Category Archives: Grammar Grit

Working With Others

Most of you have heard/read the news that I have been hired on to Intel’s Mobile Communications Group (MCG), if not, tada! Needless to say, this means big changes for me, my freelancing career, and all the other little things that I have gotten used to. Like sleeping in, and hanging out with my kid all week.

I still plan on taking freelance gigs as they come up, especially the smaller ones that don’t take all that much time. Any longer gigs, I can pass on to one of my amazing Copywriter Conclave members. In addition to great monthly meetings, and an awesome network, the Conclave is putting on an Author Event later this summer. We have invited freelance guru, Peter Bowerman, the author of the Well-Fed Writer books, to come to Portland for a talk. I have read all of his books, and can honestly say they are incredibly helpful. If you want to be put on the list for information and an invite to the event, email me at: We would love to have you.

One of the things I look forward to working at Intel, is being on a team again. I really enjoy working with people, it is one of the things I like about freelancing. You really get to know someone through the course of a project. Sometimes personalities clash, but there is always room for growth and understanding. This is another aspect of the Conclave that I am grateful for, we often bounce ideas off each other, much like any other work team.

An image has been going around the Internet lately that really exemplifies this working, especially freelancing, process.

Image credit to Grace Dobush.

Image credit to Grace Dobush, from her blog post Getting Work and Keeping Work.

I try to make sure I adhere to all three, but if I had to choose two categories as Neil Gaiman suggests most people fall into; I do good work and I’m nice. I tend to get lost a lot, so being on time is something that I slip up on. This concept comes from Neil Gaiman’s University of Arts commencement speech, which if you haven’t seen it, you should click the link and take a gander.

Mr. Gaiman says, “You get work however you get work. People keep working in a freelance world — and more and more of today’s world is freelance — because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.” This is amazing advice to anyone in the freelance world, or looking to break into freelance.

It will be this bit advice that I will take to heart as I start my new job next Monday. Another bit of advice from Neil Gaiman that I love, “Go out and make good art.” Believe it or not, Technical Writing is an art form (at least I think so). That is just what I plan to do. Make good art, be nice, and be as on time as I can be.

As always, thanks for reading, please share. 

Writing Preferences

Today’s post is about writing preferences. I asked my lovely Facebook Friends if they had anything they wanted to know about me, and one did. M. Cedar has provided writing inspiration before, and I am happy to answer any questions.

The question in question (I have to at least once a post), is “What are your favorite things to write and why? Dialogue? Action? Descriptions? & etc.” I will do my best to answer it. I also have to admit, this question gave me a whole bunch of ideas on what I want to write next. I am feeling inspired and ready to work on things!

Idea by Daniele Marlenek, via Flickr

Idea by Daniele Marlenek, via Flickr

Like many things in life, this question is multifaceted. I tend to like all parts of writing, so it is hard for me to have a favorite. In some situations, I love to write descriptions, or backgrounds for my characters. I find writing a background tremendously helpful. I rarely put these backgrounds into the story, they usually don’t fit, but they really help me figure out who the character is and why they are doing what they’re doing.

I also love dialogue. Especially when I don’t quite know what I’m doing, or I want to take up some space on a page. Writers can be lazy. Word count matters, but sometimes you just need five more pages, and dialogue can be a way to get there quick.

Dialogue can also be a great way to show the character’s personality without going into tell mode. Show not tell, right? Here is a bit of dialogue in the current book I’m writing, it makes me laugh:

“You should have what I’m having.” Sabina said. “It’s a Sex Bomb.”

I giggled, and blushed. “Thanks, Sabina. I think I’ll stick to wine. I don’t do so well with hard liquor.”

“More’s the pity. Liquor is quicker you know.” She arched her brow, wrapped her tongue around her straw, and took a sip of her drink. 

“Sabina! Really. Ruby is a guest and you should be nice. Save it for someone who needs charming. We want Ruby on our side, not running away as fast as she can.” Carrie patted my arm.

“Poor little rabbit.” Sabina said. “I’ll give up the chase.” She looked at Carrie. “You better have someone fun for me at the party.” Her lips turned down into a perfect pout and she looked up at the two of us from under her eyelashes. 

I was in trouble. 

I hope that you all can see the range of characters involved. I wanted the scene to be a little silly, flirty, and potentially embarrassing for my protagonist. Let me know if it worked.

