Thursday, December 14, 2006

In My House, My Rules

I’ve had plenty of experience working with kids, so I’m familiar with run-on sentences, poor spelling, bad grammar, an absence of punctuation. And from kids that’s okay. They’re learning.

I have also received emails from people that start:

heya yous think U wud…

You better be 15 fucking years old if you want to use that lingo and expect me to wade through line upon line without punctuation to guide me or even breaking paragraphs as I try to figure out what you’re saying.

The thing is, I’ve had a few emails like this over the past year, from authors. Not crime fiction authors, I’m pleased to say, but when I see stuff like this I go mental. I will read it from teenagers. I will actually read it from anyone... except people who claim to be professional writers. Then it isn't that they don't know any better. It's just that they're being lazy.

I’m not really a ‘rules’ girl. Not sure if everyone’s gotten that. In case you’re new here or have been sleepwalking for the past few months, I think it’s necessary to point that out. I don’t cling rigidly to rules just for the sake of rules.

But when it comes to some things - spelling, grammar, punctuation – I believe the author has the responsibility to try to be correct. Oh, I know typos happen. They happen to me too. And some rules are unclear, or there are different UK and US rules, which always confuses me because we seem to operate with half of each system here.

Nevertheless, it is my job. if I were to post one massive runon sentence and just expect you guys to follow along figure out what Im saying with not using any punctuation or worreein about how any werds are spelt id expect Us guys to skip rite on 2 the next blog and not likely come back and probly not by my book either.

My house, my rules.

Now, when it comes to the writing rules, POV shifts and such, I’m more flexible. Good authors can break rules, because they know when and how to do it. Good authors do it in such a way that you don’t even notice.

That said, I’m aware everyone has their thing they can’t stand. I’m aware I can’t please everyone. I’m also aware that I’m still learning.

Do you guys have any pet peeves that will keep you from ever reading an author again?

Now, in the randomness that is cyberspace, I bring you:
Christmas presents from Cornelia, in case you haven’t already seen them. I really want The Ex. And the Ninja Ducks.

Hawt android? Bill, what’s the verdict?

File this under another dumb reason to have a beard.

I think I’m glad that when Kevin and I were in Japan we had twin beds. Honestly, though, I think I could take them.


Anonymous said...

Obviously, you should not be allowed to have large chunks of free time.

I ordered the camo ninja ducks for my husband. norby

Sandra Ruttan said...

Sad thing is, Norby, I don't have large chunks of free time! I've been having an email problem where things download twice or bounce back to senders and, well, I'm generally going nuts. I just need the odd stress relief!

Anonymous said...

15 years old? Generous.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and the android? I couldn't tell due to that Hello Kitty sweatshirt.

John McFetridge said...

What turns me off an author is slavish following of rules. I like books where the characters tell their own stories - and most characters aren't english lit grads.

I don't like "writer words" where there should be character words.

When I got my first ms back from the editor a lot of changes were suggested. Among them was using things other than, "said." I've never had anyone tell me a story and use anything other than said. No one has ever said, "So, Eddie and Bill walked into the room, and Bill declared, 'What are you doing here?' and Susie replied, 'Nothing.'" The editor suggested the changes, "for variety." That seemed like a creative writing class idea to me, for variety; not for clarity, or for voice.

Anything other than 'said' is a "writer word."

But yeah, the crappy email spelling and grammar drive me nuts, too.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, I am the embodiment of generosity!

John, I agree with you. When it comes to dialogue or narrative thought, it's a different ballpark. But just being lazy to be lazy in emails, posts, what have you... and I say that as someone who typically doesn't edit their blog posts, although if I notice whoppers later I'll change them. Or fix broken links or whatever. I'm not saying people have to be obsessive about perfection but when I see authors post on discussion groups/forums with no semblance of sentence structure it drives me mad.

That said, there will undoubtedly be errors in my first book. Because the one thing I've learned is that you can never edit yourself enough. I can't believe what sneaks by...

JamesO said...

I get annoyed with writers who can't keep on top of point of view - or maybe don't want to. But that is a well-documented bug-bear of mine, and since Val McDermid does it in the book I'm reading at the moment, I should probably shut up about it. Nothing annoys me enough to never read an author again except that they write a dull, unreadable book.

And damn. Is it too late to get Ninja Ducks sent over here?

Anonymous said...

I'm persnickety about POV management myself, though I'll tolerate a little sloppiness if I like the story otherwise. I generally find attempts at full-omniscient to be the hardest to take, because I find it functions as a free pass to insert "oh by the way" information mid-stream more often than not. I especially hate paragraphs in which I see the thoughts of different characters. Some writers are better at it than others, of course, but mostly I see it as an easy way out.

