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Friday, May 27, 2011

F3 Divine Instruction

     "So, class, in the Iliad, we see the hero Diomedes, with Athena's help, is able to actually injure Ares. What conclusions can we draw from this passage?"
     Clearly, Ares is less of a man than he thinks himself to be. Athena said from off to my right, her Aegis shining too brightly in the fluorescent lighting of the classroom.
     Woman! You dare insult me? I will crush you!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Tools: Making em dashes

     I love the em dash. It's one of my favorite punctuation marks. It's also not the easiest one to break out at a moment's notice, and the usage is a little non-standard. I'll leave the usage up to you as googling it and finding out the various arguments for its use as dictated by the Chicago Manual of Style is out there in bulk. And it's on Wikipedia.
     For this post, I'll just go over how various word processors make the durned thing. I have no illusions about Word's dominance, so it's up first.
     In Word, there are a couple of ways to form the em dash. First, assuming that the autoformating is enabled (which, by default, it is), type a word followed by two hyphens (--) followed by the second word. As soon as you hit the space bar after the second word, the word processor will automatically replace it with an em dash. An alternate method is to press CTRL + ALT + Num -. This is the minus sign on the number pad, which is different from the hyphen and underscore key. Laptop users without a number pad will have to first turn on their num lock key, then find the minus sign on their regular keyboard (on my Thinkpad, it's the ; key). Obviously, having the autoformat is a much quicker way to form this punctuation. You can also go the insert symbol route, where it appears at the top of the special characters list (you can also specify a new shortcut here).
     WordPerfect has something similar to Word, but instead of two hyphens, it's three (---), and it replaces themas soon as the first letter after the hyphens is typed. I find this more useful as it allows me to put a dash at the end of a line of dialogue followed by a closing quotation mark to indicate a speaker has been cut off or interrupted.
     For the GoogleDocs users, there's no easy shortcut. You need to go into it from the menus: Insert > Special Characters. Left drop down select Punctuation. Right drop down select Dash/Connector. Em Dash is dead center (not the Horizontal Bar as they're typographically different).
     Last there are the ASCII, Unicode, and html methods, which are summarized in Wikipedia's Common Dashes
     Remember that the em dash is your friend. Use it wisely; use it correctly; it will never let you down.

Friday, May 20, 2011

F3 New Officers

     "A ship," Captain Avery began, "is alive."
     "Sir? Do you mean the A.I.s?" the fresh ensign pushed the round glasses to the top of his nose.
     "No. I don't mean an A.I. Though, obviously those ships are alive, too, and in a much more tangible way. Even without artificial intelligence,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writing Tools: Disable Autocorrect

     An urgent twitter went out from an author one night about Word's proclivities for crashing. She went to the web. She got suggestions from Twitter, and I even tossed a couple of ideas her way. Fortunately, she resolved the problem. For now. It's a problem I have seen and heard complaints about for far too long. MS Word, despite being an industry standard, is not the most reliable performer.
     I'm not out to blame Microsoft or its programmers; however, I'm sure everyone out there has had headaches when it has come to trying to get Word to behave, and as per Murphy, it generally chooses the worst possible time to act up.
     I've talked about automatic file backup here, but there are other things to look at. Word has autocorrect and automatic spell and grammar check options that tend to slow things down. Honestly, I had forgotten about these features because I disable them as soon as I install the software. I have found that there are too many rules in both spelling and grammar that Word just doesn't know, so I don't want the program to break my writing flow by alerting me to a misspelled word.
     But I do recall, in the distant past of my memory and youth, that these features can cause problems for Word. They slow the software down, increasing its CPU and memory footprint. This can be compounded if you are in spell-check or track changes mode as the computer must redraw the entire screen every time you move on to another error. Re-drawn complete with all the arrows, comments, highlights, and red and green squigglies.
     Why does it bog down? Well, mostly my theory is that Word was not designed for writers. Word was designed for business writing, by and large, and while it can handle business and school reports just fine, it doesn't do so well at 100,000+ word novels. Spell and grammar checking all of those words just causes a memory drain on the system. So at least experiment with disabling these autocorrect features to see if it works for you. For those with Word 2007 and newer, go to:

Office button (file in 2010) > Word Options > Proofing. Uncheck "Check spelling as you type" and "Mark grammar errors as you type"

     Older than 2007, go to:

Tools > Options > Autocorrect.

     I hope to, in future posts, tackle some of the other common difficulties writers have with Word, and how to correct them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

F3 Justice

     Jennings smiled.
     No one else did. It was not the type of occasion where people smiled. The small group of people in the "theater" really had nothing to be happy about. Today was not fun, happy, or celebratory. This was a day of justice, a day of closer. Yet Jennings sat there, happy about the crimes that he had committed. Happy about the ones we didn't know about.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Tools: Write then Research

     Butt in chair, hands on keyboard is hard to pull off as every writer knows. If we complicate that with the added temptation of social media, internet, and everything else, it becomes nigh impossible.
     I've never been overly tempted by the allure of social media, so I don't know how to address that one, but I do know that the internet's siren lure of reference material calls to me whenever I write. I've lost myself in hours of research when all I intended to do was look up a quick geographic fact to insert into my WIP. I was led on a merry romp through various cultural and historical facts about the location that, while enlightening, distracted me.
     Writers obviously need to do research (my students could stand to do a little more), but it's important not to let the research overtake the writing itself. I've learned to incorporate a little journalistic shortcut into my writing by inserting TK (short for "To Come" [don't ask me about the spelling etymology]) as a placeholder for whatever fact I need to insert. Sometimes I'll add in parentheses the specific bit of information I need to look up.
     This works not only for odd bits of reference, but for odd things about the story line or characters I may have forgotten. Yes, I should have a series bible (we all should) but that may not take into account what a character said three chapters ago, or was wearing the day before yesterday. I find TK a quick and dirty way to both remind me and to keep me writing instead of breaking up the creative flow with a trip searching through the internet or the book so far.

Friday, May 6, 2011

F3 The Rider

     The Rider, as villagers whispered his name, slumped in his saddle as his horse plodded along the dirt road. Both man and horse bore the signs of heavy travel. The horse's hair, once a pristine white, lay matted with caked mud, his eyes and walk a reflection of the man he bore. The rider wore a tattered cloak, and patch-work armor that a blacksmith might have said had been fine work if not for the years of mis-care represented by rust, dents, and

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writing Tools: Grammar Handbooks

     I suppose I'm on something of a grammar kick with the end of the teaching semester here. Grammar is one of those subjects that writers at almost every level hates or dreads. Whether your particular bane is the apostrophe, the 14 (or is 15 now?) comma rules, when to capitalize certain titles, or any of the other seemingly endless arbitrary rules, it's the author's job to get good at grammar.
     It's not just for the sake of your agent or editor, either. Yes, they will certainly feel like executing you if you continue to make the same error throughout your manuscript, but more importantly you need to know how to craft sentences in an effective way. The very structure of a sentence can convey as much as the words in a sentence.
     To that end, every author should invest in a solid writing or grammar handbook. There's plenty of them on the market, many with tabs for ease of reference. Browse them on Amazon or pop over to a local college bookstore where you'll find many of them. They can run anywhere between $20-$65, and are worth every penny. Well, there is one catch. It doesn't do anything if it sits on your shelf or desk collecting dust. Get in the habit of using it when you revise and edit. Yes, it'll slow you down as you edit, but there is a trade-off. 1. Agents and editors will love you for it. 2. Your writing will improve at the composition stage so you will make fewer initial mistakes.
     Now if only I can get my students to do this.
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