So, M. Cedar, I guess I should say dialogue is my favorite to write, with a number of other things coming in a close second, third, and so on.

What is your favorite thing to write? Answer in the comments and let’s discuss.

As always, thanks for reading, please share. 

Dialect, Ya’ll

My family and I made it back to Portland from our extended weekend on Vashon Island. We had a great time with my mom on the Island, and a lovely visit with friends in Seattle. My kid got to ride a horse, play outside, and snuggle with his grandparents. He was very happy. The train rides were mostly wonderful, and our trip back home was quick and easy. All in all, it was a great vacation.

6001112875_4bc5339dc7On our train ride up to Seattle, I found my inspiration for this post. We sat across the asile from a group of four older folks, who were just a little bit country. I found them charming, and fun to listen to. At one point in time, during the card game they were playing, one of the group used the term, “Dag gum!” in a sentence. It was in no way ironic, and I almost died trying not to giggle.

Mind you all, I wasn’t laughing at the speaker, I was laughing at the turn of phrase. Aside from the Cars movies, I had never heard anyone use the term aloud. It made me think of all the other turns of phrase that are a part of our world. America, being the large country it is, has many local dialects. I have been lucky enough to travel to most of the states, and have gotten to hear many different local sayings.

6156757838_3841287917_nWhen I was a teen, I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii. I was a goofy Haole with a sassy mouth and was a little unprepared for my new environment. I managed to get out of a fight one day by playing off a specific phrase. One of the girls I knew came up to me (’cause she was mad about me hanging out with her boys) and asked me, “Eh, you wan’ beef?” Meaning, “You want to fight?” I couldn’t help myself, and responded very literally. I told her, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” Fortunately for me, this made her giggle and we decided we could live with each other.

I still have random bits of Pidgin in my sayings. I also have a bit of the South in my speech patterns. I tend to say “Ya’ll” and get a bit Belle-ish in certain situations. I pick up dialects, and I have stayed in many places around the country, so I have a lot to choose from. Every now and again, I’ll slip into a Boston accent. It tends to make people wonder where I’m from.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything. When you are writing characters, there is a fine line between making a insensitive (and potentially rasist, sexist, other -ist) caricature of a person instead of adding a bit of flavor to your narrative. I love having a feel for where the characters I’m reading grew up, or are at, but it can be done very poorly. It can also be hard to read straight dialect.

6214449310_7c50a4ea25_nHow do we, as writers and audience members, solve this? All I can tell you is what I like, and what I do. Maybe you’ll agree with me, maybe not. I like a few turns of phrase thrown in. When a character I’m reading says something like, “Wicked! Let’s get to the park.” I automatically read the rest of the character’s dialogue in an East Coast, Boston accent. If the whole thing is phonetically spelled out, or all in dialect, it drives me crazy. It actually takes me out of the story.

Adding a bit of dialect shouldn’t be used as a way to get out of writing good dialogue. Sometimes authors use it as a crutch instead of the burst of personality it should be. Enough about how I feel, what do you all think? Should dialect be used in dialogue? Or should all our dialogue be in Newscaster speak? Where is the line for you?

As always, thanks for reading, please share.

Visual Storytelling

How do you all feel about comics as a medium? I think they can be an amazing way to tell a story, but I know not everyone agrees. There are some people out there that think comics are for kids, or that they have to be called Graphic Novels to have any kind of importance. Hogwash! I say.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to take a class with Brian Michael Bendis. Brian is one of the main Marvel Creators right now, and has written some amazing self-produced comics, including the Powers series with artist Michael Avon Oeming. The two of them along with a host of amazingly talented comic artists, and self-producers, including David Mack (one of my favorites), have changed the way we look at comics as a genre.

Durring the class, we were expected to write a number of scripts, small comics, and a final, full length comic. This final project was all about constructing a full length comic from start to finish, and all that entails. We had to write the script, storyboard, and draw the final product (or get an artist). I chose to draw it myself, which was funny and gave me an unholy appreciation for artists. That process was no joke.

When I was finally done I turned in Trainedthe story of a young man who gets taken on an adventure across country with two Hobos. There is geological humor, bad drawings, and what I hope, is an alright story. The whole thing is on Webcomics Nation, feel free to check it out. As a teaser, here is the front page.

1_copy115I know, my artistic skills are amazing.

