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Saturday, October 17, 2015

Describing Characters in Novels

Writing techniques for novels have evolved over the centuries. "It was a dark and stormy night" was, in its heyday, a very acceptable opening. Yet, in my opinion, "Once upon a time" is a classic first line for fairy tales and probably will remain that way. So, keep in mind, some ideas regarding descriptions (of people, of places, of things) are more universal than others.

Note: There will always be exceptions. Some ingenious author will use "It was a dark and stormy night" with wild success. That's when it's great to know the "rules" well enough to break them so creatively as to make them work. This writing game is all about doing something new, unique, right?

Opening your book with paragraphs or pages of static description would not be acceptable to most readers nowadays, due to our seven-second-or-less attention spans and all the faster-paced multimedia available to us: streaming music/movies, computer games, Kindle books/games, the Internet as a learning resource or as a social site. And that's just what we can do quite alone with technology at our fingertips. Lots of competition, folks, for our downtime.

Maybe in the 1950s, before everyone had a newfangled TV in the house, you could get away with a slow-starting book, rambling on about too much info which can't be deemed all that important to the plot. For example, like describing every wildflower in the field behind a house which is only there long enough to burn down and start the fire inspector on his hunt for the arsonist.

Just recently I've stopped reading some novels. Unfinished. Removed them from my device. Gasp! Sacrilegious, right? But with my Kindle full of "new" books to choose from, and my limited free time, I should be selective. Plus reading those not-for-me stories violates one of my personal rules about not wasting time, mine or other people's. And I'm not just a reader; I'm also an author, looking for styles and techniques and tips from other authors' books that I can learn from, not to mention the copy editor side of me who loves to find those lines of taut construction which communicate with perfection. Oh, yeah, and I'm the Quote Queen too. So I'm delirious to read great lines, succinct pearls of wisdom on the human condition.

Thus, if the story doesn't grab me at the beginning, I'm pretty sure it won't once I'm deeper into the tale either. I know. Because I've read books all the way to The End that told me from page one how this tale was not to my liking. So I'm yielding to that wise inner voice now. Some authors have the "it" factor I'm looking for in my reading. And I can tell if I see it, feel it, on that first page, even if I can't define "it" for you (or me).

Now for my particular pet peeve: the police-blotter description of any character in a novel. I don't want to read about the main protagonist or even a one-off character as "six foot two, black hair, blue eyes, broad shoulders." First, it's hackneyed. Second, we're supposed to be imaginative authors, creative types. We can surely do better than that. Third, it only gets worse when more adjectives are added to this mix, as in "a lanky and dreamy six foot two, raven jet-black hair, unbelievably bluer-than-blue eyes, with strong broad shoulders that could protect her." Ugh. Can you say "purple prose"?

Besides, that "could protect her" angle irks me to no end. Especially when it's "overall" and not just at this very moment when fighting six against one is some lopsided odds. I'm looking for a strong female lead, not a wimpy woman who wants the man to take care of her in toto. That's a long-winded topic for another post ...

But the only time I think such police-blotter description is appropriate is, indeed, on a police blotter. If you're writing a detective novel, a crime series, etc., and the investigator picks up a file on a missing perp, then, and only then, is it okay to writeand for us, your readers, to read"blond/brown, five ten, 180."

And the mirror description? Don't go there. It's been done. Too many times. It's far from being unique and original. I'd stop reading then for sure. And I wouldn't go back to finish that one either.

In fact, at present, I'm enjoying the internal descriptions of characters, completely void of any physical description at first. And any later clue to their outward appearance is maybe one telling detail, like, "He suspected, with her red hair, that she had a temper under that smile."

I'm loving that.

Plus, even in the books of old, with their purple-prose-enhanced police-blotter descriptions, I bet the mental image I had of the character was not even close to what the author imagined. Haven't you yearned to see that movie based on one of your favorite books only to be totally disappointed in the actor playing your beloved character in that story? So it's better to let the reader form his or her own impression of what these characters look like. No need for the storyteller to be heavy-handed in this area.

