see authors cling to, time and again, is the old “That can’t be changed because it’s a stylistic choice, not XYZ whatever editor says.”

Let’s clarify something here, okay? Messy and/or passive writing is not typically a stylistic choice, and therefore all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the world won’t help.

There are certain things that we, as editors, must do, and cleaning up these instances is not a grudge; it’s our job.

  • I have worked on books for people who spoke English as a second language who’ve accused my attempts to clarify the common American phrases they were using incorrectly as attacking their stylistic choice. (These were not intentional… it was a case of simply misunderstanding their meaning or use.)
  • I have worked with authors who have honestly fought with me over ending a sentence on a preposition (which is TOTALLY OKAY).
  • I have had people fight with me over deleting ‘and’ or ‘but,’ because it’s ‘okay’ to start sentences with them… (Not every other line, it’s not!)
  • I’ve even had authors argue with me on words that were misspelled entirely and claim it as a stylistic choice. No. Spelling the name of a country wrong in a historical fiction piece is not a choice. It’s a mistake.

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No. Bad author! Bad!

My point is that some authors (maybe you?) have some serious bones to pick with their editors over changes that are totally required. Grammar and punctuation are two of these things.

One of the biggest ‘stylistic choices’ I’ve run across though, is that of the passive sentence.

When an editor looks over your manuscript, s/he is going to look for several elements, including something we call ‘voice,’ which is the style with which you write. Styles might include quirky ways the character’s dialogue is displayed, like above, particular repetitive habits, phrases, sentence structure (using fragments, for one), or any other way in which your particular author’s ‘voice’ comes through the words.

Pick up a book, any book. If you open that first page, the way in which one author writes may be similar to another, but they each have their own voice that is undeniably them. It is your editor’s job to preserve this voice in all of their edits and to maintain your stylistic choices.

There are books that occasionally defy the typical writing process. One such book, Crank, writes from the perspective of entries of a person falling into drug addiction. As the author goes on, the writing becomes less stable and more chaotic, more poetic, mirroring the character’s slipping sanity. This is a stylistic choice, most definitely. And it works! The editor preserved that choice while also doing away with sloppy or passive writing.

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One of the style guidelines of the companies I’ve worked for told its editors to do a search on the words was/were throughout the document and correct them if necessary. So a sentence like, “The purse was stolen,” might be okay if your character says it in dialogue, but in your narration it would typically be a no-no. (Unless it’s something like say, a crime novel where you don’t actually know who took the purse.)

The proper way would be something more like, “He stole her purse,” which assigns blame, or “Someone stole the purse,” which leaves it a little more ambiguous. Now, this is not an exact science, because someone is going to write in such a way that the passively worded sentence might be more appropriate. In that case, it would be a stylistic choice… but most people don’t do that on purpose, and the rest of the writing will define that for an editor.

Incorrect: Henry was standing by the tree when she was pulling into the driveway. Her arrival was making him wait.

Correct: Henry stood by the tree when she pulled into the driveway. He was waiting for her. (This last ‘was’ is fine, because it’s an active sentence where Henry, the subject, is the one performing the action.)

I walked into the lobby, and in the corner, a song was being sung by Sam. <-This type of sentence is unfortunately very common, and it’s a bit messy.

I walked into the lobby. In the corner, Sam was singing by himself. <-This is a better way of phrasing it, because it corrects the passive bit, ‘a song was being sung’ to the active voice, ‘Sam was singing.’ In this way, the ‘was’ is still correct, but the passivity has been removed from the sentence.

Again, these are not stylistic choices. They are examples of messy writing that everyone at some point is bound to do—yes, even editors on the occasion!

The most important thing to remember in writing in a particular style (which could include passive sentences/voice) is to make it abundantly clear in your writing so your editor can tell the difference. If you have a couple of instances of messy writing but the rest of your work is clean, you probably can’t argue it’s a style choice.

If you have a character that purposely speaks with a specific dialogue that requires the butchery of American English spelling, that is a style choice. If your narrator dictates the story in an unusual style, then make sure your editor can tell.

One piece of advice that is of the utmost importance is this: If your editor doesn’t know, can’t understand, or doesn’t see the connection, neither will your readers.

Happy writing, Inklings, now get to work!