What does all this have to do with writing? Well, a lot. There is a ton of writing that goes into making comics. It’s one thing if you are drawing the piece as well, there can be little more leeway with the visual descriptions. Then you have to take into consideration your artist, and how much information you want to give them as far as artistic direction. Some artist like a lot of direction, some just want the script. Talk to your artist and figure it out beforehand so you don’t make anyone mad.

When the whole thing is finally laid out, the drawing begins. In the mean time, you still have to worry about grammar, punctuation, and storytelling. The storytelling process is, in my mind, sometimes more important than that of fiction writing. If you, as an author, don’t have a clear picture, how is your artist and your audience going to see and understand that vision?

What does this all have to do with anything? If you want to craft a good story check out some comics. They can teach you a lot about the craft. Learning more about comics certainly helped me craft a better story.

If you’re interested, here are a few books to check out:

There are many more out there, the above list is just a sample of books that helped me. Check out your local comic store for more info.

As always, thanks for reading and please share. 


Where does inspiration come from? I think that question is one of the more important questions that writers can answer. I take a lot of inspiration from my personal life, books I’ve read, and past experiences. I also find inspiration from my dreams and other visual media.

I have crazy dreams that I remember very well. Often they are fun, sometimes they are scary, but they usually have some sort of idea hidden within them that I can use in a story. Even if I only use them as an example in a blog post. Last night, I dreamed I was at a High School graduation overnight party. I saw a lot of my hometown friends, and got to relive the feelings I felt in High School (I shudder). Someday, that feeling could be useful.

Pictures are also a great resource. I’m a visual person, and I love to look at pretty images. It’s one of the reasons I like Pinterest so much. For those not in the know, Pinterest is a social network designed to show off pictures found on the internet to people. Some of the boards can be a bit silly, there are a lot of great ideas though. I have a whole board devoted to Sci-fi book ideas. Feel free to check it out and see where my brain’s at.

The book I am working on right now, Ruby Three (until I come up with a real title) has a house that is a big part of the story. Ruby finds herself in Laurel Canyon, California, writing a screenplay for some friends. I really wanted to have the house set in my mind. I had a good idea of what it would look like, but I really wanted some reference photos. Enter Google! K.D. Lang happened to be selling her home in the Canyon, and it was perfect. Check this

That is the pool that I need! I made some adjustments to the layout of the house, and the way that guests would look over the pool, but . . . that’s what I get to do while writing. So, thank you K.D. Lang, for selling your home and providing me with the perfect inspiration for my third book. Thank you for being a fine musician.

Another good question is how to keep inspired when you’re writing. My favorite authors are of the opinion that you write every day, until it becomes habit and go from there. I happen to like this idea, but it can be hard to keep up. I’m most inspired when I have a goal or deadline. It makes me feel like I’m really accomplishing something instead of just doing it. I have used the NaNoWriMo site twice now to get a draft done. The last Camp NaNo ended on April 30, I clocked in with a little over 50,000 words for the month. It was a great start, now I have to finish the darn draft!

What am I going to do about it? I have a goal. My guys and I are going on a mini-vacation mid-May, and my new goal is to have the R3 draft done by then. If I get it done, I will feel fine about taking a few days off and getting into trouble with friends and family. If I don’t get it done, I’ll probably take my computer with me and hide from people. Which sounds like fun, but not as much as the making merry part.

What is your inspiration?

Thanks for reading, please share. 

Dialogue Tags

There has been a lot of talk, and online writing, about dialogue in fiction this past week. The issue seemed to be divided between two distinct groups. Group One: these grammarians believe that you should only use the word said after any character statement. Group Two: these grammarians believe that you should use as many dialogue tags as possible.

What is a dialogue tag? You ask. Pretty much any other verb that describes a section of dialogue than said. These verbs are often in the past tense, meaning they end in -ed.

  • She screamed
  • He murmured
  • They trumpeted
  • Ze giggled

And so forth, and so on. People in Group One find this type of usage onerous. And there are clear reasons why they should. Books ala the Twilight Series take dialogue tags to lofty new levels that might crush even the most adventurous dialoguers spirit. If you, my dear reader, would like to take a look at some examples, I recommend the Reasoning with Vampires tumblr. It is hilarious. tumblr_lzv90zN5TS1qd0quuo1_500

Did you like the above sample? There are a lot more examples on the RWV blog. After reading prose with such flowery dialogue tags, part of me agrees with Group One. After all, said blends into the background. It allows the conversation between the characters to flow without being interrupted by the infamous telling, not showing. 