So, authors, give your readers room to imagine the outer person of someone who's too blunt or a con artist or not to be trusted or selfish or brave or adventurous or smart or awkward or flirty or childish or manipulative or a bully or standing on a street corner looking lost or bending to feed a stray dog or ... whatever.

For me, I'm going to give insight into who my character is first and foremost, then add later a physical descriptor or two, like what would be noticed above all about this person. And I like tells. We all have them. Surely they speak to some insecurity within us, right? Those psychological details add depths to our imaginary friends without us having to write more than that. Until later. When we reveal their secrets. Pretty cool, right?

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Author Ideas Notebook

Okay, so it's not just a notebook. It has a related box of files too. But overall I've got stuff sorted into separate folders. "Stuff" here means pages I've ripped from my old magazines or catalogs, where the people are so striking, hitting a chord with me.

When I don't have a fix on my lead character in my newest book, I can look through my Characters manila file folder and search out the ones who seem to want to tell their story at this moment. Then, where before I had no one visualized to populate my story, now I have more than enough vying to be the main character. A nice problem to have.

Same thing goes for other authorial topics. Here's my list of things I collect, set aside, waiting for an opportune moment to be put to use:
  1. Characters - See above discussion. If you just throw out magazines and catalogs, and aren't the pack-rat saver I am, then visit Pinterest. It hypnotizes me for days. I have to limit my visits for that very reason. I have one obit (somewhere) that reads like a Hollywood movie. That person really knew how to live each day. Inspires me in my real life as well as in my writing life.
  2. Character Names - I've bought like four baby name books that I need to completely go through and compile my list of favorite boy and girl names. I've also saved an old Louisiana telephone book to get some great Cajun names from. 
  3. Places - this can be a magazine travel article about a geographic location on a map or a photo of a house that strikes my fancy.
  4. Careers - give your readers a tale about someone with an interesting career.
  5. Great First Lines - I love these, amassed from my own reading or via an Internet search for same. Sometimes they can be inspirational. Sometimes they make me feel insecure as an author. Ha!
  6. Plots - Whether you subscribe to the one-plot theory or the thirty-seven plots or the seven or whatever, it doesn't hurt to have them somewhere handy to jog your brain. Try melding two. Try "upgrading" one with a new and different twist.
  7. Clothes - sometimes an outfit can spur me on when developing a certain character.
  8. Words - I'm a certified geek. I subscribe to two word-of-the-day offerings, plus I'm a copy editor with a daily relationship with Webster's. What can I say? Words speak to me. Single words even. So I keep three Brainstorming files. One is an email folder. One is a Word document. One is a physical file, in case the electricity or the Internet is down. These word entries can describe a person, a place, a mood, be used as a stand-alone title or part of a multiple-word title, not to mention in the blurbs and descriptions of my ebooks.  Have you ever played that game with your writing buddies where you each pick one word, then all the selected words are to be used in one 250-word piece, written on the spot in the next five minutes? It's totally fun. And so illuminating. Each short-short will be unique. Because each author is unique.
  9. Cars - I love cars of all vintages. So I save clippings of some. One, a picture of a Jeep, reminds me of this girl who drove past the DART bus I was riding to work. I don't have a picture to memorialize that, of course, but the Jeep does that for me. Even if I don't mention the vehicle in my latest novel, it helps me visualize the girl driving it. So I'm using it for characterization more than as a mode of transportation for my imaginary friends.
  10. Themes - I gravitate toward the emotional resonance of a theme. So I love to find these to help me nail them in my own writing.
  11. Emotions - I have a book regarding emotions and how to show them, plus lists of gradations of them, like anger, from miffed to murderous. Helps me to broaden my range of emotions expressed.
  12. Scenes - If I happen to overhear a wonderful conversation, I get it down. For later.
  13. Relationships - I save magazine articles touting relationships. I do have to weed through some cheesy ones to get to those that work for me.
  14. Psychology - I happen to like the psychological aspect of things, so I've saved my son's psychology textbook for my writing applications.
  15. Taglines - I save great ones to help me formulate one for each of my books.
  16. Favorite Movies - I have a growing list, but I have yet to see a pattern as to why I like these movies. You know, something the author/screenwriter did to engage me, which I should be able to reproduce in my own works. To me, they are all different and special in their own way, so I get lost in the magic and can't seem to work on a formula that defines my particular viewing pleasure (other than generics, like a happy ending, some humor, some romance, some action, some intrigue, yet something that won't leave me in bed that night with the lights still on).
