“Shall I compare thee…?”

XVIII.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

—William Shakespeare, Sonnet XVIII

forest-trees-green-paradise summer

Forest Trees Green Paradise of Summer

 

Editor’s Corner 101.26

The Writer’s Voice – Rise Up and Sing!

All I have is a voice.
…W.H.Auden

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When I started writing the Editor’s Corner, discussing voice seemed a logical springboard for all posts to come. But I put it off. And off. And, as the weeks went by, I found voice harder and harder to talk about. It was just not the naturally incipient topic I expected it to be.

Now, well along the editor’s path – and lest I paint myself irrevocably into my editor’s corner – the time has come to let voice arise in clarion clarity!

1 find-your-voice-flair-set

So, what is voice? Simply put, voice is an author’s distinctive style. It includes everything from vocabulary to syntax, punctuation to rhythm, subject to structure. It is the quality that, sans book cover or title page, tells the savvy bibliophile that they’re perusing Toni Morrison not Isabel Allende, C.S. Lewis not Terry Pratchett. (Just imagine James Joyce penning Wuthering Heights or Carson McCullers Madame Bovary. How very different they would be!)

2 stack of old books

On a certain level, every writer, by virtue of setting pen to paper, has a voice. Personally, I think that is akin to saying that every kid who kicks a soccer ball can bend it like Beckham. In this e-book age when everyone and their second-cousin, Sylvester, is in print, the market is awash in a tsunami of cookie-cutter books, with virtually interchangeable characters and plot points and a dearth of unique voices. In short, people are telling stories, but not necessarily telling their stories. Individual voice is lost much the way accents are lost in the press to use stage English.

3 abstract salvador dali books inkwell naked man w skull

Now, some people suggest that voice is a teachable thing. To this end, they often propose an empirical approach, especially for young writers: toss different styles and genres at the page and see what sticks. While experimentation certainly has a place in any artist’s development, I believe in this case, it is, at best, a starting point at the beginning of a long and mysterious journey. But, hey, what do I know?

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For me, voice is less a matter of trial and error and more one of authorial evolution. Word after word, sentence after sentence, we writers make choices based on our background, experience, knowledge, passions, even gender. (Don’t get me started on the role gender plays! If you can’t tell if a writer is male or female, chances are you’re not paying attention.) The cumulative effect of those choices adds up to our voice. Granted, when first embarking on a literary calling, those choices tend to the predictable and inside the box. We follow the rules, perhaps emulate our favorite scribes or the voix du jour on the bestseller lists. This is off-the-rack, at best. It serves well enough while learning our craft, but eventually – hopefully – it is shed for a proper Savile Row voice, tailored to you alone. Don’t expect this to happen over night. It takes time and effort to dig deep inside and find sounds and rhythms uniquely one’s own. You have to listen hard, to find that which resonates with the stories you have to tell.

5 you write so beautifully  typed out

Of course, you may be writing in trim morning coat and Ascot, when the current fashion is denim and tees. A collision with the editing/publishing world could be just around the corner. If an editor or publisher wants to rewrite your work so it is just like every other manuscript out there, listen very politely, thank them for their time, and run. Run fast and far. An editor should be helping you strengthen, clarify, and realize your voice, not tamp it into an unrecognizable whisper. (I have this on good authority from the Editor Faërie, and I trust her implicitly.)

6 dali-bacchanale-reproduction

Voice is not about giving others what they want to hear; it’s about making them listen with to what you have to say.

It’s about finding the language of your passion and claiming it against all comers.

Sing out!
I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   — Shawn MacKENZIE – MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

“In my letters to her…”

“April ended and May came along, but May was even worse than April. In the deepening spring of May, I had no choice but to recognize the trembling of my heart. It usually happened as the sun was going down. In the pale evening gloom, when the soft fragrance of magnolias hung in the air, my heart would swell without warning, and tremble, and lurch with a stab of pain. I would try clamping my eyes shut and gritting my teeth, and wait for it to pass. And it would pass….but slowly, taking its own time, and leaving a dull ache behind.

At those times I would write… In my letters to her, I would describe only things that were touching or pleasant or beautiful: the fragrance of grasses, the caress of a spring breeze, the light of the moon, a movie I’d seen, a song I liked, a book that had moved me. I myself would be comforted by letters like this when I would reread what I had written. And I would feel that the world I lived in was a wonderful one. I wrote any number of letters like this…”

― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

light thru trees

Editor’s Corner 101.25

More Irregular Qwerty Irregulars – Punctuation Part II.

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all… our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places.” … Lynne Truss

Dragon ScribeForgive me as I play English teacher once more. It’s far from my favorite personae, but well, let’s just say, we are all creatures of many hats, and if the occasion fits….

Last week we discussed definitive sentence terminators and bold interior punctuation, both familiar and less so. And yet more dots and squiggles remain! So, onward and upward through the realm of quotation marks, apostrophes, dashes, and ellipses. Remember, these are nuts-and-bolts issues, and editors, agents, and publishers give short shrift to writers who don’t know their craft.