The problem with Group One’s assertion: it gets boring. If people only say things, I feel that the full range of emotions isn’t being expressed. Sure, you can probably tell there’s a fight going on in the scene without people snarling and hissing, at each other, but sometimes it’s nice to have that extra modifier to let you know what’s going on in the character’s head.

What happens if you have a normally monotone character, then suddenly, they burst into song. Something like that would be a shock, so using a good dialogue tag is a great way to show the out of character nature of the situation.

“The hills are alive.” He caterwauled, paints a much brighter picture than, “The hills are alive!” He said. Even with the exclamation point thrown in there, the first example has a stronger meaning. It just sings out. (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help myself.)

I find myself falling in between the two groups. When I write fiction, I use both. For the most part, my dialogue tags are of the plain, ole, boring said variety. There are occasions that I use other verbs, mostly when I want to put emphasis on something, or subtly (at least I hope so) point the reader to an important plot point.

What do you all think? Do you prefer Group One, Group Two, or a mix of both. There is no right or wrong answer. Do you all have a favorite dialogue tag? I happen to love warbled. 

Thanks for reading, please share. 

Gendered Pronouns

I thought I would write a quick post about gendered-pronouns. Gendered-pronouns (GP) are those little things that help people figure out who they are talking about. She had red hair, green eyes, and is taller than Lilly. Or, he wore a ball cap and saggy shorts. Makes it easy, right? Not always. There are many people out there who don’t go by a specific GP, or they go by a different GP than you think they would. Some people don’t like the whole gender binary thing, and want something neutral to go by. So, where do we go from here?

Gendered-pronouns 101: My favorite way to go is to use they. Some grammarians out there will tell you that using they as a non-gender-specific-pronoun is incorrect. I say, hogwash! They can be especially helpful when writing copy. I don’t assume that I am writing for a specific gender, so why would I use he/she, or the horrible (s)he, when I’m writing. They works great.

Gendered-pronouns 201: If you know a person, or group of people and know their specific GP, use it! Some people like using he or she—even more so if it fits with their gender expression. There are also ze, zie, zir. If you have a group of friends, and have heard these expressions, try them out. Your friends will appreciate the effort. Along these same lines, there are ze, sie, hir, and others. Check out the chart.


Really, one of the best things you can do, is learn someone’s name, and use that. It is surprising how easy that can be. If you take a bit of time to listen and figure out what GP a person prefers, it can save you a whole lot of trouble. Or, if you are feeling confident (and nice, not jerky) ask the person in question what GP they prefer. You might make a new friend.

Thus ends my gendered-pronoun lesson. Thanks for reading, please share.


010511comic-sound-effect1Onomatopoeias are great. They are one of my favorite parts about language. As a person who uses a lot of sound effects in my daily life, onomatopoeias fill me with great joy. They are so expressive, and in the comic/visual arts world, they are incredibly important. (At least I think so.) They can bring a sense of liveliness to a conversation. They are the hand jive of the English language. And everybody likes to do the hand jive, right?

What is an onomatopoeia? You ask. The New Oxford American Dictonary gives this definition:

*  *  *

Onomatopoeia |ˌänəˌmatəˈpēə, -ˌmätə-| Noun: the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named (e.g. cuckoo, sizzle). The use of such words for rhetorical effect.

ORGIN: late 16th century, Latin/Greek. Onomatopoeia ‘word-making’ from onoma, onomat- ‘name’ + -poios ‘making’ (from poiein ‘to make’).

*  *  * 

Pretty cool, right? So why do onomatopoeias matter? Without them we wouldn’t have great words like zing, crackle, hiss, ooze, slither, snooze, and a whole host of SQ words: squish, squawk, squeak, and many, many more.

adv413powWithout onomatopoeias, Supergirl wouldn’t have as much oomph (see what I did there?) beating up the bad guy. She lets us know, that . . . “with a little effort, POW!” Her leg snaps up and she cracks the bad guy on the kisser with a resounding “UGH!”

From a comic point of view, onomatopoeias are priceless. They bring a visual element that enhances the storytelling. What was a fine picture can be enhanced by a sound descriptor.  We can really picture the scene and everything that’s happening in it.