  17. Favorite Books - Same thing here. I've been trying to find out the authors' magic touches in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and in Nora Roberts's First Impressions and The Fall of Shane MacKade. Again I get lost in the weave of the storytelling web ... which says something in and of itself.
  18. Quotes - I'm a quotaholic. I have my own ebook compilations of quotes (Volume Four coming soon). Each are about ninety or so pages long with maybe ten quotes per MSWord page, so I've gathered nine hundred pithy sayings within each offering, times the four volumes to date, or a total of 3,600 aphorisms that are all my favorites. I also subscribe to a couple daily quote emails too. I love quotes. They can summarize a life's philosophy or a theme or a plot-in-the-making or a conflict with just a handful of words.
  19. Archetypes - This list of various types also helps with character development.
  20. Enneagrams - Ditto.
  21. Astrology - Ditto. Plus gets into financial and social atmospheres too.
  22. My Happy Places - These are good for inserting into random scenes, like an overpass interchange, a movie theater, a farmer's market, etc. I just keep a running list in my physical Brainstorming notebook.
  23. Push My Buttons - This list is my particular collection of nemeses who I've had the misfortune to run across in my lifetime, such as manipulators, liars, con artists, bullies, coattailers (my own word to describe slackers who want to ride on the accomplishments of my hard work), scammers, judgmental people, yada, yada. Good for conflict ideas in the sagging middle parts of books.
  24. List of Interests - I have myriad curiosities, so my list of things that interest me continues on. I find it helpful in career hunting for my characters.
  25. Branding - Knowing about this helps with creating covers. I'm not a marketing guru, but I keep a few articles handy that help me out with this.
  26. Cover Art - I love the Amazon emails that depict covers. Some I like. Some I don't. I keep a folder on each to help me sort out what to use for my own book covers.
  27. The Best of the Best - I keep good notes of each writing book I've read and am compiling a Plotting Checklist for my own use, but I also plan to upload same to Amazon too. This won't encompass all the tips I've read and collected, but it will cover the ones most useful in plotting. Especially for someone like me. I'm actually a hybrid. I'm a pantster who, in general, has at least three or four of the seven main plot points figured out before I start writing a new book. Still, I've read enough about plotting versus writing by the seat of my pants to realize the final edit will be less onerous if I plot beforehand. Sold!
  28. Marketing - Again, not my expertise, but I save other authors' emails promoting their work. They all have their unique points, but they all also promote their work via emails. Good stuff to know.
  29. Formatting - I have a fellow author buddy who is no longer local and is (was?) a professional formatter, and she was kind enough to tell me that my layperson's formatting of my ebooks looked pretty good. She actually shared her time and expertise to walk a couple of us through her formatting process. Let me tell you, that is a tedious feat and involves downloading two (free) software programs. I'd have to relearn it all over again each season as I upload a new ebook. For my purposes, I'll stick with MSWord Styles and autogenerating tables of contents. When money is no object, I'll hire my friend (or someone she recommends).
  30. Bios/Blurbs/Descriptions - I've saved some tips on each of these, mainly dealing with SEO, that I've run across over the years. More updated info is probably on the Net. I'd suggest you search there for help.
  31. Hobbies - Make a list of those you enjoy or those you want to do more of or find out everything about. These are good to slip into a scene to add detail. They can even serve as your main character's occupation or for a secondary cast member's day job.
  32. Music - Songs can be so helpful to inspire a mood or even a whole book.
  33. Art - One writing class I took years ago had us searching the Net for artwork we loved that spawned a story to be told. Very appealing to me. I have an artwork folder that never ceases to invigorate me.
  34. Poetry - I'm a wordy novelist, so I'm amazed and stunned that poets can relay so much with so few words. But, there again, those are well-chosen words. Something we authors can make use of too. Of course, the two artistic expressions are different as well. While poetry can be all about the flowery prose and euphemisms and ethereal communication, that doesn't work so well in a fiction piece. In little smatterings here and there of five words or less, maybe ... But we live in the seven-seconds-of-attention generation. Readers can lose interest fast if explosions, murder, sex, etc., are not happening on each page.
  35. Cooking - I love to cook, especially when I have the time and the money. But we authors can parlay those things we love into our writing too. First it adds a layer of detail to our scenes. Second it nicely works into our writing the two oft-overlooked senses of smell and taste. I love Robert B. Parker's Spenser series anyway, but the nice touch that Spenser cooks is much appreciated and enjoyed.
  36. Voice - I'm currently reading a book released in 2003 entitled Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing by Les Edgerton, which I am enthralled with. I'm savoring every page, and so it's taking me longer to read this one as I learn, get inspired and take note of the homework assignments that I'll do when I reread the portions I highlighted. And there are many of those. Exciting stuff here. Makes me happy to be an author.
I hope I've encouraged you to create your own stash of go-to ideas. Want to share some of yours?