Anyone who has written dialogue or used a citation is intimate with double quotation marks (“ ”).

“Carter, stop chewing on my manuscript,” Simone chided the ginger tabby.

baby cartersm

A simple enough sentence, with the closing punctuation of the dialogue coming inside the end quotation marks. This is true regardless of what that closing punctuation is:

“Carter, stop chewing on my manuscript!” Simone yelled at the marmalade cat.
“Carter, would you please stop chewing on my manuscript?” Simone begged her kitten.

Dialogue within dialogue takes single quotation marks (‘ ’) inside doubles. And, when dialogue extends over more than one paragraph, opening quotes are used at the start of each paragraph, but you only close when the speaker is finished.

“So there I was,” Carter told Sanji, “just flossing my teeth on a piece of her precious paper, and she yells at me, ‘Knock that off or no nip for you!’

“I stopped, of course.”

Quotation marks are also used around titles of short stories, poems, TV programs, and articles. They’re even acceptable for longer works like novels, plays, and films when, as on Facebook, italics or underlining are not available, or that is the requested style of the person you’re working for. As with dialogue, closing quotes go outside other punctuation.

We read Shakespeare’s canon from “All’s Well That Ends Well” to “Venus and Adonis,” even “The Winter’s Tale.”

Omitted letters and indication of ownership – aka contractions and possessives – are the hallmarks of the apostrophe (as in a ’, not a literary digression).

Can’t, they’re, you’ve, we’re; Schrodinger’s cat, child’s dream, women’s caucus, kiwi’s millipede. We all know this, right? But over eras of colloquial errors, the rules get muddied. In dates, for example, despite what you may have heard, it is 1930s not 1930’s (though it is the ‘30s). You also don’t use apostrophes when pluralizing names. The McDonald family down the lane are the McDonalds, not the McDonald’s (though it is crotchety Old McDonald’s farm).

Then you have names ending with s – James, Hughes, Hastings, Williams? Generally speaking, the rule is, sound them out.

In the Lost & Found, we discovered James’s portfolio and Hastings’ shillelagh.

Pronouns such as it, who, her, our, and your, never take an apostrophe when used as possessives, hence, hers, ours, yours, whose, and its. Contractions are a different matter. It’s = it is; who’s = who is. Its/it’s and their/they’re confusions are common oopses even the best of us make. If you stumble, don’t be hard on yourself, just be vigilant.

Finally, we come to the dread triad, parentheses, ellipses, and dashes.

These are the rules:

Parentheses are used to delineate words and figures:

Baby Dragon – milesteves.com

The baby dragon weighed in at thirty-five (35) kilograms right out of her egg.

And numbers, when used in a list:

You can distinguished a gryphon by (1) his aquiline anterior, (2) his leonine posterior, and (3) his territorial nature.

Then there is the ubiquitous parenthetical phrase. The parenthetical phrase is that extra you add to a sentence, the proverbial afterthought or colorful literary aside. Today, many writers use commas or dashes instead of parentheses to similar effect. Strict grammarians will tell you that parentheses assign secondary status to the words inside them, while dashes add emphasis, but, in the end, it is one of those rules easily broken by choice. I, for one, used to love parentheses but grew away from them over the years. What fell inside them felt more difficult to ignore, and dashes felt mores aesthetically pleasing. C’est la vie.

One note on parenthetical punctuation: only put a period inside the parentheses if there is a complete sentence enclosed therein.

From the sole of my foot, I pulled a spine (hedgehog, not tuna tree).
From the sole of my foot, I pulled a spine. (It was hawthorn, not hedgehog.)

As an editor, ellipses drive me nuts. Those three little dots are overused, misused, and irritating as hell. That said, there are legitimate reasons to use ellipses. They are used when words are omitted. This can be a literal omission, as in the case of cuts made to texts – for length only, never to tamper with meaning – which is essentially the Reader’s Digest rule:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning…he found himself transformed…into a gigantic vermin.

They can also indicate incomplete thoughts or when one trails off into silence, choosing to leave words unsaid in a rather distracted or wistful manner. This is the area where those three little dots can easily turn into punctuational hedging (see Editor’s Corner 101.23), used as filler when you’re not quite sure what you want to say. Ellipses hand the responsibility over to the reader and – voila! – you are off the hook. (Note: when at the end of a sentence, you use four dots, the ellipsis followed by a period.) Prime hedging is seen in the habitual, “The End….” Really? It’s either the end or it isn’t. Oh, I know, you left something out! “The end…until the zombie apocalypse,” perhaps?

 

In many – dare I say most – instances, dashes can replace ellipses; it often boils down to a matter of personal taste and style, so know what you intend, then use your discretion. There are also times when a dash absolutely should be use, but isn’t. This is especially true in dialogue, when you have cross-talk or abrupt interruptions. In those instances, the words are chopped out, not swallowed by choice. Not a wisp of wistfulness there!

