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A Pause

Behold, the ellipse! The giver of long pauses, changed thoughts, and passed time. If there is such a thing as spirit punctuation, this one’s mine – that or the dash!

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You Don’t Have to Know the Rules to Break Them

"If I wouldn't have spent so much time shooting spit wads at my English teacher, I'd know how to punctuate. Good thing I normally write poetry." Stanley Victor Paskavich

I feel very conflicted about this quote: part of me is genuinely horrified, and the other part is horribly amused.

But it helps. At least, it helps you break them well… But, seriously, if you want to break all the rules of grammar and punctuation, write poetry.

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Criticism v. Editing: What’s the Difference?

I get the impression that people sometimes lump criticism and editing together when they are in fact two very separate entities. Since you don’t want to make the mistake of giving one when someone wanted the other, it’s important to understand their differences. From what I can see, the biggest differences are who, how, and why.

Criticism

As a rule, criticism is given when the author has asked for it either by taking part in a writing circle or asking a friend to read the piece and give feedback1. Giving feedback to an author who hasn’t asked for it is generally considered rude, so be mindful of that.

  • Who: friends, colleagues, or members of a writing circle
  • How: through friendly conversation in person, by phone/email, or on a forum
  • Why: 1. because the author asked for feedback 2. to find big problems with the story (not the grammar2)

Getting feedback about the story is not about hundreds of minute problems and how to fix them. It should be a couple of big ideas, specific scenes, or specific problems (like characterization, plot, or setting). Remember that the goal is to improve the story, not to fix grammar errors.

Editing

Authors may or may not ask for outside feedback and criticism, but all authors should go through some form of editing even if it means hiring a copyeditor. If you’re going through a publisher, some of the editing will include story-related problems (like criticism), but the main focus is word usage, punctuation, and formatting – in other words, making sure that the story is written in generally correct English (or at least intelligible English).

  • Who: an editor paid by the author or the publisher
  • How: through markings on the manuscript (or file)
  • Why: 1. to correct technical writing issues like grammar and punctuation and 2. to fix any major story problems that might prevent sales (generally, to make the work readable and sellable)

Most likely, editing will involve hundreds of minute problems and how to fix them. Although editing through a publisher may very well include story feedback, editing as a whole is more about syntax, punctuation, and formatting.

Criticism v. Editing

While some might call them two sides of the same coin, I think of criticism and editing as two destinations on a road trip. You might go to two different towns for similar reasons, but the goals and details of the experiences are not the same. If you went to Town A, and got Town B instead, you’d be confused and frustrated (seriously, that would just be weird).

So if someone asks for criticism, give criticism. If someone asks for editing, give editing. If you’re not sure what the person wanted, ask.

Simple, right?

 

1. Note that I am not including book reviews in this because generally they are written for people interested in reading the book – not the author.
2. The only time grammar is usually critiqued in a writer circle is if it is so bad that the story is unintelligible. There may be exceptions to this, but usually the goal is to focus on the story itself.

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A Book Review: Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves

When I bought the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, all I knew about it was that it was about grammar (via punctuation) and that I find the joke of the title hilarious.

Of course, the cover just makes the joke better.

Of course, the cover just makes the joke better.

As the back says, “A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.” This hubbub occurs because of a misplaced comma in a wildlife manual: “Eats, shoots and leaves.” That little comma changes the intended meaning (the panda likes to eat shoots and leaves, AKA, tasty plants) to a much more bizarre meaning (the panda eats, shoots at something, and then exits).

Being a literal-minded person who appreciates a good pun and witty punctuation, I was intrigued enough by this joke to buy the book, and as luck would have it, it turns out that this story is also an excellent summary for the rest of the book. Lynne Truss showcases a wonderfully educated sense of humor framed by punctuation anecdotes, history, and a multitude of allusions (to everything from the classical literature to movies to candy). If that sort of humor appeals to you, and you have a strong understanding of punctuation rules, this is an excellent book to pass the time and have a good laugh.

I also like that it explains the differences between the punctuation rules of the U.S. and the U.K. (it makes me feel so educated). Add accounts of authors’ arguments with editors about whether punctuation should be added or removed, and I’d definitely recommend it as an entertaining read for all English-minded people.

That said, I would not recommend it for anyone trying to learn the rules of punctuation.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves overflows with inside jokes about meaning and the nuances created from the apostrophe, comma, semicolon, and so-on. If you do not know the punctuation rules already, those jokes and anecdotes will make no sense to you (they may actually confuse you more). If you have a more straightforward punctuation book, on the other hand, you could use this book as a supplement to make the subject more interesting – in other words, learn the rule from the other book and then open this one for a good laugh.

Everyone should learn to punctuate sentences correctly. Anyone who likes puns, punctuation, and general wit should consider reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves for a little light-hearted humor.