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Stress Relievers

This post is as much for me as for y'all—although my stress levels are way down, now that I work for myself at home and no longer work as a legal assistant in downtown Dallas. Loved it for a time, then took the leap of faith and became an entrepreneur. Still, I need this reminder list some days too.

Some common physical symptoms of stress include a racing heart, headaches, rashes/itching/hives, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, change in bowel habits. If they persist, go see the professional of your choice.

I'm not a health professional, just a layperson who collects data/info. That means, instead of collecting owl figurines or antique letter openers (nothing wrong with either), I collect what I find interesting (usually health or writing related) along with cookbooks and published fiction and nonfiction.

So I found a bunch of loose sheets dealing with stress. I have more on this subject somewhere else, in another box I've yet to sort through, because I had this humorous list of about thirty items on how to deal with stress. However, the only one I remember, without benefit of said list, is something about seeing how many minimarshmallows you can stuff up your nose. Not that I'd advocate that, but the thought makes me smile. So here are my current findings, which are on a more serious note. I'll share the funny ones later, when I find them.

  1. Get more financially organized. Put your bills to be paid next to your computer. Or, even better, go ahead and set them up for payment online, with the date to be paid selected as needed. Have your important papers gathered in one spot: your Last Will and Testament, your medical powers of attorney, your general power of attorney, your car titles, your banking info, your life insurance policy, etc. Tell your executor where to find this.
  2. Stop procrastinating. If you are scared to make that doctor's appointment, just do it. You are more than likely worrying needlessly. Or you can worry less if you catch "something" sooner rather than later.
  3. Reach out and touch something soft: a beloved pet, satin sheets, an angora sweater, your baby's soft skin, even your hubby's rough hands.
  4. Watch a favorite movie for the tenth time.
  5. Water! Drink it. Bathe in it. Seek its source. Watch the ocean. Swim in a lake. Magic!
  6. Smell something good. Bake fresh bread at home. Put on a pot of simmering cinnamon sticks and orange rinds. Buy yourself some flowers (or just visit a florist and inhale).
  7. Exercise.
  8. Play the piano.
  9. Listen to music. Dance to music. Sing to music. Your choice.
  10. If the budget allows, go have lunch with the girls/guys.
  11. People who work hard at satisfying jobs, and who have rich family and personal lives, are usually the happiest. So if you spend most of your waking hours at a job you hate, where you are not appreciated, get one better suited for you.
  12. Play hard.
  13. Hike. Research your town's/city's hiking trails. Go explore.
  14. Go biking.
  15. Practice yoga or other stretching exercises.
  16. Remember, feeling as if you have too little control over your life can cause stress. Seek to resolve that.
  17. Also too little to do can cause stress. Find a hobby. Go volunteer and help others.
  18. Scented candles can be soothing. Go for beeswax candles that don't put toxins in your environment.
  19. Figure out your particular stressor(s) and take steps to remedy them.
  20. Remember that worry cuts into your productivity. You are punishing yourself. Stop that now. Realizing you are doing this is the first step to recovery.
  21. High-pressure jobs (a lot to do) with low control (little say so on your part) are the most stressful. Maybe stop to evaluate your position in a new light. Check out the current job market. Wouldn't it be great to find a job closer to home, that pays you more, with better benefits? Go find one now.