Likewise, use dashes not ellipses when making segues, especially those which are a have an AD/HD feel to them:

“Oh, man, I am so behind my deadline – Did I tell you the neighbor’s corgi had puppies?

Remember, dashes move quickly, ellipses are more leisurely (all that space between the dots).

And now I must dash – have to check on a Lorca, see if she’s ready to drop her kittens.

Any questions, feel free to ask. And when in doubt, remember there’s always Strunk & White.

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Next week something more fun, I promise.

*******

I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   — Shawn MacKENZIE – MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

Editor’s Corner 101.24

Qwerty Irregulars: Punctuation Part I.

Scribe smallSo, I have been rambling on here for six months – my thanks to all of you for bearing with me – and realize that there is one subject I have avoided with conspicuous consistency: punctuation. I am not sure why that’s been the case, but it deserves redressing now.

Caveat lector: I am essentially talking prose, here; the relationship between poets and punctuation being a horse of a very different hue. Not that no rules apply, but that poetic structure – line breaks, stanza breaks, even visual design – can serve as punctuation in its own right. That said, when it comes to punctuation and modern poetry, the editor in me tends to side with the gnome, less is more. But that just me. You poets must find what serves your verse.

Few problems arise over periods or question marks; the one concludes a basic declarative sentence, the other, an interrogative.

It was Scheherazade’s 101st night in the Pasha’s service.
For her life’s sake, could she find one last tale to tell?Princess-Scheherazade-L

Simple.

Exclamation points are also simple. They express rage, wonder, downright astonishment. As an editor, I urge you to employ them sparingly. If the passion is not in the words and actions, in the prose itself, such punctuation is cosmetic at best. Use at your peril!

More thorny for us scriveners are the interior punctuation marks: commas, dashes, colons, semi-colons, ellipses, apostrophes, even quotation marks and parentheses.

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Commas give us pause, literally; they create those moments in which, reader or writer, we catch our breath, regroup our thoughts. We use commas for meter and meaning, to break up long sentences into easily digested chunks.

According to standard usage, there are eleven rules for using commas, including separating independent clauses – two short related sentences that can stand along but which you choose to combine – when preceded by a conjunction (and, but, if, et al.); setting off modifiers and non-essential clauses from the rest of a sentence; around parenthetical phrases; and before direct quotations. I refer you to Elements of Style for pithy examples of each. In short, use commas to illuminate, not muddy, your purpose, for, in a heartbeat, a misplaced comma can careen your tale into entirely unintended territory.

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One use of commas that is the focus of increased debate is what is referred to as the serial or Oxford comma. The eponymous Oxford comma – so called because it was rule of thumb for Oxford University Press publications – is that last comma in a list falling just before the conjunction:

She foraged through the produce aisles for snow peas, daikon, and baby eggplant.

This is the standard for Strunk & White, Chicago Manual of Style, U.S. government documents, and Oxford University Press – though not Oxford University PR department, go figure. It is not standard for the AP and most newspapers, nor, for everyday Commonwealth prose (UK, Canada, Australia, etc.)http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18292683 Personally, I like the Oxford comma; I was raised on it and use it religiously. I find it lends that extra smidge of exactitude to one’s prose. If, when you receive your Man Booker, you say, “I want to thank my parents, Iris Murdoch and Graham Greene,” chances are some folks are going to assume you spring from a very rare, if unwarranted, literary pedigree. However, “I want to thank my parents, Iris Murdoch, and Graham Greene,” leaves no doubt as to your lineage or intent.

Use of the serial comma has become an increasingly cultural and personal choice. In the end, remember consistency is key. Use it or not, but be uniform throughout your manuscript.

A few brief notes…
Colons ( : ) come before lists or illustrative examples (do not capitalize the word after the colon no matter how tempting it may be). When a conjunction is absent, use semi-colons ( ; ) rather than commas to join independent clauses. Dashes are often considered interchangeable with parentheses, though I beg to differ. To my chagrin, I used the latter a lot until I realized what fell inside their emoticon moues read as more of an afterthought than I intended. I now use dashes almost exclusively, keeping their contents more immediately tied to the tale. I am also personally fond of semi-colons, though I know many writers who can go pages without using a one. Authorial idiosyncrasies abound! Again, know the rules, then make the choices that work for you.

graffito mother fucker

I now realize why I avoided discussing punctuation: it is a mare’s nest of a subject. I am going to have to push quotations, brackets, and apostrophes off to next week. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions, feel free to ask and I will try to answer.

 

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I will try to respond to messages as I am able. At times it may be in the form of a post or a direct email response. Guests who post, I will forward messages addressed to them. It is up to them how they decide to correspond.   — Shawn MacKENZIE – MacKenzie’s Dragonsnest

Escape

ESCAPE

“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”

― Neil Gaiman

neil_gaiman_story_illustration_by_tim baker

Neil Gaiman story illustration by Tim Baker