Friday, September 30, 2016

Basic Rules for Punctuating Dialogue

In honor of last weekend's National Punctuation Day, we've been running a short series of posts on punctuation. JoAnn kicked off the topic by sharing some great links, one to a site I've never seen: Khan Academy. If you didn't follow that link and you have difficulty identifying run-on sentences, I encourage you to head over there as soon as you finish reading this post. Next, Carla shared a terrific example from her own work of how wise punctuation choices can help engage the reader. Before I wrap-up this series, I want to thank everyone who entered our giveaway of Cheryl Klein's The Magic Words, and to congratulate our winner, Cathy M!

The biggest punctuation challenge for my beginning students--both adults and children--seems to be dialogue. When I was a novice writer trying to understand how to punctuate dialogue, I studied examples in published works. Since I started out as a freelance newspaper writer (aka "stringer"), those early examples were quotes in newspaper and magazine articles. Later, when I turned to fiction, I modeled the punctuation I used on that in the novels on my shelves. Fortunately, they were all American publications, so the use of punctuation was consistent. I later discovered that British publications follow different rules, rules that are almost the direct opposite of ours. No wonder so many of my students were confused!  For a brief overview of the differences, see this page of The Punctuation Guide.

quinn.anya via
When I teach dialogue, I give my students a handout with some basic rules and corresponding examples. Here are the first three:

1. All dialogue should be set off with beginning and ending double quotation marks.

          “Come here, Lassie.”

2. Make sure you start a new paragraph whenever a speaker changes.

          “Where’s the barn?” I asked. “The river? The swimming hole?”
          “Oh, Sal,” my father said. “Come on. There’s Margaret.” He waved to the lady at the door.
          “We have to go back. I forgot something.”    

(Can you tell me what book the above example is taken from?)

3. If the dialogue is preceded by text, put a comma after the introductory text:

          Dad shouted, “Put that down now!”

As time went on, I kept adding more rules and examples. Then I found this page at The Editor's Blog. I've listed the site as a reference at the end of my handout so I don't have to update it anymore.

quinn.anya via Visualhunt
If you're looking for lesson plans on teaching punctuation, check out "And I Quote: A Punctuation Proofreading Minilesson" and "The Passion of Punctuation", both at Read. Write. Think. Both also contain links to additional punctuation resources.

To wrap us this celebration of National Punctuation Day, I suggest you read these Top Ten Tips at The Punctuation Guide.

Also, before you head over to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Karen Edmisten's blog, you might enjoy reading these children's poems about punctuation.

And don't forget to:
Write with Joy!

Reminder: There are only a few days left to enter the Goodreads giveaway of my middle-grade novel, Rosa, Sola.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Then BAM! Punctuation and Style

In this new TA series of punctuation and style, I thought I’d show an example from my book 

Fourth Down and Inches: 
Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment.  

I chose this for today because it demonstrates how to blend facts with punctuation and style to make readable and exciting text.   

The following passage is on page 41 of the book.  In this section I’m using a creative way to explain what happens on the football field when a player gets a concussion.  Before the reader gets to this page, I’ve explained exactly what a concussion is.  In this section I’m showing what happens in the brain when a concussion happens.    

FROM PAGE 41 OF Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football’s Make-or-Break Moment (Carolrhoda):

The player lines up. He concentrates on his job. He anticipates his opponent’s move. His blood is pumping. The ball is snapped. Instinct and memory of countless hours on the practice field take over. Like instruments in an orchestra blending together to play a symphony, every part of the player’s body is working in perfect harmony.

In the player’s brain, one hundred billion neurons are sending and receiving messages at lightning speed to make it all happen. Heart beat. Lungs breathe. Pick up your feet. Move your arm. Look at the coach. Remember the play. The neurons transmit these messages through a long fiber, called an axon, that is attached to each neuron. This information moves down the axon through an orderly chemical process. When the message gets to the end of the axon, a neurotransmitter transmits the message to the next cell. And so on. And so on.

Then BAM!  An outside force causes the player’s brain to crash into the side of the skull. Then it bounces off and crashes into the other side of the skull.

The brain, which had been busily transmitting countless messages immediately reacts to this crisis. A chain reaction begins as chemicals in the brain move around in chaos. Message-carrying neurotransmitters are interrupted before they reach the axon. Suddenly, the brain can’t send or receive messages normally.

I intentionally chose this style in this section that is different from the rest of the book.  Here are some of the reasons why I wrote it this way:

1.     I wanted to grab the attention of the reader by putting them vicariously on the football field. 
2.     I wanted to show the physical and mental aspects of playing football.  
3.     I wanted to inform readers about the one hundred billion neurons and axons in their brains and how they transmit information.
4.     I wanted to inform readers that a concussion disrupts those messages. 
5.     I used a lot of short choppy sentences to indicate fast moving information.
6.     I used some sentence fragments to indicate many things happening simultaneously in a football players body.
7.     I used “Then BAM!” because I wanted to reader to make the jump between a brain working normally, then BAM, a concussion happens and the brain does not work normally.

Since we are looking at punctuation and style today, let’s see which of two paragraphs below is the most interesting.