  22. Working where you don't feel meaningful causes stress. Move toward your goals instead of someone else's goals.
  23. Get your house more organized. Per FLYLady.net, the cheapest remodel is to declutter your house. Won't that make you smile?
  24. Be decisive. Quit waffling about that decision on your mind, taking up hours and hours of your day and leading to nothing productive. Make a decision. Now. Flip a coin if you have to. If the first decision turns out to be wrong, correct course and make another decision.
  25. Worrying is your first red flag to get some good advice, to act, to do something instead.
  26. Make a list of what stresses you and divide it into two columns: that which you can control and that which you can't. Then have a trusted friend or your spouse look over your "can't control" list to offer any insight that you may not be seeing.
  27. Figure out what are your "hot buttons." Find a way to avoid them (or avoid that person most likely to push all of them!).
  28. Make a realistic budget for now and revise it for later when things are not so tight financially. It has to be doable or you'll feel stress in not making it work.
  29. Create a mission statement for your life. List all goals, like write that novel, return to college, take a cooking class or a language class or whatever. Read this first thing every morning and last thing at night. Keep your mind aware of your bigger goals. You should start seeing opportunities regarding these, now that you've alerted your subconscious mind that these are important to you.
  30. Now act on one of your goals. When you do something you really love, you won't need so many stress relievers, as you've focused on correcting the cause, not the effect.
  31. Don't contaminate the good times. Stop feeling guilty when you do splurge and eat that Death by Chocolate dessert. Enjoy it. Savor it. Then eat salads tomorrow. And enjoy them, savor them too.
  32. Kick bad habits: smoking, drinking to excess, sugarholicism, etc.
  33. Make a To Do list. Be realistic. Affix a timeline for how long it would take you to do it all. You may be surprised how little time is involved. Plus remember that procrastinating about doing these jobs is truly wasted time. Prove it to yourself by choosing the "quickest" item on your list. Time yourself. Did it take all of fifteen minutes? Surprised you, didn't it? Well, keep at it.
  34. Say no.
  35. Give yourself at least fifteen minutes of "you" time each day. You deserve more than that, but this will suffice for now.
  36. Breathe deeply, slowly.
  37. Think of the best sex you ever had.
  38. Play a computer game.
  39. Read!
  40. If the budget allows, take vacations, meet friends for lunch/dinner, romance your hubby with a candlelight dinner at home or out somewhere special.
  41. Keep things in perspective. Be grateful for health and home and love. For most of us here in the States, our "problems" are probably first-world "problems."
  42. Take a weekend to prepare forty freezer meals. I haven't yet done this (my freezer is packed), so I can't recommend any one plan to you, but I did find two or three websites with free instructions on this. Check them out and let me know how they worked for you. See https://newleafwellness.biz/2015/02/17/17-freezer-meal-prep-sessions-that-will-change-your-life/ and http://foodwineandpoopydiapers.com/2014/03/23/how-i-feed-my-whole-family-for-about-60-a-week/ and http://www.aturtleslifeforme.com/2011/06/freezer-meals-on-cheap.html. If your budget allows, you can buy freezer menu mailers from Leeann Ely at savingdinner.com. If money is truly no object, you can go with the paid meal deliveries of fresh food that you cook yourself. Research the Internet for these companies.
  43. Initiate date night with your special honey, whether it's once a week or once a month. Have fun!
