Monday, June 29, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
I work as an editor. I don't think(?) I'm a grammar nazi, other than in the privacy of my own home (pity my husband), but as I have information to share, I might just share it on occasion.
So what is a text dash? Someone asked me the other day why text dashes come in different lengths and whether it matters. I am obliged to answer that of course it matters! Having edited on three different continents, it matters in different ways, and some of what follows might have a bit of an Aussie or British slant. But the differences aren't that big.
Let's start with the shortest text dash, actually a hyphen and not a dash at all, but it's often the only one that people use thanks to the lack of other easy options on a keyboard. (In fact, I don't bother with en- and em-dashes in this blog, even though it pains me not to do so.) The hyphen joins two words together to make a compound word, as in semi-circle. These days, punctuation is becoming an endangered species (particularly in Australia, where less is better - hence the dropping of the fullstop [a.k.a. period] after Mr and Mrs, and removal of all punctuation from addresses, for example), and so the hyphen is sometimes removed altogether to make a single word (semicircle).
The next longest dash is the en-dash or en-rule, which was traditionally as long as the letter "n" in typographical terms. An unspaced en-dash (no spaces either side) means "through" or "to" in the sense of a range of numbers. For example, "from 1990–1991" or "15–20 times." Note that "between 1990–1991" is incorrect. Always use "and" with "between": "between 1990 and 1991." In fiction, in any case, you would usually spell out the en-dash and the numbers as well (though not dates): "fifteen to twenty times."
Another usage for the en-dash is to join two words that do not form a compound word:
the stop–start descent
You can probably get away with a hyphen here, but... well, it would be wrong.
You can type an en-dash in Microsoft Word by hitting CTRL+minus on your keyboard.
A spaced en-dash has a letter space either side of it. It's interchangeable with an em-dash (see below), so it's a matter of house style as to which one you'd use. These days, with publishers importing your electronic manuscript into their desktop publishing software rather than rekeying it, you can use what you like and they'll search-and-replace if necessary. Just be consistent!
If you type space-hyphen-space within a sentence, Word will automatically convert the hyphen to a spaced en-dash.
The em-dash or em-rule is the length of the letter "m" and it is generally used where a period, colon, semi-colon or set of parentheses could have been used (not that it can always replace these). I admit to being overly fond of the em-dash, mostly because I don't like using colons, semi-colons or parentheses in fiction. Examples of these usages that I just grabbed from my manuscript (where I used 29 em-dashes in 3800 words in chapter 1... yikes):
With his head tilted up, Edie could see the narrow metal strip across his throat—a voice snag. [em-dash replaces colon]
"My friends here have boundary chips in their heads—you know what that means?" [em-dash replaces period and joins two related sentences]
She focused on a pair of boots—the other serf’s boots—on the scuffs and scratches that crisscrossed the leather. [em-dashes replace parentheses]
In his eyes she saw a calm, accepting trust—the knowledge she would save him. [here the em-dash extends the sentence with an additional thought]
The other use of an em-dash (I love using this one) is to indicate a sharp cut-off thought or dialogue:
“The leash,” he rasped. “Can you—” A coughing fit interrupted his question.
Don't use an ellipsis here. That's only for thoughts or dialogue that drift off:
“I don’t know. I just…” He shrugged but didn’t leave.
Alternatively (I love this one too. I just love the em-dash altogether too much.) for advanced users, the em-dash indicates an artificial break in dialogue in order to add action:
“And if they’re tranq’ed properly” —he indicated the drug regimen listed on his console— “they can’t fight. ”
That's how I insert a complete sentence into the middle of a continuous line of dialogue. (I've seen it done other ways, too.)
You can type an em-dash in Microsoft Word by hitting CTRL+ALT+minus on your keyboard. If you're using Courier font for your manuscripts (personally, I find that font hard to read but some editors still swear by it), you can indicate an em-dash with two hyphens. However, Word will just convert that to an em-dash unless you turn off the function.
So there you have it, a text dash primer. I've left out some usages, particularly for the en-dash, but I think you'd only need them for technical writing. I only used one en-dash in my entire novel (the "stop–start" example above).
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
I've been reading Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series. Currently finishing up book 3, Engaging the Enemy. The series revolves around Ky Vatta, daughter of an interstellar trading family, whose father gives her a ship after she's thrown out of Fleet Academy. The ship, though, is bound for the junk yard - not much of a first mission. Everything goes horribly wrong, of course, and by book 3 Ky is not so much trading as assembling a fleet of privateers to take on a bunch of pirates who are menacing the trade routes.
The books have a quasi-military feel but are mostly what I label "procedural" - very detailed descriptions of ship life (from the captain's perspective, anyway) including finances, trading deals and other interactions. The first third of the first book, for example, is simply a series of shopping trips to prepare for the voyage. The action amounts to only a handful of incidents in each book.
If I've made it sound kind of boring... well, this is not the usual guns-blazing all-out action you might expect from "sci-fi adventure", especially that with a military flavor, but I'm finding the series compelling for a whole other reason. The worlds are incredibly well realized, and it's easy and exciting to imagine what it might be like to live in them.
One gripe: no romance for poor Ky! She's too busy saving the galaxy...
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Tez's review mentions one of my biggest structural gripes with the book - the plot doesn't actually take off until near the end. Another major problem, as I see it, is that the last thing a 100-year-old vampire would ever do with eternity is spend it in high school. The entire premise falls apart right there.
Much has been said about the obsessive relationship between Bella and Edward, which becomes increasingly unhealthy to the point of mental illness in the second book (I haven't read books 3 & 4), and about Bella's general pathetic-ness. I found it impossible to empathize with her on any level, but then I'm not a self-absorbed 12-year-old. My main problem with the story takes these last two things a little further.
I was pretty much appalled by Bella and Edward's total lack of moral backbone. This culminates in book 2 when [spoiler alert] they walk away from an impending massacre of innocents without so much as a phone call to the cops. They're subsequently more concerned with each other's perfection than with those deaths. Bella recovers from the trauma in a matter of minutes.
Edward had the right idea for the wrong reasons: yes, he should have revealed the existence of vampires, but not for the cringe-worthy goal of committing suicide-by-vamp. He should have proved their existence to humankind and let the world's combined armed forces deal with it.
We could brush off Bella's wobbly ethics as lovestruck immaturity, I suppose (not that it makes her any more appealing), but Edward's behavior is unforgivable. He may be perfection itself on the outside, but he's pure selfish evil inside. He and his family have had, between them, hundreds of years to do something about man-eating vampires, but instead they've joined the conspiracy to keep the existence of vampires secret. They are just as much the enemy of humankind as the Italian mass murderers. Edward theorizes that vampires were created to be the natural enemy of humans, and he sides with the humans, yet he does nothing - not even revealing the very existence of these predators - to help humans. Some hero.
Let's just say the books did not work for me.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
In general I prefer a more stylized cover rather than a "scene from the book". The latter runs the risk of looking out of context and just plain bizarre, or alternatively too generic. I love hardware and hi-tech sci-fi stuff, but that typical "spaceship and planet" concept is wrong for my book. My idea is for something organic (since the story concerns alien ecosystems) merged with technology. If the title sticks, I guess there should also be a beetle on there somewhere.