I don't mind writer words when used judiciously. A novel that uses nothing but "said" will stand out to me as a novel that uses nothing but "said". Which, I would guess, is probably not the big takeaway the writer wants.

Sometimes the flow of the language is best served by use of "declared" or "replied," though I admit that I've never seen a convincing use of "averred." I don't want to see writer words just to see them, but a writer word is sometimes the right word. Just like, sometimes, an adverb is the right word. Just keep it under control.

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, you're entitled to your POV. I think this is one of the most common mistakes I made in my early work, and I'm mindful of it now. If you're going to make a switch, there needs to be a clear baton pass, so it's obvious POV is transferring. Nothing more jarring than thinking you're in one person's head and finding out two paragraphs you aren't.

Bill, I agree with you as well. Sometimes when I read, "he said quietly" I think, "JUST SAY WHISPERED!" Or murmured, or whatever!

But sometimes the editor will make the author change it as well. I was told by someone I was lazy for using murmured and words other than said. Personally, I disagree.

Anonymous said...

"I wonder if they can hear me muttering," he said in a mutterly way.

John McFetridge said...

Well that's the thing, as Bill points out. Explaining the dialogue is like explaining the joke.

Adverbs are your enemy.

Well, my enemy, anyway.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"fckn idjutshaffa nitpik prrrtt vreetin fok," she muttered.

Chew on that. And I'm not explaining it either!

Anonymous said...

I'm having a hard enough time chewing on my lunch. He grumbled.

stevemosby said...

I only have a couple of rules at most. Basically, say everything as clearly as you can and do so in as few words as necessary. Be comprehensible and don't shove your reader away. I'm not so picky about grammar. My commas tends to hit sub-clauses pretty regularly, for example, but I base them entirely on where I'd want someone to pause while reading it out loud. I just want it to be as easy to read as possible.

The whole "he said quietly" vs "he whispered" thing is interesting. (They're different things, surely? 'Whispered' implies intent and secrecy?). It seems strange, on reflection, that adverbs are so avoided, because saying something quietly is a perfectly reasonable thing for someone to do. But I guess some adverbs sound more absurd than others, and it's better to be safe than sorry.

For me, one of the main problems with dialogue tags is that they generally come after the dialogue. So the reader has gone through the dialogue, heard it in their head, and then suddenly they're being told "he whispered" (or whatever) afterwards. If that's not how they read it, they trip up. If they see "he said", they just skip over it - they already know that from the speech marks. Some dialogue tags, if you need to, you can get away with a lot better by putting them in first.

My personal irritants are where someone hisses something that has no sibilants in it (how?) and - a bit obscure this - when a foreign character manages enormously complex sentences in English and then says "Au revoir", or something. It's like hanging a label on them saying "Did you notice that I'm meant to be French?".

angie said...

I really, really hate head-hopping. Really. Hate. It. I've got a few other things that bug me like weird nouns used as verbs - thinking of S. King using "armed" as a verb - not in terms of weaponry, but as in "he armed the sweat off his face." Ewww. Just sounds weird & jolts me every time.

But head-hopping drives me nuts. It's a giant speedbump on the story road. Jolts me right out of the flow and irritates the hell out of me. Will make me stop reading entirely unless the rest of the story is pretty damn compelling.

I'm guilty of occasionally using stupid spelling in emails, mostly just for fun. I like saying/writing stuff like Yer so kewl, though too much starts to sound like I'm an idiot who doesn't understand how to speak or write correctly. Which may not be far from the truth.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I'm having the same email problems, Sandra!

How do you know if they're 15 years old?

...and you look so sweet, in your little picture!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Steve, good question, but when authors are told to use the 'said' version no matter what, how do you really know?

I like the point that this comes after you've read the dialogue, usually, so if it's different than how the reader interpreted the statement it makes them reassess it. Still, I find the extra words cumbersome as a reader. I try to weed out dialogue tags from my writing now, wherever I can.

Angie, Bill is always using 'hawt' and that doesn't bug me! It's when it's a series of run-on sentences in combo with the spelling etc that I have real trouble. Part of the way we're taught to read is by shapes of words. We seldom read each physical letter unless the word is new to us or rarely used. So when people type gr8 2 c u it's shorter for them to type but just as long, if not longer, for the average person to read.

Bonnie, I don't, but I do make assumptions! And if you click on that picture and see it enlarged you'll see I don't look that sweet!