  44. If a traditional vacay is not in the cards for you, take a day trip. Drive to a nearby town and walk the square and check out antiques or watch the hot air balloon celebration or visit an upcoming festival.
  45. In that vein, go to the library, the bookstore for a day of browsing and adding to your wish list, and/or Starbucks (but sit outside this time, weather permitting).
  46. Stop focusing on yourself and your problems. I bet there are plenty of people with much worse ordeals to survive.
  47. Empty a drawer! The universe likes to fill vacuums.
  48. For the ladies, give yourself a mani-pedi.
  49. Have a full spa day at home.
  50. Buy yourself flowers.
  51. Keep things around you that make you smile.
  52. Declutter!
  53. Draw. Paint. Use charcoal, pen and ink, pastels, oils, etc.
  54. Use white noise to calm you.
  55. Recover from the drain of negative emotions by trying this: with mouth closed, tap your tongue against the ridge behind your upper front teeth. Do for three to four minutes. Let me know if this works for you.
  56. Interrupt bad thoughts that are on a vicious loop in your head. Simply change the state of your mind. Use a positive mantra word. Repeat it. Passively disregard other thoughts.
  57. Take a break hourly to stretch whatever body part is the tensest.
  58. Remember that fretting is not productive. Fretting is just delaying solving the problem.
  59. Do like Scarlett O'Hara did. Worry about it tomorrow (which then turns into "today"). But set about solving it today.
  60. Ask yourself when your worries actual came to fruition. See? Waste of time ...
  61. Gather info that either solves your problem or dismisses the worry associated therewith.
  62. Visualize good outcomes.
  63. Savor the moment. Be more present.
  64. Remember to take care of yourself. That replenishes the courage you need to go on.
  65. Caring for yourself tells you that you are worth the effort.
  66. Caring for yourself tells the world that you are worth it.
  67. Create a sense of possibility, which raises your spirits and your energy levels.
  68. Remind yourself that taking care of your family, your home, yourself, is a privilege, not a chore.
  69. Treat yourself well. With respect. With the utmost care. People will begin to treat you in the same manner too.
  70. HALT: Ask yourself if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired? Fix the underlying problem. Either eat something healthy, confront the anger, go hug someone, take a nap.
  71. If angry, remember that you can't control others. You can control your responses to them though. You can avoid them as well. Plus look for the faulty "should" talk that appears in your angry-mode thinking. "They shouldn't treat me like this. They should know better. They should apologize ..."
  72. Forgive. Holding a grudge takes mental, emotional and physical energy. Not worth it. Say a prayer for those people and move on, doing what you can about it. NEVER stay in an abusive relationship.
  73. There's a strong connection between anger and health problems, such as chronic stomach upsets, heart problems and skin conditions. Get healthier by addressing the root of the anger.
  74. Forgiveness releases enormous energy. So does acting on that procrastination.
  75. Forgiveness works whether you speak to that person face-to-face or just forgive them in your mind.
  76. Forgiving someone DOES NOT MEAN you trust them. They have to earn that. Again.
  77. Speak up when someone wrongs you. Don't let their wrong and your silence both fester inside you. Plus some people need to be told what bothers you and why. Establish those boundaries early on. And it could be simply a failure to communicate. Correct it. Immediately.
  78. Get professional help if needed.
Wow. I had no idea I had collected so many. As always, use what resonates with you and dismiss the rest.