Think of your favorite onomatopoeias and use them in casual conversation. It could be a great way to find a new friend. Or amuse the old ones you already have.

Thanks for reading, please share.

Writing is Fun; I Like to Write About Science! (a lesson on semicolons)


After my post about em dashes, a friend of mine suggested I write a post about semicolons. Those little buggers can be tricky. Since I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to write about this week, I thought I would go with my friend’s idea instead. I must give a tip of the hat to Mrs. Fala.

I happen to love punctuation. The fact that it can be used in so many ways makes me happy. There are some classic conventions, but if you know what you’re doing . . . you can get away with some amazing things. Writing about punctuation makes me smile. Talking about it also makes me grin; I know this makes me a writing geek, and I’m okay with that.

Back to semicolons! At one point in my school career, I took a Critical Theory class. The class was taught by a grad student with grand aspirations. Instead of inspiring us, she came off as a waspy, self-obsessed, pain-in-the-neck. Not only that, but she thought science was icky. Needless to say, she and I didn’t get along. I definitely pushed the envelop with her, and wrote a few really fun essays; including an essay with the thesis statement, Dinosaurs are Rad! I got to write about the velocirapture, so the class wasn’t a total waste.

She often called on her students to give examples of grammar and punctuation. I couldn’t tell if it was because she didn’t know, or because she liked to think we were idiots and we didn’t know. Keep this in mind; it was a three hundred level class, where one would hope that the students had a general grasp of the English language. One day she called on me. The conversation went thusly:

“Dylan, can you give us a sentence using a semicolon?” She asked.

“The house was made of logs; the dog was outside.” (It was the first thing I could think of on short notice.) I answered.

“Those two things don’t have anything to do with each other, so that isn’t a good example.” She responded, trying to negate the validity of my sentence.

“They do if you’re reading Old Yeller.” I shot back.

So, what does this teach us, other than the fact that I can be a bit of a pain-in-the-neck myself? I think, it teaches us that perception is everything. Sometimes sentences that don’t seem to have anything to do with each other should be connected with a semicolon. They want to snuggle. They want to give life to your prose.

Therein lies the crux of the semicolon; the semicolon snuggles up ideas. You use one when you have a complete sentence, but you just aren’t ready for it to end. In even simpler terms, you use a semicolon to connect two complete, compatible sentences to form one longer sentence to get at what you really want to say. When a comma isn’t enough, and a period is too much—go with a semicolon.

Thanks for reading, please share.

To Em Dash or Not to Em Dash?

2-dashesUsing an em dash, or not, came up after my last post. I had decided to use an em dash to add a splashy effect, because I think em dashes are neat and under-used (at least correctly). My darling husband, had the opposite view point.

Historically, em dashes are used for emphasis—or interruption—in a sentence. They are used to make a point. The name ’em dash’ comes from the fact that the dash is the length of the letter M. Whereas the en dash is the length of the letter N, and a hyphen is the shortest of them all. (See the above graphic.)

An em dash should be used with no spaces between it and the word(s) that it modifies. The em dash can be used in pairs: He was looking for treasure—buried treasure—along the coastline. Or on their own: He finally found what he was looking for, a chest buried in the sand—it might contain enough gold to raise a fleet! (I like pirates.) Just make sure you use them in the appropriate setting, or people will get fussy.

There are many people out there that hate the em dash. I agree that it has been, and can be, over used, and there are many people out there that don’t know how to use it correctly and place the little buggers willy-nilly throughout their text. I think, with the proper usage, they can be a highly effective tool to enhance your writing. Plus, they look cool.

One of the many problems with em dashes, is the fact that they are old fashioned. There isn’t a em dash key on modern keyboards, in fact, people used to use two hyphens in a row instead of an em dash. I don’t know if there has ever been a key specific to our little em. It is easy to get around this. Most Word programs will automatically change a double hyphen into an em dash, and if you are a Mac user, there is a short cut: SHIFT, OPTION, and MINUS key. Voila! Em dash. For PC users, it’s ALT+0151.

There are many famous authors who love the em dash, and there are many famous grammarians who hate it. In my opinion, both points of view are valid. Just remember, use it sparingly, use it for emphasis, or interruption, and find your own writing voice.

Thanks for reading, and please share.