When a football player reacts to the beginning of a play, neurons move fast through their brains to control their body.  Countless neurons and axons transmit messages through their brains. 

In the player’s brain, one hundred billion neurons are sending and receiving messages at lightning speed to make it all happen. Heart beat. Lungs breathe. Pick up your feet. Move your arm. Look at the coach. Remember the play. The neurons transmit these messages through a long fiber, called an axon, that is attached to each neuron. This information moves down the axon through an orderly chemical process. When the message gets to the end of the axon, a neurotransmitter transmits the message to the next cell. And so on. And so on.

Which paragraph do you prefer?  

Carla Killough McClafferty

P.S. from Carmela: Don't forget: Today's the last day to enter for a chance to win editor Cheryl Klein's The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults (Norton)!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Punctuation! Punctuation? Punctuation.

In honor of National Punctuation Day, we Teaching Authors are addressing punctuation in this new series of posts. I’ve seen plenty of run-on sentences lately, so I thought I’d address them here.

This sign shows one of many solutions I’ve seen to the “How do I punctuate this?” dilemma: Do nothing.

Here are some helpful suggestions for what to do with a run-on instead:
Thinking about punctuation, I remembered Lilian Moore’s wonder-filled poem “Winter Dark,” about the punctuation she saw in New York City.
there’s a comma of a moon...”
You can read Lilian Moore’s biography and watch Renee LaTulippe and Lee Bennett Hopkins discuss her life and work in the Spotlight on NCTE Poets series at No Water River.  (Scroll down to read the whole poem in the spread from Mural on Second Avenue.) While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of the series!

Just for fun, watch Victor Borge’s hilarious Phonetic Punctuation routine. And don’t forget to enter our Teaching Authors Book Giveaway to win a copy of Cheryl Klein’s The Magic Words. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and ends September 26.

I’m thrilled to be heading to Poetry Camp at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, where I’ll meet in person many poets I know only through poems and blog posts. And our own April will be there, too! Yippee!

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is at Reading to the Core. Enjoy!

JoAnn Early Macken

Monday, September 19, 2016

You Are Not Alone

Photo by Visual Hunt

Mary Ann’s heartfelt journey about rekindling the flame:  “I’ve written my whole life. That’s a long, long time…to stay in love with a career that often doesn’t love you back.”

JoAnn talked about carrying on anyway, and about the power of letting go of the clutter in our lives. 

Carmela offers insights into improving your writing, about the evils of perfectionism, and how perfection murders the joy of writing. 

Carla offers tips to start – or restart – your writing career by highlighting a few things she wishes she had known when she started.

A writer’s life is an oxymoron. 

We need to live a solitary existence. Most of us are introverts. We live inside our heads, giving birth to fictional beings and struggling to give them meaning. We deconstruct an experience to its heartbreaking core. To do so, we send our characters into battle, into outer space, move them forward and backward in time. We kill off their favorite pet, or their best friends, and sometimes their mothers. Even as they cry, we cry.

It’s hard work, and it’s exhausting.

But even as we exist in a self-imposed solitary confinement, we also have to run a business. We have to leave our cabin in the woods and venture into the real world of flesh and bone. This means, we have to navigate a life external to our comfort zone and the writing process but one that is not separate. We have to persuade editors and agents that our characters matter. We have to toot our horns. We have to explain why and how our work matters in the broader world of literacy even as we address why and how it fits into the corporate business plan. We have to navigate techno-babble, like tweeting and snapchatting and instagramming, and become proficient in cross-platforming. We have to earn money to live, often finding second and third jobs to make sure our bills are paid. We have to buy health insurance and pay our taxes.

We have to deal with rejection, again and again and again. We're told it’s not personal, but it certainly feels personal. Friends offer empathy, asking when are we going to write real books, like those for adults. Then these killjoys offer that they plan to write a children's book, once they retire from their real jobs, because there just aren't any good books out there.How hard can it be, they say most affectionately.

Is it a wonder, then, that sometimes we just can’t go on. We’ve had enough. We can’t say another word, or write another chapter.

Our wells and wills of inspiration dry up, and our joy ebbs.

Christopher Vogler once suggested (A Writer’s Journey) that a writer’s journey is like a hero’s journey. The self-doubts and perfection-seeking, the writer’s block and procrastination are the shadows of our inner darkside. They are the annoying voices in our head confirming every  self-doubt we assume about ourselves. They threaten to destroy the process, and often succeed.  Bad reviews, computer break-downs, never-ending revisions, deadlines and all the other life’s demands become the ordeals we have to overcome. Editors and publishers and marketing directors stand at the threshold, shouting in a booming Gandolf baritone, “You shall not pass!”

Take heart. You got this.

It takes courage to write. And you have it inside you to fight this fight, as James Bell once said. (The Art of War for Writers).

Sentence by sentence. Day by day. Chapter by chapter. Week by week.

One step at a time. One scene at a time. You write, then you think about what to write, then you write some more.

Until it’s done.

You are the hero of this story. So be the hero.

And just remember, you are not alone.

Bobbi Miller

And, don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS (W.W. Norton). The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends September 26.

There are three ways you can enter. Visit Esther’s review of THE MAGIC WORDS here to enter the giveaway!