Here's to happier people all around ...

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

Friday, October 2, 2015

I Loved Aldi's Before and Now I Love Them Even More

I love my local Aldi's. First, no pesky annual fees are involved. That would negate me from ever being a customer, as I am currently in the broke-but-happier season of my life ever since starting my freelancing career. Second, I save money, even compared to Walmart.

But now I have an additional reason. Aldi's announced yesterday, October 1, 2015, how it will remove all partially hydrogenated oils, certified synthetic colors and added MSG from its "exclusive brand food products."

All are steps in the right direction. Thank you, Aldi's!

To see the whole press release, go here: https://corporate.aldi.us/fileadmin/fm-dam/news_and_awards/Press_Release_2015/Product_Reformulation_Press_Release_FINAL.pdf

Be healthy. Live well. Go for that dream of yours. 

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Prefix and Suffix Hyphenation Tip

As a professional copy editor of more than seven years now, I see lots of manuscripts. As a longtime lover of reading, I read a lot of books. And hyphenation problems abound in both (yes, traditionally published as well as Indie pubbed).

For instance, I'm reading a 2003 nonfiction paperback right now, a how-to guide directed at authors, by a well-known traditional publisher (which I will not name here) and already have multiple marginalia concerning misspellings (dealing with unneeded hyphens), and I'm only on page 34 of 241 total pages. Sad but true. And this publisher should be using the same American book guidelines as I do (16CMS and Web11, defined below). I usually contact the publisher with these finds for correction in the next reprint, as I will for this one.

Anyway ...

So here's your quick overall tip regarding hyphenation when affixing prefixes and suffixes to a word:




Yes. You read that right. And you will be correct more times than not if you DO NOT hyphenate when adding prefixes and suffixes to other words. There are exceptions of course, but for general purposes DO NOT hyphenate when adding prefixes/suffixes.

Want examples?

Here are some: prenuptial agreement, postpartum depression, preschool, antebellum, midday, nonfiction (this one is a particular pet peeve of mine, especially when misspelled as "non-fiction" by authors, authors of nonfiction!), etc.

I don't know if a quick glance at the dictionary is causing this problem or not. After all, there is a "post-" prefix entry and a "post" as a noun entry and a "post" entry as a verb, adverb, etc. The hyphen in the initial prefix entry just differentiates the bald, stand-alone prefix from the noun/verb/adverb entries.

NOTE: Just because there is a prefix entry (like "anti-") or a suffix entry (like "-ward") that INITIALLY shows the hyphen to connote its "fixability" (affixing to another word) DOES NOT MEAN THE HYPHEN STAYS WHEN JOINING IT TO A WORD. Read further in the dictionary's entries to see the actual uses of the prefix or suffix. You will most likely not see the hyphen in use there with the examples.

If you want to delve further into this, then look up each compound word in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (Web11) to confirm.

However, beware, because sometimes 16CMS 7.85 (The Chicago Manual of Style, Sixteenth Edition, rule 7.85) will override Web11, meaning 16CMS allows more hyphenless prefix/suffix combinations than Web11 shows, in keeping with 16CMS's "spare hyphenation" rule.

For a further level into this madness called the English language, I could tell you about the exceptions, then about the exceptions to the exceptions. I kid you not.

The basic hyphenation exception is that, if two of the same vowels end up together (like "anti-inflammatory" with its two Is), then you need the hyphen for added clarity. BUT that doesn't always work with two Es. For example, "pre-engineered" is hyphenated per Web11. Yet "preenrollment" is not, also per Web11. Go figure.

Hence my earlier statement regarding "exceptions to the exceptions."

So I suggest everyone wanting the easiest fix to just go with the basic rule discussed above: DON'T HYPHENATE WHEN AFFIXING PREFIXES AND SUFFIXES TO WORDS.

As a copy editor, I thank you. You authors who end up using my copyediting services have made my job so much easier and have made your manuscript so much "cleaner."

As a reader, I thank you. You authors not using me as a copy editor have made my reading pleasure so much more enjoyable as my copy editor side didn't kick in during my reading-for-fun time.

In case you are interested, I'll be doing more of these copyediting tip posts as my work allows. In other words, if I'm busy copyediting projects, you won't see many of these. If I'm not busy earning a living, then you'll see more posts like these.

Here's to happily reading more good books. There will never be a shortage of good books, so, authors, both traditionally and Indie published, keep on writing!

"If your vocation isn’t a vacation, then quit, leap, change careers."

Denise Barker, Author, Blogger, Copy Editor
Books that Build Character(s)

What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson
When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue.  You give him the possibility of a whole new life. Christopher Morley
The best inheritance you can leave your kids is an example of how to live a full and meaningful life. Dan Zadra